Are You My Mother?

In the classic children’s picture book Are You My Mother? a newly hatched bird falls from its nest and wanders about asking that question of a kitten, a hen, a dog, and a few inanimate objects. He is clueless about his own identity and terribly lost.

You may have been nurtured by a mother possessing all the perfection of Caroline Ingalls or struggled through childhood with a parent who took lessons from Hamlet’s Queen Gertrude. For most people growing up in Mom’s kitchen fell in a more safe and boring middle ground with measured opportunities to learn about yourself and the world. A place where Mom, trusted adults, books, television and other kids helped answer questions whether insignificant or intense.

The maker of peanut butter sandwiches, enforcer of daily tooth brushing, comforter of physical or emotional injuries, was just a woman who happened to be older than you. She wasn’t gifted by the gods with amazing knowledge, a graduate of a secret parenting program, or anywhere near perfect. She didn’t know why 9/11 happened, how to stop social injustice, who to call about global warming. Her job was to make sure you felt loved and protected, often difficult work in an imperfect world.

Discovering that your mother has a masters in labor economics, hides a bag of bodice busters in the closet, holds strong feelings about mutual funds versus annuities, was married before she met your father suggests a richness in this woman’s life that has nothing to do with your existence. This is the school where she learned the mirepoix that flavored every scold, joke or counsel.

Even when the person who mothered you becomes too old or fragile to cook a really good dinner or read a favorite author without help, there will still be unknowns to explore in the woman who taught you to fake burp, to connect cables on a sound system, to ask your boss for more responsibility, to speak in many voices so your child giggles as you read Are You My Mother?.

 

Reprinted from cynthiakraack.com May 9, 2015

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Signposts

Hemlock Trail

Hemlock Trail

I pointed my cross country skis toward the 3.2 km green striding trail. What’s that …. about 1 ½ miles? I could do that.

If only I wouldn’t have missed my turn. At each intersection you need to stop, look and think. I did but I still went straight on Memory Lane instead of turning left to stay on Hemlock Trail.

Hemlock Trail was certainly beautiful with the pines, their branches cradling snow.

Memory Lane was a straight path to the evening before.

Last night it was dark outside Indian Mountainhead Resort main lodge. A sharp cold. Not cold enough that I couldn’t stop, gaze at the brilliant stars and marvel at the wonder. I filled with gratitude for this great universe of ours and my life.

I have a good life.

February 23, 2015 168I had just left my 12-year old son in the swimming pool without even saying goodbye. He was with other Boy Scouts. Generally, Antonio and I bob heads, nod in acknowledgement to each other, or say a few words before I leave him. This time I didn’t. Not because I couldn’t see him in the fog that rose above the swimming pool, but because it wasn’t needed.

This was a first.

There was no signpost saying RITE OF PASSAGE. No moment of THIS IS IT.

It just happened.

Memory Lane

Memory Lane

The entire weekend was like that. He was independent of his two moms and sister.

He chose to be with the group of boys even though we were an arm’s length away.

When I told a parent about this later, she mentioned that it was a bittersweet moment.

It didn’t feel bitter. There was no sadness. I used to be afraid Antonio would never leave my lap and that kids would make fun of him. Instead of pushing him off because that certainly didn’t feel right, I learned to enjoy his closeness.

When I reached the River House, I knew I was on the wrong trail. I turned around and went back to the intersection and took a right onto Hemlock.

February 23, 2015 200Jody was already waiting for me in the warming cabin. She had gone further and faster than me. That’s not unusual.

The next day, I planned to ski Hemlock Trail again. And this time, I would know the signposts.

“Does Antonio Have A Dad?”

Antonio and Crystel - seven months old

Antonio and Crystel – seven months old

“Does Antonio have a dad?” the five-year old boy holding Antonio’s hand asked me. I glanced down at him, and then looked at my son. He eyed me as if he was waiting for an answer, too.

I imagined Antonio’s friend asking him on the return bus to school from the spring field trip to the apple orchard. Maybe he asked him during the hay ride, while we bounced over ruts and down the dusty lane that left a cloud in our wake.

Aunt Amie and Antonio

Aunt Amie and Antonio

Perhaps he knew better than the other children that the two women in the family picture taped to the kindergarten wall were not the same woman but two moms. Earlier, I had one child in his classroom attempt to convince me that I was the same person.

“It’s not me,” I said. “That other woman is a different person.”

But how do you argue with a five-year old who isn’t your own child and can’t conceive of anything but a mom and a dad in a household?

 

Aunt Kathy, Crystel, Aunt Pat, Antonio, Uncle Marty

Aunt Kathy, Crystel, Aunt Pat, Antonio, Uncle Marty

I think he won the argument.

I imagined Antonio shrugging his small shoulders in response to his friend’s question. Did he look away from his pal and stare at the dust hanging in the air or at the apples ready to be picked?

I hope not.

Maybe the boy took it upon himself and said to Antonio, “I’ll find out for you.”

Aunt Cara and Antonio

Aunt Cara and Antonio

While I was forming my answer, I thought about his classmate who sat next to me on the way home. His mom was dead, he said. After saying that I was sorry, I wondered about the children who called Antonio their friend. Maybe it was because of his very difference — being adopted and having two moms — that they thought that they too would be accepted.

 

Tia Anna, Antonio, Tio Scott

Tia Anna, Antonio, Tio Scott

The two kindergarteners expected an answer from me. This was a yes or no question.

Yet, how to answer? Though Antonio will most likely never meet his dad, does that mean that he doesn’t have a dad? Does that mean we will never celebrate Father’s Day?

 

Aunt Pat, Antonio, Aunt Mary, Crystel

Aunt Pat, Antonio, Aunt Mary, Crystel

Jody and I had prepared for this very moment — this question — and created a village of chosen aunts and uncles who would stand in for the missing people in Antonio’s and Crystel’s life. This village was formed before they even came home.

So I said what any mom would, “Of course, silly. Everyone HAS a Mom and a Dad. You HAVE to have a mom and dad to be born.”

Uncle Marty

Uncle Marty

I poked Antonio. “He feels real to me.”

Antonio smiled. That was good enough for him.

These chosen aunts and uncles have accepted their roles seriously. That was part of the deal — to have play dates with the children regularly, as well as show up for birthdays, dances, pinewood derbies, and holidays.

We’ve never asked them to fill the ‘dad’s’ role. Though when Antonio was much younger, I woke one night in a panic, and at the first opportunity I asked Scott and Marty to take Antonio into public bathrooms to show him what a urinal was and to tell him NOT to touch the urinal cake.

Crystel, Sam (babysitter), Antonio, Charlie (babysitter)
Crystel, Sam (babysitter), Antonio, Charlie (babysitter)

I have asked Antonio on occasion if he would like me to ask one of his uncles to accompany him on a Scout trip (and take my place) but he’s always declined. Darn.

Even after the babies came home, Jody and I continued to intentionally bring males into their life. Charlie and then his brother Sam were their fulltime nannies until each boy graduated from highschool.

Charlie, Antonio, Crystel

Charlie, Antonio, Crystel

I believe that all of the above people have brought so much love into Antonio and Crystel’s lives that they may really need to search for what’s missing when asked the question, Do you have a dad?

 

Boy Scouts did What this Mom Couldn’t

May 18 2014 056A 30 mile bike ride with nary a whine. Just an I Made It! text. And where was I? 10 minutes behind the Scout, my butt and legs hurting.

Our ride started at Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis, the meeting place of Boy Scout Troop 110, and ended at Carver Park Reserve.

It didn’t take me long to realize how out of shape I was. Before leaving the parking lot, I tipped over. I couldn’t get my foot out of my clipless foot clamp. Lying on the ground, I looked up at Antonio while other Scout leaders rushed to help me. His face was expressionless, a look that he’s mastering.

“Perhaps, I’d better ride around the parking lot a few times before riding out,” I said.

Antonio’s daily bike riding had him in good shape for this challenge. Still, it was 10 miles before I saw his first smile. Antonio and another Scout had found the electronics table at the Depot Coffee House in Hopkins, our first rest stop. I didn’t chide Antonio to join the other scouts outside. I could see that this was a boy bonding moment and his way into this Boy Scout Troop. Instead, I snapped a picture, left a bottle of Gatorade and chocolate chip cookie on the Playstation.

Before leaving for our next ten miles, he said, “I think I’m going to like this Troop.”

May 18 2014 057At the 20 mile mark, he shocked me with two hugs. This could have been because we were at Adele’s Frozen Custard in Excelsior and in a moment he would ask for gummy worms and sprinkles . . . or maybe he was overwhelmed with love for his mom. Either way, I was shocked when his rock hard arms came around me and squeezed.

I had been giving him space on the ride, staying closer to the back of our herd of 16 bikers. I didn’t want to crowd him as he found his way into the pack.

Sometimes it’s only in a gathering like this that I get a glimpse of Antonio or Crystel as the ‘different’ ones. They are such a part of me that I don’t see any differences between us. In this group, Antonio was the only person of color. Meaning that in this group I was his white mom.

I wanted Antonio to choose how to ‘come out’ in this group that he was adopted. After all, it’s his group.

I’ve watched Antonio step between the world of Hispanics and the world of whites with ease. In this gathering he was the only Hispanic, even though at school his very best friends are Hispanic and white. (Thank you, Richfield Dual Language School!)

Troop 110 found a way around

Troop 110 found a way around

Six years ago, in kindergarten on his way home from school he whined, “Why do I have to learn Spanish?” Perhaps, he saw himself such a part of Jody and me that he didn’t see his difference. I paused thinking ‘Shock alert here’ then answered, “Because you’re Guatemalan, dude.”

At Carver Park Reserve, I texted Jody and told her that I had arrived. Antonio would be camping overnight with the Scouts while I headed for home.

This was another nice surprise: Antonio camping with the Boy Scouts by himself. I had told him in Cub Scouts that if he needed me to I would camp with him until he was 18. Perhaps he is writing his own book, LIFE WITHOUT MOM.

Except his book is LIFE WITHOUT TWO MOMS.

Carver Park Reserve

Carver Park Reserve

I wasn’t sure that Antonio was ‘out’ yet to this Boy Scout Troop that he had two moms. I’m sensitive that he and Crystel are allowed to be visible in their own timing and in their own way. I wrote a blog post about this July 26, 2012 titled Truth Telling.

I had already checked with the Scoutmaster (in private) about how the Troop felt about Antonio having two moms. “Everyone is welcomed.”

Since Jody and I weren’t sure if Antonio had come out to this Boy Scout Troop, we gave him separate quiet goodbyes.

The next morning at 7:40 a.m., I received a text from Antonio: When do you pick me up?

The Boy Scout

The Boy Scout

I couldn’t read between the lines–did he have a good time? Didn’t he have a good time? Would he be adamant about never returning to Scouts?

I texted back the time and then asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how did it go?”

He answered, 10!

My Youngest Is Graduating (And So Am I)

It’s official. No more tuition payments, no more school bureaucracies. My youngest son is graduating from college. My husband and I are so proud of him. He’s become a man who’s responsible and self-sufficient as well as creative and fun-loving. His college graduation marks the end of an era for all of us.

me & Greg

As he goes forward to meet his future, I will step back from active mothering.

Admittedly, he hasn’t needed much day-to-day mothering lately. I haven’t made his lunches, checked his homework, done his laundry, driven him to soccer, or nursed him through strep throat in a long while. He’s been living with friends for the past few years, so my role was already limited.

But mothering is so much more than physical caretaking. When he moved out, I shared his excitement about setting up his own kitchen. He and I have always loved to cook, so I knew how much it mattered to him to make the space his own.

Although I was secretly worried about having him so far away, I encouraged him to study in Spain, because I knew how much he would learn—about other cultures and about himself. When we visited Sevilla and saw that he was thriving, I was glad I had set aside my concerns.

As he began focusing on possible careers, we talked about what kinds of work would be satisfying and what would allow him to make the most of his abilities. I urged him to research his career paths thoroughly so he would know what he was getting into.

Now he’s launched. That was always the goal, but still, it feels odd to be at this juncture.

I’ll miss his school concerts, games, and the conversations we had as he discussed his ideas for term papers. Not being needed in those classic ways is bittersweet. He still needs my love and support, but not my supervision or protection. Now our interactions can be those of adults who enjoy many of the same things. He may ask for our advice occasionally, but he doesn’t have to. That’s as it should be.

When he went off to college, my husband and I started back down the path toward coupledom—cooking meals for two and making plans without considering our sons’ schedules. It’s been fun.

As I go forward to meet my new life, I can’t help looking back over my shoulder at what I’m leaving behind.

Mike &Greg

Mike, B.A. in Economics and Political Science 2011 Greg, B.A. in Psychology 2014

I enjoyed raising him and his older brother, so although I’m proud of them, I’m also a little sad to see the official end of this phase. I expect I’ll also enjoy what comes next—living in the carefree space between childrearing and grandparenting. Our time is our own. We can be spontaneous again.