Life Among Ghosts

sedona

uscar

wondow

chim

I am in the deep desert. Deep high gorgeous painted desert. I think there is nothing in the world quite like this. Just look at it. Here we are.

My girlfriend Marti and I drove for twenty hours to get here, not counting pit stops for psychic aura readings and vortex visits and moccasin shopping. It has been a long time since I’ve taken a road trip with a friend, eating fast food with the country radio station blaring and the windows open to the desert wind. It was a blast.

We arrived Monday at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, where Georgia O’Keefe lived and worked. I’m teaching at the AROHO (A Room of Her Own) women’s writing retreat here. It’s an amazing organization and a magical week. My workshop participants are brilliant and brave and have reminded me that if you want to learn something, teach it.

chimney

us hill

My grandmother loved this part of the country and I now understand why this place is called Ghost Ranch. When the winds kick up around here you find yourself awash in memories. I’ve been walking with my grandmother’s ghost every day, talking to her. She was razor sharp and funny as hell and I’m pretty sure she’d roll her eyes at the tears I still shed for missing her. Even so, I think she would be proud of me today.

I miss my kid like crazy. I keep seeing things I want to show him- fossils and meteor craters and constellations. The colors, the clouds, the shooting stars. I will bring home stories. And lots of good rocks.

On Improvising

bus

t n lu

We recently took a fantastic little trip to Portland. We rode the street car all over; we went to the OMSI museum; we saw good friends. T was excited to reunite with one of his friends from the care center in Ethiopia. It really meant something to him. He’s still talking about it.

T got very shy and gentle when he first saw Lula and her brothers. There was none of his usual bravado (well, at first, anyway). The kids picked figs and picnicked on the lawn. He was incredibly sweet and well-behaved all afternoon, until the video games came out and all bets were off. At that point we’d had such a successful day already and it seemed as good a time as any to pack it up and head back to the hotel. It was a great evening with old friends, for all of us.

We love Portland. I don’t think I’m revealing any big secret to say that we’ve been fantasizing about moving. We even looked at some houses while we were there. It’s both liberating and frightening to contemplate such a sea change at this point in our lives. Adventure has always been a cornerstone of our marriage. We took a ten-day spontaneous road trip three weeks after we met and almost got married in Reno. So it seems like something we’d do. Just up and leave and go somewhere green and gorgeous, full of art and bicycles and great food and nice people. And it’s also scary as hell. We have a great support network here: a school we love, a sweet house, fantastic neighbors. Tariku’s aunties live around the corner. So- stay or go?

Another thing I did in Portland was to perform at an improvised storytelling show. I was TERRIFIED. No, really. Like, nauseated for days. I tell stories on stage often, but they are always crafted in advance. This show was structured like a game show, with surprise story prompts and five minutes to come up with your story. When my turn came, I realized immediately that I had a memorized story that fit the prompt. But I decided to stay true to the spirit of the thing and make one up on the spot. It wasn’t the best story I ever told, but it was better than I would have expected. More importantly, the improvising has opened up a whole new world for me, both in my storytelling and in my teaching. I am having more fun with it. I’m less anxious. I’m trusting myself more in front of people. It was so worth it to take a chance and try something new rather than sticking with what I knew was already successful.

I’m sure there’s an application for that lesson within our moving decision. For now I’m still sitting on the fence. There are a lot of good arguments on both sides. But if we decide to stay, at least it won’t be because we’re afraid to improvise.

The Ride

show

drums

captnamerica

Summertime conjures images of lazy afternoons by the pool, backyard barbeques, a gorgeous peach, beach tar on your feet. But if you’re a musician, summer is actually when you work your ass off. Scott has been rolling from gig to gig with Weezer and we’ve occasionally been tagging along. Comicon was a kick. The Orange County Fair was like a sensory gorge. I let T ride every ride over and over and then eat giant hot dogs and funnel cake and pet the pigs and the bunnies. I was like- who are you gonna be, the mom that doesn’t go to the fair? The mom that spends the whole fair saying no? So I said yes, and there was emotional fallout, of course, but I was braced for it and it was really no biggie. Even his worst moments now are generally just mega-annoying and not deep despair-inducing.

This summer has been a ride. There has been a lot of work and travel and fun and difficulty and disappointment and sadness. My kid is swimming like a fish. I had a chat at a party with Sheryl Sandberg. I wrote some hard stuff. I had some minor surgery on my girl bits. T-bone hated summer camp. I cried for like three days straight at the beginning of July. A friend died. I’m turning forty. Yeah, so there’s that.

Honestly, I have been holding on for dear life. I am a gripper by nature. But once in a while I manage to loosen that grip- usually when the late afternoon pink tangerine light announces itself in a way that defies you not to stop and feel it on your face, not to just pause look at your child laughing on the playground. I could sit around all day planning how I’m going to be a better person: more present, more conscious, thinner, more disciplined, recycle more, whatever. But I can’t wait until all that comes true to be happy. I’ll take the moments now. The ones in which I take my hands off the bar and put my hands up in the air and scream for joy.

airport

the ride

Mad for Martha

monster

I don’t usually do product reviews, but when the Martha Stewart people asked if I wanted to see a copy of the new kid craft book, it was too many of my favorite words in one sentence to turn down. For those of you who aren’t in on my darkest secrets, I love Martha Stewart, OK? I practically have a whole shelf of her entertaining books. I start anticipating the Halloween issue of her magazine in August. In line at the grocery store, I pass over all the gruesome Kardashian gossip and dive straight for her tips for a summer barbeque. I’m unlikely to take her investment advice, but when it comes to inventive ways to color Easter eggs, I defy you to challenge her.

I was not disappointed! Actually, the book surpassed my expectations. As much as I luuuuuv Martha, I was skeptical about a kid craft book, because sometimes she sets the bar a little high. I like to read her books but rarely follow through on the projects because for the normal humans among us, her suggestions can be over-complicated make you feel like a slacker about your messy house and the bread you didn’t make and the table centerpiece you didn’t craft and the chicken coop you didn’t build etc. Instead, I use her as sort of an organizing principle of bringing a joyful consciousness to domesticity. I like to imagine Martha to be a benevolent hearth-and-home deity who smiles down at me from above when I manage to go outside and pick a few figs off the tree and make a cake. Or when I feel inspired once in a while to put out the nice table linens for dinner just because.

These crafts, however, are not only inspiring but also surprisingly simple and adorable. Very do-able and fun! Check out their crafts for kids video collection to see some crafting in action. Above is a picture of T making the monster salt crystals- so cute! We’re doing snow globes next.

craftsforkids (2)

Wrap it up!

wrap

At my office, my desk faces the glamorous and funny Annabelle Gurwitch, who always has some handy green mom tips. I wanted to share with you my favorite, because it’s adorable and eliminates the need to buy wrapping paper for the twelve billion birthday parties you’ll go to this year. You know that unwieldy stack of drawings and paintings you stuff under the bed or in a drawer or next to the washing machine? Use them as wrapping paper. Isn’t it so chic?

As for gift suggestions, I always give books. You can’t have too many. My close friend from childhood, Julie Fogliano, has written two children’s books: And Then It’s Spring and If You Want to See a Whale. They’re illustrated by Erin Stead (of A Sick Day for Amos McGee) and they’re sweet and surprising and gorgeous. If you haven’t read them yet, you should!

whale

My Baby

t tray

I think every mother with an African American son was gut punched by the Trayvon Martin verdict. Every time I looked at my baby yesterday, I saw an image of him as a teenager. I kept imagining him with all the baby softness gone, replaced by that vulnerable swagger of the boys who ride skateboards on the sidewalks in front of the mini-mall around the corner. Several times, I had to turn by back to Tariku at the museum, so he wouldn’t see me crying for Trayvon’s mother.

Parenting is living in a constant state of delusion, somehow tending to the minutia of daily life and not thinking about the fragility of our children’s lives. We shove it out of our consciousness, because we need to make sandwiches and do dishes and get through bath time. If we were constantly contemplating the worst that could befall our kids, we’d just stand there breathless with our arms around them. We’d never let them go. But the truth is that at some point you have to let them go to the store to buy Skittles on their own. And when my son walks out into the world, he will face different dangers and prejudices than that of his white neighbor.

The Trayvon Martin tragedy has brought the oppressive sterotypes confronting people of color to the forefront of a national dialogue. My initial response has been intensely personal, of course, but it’s important to allow that emotion to propel you into the game. Emotion has to be balanced with action. I was heartened by the protests yesterday. These students inspire me.

I love this post at Rage Against the Minivan, because it details specific action steps you can take if you want to be part of the solution. Acknowledge your privilege. Diversify your life. Don’t be afraid to get in the conversation. Notice when you’re making assumptions based on race. Confront the assumptions and stereotypes of others.

My heart breaks for his mother. Over and over, it breaks.

Sexy Mama

us

First of all, do yourself a favor and never google the words “sexy” and “motherhood” together. Ew. I discovered this as I was meditating on motherhood and sexuality after a Palm Springs weekend during which I spent about seven hours standing in waist deep water at the bottom of a water slide with a group of decked out moms with Eastern European accents, sexy swimsuits and full faces of makeup.

slide

These ladies were wearing gold belly bracelets and absolutely rocking their completely normal not-at-all-perfect mom bods. And they had kids hanging off each limb, same as the bedraggled-looking moms in mumus. It seemed, well, fun. I’m not exactly one to wear a belly bracelet, but I did appreciate the sentiment and I allowed it to inspire me to go put on a little lipstick and stop feeling like I had to don a full-length potato sack every time I stood up from my beach chair.

The de-sexualizing of the mother in this culture isn’t just something that’s done to us by our partners or by the media, we do it to ourselves. I definitely did for a few years there. I don’t believe it’s only because we’re tired and we don’t have time to get to the hair salon. Moms have innate guilt about “selfish” pursuits and getting sexy has nothing to do with our kids, so it gets dropped to the bottom of the to-do list. Also, much of our need for human touch is fulfilled by our children. It’s easy to wake from the oxytocin baby haze and realize that we aren’t connected with our erotic identity at all anymore.

I recently read a terrific book called Mating in Captivity, by Esther Perel. It’s about reconciling the erotic and the domestic and I would say it’s a must if you’re in a committed long-term relationship. Here is the TED talk, in which she asks the crucial question, “”Why does sex make babies and babies spell erotic disaster in couples.”

Obviously, I’ll never again be the sexy single gal who went on a first date with my husband ten years ago, but I’ve committed to making sure that I’m evolving into a more confident and alive sexual being, not less.

The Dignity of a Funny Costume

tri

The other day we went to a neighborhood BBQ. The girl across the street, who is a bit older than T, came over earlier in the day and convinced him that all the kids at the party would be wearing costumes. He insisted on dressing like a triceratops, of course.

You see where this is going, right? We arrived and he was the only one dressed up. My stomach dropped. When things like this happen to T, it triggers deep memories in me of being made a fool of as a child. I get really angry, mostly about my inability to protect him from these sorts of experiences.

A friend of mine turned to T and said, “Oops! She tricked you!”

Under my breath, I said, “Well don’t tell him that if he hasn’t figured it out.”

He was like, “What? OH!”

He got it. He stood in the doorway in his big green costume, looked around and let it register for a moment. Then he smiled his huge Tariku smile and said, “I don’t care because I’m SCARY! ROAR!”

He kept that outfit on the whole night. He roared and danced around and got everyone screaming and laughing. He’s been displaying a real knack for physical comedy lately. Scott says he’s like a little Charlie Chaplin. He stands in front of the mirror and does little dances, talks in silly voices, makes funny faces.

Tariku instinctively knows that being the one stuck in the dinosaur costume makes you the fool, yes, but it also can make you the star if you play it right.

When he finally got too hot in the costume, he took it off and lovingly brought it to me to hold, saying that he didn’t want to put it on the floor where people could step on it.

I thought he handled the situation with tremendous dignity. I felt so proud of his fierce, funny soul.

And I love that he thinks this costume is scary.

Let’s Get the Gay Wedding Party Started!

auntie3

To Tariku, the Supreme Court DOMA and Prop 8 decisions mean one thing- the auntie wedding is back on! His aunties came over for pizza last night and when we tried to explain to him what we were celebrating- he said, SO WHEN DO I GET TO GIVE YOU THE RINGS?! Whenever I try to talk to him about the fact that people should be able to marry whomever they love and blah blah, he looks at me like, DUH- let’s get the party started already.

When I was in college, Matthew Shepard was tortured and left to die because of his sexual orientation. When my parents were in college, four little African American girls were burned to death in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. I believe that by the time Tariku is a teenager, the fact that there was a time that gay people weren’t allowed to get married in this country will seem as archaic to him as Jim Crow laws did to us. I believe that the grandchildren of the people who are impeding the progress of civil rights in this country right now will be ashamed.

When I show him this picture of him at his first Gay Pride Parade, I hope it will seem an interesting piece of history- a relic from a time long past, before gay people were granted equal rights under the law in this country. This is the world I want to give him. Come join us. I promise, we throw better parties than the ones at Justice Scalia’s house.

aunties 2

The Graduate

This guy…

pre

…graduated from pre-school. Yes, he did. If you’ve been following our journey at all, you’ll know that it’s a small miracle. I am so proud of him. What else can you say?

I’m starting to take this miracle thing in stride.

The Fruits of Frustration

This morning, T was building this Lego Jeep:

jeep 1

He got really frustrated because it was too small for his Lego man. He broke it trying to shove him inside. Then he put it back together and then he broke it again. At this point, you can imagine that the Legos were starting to fly across the room. There was whining. Oh, was there whining. There were tears. There was the slamming of a fist on the table. There were multiple attempts (of varying tones) by me to suggest different, less frustrating activities. Like breakfast, for example. No dice.

Finally, I just walked away and folded laundry in the other room until the annoyingness abated. At which point, I poked my head back in the dining room and saw T completely engrossed, building this (which fits his Lego man just fine):

jeep 2

“You fixed the problem!” I exclaimed.
He looked up, smiling.
“I fixed it. AND this one is better because it has buttons.”

Apparently the orange buttons wash the Jeep and make it fly, and the red one shoots missiles. It is totally better than that other lame Jeep.

Somehow, my kid has the ability to work through frustration. I didn’t learn that skill until I was thirty and realized I would have been way less of a derelict if I had ever followed through on anything.

My impulse is always to head the tantrum off at the pass, to offer him other activities, to make everything okay (for him and for me). But he was right. He did just need to keep at it until he found a creative solution to the problem. I guess sometimes a Lego or two needs to get tossed at the wall in the process.

Vision

met 2 2

These pics were taken by T with my phone at his favorite work of art: Chris Burden’s Metropolis II at LACMA. We’ve been visiting it since he was about two years old and it still fascinates him. He discovers new things about the tiny city each time.

met 2

mom

When he asked if he could take pictures, I was hesitant because I’m wary of all the time he spends staring at a screen. A museum visit is a good time to just be present and actually experience the real life around you. On the other hand, taking pictures is different than playing video games. It’s still hiding behind a piece of technology that mediates between you and the world, but there is a deeper and more conscious level of creative interaction involved.

As someone who loves to take pictures. it’s a question with which I’ve often struggled. How much am I hiding behind my camera? When I’m obsessively documenting a moment, am I sacrificing the actual emotional experience of that moment? But it was really interesting to watch him apply his own vision to this piece of art he loves so much. There is no way to capture the whole thing, it’s too big. So he was faced with issues of content and composition. What parts are most visually interesting? Most important to remember? How does he take Metropolis II and create something new? I think he did a great job!

We need to put our own frame around the events of our lives. I usually use words. I wonder what T’s chosen medium will be.

Getting Global

I always imagine that these pictures of us in our Ethiopian garb will probably mortify him when he’s fifteen.

But for now, he doesn’t know any better and he just likes it when we match. Last week our family hosted an Ethiopia “international day” at T’s preschool. I was unreasonably stressed about organizing the whole thing, because Tariku was so excited about it. Ethiopia carries a significance for him that the other children probably don’t experience when their parents come in to talk about Greece or China or Ireland. T was born in Ethiopia and he has a real sense of pride about it. I wanted to do something super fun and engaging for the kids because I wanted them to get to know my son a little bit more.

Right from the gate, I got a lot more questions about adoption than I was prepared for. I was sitting at the front of the room with Tariku next to me. When I said that Ethiopia was a very special country for our family because Tariku was born there and that’s where we adopted him, six hands shot up.

What’s adoption?

As I explained (in a very general way) what adoption is, six more hands shot up.

What happened to his real mom?

Are you gonna show us pictures of his real mom?

I explained that I was his mom. That he also had a birth mom. That we were both real moms. Then I told them those were private questions and it was up to T if and when he wanted to talk about it. Then I managed to shift the conversation back to Ethiopia, but, wow. I looked over at my son while this was going on and he looked a little bit confused and deflated. He hadn’t expected all that either. It never would have occurred to him that most of his friends have no idea what adoption is. Which brought to mind a GREAT post on the subject over at Rage Against the Minivan: Parents Please Educate Your Kids About Adoption so Mine Don’t Have To. I wish it were required reading.

Anyway, they pretty quickly moved on and loved being able to eat the snack with their fingers. Overall, it was a sweet and fun day.

Mostly, I was floored by the progress T has made over the past few months. He is a different kid than he was around Christmas time, when we were pretty much beside ourselves every night over his behavior at school. He is still energetic and enthusiastic and dancing every five minutes, of course. He’s still T. But he can sit still and keep his hands to himself. He is polite and raises his hand. The best part is that he knows how far he’s come and he’s proud of himself.

eating

kids

I think there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle: correctly identifying his sensory issues, getting him the right occupational therapist, getting him an aid in the classroom. I had faith that he would make a shift, but I had no idea it would be so quick and profound. The school has even decided that he doesn’t need an aid in the class anymore and he will be starting kindergarten next year without one. As much as we love his aid, we are thrilled. We are dancing in our dashikis!

You’re Not My Real Mom

us2

An adoptive mom friend of mine just got her first, “You’re not my real mom anyway!” from her son and it upset her. We haven’t heard it yet in our house, but I expect we will soon. The closest we’ve come was once, when Tariku was super-pissed at me, he said, “You’re a mean mommy! I want a different mommy!”

It was horrible- not for me, for him. He heard his own words and it registered on his face as absolute terror. Three seconds later, he threw his arms around my neck and said, “I love you so much, Mommy.” I felt desperately sad for him right then because I could sense that he was bargaining with me. I don’t think it was conscious- he knows at this point that we are his family forever. We talk about it all the time. He no longer consciously thinks that when one of us goes out of town we might not be coming back. But I do think that there is still a corner of his heart that feels unsafe; that believes if he behaves badly enough or says the wrong thing, he may turn around to find that we’re gone.

I told him that I knew he loved me and that I loved him more than anything in the world. I told him he could never say or do anything that would ever make me go away. I will say the same thing when he tells me one day that I’m not his real mom. I’m not worried about it.

I have an unusual perspective on the issue because I’m also an adoptee, and I can remember the day I said it to my own mother. I was four-years-old and my family had just been through a terrible trauma. The nursery was still decorated in shades of pink and white, diapers still in the linen closet, baby bottle still in the kitchen cupboard. My mother hadn’t had the heart to clear it all out and put it in the garage, even though it had been months since my parents had gone to the hospital to pick up my new baby sister and had come home empty handed because the birth mother had changed her mind at the last minute. I can’t remember how they explained it to me, but I do remember being incredibly angry. I, who had been a dream child until then (really- ask my mom), suddenly started acting out: talking back, fighting with other kids, carelessly hurting myself all the time. One day my mother asked me to do something and I refused, on grounds that she wasn’t my real mother anyway. I remember the moment like I remember few other things from that time. I was wearing my Kermit the frog jumpsuit, sitting on the piano bench, not looking her in the eye.

My mother was devastated. She wept. My father had a big talk with me about it later. I never said it again. In fact, I was awash in guilt about it for years. I can still conjure a shimmer of guilt around the edges of the memory if I think about it hard enough.

I guess I’m particularly unconcerned about hearing those words because I have been on the other end of them and I can tell you without a doubt that they were never true. It was never an issue; there was never a question. Even when I don’t particularly like or understand her, even when we don’t talk for long stretches, my mother- the mother who wanted me and adopted me and raised me- was then and will always be my real mother.

I offer you this, adoptive mommies: don’t sweat it. They don’t mean it. They’re stuck with you. For real.

Happy Mother’s Day, all you beautiful mommies!

us1

Jealous?

liv

This is my newly decorated living room. This is it. There is no couch. There is a rocking chair across the room, for exactly no one to sit in because the drums are so loud your ears would bleed. Jealous?

Why did I let this happen to my life, you ask? Did I hire my sixteen-year-old burnout nephew as a decorator and pay him in weed?

Let me tell you the saga of my couch.

Once upon a time, we had an expensive leather sofa bed from Restoration Hardware. Because I am a sensible gal, we got it off Craig’s List. When we took our truck to Venice Beach to pick it up, we found it weighed exactly 47,000 lbs.. While we were inside finding this out, we got a parking ticket. Then we had to go and hire two guys from the Home Depot parking lot to help us take it home and get it in the house. At this point, we may as well have bought a new couch.

I really enjoyed our expensive couch for exactly two months. We even had a house guest! A certain relative (hint: rhymes with shmother-in-shlaw) visited and slept on it and then proceeded to not be able to stand us for the following six years, but what the heck! At least we had a sofa bed.

One fine Saturday, the dogs ate the entire back of it.

dogs

Here they are, the little darlings. That is not the couch- that is the couch before the cursed couch. They ate that one, too. Do you want them?!? DM me.

But I am not easily thrown. I had it reupholstered by a very nice man who had to bring not one but three of his sons to move it.

I bought those weird plastic electrified shock mats to keep the dogs off it (go easy on the comments here PETA activists, at least I didn’t donate the dogs to science). But then I realized that we were living with plastic shock mats on our furniture and that is psychotic, so I took them off.

They ate it again. I had it reupholstered again. By this time, we may as well have bought a car. I put up dog doors to keep them out of the living room but those were such a pain that eventually we just started leaving a dog gate ON the couch, which made me not even want to look at the living room much less live in it.

They shoved the gate over and ate it again.

At which point, I was like: I FOUND THE PERFECT PLACE FOR THAT DRUM SET!

Magically, within one afternoon, the couch disappeared and my living room looked like this. It chafes a bit, but it has also been an instant party. The very night the cursed couch disappeared, there were four pre-schoolers rehearsing with their new band while I made dinner with ear plugs in. Je ne regrette rien. Fun is better than a couch any day.

Awesome Mother’s Day Giveaway!

eFIAOjktvTC3b9Azz63hQdQtWuUwt0MeCelwzziFuIQ

_eS0FmrQkGWce00mwovOOiGshbRrupnLK6CEW4L3uHM,QW-sS3QL4hwAOaWkHL0xkU54rc3_HSsWc21TYS7h-G0

I recently learned of an amazing organization called Connected in Hope, which helps provide women artisans in Ethiopia with sustainable, fair trade income. Like the founder of Connected in Hope, I feel a deep connection to the women of Ethiopia. Also- I really like nice scarves!I’ve been wearing mine every day for a week.

Check out their website or facebook page to see their beautiful wares.

Connected in Hope is generously offering a scarf as a giveaway to one of my readers. Go like their fb page and then leave a comment here telling me that you did. I’ll draw a name at random next week and you can pick any scarf from their website.

And should you want to just go and order one, use the discount code HOPE10 for 10% off!

Here is the story of Connected in Hope, from their founder:

Meet Mulu:

At 49 years old, Mulu’s face tells the story of the hardship she has endured. When she was in her early twenties she escaped an abusive husband and fled the Ethiopian countryside for Addis Ababa. Hoping to find a better life and more opportunity in Ethiopia’s capital city her dreams were quickly dashed. Having limited education and no skills she was forced to begin the job of carrying fuel wood.

Mulu’s work as a fuel wood carrier began long before the sun rose over Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She left her sleeping children, quietly slipped out of the door and made her way to the jungle. For the next few hours she collected eucalyptus branches from the forest floor, gathering them into a thick bundle. Hoisting the 75 lb. bundle to her back, Mulu began the long hike to the market in the center of the city. Mulu’s back hunched over from the tremendous weight and her muscles burned as she walked; the physical toll that this work was taking on her body evident with every step. Mulu knew the birr she hoped to earn, worth less than $1 USD, would be enough to pay for her medication and feed her children just for that day. If she was fortunate, she would sell all the fuel wood and start her long walk home by late afternoon. Tomorrow, long before dawn, she would begin again.

Following the adoption of our youngest son Joseph from Ethiopia in 2009, my family and I felt a compelling desire to give back to the kind and loving people of his birth country. A subsequent visit to Ethiopia brought us face-to-face with women like Mulu, burdened with bundles of fuel wood. We learned about the enormous challenges they face every day in an effort to provide even the basics for their families. We met children forced to quit school and work when the complications of HIV/AIDS left their mothers too ill to support the family. The faces of the women fuel wood carriers and their children were imprinted on our hearts and left us forever changed – and committed!

We met a group of former fuel wood carriers who had been taught to weave scarves; however, with a very limited market, they weren’t selling enough to be able to support their families. It was through interactions with these amazing women, that Connected in Hope Foundation was born.

Connected in Hope was founded to help these women build their weaving business so it could provide each of them with a sustainable, predictable, and Fair Trade income. The weavers are paid upfront for their beautiful, hand woven scarves, which we then bring to the international market through our website, retail stores and trunk shows. Once the scarves are sold, 100% of the profit is re-invested in programs that benefit the women and their families. We take a holistic approach that goes beyond Fair Trade to include improved educational opportunities and increased access to basic health care.

On Diversity

tnraj

A friend left a comment on my recent post about raising boys and it got me thinking. This friend’s child has multiple special needs and is confined to a wheelchair. In the comment, she suggested that exposing children to diversity (not just in concept) contributes to compassion. Most of the children who have grown up around her son are empathetic and kind with him.

A transgendered friend has also shared with me that the kids she grew up with from early childhood were always accepting. She began to have problems when she changed schools as a teen and encountered kids who were unfamiliar with her gender identification.

When I consider diversity, race is usually the first thing on my mind. When I was first visiting pre-schools, I always looked around and counted the number of brown faces I saw, putting it into my mental filing cabinet. My friend’s comment reminded me that diversity goes way beyond race. Parents of children with special needs offer something of great value to any school or community.

Sometimes the rabid competition to get into good schools in Los Angeles can prompt me to think in a conformist way and try to portray my family as something more mainstream than we truly are. I want to always remember that our strength is in difference. That is where we shine.

On Yelling

us

t bat

T has been making so much progress lately, as I’ve been sharing. This hasn’t always been true. Growth is never a linear thing. We have gone through the cycle of hope and plateaus and regression so many times that I barely sweat it anymore. So I’m not sure why it should surprise me when I hit a plateau of my own.

I’ve been yelling at T lately. A lot. I’m in a sticky place and I can’t seem to change my lousy behavior, as hard as I try. Or maybe I’m not trying very hard at all. Maybe I’m indulging the outlet, as the alternative seems to be to stuff all the anger, shut down, slam cabinets and rage at my family in a passive way. Which sucks just as much if not more.

The other day, T and I got in a screaming stand-off about which I feel truly ashamed. When it was all over and he was in the other room, I put my face in his pillow so he couldn’t hear me and screamed, “I hate my life,” at the top of my lungs. And I did right then- I felt so out of control and locked into a confrontational dynamic with my son.

I grew up in a family with screaming. It was my model and it became my default mode and it’s going to take a huge internal shift to alter the habit. This morning, I revisited Christine Moers’s therapeutic parenting video about the power of our voices. I am gripping it like a lifeline. I am trying. I am praying. I am still yelling. But if I know anything from being T’s parent, I know that change is possible, especially when you go at it with all your heart, like he does. But just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s easy or instant. I have faith I’ll find a way through this thing to the other side.

A Sweet Easter

easter

easter 2

I always harbor some dread when the candy holidays come around. Kids process sugar in different ways- mine winds up tap dancing on the coffee table and juggling the china. When there are handfuls of candy involved, the day always ends in tears. His reaction to processed sugar and food dye is swift and extreme. It even aggravates his wandering eye.

I’m torn about allowing him sweets because the issue is strictly behavioral; it’s not as if he has some terrible physical allergic reaction. So we stumbled upon a candy compromise that really seems to be working for us. I allow him to munch the goods (within reason) and then when he starts to go bonkers, I say, “This is how your body feels when you eat candy. It feels uncomfortable.” I also remind him before he eats it. The cumulative result has been that he very rarely tries it anymore. I always bring some gluten free relatively healthy cookies along so he has a treat. This year he had a ball looking for eggs and then just abandoned his loot in a corner. I feel that it’s a victory, because he’s learning to be present in his body and to keep himself regulated, rather than me laying down the law. It works so much better when it comes from him. I wish I could figure out how to apply this method to more situations.

We had two egg hunts. We crafted and our hands stayed green for days. We hung out with a small group of friends and I felt grateful for the chosen family we’ve built around us. The day was candy-free but truly sweet.

That Thing Called Snow

tndash

As a former East Coaster with fond memories of white winters, I have vowed that my SoCal son will see snow every year of his life, one way or another. This year I suddenly realized it was the end of March and he had yet to experience any of that rumored white stuff that falls from the sky. Scott is in Japan on tour right now, so on a whim I rented a house in Big Bear with two of my girlfriends and their kids. We piled in the car and spent a few spring break days on sleds and skis.

tnmilla

I was a little bit worried about the trip, never sure how exhausting T is going to be in a new environment. I’m still wary, since the days he wouldn’t sleep on a strange bed and screamed all night long in hotel rooms.

It was a wild success. The kids were adorable. They played on their own FOR HOURS while the moms sat at the kitchen table and drank tea. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more relaxed and fun time with him. It actually felt like a vacation for me as well.

This is how I thought skiing would go- I imagined we’d put them in a class and they’d try for twenty minutes until they got sick of falling on their faces and then we’d all go sledding. Not even. That kid was bombing down the mountain after just an hour. I was so proud of him that it felt like my entire body was smiling. Not because I particularly care if he skis or not, but because he tried so hard and listened and kept at it. When he actually made it down on his own you could see the joy coming off him like heat waves. I had meant to hide and watch so he wouldn’t be distracted, but I couldn’t control myself. I was literally standing there screaming, YOU ARE AWESOME. He turned and gave me the thumbs up and kept skiing.

And then there was me. When I realized Marti and Bianca were renting skis for themselves as well, panic gripped my chest. I haven’t been on skis since I was a little girl, and even then I only did it twice. I thought- am I really going to do this thing? The next thing I knew I was sitting in a chairlift. I haven’t felt that giggly and shot through with adrenaline in a long time. I survived with only a few face plants. At the end of the day, T and I rode the “flying chairs” and made it down the mountain together. I think I will remember skiing with my son’s hand in mine, both of us screaming with laughter as the late afternoon sun glanced off the snow, for the rest of my life.

skimama