A Cup Full of Love, Friendship and Poetry
Photo credit: Peter Dressel
Samantha Thornhill is a single mother on a poetic adventure with her son. She is a native of Trinidad and Tobago and one of my first childhood friends. If I close my eyes, I can still remember toothless grins and giggles as we played together in our earliest days back in Trinidad. She moved away when we were both still very little, but I never forgot her. When we were old enough to write, we became pen pals for a while. Even at a young age, her writing impressed me. It’s not surprising that she went on to become a poet, children’s author, and teaching artist.
Samantha has been teaching poetry to actors at the Juilliard school for the last decade. She has performed poetry nationally and internationally, in places such as South Africa, Greece, and Budapest. She has published 2 children’s books with Simon & Schuster and Scholastic. Her third book is coming out next spring with Penny Candy Books.
She became a first-time mom to her son Sedar at 35. Her passion for her art as a writer and poet has not faltered since becoming a mother. On the contrary, Sedar has become her little sidekick, accompanying her to classes and performances alike. Her journey is inspiring and I’m grateful to be able to feature her today as this week’s Amazing Mom.
On who she is:
I am a poet, children’s author and teaching artist. My son Sedar (Seh-dar) is almost two. We’ve had a nomadic life since he was four months old. I’ve been full time moming it in diverse places such as Trinidad & Tobago, DC, Washington, and Virginia where we now find ourselves. This way of life—especially with a toddler—is arduous, mysterious and humbling. When my son sleeps, I work on writing and apply for grants. I'm also an editor and online writing coach, helping other writers—and novices—to establish a writing practice and work on dream projects. I occasionally get invited to perform my poetry at universities, bookstores, and arts festivals. Sedar is always in the crowd—sleeping or wailing! It’s quite exciting how this journey is unraveling.
On what surprised her about motherhood:
Motherhood itself! I wasn’t all that convinced that motherhood was in the cards for me. I mean, this pregnancy was so blindsiding. I was literally minding my business, focused on teaching, writing and various activism projects. I used to shy away from holding infants. I am the youngest of four and never had to take care of anybody. During the pregnancy, I was trepidatious about subjecting a poor little person to my, ahem, maternal instincts (smile). I decided to give up my Brooklyn apartment to lay low in my mother’s condo in south Florida for a year. I expected to lean on my mother, a postpartum doula, much more than I actually did. It turns out that I was ready to become a mother—just unprepared. I was clear about the kind of mother I wanted to be, and I was surprised by how seamlessly I adjusted to my new role. Thirdly, as it happens, we were living at my mom’s place on borrowed time. The stringent rules of her senior citizen community prohibits minors from residing in the neighborhood. This included newborns, so we couldn’t remain.
When Sedar was four months, we stayed with my dear cousin in Trinidad for a few months—and since then, we’ve been residents of the wind, bouncing from place to place. Another surprise was how centered I have felt through much of this instability, and Sedar rocks with the changes accordingly. I think that the majesty of bringing him into world has elongated my vision in such a way that even when I’m mired in uncertainty, I recognize that my discomfort is temporary. Not to say that I don’t despair, but that’s more weather than climate. I see a bright future for us.
On the challenges of motherhood:
This level of vulnerability is the realest. I’ve always prided myself on being an independent spirit, and in order to become the kind of mother that was in alignment with my vision (as in, full time) I took a huge hit on my independence. I feel like a phoenix, glowing under a heap of ash. I have to lean on people in ways that I haven’t since adolescence. Nothing has shattered my illusions of self like motherhood, which always finds new and creative ways to bring me to my knees. I desire assistance and relief more than I ask for it, though. I go without and grow stronger. For me to ask, the need has to be great, and people that know me know that. This is connected to my main challenge of trying to crack what sometimes feels like an impossible equation. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to build a house on quicksand. How do I provide a home and a stable life for my child as a full time single mother/ emerging writer with very little resources? The great thing is, I’ve found a good rhythm with mothering without the helping hands of an overzealous auntie or devoted partner. No one has watched Sedar at home alone for more than half a day since his birth. The psychic, emotional and physical endurance of doing this solo is not my issue. It’s just that on any given day, after all the domestic responsibilities and admin, I have 2-3 hours to make a buck. I work on one of my book or editing projects, attend to one of my clients, or chip away at a grant proposal. I am making progress.
On managing the day to day demands of being a mom:
My toddler is fun and exasperating, always testing the boundaries. I find that having the pragmatics in place makes the emotional aspects of parenting more manageable, at least. Having a plan for the day. Waking up before him to knock out a few tasks makes a big difference. Making sure meals are well-planned and snacks are available. I have also had to alter my attitude towards cooking, tidying up and washing dishes. I regard them as meditations rather than mundane tasks. I make a game of picking up his messes as soon as he makes them just to confuse him and make myself chuckle. I do this intermittently throughout the day so that I’m not slammed with it at the end of the night when I’m just exhausted. I’ve taken a liking to soaking myself in lavender bath salts. I write in my journal. Lastly, I prioritize getting enough sleep, or at least make up for the sleep that I lose. So if I stay up super late to write, I let myself snooze with him for 30 minutes to an hour during the afternoon. That is essential because a lack of rest negatively impacts my dynamic with him--especially since we get no relief from each other. Conversely, a pile of unfinished tasks in my brain can also make me into a dragon lady. Le sigh.
On how she “fills her cup”:
It’s never a bad day when I write a poem. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does—he could tear the house down and I wouldn’t care. I’ve already won. Also, my friendships fill my cup immensely. When Sedar was born, some of my people dropped off because maybe they assumed I was too consumed with motherhood to entertain our friendship. It’s okay; I did the same thing when I was childless. And while I do often feel like I’m doggy paddling through the demands of my every day, I do always try to make time for my friends who want to seek counsel with me. I try not to let voice mails, emails and text message remain unanswered for too long. Some do slip through the cracks, and I hope no one takes it personally. Thankfully, it’s as if my new boss here understands my need to stay connected because he allows me spells of time to talk on the phone while he plays independently. Face Time is our jam, because then he feels included in the interaction. Since becoming a mother, I’ve gone deeper with the friends that have made the effort to reach for me. Mostly, this has been the mothers. We share milestones, challenges, ask for and give advice, curse and cackle about the events that color our exquisite, shitty lives. Friendship is the most important relationship in the world, and I want my friends to know that they are important to me—no matter how often we communicate.
On what she loves most about motherhood:
I must’ve done something right in a past life to produce such a sweet, sweet child! Sedar is the essence of love. He adores hugging, kissing, cuddling, and resting his hand on the side of my face. He also pulls my hair to stand, sinks his elbow into my trachea when we read in bed and kicks me in the face and ribs during sleep. It’s all love! Sometimes, in the throes of our chaotic day, he’ll just spontaneously tackle me with a hug and shout “mama!” It's just the best. He truly seems happy to have me as his mother. Going into motherhood, I expected it to be a thankless litany of deeds with an exploded diaper to crown off the days. I expected to give and receive nothing in return. I was wrong. He has given me so much already. He’s not yet two, and our bond is beyond anything I would have ever imagined. I also love watching him learn, develop and figure things out.
On her advice for new moms:
To teach is to learn twice. Parenting is a mutual exchange of teaching and learning. Allowing yourself to be playful with them is so important. Look your child in the eye in silent moments and while talking to grow their confidence and connectivity. Touch your child regularly—it grows their synapses, as well as your bond. Keep them away from refined sugars as much as you can. Start a reading regiment from the very beginning. Develop an anchoring activity that you two love to do together. It will save your days and your lives. In my case, surprise-surprise, it’s reading and language acquisition. He loves learning new words. I’ve been reading to him since the womb. It’s what he’s always known. It’s the activity we can always return to—when he’s frustrated, bored, anxious. But for you it might be drawing, singing, or yoga. Lastly, pay attention to the behaviors that trigger your irrational responses. I write them down and try to examine their origins. Conscious parenting means parenting your insides, and understand that it’s hard even for the parents that make it look seamless. We all struggle with different things. So please be gentle with yourself. Don’t be ashamed. Talk to the mothers you trust, and join mother’s groups online. Release.
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© Nicola Rios Nogales and ispeakmom.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Rios Nogales and ispeakmom.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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