The Race Issue

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One of the things that has become a big concern for me since I became a single mom is that I’m raising children who don’t look like me.  They are three, little people who are mixed Armenian and Black. Whatever your political viewpoints are, there’s one thing in today’s world that is undeniable: outright racism has become a part of our society. There are many who will argue that racism has always been there and that the media is now sensationalizing it. I will partly agree. However, for a mom of kids who are growing up in this society, it’s now more than apparent, that I have a task far greater than what I imagined. Raising black kids to become what the world will see as black adults is something I’m not sure I can do on my own. How do I prepare them for racism, injustice and prejudice that they will more than likely face? How do I ensure that they will know how to handle these moments with dignity, pride and self-respect? 

About 2 years ago, I was getting the kids ready to take a shower. Cortland came to me and said, “Mommy, I really need to take a shower. I need to scrub my skin with soap because my skin is dirty and I need to get it clean so it’s white like yours.” I stood there with my jaw down to the floor. How do I even begin to address this issue with a 4-year-old? I reassured Cortland that his skin was beautiful and perfect the way that it was. I explained that because his dad is Black, his skin is darker. It doesn’t mean that he is dirty. Cortland told me that it was a child at school who told him to wash the dirt.

On a side note: The parents of this child are far from being racist. I am certain they are not the type to speak negatively about black people. If anything, I think they would defend my children in a split second if they knew they were being harassed because of the color of their skin. So let’s not blame this family. To me, it’s a sign that my children stand out in our community simply because of their skin color.

Then, there was a time, an older white man implied I should lynch my children while we waited for a seat at a family restaurant. My kids were being a little rowdy, but so were the other white children waiting for a table.

These situations, though, were a reminder to me that even when my children earn the highest of honors, receive the greatest of awards and accomplish the best of achievements, they will always be seen differently. They’ll be referred to as the “black kid” or the “mixed kid” or possibly even, a more derogatory term. They will be identified more by the color of their skin, than by the people they become. 

So how do I, a woman of Armenian descent, prepare them for this? How do I teach them that despite those labels, they are viewed perfectly in God’s eyes? How do I explain that sometimes they will have to work a little harder and a little smarter to obtain their goals? How do I reassure them that they have a responsibility to stay peaceful when individuals around them may be hostile, simply because of the color of their skin? 

While they are still children, I teach them to obey and respect the law and rules. I give them lessons on how law enforcement officers are there to serve and protect. But what happens when they are pulled over for driving a nice car in a nice neighborhood, and the law enforcement officers are not willing to listen and understand? How do I, as their mother, teach them the nuisances of being Black in America, when I, myself, have no clue? 

I owe it to my children to be honest with them about the world. How do I touch on this subject without breaking their little hearts? This is where I humble myself as a parent and accept that I don’t have those answers. This is why I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise my children with diversity around them. This is why I am willing to accept help and guidance from those around me who can help answer these questions for them. This is one of the reasons I know I can’t raise my kids alone. I need my village: my village of people from all walks of life, all levels of wealth, all colors of skin and shapes of eyes and languages spoken. In the end, I hope my children can look back on their past and can appreciate that they were brought up in a home that was welcoming and loving to all. I hope they recognize that their worth comes from what they give to the world, rather than how the world sees them. I hope. And I pray. 

Wilhelmina

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It was mid-July. My summer vacation was half-way over. We had celebrated Cortland’s first birthday. I was enjoying the time at home with my little family. The time I was pregnant with Wilhelmina was the happiest time in our marriage. We were closer than we had ever been. Arguments and threats were a thing of the past. It really seemed like there was hope and a bright future for us. 

My step-children were over a lot. They spent a lot of their summer with us. And honestly, I didn’t mind it at all. Cortland always had someone to occupy him and I was enjoying my pregnancy, while I watched him learn to walk and explore his little world. 

It was a Wednesday morning. I went to use the restroom and noticed that I was bleeding heavily. I immediately informed my husband and we both agreed that I needed to be seen by a doctor. I called their office and they told me to check into the Labor and Delivery unit. Since we had a house full of children, I drove the 20 minutes through Silver Lake and Hollywood and walked into the Emergency Room at Kaiser Los Angeles. I was placed in a wheel chair and pushed through to Labor and Delivery. 

The doctors quickly examined me and did an ultrasound. The good news was the baby was moving and had a heartbeat. The bad news, I was almost fully dilated. I was 27 weeks and 2 days along in my pregnancy. The following week would be the start of my 3rd trimester. As soon as I heard the news, I called my husband. He was concerned and worried. He wondered when I would be able to return home. The doctors informed me I would be going no where until I delivered the baby. I would be confined to the bed in the hospital. I wouldn’t be able to even walk to use the restroom. The baby could be delivered at any moment or it might be another 3 months. They just couldn’t say. 

The next phone call was to my mother. It was one of the hardest phone calls to her I ever had to make. Especially since, during that week she had been dealing with another major family crisis. My mother, clearly devastated, agreed to come watch the kids so my husband could come join me in the hospital. 

The doctors pumped me with steroids to quickly develop the baby’s lungs and magnesium to help prevent other complications. The magnesium made me feel gross, nauseous and loopy. 

The doctors informed me that if I went into active labor, they would rush me into having an emergency C-section. The baby was breech and natural delivery would not be an option. 

As I remained in that hospital bed, I thought about Cortland and how much he probably missed me. I worried about my unborn daughter. Unfortunately, I knew too much about the impacts of prematurity and was already pre-planning for the services and help she would need to live a normal life. I was scared. The most scared I have ever felt in my life were in those hours. 

My husband left to go home that night. I laid in my bed and cried. One of the amazing nurses gave me hugs and reassured me that we were in good hands. Here I was alone again in a hospital bed. 

The next day my mom came to visit. She stayed with me all day. Later in the day, my best friend and her daughter drove over an hour and came to visit too. They helped keep my mind off of all the stress. The made me laugh and giggle. While we all visited, the baby suddenly became very active. You could see her move in my belly. It felt like she was doing somersaults. My mom decided to stay with me that night. 

At about 5 am the next morning, I started to feel uneasiness. There was some significant cramping. The nurses checked the monitors and immediately called the doctor. I was in active labor. The doctors decided to do an ultrasound before preparing for a C-section.

A miracle had occurred. The night before, the baby had turned and was head down. No C-section was necessary. I immediately reached for my phone to call my husband. He was asleep and his phone was off. Suddenly, in the midst of pain and worry about delivering a premature baby, I became angry! How dare he turn his phone off? I thought to myself, “Who does that? Who turns their phone off when their wife is in the hospital with pregnancy complications?” I wanted him there, but after about 35 minutes of repeated phone calls, I no longer cared. I was irate, hurt, scared and disgusted. At some point, he woke up and answered his phone.

An anesthesiologist came in to give me an epidural. But the epidural only took to my right side. So the pain on the left side felt even more intense. He tried the epidural again. Suddenly, there was a room full of, what felt like a thousand people, waiting for me to deliver the baby.  It was loud from the noise of all the chatter and equipment. I tried to stay focused on just delivering my baby. I was alone. There was a strange nurse who was holding my hand through my labor. My husband didn’t make it in time. 

At 6:45 am, after two quick pushes, my shining star, Wilhelmina was born. I expected to hear nothing from her, but I heard her cry. At 27 weeks gestation, this little 1 pound, 12 ounce baby cried. It was the most beautiful noise I had ever heard. The doctor brought her to me, let me give her a quick kiss and she was immediately taken to the NICU. 

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About 5 minutes after she was taken out of the room, my husband came in. I almost wanted to tell him to just turn around and leave. But I was too exhausted to fight.

Wilhelmina stayed in the hospital for about 2 months. Driving home and leaving her there made me want to throw up. If I could just stay with her. It was impossible though. I also had a baby at home who needed his mommy. 

The NICU had very strict rules. No children under 5 would be able to visit. It wouldn’t be possible to take Cortland in to see her. 

Two weeks after delivering Wilhelmina, I made the decision to return to work. Staying home made no sense. I couldn’t leave Cortland all day so I wouldn’t be able to visit with Wilhelmina either. It made more sense for me to use my time off to spend with her when she came home. But I was sickened by the thought she would be an hour away from me in the NICU. My husband never went to see her in the hospital on his own. I had to be with him for him to go. Our baby stayed in that cold hospital alone. 

For two months, I woke up every morning at 6 am. I packed Cortland up and took him to daycare and commuted to Riverside from Downtown LA to work until 3 pm. Then I returned home. Some days my husband wanted to visit Wilhelmina. So one of us would go in with her and the other would push Cortland around in his stroller in the hospital hallway. Other days, I would drop Cortland off at home, get him fed and ready for bed, then head off to the hospital alone. There were days that I wouldn’t get home until 11 pm. I was a walking zombie for those two months. I often think back and wonder how I did it. My only answer is: by the grace and mercy of God. There was not a day I did not visit Wilhelmina. No matter how exhausted I was, I drove the 20 minutes and walked the 5 minutes from the parking garage to her room. 

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Wilhelmina was born for early for a few reasons: 1) The doctors said she was born to save her own life. The placenta was partially abrupted and her umbilical cord was tied in a knot. 2) She was born so Baron could join our family. I became pregnant with him before she was due to be born. 

Today, Wilhelmina Star is a tiny girl, with a big name. She is smart, feisty and sassy. There’s not a thing wrong with her. She loves to sing and dance all day. She loves playing with her dolls and can occupy herself for hours. She bosses her brothers around and they follow her commands. She finds comfort in sucking her thumb and rubbing her nose with her index finger. She is kind and humble. She has big hair and knows she is a beautiful inside and out. She reminds me daily of the importance of being goofy and carefree. She’s helpful and will always figure out a way of getting what she wants. This quote by William Shakespeare captures the essence of my Wilhelmina: “And though she be but little, she is fierce.”

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Happy 5th mBirthday, my Wilhelmina Star! Go show the world what you’re made of!

Loneliness

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There is a loneliness so profound, I’m having trouble even beginning to describe it. It’s not a loneliness of the heart or mind. It’s one of the soul. It transcends most human understanding. It’s in this deep place that I hope no one else can ever experience. It doesn’t happen overnight or even in a month or two. It’s a culmination of years of decision-making alone, wiping tears alone, tending to illness alone, eating alone, attending events alone, etc. And sadly, I have to admit that it’s somehow become a part of my every day struggle. 

I’ve recently realized how lonely I feel. It’s become the single most difficult part of single parenthood. While my kids were younger, tasks were difficult. Buckling and unbuckling them into car seats, getting them ready for school everyday, feeding them, changing their diapers, wiping their butts, building their toys seemed like monumental projects. But recently as they have become more independent, which I have become eternally grateful for, I also have to face the fact that being alone is now a new normal that I have to accept. It’s now this state of mind that has become the daunting roadblock to overcome. 

Realize that there is no task, no decision, no event that I do not do alone. The simple and mundane to the difficult and challenging are always completed without any help. I don’t want to discount the countless offers of helping me. I appreciate each and every single one of them. Yet, the reality is that as much as offers of watching the kids for me are undeniably appreciated, caring for my kids for a few hours doesn’t take away the pain of the loneliness I described. The moments of making a decision of where to place my couch or what sport will benefit and match my child’s personality. It’s the utter silence and lack of adult conversation at the end of the night that results in this melancholy.

Will having a partner help? Yes, probably. But navigating the dating scene is, in and of itself, a stressful undertaking. I’m not even sure if my heart and mind are ready for that level of commitment. 

My purpose of sharing this is also not to get offers of evening conversation or help in decision-making. But rather, a glimpse into the reality of what single motherhood looks and feels like. I’m not looking to commiserate with others or even throw a pity-party for myself. I just want to bring light to the issue. As a psychologist and educator, one of my important platforms is the issue of mental health. I want to be transparent in my discussion of this journey. I want to be able to share not only the struggles of the past, but also, those of the present. 

Will I overcome this obstacle? Of course I will. I seek help through prayer and daily devotion to God. He will carry me through this, just as He has carried me through every other battle and weakness. Whether lonely, alone, surrounded by a thousand or even one single person, I will always stay focused on the most important goal I have: to raise my children to be loving, caring, intelligent, wise, generous, independent citizens. And I promise to do it with a smile on my face. This is my battle to fight and they deserve a mom they can remember as happy and full of life.

Every ounce of me thanks the Lord above for the blessings I have been given. I’m so truly grateful for the community of friends and family who support us, love us, invite us and share their love with us. We will make it through because we are stronger than any obstacle in our way. 

And to those who struggle with loneliness, push through, despite it. Love, even when you don’t feel like loving. Laugh, when all you want to do is cry. Cheer yourself on, especially when there’s no one else to do it for you. Dance, even when you don’t have a partner. And most importantly, remember your reputation is not defined by your circumstances, but rather how you chose to handle them. 

Diamond

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The reality is he never loved me. He only loved that I loved him. He never realized the gem of a woman he was gifted. I was a sparkling diamond and all he saw was a washed up rock. I often contemplated why. I wondered how someone could be so blind to not want an educated, dedicated, intelligent woman who would be willing to swim through every wave with him. 

Then it dawned on me. You can hand a person the rarest, most precious diamond in the world, but if they’re not accustomed to diamonds, they don’t feel they’re worthy of diamonds. They’ll just kick it in the corner and let it collect dust. 

But here’s the beautiful thing about diamonds. They continue to shine even if they’re pushed to the side. They always remain diamonds. To break them, to corrupt them, doesn’t suddenly change their state. They remain diamonds. 

He tried to hurt me. He called me names and told me I was unworthy. I was a first year school psychologist. I was trying to set a name for myself at work. I would work late and bring home reports to write to stay caught up with my cases. He would tell me, “You’re so lazy. You will never get hired for next year. I could be a better psychologist. You think you’re special because you’re getting a doctorate? Bring work home again, and I’ll have you swallowing your teeth.” At some point the threats over my life were so scary, I wrote a letter and stuffed it in my work bag. In the letter, I wrote all his information. His name, social security number and address and whatever other information I knew about him were included. I hoped to leave clues behind in case he succeeded in carrying out his threats. I also wrote a letter to my family apologizing to them for the agony I put them through. 

At that point in time, I had no idea how I would escape his wrath. I didn’t realize I was in the hands of a narcissist. Prayers were what got me through. I wasn’t sure if God was listening, and at the time I wasn’t even sure if He existed. But it was my only escape. He didn’t believe in God. At some point, he decided that he wanted to be a Scientologist. I even gave Scientology a chance. I thought if I believed what he did, then maybe, just maybe it would be enough for him to change his ways. But as soon as the Scientologists realized I was a psychologist, they didn’t want me to be a part of them. This was even more of a reason for him to continuously denounce me. I was no good for anyone. 

So, I just continued to pray the only way I knew: the Lord’s prayer in Armenian. “Hayr mer, vor hergeens yes…” I would say it in the shower. I would say it when he slept and I pretended to be asleep. When he was in his episodes, I’d say it to myself as he berated and threatened me. I’d say it on my drive home from work. At some point, it worked. God knew, like He always knows, exactly what I needed. God gave me the wisdom to realize that I deserved better. 

God reminded me that I was a diamond and needed to shine. He gave me the courage to walk away with nothing except my clothes and my kids. I took the essentials and left everything else behind. Some of the most precious memories of my kids were left behind. But it didn’t matter, I would finally be free. I was no longer a prisoner in my own home. I didn’t want to have any reminder of him. I wanted to start new and finally show the world the diamond I was born to be. 

Today I shine and I refuse to ever be treated like anything other than the gem I am. My purpose: bring light to others who have forgotten they too were born to be diamonds.

Cortland

My Cortland. A true gift from God. After having three devastating miscarriages, I was finally going to be a mommy. I had prepared my entire life for this role. I even chose a career based on the future family I would have. And when Cortland was born, I finally understood why God had made me wait. He was pruning my heart for the most beautiful love ever imaginable. 

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Those 9 months that I carried him, were probably the only time in my life when I felt most at ease about myself, in my own body. I also remember feeling selfish, but glad that I was the only one who knew what he felt like. So much so, that as much as I loved holding my baby in my arms, after he was born, I felt an overwhelming loss. I no longer had that bond with him that he and I shared. For months after, a sense of jealousy would come over me each time I saw a pregnant woman. I just didn’t want that feeling to ever end. 

Here’s the other thing, when you are in an abusive relationship, you hold so tightly onto the feelings you have because they become your only escape. Those inner thoughts that your abuser never hears become your secret weapon. So each time I was called a name, was threatened or attacked, I was able to retreat to the sensations of pregnancy. It was my escape from the wretched reality. This was where my pure joy could be found. I often felt I could talk and sing to Cortland in my mind and he would be able to hear me. Every turn, twist, kick, punch and hiccup I felt from Cortland was one that my husband wouldn’t ever be able to steal from me.

The day of Cortland’s birth was beautiful. I was surrounded by love. My mom, sister and nephew came to support us. Even my ex-mother-in-law was there. I felt loved. We all felt love. My husband was so kind, loving and supportive. He held my hand through every contraction. He didn’t leave my side. I was convinced Cortland would bring us closer. 

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But, boy, was I wrong. The following day was unbearable. He left the hospital the night I gave birth. He went home to sleep. I was left alone with the baby in a cold hospital room. He didn’t return until after 6:30 pm the next day. The doctors had already discharged us from the hospital. But I had no way of getting home. He said he was cleaning the house and getting it ready for us. But the house was in the same condition it had been in when we left. He said maybe a total of 5 words to me that night. 

It was just the three of us at home the next day. He didn’t want any of my family to come visit. I was sitting on our red couch, stumbling to nurse our son. I just wanted my mom there with me. I’ll never forget the disdain in his voice as he yelled to me to cover up. He implied that I was trying to get attention by sitting in my living room and feeding the baby. I put Cortland down, made him a bottle of formula, took him into my room and never tried nursing him again. I held my baby in my arms and apologized to him for bringing him into the chaos that was our house and the tears from my eyes fell onto his little blanket. 

For the next six months, there were some scattered good days, but most days were awful. I hated the thought of leaving my baby and returning to work. What got me through was knowing that for most of the day he would be in the arms of a loving caretaker and not being exposed to emotional toxicity.

I never got a chance to give Cortland the kind of life I hoped he would have as an infant. I tried leaving. But guilt, manipulation and deceit pulled me back. That’s one of the greatest regrets of my life. 

Cortland taught me about unconditional love. His smile, when I would walk in to pick him up from daycare, was a consistent reminder that despite the circumstances, he counted on me. He became my reason for continued endurance and strength. He reminded me that even though his heart was beating outside of my body, we would forever have the special bond we had during those 9 months.

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Almost 6 years later, Cortland continues to amaze me. He has intelligence surpassing his years. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He randomly tells me he loves at least 4 times a day. He corrects any mistake I make, but makes sure to do it with a smile, so my feelings don’t get hurt. He takes pride in his role as the big brother. He smiles with his eyes and radiates an aura of greatness. I’m honored that I was chosen to be the mother of this beautiful soul. Happy 6th Birthday, my love! I love you more than there are stars in the sky and sand on the beach. 

Father’s Day

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I have a bone to pick about Father’s Day. Let’s take a close look at its name: Father’s Day. Father: as in the male figure in a family. I bring this up because since I have been a single mother, I have had multiple messages wishing me a “Happy Father’s Day.” I get it. It looks like I take on dual roles in a family. It probably seems like I am the father in our family also. But the reality is that I’m not. I’m a mother. There’s no father in our household. Harsh truth, but reality. 

I’m doing what any good mother does. I do whatever I have to in order to make our family function. When I change a light bulb, take out the trash, put together a piece of furniture or throw a ball for my kids to catch, I do not suddenly turn into a dad. My children do not look at me in those moments and think, “Oh, that’s my dad.” I’m still their mom and that is all I will ever be for them. I never feel like a father. My title never changes. 

My kids realize they don’t have a father in their immediate family. There’s no need to pretend like there is. Missing a dad does not change the expectations I have of them. I want them to know that they will always be pushed to the highest potential possible through support, discipline, guidance and pride. Does having a dad in their life every day help make that easier? I would think so. But just like every other task of parenting is more difficult for me, this is also a challenge I will overcome. 

Fathers are the men in our life who see the possibilities in my children. The reality is that the man who biologically gave them their DNA is not their dad. The truth is they have lots of dads. Their dad is the coach on the baseball team who practices with him a little extra because he knows there’s a chance his mom doesn’t know how to throw a ball properly. Their dad is the friend who is willing to take them wall climbing so they can have some male-bonding time. Or the one who will teach them how to throw a punch to defend themselves in a fight. Their dad is the uncle who is willing to take the boys to the mens’ restroom so they learn how to use a urinal. Or the uncle willing to “play” chess for hours even though they keep forgetting the rules. Their dad is the grandfather who is willing to watch for hours as she sings and makes up dances in costumes. Their dad is the pastor who gets down on one knee and looks at them in the eye and reminds them they are special and God loves them.

As you can imagine, Father’s Day is a day of mixed emotions. But luckily there are some amazing “dads” in our lives, who have all so graciously taken my three blessings under their wings and have become a father-figure to them. So no, don’t wish me a Happy Father’s Day. I haven’t earned that honor. Instead, celebrate the men who step in to teach my kids the true essence of fatherhood: love beyond measure. And for that we are eternally grateful.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Lesson Learned

It was a cold, December night. We were getting ready to have our first Christmas in our new home. The divorce was final. The kids and I were finally free. A Christmas parade was going to be passing right in front of our house. I set up some lawn chairs in our driveway and bundled the kids up in warm blankets. We each had a cup of hot chocolate and Christmas carols were playing in the background. 

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Cortland was 4 years old. He looked up at me and said, “Mommy, why don’t I have a daddy?” I felt like someone punched me in the stomach unexpectedly. The reality was I had been preparing to answer this question since the day I left my husband. But not today and not so soon. I looked over at him and said, “Honey, I’ll explain it to you one day when you’re a little older. You just won’t understand.”  But Cortland didn’t accept my answer. With tears welling up in his beautiful, brown eyes, he begged with a quiver in his voice, “No, mommy. Please, please, please tell me why I don’t have a Daddy.” 

Cortland had, in all the years, since he could speak, never begged me for anything. I knew my answer was not good enough. I looked up to the sky and asked God for the words my little boy needed to hear from me. I kneeled down next to him and said, “When boys and girls grow up to be moms and dads, they have to make good choices. It’s a mom and dad’s responsibility to make sure all the people in their lives are doing that. Your daddy made bad choices. That’s why you don’t have a daddy. He made some bad choices so I had to make sure you, and your sister and brother were safe and happy. I love you forever and always and will always try my best to protect all of you.” 

That was all he needed to hear. “Ok, mommy! I love you, too!” 

Months later, a child much older than him asked Cortland where his daddy was. I stopped, fearing how he would answer. To my surprise, he confidently answered, “I don’t have a daddy, because he made bad choices.”  The tears didn’t stop flowing for a while. I was so proud of my boy. But mostly, I was relieved. One of the biggest fears I had about single motherhood was the reactions my kids would have when others asked them about their dad. 

But in those few words, Cortland had quelled a worry I had been carrying with me. His words not only reassured me that I had armed him with the tools to protect himself, but also, he made me believe I was enough for him. Without him even knowing it, he didn’t allow his circumstance to define him. He took ownership of the situation, accepted it and moved forward. 

He taught me a lesson, I now hold dearly. The trials and tribulations of single-motherhood will never be an excuse for me. My advice to all single mothers is simple: be a mother. Not a single-mother. Not a divorced mother. Not a widowed mother. Just be a mother. Don’t overdo for your children and don’t underdo either. You are enough for them. They will love you simply because you’re Mom.