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.
Recently an editor at AARP magazine contacted me to see if we would be willing to be part of a photo shoot about the “Modern American Family”. After several emails back and forth, and lots of clarifying questions we agreed. The huge bonus here was the travel allowance to get four out of five of Shrek’s available children in town for the shoot. They came from as far as San Francisco, and as near as up the street for hair, make up, and click, click, snap, snap for a good part of last Sunday.
But why us? Well apparently we evened out an upcoming story for the boomers on family today-both regionally and in terms of the composition of our blended family in the making. Here’s a few stanzas from a poem I wrote to honor the occasion that might further answer the question:
Remember we want to capture
the nine of you at ease
so the rest of the world
sees the “modern family”
wait, wait that’s it-
Adoption, blended family
transracial, known donor insemination,
divorce, first marriage at 46, second
marriage at 61, run of the mill,
kind of thing
Everyone look this way
On 3, 2, 1:
See-family is click click
with eating an ice cream cone
as long as it complements the color of your shirt.
The experience was a complete hoot really. (Leading up to it there was definitely some free floating anxiety about just how one is supposed to present as a modern family in the making…) But once we were all here there was some very sweet family bonding around the edges of it all. The photographers Gregg, and Tom, and Caitlin the glamorous make up artist or “groomer” were part of the blend by the time the shoot was complete. Five thousand tons of delicious food were delivered for our lunch and in six weeks or so the issue will appear.
I was also interviewed over the phone for the story, and am super hopeful that a link to Mama C and the Boys might be included in the copy. Since the magazine boasts the largest readership in the world, it might mean a little boost in readership? For our “trouble” we will also receive a few prints from the day to mark this surprising and magical moment in time beautifully.
A grinder is when a bunch of poets put themselves to the grind, to produce a poem a day for thirty days, sharing collectively through an email exchange. There is no commentary, just put it out there by midnight, and have nine other never before seen poems delivered to your mailbox from all over the country/world. The idea I gather is to keep dropping in with the muse, much like you practice the piano each day with the hope of getting a little better…moving a song, or two forward. Continue reading “Grinders, edgy moments, and a little wave to my benefactors present and future”→
Last night Shrek and I exhaled. We even shared a sense of a semi accomplishment of sorts: a very low key, and mostly uneventful blended family holiday week. With seven kids between us there is all sorts of potential for eventful… Low key may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me these days it is a prize. It is in the calm that I find connection, and the chance to notice more of what we are capable of individually and collectively.
The last few months have been remarkable, but also very challenging and demanding. I used to find such solace writing about the hard stuff here. Then as I deepened with Shrek, my hard, was often our hard, or in part because of each other hard. This makes blogging about it complicated. SInce the hard was itself complicated, the act of writing about it became less of a way of finding my way out, and more of a way of finding my way deeper in. No thank you.
I even contemplated wrapping up Mama C, considering perhaps that an era had come to an end. Mama C and the Boys is no longer a container for who I am I thought. We are not 3.25, or 3.75, we are for real 4. But, there it is. We are four. With four comes a whole host of new ways to explore, examine, and reflect on it in this venue. Shrek is marrying a writer after all…
So here it goes, an attempt to shift into Mama C and all her boys. A dip into a new realm which looks with consideration and compassion into blended families, choosing life partnership after forty-five, shifting from single parenting to co-parenting, aging, adoption and transracial just about everything for starters. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll do my best to share some of my and our hard, and some of the ah-has here, in my singular voice that resonates with reflection, vulnerability, insight and humor. Peace.
It was date night extraordinaire. Everyone woke up excited about it. There were no sitters involved, and Shrek and I won’t even see each other for days. Now that I have your attention, I’ll share with you how this harmonic convergence came about, and perhaps inspire you to shake it up a little at your house too?
Date Night 1: Marcel and Sage For Marcel’s birthday, his fairy godmothers (one of my birth coaches and her girlfriend) asked me what he would like. In my continuing quest for simplicity, and less plastic I suggested they offer Marcel a special night out with just them. The plan: dinner out, then bowling (Marcel’s choice) and Marcel’s first sleep over away from Sammy and me ever! We are meeting up for breakfast at their house this morning.
He almost NEVER gets one on one time with my friends, while Sammy enjoyed such things often before and after Marcel was born. The experience of being seen, treasured, and adored by a loving member of our extended (biological or chosen) family is always memorable. I still hold my walks, dinners, and visits alone with my “Uncle” Richard (the first such weekend alone was for my twelfth birthday in his NYC apartment-incredible) as some of the most cherished memories of my life.
At those moments I was not a daughter, meeting or not meeting parental expectations, instead I was Kate, and she was magnificent. Because that is always how Richard made me feel. He asked the kinds of questions parents would never imagine, like this exchange when I was around eleven that I will never forget; “So you like boys yet? No? Good. Boys your age are not nearly ready for a smart alec like you.” It took me thirty-five more years to realize he was right. Uncle Dick passed shortly Marcel was born, but he remains constant in my musings. I still have his number in my phone. He’d think that is ridiculous. That’s why I can’t delete it.
Date Night #2: Sammy and Mommy. Our date fell in my lap in the form of two great (and free) tickets to see the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. He plays the Ukelele at home, has taken himself busking (with impressive results) and is now in a uke club at his school. Prior to the show he requested sushi at a place in town that includes an acrobatic display of juggling knives and onions drenched in oil that erupt in flames inches from your face.
At one point I said; “crazy to think that without Marcel or Shrek this would be what our life would look like all the time.” We both indulged in that fantasy for a second and our eyes got big. Then Sam said; “Well I really know how much Marcel loves me, and that feels good. He had to come up and give me another hug goodbye. He is mostly a good thing.” I melted, and reminded Sam that we are all mostly a good thing. I shared how much I know Shrek would love the show we are about to see, and yet, I was really happy he was where he was too.
For me the real gift of alone time with Sam, is to realize that it takes a different kind of focus to be on on one. You take the i-phone and the flames away and you have two people who are very different in a zillion ways. Our glue: we made each other a family, and that is something we really know at the core. That is ours forever. The kid is funny, and we really laughed, a lot. After the show, which was wildly entertaining for both of us (talk about arrival) although so starkly white compared to say, BB King the week before, Sam said; “Mom that was cool. Really cool.” Then he just hugged me in the middle of the street. Ka-ching.
Date Night #3: Shrek and the Fellars. Shrek is taking off tonight on a retreat of sorts that involves old friends, new friends, and listening to and making music. He has not had the opportunity to spend extended time with these particular friends probably since before meeting us. I am thrilled for his adventure, and also a little sad that I don’t get to spend all the long weekend lazy easiness with him. But rather than get my pout on and shut down (oh yes I do, and how) I chose a nobler route. I made an explicit ask that we spend some uninterrupted family time with real intention around the “fun” and “together” part from Sunday to Monday. He was all over that. We have a sweet ritual of hiding goofy cards somewhere for the other to find when apart. OK, so sometimes one of us thinks they need to remind the other not to forget this ritual, but hey you get your needs met right? He left before the rest of us, and was slightly giddy.
The text at about midnight saying he began missing me at 6:29 (the minute before he left) was one of those melty moments for me. The texts following telling me how great the gathering already was, and how much music he was playing also thrilled me. We have had some rough patches lately, so a week ago the thought of him leaving was upsetting because I was wondering when we’d have time to land back on solid ground. Solid ground, I am coming to understand is a state of mind. And, one we can share apart as well as together.
All of this reminds me that I have so much healing still to do around being left, and that moments like this do just that: affirm that in his leaving, he is actually closer to me in ways. His connection to me, and to us deepens when he can see his whole self realized in the context of his new family too. Ka-ching. Hopefully for Marcel, his overnight will strengthen a little of his independence and at the same time see how his connection to all of us is internal too. Sam? Well he is snoring on the couch a few feet from me as happy as can be!
Fruitvale Station is an emotionally wrenching cinematic foray into the last twenty four hours of the true story of Oscar Grant, the young man who was “accidentally” killed by a BART transit worker on New Year’s Day in Oakland, California in 2008. After the movie my mother of Black sons heart left the film on a stretcher writhing in uncomfortable whiteness. Wrenching in it’s realism the viewer experiences an unshakeable journey as she/he becomes easily enamored and charmed by Oscar, and woven into the life of his daughter, his family, his relationships, and the consequences both good and bad of all of his choices.
In the opening minutes of the movie the viewer sees the actual cell phone footage of the real Oscar’s last few minutes alive. (It was this montage of footage from other passengers that was instrumental in bringing so called “justice” to the situation.) I went to the movie with my dear friend Edwige, a woman of color and a sister to two brothers Oscar’s age. I sobbed through much of the last thirty minutes of the film. Sobbed. After, I found myself feeling oddly apologetic about all the crying and shaking I was doing. She reassured me, saying it was even a relief to have me crying next to her. We sat in a cafe for a few hours after talking about Oscar’s life, and unpacking the experience of watching it unfold, and ultimately end in front of us.
For the next several days and weeks after seeing a film like this, or a play, or reading a book by and about people of color is when I find myself riding my own internalized racism merry go round from one scene to another. For example, on New Year’s Eve Oscar is at his mother’s house for her birthday dinner. The house is cozy, and filled with relatives and friends, food and festivities. In my head I noticed that I expected to see a house that didn’t look so much like the one I grew up in. The next question I ask myself is what did I expect to see? Where were the drugs? The yelling? The things that can explain why this could have happened. In that moment is where my race and class assumptions come floating to the top, like dead things on a lake. If I can stand my own current assumptions and truths, I accept an invitation to change.
Where this used to be a very painful process, now it is unpleasant, and reassuring at the same time. Reassuring that I am opening up more and more to these dark and recessed places where my assumptions, prejudices, and ignorance still hides. Unpleasant because there seems to be no end to the socialization, the conditioning, and the privilege.
One of the hardest moments was when I realized that if Oscar had been on my subway car that night with all of his friends, and I had been alone on the car with them I KNOW I would have felt threatened by their very presence. This man, who will be my son in nine years looked scary to me. Without seeing Fruitvale Station I would not have had the opportunity to have lived with that moment, followed by wanting to fight my way into the ambulance with him and insist every step of the way that MY SON get the BEST CARE EVER RIGHT NOW. Watching I was aching to be able to insert myself into the film, and work every ounce of power and privilege that I had to make sure he lived. If I was there, would things have been different?
Seeing a play that is set almost one hundred years ago, might seem at first to have a little less potential for cathartic exploration in the white mind and race department. Not true. In this case the opportunity to witness the “hidden under world” of the Black experience in this historically rich play by August Wilson (who was biracial, which I never knew) was uncomfortable for the viewer for an entirely different set of reasons. When the band members are downstairs in the windowless cold basement, waiting for Ma Rainey to arrive for the recording session, their story telling safely out of the gaze of the white man, paints a very real picture of past and present institutionalized racism. The anger, humor, defeat and passion of the play all combine into a surprise ending that left this the white viewer with a cataclysmic sense of both shame and enlightenment.
Readers of this blog, and participants of presentations often want tangible next steps on their own journey to racial justice. Reading a book by an author of color (alone or in a book group) or going to a film or play written by a person of color, about people of color is a great start. Not only are you are giving an important message to the publishing, film and theater industry with your financial vote, but by bringing along a few friends you are creating a space for a shared inquiry into your experiences as viewer of any race. Herein lies the potential for expanding your edges, and shedding light into your personal and shared racism. This, in my experience is when shift on a much larger scale is allowed to happen.
I would like to “dedicate” this post to the students in the graduate counseling program at the University of Maine, who I recently had the opportunity to work with on the topic of racial justice, counseling, and white privilege. I was so struck by their honesty, and openness in class, and in their pre and post evaluations of my presentation there. Our shared experience was transformative.
Six years ago I was approaching a place that was something like discomfort laced with pure terror. Having gained nearly EIGHTY POUNDS during my pregnancy and facing the reality of becoming a single mother for the second time was nothing short of paralyzing at times.
But thanks entirely to the continuous support of my amazing village, here we are six years later about as steady as the canoe can be-packed full on for her daily journey up river.
I have been struck with a crazy wave of nostalgia as this birthday approaches. Saying goodbye to five seems to really be rocking my little heart. I feel desperate this week to recall milestone moments, which are nothing but bubbles that burst just as I reach them.
OK, I have to stop subjecting all of us to this parade of crazy haired shots that get me every time. I just don’t remember soaking in how incredibly amazing this child was at this moment. Yes, I was massively sleep deprived, working full time, and dealing with parenting 101, 201, 301, 401, simultaneously. So much of it I feel I just survived. Survived well enough, as this blog testifies to for the most part, but now on the other side, I wonder how much of it I missed?
Well instead of fighting it, I am just going to let myself feel the grief and land in it. Then like him, perhaps I’ll be able to launch into this new year with all of the joy, magic, and adventure it holds.
Just as I was about to push “publish” Marcel came in the kitchen to ask me what rhetorical means.