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.

Friday Faves 2/20


1. Chicken with Cardamom Rice, from Jerusalem, by Yottam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi. This recipe will change your life. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it. It’s great for a last-minute dinner party. Once you get it down, you can bang it out in under a couple of hours and it’s both impressive and the perfect one-dish comfort food. I’m wild about the entire cookbook.


2. Remembrances of David Carr. Carr’s brilliant The Night of the Gun forever changed the way I think about memoir, journalism, memory, storytelling and healing. I’ve enjoyed reading the many remembrances of him online and have spent a lot of time this week meditating on what his writing means to me. All our love and prayers go out to his friends and family.


3. Millihelen beauty blog. I met the delightful Jane Marie backstage at Margot Leitman’s Origin Story show at UCB, and was delighted to learn about Millihelen, her smart, sassy new beauty blog at Jezebel. For those of us who like beauty and fashion but don’t like being made to feel like crap about ourselves by people trying to sell us stuff. It’s funny! You’ll like it!


4. Rockin’ Baby Sling. My favorite shower gift. T was nearly 11 months old when we brought him home but he was the size of a 6 month old, so I got a few good months of being able to carry him in the sling, which is a terrific attachment-promoting activity. I still treasure the memory. These are made in America of such pretty fabrics, and for every one you buy they donate a sling to a mom in need.


5. National Day of Unplugging. I’m really excited about this campaign and the discussion it inspires. Scott about falls on the floor laughing every time I tell him I’m going to do this, saying things like, “I last saw you without your phone in your hand in 2006.” I’ll show him. Probably. I’m sure as heck gonna try. Will you join me?

The Dreaded Phone Call

Yesterday, I was sitting in my snazzy new office space with an unfamiliar feeling- maybe it was stability or contentment or some amalgamation of the two. I had half-finished a blog post about how great T did at Thanksgiving, how much progress we’re making, how much healing we’re seeing in his trauma-related behaviors (you see where this is going, right?).

And then…the dreaded number lit up the cell phone. The call from school in the middle of the day.

T bit someone. Again. The last time it happened, I marched in there and said, this is not going to happen again; he’s not a danger to other kids; this incident was an anomaly. I’m embarrassed that I was wrong. But mostly, I’m just panicked about what happens now. He’s home today and we have a meeting with the school tomorrow afternoon and I’m having one of those hopeless moments. I find myself thinking- I have been praying and reading and googling and arranging meditation lessons and OT sessions and martial arts and therapy. What now? Where do we go from here?

I deleted the whole Thanksgiving post, but I’m kind of sorry that I did, because that day happened (it did! it was awesome! I was there!) and I could probably benefit from reading my own words about it right now. We have been having so many days lately that end in overwhelming gratitude, as opposed to crushing anxiety. Even in my despairing moments, I try to remember that we’re making progress. Healing rarely happens in a linear way. For him or for us.

Right now I’m vascillating between feeling bad for him (he loves that school) and being so pissed (he knows better than this! wtf are we gonna do now?). I’m semi-successfully trying to not to take my anger out on him. Really, I’m angry at my own helplessness in the face of his hurt and fear. My instinctual reaction is, how could you do this. That’s a pretty sucky reaction. I can do better than that. At the very least, I can tell him, I know we’re all upset, but we’re going to work this through together. It lets him know he’s not alone on this journey.

Memories of…

T is still unexpectedly napping in the car and I’m sitting a few feet away in the dappled shade under our camphor tree, having one of those quiet moments that seem deliciously stolen out from under the day. I suppose I should wake him but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

I’m thinking about an afternoon few days ago, when Tariku made friends with a group of older boys at the beach and told Scott to vamoose, saying, “You can stand over there near my mom.” This was a first. T is not a kid who likes to be without one of us for even five minutes. He insures that we’ll be glued to his side by doing things like “cleaning up” by dumping a glass of water into the DVR player while I’m making dinner. So it seems like a huge step that he wanted to fly solo with his new friends.

Of course, we were by the water so we were only about ten feet away, but it was still kind of amazing to watch the boys show him how to dig for sand crabs. You should have seen his delight when they dumped a few of the hapless creatures into his outstretched hands. I didn’t even know we had sand crabs in Malibu. I’ve only ever seen them at the Jersey Shore, where I summered as a kid.

What struck me was that many of my dearest memories of growing up don’t involve my parents. All of my most secret and treasured discoveries happened by myself or with friends. What I most remember about the shore was being part of a wild wolf pack of kids, running over the burning hot sand, holding crumpled dollar bills for Creamsicles from the ice cream truck. I remember the orange-stained tongues, the sand-scrubbed sunburns from burying each other up to our necks. I remember I first held a boy’s hand at the amusement park there. I know that my parents were nearby, because I was nine, but I have no memory of that. Just the whirling lights, the smell of the sea air, the tentative press of palm to palm.

I wonder what T will remember. I spend my days so obsessed with his every move that I often forget- if he somehow remarkably remembers those sand crabs, I won’t be in the picture at all. I find it liberating to think that his interior world is entirely his own. One day he’ll discover a band that blows his mind. One day someone will break his heart. These will be the moments that grow to define him, and in his memories of them, his mom will be rightfully absent.

I try to remember that I’m just here to love him like crazy and figure out how to stand far enough away to pretend I’m invisible, but close enough to protect him when the water gets too rough.

Back to School

I’ve been woefully remiss about blogging because it’s been a heck of a back to school/life/reality couple of weeks around here. So far T is hanging in there at his new school. It’s the longest we’ve lasted yet, and I have to say that I’m touched and encouraged by the level of care and commitment the school has put into helping him transition successfully. He’s had a few incidents of aggression and one dazzling escape attempt. I’ve spent every morning with my stomach in a knot, trying to not let the other moms see me tearing up behind by giant sunglasses as I drop him off at class. But he seems to be making friends and each day has gotten a tiny bit better. He’s a warrior, my son. He is so frightened and he’s doing it anyway. He should get a medal for how hard he’s trying. Instead, I’ve given him a brachiosaurus, some green goo, thirty-two g/f chocolate chip cookies and two wooden swords. Not all at once, of course.

Thanks to all my friends, bloggy and otherwise who have been rooting for us, sending love, inquiring after his progress. I sometimes wonder if people with fewer challenges get to really experience how much support surrounds them. I feel truly lucky today.