No Biking in the House Without a Helmet

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet, Melissa Fay Greene's new book about life with her nine children—four biological, five adopted—is a more revealing, richer book than its cutesy-parenting title might lead you to expect. In it, Greene, a two-time National Book Award finalist, recounts with warmth and humor how she and her criminal defense attorney husband, Donny, came to adopt first a 4-year-old Romani boy from an orphanage in Bulgaria, and then a daughter and three sons from Ethiopia, absorbing each into their upper-middle-class, Jewish, Atlanta home.


"This book is the story of the creation of a family," she writes. "It began in the usual way: a woman, a man, some babies. But then it took off in a modern direction, roping in a few older children from distant countries."


No Biking is at its best when it takes us to faraway lands: the Bulgarian apartment where Greene spends her first night with her son, Jesse; the toyless (but not joyless) orphanages in Addis Ababa where, over several visits, the family meets the four Ethiopian children who eventually join their ranks. But Greene is equally adept at navigating the world within—within her lively home, her diverse family, and her own complicated emotions.


She reveals that family bonds may be formed not only at the moment of birth, but also at the moment when a mother and son sit together on a linoleum floor, playing with LEGOs; or as two close sisters vet their mother's outfit before she leaves the house; or as brothers take the heat for one another after a misdeed; or as we parents find ourselves adding a new entry onto our list of "Things You Never Thought You'd Hear Yourself Say as a Parent." Things like "No biking in the house without a helmet!" Which is maybe not such a bad name for a book after all.

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