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No Biking in the House Without a Helmet

As her children grow, author Melissa Fay Greene decides to extend parenthood by adopting five more.

By Terry Hong / May 5, 2011

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet By Melissa Fay Greene Farrar, Straus and Giroux $26

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You just know that a book’s going to be good if you’ve already guffawed and the type has started to blur (even though you’re trying not to get overly emotional) when you’ve barely even finished the introduction. Welcome to two-time National Book Award finalist Melissa Fay Greene’s latest title, No Biking in the House Without a Helmet.

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The premise, so understated, is mind-boggling: “This book is one woman’s musings on the adventures of life with one man and many children.” That one man is hubby Don Samuel, who preferred to put the children to bed practicing his closing arguments – as a criminal defense attorney, he spends his days with some of the seedier members of society – over reading the predictable “Berenstain Bears” stories.

As for those “many children,” four are of the “homemade” variety (with birth years ranging from 1981 to 1992), while five more are “foreign-born” and arrived school-aged over the course of another decade, up to the arrival of the last two in 2007. You can do the math: It’s 2011, which means that Greene and Samuel are entering their fourth decade of parenting.

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As the first four – Molly, Seth, Lee, and Lily – grew, as children inevitably do, Greene and Samuel, who so loved “the cumbersome richness of life, with children underfoot,” wanted nothing more than for the good times to continue. So, writes Greene, “When the clock started to run down on the home team, we brought in ringers. We figured out how to stay in the game.”

At 42, Greene made her “first-ever appointment with a psychologist” to help her decide whether to have another child. She concluded, without much input from the shrink who “wanted to talk about every sort of unrelated thing,” that the final answer was no.

Then, when Greene was 45, a drugstore kit confirmed that she was pregnant. But she lost the pregnancy and was “overcome with grief and remorse.”

Eventually, at her hubby’s suggestion, she “typed the word ‘adoption’ [into her computer] ... stopped grieving and leaned forward, beguiled.”

Given her journalist’s background, Greene first pitched an article to The New Yorker about medical issues related to adoption; she “did not conceal [her] personal interest in the story.” That research led Greene to Bulgaria in 1999 where she found the Greene/Samuels’ fifth child, originally called Christian: “not the perfect moniker for a nice Jewish boy,” the older kids humorously noted, and then renamed him Jesse. Jesse is ethnically Romany; the Romany are also known as Gypsies because (not unlike the way that native Americans came to be erroneously called “Indians”) the Romany were thought to have originated in Egypt when in fact they emigrated from northwest India a thousand years ago.

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