Ask any adoptive parent, and they will tell you that discussing adoption with their children doesn’t happen in merely one, full-length conversation that’s planned in advance, and then executed and crossed off a list. Rather, it’s a lifelong dialog that begins from the moment parents adopt a child, and continues through a series of spontaneous questions and answers.
Some adoptive parents, like Wallingford neighbor Lauren Goldman Marshall, create picture books for their young children to help explain how they became a forever family. What started out as a gift for her daughter Abby, became a delightful book that her older daughter, Hannah, illustrated and Lauren had published so that other families can use the story as a way to encourage that ongoing dialog.
I sat down with Lauren last week at the Kuan Yin Tea House on 45th to talk about her book, “My Beautiful Bow”, and how it came to be. Though this is her first children’s book, Lauren has written several plays including the long-running Crepe de Paris revue, “Waiter, There’s a Slug in My Latte” and several educational productions like “Rivercide, P.I.”, and “Whadda ‘Bout My legal Rights?” She also created a contemporary adaptation of Moliere’s “The Misanthrope”, replacing the two main characters, Alceste and Célimène, with Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, for which she earned the Portland Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Production of the Season.
Along with her theater background, she’s a mom of two daughters – her biological daughter Hannah, age 9, and Abby, age 5, who Lauren and her husband adopted from China in 2005, when she was 11-1/2 months old. When Abby was 2-1/2 years-old, an interesting conversation happened one morning at the breakfast table, which became the inspiration behind Lauren’s book. I asked Lauren to describe that conversation to me:
LM: In the book, she (Abby) sits at the breakfast table, and they’re talking about hiccuping, and the mom says to the biological daughter, ‘oh, you used to hiccup a lot when you were in my belly,’ and then Abby says, ‘Mommy when I was in your belly did I hiccup a lot too?’ And you know, it wasn’t like the adoption was a surprise, there was never a moment of revelation, we talked about it as a matter of fact from day one. But I think there is a moment of understanding for a child and that, for her, was the moment of understanding, or at least beginning to understand, when I explained that she wasn’t in my belly and there was this person called her birth mother. And so it was basically that conversation that I thought I could make a story.
MS: So you initially created this story as a gift for Abby.
LM: Actually, it was going to be a gift for her third birthday and I wasn’t thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to write a book to publish’, I just did it for her. And I did it because I felt there was a need. There weren’t any adoption books that really talked about the birth mother very much, especially for international adoption. Sometimes domestic adoption is open and the birth mother is a little more acknowledged; but in international adoption, you don’t know anything about the birth parents, and so the focus of the book is sort of the ‘gotcha moment’, which is wonderful.
MS: Your older daughter, Hannah, helped with the drawings.
LM: Hannah was six at the time and she loves to draw. She has Asperger Sydrome, though very mild. But people with Asperger Syndrome are gifted in one area and drawing is really her thing. And she bonded really well with her sister, but I also thought it would be good for her to kind of experience completing something. And it was a real collaboration; it was really neat. She got into it and she worked hard at it. I would lay out the text on the page, like a book, so she could draw.
MS: And how did Abby respond when she received it?
LM: Abby really liked it, and it was really helpful for her. The metaphor for the bow is that you have two red ribbons that connect people who love each other. The story uses parallel construction (your birth mother carried you in her belly, I carried you on my hip;) At the end of the story, the mom tells her the metaphor of the red ribbon and when you tie the two together, it makes a bow. The one ribbon is her birth mother and the other ribbon is her forever mommy. I think Abby uses this metaphor, you know, and it really resonated for her. She really started going back to it more when she was around four and started to ask more questions. Now and then she’ll say something like ‘what time is it in China?’ So she kind of is aware that there’s this person there in China.
The narrative, along with the clever, wonderfully drawn pictures makes for a heartwarming story that resonates for adoptive families. But don’t just take it from me. I gave the book to Little Wally Dude who, like his little sister, was adopted from Ukraine. Little Wally Dude gave the book two thumbs up and said, “This is my kind of story!”
Lauren will read from “My Beautiful Bow” on Wednesday night (9/22) at Secret Garden Books in Ballard, 2214 NE Market Street, Seattle, WA 98107. (206) 789-5006. Books will be available for purchase, or you can buy a copy through Amazon.