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Farewell, 2013

This year will end with my love and I tromping through the snow in our nice clothes, buried underneath layers of down and wrapped in wool and angora, blanketed with boots and gloves and cold noses. We will make our way to the home of a few friends, where there will be champagne and raunchy discussions and lots of laughing. It's a formidable way to say farewell to a year. 

Several miles away, my son will be celebrating with his father, having to work less hard than I'd like to keep his eyes open until midnight. He was hoping they'd play Monopoly into the New Year, maybe some Minecraft and movies. I learned tonight that his own festivities will also include meeting his dad's girlfriend for the first time, and one of her sons, which is much more of a hello to a shifting future than a wave goodby to what was.

Things are changing. We are changing.

Last night, nearly touching the ceiling in his new slightly wobblier than I am comfortable with loft bed, E, who has slept with all the lights in his room on -- nightlights, bathroom lights, closet light, overhead light -- for months and months, asked my permission to try sleeping with the lights out. 

I sang him songs while propped up on a bean bag and Cubs Pillow Pet underneath the loft -- another change, since I've been unashamedly snuggling with him for prayers and lullabies for nine+ years, knowing it would all come to an end soon enough -- and flipped off the light, leaving my son to sleep silently into the last day of 2013. 

This morning, sitting criss-cross-apple sauce at the kitchen counter, E interviewed the Not Boyfriend for a school project. The Not Boyfriend made hashbrowns and sipped coffee while he answered, short responses punctuated by a tiny smile at the edge of his mug.

"What were you like in third grade?" E asked seriously, pencil paused in mid-air for the answer.

"Hmmm," the Not Boyfriend said slowly. "Come back to that one."

"What ways are you the same as you were in third grade?"

"I still like Star Wars. And Legos. And there are parts of me that still feel like a kid." 

E smiled to hear that, like some permission had been given to hold on to those parts of himself he knows well.

"What ways are you different?"

The Not Boyfriend breathed in loudly, then out, contemplating.

"Well, I grew up. I got more serious. But I still like to play," or something like this. I was busy watching the exchange between the two of them, trying to capture it with my camera and my brain, and I missed some of the words.

"What advice do you have?" E-as-reporter studied the Not Boyfriend, then the blank space on his paper, then tried to fit his broken pencil back together in his writing hand. The Not Boyfriend didn't hesitate on this one.

"Take school seriously," he said a little sterner than I expected, "even when you don't want to."

E nodded as he wrote. There was sage advice in there from someone who takes his role in this kid's life very seriously, but there was also a bit of ribbing. 

"What's your favorite color -- of the ones you can see," E smirked to ask. The Not Boyfriend is red-green color blind, a topic of much discussion and joking. 

"DANNNNNNNNNNGGGG," the Not Boyfriend laughed. "Of my three choices?"

"Is it white? Clear?" That went on for a few moments until the response of "bluish" was logged accordingly. 

When the interview was done, we talked about that Monopoly game and E refused to let me take a decent last-picture-of-the-year of him in the sumptuous light that made its way through our kitchen blinds and landed on his happy face and all in his somewhat-combed Jodi Foster hair. And then he took a few selfies that are perfectly him, to mark this time. 


I did the mom thing, asking them both to recall the best parts of 2013.

We talked about the blessing of Baby J, my brother's second son, being born, and about our trip to New Orleans, where we all loved the beignets and haunted walking tour best. I said our camping trip had to be counted. And that in this year, E had made his second appearance doing a stand-up act in the school talent show, and won the church talent show with those same silly jokes. I reminded him that he read Rick Riordan books like crazy this year and he refined it, saying, "I FINISHED all of them, you mean." He's only a few hundred pages away from completing the Harry Potter series, stacking up the many, many books he made his way through since last New Year's. We reminisced about little moments and birthday celebrations. 

But before all of that, before any of the looking back happened, before any of us knew what would really unfold tonight, E answered first, without letting any other space or words interrupt. 

"Moving in with the Not Boyfriend," he said, sure and smiling. "That has been the best part of this year."


Where we are walking, the Not Boyfriend and E and I and the little family we are forging, hasn't all been even ground. There have been tears and bickering and arguments over where to hang pictures and if the toaster oven should sit out on the counter and things don't matter. There have been sobby admissions about grieving shifting identity and not fitting in and not yet feeling at home, relaxed, ourselves. It has not been as smooth as I hoped, not been easy at all. But all of that has been the adults, the Not Boyfriend and I making our way, slowly, unsteadily. E, he's been holding on, staying the course, confident and just fine. 

He trusts. And I am learning from that. And just as it was with being done breastfeeding and be ready to potty train and reading and now sleeping without the security of all those blaring lights, he goes on being my greatest teacher in taking steps when we are ready, in taking time to be ready, in releasing worry once we are.

For now, we all walk in the dark. But we are walking toward a New Year, and the coming light that promises to reveal moments and people and opportunities we could have never expected, we could not have seen coming unless we trust the time, the timing and each other.

What will 2014 reveal? I don't know. We shall see. Clasped gloved hands, footprints in snow, we shall see.


We are here now

There are many wide spaces to fill in with words and pictures about our move, about the holidays, about what we've uncovered in packing and unpacking. But for now, with the held breath of anticipation on this, my most favorite day of the year, I want to share something I wrote for my church. My church collects stories of Christmas, of hope, of heartbreak, of joyful singing in the city and of stillness and emails them out as advent devotionals. There have been many that made me pause in the midst of typing an status update or clearing out email in my inbox or opening mail or texting, if only just to think what this time of year means for someone else. Here is the piece I wrote this year, with many blessings ot you, wherever you find yourself tonight.

My desk is surrounded by boxes, some opened and half-emptied, some still sealed shut. My son’s room is stacked high with boxes. And the parentheses to the door to my new closet are more boxes. 

We moved last weekend from the apartment where my son and I celebrated five Christmases, five birthdays, five Halloweens, five New Year’s and many more small and significant moments of joy, dance breaks and just making it through after long nights, illness, heartbreak, fear, uncertainty and other challenges all parents know well. After a crew of five movers hauled out all of our stuff, packed tightly into more than a hundred boxes, and after the cleaning ladies swept out the dust and lost Legos and Post-It notes that were left behind, we sat together on the floor of the old apartment. There, we shared memories that echoed off the walls that no longer hold our family portraits, counters no longer cluttered with school reminders and sticky notes I did see, a living room where a couch cluttered with stuffed animals no longer sat. 

Then, we went into our rooms and left our mark. With pencil, and lightly, but enough for us to bring closure to years in the home my little boy and I built inside that apartment. “E was here,” he wrote, and it made me laugh. 

“Be brave! Be rebellious!” he encouraged me, handing me the pencil, “Go write on your walls!”


And so I did, adding my initials, curly-Q’ed to the corner. We stepped in each room one more time, surveyed all that was there and all that was now cleared out, turned off the lights and said goodbye.

In the car, we drove to the new place, which E hadn’t yet seen filled with all our stuff. He was excited to see my boyfriend, who had made this new apartment his home with us. He was antsy to see his room, painted a dark ocean blue that would not show pencil proof that he this is where he is. 

“We’re ready for our new home,” I said, glancing at him fidgeting in the back seat.

“We are really ready,” he said back, all dimples and wide, assuring eyes.


This Christmas will be in a new place, with someone new - a Buddhist who has only celebrated with us one other year - and may very well entail a flurry of unpacking to make room for the tree, or at least include boxes as decoration. But it will still be us, my boy and me, counting this day, holding all its magic and calm and frenzy. And it will continue to pull me closer to my faith, one that began with an unmarried mother clinging to her son in a place that felt far from home. 

We are here. Christmas is coming. And we are here now. 


Stop complaining about my kid's hyphenated last name

When the Ms. Magazine blog featured a post last month on a feminist parenting topic that is recycled more often than plastic deli containers at my mom’s house, I dug in. Again. The post was a forthcoming dissection of the confusion and regret author Careen Shannon feels years after choosing to hyphenate her daughter’s last name.

Hyphenation. It’s a big issue. An annoyingly incessant discussion that parents who choose to hyphenate a child’s name must have over and over. And over again.

 I appreciate Shannon’s honest discussion of the downsides of what felt like a logical, equitable feminist decision to name the young Shannon-Solomon, including how often her daughter is called by one of her last names, the order of the names is flipped and the two names are smooshed together. She also says it is tricky and tiresome for her daughter to fill out any forms, from standardized tests to health insurance information, because her name won’t fit in the allotted space. 

These things, the little daily dramas of carrying two names can indeed become burdensome. I should know. I gave my own son two last names. When he was in a daycare co-op, he was the only kid with all those names, but by the time he got to kindergarten in a more diverse school full of liberal and multicultural parents, there were always a few other hyphenaters in this class.

I told him that, LUCKY HIM!, he got a bonus name. I underlined both last names, turned the dash into a tiny star, told him he was special for carrying forward my last name and his dad’s. He bought it all.

Several years later, in third-grade impatient handwriting, he scribbles out his first name followed by the initials of each last name, separated hastily with a hyphen. He doesn’t have the time or patience or concern to write out both last names fully anymore. And because there is another boy in the class with the same first name, he’s bound to writing the rest whether he likes it or not. The funny thing is, the other kids in the class and the teacher shrink down his last initial to just one. Where he might be called James R-K, he would simply be James R (not his name). He didn’t ask for that, didn’t insist on something rushed, but also doesn’t seem to care or even notice the last-last name initial is missing.

In fact, he’s never questioned why he has two names, why other kids only have one.

“Oh,” he’s said sweetly a few times over the school years, “Grandma uses two last names! She’s special, too!” or “He’s hyphenated? Huh.”

But that’s where it ends. It is the other people who’ve been buzzing about my kid’s doubled-up byline since long before he was born. Some of my friends felt free to ask and argue about why in the world I would give my baby such clumsy full name. And when other new mothers and pregnant women I knew were defending that they’d opted to call their babies August and Ruby and Oskar and Emmeline and a new slew of old-timey first names, I was warding off the opinions and questions and heartfelt looks of genuine worry about the 7 lb, 3 oz. boy with oversized surnames.


I heard all of the questions, mostly in all-caps, sometimes in stage whispers like I was passing on cancer or unpasteurized milk.

My answer was always the same. First a smile. Then, “He’s smart. He will figure it out.”

And he is and he has. So far. There’s more to come. Perhaps he will take a stage name or get married or parent with another person with an equally long-lettered last name. Maybe the kid will get really pissed off at me one day and become a Smith or VanHeglund or Wojcik. One day, far in the future, we might laugh over a beer about how my last name was mistake for my first name ten times a week and he will bitch about his own surnames experiences. So be it.

My child might have to squeeze his name into too-few boxes on a form or the last three letters may get dropped over and over again on printouts and passports and credit cards. He will definitely have to spell and repeat and sound out and explain. And I know his calls into the doctor’s office to make an appointment will echo the sentences I’ve said all his life, “Rufus Rodriguez-HYPHEN-McCuddahy” (also not his name). So be that.

He’s smart. He will figure it out.

So to Careen Shannon and her hyphenated offspring, I get it. To all my friends and family and strangers and school mates and after-school activities instructors, I hear you. But the only person I am going to listen to on this subject is my last-name dashed child. And he’s not interested in saying that much about it.

Until then, rest assured that the same answer still holds. He’s smart. He will figure out.

And so can your kid. So can you.


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