Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fire Works or it Doesn't

I love Christmas, and I'm unmoved by New Year's Eve. Inevitably, something nice happens on the 24th (or the 25th), but the expectation in the air on the 31st usually kills it for me. The best stuff always happens offstage.
Last Sunday, our party of four adults, three kids and one dog piled into a six-person train compartment and crossed the powdered expanse of Austria, to Vorarlberg, to our Oma and Opa, who have the coziest hearth in the world, to which we retreat every Christmas.
The holiday did not go as expected: Anette was just beginning to recover from a vicious stomach flu as we arrived at her folks' house; said bug hovered around our edges for a moment, then pounced on me on the morning of the 25th, as if on cue, and knocked me out for about thirty hours; then V. was struck listless and weepy by some other unnamed virus, and she's only just now on the mend. Adinah was the only one who didn't go down, and Anette was left holding the bag, caring for everyone. (Like that's unusual.)
Despite all, the party rolled on, with lots of singing, feasting, and several hundred Christmas cookies consumed. Out here in the tinsel-bedecked wilds of western Austria, we have a way with everyday gifts. We give each other the equivalent of comfort foods, the sort of unspectacular presents which can sometimes be deeply satisfying. Anette gave me a pair of warm, super-comfortable slippers. I gave Anette sauna sandals and a selection of Kiehls shower gel and bubble bath. Oma and Opa gave Adinah a big box of crayons and finger paints, and she was thrilled.
The best and most momentous gifts were of another sort. The night before the big day, while no one else was looking, I watched V. take her first three steps. Then our social worker called to say that V.'s biological mother wants to meet us finally. (Of course she might just stand us up again, and even if she shows, it will be, at best, a difficult afternoon, but without a doubt, it's the best thing for everyone involved.) Anette's parents stayed home with our girls so my wife and I could grab a little Mommy-Papa time at the local Chinese restaurant for not one but two nights in a row! Then Oma stayed home with V. while Opa, who's eighty years old now, took us all to the public baths for two days in a row. Once there, Adinah showed him how she can leap into the indoor pool, over and over again, for an hour straight, while Anette and I grabbed even more Mommy-Papa time in the sauna and steam bath. Ganz luxus!
And the first night we were here, as I tucked V. into the little Ikea crib Oma and Opa bought just for her, I told our new daughter, 'I love you,' for the first time.
She was very Philip Marlowe about it--just took another slug from her bottle, waved me off and rolled over, as if to say, 'Don't get sentimental on me, dollface.' But me, well...even though she's been with us for just over two months, I didn't realize I hadn't said those three words to her, until I said them to her. Then I wondered why it took me so long.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hold the Phone, part 2

And by the way, yes, I am aware that my last post was...insufficient.

It isn't enough to just repeat a snippet of dialog between me and my b'loved (the four and a half-year-old one) about the huge and difficult subject of what little girls of color think about themselves, about other little girls, about the world, identity etc. etc. I know that.

Working on this, talking through this and trying to give Adinah all the ammunition she will need to deal with these icky, awesomely complicated issues of self-worth, race, racism, gender roles, beauty ideals etc etc. is and will be a continuing project. Shit, getting the ammunition I need to deal with this stuff (or even begin to understand it) will be enough hard work for the rest of my life.

But tonight, I'm going to the CD shelves to make a mixtape. If only right here on this screen, I'm gonna make a tape for my future daughter. A mix for a girl who will one day realize blond isn't better. (I guarantee that all of the following songs actually exist and do slam, rock and/or tear the roof off the sucker.) So hear it in your mind, peoples, and enjoy!

"Stand Up"--Al Green
"Young, Gifted and Black"--Bob and Marcia
"Doesn't Make it Alright"--The Specials
"No More Auction Block (for Me)"--Paul Robeson
"Maintain"--DJ Krust
"Oh, Bondage, Up Yours!"--X-Ray Spex
"Let My People Go"--Diamanda Galas
"American Woman"--The Guess Who
"I Love my Baby 'Cuz She Does Good Sculptures"--The Rezillos
"What is Soul"--Funkadelic

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hold the Phone

The other day, my beautiful daughter asked me, 'Papa, what do you like better: white girls or black girls?'
Somewhat caught off guard, I said, "Well, I don't think I like one better than the other. I like both. I like your mommy and she's white and I like you and you're black."
"Why do you ask me that, Adinah?"
"Mommy said she likes black girls better than white girls."
Really? She said that?"

It was only later that I thought to ask her her own question.
"Do you like white girls or black girls better?"
"White girls," Adinah answered, definitively.
"Really? Why?"
"Because they have long hair. And they have blonde hair."

Made me want to throw out every Barbi, white doll, and Princess Lilly Fee magazine in our house. (And we don't have that many.)
I'm gonna stop complaining about all those books about interracial adoption--this is exactly what they warn you about.
It'd be bad enough if she was a little white girl, but she's our beautiful black daughter Adinah.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Very Shallow Learning Curve

After a pretty unpleasant month, and at least one or two obscure posts about my non-familial problems, a crisis has been averted, and I just might look forward to getting up in the morning again soon. Here's what I (may have) learned.

1) Taking something seriously is not the same as taking it personally, though I have been known to use these phrases interchangeably.

2) When you get caught up in something, and it looks like there's only two ways for the thing to go, try to step back. If you're look at the problem carefully, you will find a third way.

3) In the world of NGOs and non-profits, social workers are the Fixers. They're like the Harvey Keitel character in Pulp Fiction.

4) Let it go, leave it at work, throw the problem in front of a subway train, and go home.

5) No matter what it is, your wife and your kids are more important.

6) And, yo, Christmas is just around the corner, you blockhead!

Now I can go back to blogging about the deep meaningful things, like the determined scowl V. gets on her face when she tries to grind two piece of rice cake into a pile of crumbs, or pull the toes off of her own feet. ("Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the world's tiniest pro-wrestler, the terrifying toddler, the skull-crusher of the stroller set, the monster-mashing MISS V.!!")

Sunday, December 9, 2007


An afternoon at the aquarium with my girls feels like a refuge from all the work and the problems and the worries in my life. Adinah's favorite is the sea horse. I like the salamander with a head shaped like a shovel. On our way home, Anette turns to me and says, "I love Sundays.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Doing the Reading

Neither Anette nor I have done a lot of the required child-rearing reading. I did read a few books about international adoption, including the Lost Daughters of China, which was okay, and Love in the Driest Season, which was also just okay. The former was a bit precious, the latter sort of outraged (but also self-righteous) about the state of the world and the (dire) state of Africa. I started one book on interracial adoption which was well-intentioned, poorly written and ultimately kind of misguided, I thought. It recommended bringing up your black child as if you were a black family living in a black community. And that just seems a bit reductive. And wrong. Anette and me and Adinah and V. are an interracial family, with four very different origins, and we live in a very white-ass northern European land, where we have dear friends who are both black and white. I love the complexity of our...thing.
But I have finally been reading a parenthood book that I like a lot: Your Competent Child, by Jesper Juul. The premise of the book is that we must learn to deal with our kids as if they were actual people, who have dignity and deserve our respect. Sounds simple, right? Fine, then you try it.
Anyway, as a writer, this guy is the king, the Ernest Hemingway of parenthood prose. He writes very cleanly and simply, but the ideas he packs into those words are so provocative and smart and challenging.
Accordingly, one of my favorite parts of the book is where Juul explains the way he thinks parents should talk to their kids. He recommends using "personal language," which he says centers around three very straightforward binary phrases:
"I want to. I don't want to.
I like. I don't like.
I will. I will not."

Read it again, and let it soak in. He's saying we gotta drop "should" and "must" and "that's enough!" We gotta say what we want, and even take responsibility for it.
Brilliant, insightful, and very difficult (for some of us) to do.
But I've been trying. Actually, I want to try to talk to adults more like this.
It's work-in-progress.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Hey Hollywood!

What's with all the movies about the War on Terror and Iraq and Afghanistan FBI CIA torture and patriotism? Lions for Lambs Redacted Rendition In the Land Of Elah the Kingdom etc.etc.? Can't you studio execs stop having the same idea over and over again and then hearing that someone else has the same idea and then rushing your project into production because of it?
Hey American media, what's with Hollywood touching stories you never have? Why is it that the new Brian DePalma film sounds like it deals with the subject of atrocities committed by American soldiers in the Middle East in much more depth that the combined embedded reportage from five years of mainstream "coverage" of the shit in Afghanistan-Iraq-Gitmo etc?
Hey Senator Clinton, how come you don't speak out against these nightmares any more than the American slick paper media?