We were both watching him unravel slowly on the sidelines. He faced the opposite wall so no one could see. I could feel his body tense from across the court, and feel the tears welling up in his eyes. His worst fear had just come true, he had shot a basket, and scored. As a result the bleachers erupted in cheers. This is what happens when you are six and playing on your first basketball team, for your first game. People cheer. This is painful to my son. Reconciling his love of basketball with his loathing of attention is his challenge. Watching him experience it, and ultimately survive it on his own, is mine.
But unlike Marcel at that moment, I wasn’t alone. Shrek was right next to me watching it unfold, and noticing my body tense with his. “This is incredibly hard for you to watch isn’t it?” Perhaps this seems obvious, but for me to be witnessed in the process by a partner who can take in all these layers of struggle is amazing. It is also hard for me, because I am you may recall a super hero single parent who does perfectly well on her own.
“I can’t go up to him right now can I?” I asked him. “No way, ” he answered without hesitation.
I called Sam over from playing with his friends, and asked him to just check in, by sitting next to Marcel for a moment while his squad was not playing. His little brother was now slouching in the chair and clearly distraught. We were all of five feet away.
“But don’t say anything.”
“Got it,” Sam said, and climbed down the bleachers, and gently sat next to his brother. In seconds Marcel was sitting up strait and talking about who knows what with Sam. Magic.
“That was a great move. You’ll do a beautiful job helping Sam see why he was so important to Marcel at that moment. Good work Mom,” Shrek offered.
Later that night at dinner, Marcel offered gratitude for Sam’s moment of support, “Only you could make me feel better then Sam,” he offered. I found three more ways to reenforce that message to Sam. Shrek joined right in; “I never had a little or big brother to do that, what a gift that must be..”
While this may sound worthy of praise and celebration, Shrek and I have worked so hard to arrive here, and while it is getting easier and more satisfying, finding a co-parenting middle ground has been some of the hardest work I have ever experienced. For example, a few nights before that Sam was bawling because he insisted that he did not need to correct his homework. Shrek insisted he did. Sam sat at the table defeated and beside himself. I was at the counter cleaning up the dishes wanting to swoop in and rescue him for sure.
Then, he looked at me with these huge watery eyes as if to say; “HOW COULD YOU LET THIS MAN DO THIS TO ME? YOU HAVE ABANDONED ME!!!” It was all I could do not to leap across the room, tackle Shrek and yell; “Run!” to Sam. I mean who cares about accuracy? Since when was checking your work that important? Who needs math?” Instead I scrubbed the pan really hard. When I looked over at Shrek imploringly, he said; “I can handle Sam being upset here. Let me deal with it.” At that Sam was done. Exit stage left.
About half an hour later the boys were in bed, peace was restored, and no one was broken in pieces on the floor.
“Do you hate me?” Shrek asked walking quietly up to me.
“No. I think you were right. But it sucked. I felt like I was choosing you over him. I felt like I was letting Sam down.”
Shrek just listened. In the silence nine years of my parenting patterns with Sam rolled over and tried to get back to sleep. What business does he have trying to help me become a better parent? The nerve.
Clearly this year has big designs on Mama C and the Boys. For starters, Shrek and I are getting married this year. This means, among other things that I can no longer say; “We’re planning on getting married sometime next year.” Never has the switch from December to January seemed so significant.
Shrek presented me with a stack of the final old school co-designed and home printed “Save the Date” cards wrapped lovingly in plastic wrap yesterday morning. I’m mailing them out Catherine. I am marrying you. It is happening you know.
It has been a year and half since he proposed.
It has taken us that long to agree on much of anything, let alone a date, a place, and loosely on what such a celebration might actually sort of look like.
OK, the truth is that is has taken me that long to believe that I am really cut out for the long term committed relationship thing. I was just becoming so competent at getting along well with single mother me when he came along. I’m only half kidding. Learning how to be a half way decent (adoptive, transracial, and donor assisted) parent, with a professional life, who managed to practice a little self care, maintain a few friendships, write an occasional poem or blog post, and take care of a hundred year old house was no small potatoes. To do all that and still find myself to be agreeable company at the day’s end was heroic. I was a rather impressive solo act on the dance floor. The music doesn’t just switch from the Flashdance theme song to Louis Armstrong’s ‘Bout Time like that.
It takes time. Time, patience, and perseverance from both of us.
I am slowly realizing just how hard I have been fighting against this for the last two years to be completely honest. Having never experienced a long term committed relationship before (this is the longest relationship I have ever been in) I was, and still am very new to the lexicon of long term love. My dating dictionary was pocket sized, and honestly did not even have a definition for intimacy in it. Or at least one that applied to someone over the age of twenty-five with two kids and a whole lot of Hallmark Movies dictating her idea of the perfect relationship. I sense that I believed on some level that to lean into this relationship, meant that I had to abandon my identity as SUPER SINGLE ME which had come to be the only me I could really count on and trust. It is only in the last few months that I have experienced a merging of the capable, independent, creative, dynamic, relational, multifaceted me, with the partner, co-parent, lover, creative, dynamic relational multifaceted us. Follow me so far? It’s OK if you don’t, because I’m just getting the hang of it too.
Here’s an example: this time last year I had the HARDEST time sharing Shrek with his grown kids. I would act out when he seemed to disappear when they came into town for the holidays. I needed constant reassurance that I was important too. I put on my best bonus mom face when they were here, but then when we were alone instead of celebrating his marvelous love for them, and them for him, and all the ways everyone was thriving I would either pout, withdraw, or argue some minutia. It was as if I was always looking for evidence that he wasn’t REALLY in this with me and my kids…
Now forward a year, and you would see a completely different emotional and relational landscape. The arrival of his kids in town was exciting for both of us. It meant more connection for me and my kids, and a sense of ease and balance for Shrek for the brief time he had with them. As his relationship with each one is it’s own entity it meant seeing different sides of him too. My independent self enjoyed the alone time I had with my two when he was off with one or two of his five. My relational self loved planning meals, shopping for the perfect bonus kid gifts, and showing up for Shrek in a way that made him feel supported and loved. In turn he was of course very loving and affectionate with me while they were here and in a super happy mood for most of the last two weeks. No wonder he was all hearts and twinkles when he handed me those “Save the Date” cards.
And, all this time I really thought that Shrek was the difficult one. Huh.
Last night Shrek and I exhaled. We even shared a sense of a semi accomplishment of sorts: a very low key, and mostly uneventful blended family holiday week. With seven kids between us there is all sorts of potential for eventful… Low key may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me these days it is a prize. It is in the calm that I find connection, and the chance to notice more of what we are capable of individually and collectively.
The last few months have been remarkable, but also very challenging and demanding. I used to find such solace writing about the hard stuff here. Then as I deepened with Shrek, my hard, was often our hard, or in part because of each other hard. This makes blogging about it complicated. SInce the hard was itself complicated, the act of writing about it became less of a way of finding my way out, and more of a way of finding my way deeper in. No thank you.
I even contemplated wrapping up Mama C, considering perhaps that an era had come to an end. Mama C and the Boys is no longer a container for who I am I thought. We are not 3.25, or 3.75, we are for real 4. But, there it is. We are four. With four comes a whole host of new ways to explore, examine, and reflect on it in this venue. Shrek is marrying a writer after all…
So here it goes, an attempt to shift into Mama C and all her boys. A dip into a new realm which looks with consideration and compassion into blended families, choosing life partnership after forty-five, shifting from single parenting to co-parenting, aging, adoption and transracial just about everything for starters. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll do my best to share some of my and our hard, and some of the ah-has here, in my singular voice that resonates with reflection, vulnerability, insight and humor. Peace.
Last night Sammy sang his heart out with the youth choir pictured above. He has been rehearsing for four months, one night a week at the music department of a local university. He is the youngest member of the choir, that he was asked to audition for. His pride, and joy in himself were something I have never seen sustained like this. Perhaps this is a reflection of getting a little older, and knowing that you really WORKED for it. Maybe it was the bow tie. Or maybe he just knows it feels GREAT to be doing something you love and are good at at the same time. It doesn’t matter why, it just matters that we all were invited to witness it. To creating more moments like these for our children and ourselves as we go!
Marcel has been in rare quotable fashion lately:
Last week, I came back up the stairs from the driveway at 6:55 am, already late for an early appointment. A lab appointment that required a twelve hour fast (read: no coffee) looked at Shrek, and announced with defeat; “My battery is dead, again. Can you please help me?”
Without skipping a beat, Marcel jumps off the couch, throws his arms over his head and in rah-rah fashion and hollers; “Yes! Yes Shrek buddy! This is your time to SHINE!”
You have never seen two people smiling so big, while jumping a battery at 7:00 in the morning.
“Mom do you really think yelling at me to stop yelling is an effective parenting strategy?”
On blended families:
“Well sometimes I find myself shaking, wondering, do I really KNOW Shrek? I mean, how do I know if what I am feeling is what you really are supposed to feel about your dad?”
“The only thing we can ever be perfect at really, is being yourself.”
It was date night extraordinaire. Everyone woke up excited about it. There were no sitters involved, and Shrek and I won’t even see each other for days. Now that I have your attention, I’ll share with you how this harmonic convergence came about, and perhaps inspire you to shake it up a little at your house too?
Date Night 1: Marcel and Sage For Marcel’s birthday, his fairy godmothers (one of my birth coaches and her girlfriend) asked me what he would like. In my continuing quest for simplicity, and less plastic I suggested they offer Marcel a special night out with just them. The plan: dinner out, then bowling (Marcel’s choice) and Marcel’s first sleep over away from Sammy and me ever! We are meeting up for breakfast at their house this morning.
He almost NEVER gets one on one time with my friends, while Sammy enjoyed such things often before and after Marcel was born. The experience of being seen, treasured, and adored by a loving member of our extended (biological or chosen) family is always memorable. I still hold my walks, dinners, and visits alone with my “Uncle” Richard (the first such weekend alone was for my twelfth birthday in his NYC apartment-incredible) as some of the most cherished memories of my life.
At those moments I was not a daughter, meeting or not meeting parental expectations, instead I was Kate, and she was magnificent. Because that is always how Richard made me feel. He asked the kinds of questions parents would never imagine, like this exchange when I was around eleven that I will never forget; “So you like boys yet? No? Good. Boys your age are not nearly ready for a smart alec like you.” It took me thirty-five more years to realize he was right. Uncle Dick passed shortly Marcel was born, but he remains constant in my musings. I still have his number in my phone. He’d think that is ridiculous. That’s why I can’t delete it.
Date Night #2: Sammy and Mommy. Our date fell in my lap in the form of two great (and free) tickets to see the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. He plays the Ukelele at home, has taken himself busking (with impressive results) and is now in a uke club at his school. Prior to the show he requested sushi at a place in town that includes an acrobatic display of juggling knives and onions drenched in oil that erupt in flames inches from your face.
At one point I said; “crazy to think that without Marcel or Shrek this would be what our life would look like all the time.” We both indulged in that fantasy for a second and our eyes got big. Then Sam said; “Well I really know how much Marcel loves me, and that feels good. He had to come up and give me another hug goodbye. He is mostly a good thing.” I melted, and reminded Sam that we are all mostly a good thing. I shared how much I know Shrek would love the show we are about to see, and yet, I was really happy he was where he was too.
For me the real gift of alone time with Sam, is to realize that it takes a different kind of focus to be on on one. You take the i-phone and the flames away and you have two people who are very different in a zillion ways. Our glue: we made each other a family, and that is something we really know at the core. That is ours forever. The kid is funny, and we really laughed, a lot. After the show, which was wildly entertaining for both of us (talk about arrival) although so starkly white compared to say, BB King the week before, Sam said; “Mom that was cool. Really cool.” Then he just hugged me in the middle of the street. Ka-ching.
Date Night #3: Shrek and the Fellars. Shrek is taking off tonight on a retreat of sorts that involves old friends, new friends, and listening to and making music. He has not had the opportunity to spend extended time with these particular friends probably since before meeting us. I am thrilled for his adventure, and also a little sad that I don’t get to spend all the long weekend lazy easiness with him. But rather than get my pout on and shut down (oh yes I do, and how) I chose a nobler route. I made an explicit ask that we spend some uninterrupted family time with real intention around the “fun” and “together” part from Sunday to Monday. He was all over that. We have a sweet ritual of hiding goofy cards somewhere for the other to find when apart. OK, so sometimes one of us thinks they need to remind the other not to forget this ritual, but hey you get your needs met right? He left before the rest of us, and was slightly giddy.
The text at about midnight saying he began missing me at 6:29 (the minute before he left) was one of those melty moments for me. The texts following telling me how great the gathering already was, and how much music he was playing also thrilled me. We have had some rough patches lately, so a week ago the thought of him leaving was upsetting because I was wondering when we’d have time to land back on solid ground. Solid ground, I am coming to understand is a state of mind. And, one we can share apart as well as together.
All of this reminds me that I have so much healing still to do around being left, and that moments like this do just that: affirm that in his leaving, he is actually closer to me in ways. His connection to me, and to us deepens when he can see his whole self realized in the context of his new family too. Ka-ching. Hopefully for Marcel, his overnight will strengthen a little of his independence and at the same time see how his connection to all of us is internal too. Sam? Well he is snoring on the couch a few feet from me as happy as can be!