Summers in Maine are as magical as they are brief. We are so blessed to live thirty minutes from many beaches with multiple personalaties. On several occasions the boys are “convinced” (forced family fun) to join me on an early afternoon excursion. Earlier this week we stayed for several hours. The fog lifted and the sun was triumphant. The highlight for me was body surfing together with them for almost an hour! Well and the fact that they allowed PHOTOGRAPHS. They were willing, and the light was a generous co-conspirator for some miraculous captures.
We’ve spent a very private summer overall. On my own, and as a family we have been invited to look very closely at the inner landscapes of who we are. This has been some of the hardest and most revealing work for all of us individually.
Fortunately we have been growing deeply in the process, amd learning to see each other in our our messiness, grief, struggle, joy and strength. At times you may choose to be a Greek or Roman diety to help you embrace all that you know you are.
I’m looking forward to returning to the blog soon on a more regular basis to share some of these explorations. In addition we had our third birth family and donor reunion tour in early July, which is packed with stories and ah-ha’s to come.
In the meantime may you all experience the gifts of love, joy, and kindness in both expected and surprising ways.
Being in a moment of expansion and contraction simultaneously is a complicated and thoughtful space to be. I find myself turning to the camera to capture and chronicle our world- even if I always see it as clearly as I may appear to from the photographic capture I share with you here.
With tenacity and fervor I have been writing more and more poetry with greater ease and clarity as well as submitting often to journals, contests and the like. I participated in my first public poetry reading this week. After the poem, a woman in the audience came up to me, tearful. “I am a birth-mother, ” she said. “I placed my daughter for adoption when I was 17. Your poem gave voice to my experience with a truth I have never heard in a poem before.”
I left the reading, racing home, tearful too and in the dark reminded that art heals, enlightens, bridges, sustains, and connects all at once.
Just your everyday family vacation snapshots…when your family is ALL THIS and MORE
We arrived back in Maine around 10:00AM yesterday after the red-eye from Washington State Monday night. Leaving Sam’s family was all kinds of hard, for so many reasons. For me the hard was because my own visit with them was so short compared to last year. I dropped so easily back into flow with his mom, his grandmother and his sibs that I felt cheated from the brevity of the one and a half day visit this time.
I also wanted every opportunity to see Sammy in his new flow with them with me there. Of course it is going to be immediately different once I show up, as evidenced by the “Instagram Live” broadcast from inside the car with his brothers and cousins on their way to shoot hoops mid week. (Talk about being allowed insight into a world you are not part of!) Finally, due to the dramatically declining health of his grandfather, there was a layer to this the leaving that felt very very hard. Not only is he very ill, but the care-taking demands on his Nahnah were exhaustive. I so wanted to be there to help her in ways that I am equipped and able to do.
When I asked Sam if he was sad about leaving he said that he was fine. When pushed a little bit, he said that he got what he needed from the trip. I could go on and on about what I think that means, but that is not my place. Sammy gets to take that one out and unpack it in his memoir one day. What I can tell you is that he stayed up till 4:00am every night in a room with three boys who claim him as their own. He never opened the new toothbrush I put in his back pack. As in still in the packaging!
Leaving California was another kind of hard. Until I have had more time to integrate that into my experience of being back on the East Coast I need to hold off on saying too much here. I will say that being grounded and supported where I was staying by my dearest friend and Sam’s namesake Samantha was critical to my ability to stay healthy, focused, and in my body for the duration of the journey. From mediation, to long foggy walks, to laying on the bed and laughing and crying to eating home made soup I felt totally held.
So when Marcel’s donor and family came to pick him up for their adventuring the day after we landed they came in and stayed at Samantha’s for an hour for coffee and bagels and ease. This was normalizing and perfect for everyone. Kids coming and going, many conversations happening at once. Samantha and Tree have known of each other for a decade, so their meeting was so important too. Marcel found his footing with his new one year old brother (pictured above, and yes there is some kind of resemblance) and his feels-like-a-half-brother as well. I felt as if I had known Tree’s wife (who we will just call “Gorgeous” here) for a lifetime within six seconds. It was Gorgeous who said; “this visit is energizing for all of our souls.” Indeed. Sending them all off for the day and a half was like sending your child to the favorite uncle and auntie for an overnight. Clearly we are sill trying to find the language for all of these new relationships. More on that soon.
Leaving California was not immediately hard on Marcel, as he really missed his big brother, and was eager to meet Sam’s family too. (And as you can see above, he was quite a hit!) But clearly figuring out how to stay in deeper connect with all of the love he discovered is hugely important. That Marcel came back from his time with them, and his half day alone with Tree more eager than ever for the world to know him as a young Black man is important to mention. He is so deeply curious about how people see him and know him right now.
What I keep telling Marcel is how important it is that he know himself first. Pretty much we checked that box as a big YES for all of us in the last week. One of my favorite parts of all of this, is that now is when we all get to really reap the benefits that this trip could begin to mean for all of us.
The journey has just begun.
Birth-family Reunion Travel Fund
We have just completed our cross country trip, and still hopeful to raise the expense of the airfare through crowd sourcing. We are only $200.00 away from that attainable $2100.00 reach! Will you please consider a $10.00 contribution? Each donation adds up and truly helps. Thank you!!!!
Mama C and the Boys Patronage
Love what you read here? Are you a first time reader, or a long time fan? Do you look forward to opening the email announcing a new post? Has your own understanding of Open Adoption, transracial parenting, or known donor family connection shifted in a helpful way? If so will you please consider showing your support with a ten dollar fandom contribution? This allows me to be "paid" here, instead of needing to farm the stories out elsewhere. This will also help me keep Mama C add free and content full all year round! Bisous!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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…