New Essay on Why #FamiliesBelongTogether

 Adoption, News about me, Parenting, Social Justice  Comments Off on New Essay on Why #FamiliesBelongTogether
Jun 252018

Yes, I know. Bad news is everywhere right now. Sometimes we have to turn away to recover and recharge, but then we must re-engage. We can’t afford not to.

In that spirit, I hope you’ll read this essay I wrote for Romper: I Adopted my Kids from “Third World” Countries — Where They Were Treated Better Than Child Refugees in the US. I’ve visited at least 10 orphanages in the developing world. All of them broke my heart — and yet, those kids received better care than migrant children in US custody.

Children’s bedroom in an orphanage in India that I visited.

My oldest daughter, now 16, lived in a New Delhi children’s home for the three years before my husband and I adopted her a few months after her fifth birthday. My son, also 16, and younger daughter, 15, adopted at ages 3 and 2 from Ethiopia, endured almost a year in institutional care.

I understand, in a direct and personal way, how institutionalization harms children.

The details of what my children experienced while institutionalized are not mine to share, but I can sum things up this way: My kids were lucky. They ended up in good orphanages — except really, there’s no such thing. I understand, in a direct and personal way, how institutionalization harms children. My job as an adoptive parent for the past decade has involved trying to undo the damage. Thankfully, my kids are thriving, but the future for the children in Trump’s camps is uncertain.

Read the full essay here.

 Posted by at 3:04 pm

A new essay from me up at The Washington Post

 Adoption, Memoir, News about me, Parenting, Publishing, Writing  Comments Off on A new essay from me up at The Washington Post
Jul 192017

I don’t usually write a blog post when I publish something online, but thus far 2017 has been a rough one career-wise, so I’m pretty excited to get some work that I’m proud of out into the world.

This essay, Unpacking the Adoption That Wasn’t, took awhile. I wrote the first draft in an online workshop with writer Emily Rapp Black. If I remember correctly, our assignment was to write about a photograph:

She stands on the threshold of St. Theresa’s Tender Loving Care Home, a 3-year-old dressed in a donated red turtleneck and matching red-and-white skirt, with the purple sneakers I bought for her at Shoppers Stop in Hyderabad strapped on her feet. It’s a hot day, and she’s clutching a bottle of water. The morning sun is bright, giving the photo an overexposed quality. Some ayah, one of the orphanage caregivers, has rolled her sleeves up above the elbow. Haseena’s dark hair, cut pixie style, appears damp and freshly combed, hinting that I must have just arrived for my daily visit. She looks straight into the camera, her brown eyes wide, a swath of bushes and a line of coconut palms in the background. She’s not smiling. I probably didn’t give her time to pose.

Later, I got stuck in revision, and hired Dawn Raffel to edit the piece. It took me another year to get around to implementing Dawn’s suggestions.

In the midst of my dry spell, I gave the essay a fresh edit a couple of months ago, then submitted to quite a few outlets, including The New York Times and O, where the piece garnered encouraging “try us again” rejections. I didn’t have On Parenting at the top of my submission list initially, because in 2015  editor Amy Joyce ran another essay of mine that looked at my failed adoption from a completely different angle, and I feared she might view this one as a repeat. Thankfully, Amy liked the piece and gave it a home!

Click here to visit On Parenting and read the essay…


 Posted by at 1:18 am

Remembering that terrifying pool party in McKinney, Texas

 Adoption, Parenting, Race and Racism  Comments Off on Remembering that terrifying pool party in McKinney, Texas
Jun 272016

Last week a grand jury declined to press charges against a former McKinney, Texas police officer who threw a teenage girl to the ground during a pool party raid last June. The family of Dajerria Becton, who is black, is pursuing a civil case against Eric Casebolt, the white officer who resigned shortly  after a video of the pool party went viral last summer. In case you’ve forgotten, here it is:

As a  mother, I found the images disturbing and haunting. I wrote an essay about it last year for The Manifest-Station that I forgot to share here on my site at the time. Here it is, if you’re interested.


A White Mom, Living #BlackLivesMatter


The day after 15-year-old Dajerria Becton was thrown to the ground by a McKinney, Texas, police officer during a teen pool party gone wrong, my 12-year-old daughter joined her friends for an afternoon at Mount Baker Beach on Lake Washington in Seattle. I wasn’t happy about her plans. She’d just had her hair freshly braided, and a lake swim would hasten the style’s unraveling, but the day was hot and childhood should be about joy and untidiness, so I let her go. She wore her new bikini for the first time, navy blue and pink, with a hot pink sundress on top, all gifts she’d just received for her birthday.

My son, age 13, also went down to the lake that Saturday with a group of boys. Another mom dropped them off, and I heard about the outing only after they’d left, when she texted me an update. Meanwhile, my 14-year-old daughter took off with her girlfriends for a matinee. I felt a little nervous about my kids scattering in three directions, but as we move into the teenage years, I know I have to allow them to test the limits of their independence. They are good kids, and I trust them, but I worry, all the time.

I am a mother by adoption. I am white and so is my husband. We knew when we chose to adopt outside our race that our children would face hurdles that we’d never encountered, but the recent tragedies that have birthed the #BlackLivesMatter movement have shown me that, despite our good intentions, we didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of our parenting responsibility when we started this family. Intellectually, I recognized that we’d need to have  “the talk” with the kids someday to help them learn how to stay safe while black, especially in encounters with police, but my initial attempts to broach the topic, made when the kids were about 7 and 8, felt clumsy and vague compared to the talk a black acquaintance of mine offered his 7-year-old son: “In the eyes of society, you aren’t cute anymore.”

I wanted my kids to stay cute forever. The year my son turned 10, I was forced to admit those charmed days were gone. A white day camp counselor, unhappy with my son for speaking out of turn during a game, ordered him to do 50 push ups as punishment. When he faltered and dropped a knee, she forced him to start over again. My younger daughter, then 9, saw the white’s of her brother’s eyes turning red from the strain and shouted that he was in pain and needed to stop, so the camp counselor — who just happened to be an off-duty cop, moonlighting for a little extra cash — forced my little girl to drop and give 50 too. Meanwhile my oldest, age 11, stood by, terrified and unable to speak up for her siblings, a shame that still gives her nightmares. A couple of months after that, a fifth grade classmate called my son a nigger. A little boy called my daughter “blackie.” Next came the death of Trayvon Martin, a boy just seven years older than my son. That was the year that my understanding of “the talk” moved from intellectual to visceral.

Today my kids are young teenagers. The simmering anxiety I experience each time I let them out of my sight me boils over in the McKinney videotape. A slender girl, dressed only in an orange and yellow swimsuit, cries for her mother as the police officer twists her arm, pulls her braids, and shoves her head down hard toward the concrete sidewalk.  Her girlfriends and a couple of boys react with alarm to the violent way the cop touches her. The scene is chaotic and in their fear and confusion, the boys approach the police officer from behind, surprising him. In his rage and hysteria, the officer draws his gun. That no one is shot dead outside the Craig Ranch Community Pool seems like a miracle.

My children know they have to be careful. After the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray, after the outrage in McKinney, after the heartbreaking slaughter of nine innocents in Charleston, after the burning of six black churches in seven days and still more fires burning, after the death of Sandra Bland, after the experience of racism in their everyday lives, they know. And yet they are kids. Likely to make mistakes. Likely to be misjudged.

As soon as I saw the McKinney tape, I knew how the public conversation would play out. Sorrow, outrage, and calls for justice from some, denial, blame and racism from others, conspicuous silence from most. By now the news cycle has moved on and on, each new incident more terrifying than the next, but the image of a grown man digging his knees into the small of a young girl’s back is the one that haunts me. That is my baby. My daughter, face down in the grass, calling for me, and I am not there. And that is my son, fleeing in terror from the officer’s pointed pistol. Every single time my kids arrive home safely from the lake or the movies, each time they return from a trip to the ice cream shop or stroll to the corner store, I remember. I cling to those hours when all three of my children are at home, asleep in their beds, the only hours when I can rest and pretend, just for a little while, that they are safe.


 Posted by at 6:00 am

My Favorite Family Weekend of the Year

 Adoption, Race and Racism  Comments Off on My Favorite Family Weekend of the Year
Aug 182015

Recently I enjoyed one of my favorite weekends of the year with my family: African Cradle Ethiopian Heritage Camp  at Redwood Glen in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

People always ask, “What do you do at Ethiopian Camp?” I don’t have a quick one-line answer. We learn a little about Ethiopian culture, we eat a little Ethiopian food. We dance. The parents talk about how to be better parents. The kids talk about what kids talk about, in a setting where almost every other kid looks like them, a simple delight they experience nowhere else. Nobody asks the kids why they don’t match their parents. Nobody asks the parents why they don’t match their kids. Everyone belongs.

This year I also gave a talk to other parents called “Standing Up or Stepping Back? Helping Kids Navigate Race Even if You’ve Never Experienced It Yourself.” (Spoiler alert: you pretty much always have to step up.) The group had a vibrant discussion that could have continued all day. Already looking forward to next year!