La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for April 2014

Crappy Chic

Posted on: April 24, 2014

A new HomeGoods store recently opened near us to much fanfare. My MIL and I checked it out on Grand Opening day. We luckily arrived just as the early birds were leaving, and so only waited 10 minutes to buy our oven mitts. I’d previously avoided HG stores because I imagined their demographic to be more along the lines of Britney Spears. You know, tons of money but not tons of taste: “It’s a genuine ottoman from Thailand, y’all! With a special drawer to store ma Cheetos and yoohoo!” Just lots of “shabby chic” furniture that looks good enough for a prefab McMansion in Sherman Oaks but with no real character.

I returned another day with my mom, who of course managed to crystallize in a sentence what bothers me about HG and places like it. We saw a wall hanging/shelf thingie that was weather beaten and ostensibly beachy. My mom lifted it up and said in that Scottish Church Lady voice: “What rubbish! $30 and you’d need to give it a coat of paint!” After laughing until my ribs ached, I completely understood her confusion.

Even as I was explaining shabby chic and weathered and nautical design hoo hah to my mom, I realized that none of that stuff appeals to us because it all implies poverty. We didn’t have a ton of money growing up, so my entire early life is a retro Tumblr account dedicated to worn, weather beaten and shabby decor. And not by choice. So when I walk into a store offering shelves with peeling paint, my low-rent origins make me one part curious if it’s lead paint, to two parts astounded that someone will pay $80 for the privilege of owning it.

If only my family had known back in ’86 that our shabby was actually shabby chic! If only we had known that the old sink now holding rhubarb plants in our back yard was not actually borderline redneck but actually an Upcycling Pinterest board waaaaaaay before it’s time! Goodness! The parties we could have had! The coverage we could have garnered in “Gracious Homes of the Merrimack Valley” and Interior Design! Look, America! This is not a broken couch on our porch! It’s a repurposed veranda fixture! Why, yes, that may look like a cupboard door is missing from the kitchen cabinets. But no! It’s just us Opening Up The Space in order to display our fabulous collection of McDonalds Great Muppet Caper happy meal glasses. Such whimsy! Yes! “Creating A Point of Interest” I believe it’s called.

It got me wondering what other aspects of life and design are influenced by our childhood circumstances. For instance, I grocery shop all the time because I can’t stand to see even a half-empty fridge. We had an empty fridge sometimes as a kid, and the memory gives me stomach aches. I have a reptilian reflex from deep in my amygdala that my kids should never encounter a square inch of empty fridge. Which means I’m almost afraid to own a giant subzero restaurant-quality refrigerator because I know I’d feel compelled to fill it. And who’s paying for that grocery bill?!

Oh yes, the interior designer who comes to my house better bring a PhD in Psychology and Counseling to go with his fabric swatches. Or, at the very least, some kind of furniture that will store my Cheetos and yoohoo.


My daughter hated me the second we met.

She was a scared 16 month old clinging to her nanny’s shirt in Nanjing, China. I was the flourescent-white blonde woman to whom she was being handed. I had anticipated and prepared for this moment; her fear, her sadness, her grief. I had not anticipated my own heartbreak in witnessing it. I learned instantly that you are only as happy as your unhappiest child, even when she has only been officially “yours” for mere seconds. Luckily she found my husband’s large nose (“da bizi” [da beedzuh] in Mandarin) fun to play with, and our older daughter’s familiar Chinese features comforting. And so our family began the long, messy, beautiful journey to completion.

In the days that followed while we waited in China for documents, visas and passports, she would only allow her big sister to feed her. She clung to her new toothbrush for dear life, carrying it everywhere as a talisman that maybe something in her life was permanent if only she hung on tightly enough. It would take her 8 days to make eye contact with me. I was allowed to change her diaper or put on her shoes, but I was not to be acknowledged as a person in her life. In the meantime, she would smile and laugh–but only when I was not present. My husband and daughter were getting to see the funny, sweet, happy child the nannies had described to us so proudly. I was getting Heismanned by a sullen toddler. The rejection didn’t bother me since I’d done enough reading to know it was coming. But the grief and heartache fueling it bothered me to my core.  This was a grief-stricken, confused and astonishingly brave little girl trying to make sense of a familiar life gone sideways. And I was struggling to know what to do to help her, beyond letting her ride whatever wave of emotion she needed to, giving her the space she needed to feel safe, but also making clear that I was not going anywhere; that I would pass whatever test she wanted to send my way. Come at me, bro. Come at me.

Each day saw progress, each night a retreat into grief. As smiley as she was in the daylight, the darkness brought restless dreams and tears. Each morning she’d awake, look around, and weep upon realizing that she was once again–still–in a hotel room with strangers rather than in her familiar orphanage with her nannies. We kept her busy, we bought her toys, we fed her only familiar foods. But nothing was going to make this better except for time and patience and love.  I knew that accepting me might feel like a betrayal of her nannies, and so I settled in for the long haul. After all, if you can have your feelings hurt by a scared and sad 16 month old baby girl, you have not Done The Work required of an adoptive parent. I accepted that my way to her heart would be through her body; that meeting her physical needs without requiring anything of her was what what she needed me to do. And so I did it. I wiped poop, expecting nothing. I cleaned bums, expecting nothing. I brought food, expecting nothing. It was messy and it was beautiful. Just being there for another human, even in the most corporeal of activities, makes something sacred out of the profane. I was not just changing her diaper. I was showing her that I could be relied upon. I was not just bathing her. I was showing her that I could be trusted. I was not just combing her hair. I was showing her that I could be called upon.


Ultimately, we did become pals before leaving China. But only because I extracted a cornflake-sized booger out of her nose, immediately followed by handing her a pint of Haagen-Dazs. She had been struggling to breathe clearly, so I asked her if I could take a look at her nose and mouth. She assented to it, me being The Functionary Who Delivers Services But Who May or May Not Exist. So I peered up and saw It. The Booger To End All Boogers. Epic. Enormous. Legendary. Borderline Horrifying. At least a week in the making.  I whispered, “Bie haipa” (don’t be afraid) and pulled that sucker out in a flash. The look she gave me will stay with me forever: a mixture of total physical relief and “what kind of magical witch are you?!” That, coupled with the discovery of delicious premium ice cream, began the day she looked into my eyes–and she hasn’t looked back since.

As I recount those first days and weeks in my mind I remember it all fondly, the sharp edges of the worry and heartbreak rounded off by time. Now that she’s almost 6, I tell her about the fear and the grief she felt, because it was real. This was not some forced Happiest Day of Our Lives scenario like a Lifetime Television for Women adoption movie of the week. This was not a shiny, happy, tidy day to chronicle for the benefit of our Facebook friends. This was real life. Messy, beautiful; painful, joyous; so much lost, so much gained. I want her to be okay with her story, with our story. I never want her to feel like she owes me a happier version of herself than she can give. She lost so much, braved so much, experienced so much to become my daughter. The fact that it was messy then does not make it any less beautiful now.


This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Beach Body Tips

Ladies! Just in time for summer!

By now you have probably seen and heard that Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla. just stepped down in light of the controversy generated by his $1000 donation to California’s Prop 8 ballot measure.  I am one of the people who immediately uninstalled Firefox when I learned about it. The notion that this guy was receiving a salary supported in any way by my use of their browser was just not something I could live with. The CEO gave an ill-advised interview in which he did the “sorry if you were offended” thing, defended his right to hold any belief he chose and to support that belief (fair enough), and then deplored a state of affairs in which a diversity of political views would not be welcome at a place of employment. He said he checks his personal views at the door of the office, and that of course gay people at Mozilla have nothing to worry about. Blah blah blah. To my mind, “political views” involve things like being a supply-sider or opposing ethanol subsidies. Opposing the right of gay people to marry (and offering up a thousand bucks to ensure they can’t) is more than a political view. It’s a world view. It’s a moral judgment. It goes to character. It goes to whether a person can effectively fulfill the role of CEO at an organization supposedly dedicated to openness, innovation and opportunity for all. What if he just, you know, just thinks that black people should be happy to have the back of the bus? I mean, why do they need the WHOLE bus?! That back half is where the cool kids sit anyway. But not to worry, he checks that view at the door of the office. Or, you know, women. Chicks, man. Why employ them if they’re just going to get pregnant? That’s why it’s okay that they make 83 cents on the dollar or whatever. But, listen lady coders, he checks that view at the door of the office.

There are, to be sure, many varied and differing opinions on the  matter. But here’s the bottom line, to my way of thinking:


You can finesse your bigotry (because it is bigotry, I’m sorry to tell you) with “free speech!” and “civil unions” and “The Bible says…” But the hard, unforgiving, unavoidable truth is that you either believe that every single other human on this planet is entitled to all of the dignity and rights you take for granted, or you do not. And I do mean Every. Single. Human. Not just the ones you find appealing or worthy. Not just the ones you think God approves of. Not just the ones who don’t make you uncomfortable. Every. Single. Human.

If you do not believe this, then you do not believe in Equality. You just don’t. Which is your right because…America! But you don’t then get to pretend that your ability to compartmentalize your bigotry somehow equates to your right to keep a job that relies on you to represent it with excellence and inclusion.

Free Speech is a fundamental cornerstone of our beautiful democracy. Unfortunately, just as we went a little off the rails toward “political correctness” when people felt that they had a right to not be offended by speech, we have now gone to the other extreme, where people define Free Speech as “my right to say anything without incurring consequences.” Quick civics lesson: Freedom of Speech entitles you to say whatever the hell you want without government intrusion. You cannot be arrested and locked up for speaking your mind. Your family cannot be tortured for speaking their mind. Get it? That’s freedom of speech. You saying something hateful and having people call you an asshole as a result is not a breach of your freedoms. You said what you wanted to. And then the community answered. That is the VERY DEFINITION of Freedom of Speech. If TLC cancels your crappy TV show because you said something nasty about gays or Jews or whomever, they haven’t violated your right to free speech. They have made a business decision based on feedback from people who don’t want to support your opinion. You weren’t rounded up and put in a hole for saying bigoted shit. You weren’t tortured or killed. Hell, you weren’t even off Twitter for but two minutes. Your freedom of speech was in no way breached. You just got called on your ignorance and you don’t like it. You are absolutely entitled to your opinion of gay people and you are entitled to your right to speak it and support it. But you are not entitled to a TV show and you sure as hell are not entitled to a job as CEO. In real life if I say stupid shit, someone calls me out. If you think this blog is crap, you stop reading. If two internet browsers are available and one has a CEO who espouses views I find abhorrent, I just pick the other browser. He can still say and pay for whatever he wants to, but I’m not supporting it. You all can eat Chick Fil-A and Dominos Pizza until you bust if you swing that way, but I won’t. In those cases, the company’s base either doesn’t care or actually supports the CEO’s views. So go ‘head y’all. This is America and that is business. In Mozilla’s case, where the base is all about community and collaboration across a very diverse aisle, Brendan Eich had to go. Freedom of speech intact.



Posted on: April 2, 2014

The Answer is 42

The Top Ten Reasons Why Turning 42 is Awesome.

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