Badass Mamas | Kerry Fantelli
Badass Mamas on Phoenix Mom Rising is a new series of stories that shares the experiences of fellow females; the tales of brave women who have been similarly tasked to rise from the ashes of life’s not-so-little challenges.
I first met Kerry about ten years ago on the dance floor of Burlington, Vermont's Memorial Auditorium where both of us studied West African dance and drum through Jeh Kulu for many years. She was not far into her journey of single motherhood when we first met. I remember seeing the challenges she was facing at the time, as her then-very-young daughter would beg for her parents' reunion. Years later, I can closely relate to what Kerry must have been feeling at the time.
Over the past ten years (although I left Burlington about five years ago), I've watched Kerry and her ex raise a truly stunning daughter who is creative, thoughtful and kind. As a health practitioner, dancer, yoga teacher and writer, Kerry is devoted to helping others in humble ways. She is conscious about exuding positive energy. And I am proud to share her story on Phoenix Mom Rising.
Meet Kerry, a Badass Mama, in her own words.
When he walked into a space, you could not help but notice him. Everything about him screamed “look at me!” and so you did. He had a great big smile with great white teeth. His demeanor was fun and exciting, charismatic and magnetic.
I was drawn to him. He was drawn to me too, and came up to initiate conversation. As we danced, he literally stepped on my toes. Foreshadowing, anyone?
We walked out together and I walked him to his car. We were planning on exchanging numbers (this was the 90's people!). He opened the door to his car, and there was a bumper sticker stuck on the inside that read, “I don’t trust people that don’t hug.”
Right away I knew I was a goner.
I took the train home from NYC and day dreamed that long ride away. I fantasized about him: about his smile, his energy and what we could be.
And so, the fairy tale began. He wrote me long love letters. Declarations of how my eyes held stars in them. Boy, did he know how to hold my heart in his hands.
He would draw little funny caricatures of himself as a signature. He was playful and insightful. He was from South Africa and knew what it meant to struggle and to survive. I was more and more pulled into him and we ended up getting engaged, and eloped and soon thereafter, got pregnant. A literal whirlwind.
Our relationship started out with a huge bang! A gigantic firework show that scattered across the sky.
Yet, when reality hit and we realized we were two strangers sharing a life, things got really, really hard. We were living in a home I had lived in with another man. We were surrounded by my past life and this proved to be very challenging for him, and then, for us. I agreed to relocate to see if that would help, to change the dynamic that had begun between us.
We packed up and moved to the state of Vermont where we knew no one.
We started to build a life, but again, it was very separate. Family meals and family time were few and far between. He is incredibly social and the very definition of extravert. I, on the other hand, love my quiet time. My time alone, or time spent with a select few. I don’t long for parties with groups of people; that has long overwhelmed me. I long for quiet and quality. He, on the other hand was a showman. He loved entertaining in every sense of the word.
We were not compatible. We wanted, and lived, for different things and different lives.
It became more and more clear that we were only meant for one thing, and that was to create our beautiful daughter.
When we parted ways, and my small, sweet child would lament how she wanted her mommy and daddy to be together, I would say, “Your daddy and I loved each other just the right amount. For you were meant to be born, and the only way that could happen was for the two of us to love each other for you to become a reality.”
And so years and years later, we stand, often side by side, as co-parents, and do our best to always put her first.
Our daughter is now 15 years old and carries in her qualities of us both. She has my attention to detail, my timeliness and my ability to forgive. She got her dad’s social graces, his fun, his energy, his smile and his magnetic pull. She got my stubbornness, which can also be termed tenacity. She got his messiness, which could also be seen as flexibility.
She got our collective abilities to dance, and has the most amazing rhythm. She is, of course, a full individual, yet, she is also a lovely blend of us.
She is the center of both of our lives. Therefore, to this day I love that man, as he is the father of my child and what a human being we created!
I think we both knew, very early on, that we were not ‘meant to be.’ We are both loving, good-hearted people, yet the combination of us was too rife in struggle. Both of us being very bull-headed and strong-willed led to a lot of issues in regards to compromise.
Also, I did not like ‘going out,’ especially after working a 10 or 12-hour shift at the hospital. All I wanted to do was cuddle with my adorable two year old and kiss her belly.
I did not want to have sex. Yes, I said it. I did not want to have sex. I did not want to be touched in any way other than as a mommy. I hold that responsibility. I was disinterested in him in that way once I truly began my job as mommy. That took front seat, front row, full attention and 100% of my energy when I was home was ALL about my daughter.
And so I got lost in my child and my marriage became lost.
I suppose that it was kind of like a which came first, the chicken or the egg conundrum?
Did he really start going out because he was ignored? Or did I ignore him because he was never home, and when he was I did not notice that he was there or to be very truthful, felt he was intruding?
I suppose all of that matters not.
I would not say there was a huge hole when he left. Yes, there were the complications of childcare and working odd hours, so that had to change. I had to mold my schedule to single parenting. I remained in the home that we had bought, and it was odd to feel his absence, but with glee I filled in his closet very quickly!
I would not say I was heartbroken. That is not my story in the ending of my marriage. I loved him, and still do, as I have said. I loved his image. Yes, I was taken in by culture and by traditions that were generational, by a language that sounded like song, with tongue clicks and throat utterances that I could never even try to recreate. The songs, the dances, the dust of Africa. It had called me for years and there I was, drawn in by what he was, not who he was.
So, did I cry when we split up? Of course. Did I feel sad, lonely and scared? You bet. I remember picking up my daughter’s toys from the bath one night and thinking, “This is it. THIS is my life.” Did it feel fulfilling? Did it feel like what I always imagined? I think you all know the answers to those questions.
I love being a mom. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE being a mom. All of my greatest moments truly include Thabitha. She constantly amazes me. She is the best thing ever…. So regrets? NEVER.
Wishes for things that turned out differently? Not even.
It is more about the fact that here I am twelve years later, still single. Oh, I have had some boyfriends here and there, brief relationships that never lasted. I will tell you this ladies…. a lot of men out there have a very hard time with single, independent moms. They are not quite sure about us. And let’s face it, we are becoming the norm, so they better figure their sh!t out.
I cannot tell you how many men told me that they felt there was ‘no room’ for them. That I was ‘hard to get to know’ because I would not bare all on a first date. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture. I work full-time in a very rewarding, yet demanding career. I also have side ‘jobs’ that I do for fun, passion. I balance my life very well, yet the men that have come into my world have felt it was too topsy-turvy for them. I had no free time. I could only see them on Wednesday nights or every other weekend.
It is challenging and honestly, sometimes I did grow resentful as I tried to balance yet one more demand.
I often would throw my hands up in the air and say, “That is it! I give up! NO MORE.” And yet, I would find a new man soon enough.
I guess I don’t know what advice to give per se. All I can say is this: single moms are strong. Single moms are tough. We are also vulnerable and overwhelmed. We may want a partner to fix a broken faucet or maybe we just want a f*cking plumber.
It is all up to us. Yet, we can, and will decide. It is all about allowing yourself the mistakes that inevitably come with being a parent, partnered or otherwise.
Do you want your children to understand love, self-love? Isn’t that the most important lesson?
Do you want your child to see a strong female that can and will do whatever it takes to make it through a day, let alone a lifetime?
You can do it. I have been doing it for 12 years and to be fully honest, a lot of it is easier alone.
You get a rhythm, a certain cadence to your days that becomes very easy and routine. There will be days that you feel like throwing your hands up, and maybe that is just what you need to do for that day. And then you bring them down and give your child the biggest hug.
When you screw up — and you will — talk to your children. Tell them you are sorry, that mommy is overwhelmed or having a bad day and it is NOT THEIR FAULT. That life is tough, but it is also beautiful, and love is the biggest part of it. Look at the love you hold in your heart for your child. That is never in doubt.
But don’t pull them down your heartache quagmire. It is okay to be sad, mad and upset, and it is okay to show them those emotions. It is real. But always do your best to let them know they are not the root of them. That will help them understand that life is painful, but they are not the source of pain, only love.
So… do I regret? Nope. Do I wish to have a man in my life that could fix that damn faucet or put up the smoke detectors? Of course. I am still open to that.
But I won’t accept someone who I would not be proud to show my daughter. I did that, boy did I, and that was a lesson for us both. She saw what she will never accept and she doesn’t; I have seen it in how she relates to to others. She has shown me how she handles conflict and what she considers acceptable behavior, and she has learned healthy barriers and a whole lot more.
Some of which I am sure is not all rosy and great. I am sure she will talk to someone some day about the screwed up things that happened, that she witnessed. Life is messy and that is that. You can try your hardest to create a soft bubble, but that is not reality, nor will that serve your children a damn bit of good. Fall down seven times, get up eight, just keep getting up. That is what I did, will do and what I have shown myself and my daughter. No matter what, love prevails and it does not have to fit — nor will it ever — in a Norman Rockwell image. It is what you make it, so make it as great as you can.
If you don’t feel like cooking dinner, then don’t. Eat cereal at 8 PM in your PJ’s watching TV. Who gives a sh!t? It is never perfect and it never will be. Our childhoods sure as hell were not perfect, and our children’s childhoods will not be either.
We do the best we can and from one single mom to all of you out there, we are pretty damn awesome.