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.
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!
Hearing church bells toll a few blocks from here after the moment of silence for Newton yesterday morning echoed and echoed my aching soul.
I’ve been struggling since last Friday more so than I might have “expected” I would have? I’m just trying to put a few words here to the fact that my grief has felt “abnormal” somehow. It has been bottomless at times, as I am sure it has been for so many.
When I hid in my colleague’s room at the beginning of school on Tuesday, and just bawled before I could walk down to homeroom, I knew I was on delicate emotional soil. Perhaps the combination of my role as a public school educator and as a mother of a 5 and 7 year old further contributed to my feeling untethered from my core. Whatever that really means.
Then I received a phone call from a dear friend who just said; “This is who you are Cat, you are our feeler. This is your gift. You are taking it all in, and it is rocking you so hard…” The simplicity of her words allowed me to land again somehow on the perimeter of this quicksand of sad.
Shrek was so present, even if he was somewhat caught off guard by my emotional departure this past week. He and I had this intense conversation about all of the “violence” all the time, everywhere. He holds so much of that in his heart in his work, and simply because of the compassionate being that he is. What allows us to hold this world like it is, with consciousness and compassion, and go on to wrap presents and argue about who is taking out the garbage? How do we impart the message with integrity that peace begins right here to all of our children from age five to thirty? What do we want that to look like? What do you want that to look like? How do you impart this to your family?
Now that the days are becoming a little lighter, I’m trusting this too will be echoed by my own turnings to the lightness of my family large and small in the coming days and weeks. To small acts of tenderness that reach deep. To allowing myself to feel, to heal, and to continue to better myself and increase my own capacity for love.
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.
Because we are beginning to talk more and more about our upcoming trip to the West Coast to meet Sam’s first mom, siblings, and grandparents this Open Adoption Roundtable jumped out at me.
…talk about siblings in open adoption. It may be that birth parents are parenting older or younger siblings…What words do we use to talk about that? How do we frame it? What questions or issues have come up?
In our house, Sammy has known about his siblings, since before he could talk. He met them at the hospital before his first mom was discharged, and before he was placed into my strong and shaking arms, by her stronger and shaking arms! He has seen many of the group shots from that day. We also have family portraits all over the house of her and her older children updated annually. Continue reading “Open Adoption Roundtable #26: Talking about siblings in adoption”→
Ordinary is one of the words of the week. We play with words at our house. A list is a challenge. A game in the making.
Mary Baba was not an ordinary girl.
Gummy bears for breakfast is not an ordinary request.
Correct, it is not ordinary for you to wear matching socks.
A merry-go-round in the mall, is beyond the ordinary indeed!
Four years ago this week, I miscarried a little zygote of a girl, who I had affectionately named Meryl Dixie Dale Junior Girl. (An anonymous nurse informed me of her sex many weeks later. I knew anyway, and it was oddly OK to learn that I was right.) It wasn’t her time to be on this planet, and it wasn’t my time apparently to mama this little girl. There is much that I am still thankful for about her little life; like finding out about her on Mother’s Day, and the miracle of discovering my body could carry a baby, even if just temporarily.
The surge of hormones, combined with the ongoing conversation with my uterine tenant was like a dip in a big ole vat of pink girlie dust for me. I wore little dresses, and seemed to flounce about in a way I never had before. I was in love with this new layer of Mama Me and the little inside me-inside me.
At eleven weeks, my little pink fairy was nothing but a series of specks dancing across an ultrasound screen.
At twelve weeks I set her spirit free on a little cove not far from here, and saw it leap into the ocean as I shook with grief, within the lines of a labyrinth my friend Tom had drawn on the damp sand for me.
I stood tall and proud, and summoned a brave smile so she’d always have that as her lasting image of me.
The next day, I went for the DNC, knowing she was far, far from me.
Today Sammy and I will go there for a picnic, a swim and an ice cream. I’ll bring some little flowers from my garden to throw into the water in honor of her lasting beauty without and within me. I’ll wear the new little pink dress I bought for myself yesterday not fully aware of the connection to the date, even though my body remembered.
I conceived Marcel, on the day she was due to be born, January 6th, 2007. So, I like to think, a little part of her is still here dancing inside his soft yellow curls, or looking out at me from a speck of blue in his hazel eyes.
To loss, and love, and all the gifts therein. To you little Dixie Dale, who I’ll always cherish, and thank for the gift of readiness you gave my body, and the color you put into the pink of summer.