Archive for the ‘
Parenting Advice ’ Category
Monday, April 29th, 2013
Nia Vardalos, from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Instant Mom, isn’t the only one talking about adoption this month. Another beautiful book just came out, Carried in our Hearts: The Gift of Adoption; Inspiring Stories of Families Created Across Continents. It’s a poignant collection of essays about everything choosing the child, making a journey to meet her and coming face-to-face for the first time. Dr. Jane Aronson, adoption expert and Worldwide Orphans Foundation, is the editor of the collection.
The publisher, Tarcher/Penguin gave me permission to excerpt one of the essays by adoptive dad Claude Knobler. Read his lovely story about a Jewish family adopting a Christian boy from Ethiopia:
“It was a lot easier before my son learned to speak English.
My wife, Mary, and I adopted Nati from Ethiopia when he was five years old. He spoke no English and we spoke only three words of Amharic, the language of most Ethiopians. When I flew with him from the orphanage in Ethiopia back to our home in Los Angeles, he was astonished not only by the airplane but by the escalator in the airport; most everything was new to him. Here are the three words of Amharic I knew. Shent, which means “pee.” Baca, which means, “enough.” Ishi, which means, “it’s okay.” Put them in any order you like and it’s still not much of a conversation.
How did we do it? How did we introduce a five-year-old boy to kindergarten, car seats, TVs, French fries, two dogs, a house, and his new brother and sister? How did we teach him English? How did we manage to communicate anything at all? It was easy.
Yes, I do remember hearing Nati demand something that sounded like “meso” from the backseat of my car. It took 10 minutes to figure out he was hungry, another ten minutes to figure out he wasn’t asking for a Mentos candy, and a full week before I found out that what he wanted was an Ethiopian stew he’d been missing. But that, all of it, was the easy part. We pantomimed for each other, and when all else failed we spoke English very loudly and slowly and hoped for the best, and more often then not, we got it. What was really hard came long after Nati learned English and what we probably should have always known: knowing the same words can be very different from speaking the same language.
Imagine cooking a meal. Or better yet, imagine you’re my grandmother and you’re cooking a meal. You’ve got some chicken, some matzo balls, maybe some carrots and vegetables. A stove, a pot, and an hour or two of cooking time and you’ve got enough chicken soup to make a nice meal. Now imagine that someone gives you a bunch of Ethiopian spices, some berbere, a bit of wot kimen, and a pound of mitmita, and then tells you to use all of them when you make tonight’s dinner. You might, if you were a very good cook, come up with something interesting. On the other hand, you certainly wouldn’t be making Grandma’s chicken soup anymore.
My new family is a lot like that imaginary meal. I like to read. My wife is a sweet, funny, kind woman who would rather endure oral surgery without Novocain than brag about any of her many accomplishments. My son Clay is verbal and witty and doesn’t like it when I say unkind things about anyone, including politicians and fictional characters. My daughter, Grace, loves to make art, take pictures, and watch bad reality TV in bed with her mom. And then there’s Nati.
Nati, who is so confident that on his first trip from Los Angeles to San Diego, when he’d been here all of six months and was all of five years old, he told me in his broken English, “No, Dad, drive the other way. It’s the other way!” Nati, who said, while talking to a hotel desk clerk in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, “English is easy! Also, I know how to dance really well!” Of course, he said that in Amharic, since he did not yet speak a single word of English, but still, he made his point. Nati, who when he’d been here one year asked if he could build a lemon-aide stand near where someone was selling their house so he could get more foot traffic. To say that Nati can be loud doesn’t do him justice. To say that he has charisma doesn’t begin to tell the story. Put it this way, I spent the first three years Nati was here searching in vain for a dial to adjust his volume. It is, I used to think, as if somehow my family and I adopted a small, black Liza Minnelli. Nati is all singing, all dancing, all the time. All. The. Time. We had been a family that sought compromise: Nati loves arguments and winning. We had been a family that valued gentle kindness: Nati loves action, noise, and excitement. We were Woody Allen and Neil Simon and generations of borscht belt humor: Nati is pratfalls, pie-in-the-face gags, and all Three Stooges rolled into one.
I knew Nati was black and that we were white. I knew he’d been Christian and that we were Jewish (surely the chicken soup metaphor tipped you off, right?). I knew that he spoke not a word of English and that we spoke only three words in his native tongue. What I did not know was that our real differences were deeper and more mysterious. My son has been my son for eight years now. I’m somewhat ashamed to have to admit that I spent the first six of those years trying very hard to force my loud, exuberant, competitive, goofy boy into becoming a quiet, neurotic Jewish kid like I’d been. I did it with the best of motives. I wanted him to be gentle. I wanted him to do well in school. I wanted all sorts of perfectly reasonable things, but in the end, what I wanted him to be was more like me.
And this is where I get to the happy ending. This is where I say that I’ve come to love my son for exactly who he is. This is where I say that I’ve stopped looking for the volume switch to quiet Nati down, that I’ve come to appreciate the great multicultural mix that is my family. And there are days, more and more of them, where that’s exactly true. There are days when I want nothing more than to enjoy all the laughter that Nati brings to our family. There are days when we are perfect just as we are. But it’s also true that eating chicken soup with berbere takes a lifetime of practice. My family is as big as the globe, Ethiopian and American both, and I will, I suspect, spend the rest of my life coming to terms with what all that means.
Nati learned English very quickly. He was fluent before he’d been here a year. But then, it’s easy for a father and son to speak the same words. It’s learning to hear and understand them all that really takes practice.
Categories: Guest Blogs, Memoirs, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice | Tags: adoption, Carried in Our Hearts, Claude Knobler, Dr. Jane Aronson, Ethiopia, Ethiopian adoption, Instant Mom, Nia Vardalos
Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
Macmillan books gives you this challenge: Download their audio books and workout while you listen! Don’t wait, do this now. I’ve written before about how much I love Audible books–they will change your life. And if you walk or run while you enjoy them, you’ll get healthier, too. I can’t think of a better way to make sweating more fun.
Here are three books Macmillan editors currently recommend for their Listen While You Workout campaign: Family Pictures by Jane Green, read by Amy Quint, Secrets from the Past by Barbara Taylor Bradford, read by Stina Nelson, and Don’t Go by Lisa Scottoline, read by Jeremy Davidson. Each book involves parents and children involved in complicated situations that require them to rethink their definition and understanding of family, but in very different ways. And I hear they are all juicy and fast-paced–perfect for that spring run or indoor treadmill! I also highly recommend Kristin Hannah’s latest release from yesterday called Fly Away.
On their Facebook page, you can join the group and log in how many minutes you listen and sweat. They hope to get everyone into their books and into the workout groove this may. Check it out.
Categories: Best Sellers, Fiction, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice, Popular Books | Tags: audible, Audio books, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Don't Go, Facebook, Family Pictures, Jane Green, Lisa Scottoline, Listen While You Work Out, Macmillan, Secrets from the Past, workout
Monday, April 22nd, 2013
Author Carrie Cariello is a mom of five, including one 8-year-old boy with autism. So others will understand autism more clearly, she recounts her wondrous and challenging journey in her new memoir What Color is Monday? How Autism Changed One Family for the Better. Thank you, Carrie, for the eye-opening guest post below:
“What color do you see for Monday?” my son Jack asked as I heaved a chicken into the oven.
“What?” I said distractedly, turning from the oven to slice some potatoes at the counter. It was late afternoon one day last fall, and I was preparing dinner and managing the demands of homework and tired toddlers. (One was in a tiara.)
“What color is Monday?” he asked again, his robotic voice rising ever so slightly in irritation.
“I don’t see Monday as a color. Do you?” I asked, finally tuning in to what he was talking about.
“Yes. All days are colors.”
All days are colors. On a seemingly ordinary day, Jack once again granted me the privilege to take a tiny peek inside his fascinating mind. Without preamble, he rattled off which color he associates with each day. And then, just as suddenly as the conversation began, he snapped his mind closed and moved on to something else entirely. I tried to probe further; why was Saturday red? Was the entire day red, or just the morning? “I told you. No more,” he answered in a clipped tone.
Later that winter, Riddle Brook Publishing asked me to write a book based on our life with an autistic child. I happily agreed, and throughout the spring and early summer I wrote, putting together words and sentences, essays and chapters, to describe our days with five children and autism. Some days the words came easily, other days I struggled to make sense of my world with Jack and transport him onto the page. Whenever I approached something that seemed like writer’s block, I reminded myself that my subject—my inspiration—was right in front of me at the dinner table every night. All I needed to do was watch and listen and learn from my son.
And then, like the pieces of a puzzle, the elements of the book came together. It describes our journey to Jack’s diagnosis, and all the funny and frustrating and sad times since the day we first heard the words your son has autism nearly seven years ago. It describes how a boy with a literal mind made peace with religion and accepted his first communion, and how our family of seven took our first vacation. It describes his obsessions with things like dates and cars, his fascination with shampoo and license plates.
Every couple of chapters, I included a letter to each of my children on their birthday, describing their likes and dislikes, their temperament, their appetite. Describing the way they’ve made room for autism and embraced their unusual brother.
Recently someone asked me, “Who is this book for?” And after considering the question for moment, I answered that originally it was for me, a way for me to creatively untangle the web of emotions and bewilderment and frustration autism often left me with at the end of a long day. But, as the project progressed, I realized it wasn’t just for me; it was for Jack and our family. And by the final round of edits, I decided it was for an even larger audience then that—it was for anyone and everyone who has ever been touched by autism.
I decided it was a way to put a face to the name of autism; the sweet face of a little blue-eyed boy who loves music and marshmallows. As I read through the book one final time, making last-minute changes and edits, I realized the book puts a voice to the message I’ve been saying every single day since Jack was diagnosed: that beneath the rigidity and anxiety and stimming there is a charming, intelligent, witty child peeking out.
It’s about how Jack brings out the best in my, my husband, and my children every single day.
Throughout the summer I struggled to title the book, tossing around ideas like Life with Autism and Loving Autism. For a while I decided to use the word snowflake in the name, because that’s often the image that comes to my mind when I think of Jack and autism; a beautiful, fragile snowflake that is always changing, always in motion. But one afternoon in late August I was driving the kids to the town pool, and Jack said, “Look, the sky is so blue.” And as I peered up through the windshield at the rich blue summer sky, I thought again of our conversation the previous fall, when he talked about the colors of the week.
For a short time I thought about calling the book Thursday is Purple, but then Jack off-handedly remarked Thursday is sometimes green. (Come on, Jack-a-boo. I’m trying to write a book about you here. For real.)
And so, it became What Color is Monday? How autism changed one family for the better.
Thursday, April 18th, 2013
Check out The Shape of the Eye by George Estreich that hits shelves in paperback today. This memoir centers on a stay-at-home father and his Down syndrome daughter, Laura, as they learn what it means to be ‘different’ in our society. George recently answered a few questions for me about his beautiful book:
KK: Tell me a little bit about the book.
GE: The Shape of the Eye is a book about raising a daughter with Down syndrome—my daughter Laura, now 11 years old, and the girl pictured on the cover. I’ve been a full-time stay-at-home dad since before Laura was born (my older daughter, Ellie, is in high school), so the book reflects on parenting in general, and being a dad in particular. It’s as much my story as my family’s. Being a parent connects to everything—you can’t be a parent without reflecting, and reflecting on, your own parents—and Down syndrome has its own strange history too, suggested by the old diagnostic name: “Mongolian idiocy.” (The doctor who discovered the condition thought that his patients had “degenerated,” taking on the appearance of a different race.) Those histories are connected, for me, by a strange coincidence: my mom is from Japan, which meant that when Laura was first born (she wasn’t diagnosed in utero), her appearance made the doctors wonder. Were they looking at a child who had Down syndrome, or a child who was one-quarter Japanese? Were they looking at disability, or ethnicity, or somehow both? I wanted Laura to be real to the reader, not as a “special needs kid,” or as someone extra cute and appealing, but as an individual. But that meant debunking some of the misconceptions that attach to her syndrome, as well as setting her firmly in the context of her family.
KK: Why did you decide to write it?
It didn’t feel like a decision. It was something I had to do, though I resisted it at first. I’d always been a poet, but I stopped writing poetry after Laura was born; writing prose filled a need for continuity. I wouldn’t have put it this way then, but shifting forms was a way of preserving a link to the way things were before, while acknowledging the magnitude of the change. It was a way of saying that what I’d learned still counted—which turned out to be true not only as a writer, but as a parent.
The book took about nine years to write, so naturally my reasons for writing hanged as the project developed. In the beginning, I was mainly writing a narrative of shock and adjustment. In time, I got interested in more public concerns: who belongs in our society, the way we imagine disability (or fail to imagine it), and the impact of technology on the family. We can predict more and more about prospective children, so the way we describe those children matters deeply.
I’m excited about this new edition of the book, because I’ve written an Afterword that follows up on some of these questions. It also brings Laura’s story up to date: much of the book takes place when Laura was very young, and so readers are surprised to find out that she’s in middle school already.
Wednesday, April 17th, 2013
What if you knew you only had a few years to live? That’s what happened to working mom Susan Spencer-Wendel when she was diagnosed with ALS (commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) at age 45. In her bestselling memoir, Until I Say Goodbye, she quickly sets off on special trips with her kids, husband, sister and best friend and vows to live joyously. Susan and her publisher, HarperCollins, have teamed up with Princess Cruises to offer Susan’s readers (that means you!) a 5-day Caribbean cruise called the “Experience of a Lifetime.” Princess Cruises is sending one lucky winner and her guest on a 5-day Caribbean cruise! Enter the sweepstakes before April 30, 2012 to win.
Susan’s book, Until I Say Goodbye, shows what one determined woman does to make the best of life under terminal circumstances. She goes to the Yukon to see the Northern Lights with her lifelong best girlfriend. She’s an adopted child, so Susan ventures to California and Greece to uncover her biological parents’ pasts and try to recover the family Bible. Friends help her organize thousands of family photos so her two boys and teenage girl will receive a special scrapbook. She builds a tiki hut in the backyard by her pool where she rests, socializes and writes this book with her only working finger–her right thumb–on her iPhone. Her husband, John, shows big, devoted love as he cares for her while working full time and rounding up their children ages 9, 11 and 15, plus the dog.
This book is not about dying. It’s a beautiful tribute to living with purpose. Susan proves to be a strong, determined, wise and witty woman. Her journey will make you want to do something special with your family and friends right now. Until I Say Goodbye will make you laugh and cry (just a little).
John Wendel, Susan’s husband, answered some questions for me about his family’s journey. Currently, he lovingly takes care of Susan.
KK: Do you have a mantra that has helped you cope in this difficult time that might provide inspiration to other parents in your shoes?
JW: My mantra is, “Be happy.” I figure if she (Susan) can be happy, I can be happy. Very early on Susan decided to “live with joy.” It may sound simple, a bit hokey even, but it gets us through. Being happy isn’t like flipping a light switch. It’s hard. An interviewer once asked Susan, “How do you live with joy?” Her answer: You try.
KK: What was the most surprising thing you learned about your family during this ordeal?
JW: I think what surprised me most is the resilience that our children have shown. Susan and I didn’t rush to tell the kids of her diagnosis. Why drop the bomb on them? The progress of her disease was so slow and nearly imperceptible that they didn’t seem to notice that Susan went from healthy and fit to unable to move and barely able to speak. When they did ask if Mommy is going to die, I answered simply and honestly. I think they already knew the answer, but were just confirming. Their responses have been very matter of fact and accepting — like their mother’s. In fact my 11-year-old son Aubrey recently told me that one of his teachers had spoken to the class about our situation on a day that he was absent from school. Aubrey was upset and told me that he knows what’s happening to mommy and doesn’t need any special treatment from the other kids at school.
KK: What was Susan’s favorite memory from the cruise she took with her sister?
JW: Susan said that the best part of the cruise was the opportunity for her and Stephanie to just talk without any interruptions or distractions. Even though we lived on the same street as Stephanie, it seemed that kids, work, and crazy schedules kept them from having any time alone to just talk.
KK: How do you communicate what is happening to your children? Do you have any advice to offer others in a similar position to you?
JW: Before we communicated anything to the children, Susan and I talked with each other about what would be best. We also sought the advice of counselors. We knew we wanted to be honest with them. The counselors advised us that the children would ask when they were ready. Many friends and relatives seemed concerned that we hadn’t sat the kids down and had “the talk” with them. Our philosophy was that they were going to have their worlds turned upside down regardless. Why not let them go along blissfully unaware as long as we could. As it turned out we never really had to have “the talk”. They asked. I answered, and that was that. They asked two follow up questions: How much longer will she live, and is it contagious?
My advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to seek advice from a counselor, have a plan, and be honest.
Categories: Best Sellers, Memoirs, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice, Popular Books, Q&A With Authors | Tags: ALS, Caribbean cruise, experience of a lifetime, Getaway Contest, John Wendel, Lou Gehrig's Disease, Lou Gerhig's Disease, Princess Cruise, Susan Spencer-Wendel, Until I Say Goodbye