Recently I went away to one of my favorite places in the world (so far) for a weekend with a single-mama friend to meditate, write, swim, laugh, and listen to God.
I connect to my visionary spirit, and my soul in this healing spot that I’ve been coming to since I was seven. When I get quiet, and a respite from my parenting modality I return in a palpable way to what I know to be true.
This time that truth cleary took shape in three distinct areas:
First is a deepening commitment to my sons feeling celebrated and accepted for exactly WHO THEY ARE today. (Middle school requires ferverent monitoring. Who are you-vs. who do you begin to believe your peers/teachers/ society or family says you SHOULD be.) This demands my being fully present, compassionate and flexible.
Second I heard that I will return to my dream of creating a one woman performative event (monologue/story telling+poetry) celebrating and exposing my first fifty years on the planet, and the events and people who shaped it.
Third, a new direction calls for my fifteen years as a transracial adoptive, biological, single and partnered parent. I will be unveilling this in more detail soon, but for the time-being it is already thrilling to announce it simply as a “Coming soon: Mama C Coaching and Consulting”. How can you help? If a particular post, conversation, article, or anything “Mama C” has been of help to you on your transracial/adoptive single or partnered/parenting/blending/ donor or other journey will you consider leaving me a comment I could use on my promotional materials?
I look forward to hearing from you, and hope everyone can create a little quiet space for themselves in the near future.
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…
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.
Often a driving impetus for a blog post comes from the outside. The most recent query came in the form of an email from a reader who was seeking the experience of one who came before her, on the issue of having a biological child with the help of a donor, specifically chosen with the consideration that the biological offspring would then share certain traits with her first child, who happens to be adopted.
Translation: we are white, our kid is not. If we enlist the help of a donor who looks a lot more like our kid, what are the implications later on for the kid? More specifically how did I teach Marcel to celebrate his story, and how does he understand it? Does he or did he resent in anyway his being outside the normal understanding of how we get here?
I decided I would start by asking Marcel. His answers were really revealing, and not in ways I necessarily was prepared for:
Me: Marcel a woman is writing to me asking if having a child with the help of a donor is something that will make sense to her kid one day. Can you tell me what you think?
Marcel: Well, it was very hard. It takes a long time to get used to it.
Me: Can you tell me, what is the hard part?
Marcel: What is a donor? It’s hard to figure out. A donor is like a parent. But he doesn’t want to be a parent- he just loves you enough to bring you into the world.
Me: That sounds like you have put a lot of thought into it. Is it hard to understand why Mommy chose to bring you into the world that way?
Marcel: A donor gives you all these good things, and you still get to have a dad. But if friends asked me to explain it? I’d be scared I wouldn’t get it all yet. Well, maybe I would. Would I?
Me: If you need help with it, we could talk it about some more.
Marcel: Sometimes it makes sense. But people don’t always ask when it makes sense.
Me: Hmmm. Maybe we should work on a script for when it isn’t as obvious?
Marcel: That helps if I remember the script.
Me: Do you feel like your donor loves you?
Marcel: More than anything. And I love him more than anything. When I see him we have to figure it out all over again. And we do. And so does my dad.
Me: Why do you think I decided to have a donor help me make a baby?
Marcel: Because you and Sammy wanted Sammy to have a brother that looked like him, and understood him, and loved him. So it worked out that way.
Me: Sammy, why do you think I used a donor to bring your brother into the world?
Sammy: Because you weren’t ready to be in a relationship.
Me: Did it have anything to do with you?
Me: What about the part where Marcel’s donor is brown skinned like you. Did that matter?
Sammy: It mattered to you. But I don’t care.
Me: You think if I had a white kid, and not a brown kid, it would be the same to you?
Sammy: Well, maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know yet. I want a sister. Probably a brown one. Then you can worry about her hair and not mine.
So clearly there is more work to do in the big picture part? Or maybe there isn’t. What we intend, and what they take from it, are so wildly unrelated despite all of our intentions. What I learned most from all of this? Clearly there are questions, and unknowns, and ways of constructing the world, that the boys are holding onto that I had no idea about, because I hadn’t asked. This is often the case. My best intentions, play out so differently than their experience as a result of my best intentions.
In terms of celebrating adoption and donor assisted conception equally? Differently? These are good questions. Marcel seems super confident that his coming into being was intentional and the result of a lot of love. What more is there? If anything I think I err on the side of making a bigger deal of the adoption story, because I want to make sure Sam always feels that his arrival into the family has the same core value as a biological entrance into the family. Marcel, is often trying to establish that he “knew Mama longer than Sam because I started in her belly..” We talk about how Sam was growing in my heart while growing in Tea’s belly (his birth mother). To that Sam usually just says; “Dude. I have been with mom for three more years than you.”
Additional resources: I found the following article of interest while considering my approach to this post.
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.
“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.
Flowers from my garden.
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.
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,
In a vase, or outside.
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.
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.
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.
I was looking over the pictures from the week, and noticed that there was something round about all of them. Perhaps it was the approaching supermoon last night, or just the way I am seeing the world today. In the “first at bat” photo, the round is hidden under our amazingly patient coach’s hand. Can you find them all?
We are doing beautifully today. After cooking us the most amazing biscuit and egg breakfast, Shrek is off playing baseball with the lads, so I can blog exercise. We have been doing some huge relationship growth stuff, and with that comes some big excitement about future collaborations… The coolest part? I am fully in this, and not freaking out about any of it. As he and I consider future plans, and progress I am feeling more and more confident and present in this relationship. How did that shift happen?
Life is magically full. To keeping it light and loving today. Enjoy your week, hope it is full of your own Supermoons!
Shrek and I did not hold hands on the beach washed in romantic rays of loving soleil gazing into the deep blues of each others eyes while on vacation last week. In fact it felt quite the opposite on a few occasions. We travel really well together actually. We do logistics beautifully. Days unfolded with a sweet balance of what the boys would like, what I needed, and what Shrek wanted to do too. When I was grieving deeply after walking across the city to my godfather’s old apartment-to be absolutely certain he really had died four years ago and wasn’t going to suddenly emerge somehow-Shrek held me as I sobbed. My dear friend Sam, her children, her parents and everyone else who met him, all fell madly and easily in love with him and with the idea of us–all four of us. Continue reading “Shadow selves, relationship woes, and the power of four”→
1. Sam had nothing but great things to say about his new school all week. His teacher reports that he is fitting right in. His favorite thing about it? “All the friends I have already.” Continue reading “Thankful on this Friday”→