Guest Guru: WeAreGoodkin: A Vision of Family

A Vision of Family

By Jen Gruskoff of
Photos by Laura Crawford

What can be bad about a happy relationship, traveling the globe with rock ‘n’ roll status and a house full of adoring pugs? The answer is, of course, nothing. And that’s pretty much how both Anita and Mark Mothersbaugh saw it. They were a fabulously busy, happy couple that decided that they were going to have a family of pugs to spoil and enjoy life together. For many years, it was perfect; both were busy with their respective careers and passions. Anita, a successful agent for film composers and creator of Vanishing Creatures, an amazing line of chocolates that raise awareness and money for endangered species, and Mark with his music and art. Then, at a charity event, Anita heard about the Lost Girls of China

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“When I had heard about The Lost Girls of China for the first time—these are girls that are given up, abandoned, simply because of their sex, it really struck me.”  [see Lisa Ling’s report from MSNBC on the Lost Girls of China

Anita, who is pretty and petite with a strength and clarity that is at once warm and professional, began to look in to adopting from China. At first more out of curiosity than true intention, but as she got deeper and deeper into it, she became moved by the stories she was hearing. 

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“I heard a twelve year old girl speak about how she came to be adopted. She was probably one of the most poised, well-spoken people I have ever met, and she was just a child. She talked about how she had been through the system, how social welfare put her out to people who abused her, who actually set her on fire, and I’m sitting there listening to her and trying to not act horrified. But what really got to me was when she said, even with all the tragedy her life had, she had always known someone would love her. And that she was a good person.” 

Anita pauses, “What’s wrong with a culture that is throwing away its girls? At that moment I made the decision we were going to adopt.”

Mark joins us with a lovely tray of tea and bagel chips. He has a gentle quality to him, with his trademark coke-bottle glasses and disheveled hair. Together, they have a really nice chemistry, one that creates a sense of balance, a sort of ying/yang. In case you don’t know, Mark is the co-founder of Devo, one of the most famous bands to come out of the 80’s, as well as a talented artist, film and TV composer, and most recently, a recurring character on the hit children’s show, Yo Gabba Gabba

“I really thought I had successfully made it through life without having to deal with kids,” Mark says. “Part of that comes from growing up in a home where I had two brothers and two sisters, and growing up we lived in a two-bedroom house and I had to share a room with my stinky brothers. I just thought, who needs this? That, and the fact that I believe overpopulation is the single biggest problem on this planet. It just didn’t seem like a good idea.”

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The other factor, the ultra modern-style home they were building, perched atop the Hollywood Hills overlooking the city and, on a clear L.A. day, the ocean, was not designed with kids in mind. It was designed for optimal viewing of sunrises, sunsets and city scapes…not for kids! However, even with the sexy curved walls laden with slate and the cool cement interior, the house now feels like a home. There’s something about the combo of scuffling, snorting pugs at your feet and the occasional sighting of colorful toys that can make any place feel cozy. And so, the Mothersbaugh’s have all adapted to “canyon” life with the same lists of pros and cons as other canyon dwellers; great views, fresher air and a connection to nature, and little to no backyard space. We all have to make compromises, right?  

When Anita took the lead and started to investigate adoption, Mark didn’t object too loudly. He could tell this was important to her, so he let her explore it. Plus, since she was focusing on adoption rather than actually having a child, he couldn’t argue the over-population issue. A year into it, after the adoption went through, and they were on their way to pick up their daughter, he confessed to still not really being on board with what was happening, “When we were on the plane going to China, with this group of people we didn’t know, and going to this far off place, I just thought, what is this? It didn’t feel like reality to me, or at least my reality,” he says.

Anita goes on to tell about how strange it was. “It was a surreal experience. When we went to get Margaret, my mother came with us, and we were taken up in this weird, Eraser Head like elevator in this building and when the doors opened there were eight nannies holding eight babies—all in matching pink bunny suits! This is what they think us Westerners will like. It was pretty odd.” 

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As though it wasn’t strange enough, one of the orphanage directors asked them to identify their daughter, who they had only ever seen pictures of (and not in a bunny suit). For a moment, Anita was at a loss, but then her mother found Margaret. “All the babies were all crying except for one, and there she was. When we went over to her, she smiled, and that was it, that was Margaret.”

Mark tells it like this, “When I saw her, and I held her, something happened to me. It was like a whole other side of my brain opened up. And it’s been opened ever since.”

Mai Li Margaret Mothersbaugh is a sweet-faced five-year-old who has a quiet presence much bigger than her size. “She’s from the province of Hunan. It’s said that all the great revolutionaries come from that area…and I’m starting to believe it,” Anita says with a smile. In her pink princess costume with tulle tutu, Margaret’s just about the cutest revolutionary I’ve ever seen!

As soon as Margaret came home, Anita and Mark took to parenting as though it was their calling—and it was. Even though this was not in their plans for the first part of their lives, it’s safe to say that there is no question about what they were meant to do now. It wasn’t long before they were on a plane heading back to China to pick up their second daughter, Hui Hui (pronounced Way Way). Unlike the infant Margaret was when they adopted her, Hui Hui was already five and a half when the Mothersbaughs met her.  

Anita explains what a different experience Hui Hui had. At around a year and a half, she was left in the woods by her birth parents with nothing more than her birth date and the words “can’t see” pinned to her shirt. When she was found, she was totally dehydrated, suffering from malnutrition, was extremely ill with pneumonia and suffering from severe glaucoma. Before they could operate on her eyes, they had to get her strong enough so she could survive surgery. It was an extremely difficult beginning to say the least. And even after Hui Hui was “stable” things did not get much easier for her for a long time. 

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“She had really been bounced in the system,” Anita says. “At one point they had thought they had fostered her out, but they weren’t sure. It was crazy how she had just gotten so overlooked it was like she didn’t exist. We had to get the police involved just to locate her and when we did, she was hysterical. I think she had no idea what was going on. I had brought Margaret with me, and my nephew, who was around the same age as Hui Hui, and when she met us all, she calmed down pretty quickly. I like to think she felt safe.”

Anita knows that one day, she will have a conversation with Hui Hui about what went on during that time, but it has not happened yet. Only in little bits and pieces. She lets Hui Hui bring things up as she feels ready to, “it’s hard to see what she’s processed yet, but I think she knows she can talk to us when she needs to. She is doing really well.”

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One of the things that Mark likes to do with both of the children is to draw. If you are reading this and have ever watched Yo Gaba Gaba, you will be familiar with his ability to create characters that literally come to life. Drawing is something he has done since he was a child. As someone who was considered legally blind before he got his glasses at the age of seven, Mark used drawing as a way to escape into childhood fantasy. He feels it is a great tool to help kids express themselves, go off into fantasy, and just have fun. Hui Hui has a connection and love of drawing (not to mention a real knack for it) that gives Mark and his eldest daughter an unspeakable connection. One can only imagine how this must comfort Hui Hui. It sort of feels like a perfect coincidence that she too suffered such difficulties with her vision and that they can meet quite peacefully on a blank, open page.   

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For more information about China’s one child policy:
One Child Policy

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