Tuesday, April 01, 2014

At least he's not smearing sh*t on the walls

Things Milo could be doing with his stubborn, high-spirited nature during these times of intense life changes:
1) breaking things
2) punching people
3) making himself throw up
4) launching food and overturning dinner plates
5) marking his territory with urine
6) stashing, storing, smearing, or otherwise playing with his own excrement
7) sneaking out and getting drunk with the guys... 
8) hooking up with the loose girls at day care
9) making fake IDs with my iPhone
10) having nightmares, really falling apart...

I guess an occasional 2 hour bedtime show-down is small potatoes. 
At first, I thought it was standard stalling and tried to be firm. But 30 mins in (20 mins after his older brother had started snoring), I stopped focusing on getting what I wanted and just started rummaging through drawers for a white flag to wave...

When he sat on the top stair, twinkled his non-tired eyes, rested his full, puffy cheeks in his not-so-tiny hands and answered my, "You are going to bed right now" with:

"No.  I'm not."  Then he got quieter:  "I. Am. Not...   Not going to bed...   Not tonight."
Then he looked at me, with pity and exhaled: "no. I'm not."

Serious as a heart attack.

People, I know when I'm beat.  My mama did NOT raise a fool.  I'm all about being the adult - "the parent" and setting limits.  But it was the calm in his eyes- like the sea in a glossy travel brochure; it was his non agitated, purposeful stare...

And as Yoda- oops, I mean - JAKE told me earlier today, "Mommy, do you know the secret to beating your enemies?  Make them your friends."

"Okay," I told my curly haired challenger, "If you're not going to bed, come down here and and help me clean up.  You can start by cleaning up your cars."

Trying to get them to bed early on transition day, I had planned to return the 17 die cast metal cars (we counted them aloud 4 times as he parked then in the shape of letters (and one time in the shape of a "mark" that I when I tilted my head a little I realized was a pretty perfect "question mark") away.

When the cars were away, I had him put the couch cushions back and fluff the throw pillows.  Then I told him to go get two books and we read them each - twice.  Then we headed upstairs and drank a small dixie cup of water and as I laid him down, we talked about his day:  The hole he dug in the sand (It was huge)... The sand he put on the slide (even though his teachers told him not to put sand on the slide)... We talked about kindergarten coming up in the fall.
He didn't know that I had already decided I wouldn't even be trying to leave his lower bunk bed until I was dismissed.

Back when I worked in the ICU, I had this little rule, if a patient/or family rang his/her call bell 3 times within 20 minutes, I would pack up my charts and go in there and sit.  I would first see what they needed, and answer their question or request; BUT then I would pull up a chair or desk and sit there yammering and/or charting until the patient and/or family would say something like, "You must have other work you have to do."

When I stopped peppering Milo with questions and the conversation started to lull, I didn't make a move to leave.  I didn't even shift my weight, but still he grabbed my face and whined: "I NEED you." I held my hands over his hands, tight on my cheeks.
"I need you and love you too,"  I replied
"I WANT you."  He pulled me tighter.
"I'm right here."  I kissed both his palms and offered him mine. 
"I ALWAYS need and want you."
"Me too."  More kisses on his hands and arms
"You always... yell at me."  
I laugh.  "I SOME-times yell at you when you don't listen, but I am not yelling right now."
I snuggled in closer. "I'm staying right here until you tell me I should go."

Literally 10 seconds pass.

"When you hear the 'DING' you go.... DING!"  He high-pitched the last word into a flawless, one-toned bell.
"Okay, when I hear that noise, I should go?"
"No.  It ding'd.  You should go now... it already ding'd."
 Now I'm laughing, hard: "Wait... Now? go now???"
"Yes.  You have to. It already Ding'd.  Sorry.  I love you.  Now go."


Seriously, this kid is ridiculous.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The middle of the night

The middle of the night, he calls out to me. "Mommy."

Calling for water in the middle of the night.

In the middle of the night - in the dark-  he knows where he is. He knows who to call out for. He's here with me at his blue house. But it would be the same if he was there: At his gray house... He would know to call for her. 

During the day he finds buttons to push. He is stubborn and makes his displeasure for certain things known. 

These changes have not been that easy on him. He is a bit angry. 

During the day, he calls me "Mommy-Mama" more times than just Mommy (my assigned title). He's indifferent when he throws the "wrong" name into the air- "You figure out who I mean," he seems to eye-roll; "Not my problem the names are so similar."

But somehow, in the middle of the night, as he sits and waits for the water he requested, he knows who he is, where he is, which one of us is on duty in this place. 

He drinks. He sighs. I steal a full-lipped kiss.  He puts his head down and waits for the covers to be pulled up and around to his ears. Another kiss and "I love you." Tomorrow he'll probably do this in that other space where I won't get to run water in to him if he beckons. 

But in the middle of THIS night, he's mine to tend to. Mine to lose sleep over. 

There are now two types of middles of the nights. There is here and there is there. There is what-I-want and not quite right. There is a chance for interrupted sleep in either kind of night. 
One type is much sweeter and one much harder to bare.  

Monday, December 02, 2013

On the lighter side of the news...

These are some charts I made previously to help console some friends when we shared our news. This isn't to make light of what has happened as much as to try to keep things in perspective and... you know- CHART THERAPY really helps dorks when they are enduring heartbreak.  

Sunday, December 01, 2013

All you need is love...

When Katy and I were married, this was the song playing during our first dance together...

It is true, isn't it?  Love is all you need.

And also, sometimes, it's no where near enough.

There will be more to write and share because this blog is really for our sons, and when they grow up, they deserve to know a bit more about the "say what now?" that we have set in motion.  But tonight, it seems important to come clean on the Gin Soaked Olive...

Most of the last year has been a slow, heartbreaking dance of negotiation and decision (Katy's and my relationship hanging in the balance).  As marriage equality, literally swept the country; as DOMA was overturned; as state after state leveled the legal playing field, it became more and more clear that our marriage was coming to an end.  This Thanksgiving weekend brought to fruition the culmination of hundreds of hours of discussion and debate, and a physical split that has followed an emotional separation, a transfer of finances and home ownership, a filing for divorce.

In case I'm being too vague.  We regret to inform our readers that, Katy and I have split up.  Though we will always be a family, she has moved out of our home into a house she has purchased nearby, and we will share custody of Jake and Milo.

It is sad and difficult to explain. We have been and will continue to be as amicable as possible.  We will always prioritize the health and happiness of our sons.

And I will attempt to stop writing on these pages using so much "we" and shift to the more appropriate, first person singular voice.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Eulogy for Gramma Bella

When I went to write this, I looked for a few quotes about grandmothers…  The first two I found were:
“Grandmas never run out of cookies or hugs” and the next: 
“A grandmother is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher, and a little bit best friend.”

Done.   My work was done.

These so perfectly fit our Grandma Bella, that it made me feel a little deflated- those are so generic- anyone could look them up on the internet...  and OUR gram was so special

You probably read in the paper that my grandmother had 21 Grandchildren, 22 Great grand children, and 1 great-great grand daughter.  It is remarkable to note that FIFTEEN BABIES: 1 grandson (Alex), 13 great-grand kids, and baby Mackenzie (The great-great-grand) were born in the last 9 years since our grandpa died. 

Gram experienced a lot of grief after Grandpa died, but looking back, these years were teeming with babies-
and she LOVED that.

But of course if you knew her, you know she didn’t have just 44 grandchildren.  Our spouses, our inlaws, our cousins on the other sides of our families, any one we brought to her house, anyone who was our friend… she counted all of them too… that’s literally hundreds (possibly thousands of people that knew her as
Grandma Gaetano or Grandma Bella) and she welcomed and treated everyone one of us with love and respect.

I had the idea that I might get up here and mention some of the most important things that Gram taught us.
THAT is a completely overwhelming prospect.

I mostly wanted to represent the grandkids in taking an opportunity to publicly thank her for all that she did for us.  I think we all did our best to tell her this every chance we got- to get as many hugs from her as we could…

What is hard to put into words (in the face of losing her) is that we are losing a relationship that was above all else uncomplicated. 

To be Bella Gaetano’s grandchild was to be loved and appreciated. 
She loved us without exception and without expectation. 
She wanted to know us, and see us, and be seen by us. 
She met us where we were and asked nothing more of us than what we could (or were willing) to give. 
She bragged about us. 
She laughed with us. 
She didn’t compare to us each other. 
She just enjoyed us.  

For many of us, she was the first person we brought our grievances and heartbreaks to: When our parents took our favorite toys away or bestowed some insult or punishment, she brought out the cookies and the hugs- sometimes tough love, too- but usually not.

When we started showing up at her door with our tattoos and our more legitimate heartbreaks, scholastic and relationship failures, and other mistakes and adult struggles…
She behaved as a friend. 
She treaded lightly.
She listened more than she preached.
She offered compassion and reassurance…
She reminded us that life was hard, but it was long. 
Without minimizing our pain, she asked us to see hard times as necessary and temporary.
She worried about us when we were hurting

She locked her blue eyes on us- daring us to see what she saw: that no matter what we did or what we didn’t do we were enough, always worthy of love.

She mostly did this without words… 

Truthfully, a LOT of the time she did it with FOOD. (She could heal a heart with a little plate of parmesan cheese and sautéed zucchini, a plate of food that your parents wouldn’t have been able to get you to eat if all of your lives depended on it.)
She might also cheer us up or distract us with a funny story, or a ride on the golf cart,
or invitation to walk with her or to help her clean up her yard.

Gram was such a good role model.

She had LOTS of friends.  Because she was so generous and so eager to help a neighbor, she collected people and racked up loyalty the way some folks rack up debt.  And her friendships were long lasting and withstood the tests of time, because she knew that giving to others did not subtract from, but only added to what was hers… 
She liked to keep busy and visit with people. She was quick to laugh and forgive small grievances.  And mostly her friendships were strong because she was a good judge of character but never a harsh judge of people.

She taught me that a life well-lived usually means losing labels like “us” and “them”.  And accepting and finding things to appreciate about everyone that wanders into your life.  She was eager to meet new people. She enjoyed watching people do things they enjoyed, even if it was something she would never be interested in doing.  She gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.  She sometimes suffered fools GLADLY.  She expressed and experienced gratitude.

Gramma knew her worth and stood her ground- with her husbands, in her business dealings- but she was not immovable.  She was always willing to show vulnerability.  She would put herself out there even if it meant sometimes getting her feelings hurt.
She didn’t stifle laughter.
She didn’t stifle tears.
She was present. 
She was participatory. 
She never shied away from having her picture taken.
She made her mark on people- on purpose-
not because of what they might do for her but for what she might do for them.

In the last 2 weeks of her life, my gram attended 2 weddings.  The one I was lucky to be with her at, she would have stayed all night. 
This was not a woman who prioritized sleep over living. 
Who looked for rest over dancing or watching others dance.  
Who couldn’t keep up with the kids. 
Who would leave a lobster uneaten.  (If you know her, you know she was no joke with a lobster).
Katy and I apologized to her that we were interested in leaving before the dancing was actually over (we were her ride back to the hotel) and in her usual form, she said something like,

“Yes, you two work so hard, you’re probably exhausted.”
(She wasn’t even rolling her eyes at us when she said it).

My sister and I were talking about our sadness and we know that there has never been a moment of our lives (because we were her grandchildren) when we didn’t know that this day would come. 

But this is the other side of being loved so completely. 
This is the bittersweet nature of having been so perfectly nurtured. 
These are the tears that are shed for you when you live in such a way that hundreds of people know they have lost one of their best friends.

We celebrate these tears, because they are from and for you, Grandma.
And the most important thing is
We will try to take care of each other- using you as a role model. 
Because, if we do our job right, people who never even got to meet you will get to feel how it felt to be loved by you.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Conversations about Father's Day.

Jake: (Nearly immediately after waking up) Is today a school day? Or a home day?
Me: It's Sunday. A home day.
Jake: Wait, is today Father's Day?
Me: Yes.
Jake: I don't have to celebrate anything today because I don't have any fathers.
Me: True. but we will try to celebrate your papa and your grandpa, because they are Mommy and Mama's fathers.
Jake: Yeah, i have grandpas but no dad.
Me: How does that make you feel?
Jake: What do you mean?
Me: Does that make you sad? Or anything like that?
J: I guess a little.
Me: it might happen sometimes, where even though you feel lucky to have two moms, you also feel sad that you don't have a dad. Having two moms is something cool, that not a lot of people have, but having a dad is something cool that most people have.
Jake: Yeah... Oh, Look! I see one of those balls that you put in your shoes to keep them from smelling bad!
Me: Oh- That's cool too, I guess.

Monday, April 15, 2013

We interrupt this spring day...

To bring you a terrorist attack...

Two bombs were detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon today...

But I want to tell you a couple of better stories...

- Last week, Katy's parents were here and ran the boys around like thoroughbred animals.  Sometimes they were so tired that at dinner their eyes would drift to one side and their heads drift to another and they would almost fall over (I'm speaking of the boys, but the grannies were also similarly, joyfully worn out).

- Saturday was Gram'ma Bella's 89th birthday party (at the local Italian place we've nicknamed: 'Spooch").  We dressed our boys up in their cute, cute, cute 4 piece suits and had such a wonderful meal with the extended family.  During that time, my great aunt approached both Katy and me separately to let us know that friends of hers were complaining that "no one dresses their kids up any more" and then she added: "But I tell them, my nieces- they dress their boys up so nice!"  Katy and I were tickled.  I love it so much when older relatives get it... "my nieces" (sigh).

- After Gram's party, Jake went to a Karate-themed birthday party and was so Thrilled when he broke a board in half with his bare hand.  He said to Katy: "Maybe there was some kind of little line in it that I can't see that made it easier to break".  She replied: "I think you just aimed right through it and broke it all yourself." And then he kind of beamed.

- Later that night, my sister and I took all our kids to see the Croods.  It was Milo's first time in a movie theater and when he walked into the lobby he gasped like he was little orphan Annie seeing the Warbuck's mansion for the first time, and told us, "I've never been HERE before."  We sat all through the long, loud, cute movie and about 5 minutes before the end a VERY TIRED Milo turned to me and whispered/whined: "When do we get to pick out a movie?"
Me: Sweetie, this is the Movie... we are AT the movie.
Milo: NO, the REAL movie
Me: (laughing with love and empathy) no.  really... this is LITERALLY a "real" movie

- Sunday, we hiked up sleeping Giant park Tower Trail (3.2 miles round trip).  Both boys did AWESOME.  Jake did the entire hike- up and down all on his own two feet (it's probably his 6th time on the trail- first time that he walked all on his own without being carried even ONE INCH!).  Milo did ALL THE WAY UP and MORE than HALF the way down only getting carried on my shoulders for about 10 minutes.  I was seriously, so proud.

Monday, March 25, 2013

SCOTUS hears Prop 8 and DOMA cases

People camped out to get a seat to hear the oral arguments before the SCOTUS on Tues and Wed.
If you want to consider the history of same sex marriage in the US, you have to go back in time pretty much to the founding of the country. (Fun fact: The only known conviction for lesbianism in American History happened in 1649 in Plymouth Colony- Sarah White Norman and Mary Vincent Hammon were prosecuted for "lewd behavior with each other upon a bed". Sweet!!!)

You have to go back at least to the early 1900's when suffragettes fought for and earned the right to vote (a few of them were making sweet whoopy with each other while they got it done).  You have to go back to the 50's and 60s and 70's: The eras of "Pinko commie" McCarthyism and the sexual revolution and long-haired-hippy anarchy.

You'd have to go back to the 80's: when gay men were dying all over the place.  HIV and AIDS decimated the community and then parents and relatives (many of whom had rejected their gay sons) would come in and take possessions and property that was left behind.  Such emotional and devastating circumstances of course had been a regular part of the lives of gay and lesbian couples in every time and century.  But the magnitude of the AIDS crisis and the way it required a community to mobilize into activism to literally stay alive and protect each other at the last moments of life changed something in the collective psyche of LGBT Americans.
That was the real beginning of marriage equality in my mind... Because as most married people will tell you, you don't need marriage benefits to get to feel the passion or the love, for the joy of the dance, to experience the fineness of wine or the deliciousness of cake.  You don't need marriage, for the age of Aquarius... You need it for what happens after happily ever after.

You need marriage for when your lover has died in your arms after a year of declining health that culminated with him shitting his insides out in the bed you used to have carefree sex in; and his parents want to know when you will be moving out.
You need marriage when they prohibit the only people who know and love you from visiting your ICU room.
You need marriage for when they try to deport the woman you love.
You need marriage for when some bullshit happens one day and two skyscrapers crumble to the ground and your kid's other dad (the one who brought home the bacon) disappears in a cloud of filthy dust.
You need marriage for when someone becomes disabled, or slips a disc, or gets cancer or the gay plague. 

Marriage is what allows you access to 1138 federal rights, benefits, and protections.  (And I'm not even including the stupid, helpful ones like getting a "family membership rate" at a gym or health club.)

Someone once told me, "Marriage is not so much about who you want to be with for the rest of your life, but who you don't want to be without..."

When Katy and I first met in the fall of 1999, the state of Vermont was 3 months away from allowing same sex couples to enter into a Marriage-like contract called a civil union.  So, even for us- the lucky ones- the ones that never doubted our self-worth and never experienced rejection by our family or friends- when we met, the idea that we might get married and/or be a (legal) family, that was a construct that did not exist.  That was something we would have to "fake" and/or "make up".

On May 17, 2004 (Four months and 1 day before we had a non-legal church wedding with 150 guests) the commonwealth of MA started allowing couples of the same gender to marry.
It wasn't a "civil union" like Vermont had made famous.  It was the actual, M-F'ing thing!!!

Except there was a problem... in 1991 (before I even knew I was gay)  3 same sex Hawaiian couples sued the dept of public health to be allowed to marry.  The case went all the way to the state's supreme court who ruled in favor of the plaintiffs- it ruled that the prohibition of gay marriage was unconstitutional.  And all manner of backlash followed.  Hawaii changed it's constitution to prevent marriage equality.  And the federal government passed a law that essentially said, "If a state passes a law allowing gays to get married, the federal government will NOT recognize those marriages."
The ironically named "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA)  had 117 co-sponsors and only 81 "no" votes out of 508 votes cast in the house and senate.  Bill Clinton signed without hesitation.  That is to say this was about as bipartisan a bill as we get to see these days...

Hindsight is 20/20.  I don't know how long people thought it would take for
1) A state to legalize same sex marriage and
2) For a legal challenge to DOMA to reach the SCOTUS, but that day is here (16 years, 6 months and 5 days later).

The remarkable thing, though, is not the 16-250 years it took to get us here.  The remarkable thing is what has happened in the last 4- 6 months.  You should know, as someone who's life will be directly impacted by what the Supreme court decides related to prop 8 and DOMA, I was nervous when they announced last fall they would be hearing the case this year.  I just thought, "It might be too soon."

History will be on our side, but if SCOTUS rules that prop 8 should stand or that DOMA is constitutional, it will be a LOOOOOOOOOOONG time to undo that nonsense.  In November, the voters of four different states voted either to enact marriage equality or to defeat a prohibition of it... That had NEVER happened before in the US.  Though several states had legalized same sex marriage, they did it either through the courts or through the legislatures.  Before the 2012 election, voters had been asked to vote on same sex marriage 30 times in 30 states and NOT ONE TIME until last November did the majority vote for marriage equality.  There are many who think that equal rights should not be put to a popular vote (include me in those numbers) BUT it is significant (understatement) that support for marriage equality is starting to become the majority opinion...

My wife and I got married in 2004 (non-legal, non binding church wedding).
We got a civil union, the first day we were legally able October 1, 2005.
And 5 years later, marriage equality was enacted in CT.  At that point our civil union passively converted into a (ta-da!) marriage.

10 states have enacted marriage equality since 2004 (CT, DC, IA, MA, MD, ME, NH, NY, VT, WA).
The sitting president of the United States has come out in favor of marriage equality; and the Democratic National Party added marriage equality to it's platform. And literally in the last month, the scales have tipped and public opinion polls are showing for the first time, a MAJORITY of Americans believe that SS couples should be treated equal under the law.

And tomorrow... the SCOTUS hears oral arguments.  People have been waiting in line since Thursday morning to get a seat.  Families like ours are crossing our hearts, holding our breaths and whispering prayers (while still trying to take care of our homes and our kids, like everyone else that doesn't have to consider their legal standing as a family on a daily basis.)

At issue:
1) The Prop 8 case - Is is legal to vote on civil right as related to marriage equality? if not, does that apply to only the California case? or does it apply to all states that have put these rights to a vote via ballot measure? 

2) The DOMA challenge - Is DOMA constitutional? Shouldn't federal and state governments have to treat all married couples equally?  Specifically, should the federal govt have penalized 83 year old Edith Windsor $360,000 in estate/inheritance tax when her wife, Thea died. (if Thea was her husband, that tax would not have been levied).  If DOMA is unconstitutional, does that apply only to the federal government? or do states that have their own DOMA laws also have to rectify the problem?

[A handy schematic]

I'm known to get a little fired up about marriage equality...
You should see what we have to do to get our taxes done (and by "WE" i mean "Katy").
- We have to prepare a federal joint tax return so that we can use that to file a joint state tax return.
- Then we have to prepare a "married filing jointly" state tax return.
- Then we have to imagine how our finances would look if we were not a couple, not a family and create a "fake" financial picture to complete our TWO "actual" federal "single" tax return filings.

So, yeah, I'm "excited" and fired up that this might be the last time we have to do "that" (and by that I mean LIE ON A FEDERAL FORM AND SAY I AM SINGLE, MOM, HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD WHO IS LIVING WITH [BUT NOT MARRIED TO] ANOTHER SINGLE, UNWED MOM...

But the surprising thing is, I'm really quite emotional about it.  (Read: Choked up)
I'm really quite hopeful (and only a little scared) that this court will support our rights as a couple and a family and parents.  It's hard to describe and explain because I swear to you I know in my heart that I am every bit as worthy as any other citizen, but after a good long ten years of the public debate of whether or not you have the right to exist as a family, it does get tired and hurtful and if this could possibly be the END of that???  I'd just be happy to consume myself with other, more mundane things.
In the last 10 years, the haters have had a lot of opportunity to gloat.
The courts keep ruling against them, but trust me when I tell you this is nerve-wracking.  The cases will be made tomorrow and Wednesday; the decisions won't come down before June.  But tomorrow, we will be figuratively standing there, forcing them to look us in the eyes and say it...
Go ahead, say it... 
Are we equal? Or are we 2nd class? 
Are we still too "yucky" to get access to Cobra and Social security and Military survivor-ship benefits? 
Will we have to wait another 16 to 20 years carefully explaining to our kids some convoluted version of the truth- that it's okay to trust and serve a society and a government that allows discrimination and bullying to be enshrined into state constitutions and federal regulations?

Or will it somehow (as if by magic) be decreed that we can move on to other fights, other debates.
That equal is equal.
That our relationships are worthy of that legal acknowledgment that comes only with "marriage"?

Hold your breath, this is going to be one of the big ones...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A real woman

I think about gender a lot. I think it about it when I parent. I think about it when I write. I think about it when I make new friends. I think about it (a lot) when I work. I think about it when it deems my marriage unequal. I think about it when I walk alone down a city street. 

Gender, just for clarity, is how we define ourselves, not necessarily what we're born with. Gender expression is what we do with our internal understanding of ourselves in order to present it to the rest of the world. For most of us, what genitals we have and the hormones we produce match how we would define ourselves to the outside world. Whether we have one or two X chromosomes drives a lot of what happens in our development. For the most part we're all the same embryologically until those chromosomes start telling us to differentiate: XX and suddenly everything is more emotional and you get paid less, XY and boom! you get to rule the world.

The reason this is on my mind right now is the issue of whether Smith College, my beloved alma mater, was discriminating against a transwoman when it rejected her application. There has been an incredible backlash online both to the woman and to the college, often in infuriatingly angry and knee-jerk ways. Is she a woman? Does Smith discriminate? Do trans people belong at Smith or women's colleges in general? Is the current policy sufficient? But what I think every one of the articles and blog posts I've read has missed completely is this: What is a woman?

Whether you're a man or a woman, you have some baseline definition for this, but you probably don't think about it specifically on a regular basis. How do you know I'm a woman? When I speak I use no qualifiers that would tip you as to what gender I am, at least when I'm speaking in English. But. I have long hair. Long eye lashes. Low, pudgy cheek bones. I have curves. I have a relatively high pitched voice. I giggle. I wear dresses. I cry at romantic comedies (no seriously, every time). I wear lipstick. I have never registered to be drafted for war. I attended a preeminent women's college. How many attributes do I need before you think I'm a woman? Until you believe I'm a woman?

Because I'm also tall. I play a lot of different sports and truly enjoy watching them. I'm competitive. I like whiskey. I know how to drive a fire truck. I'm particularly good at math and science. I curse like a truck driver (sorry, Dad). If these were the only things you knew about me, would you think me a man?

By and large, we don't walk around looking at people's genitals in order to determine their gender. We rely on these traits, feminine and masculine, to determine how we will relate to the person we're interacting with. How many feminine traits must I have before I am automatically labeled female? And what's more important: what I say I am or what I was handed by chromosomal command? Does that change if I medically or surgically alter what structures I have or hormones I make? And if I have exactly the same number of feminine and masculine traits does that make me something other than male or female? Do physical traits trump personality traits? Do I decide or do the people around me decide? And, to make it more complex, how do we define gender institutionally? You might not want it to matter, but it does. It matters in all kinds of ways: it changes how things get funded, it helps ensure some measure of equality, it drives what kind of health issues you'll be at screened for, whether or not you'll be involuntarily sent to war, it directs you to a type of bathroom, and in this case, determines whether you'll be allowed to enter an all female college.

We have a reflexive drive for the binary. We don't like in between. I was reminded of this in the recent New Yorker article about kids who are transgender. At least one person suggested that because being transgender is becoming more common (or at least more visible) that it is, essentially, OVER-accepted and we're starting to label children transgender when they're not in an effort to be ultra-inclusive. To me that's not an issue of whether or not the kid is transgender; that's an issue with us continuing to insist that we all pick a category rather than getting comfortable with the middle ground. I can understand wanting to know right this second with no questions and no exceptions. How easy would that be? But, like so many things in life, that's not really how personal identity or identity expression goes. It's nuanced. It changes. It morphs. It refines. And then, just when you think you know someone (or yourself), it changes again.

On the subject of stereotypes: stereotypes exist because they're often true. They are, frankly, incredibly useful most of the time. But they can be damaging if used to pigeon hole or assume or discriminate. The cost of usefulness is having to self-monitor more often to avoid missing the real person. A skill we could all use to practice more often.

Sometimes the binary system is useful. It gives us a sense of belonging. We are on a team, just by the virtue of our genitals or gender expression. As humans, especially in this culture, we operate largely on comparison, on competition. It's a motivator as well as a measure of success. The thing about drawing a line in the sand, though, is that it creates an us vs. them mentality. Which, if you brave the divide, can evoke a sense of betrayal, of severe otherness. The discordance between how comfortable you are in your own body and the exogenous expectations of those around you is a steep cliff.

No one really understands why some people cannot tolerate their biological sex as their gender. I'll leave the scientific theories for my lectures, but suffice it to say that gender dysphoria absolutely exists. Something happens that makes the hormonal effects of your biological sex intolerable for some people. From changes in how you dress and wear your hair to hormone therapy to surgical procedures, there are ways to make this discordance less severe and in some cases resolve it completely. We're in the middle of cultural conversation about which of these changes constitutes the transition from one to the other (a conversation that would be obsolete if we were more comfortable outside a binary code).

So what makes me a real woman? Am I defined by my ability to conform to enough of the cultural expectations that delineate a "real" woman? Am I defined by the absence (most of the time) of more masculine characteristics? Am I defined by my insatiable use of the letter F on forms that require gender or sex? (Maybe I'm more accurately defined by my frequent use of the word that begins with F).

I don't know if Smith is in the right or wrong here. I don't know what the actual thinking was behind the decision. I do know that in our society you must belong to one or the other and there isn't a lot of tolerance for the in between, the transition. I think it's incredible that transgender adolescents and their families have the strength to make these changes. If you identify as female when you apply for college, then you should be given the same chance for admission to a women's college as anyone born with female genitalia. But as a culture the issue lies with how we decide who is female or male. In this particular case at least one of the issues is that the state of CT defines it based on genital structure, whether that be natural born or surgical. I don't agree with it, and it's part of my work to get that changed, but for right now that's what it is. From another perspective, though, we are significantly more progressive in that we allow a change at all, which is not true in many many states. DMV documents and passports can also be changed without surgical procedures. These changes are painfully slow for those who are transitioning or have transitioned. It's awful to be the leader of the pack when the pack is small, outnumbered, and going against one of the fundamental identifiers of everyone everywhere.

I often feel grateful that I feel comfortable in my body. The physical changes that have happened to me over the years, from puberty to child-bearing, have not felt like a betrayal. I don't have to think about what I'm doing when I check "female" on forms, whether someone somewhere might think I'm lying, or, worse, not a real woman. Because of the way I look I almost never have to convince anyone that I am, in fact, female. Maybe the mitzvah for being comfortable in your own skin is to be open to the conversation, to be looking for ways to ensure that policies and institutions adapt to the ways that we are changing as humans and as a society. To not be afraid to talk openly and constructively about this in mixed company. To take a thoughtful approach to the transition, if you will, of society and institutions. To be part of the conversation and not part of the stone-throwing.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

DST= I'm so tired

Daylight savings time is like that hot, undercover cop who comes to your high school to "deal with the drug" problem but then she ruins the life of the valedictorian because he's sweet on her and she asks him if he knows how to get her some drugs...

And by that i mean, it's nice to get that extra daylight and all, but really- the time shift 4 days ago has  messed up these kids' sleep cycles.  I don't know how or why it happens.  It doesn't make any logical sense, but everyone is all coo-coo for coco puffs at bed time and all night long... And getting out of the house on time in the morning is a joke.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Keeping me on my game

The other day, I'm buckling Jake into the car seat (seriously, every other kindergartner we know can buckle themselves in) and he holds up his hands in a full shrug:

"So, what's a 'Husband' anyway?"

I can't help feeling like I'm walking into a trap.  I know he knows what a "husband" is, after all.
I think he's pretty much asking me why we don't have one, but I don't want to over-blow it.
I take a deep breath, knowing I have 15 seconds to figure out how to play this and I lead with my inner goof-ball.

"You KNOW what a HUSBAND is?!?" I say in my best, exaggerated, game-show host voice.

"No," he says with a convincing earnestness.

"A husband," I say matter of factly, "Is a man who is married.  If a man is married, he's a husband.  If a woman is married, she's a wife."

Jake contemplates his fingernails, while I continue, "When a man and a women get married, they are a husband and a wife." I employ a sillier voice at this point, "HUSBANDS and wives. Husbands AND wives.  Husbands and WIVES...  But SOMETIMES, there's a..." I pause for dramatic effect "WIFE and a WIFE..."

"Like in our house!" We say it in unison and he smiles.

I let it hang in the air like a "Ta-Da!!!"

"And SOMETIMES," my voice is full of drama and mischief, "There is a HUSBAND and a HUSBAND...  But USUALLY..." I borrow the cadence of that dog food commercial from the 80's.  "Usually... it's husbands and wives, husbands and wives, husbands and wives." (Kibbles and bits, Kibbles and bits, kibbles and bits).

Jake all but yawns.  "Yeah," he says completely unimpressed with the theatrics, "I guess you just have to decide who you love..."



Sunday, February 24, 2013

Things that go boom

You guys. It turns out you can SEE SONIC BOOMS.

I've been entirely fascinated since the meteorite slammed into the atmosphere over Siberia last week. What is a sonic boom? Why so loud? Why so late? Wait, you can see it?! Hold. The. Phone.

So, of course, I had to go look it up. What is a sonic boom and how does it relate to sound? Turns out that the sound waves created by an object at a stand still make this perfect ripple, a la pebbles in a puddle. But, if the object starts moving, the waves start to bunch up ahead of the object, and lengthen behind it. Then if it gets going really fast, the waves ahead of the object are essentially all one: hello, speed of sound. Then, if the object goes faster than those waves, it creates a pressure differential that makes an audible craaaaack. But, get this: the change in pressure is no more than that when you're in an elevator going down 3 floors, except that it happens in a much shorter period of time. I know, I know. WTF. I feel like Taylor Swift here: totally bubbly and excited then totally confused then sort of understanding then just back to bubbly. People say all the time that things seem to "go against the laws of physics". What they don't realize is that we just don't know shit about the laws of physics. It's like the world of physics is the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and we've totally figured out his left pinky toe. But I think we often understand physics on a cellular rather than academic level. Well, at least I hope that's true, 'cause I needed simple pictures to understand this stuff.

What really blows my mind, though, is how those waves get translated to thoughts and emotions. When that sonic boom shattered windows it didn't just register as noise: it registered as fear, confusion, and amazement. It's not something anyone that heard it will forget anytime soon.

They say that digestion starts with the mouth (you know, teeth, saliva, that whole bit). In the same way, hearing starts with the outer ear which collects and amplifies sound from around us. It then travels to the tympanic membrane, which looks much like a piece of plastic wrap. When the pressure around you changes or you get an infection, that membrane is what is causing a lot of the discomfort as it gets pushed past its tensile strength. Once through the eardrum the sound is transmitted to the ossicles. Three points if you can name the three bones of the ear without using a search engine. That's right: bones. I imagine them like a team of Morse code experts tapping messages into the inner ear. From the inner ear the sounds are transmitted to the auditory nerve for interpretation by the brain. Thus, in order to hear you have to be able to move the vibrations and the nerve has to fire messages to the brain. My 5 year old son, Jake, has had issues with his Eustachian tubes since about 4 months old. Specifically, those suckers just do NOT want to work well enough to drain the fluid that collects in the middle ear around the ossicles. As a result, at 6-9 month intervals he can't hear for shit. He hears through a thick wall of jello-like fluid that stays there until our dear ENT surgeon goes in and gets it out. He does a nice job of understanding the world even though he's hearing under water, but the difference when they remove that fluid is astounding. Interestingly, when the audiologists do his hearing tests they always do the cochlear nerve stimulation just to make sure he doesn't suddenly also have a nerve issue, and it is truly astounding to watch this kid go from hearing almost nothing and to having no issue at all. By bypassing the system and going straight to the nerve, he recognize sounds. It's no match for the amplifying, coaxing, and translating done by the outer ear and ossicles, but it works.

This all sounds pretty simple, except that it's totally not. Think about the range of sounds you hear in a day, and how they affect you differently. Seemingly similar sounds are made exceedingly specific by both the physical characteristics of the sound and how it interacts with the ear, and how we interpret it. Think about a child's cry: almost any parent can pick out their own child's cry out of cacophony of screaming children in seconds. Think about a rock concert: in a wall of sound you can still hear the pieces coming through. Think about a whisper: in the middle of the night I can hear my kids breathing two rooms away. Part of this discernment is based on actual physical waves of sound that match sounds of waves we've heard before or what we're anticipating hearing in that moment. But a lot of it is dependent on what was happening during that time, and how we felt. We make an imprint of the sound in our minds. Sound means nothing unless it's translated.

I had a conversation with a Pulitzer Prize-winning author last year during which we were discussing the usefulness (or not) of things that are exact. She posited that a symphony is by definition prescribed and predictable because the notes are immoveable, and that it is the job of the players to play those notes. At the time I was taken aback by the brashness of her answer and my retort got stuck in a stutter. It has stuck with me since and so here is my counter-argument: a symphony is not, in fact, a prescribed collection of notes and rhythms. It is at its core an interpretation, a magnificent show of collective expression in which all the pieces of the orchestra have to simultaneously attempt perfection and avoid it at all costs. Without the give and take of the individual musicians and the sections of instruments, the lift of the conductor, the sigh here, the strike there, there is nothing. The song is robotic without all those minute human errors and corrections. And, to be honest, the most astounding part is that our brains know the difference.

How we interpret those sounds are, in large part, emotional. All those nerve firings that help us understand the information coming toward us are connected to the parts of our brains that control emotions. On some level this has always made sense to me: music has been a way of understanding the world since I was a kid. On first listen to a song I can be moved to dance, feel the swell of emotion, or just cry. There are songs that so perfectly match my line of thought that all I can do is look around wondering, "Is anyone else hearing this?! This is it!" There are songs that make my fingers ache for the piano. Songs that make me sing at the top of my lungs while turning over the theme in my head over and over and over. There are songs that inexplicably unnerve me, and yet I keep coming back to them. There are songs that transport me back to childhood hearing my dad sing me to sleep. Songs where the sound of silence after the last note was sung by 100 campers is as palpable as it was 20+ years ago.  

*"Thrift Shop" is an awful, dirty song. NSFW. And still it makes me move.

So, it turns out you can't actually see the sonic boom unless there's enough moisture to bring it to life. But perhaps it is seeing to hear it, to feel it rock your world. To feel the pause before the roar. To internalize the force of energy. Whether it be something as overwhelming as a sonic boom, or hearing the intake of air, or all the songs in between, here's to listening past the speed of sound.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

(Nearly) Midnight Ramblings

It's 11:30 pm and I should have gone to bed 2 hours ago with Katy.

I'm totally wiped out.  Watching BS television and working on work emails and schedules that I can't get to during the day.  There is a lot of stuff in me that I want to wiggle it's way out - onto the pages of this blog and/or some other writing space.  But there are so many attention and time demands.

I'm working too hard at work to feel this behind the 8 ball.  It's just a 60 hour job that I'm trying to do in 45-50 hours a week.  and the time with the kids... it is so short and fleeting (except the middle of the night crying jags that we have been blessed with on and off these last few weeks- those don't seem so short)

These boys are so cute and happy and loved.
Jake is reading and learning about space in kindergarten.  He's gotten really good at drawing and coloring.  He likes wrestling and story-telling (or having stories told to him).  Jake is solid and occasionally anxious.  He likes patterns and predictability, but still asks me at night to "Sing me a song I've never heard before").  He vacillates between stoicism and complete intolerance of discomfort and hyperbolic expression of pain.  Tonight, he banged his shins and when i told him it would be okay and he would feel better soon, he told me "I WILL NOT BE OKAY...THEY WILL NEVER FEEL BETTER... "  After his bath when I absentmindedly pointed out to him that his underwear were ripping in the backside's seam, he burst into tears: "THEY'RE MY FAVORITE PAIR!" He wailed. I tried to express empathy for my softhearted, exhausted boy. But when it went on too long I had to walk away before I did something that would incite him. (Like try not to laugh hysterically while ripping the underwear in half.)

I notice him yawning when asked to recite prayers and songs or poems that I know he has memorized.  The yawns are so predictable that I've come to recognize them as a form of avoidance and/or nervousness.  The top 2 reasons he receives a reprimand these days are: for "talking baby-talk" (also usually happens when he knows he's doing something he shouldn't be or when he's afraid he might be wrong or in trouble - ie "nervousness") and not heeding the warning: "Be nice to your brother."

Milo is about 2 weeks off the binki (a story about that to follow) and still the happiest of us all.  He will give you every version of toddler "F.U." if you try to get him to do something he doesn't want to, but oh, the laugh on that kid.  as much as he gets labeled our "frat boy", Milo is also a sensitive soul.  Usually rushing to us (and always his brother) to see if we're okay.  Today, he took off his underwear, balled them up, handed them to me and said, "Here, smell these and you'll get a big surprise!!!"
Milo, hates hats and gloves and going to bed.  He wants to go potty and wants a drink of water and ine more kiss and a song and a song and a song, and then he will place a tiny protective arm around the neck of the parent putting him to bed and give a pleading whine: "I want you."  He is our little musician and tonight, he whipped through about 6 different songs that are in our bedtime ritual, but we've never really heard him sing before.  He knew EVERY WORD. it was touching and startling in an "other worldly" kind of way. It turns out (as Katy pointed out) he ACTUALLY IS... a good listener.

They are my heart.  My love.  My pride and joy.  These boys make me wish for more hours in the day, week, year.

Falling asleep... more to come

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

El Poder

I spent the better part of last Monday into Tuesday at the Connecticut State Capital listening to testimony at the Connecticut Gun Violence Prevention Public hearing. I went because it was convenient: I didn't have to work that day. I went because I made a promise to myself to start actually standing up for what I believe, and not just liking pages on Facebook. I went because I was lucky enough to have help with the kids. I went because I don't love guns.

I stayed because I couldn't look away. I stayed because I couldn't believe how many more people were there to lobby for weapons than people trying to decrease violence. I stayed because of the vehemence coming from the gun proponents. I stayed because I needed to be heard.

Everyone marked themselves for the hearing. Those wearing yellow stickers were "responsible gun owners". Those wearing white stickers were "against gun violence". Nearly everyone was wearing a green ribbon for Sandy Hook. And nearly everyone stuck to the script: the yellow stickers railed against any additional legislation limiting guns or ammunition. The white stickers asked for limits on ammunition. I've thought a lot about what was said that day. The lilt of the three minute testimony has played like a bad 80s song on repeat in my head (probably a function of the fatigue, the disbelief, and the 14 long hours I was exposed to the rhetoric). I keep trying to simmer down the testimony into a concise summary and the outcome is always the same: the right to guns is more important than people.

The "right" I think they are demanding, though, is not necessarily the right to guns. I think it's the right to exert power over another. Isn't that, ultimately, what having a gun is? You can kill someone, sure, but almost more importantly, you can threaten to kill someone. Power exists everywhere: between people, among groups, even within ourselves. We use power to convince, to defy, to gain, and to change. We use words, and body position. We exploit information and emotional attachment to change the behavior of other people. From the threat of time out to a 3 year old, to physical violence against one another, we can make change.

The constant refrain from those wearing yellow stickers was that they are powerless without guns. Specifically, they are powerless without high capacity clips. They cannot protect their family without the guns. They could have stopped the violence at any number of mass killings. Despite the data suggesting that it is more likely there will be a gun injury in homes with a gun, the guns are fundamental to their safety.

It was, frankly, hard to listen to.

It can be frightening to have power. Maybe even more so to use that power. But it can be exhilarating. And it's that perceived exhilaration tangled with fear that opens the door to violence. As I've espoused before, I don't mind having some control, which usually means having power over something or someone. It usually scares the hell out of me though. What if I use it poorly? What if I'm responsible for how it all turns out? I can tell you right now I would never survive accidentally hurting or killing someone with a gun. Never. How we garner power, how we negotiate it, how we exert our power over others, these are things that define us. To assume that you will always be rational in a moment of danger, that you will always choose to use your weapon "responsibly", that you are the good guy, is a conceit beyond understanding.

Power, though, isn't always used diametrically. Sometimes, if we wield it well, it can be used collectively to make positive change, to inspire, and to make better the lives of those around us. Debates such as this one on gun control frequently draw a line in the sand and force people to take sides. The two extremes walk twenty paces in opposite directions and draw their weapons. And the group that gets silenced is the one in the middle. I don't know what the answer to decreasing gun violence is. There are so many factors, including but not limited to, mental illness, poverty, and discrimination. But I think it starts with both sides at the table agreeing that accidental or intentional deaths, especially those of children, are unacceptable. That it's too common. That, whatever the root cause, it needs to change. That as a society, we are unwilling to tolerate power exerted as violence.

We all make decisions about when and how to stand up for what we believe. Sometimes we can't. Sometimes it's more important to stay home. Sometimes it's not safe. But sometimes you just have to get out there. The ministers at our church took a chance one Sunday and did a reading of "For Sweet Honey in the Rock" by Sonia Sanchez. If you've never heard Sonia Sanchez read her own work, it's worth seeking out.
but we kept on organizing we kept on teaching believing
loving doing what was holy moving to a higher ground
even though our hands were full of slaughtered teeth
but we held out our eyes delirious with grace
but we held out our eyes delirious with grace
Hearing our ministers read with fervor and strength was one of those moments when there was no stopping the pinprick of tears behind my eyes. For every person that has stood up and fought for my rights, I gave a silent thank you. And then I resolved to get on the battlefield. I resolved to get on the battlefield with my hands. With my words. With my muscles. With my actions. With my friends.

I will get on the battlefield, but I will choose to go with people instead of guns.

You are what you eat

Milo: We're boys.
Mommy: yes
Milo: Im'ma boy and Jakey. We're boys.
Mommy: (thinking I know I'm a 'girl') What am I?
Milo: You're an ADULT.
Mommy: Yes, you are boys and I'm an adult.
Milo: When I'm an adult, I'm gonna drink lots of things...
Mommy: Like what?
Milo: Like coffee...and tea...
Jake: and beer and wine... And soda
Mommy: yes. It's very exciting. When you get bigger, you can have some drinks that kids don't get to have. But every family is different and rules about what kids can have are different in different families.
Jake: Like what?
Mom: Like in some families the kids can have soda. And in our family, the rule is kids can't have soda. And some families don't eat any meat.
Jake (sounding alarmed): BUT WE EAT MEAT!!!???!!!
Mom: Yes, we eat meat, but in some families, the rule is "We don't eat meat."
Jake: But we do... We're carnivores.