Happy Enough New Year 2016!

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On Christmas day we rushed Bright Eyes to the emergency room with pneumonia. He seems to be pulling out of it now, but it was deeply nerve wracking. It feels like it’s been weeks and weeks of nothing but of sickness and worry around here.

At 11pm on New Year’s Eve, I was on my hands and knees cleaning vomit off the bedroom floor after a stomach flu raged through the house for 2 days, thinking, hey, at least they missed the rug this time. Scott lay on the couch in his checked pajamas and stared at the ceiling in shock. On the other side of our fence, the bass pounded from our neighbor’s black tie party. When I was done cleaning the last of the barf remnants, from my voyeuristic vantage point at the kitchen window I could see flashes of glittery dresses and crisp bow ties twirling next to the pool, where burlesque dancers lounged on enormous rafts shaped like swans. Yup- swans.

Then I shuffled papers from pile to pile for a while on our annoying dining room table that has crumbs and glitter and lord knows what else ground into every crack of the reclaimed barnwood rustic bullshit I’d never buy again in a million years because I have to clean it with a toothbrush. The whole house looked like a giant to-do list.

I set the bar low and wrote down some pathetic resolutions. Like- take walks. That kind of thing.

I thought- Oh, my poor life, my self, my soul, where have you gone? I’m a shell of a human in green socks and Birkenstocks on New Years eve, pretending I need more filtered water so I can spy on my neighbor’s swanky party.

I peeked in to the bedroom, where the two kids were through the worst of all the illness and finally asleep in our bed, snuggled in soft blankets and snoring gently, curled beside each other like two commas in different point font. I sat on the edge of the bed for a moment and just breathed with them, watching the deep calm of their sleeping faces and the sweetness of it all was nearly painful.

There was everything, right there. The parties we weren’t at. This crazy family we somehow lucked into. All of our choices and blessings and regrets. All the years, passing faster and faster. Everything we still long for and everything we have and everything we traded and fact that we don’t get to keep it. Any of it.

I did a little exercise I sometimes like to do when I am faced with choices or doubts. I ask myself- on my deathbed, what will I wish I had done with this day?

I thought, I didn’t do so badly. Today, I took care of the people I love. Today, that’s enough. I’ve earned my night’s rest. I wouldn’t rather be on a swan, or anywhere else, really.

When we woke up, everyone felt better and we took Bright Eyes for his first time bowling and we laughed and laughed and ate gross chicken fingers and it was pretty awesome. There will be other parties.

Wishing you all bright and beautiful things in 2016!

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Holiday Huddle

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Please forgive my month-long absence from writing anything more complex than a grocery list. My brains are scrambled eggs. I’m not even sure I just spelled eggs right.

After months of hand-wringing and waiting, we finally transitioned a new three-year-old son into our home!

About a year ago, Scott and I decided things had gotten too easy. We were doing things like exercising regularly, meeting deadlines, having dinner parties, and keeping our hair relatively clean. We decided to go ahead and screw all that up and have another kid!

Our nickname for him is Bright Eyes One-Sock. He’s a ridiculously adorable peanut with sparkling eyes that could kill you dead with cuteness. And he can’t manage to keep both socks on for ten minutes at a time.

This time, we’re fostering-to-adopt through LA County, which means that our family is living with a certain degree of uncertainty. Part of the reason I’ve been abstaining from my usual over-sharing is that there are both safety and legal considerations. Also, the adoption is not yet finalized, nor will it be for months, and that’s if we’re lucky.

For that reason, I haven’t known how to write about Bright Eyes. But I also don’t know how to NOT tell you about him. I’ve been writing about our family’s journey for seven years now, and have always made it a point to get as real as possible about the glorious mess of it all.

And wow- has it been messy. And beautiful. And scary. And tender. And exhausting. Our whole family is struggling to accommodate an enormous change. Once again, we’re all doing the trauma dance: the tantrums and the tenderness, the breakdowns and breakthroughs. Late at night (by which I mean 9:15), when I tally up the day’s triumphs and failures and find myself wanting, I think, “You wrote a WHOLE BOOK about this. Why can’t you remember what you’re supposed to do?!” And then I try to fill out an insurance form and I realize I can’t even remember my own home address. That really happened.

Trauma is a baffling beast. I have been dealing with our first son’s PTSD for years and it still bests me often. Trauma has been my most terrifying opponent in this life and also my greatest teacher. When I think about the trauma we’re experiencing as a society right now, and our fearful, primal, and often-illogical reaction, it’s pretty much the macro version of what my children go through daily. I believe there is nothing more important than facing down trauma with love. It is so essential right now to locate the love that is there, always, somewhere deep beneath the fear- in our homes, in our communities, in our world. Love wins. Ultimately, it does.

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There have been big, bright, boisterous holidays in our past and I’m sure there will be again. This holiday season has instead been an intimate and fragile time- a season for huddling together.

Rain in Los Angeles is akin to Armageddon. A cloud wrung out nine drops of moisture two days ago and our power went out for six hours. Sirens wailed in the distance. Both my boys woke at 5am.

There was no heat or light and only the sound of the rain on the windows. I put hats and sweaters on everyone and bundled us off to the living room, where I lit candles and we snuggled under ten blankets. To stave off fear of the dark, I staged a filibuster and told an hour long story that was pretty much Star Wars meets King Arthur, but with fairies and talking flowers and an evil dragon that melts robots to make jewelry. Wonder of wonders- they actually listened! And as the sky finally brightened and I wrapped it up (the robot was saved, the dragon defeated, of course), I thought- I will always remember this. This small, sweet moment. This pinpoint of light in the darkness. Even when I can’t remember my own home address, I will remember this.

Wishing love and peace and moments of light, big and small, to all of you. From our huddle to yours.

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L.A. Sunday Funday

us n muralWe had a crazy fun family day on Sunday, inspired by The Industry’s Hopscotch Opera, which Scott and I were lucky enough to experience the day before. Hopscotch is performed entirely in cars that drive around L.A., and at various sites at which the cars stop. Beg, borrow, or steal a ticket if you can. It’s remarkable. The city  itself is an integral thread in the fabric of the story, and we walked away pumped to explore more of this magical, maddening place we call home.

Tariku’s passion for visual art has really been blossoming lately, and he constantly draws dinosaurs and sea monsters and knights and dragons. He is obsessed with drawing the Phoenix, which seems like a particularly poignant symbol for a boy who has come so far.

us muralsSo Scott and I decided that we’d all go see the downtown murals, and then design our own to “paint” (with chalk) on the walls in our backyard.

It was a blast! We wandered the Downtown Arts District and gaped at the mind-blowing street art, then settled in at Wurstkuche to munch their outstanding sausages and fries (yum!), while we drew our design plans. We then took the plans home and executed them. Afterwards, we rewarded ourselves with some pumpkin pie we had picked up at The Pie Hole.

The experience gave us a chance to educate Tariku about the history and culture of street art, which was thrilling to him, because it’s essentially the Robin Hood story, but with art. We also talked about color, composition, and how we choose our content.

Most importantly for us, we discussed how art is positive way to express our feelings- especially the ones that are bubbling up and need to get out of us! Tariku probably said is best: “It’s better than screaming and yelling!”

Amen to that.

I can’t extol enough the virtues of project-based learning. Or of a stroll through the Downtown Arts District.

Look at that proud face.

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Cyborg Dinosaur Island

Tariku wrote, directed, starred in, and scored (with a little help) this movie. All the percussion you hear is him playing! We’ve been working on it on and off for a year now. It’s definitely had its challenging moments, but overall the experience was such a blast, not to mention a terrific family experience with Project Based Learning.

It’s about two rival cyborg dinosaur brothers, who find connection and redemption through rock and roll. I love the message of using art to creatively express difficult emotions.

Hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it! Let us know what you think!

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When Big Baby J. Came To Stay

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As many of you know, Scott and I are in the process of adopting through LA County DCFS (Department of Child and Family Services). As of a few weeks ago, we’ve got our stamp of approval, so we’re officially certified and ready to do this thing!

We got a call last week that there was a six-month-old baby in need of respite care, which is when a child needs an emergency place to stay for a few days. We had not remotely expressed interest in doing respite care, but there is a crisis-level need in LA County for foster parents, and so they called us anyway.

My first response was: no way! I’m super busy and also that sounds really hard and also…ummmm…also nothing. So I called Scott, fully expecting that he would say, no way! No luck. And then we talked to Tariku, to see how he’d feel about it. You see where this is going, right?

And that was how we wound up with Big Baby J.

Big Baby J. had the best chunky baby thighs you’ve ever seen in your life, and the deepest, brightest, most gorgeous eyes. He had a funny off-kilter smile and sweet dimply cheeks. He had us all laughing and laughing.

Tariku was remarkable with him. He fed him and played with him and helped bathe and dress him. He was even kind and funny when the baby woke him at 4am. His exact words were, “Dude! Can he just whine a little quieter?”

I talked to Tariku’s teacher daily, and watched closely for any signs that he was having a hard time. His teacher told me that he actually had his best week yet since school started, and that he was communicating in a very matter-of-fact and enthusiastic way about Baby J.

As for me, I decided that I was going to love this baby with everything I had for the short time he was here. I put away the to-do list. I lay with him on the bed for hours. We banged Tariku’s old toy drums on the living room floor. I looked him in the eye as much as possible and held him on my chest while he drifted off to sleep.

I figured- 3 days, right? We know from the very beginning that we’re giving him back, so how hard could it be?

It was very hard. I spent the whole last morning with him pretty much just crying into his hair. I handed him back, held my head up, and I told him I hoped I would see him again one day.

Tariku said, “I hope he remembers me.”

I told him, “He may not remember you in his head but he’ll remember you in his heart.”

I’m still pretty wrecked. And I’m also happy. I’m proud of us as a family for how we said yes to something scary, and then all came together to make it happen.

What a wonderfully surprising life we have. It snuck up on us. It was never like we sat down and said: gee, I hope we get to be foster parents someday. Honestly, I’m not strong enough for this. I’m not very strong at all. I was in bed all day after Big Baby J. left, gnawing on a vat of industrial strength Maalox, because my stomach felt like I had chugged a gallon of acid.

But I think- who’s strong enough for this? The people who aren’t super-sensitive? Maybe, but why would they say yes? It’s paradoxically always going to be up to the people who are perhaps least equipped: the marshmallows, the kids who were always described derisively as “overly-sensitive” on our report cards.

I just kept looking in the mirror and telling myself: you’re strong. You’re a warrior. You can do this. This isn’t about you and what you want. This is about a baby who needs a place to stay and a lot of love. And you have all of that to offer.

I’m sure we needed Baby J. as much as Baby J. needed us.

When I was in Africa last year with Help One Now, my friend Jacob Combs  gave me this Giving Key necklace, with the word “HOPE” on it. The idea behind the necklace is that you keep it for as long as you need it, and then you pay it forward to someone you think could use the message. I liked mine so much as a piece of jewelry that I held on to it for an entire year!

This seemed like a good time to let it go. I gave the key to Baby J.’s full-time foster mom, when she came to pick him up. It’s a message I’d love to offer to all of us- parents, kids, everyone- who have a more circuitous journey than most to find the place we truly belong.

Baby J- I know you are for big, bright things here in this world. I’m blessed to have met you and held you and kissed your perfect face. I am so lucky.

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