Shadow selves, relationship woes, and the power of four

Shadows / Mama C and the Boys 2012

Shrek and I did not hold hands on the beach washed in romantic rays of loving soleil gazing into the deep blues of each others eyes while on vacation last week. In fact it felt quite the opposite on a few occasions. We travel really well together actually. We do logistics beautifully. Days unfolded with a sweet balance of what the boys would like, what I needed, and what Shrek wanted to do too. When I was grieving deeply after walking across the city to my godfather’s old apartment-to be absolutely certain he really had died four years ago and wasn’t going to suddenly emerge somehow-Shrek held me as I sobbed. My dear friend Sam, her children, her parents and everyone else who met him, all fell madly and easily in love with him and with the idea of us–all four of us.

Yet, this picture above-is one of the only ones snapped of the two of us together.  We got all triggered, annoyed, and hurt when the other didn’t do this that way, or that this way. At one point I felt like screaming; “I need to have one meal alone with my kids! I need to be a single mother again!” He heard me and took off for the rest of the day. I exhaled. I remembered how much I needed alone time with the boys to recharge. Damn it was hard for me to integrate yet another part of my life into the one I was so used to. Was something wrong with me? Was I going to lose him? Or was I going to be able to move through this hard place, and deepen even further? When we reunited that night, we seemed to work through things, only to be back in Funkville the next night. I blamed myself, and he blamed himself. We seemed really stuck.

So we sat on the edge of one bed with the boys watching television on the edge of the other hotel room bed, and agreed through strained whispers to “fake liking each other” for the next thirty-six hours.

And we did. We woke the next day, cheerful and willing to get each other coffee, or remind each other to take the door key, or to please grab a suitcase for the trunk. We had three play dates, two with families that I had never met in person, but knew in a very personal way from blogging. We flew down the Oakland freeway to the airport with hours to go before the red eye departed, and crossed the country at ungodly hours, on two planes, one subway, and a bus, with ease and grace. Then two days later we sat face to face in my living room, in semi sadness, and a state of disconnect asking the other if we were both still signed up for the work of this relationship.

We both quietly said yes.

Then just one day later, I looked him in the eye and told him how brave he was. Brave for letting his shadow self show up on vacation next to mine. (Shadow selves=the parts of ourselves that we often prefer not to give the light of day to-lest we appear needy, not in control, or imperfect.) Brave for walking away from me on beach that day, to take care of himself, when I was not able to reach out and remind him at that moment, that I wanted us all to be there together. (My shadow self is that me who does not believe that I can do this, that I can be Mama C and the boys +1. ) Brave for having all of his feelings, even when I apparently forgot that I had some too.

Brave for holding my hand at that very moment and believing that the woman across from him– so vehemently certain of herself as a single mother-while so desperately uncertain of her ability to love outside of this configuration-means it fully when she says YES to the I want to be with all of you you and you want to be with all of me journey today. I celebrated my own bravery at the same time. Bravery for believing that when I turned to the light of this relational love–my shadow self would actually shrink down to manageable proportions on occasion. We were right again. All 102 combined years of us, were certain of where we wanted to be: today.


When I was looking for a little reassurance from a friend of mine the other day that I was not a complete relationship moron, she said; “Being single is much easier than being in relationship.”  I wanted to tell her that she had no idea what she was talking about. I even had a rush of; “how dare you..” come over me. She doesn’t have two kids. She has no idea how much I…

And then I froze. I realized it had gotten a little cozy over here in Mama C and the Boys does it just so, and might even do it a little bit better than you could if you were me land. Could she be right?  Am I just plain afraid of not being good at this? Not being good enough? What part of me-who works so fiercely at being a good mother, a good transracial mama, a good open adoptive mama.. just doesn’t know how to accept that I might not be so good at this sometimes too?

How does Shrek respond to this? You’re good at everything you do, 99% of the time. Of course it is not that simple. But perhaps sometimes it can be.


Today is my 44th birthday. It is also a snow day here in Maine, giving me the day off with my three boys. I am living a full, blessed, realized, and increasingly intentional and loving life. This year has magic in it. My work as an anti racist ally is clearly making it’s way to the foreground.  I have been meditating (twice a day now) for almost a month. I managed to finance a new roof on my house. My teaching practice is expanding too. My boys are thriving. My friendships feel sound. I feel peaceful more and more of the time–up from three minutes a day to maybe fifteen!

And I keep looking at that little four, next to that other little four and can’t help but to think there is some significance to the gradual and yet sudden disappearance of the number three from my identity.


How did you get through a hard relationship moment while traveling, or while still? If you are a single parent–what wisdom can you share about arriving in a new relationship in tact? And in case you are wondering (Bob–and all other members of the DB fan club) Shrek read this entire post and approved of it before I hit publish.


  1. S-man and I travel amazingly well together. We have yet to do that with kids, but plans are in the works. I think giving each other space as needed, even if begrudgingly, helped us getting used to traveling together. When you’re not used to having another adult around all the time, sometimes you can feel surrounded even if you like them an awful lot. At this point, we find our space pretty easily and neither of us feel resentful or hurt. I think it’s just something you have to grow into, and learning how to read each other helps a lot too.

  2. Hope you had an awesome Birthday! Mine was just one day before yours. I admire your writing, and even more so, your level of reflection so much. But, I know from experience that we can “reflect” ourselves crazy:). Not sure if you have experienced that…Anyway, as others have said, you are amazing…and I’m glad you now have a partner who knows that!

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