…graduated from pre-school. Yes, he did. If you’ve been following our journey at all, you’ll know that it’s a small miracle. I am so proud of him. What else can you say?
I’m starting to take this miracle thing in stride.
…graduated from pre-school. Yes, he did. If you’ve been following our journey at all, you’ll know that it’s a small miracle. I am so proud of him. What else can you say?
I’m starting to take this miracle thing in stride.
This morning, T was building this Lego Jeep:
He got really frustrated because it was too small for his Lego man. He broke it trying to shove him inside. Then he put it back together and then he broke it again. At this point, you can imagine that the Legos were starting to fly across the room. There was whining. Oh, was there whining. There were tears. There was the slamming of a fist on the table. There were multiple attempts (of varying tones) by me to suggest different, less frustrating activities. Like breakfast, for example. No dice.
Finally, I just walked away and folded laundry in the other room until the annoyingness abated. At which point, I poked my head back in the dining room and saw T completely engrossed, building this (which fits his Lego man just fine):
“You fixed the problem!” I exclaimed.
He looked up, smiling.
“I fixed it. AND this one is better because it has buttons.”
Apparently the orange buttons wash the Jeep and make it fly, and the red one shoots missiles. It is totally better than that other lame Jeep.
Somehow, my kid has the ability to work through frustration. I didn’t learn that skill until I was thirty and realized I would have been way less of a derelict if I had ever followed through on anything.
My impulse is always to head the tantrum off at the pass, to offer him other activities, to make everything okay (for him and for me). But he was right. He did just need to keep at it until he found a creative solution to the problem. I guess sometimes a Lego or two needs to get tossed at the wall in the process.
These pics were taken by T with my phone at his favorite work of art: Chris Burden’s Metropolis II at LACMA. We’ve been visiting it since he was about two years old and it still fascinates him. He discovers new things about the tiny city each time.
When he asked if he could take pictures, I was hesitant because I’m wary of all the time he spends staring at a screen. A museum visit is a good time to just be present and actually experience the real life around you. On the other hand, taking pictures is different than playing video games. It’s still hiding behind a piece of technology that mediates between you and the world, but there is a deeper and more conscious level of creative interaction involved.
As someone who loves to take pictures. it’s a question with which I’ve often struggled. How much am I hiding behind my camera? When I’m obsessively documenting a moment, am I sacrificing the actual emotional experience of that moment? But it was really interesting to watch him apply his own vision to this piece of art he loves so much. There is no way to capture the whole thing, it’s too big. So he was faced with issues of content and composition. What parts are most visually interesting? Most important to remember? How does he take Metropolis II and create something new? I think he did a great job!
We need to put our own frame around the events of our lives. I usually use words. I wonder what T’s chosen medium will be.
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.
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!
An adoptive mom friend of mine just got her first, “You’re not my real mom anyway!” from her son and it upset her. We haven’t heard it yet in our house, but I expect we will soon. The closest we’ve come was once, when Tariku was super-pissed at me, he said, “You’re a mean mommy! I want a different mommy!”
It was horrible- not for me, for him. He heard his own words and it registered on his face as absolute terror. Three seconds later, he threw his arms around my neck and said, “I love you so much, Mommy.” I felt desperately sad for him right then because I could sense that he was bargaining with me. I don’t think it was conscious- he knows at this point that we are his family forever. We talk about it all the time. He no longer consciously thinks that when one of us goes out of town we might not be coming back. But I do think that there is still a corner of his heart that feels unsafe; that believes if he behaves badly enough or says the wrong thing, he may turn around to find that we’re gone.
I told him that I knew he loved me and that I loved him more than anything in the world. I told him he could never say or do anything that would ever make me go away. I will say the same thing when he tells me one day that I’m not his real mom. I’m not worried about it.
I have an unusual perspective on the issue because I’m also an adoptee, and I can remember the day I said it to my own mother. I was four-years-old and my family had just been through a terrible trauma. The nursery was still decorated in shades of pink and white, diapers still in the linen closet, baby bottle still in the kitchen cupboard. My mother hadn’t had the heart to clear it all out and put it in the garage, even though it had been months since my parents had gone to the hospital to pick up my new baby sister and had come home empty handed because the birth mother had changed her mind at the last minute. I can’t remember how they explained it to me, but I do remember being incredibly angry. I, who had been a dream child until then (really- ask my mom), suddenly started acting out: talking back, fighting with other kids, carelessly hurting myself all the time. One day my mother asked me to do something and I refused, on grounds that she wasn’t my real mother anyway. I remember the moment like I remember few other things from that time. I was wearing my Kermit the frog jumpsuit, sitting on the piano bench, not looking her in the eye.
My mother was devastated. She wept. My father had a big talk with me about it later. I never said it again. In fact, I was awash in guilt about it for years. I can still conjure a shimmer of guilt around the edges of the memory if I think about it hard enough.
I guess I’m particularly unconcerned about hearing those words because I have been on the other end of them and I can tell you without a doubt that they were never true. It was never an issue; there was never a question. Even when I don’t particularly like or understand her, even when we don’t talk for long stretches, my mother- the mother who wanted me and adopted me and raised me- was then and will always be my real mother.
I offer you this, adoptive mommies: don’t sweat it. They don’t mean it. They’re stuck with you. For real.
Happy Mother’s Day, all you beautiful mommies!
This is my newly decorated living room. This is it. There is no couch. There is a rocking chair across the room, for exactly no one to sit in because the drums are so loud your ears would bleed. Jealous?
Why did I let this happen to my life, you ask? Did I hire my sixteen-year-old burnout nephew as a decorator and pay him in weed?
Let me tell you the saga of my couch.
Once upon a time, we had an expensive leather sofa bed from Restoration Hardware. Because I am a sensible gal, we got it off Craig’s List. When we took our truck to Venice Beach to pick it up, we found it weighed exactly 47,000 lbs.. While we were inside finding this out, we got a parking ticket. Then we had to go and hire two guys from the Home Depot parking lot to help us take it home and get it in the house. At this point, we may as well have bought a new couch.
I really enjoyed our expensive couch for exactly two months. We even had a house guest! A certain relative (hint: rhymes with shmother-in-shlaw) visited and slept on it and then proceeded to not be able to stand us for the following six years, but what the heck! At least we had a sofa bed.
One fine Saturday, the dogs ate the entire back of it.
Here they are, the little darlings. That is not the couch- that is the couch before the cursed couch. They ate that one, too. Do you want them?!? DM me.
But I am not easily thrown. I had it reupholstered by a very nice man who had to bring not one but three of his sons to move it.
I bought those weird plastic electrified shock mats to keep the dogs off it (go easy on the comments here PETA activists, at least I didn’t donate the dogs to science). But then I realized that we were living with plastic shock mats on our furniture and that is psychotic, so I took them off.
They ate it again. I had it reupholstered again. By this time, we may as well have bought a car. I put up dog doors to keep them out of the living room but those were such a pain that eventually we just started leaving a dog gate ON the couch, which made me not even want to look at the living room much less live in it.
They shoved the gate over and ate it again.
At which point, I was like: I FOUND THE PERFECT PLACE FOR THAT DRUM SET!
Magically, within one afternoon, the couch disappeared and my living room looked like this. It chafes a bit, but it has also been an instant party. The very night the cursed couch disappeared, there were four pre-schoolers rehearsing with their new band while I made dinner with ear plugs in. Je ne regrette rien. Fun is better than a couch any day.
I recently learned of an amazing organization called Connected in Hope, which helps provide women artisans in Ethiopia with sustainable, fair trade income. Like the founder of Connected in Hope, I feel a deep connection to the women of Ethiopia. Also- I really like nice scarves!I’ve been wearing mine every day for a week.
Connected in Hope is generously offering a scarf as a giveaway to one of my readers. Go like their fb page and then leave a comment here telling me that you did. I’ll draw a name at random next week and you can pick any scarf from their website.
And should you want to just go and order one, use the discount code HOPE10 for 10% off!
Here is the story of Connected in Hope, from their founder:
At 49 years old, Mulu’s face tells the story of the hardship she has endured. When she was in her early twenties she escaped an abusive husband and fled the Ethiopian countryside for Addis Ababa. Hoping to find a better life and more opportunity in Ethiopia’s capital city her dreams were quickly dashed. Having limited education and no skills she was forced to begin the job of carrying fuel wood.
Mulu’s work as a fuel wood carrier began long before the sun rose over Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She left her sleeping children, quietly slipped out of the door and made her way to the jungle. For the next few hours she collected eucalyptus branches from the forest floor, gathering them into a thick bundle. Hoisting the 75 lb. bundle to her back, Mulu began the long hike to the market in the center of the city. Mulu’s back hunched over from the tremendous weight and her muscles burned as she walked; the physical toll that this work was taking on her body evident with every step. Mulu knew the birr she hoped to earn, worth less than $1 USD, would be enough to pay for her medication and feed her children just for that day. If she was fortunate, she would sell all the fuel wood and start her long walk home by late afternoon. Tomorrow, long before dawn, she would begin again.
Following the adoption of our youngest son Joseph from Ethiopia in 2009, my family and I felt a compelling desire to give back to the kind and loving people of his birth country. A subsequent visit to Ethiopia brought us face-to-face with women like Mulu, burdened with bundles of fuel wood. We learned about the enormous challenges they face every day in an effort to provide even the basics for their families. We met children forced to quit school and work when the complications of HIV/AIDS left their mothers too ill to support the family. The faces of the women fuel wood carriers and their children were imprinted on our hearts and left us forever changed – and committed!
We met a group of former fuel wood carriers who had been taught to weave scarves; however, with a very limited market, they weren’t selling enough to be able to support their families. It was through interactions with these amazing women, that Connected in Hope Foundation was born.
Connected in Hope was founded to help these women build their weaving business so it could provide each of them with a sustainable, predictable, and Fair Trade income. The weavers are paid upfront for their beautiful, hand woven scarves, which we then bring to the international market through our website, retail stores and trunk shows. Once the scarves are sold, 100% of the profit is re-invested in programs that benefit the women and their families. We take a holistic approach that goes beyond Fair Trade to include improved educational opportunities and increased access to basic health care.
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.
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.
I always harbor some dread when the candy holidays come around. Kids process sugar in different ways- mine winds up tap dancing on the coffee table and juggling the china. When there are handfuls of candy involved, the day always ends in tears. His reaction to processed sugar and food dye is swift and extreme. It even aggravates his wandering eye.
I’m torn about allowing him sweets because the issue is strictly behavioral; it’s not as if he has some terrible physical allergic reaction. So we stumbled upon a candy compromise that really seems to be working for us. I allow him to munch the goods (within reason) and then when he starts to go bonkers, I say, “This is how your body feels when you eat candy. It feels uncomfortable.” I also remind him before he eats it. The cumulative result has been that he very rarely tries it anymore. I always bring some gluten free relatively healthy cookies along so he has a treat. This year he had a ball looking for eggs and then just abandoned his loot in a corner. I feel that it’s a victory, because he’s learning to be present in his body and to keep himself regulated, rather than me laying down the law. It works so much better when it comes from him. I wish I could figure out how to apply this method to more situations.
We had two egg hunts. We crafted and our hands stayed green for days. We hung out with a small group of friends and I felt grateful for the chosen family we’ve built around us. The day was candy-free but truly sweet.
As a former East Coaster with fond memories of white winters, I have vowed that my SoCal son will see snow every year of his life, one way or another. This year I suddenly realized it was the end of March and he had yet to experience any of that rumored white stuff that falls from the sky. Scott is in Japan on tour right now, so on a whim I rented a house in Big Bear with two of my girlfriends and their kids. We piled in the car and spent a few spring break days on sleds and skis.
I was a little bit worried about the trip, never sure how exhausting T is going to be in a new environment. I’m still wary, since the days he wouldn’t sleep on a strange bed and screamed all night long in hotel rooms.
It was a wild success. The kids were adorable. They played on their own FOR HOURS while the moms sat at the kitchen table and drank tea. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more relaxed and fun time with him. It actually felt like a vacation for me as well.
This is how I thought skiing would go- I imagined we’d put them in a class and they’d try for twenty minutes until they got sick of falling on their faces and then we’d all go sledding. Not even. That kid was bombing down the mountain after just an hour. I was so proud of him that it felt like my entire body was smiling. Not because I particularly care if he skis or not, but because he tried so hard and listened and kept at it. When he actually made it down on his own you could see the joy coming off him like heat waves. I had meant to hide and watch so he wouldn’t be distracted, but I couldn’t control myself. I was literally standing there screaming, YOU ARE AWESOME. He turned and gave me the thumbs up and kept skiing.
And then there was me. When I realized Marti and Bianca were renting skis for themselves as well, panic gripped my chest. I haven’t been on skis since I was a little girl, and even then I only did it twice. I thought- am I really going to do this thing? The next thing I knew I was sitting in a chairlift. I haven’t felt that giggly and shot through with adrenaline in a long time. I survived with only a few face plants. At the end of the day, T and I rode the “flying chairs” and made it down the mountain together. I think I will remember skiing with my son’s hand in mine, both of us screaming with laughter as the late afternoon sun glanced off the snow, for the rest of my life.
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.
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.
I saw two videos of teenage boys in one week. The first is posted above, and consists of local news coverage of a heartwarming interaction between an uncommonly kind young basketball player and a teen with special needs. The second was the Steubenville rape case video, in which, for a stomach-turning twelve minutes, a high school student mocks the unconscious victim of a gang rape.
As the mother of a boy, I want to know: what makes the difference? How do you raise one instead of the other? How do you teach compassion while at the same time not pathologizing every little manifestation of aggression?
I’d really like an easy answer, some reassurance that the parents of those rapists and their reprehensible friends were monsters, absent, ignorant, abusive. My guess is that the truth lies in a more uncomfortably grey area than that.
This is not another species committing these crimes, these are our sons. It indicates a failure on so many levels- schools, parents, peers, communities. I think this Salon article makes an interesting point in exploring the efficacy of bystander education programs that target specific communities.
This country is pathetically puritanical when it comes to sex education in our schools. I realize it’s not a panacea, but education is a beginning, at least. It has the potential to give kids the correct language with which to discuss sexual assault. It opens up the dialogue, rather than couching it in silence and shame.
Having a boy who will one day be a teenager changes the experience of watching these horrors unfold in the media. One of my greatest (and hardest) gifts of motherhood is that is has connected me to the world in a more urgent way. How can we raise our boys to be kind, conscious, empathetic? I don’t have an answer, but I am deeply engaged with the question.
My post about my experience at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference is up at n+1 today.
Last weekend was a blur of a trip to Boston, and not just because the snow was blowing horizontally into my eyeballs. The highlight was when Mat Johnson gave me the title for my new memoir when we were trapped in a wine bar at four in the afternoon by a moat of slush. The whole weekend was both difficult and magical like that. It was like slipping into a parallel universe of spontaneous revelations, late nights with writers I adore and overwhelming (to the point of a mild panic attack) masses of people and panels and books.
And now, back to real life and my nights of burgers and laundry and Dinosaur Train. I wouldn’t trade it, but it’s nice to breach the space-time continuum once in a while and feel like I’m getting a taste of my pre-mom self.
T-bone turned five yesterday. He triumphantly announced- I’ll never be four again. And then he said- Mommy, what’s wrong? Because of course I was sobbing all over the turkey sandwich I was making for his lunch.
I lost my mind and threw him a big bowling shindig this weekend (his idea), and it was actually fun and gratifying. It was the first birthday that he was conscious of what it meant that all of his friends showed up for him. He talked about it for days. Of course, the other side of the coin is that now he cares whether or not friends come to his parties, which is pretty much the root of all childhood pain. So here it all is- the delight and the vulnerability to heartbreak. It’s all happening, friends. He turned five. Five.
And three seconds ago, a heartbeat ago, a lifetime ago, on another continent, in some other dimension, this happened:
Of course, I think about his birth mother a lot around his birthday. As an adoptee, it took me a long time to realize why birthdays were such a complicated emotional mess for me. I try to be conscious of that complexity with T, try to be a little extra soft, a little extra patient. I don’t think I’m projecting when I sense some sadness in him. On the morning of his actual birthday, he hid under the couch pillows and didn’t want to talk about it. But, being T, he shook it off in favor of crazy dancing. Because if that kid has a talent for anything in this world, it is joy. I hope somewhere, somehow, his birth mother can feel the reverberation of that joy in her bones.
My buddy Cecil Castellucci tagged me in this meme, in which you talk about a project you’ve been working on. Which is incredibly scary for me because I almost never talk about the project I’m working on. I worry that the magic will leak out. But Cecil is a magical being and I’m pretty sure she would never let me do anything to drain the mojo.
First, you should know about Cecil because her books are the only ones that consistently go missing from my bookshelves. I always tell my babysitters that they’re free to borrow any books they want and somehow Cecil’s never make it back. I don’t mind, really. I get it. They’re treasures. Cecil Castellucci is the author of books and graphic novels for young adults and the young at heart. You will want to read them under your covers with a flashlight. They will make you remember who you were once, who you still are somewhere. Read one now!
The book I’m writing right now is a memoir about my epically post-modern family. Here goes:
Where did the idea come from for the book?
This memoir is different from Some Girls in that it addresses the very recent past. I think that my blog has got me in the habit of writing from a life-in-progress, rather than sharing a narrative that was all tied up in a bow long ago. I knew that I wanted to talk about identity, motherhood, adoption because those are my most pressing themes right now, but I wasn’t sure what the medium was going to be. Initially, I wrote a one-woman show, which I toured with this summer. But it became clear to me that I needed a wider canvas. I needed space to explore the issues more in-depth. When I sat down to write, a memoir started coming out of me. Ultimately, I think that where books come from is a mysterious thing.
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Tariku should definitely play himself. Who else could possibly do it? Scarlett Johansen as me (as if!). Vincent Price as my father (kidding). Mike Patton as Scott (just cause he’d be STOKED and also I want to watch the fake me make out with him).
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
MAPPING THE FAULT LINES is the story of letting go of my mothers in order to become a mother, and how the journey enabled me to forgive all three of us.
When will this book be published?
I’ll let you know when I know!
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first draft is still in progress. But I imagine it will take about four or five months. Then there will be seven or eight more drafts, because that’s how I work!
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Lit by Mary Karr, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson, The Mistress’s Daughter by A.M. Homes.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Becoming a mother is so transformative that it’s almost impossible to ignore, as a writer of non-fiction. Plus, I find that people are very curious about our story. People ask me about it all day long. They seem to really want to know how I got from where I was back in the ol’ harem days to where I am now. So this book is the answer.
As for who I’m tagging to go next, here are some of my fave writers/friends/humans:
Shawna Kenney is the author of I Was a Teenage Dominatrix (Last Gasp), which is in development as a tv series with the FX Network. She also wrote Imposters (Mark Batty Publishers), a book about the celebrity impersonators of Hollywood Boulevard. She and her husband Rich Dolinger are currently co-editing Live at the Safari Club: a people’s history of harDCore. Her work has appeared in Bust, Ms., Juxtapoz, Creative Nonfiction and numerous anthologies.
Jamie Rose is an actress, teacher and author of the fabulous memoir Shut Up and Dance! The Joy of Letting Go of the Lead–On the Dance Floor and Off.
Amanda Fletcher doesn’t have a blog yet, but she’s cooking up a hell of a memoir. She was my mentee in the PEN USA EV Fellowship and she blows me away. Amanda, don’t give me lip! You’re it! Just post on fb or something!
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, 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!
Hi. Remember me? I used to blog here.
It’s always a fun experiment for a minute- to live the story and not tell it concurrently. What’s it like to let moments- good ones, funny ones, moving ones- pass right through you and be gone forever? Ultimately I always come back because my anxiety starts to climb when I’m not documenting. If you ever want to see me have a panic attack, watch me get caught in traffic without a pen.
Last week, I told a story at a special Moth Mainstage event in Portland, in front of three thousand people at the gorgeous Arlene Schnitzer concert hall. The other storytellers were Adam Wade, Satori Shakoor, Dori Bonner and Kerry Cohen. The night before the show, we had a little rehearsal at the hotel, at which we sat around and told our stories to the other storytellers and the director. It is a wonderfully (if somewhat uncomfortably) intimate thing, to stand a few feet from a handful of people, look them in the eye and tell them a story. By the end of the rehearsal, I was sobbing. I felt honored to be included in such an honest and accomplished group. We went out to dinner afterwards and wound up talking about our storytelling predecessors in each of our families. For me, it was my dad. I’ve only started to understand him in this context and to contemplate the function of his stories in our lives. I remember how I judged him for repeating his stories, for altering them in the retelling.
I was foolish.
I didn’t understand that he was shaping an emotional arc, exploring nuance, choosing and editing the stories that would define our identity as a family. I just thought he was a blowhard. But then, I was a teenager; that was my job.
My father’s stories had recurring characters. One of these characters was an alter-ego of sorts. His name was Jeffrey and he was the fast-talking college roommate, who was always getting my more reluctant father into trouble. For some reason, as I sat nearly hallucinating with stage fright in the green room on the night of the show, a Jeffrey story came back to me. It goes something like this…
Jeffrey had a ’56 Ford- two-tone, turquoise and white, with bubble skirts and a continental kit. There was a raccoon tail hanging from the antennae, fuzzy dice on the rear-view mirror. The two roommates thought themselves very urbane, driving around in this fantastic car wearing dockers and cardigans and looking like Pat Boone, but a little more Jersey.
One time it was five or six o’clock, just getting dark and they were late to pick up some girls for a double date. Jeffrey really dug that song “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” They were caught in a terrible traffic jam and it came on the radio. Jeffrey turned the song up full blast, climbed on top of the car and started dancing on the hood.
(There is more to the story. I think it involves mouthing off to police and decidedly not getting the girls in the end. Or maybe that was a different story. But, anyway….)
I had tried to picture my father being best friends with a wild man, who danced on the hood of his hot rod at twilight. It always made me a little bit sad, imagining what it must have been like to be the one in the passenger seat, staticy music turned up too loud, listening to your friend’s footsteps. To be the one whose lot it is not to dance, but rather to tell the story years later to an unappreciative teenage daughter.
It was this story I remembered when I sat in the green room, literally seeing weird spots in front of my eyes and completely unable to remember even the first line of my story because I was in such a cold panic. Over the past year, I’ve been getting increasingly bad stage fright and it has made each of my storytelling gigs a rather fraught experience. I keep at it, because I know that if you let anxiety cripple you in one arena, it’s not like it stops and is satisfied. It gets a taste of triumph and goes in for the rest of your life, too. So I keep fighting, but I constantly worry that I’m about to freeze onstage and forget everything and it’ll be exactly like that classic nightmare except I’ll still have my pants on.
I honestly don’t know why that story popped into my head, but I decided to go out there for my dad, who doesn’t even talk to me anymore, but still gave me so much of who I am. As I walked onstage, I thought- here I go dad. I’m telling my story on a huge beautiful stage in a new pink dress. I figured it out. I’m in the passenger seat and I’m the one dancing.
It went great. It was thrilling.
So, I took a little break from blogging to dance on a car for a moment. Or at least on a Portland stage. But I’m back now, friends. I have missed you.
Four years ago today we first held Tariku in our arms. We call it his “Gotcha” day and celebrate it as a kind of second birthday. T has taken to calling it his Cha Cha day, so I’m renaming it officially now. Because who doesn’t want a Cha Cha Day?
What are we doing to celebrate? Well, we’re watching Star Wars for the first time tonight. He begged, okay? It’s kind of hilarious, because four years ago I vowed he wouldn’t watch television until, like, he graduated college. Such an astonishingly short leap from there to, “Do you want Shrek or Darth Vader on your cake?”
Here is a letter I wrote to him this morning, for some time in the future. Or for before Star Wars tonight, depending on how he does with the cupcakes:
To My Son on his Cha Cha Day-
It’s been four years since your father and I first climbed the stairs of the care center in Addis Ababa. Four years since your nannies picked you up out of a blue baby chair (your father called it the “launching pad”) in the center of the room and placed you in my arms for the first time. I saw in an instant your deep curiosity and your overwhelming joy, two of the things I still love most about you. I saw for the first time your huge smile, which still brightens my every day.
I wonder if it was that first trip from Addis to Los Angeles that has made you such an adventurer, has caused your imagination to be so captured by the skies. Even before that, when we were still in Ethiopia, you spent hours staring up at the clouds. It’s the reason we chose your middle name- Moon. Because you seemed so entranced by it. Now, when we sit at LAX and watch the airplanes fly overhead, I look at you transfixed by those giant steel birds and imagine that one day I will stand in the same spot by myself and watch a plane take off and you will be on it. I wonder where you will travel. Wherever you choose to go will be a richer and more joyous place because of it.
You sometimes struggle and I don’t always know how to help. You have great big feelings and they shift so quickly that you have a hard time keeping up with them. Your body seems to do things on its own and it surprises and scares you. You want things passionately and don’t take kindly to not getting them. One of the things I love about you is how hard you try. I can see that you are feeling safer every day. One day soon you will grow into your big feelings and it will not be so uncomfortable to be the shining star you are.
You have already traveled so far; have already seen more in your short life than some people will ever see. Your birth mother named you “Tariku,” which means “history,” because she thought that you had already lived such a big story for such a little boy. You are the strongest person I know. And I am a stronger person for knowing you. It is the great privilege of my life to be your mother.
Happy Cha Cha Day!