By Wendy Rhein
I often feel like I’m living in a social experiment. I am witness to the circle of life every day with a 2 1/2 year old, a 7 year old, a 43 year old and a 72 year old sharing a relatively small space. I really should carry a notebook for my observations but I think my family would only grow more annoyed with me stating the obvious and then smugly writing it down.
I am seeing more and more similarities between my 2½ year old toddler and my 72-year-old mother. I was sick last week, incredibly put on ‘vocal rest’ by my doctor who gleefully told me I should stop speaking for 48 hours. I swear she was laughing when she left the exam room. While ill, I had the chance to study my toddler and septuagenarian mother from the vantage point of the couch and made the following comparisons:
1. Toddlers and the elderly both need a nap in the afternoon if you expect them to stay awake through dinner without a meltdown.
2. They talk on the phone the same way. There are lots of “hello, hello, hello?” at increased levels of volume until they just hang up.
3. One is growing taller and one grows smaller at the same speed.
4. Neither likes to be told they can’t do something.
5. Neither can get passed the Safari icon to find Pandora and both will yell for help when they can’t find their music.
6. When either has to go, they have to go. Get out of the way. Now.
7. The singular focus to achieve a new task like operating the Wii Fit or climbing stairs is inspiring.
8. Both would be happy with cookies and milk for dinner, especially if they missed a nap.
9. Both need shoes with Velcro and preferably with lights.
What I find most interesting is the bond they have. There is a connection, a tenderness, between my mother and my youngest son that is unparalleled. She adores my elder child but there is something about these two, whether they’re sharing a cookie, curling up on the couch hip to hip, or struggling to reach down and get their shoes on, they are co-conspirators in taking on the challenges life is throwing at them.
By: Amy Wise
After over 20 years of being together I take it for granted that we are…well…just us. I tend to forget that society sees us with different eyes than we do. Lately I have been reminded of this on numerous occasions. The first time was at a car show a few months back. Jamie and I went to the show with his dear friend Yolanda. Jamie and Yolanda have known each other since middle school and he has been a “big brother” to her all of her life.
Per the usual, while we were at the show we ran into various people we knew. Yolanda ran into some old friends as well. What we didn’t know was that one of those old friends ran back to Yolanda’s soon-to-be-ex-husband and told him she was with another man. Now at this point in time Yolanda and her husband had been split up and had filed for divorce months before, so regardless of the true facts, it didn’t really matter who she was with. What did matter was, this friend told her soon-to-be ex that Yolanda was at the car show with some “big dude.” Mind you, he saw the three of us together and all three of us talked, but he still assumed that Yolanda and Jamie were together because they matched. I’m still giggling today as I write this.
I’m not done. After the friend told the ex, the ex went to their pastor and told him! Yep. Amazing! THEN the pastor had a conversation with Yolanda and asked her if she was at a car show with another man. Yolanda replied, “Yes I was, AND I was also with his WIFE! Here, would you like to see a picture of them? That’s his WIFE and they are a MARRIED COUPLE! He is like my brother.” She said the pastor just stood there quietly shaking his head.
Isn’t it hilarious that this old friend automatically assumed because Yolanda and Jamie match on the outside that they must have been together? When will people remember the definition of ass-u-me?
A few weeks later, Yolanda, Jamie and I went out to dinner. A week after that, my daughter and I went out to the same restaurant. Jamie was out of town visiting his sister who was ill. We happened to have the same waitress from the week before. She said, “I remember you. You were here with your friend and her husband but you were sitting next to him.” I smiled nicely and said, “Um, he is MY husband and this is OUR daughter,” pointing at Tatiana who was across the table from me. Her eyes got wide and she said, “Oh sorry.” We all laughed and I said, “It’s okay, but that’s why I was sitting next to him.” As she walked off I looked at Tatiana and said, “REALLY?! Why is it so hard for everyone to believe that he is MY husband. I don’t get it.”
I take it all in stride at this point because it doesn’t change our love for each other, but sometimes it does get old having to constantly explain us.
We have been together for over two decades and one thing is for sure…we don’t have to match on the outside because our hearts are a perfect match on the inside!
By: Wendy Rhein
A reader recently asked me for an update on Nate’s desire to write a letter to his biological father. First of all I was thrilled that anyone was paying attention, let alone remembered the entry! Second of all I wish I had more news.
I contacted Nate’s father via email, the only way I can contact him, and asked him if a letter was something he would be open to. In an attempt to manage expectations, I had to know if he would even provide us an address to which Nate could mail his letter and drawings of Lego buildings. I had to know if he would ignore it, so I could help Nate navigate that disappointment. It was not, nor is it now, my intention to shield my elder son from disappointment, and maybe it should be. I have never created an image of his father that was full of fantasy or anger, but rather tried to dispense information that I thought was age-appropriate: he doesn’t live with us; he lives in another state; he has chosen to not be part of Nate’s life at this time but we leave that door open for them to have a relationship someday.
After two weeks I heard back from his father who enthusiastically said yes to the letter, provided an address, and said he would welcome anything to establish the relationship. (Of course he’s the adult here and could have established a relationship any time in the last seven years if he got off his ass and acted like an adult! He didn’t add that, the editorial is all mine.)
But since that first time, Nate hasn’t mentioned the letter again and I have not brought it up. I wonder if this another musing of a seven-year-old mind, much like wanting to go camping at Mount Vernon and do I think he could swim to Canada via an intricate map of rivers and streams. If he brings it up again, I will sit with him and help him prepare the letter, affix the stamp and drop it at the mailbox. And I will wait with him, hoping the connection is genuine and that his father begins to grasp how incredible this little person is.
I have been M.I.A. from The Next Family for a while because I have been working day and night on my quote book. After a LOT of hard work, Believe in Yourself, Inspire Others, Spread Joy!, is now published!
What began as a personal journey during a very dark time ended up becoming so much more. I originally came up with each quote as a cathartic way to help me deal with all that I was going through. As I shared my words of motivation through Facebook and my blog, readers began to let me know how much the quotes were also helping them deal with their difficult times. It was amazing to see that the words were not only helping me, but others as well. Heartwarming. That is how my book was born.
Each page tells a story with a beautiful picture and a quote straight from my heart. All the quotes are based on my personal experiences or my family’s experiences. Everyone will relate in one way or another. The words are truly like a friend that is reaching out just when you need them the most.
I’m beyond grateful at the response the book has been receiving. I’m so excited to share that it has been in the Top 100 “Hot New Releases, Motivational Books” on Amazon since the first day it came out! I’m thrilled and so thankful! After everything we have gone through over the last five years, it’s surreal to have so much joy and amazingness happening. I can’t stop smiling!
My hope is that if you get my book, you use it to help you find your joy, follow your heart and live your dreams!
“Circumstances might take you down, but they can never prevent you from getting back up!” ~ Amy Wise
By: Wendy Rhein
“Who is THAT?”
“This is Nathan’s brother, Sam.”
“He isn’t Nathan’s real brother! He doesn’t look anything like you.”
And so started my Friday evening. Actually, let me back up. My evening started when I dashed out of work for daycare pick up. I walked into the happy and bright room and saw a handful of little people surrounding a daycare worker, a substitute, and together they were studying something orange and fuzzy. I hung back, loving the look on Sam’s face when he sees me at the end of the day. The biggest smile creeps over his face and he explodes with a running leap to me.
He saw me, smiled, and as he started his dash, the substitute daycare worker stepped in front of him. She glared at me and asked who I was. Meanwhile Sam is behind her yelling happily “Mama! Mama!” I replied to her I am Mama. She looked at Sam, wide eyed, and then looked at me with narrowing eyes. And looked back at him. He scooted around her legs and ran towards me but by this point my excitement over his excitement had been tarnished. We proceeded to walk around the room and gather his end of the week things: a random art project, his red baseball cap. The worker followed me around the room as I followed Sam. I wondered if she thought she could catch me not knowing where things were or trapping him in the coat room. I was tempted to say something but held back. This isn’t the first time my parenting link with Sam has been questioned by an African American woman, just as I have written before about Caucasian people raising a questioning eye. It goes both ways, folks.
Just in the moment that I wanted to remind her that there were four other 2-year-olds that could use her attention, one of the regular class leaders came in and greeted me by name. Immediately the watchful woman hung back and sat down. I admit I felt a little smug in the moment. Sad but smug. Is that possible?
Once we were home, I was greeted by the conversation above from a 7-year-old playmate of Nathan’s. Within a minute of the comment his parent arrived to take him home and none too soon. My mom went on to tell me of the other things that had been said that day, judgments flying as soon as he walked in our home. The most hurtful of which involved Nathan not having a father (the kid’s words, not mine) and that Nathan could never be a Jedi or a ninja (the two most sought after career options of 7-year-old boys) because only dads can teach those skills, not moms. Nathan, bless him, countered with the simple statement that his mom is an incredible Sensei and a Jedi Master (which I am) and his training has been excellent.
His training in self respect and self restraint is clearly excellent.
His Master and Sensi, however, needs a refresher.
I waited for several hours and let the comments fester. I reached out to a single mom friend of mine with a multiracial family and we discussed options. I was frustrated and hurt and angry and yes, feeling lacking as a parent to not be able to prevent these kinds of lobs of divisiveness that still surprise me. More often than not I expect it from adults – the mean spirited comments, the looks, the “he doesn’t belong to you” stares. I expect more of children. I have seen so many of them ask questions out of curiosity and wonder, accepting the answers that we give about fathers and colors as if they make perfect sense. Because they do make perfect sense. Families are all different and it is love that makes a family. Or, as Nathan said about his friend’s comment on his brother: he was born to a different mother, so what? He’s my brother no matter what.
In the end, I wrote the parents of the child a cordial and careful email, explaining that comments were made that caused some hurt and I hoped they would work with me to address them because our kids have a special bond and I would hate for these things to get in the way. I monitored myself very carefully. I chose my words to make my point and not to give life to the rant that was ping ponging around my brain. In their response the parents were horrified and apologetic. They swore they didn’t understand where that language and thought was coming from, and I believe them. They would speak to him. They would work it out.
In the day that followed my email Nathan had all but forgotten the comments made. He had dismissed the no dad/no ninja comment as some silly and uninformed quip. He knew better, he said. And yet, he remained upset by the comment about Sam. A full 24 hours later he said that he was so glad that Sam was little and couldn’t understand what was said because he knew it would hurt him more than it hurt Nathan, and that was already a lot of hurt. What better demonstration of a brother’s love could anyone want?
Two days later Nathan and I went to see them to have a quick chat – after multiple attempts the child remembered he needed to apologize for saying ‘something’ that hurt Nathan’s feelings. Was I satisfied? Not really. Am I expecting change? Unlikely. Am I incredibly thankful for the loving and courageous friends of all races, family compositions, ages and genders who are raising inquisitive and caring children for whom something different is not something wrong? Absolutely. All y’all know who you are. Thank you.
By: Wendy Rhein
I made my mother cry today. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to make her cry but I did want her to react.
Days before her 71st birthday, Mom is cranky and taking all sorts of strange physical risks. Just this summer she had her hip replaced, making her fully bionic now with a titanium pole in her neck, and all four lower joints now made of plastic and metal. I swear I can hear the te-te-te-te of Steve Austin from the 70s television show as I watch her slowly move. Except he was jumping from building tops. She’s trying to get off the couch. I worry all the time that she will fall, or trip, or will break something. She hasn’t. And she is much, much more mobile than she was before the surgery. But my mind has a hard time moving beyond the pain and anxiety I got used to seeing on her face. As our roles are reversing I feel the same physical pain of powerlessness that I do when I can’t fix things for my kids to ease their hurts. I can’t fix hers either.
She decided to move furniture. She and my six-year-old started moving the couch and loveseat. Yes. I am in the shower or else they’d never attempt this madness. Like a kid sneaking a cookie, she’s roped Nate into helping her move things quickly to “surprise” me. Instead once I’m out and dry, I get a call from the living room. I know that tone. The furniture is all in the middle of the room. Nate is still pushing the unmoving couch with all his scrawny might. My mother is sitting to the side, grey, saying in a panting voice that she just can’t do it. She’s twisted her knee. I’m frustrated and want to throw my hands up. Instead, I bite my tongue and go about righting the room. I’m 42. I’m a single woman. I can move furniture like no one’s business.
And then she starts to help. I say no, please, I got it. Mom, wait, stop. Mom. MOM! STOP!
That got her attention. She starts to cry. She hates her body. She hates that it is failing her. She hates that she can’t keep up with me. (And I repeat what I often say – no one is asking you to keep up with me. Wrong thing to say.) She used to move furniture, she tells me. She could do anything. Someday this will happen to me and I’ll understand and hate it too.
We are each other’s mirror and it scares the crap out of both of us. I fear what I see and she envies what she sees.
I apologize. I agree to not discuss or point out what she cannot do. If she falls, she falls. If she hurts, she hurts. I have to let go a little and she has to accept the consequences of her decisions. The quandary for me is that her decisions affect my kids as well and that’s what I worry about most. I need her to be careful so we don’t lose her before she reaches her next birthday, and the one after that, and the one after that.
I try to make it up to her all day in small ways. I don’t say a word when I see her grimace in pain, or need to lie down in the early afternoon. And I make her favorite new dinner – a chicken, butternut squash, and pappardelle one plate meal that makes her smile. It heals me as much as it does her. And we both need it.
Pappardelle with Butternut Squash, Chicken and Blue Cheese
1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces (roughly)
1 shallot, diced
2T olive oil
1tsp dried thyme
1 1/2c pre-cooked chicken, cut into 1 inch pieces (great use for leftover chicken or a rotisserie chicken)
1 package pappardelle or other flat pasta
5oz soft blue cheese, crumbled
1. Peel, halve, and seed the butternut and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces. This is the most time consuming part of the recipe. I promise.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook until it softens and starts to turn golden. Add the thyme. Take a minute and breathe deeply over the pan. Notice how your shoulders are coming down from your ears.
3. Add the squash and the butter to the shallot and thyme mix. Let the butter sizzle and melt, stirring while it does. Add the water. Cover and reduce the heat, simmering for about 10 minutes or until the squash is tender but not mushy.
4. While the squash is cooking, prepare the pasta according to the box/bag. Don’t drain it all. Save some of the cooking liquid for later.
5. Season the squash with salt and pepper, being mindful that the blue cheese will add a lot of saltiness later on. Add the chicken and sauté the mix to warm the pre-cooked chicken and spread the flavors. Take another deep breath. Remove the pan from the heat.
6. Take about one ladleful, or half a cup, of the pasta water and add it to the squash. Then add the drained pasta to the squash. Gently toss to combine the pasta and the chicken/squash mix. Stir in half the blue cheese and watch the sauce come together with the starchy pasta water, the orange squash, and the melting cheese. It will start looking like a watercolor painting as the starches break down in the squash and cling to the pasta and chicken.
7. Serve in big pasta bowls, topped with the remaining blue cheese.
By: Wendy Rhein
There are a plethora of labeling adjectives in modern marketing speak meant to define my family demographic: multi-ethnic, single parent by choice, multi-racial, adoptive, sandwich generation, multi-generational. Just the other day someone told me we are the poster family for modern diversity. I suppose that should be a good thing and it is certainly something to think about when I’m folding laundry at midnight on a Tuesday.
I am a single mother of two young boys. My six-year-old son says that I’m not white, I’m pink. And that goes well with his tan and his 19-month-old brother’s chocolate brown. He adds his Nana, who lives with us, and says she is whitish with brown spots. Nate is his name, and I’m Wendy. Sam is the baby who is not really a baby anymore. And Nana is also known as Mom – my mom. A little over a year ago, just months after I had adopted Sam at birth in an open, domestic, third-party adoption (more adjectives), and after losing my job when he was 5 weeks old and only two months after once again taking Nate’s father to court for child support he refuses to this day to pay, I was offered a new job in a new city. I took the whole family to visit the new city one weekend and while strolling through a Farmer’s Market on that first Saturday, Nate looked at me with a big smile and said “Mom, there are families like ours here!” That was all it took. One month later, we loaded up two cars with me, my then 4-month-old, 5-year-old, the cat, and my 70-year-old mother, and moved. We left behind two large condos with a lot of the stuff that filled them, many memories, and a collection of friends that had gotten me through more crises than I care to repeat. Think the Clampetts but without the Texas Tea.
Now, we live in a smaller, much more urban apartment complex with a pool, playgrounds, and big parking lots. For the first four months Nate thought we were living in a hotel complete with a lobby, elevators, and maintenance staff.
My mother is aging and desperately wants to feel useful but also needs some looking after. We struck an arrangement that she would be Sam’s primary caretaker during the day, meet the kindergarten bus at the end of the day, and I would work and care for all of us. I am incredibly grateful for not having to pay full time childcare for an infant but adjusting to living with another adult, especially in such a charged mother-daughter relationship, has not been easy. Add to that different ideas and approaches to raising children (no, we don’t need to put six layers of clothes on the baby in August; he’s really not cold), and you’ve got a recipe for a reality show or a courtroom, depending on the day. In the end it is actually recipes that save my sanity. To regroup, de-stress, and celebrate, I cook. It is motherhood at its most efficient: I am serving a purpose to my family by preparing home-cooked meals seven nights a week while also getting my groove on in the kitchen. In future posts, I hope to share some of these recipes with you, since for me, food and family are intertwined.
By: Amy Wise
When Jamie and I got married in 1993, we knew that we wanted to have children right away. We both love our families and we wanted to start our own soon after our wedding, so we did! Tatiana Chantal Wise came into this world 17 years ago, on September 20th, 1994. From day one Tatiana had a mind of her own, a huge heart, a giant smile and a laugh that just never quit. She screamed a lot too! Just for fun. Fun for her, not so much for us! The neighbors still laugh about how loud she was. Oh ya, one more thing, she had lots and lots of hair! She was literally born with an afro. I’m not kidding, she really was. Oh the hair!
I’m still amazed that she has gone from diapers, to dancing, to girl scouts, to teen (help us please!) to a high school graduate at 16, and now here she is today…SEVENTEEN years old! How did it happen so fast? It’s been an amazing, wild, 17-year rollercoaster. Tatiana has come into her own and we are so proud of the young woman she is today. She has excelled, she has made mistakes, and she continues to learn and grow. That’s what life’s all about and she is certainly living it! Her free spirit is inspiring!
So on Tatiana’s 17th, we say happy, happy birthday to a kind, amazing, unique, talented, beautiful, loving, incredible, smart, rock star of a daughter! We are so blessed that she is our child and now we look forward to her almost adult future and all the amazingness she is going to create in the years to come! Happy birthday Tatiana! We LOVE you!
By: Amy Wise
So the other day I was at Starbucks with a friend of mine. I call her my “Starbucks Homie” because that is the only place we ever see each other. Ever. We get together about once a month and sit there for hours, and I mean hours, catching up on all that happened in our lives the previous month. As always, some pretty intense subjects come up. At some point in the conversation she was telling me about a friend of hers who had been ill and had recently passed away. This friend, unfortunately, did not leave a will. Long story short, it’s going to be a mess because there is an ex wife, a new wife, children, property, and so on. After she finished her story about her friend, we started talking about our own wills, or actually lack thereof. Neither of us were concerned about the “stuff”; our only concern was our kids. God forbid, what if something happened to both parents and there were no will? Who would take care of the kids? It’s funny because we had similar concerns but also very different concerns. My friend and her hubby are both white and of course Jamie and I are white and black. One of my main concerns was that if anything (knock on wood) were to happen to both Jamie and me, I wouldn’t want Tatiana to be raised in “white bread anywhere”. All of my relatives happen to live in “white bread everywhere”. So automatically (unless they moved to So Cal)…they are out. Then there is Jamie’s family: the opposite of “white bread everywhere”. What happens to her white side? Do you see my conundrum? So now that she is 16 and graduating a year early from high school, this isn’t such an issue…knocking on more wood…but through the years it was a worry. Mind you…we love all of our family members, but there is nobody that would be just right. Maybe I’m putting too much thought into this, but I want her to always live both sides of her “coin”. We determined through much thought and many discussions that if anything had happened to both of us we would have had one of our interracial couple friends raise her. There are many reasons for that choice. The first one being that she would still live here and go to her own school. The second is, these people are like family to us. The third –she would get the cultural mix that is so important to us and to her. Lastly, she would not have to move away from all she knew. That is huge. Because so many of our friends are like family to us, this doesn’t seem strange at all. What’s right for one family might not be for the other. We have never fit into any kind of mold so it’s normal for us to think out of the box. It’s weird writing about these things; in fact, it kind of freaks me out. Thankfully Tatiana is almost grown and we don’t really have to worry about this anymore, because truly, how do you ever decide who is going to raise your child? Now I’m off to go knock on some more wood, big time!
By: Amy Wise
Life…sometimes it can be a bit much. To say my plate is full is the understatement of the year. I need a giant turkey platter to hold all that is going on in my life right now. I haven’t been writing much because my brain is so full I can’t seem to write a cohesive sentence these days. So many words…yet none of them make sense. It’s like white noise swirling around in my brain. I need some serious meditation time. Or maybe an island with a really big drink! (Ya, that sounds good…I’ll take door Number Two.)
I know we all have challenges, and I know we all go through “stuff”, but dang, can I catch a break? As many of you know, we are still going through this horrible lawsuit with the water department over the loss of our business four years ago. If you aren’t familiar with our story you can check it out here and you can also read about it in the book Oil and Water and Other Things That Don’t Mix.
Recently we found out that the Otay Water Department settled with the landlord / builder who is both a plaintiff and a defendant, and as part of the settlement they are suing all of us for back rent and for breaking our leases.
Yes, you read that right: the very people who poisoned us, got us sick, and took away our business, are now suing us. You gotta love our legal system.
Because we lost our business, and have been in this legal nightmare for four years, our financial situation isn’t a “situation” –it’s just gone. History. Kaput. Null and freakin’ void. Needless to say, we have had to get very creative when it comes to money.
I not only write for multiple sites, magazines, and a book, but I’m also a part-time Program Director at a tutoring facility, and (starting this week) a part-time “assistant” at an accessory company that I have been a fan of for a couple of years. (The second job is thanks to a referral from the wonderful Marketing Manager of this very site!) Then of course there is my “favorite” part time job: the lawsuit. Conference calls, hearings, depositions, trial prep, and so much more. All of the ridiculousness has continued to suck up my time for four insane, long years!
As if my plate isn’t full enough already, our daughter just recently decided she is going to graduate high school a year early. We have had to do some fancy footwork to get all the puzzle pieces in place to make that happen. I’m SUPER proud of her and wouldn’t discourage her for a minute, but who knew we were going to add graduation and senior activities to our “platter” this year? At least her motivation is keeping me motivated!
Let’s see, what else…? My husband and I also “take care of” our neighbor who recently had many medical issues. I have been “living” with her at various doctors’ appointments and surgeries. Again, wouldn’t change things, because she means the world to us, but ouch – does all this have to happen at the same time?
I’m still doing what I love most, which is writing. I’m part of a book that helps others dealing with the worst water tragedy of all time; I have two jobs that are getting me through this case; I have amazing parents who continue to help us through it all; I have family that’s ALWAYS there; I have attorneys who haven’t stopped fighting; I have friends who are constant shoulders; I have wonderful women friends from my writing world who inspire me every day; I have an amazing daughter whose motivation keeps me going; and of course, I have (last but not least) my supportive, hard working, loving, rock of a husband! So what do I have to complain about?
So yes my plate is full, and as a matter of fact it’s spilling all over the place, but at the end of the day, it’s okay. As my hubby always says, “I woke up today, so of course it’s a good day.”
Now it’s time for some deep breaths and maybe some wine. Breathe in, sip, breathe out, sip, breathe in, sip…that’s better.