Knight in Sheining Armour, First published in The Berkshire Record May 10th 2012

I moved to Great Barrington recently and was told by my insurance company that I have to get a Massachussetts license because my current license is British.

Last time I took driving lessons I was nineteen and living in England. My English instructor didn’t say a word when I did something right. When I did something wrong, he went on and on and on about my mistakes. As Henry Ford put it, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” I became more nervous every time I took a driving lesson. My instructor told me I’d probably fail my test. So the first time, I did.

Flip forward to last month. I’ve been driving on both sides of the Atlantic for twenty years, but schedule two lessons with Dave’s driving school in Great Barrington incase I’ve run into any bad habits. Half my life is spent driving my kids around. If I don’t pass my test, we’ll have to move. And we don’t want to move. We feel at home here.

My Dave’s driving school instructor teaches me how to parallel park so I’m an inch away from the curb – he lived in New York – if you don’t park that close in New York you lose your wing mirror. “Good,” he says. “Very nice,” he says. “You’re an alert, safe driver. You’ll do fine.”

On the day of my test, I arrive at the Town Hall twenty minutes early to make sure I’m there on time. When I get there I learn – to my dismay – that I need to have a real live human being, other than the driving test examiner, sitting at the back of the car during my test. It’s 10.40. The test takes place at 11.00.

I don’t know very many people in Great Barrington yet, and the two I feel I can ask aren’t home, so I run into the camera shop on Railroad street. The sweet guy with the beard told me he’d help me move into the office where I write, may be I can ask him?

“I would,” he says, meaning it, “but I’m on my own here and I can’t leave the store.” I pop into Tune Street – another chap with a beard says he can’t do it for the same reason, but I should go and ask in Fuel.

The coffee shop is packed. I hate to impose on anyone – but my family’s future is at stake. “Excuse me,” I say to a room full of strangers, “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but I need someone with a driving license to sit in the back of the car when I take my test. In – God is that the time? – ten minutes.” No one hears me.

Then I notice a chap who looks like a young Groucho Marx working hard at his computer in the corner. It’s Bill Shein who I met for a nanosecond three months earlier. I remember he’s a former comedian, like me. Maybe the fact that we’ve both told jokes to drunk people in night clubs will help.

The English part of me dares not ask him– he’s busy, it’s an imposition, it’s kind of rude, he’s running for congress for God’s sake. Then my inner American explains the situation and to my astonishment Bill Shein says, “No problem.”

“Can you do this without cracking any jokes?” I say as we head out of Fuel. “If you start, you’ll set me off, and then I’ll laugh during the test and the examiner will think I’m taking the piss and I’ll be doomed.”“Don’t worry,” he says.

He follows me to the Town Hall as if he does this sort of thing every day, hands his license to the examiner and somehow manages to peel himself into the back of my Subaru – he’s a tall guy, it’s not easy.

“Could you clean off the seat please?” the examiner says to me from outside the car. Her name is Trish. “Sorry,” I say, nervous as hell.

I pass the banana, the jar of peanut butter and my son’s sock back to Bill, who takes them wordlessly.

“Start up the car,” Trish says. “Parallel park. Do a three point turn.” I follow her instructions and less than five minutes later we’re headed back to the Town Hall. My heart sinks. I must have failed. She didn’t even ask me to drive in reverse, which, fyi, is something I’m particularly good at.

“I’m satisfied,” the Trish says. “Your application for a driving license is approved.”

I’ve passed! I love Trish. I love Great Barrington. I love Bill Shein.

Bill gets out of my car.

“Thank you,” I say, shaking Bill’s hand. “You really didn’t have to do that. Thank you.”

I’m an American citizen. I can vote here. And I will.

A thought on April 28th

It’s my birthday. I love getting older. It happens every year. As time passes, I find myself apologizing less and less for spending this precious time on earth the way I want to spend it, with the work and the people I feel drawn to connect with. For me, that’s the big gift that comes with getting older. Freedom from the tyranny of the ‘shoulds.’

“The Key To Happiness Is Connection”

I heard Ned Hallowell talk about the key to raising happy children last night. He talked about connecting with your kids – playing with them, spending time doing fun things and helping them connect with community, with their school, with things they love to do, with who they are.

If kids feel connected, they’ll grow up to be happy. It’s kids who feel disconnected who can have a hard time. Take a look at Columbine.

It made me think about adopted kids – I do quite frequently, as I used to be one. I had a loving adoptive family, for sure. But I did spend a lot of my childhood feeling disconnected from the world around me. I just assumed that feeling that way was a part of being human.

Now I don’t. Why? Because I have children of my own. Because I have found work and a community I feel at home in. Because, unlike many adopted people, I was able to find my birth parents and connect with the people I came from, which helped me understand and value the impulsive, creative, unpredictable American nature I was born with – that was – and is – so very different from that of the ordered British family that raised me.

People ask me why I feel so strongly that we should do everything we can to change the laws that still prevent adopted people and people conceived through anonymous sperm and egg donation from knowing the truth about their origins in most of the United States.

Ned Halliwell put his finger on it last night. Connection is the key to happiness. And he’s a Harvard Psycologist, the country’s leading expert in ADD and a really famous writer. So he should know.

Do I think adopted people or people conceived anonymously need to be able to connect with their birth families in order to be happy? No. But being surrounded by at least some people who ‘get’ the essence of who you are, connecting in some way with the place you came from, finding the things you naturally truly love to do – which are not necessarily the things your adoptive parents love to do – these kinds of connections can make all the difference.  That’s what I think – today, anyway. What about you?

Adopting America – overheard conversation

I’m alone at the cinema waiting for the movie to start, half way through my first box of Raisinets when I hear the following conversation in the row behind me. .

Woman One: “You’re a saint, Sherry. Adopting that little girl no one else wanted. I am just so proud of you!”

Woman Two: “We’d have preferred an infant, but adoption’s so hard these days, especially when you’re older.”

The sound of popcorn munching.

Woman Two: “Just think what kind of a life she’d be facing if you hadn’t showed up! You’re a saint, Sherry!”

“Excuse me,” I say, turning towards them, “I’m sorry to interrupt you. I was adopted.”

They’re smiling at me. There’s nothing like an English accent at times like these.

“Really?”

“Yes. And isn’t it true that you are adopting a child because you couldn’t have children of your own and wanted a child very much?”

“Yes,” says Woman Two.

“Then you’re not adopting because you’re a saint, are you?”

“I suppose not.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, honestly I don’t, but I just think people should be honest about what they’re doing, that’s all. Raisinet anyone?”

You know your a British ex-pat if . . .

…coming from a country with free health care, you’re shocked by the cost of American health insurance, and are forever trying to explain that no it is not true that the only reason the Brits can afford a National health service is because the waiting times are so long most people die before getting to see the doctor.

Adopting America – overheard conversation

I’m alone at the cinema waiting for the movie to start, half way through my first box of Raisinets when I hear the following conversation in the row behind me. .

Woman One: “You’re a saint, Sherry. Adopting that little girl no one else wanted. I am just so proud of you!”

Woman Two: “We’d have preferred an infant, but adoption’s so hard these days, especially when you’re older.”

The sound of popcorn munching.

Woman Two: “Just think what kind of a life she’d be facing if you hadn’t showed up! You’re a saint, Sherry!”

“Excuse me,” I say, turning towards them, “I’m sorry to interrupt you. I was adopted.”

They’re smiling at me. There’s nothing like an English accent at times like these.

“Really?”

“Yes. And isn’t it true that you are adopting a child because you couldn’t have children of your own and wanted a child very much?”

“Yes,” says Woman Two.

“Then you’re not adopting because you’re a saint, are you?”

“I suppose not.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, honestly I don’t, but I just think people should be honest about what they’re doing, that’s all. Raisinet anyone?”

“If you could give one piece of advice to an adoptive parent, what would it be?”

Yesterday I woke up  hungry and late. My husband was home, the kids had no interest in going out – it was, literally, freezing, and so I decided to head off to Kripalu – a yoga/meditation center ten minutes from where I live. Why? Because they have a marvelous lunch.

I sat down at the only empty table, but within a minute was joined by two women. We started talking. One of the women lived in Illinois and had left corporate America to become a psycologist. The other was a teacher from Connecticut.

“Why are you at Kripalu?” the psycologist asks.

“I’m a writer. I recently finished the first draft of my new book and am awaiting feedback. It’s an anxious time, so I am treating myself to lunch.”

“Have you written anything we might heard of?”

“My first book’s called The English American. It’s about an adopted English woman who finds her birth parents in the United States.”

I waited one second and – yes – there it was. “Oh,” said the teacher, “I’m about to adopt three siblings.”

This happens all the time. Almost everyone I meet knows an adoptee or a birth mother or is thinking about adopting a child – or their sister or their cousin is.

“If you could give one piece of advice to an adoptive parents what would it be?” the woman asked. Continue reading

Kin

You know when you find your kin. Sometimes kin is related to you by blood, sometimes not. Sometimes you recognize your kin in the smile or words of a stranger. I think adopted people know immediately when we brush against our own kind. It’s a bit like feeling the breath of God – for a second – easing things.

The Singing Author – my very first blog – for Powell’s

As I’ve started to blog it occurs to me that I should post all of them. So here it is. My VERY first blog, written a year or so ago, for Powells.

The Singing Author

When The English American was published in Spring 2008, I was invited to give one of my very first talks at Powell’s, which was the perfect place for me to begin my tour. I felt immediately at home in the wonderful multi-story bookstore that reminded me of Foyles in London, where I used to spend my weekends browsing, long before I ever thought of writing a novel myself. Continue reading

Who am I? It depends on when you ask.

‘To blog or not to blog?’

That is the question I’m pondering as I head out of Bizen – the best Japanese restaurant outside Tokyo – in my home town of Great Barrington, MA. ‘It might be fun,’ I say to myself,  ‘but on the other hand my time is tight.’

With two kids and a husband who can’t take over except at weekends, shouldn’t I devote my writing time to the second draft of my new novel?

The small mountain town in which I live is filled with delightful eccentrics  so I don’t pay much attention to the woman shouting half a block away. Continue reading