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…
Clearly this year has big designs on Mama C and the Boys. For starters, Shrek and I are getting married this year. This means, among other things that I can no longer say; “We’re planning on getting married sometime next year.” Never has the switch from December to January seemed so significant.
Shrek presented me with a stack of the final old school co-designed and home printed “Save the Date” cards wrapped lovingly in plastic wrap yesterday morning. I’m mailing them out Catherine. I am marrying you. It is happening you know.
It has been a year and half since he proposed.
It has taken us that long to agree on much of anything, let alone a date, a place, and loosely on what such a celebration might actually sort of look like.
OK, the truth is that is has taken me that long to believe that I am really cut out for the long term committed relationship thing. I was just becoming so competent at getting along well with single mother me when he came along. I’m only half kidding. Learning how to be a half way decent (adoptive, transracial, and donor assisted) parent, with a professional life, who managed to practice a little self care, maintain a few friendships, write an occasional poem or blog post, and take care of a hundred year old house was no small potatoes. To do all that and still find myself to be agreeable company at the day’s end was heroic. I was a rather impressive solo act on the dance floor. The music doesn’t just switch from the Flashdance theme song to Louis Armstrong’s ‘Bout Time like that.
It takes time. Time, patience, and perseverance from both of us.
I am slowly realizing just how hard I have been fighting against this for the last two years to be completely honest. Having never experienced a long term committed relationship before (this is the longest relationship I have ever been in) I was, and still am very new to the lexicon of long term love. My dating dictionary was pocket sized, and honestly did not even have a definition for intimacy in it. Or at least one that applied to someone over the age of twenty-five with two kids and a whole lot of Hallmark Movies dictating her idea of the perfect relationship. I sense that I believed on some level that to lean into this relationship, meant that I had to abandon my identity as SUPER SINGLE ME which had come to be the only me I could really count on and trust. It is only in the last few months that I have experienced a merging of the capable, independent, creative, dynamic, relational, multifaceted me, with the partner, co-parent, lover, creative, dynamic relational multifaceted us. Follow me so far? It’s OK if you don’t, because I’m just getting the hang of it too.
Here’s an example: this time last year I had the HARDEST time sharing Shrek with his grown kids. I would act out when he seemed to disappear when they came into town for the holidays. I needed constant reassurance that I was important too. I put on my best bonus mom face when they were here, but then when we were alone instead of celebrating his marvelous love for them, and them for him, and all the ways everyone was thriving I would either pout, withdraw, or argue some minutia. It was as if I was always looking for evidence that he wasn’t REALLY in this with me and my kids…
Now forward a year, and you would see a completely different emotional and relational landscape. The arrival of his kids in town was exciting for both of us. It meant more connection for me and my kids, and a sense of ease and balance for Shrek for the brief time he had with them. As his relationship with each one is it’s own entity it meant seeing different sides of him too. My independent self enjoyed the alone time I had with my two when he was off with one or two of his five. My relational self loved planning meals, shopping for the perfect bonus kid gifts, and showing up for Shrek in a way that made him feel supported and loved. In turn he was of course very loving and affectionate with me while they were here and in a super happy mood for most of the last two weeks. No wonder he was all hearts and twinkles when he handed me those “Save the Date” cards.
And, all this time I really thought that Shrek was the difficult one. Huh.