Summer of the brotherhood

Brotherhood 2013
Brotherhood Summer Style

One of many highlights of this summer was watching the connection between Sam and Marcel deepen and take on a language and code of behavior unto itself. It is a foreign thing to me-the potential and power of brotherhood.  From the outside it appears at this moment to be thick, rough, edgy, gentle, goofy, vulnerable, manipulative, celebratory, reliable, trustworthy and solid. It seems odd I didn’t imagine how cool it would be to watch one form in front of me.   I can remember when Marcel was a few weeks old, and Sam threw a Nerf football at him in his chair, and was wildly disappointed that this long awaited playmate was in no position whatsoever to make good on my last six months of promises.  Now almost six years later, it appears I was on to something.

Tomorrow marks the return to school and to the routines of the days, and the week.  Like 99% of you, my family is acting out a tad around this transition period. The tantrums, the deer in headlights look, the foot stomping retreats, and for me the desire to purge and clean and somehow reinvent myself entirely or at least move all the furniture around.  Apparently my days of shaving my head, or moving to a new state when I felt this way have passed.

Note to self: it is 5,000  times more important that I mediate, exercise, drink gallons of water, and take many of those deep cleansing breaths to keep us on some semblance of a steady course. I’m a lousy advocate for taking it easy, when I appear to be in survivor mode myself.

Our tanks are full of the good, deep rest for sure. We had an amazing summer with three camping trips, many family connects, and long luxurious days on the beach with friends from all areas in our collective circles. We jumped off docks with bonus siblings, gawked at giant moons, swam with loons, screamed our way down giant water slides on an raft for three. We learned many new tricks at the skate park, refreshed most every room in the house in one way or another, and showed the world some serious dance moves. We laughed. We loved a lot.

Powdered donut brothers in hoodies
Powdered donut brothers in hoodies

We found sweet reassurance in the crook of our brother’s arm. Perhaps the next step in the journey is noticing what it means to have your brother’s back, and not just jump on and tackle it?

At her happy place…

self -lake

We are up at “the lake” for the week.

There is no place where I feel more at peace somehow.

That the boys have this experience each year, is something I trust they will always remember. It is a relatively secluded lake, with no one but our family this year.

By our family, I mean the boys, Shrek, and several of his kids. Can you say blending? Blending beautifully? Could we have picked a more magical place to expand into this larger version of ourselves with this much ease? It has been almost two years since Shrek and I met. My wisdom for those of you wondering is only this: it takes time, humor, and younger sibling adoration doesn’t hurt.  Love is what happens when you create the opportunity for it to rise sweetly to the surface, like a loon when and where you might least expect it.

My hour at the internet cafe in town with two boys sort of reading next to me, and sort of having a burping contest is almost over. To be continued…

dock

Promise is theirs. Let’s try and promise that.

My kids are not white.

I am.  So, I will never know what it feels like to be them. I will never be Trayvon Martin.  But, my sons are.  They are going to be young Black men full of promise, walking down the street.

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My kids are not white, but I am, and I benefit from this in a gazillion ways that I could not begin to list, or comprehend.

When I was pulled over for speeding when I was 16, I told the cop, and later the judge that I was racing to get to school to take an exam. This was the truth, and the white judge tossed out the ticket the white cop had written. (It was only for going five miles over the speed limit if you must know.) I was screeching with joy when I left the courtroom. My mom told me to lower my voice, I had got off lucky and I should be more contained about it.

Today, if I imagine Sammy being pulled over at 9:00 in the morning in my car racing to school five minutes late how might the outcome be different? *

I have to work actively all the time to not be the oppressor, not the oppressed. When I keep my mouth closed when someone makes a racially tinged  joke, I am that oppressor. When I stay quite in a room full of white when I am aching to talk about who is not there, I am colluding. When I shy away from my own voice and power to make change, I am resigning.

When I stand up and read a poem about what it feels like to hold your son in your lap while he sleeps, and ache for the mamas who no longer can, I am joining.

When I read every uncomfortable line I can about the pandemic of racism worldwide I am opening.

My education, my rearing, my curiosity, my world travel, and the many wise women and men I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from in the first forty-five years of my journey have allowed me to say this-I am resisting.

Resisting the allure of racial and class privilege some of the time.

I was given the opportunity to parent my sons by a force of incomprehensible generosity. My sons have given me a mandate that I must continue to evolve as a person, as a mother, an educator. A mandate to try to be a slightly less racist person at the end of the each day then when I woke up. So I  work at it. I also get lazy and I forget. I have the option to forget.  Therein lies the difference.

My sons are  full of promise, just like so many sons and daughters are and were. My job more than ever is to make whatever part of the world I can- a little more able to see as much of their promise as I do. Period.

Join me?

Push your edges, get uncomfortable, unpack your story of white privilege, and help everyone make some room for them to be all they were meant to be-without fear or trepidation- too.

Not sure how to get started? Here are a few links that have been helpful to me:  What I want you to know about being a young black man in America and also from Rage Against the Mini Van this post on 7 action steps towards becoming an anti racist ally. I also found this tumblr very encouraging as people begin to unpack their own acknowledgement of their privilege.  It has taken me two days to put this post together. It will take me the next twenty to live up to it.

*Although I do not have the actual statistics in front of me I read a report last year on the increased number of incidences where young men of color end up in detention, or worse, for the exact same type of non aggressive police involved encounters as their white counterparts in Maine and nationally.

On advocating for a sick kid and then some

waiting for the procedure to begin
waiting for the procedure to begin

We are in the clear. It was a long ten weeks though. Let’s call it a really long virus. Let’s call it frightening. Let’s call it another reminder in how much perseverance a parent must have to parent, period. In this particular photo, Sam was waiting for a series of scopes to explore the possibility that he had any number of colon or stomach related abnormalities. Prior to this moment he had to be on a clear liquid fast for thirty-six hours. Prior to that were at least four doctor visits, two blood draws, and a series of other tests. He lost about thirteen pounds, lost his appetite almost entirely, missed several days of school, and if you ask me, became somewhat depressed. All during the mystery illness he kept trust in the medical profession, in me, and most importantly he kept faith in his body.

I am not really too caught up in the “so what was it?” story  thankfully.  Some wise doctor told me once that the body is still a mystery you know, and has many unexplainable pings and pains, that will always remain unknown.

I am caught up in all the decisions that are involved in the health care maze, and how it becomes another full time job for the parent at times. First there is all the advocating–for this test, and that specialist. For us to consider the stress of that on his body, and the aftermath of that procedure. The dance we do between is it really necessary, and what if we wait and there is a something-something we could have “caught” sooner.What happened to letting our body tell us what it needs? Where does that fit in?

There is the scheduling, the directions, the various lab locations and times, and methodology of collecting this or that. There are all the pre-certs, and forms to not lose, and file here, and send later. There are doctors who are not talking to other doctors.There are the nice nurses, and the ones who say things like; “We’ll be using the same medicine that killed Michael Jackson to put you to sleep today…”. There are the follow up calls to the head of nursing to discuss the traumatizing comments by the nurses. There are all the uncomfortable moments where I wish his first mother was still talking to me, so I could call her up and ask her point blank about any family history of….. But, instead I just leave that line blank.

At this moment there is a kid who is finally eating and gaining weight again, and a few more follow up tests to check out one more this and two more thats. There is a little brother who has decided not to run away after all, since he was able to tell me that; “I just want someone to be as excited about my poops too! Don’t I matter Mommy?” At this moment there is a Mama filled with gratitude for Sam’s health, and for our unlimited access to more than adequate health care, and an insurance policy that allows us to pursue the doctor’s suggestions with ease overall. There is that silver lining where Sam and I are given all this unexpected and gentle alone time waiting for appointments, or recovering from procedures.

To all of you who are dealing with a sick child on a larger scale I have a little bit deeper appreciation for all that you must do every day, in a system that is so often not geared towards a pro family-child-medical profession team approach yet.  The unknown when your wee one is sick is unlike any kind of powerlessness I have every known. Parenthood seems to have a lot of that going on though don’t it? When was the last time I ever really had any control?  Oh dear.

Homage to the beginning

Summer has finally begun In our district. School ended last week. Camps, books, beaches, lakes, skate parks, camping, kayaking, music, family, friends, and hopefully lots of ease are all possible in the next two months. The end of the school year was bumpy and uneasy for many of us.. I have, at least for the next year, stepped out of my role as a classroom teacher and am transitioning in the fall to a part time position that is being designed. I will still work with students, but in a different capacity. The big hope here is more time to volunteer in the boys’ classrooms, and a little more intention towards the writing and the race work. Big goals with substantially less income. This is a recipe for something… For now anyway, it’s time for all of us to regroup and reconnect in this gentle familiar of summer. I’d love to hear from all of you, what is one way summer allows you to restore and reconnect? With yourself? With family? With your body? With your library? Your creativity? Inspire us!

Fatherless or fathered: It can be magnificent and hard all at once

Two years ago I posted this conversation with Sam:

Sam: What are you doing?

Me: writing a poem about what it might be like to not have a dad.

Sam: Oh.

Me: Does it suck today?

Sam: A little bit.

Me: I can’t imagine.

Sam: It’s kind of OK though too. Because we have you. And I like having you all to myself with my brother.

Me: It’s OK for it to suck. What can be hard about it?

Sam: Because a daddy can’t play with me.

Me: Do kids ever give you a hard time about not having a daddy?

Sam: They ask me sometimes why I don’t have one.

Me: What do you tell them?

Sam: I don’t know.

Me: You don’t know why you don’t have a daddy?

Sam: Yes.

Me: It’s kind of like you don’t have a daddy twice isn’t it? Once because I’m not married, and once because your birth father wasn’t ready or able to be a parent when you were born.

Sam: That’s what I should tell them?

Me: You don’t have to tell them anything. Or you can say; My family has an Uncle, a Mommy, and lots and lots of other people who love me too.

Sam: OK. Can I go play my guitar now?

Me: Yes.

+++

Two years later and the fatherhood story has changed dramatically for us with Shrek in our lives, and all the beautiful parenting and loving he brings. On the table is a huge envelope full of cards that Marcel crafted over the last month for him. On the door is one I asked Sam to write. For Sam and Marcel the story of “the father” or not “the father” is very different. It is complex, layered.   Shrek, of course embraces it all.

Marcel adores Shrek, and feels fully empowered and excited to call him “Dad” to the world. My dad is coming to pick me up after the birthday party. You’ll get to meet him. He is cool. While he doesn’t call him “Dad” he loves that he has an invitation to try on the word.

For Sam, Shrek perhaps at times represents a loss as much as a gain?  I can only imagine if I was being raised by a single father, and then a woman he loved came into the picture, that I might like her a heap, but she could really feel like she was taking away something I enjoyed–a place of importance? A role? A balance I knew? That for me the embracing of her, would take a whole lot more time.

I have explained to Sam that he does, and always will have many fathers in his life–fathers he will choose-like Uncle, or a coach, a teacher, a minister, or the father of a good friend. I give him full permission to not embrace Shrek as a dad, but instead to notice and enjoy the fatherly things he does do that Sam as evidenced above imagined a dad might do: take him to the skate park, to the movies with friends, cheer him at his game, pick him up from school, launch a rocket with him on a Sunday afternoon.

Then there is the part where Shrek has his own amazing, generous, loving, grown children who are scattered about the country and who are his universe The integration of the two families piece is of course layered and complex. But it is not my place to speak to his experience. Let’s encourage him to start his own blog…Needless to say  today feels full, charged, and bold. Shortly, we are off on a little adventure in a blended family way. So sweet to spend the morning thinking a little bit more about it here with you.

+++

Finally, I’ll close with this edited version from two years ago as it all pertains today:

We have amazing men in our life. I write about them all the time: older ones, younger ones, Black ones, and creamy ones. Constant ones, sporadic ones. Sporty ones, and bookish ones. There are the theatrical ones, and the serious ones. The stop your foolishness ones, and the foolish ones. And there will always be missing ones. To all our many papas we cherish you. To the ones we don’t really know, or don’t get to see enough we hold you close always too. We honor all the magnificent talent,charisma and love you brought into our lives today.

You are ready Sam. So am I.

Sam, 2009.
Sam, 2009.

Dear Sam,

When you are twelve, fifteen, twenty-one, or forty will you remember? Will you have the moment etched in your memory when Mama picked you up at school after the call from the principal’s office-and did not even raise my voice when we got in the car?  Will you remember how I almost cracked up when you asked with a big toothless forced smile; “So, how was your day before the call? Want to act all nice until we reach that part of the day?” I wish you could know how much your confidence, and curiosity at that moment affirmed my decision. I knew without a doubt that we had both arrived at the right place. You are ready, I whispered to myself. You are ready.

Will you recall how I very calmly said to you; “I love you babe. I’ll always love you. And, I can be really perplexed and even disappointed with the things you do some times. I might even worry a little that some of your choices, like laughing non stop in class, really get in your way. But Sam, today I have arrived at a new place. I have realized that as an almost third grader, as a musician, athlete, math wiz, and reader-you are ready. As an eight year old who has everything he needs in his heart and his mind to make good choices with yourself, your friends, your teachers, your coaches, your community, and your family-you are ready.”

Will you know what it felt like in your body when you asked me; “Ready for what?”

Will you feel that sense of wonder, awe, excitement, and that little twinge of  concern your eyes seemed to convey when I answered while looking at you squarely in the rear view mirror: “Ready to decide who you really are.”

I am writing to tell you how freeing it is for me to release all the fear, anxiety,  shame I occasionally feel when you get in trouble. How freeing it is to decide to just trust, love, and believe in you. To let go of all the pressure I put on you all the time, to be the version of you, I want to you be. You are not an eight year old me. You are you, Sam. You. Amazing.

You, son, are more than magnificent. You are a beautiful, talented, loving, curious, engaging, athletic, scientific, funny, relational, compassionate, magnificent YOU. There is nothing missing there.

Oh yes, I’ll still insist you write a public apology for any foolishness, and demand that you exhibit respect for your teachers, your friends, and most importantly yourself.  I’ll still see to it that there are logical consequences when I can’t see you in the store, or you figure out how to buy games on my phone without asking. I’ll still expect the world of you. I’ll still deliver the part of it I can for your perusal, and participation. Bottom line Sam is that I will always love and adore you. This is what I believe they call; “Unconditional”. I’m sorry it took me this long to get that.

I hope I never convey to you any other message than this: everything is right with you.

How remarkable an opportunity we all have to journey with you in the life,

Love from Mom

skatesam13

Superman is having a very busy day

“Superman is having a very busy day,” Marcel observed with empathy while watching Superman last night. There were bad guys being foiled and heroic feats of Lois Lane savings going on about the time he matter of factly declared this. I might conclude the kid can relate. With a few weeks left of kindergarten, a newly developed penchant for gymnastics class, a very fast big brother to keep up with, several good friends to connect with, and all the father’s day cards he’s working on, the kid is busy. (Yes, I said all these Father’s Day cards.  We have about sixteen in a large brown envelope waiting to be delivered. But this may require a post of it’s own.) There are also Nana’s to play with, new walls to scale, flowers to water, lettuce to pick, and lots of things to build. Superman is having a very busy day indeed.

With an Open Fist (poem reworked)

With an Open Fist

A fist curled tight
a foot stomped harder
three chairs pulled over
and a blankie ripped right down the middle.

It is common she said
for our children to experience rage
on a deeper level
to relive their loss in every loss

it is common she said
for our children to need more
reassurance that we are going
nowhere

Cannonball after cannonball you launch
into the deep end.
The splashes reach up over the edge
and dissolve over the concrete.

Here at the pool we can scream
and rage, and launch and submerge
and to everyone else it is perfectly normal.

I climb in beside you,
cold and uncomfortable.
Yet certain that you won’t go under
again in this lifetime.

That night you arrive in my room
after midnight
and crawl into bed
with your eyes closed.

Then you reach
underneath the pillow
in your sleep
to find my hand-
you grab on with a fierce grip

until like the water on the concrete
your uncertainty evaporates.

____________

This poem is one I am revisiting. It originally showed up on the first incarnation of the blog in August, 2009. It is part of a handful that have a “counselor” voice too, as I was getting lots of help at that moment.

It is almost completely different. I sort of love that. Last night the boys and fell asleep in my old bed, having  a Mother’s Day extended cuddle. Marcel’s hand, not Sam’s found mine in his sleep and grabbed me. Feeling his fingers slowly open as he fell back asleep brought me back to this poem today.