“Place of Peace and Crickets,” by Tricia Booker

Tricia Booker

Reviewed by Donna Meredith

In Tricia Booker’s engaging memoir, Place of Peace and Crickets, readers meet a family with enormous heart—and an equally large dose of heartache. The story opens with Booker deciding to start a garden, but soon her plants droop. As they struggle to survive, she whispers to them that she won’t let them die. This anecdote serves as an analogy for the children she and husband Bob adopt and nurture.

From the first pages, it becomes clear that the story is guided by an expert writer, employing the best of creative nonfiction techniques. Tricia Booker dives into the past using real-time scenes and then shifts to the present, crafting a seamless narrative that delivers a full measure of depth to her people, revealing their flawed yet beautiful humanity.

A delicious sense of humor enlivens the story, beginning with sex education instruction in an all-girls Catholic school, where “Sex invaded our thoughts early due to the determination of the adults to keep it out of our minds.” Sex was part of the religion classes so that students would “learn right away to connect it with sin.” The humor intensifies as a retrospective narrator looks back on her fear of being pregnant even though her first sexual experience might have ended before completion—she isn’t quite sure. Her fear is so great she runs from one doctor’s office to another seeking help, finally resulting in a fainting spell in the last doctor’s office. Humor continues to provide comic relief as the story grows more serious, and at times heart-wrenching.

At 30, Tricia marries Bob, a fellow journalist. Initially, they fulfill their need to nurture by getting a dog. A freelancer, she becomes a stay-at-home dog mom, worrying her vet with endless questions and concerns. Next they try to have kids. When it doesn’t happen naturally, they try every fertility trick up a doctor’s lab coat sleeves. She wonders if all her trouble getting pregnant, a “painful journey filled with needles and drugs and artificial insemination,” is penance for her early wild days. After six attempts at in-vitro, she becomes discouraged at their “ridiculous damn quest.” She begins to think of life without kids, decides there is “no reason for infertility to define [her].” But when Bob asks her to consider adoption, she realizes they have a lot to offer a child: “food, shelter, security—and more importantly, lots of love, attention, and family.”

And so the arduous process of adoption begins. By now, the reader has seen how nurturing Booker was with plants and a dog. It comes as no surprise that she is obsessed by this child she hasn’t met. The outpouring of love for the infant girl from Vietnam—Scout, they will call her—begins long before they bring the child home. Internal musings add depth and humor. A friend tells Booker she is lucky she “won’t have to deal with the first few months of a baby’s life.” Booker smiles, “while silently stabbing her eyes out.”  Of course Booker can’t wait to wrap her arms around her baby. Fortunately, Vietnamese orphanages use nannies to cuddle the babies. Their care starts the children off on the right foot.

Scout turns out to be a perfect baby, well-behaved and adorable. So adorable they begin to think of adopting another child. This time it’s Nico, a boy from Guatemala, a different child altogether. In Nico’s Guatemalan orphanage, babies received no human interaction or cuddling. Soon, the couple begins adoption procedures to acquire a third child, a girl, Neale, also from Guatemala. Neale is fragile, nearly dying from inattention. “Bureaucratic spaghetti” prevents them from a quick adoption, but clearly the baby will die if they leave her alone. Even the doctor says so. After a long struggle, they finally bring her home.

Nico’s care dominates most of the memoir, just as his difficulties dominate their family life. He suffers from that early abandonment and inattention. His behavior veers from horrid and violent to regretful and loving. He punches his mother, screams that he hates her, then wails and tells her how much he loves her. They visit various doctors and try everything from gluten free diets to discipline to art therapy. They get a therapy dog, but Buddy calms Booker more than Nico, who can’t control his raging emotions. Booker admits, “I wanted so badly to give him what he needed. But I had no earthly idea what that was.” All she can do is assure Nico they will always love him, that somehow they will “figure this out.”

The title comes from a moment when you glimpse the precious child hiding beneath those violent episodes. Three-year-old Nico asks his mother if she would like to visit “The Beautiful Place of Peace and Crickets.” She follows him onto their back deck to witness an imaginative performance. In yellow shark pajamas and his sister’s sparkly high heels, he clomps around, first swinging a tattered  kite, next tossing a Frisbee and an angle ruler about, and then dropping a Mega Lego at her feet. Finally he sweeps a broom back and forth across the deck. And that’s it, he says, leaving her alone with the music of crickets to marvel at this “complicated, mysterious boy.” The peace doesn’t last: “The next night, he used a sword to punch a hole in the wall while screaming how much he hated [her].”

Readers figure out that Booker is developing a drinking problem before it dawns on her. The realization comes when severe bronchitis sends her to bed for a month and the very idea of alcohol sickens her. With a sore throat, she can’t yell. Her calm demeanor transfers to the kids: “Not drinking was making me a better mom. It was a predictable, shocking, life-altering concept, and one I should have known.” Other changes improve their lives as well. They simplify their lives and concentrate on what really matters.

By the memoir’s end, Nico begins to understand that his attachment disorder is not his fault, that it’s like any other medical condition like diabetes or depression. As Nico begins to cope with “his own emotion,” Bookers admits, “had he received early admission into Harvard, [she] wouldn’t have been more proud.”

This memoir begins with an epigraph from Maya Angelou: “In the flush of love’s light, we dare be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are, and will ever be. Yet it is only love with sets us free.” It is the perfect epigraph for this story of two people brave enough to adopt three children, quite possibly even saving their lives. The decision brings enormous heartache, but also enriches their lives in countless ways. Love does set them free to pursue the things that really count, that make any life worthwhile.

Tricia Booker is an award-winning journalist and neurotic writer of creative nonfiction. She lives in Ponte Vedra, Florida with her husband, two daughters, one son and a dog. She has written for many publications including Notre Dame Magazine, Folio Weekly, Minnesota’s Law & Politics and the Vero Beach Press-Journal. She has taught creative writing to middle schoolers and inmates and journalism to college students. She’s currently a boxing instructor, part-time college professor and dedicated domestic engineer.

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