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Young, Black and Powerful

February 11, 2015
Yes you are

Yes you are

The shirt arrived.
He wears it well.
He knows that he is Black,
he knows that he is powerful.

But so so eager to sprint past
the young part most days.
It’s in his walk,
more like his saunter.

It’s in his raised eyebrows,
and in the seconds that now
hold a new heft,
as he holds my gaze.

The shirt arrived.
He wears it well.
His body filling more than just the space
of a young man’s form.

Filling out the promise
his birth presented to me ten years ago.
An exclamation point.
There is no period here.

Young, Black and Powerful.
Determined, deep, and fierce.
Perceptive, charming, and guarded.
A young man has arrived,

taking the place of my young son.

 

 

MLK Day: An opportunity to start our own Courageous Conversations

January 19, 2015
noticing the dream in the Trader Joe's

Noticing the dream in the grocery store

Yesterday Sammy and I were at the grocery store, when we had the good fortune to be introduced to this little beauty. Her name is Aggie.  She is brown, and her doting but shy four year old white mama was clearly pleased by the attention her little baby girl garnered when we halted our cart and immediately started gushing.  “You have the most beautiful little baby girl,” I said kneeling down in front of her kid sized cart. Her mother immediately accepted the invitation to celebrate with us, and told us that this was her daughter’s most beloved doll, and that her name was Aggie. I wasted no time expressing my joy that Dr. King’s dream was alive and well here in Trader Joe’s and that she made my day, no my week, because she knows how important it is to love people who don’t look like us too.

Sammy tolerated the entire interaction, as this is what he is used to by now. Mommy sees a race positive potential conversation with a stranger and she grabs it.

In our family “MLK Day” has come to mean: a three day weekend that is kicked off each year by an incredible  gospel music celebration at the performance hall in the city, and an awareness that what we talk about all year other people seem to have more permission to be talking about too.

In honor of this day when areas in the United States gives pause and consideration to the Civil Rights Movement here, I am writing to invite you to do the same.  To give yourself permission.

Permission is something granted to you. I’m formulating an opinion that much of the ability for creamy colored white people to talk about their own implicit bias, or internalized racism will only happen when they are invited to do so in a very explicit and controlled way. I can not imagine how maddening this is to the people who do not have the luxury of not talking about race and racism. If you do not go to a special MLK breakfast today, or a symposium on the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative in your city, or have the benefit of having a magnificent teacher in your child’s school starting the conversation for you, there are many things you can do today, tomorrow, and every day you chose to from now on.

Here are a few examples of ways to give yourself permission, to jump on in, on behalf of your children, your neighbor’s children, and the legacy that you are going to leave behind to the world. Period. It’s never too late.

1. Listen to the I Have A Dream Speech with a kid. A young kid, and older kid. Listen to it over coffee with a friend. Talk about it. Pick one message in the speech to write down and put up in your kitchen to take in every day. Have everyone chose a quote that resonated. Listen to other speeches. Give this day meaning. Give every day meaning.

2. Listen to Safe Space Radio’s series on white racism. Bookmark it, and pick an episode to listen to at the gym, or on the way to church. Share something you learned with someone else. I am featured on this episode talking about my own racism.

3. At the dinner table, talk about a memory you have about a time when you did not understand something you witnessed, or saw on television, or read in the paper that had something to do with race or culture. Talk about how not understanding why a person or group does things differently then the way you do it, does not mean it is wrong, or not normal, but means it is not your experience. Ask your family if they can relate.

4. Go to your library, local video store or Netflix, and find a few books and a movie that features kids of all sorts of color doing really groovy fun things too. For a million great ideas for books go here. One of our favorite feel good flicks is Jump In. Here is clip to preview.

5. Read a book by an author of color, about anything you enjoy. Talk to someone else about the book.Want a radical suggestion? Start here by reading How to Be Black.

6. Find out when Alvin Ailey Dance is coming your way and take a friend, or a kid. I took Sammy when he was six. It was mind bogglingly amazing. He still talks about it. We are all going in March.

7. If you are affiliated with a school, make an appointment with your child’s teacher, or better yet the administrator to ask them to share with you the school’s vision for making sure all staff are grappling with cultural competency in and out of the classroom. If they look at you blankly, or say it is too expensive to begin to tackle, send them here to Teaching Tolerance’s Anti Bias Framework.

8. Find other blogs that are talking about race and culture and difference and leave a link on this blog, or on your FB page. NPR’s “Code Switch” is an amazing resource too. My Brown Baby is a go to for me.

9. Have athletes under your roof? Or who often sit next to you in the synagogue or in church? Or living across the street? Challenge them to research an athlete of color and share out their accomplishments by the end of the week.  Musicians? Scientists? Poets? Kids love a challenge. Make it a monthly event.  Have a potluck.

10. Look in the mirror and say; “Self, I give you permission to talk about race today, and every day for the rest of your life. I give you permission to be curious, confused, baffled, and muddled. I give you permission to mess up and say something you regret and learn from that. Self, I admire your courage.”

P.S. The title for this post was inspired from the book by the same title; Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools, which I just ordered for myself.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking forward, looking inward

January 14, 2015

IMG_8648

Dearest Universe in 2015,

With your arrival, comes an incredible milestone: it has been a decade since I have had the honor, the blessing, and the test of a lifetime: parenthood.  It was New Years Day 2005, when I arrived home to Maine from the Carolinas with Sammy.  A few years later, by some miracle I still marvel at, I gave birth to my first born, but my second child, Marcel. Then just a few months ago, I welcomed Shrek’s commitment to me, to us, into our lives, and ours into his.  In yet the most radical act of my tenure on this earth in some ways: to chose to marry.

This was a decade of remarkable change, transformation and surrender to all that you intended for me.

You have been BUSY with me!

Here is my ask of you now in 2015; bestow upon me the grace, the patience, the trust, and an ever increasing capacity for love, so that I may begin to detach a little from all of my attempts at controlling the outcome of all these remarkable lives.

Universe, let this be the decade that I may reap the benefit of arrival where I have earned the right to, and departure where I have determined it is time to.

Most importantly, guide me closer and closer to ways that I may use my experience, voice, and honesty to participate more fully in the disruption of oppression in  every way that you deem I am able.

It is time, and I am ready.

Yours,

Mama C/ Catherine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#BlackLivesMatter, Positive Propaganda from DNBE, and a poem from Mama C

December 20, 2014
What the boys will be getting for Kwaanza

What the boys will be getting for Kwaanza

Last night I ordered one of each of these shirts from DNBE, a company that promotes what they call positive propaganda:

If you think about it, your t-shirt is like a billboard, and every day you’re walking around advertising something (or maybe nothing if it’s a blank tee or a meaningless design) .   That advertisement says something about the person wearing it and has an effect (conscious or subconscious) on the people around him/her.  Why waste that valuable advertising space?  Why not use it to uplift the people? … For that brief moment you know that there are other people out there that have not lost their minds.  And that positive energy is infectious and magnetic.  With enough people catching on, we can start to turn this situation around.  That’s positive propaganda, and that’s why we’re here…

To grab onto something that feels positive in the message department for young Black men today is not an easy find. I, like many mamas I know who are parenting young men of color have found myself traveling the continuum from abject despair to enraged disbelief and everything in between. I have been attending rallies, and reading my poems out loud to honor Trayvon, Michael, Tamir, Eric, and, and, and…

I have been talking to colleagues, friends, family, and anyone really who will listen and tried again to get those who don’t seem to care to notice what I am saying for a moment. At work when I am asked how I am, I try to answer truthfully; “In a state of disbelief. Crushed. Shocked that our country has such a broken judicial system, and devalues the lives of so many of the young men and women here in our schools…” I have prayed. I have hugged my boys so much more. Each time I catch myself forgetting, I notice Sammy or Marcel just walking out of the room and think to myself; “he is coming back.”

I say this to honor all the mothers who can’t.

I have also tuned out completely, because I have that choice. I don’t just mean that I deactivated my Facebook, and disappeared almost entirely from social media.  I mean that I can pop into the gas station to get a cup of coffee, and not engage with the headline on the newspaper out loud or in private, if I don’t want to. I can say; “I can’t deal today.”  I am not the one Black colleague in the school who everyone either avoids, or seeks out after another horror show is splayed across the news. I can just carry on and not engage. I can, and I do. I am not a young Black man walking down the street wondering if it is safe here, or in the convenience store being watched to see if I steal a candy bar while I am waiting to pay for my coffee.

I have accepted invitations to be on panels, and co-design Ferguson units with colleagues. I have scheduled several meetings for the next three months with various white men in positions of power in the field of education to talk about how we keep talking about this in schools and beyond, because it is one way I can use my voice, experience and privilege to promote a little more positive propaganda.

I have wondered if I would care this much today if my sons were white. I have not always answered that question honestly.

I have so much gratitude and appreciation for all the people in our lives who can listen, and who are climbing up underneath this massive weight next to us, and offering to do more than just hold it up too.

Sammy just woke up, and asked for a cuddle. I stopped writing, and crawled up into his bunk bed, rearranged his twisted up blankets and sheets, and wrapped myself up in him too. In a few days he will be ten. He will be just two years younger than Tamir Rice who was shot when he was reaching for his toy gun-most likely show the police officers it was fake-when they were all screaming at him to put his hands up. That’s when he was killed. It was a few days after his twelfth birthday.

Sammy will not be getting any toy guns for his birthday, and we have talked about why.  Sammy asked for anything in the remote control helicopter department, an x-box, and some footy pajamas-because he used to love to wear them when he was little…

hoodie and a hug

#BlackLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatter

Pleased to meet you too, Sam

November 6, 2014

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A former student arranged it for us the night before.

A special invitation to be on the tarmac when the president arrived in Maine.

It was concentrated thrill from the time we were brought outside, to this moment.

He walked right over to us, off of Air Force One.

He said; “Good afternoon gentlemen.”

He shook all of our hands.

When it was my turn, I wanted to say; “My sons think you have to be brown skinned  to become president…” But instead I just held both his hands for a moment and said; “Thank you.” We held a gaze for three maybe three and half seconds.

In my fantasy world he looked at me, and Sam and Marcel and thought; this feels really familiar….

Afterwords Sam said; “What’s the big deal, I’ll meet many presidents in my lifetime. Marcel was a little more enthused; “Mommy between Halloween tomorrow, and the president today I am too excited to tell you anything.”

 

 

 

Mrs. Mama C and the Boys (plus one)

September 15, 2014
walking mama in...

walking mama in…

reading D the wedding poem

reading D the wedding poem

Mr. and Mrs.

Mr. and Mrs.

Mama C is now Mrs. Mama C.

It was a joyful, profound, and deeply loving day. Our magnificent and remarkable seven children and our extremely dear and supportive family and friends made it off the charts memorable.

It signifies, I imagine,  the greatest shifting moment in my life second only to Sammy being placed into my arms. (By the time Marcel arrived, my knowledge of myself as a mother was fully under development…).  To become a wife, in my case anyway, may possibly be one of the most radical things I have ever done. How can that be?  I am working on a piece about this for the Huffington Post.  When I publish it, I will link to it here. Suffice it to say, I have plenty of material.

Even with the transition back to full-time-everything around here (Shrek and I have seven jobs between us, and the boys are at two different schools, with six after school activities between them) we are still deeply dropped into the mystery and ease of this being married thing. This weekend we were able to take a “mini-moon”, a term I coined to describe what newlyweds with seven children between them do, to have a nano second to say; “That was an incredible wedding. I am the luckiest person in the world. I love you too. Goodnight. Want another cup of coffee? We have to be back to the soccer game by noon. Can you start the car?” We went to the lake. It was perfect.

I had to be at work at 6:30 this morning to set up for writing group. Lunches were in the fridge, everyone’s clothes were set out, and the the coffee maker with two individual cup holders had my husband’s coffee waiting for him when he woke up after I left.

It’s all very familiar. It’s all very new.

 

A Decade on a Dock: Musings of a Single Mother before Marriage Part 1

July 24, 2014
on the dock, standing tall

on the dock, standing tall

 

This recent self portrait represents who I have often wanted the world to see when they look at me: heroic, larger than life, capable, confident, and self reliant for starters. My convoluted sense of who I believed I needed everyone to think I was started to take shape almost exactly a decade ago as my journey to becoming a parent, on my own, began.

I remember standing on the end of that very same dock asking the “Lady of the Lake” as I call her, if I was ready to become a parent on my own? I had come to this little cabin for a solo weekend in June 2004, with gobs of paperwork to complete to submit to the adoption agency the following week. I knew that this was the one place that I could listen truthfully to my own fears, and leave my doubts at the bottom of the lake if I decided to say yes. I had been coming here since I was seven.  It is my spiritual home.

I showed up at the lake with a little more than a change of clothes, a jar of instant coffee, and my favorite pen. In the plastic bag that I had bawled up in the bottom of my backpack was my secret: a full length fleece bear costume for an infant-size six to twelve months.  By the end of the night, I would be dancing around the cabin in front of the fireplace rocking my imaginary child back and forth. I had placed a towel inside the onesie to give it some heft. I wanted to know what that little body would feel like in my arms. I was intoxicated with the possibility.

Like Athena popping out of her father Zeus’s head in full armor and ready to go, my single mother persona emerged from the dock certain that I could prove to the world, I had what it took to be a stellar parent all by myself. I probably fell in love with my potential and my image of my single motherhood that night. I knew I was crazy to do this on my own.  I just didn’t know how crazy. I imagined that it would be hard, and expensive, and lonely, and confusing too. But I also believed that I had mothering and loving to give to a child in a fierce way. My determination and commitment to make the  transformation from single woman to single mother was in motion, and there was no turning back.

Each time a friend or parent seemed the least bit questioning of my decision to adopt, I would get bigger, not smaller. I would smile wide, and offer them a chance to come help out when the baby arrived. I put together the crib by myself, and bought a big freezer for all the food I had asked my friends to make for me when the time came. I interviewed day care centers, and pediatricians.  I read books, prayed, and sought out others who came before me. I had purpose. I was reinventing myself for a higher calling.  I was ready.

Becoming a mother was not something I did in partnership, like most do. Becoming a single mother meant that I didn’t need a partner. I convinced everyone, and especially me, that I was so capable, and so gigantic that I didn’t need a partner to do this. I had many close friends who made up our chosen family. At least three times a week friends arrived with meals, encouragement and open arms to hold Sammy while I got a shower, or a much needed run around the boulevard. As he grew, and our family grew to include Marcel my network grew too.  I was parenting, blogging, teaching full time, working out,  accepting interviews, and speaking engagements. I was all that.

Once, I had a friend tell me in secret from the other side of the playground; “my husband is worried that if I spend too much time with you, I’ll start to think I’d be better off on my own…” I had to keep myself from agreeing, because I really did think her husband was probably right, and I liked the guy a lot.  Daycare providers, teachers, doctors, parents, and coaches knew that I was flying solo, and that was just fine. With each successful milestone passed, I grew more and more into my role. So much so, that to an extent  I was not Sam’s mom, or Marcel’s mom, I was “Catherine the single mother who makes it look easy…”  I had a lot at stake at keeping up that image, but little to no understanding of  what I was letting go of in the process: the chance to open my heart to a loving romantic partnership.

Sure, I dated a few times in the last few years. I drew wonderful people towards me and the boys. But I had no business doing so. To say I wasn’t ready would be false. I was to busy celebrating my own daily accomplishments, and those of my kids. Every letter from the tooth fairy, or successful parent teacher conference and I deserved a gold star. I was amazing. Who could possibly add up.

Then I met Shrek.

Becoming an almost  married person,  I am discovering, is not something one can do alone. In the next few weeks, leading up to the wedding I am hoping to shed a little more light on just how complex and powerful, and yes radical an act it is for me to agree and want to be married. When we were at the lake a few weeks ago, Shrek called out from the grill where he was creating yet another magnificent feast for the boys and I; “Maybe you can be a married single mother?” To be continued…

Morning coffee delivery

Morning coffee delivery: Looking at you Shrek

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