When Big Baby J. Came To Stay


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.

Comments are off for this post

I See You


I had a number of meaningful conversations during the Jewish New Year festivities, but my favorite was at a break-the-fast gathering, where I met a lovely woman who had spent the last year working with traumatized female veterans. Trauma- one of my favorite subjects to learn about! Of course I cornered her and asked her all about what she knew. One story in particular stuck with me. She told me about a woman everyone else had given up on, with whom she just sat in silence.

I thought about how, when Tariku is having a total freak-out and hides under the bed with his hands over his ears, I will sometimes just go and lie down on the floor next to him and not say anything. I remember when he was little and having one of his alarming tantrums, at first I would instinctively try to hug him or comfort him and he would panic and lash out. So I started sitting outside the door and waiting with him until it passed. And then little by little I began sitting in the doorway. Then I made it into the room. Sometimes he still needs to go be by himself for a while and work it out, but I’ve learned to see if there’s a little window open through which I can hold out an olive branch. If there is, I will go and sit silently with him.

My talk with the woman at the party caused me to reflect on how important it is to feel witnessed. Not just to be able to call a good friend on the phone and unload, although that’s great too! But to have your trauma and pain recognized and supported on a larger cultural level. We need simply to know: I am seen and there is a place for me here on this planet. All of me. All of my suffering and flaws and hope and humanity.

Because I am fortunate enough to have brilliant friends from different faith traditions, the week before the Jewish New Year, I found myself at a Christian Women of Faith event to hear the awesome Jen Hatmaker speak.  I heard her saying hetmessentially the same thing, with a different set of operating metaphors. Forgive my reductive paraphrasing of such a compassionate, eloquent and funny speaker, but what I heard from her was: You are seen and you are loved. Not for your accomplishments or your good behavior or your willingness to tow the line or your terrific souffles. You are seen, in all your imperfect and frightened humanity, and you are worthy of love. Period. End story.

I think a big part of all holiday rituals is simply to say to each other: I see you and we’re here together. We are all sinners; we are all in pain; we are all hungry for love and connection; we are all going to pass back into the unknown from which we came too soon. In light of all that mishigas (yiddish for “craziness”), we sit here beside one another in the presence of the divine mystery.

Comments are off for this post

Shana Tova 5776!


We just got done celebrating the Jewish New Year. As an interfaith household with a great love for all the traditions in our crazy quilt, we celebrate many holidays. This is both totally exhausting–especially around Christmukkah and Eastover– and totally worth it. Celebrating different traditions allows not only for lots of parties, but also for learning, exploring, and the challenging but important practice of honoring divergent belief systems. As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said:

IMG_8251The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

The Jewish New year is a time for celebration and also for deep reflection. It’s a time to cast away the sins of the past year and welcome the coming year with a clean slate and an open heart.

Sometimes I go to temple on the holidays and sometimes I don’t. When I don’t, it can bring on a tsunami of guilt (cuz Jewish), but this year it didn’t. I actually feel great about our holiday activities and am stepping into the New Year feeling both nourished and renewed.

We did a few fun, meaningful things. First, we had a party at the hoaapplesuse to celebrate both the Ethiopian New Year (my sign is wrong, it’s 2008) and the Jewish New Year, which fell a few days apart this year. We wished each other a Shana Tova (good new year), ate Ethiopian food and apples and honey, hung out in the backyard with a handful of good friends, and, most importantly, used the last of our 10 yr old wedding napkins- win! We made brownies (these. you’re welcome.) with a thousand M&Ms in them, which was Tariku’s idea of what would usher in the sweetest New Year. And everyone still got to bed at a reasonable hour. IMG_8272

A few days later, Tariku and I went to the beach to do a Taslich ceremony with Ikar, a special and innovative Jewish community here in Los Angeles, which happens to be led by a childhood friend of mine. Taslich is a meditative ritual that involves tossing bread into a body of water, which is symbolic of casting off our sins from the past year.

On the car ride to the beach, Tariku and some friends and I had a fruitful conversation about sins and personal growth. I personally don’t have any problem with the word sin, though I know a lot of people cringe due to the baggage attached. I’m not a fan of the shame that it can sometimes inspire, but I do like the gravity of the word. Sins are serious- we hurt people and we hurt ourselves. I consider it good soul medicine to take a conscious moment to truly consider the ways I have transgressed and to re-align my intentions with a greater good.

I explained to Tariku that one of the sins I wanted to cast away was my yelling. I told him I don’t think it’s a sin to be angry, but I do consider it a sin to take that anger out on the people around me in ways that aren’t loving and respectful.

Tariku said that a sin he would like to cast away is when his Mom doesn’t let him use the iPad.

Okaaaaaay. Let’s try this again.

And then I prompted him a little bit and he came up with some pretty good answers, but I wasn’t sure if he had grasped the concept or if he had just figured out what I wanted to hear. Either way, it was a good start of a lifelong conversation.

When we got to the beach, the sun was setting in one of those garish, show-offy Southern California displays of pink and gold and powder blue. The unusually warm ocean was glassy and glittery. Tariku dove headfirst into the waves over and over, popping up with his arms outstretched toward the sky in a gesture of pure joy. I stood at the water’s edge and watched as he gleefully threw his bread into the cresting waves. My glorious, life-loving boy!

I experienced one of those waves of pure gratitude that nearly knocked me to the ground. Not “oh-I-should-make-a-gratitude-list” kind of gratitude: the real, pure main-lined good shit.

I thought- Please, God, if I am ever flat busted and alone and eating cat food and everything is lost, please let me at least always remember this moment. Let me always hold the fact that once I was this happy.

Oh yeah, and thanks. Did I mention thanks?

Later, I heard Tariku explaining the ritual to my mom on the phone. He said, “We threw all our big mistakes into the ocean. Like the ocean was the biggest garbage can of mistakes in the world!”

Which is both poetic and hilarious.

Shana tova to all of you! May your 5776 be poetic and hilarious and so very sweet.



Comments are off for this post

The Last Five First Days

I did a little round up of the last five first days of school…

  1. 2010. I loved his little outfit here. He lasted exactly 4 days at his first preschool. He was not, as the director put it, “Ready to contract when the group contracted.” Which is hippie language for sit still during story and snack. He was definitely more of an expander than a contractor. There were tears. Mostly mine.



2. 2011. This year he was an honors student at the School of Life! Mostly because he’d bite ya. A lot. So school-school wasn’t so much his thing.


3. 2012. The first year he lasted! We finally found him the right school and he’s still there. It was a rocky year but he got a toehold and it’s been getting better and better ever since.


3. 2013. Kindergarten.  He had one of those miraculous life-changing teachers who helped him turn the corner. Thank God for gifted teachers who cherish the kids that need a little extra help, and just shower them with love. She believed in him and he shone. fd2013

4. 2014. First grade. Another great, nurturing teacher and a year with much progress.


5. 2015. Today folks. Second grade. Bless him. Look at that face.



I can remember each of these days so clearly. Mostly because we were so worried about him. Transitions are Tariku’s toughest thing, and back-to-school is a seismic shift. In the past, the resulting tremors have shook our home to its very foundation. For years, he came home from school ricocheting off the walls. There were daily talks with his teacher. We thought the rest of our lives were pretty much going to be spent in a parent-teacher conference, like we were stuck in some existentialist play: You just think you’re at back-to-school night, but really you’ve died and gone to hell and you’re never leaving.

But Tariku went off for his first day of second grade today, and on the ride home, Scott and I were pinching each other. “Did you see how he walked in there like a champ?” “Did you see how he said welcome to the new girl?” Did you notice he didn’t say anything bizarre or inappropriate?” “Did you notice his body was pretty calm?”

I’m actually not surprised it went so smoothly. I’ve suspected this year is going to be different. Yesterday he woke me up at five in the morning and said, “I’m nervous for my first day of second grade.” He crawled into bed and we cuddled. I told him it was totally normal and fine to be nervous and that he was brave and I was proud of him. We talked about some of the things he likes at school- his friends, playing bounceball, pizza day etc. This little scene may seem totally mundane, but it signals something is changing for Tariku. It’s a huge leap for him to identify anxious feelings and talk about them.

Then we Googled dinosaurs for what seemed like 11 hours and when I looked up it was somehow only 7am. I’m really ready for school to start.

I’ll still be biting my nails until the pick-up, but mostly I’m heaving a huge sigh of gratitude. As if I’ve been holding my breath for five years, and I’m finally allowed to breathe out. How lucky we are for all the help we’ve received along the way. How blessed we are with this amazing kid, who teaches us every day about healing and hope.

Making Space


IMG_7463 - Version 2

For those of you who don’t know, we’re in the process of getting certified by Los Angeles County to adopt a child through the foster care system. That’s a picture of our CPR/first aid training (if you’re looking to do it, we highly recommend Ron Calloway).

Whenever I post about some new phase of our progress, I inevitably get 20 well-wishing texts, thinking that we’re bringing a baby home tomorrow. I forget that most people have no idea how this thing goes. There are about twelve million steps: paperwork and meetings and doctor appointments and rabies shots for the dogs and replacing windows because there are no regulation screens and and and…

We’ve been slowly chipping away at it for about six months. Staring at the final hurdles, I found myself feeling paralyzed. I kept landing in an overwhelmed face plant on the bed.

One morning, I decided to throw myself into it guns blazing and just get the thing done. I sat down with my trusty legal pad and looked objectively at every item on my list, with the intention of prioritizing and then attacking it systematically. It was immediately clear to me that the thing I needed to do most was to make space– in the garage, in Tariku’s room, in the disastrous kitchen cabinets.

Most of all, I needed to make space in my heart. I needed to make space in our life for another child.

One of the hardest things about the adoption process is that there’s too much time to overthink it, and a million legitimate reasons to get cold feet. Scott and I looked at each other every night and said, “Are we crazy? This parenting thing just got a little easier. It just got fun. We’re traveling. We’re going out in public without a scene. He’s in a great school. We relax now while our kid cannonballs into the deep end and swims the entire length of a pool. I don’t even have to get my hair wet anymore! And now we’re gonna go F it right up?”

We’re asking for trouble. No, really, we are. We know exactly what early childhood trauma does to the brain. We’re looking to adopt a boy around 3-5 yrs through the foster care system, who will inevitably carry trauma, loss, and deep grief. And then there are the risks involved, which terrify me. The worst being the possibility that the child will not be able to stay with us, which can happen. Sometimes I think we should just call a stop to all this immediately. And then I wonder if I’m having genuine reservations or I’m just scared.

Phew. That’s a lot. Even writing it gives me a stomachache. No wonder I was feeling paralyzed.

In the midst of all this, I happened to read Marie Kondo’s absurdly popular and totally psychotic organizing book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Yes, it’s that book that suggests you talk to your clothes.amess2

Well, I did it. I took two whole weeks, working all day every day. Everyone pitched in. We took everything we owned out of every drawer and cabinet and closet in the house and mostly we just gave it all the hell away, if only to avoid having to put it back. It was miserable.

It was also exactly what I needed. I’m not sure it changed my life exactly- check in with me in six months and see how we’re doing. But I did have ample time to reflect on what we truly needed and wanted, and what was important to us.

As I worked, I left space. I cleared drawers and left them empty. I left empty hangers in Tariku’s closet.

I wrote our child-to-be little notes as I went. In some cases I actually printed them on label tape and stuck them to drawers. I thought the visual reminders would help Tariku start subconsciously making space of his own.amess

I wrote:

We love you little brother!

This is your dresser!

In the garage, I created a bin for keepsakes and put it next to Tariku’s. On the bin, I wrote:

Welcome. We love you. We are waiting for you.

The current update is that we’re probably just a few short weeks away from completing our certification, which will make us eligible to get a placement at any moment, although it could take a while. Whenever it happens, the empty drawers are ready.

As I organized, I told myself that if after all that work, I found I ultimately didn’t want to go through with this adoption, that would be fine too.

Instead, I looked around and it was clear to me: we have a beautiful home, full of so much love and music and joy. We’re not at all crazy to want to share it with a child who needs a home. It’s okay to have ambivalent feelings. It’s okay to be scared of the unknown. It’s okay to start getting excited about it, even though the road ahead may be a rocky one.

And just look at all this room in my heart, after all.