Here is the talk I gave at Chapman University, about adoption and the role of imagination in forming our identities. Hope you enjoy it! Please pass it along if you do.
Here is the talk I gave at Chapman University, about adoption and the role of imagination in forming our identities. Hope you enjoy it! Please pass it along if you do.
We are all a little bit dazed today, having just returned from a cruise to the Bahamas. A cruise may not seem like a likely choice of a vacation for us, but this was a rock cruise- a Weezer cruise to be specific. A boat full of bands and music fans, the climax of which was an epic afternoon show in a secluded cove on an island beach.
I honestly had no idea what to expect. Julie the cruise director subtly organizing love matches during shuffleboard tournaments on the Lido deck? Trying to navigate our five year old through a gauntlet of smoky casinos and boozy spring breakers?
What I discovered is that our week on the cruise wasn’t about pina coladas in the hot tub (though there certainly were a few) or the basking by the pool (it was surprisingly blustery and cold), but rather about family.
My experience of family has always been a shifting thing, kind of like our time on the boat. Sometimes the wind kicked up and the water roiled navy and white as the deck under me listed from side to side so noticeably that I had to lie down and hold onto my head. Sometimes the ocean was kind and ridiculously turquoise, giving no indication of the whole alien world churning beneath its surface.
Our life is rich with extended family, including the Weezer fam. I confess that I have always secretly enjoyed all the annoying minutiae of traveling as a band. I rarely get impatient when being herded through airports, into buses, into arenas, onto gangplanks. I love being in the midst of the whole motley crew of us: the wives, the come-and-go girlfriends, the kids, the babysitters, the parents, the cranky tour manager (sorry, Stu). Once on board, the always thoughtful and creative fans showered us with cards and tiaras and patches and posters, much of it made with their own hands. As a kid running around the house belting out “Join the Circus” from the musical Barnum, this is what I always hoped my life was going to be. A strange dream, maybe, but I was right- it’s pretty wonderful.
Later that afternoon, we met up with yet more of our “relations” for a reunion that makes me tear up every time I think of it. We have remained close with all of the eight families with whom we traveled to Ethiopia on our adoption trip, but T rarely sees the kids because we all live in different parts of the country. To our delight, a couple of them decided to come sail with us.
I am wary of superimposing my own fantasies of some mystical aspect to their friendship, but objectively, it was pure magic. The kids were beyond thrilled to see each other and kept shouting the things they had in common to literally every passerby who would listen (We were all born in Ethiopia! We all have brown skin! We all have pink parents!). I know that they felt the commonalities extended beyond the obvious, but they didn’t have words for it yet. I’m not sure I do either.
I can only say that there is a deep connection between these kids, and between us, their parents. It is very relaxing for Scott and me to be around the people with whom we shared the most meaningful time in our life. There is so much that is just recognized and understood and doesn’t need to be explained.
My heart is full every time I think of the unbridled joy on their little faces as they ran around the ship deck, upending everyone’s Mai Tais and commandeering the hot tub.
As the boat rocked me to sleep each night, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this life of ours, so abundant with music and family.
Thanks to everyone who made the cruise so special.
Until now, I’ve been one of those grouchy East Coasters guilty of bemoaning the lack of seasons in Los Angeles. But it’s not true. One only needs to hunt for the perfect back-to-school lunchbox to feel the curtain closing on summer. Yet again, my child awakens me to the subtleties of the world around me. To the sweetness of the last figs off the tree, the delicious exhaustion of late beach afternoons, the sadness of the shortening days.
Yesterday, T started planning for our Christmas tree. He wants a big one this year. No, a big one. No, I mean a BIG one. I explained that we had to make it through fall first.
And in the grand tradition of fall….say a little prayer because we’re trying a new school. I don’t want to say too much about it until we have a toehold, but I’m hopeful that this one is going to work out. I’ve been hopeful before and I’ve been dead wrong, but I’ll persist in being hopeful because T is changing so much every day. He’s able to understand now why his friends are in school and he’s not. He’s working hard on his emotional regulation and his impulse control because he badly wants to be around other kids his age. We start next week. I’ll have the updates from the trenches.
Also- holy shit….baseball season. I’m a mom in the bleachers at baseball practice. Do you ever have moments when it washes over you? This isn’t a dollhouse you’re living in; this isn’t a script you’re writing; this isn’t a game- you are someone’s MOTHER. Baseball practice does that to me. Suck it up and make some snacks, cause you’re deep in it now, mom.
And how did I, who only ever attended pep-rallies for the sake of irony, wind up with the kid with the most team spirit ever? He smiles when he runs laps. He cheers when his teammates hit the ball. He cheers when they strike out. He cheers when they’re warming up. He cheers when they catch the ball. He cheers when they drop it. He makes me proud with that enormous heart of his. Every minute of every day.
Here are some highlights from the recent NY performance of my solo show, MOTHER TONGUE. For those of you who haven’t heard me go on about it ad nauseam already, the show is a multi-character, autobiographical piece revolving around the themes of adoption, blood, tribe and identity. It follows my circuitous journey to get pregnant and, when that proves unsuccessful, to adopt T in Ethiopia.
Hang in until the end for some awesome pics of T. That’s one way to get your kids to be enthusiastic about your creative endeavors- include giant projected pictures of them.
Hope you enjoy.
Today is T’s actual birthday, but we celebrated on Sunday. Last year, I fought for our right to party. This year, I just called his two besties three days in advance and had them meet us at Descanso Gardens. We chowed Babycakes gluten-free brownie cake (best. ever.) and then let the boys ride the train until they almost threw up.
That was it, folks. And it was such a great, sun-dappled, mellow day.
I could say all that stuff- I can’t believe how big he is. He’s growing up so fast. Blah blah. And it’s all true. But mostly, his birthday stuns me because I look at him and think how much he survived to get here. I marvel at the resilience of his joyful heart. It’s the honor of my life to witness the miracle that is him in this world.
Sunday we had a playdate with my blog-friend-turned-real-life-friend Kristen and her amazing brood.
The only danger of hanging out with Kristen is that I immediately want three more children. She and Mark are so graceful about the whole thing that it looks like a completely reasonable option. In reality, I got cold feet about a year and a half ago about our second adoption process and it’s been in limbo ever since. I actually touched base with the agency yesterday and asked them to keep our paperwork on hold for another six months.
I just don’t know, folks. I feel so inadequate most of the time, especially when faced with Tariku’s challenges and needs. I feel like I need to get a better handle on this mothering thing before I add another little being to the equation. But is that completely delusional? Will I ever feel like I have a handle on it? For now I’m checking the undecided box and just crashing the party of Kristen’s big family once in a while.
It’s definitely challenging and overwhelming for Tariku to be around more than one friend at a time. In all, I think he did beautifully. I really saw him trying to figure out how to participate and be kind.
The nice thing about hanging out with some of the other adoptive families I know is that there’s so much less explaining and apologizing to do. They get it. They get that my kid didn’t have parents for a while at a crucial time in his development. It has repercussions We’re working it out. We’re healing. We’re doing great, actually. But our version of doing great looks different that it does for kids who have had a typical attachment cycle in the first three years of life.
I’ve learned so much about all of this- attachment, adoption, parenting, faith, love, community- from my blogger friends. They’ve made me feel less alone on many desperately sad and scared nights. I’m not someone who generally goes to blogging conferences (yet), so it’s a special treat for me to hang out in the flesh with one of my fave blogging moms. One of my fave moms period.
Sometimes I question what I write on this blog. Does anyone really care about my kid’s day out at the beach? Am I engaged in a navel-gazing waste of time when I should be working on an article or another book? And then I remember why I do everything I do- books, plays, blogs, whatever- I do it to connect. And I’ve connected to so much that I value in my life through blogging. I was reminded of that on Sunday.
Scott just sent me this pic. He says that at the moment this picture was taken, I was the happiest he’s ever seen me. I think the plane was about to take off and we were finally going to be on our way home from Ethiopia with T. It may well be the happiest I’ve ever been. I thought I’d share it.
Tariku turned 3 on Sunday and I admit it- I went birthday crazy. We threw an absolute rager at his fave spot: Travel Town in Griffith Park. Travel Town is a train museum that T visits at least twice a week. It was an ideal place for his party because there’s tons of outdoor space, so T could go off and chill when he got overwhelmed.
I honestly had no idea how it was going to go over. I hoped that he would have a blast but I had accepted the possibility that he might get overstimulated and want to get the heck out of there. Still, I wanted to give it a try. I’m happy to report that it went over beautifully. He loved it. He’s still talking about it.
We had the Let’s Be Frank organic hot dog cart and crafts and choo choos and a chocolate cake decorated with an airbrushed rendering of his new blue guitar. We even had Brobie from Yo Gabba Gabba.
T’s over-the-top baby bash had a precedent. While I was swept up in the frenzy of the party planning, I recalled the extravagant theme parties my own mother used to throw for me as a kid. One could look at this as a legacy of bourgeois suburban madness, but I remember the parties very fondly. She wasn’t generally a showy or competitive kind of mom and I believe our birthday parties were a real creative outlet for her, as well as a chance to just joyfully indulge for a day. I took the torch and ran with it and I’m glad I did. It was a special day. I don’t think I’ll do it every year, but this is the first birthday that T was really aware of and it was fun to deliver it in style.
And seriously, how great is Scott? For a million things, but particularly for agreeing to get completely dorky and wear matching engineer outfits.
The pictures were taken by our friend Leon Mostovoy (have him shoot your party or portrait: email@example.com) and by our own stalwart Auntie Jo (who just got on my case for never giving her credit when I post her videos).
On Sunday, we celebrated the anniversary of the day that Tariku was first placed in our arms. He apparently got the memo that mommy was going to be a gooey, sentimental pushover that day because he turned on the wicked T-Bone charm and it totally worked. I gave him everything he wanted all day long, setting a fantastic precedent for next weekend. But still- how fun was that? To just go ahead and say yes to everything. Another ride? Sure. Ice cream? No problem. Listen to that song for the fiftieth time? Rock out! Watch another episode of Gabba? To hell with IQ points! Fries for lunch? My thoughts exactly! It was so liberating.
Sadly, Scott was laid up with a back injury, so T and I decided to celebrate by going to the Santa Monica Pier and riding the balloon ride over and over until I was so nauseated I literally had to lie down on a bench. T kept vigil at my side and gravely announced to all passers by, “Mommy barf.”
Then we did the only sensible thing to do when nauseated- eat a bucket of fries and chase pigeons.
But seriously, he was adorable, he was perfection. It was nothing less than a freaking miracle. Actually, on the hardest days it’s nothing less than a freaking miracle. It’s just easy to forget. Until you look at this picture, taken two years ago on Monday:
Next weekend is the 9th Annual Little Ethiopia Cultural Street Festival and International Unity Parade. Here’s an interesting blog post about the thriving Ethiopian community in L.A.
We’ll be there chowing down on wat, getting jacked up on coffee and dancing our butts off. Join us!
Besides having the best name in the world, Kristen Howerton’s blog, Rage Against the Minivan, is one of my adoption touchstones. They re-aired her appearance on The View today and her blog post about all the things she wishes she had said is a mind blower.
Here’s a tidbit:
I wanted to talk about the deficits that we will have as a white couple raising black children. I wanted to compare it to a single mom raising boys . . . how we will need help from others. I wanted to talk about how painful it can be as a parent to know that, while I can empathize, I will never fully understand my sons’ experiences as African Americans, or as transracial adoptees. I wanted to talk about how every adoptive parent needs to suck up their pride and admit that we can’t do it alone.
I wanted to talk about how much I have learned from reading the writings of adult adoptees, and how their experiences of loss and isolation inform me as a parent, and also break my heart.
I wanted to talk about the persistent question I hear asking why people adopt internationally instead of taking care of “our own kids” in the US. I wanted to talk about how every child, in every nation, is deserving of a family, not just American children. I wanted to say how petty I find this question.
A few weeks ago, an acquaintance gave me an advance copy of her upcoming novel, which has adoption-oriented themes. I’m not going to mention the book by name because the author is actually a lovely woman with good intentions, but as I read the book I felt my throat tightening and a cold pit growing in my stomach.
The book reinforced negative stereotype after negative stereotype of people in the adoption community. There is a mercenary, dishonest agency owner with ten “souvenir” children adopted from all over the world, for whom “home schooling” is synonymous with neglect. There is a rich, racist, neurotic prospective adoptive mother and her racist, whoremonger, absent husband. The prospective fathers at an adoption information picnic exchange derisive asides as their wives anxiously wring their hands and angle for the best caseworker. The birth mothers involved in the domestic adoptions are either tragically wronged angels or criminal, money-grubbing skanks.
I read the book through to the end because I kept wanting to find something redeeming but there wasn’t a shred of positivity to be had.
I was so upset that I had a hard time sleeping that night. I was disturbed at least partially because the book wasn’t meant to be anti-adoption. In fact, the woman had given it to me knowing that Tariku was adopted. When I discussed it with her later, she insisted that she was just trying to explore the complexities around domestic adoption and look at the fact that someone always gets their heart broken. Negative stereotypes around adoption are so acceptable that a major publishing house apparently agrees with her.
I don’t believe in either art police or thought police and I don’t believe that it is our responsibility as artists to portray positive imagery of anything. It is our responsibility as artists to tell truth. I don’t say “the truth” because I believe there are many different truths. I know that the author did her best to tell truth as she saw it.
However, my truth about adoption is so radically different from hers that it cost me sleep. The glorious thing about being a writer is that I have a forum for telling my version of the story (next book idea? Perhaps…).
Adoption is indeed complex and imperfect and at its core there is loss and heartbreak. My son has lost his birth family, his birth country, his culture, his language. There has already been so much sorrow in his 27 months on this earth that I sometimes lie in bed next to him while he sleeps and cry just thinking about it.
But that is not the end of the story; it’s the beginning. I can’t erase the loss from his life, but today and every day after, I can offer him a safe and loving home where his feelings are respected and his history is treasured. Nor can I erase the loss of a birth family too besieged by famine and poverty to care for a little boy, but I can honor their sacrifice.
The channels through which children are adopted are imperfect and need vigilant examination. And adoption isn’t the answer for world problems like poverty and lack of health care, but that doesn’t change the fact that children need homes and they need them now. Adoption isn’t a solution for Ethiopia’s challenges, but it was a solution for Tariku and it was a solution for us.
So do we really need another book with reprehensible characters in the adoption world? Do we really need another horror movie where there is a bad seed orphan running around with sharp kitchen utensils? There is so much suspicion of difference and unfortunately still so much stigma around adoption.
We don’t need any more bad press.
So I’d like to share some good press. Adoption is imperfect, but I’m wildly passionate about it and one of the reasons is the incredible people it’s introduced into my life. Here are links to honest, intelligent blogs from some amazing adoptive families. Some are my faves and some were pitched in by my mama girlfriends.
Last weekend we went to Austin for a reunion with the families with whom we traveled to Ethiopia. A little over a year ago, we all sat in a big room together and held our babies for the first time. We shared something deeply sacred and extremely hard to explain.
It was a family reunion of sorts. Previous to our trip to Ethiopia, I always had two flavors of family in my life- my given family and my chosen family. But the Ethiopia clan is kind of a third category… they’re a family given to me by fate. We nine families were thrown together by the random luck of our close proximity on a waiting list, but also by the deep commonality of our decision to adopt from Ethiopia. And with this family, as in so many things, I am truly fortunate.
The five families who made it to Austin attempted to recreate the infamous “couch picture.” It was WAY harder with lively and wild toddlers than it was with the dazed infants we placed on a couch in Ethiopia a year ago. All baby wrangling difficulty aside, the cuteness could have just killed me dead.
It was amazing to see all the little peanuts thriving so beautifully. T is going through an annoying, somewhat disturbing and definitely embarrassing phase right now where he tries to make out with every kid he sees and when they don’t respond with quite the same enthusiasm, he pummels them. Living in a house with seven other kids really gave us a chance to practice our public solution-oriented behavior as well as our private head-holding despair.
Still, I’d do it again tomorrow, even with the constant WWF baby smackdown. I miss everyone already.
But what I really learned from our Texas rental ranch was that we don’t have nearly enough taxidermy in our lives here in LA…
Just over a year ago we returned from Africa with T. It’s taken me a minute to write about it for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I have a BABY now (yes, I really, really do) and I’m a wee bit short on blogging time. The second is that I’ve been snowed under with emotion about it. I’m caught off guard at odd moments by memories of the faces of the people who cared for my son at some point along his incredible journey. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the hands that bathed and fed and held him while he waited, and we waited, to become a family. I watch him while he sleeps and I thank T’s birth mother, I thank his caregivers, I thank the adoption agency, for keeping him safe and for ultimately bringing us together.
A year. It feels like he’s always been here and at the same time it feels so strange- we have a little boy now. Yes, we really, really do. How do I know this? Over the course of five minutes I tripped on a toy truck, a ukulele and a smooshed pear.
It’s reached that time of the tour when I no longer know the date, the day of the week, or how many days we’ve been on the road. The tour has become its own little universe and all I know is how many hours are left on the bus before we reach the next stop.
Kansas City was rainy and chaotic, but the friends abounded and the rock was epic and the guys got treated to some impressive booby-flashing while they were on stage, so we can safely say that Kansas City had a little something for everyone.
T had a tour bus reunion with his friend Ezra from the care center in Ethiopia. This will make the third family that we’ve been able to reconnect with in the eight months since we’ve been home. I can’t adequately express how moving it is to see these kids grow and thrive. This little guy was the youngest and the smallest of the babies from our travel group and I carry a vivid memory of his face as we said goodbye to him at the airport. Then, his face was all scared, huge eyes. Now, it’s all chubby cheeks and laughter. I’m proud to say that Weezer was his first rock show. He fell asleep.
We took Tariku to my parents’ house in Jersey last week because my brother David was in town from Israel with his six-year-old son. David is Hasidic, so the two boys live in different galaxies, but it didn’t seem to matter. They were so sweet together, batting around a beach ball and screaming in the pool. Don’t they look like they’re planning to take over the world in this picture? I’m skeptical sometimes that T will be able to maintain any kind of relationship with his cousin, but that’s an assumption formed from my own anger at religious extremism. Children have a way of discarding all of those obstacles in the name of a good splashing match.
T also had a reunion with Eliyashu, one of his old friends from the care center in Ethiopia. Eliyashu’s mommy Nehama, a rabbinical student and an extremely rad lady, performed a little Hebrew naming ceremony in our backyard. T’s Hebrew name is Sippur Ya’akov, after my grandmother and grandfather. Sippur means “story” in Hebrew, as Tariku means “history” or “my story” in Amharic. Indeed, he has a big story already for such a little guy. Check out his awesome kippah, handmade by grandma.
T was his ever-awake self on the airplane and slept a total of an hour on both flights combined, but he has a Gypsy soul (Gypsy soul, Ethiopian blood, Pagan parents, Hebrew name) and loves to be on the move, so at least he was cheery. His eyes were saucers as we lifted off the ground. He kept looking at me like: are you seeing this!? He says “airplane” at least sixty-three times a day now.
Friday will be Tariku’s first birthday. I bought him a tiny crown for the occasion. My parents and my aunt are coming into town and it will be the first time that we’re going to experiment a little bit with letting other people hold him. Until now, only Scott or I have been holding and nurturing him, in order to promote attachment. While I don’t anticipate any problems, it’s important to be conscientious about attachment when you’re adopting a child who’s been in an institution. We’ve been rewarded for our efforts. I almost cried the first time T and I were in a group and he crawled away from me, turned, made eye contact, and crawled back. For the rest of the parents in the room this would have been commonplace, so no one had any idea what a remarkable thing had just occurred. The attachment process isn’t just one-sided. We fall more in love with T every day.
His favorite place to hang out lately…