Young, Black and Powerful

Yes you are
Yes you are

The shirt arrived.
He wears it well.
He knows that he is Black,
he knows that he is powerful.

But so so eager to sprint past
the young part most days.
It’s in his walk,
more like his saunter.

It’s in his raised eyebrows,
and in the seconds that now
hold a new heft,
as he holds my gaze.

The shirt arrived.
He wears it well.
His body filling more than just the space
of a young man’s form.

Filling out the promise
his birth presented to me ten years ago.
An exclamation point.
There is no period here.

Young, Black and Powerful.
Determined, deep, and fierce.
Perceptive, charming, and guarded.
A young man has arrived,

taking the place of my young son.

 

 

MLK Day: An opportunity to start our own Courageous Conversations

noticing the dream in the Trader Joe's
Noticing the dream in the grocery store

Yesterday Sammy and I were at the grocery store, when we had the good fortune to be introduced to this little beauty. Her name is Aggie.  She is brown, and her doting but shy four year old white mama was clearly pleased by the attention her little baby girl garnered when we halted our cart and immediately started gushing.  “You have the most beautiful little baby girl,” I said kneeling down in front of her kid sized cart. Her mother immediately accepted the invitation to celebrate with us, and told us that this was her daughter’s most beloved doll, and that her name was Aggie. I wasted no time expressing my joy that Dr. King’s dream was alive and well here in Trader Joe’s and that she made my day, no my week, because she knows how important it is to love people who don’t look like us too.

Sammy tolerated the entire interaction, as this is what he is used to by now. Mommy sees a race positive potential conversation with a stranger and she grabs it.

In our family “MLK Day” has come to mean: a three day weekend that is kicked off each year by an incredible  gospel music celebration at the performance hall in the city, and an awareness that what we talk about all year other people seem to have more permission to be talking about too.

In honor of this day when areas in the United States gives pause and consideration to the Civil Rights Movement here, I am writing to invite you to do the same.  To give yourself permission.

Permission is something granted to you. I’m formulating an opinion that much of the ability for creamy colored white people to talk about their own implicit bias, or internalized racism will only happen when they are invited to do so in a very explicit and controlled way. I can not imagine how maddening this is to the people who do not have the luxury of not talking about race and racism. If you do not go to a special MLK breakfast today, or a symposium on the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative in your city, or have the benefit of having a magnificent teacher in your child’s school starting the conversation for you, there are many things you can do today, tomorrow, and every day you chose to from now on.

Here are a few examples of ways to give yourself permission, to jump on in, on behalf of your children, your neighbor’s children, and the legacy that you are going to leave behind to the world. Period. It’s never too late.

1. Listen to the I Have A Dream Speech with a kid. A young kid, and older kid. Listen to it over coffee with a friend. Talk about it. Pick one message in the speech to write down and put up in your kitchen to take in every day. Have everyone chose a quote that resonated. Listen to other speeches. Give this day meaning. Give every day meaning.

2. Listen to Safe Space Radio’s series on white racism. Bookmark it, and pick an episode to listen to at the gym, or on the way to church. Share something you learned with someone else. I am featured on this episode talking about my own racism.

3. At the dinner table, talk about a memory you have about a time when you did not understand something you witnessed, or saw on television, or read in the paper that had something to do with race or culture. Talk about how not understanding why a person or group does things differently then the way you do it, does not mean it is wrong, or not normal, but means it is not your experience. Ask your family if they can relate.

4. Go to your library, local video store or Netflix, and find a few books and a movie that features kids of all sorts of color doing really groovy fun things too. For a million great ideas for books go here. One of our favorite feel good flicks is Jump In. Here is clip to preview.

5. Read a book by an author of color, about anything you enjoy. Talk to someone else about the book.Want a radical suggestion? Start here by reading How to Be Black.

6. Find out when Alvin Ailey Dance is coming your way and take a friend, or a kid. I took Sammy when he was six. It was mind bogglingly amazing. He still talks about it. We are all going in March.

7. If you are affiliated with a school, make an appointment with your child’s teacher, or better yet the administrator to ask them to share with you the school’s vision for making sure all staff are grappling with cultural competency in and out of the classroom. If they look at you blankly, or say it is too expensive to begin to tackle, send them here to Teaching Tolerance’s Anti Bias Framework.

8. Find other blogs that are talking about race and culture and difference and leave a link on this blog, or on your FB page. NPR’s “Code Switch” is an amazing resource too. My Brown Baby is a go to for me.

9. Have athletes under your roof? Or who often sit next to you in the synagogue or in church? Or living across the street? Challenge them to research an athlete of color and share out their accomplishments by the end of the week.  Musicians? Scientists? Poets? Kids love a challenge. Make it a monthly event.  Have a potluck.

10. Look in the mirror and say; “Self, I give you permission to talk about race today, and every day for the rest of your life. I give you permission to be curious, confused, baffled, and muddled. I give you permission to mess up and say something you regret and learn from that. Self, I admire your courage.”

P.S. The title for this post was inspired from the book by the same title; Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools, which I just ordered for myself.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

On being a donor kid: checking in with Marcel and Sam

Marcel Marcel
Marcel Marcel

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?

Sammy: No.

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.

 

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.

Mama C and all her boys: Announcing a blog in transition

The family
The family

Last night Shrek and I exhaled. We even shared a sense of a semi accomplishment of sorts: a very low key, and mostly uneventful blended family holiday week. With seven kids between us there is all sorts of potential for eventful… Low key may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me these days it is a prize. It is in the calm that I find connection, and the chance to notice more of what we are capable of individually and collectively.

The last few months have been remarkable, but also very challenging and demanding. I used to find such solace writing about the hard stuff here. Then as I deepened with Shrek, my hard, was often our hard, or in part because of each other hard. This makes blogging about it complicated. SInce the hard was itself complicated, the act of writing about it became less of a way of finding my way out, and more of a way of finding my way deeper in. No thank you.

I even contemplated wrapping up Mama C, considering perhaps that an era had come to an end. Mama C and the Boys is no longer a container for who I am I thought. We are not 3.25, or 3.75, we are for real 4. But, there it is. We are four. With four comes a whole host of new ways to explore, examine, and reflect on it in this venue. Shrek is marrying a writer after all…

So here it goes, an attempt to shift into Mama C and all her boys. A dip into a new realm which looks with consideration and compassion into blended families, choosing life partnership after forty-five, shifting from single parenting to co-parenting, aging, adoption and transracial just about everything for starters. Over the next few weeks and months I’ll do my best to share some of my and our hard, and some of the ah-has here, in my singular voice that resonates with reflection, vulnerability, insight and humor. Peace.

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.”

 

Three date nights in one? Uh huh! Bring it.

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?

Capture by Sage
Capture by Sage

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.

Yes! Mastering the chop sticks
Yes! Mastering the chop sticks

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!

Fruitvale Station & Ma Rainey: Recent workouts for my whiteness

Fruitvale Station
Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station is an emotionally wrenching cinematic foray into the last twenty four hours of the true story of Oscar Grant, the young man who was “accidentally” killed by a BART transit worker on New Year’s Day in Oakland, California in 2008. After the movie my mother of Black sons heart left the film on a stretcher writhing in uncomfortable whiteness. Wrenching in it’s realism the viewer experiences an unshakeable journey as she/he becomes easily enamored and charmed by Oscar, and woven into the life of his daughter, his family, his relationships, and the consequences both good and bad of all of his choices.

In the opening minutes of the movie the viewer sees the actual cell phone footage of the real Oscar’s last few minutes alive. (It was this montage of footage from other passengers that was instrumental in bringing so called “justice” to the situation.) I went to the movie with my dear friend Edwige, a woman of color and a sister to two brothers Oscar’s age. I sobbed through much of the last thirty minutes of the film. Sobbed. After, I found myself feeling oddly apologetic about all the crying and shaking I was doing. She reassured me, saying it was even a relief to have me crying next to her. We sat in a cafe for a few hours after talking about Oscar’s life, and unpacking the experience of watching it unfold, and ultimately end in front of us.

For the next several days and weeks after seeing a film like this, or a play, or reading a book by and about people of color is when I find myself riding my own internalized racism merry go round from one scene to another. For example, on New Year’s Eve Oscar is at his mother’s house for her birthday dinner. The house is cozy, and filled with relatives and friends, food and festivities. In my head I noticed that I expected to see a house that didn’t look so much like the one I grew up in. The next question I ask myself is what did I expect to see? Where were the drugs? The yelling? The things that can explain why this could have happened. In that moment is where my race and class assumptions come floating to the top, like dead things on a lake. If I can stand my own current assumptions and truths, I accept an invitation to change.

Where this used to be a very painful process, now it is unpleasant, and reassuring at the same time. Reassuring that I am opening up more and more to these dark and recessed places where my assumptions, prejudices, and ignorance still hides. Unpleasant because there seems to be no end to the socialization, the conditioning, and the privilege.

One of the hardest moments was when I realized that if Oscar had been on my subway car that night with all of his friends, and I had been alone on the car with them I KNOW I would have felt threatened by their very presence. This man, who will be my son in nine years looked scary to me. Without seeing Fruitvale Station I would not have had the opportunity to have lived with that moment, followed by wanting to fight my way into the ambulance with him and insist every step of the way that MY SON get the BEST CARE EVER RIGHT NOW. Watching I was aching to be able to insert myself into the film, and work every ounce of power and privilege that I had to make sure he lived. If I was there, would things have been different?

Ma Rainey's Big Black Bottom
Ma Rainey’s Big Black Bottom

Seeing a play that is set almost one hundred years ago, might seem at first to have a little less potential for cathartic exploration in the white mind and race department. Not true. In this case the opportunity to witness the “hidden under world” of the Black experience in this historically rich play by August Wilson (who was biracial, which I never knew) was uncomfortable for the viewer for an entirely different set of reasons. When the band members are downstairs  in the windowless cold basement, waiting for Ma Rainey to arrive for the recording session, their story telling safely out of the gaze of the white man, paints a very real picture of past and present institutionalized racism.  The anger, humor, defeat and passion of the play all combine into a surprise ending that left this the white viewer with a cataclysmic sense of both shame and enlightenment.

Readers of this blog, and participants of presentations often want tangible next steps on their own journey to racial justice. Reading a book by an author of color (alone or in a book group) or going to a film or play written by a person of color, about people of color is a great start. Not only are you are giving an important message to the publishing, film and theater industry with your financial vote, but by bringing along a few friends you are creating a space for a shared inquiry into your experiences as viewer of any race. Herein lies the potential for expanding your edges, and shedding light into your personal and shared racism. This, in my experience is when shift on a much larger scale is allowed to happen.

_____

I would like to “dedicate” this post to the students in the graduate counseling program at the University of Maine, who I recently had the opportunity to work with on the topic of racial justice, counseling, and white privilege. I was so struck by their honesty, and openness in class, and in their pre and post evaluations of my presentation there. Our shared experience was transformative.

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.