Bring it 2019

Note to reader: a glossary of terms appears at the end of the post for the reader not fluent in current adolescent vernacular.

I am so grateful for the subtle shift that a new year allows me to orient around. This was evident to me as I was fastidiously vacuuming up pine needles yesterday afternoon. It was as if I thought with each one that got sucked up into that vacuum another tear that I had shed this year went with it.

On the home front and the world stage there was just so much hard to hold in the last twelve months. Losing my identity as a “married” person was the most disorienting event of the year. Although my marriage was only four years old-my expectations about who I should and would become in that role was lifelong. I sense that like many I’d unconsciously internalized messaging that one must do this “I do” dance in order to cross over a threshold into societal acceptability. As you might have guessed that did not happen for me. This has nothing to do with the person I married. It has everything to do with who I am and how I roll.

Until I determine that I am acceptable in how I do this life nothing else can give that to me. There is no human or event powerful enough to tell me that I have arrived at any threshold.

I am blessed with a few very deep friendships. The greatest ah-ha moment of 2018? I now realize that I do not treat myself with the same kindness, compassion, and admiration that flows effortlessly towards them. If they came over feeling anxious or grieving would I berate them with questions about how come it didn’t work out, or ply them with alcohol to deaden their feelings? Would I mock or discourage them from following their dreams? Or if they called to share a hard earned accomplishment would I diminish it and take away the credit as something that probably was not deserving of so much attention?

Bruh.

So when my 14 year old son asked me to go to the YMCA with him for a ping pong rematch I sent myself a little internal text that went something like this; “💥💃🚀⭐ You know you’re crushing it when you’re 14 year old requests time alone with you on his turf, because you are that good at ping 🏓pong”.

Yes he won 3 out of 5 games but I held my own. And at that moment absolutely everything in my world was without lack of any kind, and I knew that I was a lowkey acceptable mom.

2019 it is so good to finally meet you.

*********

Glossary (since not all my readers have familiarity with current adolescent vernacular)

Bruh: (noun) male friend greeting, or (more commonly used in our home thus way, from the urbandictionary.com:) 1. word you say when someone says something stupid. 2. Word that means seriously?

Example: Me: Yes you can eat them. They are edible flowers. Sam: Bruh.

Lowkey: (adverb) this new non hyphenated version very common in our house (from urban dictionary.com) means
1: moderately: of low emotional intensity
2: secretly

Example: Sam posted a picture of the bear claw slippers I got him for Christmas with this sentence My lowkey lit new slippers. (“Lit” means very cool.)

14 years ago I got “the call”

On his birthday last week Tea (Sammy’s birthmom) texted to let me know she’d reached Sam to wish him a happy birthday. She said he told her he was “skating w/ a bunch of white ppl. Lol.”

I wrote back; Wait did he tell you that was his idea?! 😜 Going to a movie with a bunch of not white ppl later tonight.

She texted back; 😂😂😂 Bumblebee was good. See y’all soon!

I replied; Can’t wait!

Everything about our exchange makes me happy:

  • Her and I are texting about him on his birthday.
  • He’s telling her like it is.
  • She’s telling me about it, and offering her own insights.
  • We are headed to see her and the family next month and everyone is talking about it with excitement.

Co-parenting across the country open adoption style.

Fourteen years ago this week I received the call that the baby who would become Samuel was born. Both his birth mother and the son I would raise and love on were healthy and resting. “And there’s more great news,” the adoption agency placement director said. “She wants you to call her. Do you have a pen?” It was 5:40AM and everything was spinning; “Wait? What?”

You see for the months leading up to this day I was told she was not interested in an open adoption and did not want to be asked to talk about it again. While I was disappointed I could not imagine the experience she was going through and fully respected her choice. Learning I was who she wanted to parent her son (because like her I would be a single mother and at the time I was a teacher which she aspired to becoming) was enough. I wasn’t going to say no because of her lack of interest in open adoption. Maybe in time she would change her mind?

Gazing down at the hospital phone number and instructions for handling the hospital paperwork I hung up the phone with the agency and proceded to run around the apartment screaming my awe and joy to the ceilings. The suitcase was packed, the car seat was by the door. I had plane tickets to buy, and family and friends to contact…

But first I had to call her. Doubt came crashing into the kitchen, and sat on my lap nearly tipping me over. What if when I called her she changed her mind? What if when I arrived she and I didn’t connect? What if I wasn’t really up to this after all? Was I going to be a good enough parent? How could I presume to know how to parent a Black boy as a white woman?

I’m sure I reached for the phone 16 times. When I finally had the courage to enter into this new miraculous life I had worked so hard for it unfolded with care and quiet ease (at first). The hospital room phone was ringing.

I don’t even remember my awkward introduction. But I’ll never forget her first description of him;

“He’s the biggest boy in the nursery. I call him Fatso. He’s scaring all the other babies cuz he’s so big.”

I asked after her. Did she need anything?

“I need you to get here. And he needs a name.”

Oh right. The name.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

If you are wrestling with doubts about your family’s open adoption journey, or are looking for some additional support navigating any part of your 20th Century Family story I’m available for individual coaching. Learn more here.

DC: An Unfolding Love Story

This photo was taken moments after our long anticipated first visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture this past weekend. I cropped the picture that Sammy snapped with me off to the side and de-centered literally and figuratively on purpose. Here the boys are seen as glowing, radiant young men. My theory? This is what seeing yourself glorified celebrated, and prioritized feels like.

I took in the significance that I was in the minority visiting a national cultural center as an audience member. I was acutely aware of my whiteness passing through the halls seeing all manners of ghastly atrocities my ancestors participated in and I’ve benefited from as a result. I experienced deep joy seeing Marcel and Sam drop in to all the celebratory energy surrounding them.

I feel gratitude for ALL of it-a tremendous mirror into our shared reality today that we’re all just beginning to unpack.

In addition to spending a good part of the day there, we made our way across town (via electric scooters of course) to the National Portrait Gallery to pay the Obamas, Toni Morrison, LL Cool Jay among others a visit.

I was born in Washington, DC during a snow storm and race riots in 1968. Fifty years later I returned home and fell in love with DC through my sons’ eyes and my own historical perspective simultaneously in a way I’ve not experienced before. We were all being held up at the same time and loved on by my brother and his family.

As you might imagine I began to wonder if all of these experiences might expand or deepen if we were to relocate there? What could the DMV area (DC, Maryland, Virginia) offer each of us personally, culturally, racially, educationally professionally and all that and more-ally compared to where we are now?

Walking along the sidewalk downtown Marcel could have been speaking for all of us to a degree when he observed; “Now for the first time I see myself grown up all around me and I realize I’ll make it. I make sense.”

Finding Our Jingle & Jam Again

Divorce has not been a fa-la-la- friendly event in Mama C ville. To be honest I was sort of hoping we could just quietly tip toe past most of December without anyone noticing.

That box of ornaments in the attic that I hastily separated into ours and no longer ours last summer felt like it belonged to Pandora’s past and not mine. I was overcome with grief. Alexa was banned from all holiday music, and just get to January was my mantra.

And the boys?

Right.

Mama C and the boys.

Having survived my own parents’ painful divorce as an adolescent I knew the treacherous potential of this terrain. It can be confusing and lonely to hold your own sadness, anger, or loss if you see your parent struggling. How do you get your own needs met?

So as is often the case with my chaos with consistency life- action is the only way through; “Alexa play holiday music, damn it!”

And she did.

I brought the boys together over a breakfast fit for the magi and laid it out; “Before I met Shrek this time of year was so spectacular for the three of us. I took so much pleasure in creating magic with you both. This season is about celebrating family, welcoming winter, making our own traditions while honoring the ways those around us celebrate too.” I paused. I could feel relief creeping in with caution.

“Does that mean we are getting a tree?”

The hope and trepidation in my son’s voice was everything I feared and needed to hear.

I showed them pictures from holidays past. Talked about the things we used to love to do when we were little like dancing in the kitchen to holiday music, playing holiday hide and seek, making ornaments and crafts, and being surrounded by family and friends. The rest is history.

Of course took I took great delight in reminding them that in a few weeks when Sammy turns 14 it is the anniversary of me becoming a mother, the greatest gift of all.

So the tree is up, and new ornaments have been added to the old ones. We are holding what we have lost with care, while reminding ourselves together that at this moment we are OK. “Life is full of heart break boys,” I told them as eyes rolled, and the can you not looks kicked in, “and how I love you two is all that I ever need to trust that love always wins!”

My audience was fully over it.

“Can we eat the cookies now?”

“I get the biggest one!”

Alexa play; “Little Drummer Boy.”

Sending love and ease to all of you, with particular grace and compassion to those of you for whom the season holds a heavy heart at times. Sammy suggests finding something to drum on if you want to feel better quickly. It has always worked for him.

Are you considering adoption? Wondering if open adoption is something you will know how to navigate? Looking for support as a single parent or with post divorce parenting? My coaching practice covers all of these areas and more. Contact me today to schedule our first free call.

The Black Girl in Maine Podcast has arrived

The podcast has dropped! In it you will hear MamaC speak from the heart as you would expect.

I first met Shay Stewart-Bouley aka Black Girl in Maine through her writing, and presentations on antiracism and decentering whiteness. We have been on panels and symposiums together and share our stories of raising Black children in Maine, the whitest state in the country.

Shay and I get raw and real on transracial open adoption, impacts of daily racism and microagressions on the boys, unpacking whiteness, and why I left my 9-5 as a newly divorced single parent. The episode explores if and why I’m qualified to do my work as an equity and inclusion facilitator in schools, and as a 20th centurty family formation coach working with individual clients.

This podcast marks the true arrival of me knowing what I do best, and how I choose to share my unique and valuable experience with the world.

Please consider making a contribution to support more podcasts from Black Girl in Maine Media if you like what you hear. It was indeed an honor to be invited to participate on this nationally and internationally recognized platform. I look forward to hearing your impressions after you give a listen.

Keep questioning how your beliefs are serving you, and hold your littles and your loved-ones close.

Fresh new look for Mama C

Introducing a new fresh look for MamaCandtheBoys. I love how aligned it feels with the new direction my life has taken. It is hard for me to express all the gratitude I feel for the many opportunities I am being invited to explore for my work in the world around race, equity, supporting 20th century families and our schools. So naturally I decided it was time for a little line up and a fresh coat of paint!

Did you know there are over 1000 MamaC subscribers? I am so thankful for this growing audience each time I send out a new post. To celebrate I am running a special Premium Coaching Package for anyone who signs up by December 15th, 2018 for 2019 Coaching. I wanted my subscribers and long time readers to know about it first because the slots will go quickly.

To learn more about what my coaching practice is about and the special offer please go here. The recent opportunies to work with clients has been the most exhilarating shift. It’s like my blog coming to life through deep listening, personalized support, and sharing.

I asked one of my newer clients Emily if she could explain what it’s been like working with me. In her own words; “Working with Catherine has been an incredibly supportive experience. Catherine will skillfully guide you to uncover your own answers to some of the toughest questions surrounding trans racial adoption, race, birth family relationships and more, by guiding you deep into your own heart. Catherine is thoughtful and efficient in her work as a coach, drawing from her skills in guidance, deep listening, and her own experiences, she will help you to not only feel supported in this new adventure, but challenged in beautiful and meaningful ways.”

Bonus: for the first three new clients I register I will include a fifth session free! Imagine that.

Take great care and continue to hold each other close.

Tie it up and take it down

Last night my son taught himself how to tie a tie with the help of YouTube and Google. He was so pleased he even posed for a picture and gave me permission to post it.

Then he put it on Snapchat that he had figured it out so any of his other basketball team mates (who have to wear a dress shirt and a tie to school for game day) could reach out for help. This morning he received two phone calls asking could he; “get to school early and help tie my tie”. “I got you,” was his reply. He raced out the door to get there early and help. I wasn’t only thrilled for him, I was relieved.

Watching your child feel joy in their accomplishments makes it all worth while. Parents and schools must work together to make this happen in and out of the classroom.

So last week when he almost lost the opportunity to play on the team because of some incomplete and missing work in two classes everyone came together to support Sam turning it around. We communicated a shared belief that school always comes first. He agreed that he had gotten too chill about following through and he had to change it up. Within a couple days he was caught up by coming in before school and staying after. By Friday everyone agreed he could play in the first game Monday.

Working together brought to my attention a very concerning word choice to describe this academic intervention. I was told that he was on probation to explain the process.

After two emails to the administration and his teachers explaining how probation is a term associated with the carceral state (all things prison related) and thus reinforces the school-to-prison pipeline they listened carefully. Within a few days the school reworded the forms based on district-approved language. They will no longer use the term in dialogue with students or each other.

Often an academic intervention that is meant to be helpful takes on a punitive connotation or vibration in the larger system in subtle ways that gather strength over time. As a parent of Black boys it is critical that I remain vigilante about these often nuanced messages, and speak up immediately. As a white parent my voice in naming practices that support racism in schools is critical to bringing it to their attention. A practice can be racist without conscious intention. How his school immediately addressed the practice when it was brought to their attention is what can happen when we choose to put students’ success first.

Thank you for using your voice to call attention where it is needed too.

If you would like help advocating for your child in a school setting Mama C Coaching can help. Our first conversation is always free.

Don’t touch his/her hair. Admire it instead!

Over the weekend Marcel and I bought two children’s books featuring Black protagonists, written by Black authors to enjoy and then pass along to one of the preschools in the city to support their diverse libraries. One other unifying characteristic of these two books is that they are also a celebration of Black hair.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, (picture book ages 5-12) winner of the covetted 2018 Kirkus Prize is described as; “One of the best reads for young black boys in years, it should be in every library, media center, and, yes, barbershop.”

I certainly learned early on the necessity and importance of Black barbershop culture for both Sam and Marcel. (In fact so much so is the setting of one of my most well-known and widely published poems; Black Enough.) This story vividly captures the ritual and deep importance of the barbershop hair cut and culture to a young African-American boy. The dynsmic illustrative painting style matches the celebratory poetry of the narrative.

“Don’t Touch My Hair” by Sharee Miller is as much a story and celebration of beautiful hair and identity as it is a vehicle for introducing empowered language for young girls in particular to have control of their body and what and who touches them. Courageous young Aria takes us on a realistic and magical journey of self-discovery and finding her voice to help the reader understand what she needs and how to arrive in a similar place of self-advocacy and joy.

Call to Action: Would you consider calling your local bookstore and ask them to order three copies of each if they don’t already have them? Explain that you’re getting a set for yourself and giving a set to the local elementary or preschool. (They can keep a set on the shelves.) This will remind them how important it is for them to support Black authors, publishers, and have Black protagonists in the children’s books available to their audience. At the same time gifting these books to the elementary school gives the message how important it is for all children to see Blackness centered at story time. It would also be a really helpful conversation starter for teachers who are managing successfully (or not) the “don’t touch my hair” request of students in the classroom.

According to Marcel he still manages and deals with this all the time in middle school. He shared that his friends are allowed to touch his hair on the first of the month only-and only once. But they still have to ask he said. He was relieved to see his experience both at the barbershop and in the hair patting captured so well.

If you have other hair related children’s book titles featuring protagonist’s of difference please share them in the comments below.

Here to help you

I am delighted to call your attention to very exciting news: my coaching and facilitation practice is now my full-time work in the world. I am here to help in real time too.

A month ago I made a massive leap of faith to leave my secure and treasured position as a director of community engagement and education at a national arts organization to launch my own coaching and facilitation practice. I have never looked back. I am my own plan B! I have new clients and contracts presenting themselves at the perfect pace. The validation I feel for my choice is immensely gratifying.

In addition to being able to be here when the boys (now 11 and practically 14 as Sam likes to say) arrive home and need me the most; I am living into my truest calling of the work I am meant to do.

Having 15 plus years experience as a single adoptive, and biological -via a known donor- transracial parent (that’s a mouthful) I have a perspective to share. As a reader you already know that I’ve got knowledge. I bring my experience in cultivating open adoption, navigating racial awareness and whiteness, and advocating for children at all stages developmentally to my work with individual clients and groups.

Are you exploring if single parenting is right for you? Have you been wrestling with the ethics of transracial adoption? Are you considering a known donor conception? Are you already parenting, and needing a check-in on some new concerns about your child’s current or future educational setting? Are you and your partner having trouble talking to those closest to you about the unique needs your twentieth century family has in today’s world? Whatever you may be wondering- if I can I am here to help.

Our first conversation is free. So reach out now and let’s explore how I can help you discover what your next step will be. Please go to my “Coaching and Consulting” tab to learn how to book our first conversation.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Elizabeth Greason of Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants recently shared;

I have known Catherine for nearly 20 years, as a fellow educator, then mom, and now as a fellow woman creating a heart-centered business committed to social change and growth. You’ll experience her expertise around cross-racial adoption, family formation and equity—based in deep personal and professional knowledge—with passion and compassion. I have recommended her and her writing time and again to friends and colleagues seeking to more deeply understand how to advocate for their children and to navigate thriving in a multiracial family. Hiring Catherine will give you skills and understanding that will help you transform the way you parent and educate.