Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lucky in Love!

I'm not in love, in the traditional sense.  Strains of Karen Carpenter's songs are not dancing through my head.  No one is sending me freshly arranged bouquets on a weekly basis.  I'm not even anticipating a special dinner and night out on any given Friday night.  Nevertheless, I'm in love!  

I recently had a round of conversations on e-Harmony with a very nice gentleman.  Over about a month and half, I learned a good deal about his life, his family, and their history together.  I was anxious to meet him.  He seemed a good conversationalist (at least on-line), and had a great sense of humor.  He seemed to have his head on straight having raised his children without a companion, maintained a solid academic career, and kept up with family and friends.  And he seemed to manage it all with a balanced of modesty, humility, and grace.  On the screen he seemed a great match for me, and given our 29 points of compatibility, I felt sure we'd have at least a shot a good friendship.  But, alas, nothing seems to have come of the few extended phone calls and a single meeting over lunch.  Ah, poor me!

I do feel a little "poor me" about it, too.  How many academically-anchored, available, African American  men over fifty are out there and looking for a women with whom they can spend the rest of their lives?  Not too many, and I'd bet my lunch money (on payday) on that!  

So, I went into a bit of a tale spin for a week or so over this one.  Yes, I'll admit it.  This one really got me good.  As my mother would say, "This one got your goat!"  This one got my goat and my chickens, too.  In a few conversations with friends, bless their hearts, I came to see that many of the people I know believe that there is somebody out there for every one of us.  We just have to find that somebody.  MInd you: most of these believers are married, for more than ten years, happily.  Their believes are anchored at their cores.  There's no shaking them.  They have learned from their own lived experience that the idea of partnership is inevitable, it is part of the path.  All you have to do is want it, and it can be so.

Of course, there are the obvious questions:
  • Huh?
  • What's your (empirical, not anecdotal) proof?
  • What about nuns and priests?
  • What about the stats that say there just aren't as many available men out there?  (I'm assuming heterosexual relationships, in this posting.)
  • What about the lived experience of people like me.

As these conversations with friends continue, I hear that, really, it's all about what you want.  It all depends on what you put out there in the Universe.  Are you putting out a true and authentic desire for a relationship?  Or, are you giving a real relationship lip service, and telling the Universe that you really "vant to be alone!" through your behaviors?  

I find the whole matter confusing, to tell you the truth.  Mainly, I am confused because, I want the weekly delivery of a fresh bouquet, and I want the independence that I've enjoyed for so long.  Peering over the fence at other people's apparently very green backyards, I see a certain degree of security in marriage and long-term commitments.  If the relationship is working and healthy, you've got a partner for as long as you both shall live.  Through the ups and downs, you've got a friend who loves you for you, and welcomes your love right back.  That sounds wonderful to me on my side of the fence.  

But, I heard the funniest and most perplexing thing a few months ago.  I was listening to a woman speak about an impending decision she had to make.  She really didn't know which way to go and those of us listening to her expressed our support for whatever decision she made.  We all knew how hard it was to have to make important life-changing decisions on our own as single people.  We all put her on our prayer lists in that very moment.  Before she left us, she said, "Well, I'll have to talk with my husband about it when I get home tonight!"  Now, as far as I knew this woman is a Consecrated Virgin, a "lay" nun, of sorts.  She's not member of a typical order, but she's living a nun's lifestyle, nonetheless.  That means there's no husband at home any night.  So, I gave her sort of a funny look with my "Whaddaya mean?"

She came back with a snappy, and very happy, "God and I will discuss this. He's the best husband I could possibly have!"  With that, she strutted off to her next engagement.  All I could do was remember my Bible verses real fast.

Once I wiped the funny look off my face, I realized I really had to admire this woman.  She has a faith that truly supports her whole life.  For her - that's why she's chosen this particular spiritual path - God is her lover, friend, husband, companion, her everything, as Barry White would put it.  She doesn't have to worry about the "till death do us part" thing, either!  She is, in fact, quite 'lucky' in love, if you'll pardon my secular reference, please.

I juggle three ball in thick cultural, spiritual, and emotional air: the notion of God as husband; the matchmaker Universe; and the continuing single life lived with everyday joy.    

We live in a cultural context that privileges (still) the coupled, the paired up, people, especially if their are children.  Long ago, I found my comfort with tables for one, single-payer double occupancy, and other paired-up conveniences.  I'm good with that now; it's how I live as a single woman, as a single mom.  As for the matchmaker Universe?  Well, I put out there that I'd love to find someone, but I can't just stand by the phone waiting for the Universe to call.  I've got a life to live, and I am not tragically single.  

Yet, I am not on the nun's path, lay or otherwise.  But the idea of God as my companion and helper in this life is attractive and familiar.  As far as I know,though, God is willing to share his love and his women (men, too).  We get to lean on God, regardless of our relationship status.  Last I heard, we can lean hard and heavy when the going gets rough.  

So, I've decided what I'm going to do.  I'm going to let God do the juggling for me, and I'm not going to worry about it.  I've got a life to live and a little one to steward.  More, I'm going to be amazed by the love that surrounds me all the time.  Fortunately, I don't have to wait for the fresh bouquets or the Karen Carpenter 8-track replays.  

Sandals, Crocs, or Sneakers - The big stuff

Time was when I was in charge. When my daughter was much younger - oh, about two - and I got to decide what she would wear, eat, read, learn, etc. Now, though, at six, she believes she’s in charge. Quite frankly, I’ve come around to that understanding, too. Not that she’s in control of everything, mind you. But, the big stuff? Well, she’s got a handle on it. And, her grip is getting stronger.

When I say the “big stuff” I mean she has an awful lot to say about what she’ll wear, how she wants me to braid her hair for the week, what shoes she thinks match her outfits on any given day. These are the big things for a six-year old if you think about it. How she presents herself to the world is important, and at six, she’s figured that out.

Many of my friends tell me that this is right on time for a girl. It will only get worse as she gets older, they threaten. “You just wait . . .,” they say. I imagine she’ll become more opinionated. She’s my girl, after all. There will be tension between us, as there is now with regard to clothes matching, shoes, and determining what still fits and what doesn’t.

Really, I can’t get angry about our disagreements at a very deep level. I do want her to follow my directions, especially when we are short on time in the mornings. But, I also want her to learn how to make up her own mind, live authentically, listen to her own heart and mind. So, disagreeing over a skort or shorts for day camp is a hassle but not a tragic misstep in her development. Instead, I’m glad she’s got a mind of her own and is willing to take on a primary authority figure to defend her desires.

Some will say I’m just spoiling her. I say I’m raising a girl who loves herself, enjoys the power and responsibility of making up her own mind. I’m raising a girl who was not as timid about her own right to her own opinion as I was when I was six. Being honest about who you are and what you believe, then having the courage to stand up for your ideas takes practice. My girl is getting practice, every time we clash - sandals, crocs, or sneakers - every time she decides what she wants and lets me know. She won’t win every argument - I’m still the mom - but she will get practice at the “big stuff”! You go, girl!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Hobbies

I am an academic. I began school at five years old in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, continued through the 12th grade, on to college, law school, and finally graduate school. I did it all in 31 years. No great time record, unless you count fanny-to-seat time.

Working at a university, I spend a good deal of quality time with academics(teaching faculty and former faculty who have, like me, become administrators) and have learned a thing or two about the academic culture. One secret I want to break wide open is this: Many of my teaching faculty colleagues do not have hobbies. I'm serious. Really. They simply don't know what to do with themselves once they've turned of the laptop, put the research back on the shelf, and decided to stay in for the weekend. This is not a put-down, of course. Some of my best friends are faculty. But, it is a major concern of mine. Perhaps you have shivered considering the same calamity?

I knit, quilt on occasion, rubberstamp into the wee hours, design and sell jewelry, read good novels that I'll never teach, and, when my knee is feeling good, I take good walks out-of-doors. Friends have asked, "how did you develop your hobbies? I can't think of a thing to do. I don't even know that I've got any talent to do anything creative." My answer is always the same: "I don't know. I just do it."

The truth of the matter is quite different, I recognize, now that I put my mind to it. Though I spent lots of years pursuing my own intellectual interests, I remember something my mother always said to me when I was a girl and and begging her to play with me because I didn't want to take the required afternoon nap. She'd say, "Martha, you need to learn how to make your own fun." That is probably the seed of my hobbying.

As I grew and spent more and more hours in classes, I need to change the carpeting and wallpaper in my mind after a long day in class. I mean, I wanted a change of pace that required I use my hands and different portions of my brain. When I tired of reading 19th-century slave narratives and novels, I'd turn to my knitting needles or my beads. I'd find myself intrigued and even spellbound by the idea that I could make a fabric, or make something pretty that someone else would admire, desire, and even purchase. That I could produce small things of beauty was new and exciting to me.

More, I enjoyed, then, and continue to enjoy the textures, colors, patterns, and journeys of various fabrics. Beads offer stories of other cultures, other times. Semi-precious stones take me to quarries and mines around the world and I wonder about the work conditions for the workers, the real "costs" of creating a bead, and the ways this very bead may have been used over the years as it visited the workbenches of traders and craftspeople around the world before it got to me. Now, rubberstamping with abandon, I wonder who will receive the cards I make and that others buy.

There are times when I dream of being an artist. My beautiful and unique cards will be seen on Oprah and I won't be able to keep up with the sales. I'll have to sell the whole enterprise to Hallmark for multi-millions, and I will go back to my home a millionaire artist quietly creating more greeting card masterpieces.

Then, reality hits and I remember I need health insurance, a retirement plan, a vision plan, short- and long-term disability insurance, retirement contributions, and the list of my "needs" goes on and on. On top of it, I'm raising my daughter and she needs plenty as she grows so beautifully. My dreams of being an artist are so pleasant, and so on hold for now!

But, I've got hobbies. I can dream. I can use parts of my brain that thrive on texture, color, scent, sound, and possibilities anytime I choose to make my own fun.

So, to my academic friends (and anyone else who is sans a hobby) : GET A HOBBY! Take a break from the ordinary and do something extraordinary with your other talents. Dream for a little while.

I Joined Mom Bloggers Club!

Typically, I carry a book or a magazine into the office with me just in case I get a free moment to read during my lunch. I carried one in yesterday, but found myself remembering a newstory I heard on NPR on the evening of July 27 between my daughters questions about what I did all day. the story was about Mom Bloggers Club, an on-line community of moms who blog. I made a note to myself to get to that website and learn more as soon as possible. Well, I didn't get to it until last night at about 9:00 pm, but I finally got there.

What a wow!!! I joined immediately! I couldn't believe that there actually existed a site for mothers who blog through all stages and styles of motherhood - regardless. "What a gift," I thought! I spent three hours moving through the site, dipping into a group site here, reading a blog site there. I felt inspired, after all that dipping and web diving, to keep my blog going as strong as I can. The best part of the whole adventure was when sister-mom bloggers began to welcome me to the site and the groups I'd joined in friendly, brief e-mail messages. My lesson: Community is not so hard to find when you keep your ears open and your fingers on the keyboard!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Professional

This blog is supposed to be about motherhood. That's what the title says, most certainly. But, in my case, and I suspect this is true for many mothers, motherhood is set in a living and contantly changing context. Motherhood does not exist in a vacuum, but is one of the identities I juggle with many others.

I think the greatest challenge for me is being a professional, working Monday through Friday, nine-to-five, outside our home. Moms who work at home, and moms whose work is home, have similar concerns, but I don't know their experiences firsthand. I'll just talk about what I know.

I enjoy working and always have. The idea of being productive on a regular basis, giving my mind's best and being creative in different ways everyday has always been exhilarating to me. I enjoy the competition, the chance to shine, the evolution of challenging projects, the give and take of working with talented people on projects and programs that can and do make a difference in other persons' lives. I really enjoy working.

When I became an adoptive mom, I dove into that with the same enthusiasm. I wanted to write a book about the process, tell others, counsel folks who were on the fence about adoption, spread the good news about creating a family through adoption to single African American women, especially. Everything revolved around the joys of single adoptive motherhood. The beginning was an exciting time! I would do it all again, too.

But, as my child grew, I recognized that my job and joy as her mother was getting much more complicated. Am I living in the right community for a growing and active girl? How will I send her to school? Where will I send her to school? How do I surround her with the right boys and girls so she can make good friends? Dance? Soccer? T-ball? Computers? What about discipline? Motherhood was becoming more of a full-time job. Once she started to walk, I really had to begin planning ahead. It is not like I hadn't been doing that, but the experiences I wanted her to have took more of my energy and time than my job seemed to permit.

The conflict for me was between my own sense of professionalism, my desires for professional growth and development, and my desire to be a good, focused, smart, and planful mother who mothers with love and patience. How do I do it all? How do I do it all with one paycheck? How do I do it all without depending on babysitters all the time? I spent many sleepless nights worrying, talking with friends and relatives, praying, and hoping for the best. Mostly, though, I spent nights and days struggling to change my own expectations, my own sense of what was necessary and what wasn't. I labored (and am still laboring) to judge myself less harshly.

Being a mom and a professional requires grace. From a theological perspective, grace is freely given, unmerited favor and love from God.It is not something we deserve or earn, but something we are simply given. It is "the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them," according to The sort of mother I want to be requires more strength and more patience (with my daughter and myself) and more energy than I can muster in any single day. I want to give my best at work because that can bring me joy and recognition (maybe even a bigger salary!), and I want to be my best with my girl because that brings me joy and peace. I also want to be my best for me. Because I believe grace happens, I believe it is possible to have these things: a good job, a great family life, and the comforting knowledge that I am doing my best.

None of this is easy. It takes prayer and quiet listening. I am grateful that I am living during a time when even single women can enjoy motherhood. I couldn't do it unless I worked everyday. In my life, then, motherhood and professionalism go together like a hand and glove. What grace!

Friday, June 26, 2009

On turning 50.

Tomorrow, I will celebrate fifty years of living consciously on the planet and among people. Fifty years. I remember when twelve years felt like a goal I would never reach. I simply could not imagine what my life could conceivably look like, who would populate my world, what I might look like, whether I would get any taller, any thinner, in the years that stretched ahead of me. Still, I feel that way. My hair has begun to silver some, and if it follows the pattern set by most of my older relatives, it will continue to silver, strand by strand, very slowly, over the next twenty, thirty, or maybe even forty years. Or, will it become a head of soft white cotton, as my dad's mother's did? I simply can't imagine. I simply can't wait!

A few years ago, maybe ten or fifteen, I would have said my life has been uneventful, nothing to write home about. I was at least a decade younger, and a million years less wise about many, many things. [The joke is that today, I am less wise than I will be in another decade or so!] So much has happened; I've had so much to think about, and have so much more experience to stand on now.

In the past five years, I've adopted a girl. She was just thirty-three days old when I stood in a corporate parking lot speechless, spurting tears, staring at my little, bitty Boopsy. Her five pound majesty slept through my total personality freeze, and I tried desperately to pull myself together in the few moments before we all went up to sign the papers and take our first official photos together. That was the day my world changed, my destiny was altered, my stars realigned, and my future truly became unimaginable. Motherhood is that gift that renders everything else a second-tier priority.

Becoming a mother, adoptive or birth mother, is a type of stewardship that is profoundly humbling. As I have watched my daughter grow over the past five years, I have seen myself become, at times, my own mother, and at other times, myself as a mother. What I mean is, I have had a chance to review my own childhood and my understanding of my mother from my childhood perspective. I have had an opportunity to review every scene from an adult, active mothering perspective as well. The picture is not pretty. It is lovely.

My mother was not an ordinary woman to me, but a special woman. Her hands, her voice, her creative mind, were all bent to the work of raising me, my sister, and my brother. My dad's time and energy were similarly directed, but, now, I want to tell you of my mother. As I remember back over the three decades I spent with her, I recognize now that her life was very much about trying to keep her feet on the ground as she lifted us up to reach the treetops and then the sky. She lived long enough to see us all reach the treetops knowing that the sky was promised.

What I think her death snatched from her, though, is a chance to see herself reach a sky she may have wanted to redefine after we left home and truly and earnestly began lives of our own. I was so busy growing up, and, toward the end, watching her die, that I forgot to ask her what her next dreams for her own live might have been. I forgot to ask her what sort of a grandmother imagined she might be, and what she would have wanted her granddaughters to call her when they chatted with her on the telephone.

Though I was forgetful then, I am thoughtful now. I wonder what she would say about motherhood if I asked her to reflect on her own mother. I wonder what she would say as she watched me become a mother. I think I can guess. I think she would say it is hard work, especially if you do it by yourself. I don't think she would have chosen to do it alone. But, since that was my choice, I think she'd say it is hard.

If I asked her what she believes is so hard about being a mother, I think she'd say that the everyday living of it is not the challenge. You simply get that part done. The challenge is in the theory and philosophy of it. You raise your kids, and you simply have to trust the hard work you've put in over the years and hope they use what you've taught them well.

Then, I think she'd say, you have to think about the way you've done what you've done. Have you been true to your own principles? Have you been true to the principles your mother taught you? Have you grown beyond the mother whose home you left to create your own? She would assert strongly that you should have grown, motherhood should have pushed you to become not your own mother all over again, but the mother of your unique children, and the mother of the woman you were destined to become. We mother children for their lives, for the future. We do not mother children for the past, for times they will never know. My mother was a strong believer in progress, as risky as it can be.

So, I believe my mother would conclude if she were with me today, raise your children to grow away from you and into their own lives. Love them enough that they will return with their own children to reminisce about mothering in her day and their parents' youth. After all, the desire to be a grandmother grows directly out of the work of being a mother.

So, I am grateful to be fifty on June 27. I am grateful for the first day of my born life, June 27, 1959. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, God, for letting me see this many days, and for letting me spend so many of them with my mother, Melba. Amen.

What does God want from us?

Michael Jackson died today. Farah Fawcett Majors passed, too. Just the other day, Washington, DC Metro driver's train collided with the stationary train in front of it, killing nine people, including the driver. Yesterday, I attended a memorial Mass for Jonathan Harding, a 41-year old colleague from Loyola College in Maryland, who died in his sleep on Friday, June 19, 2009.

A superstar, a 62-year old starlet who endured even after the TV series, an unknown woman known through the public tragedy that claimed her life, a private citizen who'd planned to join a friend on a local bike ride. Four people who have passed in just a few days. I knew personally only one of them, but I have come to know of them all. What does God want us to understand through these deaths, through the deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, the death of the young martyred woman in Iran's unrest? What is God showing us? What am I to take away from all of this?

I remember when my mother died on November 28, 1989. She'd struggled mightily with cancer - the big "C," she'd called it when she telephoned her friends to inform them of her diagnosis - for more than 5 years. Surgeries, treatments, pills, fatigue, weakness, and chemo-singed skin and blackened palms and plantar surfaces on her hands and feet became the physical signatures of the cancer. Finally, it just overwhelmed her. She passed with integrity, though, having squared up with everyone she'd ever had a difference with, and purchasing little Christmas gifts for us because she knew she'd be gone before we'd get the tree up and decorated.

The one lesson I recognized that I was to learn from her death is brought back to me as I reflect on the deaths of these four people. Though I have not integrated the lesson into my deepest consciousness - and have therefore not truly learned it - I believe the lesson is that we must love without attachment and unconditionally. Here's what I mean.

Jesus said we are to love our neighbors. It is easy, he warned us, to love those who love us. Our greater challenge is to love those who do not love us, those we may hate, our enemies. In fact, we are to demonstrate our love for Him by serving selflessly the poor, the imprisoned, the shelterless, the hungry. When we do these good works for the least of them, we do them for Him. We are our brother's keeper, even when we do not know, or would rather not know, our brother.

Though we are to love expecting nothing in return, as humans, we love on condition. We love as if loving required a receipt and had a return policy if we are not happy with the outcome of our acts of kindness. It is the nature of our humanness, our humanity, unfortunately, that we love with conditions, and with deep and abiding attachment. It seems all the World's great religions, and even the lesser known ones, teach that love with attachment is not love at all, but a selfish desire for self-gratification. Love, though, in a divine sense - and we can love in the likeness of that agape love - is not about self-gratification. Love is about the "Third Chair", as we say in spiritual direction circles. Love is about the relationship between you and God and is manifest in your relationship with God's creation.

I believe - and I guess I am trying to work all of this out to understand my own belief, or to watch my belief develop - that God loves creation, and loves each of us uniquely, but does so without the sort of investment that would wrest our freewill from us. God loves us respecting our freewill, wanting the best for us always, and knowing that we might choose to forgo His best and highest desires for us.

My challenge, then, is to love and let go. Love like Jesus taught me - without judgment, without condition, knowing that a promise of at-one-ment is an eternal promise of connection to the Divine.

I know my mother rests in the new life God has for her. I know these four people, ordinary and extraordinary, have new lives awaiting them. They will learn how to be where they are after this life. Perhaps that’s what we should celebrate when we celebrate their lives. Perhaps we should not celebrate the life we have seen them lead thus far, but we should celebrate the life each of them will lead beyond our human limitation. Jesus has promised us that life would be a glorious one!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Being a single, middle-aged mother is not easy. I will be fifty in three days. My daughter turned five about six weeks ago. The nearly forty-five years between us is like a wormhole, the type they traverse in Star Trek and other science fiction space movies. The years collapse and expand at will. They appear as a long and lengthening corridor down which I can slide and perhaps end up somewhere completely different. At other times, they are that impossible distance that I dare not attempt to overcome because I am the Mom. That counts for something.

This blog is about being a single, middle-aged mama, African American, educated, and working. It's not a complaint page, though there will be times when I complain. More, it is my opportunity to talk about the life I'm living. I don't think many people really think about the lives of well-educated single African American mothers. We are swept into the same category as poor and working class single African American mothers. Those are hard working women with fewer opportunities for money-making and further education than I have. Grouping me with women whose prospects in this economy and culture are quite different from mine is not fair to either of us. To take my case as representative of the lives of African American single mothers is to misrepresent the lives of a class of women whose lives deserve elucidation and respect. I am of the group who has been given a modicum of class privilege.

Nonetheless, I recognize and acknowledge my sisters' struggles. In some important ways, her struggle is distinguishable from mine, especially economically. In other ways, these matter most, perhaps, our struggles are identical.

Here, I will write and read (hopefully) the experiences of women like me. I won't write everyday. But, I will write as often as I can. Write back. Enjoy!