Monthly Archives: June 2010

Tipping the balance; a visitor in the house

There are hard moments and even sorrows that go with being not typical.  Lesbian, older moms, and a host of other things have made us different and at times, the price is lonely.  But this is not about sorrow, not at all.  Quite the opposite.  We do certain things– well, differently from other families we know in our neighborhood.  

We have just tipped the balance in this house in several ways.  It is a wonderful thing that is unfolding.  We live, as I have explained in another post or two, in a wonderful 3-bedroom apartment.  It’s quite big-ish by many apartment standards– but still, we are in relatively close quarters.  We have less space and less of a set up for privacy than most, or at least many, homeowners do.  One bathroom for one thing.  Earlier in the spring, about two months ago, we bid on a big house, for just this reason– more space, more bathrooms. 

 But we didn’t get the house and perhaps this summer we will prove to ourselves again that more space is not so important to living the lives we like to live.  Here we go with another chapter in our wonderful old apartment.

Last week the nephew of a very close and long-time friend arrived.  He is 18, soon to be 19.  Straight from his first year at a university far, far from here.  He is a handsome and lovely and lively, interesting young man of color who is very much his own person, an enthusiastic lgbt activist.  He is also unmistakably the nephew of our close friend.  And unmistakably his mother’s son– we know the maternal side of his family. 

He is here, as so many people come here, for an internship, and he needed a place to stay for the first week he was here.  Our friend emailed weeks ago asking could we help her nephew find leads on housing.  We, no, make that I, emailed back.  He said he thought he had found something.  I offered a few nights here if he needed.  He did need a few nights of lodging, and so he came. 

After several days, it became clear that his future housing was not actually firmed up and was in a kind of not great neighborhood.  After a few more days it became clear that my daughter loved having him around, the close quarters didn’t seem to bother him and we were pretty crazy about him ourselves.  And though he is often quiet with the two of us mid-life women much of the time, he and my daughter have a pretty wonderful thing going. 

We moved him into her room temporarily and moved her into ours.  With all this writing, I cannot believe I am not “out” about this– but truth is, the moving her into our bedroom is not altogether a change– we are family bed-ers to the max so she is still with us much of the time– visitor or no visitor.  When it became clear that his housing options weren’t great, I talked to her.  I asked her if she minded letting him take over her room for a while.  I asked her if she wanted him to stay.  She said “It’s fine.  I like it mama, no it’s fine. ”  She was exasperated in that way she gets when I dwell on something that she thinks is not worthy of the time. 

So we asked him to stay the summer and he took us up on it.  She sleeps in with us, and we moved an extra dresser into our room this weekend so she can get her clothes whenever she wants, and some of her toys to other places in the house.  He is gone a lot.  But when he is around she makes her way to his/ her room, they sit on the floor in the living room hanging out, listening to his I-pod, talking.  At dinner if he’s around, he will talk to me about queer theory, the movie or spoken word he saw or heard, a speaker he heard.  But there is also an easy connection between my 9-year-old and this young-setting-out-in-the-world queer man of color.  I also give directions a lot– to the next place he is going, restaurant ideas, things like that.     

But here is my point.  His presence tips the balance in the following ways.  We are now two younger people and two older– where we were previously a household with two older people and only one young person.  (Adult as he is– he is 10 years older than my daughter and I am more than 40 years older than she and more than 30 years older than he is…)  We are now one seriously feminist man plus three women in a usually all-female household.  And the race balance tipped; two people of color and two white people.  Which personally, is always a relief to me.  My daughter is suddenly not the minority either in race/racism nor is she the sole youth in the household for now.  It’s pretty wonderful. 

Although I like and need a high degree of order in the house, there is something I really do need more than that.  More people, more comings and goings, more conversation, more good moods and bad, more stuff, more.  By stuff I mean more connection, more conversation, more to learn.  I love that they are two young brown-skinned people together– their ease and interest in their own things, which are very, very different own things, but also in each other.  A common friendship, a common something, an easy kindness and generosity with each other.  So here we are– the balance tipped, and for me, and all of us in my little family, the fun and hopeful of it, far outweighs the moments when I must share the bathroom.

My silence, my short history of blogs and don’t forget to meet in the kitchen

I realize that I have been really flattened by the story of the death of Henry Granju.  I haven’t quite regained my equilibrium since he died and since I read about his death and then since I wrote my last post about it.  I started thinking the other night, about my relatively short history with blogging and about what led me to know this true story.

The first blog I ever read was a blog written by H., who is the daughter of my first cousin.  H. was living in Senegal for a semester while in college and started a blog with her observations, feelings about her life in Senegal.  (I think I have the country right.)  I both love and like her, and have nothing but respect for her.  It was interesting, full of words and observations– heat and smells, sights and sounds.  Next I think, I found Hip Mama– the hard copies.  And since each zine is slim, I devoured them quickly– often in a sitting– and was wanting more.  So after not too long, I started touring the internet (I know the word is surfing… but truly, I was touring.).  Touring around the internet is how I found Ariel Gore, Susan Ito, Vicki Forman and  Mama C and the boys in that order and then many more (though I must admit I am like your most loyal school friend– I have found many more, but I am neither as devoted to, nor as loyal to any quite so much as my first few fine women bloggers– the aforementioned.)  Some days it really was like Alice in Wonderland– down the rabbit hole– one blog would lead to another, to another, to still another and then two or three or five more– and I’d read for hours– one thing after another.

I see from time to time there are gay rights blogs and a zillion fashion blogs and cooking blogs and baking blogs and knitting blogs and more and more and more. 

But who I found– because it was and is who I needed to listen to, were women– mothers, adoptive mothers, single mothers, mothers of children with special needs, mothers in mixed race families, lesbian mothers, but mothers– one and all.

Somehow I missed — until recently, Katie Granju in there– and now I can’t stop reading.  A lot of us can’t stop reading the story of the loss of her son Henry. 

Truthfully, though it is the end of the school year and a very busy time here at home, I haven’t quite found my equilibrium since reading about the death of Katie’s son.  I am whipped in so many directions.  I grieve for Katie and Henry and for all of us.  I know there are so many sons out there, needlessly lost in one way or another, and so many mothers grieving their lost sons– most of whom don’t have 161 listed blog postings about their losses. (Another blogger compiled a list for Katie of all of our postings about Henry, that he could find, and it totalled 161.) 

I wish every mother who lost a child, every mother worried or fearful for her child, every mother at the end of her rope–every mother who is just over tired, every mother dealing with racism and sexism–  had an army of other mothers (and fathers too) out there, rising up to lend a hand, speak up, offer love and support.  I do believe in the power of words, and these blogs for real– but I also want us away from the computer, in each other’s kitchens, living rooms, in each other’s homes when we are at the end of our rope– or lost in grief.  I want us writing, but I want us meeting in the kitchen, out in the streets, at each other’s sides and speaking our minds–until things change.  And then when they do change– let’s meet again, every day, in the park and in the kitchen.  Together.  For the sheer joy of it.

Not talking, but listening

I wrote this nearly a week ago, and have wrestled with whether to post it or not. I wasn’t able to answer my own questions of myself, but I decided to go ahead. 

Sara Buttenweiser, who I have recently come to know in this writing/virtual world, is the mother of four– the eldest of whom is a young teen.  She has posted on her blog a couple of times recently about another mother, blogger and writer, Katie Granju, who is a very active blogger in many different places, and who has written a book and many articles about parenting and whose work is widely known by others, but only very, very recently by me.  Katie, also a mother of four and expecting a new baby in about a month, has just– and I mean just– lost her very beautiful 18-year-old son.  Beautiful because he was, because all 18-year-old sons are.  He died May 31st. 

Her son died from a drug overdose coupled with a brutal assault that was done to him as he was overdosing, but whatever the specifics it is fair to say that addiction is what killed him.  (Hopefully there will be a careful, proper police investigation, although the difficulties the family is having on that is another terrible, related story.)  

I spent over an hour Friday morning reading her blog.  She had blogged for a long time on parenting, absent any indication that her family members were struggling over many years, as was her son, with his addiction.  She “came out” about his addiction, in late April after he had been found overdosed and badly beaten and was hospitalized in very serious condition.  She is a widely read blogger, and apparently all of this has been widely read and commented upon for many weeks.  Some were apparently critical of her or of her decision to share this story.  I definitely am not.

Over the past month and a half, she has been recording this story on her blog.  On Friday morning I took a lot of it in.  It is sadly, far from the first time I have known close-in, a true-life story with some of these threads starting– with a close college friend of mine who died of what I believe was an intentional drug overdose of prescribed drugs, when we were 22. I read and thought, read and thought, put my head in my hands and cried, read and thought some more.  It’s an excruciating story.  They don’t all end badly, but this one ends with enormous heartbreak. 

This is the kind of story that sends every parent to a very difficult place.  Some place.  It certainly sends me.    We go to the place of quietly, secretly clinging to/ reviewing the differences between the situations and trying to hope it would never be our child.  We go to the place of plain cold, raw terror that maybe this will be our child.  For some it calls up grief and resignation about how the odds are not stacked in our child or children’s favor.  And for some it calls up familiar grief, because this or something like it already did happen or is happening to their child or to a loved one– a senseless death, addiction, a child in prison, a tragedy already unfolded.  We are spin into motion to stop these things, or we are stopped in our tracks and paralyzed with a feeling of terror that we cannot stop these things.  Or both. 

After I read I wondered, what could I or should I say?

There is so much to say and figure out about drugs, addiction, violence in the world, and about how can we end all that.  There is much to figure out in our families and our schools and in groups of young people, and other places, about what are or are not good ideas, workable ways to protect our children in this time before we have ended the circumstances that give rise to addiction and violence.  When I wrote about Mother’s Day I was working on one fragment of my thoughts about a world that is increasingly organized to have us use material things; consumer goods and other diversions–as well as substances to not feel and face hard things and ultimately the isolation from one another that is created in that paradigm. 

For now, I have only three things to add to the conversation.  One is simply, Katie, my heart goes out, out, out to you– I am so sorry for your loss and for this world’s useless loss of your son.  I am sorry that we lose any of  our sons and daughters needlessly.  For many terribly wrong reasons.  For many reasons that are not our fault, as parents.  I hate that addiction is increasingly faced by younger and younger people.  I am sorry.  

Second, is that this particular tragedy highlights for me the imperative that as parents, we must change things across the board. I passionately believe these things are not our fault as parents.  But I also know there is no one but us to work to change the circumstances in our world and communities– the circumstances that we and our children live in.  This change cannot be mostly done in isolation one family at a time, to protect only our children, in whatever community we happen to live– though we have to deal with each hard issue at that intimate level too. It’s a lot.   We have to think and fight for our own children, but not only our own.   

The third thing is I remembered was not what to say, but was about the very profound power of listening.  That often it is not what we have to say that will be valuable, but our ability to listen

This loss is a reminder to me of how much young people need to be listened to– carefully, thoughtfully, often, with lots and lots of time and interest and respect.  Often without argument or rebuttal– even if we think we want or need to rebut later.  Just listened to.  Not only by their parents, but by many people; other adults, relatives, friends of the family, teachers, counselors, the world as a whole.  This is true for all of us–and true for us parents, that we need to be listened to well.  But today I am thinking about young people– my own special young people; my daughter and my two nephews in particular, but all young people. 

I am not saying that Katie didn’t listen to her son, or that listening alone would have fixed his addiction, or that listening without action will fix the circumstances in this world that led to his death, or anything of the sort, so if anyone is reading this as a direct or veiled criticism of her or her parenting, you can give that up right now.   

But I am thinking about the profound nature of listening.  Closely.  With love and genuine interest and respect.   So Katie, again, I am sorry for your loss.  If our paths cross, and even if they don’t, as you write, I am listening.  And to my own daughter and nephews and other young people, I am listening.

June 1st. All over again.

Though this will bear the date of June 2– I am up late.  So for me, it is still June 1 and I must post something to mark this day.  There is a Jewish prayer that I love, the shehechianu– which is a prayer that marks the first of something, the beginning of something, and in which we thank god for bringing us to exactly this particular moment in time–and in my mind we are also thanking god for having been brought to this particular moment in time, with these particular people— whomever they happen to be. 

This is the day 9 years ago, that my partner and I met our daughter who was 12 days old– and brought her back to our hotel and started our life as a threesome.  Mothers and daughter.  On this day 9 years ago, my partner and I drove to a nearby suburb at 5:30 or so in the morning, dropped our car at our friends’ house.  Our friends drove us to the airport and we boarded a plane around 7:00 a.m. to go to El Paso and meet our daughter.

I remember, as does my partner, many, many things in incredibly vivid detail.  In particular I remember the Mexican food we ate at a diner style place on the grounds of the airport, but not actually at the airport itself– at about noon when we arrived, tired, scared and very hungry.

I remember the first glimpse we got of our daughter in a beautiful little yellow dress that was huge on our very small girl.  This is what she was wearing when we arrived and I remember very well, her very attentive, interested face taking it all in.  I remember that we stayed with S. (our daughter’s foster mom and J., her husband, at their home, where our daughter had spent the past many days)– for many, many hours as I had requested– and I remember walking with S. and with my partner and our new baby– to another Mexican restaurant for dinner at about 6:30.  It was 104 degrees.

I remember 8:45 in the evening that night.  When it was finally time to say good night and take her back to our hotel with us, I said to her, that we were going to leave S. and J. and that she wasn’t going to live with them anymore, but that this would be the last change like that– that she would be with us now, forever and she would be ok.  And I remember how she started to cry hard for the first time since we had arrived at 3:00 and she cried the whole time until the car was loaded, the whole ride over a mountain and to our hotel, and the whole way up into the room, and then cried some more, as we held her on the huge bed.  And then she fell asleep. And though I have had a long life staying up late, I knew that if I was going to get any sleep at all, I had to fall asleep too and I did.  I remember much more too, but that is what I’ll write tonight. 

We all had a nice day together today– a funny, odd day, like we sometimes have– but a truly good day.  Very uncharacteristically, she declined the ride she usually gets with our neighbor and their two other girls to school and asked, instead that I, her mama, take her. Which I did.  This evening, she didn’t want me to reminisce about her adoption much.  But we did watch some other family’s adoption day video on Youtube and listened to that great John McCutcheon song, Happy Adoption Day. 

I do remember as we were getting ready to leave the house, so early in the morning all these years ago– bursting into tears– saying this is the biggest blind date of our lives, and I am scared– what if I don’t like her?  What if she doesn’t like us?  But I was wrong– I fell for her the minute I saw her and I am so glad to get to remember that day, every year when June 1 rolls around.