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.

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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.

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.

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.

A Decade on a Dock: Musings of a Single Mother before Marriage Part 1

on the dock, standing tall
on the dock, standing tall

 

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…

Morning coffee delivery
Morning coffee delivery: Looking at you Shrek

And we’re live: The AARP Modern Family has arrived!

Shrek!
Shrek! (outtake)

 

 

AARP photo shoot.
AARP photo shoot final shot. Photo by Gregg Segal

The story, the video, the piece we have all been eagerly waiting for is finally here. For the entire online story please go right to the source! If you are a member of the AARP family (#46isthenew50) crack the magazine and see our story in print too.

 

 

 

Love Potion 101: Get out of Dodge for at least three days-ALONE

Falling at the falls
Falling at the falls

 

A week ago, Shrek and I went on an international adventure, alone, for three and half days. We dropped the boys off with Uncle and my father and his wife on a Thursday in Massachusetts and drove across the Canadian border the next morning.

We spent three days and two nights in Quebec City. We had not spent more then one night together alone, without any of our seven kids in the entire two and half years we have been together.

If you are trying to navigate the richly rewarding and intensely complex world of a blended family follow our lead and plan a get away trip as soon as you are able. If you have been with your honey since before the littles came onto the scene, I bet the same logic applies.

Ten reasons to leave the kids behind and get away together now:

1. Being alone in your own house (for even one night) without the kids in the next room allows you to feel like a grown up in your own home. How you spend that time is up to you. We chose the station on the radio, and didn’t have to worry if the music was too loud after 8:30pm. A cuddle on the couch was not at risk of being interrupted.

2. Planning a trip without one whit of consideration about what we do with the kids once we got there, meant we didn’t really have to plan a thing! I checked out a book about Canada from the library the day before we left, because I could. I haven’t allowed myself that kind of “ease” or lack of planning in a decade.

3. A six hour road trip can be leisurely. You can have NPR on, lingering uninterrupted adult conversation and no prepared snacks. It does not include fear of dead gadget batteries, DVD players malfunctioning, or sudden panic struck forays into unknown strip malls for a public bathroom because I HAVE TO PEE RIGHT NOW MOMMY!!!

4. The car stays clean.

5. When you pass through customs, there is not confusion about if the kids are your kids, or his kids, or someone else’s kids. There are no letters or birth certificates to provide on demand, or explanations of what a donor is or isn’t, or why there is no father named on the birth certificate of the one you adopted or birthed.

6. At the hotel, you actually get to choose to sleep in the same bed as your husband, fiance, or partner. You do not have to promise to sleep next to one kid on one day, hold hands with the other the next, or give them all your pillows, and leave all the lights on to make sure they can go to sleep.

7. You can eat whatever, and whenever you want. You can be the quiet table. You can wander slowly in the streets afterwords, and be the sweet couple in the window of the bar where the local blues musician is playing some deep and slow wrap your heart around these notes rift that is wafting onto the cobble stone street. You can look into your honey’s eyes for an extended period of time, and realize you had no idea they were that green.

8. When it is raining out, you can still hold hands and walk along the river for several hours in a frightfully American looking parka that could be mistaken for a tent, and compose an entire poem in your head because you have space remember it.

9. A museum does not have to have the word children in it anywhere to be on your list of possible destinations. You can stroll through a gallery in a museum and actively loathe the painting you see, and not need to explain that while the artist may have been trying their best, you do not actually have to agree that it is worthy of an entire wall. You can sit in the cafe and eat all of the cookie you bought for yourself, or share some with your honey. You can linger in front of one image for twenty minutes, and even come back to it, and not have to thank the guard for helping you find your missing child, or be horrified when she asks you to leave because playing tag in front of the Degas is forbidden. You can put your head on your sweetheart’s shoulder while he talks about why they like a print, and notice that they are kind of sharp in a way you hadn’t noticed before.

10. After almost four days of uninterrupted time with your partner, you remember the sixty-two original reasons you fell in love with them, and add at least seventy-three more. In a way it feels like I finally met the man I have been waiting to fall in love with for the last two and half years. Or, I finally recognized in myself, a woman who was ready to deepen and deeply trust in this relationship. But, for me, this had to happen independent of parenting.  I didn’t realize just how much more to us there could be when we finally created the chance to find out. Or maybe I was afraid that I wasn’t ready to show up as a partner, and a woman independent of my super woman single mom identity? That identity was formed long before Shrek came into the picture, so it was critical for me to get outside of that me, in order to lay down a solid foundation for loving Shrek as Shrek first, and then as Shrek the bonus dad, and father.

 

What you might be thinking: Take away the necessity of caring for the kids and what will we discover?  What if we don’t enjoy each others company when we are alone? What if we don’t know how? Is it a skill we could learn?  I now in my case, it wasn’t until we were on the road, with passports in hand that I knew we were about to find out. Bottom line? I couldn’t be more happy that we did.

 

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.

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.

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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.