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10 ways to support friends who are parents going through divorce

23 Nov

How do you activate your village in the middle of a divorce? I find it’s hard to put into words what I need while I’m grieving.

In one week, I moved out of our family home and into my own place and I opened a new bank account, while K got a new puppy, who is quite likely the new love of our daughter’s life.

Thankfully, I have a community of family and friends-who-are-family, who check-in with me regularly and field my crisis calls and S.O.S. texts with love, kindness, strength and clarity. Sometimes they even know what I need before I do.

So I thought: If I share some of how my village has shown up for me, and some of what I’ve asked them to do, will it resonate with someone else who’s struggling to activate their village? Maybe.

Here is what I wrote that week, which was first published on The Next Family and then today on page 4 of the Windy City Times. ❤

wct-guest-column-11-23-2016

My Lesbian Divorce –> The Next Family

11 Oct

 

Love and gratitude to the folks at The Next Family, who invited and published my reflection today on divorce:

I never expected to stand in front of a hundred family members and friends in a long white dress, lighting candles, exchanging rings, and proclaiming my love and commitment to a woman. I never expected a ceremony like ours to be fully and legally binding. I never expected to want to be legally bound.

I never expected to be a mom, or a stepmom.

I never expected to sit around my dining room table in pajamas one Saturday morning, breaking the news of our divorce to my twelve-year-old daughter. I never, ever, ever expected that.

And yet …     [read more]

Belief

10 Apr

If you told the twentysomething
newly-out lesbian me
whose every hope hinged
on this dream
of a longtime lover
and two cats
that I would be living
with a wife –
Did you hear me? –
a wife, a daughter,
two dogs, a cat,
another daughter
grown and flown
miles and miles away 
who fills the house
with happy when
we visit one another,

If you told me
this was the dream,
this

was the life
I had built
for myself,
if history had looped,
and I had a way
to warp what was to come,
would I have taken it

then,
as a newly out lesbian
twentysomething
know-it-all
in-your-face
artist
scraping by
in my studio
apartment
overlooking
the lake?

If you told me the night
I laid on the floor
with my head between
two speakers,

would I have believed you
when you said
this
is the life
I am meant
to lead?

Would I have believed
this
life
we’ve
built,
this
life
I
want,

these friends,
this family,
these pets,
these girls
are
what I love most
in the world?

Would I have
Believed you then?

* * * * *

National Poetry Writing Month
30 poems in 30 days

For Transgender Day of Visibility

31 Mar

When I came out as gay, I came out loudly, with all my heart and soul, with passion and vigilance and a swift angry dismissal of anyone who could not or would not immediately accept me.

For me, coming out was like going from 2-dimensional to 3-D. All the shapes and all the colors jumped out at me, and I wanted to know them ALL. Of course, I was just entering my twenties, too, which made everything feel vivid and big and shocking and deep.

[I’ll get to the point here in just a moment – I promise.]

I got involved right away with a group of LGBT people pushing for better policy – like employment protections, AIDS drugs and research accessibility, public accommodations and gender neutral bathrooms – and although 25 years later, I’ve lost sight of what the issue was, why we had gathered or where we were this one specific day, I do remember vividly having a conversation with another activist, a transwoman who had started her own organization. I remember standing next to her in a crowd, and we were talking about our lives in a warm and friendly way – not too surface, not too deep – when I asked: “When did you become a woman?”

She turned her head and looked me in the eye. She didn’t seem angry. I saw only compassion, warmth, a touch of fatigue, an undercurrent of sadness. She may have even touched my shoulder as she said, “Honey, I have always been a girl.”

That moment has stayed with me – her generosity, her simple statement with so many implications that my head nearly exploded, her compassion with me as a young activist whose question might have drawn daggers from someone else (from me, were our roles reversed), her poise, her uncomplicated response.

I understood then that her truth was simple. It is the rest of us (still) who need to catch-up, who need to listen – not only for her, not only as allies – but for ourselves.

Mind blown, I never asked anyone that question again.

Honey, I have always been a girl.

 

The truth is, I make plenty of mistakes as an ally, as a person, whatever, as a human being, and I’ll share more here another day, but for now, I’ll say that being an ally comes down to empathy: Making friends, listening, reading, seeing the world through someone else’s eyes … and then doing what must be done, with all the gifts we possess in the moment.

Two women I’ve met through Listen to Your Mother, Meggan and Pamela, asked for allies to join the chorus this year on Transgender Day of Visibility – Meggan and Pamela, whose vision, visibility, presence and activism is hearty and inspiring.

I highly recommend you read their words at Affirmed Mom and Trans Girl at the Cross anytime you have 5 or 10 minutes. (Or more!) For today, here is what they are asking people to do ~

Yes!

Let’s celebrate. Let’s agitate. Let’s listen. Let’s speak out. As much as we can. Let’s be.

Meet Kaya

28 Dec

Kaya with EdamameKaya is the newest addition to my family – requiring her own daily hair brushing, a breakfast of fresh vegetables pulled directly from her garden, and a morning riding lesson in my dining room.  Kaya has clothes from 1764 and from the present day.  Today, she has riding gloves and fashionable shoes. Which she wears without socks.

Yes, Kaya is an American Girl Doll.

We caved, Kelly and I.  Or . . . We had a change of heart.

We grew to appreciate our little girl’s consistent and – periodically but not petulantly stated – desire for an American Girl Doll.  She’s wanted one for two solid years. Unwaveringly.

The truth is, she cares well for the 18-inch dolls she has, each one purchased with her own money — money saved for weeks or months each time.  She enjoys their various outfits.  They’ve accompanied us on multiple trips. They have their own wardrobe bag, their own chairs, sleeping bags, and tent.  She cares very much about their well-being.  But what she really wants has always been an American Girl Doll.

And she has begun to understand money – not so much the counting of it (which she still abhors), but the price attached to things we want, the true value of good workmanship and the sometimes-faux-value of well-marketed brands.  Isn’t this what our “No” was meant to teach?

Kaya RidingTo her, an American Girl Doll is worth the price – with her beautifully crafted knees (more carefully shaped than the knees on her other, less expensive 18-inch dolls), her flexible legs and arms, which not only go up and down but also rotate at the joints like a real person’s.  And her chin!  Her other dolls, my daughter tells me, don’t have chins.  American Girl Dolls have real chins. I hadn’t noticed, but I trust her. She knows what she’s talking about.

And those stories for all the historical dolls!?  My little girl, for the first time ever, eagerly picked up a book about Native Americans. She read it from cover to cover without stopping. My little Mayan girl.

It’s capitalist marketing, I know.  But it’s girl power, too.

When we stood in line at 9 a.m. the day after Christmas, the mom behind us wanted to know how many dolls my little girl had at home (none) and made a big deal over how we were waiting here today to buy her very first one.  Her daughter had eleven American Girl Dolls.  Four came with them.  The girl stared at me coolly, hugging one of the dolls tight to her chest, holding back a smug smile. Barely. She was probably ten years old.  Maybe eleven. My daughter fidgeted, and glanced ahead to see if the doors had opened yet.

This is why we said “No” for two full years – this sense of entitlement, this insatiable need for more, more, more.

Kaya and Miss EAnd yet – after fifteen minutes in the store, so perfectly arranged, so pink, so … educational?… I began to feel the appeal. There is a lure. A feeling to bask in … all that… girl power, all that… history, all those… dolls.

Our daughter is set apart from her peers in so many unchangeable ways, but here is one club to which she can belong. She is thrilled. She is… beyond thrilled.

“You should pick the one who looks like you! She’s the most special,” my niece insisted weeks ago, when my daughter wanted to bring only her pale blonde doll on a trip. The one who looks more like me.  She was going to leave the beautifully brown, black-haired doll at home.

“The blonde one looks like you.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  You’re her mom,” my colleague said, wanting me to see her choice in a new light. Yes. But in our society, and in our family, it’s important for her to see the one who looks like her as special. Most special.  We’re at a tricky age here, when decisions get made that last awhile.

Kaya ChosenIn the end, it was historical Kaya who won my daughter’s heart. She looked most like her, too, thrilling me greatly.  The contemporary look-like-you dolls, as it turns out, weren’t quite right.

My daughter did a cartwheel in the aisle of the store.

I’m beginning to love this doll.

And I do think avoiding the hugest deal for little girls since… well, I don’t know since when. Since Barbie maybe?  … well, it’s just not a practical strategy.  Not for us. Not anymore.  So…

Here’s Kaya, my daughter’s very best friend. And the newest member of my family.

Kaya with Miss E

Books

19 Oct

I was 45 seconds late and just setting foot on the blacktop when my daughter catapulted out the 3rd grade door, loud and happy, tossing her purple monster backpack at my feet.  “Let’s go!” she announced.  “Come on, Mom, let’s go!”

“Wait,” I replied, with this word she uses on me all the time. “I need a hug first!”

She hugged me fast, barely touching me at all.  In a flash, she was halfway back to the school door.  “Can you please carry my backpack?” she called back to me.  It was heavy, incredibly heavy, weighed down by all the books she brought to school that morning to read in her spare time.

As I spun around to follow her back into the school, my right knee clicked and I winced, muttering who knows what under my breath.  She returned to my side instantly and without saying a word, she knelt and very gently rubbed her hands up and down both sides of my left knee.  I’m usually the family masseuse – back rubs, neck rubs, head rubs. She had never done this for me before.

“Better, Mami?” she asked, moving her hands to my right knee where the pain was.  It really did feel good.

“Yes. Thank you, sweetheart.”  My heart opened with love for my little gem of a girl, who was so focused on her own thing but still showed such care for me.

She ran back to the school door, eager to reach her “happy place,” looking back once to be sure I was following.  It was time for the Scholastic Book Fair.

“Ba,” was my little girl’s first word.  It meant, depending on context, “Ball,” “Banana,” or “Book.”  I realize it’s not fair to claim this simple syllable as her first word, but I’m telling you – she really didn’t use it for anything else – not “Mom,” not “Pillow,” not “Dog.”  It was very clearly “Ball,” “Banana,” or “Book.”  Our bin of books was the go-to place in our house for a rainy day. For a quiet morning. After a bath.  In the middle of the afternoon. For a cuddle.  A story. A sing-song rhyme. For colors and shapes and curiosity. So many things can be found in a book: Ourselves, our histories, people and things not yet known. We are passionate about books in our family.

So I learned about my daughter – my new mercurial 3rd grade daughter who has, in Pokémon terms, evolved from my more docile 2nd grade daughter  – quite a lot during the book fair.  This time, instead of hovering and guiding her choices, I parked myself at the center table while she scanned the perimeter.  I picked up and put down at least twelve picture books, beautifully painted and smartly phrased, pining over the days when she and I would plop ourselves on the floor to begin our adventures together.

Here, now, this week, my nephew turns two.  I shared a few of these beautiful picture books with my girl.  Would he like them?  Thumbs up, thumbs down, wrinkled nose, widened eyes.  She had opinions for them all.  She tickled me with her expressions.

She shared a few of her picks with me, too, running her finger under their titles, holding each one close to her chest and then placing it back on the shelf with a quick few words about why Yes, or why No.

Once she made her way around the full perimeter – and I know by now that it’s bad karma for me to interrupt her flow – she said, “Mom, come here. Mom, I just don’t know.”  We picked up a Poison Apple set, two books she hadn’t yet read bundled together, turned over the package a couple times.  But there was another book, a Pokémon handbook, which she had just set back on a shelf.  She knew we would buy her only two.  She had been told.  Now she wanted three, but wouldn’t say so. “I don’t know,” she said again, and I let the phrase linger a moment before reminding her that Mama could download Poison Apple books on the iPad, almost for free.  “Good point!” she said, and smiled her huge, contagious smile, lighting up the whole room.  She returned to ponder Pokémon.  “What about this?” she asked, and I agreed it was a good choice.  She browsed elementary mysteries, vampire sagas and books she would have loved at four years old.

Finally, she settled on a joke book with a nose pencil sharpener attached.  And Pokémon.

“Great!” I said.

“Okay,” she said. We paid and we were done.

Now every night, she’s asking us riddles and telling us jokes.  She hasn’t looked back once with regret over her decision. Not once. Not this time.

I learned a lot at the book fair.

About how my little girl makes choices. About how, so often, I interfere.  About empathy and guidance.  Patience.

I found among the books, as I’ve found so many times before and forgotten, that miracles happen and humans evolve if I sometimes simply hang back and wait.

And our cat? There on the bookshelf?  He’s just cute. Don’t you think?

———-

Photo by Kelly Fondow

Summer Countdown

1 Jun

“How many days of school do I have, Mami?”

You mean this year? Before the end of second grade?  Are you finishing second grade already?!?  “Four days, Sweetheart.  Just four.”  I’m eager for summer, but this year’s teacher will be hard to lose.

“What’s after that?”

“Camp Grandma.”  I smile.  “Grandpa got the pool ready for you.”  They have a pool right in their backyard.

“Yay!”  She sits up in bed, clapping her hands together giddily.  I want to tickle her, jump up and dance around the room with her.  Summer fever is contagious.  I can feel the sun on my face at the public pool, hear each squeal as she chases friends around the park, kicks a ball, straddles her bicycle.  “Do you think I’ll be able to touch the bottom?”  Her cousin was six when she touched the bottom. “… and now I’m eight!  I think I’ll touch.  Last year, I almost could.  Almost.  I think I’ll touch this year.  I know I’ll touch.  What else will I do there?”

“You’re going on a field trip with your cousin.”

“Oh, right!”  She is beyond thrilled. She is elated.  She’s going to the zoo with her cousin, her cousin’s class, and Grandma.

She shifts gears.  “I know I probably can’t have a whole pack anymore, but… will you make me a card, Mami?  Maybe a couple of cards?”  It has become a tradition.

“You’ll have your cards, Cutie Pie.  One card for each day.  Don’t worry.”

“Oh, good!”  She sounds relieved, and I realize her shoulders were up tight by her ears and they’ve dropped now.  “I like Pokèmon cards, too.  Remember when you put those in?  Will you…?  I liked that.”

“You’d like me to get you Pokèmon cards?”

“Yes!  And I’ll make you cards, too, Mami.  We can have a writing day.  We can write each other cards… in separate rooms,” she decides.  She has always enjoyed an element of surprise.

Cards.  Treasures.  Summer.  Growing older.  Going away on a trip.  Leaving each other and coming together again.

The pure glee of each discovery, each reunion, each… new… thing.

“I would like that, Sweetheart, very much.”

* * *

What I know about Camp Grandma is this:

There are outings and puzzles and playtime and parks and ice cream every day, sometimes twice.  Ice cream is a rule.  At Grandma’s, there’s also a pool.

Mama and I are not there to wake her or nag her, hug her or guide her.  Grandma and Grandpa handle what needs handling in that regard.  Sometimes, their style is just like ours.  More often, it’s not.  And all of this is good.

Every weekday morning, Grandpa heads to “the office” – their nickname for the local McDonald’s, where he gets one cup of coffee and chats for an hour or so with friends about local news, the state of the economy, nearby real estate, the grandkids and recent golf games. My daughter goes with him at least once, so he can show her off.  She gets a treat, some coloring pages, a book, and intermittent but rapt attention from all the grown-ups.  Plus, she gets to eavesdrop on all the grown-up conversation.  This may be the pinnacle of her annual summer trip – or close to it.

* * *

Later this week, in the early morning, she asks, “Remember when you came to my concert in first grade?  I was sad because I had to go back to my class and I couldn’t come home with you?”

“Yes.”

“I won’t be sad today.”

“No?”  Our day begins with her second grade awards ceremony.  Then her Mama and I go to work.

“No.  When you came on the field trip and left and then came back to pick me up, I wasn’t sad.”

I see we’re also preparing for next week, and while I’ve usually led this conversation, she’s handling it beautifully today on her own.

“Good!”  I push a lock of hair behind her ears.  “I’m glad.”

“I hope I get an award for reading.”

She gets an award as “Most Improved Student in Math.”  My partner and I beam with pride.

Here is the true beginning of summer.  And we are all ready for the first time.

The Real Thing

20 Apr

Last week, after filing my taxes as a “single” person – coupled for nearly ten years and raising two daughters – after claiming zero dependents and dotting the “i” in my name for the 1040EZ, I went on a Facebook tax rant.  It’s not in my nature, most days, to rant in public.  But a friend of mine had her own tax rant a few days prior about paying for the privilege of filing online to save a tree… and I was just plain cranky.

Because language matters to me.  Semantics matter.  Words are my life and it matters to me how something is said.  It matters to me when my family disappears from view because the words to describe us simply aren’t there.  That matters to me.  It just does.

And yet, there are times when I prioritize other things. I told my stepdaughter once, “You can say whatever you want to at school about me.  Tell your friends whatever makes sense to you at the time, but please don’t let that get in the way of how we relate to each other.  How we are with each other at home… is sacred.”  As if language didn’t also shape our lives.  As if, as the daughter of a lesbian mom, this wasn’t her fight, too.  As if we could live our lives separately from the words we used to describe it.  Which we can’t.  Not well.  Not all the time.

Well, maybe you can – but I can’t.  Are you with me?  Words are powerful. 

How we live our lives is powerful, too. 

I had a friend call me once because her ex-partner was writing my friend out of the family, claiming to be their daughter’s only mom, and my friend was understandably panicked.  “But you are her mom,” I said.  “Be her mom. Nobody can take that away from you.  It doesn’t matter how your ex- describes it.  You know what’s real.”  It did matter, depending on who her ex- spoke with, but that wasn’t my point.  She was getting legal advice from someone else.  From me, she needed to be reminded what was true, and living in a society that so often gets confused (or incensed) by what they don’t understand, it’s easy sometimes for us to get confused (or incensed), too, and begin to think the words others use to describe us are real. When they’re not.

Words help us make sense of the world.  But as a society, we don’t always agree on what words mean.

Before bedtime recently, my partner and I had a chat about marriage and civil unions in front of our second grader, who declared that her Mama and I should wait until the laws are completely fair before we “get married,” because it’s just not right to have some of the benefits but not all of them and we should hold out for the real thing.

Okay!  But what is the real thing?  Do we let the state define that for us?  Or the feds?  The feds hold the power to award more than 1000 benefits, rights and responsibilities along with that certificate of marriage, so even though I really, truly, deeply believe we must define family for ourselves, I want a piece of that, too.  I do.

I have a great deal of respect for the same-sex couples testing out the institutions made available to us over the past twenty years – signing papers, exchanging vows, living in this limbo between state and federal recognition, and later hiring CPAs to do their taxes because there’s still so much uncertainty about what each word means – marriage, civil union, domestic partnership – so much conflict, so much confusion.  These families are working out kinks in the law, helping to shape the public discourse, standing up to be counted, and WE NEED THESE PEOPLE to say “I’m married” at work, at home, in the paper and on the news.

But when it comes down to it, marriage is a personal decision – no matter who you are – and what I have at home is the real thing, too, no matter what it’s called.

Within 24 hours of posting my Facebook tax rant, I heard from Illinois, Massachusetts, California, and Texas – about civil unions and marriage and being united by the state and divided by the feds.  A few days later, a former colleague sent me this:  For N.J. same-sex couples, filing taxes turns headaches into migraines.  And then Mombian posted this:  A Taxing Problem for Same-Sex Families.  Apparently I am not the only one for whom Tax Day touches a nerve.

But it was “the real thing” that stuck with me. We need new words.  Because how do you explain to an 8-year-old why her family is not protected and revered and respected the same way her friends’ families are, when the love and commitment are just as real?

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