Coming Home

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I’m back, friends! Sorry for the long absence. I’ve missed you! I got home from my wonderful (if exhausting) book tour during Tariku’s last week of school and crashed full force into the daily minutia of life. The every day-ness of waking stupid early, making breakfast, facing piles of laundry and cleaning dog throw-up was both an enormous relief and a bit of a let-down. I had exactly three days before we had T home full time. And that was five minutes ago. Oh wait- it was three weeks ago. How is that possible? You know, how summer is so relaxing (cue hysterical laughter of moms who work at home)?

This book is extremely precious to me and it was thrilling to be able to share it with so many people. I went to parties and readings, spoke on panels and taught workshops. One of my favorite events of the tour was a panel on transracial adoption at the Mixed/Remixed Festival here in LA. Mixed/Remixed brings together people of all races, creeds and genders to celebrate what it means to be Mixed, multiracial, or part of a blended family. Being in that room felt like taking a deep breath. I was overjoyed and inspired to dialogue with people about so many of the subjects about which I’m passionate- family, belonging, race, identity, adoption, self-worth, parenting…

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And then Charleston happened and it knocked the wind out of Scott and me.

The day following the terrorist massacre, Scott and I were meeting with our social worker, talking about our next adoption. I looked over at Scott and he started to sob in the middle of a sentence. Soon all three of us were crying.

I have to be honest here and admit that when Scott and I were first talking about transracial adoption, nearly ten years ago, I was dismissive of the idea that having an African American child would make me think differently about race. I would have told you I didn’t need a child of a different race to be concerned about racism. I was an artist and an activist- someone deeply concerned with equality. I protested discrimination and injustice whenever I could. After all, once upon a time I had driven hours to see Angela Davis speak at a rally about diversity on college campuses.

I was so clueless. Because all the college protests in the world did not remotely prepare me to look into the face of my child, my heart, and know that someday soon, I will have to explain to him that he is not safe. That he will not be treated equally. That I enjoy privileges that he may never enjoy in his lifetime. That people with his skin color in this country have experienced hundreds of years of brutality and disenfranchisement and discrimination. That he lives in a world where we must shout #blacklivesmatter, because it’s not obvious. That things might be better than they used to be but not nearly better enough. Not even close.

I don’t have anything particularly new to offer the discussion. Maybe you feel the same way. Please don’t let that stop you from raising your voice and speaking out against racism and discrimination as loudly as you can.

I offer my grief, my rage, my fear, my solidarity, my tears, my voice, my eagerness to learn, my willingness to work.

Here are some of the posts about Charleston, from my touchstones:

Awesomely Luvvie: “On Charleston, Forgiveness and Black Pain”

Jamelle Bouie on the GOP and the Confederate flag.

Jon Stewart being awesome.

Mocha Momma: “Let’s get to the Work of Anti Racism”

Brene Brown: “Own Our History Change the Story.”

Karen Walrond at Chookaloonks: “Say Something.”

I am memorizing the names of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson.

#takedowntheflag
#blacklivesmatter

The (not rock but still pretty cool) Tour!

tourHello from Olympia, Washington! I’m about two-thirds of the way through my book tour and it’s been amazing, surprising, exhausting, exasperating, enlightening. A friend threw a beautiful party for me last night, and I literally showed up on her doorstep with a giant bag of laundry. Cuz glamour.

T and Scott  were with me through the first week and we had a blast in NY going to readings and parties, staying up late and eating junk food, visiting with friends and family. Tariku came to some of my events and I got to read to him the section of the book that chronicles the magical day we first met him. I’m shocked that I didn’t break down and sob.  He insisted on standing by my side afterward, painstakingly signing each book in cursive, next to my signature.

Friends, I have nearly torn my hair out many, many nights over the difficulty of balancing writing and motherhood, and I know I will again. So I really tried to slow down, breathe and pay attention to how it felt to have my child throw his arms around me and tell me that I made him proud. If I live to be a thousand years old, I will never forget it. Then he told me that I shouldn’t read aloud any more chapters that mention diapers. So there’s that.

They’re back at home now as I tumble through these final cities. It’s been fun seeing old friends and new in Woodstock, Austin, SF, Portland, Olympia…but I miss my guys madly and I’ll be happy to get back to them. After which, I plan to promptly invent a rare illness and pull the covers up over my head for three days.

readingAside from getting to share some of this tour with Tariku and with my parents–who showed up and have been very supportive–  the most meaningful part so far has been the opportunity I’ve had to meet so many other members of the adoption triad (that’s adoption speak for adoptees, birth families, and adoptive parents). I’m so moved by people’s willingness to be vulnerable and share their stories with me. There have been lots of tears. It’s been incredible to connect with people and to talk about our losses and our blessings.

At every reading, one question I get asked without fail is, “What do you imagine your son will think about the book?”

My answer is that I imagine he’ll have lots of different feelings about it as he grows. Ultimately, I hope that he sees it as the gift to him that I mean it to be.

Bloggers and authors catch a lot of criticism for writing publicly about our kids and our family struggles. I agree that living in such a public way isn’t the right choice for everybody. But we all have a right to our stories, and to our voice in the world and or some of us, that means sharing about our lives. What on earth would I have done in my darkest moments, if it weren’t for the storytellers who came before me, whose experience and hope lit the path in front of me? I’m honored to be a part of that conversation.

Look at these cuties. These are Tariku’s first friends in the world. Or, as he calls them, his brothers and sisters. Thanks, always, to our friends from our adoption trip to Ethiopia, for all their fantastic support:

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Everything You Ever Wanted Release Day!

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Well, as of yesterday, my new memoir is finally released! Dropped, as they say. Birthed is more like it. Thanks for all your support along the way. Without this blog– where I first began to feel for my voice writing about parenting– the book wouldn’t have happened. I’ve treasured the support this space has offered me, along with the freedom to explore and make mistakes.

If you’d like a little teaser, there was an excerpt in last month’s Elle magazine.

Another excerpt just came out today in Harper’s Bazaar.

And here’s an interview with me at Hip Mama.

All of my tour events are listed here on the website. Please come see me when I’m in your city!

I couldn’t be more thrilled to share with you this book about our family’s struggles and triumphs. I hope you read it. I hope you love it.

Travel Guilt

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Yeah, I’m gonna talk about that tired old subject: being a working mom…

I was in upstate NY last weekend for the Woodstock Writers Festival, which was an absolute delight (Thanks, Martha Frankel! And for the photo, Kevin Buso). Compared to many moms I know, I go out of town on business fairly often. I have conflicting feelings about this. I always miss my family. I always experience things I wish they could be experiencing with me.

And…

I also love waking up WHENEVER I WAKE UP, with no one interrupting my dreams by crawling on my head or farting in the bed. I love not making anyone breakfast. I love going to the hotel gym, or reading, or catching up on emails in bed over a giant pot of Earl Grey tea.

This is an extremely privileged version of working mom-ness, to be sure. And I wallow in a lot of guilt, as many of us do, about my time spent away from my child. I feel even more guilty that I enjoy it. Then I remember: Scott goes out of town all the time, because it’s his job. His job is awesome, and brings so much to all of our lives. Not the least of which is our house and the food on our table and drum lessons and groceries from Whole Foods and and and…. But that’s not the end of the story. He loves his work. He never would have considered giving up his work. Why would he?

All of this is also true for me, and yet I feel compelled to apologize for it.

Many of my friends justify working with the idea that it’s better for their child, because their resulting sense of fulfillment makes them a better mother.

I’m not sure that’s true. I’m also not sure it matters.

Scott would never say that he should work because his music makes him a better dad. He would say that he finds joy in parenting and he finds joy in his work and that both of these things are important to him and help give him a sense of meaning and purpose.

Some of my anguish is certainly due to a cultural double-standard, but not all of it. Some of it is the sense of urgency brought on by the fact that my seven-year-old currently looks like he’s about ready to take the SATs and has a girlfriend and a report card and a lot of opinions and I am acutely aware of how few years I have left that he will still want me to carry him to bed. Which is a good thing for my lower back, but a devastating development for my poor heart.

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I look at his sweet little nose, his still-round cheeks. He catches me staring at him, throws his hands in the air and says, “WHAT are you looking at?”

“You,” I say. “You’re so big!

He rolls his eyes. “Everyone needs to grow up sometime, Mom.”

I think- what am I doing, spending my days facing the f-ing blank page again and again, when I could just be connecting with this precious being every minute of every day? And then I think, he will grow and change, no matter how hard I stare and try to memorize his face. He will grow and he will grow and there are things that will be irretrievably lost. We will also collect treasures I can’t even anticipate yet. And while all this growing and losing and gaining is happening, I’m still going to string words together on paper every day, because that’s what I’m compelled to do.

I just interviewed a super-famous and crazy-cool actress in her sixties (it’s still a secret- I’ll let you know more in a couple of weeks!), and she told me: “Jillian, I was so guilty about the time I spent working when my kids were young. And I shouldn’t have been. I really shouldn’t have been.”

I have been clinging to that like a buoy in the mom-ocean of blame and competence and guilt and joy and judgment and acceptance and fear and love.

The working mom discussion can become so strident and politicized on both sides. The truth is that all of these grown-up decisions have consequences, don’t they? Either way. Consequences suck.

But last weekend I found myself staring out at the Catskill mountains, getting ready to talk to a bunch of people about memory and art and writing– much of the stuff I’ve been deeply engaged with since I was a little kid. I thought, there are consequences, yes. I’m most at peace when I can hold them in the same hand as I do my embarrassment of riches.

Why I Sing Loudly at Whole Foods

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“She used to sing musical theater loud in the grocery store,” said Scott, when we and the other people in our foster parent training were talking about what sort of strategies we might use to address public tantrums.

“I did?” I asked.

“Don’t you remember that?” he seemed shocked.

“Oh yeah, I did, didn’t I?”

How could I have possibly forgotten about the singing? That was the best idea I ever had! I didn’t make it up- it was an amalgam of advice from mommy bloggers and late night phone calls to old friends. But it was, indeed, a great strategy. How had I forgotten it completely? My memories of those first few years with Tariku are peppered with strange blank spots– probably the result of the combined trauma of what we as a family went through.

But when he mentioned it, it all came flooding back. So in case it might be useful to anyone, I thought I’d share it…

Often, children whose nervous systems have been impacted by trauma can become easily overwhelmed and have hair trigger tantrums. This was certainly the case with us. Between 18 months and about 4 years, Tariku had alarming tantrums that would pitch him backward into some vortex of primal fear. Ten times a day, he would wail and thrash and bite and hit, inevitably at the most inconvenient times: Target, the movies, the mall, Disneyland (admittedly, I often feel the same way there). At first it was really embarrassing. Then I stopped caring what other people thought. After that it was just exhausting, and often left me hopeless and despairing at the end of the day.

We even had the police called on us. I’ll never forget the day a police officer showed up at my front door because someone had reported our license plate as a potential kidnapping, from the pony rides at Griffith Park.

Extreme problems sometimes demand extreme measures…

Sometimes, if I could catch the tantrum while the wave was just starting to roll to shore, I found I could short-circuit it. At the first flicker of trouble, I would break into a chorus of “That’s Entertainment.” And nothing, I mean nothing, will stop a child in his tracks and have him begging for you to stop quite like a time step in the produce section.

Except the big trick was, I would make up my own words and they would go something like this (everybody now, to the tune of “Oklahoma”):

I love you! I will always love you! There is nothing you can do to make me not love you! I don’t care if you bite me every day for the rest of your life, I will still love you! I don’t care if you hate me, I still love you! Oh boy you’re being a big pain right now but guess what I love you! I love you I love you I love you!

You get the idea.

I forgot about it because I haven’t needed it in so long.

Now, once in a while, when I get an, “I hate you!” I’ll respond, “I love you!” in musical theater voice.

And if I really want to annoy him, when he’s ordering me around, I’ll resort to talking in a cockney accent and calling him the “Little Lord.”

“Would the Little Lord like some ketchup with his corn dog?”

Wow, does he ever hate that! He’ll start saying “please” so fast it’ll make your head spin!

Which is all to say…

Sometimes we have to throw a wrench into the habitual, negative patterns our brains can fall into. For us, often playfulness is not just the best option, it’s the only option– unless I want to lock horns with my child and get caught in an unwinnable power struggle. Sometimes we all need to step outside our comfort zones, of our ideas of what is right and wrong and how we should all be behaving.

Sometimes you just have to sing “I love you” to the tune of “Some Enchanted Evening” until there’s nothing left to do but laugh your ass off.