Thanksgiving Part 2: The Thankful Part


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.


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.


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:


Thanksgiving Part 1: The Giving Part



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.

My Family Rocks



This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the different manifestations of family in our lives. As an adoptive family, we’re living proof that clans are formed in all kinds of ways. But there are less obvious examples of this, too.

A band, for instance, is a family. Scott’s band is a family with whom I’ve traveled the world for the past eight years. We don’t always like each other, but we share an intimacy and a common purpose that always manages to unite us in the end.

For those of us who live far from our families or who might be estranged from them for one reason or another (writing a memoir, for instance), chosen families are an essential part of holidays. We’ve spent the past four Thanksgivings at my beautiful, graceful friend Claire’s house, along with her generous family and a coterie of interesting friends. Tariku is obsessed with Claire’s teenage daughter and while he was stalking her, I actually got a chance to breathe and converse with grown-ups.

There is a banner at their house on which people write what they’re thankful for. This year, T did a little drawing on the banner and not far from his picture was a note that Scott wrote two years ago, saying he was thankful for Tariku, the son we were waiting to go pick up in Ethiopia. My chest contracted for a moment remembering that unbearable limbo state, when I carried a picture of T around with me and wielded it like a shield against an endless barrage of well-meaning questions. I remembered the terrible holidays that year, when we knew about T but we couldn’t go get him for another three months.

And now we were spending Thanksgiving with this same chosen family and my biggest worries were that T would pull the dog’s tail or that he’d eat too much sugar and have a freak out. I looked at that banner and the gratitude beyond words washed over me. I’m immensely grateful for my family this year. I was so filled with the spirit that I even went into the garage today and eyed the ornaments and lights. Then I turned around and walked right back out. This week, though…