Category Archives: Adoption

Save the Kittens!

We were in Monterey a few weeks ago and one night there was a terrible thunder storm that shook the house and cut the power, at least that’s what I’ve been told. I have no recollection. All I remember from that night are my dreams.

In the first dream, a box of kittens had fallen from someone’s car and there were tiny kittens running all over the freeway. I was driving and suddenly trying not to hit the kittens or the people who were trying to save them. They were so tiny with eyes closed and their mewing mouths. So tiny! Don’t hit the kittens!

In the next dream I’d scored the lead role in a musical. I was wearing some kind of costume that may or may not have been made of paper mache, and I was about to go on stage without having practiced at all. Oh, and I’m tone deaf. There’s that too.

Anxiety anyone? Apparently I’m stressing about my upcoming readings and “author signing” events and wondering how we will keep a baby, a tiny little baby, from being run down by the speeding hatchback of life.

Lots of things are happening over here. Lots of good things. No news on the adoption front, sounds like the waits are longer than ever. BUT, it looks like I’m headed to New Orleans to party with 30,000 librarians at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference on June 25th. I’ll have an author signing and a hopefully do a reading at a bookstore while I’m there. If you know anyone in New Orleans, pass it on; let them know I’m coming. More details later…

The first version of advanced (rough draft) copies of Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish and Demolition will be done on Friday. I can’t wait to hold it.

The and websites are under construction.

The launch party and reading dates are being finalized for October. I get sweaty palms just thinking about them. Save the kittens!

Finally, the lovely people at CALYX Books are making a video trailer for the book. What fun! Have you seen any book trailers that you really like? Any thoughts on what should be included?

PS – Save the kittens!

Josie’s Middle-Aged Baby Sister

Josie and I were at a stoplight one day about 18 months ago, before we’d decided to adopt again, when Josie told me her baby sister was coming and pointed out the window. She said her name was Hona and I was super-surprised to find out she was a middle aged white woman wearing sneakers.

We made the decision to adopt again about a year ago but since we weren’t going to start the process right away and we knew how long the process takes we decided to wait as long as possible to tell Josie. So we still hadn’t told her when a friend said, “Hey, if you need any baby boy stuff, just let us know.” Josie was sitting on my lap and she turned, put her hand on my tummy and said, “You have a baby in dere?!” Oops. I told her, that no, I didn’t have a baby in there but that we’d talk about it later.

When we got home late that night she said, “Mommy, who’s Michelle?” Oh heavens. Michelle (name changed) is Josie’s birth mother. I looked at Paul, I guess we’re going to talk about this now… He nodded. So we did. We talked again, about Michelle and the women who choose families for the babies in their tummies.

Then I told her that she was going to have a baby brother or a baby sister and that she was going to be the big sister. She threw her head back and covered her face with both hands. She made a long yelling/laughing aaaahhh sound that could have been agony but that I knew was excitement. I knew the sibling-induced agony wouldn’t come until later, hopefully much later. I could see the smile even under her fingers. Hona would be with us soon.

Round 2

Warning: big announcement ahead.

We’re waiting for a baby. We’re waiting an indeterminate period of time, gestating without any delivery date, expecting without guarantee. It’s hard to know what to call this period in the adoption process when you’re in line but have no idea when the baby will come. I usually say we’re expecting. Actually, we’ve been officially expecting for a month now, I just haven’t had the time to tell anyone.

It tends to be something I casually drop into sentences, thinking that I’ve told the other person. Then: sorry, what the what?

The whole thing is a bit hard for me to believe. If I were pregnant, I could say something casual like, we were thinking about it and it just happened, all of the sudden. But it’s hard to say we fell into our 2nd child, casually, maybe even accidentally, when we spent hours and hours writing the 20 pages of our autobiographies, and pondering our childhoods and our parenting philosophy in an effort to portray ourselves in the most positive light possible – pick us, pick us!

It all just seems so much more carefree and cavalier than last time. By the time we adopted Josie, we’d been waiting for a baby for 3 years, since before I was diagnosed, then through a year of treatment in which we let go of our hope of biological children, came to terms with the possibility of my short childless life, then started the adoption process. I was kind of a wreck by the time we finished the paperwork. Wait, I was kind of a wreck even before we started the paperwork. Then we got a dud of a social worker for the placement part of the process. Then we started working with a facilitator who yelled at me. I was officially broken by the time we got the call about Josie.

Fortunately it worked out. We met our girl a few days later. I realize now that in some deep hidden part of my brain, I believed the gift of a child was permission to live. It was a grant, a concession from the universe, a permission slip to go ahead and resume “life as normal.” Carry on.

Of course, my rational brain knew this wasn’t how the world worked but that didn’t stop me from feeling it. The adoption of a child was a sigh of relief, a celebration of not just her life but the resumption of ours. I see that now and I understand the entirety of what was at stake.

This time, I know it will happen. The baby will come. No lives hinge on the delivery. I hope to relax and enjoy the process, even the wait, to enjoy the imaginary, indeterminate gestation. I have dreams of a wait time filled with preparation, nesting, house projects, photo books, and buying a few cute little baby things that I was afraid would jinx the process last time.

That’s a nice dream but in reality, my imaginary, indeterminate gestation is filled with a tireless three-year-old, endless book edits, a job, and a blog, but this is it, this is what normal life looks like. This is us as we carry on. This is us, busily waiting to greet our new baby.

Her Beautiful Friend

Lately my three-year-old brown baby has become aware of skin color. She points out all the black children at the pool and the store. Sometimes she seems pulled toward them. Other times she seems not to have any interest, she’s just pointing out a fact.

A few weeks ago, I bought the new Mavis Staples CD. When Josie asks for her it comes out sounding like mabitaple and she always wants to listen to her LOUD. I’ve told her teachers and grandparents that if they can’t figure out what she’s saying, she’s probably asking for Mavis.

We’d only listened to the CD a few times when Josie found the jewel case sitting on the front seat of my car. She picked it up and stared at the picture of Mavis. We talked about how pretty she is – what a nice smile she has. Josie started calling Mavis her bootiful fwiend and carrying the case around, holding it close to her chest.

For the rest of the post, click on over to

How to Adopt a Baby

1.       Talk to friends and friends of friends about their experiences.

2.       Try not to get lost driving around foreign neighborhoods looking for a community center that will host the Journeys of the Love, Hope, Heart, Blessed-Child’s Dream of the Christ’s Open Adoption agency meeting.

3.       Ask the social workers what programs/countries will let you adopt if you are single, over 40, in a same-sex relationship, and/or a cancer survivor.

4.       Choose the agency that can answer your question.

5.       Get fingerprinted, background checked, dig up the value of your house, find pay stubs, photocopy bank statements, get friends to write references, find your dog’s vaccination records, have the pet store where you purchased your fish sign an affidavit of its health, make a list of every illness you’ve ever had, dig up the name of your third grade teacher who could verify that indeed your favorite color was lavender, make a list of your stuffed animals and their names and how well you took care of each and every one of them, and promise, that if they could talk, they would guarantee that, if given the opportunity, you’d be the bestest mother ever. Click here to read the rest…

Race Relations

We’re sitting in a gluten-free bakery/café last weekend waiting for our “pizza” and nothing-at-all-like-mac-and-cheese-but-still-kind-of-good dish (you know, that’s the key to gluten-free eating, just banish the thought of what it should taste like and you might really enjoy it). Anyway, the “pizza” crust held together by nutshells wasn’t really good but that’s a story for another time. We were relying on a completely stoned, dreadlocked barista who seemed overwhelmed by my Groupon, as if she hadn’t seen 2,000 of them already, and things were not looking good. The food was taking for-ev-er.

I use the word “sitting” loosely. Jose is alternating between hiding under a neighbor’s table playing peek-a-boo with strangers, and running down the long hall to the kitchen. Dining experiences need to be planned well in advance, prepared for with crayons and paper and toys and discussion. The restaurant should be kid friendly, the food fast, and no one should be hungry when the expedition first sets out. In short, it’s never a good idea for us Ellises to “stop in” anywhere for food, but we seem to need to re-learn that over and over. We are doing a pretty good job of disrupting everyone’s fine Sunday afternoon with our last minute decision to stop for lunch. Josie is somewhere in the general vicinity of our table when a black man sits nearby.

“Mommy, why is he brown?”

Silence… [shit]… I thought she was supposed to ask that question when she was, like, 4. Damn it kid, I have 1.25 years to prepare my answer to that question! Instead of coming up with a good response, I say, “Hey, let’s read this book together.” Smooth.

In the car many minutes later, I’m ready. I ask her what color her skin is. Brown.

What color is Mommy’s? White.

What color is Jada’s? Brown. Alyssa’s? Donnel’s? Etc. Brown, brown, brown.

I make a mental note to put the Josie Book on top of her pile of bedtime books so we can revisit the pictures of her infancy and her birth mother.

What color is your hair? Black.

What color is Mommy’s hair? You get the idea…

I say something like, well, your skin is brown because some of your ancestors, your grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents, were from Africa. Mommy looks more like some of her ancestors who were from Norway.

She’s quiet for a minute. She stares out the window. Then: “Sometimes my ancestors… My ancestors, sometimes they blow bubbles for me.”


Like any parents we have our struggles. Without giving you all the details, let’s just say that we’re seeking professional help and not for the first time. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with our girl, but the conventional parenting techniques (ie: Love & Logic) aren’t working, and we need an advisor to help us through our days. There are weeks and months when I feel like I can’t do anything right for her, when I feel like it’s all wrong. When I don’t know what parent she needs me to be.

We met with someone last week. When I thought about the appointment beforehand I worried I’d start crying and not be able to stop. We gave her the whole story from the beginning.

I told her about Josie’s grand entry into the world: spontaneous labor and an unplanned home birth (ie: have a contraction, get in tub, have baby). I told her about Josie’s first week of life in the ICU, and how she had a little orange bow in her hair the day we met her. I told her how Josie had complete head and neck control and cried real tears from the beginning. I told her about the time Josie got so mad at me for running out of formula that she wouldn’t make eye contact. About the crawling and the climbing and the walking and the running, oh god, the running. The running and how she ran without fear or boundaries, how she’d run into large bodies of water, off tall ledges, into traffic. I told this woman about the pinching and the biting and the hitting, but also about the hugging and the loving and the joking and her first words which were ‘owl’ and ‘hug.’ We talked about how other children cluster around her, how everyone is drawn to her, and also about the sleep problems, the night waking, the sensory seeking and the inability to calm herself. I told her I was reading the “Spirited Child” book and that Josie scored 106 on a scale of extreme behavior that only goes to 50. And, finally, I told her about the unreachable place where Josie seems to go sometimes when nothing works.

I talked about all of these things with surprising composure. It was when I got to the adoption, to the part where we talk about the birth family that I got into weepy, quiver-lipped, trouble. I mentioned a friend who had a spirited child. How the boy’s father had been the same way growing up. I thought about how wonderfully reassuring it would be to be to know Josie’s traits came from a relative and be able to say, yes, it’s okay – look at what a lovely and interesting adult she is now.

We know very little about Josie’s birth father but, for some reason, I think she gets her temperament from him. I wonder what his mother would say if she knew there was a small version of her son in the world. I wonder what her life and his childhood were like. I imagine her hearing about Josie and saying something like: Oh heavens! And putting a hand to her chest and laughing. Then saying: You have got your work cut out for you! Or something like that. That’s all. She doesn’t give me any sage advice, or answer questions. She doesn’t tell me what I already know, that this kid is going to be fine and that everything will be all right. We share a look and I get everything I want and everything I need from her eyes because I can see there is someone in this world who knows exactly what we’re going through.

HMN Elsewhere

Yesterday The Next Family put up a guest post I wrote in response to this prompt: It would be great to have you write your story — being a cancer survivor and a mom (an adoptive mom), how it was for you, where you are now, how it’s changed for you…

It’s funny how framing a situation differently, asking a slightly different question, can elicit a totally new and different response. You can read the post here.

And check out The Next Family while you’re there – they’ve got interesting content from urbanite families, adoptive families, in vitro parents, interracial families, same sex parents, and single parents.

Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to do a little more shameless promotion. Hysterical Mommy Network has been nominated for the Parenting Blog section of the Best of Western Washington contest. I’m just so tickled about the whole thing. It makes me giggle. If you’d be so kind… If you haven’t already… Would you vote here, please? That color you’re wearing looks so nice on you. It matches your eyes and, my goodness, those lashes… You look particularly lovely today.

Love you all! XOXO

The Red-Headed Messiah of African American Haircare

Have I told you about my new favorite site? My new best friend? The red-headed Messiah of African-American haircare? Perhaps Messiah is a bit much, but let me say this: she is the BOMB. Really. Joyful Mom has two African American children, one with kinky, curly hair and one with looser curls. She posts information on haircare tools, products and how to execute different styles. Furthermore, she only uses natural products. Love. Really.

I’ve been kind of obsessed with the site the last few weeks. It’s always up on the computer in the kitchen and every spare minute, I’m reading about a new style or product or bead. Yes, I’ve spent another fortune on supplies, but look!

Little braids

Look what Josie and I did together. They’re cornrows. No kidding.

After her bath and a dinner break, I sat on the couch with her on a pillow on the floor. I laid out my Noah’s ark full of haircare products (2 brushes, 2 combs, 2 tubs of hair goo). I popped in the Poppins, detangled and sectioned her hair, and started cornrowing. The style took about 30-45 minutes to complete (I’m so slow). Josie had to get up and run around a few times. I was sure she was going to refuse to sit back down and that we’d be stuck with half-finished hair for the week, but she came back. She came back! When I really needed her to sit still, I held her head between my knees. When I did the sides I sat on the floor. We make such a good team.

Tough to get her to hold still for the picture

If you have a kid with curly hair or have curly hair yourself go visit Happy Girl Hair. I think you’ll kind of love it too.

She asked for "sumpin with cheese on it" for dinner

The Real Deal

These days Josie is always reaching into bags or up to counters or under chairs. When I ask what she’s doing she says I’m lookin’ for (or geddin’ or movin’ or doin’) sumpin’. Then she gives me a look with raised eyebrows that says: ok? She’s not particularly irritated. She does not roll her eyes. She’s speaking as a fellow grown-up. It’s all very mature and her message is clear. She does not need my help.

But, of course, I continue to give it to her in a variety of useful and useless ways. I, for example, collect hair care supplies – combs, clips, beads, head bands, ponytail holders – as if simply owning this equipment will make me a better hair stylist and, by extension, a better mother.

When I recently found out that Josie’s hair stylist (yes, she is too young to have her own stylist) moved out of town, I called around to all the local kiddie salons, asking if they have any African American stylists. No, I’m not looking for someone familiar with black hair; I’m looking for someone with black hair. Yes, that’s right, I’m looking for a real genuine black person. You, blondie, will not do.

I hear about a hair salon that specializes in “kinky, curly or locked hair textures.” Pefect! I ask the woman who answers the phone how old Josie has to be to have her hair cut. The woman asks what Josie needs done. I say she just needs a trim. She says, well, how does she wear her hair now? Is it an afro?

What I think she really means is: are you sure your baby is black because you sure do sound white?

Meanwhile, I’m thinking: what is the technical definition of an afro? Does it mean, super-curly hair worn loose? Or does it have to be a certain size to qualify as an afro? Because Josie’s hair isn’t super-big but it is often unstyled. I have no idea how to answer this question. I am so white. Josie is so doomed.

Eventually the receptionist tells me Josie needs to be about 5 years old and “salon ready.” My child is definitely not 5 years-old, and defiantly not salon ready.

A few days later, I’m walking through the mall and I see a black child waiting in a hair salon. I walk in and ask how old children have to be to have their hair done. Two. Two! Wesley, the brunette at the front desk, tells me she’s familiar with African American hair. Step aside, Wesley, you’re not needed here. I make an appointment with their black stylist.

I come back a few days later with Josie, and I’m a bit nervous. It’s not a kiddie salon and, as I’ve mentioned before, my kid generally does not sit. So I do my best to talk to Josie about it beforehand. To play it up as a special treat – going to the salon. I can see the terror in the stylist’s eyes when we arrive.

We survive the wash and comb-out and the stylist rubs in a little dab of two products – one promises to make her hair smooth and the other to make it shiny. Anxious to learn everything I can, I pick up the bottles, write down the names, and read the instructions. On the back, in all caps, both bottles say HAIR IS FLAMMABLE and should be kept away from cigarettes and open flames. Tap, tap, tap. Excuse me, did you just douse my child in lighter fluid?

Eatin' Sumpin'

When her hair has been dried and while it is being cut and braided she gets a little antsy. I hand her a sticker book and she flips through it like its People Magazine. I ask what she’s looking for, if I can help. I’m doin’ sumpin’ Mommy. Fair enough.  

The Real Deal

By the time she’s finished, Josie’s been in the chair for over an hour. She sat quietly the whole time. I’m so proud. We have a little celebration that includes lots of high-fiving and a few bunny crackers.

The next day is the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day and Paul and I decide the best way to celebrate the day and celebrate black culture is to go to the gospel choir concert at a Baptist church. I dress Josie in her cute dress and tights and shoes, her hair still a bit of braided perfection. We find a seat on the aisle. Josie squirms on Paul’s lap and then mine. She’s turning and twisting, and wants to get down, then wants to be up, then wants raisins, then wants to be with Daddy, then with Mommy, then more raisins.

Then the music really gets going. I mean really going. Everyone is dancing and clapping. I stand with her in my arms and I dance. The choir is loud, beautiful and stunning but the energy in the church is even bigger, even louder. I’m trying to clap and dance and hold her. The bag of raisins falls to the floor. She’s completely still, gripping my arms with her hands, and staring at my clavicle. She’s full and open and focused with every sense except sight as if seeing the choir in their swaying robes would take away from the sound, the energy, the movement.

It looks as if my girl with her flammable braids has started moving toward the place I cannot take her. I wish I could go with her, but I can only hope she’ll give me a glimpse into what it is like to be a black person in America. Maybe by living her experience I’ll learn sumpin’, like how to be a better mother or, if I’m lucky and pay attention, maybe I’ll even learn how to be a better person.