Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: "No Biking in the House Without a Helmet"

By David Biddle

The "Do I Love Them Yet?" Syndrome

Once that last child begins to drive, most of us realize our capacity to parent is fading. We get a few years of empty-nest freedom before grandparenting kicks in. But the marathon is over. We finished!

Then there are the Melissa Fay Greenes of the world—and her attorney husband Don Samuel, a man who practices courtroom statements on his kids instead of reading them bedtime stories. Samuel and Greene, a journalist, had four children using their own DNA: Molly, Seth, Lee, and Lily. But then, in their early forties and with encouragement from their biological kids, the Greene-Samuel team adopted five more in less than a decade.

It began in 1999 with Chrissy (whom they renamed Jesse), a four-year-old boy of Romani (“gypsy”) descent from a Bulgarian orphanage. Then they adopted five-year-old Helen from AIDS-ravaged Ethiopia, where, Greene notes, 11 percent of the nation’s children were orphans in 2001. After Helen came nine-year-old Fisseha (renamed Sol), followed by brothers Yosef (8) and Daniel (11)—also all from Ethiopia.

In No Biking in the House Without a Helmet, Greene tells the story of building this mega-family—two loving parents, two quirky dogs, nine amazing children from three different birth cultures—all living under one roof in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cute, huh? Sweet?

Hardly. Greene is not a master parent by any means—in far too many scenes, she just lets chaos reign in her household—and this is not a simple, feel-good treatise on the ultimate blended family. Her memoir is powerful and alluring, almost like a reality TV show where you actually care about the characters.

Greene comments intelligently on adoption, family, intercultural experience, and—above all—real love. This last resonates with me most, because as a mixed-race adoptee, I know that love between parents and children, adoptive or biological, is one of the greatest mysteries I’ve encountered in life....

Editor's Note: The full text of this review—"Adoption, Light and Dark"—appears in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Talking Writing. This issue features a special "Spotlight" on adoption and parenting in honor of National Adoption Month, including a companion essay about Melissa Fay Greene called "Whoa! I'm a Character in a Friend's Memoir?"


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