Posted by: Kristin W | June 26, 2011

On the Nightstand – No Biking In The House Without a Helmet

If you are adopting from Ethiopia, Melissa Fay Greene is probably a well-known name.  Reading one of her earlier books, “There is No Me Without You” sealed our decision to adopt from Ethiopia.  When I learned that she had a new book that chronicles her family’s string of adoptions, I knew I had to read it.

What It’s About:  This book is an autobiographical account of how the Greene family ended up with nine kids: four biological, one from Bulgaria, and four from Ethiopia.  It is a great account of the decision-making process that led to their family, as well as how each child adjusted and adapted to life in Atlanta.  It does share both the joy and the pain of adding to the family, and does so with some honest truth.

What You Need to Know:  The books is great.  It starts with the family’s decision to adopt, and pouring through what we would now refer to as “waiting child” listings.  I felt myself nodding in agreement as she described how children are defined in a few short lines, like an ad from the SkyMall catalog that promises something great, without really saying anything at all.  As a journalist, Melissa wrote an article on the mega-families (those people who have adopted huge numbers of children), and wondered where the line was between having a large family and running a group home.  (One of the mega-family moms she interviewed had two mottos: 1.  Better Dead Than Camping and 2. If It Will Fit In An Aquarium, You Can Have It.)

She does make a good case for why adoption is not a good response to orphan crisis:

“Is adoption a good response to the humanitarian crisis?  It’s not.  Adopters cannot be among the first responders to hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, wars or pandemics, because children who appear to be orphaned might still have living relatives.  Children should be sustained and protected as close to home as possible, giving their families a chance to locate them.  Only after a country has had a chance to sort out which children are true orphans can adoptive parents be sought.  In any case, a little person is not a philanthropic project.  Adults with the commendable urge to do good can join or support frontline lifesaving organizations.  A humanitarian urge – when overlaid upon the lifetime commitment of raising a child, especially a traumatized child – fades fast, often by the fifth tantrum.”

She describes a tantrum that her daughter from Ethiopia had after arriving home.  She wanted a Coke, and when told no, went ballistic.  She mentions a theory that a horse, released into a new meadow, will run and run to the point of exhaustion, until it discovers the fences, after which it will calm down and graze.  And she points out that with her daughter, saying no to the Coke was the fence.  And, although it was a doozy, that was the only tantrum they ever had with her.  Wow.

She also talks about some tough times with her two sons, both of who were adopted from Ethiopia at different times, but who are the same age.  Twinning, as it is called in adoption, is frowned upon by many agencies, and after reading her account of the impact it had on their family, I can see why.  Eventually, the story has a happy ending, but it sounds like a draining time trying to get there.

Would I Recommend It:  Absolutely.  This was a great read.  I feel like I got a glimpse into the life of a real, honest adoptive parent.  Her writing style is easy to read.  There is great humor thrown in with serious issues.  For those adopting from Ethiopia, you will hang on every word about her in-country experiences (which, I will say are very different than what is currently the norm with most agencies).  Her descriptions of the people and the place are beautiful.  There are some things that I didn’t really want to know about her family – like the time they ate at an Ethiopian restaurant and everyone was passing gas and burping on the way home – but overall, I think it was good at being informative without giving away too much of their private lives.  If you like reading blogs about people’s day-to-day experiences, then you will love this summary of how the Greene family came to exist.



  1. Thanks, Kristin! This is on my “saved” list on Amazon, but now I think I’ll go ahead and order it.

  2. I couldn’t agree more! I read this book during our first trip and was totally absorbed. I too was really surprised by the in country experiences she had…giving $ to the grandmother, staying with her potential kids, etc.!! It’s completely different now! I think her writing style is great but the chapters were a bit all over the place. But in all a must read for those adopting from Eth.

    • Yes, I too, was frustrated that she was telling the story in a linear fashion, and then suddenly we went back in time. Seemed a little out of order. I thought the grandmother’s chickens were too funny!

  3. On my nightstand as well! Can’t wait to actually open it!

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