Monthly Archives: May 2011

Working out with iPod– Kidd Russell

On the first leg, the San Francisco leg of our spring break travel, I went to the YWCA several times with my friend, L.  She has mostly, throughout our long friendship in different cities, been more devoted to regular exercise than I– though I was, for a long time, a very regular two-to-three mile runner.  But a nerve problem in my foot and an infant put an end to that about 10 years ago.  L.’s children are older than my one child is– so for her it has been longer since the demands of parenting have required totally giving up on so many things that one does for oneself and while visiting I thought it would be great to follow her back into exercise.

On our first morning after we arrived, she said she was going to the Y to go to a spinning class and I said I was going with her.  I’d never been to a spinning class.  I’m not in the greatest shape.  When I do things like running or spinning on my own, I come up against a wall of hard feelings– feelings of it being too hard and feelings of it being impossible to go on.  In some ways I’ve understated this; I had very bad asthma as a very young child and sometimes when I’m exercising, that same feeling comes over me– same as when I was young having an asthma attack; “I can’t; I’m going to die.”  This feeling has certainly hindered my ability to get regular exercise that involves pushing past that feeling.

But L. has a wonderful sense of humor and this unstoppable, cascading laugh and with her on the bike next to me, looking over periodically and laughing hysterically about the absurdity of spinning and sweating all together, I found I was able to keep going way past the point I could have done on my own.  Not as long as the best of them but 38 minutes isn’t bad for someone as unexercised as I have been lately.  And I had to admit I kind of loved it.

When I came home I decided I would join a gym– I’ve not had a gym membership in years.  Recently strangers here and there have just begun acting very strangely toward me– it’s the particular sexism directed toward women who are, in someone’s eyes, older.  I rode the bus at rush hour the other morning with my partner and two 30-ish people asked my partner and me if we wanted their seats (we were standing).  I said, “oh no, thanks, I’m fine.”  But it didn’t end there and they must have interrupted our conversation three more times on a 10-block ride to see if we wanted their seats.

When I went to visit three gyms in order to choose one– they did something similar.  They talked in these strange condescending tones.  They asked me slowly if I’d ever belonged to a gym before (yes, yes, I have) and what I liked best about working out.  I laughed out loud and said, “I hate working out.  I hate it.  That’s why I’m so out of shape and why I’m looking to join a gym today.  Does that answer your question?”

Despite these silly, deflating sales pitches, I did join a gym.  I joined the one that was the cheapest, that is around the corner from my daughter’s school, that is walking distance from home– but has metered parking right out front where it is easy to park at most times of day.  I joined the gym with ugly tee shirts and no incentive to browse their “pro shop” and the one that doesn’t have lovely pitchers of water with mint and lemon wedges throughout the gym.  I joined a gym where I go in my sweat clothes and put my backpack down beside the machine and get aerobic exercise for about 40 minutes.  Then I pick up my stuff and go to another area and stretch and then I go home.  I don’t generally shower there, I don’t make friends, I don’t buy things and I don’t do anything except work my body harder than I do sitting at the computer.  I’m loving it.

Since I don’t have L. at my side, laughing– I generally bring my iPod.  I find music with a kind of lightness and a good, happy beat, or a driving soul or disco beat.  I recently found this guy– Kidd Russell– who’s from Chicago and whose song, She Feels Like Home to Me– does feel like home to me and keeps me moving– not quite, but a little like a friend to cheer me on.

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May, 2011.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been having a hard time.  I have some guesses about why, but really– I don’t know why.  I have the writerly problem of deciding whether it is just too personal to write about here.  Or too boring for a reader, which is a different writerly problem.

I’m in the midst of my April-May-June cycle.  April and Passover– are about spring, liberation.  Passover eight years ago was the last time I ever saw my father.  May and Mother’s day– the commercial holiday that was, for a number of years, oddly meaningful as I worked through feelings of wanting to be and worrying I wouldn’t be, a mother.  May 20th– my daughter’s birthday.  May 20th has been a very special day every year since she was born– but for a mother of a daughter whose birth was announced to us after the fact, it has been a very special day every year– except the year of her actual birth when we didn’t know she was being born nor did we know that there was a very small girl who would be our daughter.  I think often about her first 48 hours in the world– untethered to anyone who had a plan to love and care for her.  I believe it was a very hard way to come into the world.

So yes, with all of that as backdrop, I’ve been feeling down for weeks now.  Discouraged.  Some days it is up in my face, all day.  Other days it is just a quiet hum in the background.  I know I’ve been down this road before; I think I have written these exact words before on this blog.  Those of you who read this blog have been down this road with me (as well as yourselves, I assume, but that’s a different story, isn’t it?)  I’ve not posted here in a while, but I’m not exactly having a hard time writing; I have several drafts of several posts in various states of finished standing by.  But I am having a hard time fully deciding and fully articulating just what I want to say and pushing the “Publish” button.

I have been worried about going back to work– worried about whether I will find work again that is as meaningful, as consuming as the work I did many years ago running the HIV/AIDS legal program here and about what that work might be.    For many reasons my world has shifted in certain ways and some things that were very meaningful and held great interest for me fifteen or even ten years ago, do not feel the same anymore.  The ground has shifted imperceptibly and here I am on a new landscape– trying to find my way.  It feels scary some days, it feels terribly discouraging some days.

I do know someone who says that all discouragement and worries are old feelings.  That we can heal from earlier disappointments and losses, and that it makes no logical sense at all to be discouraged about the future — like what does it mean to be discouraged or worried about something that hasn’t even happened yet?  And I must admit I follow the logic and agree with him though I definitely don’t feel that way.

But today in particular and for the last several days in general, I’ve gotten glimpses that there might, maybe possibly be something really wonderful ahead.  And my mind has wandered again, more and more often, to a few of the extraordinary interesting things in this world to write about other than this internal discouragement.  A good perspective is returning and a good perspective is a good thing.  Stay tuned.

Ten

My daughter turned 10 yesterday.  To borrow a tradition from another mama blogger whose work I know and love, I offer pictures and just 10 of the many reasons I love this girl.

Working on the popcorn science project, May 2011

Playing hard-- or when the real fun started at the birthday party last night. May 20, 2011

10th Birthday, May 20, 2011

1.  Your easy, warm, generous laugh.

2.  Your terrific work on your science project this year– which pops the most kernels; popcorn that was frozen or popcorn stored at room temperature?

3.  Your playfulness, particularly the fact that you will go toe-to-toe to wrestle, run, rough-house with anyone your own size or bigger.

4.  The interesting stories you tell.

5.  How much you love people and how well.

6.  The fact that your younger brother called yesterday to wish you a happy birthday and you told me that you told him that “it wouldn’t be the best birthday ever without talking to my brother!”

7.  How many things interest you; dogs, fashion, cooking and baking, people from all over the world, the woodpecker in our neighborhood, gardening, art and drawing and making things, and a list longer than I can possibly begin to write here.

8.  Your fairness and generosity.

9.  That you are fierce and that you are a peacemaker– both.

10.  That you are mine and your Mommy’s.

I love you, my girl.  I love that you are exactly the girl you are, who feels so much and loves people so generously and well.  I love your excellent mind and your many talents, for your great humor, your good cooking and your big, big heart. My life is bigger, more interesting and connected, sweeter, smarter and better than it was before you were born and came to us.  Happy Birthday and I wish you a great and interesting and fun year ahead.

Yahrzeit

Today is my father’s yahrzeit.  It is a beautiful day outside– as it was a stunning clear spring day, the day after he died.  It’s a beautiful spring day and a day of personal sadness for me.  It has been eight years since he died and each year it is different.  But each year it is sad.  Sad that he is gone and sad for other reasons too.  A Jewish yahrzeit candle burns in the kitchen and I know they burn at my mother’s and my sister’s homes too.

On Friday night we went to synagogue to observe my father’s yahrzeit– an annual tradition now, for my partner and daughter and me.  Either I am always so sad that I am impossible or perhaps everyone in my household is sad to mark my father’s death, but it is an anniversary that always includes synagogue and unlike other trips to the synagogue, it almost always either begins or ends in shouting– often (but not always) me at my daughter–which I never feel good about. Anyway, it’s just a hard day for me, as are the days leading up to this day each year.  I know other writers who have been able to pull deep wisdom and meaning out of such a day–but I will have to finish out the day and wait and see if it comes tomorrow.  Or the next day or the next after that.

On being a lesbian mother, May, 2011.

I have written about some of this before.  And if you are someone who also talks to me a lot, you have probably heard a lot of this before, so forgive me redundancy.

May is a big month for me.  It’s a huge month emotionally.  Birth and death happened in May and the month has the joy and hope, loss and lost-ness that goes with each.  Until 15 or so years ago May held no marker of significance in my life.  Then in 2001 there was a birth; the birth of my daughter.  And a few years later, a death– my father.  May holds a lot of memory and sweetness and pain welling up day by day, sometimes hour by hour.  Some days I cannot tell whether to laugh or to cry, whether to spend time alone or fill my time with people, whether to reflect silently or to talk and write.  I try to do all of the above.

I always wanted to be a mother– not only as I grew up, but the people in my life who knew me when I was 18, 19 say my plan for motherhood was one of my clearest, earliest, most unwavering decisions.  It was not just that it was something expected of me as a female– though I never discount the role of that conditioning for any woman.  But I really wanted to be a mother; I loved young people (and still do) and I wanted two children.  It took me a very long time to get to parenthood and I am, and will always be, a woman who was never pregnant and who never gave birth.

As lesbian mothers, we don’t so much talk about this– that lesbian oppression, gay oppression has a profound impact on our ability to become parents.  On our chance to plan or in some ways, to even consider, becoming parents.  We like to feel like we are just regular (and we are) but I think for those of us who became parents in the context of being lesbian/queer, we want not to feel  or think deeply about how much it took to get there.  We want it to be true that because we are just regular, life just unfolds without a hitch.

The truth is lesbian oppression entered the picture and significantly slowed my path to becoming a mother.  It completely changed the course of motherhood for me.  There is grief about how hard my own path was.  There is grief that in starting as late as I did, I didn’t have two children. (Though the discussion about adoption of an older child is not entirely over in our household.)

My partner’s decision early in her life (which she says was completely tied to being lesbian) to never have children slowed us down considerably (a decision she says she clearly made and a decision she says she is enormously grateful to have unmade and replaced with a different decision).

In the years after I got involved with my partner I often despaired– about whether I could actually make motherhood happen.  There were worries about how go about either pregnancy or adoption, and the fact that I didn’t get pregnant when I tried for some time– was very hard at the time.

I alone and also we-– and the we I mean is not only my partner but also the remarkable and excellent, good man who would have been the father of a baby had I gotten pregnant– worked our way through the decision to try to get pregnant and then the decision to stop trying.  There is much to be said and written about the man with whom we and to be real– I— tried to get pregnant and about the meaning, mostly unspoken, of that relationship for all of us.  There is a lot to tell about the ways in which he is an extraordinary man and about his love and emotional generosity then and about our love and generosity for and with him.  And about the significance of his love and generosity in our family as it became and is now.    He reads this blog but I am certain he has no idea just how strongly I feel our good family is built on the profound love and friendship/family which he and we built during that time.  He is a relation to us that really has no name at all in our world.  He is a cornerstone of this family.

I am not yet ready to write about the ways we were affected by the lack of enthusiastic family support for our parenting plans.  My sister was a big exception on that; I have no idea whether I’d have had the wherewithal to go ahead had I not had her support.  My mother was supportive in a cautious way. But the pain and the fears we faced were significant.

There were worries and obstacles related to money– and related to our lack of shared health insurance and benefits– some of which are more visible again now –while still unemployed.

And at the very same time as I look at all that, there is deep joy that life unfolded precisely as it did, and that my particular daughter is my daughter.  For that fact I have nothing but praise in the sense of divine praise.

A few weeks after Mother’s day 2001– on May 24, 2001, we got what is known in the adoption world, as “the call”.  A little girl, born May 20th, healthy, already out of the hospital and with a foster-mother, would we be her parents?  Time stopped, slowed, sped up, and everything changed as the last week of May unfolded and we got ready to go meet her.  Everything changed again on June 1, 2001, when we met her and brought her back to our temporary home in an El Paso hotel.  Everything kept changing through our week in the city of her birth–sleeping, waking, looking at and talking to her, offering ourselves, learning how to gather things to take a newborn out with us for a walk, or a meal.  It changed again when we returned home with her and because motherhood is not a static thing, but a real relationship with a real living, changing, thinking, demanding specific person (or two or several) things have been changing ever since.

May became the month in which my long plan for motherhood got underway.  It is the month in which another woman said goodbye to her daughter (or didn’t, but it was still their goodbye– said or not said).  It was the beginning of the life of a new, important (as each baby is important) precious young female.  For me it was a dramatic month of change, different but as profound, I think, as the drama of birth itself.  May was the start of digging in for a long, interesting, demanding piece of work– the work of thinking and cleaning, cooking and driving, planning and playing, laundry, medical care, listening and closeness.

Almost two years later, just three days before my daughter’s second birthday– in May 2003– my father died.  His death has never been easy or acceptable to me.  He was a good man and there was much that was very hard in the relationship and there were things unfinished between us.

In May all of this unfolds inside me against the backdrop of blue sky, brilliant purple grape hyacinth, a cool breeze in the window at night and dark, leafy kale at the farmers’ market on Sundays.  And there is rest of the stuff that keeps me moving forward– mornings and bedtime, a birthday party to plan, work to do, books to read and things to write and lots of laundry.

Mother’s Day, 2011

My daughter will be 10 years old in a matter of days (a week and a half roughly). She has always been tall for her age (even early on before she was standing, when we called it long).  And she is so grown up in certain ways and such a little girl in certain ways.  I ponder how much growing up really means growing away from, and how much it might mean we stay just as close but in different ways.  In any case, the time is passing like water falling through my fingers, like red leaves shaken off the maple tree in fall as the wind rises– just so fast, so fast, so fast.

We went out with friends on Friday night and after dinner in a restaurant that has games, including several ping-pong tables, and before a funny dessert of ice cream from the grocery store eaten outdoors at the tables of a closed cafe, we landed, with the other family, as we often do, in one of our favorite bookstores.  The store has a huge upstairs and a slightly smaller downstairs with a big children’s book area.  My daughter asked, maybe earlier, but maybe when we arrived in the bookstore– exactly when is Mother’s Day?  I explained.  Not tomorrow, but the next day.  Sunday.  All day.  She asked for money and I understood quickly though not immediately that she was planning gifts of love and kindness for her two mommies– and gave her the money.  Later I thought about this as part of the colonization of being young (and perhaps more so of being the only child)– how you are subject to the dependence on adults, even when trying to do something independently kind for them.  She doesn’t carry her own money wherever she goes; and she had no way of knowing we would land in this bookstore where she might like to shop for her moms.  She is dependent on me or her other mommy to tell her dates, explain certain things, even when she is planning a surprise for one of us– and completely dependent on us to make sure she has money on her when she needs it.

She got the requested money and promptly disappeared from sight.  And because this bookstore is such a known place for us– I let her roam and didn’t worry.

Yesterday morning I heard her get out of bed and fell really, not pretendly– back into a deep sleep– only to be awakened by her good face with a tray– coffee (my decaf with cream, every morning), eggs just the way I like them and with a special garnish designed with her artistic hand and eye for me, along with a bowl of cereal and fruit and yogurt for my partner.  M., my partner, who sleeps so deeply and was harder to awaken, came slowly to consciousness and the tray was placed carefully on our laps– and we ate.  In bed.

She then left and came back again with two neatly and beautifully wrapped small packages.  And cards.  M. got a book– a young reader’s book– the first in a series from which they have read together– #2 and are working on #3.  I got a blank journal even though I fear sometimes, that my days of writing by hand, in a blank journal may be dwindling, but perhaps this will revive me and the practice as well.  It is a beautiful and perfect blank journal– by which I mean I am fussy.  It’s neither too heavy nor too small, nor too large.  The binding is such that it is not hard to keep open while you write.  It has some beautiful graphics that make the pages pretty and lines that make the pages functional.  It was the perfect gift– but of course the much bigger gift– the one that really matters, came years ago, just about 10 to be exact.

Technical difficulties– mine

I’ve been absent from here even since I have returned home.  This is now old news but I must recount.  I managed two cross country trips (to SF and back) packed as they now pack us in, like sardines on airplanes.  I made the shorter trip from Chicago back home to the East coast. In San Francisco I alternated sleeping on one of two not-too-good-for-my-back mattresses at my friends’ home (I am definitely not complaining about the accommodations; I love to stay with them and would take another uncomfortable- mattress-night any time for another day or evening together).  I went with my friend to two spinning classes at her YWCA (which I had never done before), and we visited overnight at two different places in Chicago where I managed all the hauling in and packing up of luggage.

My back, which sometimes goes into spasm– held up beautifully.  We flew in and arrived at the airport at home at midnight and had a long ride both to long-term parking and then home.  When we pulled into our parking space at the rear of our building at 1:00 a.m. my partner suggested we leave all luggage in the trunk until morning and I said, no I needed my suitcase and to do a little settling in early in the morning.  I hauled my suitcase up our three flights and promptly wrenched my back badly.

My partner had the grace to never say “I told you so” over the ensuing three days of disability and I had the grace to admit several times to several people that she had told me so.  By now, a week and two chiropractor appointments later, my back has returned to good health.  But a shoulder– sore since February is getting worse.  So I’ve been trying, hard as it is, to stay off the computer and see what that does.  These are my technical difficulties.  Bear with me.  Keep reading.  I will get back to this work soon.  Sore shoulder or no sore shoulder.