June 23, 2017

Sorry I disappeared again. It wasn’t a good time to talk about what’s going on because still nothing is resolved but sometimes I want to talk anyway and I’ve wanted to for a while now.

A friend asked today about the meaning of metaphor to me, because it seems kind of outsized to people who aren’t me I suppose. (And I didn’t know what to say to him, that it’s that or care about PEOPLE? That this is what you get for asking how I liked Wonder Woman?) But I do like metaphors. Last night I put on my pomegranate necklace and this morning I paired the bangles I’ve worn for over a year down to two, one with four raw birthstones for the girls and me and one a little evil eye bead on a delicate chain. The pomegranate is delicate too, a little stamped circle suspended in the crooked hollow between my collarbones.

I wrote about pomegranates when I was 19 and trying to make sense of having been raped. I thought I was a Persephone of sorts because I knew how it felt to have the wide sky above me and the earth falling to abyss beneath my feet. I knew the allure of swallowing what it would take to bind myself to the land of the dead, admitting too that this meant not ripping myself away from my rapist. I knew that there was a part of me left behind even when I walked on safe land again, that there was an emptiness that could pull me back in and I would never fully escape.

I’ve talked about some of those feelings with my support group for non-offending parents of abused children, because these stories aren’t new to me the way they are to parents who might not have lived in this world for years. I wear a pomegranate now for Demeter, ancient goddess of shared custody, for the time I know my child is serving as queen of the world of shadows before she returns to my embrace and the dull, repetitive, necessary work of keeping the world fed and things where they need to be. I have grown old and I understand differently now.

It’s not a fertility symbol for me, though in general it is. My womb is empty and will finally be emptied in ablation this summer. The commitment after to never being able to carry a pregnancy pushed me to grieve that a bit for the first time, but I know it’s the right and necessary choice. I have the children I’ll be having for now at least and Colton and his wife are set to make me a grandmother before the year comes to a close. I have borne fruit in other ways.

Plus pomegranates are delicious, tart and tender with the papery toughness at the core of each ruby explosion, their worthwhile stain left on fingers. Sometimes things also just are what they are. I’m reading Roxane Gay’s Hunger and devouring the ways she talks about surviving and building herself around the sexual violence she suffered. I feel a need to caveat that hers was younger, worse, and yet it resonates so strongly with me, the guilt and the shame and the hiding and confusion. The need to make a story out of something that can never be a simple story.

I wrote the Persephone prose poem at the end of my teens. I wrote a sort of related sestina too because everything I wrote then was related to that moment that had broken me and left me trying to break myself more to feel and be as awful as I felt was right. The sestina did well for me, got published and passed on for a prize it didn’t win and didn’t deserve to. That had been my dream from my early teens in fact, just to be nominated for a Pushcart because winning seemed like silly hope. And there I was 19 and in an abusive relationship and I had accomplished what I’d set out to do in life and I wanted to make sense of feeling I deserved nothing more or nothing better. I thought making that story of understanding might change what I felt I deserved, that running a support group or writing a whole music composition with accompanying video might somehow capture enough that it would move me, but knowing everything I could read about rape and trauma helped but didn’t save me. I wanted things to make sense but sometimes they don’t and can’t.

Foster care in theory takes into account “the best interests of the child” except it’s in the child’s best interests never to have needed foster care. By the time we get there, the brokenness is part of the story. And I tried to be aware of that in writing stories here, in eliding what I felt I should and revealing what felt okay. But it’s all such a tiny partial view from one moment in life. I’ll be older and I’ll see things differently. The children I’ve cared for will have their own stories of me and of themselves. That’s all as it should be.

Today Selah is wearing a dress that Mara wore to her own kindergarten picture day. Selah will have something else when it’s her turn this fall; the girls like matching still. We saw Mara’s kindergarten teacher at a city festival a few weeks ago and she saw Mara twirling in my arms and said, delightedly, “She was always the girl who turned around and around and around!” I had never noticed that about Mara but of course it’s accurate. She was and is just Mara, my first little child, so special that it’s hard to even know which parts are extraordinary. I’ve never had a metaphor big enough to hold her or any of the children. I’ve written a few poems about them, but they’re all too personal to share.

No one has ever asked about my necklace. I’m not sure I’d have an answer except that there’s something about stories about goddesses that makes it easier for me to remember that there are many ways to be human. I thought that mine would be as storyteller or sense-maker but I’m not sure to what extent that’s true; mine is just mine.


anniversaries and mom jobs

December 9, 2016

Today marks two years since we finalized adoptions for Nia and Selah. I took the girls out for an extra-nice dinner to celebrate, because celebrating is something Nia has requested. (“I don’t want to see a judge again,” said Selah, who doesn’t particularly understand anniversaries. “And I’m NOT getting married!”)

It took six months or so after the adoptions to get our coparenting plan, which said that in the event of a breakup we’d either follow what we agreed to there or mediate a workable solution, accepted by the court. The next month I got shingles and was out of commission for weeks. Then I gave Lee an ultimatum that she be physically present as a parent for a certain percentage of our evenings together in the weeks before she went on her two-week solo vacation, which she wasn’t able to manage. She was overseas when the ruling overturning bans on same-sex marriage came in and I remember turning the radio off as I drove the girls on our own little road trip because I didn’t want them to hear and ask when we’d be married because that wasn’t going to happen. I was going to break up with their Mama and we were going to have to figure out a different way to be a family. Before she came back she told me what she was willing to do to try to improve her relationships with me and with the girls and I told her that she was going to have to work with them but not as my partner.

This is not the outcome I wanted when we stood in front of a judge. (Well, Selah, who was getting over pneumonia, rolled around on the floor and took her shoes off, which made the bailiff laugh so hard the judge got up to see for himself.) But part of agreeing to be their mom meant making hard choices for them, not continuing to say that maybe it would be better if I could wait another year or maybe if I did more of something or less of something it would get good enough to be tolerable. Instead, it’s been hard on them to miss the mom they aren’t with, to be reminded about the other parents they’ve already been missing longer. But it’s also been a positive time with a lot of growth for them and definitely for me. I realize all of this is boilerplate about parental breakups, that it’s better for them to be with single parents who are leading happy lives than around conflict and tension. I’m listening to Aimee Mann (queen of breakup songs) as I write this and That’s Just What You Are just came on and that sort of hits what I’m getting at. There are some fundamentals that don’t and shouldn’t change and I was at the point where I felt I’d hit mine, and I think Lee felt the same about herself, whether or not I’d agree with that. We were always very different and it feels good to be authentically different and separate from each other, at least for me. (Music has moved on to “It’s not going to stop ’til you wise up.”)

It was a decade ago this week when we met, or at least when we talked for the first time. Today I saw a new therapist and distilled those ten years, seven children, personal evolution from 26 to 36 into a clear narrative. And I could do that surprisingly well, maybe because I knew what I was going to ask him to help me work on and maybe because a lot of it is obvious. Still, as I said I’m on dating apps and I find it baffling to think about dating a 26-year-old (though I did, essentially, once already) maybe because I feel worlds away from that me.  But that same young woman is still in here somewhere, the clarity and uncertainty and hope, the soft spot for slightly cheesy singalongs with endearing wordplay. I write about her, about me, as clunkily as I do here because I’m out of practice and because I’m in aporia. I am bumbling through a lot of this and it feels weird and aggrandizing to write about myself, but I think I can find ways to do it fairly too. And kindly, because for all my self-deprecation and self-doubt I love myself and I am proud of what I’ve been accomplishing, at the fact that I’ve been able to muddle through and find some beauty and some truth. I’m grateful for all the years working on this blog for getting me to a lot of each.


and me?

December 8, 2016

Still not whooping cough, woooo! I got upgraded from sinus infection on its way to bronchitis two weeks ago to bronchitis on its way to pneumonia now, though the sinus infection part is better. A huge bag of new medicines is downstairs, an appropriate representative sample in my stomach, and I hope I’m starting down a new path where I won’t pull any muscles by coughing too hard.

Work is easing up and I’ll have a little downtime between now and the end of the year, plus I’ve been taking downtime because even if I spent as much of the day as possible in bed, I was barely able to function for the last week or so. I have the girls tucked into bed and was excited about taking a bath, but getting down there and running the water seemed like way too much work, so I’m curled up in bed and will maybe stay up to finish this.

It was a decade ago this week that Lee and I met, were dating a month later, and then a couple for the next 8.5 years. I don’t regret that in a way that would undo it, because I ended up with these wonderful young people in my life, but it did a number on me in various ways. Even being free from that didn’t mean I could look at myself without thinking about whether I was too fat to be seen with or if I was going to interrupt or answer a question wrong and make people hate me. Even being with her didn’t mean I totally gave up on believing I was great and worthwhile the way I am. So I’ve carried this awkward unbalance for a long time, sometimes openly and sometime surreptitiously. Tomorrow I start therapy with someone who’s going to help me work on that directly, to address the things I keep private and make sure they’re getting the airing they need.

Meanwhile this week I installed a dating app for women and all of a sudden I’m getting matches I don’t get on tinder, which I’ve had on and off since summer, or okcupid, where my profile went live over a year ago. My first date was with a fantastic woman who is studying psychology and understands trauma and the effects of parental separation on kids. We ended up dating casually for much of last year before I was able to articulate that it wasn’t what I wanted and I took a break from dating and we became better (to my way of thinking) as friends than we had been as girlfriends. I had a few more first dates that didn’t go past one, and now I’m a decade out from a woman in a restaurant catching my eye and being impressed to having a half dozen people want to chat with me because they like the way I look or something I’ve said to describe myself. This is such an odd dynamic and I’m not sure what I make of it, but even when we’re going by looks and not screening for political involvement I’m meeting therapists and hospital chaplains and youth librarians and lots of people interested in how they could become foster parents someday or support foster youth even before then. It’s still an alien world, but I’m finding my way in a way that’s comfortable for me.

The girls have asked whether I’ll date, asked whether I’ll date a man so they can have a dad. It’s very tough at this point to imagine bringing anyone into their lives like that. They met the woman I dated as my friend and they’ve seen her since our breakup because she is my friend and was a lifesaver in the early days of my bad ankle sprain while we were still moving from the old house to here. Mara says she wants me to date because “I just feel like you’re lonely,” to which Nia’s prompt response was, “How can she be lonely when she’s always around us???” They’re both right. I need adult connection and conversation, but it needs to be more than just dating and dating needs to be in some ways less than just dating, with someone who can understand I may have a lot to give in terms of being a wonderful person but I don’t when it comes to having free time or significant flexibility. I realize this will be a challenge and it’s one I don’t feel pressured about, one that might lead somewhere. I like my bedroom and I’m glad it’s mine. I don’t feel an obligation to do what some have suggested and model a healthy relationship for the sake of the children. But I don’t want to miss out on a healthy relationship either, because that would be a nice change for me.

For now, though, the amazing thing is that I can do any of it well enough. I’ve gotten all the girls to sleep and I know where their clothes are for morning. The house is going to be a disaster until my ankle is fully functional, but it’s our disaster and I know where things are and how to get through. And if we’re going to add to that talking to actual adult people, I think I’m ready for that too. Writing here is sort of a practice, but only one piece of it and this was a particularly clunky and inartful post. But I’m falling asleep now and not coughing too hard, both thanks to cough syrup, so I’ll leave it at that and maybe try to make more sense of it later. Sleep is better than sense these days anyway.





December 6, 2016

I’ve always made a big deal about how we’re a family that doesn’t keep secrets. There are things we keep private (I’ve taught one daughter who’s sensitive about her incarcerated dad to say, “Oh, he lives in [this part of this state]” and not specify that he’s in prison there, for example.) and we talk a lot about people’s stories being their own. There was no way for me to write here without sharing some of the stories that weren’t fully mine, and I made various tradeoffs along the way to make that happen. I don’t know if I was right or wrong about that, but it’s one of the major reasons I took the blog private. The girls aren’t reading blogs themselves, but they’re at an age where they’ll be ready soon to write their own lives, which will involve me (OMG SHE JUST DOESN’T UNDERSTAND, I assume) but the power dynamic is different. They and my relationships with them as they grow still form the core of my day-to-day story, but how I share it seems harder to gauge. Facebook is explicitly about making sure their relatives and my relatives and Lee can see what they’re up to, so presenting life mostly in a neutral or positive though still politicized way. But I try to make it clear that there’s editing, that these are glimpses, and it seems to work well for finding ways to crystalize what’s going on a bit.

A year ago, though, something bad happened and Lee asked the girls to keep it a secret from me and from everyone, and that’s had negative reverberations ever since. And it’s not my story to tell awful stories about my ex (though grab coffee with me sometime and we could!) but rather to point out that a mistake in judgment snowballed. The girls started getting more anxious, acting up in school, asking authority figures cryptic questions. Finally the truth came out and they all confirmed it and I had to deal with the fallout, which would have been easier to do if we’d been working with that from the start. Other people are involved helping Lee and me sort out what her best role can be and how the girls can address it and get past it, which they mostly have, but it’s incredibly meaningful to me that the girls’ story was believed and it’s incredibly troubling that Lee still denies it. But having to craft and live my own narrative for almost a year through the strictures of what evaluating outsiders were likely to think about what I was doing and what has been going on was exhausting. I’m sure it’s been tough for the children too. I know it’s been tough because we talk about it a lot, but I don’t know whether to say just that or more or less or allude or elide. THAT is tough!

So part of me doesn’t know what to say here. Is it too much to share that the updates they’ve done for psych ER visits are really impressive? (And would it be a plus or a minus to look for the evaluating therapist who was so impressed with my parenting on the dating apps?) And I worry how I’m going to explain to Lee what happens on a trip like that so she doesn’t feel defensive (copying our coparenting therapist, as always) and so it’s not necessarily clear how much of a role her actions played in triggering the situation. It’s tough and it’s uncomfortable, and it’s tough to still be linked to someone I really don’t want to have to deal with. I spend time with the girls’ families, with relatives I know have hurt them at various times, and I know how I’ve made peace with that. But there’s something sadder and more immediate about an adoption that ended up with them living with a single parent, with yet another parent who loves them but isn’t able to care for them day-to-day. I knew at least some of that was a likely outcome well before it worked out that way and I do think it’s been better for the girls on the whole, but I know I’ve made their lives harder.

So I don’t really know where I’m going with this. Just that I want to be honest about my stuff, my worries, my role. But I also can’t do that without making some of those connections to other people. I’d rather do it without getting too far into things that are private, but just know that none of this is secret anymore. There’s just more beneath the surface than you see.


Gilmore girls

December 3, 2016

It’s the start of a weekend when only Nia is here, which is good because I have a terrible sinus infection and what we’re hoping isn’t whooping cough (how is this my life?) as well as my stupid sprained ankle, so I’m a bedridden wreck hopped up on cough syrup and steroids, both of which I hate. She relished the chance to choose a pizza and then pay the delivery guy herself and then sit around watching Netflix without me intervening.

But because we have this time together and because it’s not as easy on me as when I had weekends totally child-free, where I’d go to bed at 7 pm on Friday and not wake up until 10 the next morning, clean the house a bit before going out to be a free adult for a night, wake up, roast a chicken for the girls’ return dinner. That helped a lot, but it’s not what’s best for her, and so she’s here with me now even when I’m sick and tired and even when she’s tired and sick of me.

Nia calls me her mom to other people but she still doesn’t call me Mom. I respect that, but I think at some point it will be better for her if she does, if she’s able to hand over that little bit of control she’s still hanging onto for self-preservation. We were out with her mom and paternal grandmother once and her mom said something about how shocking it was that Nia’s dad called his own mother by a nickname rather than Mom and Nia startled a bit. She’s playing with it, seeing how this mom she’s now had for 4.5 years differs from the mom she started with, figuring out what that means. And I’m figuring out too what it means to be a parent to a young woman rather than a little girl, someone who is so independent and so in need of a mom. We’ve really been getting closer lately as she’s let herself get closer lately, as we’ve talked about how we’re vulnerable in some of the same ways and I understand her because I too feel that if I loosen control of anything the entire world will shatter, but I’m older and I know it doesn’t work that way.

So we’ve been watching Gilmore girls, something grown-up for her, a way to talk about bonds and trust and sex and independence and I don’t know if it’s the right choice. I’m not Lorelei, the mom who was a teen and is a friend. I’m not going to get excited about painting toenails and my heart sags a bit every time that scene comes up in the credits. I’m not even the mom who wants to watch a show like this, a very white show about wealth and privilege and coziness. It’s a challenge of sorts for me, but I need challenges, which is why we also went to the mall a few weeks ago, why I limp with her through the gym of people whose bodies she wants to emulate.

We haven’t gotten to the last season yet, though she watches a lot without me, but I wonder what she’ll make of the spoiler. I wonder what a future will look like for this kid who wants to know if she can go to Harvard too, what’s out there for her. Her therapist has been talking to her about crossroads, about taking the path a good kid would take even when you don’t want to, about how even good kids who go down the bad-kid path end up in tough terrain. She is so strong and has been through so much but is at an age where more is expected of her and sometimes that’s more than she’s ready for. It’s hard as a mom to watch that, to support and intervene and hope it’s in the right place at the right time. So we sit and we watch a show about a mother and daughter who instinctively get each other, whose names are the same and looks are the same, and we laugh together and we love each other. That’s something. That’s  a lot.



December 1, 2016

AmFam suggests blogging like it’s 2006to get through December and that seems like a reasonable idea.

Things have changed a lot in my life. I broke up with Lee a year and a half ago and she moved to a neat apartment in the next town over. The girls and I live in a charming smaller house near the school the older two attend, which has made my life so much easier than it was last year when I had dropoffs at three different places in town before getting to work myself each morning.

Nia is 10 now, here since just after her sixth birthday. She is incredibly strong in so many ways and is at an age where making sense of the world (Trump? really??) is difficult but an important task that she takes seriously. I’m the meanest mom ever and won’t let her make her fortune doing makeup tutorials on youtube, but maybe someday I’ll see the light. After a few years without contact, she sees her relatives intermittently.  Lee never managed to make things right with her and they don’t really have a relationship now.

Mara turned 9 last month, which means she’s been with us six whole years. This school year has been incredible as she comes out of her shell, smiling in photos, speaking up in class. She just got her flu shot without crying or screaming or having a panic attack. It took six years, but we got there. She trusts that I’m her mom and that she can rely on me to come back after we’re apart. Our move put us within walking distance of her parents’ apartments and her little brother came over to play the other night while he was visiting their dad, at which point their teen cousin was walking by and stopped to talk to me for an hour or so while the kids zipped around on scooters.

Little Selah didn’t get much time on the blog but holds plenty of space in all our hearts. She’s four and joined the family at 13 months. She can count to 30 and used kinder words with her friends yesterday, per her daycare/preschool teacher’s notes, and when I asked this morning if she’ll use kinder words again today she said, “No, thank you!” She is a delight, and also of course a pain as is age-appropriate and littlest-sister-appropriate.
The boys who used to be teens when I was 29 and 30 are now men in their early 20s. Rowan is in prison for a crime he committed in my home, heroin-related. I’m not good about answering his calls, to the point where he’s mostly stopped calling, but he sounds so much better sober. I’m going to write him before Christmas. Colton is in the Marines and got married to someone he’d met a month before and seems happy. He asks me for and appreciates my advice on a regular basis. Both have had a chance to meet the girls and consider me (but mostly not Lee) a mother figure of sorts.

And your humble blogger? My life is somehow mostly taken up by work and children and mucking about on the internet. My health is not fantastic at the moment, but in ways that should get better. (Don’t get a grade three sprain in the middle of a move, that’s my advice!) I knit, I sew, I read, I am more relaxed and happy than I ever was before. It’s hard work this parenting but it’s my work and I’m surviving it. I used to talk to the girls about Mom Jobs (and maybe still should instead of just “ARGH why did you pour out my laundry detergent in your sink? How did you know it wasn’t POISON? And I KNOW you know you didn’t BUY that!”) and that’s the main thing for me, chatting and listening and cooking and cleaning and reading to them and sitting while they fall asleep in their loft beds in their shared bedroom, while our little cats who don’t even have pseuds yet race around wildly.  It’s a good life, guys. It’s hard, so hard, but it’s wonderful. And I’m good enough at it.

So how ’bout you? Anyone still around? Should I bring the archives back for this little experiment at least, whatever it turns out to be?