My latest over at Today’sParent.com, in which I am ambivalent about just how mom-like/hausfrau-y I sound. (I am somewhat less ambivalent, it would seem, about passively concealing evil vegetables in my sons’ food.)
My latest over at Today’sParent.com, in which I am ambivalent about just how mom-like/hausfrau-y I sound. (I am somewhat less ambivalent, it would seem, about passively concealing evil vegetables in my sons’ food.)
Hey all – greetings from a perfect winter day in December, where we have 8 to 10 inches of snow and more on the way. No wonder the kids are resorting to body modification to amuse themselves indoors. Here’s my latest on TodaysParent.com.
If you read these pages regularly, you are no doubt aware that
Although on the surface Rowan’s obsession and my obsession may appear to have little to do with each other, in reality, there’s lots of room for overlap. There are, I believe, nine distinct types of Pokémon (off the top of my head: water, air, grass, psychic, darkness, dragon, metal, fighting, electric, and… something else — and look at me, devoting precious brain cells to Pokémon types!), plus assorted energy cards for each type, and so-called “trainer” cards to boot. All of which for years have been jumbled into untidy heaps around the house and Rowan’s room. At best, under duress, he will pile all of the cards into willy-nilly into a cardboard box in his room, which he later dumps unceremoniously onto his floor, scrabbling through a thousand-plus cards to find the ones he wants to create his power decks. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s a constant point of contention between me and him — not simply the mess, which is bad enough, but the potential, the potential, the thwarted potential to sort all those cards into their various types, to place each type into its own separate container for easy access, to create, in short, a system — ideally, one that involves the use of a label-maker. I don’t like the game, but my fingers have itched for so long now to organize those cards. “Do you think you’d like to sort out those cards?” I have asked him at various points, and he shrugs his shoulders and says, “Maybe later.” “How about now?” I’ll say, and he will refuse to answer. But on Saturday, for some reason, we hit the sweet spot. He wanted to make a new deck, and I said I would help. And thus began the great Pokémon card organizational extravaganza. Isaac got in on the action too, and he and I sat on Rowan’s bedroom floor, colour-coding cards into various piles while Rowan handpicked the ones he wanted to make an ever-more-powerful deck. It took the better part of an hour, with me sneaking back into the room at various points during the day to finesse the system, but we got it done. There are labels. It’s been the better part of a week now, and it seems to be holding — although I won’t hold my breath.
The best part of it all was listening to my older boy exclaim, over and over, “Mom! I really like this! It makes it so much easier to find the cards I want!” Words straight to my colour-coded little heart. He’s Pokémon geek. I’m an organizational geek. And maybe, just maybe, we’ve found some kind of middle ground.
I write most mornings: those three longhand pages made famous by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. I write in spiral-bound Hilroy notebooks with my fine-point Pentel RSVP ballpoint pens, have filled probably two dozen such notebooks over the last couple of decades.
When you think about it, it’s vaguely impressive: thousands of pages of my words. But then, when you think about it, it’s a bit nauseating: thousands of pages of my to-do lists and what-I-ate-for-breakfast posts, angst over relationships or my hair, musings about the fact that I should write more, exercise more, stop eating sugar, generally be a better person. Thousands of pages of remember-to-buy-milk, where I’m at with various client projects, the weather. I’ve been writing as long as Rachel and I have been together, and the books are a one-sided conversation charting our entire relationship. Two entire notebooks document my ovulation cycle, with mucus (sorry) updates and my morning body temperatures charted in the top right-hand corner and speculations about am-I-or-am-I-not-pregnant filling the pages. Many more notebooks chart my mother’s ongoing cancer experience, her triumphs and declines, and then her death. After Rowan was born, the writing becomes more sporadic and the pages are mostly desperate musings on when I might sleep again. More recently, with children who generally sleep through the night (ptu! ptu!) and are in school full-time, my output has become more regular, weekends excepted.
Yes, occasionally, there’s a nugget of truth in there, some dog-eared pages that I return to later when I’m looking for material. Pages have become raw material for essays, performances. Occasionally, they help me work out some specific creative or personal problem. But that’s rare. Mostly, they’re just an exercise in mental throat-clearing/vomiting, making way for the real business of day.
I think regularly and somewhat neurotically about what will happen to my pages, my collection of Hilroy notebooks, in the event of my death. Ideally, my heirs and executors will immediately burn them without reading a page — in fact, let the record show here that these are my explicit instructions. Don’t read them: not only or primarily because of the fact that they are an unvarnished glimpse into my soul’s weaknesses, my pettiness, my preoccupation with the mundane, my sins, but mostly because they are so incredibly boring that I can’t stomach the idea that anyone might take the time to flip through them and decide that they are my legacy. Got it? Good.
On mornings when it’s Rachel’s turn to get up with the kids, I sometimes haul myself out of bed and sneak into my office with a cup of tea to write. This is a calculated risk; often, these particular morning pages are punctuated by my notes on which kid is shrieking about what and why. Isaac in particular finds it hard to leave me alone when I’m writing, my closed door just so tempting. I try, for the most part, to take his intrusions in stride, to smile and give him a quick kiss and then get back to my words, my hair, my milk, my jobs, my I-should-exercise.
But, on a couple of mornings recently, he’s climbed into my lap and taken up his own pen. And I have handed him a half-blank notebook and he has “written” next to me, copying down letters and numbers and imitating my cursive. We sit together, writing our pages, and those are some of the best mornings ever.
Read about why I (mostly) don’t care in my column this week at Today’sParent.ca.
The third night of Chanukah (which, by the way, coincided with my birthday) had me pulling the car over to the side of a snowy suburban street and announcing that there was no law — Jewish or otherwise — that stipulated that I was required to give presents to anyone, and that everyone in the backseat had ZERO chances left to be gracious about their Chanukah gifts, or we were done with this present racket for the year. PERIOD.
And I meant it.
And I was right.
From that point, my children’s present-receiving skills improved markedly. By which I mean there was no more bursting into tears or pitching of tantrums following the opening of festive holiday gifts. Gifts, by the way, that they wholeheartedly (or begrudgingly) loved and played with in the minutes and days following said tears and tantrums.
Without wanting to get into a treatise on the subject, because I’m sure there are plenty out there, I will say that I have a lot of discomfort around present-receiving culture, in particular at this time of year. I don’t like the commercialism, the impetus to go shopping because somebody has told you to. I’m a bit of a control freak and I hate clutter and waste, which means that most of the time I’d rather pick out my own stuff rather than risk the problematics of gifts I don’t want or need. With several birthdays near the end of the year and a household with strong ties to both Chanukah and Christmas, this time of year starts to feel slightly unmanageable. Years ago, Rachel and I stopped giving holiday and birthday gifts to each other: it felt too loaded, too stressful. Now, if I see something I think she’ll like, I just buy it for her, preferably in, say, July.
At the moment, though, we do buy Chanukah gifts for the kids: one modest present each night for eight nights. It’s an arrangement born out of a certain amount of compromise (Rachel, bless her, adores present culture), a nod to tradition, and at least a smidgen or two of glee and fun. In a perfect world, each gift would be thoughtfully and artfully chosen, locally or sustainably made, nonviolent, affordable, a reflection of my sons’ unique tastes and abilities, sheathed in reusable or recyclable wrapping. Each gift would provoke joy and hours of stimulating play, would broaden their worlds and fill them with extra wonder, new curiosity.
In reality, there’s an awful lot of scouring the toy shelves at Winners.
Because, you know, who has time for that kind of ridiculous? It’s a full-time job to find 16 perfect presents, and I already have a job, writing things on the Internet for free. Among other things. I mean, maybe some year I’ll get my shit together and start thinking of these things in July, but the likelihood of that happening is low. And even if I did, there’s no guarantee that those thoughtfully chosen gifts would be met with anywhere near the grace they merit.
Put simply, my kids need a refresher on their present-receiving skills.
Because, let’s face it: when you are a child (and, ahem, maybe when you’re a grownup), every wrapped present contains a pony. A full on, sparkly pony with diamonds on the soles of its horseshoes and a saddle made out of pure candy. All wrapped packages contain Barbie dream homes or life-size Lego unicorns or undefeatable, gold-plated Pokémon cards. And when that’s the case, sometimes it can be hard to unwrap Boggle. Even when the following day you will spend a rapt hour finding new words with your mother, who had children precisely so that one day she might play Boggle with them.
Nights four through eight of Chanukah involved pre-gift coaching sessions:
“What will you say when you get this present?” we asked.
“Thank you,” they droned, like the perfect little zombies of gratitude we force them to be.
“And what will you say if it’s something that you don’t like?”
“I will say, I will say,” — Rowan has thought this one through, obviously — “‘I don’t really like this present but thank you for it anyway.’”
We’re working on it. By God, we’re working on it.
I’ve just read the Crib Sheet for LGBT parents of newborns by Dana of Mombian. As always, she provides spot-on advice and tips for LGBTQ+ families (and their allies). It’s funny: now that I have “big kids” (ages eight and five), so much of what we do as queer parents just seems old hat. Our friends know us; our neighbours know us; the school knows us; the pharmacists and the waitresses at our local diner and the soccer coaches and even the bank tellers know us. So it’s rare that we have to explain ourselves to our larger world.
But I remember a time when it felt like we were constantly explaining and how tiring and often frustrating that was.
Mombian makes a great point on her Crib Sheet about handling parenting conversations with other adults: “A little preparation can help you sound comfortable with yourself.” I agree. My best advice (I hope) to aspiring or new queer parents is this: Think through your responses to questions in advance, so that you can be smoother than I was. And remember that sometimes even the insensitive questions are meant kindly.
* * *
When my sons were babies, we used to spend most Saturday mornings at the local farmers market. It was a godsend for parents of little kids: open early (a bonus, since we tended to be awake by 6 AM most days and were desperate to be out of the house by eight); warm and dry even during the coldest winter months; and full of friendly people who didn’t bat an eye when our toddler, Rowan, monopolized the free samples of chorizo or locally made Gouda. Plus, they served coffee and a great breakfast.
During one such morning, my partner and I had snagged one of the coveted breakfast tables and were waiting for our food. Despite my four-months-pregnant belly, there was still room on my lap for Rowan, and he climbed onto it. A woman we knew in passing asked if she could join us, and we said, “Yes, of course,” because that’s the etiquette of the farmers market: You make room. You share. We made a bit of small talk, and then she turned to me and gestured toward Rowan, who was plowing his way through a pile of cheese curds.
“Is he yours?” she asked.
I wasn’t ready for the question. The sheer wrongness of it spiraled in so many different directions that I felt scattered, unable to even begin to answer her. I mean, it’s not the kind of thing that straight women sitting next to their male partners get asked about the toddlers in their laps: “Is he yours?”
Of course, Rowan was mine; to the extent that any adult could lay claim to a child, this child belonged to me. But he also belonged equally and passionately to Rachel, his other mother, the woman who had, with me, planned for him and cared about and for him since his conception, who loved him fiercely and protectively, and to whom he was equally passionately attached. And that question, those three words, negated the value of all of that.
Of course, what the woman at our table had actually meant was, “Did you give birth to him?”
But again, wording it like that would scarcely have made a difference. You may find that people will randomly, casually, ask you which — if either — of you gave birth to your own children. Often, “Who gave birth?” is code for “Who’s the real mother (and, by process of elimination, the illegitimate one)?” or “I’m uncomfortable with how your family works and need to understand it according to my own terms.” Decide beforehand how much of that information you want to share and when you want to share it.
Of course, one question often leads to another, and we also received questions about the “father.” Be prepared. “Do you know the father?” or “Is the father involved?” or “Does he have a dad?”
Be prepared to be asked about your kids’ father, even when they have two mothers, sitting right there. Clearly, we must have done a certain amount of important work to have got to the place we were at right then: at the farmers market with our toddler on a cold Saturday morning. Clearly, we had put a lot of effort into this situation, to have figured out how to procure a real live tiny human in a relationship where ovaries tend to dominate. It was frustrating, then, when we’d been up every morning at 6 AM for the past year and a half and our kid only started sleeping through the night three months earlier, and we spent our days cutting grapes in half and following babies up and down flights of stairs so that they wouldn’t bash their skulls in, to have people just so interested in the “father.”
For some lesbian moms, that “father” is a scant teaspoonful of genetic material, no name or face attached. For some families, that genetic material came from someone they know: a friend or relative or acquaintance who donated said material, and who in the grand scheme of things has very little to do with the ensuing children. In these cases, the correct word is usually “donor” — not “father” or “dad.”
In some cases, like my family’s, our donor, Rob, started out as a donor and has, over the years, morphed into a dad. His “dadness” is specific to our family, though: he lives in a different city, visits a few times a year, has started staying with the kids while Rachel and I take a much-needed annual vacation as well as some shorter getaways. He plays games with the kids (now eight and five years old) over the computer. He is a cherished and important member of our extended family, and we love him dearly. But Rachel and I are the ones who live with the kids and do 99% of the actual parenting. And we’d like to take most of the credit for that, thanks.
But without thinking through my answer beforehand, when that woman asked me, “Is he yours?” I blew it.
I panicked, and instead of taking a deep breath and pausing and thinking about just how I might respond, I stammered out, “Um, yeah.”
I felt flustered, and like a jerk, and Rachel felt doubly wounded — at the question in the first place and then at my response to it. It took us some time to regain our equilibrium that day. We managed to do it, to work our way through the guilt and the hurt and the defensiveness and the pain, by coming to a mutual understanding that our first responsibility as queer parents and partners was to our family. We needed to plan in advance for the intrusive questions of strangers and acquaintances and come up with responses that we both felt comfortable with and that respected our unique family — not someone else’s preconceived notion of what families look like, or ought to.
Sometimes, that means that we have to remind ourselves that we don’t have to accommodate other people’s questions just because they ask. A simple, “I’m sorry, but that’s private information” is well within our rights as parents. And sometimes it means that we have to do the work of acting as ambassadors for our family, of seeing the openness and the genuine support behind what might be misguided questions and gently redirecting them, even if it means moving slightly beyond our comfort zones. Because that is how you build community and make it more diverse.
If I could go back in time to that morning at the farmer’s market, I would have taken a deep breath and reached for Rachel’s hand. And then I would have looked that woman in the eye and smiled and said, “He’s ours.”
But then I would have added, “Why do you ask?” And I would have made an effort to have a real conversation, move the dialogue forward. Because, in my opinion, that’s the etiquette of these kinds of things: wherever possible, try to make room. Try to share.
* * *
What were your thoughts on the crib sheet? Any pearls of wisdom or tips for queer parents looking to navigate the world with their rainbow sippy cups in tow? How do you handle questions that feel intrusive? How do you balance wanting to expand knowledge about your family while maintaining your privacy?
This post is part of the BlogHer Absolute Beginners editorial series. Our advertisers do not produce or review editorial content. This post is made possible by Pampers and BlogHer.
(So … 41. Gah. It’s hard to get worked up about 41, I’m starting to realize. Maybe I should have a laser tag party.)
I just read over my letter to you of a year ago and it seems as though very little has changed. Your hair is longer, although you now let us brush it back into a ponytail each day, which is such a relief: I can see your face (and it is gorgeous, your face), unobstructed by curtains of soccer-sweaty hair. You finished the final book in the Harry Potter series this morning, with no nightmares to report. Although we banned — after too many tear-filled trips to Zellers and too much money spent — any more shopping trips for Pokémon cards, your collection of them has grown anyways, as has your encyclopedic knowledge of each Pokémon’s characteristics, which you recite to me in a way that channels Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, doing that Who’s on First routine. Only with health points and weaknesses. You now have front teeth — wide, white adult choppers that took so long to come in I found myself Googling their absence, only to be told, gently, “Wait, wait.”
Which is funny, given how little the Internet actually does gently.
Wait, wait. Gently. Everything will come to pass at the right time. These are variations on the mantras I recite to myself daily, sometimes hourly. On those weekday mornings when you are not dressed and you haven’t yet eaten and you think that we can cram a game of Pokémon and some soccer into the morning while still making it to school in time for outdoor recess, I breathe and remember to exhale and remind myself that you work best when you come to your own conclusions, move according to your own rhythms. And often as not, if I can just keep breathing and refrain from nagging (too much), you somehow magically move through your routines at warp speed, bending time so that there is time to fit in what you need to fit in before hopping on your bike and streaking off to school, stopping at all the intersections just like you’re supposed to.
And then, when I catch up with you, no matter what else may have happened that morning, even if some nagging did occur, and even if that nagging may have met with some less-than-optimally toned remarks made at higher-than-optimal volume, and even if those remarks were met in turn with … well, you get the idea, you always turn to me with a smile and a hug before running off to join your friends on the soccer field before the bell rings.
And in the evening, after you’re finished your gargantuan snack, after those teeth are finally brushed and you have devoured more of the latest book you’re devouring, you still open your arms wide for a cuddle, whisper “I love you,” confide the serious and the lighthearted from your day.
Kid, kid: you’re an intense one. You always have been, sticking to your guns about precisely the way in which you’ll do things. In utero, you were stubbornly breech, your right ear positioned just below my heartbeat. I used to freak out your other mother by trying to turn you, cupping your butt in one hand and your head and the other and wrenching you (gently) down into the position we all knew you were supposed to be in. And then, we would watch you, under the skin of my belly, ratcheting your way back into the position that felt best to you, like a clock going backward in time. And it was hard to feel anything but fondness for your stubborn insistence on being close to my heart. I mean, so what if I had to have a C-section? No biggie.
(Fondness for the stubborn insistence of others, even when it makes you bleed: is that one definition of being a parent? Or just a martyr? Well adjusted, or in need of better boundaries? All of the above, perhaps, depending on the day.)
Rowan, you are a soccer superstar. You picked up piano like it was breathing, and each time you walk by the instrument — the same old Heintzman upright grand I learned to play on — you can’t stop yourself from playing a few bars. You are Pokémon whiz, a voracious reader of selected books, the self-styled third-grade dot-to-dot champion. You have fancy footwork. You’re a good sport, and I think you’re a good friend. Although recently your teacher told me that you and one of your besties got into a disagreement — a misunderstanding, really — and that you both cried. “And when she cried,” you told me, your chin wobbling, “I felt like I was responsible for every bad thing that ever happened to her ever.” And I thought, Honey, it’s not like you two have been married for 17 years. But you feel things so deeply, kid, so, so passionately. You’re neutral about very little, and as much as I recognize that trait in myself, one of my birthday wishes for you is to — absolutely — retain that passion but also, well, just lighten up a bit too, sweetheart.
I mean, you’re only eight.
Jesus Christ: you’re eight! Let’s go out for dinner and order onion rings and double dessert!
I love you —
* * *
Well, hello there Friday. Crazy how you snuck up on me like that: so far off in the distance on Monday and then — wham! — you’re here, and if I blink you’ll be gone and with you an entire week’s worth of not blogging. So here we go.
What have I been doing? In part, it’s been one of those weeks where I have a million different beginnings and no clear endings, and so the idea of teasing through, say, my complicated feelings around Yom Kippur and fasting (or not) and taking children to synagogue, or how this all relates to the/my creative process, seem overwhelming. So, in lieu of a post addressing these kinds of Big Questions, I thought I would share with you some of the Big Questions that have been asked of me in the past 24 hours. To wit:
(One of these things is not like the other…)
For the record, no one around here is mortally ill (ptu, ptu). Just processing, in the way that my children love to process, on and on, about The Death. And pirates. The answers aren’t, obviously, straightforward: in every question there are about six different assumptions that have to be addressed. Like, not everyone is buried when they die and even though we technically all could be buried in the same place the reality is that probably we won’t be, partly because of cremation and also people grow up and move around even though you think you’ll live in this house forever you might not, and you can’t really compare day care and a dead person but let’s just get your seatbelt buckled up and get to day care for right now, and sure, really, if I die you can play on my iPhone (assuming you know the passcode) and let’s not even think about me living after you die because I plan for that to happen the other way around but just in case, no, it would be quite difficult to have fun, say, in the years immediately …
And no, definitively, there is no pirate store.
Have a good weekend.
It’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. Which probably means that I shouldn’t be writing on the computer, but I’m not really that kind of Jew, so that’s okay.
I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions, not because I’m not the type of person who doesn’t totally freaking adore the concept of New Year’s resolutions, what with their promise of self-improvement and lists and all. No, I don’t tend to make New Year’s resolutions because therein lies the possibility of, shall we say, going overboard. I mean, once you resolve to do one thing, about 72 others seem to want to follow and then life becomes an endless pursuit of perfection, which leads to strife. So, usually, if anything, I resolve to do something relatively benign like “See more movies” or “Be nicer to the grey cat.”
But this year, this Rosh Hashanah, I have been mulling over one resolution that I think I actually need to resolve. It involves my children, and for this reason alone I will now take a short break in order to pick them up from their various after-school activities because a corollary to this resolution may just be that I will not be late for picking them up because I am blogging about how I am going to change my behaviour around them. It’s okay, though, because you won’t actually notice that I took a short break.
See! I’m back! No noticing, all good.
So, yes. My resolution. I will… I’m not sure exactly how to phrase this in a sentence so I will give you an example:
One evening this past summer, the kids were being, shall we say, high-energy but also very happy, and also — unrelated — we needed lemons. So, for a change of scenery, I decided to take them to the store to buy said lemons. And so we got to the store and we got lemons and I was heading to the checkout counter (and hoping that the cashier wasn’t going to talk to me too much) and the kids they were all like, “Can we go see the lobsters?”, as in the live lobsters in the tank at the back of the grocery store.
And I was all like, “No, no, we’ve just got to buy the lemons and go home.” And they were all like, lobsters, and I was all like, no no no we can’t have any fun and why can’t you just frog-march like some unsmiling little prisoners in some Gulag quietly through the grocery store and not have any fun any time ever instead of WASTING MY TIME with requests full of childlike wonder and awe to see the live lobsters in the back of the store? To paraphrase.
Fortunately, I came to my senses long enough to realize what a jerk I sounded like. A no you can’t go see the lobsters kind of jerk. And I realize that, yes, this is too often a lot of parents: we are tired and fed up and we must process eleventy million requests each hour, the vast majority of which are unreasonable. But still, still, too often I default to the automatic no, the impulse to squelch any and all joy from a situation because it is inconvenient and I am tired.
And so I said to the kids, “Yes. Let’s go see the lobsters.” And then I watched them hop merrily down the aisle of the grocery store, stepping only on the dark checkerboard tiles on the floor, because they are children, and that is what children do.
So my resolution is Remember to Say Yes to the Lobsters. As often as I can, say yes to them.
Lobsters are not kosher, but that’s okay cause I’m not really that kind of Jew anyway.