Saturday, March 9, 2013


Yesterday, I wrote in front of a fifth grade class. We are less than a week away from our state's "blessed event," and the fifth graders have been studying endangered species, and writing persuasive essays. We wanted to make sure that they could still write fiction, which they haven't written much since they finished that unit of study six weeks ago.  The prompt the teachers chose was along the lines, "Imagine you had been granted one wish. What would your life be like after you had received that wish?"

Having been raised in the Don Graves' school of writing, I believe it's super important for teachers to write in front of kids, or at least with them. We have talked a lot about how authors write about what they know because that's where they can write best. I took myself back to my ten or eleven-year-old self, and started a story about wanting a horse, and what my life was like after I won a contest that allowed me to ride and take care of one for a year. (And in case you are wondering, the wanting a horse part was true. The winning the contest part was not true, although I actually did get a horse when I was in seventh grade).

When I write with kids, I generally try to write about an experience that students, especially struggling writers,  could duplicate, if they needed to. I don't usually write stories, then,  about beach vacations or skiing trips to the mountains, because most of my low income urban kids have not had those experiences. Instead, I write stories about or cutting my sister's hair with pinking shears when she was four, or sledding down the very fast hill on the street behind our house, or visiting my grandmother. I also don't write tons about my adult life, e.g. stories like becoming a mom (although I often tell the kids those stories) because again, those are not stories that kids can duplicate.

Today, I thought about the wish prompt while I was talking to my oldest son. We had had a disagreement last night, and he had called to apologize and talk through the situation. As we were talking, he said, more than once, "You don't know what life is like for me. You don't know what it's like to be a guy. You don't know what it's like to be African American. You don't know what it's like to be an African American kid at college, where most of the kids don't look anything like you."

And I thought, "I wish my boys had a dad."

People who have followed my blog for a while, know the story of our family. I was a 44-year-old, never-married assistant principal when my boys wandered into my life. They were in the foster care system and needed a forever family. I had always wanted to be a mom and so I brought them home. I don't think our situation is ideal. I think it would have been far better for the boys to be raised in a family that looked like them. I think it would have been far better if the boys had two parents, or at the very least, were raised by a single dad. But none of those things happened. And so I did the best I could. I showed up every day. I made sure they were surrounded by people that looked like them-- at at school, in our neighborhood, and at church. I don't have any brothers, and my dad died ten years before I adopted the boys, but I tried really hard to make sure there were men in their lives.

Even so, right now, I really wish my boys had a dad.

The son in college is going through a really hard time with a girl. They've broken up, and have supposedly both moved on, but not really. This week, my son has had a couple of scary encounters with several other football players that she is dating. And I have talked to my son pretty much every day, and I've talked to one of the coaches, and I've prayed and prayed and prayed.

Even so, I wish my boys had a dad. Because a dad might know how to deal with these testosterone- filled encounters. And I really don't.

And my other son has had a really rough year. He made a really stupid five second teenager decision, and what should have been a fun senior year turned into an absolute disaster- a year of loss and and anger and sadness and might-have-beens. And I think he's coming out of it now, but it's been really, really, really hard.

And I wish my boys had a dad. Because a dad might know how to help him redeem himself. And I have pretty much scrambled and stumbled and clawed my way through the situation.

There's that whole female thing. One of my sons dated a girl for quite a while. When they broke up, her father made the comment that my son really didn't know how to treat a girl. And I suspect he's right. My boys don't know how to treat a woman. Not really. The whole time I have had them, I haven't dated. I've put my time and energy into my boys, rather than into pursuing a dating relationship. They haven't seen, then,  the day-to-day workings of a relationship. Their information comes from the brief public encounters of couples that we know or from television and movies. They don't really know how to communicate with a woman, or how to honor her by giving unselfishly, or how to work hard at a relationship.

I wish my boys had a dad. Because maybe he could teach them those things.

And to be really honest, right now, I wish my boys had a dad, because I'm really tired of paying and  listening and giving advice and solving problems and worrying and praying. And I wish there was someone else to share the load.

I wish my boys had a dad.


writekimwrite said...

That is a reasonable wish and I can understand it.
There are things you don't know and can't understand. Transitions to adulthood are tough in all circumstances though.
This is what I know- you stood up and took these boys in. You did and continue to show up. You do pray, listen, give advice, solve problems and love your sons with your whole heart.
This comes through when you write. It the hard, messy work of life. It matters, you matter and you have taught your sons that they matter! Continuing to pray.

Ellen said...

Awed, teary-eyed, admiring - none of which help you in your struggle. But I so appreciate your sharing your life's work with us. How wonderful that you all came together to form a family! You do the best you can, every day. All the best.

Jone said...

Oh Carol, I understand your wish. Hopefully there will be males in their life to mentor them. You are courageous in stepping up for these boys and being a parent. The prayers, listening, and love will come through for them.i

Ramona said...

Carol, I wish your wish could be granted. What a powerful and personal piece you've shared with us. Your boys are blessed to have a mother who loves them as you do. My prayers for you and yours.

elsie said...

You are one of the strongest women I have ever encountered. Your heart is in your writing. I wish I could wrap my arms around you. One day these boys will see how blessed they've been by your love.

Kay said...

What a powerful piece of writing. Your boys may not have a dad, and you may not have the support a dad could give both them and you, but your boys do have a mom who stands by them and is there for them. I admire your courage in taking them in when they needed it. My husband and I are in the middle of completing the training to be foster parents and I've almost talked myself out of it. Maybe I'll rethink again.

Carol said...

Kay, being a foster parent is hard, hard work, but it's also so very important and good foster parents are so, so necessary. If you want to talk, email me ( I've got lots of resources that I didn't have when I took my boys. Also read LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS. It's a novel, but gave me huge insight into kids raised in the foster care system.

Beverley Baird said...

Carol, I was so struck by your powerful slice.
It must have been so difficult taking in 2 struggling boyson your own. But you gave them so much - love, support, a stable, loving home.
Don't beat up on yourself - you did the best you could and the boys will realize that.
One parent is sometimes enough.
My own daughter has not spoken to her dad since she was 16. (she is 28 now) He was abusive to my oldest - who he adopted. There are no perfect families - we all do the best we can. I have had guilt over that abuse for a long time - I fianlly had to let it rest.
I will include you and your sons in prayers. God bless.

Michelle said...

Carol, I'm sorry I don't know what to say, but I had to leave a comment. I know it is hard. Really, really hard. But we can only imagine the life your boys would have had if you didn't bring them home. You gave them stability. You gave them love. You gave them a home. You are amazing and I know you will continue to do the best that you can. Pray. Pray even more. Pray they will find men and mentors in their lives -- like the coaches and teachers to help guide them with your support. They will continue to learn. Just keep talking with them. Let them talk and you listen. We can't always "save" our children and they will make mistakes.

I wish there was more to do to help you! (Remind me about all this in years to come with my girls!!!) Sending hugs your way! Stay warm in that snow storm! I'll be praying for you too!

Linda B said...

I believe that you have given your life to your sons so that they wouldn't stay in the world they landed in. You stepped forward to do that & this time sounds awfully lonely, yet when they grow older, I really believe they will know they are lucky to have you. We had a tough time in these very same age years with one of our children, Carol-lots of long distance calls, some bad decisions, some things to change that were so hard, and it came out okay, but I remember those years as some of my most challenging as a "grown up". I use that term because many of us always think we're all ok because we're older, but life throws curveballs & throws us off. I think I'm rambling, yet I want you to know that I (& all those comments above) mean that we think you're terrific & I really believe that things will smooth out. I wish your boys had a dad too, but they have a wonderful mom & some don't have either. They are lucky!

Stacey Shubitz said...

"I wish my boys had a dad."

I am taking a break from working on a strategy lesson lesson about using refrains in writing. Ideas that are important enough to come back to again and again. Your refrain was right there, over and over and over again in your writing. It really struck me (both in its significance and in the way it echoed what I'm working on).

Your slice is full of honesty and love. You are raising them the best way you can and you can only do your best. The fact that your son called to apologize means that he knows that too.

Ruth Ayres said...

Thank you for writing bravely and honestly. I know it's hard to write this close to the bones. I imagine the ending may have been the hardest to face when it was in black and white on the screen. I have a theory about families -- I think God builds them according to needs. Your boys needed you. You needed them. You are absolutely enough. Promise you'll say it out loud when you read this comment: "I am enough."