Thursday, December 25, 2008

Under the tree

I am the first one up. I think that has been the case since I was three. The boys are both sound asleep in my bed, a common place eventuality over here. Nana is here, arrived safely from Virginia and is as I had suspected she would be, sufficiently dazzled by the dynamic duo I am raising well. I rarely give myself the chance to acknowledge this fact, this feat. My friends ask me all the time "How do you do it?" or even better, "You are doing an incredible job with them, they are terrific kids, and full of joy and life, and..." They tell me, because they know that I do it because they help me in so many ways. And yet, I also do DO IT alone in other ways at the end of each day. So as a Christmas present to myself, on the day where another mother is often celebrated peripherally (she had that manger looking tidy and welcoming before those kings arrived even id she had just given birth I bet you), I want to put it out there, that though I am not always as patient as I would like to be; "Sam PUT HIM DOWN NOW!" and though I should spend less time cleaning the house, and more time messing it up with them-I'm a fine mom. Look at that tree--oh not that one--why it scans in all blue is beyond me--the one in the other room. It is ripe with expectation and possibility. My economy (to borrow a line I read on another post somewhere) is thriving with possibility. I manage the money I have well, and my time just well enough. I am for today anyway, navigating the waters of situational poverty with grace and style. My children have their needs met--emotionally, physically, intellectually, and presents under-the-tree-ally.

Marcel is scrunching and twisting--his signature pre-waking bell. Sam will this morning, uncharacteristically wake easily when reminded what day it is... Nana is up well rested and ready to participate in the frenzy. Time to boil the water for the instant coffee, and text the big brother to get himself here as soon as he is able. He's bringing the stuffed bird, and the cranberry sauce. Mom and I made the pies. (We're having the Thanksgiving meal we missed while he was at sea--promises to surpass the turkey burgers and supermarket pie I pulled off instead.) Our blessings to all. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Needless to say..

Our family is still riding on Obama Victory fumes. Since last week it has been easy to smile at all the world has to offer as we are looking through a new lens of possibility. Sammy watched Obama's acceptance speech for a good 35 seconds before he fell asleep. Every milestone is announced; "Sam look here is Obama in the Oval Office.." and discussed. He knows what an oval is after all!

I wake up giddy. I feel as if I am in love. I search my brain for clarification; "This feeling of lightness and hope is associated with unmitigated glee. Did I begin a new relationship and forget the person's name? Oh right I am in love with the Obamas." I have new pride that I can't point to or explain. But, it is fun telling people how presidential my family feels now...(Obama's mom and I share the same nose, relationship status, and what did little Barry have that Sammy doesn't?) I imagine the girls picking one of forty rooms to play in and I just want to giggle. I see them as a model on so many levels. I find myself praying for their well being, and time together as a family.

The light is crisp. The leaves are dried. The cupboard recently made room for cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie filling. Baseballs are being replaced by basketballs which will soon step aside for the ice skates and snowball making mittens. Weatherstripping, and caulk on the list, as the drafts announce themselves earlier each evening. Marcel can say Moo, more, and Mama. Sammy reminds me that once Marcel was a baby, and now he is big. A friend told me of a playwriter's group that meets every other week not far from here. I admit that is a fine goal, but first I have to find out how to get running again.

Needless to say, my joy is strecthing again. For this I am so thankful.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Plumbers, pudding, and leaf picking

As Sammy's hand pressed the iron down on to the wax paper my hand gently guided the iron towards the far corner. My own childhood anticipation of what the outcome would be as my mom and I created the same leaf collage thirty-five years ago fuses with Sammy's between the wax paper of our own mother-child collage. We add gold sparkles, crayon shavings, and my status as a single mother, along with his status as an adopted child of color to make the outcome not better, just slightly more colorful...

A success to report: when the agitator apparatus in my clothes washer came out with Sammy's pajamas, not only did I not panic but I took the unit apart, researched the item online, and ordered a cam replacement kit from my local appliance store within an hour. I praise the internet. With out it, I would be waiting for the plumber and his labor charges, and return visits with the exact same part in hand instead of writing this. I will invite Sam to watch me fix the agitator with the new cam, dogs and spacer for him to have a memory to blog about later...

As the boys were napping I made chocolate pudding from scratch. Watching it change from milky white to creamy cocoa and thicken under the bubbling surface I breathe in a new peace around my parenting that I can't explain. I do know that I only that find time to realize these things when I give myself half a pudding stirring chance to meditate and feel the success we are sharing in all of these milestone and simple moments.

Happy Birthday to Nana Banana my mom today. Clearly the love she folded into her mothering is at play in my heart today.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Autumnal Update

We're walking. We're vocalizing. We're transitioning, to new schools, and new routines. We're getting used to each other all over again it seems, as Marcel approaches one, and takes up so much more space in the world! Negotiating everything from calling that piece of plastic a water squirter and not something what foods you're able to eat on your own, and what is a good reason to wake mom up at night; "No, really I don't care that you took off your pajamas, or found your brother's sock under your pillow. No, I don't know where that spider went that was in your room last month!!! Yes , I want to cuddle, but not at 2:35 am..." We're so hopeful our insides ache when we think that O'bama will be the one to accept the presidency( four years after I dropped off my "dear birth mother" letter at the adoption agency while wearing my "I voted today" sticker as the picture in my scrap book reveals). We're still riding bikes, taking swimming lessons, hitting fastballs in the parks, and now we're looking forward to basketball "practice" (little hoopsters it's called) in October and ice skating class in December. We're drumming (it's in the basement, but it is still plenty loud we discovered) and dancing to big brother's beats. We're writing memoirs sporadically, but gathering more material all the time....

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Marcel can crawl, and Sam can ride his two wheeler without training wheels. Both these events happened within 24 hours of each other. My proud mama elation mixed with a little sadness, watching them go off in their own directions barely looking back.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Laughing Bangles

Mother's Day 2008.
Highlights include Sammy slapping four dollars on the counter at Wendy's while exclaiming; "I'm buying my mommy lunch. " Sammy looking at the silver and copper colored bangle we bought together at the jewelry counter at Sears and telling me that the copper one is for Marcel, because he looks like it, and the other one is bright like a star so it is for him. When I jingle them together he says, "listen Mom they are laughing like us." Highlight's include copying down the following inscription for Sam's birth mother's mother's day card; "Thank you for letting me be in your tummy, and staying in your tummy for a long time. Thank you for getting me into the world. Thank you for letting me into your heart. I love you, Sammy." I have done something well, I tell myself. Sammy knows his birth story, and for today it is a story that he feels gratitude for it, in his own 3.5 year old way.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


It wasn't even 6:30 am when Sam's screams from the living room woke Marcel and I from our nursing reverie; "MOM! You're not going to believe it!!! The Easter Bunny came to our house! And Mom....he made a MESS!" (Instant fraternity there...)The shredded lettuce in the foyer was my crowning moment for the day. That, I actually lost sleep wondering how to effectively cut out rabbit teeth from the note he left for said magical hare was not so noteworthy. (Rest came when I remembered that I could just grab it when he went to sleep, and fling it in the notebook of scrunched up artifacts he'll be getting on his 18th birthday.) The best line from the note; "And, I spell lettuce with an S." Of course he does. He spells everything he can with an S. Only he doesn't spell. Uncle Marc keeps trying to get him to do advanced math because of an NPR story he heard recently about a 3 year old adding and subtracting in Massachusetts.

Marcel ate applesauce for the first time. We rode the Easter Bunny Express and although Sam found him magical, I wish they would dry clean that tired costume at least once every other year. Dinner at Uncle Marc's was scrumptious albeit trying when the fire alarm was set off by the grill, tripping the entire building. I sat in the stairway chewing my kebab, hoping Sam didn't ask me what kind of meat it was, since he was clutching his new black lamb toy the Easter Bunny brought him. His fat lip from his brand new scooter ride home presented a band aid conundrum. He settled for his chin. Marcel's sleep training, commenced 7 days ago has culminated in yet another Mama C's School of Sleep Success Stories. He fell asleep on his own in 4 minutes tonight. There is hope.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Buy Paper Plates

When the slipper hits me squarely in the jaw I am not considering how
seeing me with the baby might subconsciously be bringing up Samuel's
anger at his birthmother. He is weeks shy of his third birthday, and
instead of a bicycle I bring him a baby brother. It is not lovingly
occurring to me at this moment, with my cheek stinging, that he might
be processing his abdonment with the one safe person who could handle
it- in the form of flying blue terrycloth and rubber. No, all I can
think about is how to get him into his time out without interrupting
nursing or bursting a blood vessel because I feel so angry.

I breathe. I remind myself that we have made it this far, and this is
the first slipper incident. I don't want to let in the feeling that I
hate him right now. That I hate how hard this is for him, and me.
(Later my brother will applaud Sam's choice. He will tell me that Sam
had an entire selection of winter boots to choose from in the foyer.
I will not find this as funny as he does. Instead I will contemplate
hiding the boots.) Calmly, I inform Sam that he needs to go into his
room for quite time, and that I will come get him when I am ready. I
use the scary-low register-if I was a Daddy- calm slow voice. Then my
eyes bead and persuade Sam that going into his room without further
encouragement is the best option. I am stunned that this worked
actually. I exhale, and try not to cry.

I reassure myself that I am doing something right, and that we will be
OK. His baby brother, Marcel nursing furtively is oblivious and happy.
After two, maybe three minutes the squeaky door to Sam's room
announces his return. "Mom, I'm ready now" his tone asks more than
asserts. I pause, deciding if I am ready. "I'm ready to not hit you
with slippers now." My smile gives him the permission he needs to
climb up on the oversized chair and cuddle next to me. We are all
being held together by something larger than us, keeping that cuddle
perfectly balanced on the chair.

Marcel was delivered by Cesarian after a twenty-eight hours of
laboring. His cord was around his neck, and this was compromising his
heart rate severely. In signature SMC style, a catheter and major
surgery wasn't going to keep me in bed one second longer than
necessary. I was walking the halls several hours later, holding this
little beauty to my chest as I shuffled down the hall with my IV pole.
Finally one of the amazing nurses who was there during my delivery
the day before, took the baby, put a big sign on my door saying DO NOT
DISTURB and ordered me to rest. I hadn't slept in almost four days.
It was time.

I ached to see Sammy. We had never been apart for more than a night,
and I had already been in the hospital for three days. My longing
for him was so intense, that I knew something else was at play. One
of my birthpartners, Sage is an adoptee. With her help, I uncovered a
deeper understanding for Sammy's loss of his birthmother thirty six
hours after his birth. I wept for her loss, and for his. I looked at
baby Marcel and tried to imagine letting him go into the arms of
another woman for longer than five minutes, for the rest of his life
and I sobbed. In birthing my own son I touched a new layer of the
loss of adoption. I felt it inside my skin. I wanted to hold Sam,
but really I wanted to have birthed him, too I wanted to take away
all of his loss, and hers.

I finished Sam's Lifebook three weeks after I got home. It is only
eight pages long, and very simple and to the point. We have read it
at least seventy-five times. He loves the pictures of me holding him
on the plane, and of his birthfather who he is certain is a basketball
player like him. He skips over the pictures of his birthmother in the
hospital holding him for now. I can only begin to imagine what that
brings up. He always wants to feel the raised letters of his name on
the picture of his hospital bracelet.

I was changing Marcel's diaper when I said; There you go Stinkey-
Patinkey a nonsense phrase I made up somewhere along the line. Sam
heard this from the other room, and came in screaming; "He is not
Stinkey Pahtinkey, I am Stinkey Pahtinkey!" I assured him that I
would do my best to come up with an original post diaper moniker for
Marcel. Of course it is not about the words, but I don't know how to
reassure him any more than I have that Marcel will never ever replace

I tell Sam how I miss it only being the two of us sometimes. It helps
to tell him that. I mean, it helps me. Otherwise it is like carrying
a dark secret inside, alone. I miss the feeling of knowing that Sam
and I are just that. The two of us. Having a third seems to dilute
the intensity of our bond, but time will absorb that. Eventually it
will be the intensity of the three of us. I have had glimmers of that,
and know it is true. But Marcel needs to have a personality first.
All he does now is blow bubbles, and get fat.


People ask me how I do it. I tell them that I buy paper plates. If
they looked confused I say, I've gotten good at it--like playing
soccer when I was in elementary school. When I finally found something
I was unequivocally good at it was so easy to practice all the time,
because I was already successful. I am really good at the work of
mothering, in fact I take pride in it. I use paper plates so I have
time to give Sam a bath while the baby is nursing, and then he sleeps
while I read Sam his story. This leaves no time for dishes. Instead
of birthday presents that we don't need I give my family a deposit
slip for the 529 plan. I keep a stash of favorite things in the car,
so Sam always has something he is jazzed about for show and tell
Wednesdays. I have friends who stay the night on a regular basis, so
I can have company after bed time, or gym time in the morning. I eat
healthy. I praise myself out loud; "Your mom is an excellent parallel
parker Sam, did you know that?" I tell my friends how lonely I can
get, and how sometimes I envy their relational status. They tell me
how annoyed and frustrated they can get with their relational status,
and how sometimes they envy my choice to go it alone. I tell them to
buy paper plates. I make time to write, so that I have someone other
than me to convince that being an SMC twice over is not only doable
but absolutely doable.
Marcel is transitioning to daycare this week. That word tastes like
rust under my tongue. On the first day he cried himself to sleep, and
wouldn't take the bottle. Today I left with him arching his back,
screaming. I was crying too. I went home to tie up loose ends, like
sterilizing breast pump tubing, washing bottles, unearthing "work
clothes" from the dark corners of my closet, returning two week old
phone calls; scheduling doctors appointments for everyone, and
finally remembering to put the now mostly evaporated but well aerated
water in the goldfish bowl. On the radio the DJ played a song from
the twenties. I found myself gently pulled into the marginal static
of the old record's edges. I was floating in that space, weightless
and lost. When I snapped back I felt the tingling of my skin from
crying so hard. Leaving Marcel at daycare feels like a rupture and a
betrayal to him, to me. I let myself feel it. I let myself hate this
uncivilized country that disallows mothers and children to remain
together for the first year. I feel shame about being an SMC
temporarily. I resent not being able to rely on someone else's income
while I stay home. I have never wanted to be a stay at home mom until
this week. "It's your hormones" my mom says. "It'll be OK in a few
weeks" my mommy friends reassure me. But when one of Marcel's
teacher's tells me that "it's OK to have my feelings" I want to deck
her. It's not my feelings that are the issue here. My son won't take
a bottle, and he has no idea where I am. Several hours later they
call to tell me Marcel came up with a very odd position, but it worked
for him, and he drank 2.5 ounces. That's my boy.

Sammy just came out into the kitchen to tell me that his nails need
trimming. It hurts him he said. Because it was too long. I forgot to
cut them he says. It is 9:45pm. He has been laying in bed for
probably half an hour coming up with what he thought would be a
viable excuse for leaving his bed. Did I say his bed? His egg crate
mattress on the floor of my room. It was an agreement we reached when
the "family bed" was driving me crazy. Sam sleeps like the hands of a
clock. I am impressed with the originality of his request, and tell
him so as I put him back in his bed for the fourth time. Since he
hates having his nails cut, I empathize with how desperately he wants
me to stop writing, and go to sleep. Minutes later the baby is asleep
on my bed and Sammy is asleep next to it. I am Catherine and Sons
now. I picture that stenciled on the back of the slick red pick up I
fantasize of owning one day. Instead of plumbers we are a roving
family of writers, musicians and scientists.

*first published in SMC Quarterly Spring 2008