Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene

A few weeks ago, as I stood with my sons in front of the carousel at the mall, I was approached by someone with a vaguely familiar face. Tracy?, she wondered aloud. It was a high school friend who I haven't seen for the last 19 years. She was with her husband and their beautiful four year old daughter. Immediately, I wondered if their little girl was adopted, since she looked distinctly Latina. I wasn't sure, though, because my friend's husband had dark hair, and I thought maybe he had the dominant genes that were passed on to their daughter. Also...I've learned as an adoptive mom that sometimes you just don't feel like talking about your adoption story every time someone asks. I decided to keep my mouth shut and just enjoy catching up with a long lost friend, but after a few minutes, her husband said, "So I just have to ask. Are your sons adopted?"

As it turned out, their daughter was also adopted, and we had a wonderful conversation about our families' adoption journeys. I learned that my friend's husband had biological children from a previous marriage. Brimming with pride and love for his adopted daughter, he gushed, "It's no different from having biological children!" I knew instinctively what he meant. Of course, the journey that adoptive parents and adopted children take to become a family is very different from the way a biological family is formed. He was simply saying that his love for his adopted daughter was no different from the love he has for his bio kids. His bond with her was no different. She was his daughter--full stop!

As an adoptive mother who will more than likely never give birth to biological children, I have felt the pangs of envy when I see my friends and even perfect strangers with round, pregnant bellies. I have wondered how Brian's genes and my genes would combine--what those strawberry-blonde, freckle-faced cuties would look like. I have longed to be able to nurse a baby at my breast. All these things that in some way I've felt that I'm missing out on, I have grieved and grieved deeply.

However, I've also marveled at some of the things I've experienced as an adoptive mother that biological families will never know. Some of these things are nothing short of miraculous, and I am humbled and honored that God has allowed Brian and me to be part of a life experience so precious and transforming as adoption: the way our sons (with DNA all their own) fit so seamlessly into the fabric of our family. The way Jeremy has his birthm0ther's gleaming white teeth, but he has my smile. The way I felt the first time Zachary was placed in my arms--like Heaven itself had descended to Earth and given me a gift so beautiful, words will never be able to aptly describe it. Suddenly, the tables had turned and instead of feeling sorry for myself, I felt a little bit sorry for those poor fertile couples who will never know this special joy, the uniqueness of this special journey!

Melissa Fay Greene expresses it beautifully in her adoption memoir No Biking in the House Without a Helmet:
Down a narrow, rocky lane we bounced, then parked outside the cement walls of Layla House, AAI's orphanage. Selamneh [my driver] honked for admission. I was beside myself with excitement and a kind of stage fright. For the second time in my life I prepared to meet a child who was going to call me Mama.
There can be no other demarcation of time, no other "life-cycle event" as significant a crossing-over as this one. Marriage is momentous, but in most of the modern world, brides and grooms stand at the altar beside their beloved. Childbirth is a major event, but it, like marriage, follows a deep prior connection. Now the elderly guard pulled open the gates and I prepared to meet a person who would join, and change, my life permanently.
I remember that moment with both of my children. That first meeting that would change my life forever, for the best!

No Biking in the House is a wonderful book, detailing the path her family took as it grew from a family with four biological kids to a family with nine kids total (the additional five by adoption from Bulgaria and Ethiopia). Greene is a masterful wordsmith and I enjoyed the story of how her family came to be as much as I enjoyed the way she wrote about it!

Her tone is loving, her stories both triumphant and heartbreaking, but her style is never preachy. After I finished the book this morning, I had to spend some time processing the myriad feelings I had--joy, heartbreak, and a burden to do something to help make a change in the world. I realized as I processed these feelings what a genius Greene is--she inspired so much thought in me without ever hammering me over the head with it! She simply told her family's story, and in doing so reminded me what a big difference a family can make.


The Busters said...

Such a lovely post, Tracy! I also just finished reading this book and loved it. You are so right that without being preachy she inspired so much thought. It was one of those books I didn't want to end. I will never forget walking through the gates of Gladney House 4 and making my way up the steps to meet Ezra for the first time. So grateful for that moment! Love you! XOXO

will + adri said...

I am going to have to pick up this book! Thanks so much for highlighting it through your own eyes.

lisa said...

I just got this book from the library and can't wait to read it. I loved your post on this, definitely captures some of the conversations we've had! Can't wait to join you as an adoptive mom!

The Moore Family said...

That was so beautiful Tracy. You had the tears flowing down my cheeks!!! I have friends here in Louisville who adopted first and then (3 months after picking him up in Ethiopia!!!), gave birth to their daughter and it's so awe-inspiring to hear them talk of the same love between their children. They are both their precious children, after all. Beautiful. I miss you friend

J at said...

What a lovely post indeed! I've never experienced the joy of adopting a child, but through your blog, I've come to understand it a bit. :)