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.

The Dignity of a Funny Costume


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!


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.



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


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.