“What Do You See?” Music Video: Family, Struggle, Resilience, Awe

“What Do You See?” is a lovely song by the talented musician-singers Mr and Mrs. Something.


Today, they released the song, as well as a music video that has a story line about family, parenting, struggles, and resilience. When you watch the video, you will see and hear Mr. and Mrs. Something, and you will see my daughter, my granddaughter, and me. The video is available here.


Bryan Tucker and Brian Lee, filming Mr. and Mrs. Something, August 2015.

The director of the video is Bryan Tucker, who directed and produced the prize-winning documentary Closure (the story of Angela Tucker‘s search and reunion), among other works. Bryan came up with the story line concept, a merging of the lyrics and a story of a family, and approached us about being in the video.  It was a brand new experience for us, and was a lot of fun. I have a whole new appreciation for the art of making top-notch videos–so much time and so many details.


Bryan Tucker and Brian Lee, filming the video for “What Do You See?” August 2015

The lyrics and the music are strong and challenging:

What do you see…the dream that has died, or the hopes yet to be?

Someone who’s loved and lost, or someone who’s learned patiently?

The song and the video are about everyone: the struggles, the failings, the fallings, the willingness to get back up. They are about mothers and daughters, parenting, interracial families, raising children, loving each other, being angry or hurt, laughing, cheering each other on, hanging in, showing up.

We’ve heard today from dear friends who saw the video and know us (including in our unpleasant, imperfect, not in the video moments), and from strangers who saw themselves in the lyrics or story: adoptees, Ethiopians, single moms, women of color, grandmothers, dancers, aspiring ballerinas, adoptive parents, step parents, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons.

Wherever we are, we can choose to see the best in each other and ourselves, even in the midst of all our imperfections.

‘Cuz I see a will to rise again from every fall.

I see a soul that’s filled with awe at the wonder of it all.

What do you see? 

You can (and should!) download the song for free, for the next 2 weeks. Mr and Mrs. Something’s album Setting Sail will be released on November 17, 2015. We are honored to have been a part of it.





Grandparents Day 2014: Reflections on the Known and Unknown. More More More.

One of my son Christopher’s favorite books as a toddler was “More More More! Said the Baby,” by Vera Williams. It’s lovely, a Caldecott Honor Book, published in 1990, with wonderful illustrations also by Williams. One of the three little stories features a blond, white grandma swooping up her Little Pumpkin, a black child.

Here’s an illustration from the book:


You can hear Vera Williams talk about and read the book here. She wrote it for her grandson Hudson, and expanded it to include other babies.

Here’s Chris with his grandma, my mother, who–always with makeup and blond hair just so–never failed to get down on the floor and play with him.

Mom with her youngest grandchild, about 22 years ago.

Mom with her youngest grandchild, about 22 years ago.

My mom, who died 12 years ago, was an incredible grandmother. She loved her (adopted, African-American, African) adopted grandchildren unconditionally; her views on civil rights and racism moved from philosophical to personal, in a thoughtful, decisive way. She would have adored her great-granddaughter Z, born in 2006. I adore Z, as anyone who knows me even briefly is all too aware.

Like my mother, I am not biologically related to my grandchild. Z is the biological child of my adopted daughter, Aselefech. Z is genetically related to her aunt (her mother’s twin sister; both girls were adopted from Ethiopia in 1994), but not to her two uncles (my adopted sons). We all have dealt (from varying perspectives) with white privilege, with racism, with humiliation, with stereotyping, with grief. We crazy love each other.

Z has a non-adopted 7 year old’s understanding of adoption. She knows she looks more like her mom, aunt, and uncles than she looks like me, since I’m white and they are not. She knows what it’s like when people do double-takes when she says I’m her grandma. She knew since she was little about her Ethiopian family, in Ethiopia. She had seen photos, and heard stories. She has visited with her Ethiopian uncle who now lives in Seattle, via winning a visa lottery ticket several years ago.

Grandparents can be elusive creatures. They are often old when they become grandparents (I am a notable exception), though not as old as we think they are when we are children. Families used to live over the meadow or above the duplex from the grandparents; increasingly, that has changed. Adoption, especially international, creates a whole other level to knowing grandparents. As an adoptive parent, when my children were little, I thought about their birth mothers, then fathers, maybe. I gave little thought to other members of the family tree: the grandparents, the siblings, the aunts, uncles, cousins.

Over the years, as my children grew and my heart opened, I gave much more thought to their first families. Some are known, some are unknown. Some are gone. Some could still be found.

During our recent trip to Ethiopia, Z met Desta, her grandmother, Aselefech’s mother. Aselefech had last visited with her Ethiopian family in 2011; this was the first visit for Z.

Z did well, though she was understandably tentative. Like Aselefech, she looks like her Ethiopian relatives, yet she can speak to them only through a translator, one of the most poignant, painful parts of international adoption when the original language does not endure. Conversations with unfamiliar relatives can be awkward when we speak the same language and share the same culture, religion, education, and economics. It didn’t matter here. Desta loved Z before she met her on this visit, as she loves all her grandchildren (her 6th is expected anytime now). She cannot scoop up Z as my mom scooped up Chris, because Desta did not even meet Z until Z was almost 8. She missed those early years, as she will miss most of Z’s daily life; we don’t know when she and Z will see each other again. We will do our best to keep in touch, to send photos, to connect. So much heartache in adoption, along with so much love.

I am filled with gratitude and wonder that Z met, hugged, talked with, smiled at, and said goodbye to her Ethiopian grandmother, along with aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Chris lost his grandma when he was 12, and I know he misses her deeply. All my children do. Their grandmother was a powerful force of unconditional love in their lives.

My maternal grandparents died before I was born. I have good memories of my dad’s parents (we watched the Lawrence Welk Show together, and they came over for Sunday dinner each week), but I can’t say I knew them all that well. I wish I did. It’s astonishing how little we know about people just a generation or two away from us.

Adopted children (who grow up!) deserve to know their families. (Safety obviously has to be a factor, but fear of the unknown should not be.)  We adoptive parents need to embrace, at least emotionally, our children’s first families, including the grandparents who may well have wanted to know and love them. What a gift and blessing to know our grandparents, and to know their stories: what their childhoods were like, how they fell in love, what their happiest days were, what memories make them smile. I cannot imagine not having Z as my granddaughter; I love sharing stories with her and making memories. Being a grandparent has made me understand and appreciate so much in this wild life.

For all the losses and the missed time, what richness we have. Yes, it’s imperfect. It’s tempting to see only absence, rather than presence, and too many people have been marginalized or made far more vulnerable than is fair.

Still. Seek out more, more, more. Swoop up loved ones, known and unknown. Ask questions, listen to stories, and insist on understanding what the possibilities are. Tomorrow is not promised to us. People die. While you can, seek out more, more, more.

Happy Grandparents Day. Thinking of beloveds, in heaven and all over earth.

Z and me

Art, Storytelling, Alzheimer’s: My APH Workshop

I’m thrilled to share that my workshop “Art-Full Storytelling: Drawing Out Clients” has been selected as one of 25 to be presented at the 2014 conference of the Association of Personal Historians (APH). To anyone thinking about branching into new areas of creativity and work, I say: Go for it.

In recent years, I’ve been working on ways to combine my love of storytelling, writing, and art–both for the sheer joy of it and for income. While my professional background is in social services advocacy, I have been trained as a facilitator of ethical/spiritual wills, and have presented writing workshops related to personal stories. I’ve been building a new business model based in helping people tell their stories: even when information is missing, there are wonderful stories to be told, shared, and preserved. Sometimes we need to look at new ways to re-create and re-frame stories, in a way that honors and respects both the story and the storyteller.

Here’s the description from my APH proposal: This “hands on” workshop will provide innovative, enjoyable activities related to art, engaging clients in stories and triggering memories. A range of activities and techniques will be shown, tailored to a variety of clients. Activities include writing prompts, color, paints, markers, photos, ephemera, and more. Some activities are particularly suited for clients in early or later stages of dementia, when getting a sense of personal stories can be difficult yet sought after and still valuable. The workshop will help clients reminisce and tell their stories in creative, meaningful ways–maybe not the traditional presentations, but valuable and enduring nonetheless.

The goal is to engage through focused creativity, understanding the realities of the brain’s changes over time. I’ll provide an overview of experience with Alzheimer’s patients in early, middle, and later stages, as well as those with no Alzheimer’s symptoms. I will share art exercises that foster connections and evoke memories. 

My 84-year-old dad has lived in a memory unit of an assisted living facility for nearly 3 years, and I’ve enjoyed learning more stories from him, even as some memories fade. It’s been a powerful journey. I am in the process of getting certified by the Alzheimer’s Association in quality care of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

Dad with his great-granddaughter in 2008

Dad with his great-granddaughter in 2008


Dad and Z in summer 2013. I so love these 2 amazing people–and all their stories.

I genuinely enjoy the challenges of helping people fill in missing pieces to create a valuable history. Last year, I presented for the first time at an APH conference. My workshop was titled “Adopted and Estranged Families: Rebuilding a Personal History.” You can read about it here. I’m pleased to say that my 2014 workshop “Finding the Missing Pieces,” a follow-up to last year’s workshop, has been selected as an alternate for the 2014 APH conference, if a scheduled presenter has to cancel. It’s been wonderful to refine and develop strategies for helping folks to tell their stories through innovative approaches.

Maya Angelou said it well: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” May we ask loved ones to share their stories while they are with us. May we help when missing pieces need to be found, and may we listen well.


Why I Write, And What Hana Never Got

If she were still alive, my mother would be celebrating her 84th birthday today, July 28. Mom died on Christmas Day 2003, from lung cancer, having never smoked in her life. I miss her terribly. Ten days, 10 years–it doesn’t matter. Her absence is felt. During her life, it was her presence that I and others treasured. She was a wonderful mother, imperfect of course, and I always knew her love for me was unconditional, even as she sometimes wondered at my choices.

Here’s Mom and me, some 55 years ago.


Here’s Mom with my Dad, on her last birthday in 2003, just before they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary August 8. Dad was a remarkable, humble, well-organized, selfless caregiver of Mom as she got sicker and sicker; lung cancer is a harsh disease.


Mom grew up in Massachusetts, the youngest of 4 girls. Her mother was strict, to the point of occasional cruelty. Mom was not that kind of mother. She had trouble conceiving and in carrying to term–I am an only child, and was loved beyond words. Yes, there was discipline in my childhood, but always with thoughtfulness and dignity.

When I left Massachusetts after high school to attend Georgetown University in Washington, DC, I now realize how hard that had to have been for my parents, letting go of their only child. They never expressed anything but support and encouragement to me. As a parent myself, watching my children grow up, graduate, take on life’s adventures–that’s what’s made me recognize what they must have gone through.

Deciding to adopt, and to adopt transracially, and later internationally–those are big life decisions, and grandparents are affected by them in a big way. Again, my parents expressed support and encouragement, never questioning our decisions, and welcoming each child with nothing but joy. Here’s my Dad with his first grandson, Sean, in 1987.


Keep in mind that my parents (and I) grew up in suburbs north of Boston. Diversity was a Polish-American family moving in next to the Italian-American family. Mom became a quiet but firm voice against bigotry at her bridge club. She loved my children as individuals, even as she became increasingly aware of the realities of racism in this country.

As this 1990 photo shows, Nana was a down-on-the-floor grandma, taking Legos and toy cars as seriously as her grandson Christopher did.


When we decided in 1994 to adopt twin 6-year-old girls from Ethiopia, my parents may well have wondered if we really knew what we were getting into. Besides their African-American grandsons, my parents knew only a few people of color, and certainly no Ethiopians. When they saw the referral photos from the adoption agency in 1994, they fell in love, and never looked back.


Here is one of Mom’s favorite photos of the 4 kids, taken in 1995 about 6 months after Adanech and Aselefech arrived. The kids were 8, 6, 5, and 6 years old at that time. The dog was a puppy.


Mom was an excellent shopper, and always got incredible bargains at Macy’s or Nordstrom’s, especially for Aselefech and Adanech, as she had done for me when I was growing up. She was lavish in sending gifts to each grandchild on their birthday–I’m talking about a big box with individually wrapped gifts, and a carefully selected card with a thoughtful message. This was true from the kids’ birthdays from age 1 through their teens. It was true of mine into my 40’s. We think of Mom on our birthdays, and today, on hers.

Aselefech became a mother herself in 2006. Oh, how my mother would have adored her smart, sweet, athletic, fun great-granddaughter.


Here’s Dad a couple of months ago, with his great-granddaughter.  They truly have a special bond.


I first became a mother to my older son in 1987. I became a mom again in 1988 to my younger son, and then in 1994 to my twin daughters. I became a grandmother in 2006. Each one was a dream come true. We have had our fair share of sad, complex, troubled, dark days. And we have had so many more days that are light- and laughter-filled.

IMG_8957I write in this blog (and many other places) because becoming and being a mother means so much to me. I know that losses had to happen for my gain. I am a strong advocate for transparency and integrity in adoption. Were it not for adoption, with all its complexity, I likely would not have been a mother, and certainly not to these awesome, incredible children, now all young adults. They would not have known and loved my mother, who loved them so deeply and so well.

And this is also why, as an adoptive mother, I am attending the Williamses’ trial, and writing about it. I do not want that little Ethiopian girl, Hana Alemu, to be forgotten.

What, per my blog title, is it that Hana never got? She never got the chance to grow up, and the possibility to be a mother.

I do not take for granted that I had a mother who loved me. I do not take for granted that I am a mother, and a grandmother. Happy Birthday, Mom. I know you’ve got Hana under your wing. May you both rest in peace.