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.

Where Do I Come From?

The question is sticky for any parent, but for an adoptive parent there are about twelve extra steps to the answer. And when you’re dealing with a history that’s painful and traumatic, it can be particularly worrisome ground on which to tread.

I had no idea how hard it would be to break down complicated concepts in developmentally appropriate ways. And I’m not just talking about baby-making kind of questions. The other day T asked me with the “X” on the church was. Whoa. How do you even begin? Not to mention the “how do airplanes work” kind of questions, which would be easier to explain if I knew the answer in the first place.

In terms of the adoption-related subjects, I don’t have a master plan. I just feel it out as we go and try to stay a step ahead of the questions. So far, T knows that he was adopted from Africa, but he doesn’t quite understand that he grew in someone else’s belly. He recently kind of got that babies grow in bellies (and enjoys going up to all big ladies at the park and asking if there’s a “baby in there”), so I think it’s time to talk about it.

This is particularly delicate because of the challenges I’ve faced with T in the past year and the fact that I feel like he and I have recently turned a corner. I don’t know why the change happened, but he’s rejecting me much less than he was. He still prefers Daddy, but at least he’s not punching me in the face every time we get close and snuggly. In fact, we’re really connecting. You can’t imagine the relief, the joy.

And now I get to re-introduce the source of the trauma by expanding on T’s narrative with him. So I’m worried about regression and about losing the progress we’ve made. But Scott and I have spent some time talking about it with our trusted “board of directors” (ie our closest adoptive parent buddies) and have decided that as soon as the traveling of this month is over, we’re going to start reading T’s lifebook with him and showing him the video we have of him from the care center in Ethiopia.

As both an adoptee and an adoptive mom, I have many feelings that come up around this stuff. I feel honored to be entrusted with his story. I feel a tremendous responsibility to share it with him in a way that’s both deeply honest and developmentally appropriate. And I feel the tentacles of my own trauma history try to wrap themselves around this process and shut me down emotionally. But I’m fighting to be present and to look at it all for what it truly is- both T’s grief and mine, both his loss and mine. And to be grateful for the amazing opportunity to be here for the healing. For all of us.

Whatchu Gonna Do When They Come For You?

Someone at the Griffith Park pony rides called the cops on my babysitter Jen.

Let me tell you about Jen. I’m convinced that Jen is actually some kind of Bodhisattva , who has put off her ascent into Nirvana in order to stick around and offer aid and compassion to the rest of us suffering souls. She is so gentle that I often have to give her my, “you need to be more assertive and learn to say no, just not to me” talk. She’s been taking care of T for years now and I consider her one of the family. I trust her implicitly. I often defer to her wisdom in difficult situations, in fact.

Apparently T was refusing to get into the car (daily occurrence) and was pitching an epic fit about it so she just sat down with him in the dirt until he could calm down. Which took a while. End of story.

An hour later the cops showed up at the door. Someone had witnessed his tantrum and had written down our license plate.

And do you know what the cop said?

Without my saying a word about T, he said, “I read the report and I didn’t even want to come here. I have a three-year-old with special needs and it sounded exactly like what goes on every day at my house.”

I get a little teary thinking about it. Because a moment that could have been shaming and scary turned into this surprising opportunity for understanding and connection.

I don’t know what to say. It gets loud around here. It gets really loud for a really long time. And the absolute best thing we can do sometimes is just sit down and be present with T. I consider it a victory when I can do that and don’t shut down or yell or cuss or cover my ears.

And it’s embarrassing when it happens in public. Yes, it is. But I try to remember that what other people think about my parenting of my screaming child isn’t my concern. My concern is how to give him tools to start learning to regulate his emotions. And while I’m at it to better learn to regulate my own.

But this cop knew all that already.