#BlackLivesMatter, Positive Propaganda from DNBE, and a poem from Mama C

What the boys will be getting for Kwaanza
What the boys will be getting for Kwaanza

Last night I ordered one of each of these shirts from DNBE, a company that promotes what they call positive propaganda:

If you think about it, your t-shirt is like a billboard, and every day you’re walking around advertising something (or maybe nothing if it’s a blank tee or a meaningless design) .   That advertisement says something about the person wearing it and has an effect (conscious or subconscious) on the people around him/her.  Why waste that valuable advertising space?  Why not use it to uplift the people? … For that brief moment you know that there are other people out there that have not lost their minds.  And that positive energy is infectious and magnetic.  With enough people catching on, we can start to turn this situation around.  That’s positive propaganda, and that’s why we’re here…

To grab onto something that feels positive in the message department for young Black men today is not an easy find. I, like many mamas I know who are parenting young men of color have found myself traveling the continuum from abject despair to enraged disbelief and everything in between. I have been attending rallies, and reading my poems out loud to honor Trayvon, Michael, Tamir, Eric, and, and, and…

I have been talking to colleagues, friends, family, and anyone really who will listen and tried again to get those who don’t seem to care to notice what I am saying for a moment. At work when I am asked how I am, I try to answer truthfully; “In a state of disbelief. Crushed. Shocked that our country has such a broken judicial system, and devalues the lives of so many of the young men and women here in our schools…” I have prayed. I have hugged my boys so much more. Each time I catch myself forgetting, I notice Sammy or Marcel just walking out of the room and think to myself; “he is coming back.”

I say this to honor all the mothers who can’t.

I have also tuned out completely, because I have that choice. I don’t just mean that I deactivated my Facebook, and disappeared almost entirely from social media.  I mean that I can pop into the gas station to get a cup of coffee, and not engage with the headline on the newspaper out loud or in private, if I don’t want to. I can say; “I can’t deal today.”  I am not the one Black colleague in the school who everyone either avoids, or seeks out after another horror show is splayed across the news. I can just carry on and not engage. I can, and I do. I am not a young Black man walking down the street wondering if it is safe here, or in the convenience store being watched to see if I steal a candy bar while I am waiting to pay for my coffee.

I have accepted invitations to be on panels, and co-design Ferguson units with colleagues. I have scheduled several meetings for the next three months with various white men in positions of power in the field of education to talk about how we keep talking about this in schools and beyond, because it is one way I can use my voice, experience and privilege to promote a little more positive propaganda.

I have wondered if I would care this much today if my sons were white. I have not always answered that question honestly.

I have so much gratitude and appreciation for all the people in our lives who can listen, and who are climbing up underneath this massive weight next to us, and offering to do more than just hold it up too.

Sammy just woke up, and asked for a cuddle. I stopped writing, and crawled up into his bunk bed, rearranged his twisted up blankets and sheets, and wrapped myself up in him too. In a few days he will be ten. He will be just two years younger than Tamir Rice who was shot when he was reaching for his toy gun-most likely show the police officers it was fake-when they were all screaming at him to put his hands up. That’s when he was killed. It was a few days after his twelfth birthday.

Sammy will not be getting any toy guns for his birthday, and we have talked about why.  Sammy asked for anything in the remote control helicopter department, an x-box, and some footy pajamas-because he used to love to wear them when he was little…

hoodie and a hug
#BlackLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatter

Boys will be…

This morning I woke at five, hugged on Shrek, packed the car, and brought the boys to visit their uncle several hours south for the weekend.  Since our arrival I have napped, edited several poems, and “published” my fourth water poem entitled; “Lifeguards”. The boys have been inside once to pee. Their morning started like this:

Bonfires and machetes
Bonfires and machetes

I must say the recent article in the Atlantic exploring children and “dangerous” play certainly came to mind as I heard myself saying; “please remember we don’t run with the machete.” But, if anyone is equipped and competent at guiding these boys in satisfying and stimulating uproarious play–it’s Uncle.

They have not stopped laughing, yelling, racing, tossing, whittling, tossing, wheel barrowing, or screeching for three hours. They have bumps, scratches, pine needles, and sap stains all over them. They are in total bliss.

Marcel, shirtless, and cell drenched with the smell of smoke just came in to hug in me and tell me they are having an “epic adventure in boys will be….” He ran back outside before finishing the sentence.

 

Parenting the Sensationally Sensitive child: Or, it’s not all about me this time.

I got this
I got this

When I was little, in my teens and through most of my early twenties, I heard from all over that  my “sensitivity” was not often a desirable trait.  I was “too” sensitive.  I was “very” emotional. I was not the person you wanted at your side at a loud party. I preferred one on one conversations to large groups.  I needed to spend a lot of time talking about the situation when a tragedy struck. I was too intense, and too serious. There was no hanging loose over here.

Now, I have that son. Only I see what he has going on as an asset, and not a curse. This may have something to do with all the parenting articles I’ve read online, or the surveys I’ve secretly taken on Buzzfeed. Bottom line: being hyper aware of the world around you is not something that I want my kid to ever feel lousy about. Unless of course my ego is involved?

A few weeks back I wrote about how Marcel overcame his fear of crowds, or perhaps even, if I were pushed, his perfection streak to get back on the court and have at it, during a basketball game. I boasted that I knew I needed to step back and watch, not adding any layers of mama drama to the mix, and send his brother in to silently support him by sitting next to him on the bench, when he looked like he might dissolve in tears. Continue reading “Parenting the Sensationally Sensitive child: Or, it’s not all about me this time.”

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?

You are ready Sam. So am I.

Sam, 2009.
Sam, 2009.

Dear Sam,

When you are twelve, fifteen, twenty-one, or forty will you remember? Will you have the moment etched in your memory when Mama picked you up at school after the call from the principal’s office-and did not even raise my voice when we got in the car?  Will you remember how I almost cracked up when you asked with a big toothless forced smile; “So, how was your day before the call? Want to act all nice until we reach that part of the day?” I wish you could know how much your confidence, and curiosity at that moment affirmed my decision. I knew without a doubt that we had both arrived at the right place. You are ready, I whispered to myself. You are ready.

Will you recall how I very calmly said to you; “I love you babe. I’ll always love you. And, I can be really perplexed and even disappointed with the things you do some times. I might even worry a little that some of your choices, like laughing non stop in class, really get in your way. But Sam, today I have arrived at a new place. I have realized that as an almost third grader, as a musician, athlete, math wiz, and reader-you are ready. As an eight year old who has everything he needs in his heart and his mind to make good choices with yourself, your friends, your teachers, your coaches, your community, and your family-you are ready.”

Will you know what it felt like in your body when you asked me; “Ready for what?”

Will you feel that sense of wonder, awe, excitement, and that little twinge of  concern your eyes seemed to convey when I answered while looking at you squarely in the rear view mirror: “Ready to decide who you really are.”

I am writing to tell you how freeing it is for me to release all the fear, anxiety,  shame I occasionally feel when you get in trouble. How freeing it is to decide to just trust, love, and believe in you. To let go of all the pressure I put on you all the time, to be the version of you, I want to you be. You are not an eight year old me. You are you, Sam. You. Amazing.

You, son, are more than magnificent. You are a beautiful, talented, loving, curious, engaging, athletic, scientific, funny, relational, compassionate, magnificent YOU. There is nothing missing there.

Oh yes, I’ll still insist you write a public apology for any foolishness, and demand that you exhibit respect for your teachers, your friends, and most importantly yourself.  I’ll still see to it that there are logical consequences when I can’t see you in the store, or you figure out how to buy games on my phone without asking. I’ll still expect the world of you. I’ll still deliver the part of it I can for your perusal, and participation. Bottom line Sam is that I will always love and adore you. This is what I believe they call; “Unconditional”. I’m sorry it took me this long to get that.

I hope I never convey to you any other message than this: everything is right with you.

How remarkable an opportunity we all have to journey with you in the life,

Love from Mom

skatesam13

Hip Mama + Oh Mama Mamas

Hip Mama Cover
Hip Mama Cover, October 2010

I wanted to call all of your attention to the GREAT news that Hip Mama Magazine, where yours truly has had many a mamahood piece published, and a photo credit or two is relaunching back under the helm of it’s fearless and talented originator Ariel Gore (How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, Atlas of the Human Heart). There is a fantastic kick starter project underway to make sure that “PRINT LIVES” (the mag was going to turn digital apparently which is in part why she decided to save it, and reclaim it). I contributed what I could and would love to encourage you to do so as well, if even a dollar is something you could hand over. There are several great incentives, (Dad there is one that involves all the pie you can eat on September 1sr in Santa Fe) so please consider. They have reached more than 50% of goal already which is super encouraging. Parenting on the fringe, and writers who may not make the mainstream cut, have always found a home in this high quality zine.

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I’ve been dangling along the eye wall of a mothering hurricane of sorts this week. What I can share is that I’m uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable because this mothering thing is so damn hard and this is my kid, and don’t you all see that we just have to dig in deeper and believe in a different outcome?

I can say that sending a Mother’s Day card to your first mom who you haven’t heard from in two years does not fall under the “no sweat” column of Sam’s heart. Although, with Sam it may sometimes appears that way. And then when his amazing 2nd grade teacher leaves school for the rest of the year on a maternity leave the chances are pretty good as we predicted that he would not transition smoothly to the new teacher no matter what rewards or consequences were in place. Leaving is leaving. Left is left. Period.

Combine race, adoption, single parenting, coupled parenting with all that is my dynamic, intelligent, loving, eager, curious, super social, and wildly movement oriented Sam and you have several high pressure systems, cold fronts and warm fronts converging at once both at school and at home. When I was asked to consider if Sam’s aftercare arrangement was indeed the best fit for him, my internal storm tracker went into a category five. Suddenly we are all asking ourselves a million questions again. Is it this? Is it that? What if this, and maybe not that. Would this work better? Would that? What if we all just joined the circus?

Then Marcel saunters in, with a poem about what a great mom I am, to put next to the letter about all the ways I could be a better mom from Sam. Oh, hi Marcel. I remember you.

Shrek has been an incredible support, after we both survived our own fault line dance last week. My mantra during that time was simply, “I am OK. He is OK. The kids are OK.” Over and over I just kept reminding myself of those three statements. At the end, we were more than OK, we were stronger, closer, and further in, instead of heading in opposite directions. His steadfastness, courage, and “I’m IN” mentality was nothing short of heroic to me. We were and are amazing really. He took several calls this week from distraught me. He has been such a rock.

When I indulged a little and posted something to that degree on my Facebook page, my friend Glenn replied;

We are all broken; it’s harder to try again than it was to begin. Courage.

Love to all of our broken bits, and courage in finding the pieces we know can go back together with a little patience, and trust. A special shout out to all the women and men in our lives who not only support and bolster this mothering (or semblance there of this week) but who in many cases are not themselves recognized as mothers/fathers, even though that is EXACTLY what they are to me and my family and many others I am sure. So to Debbie, Sage, Tia, Weezie, Eddie, Alex, Esther and Paul a very Hip Mama and Papa shout out to you too. You deserve all the praise, breakfast in beds, and cards we all do and then some. Thank you again.

One part thrilling + one part exhaustion = 2 parts kindergarten

He’s hanging in there.

He read a book that he colored in himself, and stapled together.

He sleeps about 14 hours a night. Hard.

He eats for three.

He looks a year older already.

He says the names of his new friends in his sleep.

He tried school lunch and loved it.

He “forgot” he had a packed lunch the next day, and had another school lunch.

He fell apart around dinner and bed time almost every night.

He shook his head in complete disbelief when I told him it was Saturday, and there was no school today, and said; “Well if you are certain everyone is home today, then I’ll stay home too.”

his vase, my flowers

His vase.
Flowers from my garden.
His chair.
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.

Except me.

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,

and again.

In a vase, or outside.

Impermanent radiance.

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.

His vase.
My flowers.

Shrek is moving in.

Painting on the wall, and other ways to feel the love

My little Basquiat in the making

What is your parenting platform? If you were asked to teach a mini lesson to a new parent on best practices in parenting in five minutes or less what would be the center of it? If I could be pinned down to one philosophy on parenting it would probably be modelling. Parents model choices, beliefs, possibility or lack there of to their children. Good teaching and good parenting both begin there. Am I reaching for the fruit or the cookie? Am I planning a day outside in the park (with a zillion layers on) or parking it in from of the tube? Am I reaching out, and bringing the neighbor a dinner, or talking about how annoying it is that they…Am I yelling, or asking in a calm voice for the behavior to stop? Am I reading a book in bed, or playing Words With Friends on my phone? Continue reading “Painting on the wall, and other ways to feel the love”

Love winter style (a relationship post from Mama C?)

Sam's snow pants with heart shaped duct taped patches.

There is a whole lot of wintery love happening over in Mama C ville. We love snow days. We love pancakes with lots of maple syrup. We love making music. We love each other. We’re in a sweet place. It’s moments like these in all their rare splendor that I am most inclined to ask–so what is working? What am I doing differently? Or more of? Or less of? How do I keep it going?

I owe a lot of this moment to an interaction I had recently with my dear friend Samantha that helped me to have a rather significant breakthrough in my relational life: Being critical is so easy. Loving someone with an open heart-in spite of them being human, full of faults & so imperfect for us-that is the real work of life. The real opening and realization of mature love. Not easy. So worth it. And the true nature in all of us.

For any number of reasons that quote allowed me to experience this dramatic shift in my relational practice recently. It is practice isn’t it? Periods of gentle ease and balance were almost always being followed by extreme periods dominated by a hyper critical voice that kept going into dissect mode.  Nothing was good enough for me, the apparent Queen of the World. Once in this mode, it is VERY hard for me to interrupt it on my own. The way the other person tilts their head can send me. Yes, it’s that bad.

This is a practice I don’t fall into with my friends. Why is it my fall back in relationship I wonder. (No, I am not asking for analysis here. My therapist is paid for that thanks.) I am just doing what I do best–sharing with you the process. Somehow that little quote gave me permission to step WAY BACK and STOP. To believe in the divine kindness and caring in front of me, and embrace it, tilted head and all. Talk about a shift.

Another ah-ha for me was the extent that  I am also hyper critical with my kids in certain scenarios-like when I think their behavior is somehow a reflection of me? Maybe I’m reaching here–but when I just look at their behavior as a reflection of who they are–I find I have 50,000 times more patience. She also reminded me how true this is about how we are with ourselves. That seems like another blog post entirely!

Did you like how I just jumped right over the relationship paragraph and went right back into parenting? Slick huh? Is Mama C dating? How long has that been going on? Who? What about the kids? How does that all factor in? All great questions, that I have no intention of addressing here at this time. (Was the emphasis on the here, or the at this time in that sentence?) Stay tuned. That’s all I choose to  say right now. OK, I will tell you that I did not have to dig my car out of the driveway the other morning, and my kids were off tubing so that I could have uninterrupted time to write this post, and then go run some errands and work out. Beginning to see why some of  you partnered folks seem to have a little more time on your hands to blog on occasion?

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My workshop-I can talk about race (in the classroom)-was postponed until next month–due to snow. I was so disappointed. But apparently the universe wanted more time to get the word out on this one? As if 75 folks wasn’t enough! I was feeling so pumped up and ready for it too. (That’ll teach me to be on top of things! ) Then last night, I was contacted by a national organization, and asked if I would present the workshop in March to members in Maine. Apparently word travels fast. I woke up this morning thinking it might be time to begin a new blog. One devoted to my professional work on it’s own?