My son has a mean left hook.
He's not a boxer, just a toddler.
He is overtired from being sick
And from cutting canines.
There are bursts of joy now and then
He has a great giggle.
He talks to me all the way home from work. I understand very third word.
He sings silly, nonsense songs and quotes clips from Elmo.
But tonight I needed a break.
His mood swings were insane.
The highs seemed too high and the lows seemed lower than normal.
My beautiful son seems more like an alien and less like the affectionate little guy who loves all things chicken.
I scolded him for standing in a chair this evening because he might fall and then he did.
When he got up he looked at me like I pushed him down.
Seconds before bed, my son hit me with a left hook.
Maybe he is going to be a boxer one day.
A crazed, boxing toddler man with a chicken side kick who loves Elmo.
Yeah, I see it.
Single parenthood, there are no bells rung to give you a break. You demand your soft touches for you and the people he hurts.
I need to wrap myself in bubble wrap. STAT
I have no idea why I am awake at 3:45am.....well, maybe I do.
If you look at your work calendar and you notice that most major stuff is going to happen during one week, that is probably the week that your child is going to get sick. That is now happening for me. Our server is down for an upgrade, an important document is due by Thursday and training is not quite ready. Cue the fever.
It's OK. Things are going to get done, but that means that you work on things in the middle of the night in-between bouts of fever and crying. It means you write long, detailed emails to staff members with to-do lists of things that have to get done. You start projecting how you will get things done once you finally make it back to work.
That's why I am awake. I am home since I am the only person my child wants when he is sick, but work deadlines wait for no one.
I don't care how many parents can claim a child. Eventually every parent is alone.....somewhere That unsuspecting parent walks unarmed into a Whole Foods Store thinking, "I just need one thing. I will be in and out of there". Yep, you thought that. Little did you know that at the moment you reach the deli counter that your child was going to lose it. The other families around you will circle around you, stare at you and wonder if your child has suddenly been infected with some strange disease.
I found myself this week reflecting on the words shared during the adoption panel last week. A man shared a story of putting his young daughter to bed. While he kissed her good-night she stated, "Daddy, I don't want to have brown skin anymore."
Every parent in a transracial family knows that one day the conversation is coming. Your child will notice that you two have different skin color and that you don't match like the other families around you. You worry that you will find the right words to say. Did you read the right books to prepare you? Will you say the right words in the right order that make my child both proud of their race and your family? Since this conversation comes without warning, will you been in the right frame of mind to handle this situation?
Most days, I will be honest, I don't worry. My son is going on 19 months old. He loves all things Elmo, chickens, water, graham crackers and sticks. Sometimes when he holds my arm while he is fading off to sleep, I stare at the combination of our skin tones. He has this lovely dark-honey brown complexion and I have white skin with dabbles of pink with assorted age spots and freckles. It's so lovely to see how our skin tones bring out the best in one another's complexions. People are the same way. Our personalities and likes are different, but together we can bring out the best in one another. I just hope when that conversation comes up with Jules that I can help him understand this.
Back to that father putting his daughter to bed.....Well, he thought, "Oh no, here it is. Here is that conversation." He replied, "Oh honey, what color do you want to be?" She replied, "Blue, I want to be a smurf."
Children will realize their race. They will rely on their parents, the world around them and in the end, themselves to sort through the issues and make their own choices about their race. As parents, all you can do is be honest with grace and let the child guide the conversation so that it meets his/her needs. Because sometimes, the child just wants to be a smurf.
I don't know what you did today, but I am pretty sure that you didn't think about your lateral incisors. Looking at your lower, middle teeth, the teeth on either side of them, those dang pointy ones escaped your thoughts today. Sure, you brushed them and used them to attack that lunchtime sandwich, but you didn't give them any real thought today and I am completely jealous.
I live with a 18-month old boy with 14 fully surfaced teeth and 2 more just dying to come out and enjoy some chicken. Their names are lateral incisors. These pointy demons can bring a toddler to his knees and a household to a grinding halt.
For the past three nights, my son has not slept through the night. He gets up one-to-three times a night screaming immediately. Yeah, I am a single mother who does all of the night-time shifts, but my boy had spoiled me rotten. He typically sleeps 10-12 hours a night, non-stop and is the champion napper of his daycare class. His height is close to the 90% compared to other kids his age so he needs all that sleep to sneak in his extra inches.
I miss sleep because I remember sleep. It's not a too distant memory, not like those pitiful newborn parenting folks. Just last Saturday, I enjoyed eight hours in a row like a queen. But now, we wait. We wait for the pain to arrive and for these teeth to make their big entrance.
Don't worry, I am happy, yet sometimes I forget in my sleepless haze. It's these moments, those times when it's only you in the house that can go to him in the middle of the night that you REALLY feel the crunch of the single parent-ness. There is no one here to take turns for the middle of the night cries. No one else to run out and buy more medicine. It's only me to handle all the sudden cries, battles with food and convince just to lie down and go to sleep.
Dang you, lateral incisors. Dang you.
Yesterday, I spoke on a transracial adoption panel with four couples in Raleigh. For 2.5 hours, we shared our adoption stories, talked about what it's like to raise children who are a different race than ourselves and answered questions from the audience. I remember vividly sitting in this same audience three years ago wondering if I had what it takes to be a mother of child from a different race. I worried that I would make some major, cultural mistake and harm my child in some way.
It's wonderful being in a room of people who have experienced or about to experience the exact thing you have gone through when it comes to adoption. They understand the awkward moments, the second and third glances from strangers and inappropriate questions from others. They also understand how completely you can fall in love with a little baby just holding him/her in your arms for the first time. When that little person looks into your eyes and you feel your brain re-wiring itself and your heart changing its rhythm, the last thing you are thinking about is race.
So, I told my adoption story (it's in this blog if you want to read it) and shared some of my thoughts. Most questions were easy to answer but one in particular was hard. It was asked early in the panel. I can't remember the exact wording but the person questioned how we plan to raise our children and prepare them for racism and prejudice with our white priviledge backgrounds. Without thinking about it, I went last to answer that one. Everyone on the panel was white and I think everyone did a good job answering the question, but it was obvious that it was an awkward question for most of us.
When it came to that question, I agreed with my fellow panelists. Most days, we don't think about race with it comes to our children. Our children are in kindergarten or younger. We visit the same places and see the same people so the issue of race is not something we consider daily. For me as a single parent, I think more about my son not having a strong male figure in his daily life than the fact that our races don't match. I have a strong, diverse, vocal village of people around me to provide suggestions and insight that I value. I will make mistakes like all parents. I will miss something culturally that I realize later that I should have known, but it's OK.
Adoptive parents are just like biological parents. We feel a strong connection to our children. Oftentimes, we put their needs before our own. Unlike biological parents, our journey to become parents required us to endure a strange twist in the road involving legal hoops, specific training and a lifetime of awkward questions from strangers. My son being a different race than me means that I must always be on the lookout for diversity in future opportunities like school and hobbies. I will need to rely on my non-white friends to guide me on racial situations and challenges. My son will experience racism and prejudice that I have never known. Before this happens, I must surround him with great models of all races to help him learn how to handle these situations with honesty and grace.
Three years after attending my first transracial adoption panel, I no longer worry about harming my child with some misunderstanding of a cultural experience that is new to me. Instead, I worry about classic toddler things - will he get away from me and run into the street or will he put something in his mouth that will become a choking hazard.
I know now that I have what it takes to be a mother of a child of a different race because I am completely and madly in love with my son.
On Saturday (tomorrow), I am going to Raleigh with my son to talk on an adoption panel about being in a transracial family. I am honored and nervous.
I am honored since I remember sitting in the audience several years ago hanging on every word of the panelists while I was waiting to adopt. Adopting someone from another race seemed so foreign to me. Now, I am one of the few people asked to talk to others about what this journey is like. I understand the anxiety of the people in the audience. I am so honored that they are letting me help them through this.
I am also nervous. People waiting to adopt are tense by nature. They don't know when things are going to happen or if they will happen. They worry about making the right decisions. Being a "second-glance" family can be tough stuff. Do they have what it takes. I understand their worry.
Here's my truth.
I don't have all of the answers when it comes to raising an African American male as a white woman. I know that I will make mistakes. I have already made some mistakes. No parent has all of the answers. We are all just making this up as we go.
Right now, it's still easy. We venture into familiar places with people who know us already. We encounter few people who give us dirty looks. The people who have given us dirty looks have gone unnoticed by my son since he is only 18 months old. That will change. He will notice and I will have to help him understand what is happening. I just hope that I can do this with honesty and grace.
I am quite comfortable with my son's race. I am not always comfortable with the ways people around me talk about race especially people younger than me. For example, it's considered appropriate to ask someone what you are "mixed with" - as if your race was a list of cake ingredients mixed together in a bowl. When people ask me this about my son, I pause. I pause because I am angry and I am trying not to react to that word, but to the intention of the question. I will have to get over this.
The biggest challenge to having an African American male as a child has been the hair. Learning about his hair care has taken longer than I expected. All kinds of people are trying to give me advice and even say mean things either to me or through other people directed at me. Like most new things, you have to find the people that you trust, ask them honest questions and shut out the rest. My job as his mother is to keep his hair as healthy as possible so that he can make whatever decision he wants later about how to wear it.
That's my truth, or at least part of it. I just hope that I can provide some insight about what it's like to be in my family. Everything seems so natural and easy.....at least for now.
Once upon a time, a girl wrote a blog to give herself peace. Her loved ones were worried about her during the long road of fertility and adoption and kept asking questions. The questions came from a loving place, but answering them over and over again wore her down. So she created a blog, a clear way to share what was happening in her life - the good, the bad, the ugly. It worked. She stayed sane, her son entered her life and things took their place in the world.
The blog became ignored sometimes once the boy arrived. Posts were less frequent and shorter. The girl was tired, but happy.
As a single parent, the girl was being asked lots of questions of people around her who were considering her path to mommyhood. These questions delighted the girl and she wanted to help others not feel so alone. So, the blog was reborn.
The past was not lost though. Nope. Her fertility and adoption journey lives safely in her blog archives for anyone to explore and read. (Look for July 2014 in the archives.) Now she posts about being a single parenthood in a transracial family. Life is good, it's a bit of a swirl at times but ah, so very, very good.
Welcome BACK to Mommy Shark. Just like sharks, you can never, never stop swimming. The job of mom has no off time. Buckle up. Deep breath. Booyah.
Before my son arrived, I was the person you called to get things done. As a single person without kids, I had more free time on my hands than others. More often than not, I was available for any desires for restaurant visits. If you wanted to go out of town and not alone, I was your girl. Drop everything and go to the movies, heck ya. Check on something for you after work, of course. Now, I am the most unreliable person that I know.
Let me qualify that a bit. I am the most reliable person ever but only to one person, my son. If he is sick, hurt or needs something, I am there. Yesterday, I was 60 miles out of town for a work event when I learned that he had a fever. I immediately jumped in my car, speeding all of the way while talking to the doctor’s office to make an appointment before they closed.
So my reliability is now focused on just one person instead of all of my loved ones and myself. This is a typical parent occurrence. People have literally stopped asking me to do stuff since they know that I can’t do it and don’t want me to feel guilty about it. What I am feeling is perfectly normal, but at times, I can’t shake my guilt for this transition.
I was a single gal for a long time living in that world for most of my life. You grow accustomed to being the person that others reach out to in some way. Since my transition from single gal to motherhood happened in less than a 24-hour time period, the change was an abrupt U-turn in my life. Being this person was part of my identity and now it’s a part of my past.
Here are just of the things that I can no longer do as a mom:
Being unreliable does make me feel guilty but I have learned that the people who matter and understand my plight forgive me instantly. It’s the ones who can’t adjust to my new-found unreliable nature that are having the worst time of it. Finding new people to rely on for impromptu things is tough.
Most nights I come home with big expectations for myself that typically don't get met. I tell myself as a drive home that after my son goes to bed and I clean things up, I will run five miles on the treadmill, take a hot shower then work for two hours on the computer. Yep. Nope. Instead I wrestle with him past his bedtime, shut his door as he sits up to play in his bed, I tip toe around the house to clean the dishes, pack my breakfast lunch and snack, move around laundry and pick up his toys. Now he is finally snoring so I change into my workout clothes. Hey I am tired let me just sit down for ten minutes on this couch. Ten minutes turns into two hours and as I make my way to bed, I vow to do better tomorrow night.
Creating elaborate expectations for me during the work week after my son goes to bed is something that I must stop. They depress me. I can’t live up to them. It’s not that I am lazy, but I have simply expended my allotted units of energy for the day. I must at least leave enough to brush my teeth and put myself into bed. And yes, sometimes I forgot to do that and slept in my work clothes on the couch for half the night because I cannot walk twenty feet down the hall and take my clothes off.
Eventually you learn. You learn what you can and cannot do and plan accordingly. For instance, running errands on the weekends is now vital because doing them after work takes convincing my over-tired, hungry toddler that he can wait 15 more minutes while his mom pushes him around in a grocery cart running to the milk aisle.
You have to let yourself be bad at this for a while to learn from your mistakes. Then, you plan better and things move more efficiently. Two months later after enjoying from your planning, your child changes and has different demands so your strategy must be reinvented. That’s OK. Once you go through this cycle around five times, you learn that you can’t be cocky about knowing what to expect. Toddler sense cockiness. Warning, confidence can trigger your child’s milestones to appear out of nowhere.
Sometimes the lessons of others can help you or at least give you some ideas. So let me share some of my strategies that I have learned along the way.
Lesson One - Your relationship with your job will change.
Before my son appeared in my life, I was not completely happy at my job. The stress levels were out of this world and I blamed them for years for contributing to my lack of ability to stay pregnant. Part of the stress was that I put every ounce of my energy into it. I rarely gave myself the luxury of downtime. While driving to work, I thought about work. While running in my neighborhood before my shower, I thought about an upcoming meeting at work. If you asked me how I was doing, the majority of my answer centered around work.
Becoming a parent made me love my job more. It's not nearly as important in my head as before but now it takes on another vital role in my life - upright time with adults where I don't have someone pulling on my leg or asking me for milk. Everyone's buggers are their own. I don't have to attack with them with a wipe.
Long story short, I enjoy my job more because it’s not as important as I once made it out to be. I am quite capable of living work and my work thoughts there on most days. I am still a good employee since my son forces me to hit the reset button and live in his world everyday. I return to my office refreshed and ready to be a contributing adult again.
Lesson Two - Redefine clean.
Clean sheets every night takes a lot of work. Sometimes it just not worth it. Crumbs and wetness never killed anyone. My son loves graham crackers before he goes to bed. No matter what I do, he will cover himself and the floor with his crumbs. So, I let them happen. Once he is asleep, then I can sweep. My house is the cleanest when we are asleep.
Before my son arrived, my house was immaculate. Beds were made, dishes were always washed, the floor was cleaned several times a week and my bathroom was spotless. I was a neat freak, but since he arrived, the neat freak has been evicted. I could not maintain that mindset and live in peace in my house. Sometimes things are in their place when I return home. Sometimes, they are not. I can’t change that fact, I can only adapt.
Lesson Three - How I dress for the day reflects my chores for that evening.
I decide if I should wear heels not based on my outfit or who I will see that day, but what I need to do after work while carrying my child. If I are going straight home after my pickup your child, I wear heels. If I need milk, I wear flats. If I need diapers or something more elaborate, I consider putting tennis shoes in your car. Too many times I have found myself carrying a 25-pound toddler in 3-inch heels at the end of a busy day trying to carry a gallon of milk in my other hand. It’s just milk, but it’s also just the tipping point for a major loss in energy.
Lesson Four - Be ready at ANY moment to clean up a major situation.
Snot happens any time in any place with or without a cold. Any second can lead to a snot explosion. This means snot will leave that nose and dangle from your child's chin while you are driving on the highway. Keep wipes everywhere. Consider always buying the miniature packs that they have in the store and keep them in the car and your purse.
My son uses sign language to request specific songs for me to sing in the car on the 20-minute drive to work. One moment, I am singing about a peanut on the train track, the next my son sneezes and snot strings appear dangling from his nose down to his shirt. He looks at me to see what I will do. I typically pray for the next traffic light to be red so that I can put the car into park, lean back and attack his face with wipe. He will fight me, turning his head side to side. The end result will not be complete. I am just trying to keep it from getting on his clothes and inside his mouth.
Lesson Five - It’s no longer my plate and his plate. It’s his plate and his plate.
When I was a kid, my parents made sure that all of us ate dinner together at the same time. We talked about our day and enjoyed small talk. It’s one of the traditions that I plan to continue with my son so now is the time to get this into motion. So when I come home from work, I immediately start making his dinner, put him in his high chair and let him begin to eat. Then, I make my dinner which is typically the same thing my son is eating. I sit down, turn his high chair towards me and we eat dinner.
Like most toddlers, my son goes from not eating to non-stop eating. During those non-stop eating episodes, my son clears his tray before I sit down. Now he can see my plate and he points to the food there that he wants to try. Of course, I share my food and then eagerly try to take my own bites so that I get some sort of dinner in the process. I have learned the hard way that putting food that he cannot have on my plate is not worth it. He will have a fit to try everything. So, most meals at home that I eat consist of toddler-friendly foods. Thank goodness my son likes chicken like me.
These are just some of the recent lessons I have learned as a single parent. Next week, there will be more lessons to learn. My son is training me well.