Better Than Good

“Can we please get the DVD when it comes out?” implored my ten-year-old son as we exited the movie theater on Friday night.

My response was a quick, perhaps curt, “no” and then a request for some time to formulate the reasons why.

My initial reaction to Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur was palpable.  Like anyone else, I was swept up in the intricacies of the animation, in the charm of the main characters.  But as an adoptive mother, the good was eclipsed—and forcibly so—by the ending.

At the risk of spoiling the story for others, a quick summation is necessary: Dinosaurs and humans, thanks to an errant if historically and scientifically inaccurate asteroid, coexist.  In a violent storm, a dinosaur named Arlo loses his father and is separated from his family of origin.  He meets a small human, named  Spot, and forms an alliance, indeed a family, with him.  The two share adventures, look out for one another, and love each other fiercely.

In one poignant scene, Arlo and Spot attempt to communicate to one another their respective losses.  Using sticks, Arlo arranges five, two large and three small—his parents and the three children–vertically in the dirt.  He then draws a circle around them to indicate family.  Spot takes his cue and does the same—his two large sticks and one small.  He draws the circle, knocks over the two big sticks, and buries them.

As I sat in the theater and listened to these animated characters then cry out their losses to the universe and the audience, myself surrounded by the beautiful sons I have the privilege, honor, and luck to parent, I thought of their losses.  Adoption begins with, indeed cannot happen without, loss, and this fact is never far from my mind or my heart.

I wished then with everything in me that Arlo and Spot would draw a new circle, a symbol of the leap of faith and love that forged their new family, and move their sticks to that circle.  But that didn’t happen.  The adventures instead continued until the ending when a family of humans appears and Arlo moves Spot—despite his protestations—toward them and is then promptly reunited with his own biological family—a perfect, happy ending by Pixar’s standards, I suppose.

But sometimes the perfect, happy ending has not a thing to do with biology.  Sometimes it looks exactly like this and is better than any fiction the movies could ever imagine.

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Photo Credit: Don Farias

Quirky Is As Quirky Does

IMG_7345“So, you’re Oscar’s mom?”

I nod my assent and settle into my spot as the parent in the parent/teacher conference that is about to unfold.

“So, Oscar?”

I wait patiently for the next sentence, the next word, the insight I long for, the glimpse of who my son is outside the four walls and comfort of our home.

And then it comes.

“Well, Oscar is a little . . . cue the dramatic pause . . .  quirky.”


I took a breath and responded the way I often do when I’m not sure how to respond—with a self-deprecating joke and a quick deflection.

And then we moved on.

But quirky?

The word is loaded with connotation—both positive and less-than-positive.

His teacher could see him as a true original or as simply odd.  Both are replete with judgment—but one has the power to lift him up, the other ostensibly to weigh him down.

For me, as a mother, though, I embrace the quirky, cultivate it even, encourage him in word and, I hope, in deed, to stand out without showing off.

But the net result, perhaps even the cost, of this, I suppose, is that there will be those who reduce him to quirky in the worst sense of the word, who have a sense of what “normal” is and note that he doesn’t fit it.

I will never know how Oscar’s teacher defines the word “quirky” or how she truly sees my son.  I didn’t ask, and I won’t.  I simply said that I saw it as a compliment and proceeded to discuss his classroom performance.

And then I went home to my quirky sons—all of them—and felt like the luckiest mother in the world.




Grandparents’ Day

In honor of Grandparents’ Day, The Huffington Post asked readers to share stories of grandparents.  I am beyond honored to have my piece among thoIMG_0004se you will see here.

Lucy O’Connor made a difference in my life in ways I will never be able to fully capture.

She was ahead of her time—a feminist, an advocate for all, and one of the hardest working people I have ever known.

Her relationships with men caused her great pain; and it pains me to know she will never see the four beautiful boys I have the privilege to raise grow into men she would be able to trust.

There is not a day thoughts of her do not pass through my mind, my love for her forever in my heart.  The debt of gratitude I owe her she would never have admitted to, but I try to repay it nonetheless.

I am better for having known her.

Letting Him Be

“Mom, come here.  I need to ask you something.”

He was just a foot away, but what he wanted to ask required a closer proximity.  He stood clutching two handmade dolls, an investment he chose to make in Pennsylvania Amish Country with a significant portion of his own birthday money—a male doll he named John, then a wife to John, Susie, whom he dressed in a matching outfit, the sweet couple very much at home in his loving arms.

He pulled me aside, then down to him so he could whisper in my ear.

“Mom, do you think people will think I’m weird?”

He is ten, and he worries about these things.  And as much as I wish he didn’t, I know I can’t control what he feels.  All I can do is react—or not react, as the case may be.

I told him no one would think he was “weird,” and he seemed content.  He sighed sweetly, clutched his dolls a little closer, and ran off to play.

But that wasn’t the truth, of course.  Because there will be people who will take one look at a ten-year-old boy with his Amish dolls, mentally run through the contrived checklist of what society has deemed “appropriate” for ten-year-old boys, and then eventually dismiss him as “weird”—but not before they share an unfortunate, possibly damaging, opinion or two that was never sought.  Not everyone in the world will find his love of his dolls as beautiful as his family does.  Not everyone will be as charmed or as gentle.

And the fact that he is asking the question, pulling me aside to do so out of the world’s earshot, means he has fear—fear of not wanting to be perceived as different, of caring too much what other people think—this despite everything we have done Amish Doll Photowithin our four walls over the last decade to make sure he has had ample space to grow into himself.

Yes, our son feels safe with us to purchase, play with, and love dolls.  And, yes, he feels safe asking us what other people will think.  But I am left with the feeling that I have done him a disservice by not telling him the whole truth of how other people may perceive him, that I haven’t armed him with the painful knowledge that is going to help to keep him safe long after I am able to.

But I’m just not ready yet to harden his edges.

And why anyone would I’m not sure I’ll ever understand.

Three Little Words


The syllable was drawn out, long and low with a hint of whine, a precursor to a request that would invariably involve my stopping what I was doing within the next fourteen seconds.

“Yes, August?”

“I love you.”

IMG_4509This started a while ago and has continued multiple times a day ever since. At first I thought it was simply my affectionate six-year-old’s attempt to test out the phrase, one he’s heard so many times, his way of attaching meaning to this sequence of words.

Then I thought it was his way of checking in. I was doing my thing; he was doing his thing. And though I was no more than ten feet away, he wanted to make sure I was still there.

And soon I noticed it would come along, in customary sibling fashion, when one of his brothers was in trouble, an effort to highlight the fact that at this exact moment it wasn’t him.

It took me a long time to come around to this particular sentence. Though I had heard the words regularly from my mother as a child, they never seemed to align with what I thought love was supposed to be—at least according to what I observed in others, read in books, and gleaned from the all-instructive late-‘70’s NBC television lineup and 92 PRO FM playlist.

So, for a long time this sentence gave me difficulty; and I concluded, perhaps with a sigh, that it simply was not for me. I filed it away, heard other people say it, show it and wondered about it; and though I know I felt it, I never really knew how to say it.

That changed, of course, once deeds matched words, and “I love you” soon became something I not only needed to hear but needed to say. Many people, of course, feel they don’t need to say “I love you” if they are showing it. But for me, given my checkered, truncated history with this sentence, I want to leave no room for doubt.

And though August’s history is not the same as mine, he, too, is figuring out this all-important sentence. He asked this week, “Mom, why do I say ‘I love you’ so much?”

I asked him why he thought he did; and he said, “Because it’s in my heart.”

Speaking your heart. A lesson from an exceedingly loving, uninhibited six-year-old.

To a Father

It took time for me to wrap my head around Father’s Day.

Growing up, my single mother would generally ask my brother and me to acknowledge her on both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  It always felt obligatory, and our gifts therefore bordered on the snarky if not condescending.  And while it is true we grew up without a father in our life, our mother was not our father.  That piece was missing; and all the toolsets and Father’s Day cards we purchased for her would not make it any different.

Fast-forward many years to June 2001, my husband’s first Father’s Day.  We were foster parents, and by then I had a front-row seat to what fatherhood should look like.

Fatherhood is all-encompassing, self-deprecating, and without ego.  It is silly and playful and gentle and kind; it is showing instead of telling and taking deep breaths and rolling up your sleeves.  Most importantly it is being present, respecting each child’s individuality, and putting someone else’s needs before your own.

For being a father in every sense of the word, thank you, Donald Farias.  This beauty would not exist without you.


Changing of the Name

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

–Robert Frost

This blog was born in June 2008. Oscar was three, Edgar two. August wasn’t due to arrive on the scene for another year. And the idea that David, our then-foster son eight years prior who never, for a single second, left our hearts, would find us, want to reconnect with us, and then move in with us seven years later was a dream we never dared entertain.

In these 11 last months, writing about the transformation our family was undergoing was challenging. I blamed it on writer’s block, figuring every other writer on the planet suffered the occasional bout, so why shouldn’t I? But, of course, it was more than that.

For reasons of privacy, empathy, and truly not knowing what to do with the well of emotions that have been steeping for the last year, I opted to put my efforts elsewhere, living life and electing to make sense of it through writing later.

IMG_4035But now later has arrived.

And thus the name of this platform must now necessarily change—once The Adventures of Oscar and Edgar; then, with the arrival of August and a nod to one of my favorite childhood television shows, My Three Sons.

But no longer are there three sons.

There are four.


I will spend a lifetime trying to figure out how this all happened, endeavoring to deserve the honor that has been bestowed on me, the trust that has been placed in me.

But for now, I will start today with a name change.

This blog was born when it struck me, several years into parenthood, that life was moving far too fast and, IMG_4073more to the point, I was infinitely incapable of holding on to all I wanted to remember about their childhoods. Writing the tales of my children’s lives and what I was learning from them was a way for me to retain their myriad stories, to stop time, in a sense, and in so doing leave behind something tangible that would show my children (and anyone else who cared to read) the limitless love I have for each of them.

A tall order, but it worked.

Life’s moments captured, immortalized, and remembered.

Frost is mostly correct, of course. Nothing gold can technically stay. But by recognizing and writing about the gold—the small and not-so-small moments that weave a life—I can at least preserve it.

And in that way the gold can stay.