Family

Families: Who needs ‘em?

Ruby (At 3 Weeks), Amped Momma, Exhausted Dada

This picture was taken when Ruby was three weeks old, during my second week of mothering. It was early in the triathlon of late night feedings, diaper changes, and the seemingly endless shooshing of a crying baby, and already Sam and I were exhausted. We’d had 36 hours—not 9 months—to prep ourselves for parenthood (the last minute crash course in swaddling proved to be clutch). But this isn’t a competition.

Regardless of allotted nesting time, I think what we were experiencing when my cousin snapped this photo is universal among new parents: While we were nothing short of elated, there was a sense that we’d been hit and flattened like silly cartoon characters, by an 18-wheeler that missed a hairpin turn after careening down an 11% grade slicked with black ice.  The impact on our lives was so stunning, I didn’t even hear the warning screech of air brakes. One minute, I wasn’t a mother, the next minute I was. And this photo, which I’ve posted before, exemplifies that for me.

And it reminds me, every time, of a conversation I had with a representative from my HR department two months before it was taken. I had called to find out whether I would qualify for maternity leave once we were matched with our baby, and was told that I would not. “You’re not really a mother,” the representative told me.  “Maternity leave is for women who have babies. Because they have to heal. You’re not healing from anything.” I hung up in disbelief and anger.

But I let it go and when Ruby was born,  I took 12-weeks off without pay so I could not really be a mother. My husband and I borrowed 3-months’ worth of salary from my generous in-laws so that I could not really make and wash bottles, not really change diapers, not really attend doctor visits, not really pace around my dining room table for hours and hours with a crying baby in my arms, so I could not really rock her to sleep. I had support—certainly not from my employer—that allowed me the luxury to not really bond with my new child, to not really sit in my rocker with her or lie in my bed with her naked body curled like a ribbon against mine, to not really have her perfect ear pressed as close as possible to the beating of my heart, a sound I hoped was something close to the white noise she’d known in her birth-mother’s belly.

Today, a court ruled that the Massachusettes Maternity Leave Act, a law from the dark age of 1972, affords a woman 8-weeks of maternity leave following the birth or adoption of a child. After that time, she is not protected by the law and can be fired from her job. An excellent policy for children and parents as far as I can tell.

Apparently, I was lucky to have absconded with an entire 12-weeks of unpaid leave without fear of being fired from a place that clearly undervalues me to begin with.

One Love

I never really understand why people are hesitant to take their kids to the Gay Pride Parade. Over the weekend, I had several different conversations about it—since I’d planned to take Ruby—and got several interesting reactions. One couple I met at breakfast this morning said that they’d always wanted to go, but motioned toward their six-year old and whispered that they’d heard it’s “basically a porn show.” Another friend dismissed it because all the “cocks” aren’t appropriate for her daughters.

Now, the porn thing is off by astronomical distances: This is a public event with participants from all across the city. The Mayor was in this past Saturday’s Pride parade, as was Republican Ron Roberts from the County Board of Supervisors, and believe me, there isn’t anything remotely titillating or even vaguely pornographic about either of these guys. Even the public defender’s office represented with a float bearing the slogan “Getting people off since 19[something or other]!”

However, while nobody was whipping out their cocks along University Avenue during this weekend’s party, I have to admit that my friend’s concern was wholly legitimate.

I stand corrected because I did indeed see Cox at the parade. As did my daughter and my bestie’s daughter and all the many children and grown-ups and families who sat on the curb in the heat, beneath a sky the color of swimming pools, sharing sun screen and snacks and spray bottles, celebrating our gay brothers and sisters.

Ruby was very excited about all the swag, the horses ridden by the Wells Fargo people (I suppose it could be argued that bankers are pornographic), and the stilt walker.

I was excited about my friend Barbarella‘s piglet, Carnitas—who may have cured me of my bacon habit forever—and the Gay Men’s Chorus, since my friends Skip and Andy were marching.

I didn’t find Skip and Andy but they were out there and they were proud, I know.

Oh, and speaking of excitement, Ruby just about peed her pants at the sight of the man with the RAINBOW! HAIR!

Who’s not tickled by RAINBOW! HAIR!?

Personally, I was tickled by the message on his shirt because the message is the reason I bring my daughter to the parade. Love, not hate, is what I wish to instill in her.

I guess this could be considered Jesus porn because I was practically orgasmic at the sight of these folks. Standing there in the street watching groups of people march beneath such signs is encouraging. They make you believe in humanity and remind you that The Rock church doesn’t represent all Christians. Just too many of them.

Of course, I’d be lying if I represented the parade as all Hail Marys and Holy Water. There was a little bit of shaking, jangling flesh out there, too. And God Bless it!

So she has pasties on her nibbles. Still: Not porn. Just a little edgy. And, I’m guessing, much cooler than my flesh-toned padded bra that’s so old it has dimples. Anyway, have you been to the beach lately? Right. Moving along…

Every parade is better with queens:

In fact, pretty much every situation in life is improved by the presence of a drag queen.

However, the people you really want on your side when the chips are down (or up, no matter) is your family. Which is why PFLAG is the greatest part of the Parade every single year. PFLAG is, hands down, the very best group, float or no float.

I challenge anyone to remain stony when these people walk by. I wanted to run up and hug them. Instead I took their blurry picture with my phone.

I don’t know who Ruby will love when she grows up. And I don’t care. I just want her to love, to be loved and to be happy. I hope that’s what she is learning from me.

Thanks, Joe.

Passages

I was writing a post tonight about my recent trip to Southern Utah to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday and about how it exceeded my low expectations by approximately the same distance between Ruby’s hands and the end of the rainbow kite she flew against a cloudless blue sky in the hot desert wind last Wednesday afternoon. I was writing  about how we settled easily into vacation mode, taking slow walks to and from the pool where my daughter shared lemonade slushies with her cousins and her uncle and then finally put together all of the things (monkeys! airplanes! rockets!) she’s been learning in her years of on-again/off-again swim lessons.

I was writing about the three generations of women who went into town for pedicures and had the greatest time they’ve ever had together. Ever. I was writing about how cousins and aunts and uncles moved around one another in spirographic circles, moving in and out of conversations,  getting familiar with each other after many years apart. I was writing about the heat of 90 birthday candles, about how they make a sheet cake sag, about how they lit up my grandfather’s face as he bent to blow them out.

I was going to write about the belly dancers and my grandfather’s face as he bent to give them money, about his very sweet, very funny speech, about how sometimes things are better in retrospect than they were in the moment, and how I felt a tinge of melancholy at wishing the rosier view had been the reality.

And with my stories, I’d planned to include some pictures. But WordPress—damn-hell WordPress!—won’t let me upload them and it reminded me of the re-design I keep putting off.

I got frustrated, hit command+A and then DE-LETE! So that’s all I got for you. I’m quitting WordPress. Soon. I’m ready for a change anyway. Who’s with me?

What She Wore

I love fashion. It’s not a secret. But I’m not very good at putting things together in a creative or original way. I actually suck at it. Quite magnificently. When I go shopping, which I don’t care for at all, I tend to buy the same thing over and over and over again. I don’t mean to do it, I just gravitate to what’s safe: I have thing for jeans—though a reasonable argument can be made for never having too many pairs of jeans—which pile up higher than my stack of unread New Yorkers. And frequently heard comments from my husband include the back-tracking winner, “Oh, you bought another sleeveless, solid-color jersey t-shirt with ruching. It’s super cute!”

Thankfully, I’ve found a few websites to help me think “outside the box,” a phrase I dislike almost as much as “ah-ha! moment” and more than dressing room lighting, which is saying something.

Anyway, last Friday, I found and fell in love with a new-to-me website and subsequently gave over hours of valuable writing time to perusing What I Wore. The hostess, Jessica Schroeder is darling and very, very good at what she does; I would urge any woman who is looking for ideas to visit her site. I want to be her when I grow up, except that she’s probably 15 years younger than I am. There is no turning back the clock, but I can covet and borrow, which is the whole point of her website.

By Friday afternoon, I was inspired enough to dig out the only scarf I own. If I do say so myself, I think I looked just a little bit more fashionable this weekend as I cheered on the US men’s soccer team from my couch.  Look at me, breaking out of my normal norms and trying some thing dangerous and new:

Okay, so maybe I look a little silly with a scarf tied in my hair. But I tried it! And the influence stretched beyond me.

He puts rabid soccer fans to shame.

Alright, if Sam and I can’t successfully translate Jessica’s ideas, then perhaps we should look closer to home for someone who can…

When:
June 13, 2010

What:
Dress: Target
Yoga Top: Target
Leg Warmers: Hannah Andersson
Socks: The Children’s Place (one purple, one pink)
Shoes: Target
Flower in hair: A stranger’s garden (she only took one!)

Where:
Breakfast at Brian’s and the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market

Why:
Because she can’t not. It’s in her DNA, which obviously is not mine. I have much to learn. The question is, can it be taught?

The Big Blue Boy Scout

Our neighbors had a yard sale this weekend, providing a spontaneous photo op. And, of course, there was a natural evolution.

The art of motherhood

If you happen to be free tonight (Tuesday, May 4), come by The Loft for the opening reception for “Exploring the ‘M’ Word,” a student produced art exhibition highlighting the complexities of motherhood. The show, curated by Aimee Harlib and co-sponsored by the UCSD Women’s Center, runs through May 21st.  I will be reading a little something during the reception and am honored to be included among the many talented women who will be performing and exhibiting their work.

The party starts at 7:00 p.m. and is free to the public. Either come play or offer to babysit so someone else can.

Sometimes reality is glaring

Today was the first day of the year that felt like summer. It was warm out—not hot—with a mostly cloudless sky as blue as a Popsicle®.  It was quintessential Southern California, the kind of day that begs you to toss your obligations out the window and head directly for the beach with your Coppertone, a double-wide towel and your latest copy of The New Yorker. Or any of the previous four backed up on your nightstand.

I didn’t do that, though, because on Friday, I had a 2mm hunk of skin removed from my chest by a dermatologist who doesn’t think it’s “b.c.c” but wanted to be safe. If it is basal cell carcinoma, of which I have a history,  it’s better to remove it now to minimize scarring. Good thing I don’t fancy v-neck tees, or anything. (Which, of course, is part of what got me into the situation in the first place, but save me the lectures. I’m a child of the 70s, a.k.a the Bain de Soleil Era.) After the doctor put the Band-Aid on, she counseled me on caring for the would and said the best thing to prevent it from scarring is to “stay out of the sun.” By which I think she meant, move to Seattle.

I’m not moving. I did, however, pair my 30 SPF lotion with white jeans, a lavender scoop neck t-shirt and a super cute, 3/4 sleeve fuchsia cardigan I picked up at Target last weekend, for a May Day party this afternoon.

Ruby had a great time getting tossed around in the pool by the other grown-ups who weren’t hiding from the sun. I settled for getting splashed on and taking pictures with my phone, mulling the familiar awareness that my child, as usual, was the only brown person in attendance. And I wondered, as usual, how long before she will begin to notice this, too.

Later, when it was time to go home, Ruby wrapped a towel around her body, stuck one corner between her teeth and began to shimmy out of her swim suit, the towel like a tent around her. I knew exactly what she was doing, but asked her anyway needing verbal affirmation as to why my heart was seizing up.

“Here, let me hold the towel for you,” I said.

“No, mom. I can do it myself.” The end of the towel not in her mouth slipped from her bare shoulder. She caught it in with her harm and pulled it around her.

“Well, you don’t need to hide behind a towel, honey. If you want privacy, we can go to the bathroom and change there.” I was starting to panic and trying not to sound like I was starting to panic.

“No, Mom,” she said, beads of water stuck to her eyelashes and glittering on her nose. The towel was still in her mouth and she was speaking through clenched teeth. “I’m trying to do it like the girls at the pool.”

I mean, really: Can the future be any more daunting?

Aftershocks: Don’t believe the current bad rap on adoption

Within a week after the news that Torry Ann Hansen had put her 7-year-old adopted son alone on a flight to Russia carrying with him her resignation letter, we received a thick envelope from our adoption agency. I thought it was a request for a donation, so when I read the contents, my stomach dropped.

The World Association of Children and Parents (WACAP*) is one of two agencies that facilitated Hansen’s adoption. That WACAP initiated a conversation with its families about the controversy speaks volumes about the organization. WACAP is renowned for its integrity and rigorous practices. It is one of the most—if not the most—highly regarded agencies in a business whose regulation can be slippery.

While reading the material WACAP sent addressing the situation, I thought back on our vetting experience. Our adoption was domestic, so I’m not too familiar with the protocol for international adoptions, and I wondered about the similarity between Hansen’s approval process and mine. In retrospect, like a woman who gets an epidural, it didn’t seem that painful. Yet, given what I knew, the connection between Hansen’s actions and WACAP’s requirements simply didn’t add up.

I scoured the Internet for more information. I rushed to dig out our paperwork, kept above Ruby’s closet in boxes stacked behind a plastic bin of family photographs and one crate filled with dusty books from college. I went to the computer archives and opened file after file, each containing some part or another of six months’ worth of information diligently culled as proof we were qualified to parent.

I was scavenging half-a-year of my life, every detail of which had been agonizingly but necessarily white-gloved, gold-starred and notarized. Looking back, I remember being at times resentful of the invasion of privacy and at others straight-up angry. I had, it turns out, forgotten the pain; to this day I adore the quaint remark, “If I can’t get pregnant, I’ll just adopt.”

Yes! Just!

Sam and I had to answer—separately—51 multi-part essay questions. We exposed every aspect of our lives from the time we were children (describe your parents’ marital relationship while growing up, what you feel was missing in your childhood and what you would do differently) to how we view ourselves (discuss your experience with counseling, therapy or personal growth practices). They even excavated our sex life (discuss your efforts to conceive biologically, including infertility, diagnosis, assisted reproduction therapies and their results and how you have dealt with your inability to have a child).

We were asked to defend our future parenting style (discuss how you plan to discipline your child and how you will spend quality time with him / her) and contend with possibilities (what is your understanding of your responsibility / commitment to an adopted child in whom special needs have developed following a placement and what do you think being a good parent means?).

We got letters of reference and medical exams. We were fingerprinted, background checked and interviewed—together and individually—multiple times. Meanwhile, 14 women I knew became pregnant, three by the “Oops!” method of family planning. When we finally brought our baby home, we had to send a Personal Letter of Acceptance.

“We did review all information about Ruby that was provided to us,” I wrote, “and have no reservations about taking on the lifelong commitment of being her parents.” At that point, all the other stuff fell away. We had a daughter. We were in.

And so was WACAP. They continued to follow up intermittently for a year with additional visits from our social worker, plus phone calls and e-mails making it known they were available if we needed anything. They underscored the network of support. Based on my experience, and though our circumstances were different, I have little doubt that Hansen’s vetting by WACAP was equally as thorough.

In a column on boston.com last week, E.J. Graff wrote of two tragedies in this story. “The little tragedy is what happened to Torry Ann Hansen’s 7-year-old son…. The big tragedy is that Russia may respond by suspending adoptions to the US.” Already, Russia has temporarily suspended WACAP adoptions, leaving matched children and adoptive parents in limbo. To be sure, waiting to hold the child you’ve been matched with, who has taken up residence in your heart, is the most excruciating part of the process. But to Graff’s tragedies, I would add another—the (misguided) bias against adoption—as a possible third. People turning away from adoption because of misperceptions would be the worst thing that could happen.

In 34 years, WACAP has brought nearly 10,000 children home to their forever families. Of those adoptions, only 1 percent has resulted in disruption. Of course, zero would be the more preferable percentage, but we don’t even see that statistic among biological parents—see the U.S. foster-care system for proof—and the media isn’t exactly clamoring to cover this story.

WACAP is doing good and important work. But the process isn’t perfect. How honest prospective parents are with their agencies is only going to be as honest as they are with themselves. It’s tough to vet for that.

As for Hansen, who knows what her story is? I’m going to say she got in over her head—that she was too scared, too stressed or too embarrassed to seek the help that was there for her. This doesn’t excuse what she did, and the repercussions of her deplorable choice remain to be seen. It is my hope, though, that people will recognize that Hansen’s unhappy ending is not the norm. It’s our happy one that is.

*To read WACAP’s full response, go here.

(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)

Uh…that was awkward

Ruby had already buckled herself into her car seat when she realized she’d forgotten the drawings for her teacher. I ignored the urge to say, too bad, kid. We’re late. Chalk it up to a lesson learned about having your shit together. (God, how I love my fantasy life.) Instead I channeled June Cleaver, set my travel mug in the cup holder, dashed back into the house, grabbed the three sheets of paper she’d worked on with her dad and headed out the door.

Ten minutes later, Ruby was handing her pictures over to Miss Sarah. “This is a castle,” I heard her say. I was distracted by her little friend G. who was hurrying to peel away his shoes and socks so I could see how beautiful his pink toenails looked. “And this is Miss Carlee as a princess,” Ruby continued her parallel conversation. I told G. that Ruby’s dad likes to have his nails painted, too. “He likes purples and blues and greens and sometimes sparkles! How cool is that?” I asked him. His mother seemed embarrassed but also relieved at my reaction.

“Thanks for saying that,” she said.

“I’m not making this up,” I told her. “He’s artsy.”

Just then, I turned to see my daughter handing her teacher this:

20100126-IMG_9000

He’s artsy, alright. He’s 8th grade, trapper-keeper, boy-doodle artsy.

Down there in the lower left quadrant? That is a naked person bending over with an asterisk for a butthole. Up above that guy are two formerly androgynous people drawn “without clothes!” per request of the child. Since Sam decided to make these two clowns G-rated—unlike the blue muscle man bending to pick up a dumbbell—she who is obsessed with all things penis, grabbed a sharpie and filled in the blanks. And then there’s the scary monster thing with hair made of lightning bolts, a squiggly smile and a Sonny Crockett 5 o’clock shadow. Notice the sharpied-on boxer shorts with the open fly. I’m not positive, but given the severe focus of conversation in our home lately, those are either tampon strings or urine running down his leg. Could just as easily be one as the other.

Of course, the upshot—I always like to find an upshot— is that the child is accurate and has some fairly impressive fine motor skills. But back to pre-school.

I saw the drawings and gasped. Then I stammered. So much for having my shit together. I hemmed and hawed and grabbed the paper with less subtlety than I would have liked. “I’ll just take this back home,” I said, withering. “Ruby’s in a phase…she asked Sam to do it and…um…well, we don’t do everything she asks…I mean…she did it.” I was selling out my man and my kid. I was losing credibility. I looked back and forth at the teacher and G.’s mother, apologizing, swearing that we do not normally sit around the house drawing wieners and sphincters. Princesses with giant breasts and “nibbles,” sure. But wieners and sphincters?

No siree.

Normally, we prefer naked dancing.

20100126-IMG_8918

20100126-IMG_8925-2

20100126-IMG_8924