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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

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

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet: 9 Kids, 3 Continents, 2 Parents, 1 Family 
by Melissa Fay Greene
Published by Sarah Crichton Books ISBN 978-0-374-53338-0
Trade paperback $15

At some point parents are faced with the prospect of the "empty nest syndrome". Some parents deal with it by moving to a big city (like my husband and I did- don't worry though, we told the kids and gave them our new address), some take up new hobbies, and Melissa Fay Greene and her husband met the challenge by adopting children from Bulgaria and Ethiopia, as told in No Biking in the House Without a Helmet.

The Samuels (Don is a criminal defense attorney, Melissa a writer) had four children, and their oldest of four Molly was heading off to college, when Melissa began to think what life would be like when they weren't bringing cupcakes, providing emergency phone numbers, or giving standing ovations at the school play.

The introduction to the book is hilarious, with Greene recounting her son answering the telephone and yelling "Daddy, it's for you! I think it's a criminal!" Another funny anecdote concerns Greene "helping too much with homework", and groaning "when the teacher's memo (for the science fair project) comes home, glancing at my calendar to see when I'll have time to get it done." When her sixth-grade son's friend calls late at night, she tells him "Lee's asleep. But what did you get for "How does Montesquieu show that self-interest can overawe justice in human affairs?" Lee came home a few days later and informed his mother that she got a 74 on that homework.

After having a miscarriage, adoption is discussed. Greene gets on her computer and finds several adoption websites where you can see photos of children available for adoption.
"Some adoption agencies offered "delivery." You could adopt without leaving your desk! "I'd better be careful not to hit accidentally hit Send," I told Donny. "We could open the door one day and find some little kid standing there with a suitcase."
While Greene writes with warm humor, she also writes movingly of her travels first to Bulgaria and later to Ethiopia to bring home two children. She is honest about the challenges faced bringing into their family children who didn't speak English.

She inspired her oldest son Lee, and he spent one summer volunteering in the same orphanage from where they got Helen. That chapter of the book was so lovely, this bright, caring young man sharing his talents and time with these kids who adored him. Greene was a little too inspiring though, and Lee called home and asked his parents to take in two older boys who had no one else, and whose chances for adoption were small.

The Samuels are a normal family; they love, they laugh, the fight. They went through a particularly bumpy time for awhile when two of the teenage boys were literally fighting and it affected the entire family.

Greene is a wonderful writer: honest, empathetic and funny. I fell in love with the Samuel family, no more so than when one of their biological children bemoaned the fact that if they adopted two more Ethiopians he would move farther down the list as fastest runner in the family.

This is a beautiful book, a testament to the strength of a loving family, with all the laughs and frustrations that being part of that family entails.

rating 4 of 5

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