2012: You took me by surprise

Brown barb special in aisle five
Brown barb special in aisle five

Last night Shrek and I ended the year sitting on the couch reflecting in a round about way. “Quite a year Mama C,” he began. “You moved in with this man, you got engaged, you became a blended family of nine…” And from there we mused. We mirrored. We laughed. We got big eyed realizing that both of us climbed a few rocky mountains at break neck speed to arrive here on this couch in a calm and palpably easy space looking out a hopeful view for 2013. We had all our limbs and most of our teeth. Things look good.

Just prior to that he was playing his guitar and I was doing some journaling. He played me the song he used to propose to me among others. I scratched out a list of things I wanted to be reminiscing about at the close of 2013 (published poems, tropical sands in my toes, and microphones were on the list, but you’ll have to wait to discover the others with me). It was about the easiest New Year’s Eve ever.

Just prior the boys went to sleep to strummed lullabies and cuddles easily after a last bath of 2012. Bath and hair by candlelight to calm us from the uproarious and lovely gathering of families from the boys’ school earlier in the evening. A school Sam had only began going to a year ago this week, and Marcel in September.  A school and community that all four of us were now considered happily ensconced within her colorful and vibrant fabric. Just this week Sam had his first and very successful overnight, and Marcel his first kindergarten playdate. I’m in full swing co-organizing a school wide Martin Luther King Day celebration as an active member of the PTO. We have a school community that we all know we belong to. This is big.

When I came upstairs a few minutes after the boys I came upon a sight that mushed me right on up. On the living room couch sat Shrek with Sam under one arm leaning into him reading a book. Marcel’s toes were curled into him on the other side, as he leaned back and listened too. The lights were soft as Shrek’s voice gently narrated a very powerful story of freedom and perseverance to his rapt audience. I wiggled in next to my sweet boys all in a heap.

I took a very deep breath.

This is abundance. This is blended. This is all I need right here, right now.

This is arrival. This is part of my now larger family of nine who are also there with us on that couch in our playful memories from earlier in the week of all of us celebrating and Wii dancing together  becoming our own blended new normal.

You took me by surprise 2012. Or, I took you by surprise. Either way, it worked. 2013, we welcome you to the stage. We know you’ve got a great show planned!

 

Where am I? Where I am.

Here I am.

I’ve been feeling a little unplaced the last few weeks.
Journeying between my rich old life and this rich new one.
We say old to mean the past, the former, what we no longer have or do:

Our old house, our old dog, our old job.

My “old” is living alone as a single mama-on one floor of a two family home.
The upstairs was Uncle’s old apartment.

Now we (Shrek+boys+me) are living in the entire two family home-as one NEW family.

Shrek’s grown children are also our new family.  They visit and do their laundry, eat birthday cake, and just hang out with their dad on the couch in the late afternoon. It is so new for all of us. A new that can only become an old, through several loads of laundry, and your feet hanging over the couch that used to be in his old house too.

How do they take in these two bonus boys climbing all over their sphere of understanding about who their dad is? What does it feel like to them to see the sawdust in Shrek’s hair from the loft beds he made for these sons-and little brothers-in-training? Of course they are being nothing short of magnificent with all of us. I feel so blessed by my bonus kids too. It allows me to tap into a way of being that feels so easy, and natural for me, as I have many young people their age in my life already.

Then there is Shrek and his experience of all of their adjusting. How is he reconciling his old and his new?  My deepest sense is that we are all falling into family with each other right on pace.  It is, after all another kind of love–family love. It has awkward moments, but really they are just moments that are. Just leaves around this growing family tree scattered about. Colorful, rich, and vibrant.

Then there are the days that I go from feeling like I was really good at being a single mom, to feeling like I am really rotten at being a co-parent, a partner, a fiance-in-trainning (no not yet mom) all the time. Then, sometimes I feel like I have all my plates spinning in sync and I don’t dare exhale. I can do this. I can. I think I can. Hey look! I’m doing it…

CRASH!

Pieces everywhere.
Who picks them up now?
Do I pick them up alone?
Do I know how to really ask for his help?
Do I get scared he’ll say no if I do ask?
Do I get resentful when he doesn’t just pick them up without my asking?
Do I get defensive if he picks them up his way, and not my way?
Do I remember how to be appreciative when he finds a different way to put them back together that works too?

Like  Marcel’s Harold and the Purple Crayon imitation up the stairwell wall all the way in to the living room, and ending on the cushions of Shrek’s couch (with a washable-thank you Universe-marker) was a recent straw on this camel’s back.

I felt ashamed. Shrek seemed stunned. Marcel washed the walls, Shrek cleaned the couch, and the apology letter was crafted. Dust settled. It was not the end of the world. I sat alone for a moment wondering if this “trail” Marcel drew was an indication things were moving too fast for him? For all of us? Was Shrek upstairs wondering if this was more than he bargained for?

In the next breath I wondered if it wasn’t the story-teller in Marcel, just marking the transition, and asking us all to notice, he was making his way up the stairs too.

A new do, for the old Marcel. HERE I AM

Alas, we are here.

Behind leaves, and with shaved heads*.

We are upstairs, and we are downstairs.

We are old and we are new.

_______

* Sometimes it is time for a change, and sometimes that change is dramatic, and turns out to be just what you needed.

Things in flight, and the boots under the table

It’s been, uh, let’s say rather full around here.

Kindergarten is big. It is about as demanding a shift on a little guy as it gets. A thousand new things to learn how to do well. Add a a zillion hundred new names of your new friends. Take away your mom and brother’s easing, reassuring words, looks, and hugs all day and you are setting up a little person for hard patch.  He’s handling it beautifully at school. His teacher has nothing but great things to say. He is smiling when I pick him up.

getting away as fast as he can…

Then we get home. Two words: OVERWHELMED EMOTIONS.  This looks like outbursts of the vocal and physical variety. Things in flight: toys, fists, demands. Often his entire four year old self racing as fast as he can (which is FAST) in the opposite direction from me. Shrek and I have had some great conversations about how to best support him. Reasoning wasn’t working. Time outs were turning into complete mayhem. Then we reached out to other circles as well. What we’ve come up with that seems to be really helping-more connection-more hugging-less time outs-and lots of reassurance that these are BIG EMOTIONS and they are OK and that he is DOING GREAT.

An example of a successful switch it up intervention was last night. He and Sam were watching a movie. He lost track of the plot because one of the characters spoke in a heavy accent. He stands up right in front of the television screaming; “I HATE THIS. IT MAKES NO SENSE. I AM GOING TO TURN IT OFF NOW!!!” Asking him to please sit down, or count to three with the promise of a time out would lead him strait to Melt Down Avenue before you could say; “Don’t throw that remote!”. Instead Shrek suggested that I stop folding the laundry in the other room, and offer to sit with him in my lap, and explain the narrative when necessary. He was cuddled in my lap, quietly watching and laughing in seconds. When the dishes were done, Shrek joined us too. Maybe this seems completely obvious to you. But to me–who was so into CONSEQUENCES for everything, it has been a great reminder to switch it up, CONNECT MORE and find what works better.  It has also been great to realize that what works for one fantastic kid, is not necessarily working for the other fantastic kid. Why this was an ah-ha this late in the game?

What is the parable about the rabbi who tells the man that if his home feels crowded and overwhelming it is time to buy a goat, a cow, a horse and so on and so on?

Establishing trust with the new bird.

Yesterday we welcomed “Friendly” or “Sky” or “Bird” depending on who you ask into our home. Sam in particular is thrilled to have a parakeet. I’m enjoying it too. Lots of opportunity for literacy; “Read to us what he can’t eat again Sam?” and “Parakeets really need quiet in the house to adjust.” It was really sweet to have this be a FAMILY decision, including Shrek, to get the bird or not after a student’s family asked us if we’d be interested in the bird, cage and all. Having a pet is a big deal, and this felt like a great place to start. A bird requires daily attention, and care, but it doesn’t poop on your floor, or bark.

So, why did they want to part with such a beauty?  SHE’S ANNOYING according to the daughter. Huh. To be discovered?

Now to some seeing a large pair of industrial strength boots under your kitchen table might be annoying too. Or perhaps it just a sign of a welcomed change, a growing family, and wait what was that parable getting at?

Shrek’s boots on my, I mean, our kitchen floor.

So although I still feel a rather palpable feeling of loss when I walk around the community pool near the skate park and see this:

in a few steps I have the pleasure of watching Sam leaping into his own in magical ways, that remind me how precious it all is, and not just in the summer time.

I hope your new starts and transitions are not all feeling like “dropping into the big bowl”, but if so, remember that once you leap, you do reach the bottom, with another chance to climb up, up, up, and try it again!

his vase, my flowers

His vase.
Flowers from my garden.
His chair.
My table.
Our new home.

Shrek is moving in.

My chest seizes.
My breath slows.

Surrender I’m told.

Don’t think I haven’t heard that before.

I don’t know how to depend on anyone.

Except me.

I start to cry. I tell him that I want to believe in this, and it is so hard for me to believe in this. I need him to believe even more than I do in this right now. Because depending on anyone to really show up, and be present for me and these boys is not the cloth I am cut from.

I started a family on my own for a reason.

It is all I have really known for almost nine years.

I’ve gotten so good at doing this alone.

What if I’m not as good at doing this with someone else?

Do you see this as a good thing? Do you see that being in a committed loving relationship will make it easier?

The pause is pregnant. I want to. I know that I want to. I am almost there an awful lot of the time. I’m not there a lot of the time too. It must be hard to believe in me at those moments. But he does. Because I need him to. Because he needs to too.

When I can’t seem to get myself from the middle where my panic in this transition lives, to the new place where he seems to be dancing alone on our new island humming; “I’m having the time of my life,” I think of that vase.

Alone a vase has a great deal of potential for beauty.

Cut flowers on a counter, are not going to survive very long that way.

But when you put them together?

Something new and stunning happens.

Of course, wild flowers outdoors look magnificent there too.

Yes, they do, and they run the course of their lives intentionally that way.
Then they shrivel up, and return to the soil, and come back up next year, and do it again,

and again.

In a vase, or outside.

Impermanent radiance.

Yes, I want to tell him, I do feel the benefit, the thrill, the love, the possibility
and at the same time I also fear that which is so terribly unknown.

I love all that we can be, these flowers and this vase. I love how open you are, and how you hold me in all my glory for every fleeting moment that is now, always. I love your strength, and your fragility. I love your stance. I love your dance. I love your patience and your desire.  I love this vase, and how much more purposeful you become with me inside you.

His vase.
My flowers.

Shrek is moving in.

If I could I would (poem)

If I could I would

Turn myself into a barn swallow
swooping, diving, and gliding
with ease-speed-grace
between the highs and lows

Unencumbered by words
that never appeared on a screen
or fears manifested beyond
the barnyard cat

My fragility then sealed within
the delicate space marrying my
feathers tethered to my trussed bones
and not in this clunky worn tough heart

If I could I would
turn myself into a barn swallow
racing with ease-speed-grace
to my strong love turned safely
into a warm and familiar nest.

______

This poem I wrote to Shrek a few weeks ago after a rough spot that started when I said something, or he said something, or I didn’t say something or he didn’t say something the other wanted or needed to read on a text message of all things. Since then I believe we’ve committed to NEVER using a text screen to process a tough moment. Then we did it at least two more times. We like to research what doesn’t work over and over again sometimes.

Yesterday we interviewed our first couples therapist. Not because we are in crisis. Quite the opposite. Because between our seven kids, and over 100 years of living we’ve accumulated some material we might need some help navigating on occasion. Blending these families, and the two of our independent life styles, and all of our expectations and needs and hopes and fears feels a little like arriving at a construction site for a luxury hotel and all of us brought our own building material, architects, time lines, and safety concerns. Marcel is probably picturing a knight’s castle, and Sam is all ready to build an Olympic stadium. How about you? Have you ever gone to couples counseling? Are you considering it? Did it help? How about a little poll to spice things up here on Mama C today? If you are not in a couple–you could answer in terms of individual or family therapy too.

Gratitude

I was inspired again by Harriet at See Theo Run, with her short, succinct Sunday Gratitude post. So here is mine.

1. This view from my kitchen window. My little urban garden success story that brings me immeasurable joy. That is a lettuce table next to it.

Flowers for the butterflies and my lettuce table

2. Brotherhood evidencing itself in unsuspecting ways.

Careful Sammy there is a really big wave coming!

3. Family vacations that are indeed a vacation.

Yes, that is Shrek holding on tight to the margins, as I’m holding him.

4. Meeting an “old friend” for the first time, and it feeling like we’ve known each other for ages. This is the lovely Eila of DearHusband-DearWife-DearBaby fame with whom we finally got to hang out for a lovely drawn out afternoon. Her amazing Mama and Papa came too, and we all left the day feeling like this was one of many past and future hangouts. Liz came into my world when she edited and encouraged several pieces that I wrote a few years back for MixedandHappy.com. We’ve really stayed in touch through blogging, babies, and Instagram!

Fast friends

Wii Sports on a rainy day. It’s a new era, but an appreciated one.

Single Mama gratitude-the larger family edition

On the train with my boys
Mamacandtheboys 2012 All Rights Reserved

When I travel alone, I remember how much I appreciate traveling with Shrek, or a friend. Bringing yourself, and two boys, and your luggage into a crowded public bathroom is challenging. Allowing Sammy to go in a public bathroom alone is still out of the question for me.  It just is. Those “family bathrooms” are such a welcomed gift–the ones that are a big room with their own door in some airports and train stations.

When I travel alone I am always hearing how well behaved my boys are, seconds before I want to scream; “don’t eat the popcorn off the floor PLEASE!!!!!”

When I travel alone, I see how grown up they really are.

When I travel alone I see so many folks looking, smiling, staring, but mostly appreciating our family for whatever reason they are.

When I arrive at the destination, in this case my Dad and his wife’s place only a few hours away by train and bus, I feel so much space open up around me. Space is really about time. Time for me to be one of a gaggle of caretakers. I get to meditate, go for a run, and even say; “here are their pj’s, I am going to go to bed early..” and just like that I am asleep and they are taken care of. For those of you who do not single parent often or ever, I can not begin to tell you how rare a gift that is. To be able to go to sleep in advance of your children? It get’s even better–the boys can wake up and go downstairs and they don’t need me. Grampy is already up. Uncle is already up. The cousins are almost up. I can say; “I’ll be down soon” and no one cares.

I can steal upstairs and write a blog post. I can meditate. I can lie on the bed, and look up at the ceiling and just wonder. I can finish an application for that award and send it off two days early. (I am a semi finalist for a very prestigious award, but I don’t want to say anything else. Just send your good vibes to the panel today and this week. The award has to do with race, culture, and education.) I can even write a poem. It may not be the best poem, but it’s a poem.

When I am with my larger family for a spell, I move slightly out of my motherhood role, and find that I am allowed to be both the mother and the sister, daughter, and just allowed to dip a little more into the all of me circle sketched out on the life stage. I love it here. I also love it when my kids see me here. At the same time, new layers emerge in their persona too. Different members bring out different skills, edges, desires, and needs in them too. Last night as they were playing Uncle Tag and laughing their guts out, I could feel their happiness in a way that I rarely get to see. There is an abandon that Uncle brings out, that is so precious. Watching a ball game with Grampy, or painting with Grammy all show allow for new styles of parenting, and loving on them too. They are celebrated and encouraged, and reeled in through new lenses. Perhaps all of this is so obvious to most of you. To me, perhaps as a single mama who doesn’t share that with a co-parent on a daily basis, many of these observations are somewhat new.

Vrooooom-Chirp-Splash-You’re it

Shrek’s bike, and my flowers that the boys planted in the flower box Shrek built

The calendar says so. My flowers say so. The plan to go strawberry picking today says so. Sammy still asleep, and Marcel playing with his trains and cars on a very weathered looking carpet says so. The extra helmet in the foyer say so. My school calendar for last year waiting to be replaced with my school calendar for next year says so. This anniversary of losing my little Dixie Dale say so. The whir of the fan, and the chirps and the swaying bird feeder says so. The crackling laughter from the foot traffic passing by the window says so. Summer is here.

It is a time for reflection and projection. Bucket lists, and to do lists. Plans and spontaneity. Watering cans, and paint cans. Swim

Funnel cake at the ball park

suits and hiking boots. Bleachers and beach chairs. Sand toys, and the constant presence of  a cooler being emptied or filled up. Sports camps and peace camps, and Mama C camp. Writing. Adventuring. Laughing. Connecting. Lakes, oceans, camp sights and stolen moments alone with a keyboard, and a promise to write more. To write often.

I will be co-teaching a summer reading program once a week, and doing some contractual work for my district, along with my summer curriculum design work, and hopefully a few other writing and race in the classroom gigs will manifest too. But this all falls squarely under the part time work department in terms of hours spent.

Shrek and I are looking forward to much more time together and as a family unit too. He’s on the docket for a goodly portion of the summer travel, and many weekend get aways, and this and thats. Yes, we’re doing great. Stay tuned..

You’re it!

I’m working on some ideas for summer blog posts–the kind that I can spend several hours thinking about, and hopefully collaborating with some other writers on them as well.  Race and child rearing, birth parent perception, the stigma of the single mother are all on the top ten list of topics I’m eager to dig into more deeply.  Do you have any burning topics you’d like Mama C to address? What are you looking forward to in the coming weeks? To laughter and restoration as much as possible for you and yours!

Significant males in our lives day

This morning we Skyped with my father in New Mexico, after making #1 Uncle blueberry pancakes.  Now the boys are off playing ball with him in the park. Bliss. We made a card for Shrek and are working on various messages and drawings for some of the other significant males in our lives that we like to acknowledge today.

The absence of a “father” per se, is not the curse or deficit some might attribute to the children of the single mama. In fact in our home, it is quite the contrary.

Neither Sam, nor Marcel have a dad. That is a fact. Both, have a biological father. In Marcel’s case that man is Tree his known donor. We emailed him a special message today. Marcel understands that Tree is not his dad, but is his biological father. Marcel has created a working definition of donor that meets his needs. This is not a sad thing, this is a very powerful act: to name and own your understanding of a relationship.  For today, that is a relationship that exists in it’s own container that the three of us are designing. It will evolve as Marcel gets older, and his needs change with that growth.  For Sam, there is a birth father, that he has seen pictures of, and whom he has reached out to with letters and pictures. He has not had any contact from him since he was about a year old.  .

What my sons do have is a super capable mom and an amazingly supportive village of co-parents which includes many, many, meaningful males. These men are among other things: Black, white, and many other hues. These men are adopted, married, transgendered, strait,unemployed, conventional, Jewish, free spirited, professional, spiritual, agnostic, political, Muslim, outgoing, independent, Christin, artistic, quiet, musical, single, immigrants, wealthy, athletic, young, middle aged, and older who all have one thing in common; a meaningful connection and commitment to participating in Sam and Marcel’s expansive walk in the world. These men model what maleness is: multifaceted, magnificent, and theirs to design.

A few weeks ago I asked Sam if he ever get’s any flack, or teasing from friends who know he doesn’t have a dad. He immediately answered; “No. My friends think it’s cool that I have a mom who does so much stuff with me, and that I don’t have to worry when my parents don’t get along.”  So, that is clearly a commentary on what first graders were talking about and taking in that day.  On another day I imagine Sam might have answered that differently–as he is surrounded by so many loving coupled  people, who have highly functional and successful relationships.  But when I pushed a little more that day he continued; “Mom, I think it’s cool that you do what you do. I don’t know, I just think we are really good just like we are. My friends like me, not me because I have a dad or don’t have a dad.”

This is also possibly a reflection of Sam taking in that marriage could be in my future one day, and that will mean a large shift in the family dynamic. But, for today we cherish all the many generous and gifted men in our lives, and all the ways you enrich all of our lives. Of course, this post would not be complete without acknowledging the two males who are probably the most significant in both their lives: each other. Years ago I read a quote from a young man, raised by a single mom, who also had a brother. In it he said;

“I learned how to be in relationship, by having relationship with my brother and my mother, and watching them do the same thing. I learned how to be a loving and relational man by watching what made a relationship successful.”

I was pregnant with Marcel when I read that.  To learning how to be in relationship, and honoring the men who show us over and over and over how that looks when it works, and modeling for us, how to arrive there-hearts and souls in tact.

Reading to my brother.

I’d love to hear about your experience with this day–what it means to you, or doesn’t. What books you read to your kids if Father’s Day is difficult, or challenging, that have helped your family find words to normalize and embrace all the great you do have. Who the most significant males are in your family dynamic, or how you see your children impacted by any of it. To read more about Father’s Day from all sides of the adoption constellation there is an Open Adoption Round Table discussion on the topic here.