Posts tagged Scott Shriner

Rammstein Auditions

Tariku is gunning to be the first African-American toddler member of the German metal band Rammstein. Check out the part in which he’s actually singing the lyrics. His first favorite song is “Island in the Sun” but his second favorite is “Du hast.”

If this doesn’t give you a giggle, you seriously need to consider upping your dosage.

T-Bone is Four Today!

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.

Dispatch from the Fainting Couch

We’re back from New York with countless memories to treasure, twelve toy subway trains with matching t-shirts (yup- there’s subway merch nowadays. what do they think they are, a band?) and pneumonia. I’m not kidding about the pneumonia. I’m currently lying here waiting for the Z-pak to kick in and planning a mac-n-cheese, TV marathon, bad mom evening. So much for foreswearing antibiotics. And dairy. Oh yeah- and TV.

We miss New York already. We were enjoying our fantasy Brooklyn family lifestyle. I feel proud of how urbane T became in such a short time. Now, when he plays with his trains he says, “This is Bergen Street, transfer to the A, C and E trains.”

And even though living in NY for a couple of months was hard, I think it was nice for Scott and me to shake things up a bit. I realize this is going to make me sound like the world’s lamest person (I swear, I wasn’t always like this- I wrote a memoir about it) but I enjoyed the fact that we found ourselves doing things like going grocery shopping together. I brought him along as muscle- because we had to actually carry the groceries ten blocks home and not just pile them into the mom mobile- but then I found myself conversing with him along the way. And you know what? He’s pretty funny. It’s not like we were living the glamorous life in NY or anything. We were mostly just working our asses off and trying to get by. But it was fun to discover a new place- to find the little pockets where we fit in. We came back exhausted but still somehow energized. A little adventure does us good as a family.

But don’t get carried away- musing about all this adventure and romance isn’t inspiring me to cook him dinner or anything. It’s fish sticks all around tonight. I have pneumonia. Probably from all that wandering through the charming brownstones in the cold.

Overall, I’m relieved and glad to be home. And so is T. Even though he’s still talking about a few of his friends from the park…

If We Can Make it Here….

Allow me to start off with a little New Year’s plea- I’ve been nominated for Babble’s Top 100 Blogs of 2011. Please vote for me! If elected I promise to, um, blog. More.

I feel sheepish for asking when I’ve been sadly neglectful of this blog of late. So neglectful that I’m WEEKS late in posting this Christmas jammie picture, and for this I apologize. I hope I’m not being as annoying as those people who leave their Christmas decorations up until Memorial Day.

I do have a good excuse- we were busy moving the whole operation to New York City for a couple of months so that I can do some theater and T can freeze his tushie off and be introduced to illegal narcotics by the other kids in pre-school. Just kidding. We could never get him into pre-school in NY- it’s impossible.

We’re all settled into a sublet in Park Slope (in Brooklyn), which is oddly a neighborhood I lived in for five minutes twenty years ago when I first moved to NY as a teenager. It’s changed a lot since then and now it seems to be the corner of NY where everything adorable is stored. Adorable families, brownstones, stores, restaurants, park. T is definitely anxious and stressed by the big change, but overall, we’re having a blast getting to know the neighborhood together.

Also- underground choo choos? Getting there is ALL the fun. He never wants to get off.

Third Time’s a Charm

When your kid starts pre-school for the first time, you take pictures. You cry a mommy tear. You hang out to help with the transition. And then, if you’re us, you realize after a couple of days that your kid isn’t like the other kids his age at the pre-school. That his needs are different. And the pre-school realizes it, too. And after two days you get a phone call about the fact that they can’t accommodate those needs.

The next school it takes one day.

The third time your kid starts a new pre-school you don’t take pictures. Instead you break down in tears (not a sweet mommy tear- a full snotty cry) in the director’s office. You hang on the sidelines, trying not to let your anxiety spill over onto your kid…

So we started a new pre-school with T a few days ago. I often don’t go into the challenges we face with T in this blog because I’m not always sure how to frame them. I usually feel like I need some more wisdom to share before I start blogging about things. But in this case, I’m just going to say that I have no idea how best to handle this school situation. Basically, T has aggression issues (he hits and bites) when he feels overwhelmed or threatened, which is often. Also- he doesn’t sit still or share or regulate his emotions. So school is a wee bit of a challenge.

T is attending pre-school with a “therapeutic companion” now. But Scott or T’s auntie or I also stay there. And there’s a therapist who’s sometimes hovering around. And I’m deeply grateful to the school that they’re putting so much time into our family and into T, but I’m biting my nails to the bone about this some nights. I want to do the best thing for him. Maybe this is it. Maybe it isn’t. I’m willing to put the time into the transition, but I’m also open to other possibilities.

I just recently talked with an old friend who’s son has sensory integration issues that manifested in a very different way when he was pre-school age. Instead of being aggressive and off-the-walls like T, her son would retreat into himself and hold his ears, rock and totally shut down. She chose to pull him out of pre-school and didn’t send him until kindergarten. Then she chose a school that was highly focused on ritual and structure and flow. He’s eight now and doing great.

The thing that struck me is that she said she wasn’t going to subject her son to being terrified every day. And even though T has a very different way of showing it, essentially I believe that’s what’s going on. My son is so scared. He loves being around other kids but all the stimulation also frightens him. And faced with the fight or flight response, T chooses to fight. He’s a fighter. It’s probably the reason he’s alive, after all he’s been through. And I love that fire in him, but I want him to feel safe enough that his fighting spirit finds expression in a soccer game and not in a school yard smack-down.

I’m not sure what the best way to do that is, but I’m committed to finding out.

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.

The PRETTY Book Tour Begins

I visited my book at LAX before embarking on this first leg of the tour, which seemed like a good omen.

Dragged the fam with me and we’re having a fantastic time in NY so far. We’re doing all kinds of touristy stuff, like riding the Circle Line cruise around the island and going bowling at Chelsea Pier. We’re getting soaked in thunderstorms and having a heck of a time trying to convince T that you don’t splash around in puddles on NY streets (staph infection just doesn’t seem to be a compelling argument for a 3 year old). But as far as problems go, I’ll take it. I’m pleased to report that traveling has definitely taken a turn for the easier somewhere along the way. T isn’t so freaked out about strange bathtubs and beds and he’s actually able to watch movies straight through, so the plane ride is easier. He’s definitely dysregulated, but it’s a manageable level and not one that makes me rue the day we bought the tickets. That’s progress.

I’m actually doing quite a bit of live storytelling on this tour, as opposed to just strictly reading from my novel. I told a story at the Soundtrack Series on Thursday night and it was a fantastic time. The lineup included Nat Cassidy, Julie Klausner, David Crabb, Bridget O’Neil and Andy Ross. Everyone told a story about a song and they were each hilarious and touching and amazing. My song was “Dancing in the Dark,” paying homage to my Jersey roots. Here’s a pic of David and me:

And tonight, I had the privilege of reading at Melville House in Brooklyn with two of my favorite authors, Nick Flynn and Melissa Febos. It was a true thrill. Thanks to everyone who came out.

Next stop, Hudson, where I get to see my closest, oldest girlfriend and throw my kid in the junior UFC octagon with her kids. Every time we see them, I spend about two hours crying on the way home because we can’t live closer to each other. But still, it’s worth it. I can’t wait.

Party People

Nothing like a little book release to make me completely nuts and insecure and self-doubting and depressed and generally kind of mean and bitchy (just ask my family). The cheery question I get asked most frequently lately is, “Are you excited that your book came out?”

Grateful, yes. Relieved, yes. Excited, not really. Not to sound sour, but it’s the truth. It’s a vulnerable and scary time.

But my spirits were lifted at the Book Soup launch event for Pretty. It was a treat. Sincere thanks to all of you who came out and celebrated with me! I really felt the love. I hope you had as good a time as I did.

Lisa Dee and Juli Crockett of the Evangenitals sang some tunes.

Mr. Shriner was actually in town this time!

With J Ryan Stradal and Stephen Elliott (looking awfully suspect).

Up to no good: Ernest Greene, Robert Cucuzza, Scott Shriner, Steve De Jarnatt and Brian Ray.

Who has a sexier signing line than this? Okay, Duff McKagan is signing next week and he probably will, but not by much…

With Ricky Mahler

The Rock Baby Chronicles Continue

On Friday, we dragged the whole operation out to the desert to see T-Bone’s first Weezer show in a while. He just doesn’t travel as easily as he once did, when he was a little bit more portable in general and a lot less vocal about his desires. So I don’t take him on tour as much (for now). But he’s just as enthused as he always was about going to see Dad play, so I was glad to be able to indulge him.

Sometimes I can’t believe what a pain in the ass it is just to get us all in the car for a weekend out of town. But as soon as we’re out of the city and the sky opens up, I’m reminded of why we insist on doing it anyway.

Like his mom, T digs the desert. He’ll patiently wait hours to see the windmills that flank the 10 outside of Palm Springs. We didn’t have time to hike in Joshua Tree this trip, but T was happy to spend the mornings splashing in our friend’s pool and the early evenings tearing out across the golf course. And, of course, the nighttime is reserved for rock.

T was a consummate rocker. Pat Wilson slipped him an Oreo and he completely spazzed out from the sugar, bouncing on the furniture and dumping bowls of mixed nuts out on the dressing room floor.

At least someone around our camp knows proper dressing room etiquette.

He nearly fell asleep on a backstage road case halfway through the show, but when I tried to get him to leave and come lie down, he screamed so loudly that everyone in the immediate vicinity turned around to see what was going on. Yup- he actually managed to holler louder than the music. It was a proud moment for a rock mom.

The Happiest

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.

Beyond Consequences

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Last weekend Scott and I attended the Beyond Consequences seminar, with Heather Forbes. Before we went, we bought her book, Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control: A Love Based Approach to Helping Children with Severe Behaviors. The book and the seminar undoubtedly contain the most impactful information I’ve yet encountered about parenting children who have suffered trauma.

I’ve shared some about what we’ve ben going through with T, but honestly I haven’t even scratched the surface. Believe me when I tell you that Scott and I have never in our lives despaired quite like this. Parenting trauma is confusing and isolating and sometimes all the amazing blogs in the world aren’t enough to make me feel validated. In this respect, the seminar was incredibly helpful.

I’d like to share probably the most illuminating shift in perspective that the seminar offered. I keep coming back to it.

The basic idea is to change the question from:

How do I get my child to change his behavior?

to

1. What is driving my child’s behavior

and

2. What can I do at this moment to improve my relationship with my child?

If you are parenting a child with severe behaviors, particularly one who has experienced some kind of trauma, I urge you to check out Heather Forbes.

Date Night

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We had a fantastic date night on Saturday, when we attended Austin Young’s YOUR FACE HERE unveiled at PoptArt gallery. Guess who had his ridiculously adorable little portrait up there on the wall with Perez Hilton, Karen Black and Elvira (among others). He was so cute at the photo shoot that I was ready to change his nickname from T-Bone to Hambone.

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It was the best party we’ve been to in a long time. Great music, amazing art, positive vibe all around. Austin’s photos are so arresting because he genuinely sees everyone through a wildly beautiful lens.

Here’s a pic of Austin and me. I wish that in my worst moments I could see myself through his eyes.

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Oh wait, I can. He actually took my new author photo (coming soon to a book cover near you). How lucky am I? Here it is…

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Birthday Crazy

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: leonmostovoy@yahoo.com) and by our own stalwart Auntie Jo (who just got on my case for never giving her credit when I post her videos).

The Boy with the Blue Guitar

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Tariku turned three yesterday. He’s been asking for a blue electric guitar for months, so that’s exactly what he got. The only one we could find was a little big for him. Does anyone have a suggestion for a real electric guitar that would fit a three year old?

The scene made me think of this, from “The Man with the Blue Guitar” by Wallace Stevens:

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, “You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.”

The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

And they said to him, “But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar,
Of things exactly as they are.”

It was a magical day. Party pictures to come…

You can see him play it here.

Grief and Empathy and Snow Balls

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I’m not sure I experience grief in the traditional Kubler-Ross five stages. Rather, I think my grief has five food groups. I’m the kind of gal who uses anything I can get my hands on to stuff my feelings into oblivion. For the past week I’ve been in the fourth food group of grief: Chocolate. The fifth is probably Weight Watchers.

Since Jennifer died, I’ve been having a hard time clearing the fog from my eyes long enough to even answer my emails much less to be creative or to be a present parent. I’m going to tell you what I prayed for at the bedside of my friend, who had just overdosed herself into a coma. I prayed that I be shown a way to give my son the tools he’ll need in life to never wind up in a bed like that.

I’ve been worried lately that I’m failing at that very task. Both Scott and I have been spending too many nights with our heads in our hands- unsure how things got out of our control, unclear about how to make it better.

I was well aware of the challenges involved with adopting a child who wasn’t a newborn, particularly one who had spent a significant portion of his young life in an orphanage. Theoretically, I was prepared for the behaviors connected to early childhood trauma. But, as any parent knows, theoretical parenting is about as good as theoretical dancing. You ain’t gonna learn to do a pirouette by reading about it.

Even before we were parents, Scott and I were immediately attracted to Non-Violent Parenting, which is based on empathy and nurturing rather than judgement and control. We knew a lot of people who had gone through the parenting classes at The Echo Center and were inspired by the respectful way they interacted with their children.

We’ve been trying to practice non-violent communication with T, except we keep screwing up. For instance, I’ve been unable to keep myself from screaming at him. And then I absolutely hate myself for it. But honestly, he’s infuriating. He’s beyond infuriating. Nearly every interaction with T is a battle. It always takes us an hour to get out of the house. Scott and I get bit and spit at and hit in the face many, many times a day. An hour ago he pulled a hunk of hair out of my head and then got grossed out and asked for my help getting it out of his mouth.

And most of the people I know have been saying- why the heck don’t you discipline him? Why don’t you give him a time out?

Well, it’s complicated. We don’t punish him because instead we’re trying to empathize with the needs behind his behaviors and to help him start to identify his feelings. But the problem is that I haven’t been all that successful in figuring out his needs. I thought it would be a lot more obvious. Maybe the difficulty arises from the fact that I’ve always been someone who stuffs my feeling rather than addressing them.

So Scott and I went in last week for a private counseling session with Ruth Beaglehole, the woman behind the Echo Center and the Nonviolent Parenting movement. It was amazing. We both walked out with a big shift in our perspective. We learned that, like parenting and dancing, empathy isn’t a theoretical exercise. I intellectually understood that I was meant to be empathetic with my child. I read about trauma for a year before we adopted him; I went to Africa and saw it with my own eyes. And yet, in the moment I simply wanted him to stop acting like such a freaked-out, aggressive wierdo and just fucking sing along with the rest of the well-behaved kids at Music Together.

Ruth helped us to acknowledge the fact that his behavior is fear-based and grounded in the assumption that the world is a frightening place in which everyone he loves will abandon him. Every time we let him push us over the edge we’re confirming that assumption and re-enforcing the trauma.

I have a picture of T when he first arrived at the orphanage and I can barely look at it, it makes me so sad. He looks absolutely terrified. It’s hard for me to remember that my hilarious, charming, fierce little man is somewhere in him still that scared baby. So now every time I’m confronted with his maddening behavior, I try to access the same empathy I feel when I look at the picture. It’s hard. It’s painful. And it makes me realize how little empathy I was feeling before.

We’ve recommitted to non-violent strategies and we’ve been doing better. On Sunday we took T up to Mt. Baldy to have his first glimpse of snow. And because it was a new experience, he was anxious and controlling and combative all morning. But we were somehow able to breathe and move through it and arrive at the magical moment of him saying, “SNOW!” We even got it on film. Here it is.

Grifter-in-Training

This is how a boys’ night out starts around here. I think Scott got sick of my lack of interest in card games and decided to build a poker buddy from the ground up instead.

If you’re viewing this on a feed, you can see the video here: http://tinyurl.com/4564gg5

What I Did on My Christmas Vacation…

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I took an ill-advised Dayquil way too late in the day and now I’m huddled in the corner of a hotel room typing away in the dark like a regular tweaker. I’m the last of the clan to succumb to this beastly, mutant virus and it has made our trip to Palm Springs more of an endurance exercise than a vacation.

Here’s a pic from our hike in Joshua Tree. A worthy endurance exercise if ever there was one.

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T got tired and lay down in the middle of the trail:

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We’ve been here for a few days because we felt like we needed a non-work-related family getaway. I try to keep this blog fairly humorous most of the time, but I have to get real and say that it’s been hard lately. T’s anxiety, aggression and control issues are through the roof. I’m digging deeper than I ever thought possible and still sometimes find myself losing my patience and snapping in ways I’m not proud of.

I believe we’re facing the fallout of T’s early childhood trauma. I console myself with the knowledge that I have a tremendous number of resources and a strong community of parents who have grappled with similar challenges. I’m discovering that feeling theoretically prepared for a high-needs child and actually dealing with the daily reality, particularly when I’m feeling off my game, is a very different thing. I know that we’ll get through this together and that we’ll emerge wiser on the other side. I’m just not sure how yet.

On the flip side, there is the unbearable sweetness of Christmas morning…

Best Ever Christmas morning quote:

Dad: (pointing to the brand new bike with the big red bow) What did Santa bring you?
Tariku: (pointing to the chair next to it, which has been there for years) A CHAIR!

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Our Fave Xmas Movie

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I just realized that Elf, our all-time fave Shriner Christmas movie, is about adoption and identity. I’ll watch it with a whole new perspective now.

Merry Christmas, all. And remember what Buddy the Elf says: The best way of spreading Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!

So rock on with your Christmas stockings on!

He Said, She Said

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Scott and I are now featured relationship vloggers on The Nest’s new series, He Said, She Said. Along with three other couples, we’re vlogging on a new relationship topic every week. Find out what we think about everything from nagging to white lies to rehab.

Have a Creepy, Kooky and Ooky Holiday!

And we mean that in the best way.

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