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 Yelling

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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.

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.

Enjoying a Suck-Ass Day

I recently went out for non-drinks with a pregnant writer friend, who is understandably concerned that motherhood will ruin her life.

Oh, it will, I told her. Everyone’s going to tell you to go see a movie alone or some stupid thing like that. As if balancing a popcorn bucket on your belly for a couple of hours is gonna make up for the fact that life as you know it is just about over.

She looked at me, shocked. Okay, so maybe I could have been a little gentler.

But seriously- I had just had a day, during which I drove from a school conference in Altadena to an occupational therapist in Encino then over to a child development specialist in Sierra Madre then to Trader Joe’s for some special fucking salami and crackers that we can’t possibly live without in this house for five seconds, even though the rest of the stuff we need is at FOUR different other stores. Then I made a stew that nobody liked and they both ate frozen pizzas. The end.

But you’re happier now, right? She continued.

Nope.

Nope, not happier. I was happy when Scott and I went to Japan every ten minutes. I’m exaggerating for effect here- I’m sometimes happier. I’m also more worried, stressed, exhausted, annoyed, et al.

But I am certainly better. I am less selfish. I am stronger. And the world breaks open for me in surprising and transformative ways.

Of COURSE you’re happy spending your days shopping for Hello Kitty barrettes (for yourself) in Harajuku and then writing humorous little blogs for Vanity Fair while eating room service and overlooking snow-blanketed Tokyo from your hotel room. That’s easy.

But what I never would have expected, is that somewhere in between the school conference and the occupational therapist, I was listening to a great Shins song and the car was facing west toward the beach (sometimes it’s enough just to know the ocean is so close) and the afternoon light was buttery gorgeous and this enormous and surprising sense of joy cracked over me.

Because who knew that I ever was this person? That I can show up for my kid and seek help for him and advocate for his needs? I always thought I was selfish and depressed and narcissistic and barely functioning. I guess I still am on some days, but there are other facets to me that I never would have had a chance to see without my son. I prefer to be this person, even when she is less happy than my previous, more carefree incarnation.

And then there is the thing about the giant, heart-expanding, crazy-making, everything-they-ever-said-it-would-be love that comes with motherhood. Happiness is for wusses. I’ll take the love.

Here’s that Shins song I was talking about…. Also- the dog in the video looks just like my dogs!