Monthly Archives: July 2012

United in Anger– ACT UP for all ages

I don’t actually write about it all that much.  Not because it doesn’t matter, it so very much does matter.  But with race and adoption and Jewishness and the general state of things for young people in the mix– I just barely get to it.  But let’s talk.  I am a lesbian mom.  It’s a big deal– even if I wish it weren’t.  In many ways, if I’m honest– life is harder because of this.  I don’t mean at all that it’s worse– it isn’t.  Not in the slightest.  But many things are harder.  And some things are just plain unbelievably amazing.

All of this next paragraph is full of important things about which I could write many words, but for today, these things are just important backdrop.  AIDS 2012, the first international AIDS conference hosted in the US because of our previously terrible immigration restrictions for people with HIV, was here until Friday.  In my town, blocks away.  I did AIDS law work for a very long time and I miss that work and the community of people with whom I did that work a great deal.  At times acutely.  I did not attend the conference at all, but I did get invited to an event honoring many HIV lawyers and HIV legal programs including the program I led for many years.  At that event, I reconnected with two women, from very different parts of my life– neither of whom I had seen in a very long time.  Both of whom are special to me.  And since I am going for candor here– one is an ex-girlfriend and it had been an exceptionally long time since she and I had seen or spoken to one another.  My heart swelled and expanded to see her, talk to her, reconnect.  It did my heart good.  Like me, she has an 11-year-old, two months younger than my daughter– a boy I’ve not met.   She and I had written but until last week had never spoken since we became mothers in our respective cities.  But this too, is another story.  It was she who told me I should come to see the screening of the documentary film, United in Anger.

So last Wednesday after work, I headed to United in Anger, a documentary about New York ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).  Earlier, as my partner and I were making all our week’s childcare plans, I decided that for reasons logistical and for reasons not logistical , I wanted to bring my daughter with me to the film.  I wanted her there for reasons both educational and familial.  Like in any family and not because we are a lesbian family– there are so many things she doesn’t know about me.  My life is full of many experiences, cultural references, things that happened with great emotional resonance, that are not part of her experience or point of reference.  But perhaps because we are a lesbian family some of these things are more hidden and certainly less commonly shared.  My experience is not hers because she is a different generation.  But my experience is also not the experience of most of her friends’ parents.  Because I am lesbian.

To be very clear, I was never an ACT UP member but I was a supporter.  And I was a witness.  I told her only a little bit beforehand– about AIDS and about the fact that people didn’t get what they needed and so people were scared and they were angry and sad; they organized.  That was about it. We were late and there were no seats left when we got there– except for one lone seat in the front row.  I headed down the dark aisle for that seat and pulled her onto my lap– but a guy sitting next to me gave up his seat, over my objection, and she sat next to me.  Scared or thrilled, or air-conditioning cold– I don’t know, but she curled into me and wrapped her arms around me like a very young child and she held onto me and I held onto her throughout.  And we watched.  There were demonstrations, crowds, talking heads, meetings planning demonstrations, discussions of the terror of that time, anger and outrage, humor and silliness and the great, enthusiastic, brilliant, shining, creative, courageous energy of ACT UP.  There was plenty of courage to go around, and that shines through in all that footage.

In the dark with the film rolling, the questions came.  She wanted to know — what is civil disobedience, why were the police carrying people away?  Were they getting hurt?  Why did they have (fake) “blood on their hands”?  What were they doing now?  Why did they “practice” their civil disobedience, were they scared?  What was he saying?  What did that sign mean?  What is that woman talking about?  What is a condom?  Where was that bus taking them?  Why were they protesting in a Catholic church?  Look, that guy is wearing a Jewish star, he’s Jewish, like us!  That was funny, and that seemed scary.  Why are they yelling?  Where did they buy that casket or how did they make that prop? And on and on and on.

I answered dozens of questions– as many as I thought I could, given that people around us were watching the film.  There were many more to which I said– that is such a good and interesting question– but it’s too long, I’ll talk to you about it later.   More than once I said simply– I was there, I was at that demonstration.  She was so alive and lively watching and it carried over into the next day.

Next day, next scene, dinnertime at our lesbian household.  Around the table my daughter and my partner were eating dinner and I urged her to tell my partner– who wasn’t there the night before, about anything she wanted to tell about the film, what she thought about and what was interesting.  And she did.  Her eyes shining and her beautiful smile breaking across her face as she told things funny, poignant.  And then because she has the heart of humanity– because she knows important things without any lecture or being “taught”– she asked the big question.  She was just about ready to end this conversation and get up from the table and she asked– such an important question– of my partner and me.  Did we win?  I loved the question and I loved the clarity of her understanding of who she is in this world.  She didn’t ask, did they win.  She asked did we win.  In that moment, I understood many things I had not understood on many fronts.  Yes, I said, we haven’t yet won everything we need for people, but yes, yes– we did.  We won.

Summer. 11 years. Thunderstorm.

After the rain. Thursday, July 19, 2012

Here is how some of it goes with Mama (me), Mommy (my partner) and 11-year-old.  Thursday night.  Summer night.  Hot, hot global-warming hot day.  Worked late.  Botched plan to go to pool and meet friends due to my late departure and then due to daughter’s cranky digging- in- her- heels- she-no-longer-wants-to-go attitude.  I was sorry for being late, pissed off for the kink in our plans and determined to get us out of the sitting around languor of a summer night where we end up snarling at each other and picking what’s in the fridge rather than cooking.  Then we’d end up watching some old DVD– bored with it and even with each other.

It turned out it wasn’t necessary for me to insist.  When I got home, at my daughter’s urging, I changed clothes in a hurry and we all went out.  3 of us.  One scooter; no purse; one phone between us; a credit card and a $20 bill.  We walked in the heat and she scootered– to a little business district one neighborhood over.  With about every step, everyone’s mood picked up.

We stopped at Dollar store–a dollar store I actually hate– though I really like some of them, but my daughter wanted to look.  When we left daughter wanted to go home– two moms definitely wanted to eat out.  Walked on to a pizza place we go to sometimes because of decent pizza and the fact that it is a close easy walk.  Out of business.   Achhh.  On to a restaurant/ tavern  on same strip that has been there 20 years, and I’ve never made it in.  Food– good but not great.  Decent and fresh Greek salad for me, mozzarella and tomato and basil salad for my partner.  Good old-fashioned spaghetti with meat sauce (we never fix it with ground beef) for my daughter who seems to crave beef sometimes.  The mood:  better all the time and we laugh and joke and watch a baseball game on the TV over the bar at the restaurant, while my daughter joke-narrates the date of the couple across from us.

Daughter and I leave my partner to finish eating and pay the check.  We head for  a little independent video store she and my partner know of and I’ve never heard of.  Partner meets us, we browse their fabulous selection, find four films, take out a free membership and leave with our videos.  Skies have been threatening all evening.

We get half way home and the skies open up.  No coats, no umbrella, no nothing.  Just us and the torrential rain.  As a baby, my daughter loved the rain.  I loved and still love the sound of summer rain.  Love thunder.  Love lightning.  We are blocks from home.

My daughter is a different story.  Hates thunder; hates lightning.  It scares her.   She avoids  movie theaters in all their darkness and loudness.  Going out or to school when there is a thunderstorm predicted is an issue.  I have worked hard to get her to show herself– show her feelings about things and not stuff them away the way– out there– outside of my home, you are supposed to by 11 years old.

We walked and laughed for the first third of the walk home, wetter by the minute.  In the second third of the walk the skies, the floodgate– opened for her.  She began to cry and cried hard enough that even in the rainstorm I could see the huge tears running down her face.  She cried and shuddered– “Mama, I’m scared” and then cried and cried– “I miss Jazzy, I miss Jazzy”.  Jazzy, the neighbor’s dog, now dead– who hid and shook and hated thunder and lightning.

And then like all summer storms, it ended.  Hers ended before the rain did.  The tears cleared– she had a fresh new perspective on rain and thunder– she took flying leaps into puddles and when we arrived on our porch– soaked through– she asked, could she stay outside, just a little longer?

After the rain and before the towel, before the stripping off of wet clothes.

Birthday gift

Yesterday– Monday– was my birthday.  Many lovely things happened over the weekend in celebration.  On Sunday, I did what I’ve done a few times in the past few years.  We invited a handful of people to meet me anytime they wanted over the course of two and a half hours– at my very favorite neighborhood coffee shop and we reserved the big table up front, reservation being a thing allowed only to old regulars like myself– and we sat for hours with different friends who came and went and talked to me and to my daughter and partner and to each other.  I drank two great iced decaf Americanos with half and half and talked to people I love.  If you are someone I love and weren’t invited, please don’t take offense– I didn’t do a thorough job with the guest list.  I invited people I don’t see enough, people who live really, really close by– and a few people who are really special to me, but not my regulars.  

Later, Sunday night, one of my oldest and best friends and her partner and son cooked a truly incredible dinner for me and we all talked and caught up after many months out of touch. 

Monday, on my birthday, for whatever reasons, I woke up too early, feeling so sad and needing a big cleansing cry.  I got a small cleansing cry a little later in the morning and I went to work.  I felt instantly better at work, in the nice cool air conditioning and with a purpose (work) and time to get organized.  It was far from my most productive day work-wise, but, I got a few things done in spite of myself.

At work no one knew it was my birthday.  My job is still relatively new.  And I’m a woman past 50 with an 11-year-old child, and even when I was younger without an 11-year-old child, I wasn’t someone– and I am definitely not now someone, to go to work in a fancy dress, saying, things like “oh, why am I dressed up?  it’s just my partner is taking me out to (name chic restaurant) for my birthday.”  I like other people to know it’s my birthday– but I had no natural lead-in and I couldn’t quite bring myself to just announce it to my colleagues.  So I enjoyed my birthday at work, in silence.

Elsewhere there was plenty of fuss.  My daughter baked an incredibly fabulous chocolate cake all by herself.  My partner spent three days making me feel so special and gave me a card with a beautiful note that she wrote.  People I love called and texted and emailed and even sent a card or two through the regular old-fashioned mail. And then last night our neighbors who are two of our closest parent buddies, just back from two weeks vacation, invited us to join them and their four daughters for dinner and my daughter contributed her delicious cake. So there was plenty of celebration.

At lunch time I walked over to an office building about 5 blocks away with the crashed hard drive from our old computer where there is a document recovery place.  (Now keep a positive attitude and maybe I’ll get my lost data back.  For 200 and not 700 bucks.)

Even though there was plenty of fuss, it turns out that sometimes, as you get older–the real gift is not the fuss, or the gift in a box, but the connection.  While I was out on my lunchtime walk, two things happened that touched my heart and with them, I was certain my birthday was complete.  First while walking back from the document recovery place, one of my best friends, out-of-town because her father was dying, called me and cried and cried into the phone.  For a long, long time.  Her mother began years ago, and now continues to torment my friend about her being a lesbian and this harshness and meanness continues through my friend’s father’s final days.  

My friend apologized to me several times for calling me on my birthday and needing me to listen to her.  But mostly she just really needed someone to listen while she cried and I was really happy and honored to listen.  I’d been out walking in the heat and stepped into a Payless Shoe store into their air conditioning– and sat down on a stool meant for sitting while you try on shoes and we talked for 20 or maybe 30 minutes.  Or mostly she talked and I listened.  It felt like a real gift to me.

Then, I headed back to the office.  I stopped in Starbucks, bypassing a man outside on the sidewalk selling our town’s newspaper of the homeless.  He had made eye contact with me on my way in, and I had nodded that yes, I’d buy a paper when I came out.  So when I left with iced Americano in hand, I was already committed.  I walked up to him and asked him to hold my coffee while I fumbled for my wallet.  He asked me how was my day going and I said, slowly, thinking it over, it’s a good day.  It’s actually my birthday.  For real?– he asked me.  Yeah, for real.  Really? he asked again, a little disbelieving.  Yes, really it is.  Well, happy birthday, he said.  I mean really, happy birthday.  We talked a little.  I told him that I was working and glad to be working again after having been unemployed for some time.  He told me a little bit about himself. 

He showed me an article about him in the newspaper he was selling.  The article says he was recently reunited with his children and thanks the people who helped him along the way.  He offers encouragement to other homeless people to work hard and that they can get their own place and get off the street.  He writes about homeless people who have reunited with their own children as he did. 

Somehow he managed during the course of a short interaction to say, happy birthday about four times.  And he said to me, maybe three times– Hey– you’re real pretty– you really are.  (A comment that was and felt sexist when I was younger and now, at the age that I am, feels or at least from him, felt, like something different– an affirmation of the beauty of women with gray hair and some pounds to lose?)    There was a kindness there on both sides–him toward me and me toward him.

I know that with this story, I tread dangerously close to all the white middle class racist stereotypes that would hold onto the lie that a white middle class working woman in the middle of a busy workday, stopping for a kind, human exchange with a black (formerly) homeless man is something for him to be grateful for.  Or even the racist notion that the same white middle class woman, mingling with a poor black man is enriching to us white people in a strange, distorted patronizing way– like being a tourist in a foreign land. 

But for me, it was a small moment where two strangers dropped that stuff about class and race and gender that divides us– the stuff that cannot really be dropped at all– but was dropped anyway, for a just a minute– and connected.  He stopped me because he wanted me to buy his paper.  I told him it was my birthday because I wanted him to wish me a happy birthday.  I wanted to talk to him as myself and not as another passing white woman.  And then we talked for real for just a minute.   

I paid for the paper and wished him good luck and I walked away.  Then a few steps up the block, I circled back and asked if I could take his picture and post it on my blog so I could remember him and my birthday wishes from him.  So here he is– my one-time birthday friend.  Thank you, Mr. Phillip Black.  I forgot to ask, but Mr. Black, Happy Birthday to you too– whenever it comes around.

Mr. Phillip Black

Maladies: Fourth of July, adjusting to 11 years old

This year I kind of hated Fourth of July–which is not my very favorite holiday at all, but one that I often like a lot.  With some months (this time around) of regular work under my belt, I’m still having big trouble adjusting to some parts of my particular post-recession- back- to- work life.  Less money (a lot less of it than before I was laid off from the last job), hours that are too long and flexibility that is too limited nag at me.  A holiday on a Wednesday just exacerbates it.  I’m a long way  into my career but I don’t have enough annual leave accumulated to take a weekend plus two days off  and still have leave time for that two-week vacation we are having trouble planning.  So we just had this dangling holiday on a ridiculously hot day.  We actually had a wonderful time with close friends we’ve not seen in  months– and a fun time going to fireworks at a park that we could walk to– but still I wanted a long weekend instead of one short, hot day.  It was a glass half-empty day.

I love and am blown away by the growing-up human being who is my daughter, but I’m also having trouble adjusting to 11.  My daughter’s age now.  I don’t mean it’s bad, it’s actually quite good.  She’s truly thriving and a lot of things that she had been struggling with last summer and this school year have shifted and  come together for her beautifully.  But life with someone 11 is different from before.  As a parent every year, sometimes every six months is different, but 11 years old seems– well more different.

It’s a different identity– being the mother of a pre-teen girl.  My mother role is different.  I would definitely say it’s not less.  There seems to be more laundry, more forms to fill out, and there are more decisions to be made on a shorter time frame. There is so much to figure out but you figure it out differently.  It’s less hands-on.   It’s more hands-on.

You become a sleuth in a certain way.  You don’t, for example, go into the school or the camp or the home of her new friend and just watch what is going on to figure out what you think.  You watch, sometimes, from a greater distance and listen to conversations that happen in the back seat of the car while you drive and try to participate and try not to.  You have to be available a lot, a lot, a lot.  But you may save the whole day to be together only to have your child use your good attention and love and confidence in her to decide to call a new friend and then leave for the whole day.  I’ve not completely figured it out.  I’m looking ahead at her life as she grows up, at my life as she grows up.

May 20. Daughter’s birthday morning, inspecting her new, first cell phone with my sleepy and bandaged partner. (Partner will hate this photo but I don’t)

Morning city walk, setting up her voicemail– she is a digital native, no instructions, no how-to card…

All that said, I feel the same way, which was a very touching-sweet way– a mom who was a complete stranger described her feeling about 11 years old.  15 years ago.  It was Fourth of July weekend then and my sister had come to visit us for the Fourth with her older (4 years old) and younger (11 weeks) old sons.  We were walking around the Lincoln Memorial, and I had the 11 week old in a sling on my body.  A woman about my age stopped to peer in and admire the baby–she reasonably assumed he was my new baby.  She asked, how old is he? and I replied– 11 weeks old.  She smiled and nodded off into the distance presumably at her boy but I wasn’t sure which boy, of several in the distance, was being pointed to.  She said in a nice way, not a cloying or weird way– Mine’s 11 years old.  They’re just as special and wonderful at 11 years— and smiled and congratulated me on the new baby and left.  Her tone, her pleasure in her son, her pleasure at being the mother of someone who was exactly her son, at his exact age, was unforgettable and I have often thought of her.  I thought of her when my older nephew turned 11 and then again when the younger one– long out of the sling on our bodies– turned 11 and then again this year with my own daughter.

Still, I’m uneasy in my new working-at-a-new-job-mother-of-an-11-year-old skin.  And I’m having trouble writing– not just trouble fitting it in, but trouble mapping out what I want to say.  But I will marshal on and hopefully insights, more clarity, a sense of ease and well-being or at least a sense of humor and more writing will return.

Fifty Shades of… Let’s start with this– a feminist comic strip!

A few months ago, I was talking to my very much beloved mom friend, J., about the pros and cons of getting my daughter a Kindle or some other E-reader– which is a gadget she (daughter) wants and which I have not gotten her.  I have debated the purchase in my mind and out loud with my partner, because on the one hand anything that would make the joys of the written word and reading more appealing to my daughter gets a huge five-star review in my mind.  On the other hand, what she has wanted is not a Kindle, but a Kindle Fire with internet connectivity and I wondered if she would use it to read at all or only to find and play games that would distract her and that more importantly I wouldn’t know how to play with her and would never get good at.

In the course of my short discussion with my friend J. — she listened carefully then raised with me the fact that if you give a child a Kindle Fire, which apparently allows you to skip the step of downloading the book via computer and allows you to download directly onto the Kindle itself– that if you go that route, you have less knowledge and less control over what your child is reading.  This was a concern I hadn’t thought of the least, littlest bit.   (Do I sound like someone who has never actually been to Tokyo, awkwardly and vaguely accurately but very off-the-markedly– describing the sights and sounds and how you get from place to place?)   Then she went on to tell me that the 12 year old son of a friend of hers had a Kindle Fire and finally the mom figured out that he was reading Fifty Shades of Grey at which point my friend had to advise me about the nature– as in best seller and the nature– as in soft (or not so soft, from the description) porn– of the book.  Which I’d not ever heard of but which is apparently being read by women by the thousands and more.  Anyway, I came across this comic– this morning as I set out to write a very different post and I loved it.

So, I’m back at the blog.  I am a feminist and I’m proud.  We don’t own a Kindle.  Fire or otherwise.