April 24, 2014

When motherhood takes a hit

by Catherine Anderson

The following post, came from a phone call I had with a dear friend who is going through a secretive, and very painful period of not feeling as connected to her son, as she always dreamed she would.  I am going to leave out specifics, to protect her identity, but what I hope my post here addresses is more of a universal.

While talking to her I was struck again by all the silence and shame we have around idealized visions of what it is to be maternal, let alone “the perfect mom” (which we know doesn’t exist).  What do we do with those feelings of disappointment when motherhood and our little angel aren’t what we were banking on? Is it just a phase sometimes? What happens when you fear it may be more of a life long disconnect?

This is the example I shared with her.  I imagine many of us, have our own.

A few nights ago  Marcel, Sam, and I were running a race on the little path behind our friend’s cottage.(OK it was to the outhouse if you must know.)  I was carrying Marcel (2.5) and Sam (closing in on 6) was losing. To make it worse, he was not able to pass us-the path was too small…

You know where this is going? Marcel and I were pushed from behind, and hard, into the ground- and to add deep worry to injury, even as we hit the ground, Sam just kept running.

Marcel’s back was whacked on a log and had the wind knocked out of him. Both my knees were scraped bloody, and sizzled in pain.  After being certain Marcel was not more badly hurt, my thought; Sam is ruthless, or worse.

I don’t know what hurt worse, that thought or my knees.

After grabbing Sam by the arms, and explaining how dangerous that was, and begging for some kind of why, and somehow not yelling, I regrouped, and sent him into his room without desert.

Everyone was freaked out. Probably he more than us. He had never physically hurt me before, other than a scratch, or a fat lip from a baseball thrown too hard.  When I came in to help him get his pjs on he just crawled into my lap and sobbed. His way of letting go. He is so strong physically and can’t control it always. To him it was a game, to me it was an attack. That’s where I feel like I drop the ball in the good mom department.

He is competitive to a fault, was stuck, and maybe mad inside about Marcel being the baby, and in my arms, and maybe even that he is biologically related to me.  Mad about leaving preschool soon, and going to kindergarten. Mad that he is not the best swimmer in the world, even after a day in the lake. Mad that there is no dad in this family unit, or just mad that he couldn’t get past me, plain and simple.

My friend’s dad, a retired elementary principal for forty years, said he thought Sam was trying to “be the little man” since I am not married/partnered. This is a hard role for him to manage, and he is acting out. I had never thought of that, and am not sure what to make of it, but considering my live in brother had been away for a few weeks, it makes sense in a way.

Bottom line: I am mother. Safe. Strong. Invincible. I should just fly out of the way when I am pushed, not fall!

My feelings of failing him in my rearing, not being the “right” mom, not being able to love ( that behavior) and always down deep worrying about what is going to happen as he gets older and STRONGER and could really hurt me come up often.

Then I remind myself that I am not alone. Gazillion moms with little boys-adopted or not-have struggles with their boys too. They doubt themselves too. They wish it were easier. They wish they knew what they could differently, to just get them to simmer down, or listen to the reuqest the first time around.

I deconstruct motherhood daily.  I try to remove the layers that the Brady Bunch or the Cosby Show heaped  on my young girl mind and what my own parents did not. Those moms never yelled, and always seemed to have agreeable, and reasonable children, without anger issues, or button pushing as their number one hobby, after tackling their brother when mom wasn’t looking.

On good days, I see myself as a champion of an at times very serious, angry, thoughtful, physically gifted and loving and if only-he-knew-how-loved child.

I’ll move mountains for him to be hopeful and seen on this planet. That is my understanding of why I am here for him most days. Marcel is a completely other story. He is a pat of warm butter melting on toast for the most part for the moment. That will shift, but temperamentally he and I are much better suited. I never knew that a parent could have a temperament that was not an ideal match for their child. You don’t learn that in high school, or college. There is so much that parenthood reveals only through experience. So much that I would have suffered so much less over if someone had just said; you may not be a great match temperamentally, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a tremendously powerful bond. It just takes more work, and its worth it.

Today we spent the day swimming at a lake. Hours and hours of it. Every once in a while I caught Sam looking at my grotesque boo-boos and looking away. Part of me wanted to make them go away, part of me wanted to yell--You know they sting!!!! Then the grown up in me, climbed up onto the dock next to him and did a giant cannon ball when he counted to three. When he asked out friend on the beach who made a bigger splash, he answered just right; It was a tie!

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Mothers of rage

by Catherine Anderson


When I posted the following piece (below) on my blog earlier this week I was awed by the number of women who wrote, called, approached, and texted me offline to say “thank you.” One mother took me aside in the grocery store, her eyes welling with tears as she whispered; “I read your blog. It was such a relief Catherine. I really thought it was just us, dealing with this. I don’t know what to do when she gets so angry…” Mothers I knew, and mothers I didn’t shared in private their struggle around their children’s rage, and their own. When I returned their messages and asked them if they felt willing or able to share their comments in public, only one eventually did. It is time to take this to a larger audience, I thought. Will the Moms of Hue audience react in a similar way?

What is it about rage, that feels so private? What is it about rage that keeps us from owning it in our own homes? What is about our children’s rage that feels so shameful? When I originally posted the piece, I did not explicitly include the fact that both the parents sharing the pieces were adoptive parents of children of color. Only because rage is, I imagine, as an experience (by the parent and the child) a universal.

Reflections on Rage

Two women sit on a couch, visiting and eating their sandwiches from home-a lunch time reconnect. Within minutes, they gravitate to talking about their amazing, growing, and capable children, who they each know well, from birth.  Give or take a week or two.  T-ball swings, reading mastery, potty training success, and verbal acquisition -feed their longing for news and celebration. Motherhood becomes their friendship well. Adoptive transracial parenting is what brought them towards each other, one morning in a park, when phone numbers were exchanged, and welcoming words shared. They were not alone. That was five years ago.  With only an hour together, they make their way quickly to the murkiest part of the parenting pond.

Their faces change, as their soft smiles give way to weathered empathy, and understanding.  A large cloud will pass through the room of their parental expertise and dedication.  A rueful mounting bass line hammers as each word climbs up from caves of  frustration and pain like a tormented troll whose story must be told.

It is not their rage, it is not not their rage. It is their children’s rage at the world, and rage at them. It comes out in clenched fists, and thrown toys. It comes out in bared teeth, and broken skin on a sibling’s face. It threatens to run away, it hides under the bed. It yells horrible things at them, when they wrap their arms around it and rock it softly back and forth. It sobs and it kicks. It hits and it screams.  It sets things on fire, and it jumps in front of moving cars. It is exploring it’s own limitless power, and it is afraid of itself. It lives so deep within their children’s skin.

It is held by these even stronger mother women, until it passes this time.

The more they talk about it, the quieter it becomes. Their friendship does not shame, blame, or need to name the origins of their children’s rage, this time.  Each story they share from the trenches of their collective suffering makes them more able to imagine perhaps a future that is not held hostage to it. They find relief, and laughter in the bathroom that did not burn down when the tampon was held into the candle burning there. (It was a remarkable choice he made to get help, when the napkins started burning too.) They talk about the healing scar on the younger one’s cheek, and catching the football that was meant to knock them in the head, instead. A life time tucked into an hour, wiped away from the corners of their mouths with a cloth napkin brought from home.

Next steps

I am writing about rage, and talking about it. I am noticing my own, (yes, an entirely other topic too) and my son’s. I am keeping track of when he explodes, and what happened right before that, or days before. I am going to a see our family therapist today who specializes in adoption, and who is herself a mom of hue, so that we are taking it all into consideration as I explore what I can do best to help my family cope.

How do you mother rage? How has it evolved as your children grew, or how are you experiencing it now? Is it something you can talk about it? And if so with whom? Do you feel that it is OK to talk about it, or something mothers are shamed into keeping silent about-as if they are responsible for it happening, like we used to think about depression? What expertise and experience can you share?

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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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Inside the Mother’s Day card for his first mom

by Catherine Anderson

I am holding the pink 5X7 card with the rhinestone glued to the center of the bouquet on the Mother’s Day card that Sam picked out for his birth mom, his first mom, with a heavy heart.  The heaviness is not what you might think. First I realize how far I’ve come in my thinking about her in the past five years. (Sam was adopted at birth, he was thirty six hours old. We have an open adoption.) From feeling threatened by an idea of her as always meaning more to him than I could, to feeling a sense of managing  “it” as in the relationship well, to where I am now. Now, being in a place of almost unspeakable gratitude on a daily basis for the love she created in bringing Sam into the world, and into mine. Mother’s Day is naturally a time when feelings run deep around here.

I was looking through pictures that I had printed recently, and wondered which ones I wanted to send along, and which ones Sam would want to include. We always choose different ones. I almost want to censor him by only sending happy, active, outdoorsy, look how great his life is shots. He picks pensive moments, if that is what you’d call it. Serious shots. I would worry about how she’d interpret those. Now I think it is his way of saying; I don’t know what me to share with you, so I’ll send this one along. It is safer. We include them all.

It was funny watching him select the card this year, as a non reader. He’d pick one with flowers on it, that read; “Mom this is to say thanks for how you’ve raised me…” and I would explain that it didn’t quite fit. Marcel (the 2.5 year old) was helping by pulling every card he could reach from the engagement section, and hand it to both of us saying; “Here send Uncle this one.” (His obliviousness to the situation, was almost appreciated.)  Sam stopped asking why after my second attempt at an explanation; “Well, she is not raising you, now. She brought you into the world, we need to find a card that…” He kept finding flowers,  I kept scanning the messages. We found a “Happy Mother’s Day from All of Us” one. It is delicate, PINK and glittery. He picked it–which I hope she will appreciate.

She never acknowledges these acts outright. But, I have come to realize that is not important.  The text message will come a few weeks or months later asking how everyone is. It is her way of telling us the card arrived safely. What I don’t know is how hard this is for her still. Is it a daily loss? Is it a constant ache, or a pain you know is always there, masked somehow by time, like a headache waiting for the medicine to wear off?  I trust that our cross country wishes, and I luve u’s scribed by a five year old’s scratches, over a forty-two year old’s  script still land in a welcoming heart.

And yet, last night I was grieving for her loss all over again. I was looking at her picture holding Sam in the hospital, and feeling my own body cradling Marcel in the hospital after I birthed him, and I nearly broke in half.  It was then, that my own deeper understanding for both their losses penetrated me on a cellular level. I remember being in that hospital longing to hold Sam as an infant so fiercely at that moment. This new one had just put me through thirty-six hours of hell, it was Sam who I longed to hold, and in many ways birth.  It was not that I wanted to eradicate her, it was that I wanted to erase all the pain ripping around me at that moment. Her pain, his pain, mine.

Sam was asleep in my bed, having migrated there a few minutes before. I reached over and rubbed his head, and ached for him too. What is it like I long to know. What is it like knowing this woman who looks just like him, and I mean JUST like him, is living in another state, with other children, having birthed you and chosen to place you with me. Where does that grief go on a daily basis? Is his a dull ache, or a distant muted pain? It is so good for me to remember how much he is carrying inside this beautiful growing body, I think, laying next to him listening to his not so baby snores.

It is hard day’s work managing two moms. He said it himself when I asked him if he wanted to get her a present this year. “No, I just want you to be my present mommy this time.” Maybe I’ll sign the card alone this time, and just tell her he sends his love. She’ll understand, because she’s his mom too.

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Filling the frame, or is 1/8th enough?

by Catherine Anderson

We live in Maine. I’ve lived here over ten years. I have created, and been nurtured by an amazing community of loving friends, and engaging colleagues a few miles from the ocean, yards from a thriving small city, and a half hour drive from breathtaking wilderness.  I came here after nearly a decade in Manhattan. I needed to down shift, to feel like a big fish in a small pond, to slow down.  I came here to start my family. But, is this where I want to raise my family?  I didn’t realize that there would be a distinction between these two life stages for me. Have others felt that way too?

We have been supported beyond belief from the moment I made public my decision to adopt. Weeks before Sam was born, a surprise baby shower greeted me at the school where I still work. Then, when I announced the rather unconventional way in which my family was increasing by one (Marcel was donor conceived) the principal didn’t blink.  Sam starts kindergarten next fall, and the baby is two. The state motto here is; “The Way Life Should Be.” Unless, you think that you might be living on the wrong coast, for example.

A sense that all of me would show up in the picture frame,  if I set out for the promised land (of sorts) is at the center of my recent, and formidable unrest. A belief that for me to be the best mom, educator, friend, community member, writer and poet I can, I need to live in a place that can hold more of those things simultaneously. Does such a place exist? Where I am now, owing either to it’s size, climate, or demographics does not hold that for me, for us, in the ways that we need. It is changing, and I am part of that change. But, is that where my work is best served? How do I answer that?

Even with the amazing chosen family we have here, I often feel profoundly lonely.  Is that a reflection of my internal workings, or where I live?  Will I find many other mothers/families like ours somewhere else? Is this just about being unpartnered? I don’t think so. But, what about love?  It’s not that I think I’ll fall madly in love the moment I move. But wouldn’t I have a better chance with that too, if I felt that I had more room on the dance floor to show what I really got? Will, following my “bliss,” or my dream, help draw more of the same to us? Is my constant vigilance here, off putting to others? Do people fear the crusader? Or do I have so many defenses up all the the time, I wouldn’t know prince charming if he ran over me with a lobster boat?

One part of our mini urban garden, a triangle about 1/8th of the plot gets full on sun for more than an hour. All the plants that need sun go there. I feel like that is how we live too. Like I am constantly rushing about  to find that 1/8th of sun in the AME Zion church on Sunday, on the playground near that other family that kind of looks like ours, or as I push our cart behind the cart of the mixed family I have been stalking in the grocery store. Behind them at the check out I want to yell;  “Are you happy here? Is 1/8th enough for you?”  I seek out the community I can’t find here, on the internet. But you exist in real places. You have homes outside of your computer. You could be our neighbors. Is the grass always greener, or is there a place where that 1/8 will feel more like 1/2 or 3/4?

So, how do you do it? How do mothers make decisions, the BIG LIFE decisions that will impact not just you, but you and your children, and/or your partner in the most thoughtful way possible? (Yes, the thought of leaving my brother, aka Uncle, who lives with us, and shares an intense relationship with his nephews weighs in heavily here.  If it happens, he said he would consider the move too, actually. Sam said he’s not moving without him.  He says he’d miss me a lot, but he can’t leave Uncle here.) Are you a go with your gut person? A listen to your higher power person? A talk to everyone you know person? A look for signs in the tea leaves person? A let someone else decide person?

When do you say; “I’ve researched enough, I’ve listened enough, I’ve gone back and forth enough? Now it’s time to act, or drop it, and trust that the real work that has to happen is right here in front of you. Open to all your mother (or father, or other) wisdom, and appreciating that you have made it this far with this post, and our story.  A work in progress, to be continued for sure.

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