trade them for anything. Another way being an adult
adoptee has helped me as an adoptive parent is that
I’m able to have a dialogue with Tariku about adoption and birth families and all of those tricky issues,
and make it about me and not about him. So we can
talk about his feelings in a way that’s not threatening, and I can give him a kind of implicit permission
to have all those sticky, sad, angry, scared feelings
that can come with the territory.
S: In an adoption workshop I attended last year,
the moderator handed out copies of Chimamanda
Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single
Story,” and encouraged us to think about our
child’s adoption story as being as rich and complex as a work of great literature, with aspects
that are both happy and sad, “unknowns and
what ifs.” How has being a writer and a storyteller
helped you, both as an adoptee and as a parent?
J: I love the idea of that workshop!
I’m actually not sure which came first, the
chicken or the egg, in terms of me being both
an adoptee and a storyteller. I credit some of my
enthusiasm for storytelling to the fact that my own
narrative had that big blank space at the beginning
of it for a long time. I’ve always loved the Leonard
Cohen line about the cracks in something being the
way the light gets in. Our wounds are so often our
greatest creative resource. This yearning to know
more about where I came from gave me a freedom
to imagine and invent.
As parents, we create our children’s narratives.
We may not have created all the events of their
lives, but we do have to figure out how to assemble
those events into a story. It’s a huge responsibility,
because that story will shape their identity in many
ways, for a long time. My goal is to craft a narrative
that is fluid enough to change as Tariku’s understanding of himself changes, is respectful and empowering, and is true without either glossing over
the painful stuff or, conversely, introducing difficult
information for which he is not developmentally
prepared. I tell him a story, above all, in which he is
loved and strong and, in the words of the fabulous
Brené Brown: “Wired for struggle” and “worthy of
love and belonging.”
S: What do you want your son to take away from
Everything You Ever Wanted as he matures?
J: Every day as I sat down to write, I set an intention that my memoir would be a gift to my son
someday. It’s not appropriate for him to read the
whole thing yet, but I’ve already read him certain
passages and he just loves it. He loves hearing
about himself, like most kids (and grown-ups!) do.
He threw his arms around my neck before one of
my readings and told me I make him proud. It’s a
moment I will treasure until the day I die. The book
is not a shiny, glossy, happy portrait of our family.
It’s a story of great love and great struggle. It’s also
a story of great triumph. I hope that one day he will
read it and see his fierce, fiery, shining soul on every
page and feel proud of who he was and is.
S: Like Tariku, many kids who were adopted can
benefit from all kinds of tools and interventions.
So, to end on a practical note, could you say a bit
more about the two products you specifically recommend in your book’s afterword, “Some Notes
on Trauma.” What’s up with the 3M Peltor Junior
Earmuffs and the JumpSport Trampoline?
J: The earmuffs and the trampoline! How many
good things can I say about the earmuffs and the
trampoline?! We began to get a greater understanding of Tariku’s violent tantrums and other challenging behaviors when he was properly diagnosed with
sensory processing issues and we learned about the
effects of early childhood trauma on the brain. One
of the biggest things that helped him to manage
overwhelming sensory stimuli were noise canceling
earmuffs (like those used by drummers). He started
wearing them at movies, at the mall, at the grocery
store. Anytime things were loud and overwhelming.
It really helped to regulate his nervous system and
we immediately cut down on the epic meltdowns.
The trampoline is magic. I can’t claim to fully
understand its calming effect, but it’s great for his
brain and his sense of his body in space.
SHARON VAN EPPS is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in
The New York Times’ Motherlode blog, Redbook, The Huffington Post,
and Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among others. She also
writes the “Be Bold or Go Home” blog on adoptivefamiliescircle.com.
She is the adoptive mother of three and lives with her family in Seattle.