Once upon a time in a land far, far away (okay, maybe not that long ago or that far away), I read a book by Melissa Fay Greene called There Is No Me Without You, which was a very well-written and enlightening read about the AIDS crisis in Ethiopia and the many children left orphaned as a result. I really appreciated Greene's book which centered on a courageous Ethiopian woman doing everything in her power to rescue her country's AIDS orphans. I guess it shouldn't be terribly surprising to me that a woman who wrote such a book might have adopted some of these same children, but as it so happens, she did. When I spotted No Biking in the House Without a Helmet about Greene's adventures raising nine kids, some biological, some adopted, for review, I jumped at the chance. There Is No Me Without You was good, but No Biking in the House Without a Helmet with its deeply personal story has easily eclipsed it as my favorite of Greene's work.
When Melissa Fay Greene was in her mid-forties and beginning to see the edges of the empty nest on her horizon, she wondered if she could squeeze one more child in before her child-bearing years were officially over. She and her criminal defense attorney husband, Donny, both felt like they weren't quite ready to give up the joys of parenting. As it turns out, while her child-bearing years were, in fact, over, her parenting years had only just begun. After much internet research and some freelance writing about the work of international adoption doctors, Melissa traveled to Bulgaria to meet the boy who would be her first adopted son, Jesse. But the couple didn't stop there, when her heart and her writing took her to Africa where she saw the far-reaching effects of the HIV/AIDS crisis leaving unfathomable numbers of both healthy and well children orphaned, Greene knew she and her family could make even more space for children who had no place to go.
No Biking in the House Without a Helmet is jam packed with the trials of trying to create a family from children from around the globe, but it's packed with enough heart and humor that more than make up for the hardships. Greene balances her funniest family anecdotes with her more serious struggles to make her adopted children feel loved and appreciated without letting her biological children fall by the wayside as well as her fierce determination that her adopted children not lose touch with their original countries and cultures even as they live their new lives in the U.S. With a family so large and diverse, Greene often worries that she has traded in a family for just another group home where there's not quite enough love to go around, and not enough unity to constitute a family, but No Biking is proof-positive that, ultimately, those worries are unfounded.
Greene tells her story with honesty and manages to capture the individuality of each of her children and how they come together as a family all without ever succombing to cheesiness. She captures the joy of a child at being welcomed into a new family but never oversimplifies the challenges of creating a new life for a child that once had a family or spent their entire childhood in an institution. By the end of the book, I was totally captured by this woman and her family who had the courage, determination, and more than enough love to spare to open their hearts and homes to children in need from across the globe and how even though it wasn't always easy, with love and a very good sense of humor they make their decidedly unique family work.
(Many thanks to Media Connect for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)