Two weeks and counting!

Sammy and Mama C in California in 2005

Soon Sammy Sammy will be flying across the country on his own to spend a few days alone with his family in Tacoma, Washington.

I’m really curious and a little nervous about how this will shake out. He is closing in on 13, he is an old soul, the child has lived. But he is a child, still. He is a child moving between two mothers, two families, one love. He is journeying at a moment where the world feels volatile and unsafe. But his is the world he is entering into as a young adult. It is what he knows, what he must know. He is no longer that little in my arms. His will always be that little in my arms.

I’m also so thankful that all of this is possible in every way.

Marcel and I leave on our journey two days later to visit with his donor and family in California. (Knowing that I will be on the same coast as Sammy is going to bring us all ease I suspect.)  I’m equally curious how this Marcel moment will unfold, and what new understanding Marcel will gain about who his radiant, beautiful poetic self is in this lifetime. He will hold his little brother, who just turned one. He will be with his donor and his donor’s family. He will be invited into a new layer of understanding about what the word “family” holds for him.

Marcel and “Tree” in 2011

I’m also so thankful that everyone involved is all about the YES in this moment too. The everyone includes my husband who has been holding the YES in his own way.  I can not begin to imagine what his experience will be having us all across the country navigating this extended family foray away from him. (Of course he was invited to come, and would very much like to join us another time.)  And, yes,  part of this story began long before he came into our lives. One day we all hope that those markers will fade into the background, allowing this to just be a shared breath at any one moment of who we just are.

A dear friend reminded me to reach out on the blog to readers encouraging them to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign.

Or, for those of you who prefer to use PayPal and make a donation to this epic adventure that way-you can do so here for a generous $10.00 donation:

or here to pay for the pre-travel line up for both boys, or the tank of gas for the rental car for $25.00:
or a day of driving from the airport to Sammy’s family and back to the airport thirty-six hours later with $75.00 here:
or several hundred miles on the airplane for one of us with an over-the-top hugely appreciated $100.00 donation you can do so here:
Or finally because you just feel crazy moved by all us on this courageous, family-making, more-love is more-love adventure and want to support this being paid for outright with ease and love with a $500.00 donation here:

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

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.

 

What a photo shoot with AARP looks like: the aren’t we FAB edition

 

Shoot location 1: the ice cream shop.
Shoot location 1: the ice cream shop.

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-

freeze

Adoption, blended family
transracial, known donor insemination,
divorce, first marriage at 46, second
marriage at 61, run of the mill,
click-click-snap-snap
kind of thing

Everyone look this way
Relax
Get closer
On 3, 2, 1:

See-family is click click

snap-snap: synonymous
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.

 

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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.

Quote, Unquote

Marcel has been in rare quotable fashion lately:

On opportunity:

Last week, I came back up the stairs from the driveway at 6:55 am, already late for an early appointment. A lab appointment that required a twelve hour fast (read: no coffee) looked at Shrek, and announced with defeat; “My battery is dead, again. Can you please help me?”

Without skipping a beat, Marcel jumps off the couch, throws his arms over his head and in rah-rah fashion and hollers; “Yes! Yes Shrek buddy! This is your time to SHINE!”

You have  never seen two people smiling so big, while jumping a battery at 7:00 in the morning.

On parenting:

“Mom do you really think yelling at me to stop yelling is an effective parenting strategy?”

On blended families:

“Well sometimes I find myself shaking, wondering, do I really KNOW Shrek? I mean, how do I know if what I am feeling is what you really are supposed to feel about your dad?”

On perfection:

“The only thing we can ever be perfect at really, is being yourself.”

 

An elusive balance

Unicycle Sam
On our way

The family has just arrived home from a whirlwind trip to Delaware to visit and celebrate various birthdays with my side of the family.  We drove over 1,000 miles between Thursday night and this yesterday morning. Well, Shrek did the lion’s share there, and I book ended the trip. Driving that many miles amounted to saving that many dollars and then some in airfare. By driving through the night the boys were able to sleep allowing for minimal management and discomfort, not to mention the almost total absence of negotiations involved since they were asleep. Marcel slept for almost eleven hours strait, waking only once when we stopped for a break. Sammy watched the Empire State from the Tappan Zee and then fell back into his book for half an hour before crashing again.

Of course Shrek takes a big hit physically the next day, but bounces back with a little TLC. He kept telling me he was cranky. I was thinking to myself, “if this is your best cranky, we’re in good shape.”  Having a day to recover is something we always do after a trip, never taking “vacation” to the last possible day. Writing this post helps me to ground in my home self again.  Blogging always balances me somehow. It becomes a conduit for my own arrival in ways.

It has been lovely to notice, two years after we started dating how genuinely Shrek has become woven into the fabric of the larger family. He takes on the cooking of a dinner, or the interception of the pass at the family football game with ease, and something akin to grace even! What I witnessed more than anything on this trip, was how much he saw me within the larger family portrait. By “seeing” I mean seeing all of me within the family dynamic, and really knowing how to support, joke with, listen to and be with me and not to hover on the margins looking in.

Of course this is also about my showing him and them how integral to our happiness he is- with the easy hug here, or the cozy up on next to him at the bench while we are all at the beach. Marcel tossed the “my daddy” phrase out there as easy as he kicked his cousin’s football across the field over and over again. A ten hour car trip completed with ease is clearly another indication that we have deepened in our seeing ourselves as a family unit, and not as two adults and two kids making the best of it. There is an ocean of difference there. We have paddled some seriously rough waters to get here. Both of us taking our little dinghy in circles over and over again insisting our paddle was going the right way… On land for the moment anyway, we are digging the view from year two.

Speaking of accomplishments, I have a new piece published in Adoptive Families Magazine this month.  I’m very pleased with the piece, an opinion piece titled; “Certificate of Live Birth and Parentage”  where I weigh in on the question of what a birth certificate really should say. The link just went live last night, so feel free to be the first to chime in, and get the conversation going. I very much appreciated my exchange with the editor about this piece, and felt like the magazine is working hard to represent a broader range of voices in the triad. There are moments when my experience as both an adoptive and biological parent offer me a lens that seem to complement each other, and this is definitely one of them.

Like Sammy on his unicycle above balance is by no means a given, but an elusive goal that requires practice, practice, and more practice. In my relationship, parenting, transracial mind evolving, and part time working for starters I am feeling as if getting a few solid rotations moving forward before the wheel goes flying out from under me, is indeed an accomplishment. I’ll see if I can get Sam to volunteer a few lines on mastering the unicycle in less than two weeks to inspire all of us to keep on keeping on. In the meantime, hold on to something, or someone steady as you launch, and have a great week.

Summer of the brotherhood

Brotherhood 2013
Brotherhood Summer Style

One of many highlights of this summer was watching the connection between Sam and Marcel deepen and take on a language and code of behavior unto itself. It is a foreign thing to me-the potential and power of brotherhood.  From the outside it appears at this moment to be thick, rough, edgy, gentle, goofy, vulnerable, manipulative, celebratory, reliable, trustworthy and solid. It seems odd I didn’t imagine how cool it would be to watch one form in front of me.   I can remember when Marcel was a few weeks old, and Sam threw a Nerf football at him in his chair, and was wildly disappointed that this long awaited playmate was in no position whatsoever to make good on my last six months of promises.  Now almost six years later, it appears I was on to something.

Tomorrow marks the return to school and to the routines of the days, and the week.  Like 99% of you, my family is acting out a tad around this transition period. The tantrums, the deer in headlights look, the foot stomping retreats, and for me the desire to purge and clean and somehow reinvent myself entirely or at least move all the furniture around.  Apparently my days of shaving my head, or moving to a new state when I felt this way have passed.

Note to self: it is 5,000  times more important that I mediate, exercise, drink gallons of water, and take many of those deep cleansing breaths to keep us on some semblance of a steady course. I’m a lousy advocate for taking it easy, when I appear to be in survivor mode myself.

Our tanks are full of the good, deep rest for sure. We had an amazing summer with three camping trips, many family connects, and long luxurious days on the beach with friends from all areas in our collective circles. We jumped off docks with bonus siblings, gawked at giant moons, swam with loons, screamed our way down giant water slides on an raft for three. We learned many new tricks at the skate park, refreshed most every room in the house in one way or another, and showed the world some serious dance moves. We laughed. We loved a lot.

Powdered donut brothers in hoodies
Powdered donut brothers in hoodies

We found sweet reassurance in the crook of our brother’s arm. Perhaps the next step in the journey is noticing what it means to have your brother’s back, and not just jump on and tackle it?

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.

+++

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.