Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Eat the Dragon Fruit from the Top Down Baby

It lay on the cutting board like a fat, pink pine cone –it was scruffy like it would prick you, but soft and fleshy to the touch. Honestly, it creeped me out a little bit, the feel of it more than the look. We were at the market before suppertime, picking up and poking at the fruits, when I announced, over the pile of “Pink Lady Apples $1.49 a Pound,”

“We should get special fruit today, none of these regular fruits will do!” I swept my hand across the fruit display in a Vanna White-way. Nick had this way of looking at me that communicated amusement, annoyance, and a soft endearing all at the same time, and likewise, it made me simultaneously angry, annoyed, and feel loved. He looked at me over the apples that way, his hand reaching up to brush back his hair, messy from the misty day we had spent at the Imperial Beach Pier, then, without breaking eye contact with me, reached down and lifted up this fruit, the fat, pink and scruffy pine cone on the cutting board in front of us now.

“Now what?” I asked him. We were standing side by side in his kitchen, murdering a village of fruit to satisfy our hunger. (That was his description of our decision to cut up an early supper of fruit to eat lying on his bed, watching, but not watching the 1995 version of “A Little Princess,” my pick after the night before spent eating massive slices of pepperoni pizza and mandarin oranges, and binge-watching Family Guy, which I had never seen, and which I also found hilarious, but not for two of our seven, short nights together before I had to fly back home to Washington.)

“You should stop poking at it with the knife, for sure.” He said, placing his hand over mine, gently drawing my hand, and the knife, away from the fleshy monstrosity. “Let’s slice off the ends, then tourne it like a melon.” While he spoke, his hands moved over mine, arms around me, and we both held and sliced the ends off the fruit. It seemed like it should have been more romantic, it was in theory, but in his tiny kitchen, and duo-wielding a butcher knife, felt awkward and dangerous, so we both started laughing (making it more dangerous) so he moved his body next to mine again and talked me through the rest of the task.

“Turn it on the end now and go with the curve; let gravity do the work.” He repeated the instruction as I sliced the pink, prickly skin away from the white flesh. The words became mantra and I was completely connected to the knife, the flesh of the fruit, the black seeds tinging against the blade of the knife, barely causing disruption in the downward motion of the knife. Lift. Pressure. Curve. Lift. And with each slice of the skin, all the way around the fruit, he repeated: “Go with the curve; let gravity do the work.”

Left with a small, football-shaped fruit, texture like a kiwi, but bright white, tiny black seeds evenly-spaced throughout the flesh, I was set to slice the fruit for the bowls, already filled with sliced pineapple, mango, and grapes (which he had argued qualified as “regular” fruit, but I won with my argument that they were “special” because they were purple grapes, and I believe it to be the most neglected of grapes) but he again put his hand on mine, just stopping the knife from making the first slice. “This one,” he said, picking up the fruit, a rivulet of juice running down the side of his hand, where pink-meets-tan, and over his wrist bone, and all the way down his forearm to his elbow, “this one is just for eating.” He finished, and in punctuation, he took a big, juicy bite of one end of the pear-sized football of spotted flesh, more juice running the same track down his arm, and now another down the center of his chin.

“Nick!” I laughed and made a grab at his hand, and he mock-raised raised his arm up before bringing the fruit to my lips. We ate the whole dragon fruit in turns. It was refreshing, but I was disappointed with the lack of flavor; how can something with such a vibrant shade of pink on the outside, taste like so much nothing on the inside? The very center was sweeter than the outside, sweeter, however, like the melon that is closest to the rind, just the essence of the melon is left.

“Maybe we should save the last two bites of the center for last.” I said around a juicy mouthful.

“I disagree.” He said, taking another bite, smaller bites now, like the discussion was bound to end when the fruit was gone, and we had more to say.

“Why?” I asked, not sure if he was being disagreeable to tease me, or if he meant it.

“Life is not about saving the best bites for the end,” he said, wiping his chin on the back of his hand, then his fingers on his shorts, and then took my chin in the crook of his finger, his thumb cool on my warm cheek. “What if you don’t know when the end is coming, and you never got to eat the best bite –the flavor is for now.” He kissed me then, juice mingling between us. He pulled away, taking my face in his hand, nudging my nose with his, looking me in the eye. “Eat the dragon fruit from the top down, baby.”

Rebecca Reece - 4.9.2019

Sunday, October 2, 2016

"What If" is a Fool's Game: An Adoption Vignette

It rained today; after a sunny and warm week, the rain came in on Saturday morning.  The weather was forecasted; the happenings of the afternoon were not.  Emotional forecast:  Unknown.   This is somehow beginning to sound like the classic suspense story beginning of, “it was a dark and stormy night,” but it’s not… I wish it were.
After a leisurely Saturday morning domestic puttering alone, enjoying the Grover’s sleep-in after letting him stay up as late as he wanted the night before; he finally woke and we enjoyed brunch of fresh fruit and yogurt in front of an episode of the “Power Puff Girls,” not his favorite, but he humors me.

“Hey Ma?”

“Yeah?  Hey, there’s yogurt on your chin.”  I dabbed it away with my finger, dripping yogurt from my own spoon onto his shirt.


“Sorry!”  I giggled.  Exasperated, he swiped at his own chin (though yogurt-free) and took another bite, chewed a couple of times and spoke around his mouthful.

“You said we’d play basketball at the school today.”

I didn’t bother to point out the yogurt and cantaloupe juice that dripped from his lip onto his shirt; pretty sure he wasn’t in the mood.  I inwardly groaned, instantly taking stock of my pain level and balance; cancer is a bitch, by the way.

“I did; we will.”  I looked furtively out the living room window; sideways rain was spitting against it with a ‘tick, tick, ticking’ sound.  “As soon as the rain lets up just a bit we’ll go.”

It was a couple of hours later before we arrived at the grammar school down the hill, equipped with high hopes and a freshly pumped ball; we had the whole playground to ourselves.  We started dribbling lazily, both of us shooting each other with the cell phone camera before we ditched technology and started to play for real (okay, ‘for real’ simply meant better than we could with a phone in-hand… which actually looked tragically similar).  It didn’t take long for us to become sweaty and out of breath (me) and frustrated (him); we retired to the picnic table for a silent and brooding drink.

“‘Sup, Grove; you did well, remember, you’re more of a runner than a baller; we’re just having fun.”

“I suck at sports; doesn’t matter, I don’t really care.”

“Well, you did better than I did.”

“You’re old; I’m 13.”

“Wow… well, there is that.  Anyway, we’re just here to have fun; are you having fun?”

“Not really.”


He shuffled his feet in the wood chips, still orange from being new, by the end of the school year they would be gray like molding straw after Halloween.  He rested his chin on the basketball in his lap.  I looked at the school up the hill and supposed, out loud,

“Maybe I should have transferred you here after second-grade.”

“Why?”  He asked, sitting up and looking at me, annoyed.

“Well, when we moved over here, you hadn’t met Bailey yet; what if he had never been a part of your life?  What if he never bullied you; sometimes I think about what it may have been like for you if I’d transferred you instead of staying.”

“That’s idiotic, Mom.”  He was annoyed bordering on angry then.

“Start over.”  I said, stern, but curious.

“My life would be completely different.”  He was angry with me now; his ears turning red.

“All I’m saying, Grove, is that I wish you hadn’t been bullied; I wish I could have done better for you.”

I was trying hard to keep the annoyance out of my own voice.  I know how sensitive to change he is, and I could see he was making my supposition a reality in his head; I needed to derail that train of thought.  I nudged the toe of my sneaker closer to his, tapped the side of his shoe with mine and said,

“I’m proud of who you are, Grove; you’ve gone through a lot, and I’m so glad you’re exactly who you are.”

He didn’t respond verbally, but I watched the red fade slightly from the tips of his ears.  His ears are always the sign of his level of anxiety; I remember noting that when he was so small, but so anxious all the time.

“Maybe it would be different; maybe I would be different.  I have friends I wouldn’t have if I transferred; I’m fine, it would have made my anxiety worse from moving, than from being bullied.”

I couldn’t argue with that, even though I wasn’t sure I agreed with him, I was thankful for his words, thankful that he was articulating feelings… suddenly, I was just so thankful for… him.  I bit the inside of my cheek, trying so hard not to let my own feelings out.  I tasted blood inside my cheek, and felt a tear on the outside of it.

“I’m sorry, Grove.”  I choked out the words and willed him not to turn around; I didn’t want him to see me crying.  “I’m sorry you were bullied; I’m sorry I didn’t do better; I’m so sorry I didn’t protect you.”

“Mom... it’s fine.”

He was looking at me then; the red returned to his ears and prompted more tears in me.  I was angry, not at him, but at me… angry and sorry for so much.  So much all at once.

“I wanted so much better for you, Grove.”

I couldn’t stop the tears anymore, and I couldn’t stop the words, either.  Everything in me screamed at me to shut the fuck up, but I couldn’t, it was a Louisiana floodgate overwhelmed.

“I’m sorry I didn’t leave [him] when you were a baby; he never would have hurt you then.  I’m sorry I haven’t provided more for you; I never thought, when I adopted a tiny baby, when you became mine, that I wouldn’t be able to provide more than a basement apartment for us, and a closet, I never looked at your precious face and thought you would be thirteen and living in a walk-in closet.  I’m just so sorry.”

I stopped; I sat and sobbed across a picnic table at a grammar school while my 13-year-old son sat silent and suddenly appeared so small.

“I want a PS4.”  He said; he was chewing his own lip then.

“What?  A PlayStation 4?  I’m talking about… you’re thinking about a video game?!?”

I felt my own ears become hot then; I felt anger rising, and then pushed it back down.  Asperger’s, I thought, this is just an Asperger’s thing, he’s probably not even been hearing me, he’s thinking about a video game, this could be a good thing, I tried to convince myself (not very successfully, however, all I kept hearing in my head was, “he wants a PS4?  I’m pouring my heart out and he wants a fucking game console???).  I remained silent, but the morning clouds had quietly returned, and there was suddenly the “tick, tick, ticking” of tiny raindrops on the tabletop.

“Mom; I want a PS4, I’m not asking for one, I’m just saying that’s what I want.  I don’t want a different school, or a different place to live, or any family different than what I have.  Where we are is enough.  We’re enough.  Besides, you said that if nothing ever happens to you, you can’t know how to like what you have.  Being bullied happened, and I’m mostly okay.  [He} happened and you’re okay; we’re okay… mostly, but, I mean, you are crying at a playground.”  He smiled then, just a little, but it was a smile.

“I love you so much, Grove.”

He came to my side of the table then, sat next to me, letting the ball roll down the hill; I wrapped my arms around his chest and pulled him close to me, his back rested against my chest and we breathed together and we watched the ball as it rolled across the blacktop like the earth making orbit from one to thirteen in the flash of a moment, and it was okay, and we were enough.


“I didn’t give you the gift of life, but in my heart I know, the love I feel is deep and real, as if it had been so for us to have one another is like a dream come true.  No, I didn’t give you the gift of life; life gave me the gift of you.”  ~Unknown

Saturday, May 21, 2016

This is meant to be your baby

I’m cramming fistfuls of papers into my binder that has just exploded in the campus commons. Squatting on the cement floor, I struggle to stay semi-erect as my backpack hangs heavily to one side, my biology text book (which cost two-thirds of my book budget for the semester, and is threatening to be the reason for lifelong chiropractic care) digs into my back as a silent but painful reminder that I’m about a minute and a half from being late to class, and I’m at least two and a half minutes from the science building ...at a dead sprint. I struggle to my feet, backpack leaning, half of a lukewarm latte in one hand, and the offending binder in the other. I lumber in awkward determination in the direction of biology when my cell phone vibrates deep in my jeans pocket.
Tucking the binder under my arm and transferring the coffee cup to the binder hand, I dig in my right, back pocket with my left hand, fellow students are eyeing me in this strange, hokey-pokey move as though I’ve just grown a third arm (which, quite frankly, would come in SO handy right now). Just as I poke the answer button the binder begins a slow but steady slide out from under my arm; backwards. In a valiant attempt at saving the binder from explosion number two in as many minutes, I clamp my arm down hard, but being an ever-so-helpful hand, my right had clamps down, too. The lid of the coffee cup pops off as the cup semi-crushes, and suddenly my arm is more interested in thrusting the splattering coffee away from my body, so the binder escapes in a cascade of paper behind me.
“Shit!” The phone in my left hand starts saying my name in my mom’s tiny, far away voice. I stare at it for a second before lifting it to my ear.
“Hello? No I’m not swearing at you; I… sneezed. Hi mom.” I slowly turn to survey the binder shrapnel behind me, the dripping cup still grasped too firmly in my hand, now dripping on the aftermath.
“Becky, there is a girl in my home; she’s pregnant and giving her baby up for adoption; this is meant to be your baby.”
I never did make it to biology that day.
It was mid-May, 2003 the day I got that call from my mom, Jan (my former foster parent, but my forever Ma). I was 26-years-old, a full-time college student and full-time nanny. Though I wasn’t married any longer, I had already had three miscarriages, the final one with my ex-husband had really been the undoing of the short marriage. I wasn’t thinking about adopting; I wasn’t thinking about anything other than surviving the last few weeks of the semester, which had been the toughest yet. (Thanks, biology.)
A few days later, on May 21st, 2003, I met her. A young girl with blond hair, blue eyes, the sweetest smile; and the biggest tummy I had ever seen on a 14-year-old; inside this beautiful, girl interrupted was my precious son, Grover.
I won’t talk about how she was already eight-months pregnant and how her being a foster youth meant there were hoops within hoops within flaming hoops to jump through and nearly no time or money to jump that high or that far. I won’t talk about the adoption agency who turned me down cold as a single woman (and “poor” in their eyes). And I certainly don’t need to recount the ups and downs of being “chosen” and yet living in daily fear that she would, at the last minute, change her mind.
I will fast-forward to July 23rd, 2003, to the part where, after God, family, and friends joined together to help get all of the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed, I caught my son as he entered into this world. I held seven pounds and three ounces of squirming baby boy in my shaking hands; he was warm and slippery, pink and… perfect. I could hardly make out his tiny, squished-bug face through tears of joy that filled my eyes. The doctor clamped the cord and asked me,
“Are you his Auntie?”
“I’m his. I’m his. He’s my son.” I choked through sobs.
She handed me the scissors then, and I cut the cord between this precious gift and the selfless giver of his life, and in so many ways, of mine, too.
On this day, May 21st, 2016, the day we celebrate the miracle of my life wonderfully connecting to his, I say to Grover, my son, “Happy Adoption Day!”
To my mom, rest her soul, I say, “Thank you, Ma; you gave me the gift of having a mother, and then helped me become one.”
To all the friends and family who came together to make it happen, I say, “Thank you for your belief in me.”
To the brave and precious girl who made this day possible, I say, “Thank you. With all that I am and all that I have; thank you.”
~Rebecca Reece
May 21, 2016

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Day the Social Media SuperSingleMom Sets her Cape on Fire... Or... The Day She Lost her S*** Over Juice.

I'm working from home today; my 12-year-old son, Grover is tucked lovingly onto the sofa, so cute wrapped in blankets, his cat cuddling him as he... selfishly sucks down juice and overindulges on Netflix​ while I slave away at my desk amid the distracting booms of a superhero movie battle so I can make client's deadlines while diligently dodging the germs of yet  another. Autumn. Illness!

*Breathe, Rebecca breathe*

When Grover holds his glass up above the sofa back, (my desk is directly behind the sofa) tapping the glass with his fingernail, and asks for yet another glass of juice I'm immediately filled with self-loathing as a mother as I grit my teeth and roll my eyes.  I'm in the middle of  typing up an article; I've already seriously begun to doubt my ability to make the deadline.  I typed: "Since 2011, [business name here] has been serving up the close knit community of Gig Harbor seasonal decor year-round, but customers love juice..."

Wait.  Son-of-a...


"Juice, Mom, I need some more juice." (The empty glass wiggles back and forth in his hand to emphasis his statement.)

"Please?"  I say in reminder.

"Yeah."  He mutters. *glass wiggles*

I try to make my sigh inaudible; I try so hard not to say what I'm thinking; "Sure, more juice, although, if you don't leave me alone for more than three-minutes at a time, I'll never finish this article and there will BE no more juice, or Christmas, for that matter!!!"

"Sure, honey; just a minute."  The glass disappears, but the tapping continues; in his educated wisdom of what "just a minute" actually means, he knows better than to stay silent, and he's right, the juice will turn to wine before I get to him if he's quiet; still, I couldn't help but feel the tempo of blood in the vein in my temple match the tapping of Grover's fingernail against his empty glass.

I give.  I get up from the desk, round the corner of the sofa and see him swinging a twisted, chewed-on straw; flecks of juice landing on my living room rug... his blanket... the back of the sofa... the cat.

"Get me a new straw; this one's busted." (I silently insert the 'please' that I know must be there.  It's there.  It IS.  Or I will go bat s*** crazy.)

"Grover!  You're getting juice everywhere!" I say, realizing too late that I'm saying it through gritted teeth.

"Oops!" he giggles.  He GIGGLES!  For the love of all that is good and holy, he's giggling.

 I snatch the straw and the glass out of his hands with more force than I mean to, and cringe at his look of being taken aback; his eyes, glassy with fever, and his hair matted from sweating; he looks as though I just slapped him, and I feel it...

Worst. Mother. Ever.

"Do you want some ice?" I ask, in a desperate, but weak attempt to put kindness back into my tone and actions.  He doesn't answer.

For the love of God (pardon the pun) how the hell does Michelle Dugger manage such a kind, calm, and mothering voice with her children, no matter what's going on?  How?  I'll tell you how; because if one of them was sick, she would just have one of the other eleven-thousand children fetch some juice.  With ice AND a straw!  I chance a look at the cat on Grove's lap, as though she might be an option, but she just looks back with suspicion and a look in her eye that says, "Get the damn juice, woman; my master is thirsty, and while you're at it, there are six pieces of food missing from my bowl."

I pour the juice slowly, feeling the heat in my face.  My ears are on fire, and I am surprised to feel the sting of tears in my eyes.  Sadness?  Anger?  I don't really know, but I take a long drink from the diminishing bottle of grape juice, stopping myself from draining the bottle, knowing that if I don't finish the article and get paid, there actually won't be any more juice.  I try to feel the cold all the way down to my belly while hot tears, only two of them, escape down my cheeks.

Parenting is hard.

Parenting alone is painfully hard.

Parenting alone with a terminal diagnosis is like living in quicksand buried nearly up to your nose.

After receiving a diagnosis last March, and then watching my health spiral downward as I struggled through chemotherapy and dialysis treatments, and constant pain in my bones, I finally resigned from my job near Seattle to relaunch my own business so I could spend more time with Grover and focus on my health.  I have gone back and forth in my own head so many times wondering if I made the right decision.

I know that I don't get everything right, but every once in a while I see the signs that I'm not doing everything wrong, either.  I inwardly groan as Grove gets up off the sofa and comes around to me, I can not handle another interruption.

I can not.

Standing next to me, Grove leans in and smells my hair, something he does often; ever so briefly, he leans his fever-hot cheek against mine, his chin resting softly on my shoulder; "love you, Mama."  This time I know what the stinging tears are made of as I will them not to fall; a mother's joy and gratitude.

This boy is my heart; I will meet my deadlines, and dammit, I will buy more juice, because this... this is where we are now, and I wouldn't trade it for any job, or for all the money in the world; I honestly would not.

Single parents, don't give up; even if you lose your s*** out once in a while, it's okay, and it's going to get better.  You know what? If you didn't care, you wouldn't freak out over juice.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

How to Say, "I'm Dying," and Keep Living Anyway.

"What age could you pass for?"

This little survey popped up in my social media news feed last night.  Ignoring the fact that the question ended with a preposition (the bane of my grammar-queen existence),
"What the hell; why not?" I said out loud to myself.
Clicking through to the link, I was asked and answered questions like, "Do you like your body?" and other ridiculous queries that really had nothing to do with age.

When I was finished, the results were not-so astonishing.  Okay, to be more honest, I would have been unfazed if the results were to do with how old I look, not as the result of unrelated questions (I was amused last week when I had two checkers at the market taking bets on how old I was; I was buying a bottle of wine).

The truth?  I immediately thought about how I felt about my body when I was 21.  I was taken back to the time and place where, on the grief-side of a miscarriage of my son, Dominick, life was so hard, and I was unhappy... and I really, really didn't like myself at all.

Recently I stopped at a filling station I used to frequent, but don't go often anymore since I am commuting for work.  The gal at the counter was excited to see me, and after a quick hug she seemed to be taking me in.

"Wow!  You look amazing; you've lost weight!"

I thanked her, feeling my ears grow hot with embarrassment from what was obviously a compliment.  Only... I didn't thank her.  As impulsive as her hug had been upon my arrival into the shop was the reply out of my mouth.

"It's not on purpose; I sort of have incurable blood cancer."  I said. The look of shock on her face mirrored mine, I'm sure, as I was quite surprised at the words that hung thickly in the air between us, and in my own voice.

In my mind I separated from myself and stood in front of me, looking into my eyes before slapping myself clean in the face.
"What the Hell is the matter with you?"  I asked of me; shouting, really. "Who the hell tells that kind of news in that way?"

As the weather warms and I pull out Summer clothes, something I used to hate because I would think, pulling on a pair of shorts or capris, "what am I too fat for this summer?"  I am instead faced with pants that pull on without even having to unbutton them; shirts that have to be replaced because they hang loosely, instead of being on the cusp of feeling like an overstuffed sausage in them just last year.

Before, a fluctuation in my weight meant something different; usually over-indulgence, or hard work and self-starvation.  Now, it means that, no matter how I try to hide it; no matter how few people I tell about where I am in my life now... that I am, in fact, not well.

Here is the redemption in this story; the 'meat' of the message, and the definite paradigm shift:


I know, right?  "Live; what does that even mean???"

Just that.  Live.

If you don't feel healthy. Change.  If you are someone else's perception of unfit or overweight, and yet feel confident in who you are, just be.  The perception of others bears no weight, nor should it, on who you are; only you know who you're meant to be; when so many other voices weigh in, listen to the still small voice inside.  I just wish, so much, that I could have learned that when I was actually 21; how life would have been different.

I can only move forward from this moment on.

I will listen to doctors and go through treatments.  I will trust medicine, while at the same time praying for a cure.

I will make as many memories with my son, my daughter, and my grandson as I can. leaving as much of an impression of love as is humanly possible with the time I have left.

I will speak out and for foster children and youth; I will speak out and against the system that fails, over and over, the children in care.  I will make a difference that lives past me.

I will say 'no' to more things, and I will say 'yes' to more things that matter.

I will be kind.

I will be generous.

I will show grace.

I will lean into my God, my family, and my friends as I walk this journey into the unknown.

I will love more; I will assume less.

I will live.

In Hope,

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Power of a Dollar and a Mouse; How the Smallest Gestures Often Make the Biggest Waves

Rebecca, 1982
September 1st, 1982; It was my 6th Birthday. I was starting Kindergarten that morning, and I was scared and nervous, and also excited to be getting out of the house like my big brother. We lived with our biological mother; it wasn't a good life; amid abuse and neglect, the prospect of going to school was a relief.
Mom was particularly difficult in the days leading up to the first day of school and my Birthday. Two days earlier, in response to a poor job cleaning the dishes, she had 'taken away' my Birthday.  I was used to her behaving that way, the Christmas before, she had taken that away too; the tree had been up, the house decorated, and she just... took it away; the gifts were removed from under the tree and put in a big basket, and there they sat for many months before we somehow, miraculously 'earned' them back.  I don't remember what we did to lose Christmas, or to earn back the presents, but I remember opening them on the cold living room in the late Winter, feeling sick to my stomach about the whole thing, but pressured to act overly thankful at Mother's kindness. When she took away my 6th Birthday, I just told myself that Kindergarten and freedom were way more Birthday than any old cake or present could be.
I went to school that day, riding the bus with my brother, sitting in the back of the bus together, eating the wheat bread, butter, and sugar sandwiches he had snuck out of the house after a breakfast-less morning of up-before-the-sun chores.

"In case you don't get to have cake for real, pretend it's cake,"  my brother told me as I savored the sweet treat; butter and granules of sugar coating upper lip, and crumbs dropping on my lap with every bump of the school bus.

We finally arrived at school, and I fell immediately in love with every part of it; from the blue doors on the fronts of the classrooms; mine was blue #4, to the way my shoes squeaked on the shiny, tiled hallways, and the way the halls smelled like pencils and books and... freedom!. My brother walked me to my classroom before heading on to his 6th-grade class, assuring me that I would 'love Mrs. Mac'. the same teacher he had had in Kindergarten.
When I walked into the room, I was suddenly shy when I saw everyone on their new clothes and spotless shoes, neither of which I had. I spotted the teacher, and right away knew I would love her; she wore purple corduroy pants and a colorful necklace hung playfully from the neck of her green, turtleneck sweater. She ushered all of us to the front of the room where there were carpet squares laid out in a circle facing a chair; on two of the carpet squares there was a teeny, wrapped present, and a card reading, "Happy Birthday" on the front (I already knew how to read). I had an inner tinge of sour in the back of my throat as I was reminded of my Birthday having been taken away.
"Rebecca and Annie, these are your seats, because you both have Birthdays today!" Mrs. Mac said.
I felt my face blush red as the other children looked at the two of us, Annie with her pleated skirt and Peter Pan collared blouse and tight, blond curls and freckles, and me with my long, brown braids and faded, Superman overalls. Both of us were too shy to open the little gifts in front of everyone, and were equally relieved when Mrs. Mac said we could put the presents away in our backpacks if we chose to.
I secreted away my little gift with the miniature pink bow, and the powder-blue card in the front pocket of my backpack; I couldn't wait to get it home and open it, and yet, somehow, through the excitement of the day filled with stories and recess and a tour of the school library (where I was just SURE I could devour each and every one of those precious books!) I forgot about the little gift in my bag.
That afternoon when I got home, mother was wrapped up in bed reading a book; she didn't even look up when I passed her room on the way to mine.
"Wash the dishes, sweep the kitchen, and get your room cleaned; it's a pigsty" she grumbled, never taking her eyes off her book.
"Yes Ma'am" I said, dropping my backpack in my room before heading to the kitchen to wash the dishes. By the time I finished my chores, my brother came home from school, and the day ended with more chores and cooking, and finally we went to our rooms, my brother to read out of his school library book, and me to pretend I didn't care that it was my Birthday, and there was no special supper... no cake... and no candle to blow out.
There was my backpack where I had dropped it earlier, and when I touched the strap, I remembered my day at school, and suddenly remembered the tiny present waiting to be opened! I turned on the little lamp at my desk and pulled out the perfectly-wrapped square box that was so light I was sure it may be an empty, mean joke. I opened the card first; isn't that what we are always taught? The front had an elephant holding a flag in his trunk that said, "You're 6! Happy Birthday!" I opened the card and a crisp dollar fell out! I was excited, and of course, I smelled it! I knew right away what I wanted; the ice cream truck still made it's rounds for a while longer before Autumn began to nip at ears and noses, and I wanted to buy my brother and me a popsicle each, Banana for me, Root Beer for my brother.
I folded the dollar back into the card (I don't think I read the message inside!) and picked up the little present. So light, I thought, how could there be a gift inside? I peeled the tape, slowly and carefully, not wanting to mar the wrapping paper, white with rainbow-colored polka dots. Carefully I unbent each fold and revealed a tiny white box with a flap-lid. My heart quickened, and I had the urge to sing myself the 'happy Birthday song', so in my mind I said the words as I quietly hummed the tune. When I had finished, I rubbed my hands together fast with a little burst of energy, and flipped open the lid!
Inside the teeny, nearly weightless box with a mouse! A small, plastic mouse that was mostly white, but had little brown ears, a pink nose, and the tiniest black-dot eyes. There was a little knob on the side, and when I pulled him out of the box, I immediately twisted the knob and set him away from me on the desk, put my chin on the desk, and let the little wind-up mouse run softly into my nose. Nose to nose with this tiny new friend, I quietly whispered, "happy Birthday to me!"
I don't remember if I ever bought the popsicles, or even what ever happened to that little mouse. But I have never forgotten that one, small gift, the only reminder that I even had a 6th Birthday, and how I felt to have been, even in that ever-so-small way, given back the Birthday that was taken away.

Dear Mrs. Mac; how I wish I could thank you now. I wish I could thank her for the ripple that turned out to be such a beautiful wave of Gratitude that has washed over and over me throughout my life; giving me the gift of being thankful, especially in the tiny ripples, recognizing them for the crashing, cleansing waves that they actually are.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Candid Confession of a Single Mom Who Hates the Term, "Single Mom."

First, can I just say that I hate, and have always hated the label of, "Single Mom."  I've always seen it as a tool, a tag by which women sometimes get away with selfish behavior, manipulation for money and help.  Seriously, I've been parenting on my own for most of my son's life, and I don't say, "I'm a single mom" because I don't want to look like I'm 'playing a card.'

Guess what I just figured out? Wait for it... I'm a single mom.

I work full time, I parent full time. I am 100% responsible for our incoming home finances.  Although my son has a wonderful man who's been' Dad' all his life, I adopted as a single parent; so there is no support check in the mail every month; if there's money in the bank, I earned it and put it there; that's right dammit, all $36.78 that's in there now, that's all me.

Chances are, when you looked at me like I was an alien because my son's never been to 'Wild Waves' or 'Great Wolf Lodge' or, *gasp* any Disney Park (my son's never actually flown, or been outside of Oregon or Washington, truth be told) and that the last movie I saw in the theater (before I treated my son and me to "Guardians of the Galaxy this month for my Birthday) was "Wreck It Ralph," but only after it came out as a double feature at 'the cheap theater,' I felt like a crappy mom.

I have looked, at times, like a flake; I've broken dates (yes, I've stood guys up in the name of my son's sniffles, lack of a free sitter, or just plain fatigue those of you who have stuck it out as my friends anyway, you know who you are, and officially... I'm sorry) and missed events and meetings because of two reasons:

1.  I refuse to pay someone else to spend time with the little man who I feel like I barely have enough time with, just so I can have a couple hours with you.  By the way, single mom's time is so very precious; if you want to date one, but have no interest in being a step-parent in the future, do NOT waste my time; I certainly won't waste yours.  And by the way, screw the whole idea of 'Strong, Independent Woman;' I'm a single mother, and as such, I'm poor; If YOU invited me out, YOU are paying!  ...maybe this is why my social life consists of Words with Friends and facebook.
2.  Because I convince myself that if I DO go out, you'll not really be able to relate to my situation anyway.

I'm always exhausted. I'm constantly thinking about the grocery budget, fifth-grade homework, the stress involved in addressing (halfway effectively) my child's special needs. (Why is there so much red tape when it comes to getting that IEP, or decent counseling?)  I worry whether I have enough in the budget for gas for the car to get to work all week, AND that six-pack of craft beer (yes, I said it).  I don't get enough sleep, and my blood pressure is dangerously high.  "Make that doctor's appointment" say well-meaning friends with actual health insurance and 9 to 5 jobs.  I'll get right on that. I never get enough sleep; I have nightmares of my own childhood hurts, homelessness, and sometimes dream of losing my teeth (anyone who's ever taken a psychology class knows that's born of the fear of being out of control.)

I wake every morning at 5:30 just so I can have an hour for me.  I'm not texting you back then; I'm not answering emails or working.  That is the only time I have where I can drink coffee, talk to God, and remind myself that I can, no, I WILL make it through this day even if it's sometimes only an hour, or a moment at a time.  From 7-9a.m. I won't answer your calls or texts because that is two of the precious 3 1/2 hours I have with my son on weekdays.  That time is ours, and no emergency can be more important than the latest rundown of 'the most epic YouTube Death Battle EVER!' (By the way, Batman vs. Captain America is next; I can't wait to find out who wins; not because I care, but because he does.) or school gossip that Grover is sharing with me as we prepare for the school day.  On that note, from 7-9pm, same rules; nothing can be as important as reading with Grove, or rubbing his back and making sure his self-esteem is filled up for another exhausting day as a child on the Aspergers spectrum's day can be.

When I'm not with my son, I never stop thinking about the next marketing campaign and upcoming event for my marketing clients; making sure I have adequate computer space, lens capability, and external equipment for my next freelance, underpaid photography shoot.  If I'm not at my office at my part-time job, I can often be found hunkering down in a local coffee shop, pounding out graphics, photo-editing, or running umpteen facebook pages for pennies.

I'm constantly working to sell carpet cleaning for the company I work for (I love my job, and my company.  At the office I'm never anything but an awesome employee... even if my son happens to be camped out in the waiting area with Netflix in the laptop because he can't be at school for one reason or another; like, "please do not send your child to school if he/she has had a fever in the last six years" or something like that...) I'm always on-call at work, which I'm happy to be in exchange for an unlimited-everything phone. The same phone, by the way, that so many people, even close friends, rarely hear me on, because I'm so tired by the end of the day I can't bring myself to be the 'Rebecca Reece' everyone expects; insufferably positive, funny, smart, the shoulder that's strong enough for my own burdens AND yours.  Know what?  Sometimes I'm not; sometimes just holding my son at the end of the day when he's sobbing that he would rather be dead than be picked on by the other kids... that's all I can handle.

I am a Single Mom... and all that entails.  It's not a 'card' to play, or a 'sign' to wear, or even a burden to bear; it's just who I am, and I'm finally okay with that.

I'm Rebecca Reece, I'm a writer, a marketer, a photographer, an employee, a business owner, a softball player, a Toastmaster and public speaker. I am strong, powerful, loving, kind, and loyal. I'm tired, overwhelmed, poor, and frustrated.  But above all, before everything else, before anyone else... I'm my son's Mom; I wouldn't trade any of it for the privilege of that. ~RR