By Brandy Black
Thank you Mugs and Mary for sharing your beautiful family with The Next Family.
By Carol Rood
Let me back up a bit, that is actually the middle of the story.
Yesterday the phone rang. The person on the other end asked to speak to The Hunter. The Hunter is a high school senior, and has been receiving lots of phone calls and mailers from colleges. He does not plan on going to college. He has been going to technical school during his junior and senior years and has learned welding. He wants to be a welder when he graduates. He is looking into the welding apprenticeship programs at BAE and the Naval Shipyard. So we were pretty sure he was going to do the apprenticeship program and start his life as an adult working and going to school. Then THE phone call came…
He was on the phone for quite awhile. Bluebell even picked up the extension so she could eavesdrop. It didn’t work. The Hunter walked down the stairs and shook his head at her. It turns out the man who called was a Marine Corps recruiter. He was telling The Hunter all about the programs the Marines have to offer. He talked to The Hunter about being a Marine reservist so he could continue to pursue an apprenticeship and ALSO be a Marine.
Bluebell was NOT happy when she was told about the phone call. Apparently The Hunter told the recruiter he was willing to take a practice ASVAB test “just to see” how he would do. He is still 17, and therefore cannot yet join without parental permission. We did tell him that we wanted to meet the recruiter to speak with him. So The Hunter called him back and told him to come by the house and pick him up today at 5:00.
It was a long night for Bluebell and me. I will tell you that the idea of any of the boys joining the military had never really entered our minds as a reality, so we had never discussed it. We are both retired Navy, so we definitely value a military life, but the Marines? They are the first ones in the thick of the action…
So the recruiter showed up today at 5:00. I had my hands in a bowl of flour, making chicken and dumplings for dinner, and Bluebell was waiting and ready to pounce. Of course it would have been easier for her to pounce on him if he had not been a young, polite, nice, clean cut kid, who was nothing but respectful. He said he understood our concerns, and he believed young people, even if they are old enough to join without parental consent, should listen to what their parents’ concerns were.
We were frank and honest about those concerns, and he answered each one with a thoughtful and detailed answer. (He’s pretty good at recruiting.) So once our questions were answered, what else could we do but let the recruiter take The Hunter for his test?
Poor Bluebell. She cried. She cried as her 17-year-old son The Hunter walked out the front door with a Marine Corps recruiter…
She smiled when he came home and said he would need to “study” more. (But she didn’t let The Hunter see her smile.)
By Shannon Ralph
It can’t be easy being the son of hard-core lefty-leaning liberal lesbians. At least, this is the message that came through loud and clear from my soon-to-be ten-year-old son, Lucas, this weekend. He didn’t say it in so many words. But I got the distinct feeling that he was thinking it.
This weekend, my nephew had his 10th birthday party. The theme of the party was camouflage. All of the kids came dressed in camouflage. (All of the kids except mine, that is, because we discovered in preparing for the party that none of my children owns a single piece of camouflage clothing.) There were army men on top of the cupcakes. There were green balloons. There were camouflage plates and napkins. There were camouflage do-rags for all the kids to wear. It looked like Al Qaeda had set up a training camp in my sister’s living room. The kids all played “army” with guns and ammo and snipers and ambushes. Well, most of the kids anyway. Sophie, being the only girl at the party as usual, was completely unimpressed with the party theme and preferred to spend the afternoon attached to my hip. Nicholas spent most of the party playing on my sister’s iPad. He had little if any interest in the warfare going on around him. Lucas, however, was completely enthralled by the party. He waved toy guns around like a true rebel fighter. He did the G.I. Joe belly crawl down the hallway. He perfected the guttural war cry. He loved every minute of it.
My sister bought my nephew a real, live BB gun for his birthday. A Red Rider BB gun just like the one Ralphie begged for in “A Christmas Story”. I resisted the urge to tell him that he would shoot his eye out, but knowing my nephew, I secretly suspect that there is a real risk that he will eventually shoot someone’s eye out. Of course, he was beyond excited about his birthday present and all of the kids lined up to take a turn shooting his new gun (sans BB’s, of course).
I knew this party was going to be a tough one for me. Or a tough one for Lucas, I guess. Ruanita and I do not allow our kids to have toy guns. This is something we agreed to years ago before we even had children. I have no problem whatsoever with my sister buying a gun for her son and this blog is in no way meant to disparage her or her parenting or her son. Ruanita and I just have a different take on guns. A different opinion. An opinion that I tried to explain to Lucas in the car on the way home. The declarations of “unfairness” began the minute our butts touched the seats of the car. “Why can Jonah have a gun and I can’t?” “It’s not fair.” “They’re not real.” “Uncle Matt carries a gun.”
I explained to Lucas that guns hurt people. Every single day in this country, guns hurt people. They kill people. Guns are not toys. War is not a game. His uncle Matt carries a gun because he is a police officer sworn to protect people. Lucas, on the other hand, is just a boy who has no need for a weapon. I tried to explain that his aunt and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to toy guns. She is allowed to make decisions for her son. That is her job as his mom. Just like my job is to make decisions that I believe are correct for my children. Lucas is my priority, not his cousin Jonah. He is my responsibility and my child to raise and teach and mold. I explained that his mom and I do not believe in toy guns and that he will not be getting one. End of story. Needless to say, he was pretty upset and convinced that life just isn’t fair.
Here’s the thing though. I get it. Really. I do. I get that it may not be easy being the son of lefty liberal lesbians. As often as I say that gay and lesbian parents are just like every other parent out there, there is a hint of untruth in that statement. We are certainly like other parents in more ways than we are different. But there may just be a few ways in which we may not be exactly the same.
Ruanita and I refer to bodily parts by their actual names. Penises and vaginas instead of wee-wees and pee-pees. We sang our kids to sleep with Indigo Girls songs. We don’t allow our boys to become Boy Scouts like their friends. We struggle with explaining -to a couple of little boys who just want to go camping and learn to tie cool knots- about the injustice of an organization that doesn’t allow gay people to join. We don’t really watch football. Or baseball. We don’t play sports. We do watch college basketball and cheer excitedly for the Kentucky Wildcats, but we live in Minnesota. None of their friends cares about college basketball. We don’t hunt or fish. We aren’t exactly the “outdoorsy” type. We talk about feelings. A lot. We believe every conversation is a “teachable moment.” We buy our boys Legos so they can build something instead of guns so they can destroy something. We make Lucas go to choir rehearsal every single Saturday morning so he can grow to be a “well-rounded” man. We are smugly proud of ourselves when our son walks around Target singing the soprano section of ¡Cantar! louder than he realizes. We talk about politics. We explain the issues to our kids as best we can. We want them to be politically savvy. We stress in our house that girls can be scientists and mathematicians and doctors and lawyers. And boys can be caregivers. Boys can be gentle and loving. Boys can be kind and generous and sweet. Boys and girls can both be anything they want to be. There are no pre-conceived gender roles in our house.
Perhaps it is because every single child in a gay or lesbian family is meticulously planned. Desperately wanted. There are no accidents in a gay or lesbian family. Whether our families are created by artificial insemination or surrogacy or adoption, we go to great lengths (not to mention great expense) to bring our children into our families. As a result, we may be a bit hyper vigilant in our parenting practices. When something that is so very wanted for so very long finally materializes, we have a tendency to treat it with kid gloves. To over think this whole parenting thing. I admit at times to parenting in a more cerebral and less organic fashion. I should really think less and just “be” more.
Not only do gay and lesbian parents want to raise our children to be good people like all parents do, but we have the added burden of feeling that we must somehow “prove” that we can be good parents. To show the world that our children are just as smart. Just as kind. Just as moral. Just as “normal” as all the other children out there. It’s silly, really. Why do we have to prove anything to anyone? Who cares that we have spent out entire lives being told that the only real families—the only families who should be raising children—consist of one man and one woman? Why should we care when we know we are just as capable as straight people to raise children? Because the notion that we are not still exists. It’s still there. Whether I like to admit it or not, there is a desire deep down within me to prove my worth as a parent. And my children sometimes get caught in the crossfire of this internal struggle.
Will my son grow up to be a serial killer if I buy him a BB gun? No. Will my nephew grow up to kill innocent people just because he had a camouflage party for his 10th birthday? Certainly not. I am sure they will both grow up to be perfectly wonderful men. Boys will be boys, right? That’s what people say. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. It’s true that my son will find a way to fashion a gun out of sticks or toilet paper rolls or Legos. He will find a way to make a gun. It’s what boys do. As his mom, however, I do not have to arm him. I do not have to be a participant in his war-worshipping. I can show him another way. I think it is my responsibility to show him another way.
Whether he likes it or not.
By Shannon Ralph
When Lucas was one year old, I never thought I would enjoy another year of his life as much as I did that one. He was this angelic, chubby little blonde thing with dimples that just wouldn’t quit. And he was so happy. He just sat around and played with his matchbox cars repeating “Brrrrummm” over and over again. I adored him and was certain I would never enjoy him as much as I did at that very time.
Then he turned two. And he developed a sense of humor. And a streak of independence. And a sweetness that eclipsed everything he was at one year old. And I thought to myself, “This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.”
Then he turned three. Frankly, three was not my favorite. He was a bit of a beast. But we survived and he turned four. Four was magical. He was this perfect little thing who believed completely in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and fairy dust and magic. He relished the things that the rest of us had grown too busy and beleaguered to even notice. A yellow leaf twirling in the wind. Ants slowly making their way across the sidewalk. Fat worms wriggling in the dirt, warmed by the summer sun. He could draw, cut, color, and paste for hours on end. He smelled amazing when he was freshly bathed and dressed in his cozy pajamas. Four years old had to be the perfect age.
Each year of Lucas’s life, I have thought, “This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.” And each year I am surprised that he keeps getting better and better.
He is nine years old now. Almost ten. I never thought I would enjoy a nine-year-old boy (or a boy at all, for that matter). I could easily list the things about a nine-year-old boy that bug me. He leaves his dirty socks laying around everywhere. And his underwear. He tunes me out any time a screen of any sort is in front of him. He is sarcastic at times. His feet stink. He manipulates his brother who absolutely worships him. He is kind of lazy. Sort of obnoxious. Somewhat annoying. But tonight, out of the blue, I found myself thinking, “This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.”
He was taking a shower at the time. At nine years old, Lucas is very a much a little boy who wants very much to be a big man. He wants to shower himself. He doesn’t need to his mom to help him. But like generations of kids before him, he is pretty convinced that aliens are going to abduct his entire family while he is alone in the shower. So he has asked me to stay in bathroom with him when he showers. And of course, as a survivor of the pre-teen alien abduction nightmares, I happily oblige.
I was sitting on the toilet while Lucas showered and he was chattering on as he so often does. I tend to tune him out at times because he just talks so much, but tonight I was listening.
“Ask me about particles, Mom. Or space. Ask me anything about space,” he said.
“Okay, Lucas, what about a light year? Is a light year a measurement of time or distance?” I attempted to stump him.
“Oh Mom, that’s too easy. It’s distance,” he exclaimed. “People think it is time because it is a year, but it is really distance. How far light travels in a year.”
“Alright, you’re smart.”
“Did you know that the Big Bang is still going on?”
“Really?” I asked skeptically.
“Really,” he replied. “Right now, at this very moment, we are banging.”
“Right now? In this bathroom? You and I are banging?”
“Yep. The Big Bang is still happening today. We are banging. The universe is still changing. The Big Bang isn’t over.”
At that moment—sitting on a toilet watching a blue shower curtain dancing with the movements of my clumsy son taking a shower—I loved him. I loved his enthusiasm. I loved his voice. I loved his constant, incessant science talk. I loved his weird sense of humor. I loved the smell of his deodorant sitting on the sink. I loved that he still likes talking to me. I loved that he needed me there, sitting on that toilet, to protect him from the monsters that lurked in his imagination. It was such an ordinary, daily life sort of moment. One of those everyday, uneventful, unexciting moments that make you pause and think. That make you realize how very lucky you are to have a part in creating such an extraordinary person.
This is it. He is perfection personified. I will never enjoy him as much as I do right now.
By Carol Rood
When I first started dating my lovely partner Bluebell, we had to keep everything a secret. First of all, she was still in the military and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was alive and well. Plus I had just gotten divorced and was unwilling to let my children know I was in a relationship with her. They knew we were best friends, and I decided to leave it at that.
Then we bought a house together and we decided it was best for each of us to have our own bedroom. She was about to retire, but I had not yet “told” my kids and she had not told hers. We did sleep together most nights, but actually lived in our own bedrooms for the most part. It was an interesting time. Neither of us was “out” professionally but we were to our close friends. Looking back on it I think we were crazy, but it worked at the time, and I suppose it made things easier for the children to get used to living with new people.
We decided after living together for a year we would tell the children that we were actually a couple. Of course they all said, “Um, we have known forever Mom.” They were okay with me being in a relationship with a woman, and that made me happy. We had actually prepared ourselves for the worst and realized we may need to sell our house and live apart if our kids freaked out. Our number one priority was the children and how they would feel about our relationship.
Because I had been in a “traditional” marriage when my children were young I never forced the issue about them saying anything to any adults or their friends. I always introduced Bluebell as my “friend”, and they did the same. They called her “my mom’s friend” if talking about her to others.
At some point my oldest son (age 15 now) began telling people his mom was “bi”. Apparently people his age thought that was cool and I scored him some “cool points”. I suppose technically I am “bi” in his mind since I was married to his dad and am now with a woman. I don’t consider myself bisexual. I consider myself a lesbian, but I never pushed that issue with my son. Whatever he was comfortable with worked for me.
My son is now in 10th grade and is very comfortable with Bluebell and with our relationship.
However, I was still surprised when she came to me a few weeks ago and brought me a paper that I saw had my son’s handwriting on it. “Uh oh”, I said. “Is this going to be bad?” She said, “Just read it.” She had seen this paper lying on the dining room table near my son’s book bag and picked it up and read it. I held it in my hand and braced myself.
He had an assignment to write about himself and his family for his English class. In his own handwriting I read, “I found out a few years ago my mom is in a same gendered relationship. I think that is cool. My mom is cool.”
I cried tears of joy. My son thinks I am cool! That is a pretty amazing thing for a mom of a teenager to be considered cool by her kid!
My son thinks I am cool!!!
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
I think that I need therapy.
No really. I have been obsessing a little bit about things that I have absolutely no control over. And what have I been obsessing over, you might ask?
As everyone knows, I am a new mom again. Our baby girl is 11 months old. I was 41 years old when she was born. And I know that nowdays, all kinds of women are having babies at 35, 40, 45, even 50 years old. But I remember, before she was born, standing in the shower when the thought hit me: when this baby is MY age, I will be 82. Oh my God.
I guess because I don’t feel 42 years old, this was a realization that hit me hard and has been hitting me regularly since. I feel young, I feel healthy (for the most part – working on it), I feel active – I mean hell, I didn’t run my first 5K until I was 42 years old! But the fact of the matter is that I actually have been on this earth for close to half of the time that will (I hope) be alotted.
To top it off, my oldest son, Nicholas, and his wife are going to make me a grandmother in the near future (January). Now don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled and excited to meet my granddaughter! And this is the ONE scenario where I actually feel young – WAY too young to be a grandmother! It’s like I am caught in a very odd place, where I feel kind of old to be a new mom, but still feel very young to be a grandmother. I tell people that my darling son has done me wrong, because now when I am out and about with both of the baby girls, people are likely to ask me if they are both my granddaughters. Then there will be explanations about Harrison being my daughter and Zoe being my granddaughter. Son…you did me wrong…
But there are times when my mortality hits me, and I freak out, despite the knowledge that there’s nothing I can do about it. None of us can! I was driving the other day with Erikka and the kids, and she started daydreaming about Harrison getting married. That set off the sad thoughts in my head of how old I could be when that happens. What if she doesn’t marry until she is in her 30s? That puts me in my 70s. What if she doesn’t have kids until her 30s or 40s, like her mommies? That puts me in my 70s or 80s, God willing. Then the thoughts hit me that anything could happen between now and then, and I could very well not be here at all. These thoughts start a landslide of scenarios that are always in the back of my mind that would prevent me from seeing my kids and grandkids grow up, or experiencing a lifetime with my wife. I obsess about car accidents almost every time I go out, with or without kids. I worry about plane crashes every time I step foot on one (should NEVER have watched “Lost”). I worry about breast cancer with each passing year, because it is so prevalent in my family, and because I, as a small business owner, am going on another year without health insurance. As these thoughts and fears came swirling in my head as we drove that day, I got so emotional and said, “I just hate knowing that there is an expiration date. I want to be with my family, with my wife, forever. I don’t want it to end.” I know. It is probably not healthy to have these thoughts on a regular basis. I just want to be here for them and with them…always. It’s probably not normal, I know this.
But like I said in the beginning, I think that I need therapy.
By: Shannon Ralph
Growing up is hard work. I am not sure when the status of “tween” is officially achieved. I always thought a child had to be in double digits to be considered a tween. If so, Lucas is an overachiever. At nine and a half years old, I feel like I am knee deep in Lucas tween-dom.
Lucas will be in fourth grade this year. He is one year away from middle school and I sense a shift of seismic proportions happening in my house. Lucas is changing. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. He is growing and evolving and leaping and bounding…
…and sulking. And complaining. And yelling. And whining. Yep, we’re having a good old time with our tween.
Lucas blames everything on the fact that he is tired. All the time, apparently. I assume he is going through a growth spurt of some sort. He spends half his day lying around on the couch. The other half is spent in a frenzy. His energy level swings from howler monkey to slug. There is no in between. He grows taller every day. And thinner. His feet are huge. His can wear my shoes now. New blonde hair is sprouting out of his legs at an amazing rate. His beautiful dimpled face wears a scowl more often these days. He seems frustrated. His brother annoys him. His sister gets on his nerves. He’s not as interested in playing with them as he used to be. He watches strange cartoons with Japanese titles that make no sense to me. He talks about “privacy.” He spends more time in his room. Lying on his bed. Reading.
Lucas argues now. He raises his voice to both me and Ruanita, which is entirely new. It’s not like Lucas. I get the sense that it surprises even him when he does it. I can tell by the look in his eye that his protestations are sometimes much louder than he had planned. And he always apologizes afterwards. He apologizes a lot these days. With good reason. He acts like a little shit fairly often.
When I tell him “no,” Lucas complains that I am not listening to him. I do not understand him. No one understands him. You know…because none of us has ever been nine before.
He doesn’t initiate hugs and kisses like he used to do. He doesn’t shy away from hugs and kisses, but I am usually the initiator these days. I hug him. I kiss him. Not the other way around.
Despite the changes he is going through—despite being a complete pain in my ass at times—Lucas will always be my little baby boy. I knew him when he was fresh and new to this world. When he didn’t know how to roll his eyes. When he had not yet learned to sneer at his brother. Before he developed selective hearing. When he soaked in every sound I uttered like a sponge. I knew him back when he stared at me in wide-eyed wonder while I talked to him. When he loved stories. And crayons. When he loved peas and sweet potatoes and mashed bananas. I knew him when he was untouched by this world. When he belonged to only me and Ruanita. I knew him when he was pure love incarnate. When he was nothing more than a giggle wrapped in sweet-smelling baby chub.
I fell in love with Lucas when the entire world was new to him. When every day brought new delights and a fresh perspective. When worms were the coolest things he had ever seen. When dinosaurs were “awesome.” And spiders were “scary.” When his morning cartoons consisted of Caillou and Dora and Diego.
I fell in love with Lucas when his view of the world was simple. When Mommy was good. And his pajamas were warm. And his dinner was yummy. And his stuffed blue doggie protected him through the night. Those were the only things he knew and all that he needed to be happy. I fell in love with Lucas when his world revolved around me…and mine around him.
So nothing he does at nine years old will ever change the way I feel about him. The love that sprouted almost a decade ago will persist until the end of time. He will always be that little person to me. That walking, breathing, living exemplar of love and all that is good in this world. I don’t care how awkward and lanky he becomes. I don’t care that he will eventually tower over me. I don’t care how much hair grows on his legs. Or anywhere else, for that matter. I don’t care how many times he rolls his eyes at me. I don’t care that he slams his door and calls his brother “stupid.” I don’t even mind so much that he accuses me of not listening to him, though I desperately want to hear him. To know him. It’s all a part of growing up. He is becoming himself. He is testing his boundaries. Becoming accustomed to this new, tall, lean body. Learning to navigate his way in the world as a child who is quickly becoming a young man.
I want him to know that I do understand. That I am here. That I will always and forever be his mom and his greatest fan. In all honesty, I think he grows more amazing every year. I fell in love with him almost ten years ago, but the love I felt for him way back then was a mere trickle compared to the roaring river of devotion that completely rocks me to my core every time I look at him now. I just want him to know that. I want him to understand me.
Growing up is hard on mommas, too.
By: Kellen Kaiser
I don’t date older men. And if I’m being honest, it is at least partially because I was raised by lesbians.
Lord forbid I have “Daddy Issues.”
This term, often applied to strippers and ladies involved in May/December romances, shadows me. I have myself internalized the judgments shot towards dinner tables where a silver fox sits across a girl still wrapped in the spring of youth. I have joined the chorus that says, she must be looking to get what she missed out on at home.
For me, as someone who spent large swaths of her childhood defending the idea that good parenting didn’t necessitate a male role model in the home, it is unthinkable to set myself up for that judgment but also ageist hypocrisy to buy the hype that “Daddy Issues” is selling. Still, my dating record shouts, Nope. No daddy issues here, thanks.
I have never called someone “Daddy” in bed, and recently I’ve started questioning why that is verboten to me, even with men I know I’ll never see again. (One-night stands in other countries, I’m looking at you.) What am I afraid of exactly? That they will call the conservatives and tell on me? Why am I giving the phrase so much power?
It’s not as though I am repressing some unfulfilled desire. I am okay with sticking to young, nubile hunks but it’s weird to figure out that your sexuality is being run by fear/politics/others’ opinions. Even if I already knew on some level that it inevitably is, that culture is what molds our desire regardless. There is no escaping that. But as someone who consciously eschews the influence of such things, who has embraced a more alternative and free approach to sex than most, I’d like to think I know better.
That’s the problem with serving as a representative for a whole group of people, for example me being a proxy for all kids of gay parents, otherwise known as the dilemma of minority. You end up creating your identity in reaction, in order to fill in the negative space of others’ projections of you. Oh, the Christian Right says we’ll all turn out this way. Let me prove them wrong. Only this is a self molded by one’s adversaries. Although aren’t we always, in the end? So much of character is pushback.
My own relationship to that all important male figure, Father, or in my case the man who happened to bed my mother for one night in Paris, has been intermittent. Since it turned out he lived in Berkeley, he has been in and out of contact since my infancy. I am not the only one in my social circle for whom this was the case, but I am certainly the most defensive about it not being a big deal. Many a time have I told a reporter that with four moms, another parent would be less than appealing. This isn’t a confession otherwise. I have been plenty parented, so to speak. I have had male friends and teachers. I am involved enough in the gay community to get a healthy and regular dose of male perspective, even from men approximtely Dad’s age. I’ve done alright for myself romantically. It’s not that there haven’t been moments in life where I’ve exclaimed that I just don’t get men and fear I never will, but I am hardly alone in this feeling of divide between genders. Plenty of ladies who had dads at home are similarly befuddled without the excuse. And, really, should the presence of an individual and one’s experience of them be used as a model for the sex as whole? Is it fair to say having a dad around better prepares you for the other couple billion men on the planet? I mean isn’t that where so many so called “daddy issues” begin, when women go looking for a replacement?
People talk about women searching for and marrying men who are like their fathers. I know in my case it is less likely since I know comparatively little about my father’s character. It would be hard for me to go searching for someone I barely know. My exes have instead shared traits in common with my various mothers.
Maybe I have “Mommy Issues” instead.
By: Kellen Kaiser