Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Good for you, good for us.

When we first started the adoption process, I felt isolated and alone. Then I started reading blogs, and more blogs, and more blogs. It's kind of like walking into a room full of new people. In this sea of personality, somebody appeals especially to you. Their look, their humor, their voice, a magical blend of the ephemera of self. Maybe you dare to reach out. You hope for chemistry. You hope not to blow it with a crass joke or by spitting appetizer in their face. And if you're very, very lucky your instincts were on-point and you may have stumbled into the luckiest of surprises: a new friend, just like that.

Our Own Rooney was the first blog I started returning to again and again. I love this family, every one, despite the fact that we've never met. Several months ago I was on a work trip to New York and was having lunch with a nice woman from Time magazine. I mentioned that my daughter was Ethiopian. She said she had a good friend from Portland, a nicer guy you'll never meet, who'd adopted from Ethiopia. I was kidding really when I said "Not The Ted Rooney?" "The Ted Rooney." "Not THE Ted Rooney." "The Ted Rooney." And on and on we went until I realized that Ted Rooney's identity had been properly established and good lord, we were talking about the Rooneys over steak frites and isn't life funny. A few weeks later one of my good friends from New York mentioned that she'd run into a nice guy and his Ethiopian son on the bus. Ha ha, let me guess, The Ted Rooney? I joked. THE Ted Rooney! The Rooney family were spending a month in New York and because Dulcy holds the center of all people and places they of course ran into Dulcy on the street and Dulcy of course invited them over so the kids could play and of course Dulcy made snacks. How can anyone in this world ever feel isolated and alone when there are Ted Rooneys and Dulcys out there reminding us that we are at all times connected.

Ted and Lori and Abe are adopting another child. A five year old Ethiopian girl, at a time when the adoption process has grown suddenly more confounding and more costly. Adoptive parents must now travel twice to Ethiopia--once for court (and then, cruel whims of bureaucracy, they must leave without bringing the precious child they have since met home with them), and once for the actual care-passing of the child. I can say from experience that the plane trip alone for two adults costs over $5,000. Lori very gracefully, very smartly, has found a way to raise funds for their travel expenses. I contributed because I love the Rooneys, and I love five year old girls. I felt enormously happy making my donation, especially because I might now win a super cool custom-made doll from Lori's friend and a fellow adoptive mom.

Please consider giving a little, any little bit counts!, to the enormously generous Rooney family. Lori has made it an effortless process. Five dollars, 10, 20. You'll feel so good afterwards, I promise.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Last night we went to our first meeting of the Brown Babies, Pink Parents support group. Papa Dog found the group online, on one of his many marathon surfs through adoption-related issues blogs. We've been slow at building a local adoption community for ourselves down here. But this network sounded promising: Founded by a lesbian couple with three black daughters, focussed on matters emotional, practical, and political. They meet once a month at a black church in East Austin (a world away from our white ass hood) and score!, pot luck.

When we first arrived Ava was uncharacteristically shy for roughly 10 seconds, an eternity for her social self. Somehow it ended up that she and I were separated by a little girl during dinner and something about Ava's sweet still-baby chin hovering parallel with the table, whispering "apple" to herself before eating a grape, made me want to cry. After dinner she scooted down over to me and propped her elbows on my leg for a bit before I asked if she wanted to run around with the older boys. See ya! The kids chased each other in circles for about 15 minutes, Ava laughing the loudest and helicoptering her little arms as she tried to keep up. Something about seeing my child play with a roomful of other black children made me want to cry. The kids were then gracefully ushered off to the nursery, Ava looking only moderately confused, and the adults got to talking.

As the Pops and I were the only new folks, everyone first introduced themselves and gave a brief skeleton of their family origins. We were the only international adoptive family in the house; everyone else had worked within the domestic foster care system. My God, the stories. When a woman from one lesbian couple said 'Well, we have 11,' I figured she meant they had an 11-year-old. No, see, they have eleven children. As in 10 +1. ELEVEN children from the foster care system, many of whom were brought home in their early teens after languishing in the system for the bulk of their lives. It struck me that some people with kids are useless. Some people are parents. Some, advocates. And some are warriors. These women were warriors. Arkansas, my ass.

At one point in the evening the term "color blind" came up. This same lesbian couple was talking about their youngest kids' very earnestly hippie school, run by people who are so progressive that the subject of race deeply unsettles them. "They fancy themselves color blind," one of the mothers said. The founder of the group leaned over to me explaining she didn't know where I stood on the term but their group didn't have much use for it. And that went double for "All you need is love." Oh hallelujah. When we introduced ourselves, everyone listened. They didn't try to reinterpret our situation, or lolly lolly, happy happy our family. They just listened. The founder asked me what we'd found the most challenging since coming home. The truth is that what's been hardest are just the daily rigors of parenting. (That and nine months of the squirts.) The hardcore emotional stuff is still just ahead. But yes we've been in too many classrooms and playdates and pool parties where Ava is the only person of color. That's exhausting. And that's when I got my real welcome to a support group. This woman had an in with one of the best preschools in town that happens to be in East Austin and happens to have a majority black population with majority black teachers. This one worked in the school system for years and she wanted to make sure we knew about this program with these initials. Then someone else threw some initials at me. Then more initials. We were initialiated! Then someone handed me a 15% off coupon for curly hair care products. Then someone said there was pie and something about the promise of coconut custard always makes me want to cry.

The conversation moved on to the coming school year and what lessons the parents of older kids might impart to the parents of younger kids about how to help their children prepare for questions about their adoption and their skin and the fact that their mama is a honky. Then we all had a good laugh at a well-meaning person's expense. ("I'm looking for my brown kids," the woman said she announced at a party. Her friend looked at her and frowned and motioned her head to her own kids. "I don't like to use those kind of words around my kids," she told the woman. "The word 'brown?'" Everyone laughed.) Brown Babies, Pink Parents*—folks with a sense of urgency and humor. Where have you been all my life?

After an hour of visiting it was time to scoop up the kids. When I saw Ava she jumped laughing into my arms. Then I think she was so overwhelmed with emotion at seeing Papa and I that she burst into hot tears for about a minute and held on constrictor-like to my neck. When I asked if she wanted to say goodbye to all of her new friends she got down and did her pony run in figure 8s with all the other kids. On the drive home she kept saying "Mommy. Daddy. Hi!" with a tone of almost rapturous relief in her voice. We came back Ava.

Tomorrow is a week of mornings at gymnastics camp. She did a week there early in the summer. The mere mention of the word trampoline makes her quivery with joy. She loves it. She loves the counselors. She loves the kids. She will most likely be the only black child in the gym, besides an old poster of Dominique Dawes hanging on the wall.

Ava is two years and one month old. Often I'll look down at her right hand and she'll have her fingers crossed. It's just a quirk but sometimes I like to imagine it a gesture of her innate sense of optimism and hope. Whenever we catch her with her fingers crossed one of us will cross our fingers too and we'll give her what's become our family's lucky fingers version of dap.

Luck Ava. Luck and community. And Love Love Love.

Ava with her Grandma and Taylor

*Group founder Amy Ford has written a book called Brown Babies, Pink Parents that is going on sale next week. She's divine. And tough and practical too.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Welcome to Utopia, Greetings from Bozo Town

My life got very happy and very messy and very full in the last year. The day before we left for Ethiopia to meet our daughter my book editor sent me back the edit of my first book. Excellent timing Obi Wan! When we returned I would scrabble away at the manuscript while darling Ava went down for her little cat naps. It was a long summer, but the work was rich. Ava has been home for a year and she jumps higher and twirls harder and laughs bigger and kisses softer than anyone I know.

My book WELCOME TO UTOPIA: NOTES FROM A SMALL TOWN is now available in bookstores and on Amazon. On the off chance that anyone out there has time for reading this summer (ha!) here is a trailer for the book, shot by the one true Papa Dog.

Annnnnnnd.... here is the unfortunate blooper reel from said trailer. Oh lord, I'm hopeless.

Utopia Video Blooper Reel from tim on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Babies, Dummies

Recently my magazine editor called and told me she wanted me to write a story about the new documentary Babies.

I wondered aloud to her if I was the right emotional fit for the job. I missed the first 11 months of my own child's life. I, probably like some psychologists say adult adoptees themselves tend to do, admit to having my largely manufactured vision of Ava Bekelech's mother up high on a pedestal. Way down below is me, tripping into the boot of said pedestal, cursing my clumsiness and offering up my apologies for my many large and small failings.

Anyways, I was going to be a mess at the movies. My editor pooh poohed my hand-wringing. The movie is fascinating and provocative and dear, she told me. And it is all those things! Go see it when it comes out on Mother's Day. Marvel at what goofs we Western parents are with our rigid schedules and sing songy psychobabble and need to overstimulate. (Check, check, and check!) But I was right. It was poignant and beautifully painful for me to watch the mothers give birth and nurse and be with their little chicken wing-like bundles from day one. The funny thing is I never regret not giving birth to Ava, or any other child for that matter. I wouldn't alter a thing about my path to my kid because there she was at the end. But I'd wish a different path for her. As desperately hungry as I was for a child, as many organs as I'd claw from my own body if my daughter was ever in need of them, it's enormously hard for me to accept her losses. I like to think I'm not neurotic in this regret, or let it spoil any of the lightness and fun that seems to spill out of our little home these days. But Ava had a mother, and I know not what she was like or like with Ava. (Although I do know that she was beautiful, according to Ava's uncle. And that Ava's Ethiopian father was funny!) And I don't know what Ava's first year looked like, though I imagine it was punctuated by dizzying, devastating transitions to increasingly unfamiliar places. When you watch Babies, and you see the intimacy shared by mother and child in that first important year, it's hard not to spill a wagon's worth of tears picturing your own child ever lacking or separated from such love.

Some days I go check out sites like Harlow's Monkey, a blog by an adult adoptee who is often disgusted by the language and behavior of adoptive parents (particularly when it comes to international or transracial adoption). I got to say, sometimes that woman really raises my hackles. At her worst, she gets a sneering tone that is so dismissive and so deeply ungenerous. But there are other times, probably when I'm able to set some of my own junk aside before clicking onto her page, that I'm glad she's doing her work and grateful for the "snap out of your comas of privilege, white people!" reminder.

I try to remember that good people are often careless and awful without meaning any harm. There are times to laugh, and there are times to try and educate or even gracefully shame. There was the otherwise lovely friend who when she met Ava, marveling over her beauty and joy, turned to me and said "Oh my, don't you just think it was such a blessing that her parents died?" No I do not. It was not a blessing that this child lost her parents in rapid succession of each other and that she now lives a half a world away from her four older siblings. Or the sassy colleague who, upon listening to me gush about my child's magnificence, joked "I guess you're not returning her then!" Or the very kind and good-natured woman I was out with just last night who said that her neighbors adopted a darling little boy from South Africa and the crazy thing is they're not even sure of his real birthday! But he's from Ethiopia or something just like Ava. "So he's not from South Africa?" Well, I know he's from Africa. I'm almost positive. "So your neighbors adopted a black child." And he is so athletic!

Good grief, all of us. Harlow's Monkey, you chap my hide something fierce. Do your thing.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's all a Marathon

On Valentine's Day I ran the Austin Marathon. It was a beautiful day and save the last 4 miles where I moaned dramatically and wheezed "this suuuuuuuuuuuuucks" to any good soul on the sidelines, I found the whole experience rather glorious. I'm going to do it again, and again, and again, as long as this old body will let me. I am a person brought easily to tears. I like this about myself. I used to kill time at the office by You Tubing old Academy Award acceptance speeches. Nothing like a little emotional porn on a slow afternoon. (Tom Hanks for Philadelphia is pretty damn moving, and I love the unbridled exuberance of Sophia Loren announcing "Rrrrroberto!" for Best Director.) So it was no surprise when I found myself on the verge of tears at the starting gun, as waves of excited people started bouncing in place before breaking into their slow jog. Such community! And what neighborliness we enjoyed throughout the 26 miles, as throngs of people sang and cheered and offered food and drink and high fives and a young boy banged on his drums in his front yard and a couple of awkward teenagers played their cellos at the top of a hill. It was all so lovely and moving and I want to be as good of a citizen when I find myself in future spectator roles. But what really made me tear up again and again, sometimes to the point of there being a great catch in my throat, was knowing that my little family would be waiting for me at the halfway mark and then again at the finish line. I couldn't help comparing the run to the long slog of the adoption process. I can't barely believe how far we've come in the last year, or two years when we were just recently committed to adoption, let alone three when we hadn't even a clue that adoption was a part of our future. How far we've come! At times, like when I was hoofing up that one fucking hill, and I sighed to that one fucking guy "Dude, this suuuucks" and he said "Now, now, hills are our friends!," I figured it would be a miracle if I ever reached the finish line. There at the finish line a miracle awaited.

Enough about finish lines though, as I've quickly realized there's no such concept for a parent. What has struck me dumb about becoming the mother of Ava Bekelech* is the sheer ceaselessness of feeling and work and hopes and dreams and anxieties that goes along with this new world. I want so much for her. I want her to have the life she was meant to live, with her parents and her four older siblings. If she must be stuck with me I want her to have a better, more imaginative, more energetic, more selfless me. I want her to experience the big old emotional range of a fully lived existence and yet I also find myself wanting her only to be happy. (Ha!) I want her to be fearless but man I'd love for her every once in a while to show a little caution. I want her to laugh her head off with joy at her gymnastic classes but if she ever falls on her neck like that again on the trampoline I want someone to shoot me with a horse tranquilizer. (She bounced right back up; I had to fight falling to my knees.) I want everyone to recognize her magnificence and charisma and beauty and I also sometimes want folks to leave her alone. I want her to want to go to an all black college. I want her Grandparents living closer. I want some solid poops for this child. I want to learn another hairstyle besides puffs. I want that kid who intentionally tripped her at Extreme Fun to get pantsed in public.

I want to be a more patient mother for my brave and beautiful child. I was talking motherhood with a woman many years ago and she said that she had always been a fiery broad but when her first child was born she felt like some switch of anger or edginess was forever flicked off inside her. I wanted that to be the case for me too. But I found myself hollering at my baby girl one hard day, hollering at her almost as if she was a peer instead of my toddler daughter, and I was horrified to hear the fever pitch of my own mother in my ears. Not okay. I wish something had magically turned off in me but it didn't. So now I like to think that I check my switch daily, maybe cover it up every so often with a little duct tape. Because what you cannot prepare yourself for when you become a mother is how much of your own childhood junk can bubble up and overwhelm you. I work hard at forgiving myself for not being everything I think Ava deserves. I know full well that kicking myself ad nauseum isn't going to help this child practice her somersaults or make play dough balls or accept that the dog does not have a belly button.
And yet, and yet.

I have done nothing in my life to deserve the honor of parenting this child. And yet there she is, down the hall and under her blanket, sleeping off another hard day of play.

*We were going to give Ava her mother's name for her middle name. But when we were in Ethiopia, she was Bekelech. When we spoke with her Special Mother at the Care Center she was Bekelech. And when we spoke with her uncle about her parents and about how we would one day return to Ethiopia so this little girl could see her siblings again (and again, and again), she was Bekelech. And Ava Bekelech she will always be.