Archive for June, 2009

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and because everything I write has a footnote

June 30, 2009

When I talk about things that go on in our relationship preparing us to be parents, I don’t mean that I do or want to treat Lee like a kid. If my child were displaying the constant need for reassurance that Lee does, I wouldn’t handle it the same way. I’d probably try to have some kind of age-appropriate conversation about the topic and maybe even follow the inspiration of someone like Awesome Mom Lisa and make the boundary about strengthening the child’s trust in me as a parent. “I told you three times how great that was and you know that’s the number of support statements you get. If you go do something else that’s great, we can talk about that.” I don’t know, aim for some kind of active and mutually understood redirection that will help the child learn to trust my love and support and also be able to function better in polite society.

But Lee is not a child. This is probably not a habit worth changing in her mid-40s. As long as we both acknowledge it as a difficult situation and work to improve our responses to the issue and remember to be forgiving and loving to each other about it, we should be able to navigate it just fine. And maybe over time Lee will learn that this system works and she won’t need to rely on the pattern of reassurance or backup. We’ll see.

I just don’t want to give the impression that I think I’m getting ready for parenting by parenting my partner, or that I’m like the woman in the popular New York Times column who used animal training tricks on her husband. I’m not doing any of this as a way to assert control or get Lee to do things my way or to baby her or take care of her. I’m just trying to do my part as one half of a committed couple to make sure we’re both getting the outcomes we need. She is doing the same, though she doesn’t have the desire or the wordy inclination to hash things out on a public blog.

So when I talk about my childhood preparing me to be a parent or my experiences with our dog or elements of my relationship with Lee making me more able to handle parenting, I don’t mean that I was acting as a parent in any of those situations. I just mean I’m opening my eyes, learning skills, alerting myself to new metaphors that I hope will eventually be on hand for me when I need them down the road. And I do know that I’ll need them and more, which is why I’m so grateful there are so many others also making their thoughts public. If I’m helping someone else, I’m doing something right. If I’m helping myself do better, maybe that’s even more important!

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I did a stupid thing

June 30, 2009

The sun just set over the mountains and Lee is taking a nap or maybe going to bed early, in part because I managed to make her annoyed with me. I was going to write a version of this post anyway because as I’ve said in the past I think Lee has some attachment issues as a result of her neglect and quick, unexpected move to her grandparents’ custody as a tiny child and so living with her has given me perspective on the issue being faced by Foster Abba, what to say when the child she was glad to have away for a long weekend asks if Foster Abba missed her during that absence.

What I was going to say (and obviously am saying now) is that Lee needs a lot of reassurance. A lot. She’ll grill steak and ask me how it is, and I can’t just say that it’s delicious, because she’ll ask again. So I’ve gotten good at remembering to use adjectives. It’s juicy and tender steak, and maybe it has more salt than the last time she made it (even some constructive criticism is acceptable) but it’s really quite tasty and I’m absolutely enjoying it. Oh, and she knows I don’t like fat, so that’s why I’m being careful about cutting away anything that looks like it touched fat; this is my issue and not a reflection on the meat. And I have to say that much because she’ll ask me three times, five times, ten times. She really, really needs that much reassurance.

And because I’ve learned (through trial and plenty of error) that Lee actually means this literally and actually does need a lot of reassurance and support, I’m no longer tempted to say something sarcastic like “Yup, just like the last time you asked, I must admit it’s the most delicious steak ever on the face of the earth and you may as well give up grilling since you’ve reached this pinnacle of human achievement!” Instead I’ve gotten good at thanking her before she asks, reminding her gently but patiently every time she asks again. She’s not doing it to feed her ego or because she loves hearing how great she is or to be passive-aggressive or anything like that. She just — in my opinion — not only feels like she can’t quite trust herself, but she can’t entirely trust me either. She’s always subconsciously yearning for a little bit more, for that right word that will leave her fulfilled.

The point was that when Foster Abba’s daughter Danielle asks if she’s been missed, I think she’s probably asking for reasons similar to Lee’s. Lee doesn’t really need a full play-by-play review of a steak (or anything else) but needs the reminder that she’s doing things well, that she’s okay and accepted and on the right track. I’ve been pretty proud of myself for figuring this out and as I’ve gotten good at telling her what she needs to hear (in an honest way) she’s also realized that I understand and that awareness between us calms things, makes her need to ask less often than she used to.

But I don’t want it to sound like I’m the hero in this story, unlocking and satisfying her deep and primal desires. I know I make her do things she finds annoying or outside her comfort zone, and I’m just not talking about them because they seem like reasonable requests to me. And it’s also because today I messed up bigtime and didn’t even realize it until much later.

I am, like Foster Abba, a big fan of honesty. Well, to be honest, I also at times very much enjoy saying things that are true but saying them in such a way that they give a different impression than the one I truly hold. So yes, I’d answer “Did you miss me?” with “It sure wasn’t the same without you here!” But I care very much about my opinions and I love debating things (must be the old ex-philosophy major in me) and I am not bothered by people having different beliefs from mine but enjoy debating and discussing them (to a point, since I think I’ve written here about how frustrating it was to hear Lee and my very Catholic father debating abortion rights.)

So today as we were readying dinner for 22, Lee asked my aunt why she wasn’t washing the chicken breasts and we got into a debate about whether it was necessary to wash chicken breasts before cooking. I agreed with my aunt that I’d read that washing was more likely to spread bacteria and didn’t seem to improve outcomes. I saw Lee was bothered by the discussion, but since the chicken breasts had already been readied for cooking, there wasn’t anything to be done differently anyway.

Later, Lee and I looked on my computer and saw that in fact it seems the current recommendation is not to wash chicken pre-cooking for the reasons discussed, that cooking kills the bacteria and washing just spreads them. Lee was still annoyed after this, and I told her that if it mattered that much I’d be sure to wash our chicken in the future, but that she’d been eating unwashed chicken for a long time now. She had no chicken for dinner.

I didn’t understand why she was so annoyed by something so minor, and it wasn’t until she’d gone off to a remote porch by herself that I realized what was up. What’s gotten to us several times before is that when Lee states an opinion, she wants a partner who’s going to back her up. That makes her feel loved and supported. So if she says that water is green, she wants me to say, “Oh, it does look greenish I suppose, if seen in the right light” or find some very polite way to redirect her even if I think she’s totally wrong. And I, being a person who doesn’t want to compromise my opinions, have a tendency to say, “That’s ridiculous, love! I completely disagree and think blah blah blah.”

This is not an issue we’ve resolved, but we’d managed to avoid it for a long, long time before tonight. I feel like I’d be compromising myself and my integrity if I stood up for a position I didn’t actually believe in. Lee feels that a loving person will support her partner no matter what. There are ways to get around this. If I’m clever enough, I can say, “Oh, is this one of those situations where you want my support?” or I can even say, “You know, I can tell how passionate you are about this, and I’m intrigued by your position. Maybe it’s something we can research later.” I’m not always clever enough, though, because I get so hung up on wanting to be heard and be right, and I end up hurting her out of my own selfish desire.

So I wanted to talk about something else, but what I ended up with is something more like Foster Abba’s dilemma than what I would have talked about before I realized that I’d unintentionally done something that ended up hurting the woman I love. Instead while she was off having quiet time, I wrote her a letter apologizing for not realizing what was going on and explaining that I know this is a problem we have and that I don’t know the way to resolve it. I apologized to her verbally quickly, once she’d felt ready to be sociable again and was having a great time with my uncle and cousin.

And now she’s sleeping, in part because she never got a nap but I think in part because she feels hurt and unloved and wants to be warm and away from all this. Maybe it’s just part of Lee’s personality to respond to things that way, but I think even if that’s the case it’s compounded by her chaotic early childhood. Because she learned early on that people who love you can just disappear from your life, she’s always somehow waiting for that to happen again, for her to be left helpless and alone. She needs a lot more reassurance than someone who hasn’t lived that life. She does ask me to tell her I missed her — and she’s also very careful about getting time away when she feels she needs it — but because she’s an adult and someone who knows herself, she’s able to make it clear that she needs answers to all her questions. I’m not sure she could have done it as a teenager. I’m not sure she could have done it with some of the girlfriends she had in the past.

I know that even though it sometimes feels like a chore to tell her the same thing over and over in different words, it’s a chore I need to do to make her feel safe and loved. I know, too, that this isn’t something I learn how to do and then will do automatically. There will be days I’ll be tired and impatient and end up annoying or hurting her. There will be days I’ll be thoughtless and not realize that I’m not giving her an answer or a backup when that’s what she needs, just like what happened today. But before she went to bed, I asked her to hug me and I told her I love her. She said, “I know!” and she does know. That knowing makes both our lives easier, but even that isn’t enough, doesn’t resolve the issue. I don’t think it’s an issue that will ever be resolved. It’s just how things are and how they have to work, how we get by. And we’re working on it.

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Mountain Monday

June 29, 2009

I’m not Jo in Utah but I’m sitting here on the deck where my aunt got married last night while everyone except Lee is off in the state park hiking (or by now playing miniature golf or something else in the kitschy towns nearby) and I thought I’d take a moment to celebrate and write a little post before finally deciding whether to put on my bathing suit and swim before a nap or just going right to the nap stage. I don’t have photos to post because I forgot to bring my camera cord to upload them to my computer, but I’m taking a lot.

Today is three weeks since we sent our homestudy to Mychael’s worker and we haven’t heard a word from his region yet. I’m not complaining, just keeping track. Lee and I still both have the feeling that this is the right child and it’s only a matter of time before the details get worked out, but we’re both also pretty calm about it, not feeling pressure to rush anything.

I do find I’m edgier than usual about mountain roads. I’ve been a passenger with a friend who’s a truly scary driver and crossed these mountains before without worrying I’d actually fall off, only that we’d be smashed by a truck. Now, though, the heights seem too high, the drops too steep, the turns too precarious. This might just be a result of getting through two car accidents — one minor, one moderate, both panic-attack-inducing — in the last year. I’m more inclined to think it’s that I’ve changed my mental orientation to be more momlike. Everywhere I go, I’m thinking about how I’d fit a child into the picture. I think that’s making me overcautious in ways I wouldn’t normally be. It’s also possible that’s a nonsensical rationale and I don’t know what I’m talking about. Lee’s been driving well and I’ve kept my cringing to a minimum, but she can still tell I’m nervous.

Lee’s getting in her scares, too. She informed me this morning that black people don’t hike (black people conveniently never seem to do things she doesn’t want to do) when I was bowing out of today’s hiking expedition because my knee has been hurting. Black people also don’t swim, she claims, though she wishes she did (and she’s careful about not saying this stuff around kids and certainly not around our kid, but it’s how she jokes sometimes, perhaps because she’s uncomfortable in a way being the only black person in the group) but yesterday was so hot she couldn’t resist the pool.

I’d brought two suits, so she took one and I went in with her. First we just stood in the shallows and she hopped around a bit. Then we hung onto the side and I tried to show her how to kick. I don’t know how an athlete like her can be incapable of keeping straight knees, but she’s not a good kicker yet. Eventually she was willing to hang onto a beach ball and float with it under her stomach as long as I kept a hand on her and was right there to catch her when she fell off. I did eventually have one miss after I’d been holding her legs and couldn’t get to her head immediately, but she’d only just gone under when I pulled her out.

So while the rest of the family here relaxed, we spent about an hour with me dragging her around the shallow part of the pool with her arms around my neck and then her shrieking as she started to fall in and me immediately reminding her to stand, that her feet would support her once they landed on the bottom. This definitely helped her in her moments of panic and she says she had a good time. I know I did, although I’m not sure she’s any closer to swimming. She definitely got more comfortable feeling herself float, but she said today she’d prefer not to try it again. I’m proud she tried, though, and I never ever thought I’d see her in a pool, mostly floating, with me as her teacher. I figured that someday she’d take lessons and get comfortable, but I hadn’t pictured it like this. I feel so lucky.

And I feel lucky in general to be here, to know that wherever I am in this cabin I can hear her voice as she jokes and laughs with my aunts, uncles, cousins. She’s getting along with everyone and having a great time. Once we get back home Wednesday, we’ll do laundry and start gearing up for another weekend away, where it will be a huge group of black women and me as the outsider, though in that case I know the women online and I have no worries at all about finding my place among them. Then it’s the end of our planned trips for this summer. I couldn’t help thinking as we drove through the part of our state where Mychael’s caseworker is that we may be doing more driving soon anyway. I guess we’ll see. For now I get to put my computer inside to recharge and then jump into this pool to swim awhile alone.

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human nature?

June 25, 2009

I’m writing this because I know everyone is dying to know how my mulch adventure worked out, since the last time you heard about it I’d been able to mostly put in mulch in a bed along the length of the side of our house, but I still needed one more bag to finish the job. Well, in the first night I had the mulch out, I ended up with two piles of dog poop. By the time I got home from work to add the rest of the mulch, yet another pile had joined those.

Since I’m both very clever and not particularly interested in cleaning up after other people’s dogs (and I wouldn’t say I’m interested in cleaning up after ours, though it goes with the territory) I made a little sign that says “Please clean up after your dog.” And then I attached my little sign to a little plastic basket that had contained cherry tomatoes from the farmers’ market, filled the basket with poop bags (from our box of about a billion bought cheaply at IKEA), and hung it on the side of our ugly front fence at the edge of the mulch.

Since then, there’s been no sign of dog poop and also no sign anyone’s using the bags. This is not one of the outcomes I’d expected and I’m not sure what to make of it unless the person walking the rogue dog sees my sign as a challenge and won’t stoop to taking the bags, but maybe that’s because we have our suspicions about who this mystery dog-walker is. I see my move as a polite and friendly public service, not a threat like the guy up the street from us who has huge cardboard signs that say NO SHIT ZONE and various other things about dogs pooping on his property. I swear, dogs aren’t any more badly behaved in our neighborhood than in most places, but there are a lot of them and they do need to be monitored.

Oh, and Elizabeth wrote us back yesterday to say that workers usually have 30 days to respond to an inquiry, but that it could be longer now since so many people take vacations in the summer. Apparently our adoption inquiry could be considered two different ways since we’re within the state and within the public system, but they could treat us like an out-of-state family instead. If we’re considered already broadly acceptable since we have our state license, all we need is for Mychael’s worker and her supervisor (and I’m not being sexist and assuming all social workers are women by saying “her” but just repeating the pronoun Elizabeth has used) to read our 30-page homestudy and decide whether we’d be an acceptable home for him. If we’re considered more like an out-of-state family, there will be several more (maybe 5 total?) readers getting to vote on us. Obviously this can take time. Elizabeth has emailed the worker again for an update but hasn’t heard anything back yet. That’s why I have time to spend thinking about dog poop, because other things might be just as messy but there’s nothing I can do about them now.

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unnecessary clarification

June 24, 2009

I don’t count all the books I read about race or “the black experience” in the US as adoption books. I haven’t gotten far enough in Bliss Broyard’s book about her father’s passing to know if there are any explicit adoption stories; as of now I don’t think so. But I read Danzy Senna’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night without realizing it would have an adoption subplot, and it both dealt with a closed adoption and with other children whose birth certificates were faked to cover for their actual father, whose reputation would have been compromised if it had been public that he was fathering children out of wedlock.

But One Drop is about what it means for a man to pass as white and thus have to cut himself off from his children, about how this particular man pressured his children to live out what he considered the (preppy, upper-class) American dream even though he and his wife couldn’t entirely afford it. And right now, that kind of thing seems very relevant to my life. We’re trying to navigate outness and there are class issues involved too.

I was raised as a professor’s daughter in a family where most physical objects were actively devalued. I haven’t gotten over that and still prefer bargain-hunting, actively avoid brand names in many of the things I do. I’m very conflicted about this. Lee is in sort of the other direction. She likes brand names, aspires to having things with a certain pedigree even if they’re ugly and non-functional (not that I am particularly thinking of our living room sofa here, except maybe I am) and I recognize that this is how she is. I do think that part of this has to do with her race and class background, that she doesn’t have the option to wear wrinkled clothes and have no one think anything of it the way I do.

Some of this came up because we learned recently that two of Lee’s ex-girlfriends drive brand-new Mercedes Benzes, which are basically versions of her dream car. While I won’t drive the same 15-year-old foreign car I have now for the rest of my life, my next one probably won’t be any more sophisticated. So she’s having to navigate the difference between the life she’d expected to have — with an older, classy partner with money — with the one she has, where she’s got me and my income that’s slightly lower than hers and while I’m happy to buy her gifts (this is my issue, that it’s easier to buy for others than myself) but they’re not going to be fantastic, out-of-this-world things. We lead an ordinary, middle-class life because that basically describes who we are.

We’re also balancing right now trying to get things out of our system before we’re parenting with trying to get our responsible routines in order so we’re ready to be parents. I think all of these tensions are tangled up here. We’ve talked about what we should spend our money on now and what we’ll spend our money on in the future. I don’t think we have drastically different interactions with money in reality, but we have different perspectives in getting to those decisions. I have to be very aware of that, and much of what I’m reading and thinking about is to remind me of that, that we have different ways of getting to the same place.

I think that’s probably a good thing to be aware of in adopting an older child anyway. We’ll be raising a child who has a different history and different perspective than either of ours. That’s going to lead to different ways of looking at the world. I’m trying to set myself up to be mindful of this. I already have to remind myself with Lee (who decided today after watching a documentary that she’s opposed to the death penalty, which should make me happy since it was one of our first policy discussions when we were a new couple and now she’s come over to my side, but now I’m conflicted about whether I should have pushed her more to agree with me then as she does now and simultaneously about whether I need to be making more allowances in my belief systems to meet her where she is) that we’re not always going to work the same way and it can be very frustrating for each of us. That’s one thing I do think we’re practicing and improving. It takes work, but it can also be easy to remember when you act with love. Love just doesn’t remove any of the complexity.

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quiet evening

June 24, 2009

I’m taking things easy tonight. Lee gave a presentation at conference yesterday and is absolutely finished with work for the summer. Me, I had to go to work as usual, but I can tell my vacation is coming soon. The more immediate thing was that our older cat, Thing One, has been sort of snorting and lethargic after some very dramatic vomiting episodes on Friday. We’d kept him in seclusion from the other animals once he started snorting, and Lee took him to the vet today to learn that he has feline herpes and will need to stay in isolation until his symptoms subside.

Because Thing One is a temperamental, somewhat solitary cat, I think he’s actually enjoying his sojourn in the spare bedroom that will someday be our child’s room. (I never know whether to write “will” in those circumstances since obviously I don’t know what the future holds, but at any rate this is our intention and since we’re in a two-bedroom house if we do have a child this will indeed be the child’s room.) Tonight I’m hanging out with him up here. He’s asleep now and generally seems to be feeling okay.

I’ve ended up spending a decent amount of the evening working out a bellydance veil routine to Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma” perhaps because it’s so inappropriate. I blame Rachel and also the fact that I skipped my bellydance class tonight to eat dinner and stay home with Thing One.

There’s not much point to this message except to say that not everything here is all adoption all the time, which is why this blog has sort of taken a hit lately. On the other hand, the books I have in here with me are Bliss Broyard’s One Drop, about the implications of the revelation as her father died that he was a mixed-race black man who had passed as white, and Stephen O’Connor’s Orphan Train about the movement to take poor children (whether orphans or not) out of New York to live in the US heartland as servants and/or adopted children.

It never goes away and is always there under the surface, but not so much that we’ve actually turned this room into an actual child’s room. We’re holding off on the things that signal too much commitment. But Lee did email Elizabeth to say that since it’s been two weeks, give or take, since Mychael’s worker got our homestudy, how much longer should we expect to wait for a response. She immediately got a return email autoresponse that Elizabeth will be out of her office several days this week, which I think pretty much sums up where we are in the process. We wait. We prepare for vacations with the family we have now and then some of the online friends we have too. That works for me.

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what we celebrate today

June 22, 2009

I don’t know if I’ll keep participating in the Open Adoption Roundtable since I’m not exactly a triad member yet (unless there’s some abstract geometric name for the partners of adoption triad members?) but this one — about the fathers in our family’s open adoption — applies and so I’ll stick with it.

I called my one and only dad this evening. He’s far from here at his parents’ house for his high school reunion and I still think of it as his parents’ house even though he and my mother are both celebrating their first Fathers’ Days without fathers. My grandfathers are dead, and the only call I had to make was to my dad. He’s reached out to Lee recently to ask if she wants to talk to him about our adoption plans. I’ve been more reticent, waiting until we have something to say, but mostly because my mother is so critical of me that I don’t want to get either of them involved. He knew Lee before I did, though, and they get along well. I’m glad she’ll have him as a resource for her parenting.

Last night I’d asked Lee whether she thinks we as a lesbian couple should expect to do anything for Fathers’ Day and she was baffled by the idea. She definitely thinks of us as a two-mom household, which works for me. This morning, though, she looked over at me sadly and commented that she can’t call her dad.

Lee’s biodad died when she was in her teens, and I don’t think she ever really mourned for him. His father — Lee’s adoptive father — was the key figure in her life. She started calling him “dad” years before she called his wife anything but “grandma.” She’s told me so many stories about him that even though he’d been dead a decade before I met her, I feel like I know him.

Lee’s biodad Richie, though, has never endeared himself to me. I’ve seen some photos of him as a cute kid, but not much about him as an adult. I know Lee’s feelings about him are mixed, but in some ways not as negative as they are about Leah, her birthmom and his ex-wife. Me, though, I’m sympathetic to Leah and not so much to Richie.

I’ve just gone back and deleted some paragraphs that I think say too much about Richie and thus compromise some of Lee’s privacy. I’ll just say that he was clearly not an ideal partner and would not have made a great dad, and in fact didn’t to my knowledge parent any of his children . He was violent, jealous, someone who cheated repeatedly. He had an addictive personality and was charmingly manipulative so he could get away with what he wanted for a very long time before getting caught. Eventually, though, life caught up with him and his body gave out on him while he was still quite young. When Lee got to the age he was when he died, it gave her a lot of

I read a lot of open adoption blogs where the first dad is out of the picture. I have a feeling a certain number of them are like Richie, too absorbed in their own lives and their own bad decisions to be able to be dads even at a distance. I know Richie had some troubles with that. When Lee was very young and Richie’s parents were pushing for him to take a more active role in her life, he ended up taking her to really inappropriate adult parties. And he’d say he’d be there for her and then just not show up.

Lee was talking last night about how she was such a pessimist as a child. People would tell her to smile and she’d say, “What do I have to smile about?” And of course she had an adoptive family who loved her very much. At some point nearing the time she was officially adopted (age 12, I think, when many other things in her life were presumably changing too) she changed her attitude and became the positive optimist I’ve always known. (Or at least the one I knew until perimenopause knocked her sideways a bit, which I why I wonder if hormones had a role in her earlier switch.) I think and she thinks that a lot of that initial change had to do with accepting her role in her new family and growing to love it. Once she started thinking of Richie as just Richie and not her father, not anything to do with her, she was freed of some of the worries that had dragged her down before.

Again, this wasn’t an open adoption in the way that it generally happens now. It was a family arrangement managed mainly by Lee’s bio grandparents on both sides. But because Lee was able to see Richie, say, show up at his parents’ house twice in one week with two different girlfriends, telling each of them she was the one true love of his life, she never really saw him as a hero or wished that she’d lived with him instead.

And I don’t want to make Richie sound like a monster. I know Lee’s charisma probably comes from him, as do some of her more thoughtless tendencies. He was a charming and flawed man, and there are plenty of those in the world. He abused different substances at various points in his life and I think a lot of his self-destructive and blatantly stupid actions arose from that original decision rather than any isolated choice later. It probably didn’t help that his parents spent a lot of his adult life making excuses for him, covering for his failings (and to some extent taking in Lee was one more example of that, though obviously it worked out well for her), basically enabling him to live the selfish and self-destructive life he did. I know this was hard on them and I know they regretted it, and I don’t want it to sound as if I’m saying they made a mistake either. They were trying to be the best parents they could, and that’s why Lee wishes even today that she could call her (adoptive) dad and thank him for all he did for her.

We’re not going to have an active dad in our family. I don’t know if the child we adopt will have another father figure or a connection with a first dad. Ezra certainly didn’t, and it sounds like that’s typical. But I know I’d want to know about our child’s father like I like knowing about Richie, because I do think biology plays a role in who people are and it can be nice to be able to see someone’s chin or eyes in a child even if that someone is kind of a jerk.

I hope like Lee our child will be able to make the most of nature and nurture. As with Lee, there are going to be some tendencies that will be hard to overcome, that will have to be channeled into a positive way if this child wants to be successful. But even for those coming from families without diagnosed disorders, I think that’s basically the norm.

Richie has been dead for a long time. I don’t think about him much, honestly, while I think about Lee’s three other parents every day. I think this is partly a function of Lee’s open adoption. If Richie were an unknown stranger, I might wonder about him. Instead, I know what I need to know. The only thing that leaves me curious is the other children he left behind. Lee has sent a message to one person online who’s seeking information about his parentage, but she never got a response. Some of his other children tried to talk to her at her adoptive dad’s funeral and she wouldn’t have anything to do with them because she was so caught up in her grief. I feel bad for them that they’re going through the unknown stranger thing, but I know Lee is only willing to do so much.

I do hope someday there will be connections made there, but it’s not my job to push her into that. I just get to enjoy who she is and do what I can to understand what got her there. For that, I thank Richie and Leah and definitely thank the adoptive parents who raised her to be the woman I love. I’ve gotten to tell Leah this and came into her life too late to tell any of the others, but on this Fathers’ Day I’m glad to think of the people who’ve given Lee and me an understanding — through positive and negative examples — of how to be good parents.

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I plant my hands in the small garden

June 22, 2009

It seems like I’ve spent much of the weekend gardening or in the garden. I write this sitting in a chair on our patio (and yes, I’ve been rereading I Capture the Castle and am likely to again, since it’s the best novel ever!) and last night Lee and I sat out here a long while with candles lit, looking at the stars and talking about important and unimportant things. We’ve got enough room here for four people to sit and a pot of basil on the table between the chairs, two citronella torches, and then Lee’s grilling area off to my right. It’s not a lot of space, but I think we’re using it well and I love being out here.

I got my last load of perennials at the farmers’ market yesterday. The women who were digging up the ivy and stumps had finished their job midweek, so I was finally able to start planting along the fence. I think next year the garden will be excellent, but it’s lovely right now. Our house is 100+ years old and I want the easy back garden to fit that, so I’m putting in lots of hardy perennials and then I’ll see how they do next year and add more and so on. Right now there’s a shade garden under the Japanese maple, two huge iris beds (one of which is going to be chopped up significantly and separated so I can put irises all along the street side of the house, in a bed where I laid mulch today), a little triangle of garden in the other corner of the fence, and various vines and flowers along the fence to the side yard. And there’s ivy.

Ivy is what throws me into metaphor territory, because when you spend as much time as I have this weekend pulling ivy, your mind just naturally has to attach some significance to it or lose touch with reality altogether since it’s such a painful task. Ivy never ends. Once you plant some English ivy, I’m quite convinced the roots will stretch to the molten core of the earth and back. No matter how vigilantly you rip things out and dig them up, when you put your little spade back in the earth, you hit those hairy roots at some point. And whenever you pull with all your strength, eventually you get to a fork in the root where the root will snap and you’ll only be able to yank one piece out of the ground. The rest is down there lurking, taunting you. Or maybe this isn’t a universal and it’s just me, though I’m more apt to blame ivy at the moment.

The reason I said it’s a metaphor is that I’ve been feeling that major parts of life are like pulling ivy and certainly that adoptive parenting will be. I mean, I’m not an ivy hater. It can look beautiful, but if I didn’t do something we’d have ivy covering every square inch of ground. So even though I like the ivy, I have to yank it out because I don’t like what it does to the other plants I enjoy. And not to make this too adoption-centric, I feel like that’s how things have been going with Lee too. Every time we’ve gently eased things back and felt that we were getting at the root of what’s bothering one of us, there’s something even deeper and still connected to the root. And even if we do go back with her until the point where we say, well, probably this is a problem or a tendency because she was neglected by her mother as a baby and then ripped out of her mother’s life with no warning, then what? That original vine has sent out feelers all around her life and just knowing the origin doesn’t tell us anything about where the other roots and sprouts may have gone by now. And at some point when you pull out a long, tangled, deep ivy root you end up disturbing some ivy on the surface you hadn’t realized was connected, spoiling its beauty. Today I uprooted five plants I’d just put in the ground because I was so keen on pulling out a long root that sliced out from under them. I’m not putting this here because I think it’s a particularly insightful metaphor, but because I want to remind myself after my raw knuckles and the callouses on my fingertips have faded just what I was thinking today.

So much of gardening is not just watering and placing something where it will get the right amount of sun (and both are big issues in our small, sandy lot) but weeding properly and setting the stage early. Again, this is just a note to self. And sometimes, like today when I was putting down mulch, even when you think you’ve done enough preparation you end up with a little bare spot right in the middle where you came up short. I’ll stop off for mulch at the home and garden megastore near my workplace and finish that job tomorrow. And I’ll water the plants again morning and night if it doesn’t rain. I’ll keep tending constantly, because that’s what gardening means.

I feel very much like an earnest 12-year-old poet throwing those metaphors out, and maybe that is what I’m like. But at any rate I’ll add that my post title is taken from my favorite poem by the Iranian poet Forough Farrokzhad. She’s been on my mind a lot as I watch the news coming out of Iran. My birthday is the same as the birthday of the ’79 Iranian Revolution and I spent a lot of time in college studying Iran from afar. I wish I had something insightful to say, but I seem to be falling back on tears and poetry.

However, to round this out with a dose of practicality, I made a list of things a dollar can get you at the Rivery City farmers’ market:
- five garlic scapes
- two of the best soft sweet caramels ever, plus 20 cents change
- two bags of broccoli, which was enough to make me buy these even though I loathe broccoli and I’m not sure Lee realizes what an act of love it is when I cook it for her!
- a hardy perennial, sometimes more than one
- half a pound of fresh PEI mussels
- a plastic bag of nasturtium flowers for salads
- lots of other fruits and veggies I’m forgetting right now but that are sitting in the fridge
- three fresh red pears

So yes, I went back today for groceries and got the food we’ll need for dinners and lunches until it’s time to leave next weekend for my aunt’s wedding. We ate our mussels and I have the leftovers with pasta and garlic scape pesto for lunch tomorrow and Tuesday. There’s fresh fruit all over the place and Lee will be using our herbs to season what she grills during the week.

She’s giving a presentation at a conference tomorrow about an innovative project she did with her students. I was the source of the idea and helped her write up her grant, but she’s taken it far and I know she’s going to do a good job talking about it. I’m glad she’s getting recognition for her excellent teaching. I just don’t want to be inside while she’s messing with PowerPoint, which is another reason I’m here now. After that, her obligations will be over for the summer and she can focus on enjoying her time off. She’s got plenty of jobs to do around the house to get things ready for a child, and plenty of jobs to do to make us both happier. I hope it means there will be time for lots of evenings like last night, where we can sit here with our tired dog at our feet while we talk and laugh and maybe sometimes cry. We’re making our house a home that will fit a family. We’re ready to work on that big project too.

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more on private lives

June 18, 2009

Yes, I’m still processing and writing about why I think Lee shouldn’t hide our relationship. But I’m trying to write a post about her point of view, even though I basically already did.

She thinks that she’s a lesbian is a part of her private life. People don’t need to know what kind of gas she puts in her car and they don’t need to know that she’s a lesbian. She’s very open with her students about her political opinions (which I think leaves her at more liability than disclosing her sexual orientation would, but that’s her choice) and the story of her adoption. This is just something she feels vulnerable about and she doesn’t want used against her, so her response is to keep it quiet. I guess this is what the people who say they’re fine with people who are gay but don’t want those gay people “rubbing it in everyone’s faces” want. It’s fine for Lee to have a small photo of me in her office as long as she doesn’t tell anyone who this mysterious person is! And she does tell some people, of course, but that’s a separate issue.

And yes, there are things that are worth keeping private, but my perspective is that the reason to do so isn’t fear or shame, which are both destructive. So no, we won’t be telling people our hypothetical child’s diagnoses or the reasons he came into care or had parental rights terminated, unless those people are medical professionals/therapists working with him who need to know. It’s not that we’re ashamed of children who are victims of child abuse or neglect, but that’s just not our story to tell and not something people need to know unless he wants to tell them someday in a safe and appropriate way.

When I was running a support group for survivors of sexual assault and sexual abuse back in college, the question often arose whether you needed to count your rapist in the number of sexual partners you’d had. My answer was always that you don’t need to “count” nonconsensual sex unless you’re trying to donate blood or getting a pap smear or something similar. It’s probably good for your counselor to know. It’s probably something you should mention at some point in a serious romantic relationship if it’s still having an impact on your life, but no one has a right to that part of your story.

Maybe it’s because I made the decision to be “out” about my rape as a way of destigmatizing it and because I felt strong enough and well-informed enough to let my outness make me a resource for others with similar experiences, but I see a real benefit to making a conscious choice about how to present yourself and your reality. Being able to just say “my partner Lee” is empowering because I’m choosing to define our relationship publicly the way we define it privately. I don’t go around getting in people’s faces about being a lesbian or being a rape survivor, but those are both parts of my self and both things that the people who are close to me know about and need to accept.

I’m not sure how it works for Lee. This is the first relationship she’s had where she’s out at work and out in the neighborhood and basically just not living a double life anymore. But she’s spent her whole adulthood in that double life, where people who know her in bars or in women’s reading groups know she’s a lesbian and often know who she’s dating, but then in the daytime the two of them become “roommates” and go about their daily lives as single people, supposedly. That’s what feels comfortable to her because that’s what she’s always done. And even though I know she’s said many times how nice it is not to have to live that way, I can understand why stress and fear would make her want to go back to it.

I’m just not sure what I can do to support her and help her move in any direction. I don’t think I can support this double life system, but I’d be inclined to do that by disengaging from her public work life, letting her go to her events by herself, rather than by giving her an ultimatum to change. Basically I just don’t want her to be scared or uncomfortable or hurting. But I don’t have the option to change that. I have to just wait until she’s ready and see what she can do to find a comfortable place for herself. I’m generally good at waiting and I’m sure this is something where time will make a difference, but right now it’s hard.

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clarifying a little

June 18, 2009

This is probably going to sound biased because Lee and I (who still haven’t talked this through, so things may change) are just on very different sides of this issue. I understand why she’s as scared as she is and I’m so proud that for the first time in her life she is out on the job, even if she still wants to be able to control that information. But here’s my take on things.

There are plenty of other LGBT faculty, staff, and students at the community college where Lee teaches. In fact, I could be on her health plan as her domestic partner, except that I don’t need to be because luckily we both work jobs that cover us. She thinks I couldn’t take free/reduced classes like an official spouse or child could, but even that is supposed to be phased in soon. She is definitely not the only gay person around, and I have never heard others have any complaints about the campus climate. There is one gay former professor who was in her area and didn’t get tenure, but all the people who made that decision about him already know about her and seem to love me, so I’m guessing that decision didn’t revolve around his sexual orientation.

But Lee’s take on this is that being gay and in a relationship is a privacy issue. She found out the other day that the 50-something secretary she’s friends with had an ex-husband years ago and she says she doesn’t feel hurt that the secretary never shared this information with her even though we both already knew that the secretary is currently single and has 20-year-old children, which left me assuming there was a man involved in some capacity. Similarly, there’s no reason for people — even people who know Lee well and are her friends — to need to know about me or know how she defines herself.

And sure, it’s true that it really isn’t anyone’s business, but it also felt pretty hurtful and minimizing to me to be compared to an ex-husband who’s been out of someone’s life for 20 years. I mean, there are plenty of good reasons not to talk about something like that! But to be evasive when people ask about what she did over the weekend or who I am when I’m in the office or what her adoption plans are seem like a different level of cover up. I don’t like that, even though I know she’s within her privacy rights to not volunteer more.

Every time Lee has come out at her school, she’s been met with shrugs at worse. No one is phased or surprised or alarmed. And while this makes her happy and makes it easier for her to do (and I know she does still find her heart racing a bit when she introduces me as her partner to someone) she’s also annoyed that it’s not a surprise, that she presumably wasn’t passing as straight.

Right now, I think she’s made a position for herself that can’t last. She can’t be totally out with her public partner in certain work contexts and totally closeted with no presumed sexuality in others. Several of the vice presidents know me and know about me, and it’s ridiculous to think that even though she didn’t mention me to the president when she had a meeting with him yesterday no one is ever going to say to him when she’s discussed, “Yeah, Thorn and Lee did blah blah blah.” And the same is true for some of these other people — basically all black, which I know is an issue for her — she hasn’t told and doesn’t want to tell.

My worry is that in trying to keep herself more professional by not discussing her personal life, she’s actually making things harder for herself. I know (and told her last night, which is what brought up the story of the secretary’s ex-husband) that people like that secretary have found it uncomfortable for themselves when they know indirectly or have guessed that Lee’s gay but don’t want to let on because she seems unwilling to talk about it. So they have to resort to circumlocutions about whether she and “a friend” went on the vacation she took or if she went alone and do other things where they’re working hard to gauge her intentions and meet her needs. And since they already know and know they’d be supportive, they feel uncomfortable in this role.

I’ve told Lee she can tell people whatever truthful things she wants about me, that she doesn’t have to come out every time I’m around her or discussed. So she can say, “This is my partner, Thorn,” and she often does. Or she can just say, “This is Thorn, who’s here to help me do x” and that’s fine too. But she can’t use euphemisms. I’m not (just) her friend. I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. That’s just not going to work and I’ve been telling her all along that things will change even more when I’m her co-parent and she won’t have as many options to cover things up. I thought that had gotten through, but maybe not.

My take is that in some sense the greatest thing that’s happened as a result of the gay rights movement is that if you say “I’m gay” and someone immediately says “EWWWWW!!” everyone will turn to the other person and think, “Wow, what a jerk!” Of course this isn’t universally true, but Lee has certainly had the experience that as long as she comes out to people in a low-key way (generally by saying “my partner and I” or sometimes even “you do know I’m a lesbian, right?”) she’s only ever gotten calm, supportive, accepting, low-key responses. Nobody’s shocked or alarmed. It’s just one more piece of information about her.

I think my inclination now is that when I’m back on school turf tonight, since she’s invited me to another function, I’m going to seek out a gay man who works in the administration and who’s been a great mentor for her. We’ve all been planning to get together for a meal at some point anyway. I’ll talk to him ahead of time and see if he can give her some tips about who knows what and who’d be a problem and encourage her to just live her life happily and openly. She’s obviously not going to hear it from me, but there’s going to be this point of tension between us until she makes some decision. This half-and-half setup just isn’t helping either of us, and she might not agree with that but I’m pretty certain of it.

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