Summers in Maine are as magical as they are brief. We are so blessed to live thirty minutes from many beaches with multiple personalaties. On several occasions the boys are “convinced” (forced family fun) to join me on an early afternoon excursion. Earlier this week we stayed for several hours. The fog lifted and the sun was triumphant. The highlight for me was body surfing together with them for almost an hour! Well and the fact that they allowed PHOTOGRAPHS. They were willing, and the light was a generous co-conspirator for some miraculous captures.
We’ve spent a very private summer overall. On my own, and as a family we have been invited to look very closely at the inner landscapes of who we are. This has been some of the hardest and most revealing work for all of us individually.
Fortunately we have been growing deeply in the process, amd learning to see each other in our our messiness, grief, struggle, joy and strength. At times you may choose to be a Greek or Roman diety to help you embrace all that you know you are.
I’m looking forward to returning to the blog soon on a more regular basis to share some of these explorations. In addition we had our third birth family and donor reunion tour in early July, which is packed with stories and ah-ha’s to come.
In the meantime may you all experience the gifts of love, joy, and kindness in both expected and surprising ways.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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”→
I am in a relationship with an amazingly generous, gentle, funny, socially conscious, caring, reliable and goofy man. He is pictured above. He wore that mask to meet me on a playground and be able to hug me in public. I said I wouldn’t hug in front of my students. I was being weird. He was being funny.OK, so the mask might seem weird to you. To me it was magic. It was about meeting somewhere in the middle, and laughing along the way. Continue reading “Mama C and the Boys +1. Single mama dating found her Shrek (in a pink boa)”→
The decision to go visit and then not visit Sam’s first family last summer, is one I am working through today.
We’re all still working out way through this one. Perhaps the hardest part for me is the not knowing how this impacted Tea*, and her relationship with him. I sense she may still feel angry at me–hurt–frustrated? I did not tend to our relationship in the aftermath in the way I should have. I retreated so hard and so fast after it happened, because I felt like I had done something so wrong–publicly and privately by putting so much energy into that trip. And, although I am certain (because of things I have chosen not to talk about here-those moments in our childrens lives we must protect) that I made the right choice for Sammy**-I sense I made a very wrong choice for her and her other kids, and her parents. All of this wondering is coming up for me so hard because for the first year in Sam’s life we have not heard from her at his birthday or Christmas. Everyday I race to the mailbox and feel my heart sink when there is nothing there. Continue reading “An end of the year ache-and a call for wisdom from first/birth parents”→
Although I haven’t listened to it yet (something about listening to my own voice on the radio..) I wanted to pass along the link to the interview with me on Safe Space Radio “a live forum for courageous conversations” last week. The topic: inter-racial adoption. Here is the summary from Dr. Anne-the show’s host:
An interview with public school teacher, poet and blogger, Catherine Anderson about adopting her son Sam. Catherine describes her decision to adopt and how she thought she understood racism before parenting. She describes her experience of those “grocery store moments” when she has to respond to other people’s surprise and inappropriate comments in front of her son. She speaks movingly about her relationship with Sam’s birth mom and how strong the pull is to keep proving to her that she is doing a good job. She describes the ways that she talks to Sam about race, and the ways that she, as a white woman, feels she can and cannot prepare him to be a black man in Maine. Catherine reads her beautiful poem, Black Enough to open and close the interview.
It was a hard interview for me going into it, because I knew that I was offering myself up as the slide for the transracial parenting race related microscope-something I am more and more comfortable doing for the most part. I remember wondering afterwords “was there any content in that half hour?” But in retrospect that is because I was evaluating my own story as story teller as a memory in the setting of microphones, engineers and a powerhouse of a host. My goal was to put myself out there in a way that might allow someone else to do the same, in their own journey. Enjoy my interview with Dr. Anne. When I have the ability to listen to it, I’ll come back and offer a little more meat to what it feels like to me to hear the exchange. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you–because that is who I was talking to.