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Thursday, December 1, 2011

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene, 2011, * * * * *

In 1991, age age 4,  and with four children of her own, author Melissa Fay Greene ("Praying for Sheetrock,", "The Temple Bombing," "There Is No Me Without You," was struck by "a sudden onset of longing and nostalgia" for another baby. When her next pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, she and her husband, Don Samuel, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney, decided to adopt. No Biking in the House Without a Helmet is her new book about adopting a boy from an orphanage in Bulgaria (Jesse), and then a daughter and three sons from HIV/AIDS ravaged Ethiopia (Helen, Fisseha, and brothers Daniel and Yousef), absorbing each into their upper middle class Jewish Atlanta home. Post-adoption life proved to be challenging at best  with language barriers, bed-wetting, raging tantrums, separation anxieties, and more. Greene sank into "post adoption depression syndrome" (something she'd never even heard of) convinced that she had "wrecked my dearest treasure, my family."  Miraculously Greene recovers, her family repairs, and bonds thrive.  The sprawling family journey is not without its pitfalls.  The children fight - even come to blows - give each other the silent treatment, lie on occasions, break rules, and figure out how to download porn on their cellphones.  The teenage boys also bypass Net Nanny and then get caught charging up the cable bill with XXX-rated movies.  Ready with a band-aid box in hand, Greene is a culturally sensitive, boldly human antidote to the Tiger Mother. As too many of today's parents are caught in the blinding fog of over-achievement  "No Biking in the House Without a Helmet" is filled with water balloons, newborn gerbils, dead chickens, spicy foods, baseball stats, frequent flyer miles, endless extended family and an unlimited supply of laughter and love.  It is a sprawling, imperfect, courageous and joyful account of the adoption process, warts and all -- the heart wrenching trips to orphanages, frustrating delays,  living parents, as well as the inevitable homesickness and culture clashes and sometimes rocky emotional terrain. Greene captures the family's triumphant shared delight in one another's differences.

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