Category Archives: Single Parent-hood

Clearing the debris: My ode to Spring

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I won a raffle for this badass house warming cake!

I won a raffle for this badass house warming cake!

The coming of spring is inevitable, but our renewal is not.  Its a choice like everything else. I have to choose which story to believe. What to hang on to and what to let go.

This lesson is not one that was dropped into lap.  Up until recently I would go through the seasons of my life simply reacting- an observer, not participant. It was only after the dissolution of unhealthy relationships, the shedding of toxic cycles, and active spiritual work did I learn to unlearn what no longer served me.  As a result, I have stronger boundaries and love myself first.

We choose our narratives, consciously or not.  During my two year MFA program I almost talked myself out of completing it for several reasons, citing bad timing (post divorce and newly single mother of a 2 year old) and struggling through a  period of unemployment… everything was more important than writing at that point.    Survival trumped art. Until I realized that survival demands creativity.I am ever grateful for my choice to stick out my MFA, because it taught me to put my trust in my power of creation, to write and live a different narrative.

Tulips

Another recent example has been the dissolution of a decade long friendship. This occurred simultaneously as my divorce, acceptance to graduate school and all those life changing events…There was a long, painful period of holding on for me…of reacting…of allowing others to dictate the narrative of what might have gone wrong, of what might happen next.  My heart broke more over the loss of my best friend than my ex-husband, she was a supporter and witness of my son’s birth, a fellow artist since our teen years…the most painful part was the question mark of “what happened” that hung over the circumstances, there was never any clarity, never any ‘final’ discussion or argument.  For a long time, I felt that the narrative wasn’t mine to tell…that I could only be in ‘react’ mode and wait for her to speak her truth.

stopping to smell the lilacs.

stopping to smell the lilacs.

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While packing for the big move, I came across a card from her- to celebrate my first mother’s day.  The words she wrote were beautiful, inspiring.   Ali was only 2 months old then and I had stuffed the card somewhere and totally forgot about it. Even though I was in cleaning mode I couldn’t help but weep over it.  I realized I was still holding on to the narrative of ‘maybe’ and the confusion surrounding it.  Even though I intellectually knew it was over for months,  in my heart, it was a different story.  As I sat there rendered helpless by a damn hallmark card, my partner gently reminded me that its okay to be sad and its okay to celebrate it happening in the first place.  My story didn’t need to focus on the end, I could change the narrative, remember it for the wonderful things it was…and at its best, it was supportive, beautiful, and fun.

Daffodils were coming on up...with or without anyone's help.

Daffodils were coming on up…with or without anyone’s help.

That’s what I needed to hear to take my power of creation back…after allowing myself to mourn, I choose to reflect on it from a different chapter…one I own. Much like the daffodils that are sprouting up around our new house, they were due to emerge from the ground whether I prepared for them or not.  But my choice to rake away last winter’s debris, to make room for them to bloom… has resulted in a much more vibrant renewal this spring.

Here.

Here.

Write or be Written.

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Middle School teacher confessions: Parent Night

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One of the things I appreciate about my teaching job is location, location, location.  It’s one my neighborhood middle schools and since I live only 5 minutes away from where I work, I often run into my students.  They are often much more surprised than I and I can’t blame them.  I remember the very few moments I ran into my teachers and feeling really confused and out of place while I thought ‘what? This person has a life outside the school?’  I am sure it is much the same for them, especially when they see me with my son, Ali.

 

This week alone, I ran into my students at the public library down the street and on the way to school at the bus stop.  I am sure the school year will be filled with these run-in’s, or at least I hope so.  I think it’s really important that young people get to see and interact with role models who are like them; who went through similar life circumstances and struggles.   I know it was very important for me to see myself in others as a young person.  This was for many reasons; I was an only child, an immigrant to the middle class burbs, a female of color in a mostly white town, one of very few Muslims in the fear ridden era of 9/11…the list goes on and on.  I still remember the first time I ever came face to face with another Palestinian woman artist.  I was 21 and recently returned from my study abroad in Cairo.  I left Egypt reluctantly ( the first time in 14 years I got to interact with fellow Arab-Americans) and I came back to a rough and lonely RI winter. Brown University hosted Suhair Hammad, a Palestinian spoken word performer/ poet/ writer/ artist.  I cried after every piece she performed. I felt like she was talking to only me.  When I approached her at the end of the performance, I was in total awe that I was in the presence of someone who ‘got’ me, who understood what it was like to live in my skin.  Of course she wasn’t as enamored with me… she was a seasoned performer who meets with and interacts with tons of other arabs all the time. Not to mention she grew up in Brooklyn, home to a pretty large Arab American population, not my lil ol’ Johnston RI. So, I am pretty sure meeting a fellow Arab wasn’t as life changing to her at that point…

Time goes on, but that is something I remain sensitive about; the realistic role model…the relevancy to a young person.  This takes on an entirely different level when I start to talk about teachers of color in a mostly minority community…where over 90% of the teachers are middle class and white, most do not live in this hood, and most do not have English as a second language… although most are great, understanding, kind teachers, they remain rather untouchable as living, breathing examples of role models to these students who are growing up in a much different (and constantly changing) world.  Although slow, I am seeing the shift; more and more teachers are emerging from these very communities and it’s making a difference.

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Tonight was Parent-Teacher night at my school and it turned out that it was parent night for everyone…even the teachers.  Nothing like bringing a three year old to work to bring everyone feel a little cozier!  Thank goodness for one of my students who, as a big brother himself, jumped right in and took over for me when I needed to speak to parents.   As soon as we arrived, Ali decided this particular 12 year old was going to be his new best friend. This student was one of three boys, raised much like Ali by a young single mother.  I knew I liked this mother before I met her because he started off the school year by complaining to me about how much his mother makes him read and write.  He is one of my better readers because of it. I saw myself reflected in her and I hoped she saw the same.

We are all so, so connected…

Timing is Everything

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Yes I only have one semester left, but I decided to take a semester leave of absence from my MFA program.  Even though I had considered this option pretty much every semester since I started, I managed to eek it out and be okay with what I was producing…until now.

Timing is everything…

The same week I got my acceptance letter into my creative writing program was the same week my husband  “broke up” with me…(now, I put that in quotes because it was really more of a desertion…not a break up.  “Breaking”  denotes an action, whereas this was very clearly a refusal of action…The opposite of love after all is indifference.

At the time I decided to fully fling myself  into the graduate program and just plow through it, believing that it was my only saving grace during a time when staying still was seriously damaging.   I figured the program was exactly what I needed to put distance between a defining break-up (ehh…I’ld rather call  it “the wake up call”) and a new me.

Except studying creative writing is not the same as studying say…. engineering…The personal is very intimately connected to the very act of writing… and tapping into my creativity, though cathartic when feeling blue… did prove to be a bit difficult while bouncing back and forth to family court,  drafting up yet another cover letter to get myself back to work, or following up with my ex-husband to give me a weekly schedule of days/times he could spend with our son…

I am proud to say I no longer provide the services of a doormat secretary and feel pretty confident my son will be fine whether or not his Dad is “busy”

I quickly realized that what I have to learn isn’t only how to balance life with creative writing… which can be a  challenge in its own right, it is more the learning how to move passed  that “wait, why am I sitting on this computer for hours on rare child-free and sunny Saturday when I could be out...?” Taking in the sun on a park bench…

So for a while I tried combining the two… I would take a trusty notepad out to draft scenes on while taking in the sun on a park bench…or would reward myself after devoting several hours on completing a submission with a night out with friends…

Although writing was healing…my .20$ wing night at Cuban Revolution with my gal pals was coming in a close second…

But this semester things have been much different.  I am finally working full time, and time wise  I have found it nearly impossible to devote 5 hour chunks of time on banging out a short story. …and there has been an unfortunate reduction in  20 cent wing consumption as well… which is just bad for moral.

Since I work full time, I don’t see my son all day and the only thing I want to do when I get home is hang out with him. Not my keyboard and that depressing blank white space on my monitor… Besides, after sitting at a desk most of my day, I find it difficult to sit down for more than a half hour at home which any fiction writer will tell you, is not enough.

I am sad to say that this semester I started breaking the cardinal rule of writing:  sit your ass down and write.

Not to mention this is an important semester, one that will set the foundation for the successful completion of my thesis ( a short story collection) and the development of my graduating seminar ( a 45 minute ‘class’ on a fiction writing topic that tickles my fancy)… and I wasn’t getting ANY where…

I realized I was doing myself a disservice by not having enough time or energy to devote to my writing program… and even though it will just be a semester off, it will make a huge difference… to my sleep, my short stories, and my son.

Because after all; timing is everything.

Potty Training Rant

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Potty training is turning out to be about so much more than poop…

Around the time I first separated from my son’s father I remember going to a friend’s party where one of the guest’s mothers-hailing from the forests of Sara Palin-ville wiggled her way into a conversation about the divorce to caution me:   “It’s  gonna be really tough being a single parent.”

yeah, so is being an emotionally and borderline physically battered parent… is what I reallllllly wanted to say, BUT I miraculously contained myself…

What I did reply was well, I have a good community to support me.

Which I do… but really… when it’s poop time…

when its put your bum in that potty and poo time… yeah its  just me and you kiddo…well, and now this pink three- in-one potty-step stool- basketball hoop.

“Do you put underwear on him at home?” is the question I got this week from my well meaning childcare provider…

When? my one hour with him in the morning and my one hour at night after a full work day?

and so begins the internal monologue…

Shit! Should  I be doing more?

Yes, I can always do more.

Why am I not doing  more?

Damn I suck.

My son is gonna be three soon and he is so not anywhere close to being potty trained.  Because he is stuck with me as his mother he won’t have friends or good grades or a decent life and he’s gonna stink all the time and it’ll be my fault….

Needless to say I am feeling spread thin.  Working full time  but still struggling to make rent…to make time for writing… for   grad school… feeling the pressure build… and people around me have no idea… how close I am to ripping apart at the seams… to  bursting apart, sending pieces of me up and away like un-diapered pee spray

I hate Walmart but since my car is busted I cant drive far and I needed to get a handle on this potty training thing… So I went to exploit-mart and picked up the cheapest thing they had (apparently these plastic chamber pots can get pretty pricey), a pink three in one frog decorated potty.

I set it up and what I assumed would be a comfortable place to cop a squat and whip out the “potty time” book. Ali sits on it for a good ten  minutes genuinely interested but  nope…no peepee no poopoo no nothing…

oh wait

Unless you count the balls my son thought would be fun to throw in… now he has a new game.

Associates the little pink plastic bowl with the “splash guard” as a basketball hoop instead of a place where pee goes… great..

Fabulous…

And these fresh outta college twenty somethings I work with, who think ‘the baby itch’ is a subtropical mosquito borne illness have no idea how difficult it is to introduce a new routine to an already packed and super crazy schedule…

Took me months to remember to have Ali brush his teeth once he got them in for the first time…WHAT? another thing to do before rushing out the door?    They don’t make dissolving chewing sticks for you little people?

Or when he started eating solids… another hurdle to get used to… instead of just pulling out the boob and being done, now I have to actually think ahead… pack and freeze… purchase baby sized utensils..bpa free…took me a good 20 minutes to decided on a brand…damn consumerism…

So yeah I am 10 min late to work…but my son is clean damit! ( after changing his pee soaked sheets and getting another bath) and fed…and has good dental hygiene (today)

and so am I….At least  I think I remembered to brush my teeth today…

And every parent knows that as soon as you get used to a routine it changes.  I am so grateful for him growing and learning.  Grateful for him being in my life period… but it scares me to think I am doing my best and my best just isn’t good enough…

because it’s just me…

I just wish I could get a little slack…

just a little…?

..so “NO” ….I haven’t been putting underwear on him…

but we’re…

I mean

I’m

working on it…