Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day Tribute to an Emergent Speaker

Words We Share

uh oh
tah dah
nye-nye and

Words that will be yours alone:


who helped create me
biological mother
who chose to make me
this brown skin
lighter than
an older brother
to watch over me

Words that will be his alone:

birth mother

who relinquished
adoptive mother
who claimed
my black skin
as dark as the man
who I don’t know and
a younger brother
who adores me

Words that you will never know

no black man
will ever be
elected president

Words that we will share


Words that I look forward to

I love you too
I do
Remember at your graduation when
It doesn’t snow here

Saturday, January 24, 2009

ER visits and Hockey Sticks

You would think the two are related. Actually they happened simultaneously. While Marcel and I were in the ER waiting for the parade of doctors to poke, pry, alarm, confuse, and confer with us, Sam and Uncle were buying a hockey stick. I sanctioned the latter, in a weaker moment this morning after a kind stranger named Ed lent Sam his stick to play with on "the pond". Sam grew five inches as he sent random ice pucks soaring from one end of the outdoor "rink" to the other. Ed was there trying to learn how to skate and play hockey to keep up with his kids. Instead of seeing to his own, he hoodwinked mine into believing he was "professional" and "skilled" and a born ice hockey phenom. Gee thanks. By the time we arrived home, Marcel asleep in my arms for the third time in as many hours, I gave in to the 50th request to go buy a hockey stick, if Sam agreed to nap, eat lunch, and be a great listener for the rest of his life. I think he agreed to at least one of those. He must have, because now he has a stick.

Marcel meanwhile was succumbing to some pernicious little virus that was sucking the vitality out of him, and leaving in it's stead no appetite, 104 degree fever, and a clingy lump who would not be put down. Since he had just finished a 10 day course of antibiotics Thursday, the triage nurse on the phone urged us to the ER in case of pneumonia, or persistent ear infection. Thankfully neither were the cause, although we don't know where the infection is coming from, nor might we ever know. Best guess is viral, and I'll put money on him waking feeling at least 60% better. He is a resilient little dude. Best line was from the visit was the nurse who thanked me for "remembering to bring the refreshments" when Marcel started nursing.

I also had fun educating the very warm, and gentle good doctor who was having a hard time with the "adopted brother, biological baby, no father involved (his words)" correction. I said, there is no father to be involved. He looked at me with that; "Oh no here comes too much information" look.

"I am just reminding you doctor that families come in all different shapes and sizes. I am a single mother by choice not by circumstance." His voice cracked as he said; "Yes, yes that is fine." And, indeed it is, and we are, and he well, he'll be fine too when he goes home, and asks his wife what I was going on about.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 20, 2009

On my lap in the eighth grade tech ed room, Sam watched Obama become president. We were surrounded by students of every color and background, all as focused and awed by the moment they were witnessing. Sam kept saying Obama's name quietly to himself, it is soothing somehow.

I kept my tears to a minimum, but I screamed louder than anyone in the room when it was official! Sam was antsy during the speech, and not captivated by the poet (nor was I, but I'll be spending more time with her poem over the next few days to see if I can find my way in) but couldn't take his eyes off the screen during the benediction. The minister's shaky, deep, wise voice had a music to it that Sam's body was moved by, even when the words were hard to discern.

An hour later in the hallway looking into one of the classrooms he says; "Obama is in his house now, and he should eat cake." Everyone agreed.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rashes, Crashes, Flashes and Splashes

Marcel's diaper rash covered uncharted territory. I fancy myself an expert on few things, but I certainly thought I had this one tied up, so to speak. Wrong. In my defense, he is on Augmentin, know in pediatric circles as poopmentin. (To treat last week's pink eye and ear infection combo platter.) After finally getting that sorted out, to the point where he can wear clothing again, (with lotrimin, yes the athletes foot antifungal cream) Marcel changed courses dramatically when he tripped over a round block, and took a chunk out of the window sill. With blood drizzling down his chin like a new snow melting spring stream he looked at me in complete panic. Or was that me panicking? Happy to report that I didn't. Panic. As Sam slept through the entire event less than four feet away in front of the heater on the kitchen floor (the desire to get "up" before Marcel is creating strange habits over here) I applied pressure with a dish cloth and watched in awe as the tooth, which was almost a 90 degree angle to Marcel's face righted itself magically before my eyes. Sam awoke to Marcel bloody face and neck asleep in my arms. Seeing my blood splattered robe and neck Sam rightly inquires; "Mom what are you doing?"

Several hours later after attending Rohan Henry (The Perfect Gift) and Charlotte Agell's (Dancing Feet, I Wear Long Green Hair in the Summer)Martin Luther King Day Childrens Event and reading on the Bowdoin Campus, we explored. Grampy went to college here, I explained, and one day you might too. I realized the power of those words. Soon, I will be sitting in the audience watching him cross the stage of one graduation ceremony and another, until finally this one. The lion(s) in winter, is in front of the Bowdoin Art Museum.

Splashes you ask--didn't I miss one? Sam and I watching a You Tube video montage of Dr. King, and Obama, and many others allowed me a moment to let some of this in. And out. I cried a few little tears, but then like Marcel's gums, sucked it in back in. Not yet. How about tomorrow when Sam is on my lap at school surrounded by my students, and colleagues watching as Obama says; "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." How about we all just wait and see what that collective moment of exhultation brings out of us. Amen.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reflections on a legacy

Recently being the mother of children of color has ushered in thoughts that have nothing to do with freedom, and everything to do with creating it from scratch on a good day. Like when I was slathering Sam’s skin with lotion after bath, and crumbled internally as I had an image of him, or his great, great, great, great, great grandfather being slathered with a salve to help him heal. Heal from the sores bore into him by the chains he wore across the Atlantic ocean, before being auctioned off above ground the next day. My chains are made from little strips of paper, glued in a circle, while being linked to the next piece, handed to me by my mother, and her mother, and her mother's mother. A chain begun one day under the shade of a banana tree in the West Indes. When she ran out of paper, her servant was asked to bring her more.

Shoving books in Sam's daycare teachers arms with a smile and a need that could fill the basement of that church five times over; “It’s about a little (black) boy who (looks just like Sam and who) saves the world from being taken over by urban sprawl... the kids will love it,” I add with such certainty. And, and, and for at least the few minutes while you are reading the story Sam won’t be the only person of color in this entire building, except for the slightly worn out looking graphic of Dr. King that is posted on the wall behind us as we talk. But they listen, and accept, and include, and they read the book.

Four and half years ago I had freedom from the constant hum of race. I had freedom to feel comfort in the margins of my own racial awareness. Is this a new kind of freedom? Freedom to accept how far I have to go, how daunted, not afraid, I am most days of the work I have to do. Does that in itself bring me a little closer to picking at (if not up) those words by Dr. King and holding them in my curious, if semi sheltered lily white hands; "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Friday, January 16, 2009


(This is a piece I wrote in response to a "quick write" assignment in the kickin' online writing class that I am taking under the tutelage of one of my all time favorite editors and writers Aerial Gore. I am working on getting the first six or seven chapters of my Mama C Single Mother/Adoption/Conception memoir mapped out during this course. So far the writing is going exceptionally well, and the feedback has been wildly encouraging. Stay tuned...)

It is the shape of Africa smoothed over one too many times by a rolling pin. It is not a tattoo, but a birthmark on Sam's right temple. He doesn't see it, but the world does. If I have anything to do with it, he'll incorporate into his identity as a source of pride, and not a undesirable splotch of pigment. It is from his birthmother, and for that I imagine he will feel grateful and proud if I continue to do my adoptive mother job right. The herniated belly button that was the result of shoddy workmanship on the part of the delivery doc, most likely noting the medicaid arm band on his birth mother, and the color of the child's skin as reason not to worry, to hurry through this one. His pediatrician now tells me we can fix it, so it doesn't stick out so much if kids start to tease Sam about it looking like that. I figure he'll be picked on for being black, when I'm not, and fatherless, and adopted, but not for that belly button. He'll just turn the other cheek, let his African tattoo catch his would be tormentor's eye and close his gym locker door with a little more power than usual this time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Zooming through the grocery store for the essentials; ice cream sandwich incentives (more for me then them) milk, bananas the fruit little fingers can feel in control of, and a cheater chicken I am stopped in my track by the poster box. There right in front of the check out madness is Obama smiling with one arm up waving away, and that "what don't I have to smile about" look on his face. The title in red on the top says "Destiny". Underneath is his quote; "Destiny is not chosen for you, you choose your destiny," or something to that effect. The box is almost empty. Obama is sitting right smack in the middle of the impulse buy territory and he is being snatched up. I want to buy one for the house, my classroom, the car! I pause when I realize that had it been another president a few years back I would have found the mere presence of that box an irritant in my shoppping flow--an old shoe in the middle of the stream I was trying to cross.

The boys' daycare announced they are going to figure out a way to broadcast the inauguration. Sam informed them that he has plans to see it with mommy at her school, because "Obama won and he looks like us." He is right on all counts. He is going to watch with me and the eighth grade house. His fan club, the basketball boys are competing already for who gets to sit next to him. I wonder which part of it he'll remember more? My currwent fascination is Obama's inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander. I have read everything by her I can get my hands on, and find it infinitely satisfying to read her over and over again making my way into a line or stanza. Emancipation is the title that I read with my students, if I had more time I'd post it here. Her web site it easy to find.

The morning parade has to begin here in a minute on five degree morning. I'm back to work with Marcel's ear infection and conjunctivitis miraculously under control in less than 24 hours. How did a single mother keep a job without antibiotics?

It isn't a dream is it?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Call

At 1:15 the little cell phone rang--which is unusual mostly because I never have the ringer on. And the good Mama would like to say I had it on intentionally, but that would have been a lie. It was my brother calling to let me know that "We're not going to make it," he said with a little flabbergast around the edges, "Sam is inconsolable. I'm bringing him home." Before I have time to fully wake into what time it is, and what this must have meant for both of them over the last 45 minutes or so, I am saying, "OK OK" and hanging up the phone.

In seconds all of the implications are jumping up and down on the mama brain screaming for attention; Are they taking a cab, or walking home in the 17 degree icy air? Should I call and say leave Sam's suitcase (he has to pack the bright pink camouflage thing for every overnight adventure but don't forget the blankie!!!!!) and carry Sam. Did he try to cuddle him? Rough housing doesn't work at 1:00am... Did Sam want him too, or did he just need to come home. What could I have done to prepare them both better for such a meltdown? Anything? Probably not. Should I not have packed the picture of me, really as a joke, but did it backfire and make him feel farther away then just up the street? How awful for Marc to have to bring him back now--he has a cold and he must feel like he wished he could have come up with the magic phrase to soothe Sam back to sleep. Shame. How do I tend to Sam's shame at not being able to stay and applaud his courage in telling Uncle I just have to go home. Minutes later, Sam in his PJ's and day clothes, boots and spaceship silver winter jacket sits on the little trampoline crumbled up. Marc unzips the suitcase to find his blankie without anyone asking, he loves Sam so much, he wanted this to work more than Sam or even I did I realize instantly.

"Mama can I go in your bed? "Sam asked half asleep, and clearly uncertain of his world for the moment.

"Of course of course. Go. I'll be right there. Quietly baby. Don't wake your brother..." I answer trying not to smother, wanting to smother.

I thank Marc, quickly, words are not in order now. We'll talk about it when we can find a moment without Sam, maybe online, maybe in code while they throw a football in the living room as I do dishes and Marcel pulls books off the shelf.

The baby wakes up the minute I have Sam in my arms whispering; "I love you, Sam." There isn't time for everything else, but I know he needs to hear it, because his eyes are WIDE open as he stares at the space right over my shoulder.

By the time I come back from soothing Marcel back to sleep, Sam is snoring safely snug back in his comfort zone for the moment. I don't have anyone to admit this to, but I'll sleep better now too. Moments before I drift away I have this awful realization that phones call at 1:15 am will not always be so easy.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

What 2008 brought us...

1. The first time I can easily buy a calendar with a joyful black man on the front for our kitchen.

2. Two thriving, beautiful, fanatical children who grow more in love with each other daily, and who seem to be figuring out how to put up with me as well.

3. Several times my name in print. Magazines this year, and hopefully more of the same, if not something even juicier in the years to come.

4. My brother established and staying put in Maine. (At least as far as I know..) A growing relationship with him for me and the boys. This is something I have always wanted since he moved away over ten years ago.

5. A new address for the crack dealers next door. It took four years, but finally I feel breathing room and a much larger safety net around our home.

6. A new appreciation for my students, the work we all do together and my capabilities as a teacher. A grant that I wrote that was just funded for my classroom, and a new mentee to help me in the spring.

7. A farewell to a friend Linda "We can do this" Mansfield, a colleague Scott Pease, my students' brother James Angelo, Eddie's Uncle in Haiti, a legend Paul Newman, and my dog Lily (who is enjoying another life in New Hampshire).

8. My 40th birthday. And, I must say that I love this decade so far. I feel easier on myself. Things are less pressing, less complicated.

9. New connections. FB and my online writer's group that is beginning, and one of my single mama list serves are the moments of "ambient awareness" (thank you Kerry) that deliver me from the confines of a single family household in Maine with humor and embrace over and over again.

10. My inner chef! I cooked some kick-in cuisine this year. By the time my boys actually eat what is on their plate they will have something to be happy to eat!

11. much closer to believing something called a relationship might come into my life one day. Before the year ends that relational status category's going to be popping up with a little red heart for me too. It didn't happen this year, but it will.

12. Friendships that have carried me and knuckle one and two to this moment in time with so much help and support. A special shout out to our Eddie who is moving out of her role as nanny, and into her role as our Eddie who lives in a warm place now... From before the baby entered the stratosphere until now she has been our savior and our sister.

13. The belief that alignment is possible. 2009 is for allowing it to happen.