Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mama Pride


Today is Gay Pride in New York City. When I heard the Supreme Court rulings this week, I thought what a special parade it would be this year. I also thought of my friend, Caren.

In 2009, Caren had Ariella. Shortly after giving birth, she gave up her parental rights. Not by choice; she was forced to.

It was a legal workaround that allowed mothers who are gay to name their partners as parents to their children. Caren had to give up her rights as a parent, which allowed her partner, Mara, to adopt Ariella. Then, Caren adopted her own daughter too.

There was an allotted time that she needed to not be Ariella's mama, in order for this transaction to be considered legal. I don't remember how much time it was. Say three minutes.

What an excruciating three minutes.

When she told me this story, her voice was steely with bitterness and anger. She talked of how painful it was; how humiliated it made her feel. She talked about not having equal legal protection under the law. She talked about injustice and discrimination.

Her story brought tears to my eyes. I wasn't a parent then. Now that I am a mom, I feel heartbroken thinking about her story.

Caren had just given birth. At a time when she should have been bonding with her child, recovering from childbirth, contemplating the magnitude of the event that had just happened to her, facing the fear of being responsible for this fragile being and becoming a family with Mara and Ariella, she was not her child's mother.

Yes, for only three minutes. How those three minutes must have reverberated through her soul.

I can't imagine not being Claire's mama. I can't imagine George not being Claire's parent, even for a second.

I'm no lawyer. I don't know if the recent Supreme Court decisions change the way lesbian and gay parents get to legally call themselves families. I think it will be different now.

On this Gay Pride Day in NYC, I hope no other parent has to go through what Caren and Mara did. Everyone should have the right to decide who they love and to define who they call family.

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Photo Source: Torbakhopper, Flickr

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ancestor Worship

I confessed to my husband once that I was never in a hurry to get married and have kids. Both seemed to symbolize leaving my youth behind, like I was hurling myself more quickly towards the grave.

I'm surprised to find that the opposite is true too. Having Claire has connected me to my past in ways that I never could have imagined.

I find myself telling Claire stories of her long gone relatives. “Your great-grandpa made that lamp," I say as I amble around the apartment with her in my arms. “Wait til you see your great-grandma’s Christmas ornaments," as I share what’s in store for her this December. “My gramps used to love to whistle when I was little. I was so jealous that I couldn’t," I reminisce.

When I look at her, I see the line of my grandmother’s chin and the set of her jaw. I pointed this out to my Uncle Dave, as we watched her napping as an infant. He said “Well, when she’s sleeping she looks a lot like Nanny." I said, “Yeah. Nanny sure loved to sleep." We both had a good laugh thinking of days past.


My father died when I was young, and my husband has always lamented the fact that he never got to know him. It hasn’t happened yet, but perhaps Claire will have his strong will or display one or more of his mannerisms...then, George can get a glimpse.

Of course, I also see bits of George and myself in her. Finding our shared traits is delightful and warms my heart.

But there is something more significant about seeing generations gone resurrected in my daughter. In her birth, Claire has given me an invaluable look back.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Are All Toddlers Sadists?

Because my daughter is a sadist.

Well, "sadist" implies intent and, as far as I know, she doesn’t plan to hurt her parents. I do imagine that Claire was a pro-wrestler and/or a professional torturer in a former life, though. The pro-wrestler Claire knows all about simple, blunt force – pulling hair and beards, bouncing up and down on bladders or livers, an uncomplicated whack here or there. It’s all pretty straightforward and packs a punch.

The torturer is practiced in the art of finesse. These attacks usually involve some sort of subtle rearranging of internal organs or intimate contact with the viscera of the body. Claire will take one, tiny thumb and search the face for a sinus cavity to dig into. She’ll find the tender spot in the mouth where the teeth and gums meet, like she’s seen Marathon Man one too many times. She’ll reach through the skin and wrap all her fingers around a cheekbone or neck muscle, squeezing it like she’s checking a loaf of bread for freshness. There’s uncanny knowledge of just how far to twist the nipple, Adam’s Apple or ear lobe, in order to induce pain.

I try to breathe and tell myself that it’s all good fine motor skills practice. I try to remember that there’s so much in the world that Claire wants to explore, including its internal workings.

But when I imagined having a baby, I didn’t think I’d be the subject of a real life version of the game Operation.

On a more positive note, Claire is starting to get the gist of "gentle hands" after the millionth time. I have reason to be optimistic that her torturous ways are merely temporary. If the situation doesn't continue to improve, I see a bright future as a CIA operative.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Quicker than Our Hearts

Claire rounds the corner with a clock in hand. Her curiosity coupled with sticky fingers has led her to take it from a forbidden drawer. For once, her father doesn't mind.

"Your great-grandfather gave me that clock!" he says with delight. He shares memories of his grandfather, as he shows Claire how it works.

Clock handsIt really doesn't function as a clock anymore. It's purpose is to sit in the drawer and remind George of his grandfather, when occasionally remembered.

Claire's interest in the piece wanes quickly, as is expected of a toddler. She abandons it to the kitchen floor, still ticking.

I sit and listen to it. I feel soothed.

I remember winding my watch as a child, holding it to my ear, listening to the gears turn. I used to imagine the inner workings touching one another, moving in unison, sending the clock hands spinning around its face (a human metaphor). The perpetual turning, the relentless rhythmic tock tock signified time moving forward.

I realize that we don't hear this sound much anymore in the digital age. We no longer have a concrete manifestation of time, like the ticking of a clock. Of course, we still have our hearts beating. I always liked that the clock sat on the outside, though, marking time along with our beating hearts.

I wonder what this shift in perception does to our worldview, how we think about life and death.

If Claire reads this post years from now, she may find me archaic and quaint -- like a person from an age long past who misses the horse's clip-clop trot when the horseless carriage was first invented.

My daughter may feel about me the way that I feel about them. It's hard to miss something you've never known.

I remember lines from the Baudelaire poem, The Swan, that my husband shared with me once,

The form of a city
Changes more quickly, alas! than the human heart 

Indeed. The digital age moves faster than our beating hearts. A less elegant riff on Baudelaire for Claire's day.

This post was inspired by Edgar Oliver.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

What Makes a Good Role Model?

"Red beer" is what Claire calls my second glass of wine before dinner hits the table.

Until recently, she's seemed blissfully oblivious to my actions. Now that my daughter's talking up a storm, she's gotten herself nice and busy holding up a mirror to my bad habits.

"Red beer" isn't the only one. We settle in for story time at the local library. The librarian barely gets through the title of Five Little Ducks before Claire yells, "I have to check my email," and runs off to the five little computers sitting all in a row.

Yup, technology trumps good old-fashioned human interaction these days. That's the kind of lesson Claire learns in this house.

If I weren't so full of self-loathing, I'd probably be happy that my child sees me as a role model now. I'm also a bit of a perfectionist (probably related to the self-loathing), so I don't want my daughter to be like me, I want her to be a better version of me.

I tell myself that there isn't anything wrong with red beer, and there isn't. Ask the French or Italians. I just have a tendency to want my daughter to think that I am perfect, to believe that I have all the answers and to see me as the patron saint of virtuosity.

I think I'm afraid that if she sees my vulnerabilities she will either worry that I can no longer protect her, or that she will no longer take me seriously. Then, there's my nightmare projection into the future: I see her sitting in an AA meeting or on the therapist's couch talking about how all her mother ever did when she was little was check her email with red beer-stained lips.

But it begs the question, "What makes a good role model?" Of course, I want to teach Claire the virtues of life. However, as much as it may surprise you (joke), I'm not always among the virtuous.

Modeling authenticity is just as important to me for growing a healthy child. I want to be open with Claire about my desires and indulgences, my weaknesses and excesses -- my humanity. I don't want her to believe that she has to live up to an impossible standard, in order to be worthy of anyone's love and approval.

What I learned from my parents was a mixed bag too. Yes, my dad showed me how to drink too much. He also instilled in me a strong work ethic. Sure, my mom taught me how to lose my temper when I was angry. She also showed me how to be a loyal friend.

Some lessons were more virtuous than others. It's been my job to figure out who I am, because of and in spite of my parents' influences. In the course of my life, I have fixed my tendency to be like my dad and drink too much. I am still working on the temper one from my mom (as my husband George can attest).

But that's what I'm talking about, really…I am a work in progress.

Claire is too.

Someday, she will have doubts about herself, waver and falter. She may wonder if she's had too much red beer. I don't want her to think she is alone or bad. I want her to know that she walks along a path that I have also walked (not always in a straight line).

Claire should also know that I have another bad tendency (George will attest). I see the negative in everything -- including the mirror she holds up to me. I will more quickly remember the time when my daughter talks about "Mama's red beer" than when she says, "Mama, Papa, Claire…all together, " as the three of us walk down the street hand in hand.

I am a good influence. Claire knows that she is loved.

Anyway, they say red beer is good for the heart too.

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Photo Source: Paterno, Wine Splash, Flickr

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Holidays without My Father

We might as well have strung lights on the white elephant in the room instead of the tree that first Christmas after my dad died. I was eleven that year, and Christmas was surreal. Words like "sad" or "painful" would probably seem the obvious choices. They work too, but mainly surreal.

My family didn't have the emotional resources to deal with the pain, so we just pretended everything was normal for Christmas. And suffered inside in silence. I don't blame my family. We were all doing the best that we could in a horrible situation.

But it was a brutal way for an eleven year old to learn that the outer world doesn't necessarily have to match your internal experience.

So, when Father's Day rolled around the following year, I was happy to ignore the festivities altogether. Ignoring was preferable to pretending.

Over the years, Christmas has become filled with new associations. The holiday doesn't remind me of my dad so much anymore. When I celebrate with my family, my internal reality generally matches the outside one. As it should be.

Father's Day has not changed. I have continued to act as if this holiday doesn't exist. In a mixed-up way, my stance is how I choose to honor my dad, how I honor the experience of losing him. If he is absent, so is the holiday. No pretending, just remove the white elephant altogether.

Now, there's Claire. And her father, George. The elephant returns (really, it never went away). Last year was our first Father's Day together. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about it. Surprisingly, I enjoyed participating in the holiday again. My husband is a great father, and deserves to be celebrated. The ritual of the holiday seemed a quite lovely, if slightly uninspired, way to honor the family that we have become.

I felt a slight twinge of discomfort about betraying my father's memory, leaving him behind somehow. But not as much as I thought I would. I mainly felt sad that he won't ever be a part of our new family.

Still, the experience of losing a father brings into focus the reality of the shadow side of holidays. The side that you won't find on a Hallmark card.

Fathers die. They aren't around for their kids. Relationships can be strained or fragile. Whatever the circumstances of the loss, holidays can be like a finger in an open wound to those who have bonds that are broken.

These harsh realities aren't reason to begrudge people celebrating one another on Father's Day or any other holiday. I need to remember that they exist though. I am one of the people who has lived despite loss. I no longer have a father.

His death has made me that much more grateful for George, my daughter's father. I am that much more grateful that Claire has a dad with whom we can both celebrate this Father's Day.

JD Bailey from Honest Mom helped inspire this post.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On Friends and Nicknames

I went to the hardware store, I mean, bar last night. It's a gay bar named "Hardware". My friend, Joe, joked that he needed to get me some paint, I mean, beers.

"Drunk?" Joe said. "On two beers?"

"Yes," I said, woozily. It had been a long time since I'd been to a gay bar. Or a bar, for that matter. Two beers plus the lack of a child hanging off of you makes a gal feel light as a feather.

"Blanca" and "Uncle" Joe at "Hardware"
Before we went to the gay bar, I took him to my favorite spot. The park. It had been a long time since Joe had been to a park. I don't think he'd ever been to a park with a child.

We used to get together to scope out eye candy of the male variety, to spend the night out on the town, and to swap stories about romantic adventures.

Our paths have diverged since. I took a right turn at the nuclear family exit.

I doubt spending time with kids is Joe's favorite thing to do. Hardware is more his speed. But he comes over and lets Claire call him Uncle Joe. He listens to my stories about how much she has grown, or our latest trip to the zoo. He helps Claire down the slide at the park, and pretends he's as excited as she is. Again, Hardware is more his speed.

You know you're friends with someone when you can change, and they still love you. Joe is a true friend. We share a connection that is bigger than our circumstances. Our relationship is deeper than our day-to-day commonalities. For all of these things, I am grateful.

I'm glad he hasn't changed either. Every now and then, he reminds me of my life passed. He reminds me of who I used to be. Sometimes, I need a reminder that I am not only a mom and a wife, I am a good friend.

After a few beers, he starts calling me "Blanca" (a long story that would mean nothing to anyone but us). I wonder if I'll ever share the "Blanca" story with Claire. I doubt it. It's an intimacy between Joe and me. Over the years, the story has taken on more significance than the specific event itself.

His nickname for me says, "We have a meaningful history that precedes you, Claire."

It says, "Joe was my friend long before he earned the nickname, Uncle Joe, and long before Blanca became Mama."

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Thursday, June 6, 2013


This post is barely a post. It's more of a thought, which has taken on a life of its own. At one point, it could've been a tweet, but it's bigger than Twitter now. It occupies a significant amount of space in my brain, and needs to be set free in blog form.

I am jealous of my cat. I'm jealous of his ability to indulge so heedlessly, so capriciously in the one thing that has become a luxury in my life. He gets to sleep.

catI don't get enough sleep. I do, however, have ample opportunity to contemplate and covet the sleeping habits and proclivities of my cat.

My cat's resting world seems as active as his waking one. I see his ears and nose twitch. I wonder what he's dreaming about: sitting at the window and watching birds fly by, running away from Claire as she tries to pull his tail, tuna fish. Sometimes, he half wakes up from his dream about tuna fish. Eyes like slits, he yawns with abandon and lazily repositions himself for another stint on the couch. He may have just enough energy to get one long sweep of the tongue down his backside before he's sleeping again. His brief time awake seems to really tire him out.

I've actually tried to amuse myself by attempting to wake him up. I figure misery loves company. Claire gets out the maracas. I'll bang them extra loud with her and watch, as he opens one eye, disoriented and confused. I'll softly lob small plastic toy pieces at his chair, while he's in repose on his favorite pillow (animal lovers: don't worry; I have a really bad aim, on purpose).

He has amazing adaptive abilities. He's learned to ignore my interruptions. He has turned resting into an art form, taken it to a whole new level of Zen. Sometimes, a small plastic toy piece will land on him, and he won't even notice (I lied. Sometimes, they hit him).

The Sensei of Sleep, really. If I weren't so incensed, I'd probably be in awe of his masterful ability to so unabashedly embrace slumber.

But my cat has betrayed me. We used to sleep together, snuggle up on the couch for a snooze. Distant memories, now. He seems to have forgotten our good ol' days altogether.

One day, we will find our way back to one another. I can only hope, because I certainly ain't doing much dreaming…

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Was Jane Eyre a SAHM?


I just closed my personal checking account. For the first time since I can remember, I have no money. I feel like Jane Eyre, lacking a dowry and station in life. Strangely, I feel stuck right around the part where her friend dies of TB.

None of it is true. My active imagination has landed me squarely in the land of overreaction -- not Thornfield Manor. I have my modern-day, seeing version of Mr. Rochester, and I have money in savings. The realities aren't making me feel any better about not having an FDIC insured, individual checking account with my John Hancock attached to it.

Before my recent trip to the bank and subsequent mental trip to the 19th Century, I didn't have a single problem being a Stay at Home Mom (other than the ridiculous acronym itself). Sure, I've experienced the struggles that other SAHM's talk about in their blogs. I've felt like my new identity as a mom isn't valued in society. I have moments of isolation and boredom. I've felt irrelevant at parties. These things haven't hit me all that hard.

I've changed my mind. Suddenly, I have to ask my husband for money. I've never asked a man for money. I got my first paper route at 11, babysat, lied about my age to get my first job at Sonic Burger at 15.

For a long time now, my idea of independence has been tied to my financial freedom.

Many women would happily spend their husband's money. I've seen them on Real Housewives. I don't like that I'm not contributing financially to our household.

The value that I add to the household is real, yet it is far less tangible, has no bottom line. I feel like I have my hand outstretched, waiting for the mercy of my beneficent husband. And, while I'm not planning on leaving George any time soon, I want that decision to be a matter of choice, not because it isn't an option.

George tries to bring me back to the 21st century. He knows just what to say…"His money is my money"…"Marriage is a partnership"…"Share and share alike"..."You give far more to this family than can be measured in a paycheck". And he's right. Blah, blah, blah.

I feel silly and frivolous for these worries on so many levels too. I know I should be happy that I haven't been working for two years, and have just recently run out of my "own" money. I should be grateful that taking off work and caring for Claire is an option for our family at all. With the exception of independently wealthy, someone needs to be bringing home the bacon. Why does it have to be me?

It's true. I have been able to define myself the way that I want in the last two years. I am lucky to be like the heroine, Jane Eyre, complete with my seeing version of Mr. Rochester. And I didn't have to beg for money on the streets of London before having a child like her either.

What's also true is that money appears to be a loaded issue for me. Particularly, now that I'm not loaded.

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