Can She Do It?!

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Starting Friday at sundown, I’m unplugging for a whole day, in honor of the National Day of Unplugging. The tricky part is that Saturday is Tariku’s 7th birthday party. As a mom blogger, doing an unplugged b-day party is like the seventh circle of hell! It’s torture! I feel both anxious and excited about the prospect.

Honestly, I wouldn’t do a day completely unplugged if my kid wasn’t going to be glued to my side all day. But he is. And I’m gonna try it. Because I’m curious.

So… if you’re coming to the party- don’t text me for directions!

I wrote a post for the National Day of Unplugging about why I’m doing it.

Here’s a teaser:

I’m curious to see what it will be like if I’m not reserving a portion of my awareness for judging my experience as I imagine others will- on my blog, on social media, on all these platforms that have been so enriching for my life but have nonetheless certainly altered how I experience it. I’m curious to know what will happen if I don’t have this escape hatch of connectivity every time things get the slightest bit boring or uncomfortable. I’m curious to know what will happen if, when my son starts being epically annoying, I lean in to that discomfort rather than relying on the outlet of some snarky tweet and the balm of inevitable supportive responses. I’m curious to know what happens to our connection if I don’t make him repeat his every feat of adorableness for me and my beloved camera.

Read the rest HERE.

Our Experience with Foster Care/Adoption Training

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Scott and I spent the last two weekends getting our foster care training certificate through a private agency called Five Acres. The Five Acres mission is to provide safety, well-being and permanency to children and families in crisis. We were inspired in part by the journey of our friends Shawna Kenney and Rich Dollinger (Shawna wrote about it here), and also by the fact that we want to grow our family and are not sure the route we want to go yet. We’ve often talked about fostering a teenager at some point in the future, so we figure why not start learning all we can about it now.

So we’re out there gathering information, soaking it all in, waiting to have that feeling of rightness I had when I first looked at photo album of Ethiopia, immediately turned to Scott and said, “That’s where our kid is.”

During the intense four days of training, we grew to feel close to the other eight expectant faces we faced across that long white table, eating our lunches out of paper bags while gamely participating in role plays and discussions. I was moved by everyone’s willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is such a rare and brave thing. We shared our questions, our doubts, our losses, our hopes for our families.

We learned the nuts and bolts of the foster care system, as well as talking in depth about loss, abuse, attachment, trauma and family. Together, we made lists on chalkboards:

What are things people need to feel safe?

What is an expected loss vs. an unexpected loss?

What are some reasons children are removed from their homes?

We watched a few documentaries that were uniformly well-made and heart-wrenching. I highly recommend them to anyone. They included Aging Out, From Place to Place and, one of my favorite movies about adoption, Closure (see it if you haven’t!).

After posting about the training on social media, I’ve had a deluge of emails and messages, all saying the same thing: I want to talk to you more about foster care. Clearly the daunting amount of children in the social services system (20,000 in LA county alone, 500,000 nationwide) is on the minds of a lot of people. And I’m so glad, because, wow, do these kids ever need help and love.

Hearing some of these children’s stories reduced me to a trembling, mascara-streaked mess. But they also left me feeling inspired to participate in some capacity, as well as empowered with the tools to do so. I’m not sure if we’re going to try to adopt through LA County, but the options aren’t just foster or do nothing. There are so many ways we can all help. Here’s a really great post about it from Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan: What you Can Do. You can also just call Five Acres and ask.

By the end of each training day, I was so drained that I pretty much came home and crawled into bed with Tariku, using afternoon movies as a bribe for snuggles.

As I’m reflecting on the experience, I keep thinking about a discussion our group had near the end of the training.

“When things get hard, asked the woman leading the workshop, “What will you have in your back pocket that will keep you committed?”

I answered that, when facing situations that might inspire fear or judgment, I try to build a bridge to my own life. Watching the movies of those teenagers, I was reminded of my own angry and confused adolescence. I was reminded of my brother- an epic seeker/wanderer- and so many of my friends who have struggled at various times. I was reminded of a time not so long ago when Scott and I held our heads in our hands every night, completely overwhelmed and despairing in the face of Tariku’s trauma-related behaviors. I would never for a minute think that any of us was undeserving of love, or help, or a home.

I believe this even now, when T is standing at the foot of the bed insisting that I listen to him belch to the tune of Gangnam Style (true story).

Here’s the other thing I keep in my back pocket…

I remember first holding Tariku as a baby, burying my face his little nest of hair and thinking that he smelled like powder and cookies and everything good and sweet on God’s earth and that he was truly perfect and I’d never be that happy again. I didn’t require anything in return. I didn’t require anything at all. I had everything I needed.

It was a small moment. I probably thought the same thing a thousand more times before he started smelling like french fries and dirty feet and all the rest went out the window. But for some reason, that moment is the embodiment of love for me. The memory of it can sometimes give me superpowers. I go back to it all the time when the waters get choppy.

Friday Faves 2/20

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1. Chicken with Cardamom Rice, from Jerusalem, by Yottam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi. This recipe will change your life. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it. It’s great for a last-minute dinner party. Once you get it down, you can bang it out in under a couple of hours and it’s both impressive and the perfect one-dish comfort food. I’m wild about the entire cookbook.

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2. Remembrances of David Carr. Carr’s brilliant The Night of the Gun forever changed the way I think about memoir, journalism, memory, storytelling and healing. I’ve enjoyed reading the many remembrances of him online and have spent a lot of time this week meditating on what his writing means to me. All our love and prayers go out to his friends and family.

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3. Millihelen beauty blog. I met the delightful Jane Marie backstage at Margot Leitman’s Origin Story show at UCB, and was delighted to learn about Millihelen, her smart, sassy new beauty blog at Jezebel. For those of us who like beauty and fashion but don’t like being made to feel like crap about ourselves by people trying to sell us stuff. It’s funny! You’ll like it!

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4. Rockin’ Baby Sling. My favorite shower gift. T was nearly 11 months old when we brought him home but he was the size of a 6 month old, so I got a few good months of being able to carry him in the sling, which is a terrific attachment-promoting activity. I still treasure the memory. These are made in America of such pretty fabrics, and for every one you buy they donate a sling to a mom in need.

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5. National Day of Unplugging. I’m really excited about this campaign and the discussion it inspires. Scott about falls on the floor laughing every time I tell him I’m going to do this, saying things like, “I last saw you without your phone in your hand in 2006.” I’ll show him. Probably. I’m sure as heck gonna try. Will you join me?

Everything You Ever Wanted ARC Giveaway!

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I thought you might be interested in seeing the original photo (thanks, Christophe Liglet!) that the Everything You Ever Wanted book cover design is based on.

In celebration of the fact that I just finished the final-est, drop-dead (no, really, this is really it) revisions, I’m going to do a giveaway of one of the ARCs (advance reader copies). Sign up for my monthly newsletter under that picture of my head to the right, and leave a comment on this post saying you did. If you’re already signed up that counts too, just leave a comment. I’ll enter your name in a drawing and send a signed copy to the winner! I’ll announce the winner on Monday.

I realize that my posts about the new memoir have been a bit confusing: Oh, I finished. Wait, I finished again. Hey remember when I said I finished? Well now I really finished.

This is what writing a book is like. There are drafts. There are edits. There are more drafts. There are copyedits. The ARC comes out. Then there is a big stack of typeset pages that you correct with an old-fashioned red pen. After you send that back, you can find as many egregious mistakes as you want, they’re going in the final book anyway.

If, as I did, you always hoped to be a writer, every step of the way is the stuff of dreams. And it’s still oddly anti-climactic. Where is the one big moment to pop the cork?!

I always want life to give me the dramatic Hollywood scene: the big proposal in the rainstorm, the shaft of sunlight through the clouds. Reaching the top of the snow-capped mountain and raising my arms in victory.

Really, the climb up a mountain is slow and largely an endurance test. Often, when you get to the top you just have to pee and your camera is out of batteries and some asshole left a bunch of empty Cheetos bags on the ground. So you might as well take advantage of the many opportunities to stop, take a breath, and look at the beautiful views along the way. First holding the ARC in my hand is definitely one of those moments. I hope you enjoy it, too!

Imperfectly Seeking Help

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I’m more likely these days to celebrate Tariku’s triumphs on this blog than I am to explore our day-to-day challenges. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe the successes are just clamoring louder to be written.

But I got an email the other day from a woman parenting a child who also has Sensory Processing Disorder and PTSD. She told me that she had combed this blog for more about our struggles and had only really found the “everything is so much better” stuff. Better than what? What was it like? Please tell me, she asked.

Things are remarkably different now than they were a few years ago; it’s true. But I don’t mean to misrepresent the situation. Here’s a little snapshot:

T rises from his pillow at 5:30 like a hummingbird who has just smoked methamphetamine. That’s how he rolls all day, until we strong-arm him into bed. He wakes up with approximately one-hundred-and-forty-three questions about cloud formations and tornadoes and Cuba and sharks and death and, and, and… He’s extremely bright and curious and hilarious, but will take almost no direction. Whether it’s baking a cake or doing math or playing a piano concerto, he knows how to do it. His favorite word is no, accompanied by an impressive eye-roll. When he gets over-stimulated, he has no sense of his body in space and very little impulse control. He literally climbs the walls. They have the scuff marks to prove it. He wants to be in control of absolutely everything, including the time and the weather. It’s sort of like living with a cross between Iggy Pop and Fidel Castro.

I love every crazy minute of my son; I truly do. Just the other night we were on the bed together and I was reading while he watched TV. He reached over and took my hand. We held hands like that, while doing our own thing, for the longest time. I swear it was one of the sweetest things that’s happened in my entire life. But I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that he suddenly turned into Shirley Temple overnight.

Much of our life is still spent negotiating therapies and school intervention. Most nights I still wake in a panic at 3am, worried for him.

In fact, this morning I was just on the phone with a new counselor, who offers some innovative therapies. I talked to her about T’s trajectory thus far.

“Did you ever try so-and-so pre-school?” she asked.

“No. We heard about it. We thought about it.”

“That’s too bad. It would have been a really good fit. Their forte is working with extremely bright children with social and emotional challenges. Maybe they could still help you with an after school group. I want you to call them.”

“I…I…I don’t remember why we didn’t. It was so confusing at the time,” is all I managed to stammer.

The rest of the conversation was encouraging. We set up an appointment for an intake. I chirped something about so excited to see what the future holds and then hung up.

I put the phone down and sat, staring at the website of the special needs pre-school he didn’t attend. We’re very happy with our school now, but it looked like it would have indeed been perfect a few years ago. And even though I had already loaded on my mascara for the day, I began to weep.

The essential thing I forgot to do. The thing thing that would have helped him. And I missed it. I failed my child.

Which sends me right down the spiral of… at what am I failing right now that I’ll have to answer for at a therapist’s office in three years?

Scott’s guru guitar teacher showed up at the house as I was in the midst of this. I answered the door and actually cried on his shoulder. I barely know the guy.

He asked me tell him what was going on. So I did.

Have I mentioned I barely know this guy?

I can’t imagine what Scott was thinking. It was truly bizarro of me. But sometimes you gotta just be where you are.

“I’m not doing enough,” I sobbed. “I’m doing the wrong things.”

“Are you willing to let that story go? “ he asked me. “Because that’s just a story you’re telling yourself.”

It’s a story I often tell myself. And it’s true I’m usually getting something wrong. It’s true there are plenty of great avenues of help that we’ll never find. But all three of us are seeking help with such hope and dedication. It’s not ever enough, but it’s our best effort. Just look at our little Iggy Pop. He’s learning. He’s making friends. He’s growing all the time. He’s a wild, white-hot ball of pure love. He’s perfect. And I will fail him many times before this gig is up. But that’s just one story. There’s another in which we’re all heroes.

I deeply relate to the desperation and confusion of the woman who wrote me the letter. This isn’t an answer at all. It’s just a story about my morning. But I hope it helps.