April 19, 2014

Black Enough (the poem)

by Catherine Anderson

Mama C is away on vacation this week, so in the place of a new post, I am sharing a poem that I wrote three years ago for a poetry reading at the faculty talent show at the middle school where I teach.  Since then the poem has appeared in print and online in various locations including, Color Online, Hip Mama Magazine, and Adoption Mosaic.

Black Enough

I can’t wait to tell you Sam,
that when you were just two
one of my very black students asked me
why I went
all the way to North Carolina
to have you.

I can’t wait to describe to you the look
on that student’s face
when I told him
that I didn’t have you
like his mom had him,
but that your birthmother
placed you in my arms
in the hospital in North Carolina
on Christmas Eve
as she smiled bravely and
kissed you.

Oh. What? He asked. And then,
It’s not that I thought you were black black
he proclaimed.
But I thought you were black enough to have him.

Black Enough.
Black enough?
True I wondered if I was black enough
to walk through the door of Cordell’s barber shop
that first time six months ago
to get your black and curly hair
cut properly, what would they think of me?

And I can tell you that I am just
black enough to keep walking in that door,
where all the men
in that barber shop,
who have never asked me my name
Call you by yours-
Hey Sammy my man-
and What’s up boss?
They ask you
as you strut
right
up
to Cordell’s chair to demand
a lol-i-pop
for a line-it-up
and black enough to notice
as they stare at me
and stare at me
as if by looking
just a little longer
I might become
black enough to them too.

Black enough to notice that
now I own
many more brown and black sweaters and shirts
and brown corduroys
too
because I must want you to think I
am a little more black
and a little more like you

Black enough Sam
to know
that I’ll never be black enough
and because of that
I must never forget
that you
are.

*Copyright May 2007 All Rights Reserved
by  Mama C

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Friendship 101

by Catherine Anderson

To add to the list of things I never thought much about before becoming a parent, is the importance and skills involved in helping my children establish and maintain friendships. Like, Ana Gazawi in her piece, Choosing friends last week, I have been thinking about this subject with my son. With kindergarten looming on Sam’s social horizon, I have been  checking in with him lately on what he is comfortable with, and where he might like some help. (Preschool is great for teaching Sam how to negotiate the intricacies of friendships he already has, so we’re all about how to make new and lasting ones.)   Luckily, Sammy has a natural facility in this arena. My job seems to be more of one of helping him practice.

For example on the way to soccer camp the other day sounded like this;

Me: So when you see all these new kids today, how can you go about introducing yourself?

Sam: Hi. What is your name?

Me: Good start. Could you begin with your own name first?

Sam: Hi My name is Sammy. What’s your name?

Me: Great! And what happens when someone starts passing you the ball, or hanging out with you during snack time, and you forgot to ask each other your name? What can you do then?

Sam: Keep passing the ball. Or ask them for some of their food to share if I like it.

Me: Uh, sure. Can you think of a way to ask their name then too?

Sam: My name is Sammy, and I don’t know your name.

Me: Presidential!

***

At the pool later, after camp, Sam sees a boy who was just in camp with him. He jumps up and down and points.

Sam: Mom that boy went to soccer with me! He did! I know him.

Me: Fun! Can you invite him to come over and play with us?

Sam: Hey! Do you want to jump in the pool with me?

New Friend: Sure.

Me: (smiling) Sam, can you ask your friend his name?

Sam: Mom if you don’t know someone’s name, you can just ask them!

***

For Sam friendship 101 may also include discussions about adoption, race, and not having a dad. At the same preschool for a few years, has been in a relatively safe place, surrounded by kids who know him, and us. Know that his mom looks different, and his brother does too.  Know that Uncle is like a dad in a lot of ways, and that Sam is adopted, which means his everyday mommy (me) became Sam’s mom when he was one day old. Know that his first mommy, Tea, choose me to be his mom, and that she is a beautiful and loving mama, who Sam knows through letters and pictures. I have educated parents, teachers and children alike, on the language of adoption, the language of the love that brought our family together. (Luckily these kids have not been concerned about how the little brother came into being, so I’ve been able to skip the donor conversation so far! Marcel was conceived with the help of a Black donor, and is my biological child.) Friendship 101, has been a preschool community course, and it was easy by in large to get everyone on board, and keep track of the confusion, and correct it. All that is about to change.

We might also need to cover how his athletic ability is both an asset, and  something that can be difficult for some kids to relate to when they do not feel as skilled or able as he is.  Yes, he is that gifted, and we’ve already seen some friends collapse in a heap when Sam was that much better than them at hitting the ball, or riding a bike. Sam has remarkable physical intelligence, and learning how to manage that, like any gift will have it’s learning too.

And then there is that tricky thing called trust. When Sam takes money out of my wallet, and shoves it into his bank, and then comes to show me the new five dollar bill in the coffee can, I frame the conversation around friendship and trust.

Me: Where’d that money come from?

Sam: I took it from you.

Me: I really appreciate that you told me. You listened to that voice telling you that wasn’t a good choice huh?

Sam: Mom! I really need the money for the ice cream truck. Can I just have it?

Me: Tell me about what would happen if you took a new friend’s lunch money at school, when they weren’t looking.

Sam: They wouldn’t be able to eat lunch?

Me: Imagine if you couldn’t eat lunch, and it was your friend Sofie who took that money to buy herself ice cream later.

Sam: I’d be really hungry and mad.

Me: It’s hard to be friends with someone when you are hungry and mad at them!

Sam: Can I have just a dollar then?

+++

So we keep practicing with every opportunity we have. What I’m really hoping for, as he approaches the gladiator’s arena of recess, and unstructured play is that he has the internal compass to guide him towards compassion and fun at the same time. Hoping that my less-than-likely-to-share-out-more-than-a-few-words-about-his-entire-day-guy, will have the words to tell me when his skills, did not seem enough to handle something that didn’t sit well in his heart. Help him know that if it didn’t feel OK, that it’s OK to walk away, and wait until he is ready to have that conversation another way.  Help him learn how to trust his own heart, and reach out to those who need a little help too. Help him make good friends, that might be next to him in the real sense, as he walks across the stage to accept that high school diploma in twelve short years from now!

As the year progresses, I’ll be reporting on how it’s going, and how I’ve had to relearn my own friendship 101 skills as I start initiating play dates with the parents of the ones Sammy has decided are his new best friends now.

What are some of your own memories of making new friends? And what have been some of your parenting ah-ha’s around helping your young children learn how to initiate and maintain meaningful friendships?

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The best parenting strategy ever

by Catherine Anderson

Have you ever embraced a parenting strategy, or approach to raising your child that seemed to be such a great idea, you couldn’t imagine why everyone didn’t join you as soon as they saw it in action, heard you sing it’s praises, or read the book themselves? In the first five years of my mamahood I have felt rather adamant about a few such discoveries including; sling wearing, sleep training, “Magic 1-2-3“, formula is best, nursing is best, co-sleeping, organic produce, water filters, providing children with choices, the best way to raise a racist child is to not talk about race, reading to children all the time.. and have I alienated everyone yet?

In five short years I have certainly had a lot to say about a lot of things and judged a lot of people I adore, and many I’ve never even met (at playgrounds and in grocery stores), who obviously haven’t seen the light yet! If they only had the chance to be as good a parent as me! Then the world would clearly be a better place. Sigh, maybe they’ll arrive there on their own someday…

When I look over that list of things above, I want to shrink into a box the size of one of the keys on my keyboard and whisper; “Sometimes things don’t always turn out as I had thought they would…” Take for example sleep training. If you haven’t heard about it I’ll let someone else grab the podium. If you have and feel strongly about it I’m with you. But, I also have to say, here I am back at square one with two kids who don’t go to sleep much before nine most nights. Back with one who needs not only a song, a back rub, and every stuffed animal ever created tucked in around him just so. But who even after all that requires nine out of ten times to get out of bed and insist we start the entire process all over again because he just “loves me so much he needs me to be with him RIGHT NOW!!!” in order to fall asleep. Want to see me jump a little higher?

I know what I need to do. I know where I’ve been inconsistent. I know that the computer needs to turn off around 5:00pm, if I have a hope of a sane night time routine. And yet I still find myself bickering with two over tired kids about how they should just be in bed now, because it’s too late to argue with their over tired mother. If only all the folks Ive been judging for years could see me now. It isn’t pretty, and it’s my fault. At least now I tell my kids; “Your mom goofed. It is way too late for all of us to be up.” The next day, I promise to do better, to start all over again. Where did I put that sleep book?

But recently, I’ve been thinking that there is a much larger premise I have assumed was the right choice for Sam, (my five and half year old, adopted transracially and domestically at birth) that I am not so certain is the case anymore. And, it is one of the largest parenting organizing principles I’ve been operating under since before he came into my life. It is the belief that incorporating his birth story into our lives with frequency and normalcy is the key to his successful identity formation in the long-term.

Could it be that I have taken the open in open adoption too far too fast? Or is it that I have successfully laid all the groundwork he needs to feel secure in his relationship with his first mom and now he needs my permission to just let a good thing be? Permission to let the mom he is living with be his just one mom for a while? We (meaning circles of mothers) are often counseling one another that you have to follow your mother’s intuition, that you know what’s best. But, when such a decision feels like it may have very far reaching implications, it can be a very hard, and sometimes lonely one to make. What is the best strategy then?

How I arrived here, and what I hope to do about it, will be explored in the coming days (I will reassure you that in my case I am working with a family therapist who specializes in adoption to arrive at the most thoughtful approach to this question) on my personal blog. Until then, I’d love to hear about any parenting podium pendulums you’ve found yourself swinging on, and what you did or didn’t do about it. When is the best parenting strategy ever actually the ability to notice that it may not be the right one for your kid after all? Even when it isn’t what you used to think, or the world, or at least that annoying woman in the grocery store seems to be telling you otherwise?

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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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Honored to watch her capture the world

by Catherine Anderson

Edwige Charlot didn’t just graduate from college today. She soared. She won more awards than any other student in that auditorium. She was elected by her peers to be the class speaker. She was given a year long scholarship to the Peregrine Press, which has a wait list years long, and will probably be one of the few, and definitely the youngest artist of color, to grace their printing presses with her evocative etchings, and vibrant woodcuts. As I sat in the audience in the middle of a row of her fifteen Haitian family members, looking at her seated on stage, with Sam on my left and Marcel in my lap, I thought to myself, something is right in the world.

We had the honor of sharing in her glory because she is our extended family. One of her former professors introduced us three years ago. A month later Eddie moved into my basement apartment weeks before my second son was born, as a nanny. We needed each others help. She needed an affordable place to live (with us for free in exchange for ten hours help a week) and a family away from home to connect with. A single mother, 39, seven months pregnant with a two year old, and a full time job, I needed HELP, and someone to witness my parenting, so I didn’t go off the deep end in my exhaustion.  It is not possible within the scope of this piece to explain the many ways over that Eddie and I saved each other from going over the edge in the months and years that followed.  A relationship that did not end when she moved out before the start of her senior year in need of more light, and perhaps a little privacy. A relationship that I may never have forged if it hadn’t been for my children, and my good fortune to meet her when I did.

She is one of those magicians who can make a four course meal for three finicky eaters out of a piece of stale bread, some mustard, and a slice of cucumber. From Friday night dance parties with a CD she just happened to mix for the boys, to helping me figure out how to pump at/return to work, to helping me start my first blog her repertoire was endless. I tried to reciprocate by listening to her frustrations at not being seen in the world, to applauding her choices at self care, to showing her that her relationship with this family was without a doubt one of the most influential ones we would all experience in this lifetime.

So, when she emerged yesterday, after almost three months of non stop working on the seven classes she needed to graduate and told me that thirteen members of her family were arriving in two hours, I said what would they like to eat and drink? I am not known for being spontaneous. Correction, there is not a spontaneous cell in my body. But, for Eddie I would throw a party for a hundred people in three hours, and it would meet all their needs. She put the baby to nap, while Sam and I flew around the aisles of the grocery store, gathering everything she suggested. I convinced myself that no one would care how dirty the floors were. Her mother considers my children her babies. Her aunts and cousins would be too busy stressing out over Eddie’s hair and dress choice to notice that I forgot the dip. Everyone would be too busy celebrating the first child in this family on every side to graduate from college to notice Marcel’s self administered pedicure, or Sam’s less than perfect recent buzz cut by mom.

As the photo shows, the hours we spent together were joyful, easy, and all about the music, the laughter and the children, pink toe polish and all.  Sam and Marcel found their role in the dynamic with ease. Uncle and I  basked in the collected warmth and jubilation. I was beginning to get an even better picture for Edwige’s resiliency and ceaseless charm. A part of every person in that room would be on that stage with Eddie the next day.

The amount of loss that this aisle of people experienced as a result of the earthquake in Haiti over the last six months was probably more loss than that of everyone in the rest of the auditorium combined. At the same time, Eddie’s village, as she called them, gathered there in all their elegance and strength may have also collectively shared more  joy and pride then the rest of the auditorium combined. How fitting that when the slide came up to show the audience a piece of artwork of the graduate’s choosing to the crowd, Eddie’s was the only piece that was not artwork per se, but of her family last summer arm in arm at a cook out laughing full force together. Her mother, sitting next to me, holding the sleeping Marcel strewn across her lap, shrieked in joyful recognition despite herself.

When all was said and done, and the music began and Eddie stood up, my boys started waving furiously. Their Eddie had graduated, whatever that meant, and to them they were all that mattered now. Of course she waved back, big, causing them both to explode; Mommy Eddie is waving at me and Sammy! We are graduated now too Mommy! Eddie this post is dedicated to your family, your mother, and you, the only daughter and person of hue on that stage. The honorary daughter, and surrogate mother/ rock star to me and my children. You are a bold reminder, that this graduation season we have so many young women and men we are honored to witness and celebrate dancing with bold steps on the precipice of adulthood. Thank you for inviting us to watch you capture the world.

To learn more about Eddie, her work, her family, and the collective she started , Dear World Help Haiti, please visit her at Whichprinter.

***

If you’d like to read more about our family, and how we came together, please see a piece debuting today on Fertile Source, about meeting my son’s birth mother for the first time. Simultaneously I am pleased to share a recent piece published at Adoptive Families Magazine in their living with diversity section on adoptive parenting meets hair care and much more at the black barbershop.

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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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