Parenting the Sensationally Sensitive child: Or, it’s not all about me this time.

I got this
I got this

When I was little, in my teens and through most of my early twenties, I heard from all over that  my “sensitivity” was not often a desirable trait.  I was “too” sensitive.  I was “very” emotional. I was not the person you wanted at your side at a loud party. I preferred one on one conversations to large groups.  I needed to spend a lot of time talking about the situation when a tragedy struck. I was too intense, and too serious. There was no hanging loose over here.

Now, I have that son. Only I see what he has going on as an asset, and not a curse. This may have something to do with all the parenting articles I’ve read online, or the surveys I’ve secretly taken on Buzzfeed. Bottom line: being hyper aware of the world around you is not something that I want my kid to ever feel lousy about. Unless of course my ego is involved?

A few weeks back I wrote about how Marcel overcame his fear of crowds, or perhaps even, if I were pushed, his perfection streak to get back on the court and have at it, during a basketball game. I boasted that I knew I needed to step back and watch, not adding any layers of mama drama to the mix, and send his brother in to silently support him by sitting next to him on the bench, when he looked like he might dissolve in tears. Continue reading “Parenting the Sensationally Sensitive child: Or, it’s not all about me this time.”

Grinders, edgy moments, and a little wave to my benefactors present and future

Where Sandra Bullock saw herself??

A grinder is when a bunch of poets put themselves to the grind, to produce a poem a day for thirty days, sharing collectively through an email exchange. There is no commentary, just put it out there by midnight, and have nine other never before seen poems delivered to your mailbox from all over the country/world. The idea I gather is to keep dropping in with the muse, much like you practice the piano each day with the hope of getting a little better…moving a song, or two forward. Continue reading “Grinders, edgy moments, and a little wave to my benefactors present and future”

celebrate, create, grieve, repeat: a poet returns

birthday montage
birthday montage

A few days ago another calendar year started for Mama C. Like your average bear I enjoy a little birthday love, some flowers, breakfast in bed. But, what I really love is the chance to reinvent myself, again. (January 1st, and Back to School also hold that possibility–or at least the excuse to start a new calendar and fill it with all the times I went to the gym this year. A week later, it’s amazing how much the old and the new calendar resemble the other…) This year Shrek and the boys helped me to craft a list of things I can feel fiercely fabulous about. Here are a few highlights in no particular order:

  • attending my first week long writers residency
  • crossing the country twice to visit my father and step mom with a different lad each time
  • a magnificent and robust urban garden in the summer and fall
  • several home improvements
  • transitioning to a part time job for one year
  • making ends meet on a part time income
  • volunteering in the boys’ classrooms once a week
  • co-organizing three epic cross cultural events at my sons’ school since last March
  • being invited to the “table” to discuss issues of race and equity in our school district
  • presenting on race and education to a graduate program in counseling,
  • parenting my big-in-the-world boys with some success
  • working it hard in the longest committed relationship I have ever been in
  • deepening relationships with five bonus children
  • planning a wedding
  • meditating and exercising regularly
  • noticing old patterns that no longer serve me, and attempting to change them Continue reading “celebrate, create, grieve, repeat: a poet returns”

Co-parenting in the blended age: Notes from the trenches

working it out
working it out

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.

reassured
reassured

“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.

Ready or not…

Bring it 2014!
Bring it 2014!

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. 

Gulp.

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.

_____

Three date nights in one? Uh huh! Bring it.

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?

Capture by Sage
Capture by Sage

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.

Yes! Mastering the chop sticks
Yes! Mastering the chop sticks

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!

Six? Six? Sigh.Six.

At play, 2013
At play, 2013

Six years ago I was approaching a place that was something like discomfort laced with pure terror. Having gained nearly EIGHTY POUNDS during my pregnancy and facing the reality of becoming a single mother for the second time was nothing short of paralyzing at times.

But thanks entirely to the continuous support of my amazing village, here we are six years later about as steady as the canoe can be-packed full on for her daily journey up river.

I have been struck with a crazy wave of nostalgia as this birthday approaches. Saying goodbye to five seems to really be rocking my little heart.  I feel desperate this week to recall milestone moments, which are nothing but bubbles that burst just as I reach them.

apple picking 2008
apple picking 2008
Visiting Nana 2008
Visiting Nana 2008

OK, I have to stop subjecting all of us to this parade of crazy haired shots that get me every time. I just don’t remember soaking in how incredibly amazing this child was at this moment. Yes, I was massively sleep deprived, working full time, and dealing with parenting 101, 201, 301, 401, simultaneously. So much of it I feel I just survived. Survived well enough, as this blog testifies to for the most part, but now on the other side, I wonder how much of it I missed?

Well instead of fighting it, I am just going to let myself feel the grief and land in it. Then like him, perhaps I’ll be able to launch into this new year with all of the joy, magic, and adventure it holds.

Just as I was about to push “publish” Marcel came in the kitchen to ask me what rhetorical means.

And, we’re off.

Rainy day leaps
Rainy day leaps

And we’re off…

And we're off
And we’re off

I am working part time this year.

It was a very brave choice on many levels.

This is me riding the boys to school last Friday, because I can.

I’ll be doing that again tomorrow, weather permitting.

Why I made the decision, the creative ways we came up with to finance the undertaking, and what I am learning about myself in the process will be forthcoming here.

Quote of the week relating to this dramatic shift came from a friend of a friend; “Catherine you wear part time beautifully. It really suits you.”