April 25, 2014

The ring bearer’s Mama bears all

by Catherine Anderson

Don’t let the picture fool you. We do look good, in that family way. But I promise you, this was not as light and easy at it looks. As that picture was being snapped I was fighting back a whirlwind of struggle.

A little background: In a few weeks one of my dear friends is getting married for the first time. She is over 45. We were roommates for years. She is one of those exceptional people that buildings and children are named after. She deserves all of the joy that is coming her way. He is spectacular too. They met online. Quickly.

Louise lived with me before (5 y.o.) Sam came into my life (through domestic infant open adoption at one day old), and was one of the first to welcome him when we came home from the airport. She was one my two birth coaches, who cut the baby’s cord when he made his grand entrance. Neither of us have ever been married.

She came over yesterday to check out the ring bearer’s cowboy threads, and to put this mama-bear-er at ease that this task, of delivering the rings down a path and onto an altar on a beach, isn’t going to be too much for them to handle. They will be unassisted by me, or anyone for that matter.

We drew a map, and then the boys walked around my house holding hands, and carrying pretend ring holder things. They stood up tall their matching button downs, pants to match the groomsmen, and bolo ties. Cowboy boots, though second hand looked first class. All went well. Magnificently as a matter of fact.

Then on her way out the door I burst into tears.

No, not out of joy for her. I wish I could be that friend. Far from it today.

The tears came from my mounting anxiety of yet another wedding as the single mom. Because of our closeness, I am really feeling it this time. And the ante feels so high-as I am also the single mom who will be spotlighted as the mom of the kids who ran in the other direction of the altar, or who dropped the rings in the marsh when they ran off looking for crabs while waiting for their cue to come up the path with the long awaited symbols of eternal love.

Weddings bring up all this stuff for me anyway. Add the single mother number many of us fall victim to that goes something like; “my kids will be damn near perfect so I can prove to you that I don’t need any help, and they are none the worse because of it,” and you have a recipe for messiness for Mama C. Louise listened to it all, and of course, in her gentle and loving way, turned it all around to leave me feeling seen, and heard.

She was so thrilled to hear that I am going on a blind date this week too. Nothing like a wedding to sound off my spinster alarm bells times ten. Even contemplating opening myself and my family (indirectly for now) does to me? Ugh.

With all of this feeling churning around in me, it is no surprise that Sam has had one of the worst weeks of his fifth year in terms of testing each and every limit that exists on this earth. No surprise that Marcel is picking up on his big brother’s language and trying it on for size. Don’t touch me Mama! he yelled as I was getting him ready for bed the night before last. I almost collapsed on the spot.

He hugged me five seconds later when he scared himself with those big boy words. But still.

We’ll all do fine at the wedding.  And, a day will come when the wedding I’m blogging about might very well be my own.  Until then I’ll hold the Joy and pain as Luther Vandross sang to me when I was sixteen, like sunshine and rain, and show up for whatever magic comes next.

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Seeing me looking at you

by Catherine Anderson

I make a painful attempt at a yoga pose, in the living room of the hostesses’ home when a smile cracks across my face. Am I smiling because the instructor’s breathing sounds so much like Darth Vader’s breathing that having her behind me is unnerving? Am I smiling because I know how impressed my five year old son Sammy would be with her vocal chord enhanced exhales?

I am the only single parent in that room, and the only one unmarried, except for the bride to be who we all came out to celebrate for the weekend.  Am I smiling because when I realize that, smiling seems to protect me from what else I am feeling? I am not focusing on my breathing at all. Instead I am hyper aware of my otherness: unmarried and parenting alone in a room full of well off married women with children. An otherness that I often manage to forget I chose every step of the way.

The thought of blurting out; “Happy Single Parent Day,” almost turns my smile into a full blown crack up. I also laugh when it hurts. I laughed during my contractions with Marcel. I laughed when I broke my toe tripping on a desk while teaching sixth graders. I crane my neck upward, and over and try not to fall flat on my single parent bottom for the remainder of the morning yoga program.

A few days before this I dropped a letter off to my son’s preschool teachers in reaction to what they described as his “withdrawn nature”.  When I dig a little deeper with them, and with Sam, I discover something else. A new social dynamic had emerged at the school around the exact time that my previously gregarious and social butterfly of a son had apparently become withdrawn. This all came to a head when he dumped a pail of dirt on the head of his “best friend” while the other little boy was showing all of their mutual friends, except Sam, a lady bug. This horrified me.  Not because of his behavior being aggressive or unacceptable, but because it signaled to me at least, that he was completely at a loss for how to deal with what was going on.

After talking to Sam, and my team of help-this-mom-friends with or without the degrees in the child development arena I drafted a letter. “This is not about Sam,” I began, “this is about the entire group of boys in his class.” I continued; “As I see it, every one of our boys, has some real ‘difference’ that the boys may be trying to understand how to react to. Leaving each other out is one way to explore the limits of those feelings. Sam is black, does not have a father, and is adopted. As I see it, he has a lot of things that might make him appear more different than the other boys. What can we do to model inclusion, and interrupt exclusion?” I asked. “What can we do to help all the boys here understand and value difference, instead of fear it?” Realizing that the societal pecking order begins in preschool, was almost too much for me to grapple with.

Then, two days later, I realize that I have spent the better part of a dear friend’s surprise bridal shower listening to my own worn out tapes on how different I am. How can I profess to be someone who “models inclusion” when I get so stuck in my own self selected difference? There were so many areas that I overlapped with the women gathered overnight. One woman has three adopted children. Two had kids the same age.  One loves to write but can’t find the time.  All of us were there to celebrate an amazing woman who at forty-eight was getting married for the first time to a dear and wonderful man. How much of my own emotional isolation has nothing to do with how others identified me, but how I identified myself?  I boast that I am proud of my single mother status, of my family’s incredible richness and resiliency as a transracial family. But when I am surrounded by other, I sometimes retreat down another hole all too quickly.

Sam poured a pail over his friend’s head, out of sadness, frustration, and rage at not being included.  As his mom, I need to get over it, and notice when I am looking for all these little holes to stick myself in. What good is that doing anyone? When I looked at myself through Sam’s lens, my focus became so much clearer.  Sam did not choose any of his “difference” but he can choose how to handle it, if  I can keep my focus where it belongs.  I want to show him some more productive uses for a good pile of dirt.

Post script: His teachers all reacted commendably to my three page letter. Everyone is working together to identify what is happening when, with whom, and how to best involve all the kids in a new social dynamic. I am eager to see what they discover during their observations this week.

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The rumpus room: co-parenting with my brother

by Catherine Anderson

When I invited my oldest brother Marc to live with us, it was not just because my mother was worried about her grandchildren not having a father figure-even though she never said as much. He didn’t have a job, and I was a single mom raising two boys under the age of five on my own. He landed in the United States a year before after his twelve year European chapter ended in divorce. He had no kids, and a 12×18 color picture of the beloved sail boat he had to sell when he moved stateside. Stateside could have meant Virginia, where we grew up, and where he has a zillion connections. Instead it meant Maine, where they have a zillion sailboats and two boys who call you Uncle-Daddy and say; I love you Uncle Rabbit Will You Play Airplane With Me Now Silly Head after they give you the bump, and lunge into their footy pajamas because you want them to explore their own “gravitational pull”.

That room off of the playroom in the damp basement apartment that was going to be my writing studio, my office, was just not being used. I prefer to write on my laptop near the boys, and the heat. But my brother likes the cold, and loved the idea of living rent free in exchange for playing with his nephews a few hours a week. Well, that isn’t exactly how I presented the idea, but that was the gist of it. He was eating through his savings faster than he hoped, and wasn’t ready to give up on the Maine dream yet. He was also growing very attached to those to boys, and said yes faster than he could toss Marcel into the air.

The boys were thrilled. From day one they were told that this was Uncle’s apartment, and not just a cold room downstairs.  Uncle had to agree when and if the boys could come down, as he had his own life too.  “Can I can come down now Uncle?” was practiced with animated repetition. From the onset, that we had things pretty well figured out, considering the lack of sibling co-parent models we had to follow. Clear limits and expectations were discussed for all of us. He’d have his life, I’d maintain some of my single mommy autonomy which I love, and we’d have a lot of shared time in the middle.

Alone he was just a single guy living in an apartment. In the basement, he became transformed into a super hero. What we offer, is relationship. He is living with his biological family, two nephews, and a sister, who need him, share meals with him, are entertained by him, cherish him, engage him, and redefine him. Being the Uncle who can teach you how to swing a pizza dough in the air, who can be the rough-house filling of a Sammy-Uncle-Marcel sandwich, and be the most important man in your life, is an obligation that makes you feel herculean just for walking up the basement stairs. Or at least that’s how it looks to me. [Read more...]

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Raising a single mom

About eight months after my son was born and prior to entering law practice full time, I went back to work temporarily in a trial court.  As a part of an attempt to conquer the court’s enormous backlog, I set up shop along with three other women attorneys in a large conference room. We had case files taller than us, and in order to ease the monotony, the ladies and I would talk.  We were all married and three out of four of us were also moms.  As you can imagine, we discussed everything – from politics to potty training.

One afternoon, one of the women, “Susan,” came into work visibly upset.  Susan shut herself in her office for what seemed like the entire morning before finally coming into the conference room and silently taking a seat at her computer.  Her business suit was wrinkled, her skin was colorless and she was wearing flip flops.  After a few attempts to find out what was wrong, she finally relented and told us her husband, “Paul,” had been having an affair.  New to the group, I thought this was a recent development, but Susan had been separated for almost a year.  When she found out, she had confronted him about it, and he turned around and walked out, leaving her with three beautiful little girls under ten years old.  Paul left her without so much as an “I’m sorry” or an attempt to make their marriage work.  This particular morning was the first morning Susan had woken up without her girls.  Paul had them for a few days, and she had found out that her girls had met the other woman.  As Susan talked and the tears poured down her face, all I could do was listen.  Susan came from a conservative, Roman Catholic family.  Her parents were still married, and she had been with her husband since she was in college.  He was a successful business man and together they provided their children with a very comfortable life.  She felt like a failure, like she had failed God, her husband and most importantly, her young girls.  She turned to me from beneath her tears and smiled a little, “You turned out okay, Tiara.” She began. “How did your mom do it?”

Feeling a little like a case study on the children of broken homes, I hesitated before answering.  Susan knew I was raised by a single parent.  My parents were married seventeen years and split up when I was six and my brothers were teenagers.  As the custodial parent, my mother naturally carried the brunt of our rearing.  Hers was the wallet we went to first, she was the one that held us after our nightmares, and she was the one who saved every good grade, drawing, or Elmer’s glue masterpiece we ever made.  I am sure my mom had her tearful days, but I can only remember her strength.  Not only did she make sure we went to the best schools and were always well-dressed and well-fed, she also put herself through both undergraduate and graduate school.  I knew it was hard, but she did it.  She did it because her love for my brothers and me meant she had no other choice.

My answer to Susan was filled with preachy declarations of love for my single mom and the strength that I had acquired from observing her.  Because of her, I had learned nothing was insurmountable.

WE can handle anything put in front of us, I told Susan. WE do not need anyone’s help.

While I stomped around on my invisible soap box, leading a figurative chant of “I am woman, hear me roar,” I began to wonder, just what were the vestiges of single parent rearing?  Neither I nor my brothers turned into that stereotypical statistic.  We all turned into productive, well-educated and adjusted adults.  Yet, there had to be some vestiges… some fodder for eager therapists.  As I raise my two year old son and gear up to raise the new person entering my life in a few months, the answer becomes clear.

I never learned to be married.

While I consider myself to be happily married, the evidence of my inexperience is splattered all over my marriage.  I happily do it all.  I work, make dinner, clean the house, tuck the baby in at night, manage the finances, plan the vacations… all while ignoring my husband’s futile requests to help.  I can hear my husband’s voice saying, “You need any help, baby?” like it is my own thoughts.  Likewise, I can hear my own voice saying, “Nope.”  He, also raised by a single mom, does not try too hard, not because he is a caveman but mostly because he is used to this brand of super woman too.  Between the two of us, we have had to make a conscious decision to be more careful with our marriage and learn to balance out the load; he will help more because he matters, and I will actually let him because I do too.

Nonetheless, it leaves me to wonder, if I have a girl and her life leads her down the path to some form of domestic partnership, how will I raise her with the strength my mother gave me but the trust to allow herself to learn to depend on someone else… sometimes?  How will I raise my son not to sit back and allow his wife to do it all?  As I look back on my own childhood, I wonder, how could my mother have prepared me to be an effective member of a partnership and not just an incredible matriarch?

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara Faith McCray

Tiara is native of New York City and reluctant resident of the DC Metro Area. She is a writer in her heart but a lawyer by profession. She is a wife and also a mom to two boys. She is a self proclaimed and self loving oddball. She is determined to find both spirituality and happiness and like any true totalitarian matriarch, impose both on her family. She is wise enough to know that this may not happen simultaneously.

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Finding the Divine-lunging from a lamp post

by Catherine Anderson

My son’s birth mother described herself as a “God fearing” woman on her adoption plan paperwork. Of all the ways in which I was a lot like her (her words), this was definitely one way I was not. I was honest about my lack of religious affiliation and practice on my perspective adoptive parent profile. I described myself as spiritual, but not church going. It did not come up when her and I met at the hospital a day after Sam was born, or in any subsequent conversations we had.

She chose me because of the things we had in common. We were both single, loved books, and I was a teacher, a profession she aspired to reaching. The fact that I was white, fifteen years older than her, and not a church goer did not keep her from choosing me. If we met today, I might have described myself differently, as the events of the last twenty-four hours will reveal.

My parents were both church going as children. Neither of them had positive memories of their religious education or obligations. They decided not to force their children to observe a practice that neither of them regarded as vitally necessary as adults. Being the black sheep that I was, I took myself to church every Sunday with my best friend in sixth grade for close to two years. I stopped going when someone clued me into the fact that as a girl I wouldn’t be invited to be president of the Catholic Church. I wanted to be president of everything before I hit adolescence.

I read an article last week,  that confirmed what I already knew was true; “diverse experiences (not confined to events, books, or dolls) can cause a family to become a truly multicultural as well as multiracial, family, and not a family of white parents with children of color.” And if you read between the lines you glean that the boys who do not have opportunities to form relationships within their cultural background are more likely to seek out the one man they know who can fulfill that role; their birth father.  I had all the information I needed to find out what time services were at the AME Zion church on Sunday. This was no longer about my warped ego driven fears of not being accepted by a black church community. This was about Sammy learning what it means to be a black man from other black men that I hoped I would get to know in the years to come. Well, as long as I got our well dressed, recently lined-up, and free style curls out the door on time. [Read more...]

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Hue says my voice doesn’t matter?

by Talibah Mbonisi

In October 2008, I started to conceptualize what would eventually become the what I claim as my calling—encouraging and supporting African-American mothers and fathers who despite living apart are, want or could be parenting together. Like many vocations, mine was born not of some brilliant idea but rather of an almost desperate need to see myself and my experiences reflected among the plethora of stories and images of women, mothers, parents on this journey of parenting alone or together after a split.  Although I found many resources that supported single parents, single mothers, even, as well as those which addressed the challenges and the possibilities after divorce, none really felt like “home” to me.

I was a single, working, Black mother of a brilliantly busy little Black boy.  I was among the unwed, and I was struggling trying to find a way to manage conflict with my son’s father and keep our family as far away from the court system as possible.  I felt alone, and the absence of my resemblance in the books I studied and the sites I visited mirrored back to me that I was.

But the truth, which became clearer to me through blogging, is that I am not alone.  My experiences, my voice, colored (pun intended) by everything that has converged to create me as I am in this moment…it all matters.  Somehow it connects me to people who on the surface seem most like me.  But mysteriously, it also opens me up to those who at first glance do not.  Being able to express myself fully through this medium, through this beautiful place called Moms of Hue, knowing that what I say, who I am is embraced, provides me with a potent reminder that the same is true for all of us.  That all of our voices matter…and that there is a place for each of us to call home; a retreat to which we can retire to be fed, filled and empowered to stand strong in who we are so that our mattering might make a difference in this world.

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