Calling out

“Mom? Can we take a trip again when everyone is gone; just me, you, and Laura? ” he asks timidly. To speak it louder than a whisper would certainly draw unwanted, non-physical but equally painful abrasion from the excluded. Underlying his request is several years of feeling displaced in his own family, in his home.

No one said it’d be easy. No one warned me that he’d suffer from this merger.

My baby boy, no longer a baby at just shy of six, lashes out. He’s increasingly more volatile – the great debater on all miniscule factoids. He makes demands. He interrupts, imposing his presence in every conversation. He makes me frustrated; so frustrated that sometimes I just have to separate from him.

My boy. The one who introduced himself to me unexpectedly.  The baby Doc said I shouldn’t carry to term because of some fluke condition a test said he possessed. My tiny, skinny son born weeks ahead of what I was certain was his due date. My screamer who couldn’t eat without the pain of reflux. My water baby. My chubby cheeked, kiss – loving gentleman. My co-sleeping, extended nursing babe. My child with the wisdom of one far older, but without the foresight of action’s effect.

At each meal, he insists, “I’m sitting next to mom.”

He randomly inquires about the  possibility of Mommy and Me days.

He imparts himself in conversation with frequent, repetitive interjection. It’s important,  his persistence insists, and critical to present discussion

He endures possessive interference from his little sister (who borrows his “guys!?!” label as a sibling call all).

And he waits endlessly for a chance to cuddle – to just sit next to me silently present.

“Please can I sleep on your floor? Dad’s not going to hug you no more. He’s got all the time. I only got snuggle time for like an hour. Why can’t he sleep in his man cave?” he begs, boomeranging into my room 18 minutes past our first goodnight hug and kiss. 

Reluctantly,  I send him away. He hugs me tight and I kiss his forehead. He smells of my perfume, having fiddled with the bottle on my dresser and shot the potent mist all over. I reiterate my promise to photograph his Lego creation in the morning.

My heart aches for him. I don’t know how to stretch my time. I pray he doesn’t condemn me as a mom failure with evidence of my shortcomings. He is a critical piece of my heart.

I hear the familiar mantra echo in my head, ‘Actions speak louder…’

Mini Vaykay

Williamsburg, we couldn’t stay away.
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Love me when it hurts

“If we really want this thing to work we gotta go to war….” Avant, ‘When It Hurts

I better start asking “will you love me when it hurts,” because it’s hurting more and more. This blended family thing is an experiment in futility ; or at least it seems so sometimes. Inevitably,  no matter how much we profess to be all about “ours,” the “mine mentality ” seems to be underlying every decision.

If I thought children were unwilling pawns in relationship chess before, I’m certain of it now. Except I forgot to figure in the other pieces playing the board. The castle, or career and financial dealings . The Knights, our siblings. The bishops, in-laws and family elders. And though there’s only one king and one queen on this board, they often play on opposing sides instead of as a ruling, supporting pair.

Frankly,  I’m not sure I want to spend life in a game of strategic action. I’ve got apps for that. But honestly,  if the extended family is constantly invited in to cause strife and further divide, there’s no winning.  It’s one thing to confide in someone – to seek a listening ear that doesn’t connect to a wagging tongue. It’s another to entertain intrusion,  confusion and, ultimately isolation.

I’m ready to lay my piece down and declare game over. I can’t see putting children through an endless, destructive game.

This is childhood

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RiAnne, 18 months.

He called to thank me.

The phone rang last night around 9:45. I was working on my computer, littlest cradled in my arm making the effort more difficult. I elected not to get up for the phone and hubs, glancing at the upward turned screen said, “Ike.”

I answered, “Chi’s dad. Yeah, I’ll call back later.” And I stayed where I was knowing that if I moved, the baby would once again awaken and stop my progress on these photos. I heard the phone chime a new message signal – pointless, because I rarely check my messages. Text me, if you expect reply, I can’t say it enough.

Then the phone rang. “He’s calling again. It’s got to be important, Rachelle. No one calls back to back unless it is.” Leave it to hubs to insist I answer the phone. He’s always encouraging me to do things out of my comfort zone – beyond my immediate objectives – and supporting me when plans don’t go accordingly. I think he knows me well.

So I got up, lay the baby on the pillows of our bed, and answered the phone on the last possible ring.


“This is Ike.”

“Yes, I know. How are you?”

“I called to thank you.”

At that moment, with those words the brain started racing around my archives of thoughts. It stopped at the file of “I’m pregnant,” it darted past the “do me a favor…,” it hurdled over the “You ought to be seeking more for her…” and it crashed into “I’ll always keep contact information, but I’m not facilitating anything anymore.”

I laughed. “Thank me?”

“To thank you. I don’t have the words… I need to thank you.”

And at this point I’m thinking I’ve missed something in the translation between his Igbo thoughts and my English words.

There really isn’t anything to thank me for. My daughter – our daughter – has been my greatest achievement. And though I am no “mom of the year” in any regard, she has always been the center of my world and the focus of my efforts. Any sacrifice outsiders believe I’ve made was a conscious choice to ensure the life I carried had the richest existence I could provide. So what if there was no money to splurge? Who cares if I fell into a career and postponed what I believed was my dream job? My focus was on Chi – my life source, my most prized creation. My energy went to raising her, to memorializing our moments and treasuring her growth. There’s no regret. There’s nothing missed. Why then, am I being thanked?

He continued, “Thank you. Thank your mum. I – I… I don’t know what I was thinking. I thank you for not listening to me then. I see her pictures, oh, she is… wow. Thank you…”

And he told me of his regrets, of his shame. “I stopped calling. I can’t lie to her. I should’ve been to see her… I… and Nneoma, she asks about her sister. My sister, she says ‘Where’s my baby, my girl?’ I said there’s three girls and a boy. She says, “where’s my girl?’ My family, they all say, ‘I bet she’s big now?’ And I didn’t have a response.”

I replied, “She’s as tall as me, she wears my shoes. She’s smart. An honors student, in advanced classes. She is so understanding, she loves. She is an artist, an actress…”

And hubs, who had been showering, but was now seated on our bed, chimed in quietly, “athletic…” his pride in her apparent.

“Thank you. I know… I know… you… I… thank you. It’s been on my heart. I called. You didn’t answer. I shouldn’t have called back, but I thought… and you, you answered.”

We chatted idly about his children, my baby’s siblings. I shared with him her interest in track, in drama, in singing. And we said goodnight.

And I looked at hubs. “God. When I meet Him, He and I? We’re gonna have a serious talk.”

And he nodded, smiled. He, like me, knows what it’s like to have a vacancy in life that should’ve been filled with a parent’s devotion. We watched the Food Network silently, then, until he drifted off to sleep and I worked to finish polishing my shoot photographs.

This morning, despite a very restless night courtesy of Ri, I woke feeling a peace I’ve not had for several weeks. Chi was ready early and sat at the top of the staircase, backpack on and book open on her lap. “Okay, let’s go.”

On our three mile ride to her drop off, there was no music. I broke the silence.

“I spoke to your Dad last night. He said you can call him anytime.” That’s all I said, my voice even, a clear effort to avoid inflections that might reveal my thoughts. Will she open her heart to him only to have him disappear? Will she be able to understand him enough to create a relationship? Will she want to visit him, his family? Can I let her go?

“Ok. I’ll call him after school today.” And that’s what I most love about her: her willingness to accept others into her life if only they make an effort to be a part.

Life is a sidewalk café (a poem, of sorts, on growing up)

Seated, outside on a folding chair
Overhead, the umbrella shields blinding sun
Waiter inquires of my desires, serves my needs in haste
Legs crossed, I sip on coffee, and watch the world walk by
Wind picks up and once-sturdy umbrella shifts, catching the gust and toppling over
Hot coffee spills across once-clean, white table cloth
I try in vain to catch the waiter’s attention, but he’s busy … with other patrons … on break … off duty?
So I gather myself, pay the bill and drop a tip on the table in thanks
It was time to be getting on with the day, anyway.

(inspired by a Life Metaphor poetry assignment for my students… and my life)

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