Posts tagged Tariku Shriner

Not Bad at All

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The crumbling gingerbread house is barely hanging in there on the dining room table, next to my menorah from Hebrew school graduation. The fake log made of coffee grounds is fake crackling in the fireplace. The cranky child is finally asleep. The PMS tea is steeping. The computer paper snowflakes are clothes-pinned to the barn lights. The tree is my best one yet; really, it is. Our house guest walked into the house this evening, looked at it and just said, “Thank you.” I shed a little tear.

The world is quiet, save the soft churning of the dishwasher and the washing machine. Which is to say: quiet enough. It’s never quite the Hallmark card/Pinterest board/Barbie Dream House, is it? But it’s still pretty great.

The thing that comes to mind are Snoopy’s words of wisdom from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown (Yes, I played Snoopy in summer camp. Of course I did. Rachel Weintraub, witness!):

Not bad. It’s not bad at all.

Love you all tonight. I’m sure that’s a song, too.

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Thanksgiving Part 2: The Thankful Part

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Here’s a picture from the first year we brought T to Thanksgiving. Cute, right? I think we managed to stay for about 20 minutes. From the beginning, social situations have been scary and challenging for T. I still shudder when I recall my dear friend stooping to say hello, and T responding by punching her right in the snout. At that time, aggression was a daily occurrence for us. I was covered in bite marks. Scott and I would struggle to smile, while vigilantly monitoring him at gatherings. We were masters of the quick exit. The car ride home from T’s first three Thanksgivings were tear-filled. I think Scott may have even offered a few drops to the communal river.

This is T now, at the drums in the front of the room. Just look at that confident kid.

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At first, he wasn’t super-psyched about Thanksgiving, because all of the kids attending were older and he was worried he wouldn’t have anyone to play with. Then, the other kids (the most terrific teens in existence- they give me hope for the whole species), had the idea to have a family jam. I mentioned it to Tariku and he immediately lit up and begged to bring his drums. I very hesitantly asked if we could bring his kit, while acknowledging that it was potentially the world’s worst idea. They responded with a resounding YES.

The other kids even learned the Phineas and Ferb theme song to play with him. Scott jumped in as well. At six years old, Tariku sat in front of a room full of about twenty-five people and was funny, focused, and good.

When Scott was a kid, discovering music saved his life. It gave him a passion, a sense of purpose, something to dream about, something to work for. For me, that thing was books. Through books, I felt connected to the world around me.

At Thanksgiving, I believe I was seeing the seeds of that very process for my own son. As soon as he sat down and started to play, he was glowing with pride and purpose.

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And you see this guy I’m sitting next to… I’ve known my friend Colin since I was seventeen years old. Back then he had really long hair and always wore a black motorcycle jacket. I had really nineties hair and wore…well, I generally wore a lot less than I do now. His teenage singer/songwriter son blew me away. How strange, these 10,000 miles of road behind us. How surreal and incredible to see our kids now the ones at the front of the room, playing their hearts out. I’m so thankful we’ve made it far enough to see this happen.

Every year we write what we’re thankful for for on the tablecloth. Here is this year’s contribution:

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Thanksgiving Part 1: The Giving Part

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This Thanksgiving, I tried to figure out a fun way to ease Tariku into the idea of giving to others. Until now, I’ve been lazy about including him in our charitable efforts, for the reason that there’s a lot less whining without him. I’ve justified this by telling myself that modeling right action is enough. After all, that’s how I learned from my own parents, who were always active in numerous organizations. It seemed time to do something more proactive, however, since we’ve been focusing with Tariku on building empathy.

Honestly, I don’t often volunteer on Thanksgiving, because it’s the one day a year that soup kitchens and food banks actually have enough helpers. But in this case, it seemed a great opportunity to explore the concept of gratitude. We volunteered as a family with Gobble Gobble Give, a wonderful grassroots project that donates food and clothes to LA’s homeless each Thanksgiving.

We filled up the back of our truck with Gobble Gobble Give’s meals and donations and drove around handing them out to people. I wanted to do something concrete, so that Tariku could actually look people in the eye and have an experience of interacting with individuals.

Make no mistake, he did not want to go. He wanted to stay home and play dinosaurs or cards, or anything else really. He probably would have even preferred to clean up his room. I had to strong-arm him into it (okay, maybe I also promised him Cheetos if he cooperated).

We started by visiting our friend Cindy, a homeless woman who hangs around our old neighborhood. Tariku has known Cindy since he was a baby and was happy to visit her, but couldn’t figure out why she was included on our route. He had never realized she was homeless. She gave us big hugs, took donations to deliver to her friends and gave us some suggestions.

Then we went to some intersections in Pasadena that we pass every day on the way to T’s school. By this time, T was insisting on handing out all the bags himself. He was skipping, smiling his enormous smile, bringing the Tariku sunshine and making everyone laugh.

The only trouble arose when we passed a disturbed looking young man, cursing at a wall. I wouldn’t let Tariku walk up to him for fear the man might be dangerous, and T was upset with me for “leaving him out.” On our way home, T meditatively ate his Cheetos. I asked him if it had made him feel good to give to other people.

He said, “Mom, I’m still worried about that one guy.”

It was amazing to see his perspective shift over the course of a few hours. I hadn’t walked into the day with big expectations– I had simply wanted to transmit my belief that the best way to express gratitude is through action. But the experience really got a hook in him, so now I’m wondering, how do I take this ball and run with it?

I’d love to hear your suggestions. Let me know… how do you impart the spirit of giving to your kids?

Tune in tomorrow for Thanksgiving Part 2: The Thanks Part.

Death by Book

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As I approach the finish line of this new memoir, my response to the question How are you? has lately been, This book is killing me, or (in the style of the Wicked Witch), I’m melting! MEEEELTING! And other cheery and not-at-all dramatic stuff like that.

Then, right before Halloween, my best friend Julie in upstate NY called to tell me her husband just had emergency heart surgery. If they hadn’t caught the blockages, he would have been dead within the year.

After I hung up the phone, I vowed to slow down, to be in the moment, to be present for the miracle that is my life. Forever more. The end.

And then I used that vow to flagellate myself for the next few days because, as usual, I was unable to accomplish this goal in any significant way. Until I finally just said forget it and tossed the vow out of the window of my car, while texting at red lights, blasting The Shins, crying and eating an emergency taco on my way to therapy.

When I got home from therapy, I (not at all slowly or mindfully) stuck T in front of Phineas and Ferb, while I packed two suitcases for NY. In the morning we left to meet Scott and see an Everything Will Be Alright in the End show. The next few days were a maelstrom of activities and meetings and rock shows and no sleep. By the time we were in a rented car heading over The George Washington Bridge to go upstate and visit Julie and her family, I had been running nonstop for so many days that my whole body was vibrating.

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When we got there the air was crisp and smelled like rain, the grass phosphorescent against the grey sky. The last of the fiery foliage still clung to the trees. I began to breathe as we wound through the country roads that I recognize in my very bones, from having spent every summer of my childhood there. I hurried us all into our half-assed costumes (Frankenstein, the Mummy And a fortune teller, fyi), then met Julie, her sister and their kids in the hippie haven of Woodstock. It was adorable night, with exuberant trick-or-treating punctuated by lots of old school drum circles. Without even trying, there it was in front of me: the wonder of my days.

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When we got back to their house after the candy carnage, Julie’s husband was resting on the couch, waiting for us.

Scott asked him, “How are you feeling about all this, Man? Are you anxious?”

He replied, “I’ve never been calmer. Nothing matters to me anymore except this.”

The “this” he was pointing at included six children racing through the living room on plasma cars, screaming with laughter and leaving chocolate fingerprints on every available surface. The youngest of them toddled behind, yelling “Tarikoosh! Tarikoosh!”

Ah yes. This.

Writing is hard. Mothering is hard. Sometimes keeping both balls in the air does indeed feel like it’s killing me. But it’s not. Ultimately, it’s nourishing me. My family and my work both give me much more than they ever take out of me.

The book is called Everything You Ever Wanted. It’s a motherhood memoir for the slightly less traditional moms among us, about going from being a member of a harem to a member of the PTA, and it comes out in May. It is almost finished. So close. I can’t wait to share it with you. I am wicked stressed, but it is not killing me. Not at all.

Then and Now

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We spent a remarkable weekend with T’s “first friends.” Unprompted by me, he calls them his brothers and sisters. The first picture is of the kids when they were still living in a care center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The second one is of the same kids now (in almost the same order- wrangling challenges). I don’t even have words for the juxtaposition of these photos. Just look at these sweet, bright stars. The weekend was hilarious and touching and hard and big and real. I miss the other families already.

I had no idea what Tariku’s adoption would bring into our lives. It’s hard to remember, when sunk in the daily minutiae of mopping an inch bathwater off the floor or arm wrestling for the iPad or trying to teach subtraction. He has truly razed so many walls in my heart. Scott and I just wanted a baby. We weren’t looking explode our world. A bright light turned on all at once and we now have a network of strong and inspiring extended family. Our awareness has expanded and issues like race, belonging, family, trauma, and healing have moved to the forefront of our thoughts and our discussions. We are more compassionate. Above all, we know waaaaay more about airplanes than we ever could have dreamed.

I always knew he was a miracle, I just didn’t grasp the scope of it.

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On Special Needs…

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When I was stuck in traffic after the camp drop-off this morning, I found myself musing about the day I first heard the words “special needs” applied to T. It seems a lifetime ago. I remember the combination of fear and relief I felt. What would this mean to him? To our lives? How had my life strayed so far from any picture I ever had of motherhood? Some part of me felt like I was betraying him every time I said it, by admitting that he wasn’t perfect. Another part of me was grateful that I had some external validation for my concerns about his behaviors- I hadn’t just been imagining it all along.

Special needs. Say it a few times. See how it feels.

You may feel embarrassed. You may feel like you’re getting benched, not allowed out on the field with these other competitive moms who are humble-bragging at the coffee shop about their six-year-old playing Chopin and speaking Mandarin.

That’s okay. Don’t stop. Say it a few more times.

You may find that it begins to change shape in your mind, to grow roots in your heart. You may recognize it as truth, and truth is almost always a relief. You may begin to feel that rather than benching you, it puts you on exactly the right playing field, where you suddenly understand the game.

Say it a few more times. Say it like its no big deal because it isn’t any more. You will begin to hear an echo.

My kid has special needs, too!

You may find that the echo is coming from people that you’d far rather spend time with than the Mandarin-drilling Tiger Moms anyway. You may find that you’re proud to be among this new group of people, that all you had been waiting for was to feel less alone, and now you do. And while it is not all fixed, you have something better than fixed: you have hope.

These were my traffic thoughts this morning. How remarkably different from three years ago, when I used to drive around literally cursing at God. I am so grateful to the special needs community- the parents, the therapists, the educators, the kids. They have given me a life far richer than the one I imagined, when I first envisioned being a mom.

My Tedx Talk!

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.

On Fear and Soccer

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I’ve been struggling with a bizarre case of massive stage fright. I speak in public a lot, and this anxiety has been an intensely unpleasant aspect of my life for the past two years. When it happens, it’s practically an out-of-body experience. It’s not logical. There’s no talking myself out of it. I do every creative visualization technique in the book, and still I have an overwhelming urge to run for my life out the back door.

All of this was very inconvenient for my Tedx talk last week, at Chapman University. About an hour before I was scheduled to go on, I broke into an empty classroom, lied down on the floor, and tried to shake off the paralysis that had crept into my limbs. My entire body was a block of ice. I couldn’t remember anything. I mean, anything. I couldn’t remember my own address for the release form. It was bonkers. When I actually got up there, it went great (will post the link soon!). But the hours, even days, leading up to it were torture.

So why the hell do I keep doing this to myself?

Here is the answer. Because I have some things I want to say. Also, because I want to know what’s on the other side of this. And because when Tariku hits a wall of fear someday, what will I tell him? Oh yeah- I felt that way once, and I quit?

I’ve been drawing a lot of inspiration from the World Cup.

I’ve always loved soccer. Here’s me, the early soccer years…

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The World Cup players are warriors. They are amazing. Check out black-eyed Dempsey playing with his broken nose (hot!). They have to know how to lose and keep fighting (which will NOT happen Thursday against Germany, btw). They accept the inevitability that they will screw up sometime, and when they do it will be in front of thousands of people. And they will have to keep playing. When a ball gets by Tim Howard into the goal, he stands back up and stops the next one. Watching the games puts some fight in me

So Tariku and I have been avidly watching, and I’ve been letting the energy crawl into my blood. When I got up on stage last week, I told myself I was getting in the game. And when my son faces something daunting and frightening one day, I will be able to tell him that it is a noble fight, to do the thing that scares you.

GO USA!

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The Move and Everything After

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It’s been a long while. I wish I could say that I’ve been absent because the fam and I have had our toes sunk in the mud by a lake somewhere woodsy, or that we’ve been busy hunting for abalone shells, enjoying these last days of spring before the summer descends.

The truth is, we moved onto a new house in the middle of multiple work deadlines (sorry, Becky, I swear I’ll have the new book finished in a jiffy), the end of the school year, and Scott being in and out of town. I was hardly stopping to smell the roses. The best I could do was convince the movers not to trample the roses.

I had a disorienting experience when I saw at all of our stuff on the truck. Everything looked huge and tiny at the same time. I was like- Who are we, anyway? Who would we be if this truck just drove away and never came back? Scott was like- are you smoking weed? And I was like- way to undermine a poetic moment. And then we moved our entire existence six miles away, to the top of a big hill.

I have missed this blog space, because without it, I lose my frame. I lose my outlet, which has been a life-saver for me over the last six years. Six! I just checked. And in the middle of all this crazy change, I find that it is still here for me, waiting. So hello, again!

We were worried about how T was going to handle the transition. I’m happy to report that he was a peach. He loves the new place. We can see tons of airplanes from our wide windows and that is all T needs to be happy. That and a corn dog once in a while.

In truth, it was me who had the hardest time with the move. Scott was a bit taken aback by my high-strung emotional reaction.

What if the next house doesn’t have good luck? What if it doesn’t keep us safe? I cried to him.

Honey? It’s not the house that keeps us safe.

So, yeah. Some stuff going on. About security and home. About time and loss.

Speaking of time, T just graduated from kindergarten. His school handles things in a low-key way, which I appreciate There are no tiny caps and gowns, no ceremonies. At 12:30pm last Friday, I went and picked him up at school, then we went swimming at his friend’s house and that was that. Next year the grades start to have numbers, and there just aren’t very many of those numbers if you really think about it.

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We were lucky enough to have a remarkable teacher this year. The kind that come around once in a blue moon and you remember for rest of your life. I am deeply grateful to all the teachers out there who have extra love for the kids who struggle- for the outliers, the special ones. The beginning of the year was rocky, but his teacher saw his big bright light and she believed in him. Slowly, he became what she saw him to be. He did beautifully.

He won the Doctor Award at school, because he takes such good care of his friends. I was nearly as proud as the day when he said, out of the blue, “Hey Mama, Lou Reed is cool!” This kid is my hero.

He went to the airport to watch the jets with his Auntie this morning (his Saturday ritual), and before he left he stood next to me and pointed out the picture window toward the airport.

If you ever miss me too much, he said, I’m right there at LAX. It’s not far.

It was never really the house at all.

Leaving

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We have been kicking around the idea of moving for years, dragging our feet. Then within a course of a month, KABAM, we have a new house and our old one is sold. It happened in a flash.

It has been a shock to my system. I’m all busted up about leaving. I’m not simply a touch teary and sentimental; I’m sitting on our front porch and sobbing.

I remember the first time we saw our little green house with the neat white trim, the golden afternoon light filtering through the camphor and jacaranda trees. It was love at first sight. We couldn’t believe our luck when we got it.

We waited for a child for two solid years in that house. We did not have the baby we so desperately wanted, but we did have our nest and I clung to it. I decorated his room with a zeal I don’t believe I will ever summon again for things like curtains. I spent some of the hardest days of my life in that house.

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I was sitting at our weathered farm table when I finally got the call:

You have a beautiful eight-month-old son. His name is Tariku.

My neighbor was pregnant with twins at the time. We spent many afternoons together, drinking lemonade on her porch. Something deeply lazy and serene washed over us as we slowly adjusted to the idea of the sea change before us. Those twins are now Tariku’s closest buddies and we haven’t had a moment of serenity since.

As Scott and I prepared to go to Africa, I sat on the bright green carpet in Tariku’s room under the painted starry night sky, while I packed and plotted and planned. I tried out various nicknames. It was Tariku’s room. Terry’s room. T-Bone’s room. T’s room. I sat in the rocker for hours and looked at his photos and was able to trust, for just a moment, that it would be fine somehow. That he would come home to us after all. That the world was about to shatter into something entirely new.

For the last five years, I have started all of T’s bedtime stories:

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Tariku Moon, who lived in a little green house on Mount Royal Drive…

That era is ending now, never to return. Like the sweet sounds he used to make before he could form words. Like the smell of his baby head- some combination of powder and cookies and fairy dust- as he napped on my chest in the rocker. Like the small, shifting weight of him as I carried him around for hours in the Ergo, my little kangaroo.

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We have been through so much here. I think I am partly grieving the couple Scott and I were when we moved into the house, with all of our hopefulness and naivetè, seven years worth of mistakes and missteps still ahead of us. It was a freer, wilder time. It would be dishonest of me to say that absolutely everything is better now that we finally have the child we always wanted. We are tired. There are crazy new lines on my face. I have to pack a lunch box every morning and, man, does that start out cute and get old quick. Still, when I step back and look at the home we made, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I realize how happy we have been, how lucky we are to be growing and moving on.

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We bought a dynamite place in a snazzy-cute neighborhood, with lots of fantastic cafés, artisanal grilled cheese, overpriced denim and clever mustaches. There are also tons of families, beautiful park space and a terrific farmer’s market. Our new pad is light and bright and vibrant. I am sad to leave, but I am also thrilled about the sense of wide open possibility. We might just be buying bunk beds… Also, my new kitchen is SWEET.

We are leaving a home that we have loved and of which I am proud. Our happiness has been in these walls but it is not of these walls. We will take it with us when we go.

Onward, to the next adventure!

Cruising Together

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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T’s Fifth Cha Cha Day!

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Last year Tariku renamed his “Gotcha” Day (the anniversary of the day he was finally in our arms), “Cha Cha Day.” Which is obviously the most awesome name for any day. Woe to the mother who expresses enthusiasm for such a thing… This year the Cha Cha name was strictly verboten. But between you and me, I’m keeping it.

We threw him a small party, just a few friends and neighbors. We ate cake, moved the coffee table out of the way in the living room and danced to “What Does the Fox Say” like sixteen times. And we told the story of his adoption. A family fairy tale, woven through with sorrow but ultimately triumphant. I stole the denoument from psychologist and author Brenè Brown (with whom I’m obsessed):

You are imperfect. You are wired for struggle. You are worthy of love and belonging.

I always get reflective and nostalgic around his Cha Cha day. I wrote this poem early that morning. I suppose it is less for him, exactly, and more for the moms out there. He’d rather have a dance party than a poem at this point anyway. I thought I’d share it with you.

TO MY SON ON HIS CHA CHA DAY

Perhaps I know what other mothers do not.
Of necessity, I know that you were never
mine to begin
with that you are merely a loan
so precious that, Gollum–like, even though I have it in
hand it leaves me wracked with longing
like cherry blossom festivals or a great
song you hear at the coffee shop and can’t
rewind.

Perhaps I know too what other mothers
all know that you have always been mine
settling into my skin
long before there was even a seed
of you taking root miles from here.
These fingertips caught fire some nights for
reaching, the same that first touched your silk
cheek.

Out of nowhere you say:

I was only a baby when Jesus died on
the wooden cross. I think it was, yes
I know it was a
Tuesday. In March.
I was there.
It wasn’t my fault.

I have no idea where
you got ideas of fault
or wood
or belonging
or March
or Tuesday
or God at all.

I wake up to your vinegary breath, your hands
on my face, a
mastiff puppy’s paws, too big,
for your tectonically shifting frame
a missive from the future these
hands, that I cannot read
except to know it
ends with.
Love,

Somewhere on a red dirt road
flanked by corrugated tin lean-tos painted
blue/green like a sea that is
nowhere to be found, by waxy green leaves of false
banana trees and round huts the same color as the
ground, miles every day she walks in rubber
flip flops toward the well
and back again, red kerchief over her
braids, carrying a burden of
water, dreaming a shared
dream.

Beginnings

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Motherhood has given me a whole new reverence for being a beginner. Of course, our kids have to learn absolutely everything from scratch. Once again, I am forced to love in my son all that I have found frustrating and humiliating in myself for most of my life.

When I think about the failure and the falling inherent in being a beginner, a young girl appears to me. She is always about twelve-years-old, dressed in a tennis skirt and wearing French braids so merciless she can barely blink. She is as tightly strung as her tennis racquet. You suck, she says. What kind of serve is that? Your backhand is pitiful. You are an embarrassment. All those years of lessons and this is what you have to show for it? You might as well just quit.

There was a time I listened to that girl in the tennis skirt. Why try and fail?

But if I have learned anything in my adult life, it is that sometimes you have to trick yourself into taking yourself seriously, even if all the evidence is piled up against you. You have to get up in the morning, get out to the track, and hold yourself as if as if you’re an Olympic athlete, even if you’re struggling through 3 miles at a snail’s pace. If a stack of rejection letters and a battered ego is all you have to show for your writing life, you must still sit down every day as if you are Faulkner himself, and write your heart out. Beginning again and again is a noble fight.

I have been radically humbled and adrenalized these last few days, as I’ve begun to ski. T and I tagged along for some shows Scott is playing in Aspen (duh, of course we did) and I threw T straight into the “Powder Panda” ski school. He clung to me at first and acted like a little jerk to the instructor (who was a peach- thanks, Billy at Buttermilk Mountain!). By the time I showed up to check on him at lunchtime, he reluctantly tore himself away from his new friends and dismissed me with, “I’m doing great, okay. I love you. BYE, Mama!”

The extent of the outdoorsiness of my childhood was the ubiquitous scent of Pine Sol in our relentlessly climate-controlled house. I want my son to have a different connection with the mountains and ocean and sky that that. How can I ask him to do something I’m unwilling to do myself? So I got my cold tushie out there in the snow and took some lessons and fell on my face like a dork. By the end of our time in Aspen, T and I were bombing down the green trails together. I felt exhilarated and alive and proud of both of us.

I was a beginner, with laughter. And what I got in return was the view from the top of a snowy mountain. I got to shout a big WOOOHOOO when I made it down my first blue run. I got that blissful exhausted feeling of an earned dinner, a deep sleep and happily sore legs the next morning.

I want to etch this feeling into my body and take it with me into 2014.

As I mentioned in my last post, I don’t make resolutions. But if I did, I’d say I want to dance more.

Happy New Year! Happy beginnings, today and all days.

Fear of the Dark

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us halloween

The neighbors on our street all decorate for Halloween and hand out absurd amounts of candy to sugar-crazed zombie hoards. We always throw a big party and it’s a blast. We let Tariku pick the family costume theme and then I get crazy with the glue gun and next thing you know, we’ve created a mutual fantasy world into which we all can escape for one chaotic night. This year, we were an octopus, a mermaid and Neptune.

Our culture demands that mothers be perfectly wholesome, that children embody the very essence of angelic innocence. Any deviation will bring down the wrath of the haters, both online and on the playground. I love that Halloween offers us a chance to give a public voice to our darker side. Costumes are a great way of letting our fantasy or shadow selves, heroes or monsters, spiral outward into the world.

Tariku stands in front of the skeletons and ghosts hanging from the trees on our street and faces them down, saying, “I’m not afraid of you. You’re not real.” Which, of course, is both true and not true. The skeleton masks are just cheap, novelty store rubber, but the specter of death is looming over us all, just over our shoulder, all our lives.

I have always been afraid of the dark. As a child, I woke regularly from terrible nightmares, frozen with fear, imagining the darkness to be alive and swimming with menace.

This irrational terror lasted into my adulthood, until at one point a therapist suggested that I walk into dark rooms and then just stand there and lean into the feeling of fear, letting it move through me until it transformed into something new. It is embarrassing to admit that the first few times I tried it, I couldn’t do it. I would stand there rigid until a wave of fear washed over me and I ran from the room with my heart pounding. But slowly, with practice, I learned to stand quietly in the dark. Now, when I wake in the middle of the night, I sometimes intentionally walk through the house without turning on the light. My reward has been that I get to walk through patches of moonlight spilling onto my kitchen floor, that I get to experience the peace that can come from being alone in the velvety darkness.

To me, Halloween is symbolic of the potential for growth that lies in engaging with the shadow side of life rather than denying it. It’s a chance to bring your fears out into the light and dance with them, rather than running away.

It is also ridiculously fun to watch the kids explode with joy at the prospect of putting on a mask and having permission to eat a peanut butter cup or two.

I love it all. And I particularly love that Tariku thinks this octopus costume is “really, really scary.”

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The Graduate

This guy…

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…graduated from pre-school. Yes, he did. If you’ve been following our journey at all, you’ll know that it’s a small miracle. I am so proud of him. What else can you say?

I’m starting to take this miracle thing in stride.

The Fruits of Frustration

This morning, T was building this Lego Jeep:

jeep 1

He got really frustrated because it was too small for his Lego man. He broke it trying to shove him inside. Then he put it back together and then he broke it again. At this point, you can imagine that the Legos were starting to fly across the room. There was whining. Oh, was there whining. There were tears. There was the slamming of a fist on the table. There were multiple attempts (of varying tones) by me to suggest different, less frustrating activities. Like breakfast, for example. No dice.

Finally, I just walked away and folded laundry in the other room until the annoyingness abated. At which point, I poked my head back in the dining room and saw T completely engrossed, building this (which fits his Lego man just fine):

jeep 2

“You fixed the problem!” I exclaimed.
He looked up, smiling.
“I fixed it. AND this one is better because it has buttons.”

Apparently the orange buttons wash the Jeep and make it fly, and the red one shoots missiles. It is totally better than that other lame Jeep.

Somehow, my kid has the ability to work through frustration. I didn’t learn that skill until I was thirty and realized I would have been way less of a derelict if I had ever followed through on anything.

My impulse is always to head the tantrum off at the pass, to offer him other activities, to make everything okay (for him and for me). But he was right. He did just need to keep at it until he found a creative solution to the problem. I guess sometimes a Lego or two needs to get tossed at the wall in the process.

Vision

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These pics were taken by T with my phone at his favorite work of art: Chris Burden’s Metropolis II at LACMA. We’ve been visiting it since he was about two years old and it still fascinates him. He discovers new things about the tiny city each time.

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mom

When he asked if he could take pictures, I was hesitant because I’m wary of all the time he spends staring at a screen. A museum visit is a good time to just be present and actually experience the real life around you. On the other hand, taking pictures is different than playing video games. It’s still hiding behind a piece of technology that mediates between you and the world, but there is a deeper and more conscious level of creative interaction involved.

As someone who loves to take pictures. it’s a question with which I’ve often struggled. How much am I hiding behind my camera? When I’m obsessively documenting a moment, am I sacrificing the actual emotional experience of that moment? But it was really interesting to watch him apply his own vision to this piece of art he loves so much. There is no way to capture the whole thing, it’s too big. So he was faced with issues of content and composition. What parts are most visually interesting? Most important to remember? How does he take Metropolis II and create something new? I think he did a great job!

We need to put our own frame around the events of our lives. I usually use words. I wonder what T’s chosen medium will be.

You’re Not My Real Mom

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An adoptive mom friend of mine just got her first, “You’re not my real mom anyway!” from her son and it upset her. We haven’t heard it yet in our house, but I expect we will soon. The closest we’ve come was once, when Tariku was super-pissed at me, he said, “You’re a mean mommy! I want a different mommy!”

It was horrible- not for me, for him. He heard his own words and it registered on his face as absolute terror. Three seconds later, he threw his arms around my neck and said, “I love you so much, Mommy.” I felt desperately sad for him right then because I could sense that he was bargaining with me. I don’t think it was conscious- he knows at this point that we are his family forever. We talk about it all the time. He no longer consciously thinks that when one of us goes out of town we might not be coming back. But I do think that there is still a corner of his heart that feels unsafe; that believes if he behaves badly enough or says the wrong thing, he may turn around to find that we’re gone.

I told him that I knew he loved me and that I loved him more than anything in the world. I told him he could never say or do anything that would ever make me go away. I will say the same thing when he tells me one day that I’m not his real mom. I’m not worried about it.

I have an unusual perspective on the issue because I’m also an adoptee, and I can remember the day I said it to my own mother. I was four-years-old and my family had just been through a terrible trauma. The nursery was still decorated in shades of pink and white, diapers still in the linen closet, baby bottle still in the kitchen cupboard. My mother hadn’t had the heart to clear it all out and put it in the garage, even though it had been months since my parents had gone to the hospital to pick up my new baby sister and had come home empty handed because the birth mother had changed her mind at the last minute. I can’t remember how they explained it to me, but I do remember being incredibly angry. I, who had been a dream child until then (really- ask my mom), suddenly started acting out: talking back, fighting with other kids, carelessly hurting myself all the time. One day my mother asked me to do something and I refused, on grounds that she wasn’t my real mother anyway. I remember the moment like I remember few other things from that time. I was wearing my Kermit the frog jumpsuit, sitting on the piano bench, not looking her in the eye.

My mother was devastated. She wept. My father had a big talk with me about it later. I never said it again. In fact, I was awash in guilt about it for years. I can still conjure a shimmer of guilt around the edges of the memory if I think about it hard enough.

I guess I’m particularly unconcerned about hearing those words because I have been on the other end of them and I can tell you without a doubt that they were never true. It was never an issue; there was never a question. Even when I don’t particularly like or understand her, even when we don’t talk for long stretches, my mother- the mother who wanted me and adopted me and raised me- was then and will always be my real mother.

I offer you this, adoptive mommies: don’t sweat it. They don’t mean it. They’re stuck with you. For real.

Happy Mother’s Day, all you beautiful mommies!

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Jealous?

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This is my newly decorated living room. This is it. There is no couch. There is a rocking chair across the room, for exactly no one to sit in because the drums are so loud your ears would bleed. Jealous?

Why did I let this happen to my life, you ask? Did I hire my sixteen-year-old burnout nephew as a decorator and pay him in weed?

Let me tell you the saga of my couch.

Once upon a time, we had an expensive leather sofa bed from Restoration Hardware. Because I am a sensible gal, we got it off Craig’s List. When we took our truck to Venice Beach to pick it up, we found it weighed exactly 47,000 lbs.. While we were inside finding this out, we got a parking ticket. Then we had to go and hire two guys from the Home Depot parking lot to help us take it home and get it in the house. At this point, we may as well have bought a new couch.

I really enjoyed our expensive couch for exactly two months. We even had a house guest! A certain relative (hint: rhymes with shmother-in-shlaw) visited and slept on it and then proceeded to not be able to stand us for the following six years, but what the heck! At least we had a sofa bed.

One fine Saturday, the dogs ate the entire back of it.

dogs

Here they are, the little darlings. That is not the couch- that is the couch before the cursed couch. They ate that one, too. Do you want them?!? DM me.

But I am not easily thrown. I had it reupholstered by a very nice man who had to bring not one but three of his sons to move it.

I bought those weird plastic electrified shock mats to keep the dogs off it (go easy on the comments here PETA activists, at least I didn’t donate the dogs to science). But then I realized that we were living with plastic shock mats on our furniture and that is psychotic, so I took them off.

They ate it again. I had it reupholstered again. By this time, we may as well have bought a car. I put up dog doors to keep them out of the living room but those were such a pain that eventually we just started leaving a dog gate ON the couch, which made me not even want to look at the living room much less live in it.

They shoved the gate over and ate it again.

At which point, I was like: I FOUND THE PERFECT PLACE FOR THAT DRUM SET!

Magically, within one afternoon, the couch disappeared and my living room looked like this. It chafes a bit, but it has also been an instant party. The very night the cursed couch disappeared, there were four pre-schoolers rehearsing with their new band while I made dinner with ear plugs in. Je ne regrette rien. Fun is better than a couch any day.

On Raising Boys

I saw two videos of teenage boys in one week. The first is posted above, and consists of local news coverage of a heartwarming interaction between an uncommonly kind young basketball player and a teen with special needs. The second was the Steubenville rape case video, in which, for a stomach-turning twelve minutes, a high school student mocks the unconscious victim of a gang rape.

As the mother of a boy, I want to know: what makes the difference? How do you raise one instead of the other? How do you teach compassion while at the same time not pathologizing every little manifestation of aggression?

I’d really like an easy answer, some reassurance that the parents of those rapists and their reprehensible friends were monsters, absent, ignorant, abusive. My guess is that the truth lies in a more uncomfortably grey area than that.

This is not another species committing these crimes, these are our sons. It indicates a failure on so many levels- schools, parents, peers, communities. I think this Salon article makes an interesting point in exploring the efficacy of bystander education programs that target specific communities.

This country is pathetically puritanical when it comes to sex education in our schools. I realize it’s not a panacea, but education is a beginning, at least. It has the potential to give kids the correct language with which to discuss sexual assault. It opens up the dialogue, rather than couching it in silence and shame.

Having a boy who will one day be a teenager changes the experience of watching these horrors unfold in the media. One of my greatest (and hardest) gifts of motherhood is that is has connected me to the world in a more urgent way. How can we raise our boys to be kind, conscious, empathetic? I don’t have an answer, but I am deeply engaged with the question.

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