How Down?

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Scott and I have always loved the Albert Brooks movie Lost in America. In it, there is a scene in which Albert Brooks discovers Julie Hagerty gambling away the last of their nest egg in a Las Vegas casino:

She: We’re still down!
He: How down?
She: Down.

About a year ago, each night after putting T to sleep after yet another exhausting day, we would look at each other with stricken expressions.

Me: We’re still down.
Scott: How Down?
Me: Down.

During that difficult time, I often felt lonely. It seemed every other mother I knew was posting pictures on FB of the beautiful organic seasonal dinner party she just threw (to which I wasn’t invited), using some table linens her three perfect kids decorated themselves with stamps they carved from potatoes. No that their kids were at the dinner party. Because they were sleeping. SLEEPING!

I spent a lot of time crying in the car and feeling hopeless. Forget trying to get on the waiting list for a good kindergarten, I was starting to think about getting on a waiting list for a good rehab. I felt unequal to this task of motherhood. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for all of my blessings, I genuinely was. It’s just that some of the time, I was also pretty disappointed by life.

Tariku’s school aide, until recently, was still going to class with him one day a week (mostly because I was used to hanging onto her like a life-preserver), but a couple of weeks ago she called me and said, “Look, this just isn’t necessary. He’s doing amazing. He really doesn’t need me anymore.”

Then yesterday we drove down to see a circus that should have been an hour away. We left an extra hour early but still wound up late, because we got off at the wrong exit, landed in the worst neighborhood of all time, and got caught behind a police barricade. True story. And do you know what? My son was the calmest, most content person in that car. It used to be that the slightest deviation from any plan would set off an epic tantrum. This time, he was just singing and playing with his transformers and occasionally asking random questions like: If this isn’t the Cretaceous period anymore then what period it it? I honestly have no idea what parents did before google. Did they have to actually be smarter than their kids?

Now that the crisis has abated, I’ve noticed that every one of the mothers I placed on a pedestal has, at some point in this year, been down.

How down?
Down.

I recently witnessed the mom that I consider the height of PTA-going, Martha-Stewart-crafting perfection nearly have a nervous collapse, when Tariku accidentally kicked a ball of paper mache in her garage (because it looked like a ball and not like a Halloween costume in-progress). No joke, I thought I was going to have to call 911. And later she was like, I’m sorry, I’m just stretched so thin.

Meaning, y’know, I’m down.

Maybe I was really never that isolated to begin with, it’s just that all I could see were differences and not similarities. Which is to say, I have been down before and will, I’m sure, be down again. But the next time it happens, I hope to remember not to look at everyone else’s potato stamps and see them as evidence of my aloneness at the center of the universe.

Get Up, Stand Up…

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This morning, I smiled and nodded and let some homophobic comments pass right by me in a schoolyard conversation. I feel disappointed in myself and curious as to the cause of my inability to speak up. I have spent all day considering ways I might deal differently with a similar situation in the future.

This is what happened…

I was joking around with some parents after the drop off. We were having a “cute stories” moment, talking about our little boys liking to dress up in girls’ clothes. Tariku likes to put a toy airplane in his hair and pretend it’s a tiara- that kind of thing. One of the dads piped up with: it’s fine when they’re seven as long as they’re not still wearing dresses when they’re seventeen. “I mean, that’s just not okay,” he said.

And that’s when I said…nothing. I said nothing.

I should have said, I’d be thrilled to have my son in a ball gown at his wedding if that’s what makes him feel good about himself and happy in his own skin. That is the truth.

So why didn’t I?

When I imagine being confronted with racism or sexism or homophobia etc, I think that I would always stand up to it, that I would always do the right thing, no question. In reality, we are often in situations with a great deal of social pressure. We are taken off guard. We want to be liked. We don’t want to make other people uncomfortable.

I feel like an outsider among the parents at pre-school and I am honestly often self conscious about T’s wacky behavior. When we arrive for drop off, most of the kids are sitting nicely, waiting with their parents, while T is running around, hollering and leading dance parties on the playground. I’m conscious that we’re different. The fact that I look like I fell of the side show carnival train doesn’t help. It makes me try extra hard to fit in. I think my desire to be socially accepted at the school is one factor in my silence.

Another factor is practice. It can be helpful to think situations like this through before we get blindsided with them. When I was first walking around in the world with Tariku, it used to be a lot harder for me to speak up when people said boneheaded things about adoption or race. Now I’m more experienced and I have a handful of standard responses that allow me to speak my mind in a way that doesn’t generally create a confrontational dynamic. I rarely wind up in the car later obsessing about what I might have said.

I’ve been thinking about the standard narrative of Rosa Parks. I was always told that she was tired from work one day and refused to move to the back of the bus. The reality is that she was a trained civil rights activist and that her refusal to move was a planned act of civil disobedience. We could all benefit from a little training, from a little practice. Perhaps on all of those back-to-school nights that we spend looking at their macaroni collages, we could take ten minutes to have a conversation about diversity.

Whether or not it’s incorporated at an institutional level, this does remind me how important it is to keep an open dialogue about these issues at home.

I’m going to a parent meeting at the school tonight and I’m going to bring up the idea. Because, as I would say to T when he screws up, “We’re gonna do better next time!”

Wish me luck!

This is How I Begin

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The night before last, I dreamed I was rushing through a hospital to see a friend of mine, who recently died of breast cancer. I was in a hurry to get to her so I could say goodbye. When I arrived, she rose to greet me and she didn’t have any hair, but otherwise she looked like her old self, her body healthy and strong. She looked happy. She hugged me. And then we began to dance.

I woke with my face wet with tears, but grateful to have seen her again, even if only in dreams. I felt that she had brought me a message about my body and time and the preciousness of it all.

That morning some girlfriends and I took our kids to the pool and I brought the message with me in my bones. I spent the day happy to have my legs stretched out in the sun, charmed by my wonderful friends, awed by the adorableness of our kids (even as they basically assaulted each other in the shallow end). When it came time for lunch, I sat there in my suit on a lounger and ate a Cobb salad and not once did I think, I should really put that sarong back on. Because I have been on this planet long enough to confidently know that no one is thinking about the size of my ass except me.

Phew, good thing my self-absorbed, self-conscious, self-loathing, weight-obsessed days are over and done with…

Yeah, right. Well, at least I had a morning of reprieve.

Every time I talk about body image issues, I can preemptively hear the charges of “first world problems” being leveled at me. It’s a popular argument these days and I’m not convinced it’s a useful one. Its intention is, of course, to shift our perspective for a moment, to make us less whiny and more grateful. Instead, it often shames us for having a feeling about anything other than the genocide in Darfur, which is simply unrealistic and not at all helpful to people who are genuinely in pain, whatever the cause.

Last week I sat down in a Macy’s dressing room and cried because I was so desperately sick of hating myself. I can’t remember a time I didn’t feel like someone made a mistake when they made me- the wrong shape, the wrong size, clumsy, thick. This bizarrely distorted lens is reserved for use only on myself. When it comes to other people, I have an expansive view of beauty, both physical and not.

The self-hatred isn’t constant, but it is always lying in wait for a window of opportunity. I can be going along my merry self-accepting way, when a moment of social anxiety, a rejection or even just a hard morning, will trigger a full-force flood of poison and the conclusion is always this: I am so ugly that I don’t deserve to be alive.

Of course I don’t consciously believe this. What I consciously believe doesn’t matter. What I actually look like doesn’t matter. My politics don’t matter. It is illogical. It is, in fact, ridiculous. I believe it has its origins in having too high a premium placed on physical beauty when I was a child, in having been inappropriately sexualized at an early age, in feeling out of control. Somewhere, I blame my own body for the injury it has sustained.

But frankly, at this point in my life- a grown woman, a writer, a mother- I don’t give a shit about the origins of it anymore. I simply want it to change. With the rest of my time on this earth, I want a different experience of my body. I want a life in which I don’t cry in dressing rooms anymore.

I don’t know how to make that happen. If it was a matter of just deciding to change my perspective (please don’t tell me to read The Secret), it would have happened long ago. If it were a matter of meds or therapy or yoga, believe me, I’d be golden by now. To whom do I go for help with this one? God? My therapist? My dead friend? Walt Whitman?

This is not a rhetorical question. I am asking you, the women in my life, how did you learn to love yourself?

It’s hard to conceive of tackling a problem that lies deeper than conscious thought, deeper than words. But all the change I’ve managed to effect in this life thus far has started with noticing. This, giving voice to the beast, is how I notice. This is how I begin.

Some un-Wisdom

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So what has been happening? New York happened. Back to school happened. We had a few weeks of major regression in T’s behavior and it led me to a dark place. We’re all clawing our way back out of it toward the light. Yesterday at yoga, the room suddenly seemed three times brighter, and I thought- I’m pulling the cobwebs from my eyes. It’s getting better.

It was partially due to parent fail. He’s been doing so well lately that I forget to keep the things in place that help his nervous system stay regulated. Things like lots of sleep and very regular food and plenty of time to calm down between activities. Scott and I subjected him to crazy fast transitions all summer long. Disney! Legoland! Pool parties! Beaches! Broadway shows! Coney Island! Sounds fab, right?

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All that “fun” sounds good on paper- to him and to us both. And we did have moments of serious fun. For instance, taking him to The Lion King- his first Broadway show- was a moving experience for all of us. We had a blast with old friends in upstate New York. But overall, August was draining and worrisome. There were tantrums we haven’t seen the likes of for a year. When T’s nervous system gets out of whack, it can unravel not just his emotional well-being, but mine as well. I have to keep a close eye on my tendency to mirror him.

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What helped? School starting. Getting rigid about his sleep schedule. Getting back to his awesome occupational therapist.

Tariku teaches me about courage all the time. He never stops trying. He loses his shit entirely and makes heroic recoveries nearly every day. He loves school, but it’s also a hard, long day for him. I watch him pin his shoulders back, take a breath and steel himself to enter that classroom every morning and I take a lesson from it.

I tell my students to write through the breakup, write through the parent death, write through the divorce, write through the depression, write through all of it. Just keep moving and creating. Emotionally volatile times can stir a lot of resistance. You know- I’m too busy feeling things, I can’t be bothered to write. That’s exactly when you need to sit down and let some words happen. There may not be any worthwhile product that comes out of it, but the process is gold. I also find that you think you’re going to remember the intense moments, but you’re so stoned on adrenaline that they don’t always stick. So it’s good to have a record.

I figure, I don’t always have some pithy bit of wisdom, but I always have my heart to share. I learned that from T. Even when you don’t have it figured out, just go in and play with all you’ve got.

Magical Muddy Birthday

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I spent my birthday with old friends and new, sunning ourselves like lizards on the flat sandstone rocks on the banks of Abiquiu Lake. I am not usually a birthday person, but I had this odd thing happen. I was happy today. Like, heart too big for your chest kind of happy. Like, wade into the lake and look up at the Pedernal mountain and thank God for your blessings out loud kind of happy.

We swam out to the island in the middle of the lake, covered our bodies with mineral mud and just basked there topless, looking like blue-grey sea creatures, until we made our way back to the rocks. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading poetry and painting with watercolors and eating cheese. It was pretty much perfect. Every once in a while life gifts you a day that you couldn’t have written.

Even if my boobs did get a little sunburned.

Life Among Ghosts

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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Remembering Jen

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My dear friend Jen Wilson passed away last night after a long and heroic battle with cancer. Her friends and family are all grieving today.

Jen’s husband and mine are in the same band and we traveled the world together. Many nights, we said goodnight across a bus aisle before drawing the curtains of our bunks. In the morning, we stumbled into each other on our way to find coffee. We sat around together for hours in both grand hotel suites and crappy European dressing rooms. She was my stage-side companion for the last ten years and in a way, we were family.

When I showed up in the Weezer picture, she had been at it for years already. She welcomed me into the camp with open arms and taught me the rockwife ropes. I can only hope that I’ve learned to weather this blessed and challenging life with half as much grace and humor as she did. Jen was real. She managed to be the salt of the earth, while always carrying the latest Louis Vuitton bag. Above all, she was devoted to her family and friends.

When Scott and I were desperately trying to have a baby, Jen was already pregnant with their second child. Many of our friends with new babies acted uncomfortable around us. Jen was a notable exception. She was able to truly listen to me, sometimes offering advice, sometimes just being a sympathetic ear. More than once she prescribed immediate retail therapy and dragged me out in pursuit of some much-needed distraction. She was able to be present for my pain and so she was fully able to be present for our joy when Tariku finally came home. She threw me an amazing baby shower. Jen threw a lot of showers. She was the girl who wanted to give you a party.

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I love the story about Jen working as a barista at Starbucks when the “Undone” video first came out. People would come into her work and say, “I saw your husband on MTV!” She would just nod and smile but she hadn’t even seen the video yet, because they couldn’t afford cable.

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I remember a flight to New York one time, during which Jen was holding Ian and I was holding Tariku. We were across the aisle from each other and both the boys were being fussy. I was far tenser than she about having screaming babies on a plane. I remember looking at how she was rocking her son and shaping my arms around my baby in the same way, learning from the wisdom of a more experienced mother. Soon they were both quiet.

There is so much she taught me. I will take it with me. I will remember her sunny smile always.

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Mad for Martha

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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.

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Wrap it up!

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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!

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My Baby

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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

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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The Graduate

This guy…

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…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:

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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):

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“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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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