Friday, June 26, 2015

Love is Love

When I read Justice Kennedy’s final paragraph of his decision, my eyes welled up, my heart overflowing.  I thought about my Dad and J, spending lazy summers in their house, playing with their dog Benji, drinking coffee, yes, they let me have coffee! Well—it was mostly cream and sugar—at the round table in their Midwestern kitchen.  J could play the piano by ear, he was the choir director at his church, and while he said he couldn’t read music, if you hummed a tune, immediately he could sit at the piano and play it with full on embellishments, trickling up and down the scales, as easily as my brother and I tumbling up and down the stairs of their house.

It wasn’t until I was in middle school that I understood that our situation was a ‘problem.’  A deep problem for my mother, who after having my brother and adopting me, learned that her husband was gay and they would be divorcing (my brother was 6, I was 3).   A source of shame and pain for her, and similarly for my brother, who was growing up to be a ‘man’ in a ‘man’s world,’ so to speak.

Up through the innocent and naivete times of elementary school, I thought of our family situation as a bonus one—two summer vacations, two Christmases, two thanksgivings, vacation-central!
Looking backward, now I understand the separation, secret shame, that was placed on us.  My mother—to her loving credit—never said one negative thing about my dad in front of me and my brother.  And with us living a state away, it was easy to sweep it under the rug, especially when she re-married and we went on with our lives.  I think she enjoyed the kid-free breaks with us down at our dad’s for weeks in the summer or an extra week at Christmas, or whatever we could do.  And when he was dying, she took me to the hospital to let me see him before he passed, something that my brother as unable to do.

I remember the long sprawling drives through the country with my dad and brother, stopping every hour or so on the four hour drive to see my grandmother or uncle, because I was so carsick I’d have to throw up at the nearest McDonald’s or even the side of the road.  I was used to it, they were used to it, when I recovered, I’d eat some French fries and off we’d go.

My brother and dad would crack jokes, and I remember the many times we would try and get our dad to stop smoking, stealing his cigarettes, even taking them out of his hands before he could light them.  He’d dodge our quick fingers, object, but never raise his voice, more exasperated than angry. 
My grandmother’s house was nestled in “the country” far outside of town, my brother and I would make up games and play in the yard and the trees, chasing her dog, or lazing around the sprinklers.  J would never go with us on our family trips, and up until now, I’d forgotten it was just the three of us.  

I remember I could talk to my dad about anything, without ever wondering if I'd get in trouble or get corrected, he'd listen.  Sometimes he would laugh at me, maybe he really was laughing at me rather than with, but I never thought so.  I knew that he loved me, even though months would go by between visits.  I knew it just like I knew how to breathe.   And I'll be honest--sometimes, back then, when my dad irritated me in my weird hormonal teenage angst way, I latched onto J, thought he was so much cooler than my dad, lol, but I loved them both with all my heart.

J had a son from a previous marriage, too.  And while J was younger than my dad, his son was much older than us, and when J passed a few years after my father, his son invited me to the funeral.  In the foggy youth of my college f-ed up days, I went to the funeral, but when I got there, I was too upset to hug him or greet him in any way.  I went to the house afterwards, somehow I had the key?  And toured the basement and wrote a ridiculous letter about how I wanted my father’s belongings, which now that I think about it, were likely long gone.  I never heard from J’s son ever again, and I still wonder where he is.  I want to apologize for being an unthinking idiot.  I’d understand if he couldn’t forgive me.

My mother’s one regret about my dad, she told me, was that she told my brother that he was gay, when my brother asked in middle school.  She said he wasn’t ready for it, and  I wonder if he still isn’t ready for it, but I can’t speak for him.  I knew for a time from his middle school and high school years, he latched onto my grandfather (my mom’s dad), and in my own limited, high school  knowledge of psychology, I wondered if he was using my grandpa for his father figure (because he certainly wasn’t relying on my dad or my stepdad by then).  He still doesn’t talk to me about Dad.

So what made me cry about the ruling?  Tears of joy and the bittersweet—that my dad and J are not here to see this day, that they are here only because of my memory of them, only because I hold them in my heart.  They taught me to see the best in people, first.  The rest came later.

Now children of gay parents can consider themselves equal in the eyes of the law, and that one day, maybe kids like me and my brother will no longer bear the silent shame of “lesser.”   That we don’t have to be a secret.  That if a mother or father tells their child that their mother or father is gay, it won’t be a complicated burden to carry.

I realize we are likely a long way from true equality in the social and political arenas, but this is just one gigantic step forward, so much farther than when my dad and J were here, so much farther than our childhood experiences. 

So, I wish with all my heart that in future generations, love will continue to win.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reunited! And silly family stories...

The girls came yesterday, and I couldn’t be more happy! Their little faces, their voices saying, “mommy!” oh geez, my heart about melted out of my chest.

Ladybug bounded up to me in pre-school and said, “mommy, I missed you so so so much!  I haven’t seen you for a long, long, long time!’” and she promptly jumped into my arms.  When we got home, A was also home from work, and Ladybug jumped into his arms (rather onto his shoulders) and didn’t leave for an hour. 

Then, when Squirrel got home after her late Monday night dance classes, she ran into the house yelling, “mommy!” and our sweetheart sitter said that all squirrel talked about was that she couldn’t wait to see me.  Swoon.

We spent the evening playing with our sweetheart 30 lbs puppy, snuggling up reading books, eating spaghetti (Squirrel was starving and had five bowls!  I know it’s their favorite—mom’s home made spaghetti, and Squirrel kept repeating, it’s my FAVorite).  The girls proudly gave their “step-father” belated card to A—then he had to take our puppy to puppy class, and so after bath time, we snuggled up again reading more books and then Squirrel turned off all the lights, and demanded that we cuddle under the blankets, and then Ladybug said that mommy should tell a story about when they were babies, first one about Squirrel and then one about Ladybug, and then it would be their turn.

So…a story about Squirrel:

Once upon a time, a long, long, long time ago, when Squirrel was so little she was only talking a little bit, but bigger than a baby, because she was big enough to walk around, we took her to visit my mom who lived in a very cold area of the country.  And because it was the middle of winter, it was really, really cold, and when I gave squirrel a bath, I immediately wrapped her up in a big fluffy towel and carried her over to the counter, which was in front of a huge mirror, so I could dry her really fast and get her pajamas on.  Well, squirrel looked so cute standing in front of the mirror, I said her name, Squirr—ell,  Squirr---ell, and she started swaying back and forth like she was dancing, and because Squirrel couldn’t talk just yet, she answered back:  Squirrel – shee,  Squirrel – shee, and that’s why we called Squirrel Squirrel-shee up to this day!

(Squirrel and Ladybug cackling).  Then, it was Ladybug’s turn, so I went to one of her old favorites about when she was a baby:

Once upon a time, when Ladybug was a really tiny ladybug, she slept in her crib in mommy’s room.  And because daddy had to work, he slept in another room, so when Ladybug would wake up in the middle of the night, he could still sleep.  Well, we thought ladybug was going to sleep like squirrel when she was a baby, who would drink her milk at 10:00pm and then not move again until 6:00am, and then go back to sleep until 8:00am!  Well, Ladybug would drink her milk at 10:00pm.  Then, around 1:00am, she’d wake up and say:  AAAAAAHHHHH!  (a.k.a. I need more milk!!) so mommy would get up feed her, and then we’d both go back to bed.  Well, then Ladybug would wake up again at 4:00am and say AAAAAAAHHHH!  (a.k.a. I need more milk!) and so mommy would get up and feed her again!  Then mommy and ladybug would snuggle in bed all morning until it was time for mommy to get up and go to work, and that was sooooo nice!

(More Squirrel and Ladybug cackling.)  Then, Ladybug decided it was her turn to tell the story about Squirrel:

Once upon a time, when Squirrel was little and going to my preschool, and I was in my mommy’s belly, mommy was driving up the mountain to take Squirrel to school, and Squirrel was in her big car seat and she made up a song and it went like this:  The stars in the sky, shine down on me and BOINK my eyeballs!

(Cackling interlude continues).  Then Ladybug decided to tell another story about mommy and the “cock-a-roh” (cockroach, eek!):

Once upon a time, Squirrel and I were upstairs playing the playroom and mommy was downstairs in the kitchen, then suddenly mommy screamed:  AAAAAHHHH!  And Squirrel and I came running downstairs, and Mommy said, “stay where you are!” and so we stayed on the stairs, and mommy got the fly-swatter thingie  and then she hit the cock-a-roh with it, and then she was screaming, “Ah! Ah! Ah!” every time she was trying to hit the cock-a-roh, and me and squirrel started laughing because it was so funny!!  And then I went to my school the next day, and I told my teacher, “Mommy killed a cock-a-roh, AH! Ah! Ah!.

Oh dear, I guess these stories aren’t that heartwarming or charming or internet viral worthy, but they are all ours and it was just so nice to giggle and laugh and snuggle and then get the girls tucked into their bunk beds.  I myself went to sleep smiling.

This morning, we all woke up a little early and had bonus play time with our puppy, but when it was time to drop off to summer school and preschool, Squirrel said, “is it Tuesday, already?” and I said yes, and she said, “But it came so fast?” and I said, “I know honey, but then we go back to the normal schedule starting tomorrow…”  (Tuesday is dad’s visitation day).

And even though they aren’t home tonight, I know they’re coming home tomorrow.  My heart is happy and I can’t wait to have my lovebugs home with us again.  How did I ever get through the two week summer vacation time in years past?  I can’t believe this is the third year doing this.  But I survived!  And so did they. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Divorced or Single?

A friend of mine posted on her FB: it’s been 8 years since my divorce, so at the doctor’s office, I checked “single” rather than “divorced.”  I feel single, not divorced.  Does it matter?

The reply comments ran along the lines of—well, it’s probably to keep medical records straight, especially if you used different names, so check divorced. 

Others said, why should I have to include a part of my past in my present and future?  I don’t associate myself with that past—no kids, no shared assets, no shared life, I haven’t seen him in years.  Single for me!

It got me thinking, too:  single or divorced?  And does it matter?

I’m not defined by my divorce, nor am I defined by my relationship status, so why the label?  Is there a health reason (aside from medical record tracking) that we need to label ourselves by this?  /scratching my head

My five minute google search didn’t come up with anything more concrete.  Label, or no label, be true to yourself.  A snarky article about how one’s gentleman friend, 20 years post-divorce, would never consider himself “divorced,” but “single.” 

Someone else wrote, you are not divorced, you went through a divorce.  That seems to be truer to the description.

I guess we Americans are just tied to our labels and boxes, easier to group people as here, there, not here, not there, and of course our rich history is to put people who are not like “us” in the scary “other” box.

At any rate, I’m re-married now, there’s no ‘remarried’ box, I guess I'll check married. Though not solely defined by the checkmark, it probably helps the doctors know there's someone out there to contact in an emergency.  I do remember being curious about what other people did, though, and feeling sympathetic with the single vs. divorced question itself.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I will get there one day, or the Black hole,

Or, “How to Cope when your Kids are on an Extended Visitation.”  I know what I’m supposed to do—be open minded and happy and supportive.  Knowing time with the other parent is important for the children and good for them (when he is behaving well).  (I wonder when the caveat, the fear will end?)

I know I’m supposed to be the grown up, concentrate on the fact that they are having fun.  Because I remember that even in the bad times, when he was acting well, he was fun.  Loving.  Hilarious.  And the girls adore him.  I need to be the grown up and cherish the good parts, the funny parts, their happy voices telling me that they go to see Goofy!, and Pluto!, and Peter Pan!  And even Maleficient!  And giggle at the fact that DD1’s BFF managed to rendezvous with them at Disneyland—(the girls’ first visit there—his family lives down the street from Disney, and one of his aunties has an annual pass).  That her BFF’s mom has been texting me pictures and I can see them riding the teacups and visiting castles and grinning their ears off.  That I get to see a slice of their experiences on facebook and Instagram, because of that friendship.

I tell myself, think of it like they went away to camp.  They are having fun.  They are loved.  They are happy.  Be glad they are happy. 

And most importantly:  visitation is FOR THE KIDS. 

There, I know it in my head.  Pat my inner child that charades as a mature, working mom of two, on the back for understanding logically that this is always about the Kids, and not me.

Then, here’s the part that’s not so grown up and mature.  I miss my girls with all my heart.  I ache for them.  I go to work every day and make plans with other grown ups and play with our dog and go to puppy class and go for walks with my hubby, but I still ache on the inside.  I tear up.  I miss their little faces and their little voices.  My girlfriend sent me a video of our kids playing, three years ago, DD2 emerging from toddlerhood to preschooler, and her little baby face just kills me.  Slaughtered.

Last week end, I went to the beach and surfed my little heart out, had some more grown up time with another mom-friend surfer of mine.  We went to go sit in her gym’s hot tub afterwards and feasted on smoothies and salad and oatmeal (oh how times have changed since my grommet days of driving a 70’s hatchback jalopy that had to be pushed to get started!), trading and swapping stories of childrearing and career choices and just relaxing.  I went home and took a nap (believe me, the wondrous ability to take a nap is not lost on me!).  Then I woke up and cried, because I miss my babies so much.

Another single mom once told me that when you have to do the visitation thing, it’s like what older parents go through when you send your kids off to college or they move out.  The empty nest syndrome.  Only the separation comes up for us single parents so much faster.  Often, and regular, and routine.

I finally called my therapist yesterday.  I’m a mess.  I miss my kids, I hurt for them.  Help me cope.

Her advice?  The pain of separation is so hard and complicated for you, and it’s triggered by your kids being away.  But this really isn’t about the kids, this is about your separation anxiety, the deep-rooted fear of loss, the deep-rooted experience of loss.

Oh.  Right.  I have forever lost the people most important to me—my birth parents as an infant, my adopted fathers and stepfather, my favorite teacher, my childhood friend’s mom, grandmothers, grandfather, and let’s not talk about the destruction of my little family.  Loss has followed me like a shadow, and because of it, it has left its fingers inside my very bones.  On my more macabre days, I know I almost expect death before life, because it’s familiar, like a warm blanket.  I almost expect loss over reconciliation or return, because they all died anyway.  I’m a champ at memorial services and crying and holding that part inside you that will never go away, the big gap, like a black hole.

That black hole used to consume me.  Anything that held promise, a seedling of hope, I would ruin it myself, turn it away.  Perhaps that’s why I spent my early adulthood traveling thousands of miles around the globe, sending out tendrils of connection, enjoying maybe a year here or a few months there, never letting those tendrils grow into something stronger, never settling anywhere, until I finally grew up (after years of therapy), and settled down here.

Home.  It’s a scary place, home.  One full of loss and violence and fear and death.  The one I grew up had lots of death and strife between my brother and stepfather and me.  When I built the tools to make my own home—escaping to college, then after college, I kept building, destroying, and rebuilding my ramshackle homes as I traveled around, but even after I had “settled down,” living longer here than any other time frame of my life, I ended up making my two precious babies in a home half-filled with happiness, and half-filled with anger and violence.

And somehow, I figured out how to get out of there.  I figured out and am still learning how to build a new home again, one that is filled with happiness and hope, because somehow, I never lost sight of hope, but also with “normal” strife, “normal” challenges.  Like, it’s okay to argue with your husband and disagree.  It’s not okay to throw and break shit, or threaten to murder your children in your sleep, or kick them in the stomach, or push them so they fall down, or choke the family dog in front of your four year old.  To live in fear that if he might make good on “putting a bullet through your head.”  That shit is not okay.

So the not grown-up part of me?  It’s about the black hole.  Yes, missing my kids is normal and okay and understandable.  But the level of ache, the level of missing, that isn’t about my kids at all.  That’s about me.  And my damn black hole.

One that I used to fill up in unhealthy ways, not so great relationships, unreal expectations, thinking if I loved her or him enough, or if I did enough, or if I wished and hoped and prayed enough, they wouldn’t leave me.  They wouldn’t die.  They wouldn’t have abandoned me in the cold parking lot at night as an infant.

I don’t dare fill up that black hole anymore with anything but therapy and learning to cope.  I must separate myself from my triggers.  At least try.

And…I will count the days for when my babies come home to me, so we can resume our normal routine, so I can hear their sweet voices and to be truthful, their not so sweet voices when they’re arguing themselves or negotiating screen time or an extra dessert or just being annoying about brushing their teeth.  Their laughter that echoes inside our house, their footsteps stomping on the stairs, chasing after our puppy.

Less than two weeks.  Stupid black hole.  I hate staring at you in the face, but I know I have to, sometimes.  I have to remember that you are part of me, like the skin on my body, like the air I breathe, and not let you suck away my spirit.  For whatever reason, surviving you helped me survive this world, helped me survive the very complicated births of my daughters and survive a terrible relationship.  Surviving you every day helps me grow into my new life of late.  Celebrating my one year anniversary as a blended family.  Building a home that is no longer eaten away at the edges.  I guess in that case, I ought to thank you, but I’m not that mature just yet.