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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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!

On Diversity

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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.

Our Children

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Tariku has finally been getting some targeted help for his sensory integration issues and it’s making a world of difference. It’s taken us years to land on a recipe that has been having some measurable and surprisingly quick results. I say this to give hope to any parents out there who feel like you’re reading every book and taking every class and spending your last dollar and you’re just beating your head against a wall. I’ve had those months. I actually had a pretty solid year-and-a-half like that. But the last biting incident he had at school set into motion a chain of events that led us to a great child development specialist, who sent us to a kick-ass occupational therapist and also helped us find a therapeutic aide for him in the classroom.

One thing I’ve noticed about the professionals who serve the special needs community is that they often refer to the children as “our children,” as a way of distinguishing them from kids who are developing more typically. As in, “It’s sometimes hard for our children handle unexpected touch.” Or, “Our children have a difficult time visually organizing new environments.” Etc.

I find it soothing. It makes me feel less alone and reminds me that children are raised by communities not individuals. We never asked to be a part of this particular community. Who does? Well, some very exceptional adoptive parents I know do, but most of the selfish rest of us don’t wake up and say- wow, I’d really like to go to lots and lots of therapy with my five-year-old until I’m so harried that I need some for myself as well. And yet here we are. What I’ve found is that I’ve met an amazing group of smart, tough, exceptionally compassionate individuals and they have improved not just my son’s life but also mine.

Essay in Salon Today

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I have an essay at Salon right now about an inappropriate relationship I had with a counselor at my sleepaway camp when I was 12. That’s me on the right in the shapeless white sweater. I remember that I borrowed it from a friend for the night. One of the great joys of living in a bunk with a bunch of other girls was the communal wardrobe.

It was such a pivotal summer for me that it’s hard for me to look at the picture and not want to go back there and… And what? And stop myself? And change how things turned out? How could I ever wish for that when my life is so rich with blessings today? I’ll take my whole past, every confusing moment of it, if it means I get to have this present. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets when I look at my face in this picture. How could I have thought I was so grown up?

Check out my essay! Leave comments if you feel inspired to jump in the dialogue.