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In an excerpt from her new memoir, Yes Please, actress and comedian Amy Poehler talks about elephants, ‘moon hunting,’ parenthood – and her eye-opening 2013 journey to Haiti with the Worldwide Orphans Foundation

Hannah Kasulka

I am a moon junkie. Every time I look at the moon, I feel less alone and less afraid. I tell my boys that moonlight is a magic blanket and the stars above us are campfires set by friendly aliens. I track lunar cycles on my iPhone and take my kids outside at night when a moon is new or full or blue. We call this "moon hunting" and we bring flashlights and moon candy along. The moon candy looks suspiciously like M&M's, but so far neither of my sons has noticed.

On moon-hunting nights, I give them a bath and rub both of my boys down with Aveeno lotion and comb their hair. I spread Aquaphor on my lips and try to kiss them. Sometimes I chase them around until I catch one and throw him on the bed like a bag of laundry. Most times I am too tired. Then we head outside. We wear pyjamas, because going outside at night in your pyjamas feels like breaking out of jail. I watch their little fat feet and their shiny cheeks as they jump into the backseat of the car. These boys, they are delicious. I swear, if I could eat my children, I would. I'd consume them like some beast in a Hieronymus Bosch painting, but in a friendlier, more mom-like way. Their little bodies make me salivate. It takes everything I have not to swallow them whole.

I love my boys so much I fear my heart will explode. I wonder if this love will crack open my chest and split me in half. It is scary, this love.

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I should point out here that I have a picture of them wearing underwear on their heads while simultaneously pooping. Archie is on the toilet and Abel is on a potty and they are facing each other and smiling like crazy people. I plan on using it for blackmail when they are teenagers and won't let me hug them in public any more.

When your children arrive, the best you can hope for is that they break open everything about you. Your mind floods with oxygen. Your heart becomes a room with wide-open windows.

You laugh hard every day. You think about the future and read about global warming. You realize how nice it feels to care about someone else more than yourself. And gradually, through this heart-heavy openness and these fresh eyes, you start to see the world a little more. Maybe you start to care a teeny tiny bit more about what happens to everyone in it. Then, if you're lucky, you meet someone who gently gestures for you to follow her down a path that allows you to feel a little less gross about how many advantages you've had in life. I was lucky. I met Jane. Dr. Jane Aronson founded the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO), which addresses the medical, social and educational needs of children living in orphanages in over 11 countries.

Even though I'm bossy, I like being told what to do by people who are smarter and more interesting than me. Jane asked me to host her next event. She spoke about her travels all over the world. I told her I would love to do that someday and she said, "Okay, then. We will." I hosted an event for her that next year and we became friends. Then she took me to Haiti a year after, as she'd promised.

At the end of 2012, I was in the middle of separating from my husband and preparing to host the Golden Globes for the first time. I felt completely sorry for myself while simultaneously believing I was hot shit. Great things were happening in my career and my personal life had exploded. I was trapped in an awful spiral of insecure narcissism.

I was nervous and excited to go to Haiti with Jane, if only for a change of scenery. And so, I boarded a plane bound for Haiti on New Year's Day 2013.

My first impression was of total chaos. The streets of Port-au-Prince were filled with dust and trash and babies. There was so much to look at. Everyone was busy carrying something.

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I saw Haitian boys with bodies the same sizes as Archie's and Abel's carrying huge jugs of water. In just a few minutes you could tell which kids had parents and which were on their own. I kept trying to connect the small children and the adults they were walking next to. I was looking for comfort. I was uncomfortable. You know that horrible feeling when you lose your kid for a minute in a mall and your heart pounds and your ears fill with blood? It was that feeling. When I drove the streets of Haiti it felt like many of the children I saw were lost and no one was looking for them.

We arrived at an open field filled with young Haitian WWO volunteers. They wore matching shirts and led the kids in what looked like improv games. Some of the boys were playing soccer, and Jane tied her long-sleeved shirt around her waist and joined them.

I realized there was no getting out of physical activity, so I sashayed over to the small amplifier and started to DJ. A dance party broke out. The kids laughed at me at first until they realized I am a world-class dancer with moves of steel. Most of these children were used to living in the moment. Thinking about the future was a luxury. They took turns with their paintbrushes. There was no crying about sharing. There was no pushing or saying they were bored. Everyone was used to waiting.

A weird sandstorm kicked up and the dust swirled like a magic trick. We all paused together to watch, and I took a mental picture and time-travelled to the future. I thought about my boys being teenagers and playing soccer and dancing and sharing.

Those kids needed so much holding. Kisses and hugs and clothes and parents. They needed everything. The enormity of what they needed was so intense.

We ended up talking in the street with Jane, and crying. Jane was agitated and passionate. She talked about all the work left to do and all the small changes that can improve children's lives. I was once again moved by her ability to steer into the curve. Jane was a big-wave rider. She didn't make the mistake that most of us make, which is to close our eyes and hope the waves will go away or miss us or hit someone else. She dove in, headfirst.

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Later that night we talked about animals. Wendy, a WWO supervisor, shared a story about how her daughter was caught in a stampede of elephants and lived to tell about it because she ran left instead of right. And because she knew one simple fact: Elephants leave the way they come in. We all agreed that elephants win for coolest animal, and I showed off by reciting my elephant facts. Elephants have long pregnancies and purr like cats to communicate. They cry, pray and laugh. They grieve. They have greeting ceremonies when one of them has been away for a long time.

I thought of this when I got back to my boys, the elephants and the greeting ceremonies. I told them about how one day we might ride an elephant and they climbed on each other to act it out, switching parts halfway through. I gave them a bath and put lotion on their skin. I realized how lucky my life is. And theirs. I lay in bed and thought about time and pain, and how many different people live under the same big, beautiful moon.

Excerpted from Yes Please by Amy Poehler, © 2014. Published by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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