By Lisa Regula Meyer
Today marks the start of the holiday shopping season, the day after Thanksgiving, when Americans take to the malls in droves looking for spectacular deals on the latest, greatest thing for this year. Or at least it had been the start of the shopping season until the recent craze of opening earlier and earlier began. So this year while most of us are home enjoying a holiday feast with our loved ones, retail employees will be stocking shelves and ringing up orders of people who can’t wait another day to spend.
I’ll admit that I have a vested interest in maintaining the day off that had been far more common just a few years ago, as Dwight works in retail. Having a day off to celebrate the holiday with family is also something that I believe is just plain the right thing to do. It’s not often that families today have a day set aside that everyone can be together, between more businesses being open more hours, and many people working more than one job. The biggest irony that I see is the messaging that we send- give thanks and treasure time with those you love on one hand, and love is equal to a purchase, but especially a deeply discounted one, on the other hand. It’s a sad way to start the season, in my opinion, focusing on the purchases and the profits instead of being together.
I realize that their are some people who want to work on the holiday to earn extra income for the holidays, and I hope that those are the people who are the ones staffing the Thanksgiving retail floor, but I also know that at most stores these will be mandatory work days to make sure that staffing levels are high and customer service is up. Wouldn’t valuing families mean paying people enough that a day off with their own families was a sacrifice that they could afford?
As much as I may be complaining, I’m thankful that- for the most part- we’ll have some time together as a family this holiday season. I cooked for our kin that can make it, and lit a candle for those that couldn’t. It’s entering the end of the semester, which is a busy time for the students and teachers alike, and we have both in Dwight’s side of the family. I’m thankful for the chance to do what I love and teach biology to undergraduates. I’m thankful to have my dissertation done and submitted, and my hooding coming up. I’m thankful for the families that I’ve seen through the family building process, and child-free friends who remind me of my more carefree days before kids (and let Kenny and I participate in their big Random Acts of Kindness endeavors).
Being thankful for these things makes me want similar privileges- family, friends, living wages, education- for other families as well.
By Lisa Regula-Meyer
I’m a biologist, and as such, I care about the words we use for things. Words, especially names, in biology mean a lot- they can tell us details about who an organism is related to or similar to, or some of that thing’s history (where it was found, who described it), and they can be very descriptive like the newly discovered ligament in the knee. It’s being called the “antero-lateral ligament” because it’s found on the lateral (outside) side of the knee, and is anteriorly placed (or closer to the abdomen than the foot). Names of things can also give an idea of when it was discovered, as trends in names have changed greatly over time, from being more honorific to being more descriptive. Yeah, I kind of like etymology.
While there’s a ton of thought that goes into naming something in biology that we don’t think of going into naming everyday objects like “cat” or “ball,” to a person just learning any language, there can be a lot of thought in figuring out what words like “cat” and “ball” mean. This is even more the case for new learners of any language- young children. Trying to discern how general a term like “cat” or “ball” is, and how large a group it encompasses- deciphering what makes a ball a ball and not a cat- is tough work. My cat is rather large and often curled into a spherical shape- will she bounce like a ball does? This new ball is soft and squishy like the cat- why doesn’t it make sound? From an adult perspective, these questions are ridiculous and sound like something a person on drugs would come up with, but to someone who is figuring out the meanings of words for the first time, they’re valid questions.
And then there are proper nouns, that have a specific thing to which they’re tied, but of course those terms are not marked in some way in verbal communication. Thus, every bearded man wearing flannel becomes “Uncle Mark” until we learn otherwise. Possibly the most difficult are those terms that can be specific or general, like “grandma” or “doctor.” As adults, we know these terms are roles, and act as descriptors for the names with which they’re attached- I am Dr. Regula Meyer, noting both who I am and what I do; “Grandma Sue” tells both the specific person and the very important group of people to whom she belongs, grandmas.
Lately, Kenny’s been figuring this out with me as we talk about common names and species names, and he’s learning that not all “finches” are the same type of “finches” and how to tell them apart. We’ve even stocked up on our bird feeder supplies, in hopes of continuing watching and learning through the winter. Miss E, on the other hand, is learning more simple levels of this discussion, and trying to figure out family configurations. What roles are there in a family, who fills them, and what do you call them? She’s made the mistake a few times of calling either daddy or papa by the term “mama” because they were doing something that the “mamas” of her classmates do- baking, hugging, reading, and whatnot. I’m sympathetic to this plight, while I can laugh at it, remembering all the times that Kenny has (and still does) call me “dad” or Dwight “mama.” It’s rough building all those neural pathways to fix a language in your brain. Even harder is having to make all those connections on your own, without someone who speaks “Babyese” to help explain the nuances.
Speaking seriously, this is why reading and talking to children is so important, so that they can experience words in multiple scenarios and make those connections, generalizations, and specifics more quickly. Taking a more light-hearted approach, it makes for great stories when they’re older, about incorrect or inappropriate use of words as they were still practicing these language skills. And finally, from a more reflective position, thinking about all the work that goes on to try and communicate, even with people closest to you and whom you hold dear, might give us a bit of appreciation for the tough life of a child, how they can expend so much energy and get tired so quickly, and maybe why tantrums happen to frustrated, tired kiddos who have spent all day trying to decide just what exactly “blue” means.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
Over the weekend, our family was enjoying some down time and relaxing by watching old episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. Nothing surprising or extraordinary about that, as we’re huge science fiction/fantasy geeks. The episode on was “Cogenitor,” a story of first contact with an alien species that has three sexes instead of two, and thus uses third party reproduction obligatorily. If you enjoy Star Trek, you know of the Prime Directive- a sort of Hippocratic oath for space exploration- that states a priority on non-interference in other cultures and their development. The introduction of a third sex and third party reproduction obviously got my interest, and this portrayal of third party reproduction was not much different from other portrayals in the media, like Baby Mama, or the “Friends” episode where Phoebe serves as a gestational surrogate for her brother, among others. There are hierarchies, possibilities for exploitation, qualitatively different life histories and possibilities, all the fun themes that keep surrogacy misunderstood and surrogates stereotyped (here I give a huge hat-tip to The Next Family for helping to change so many stereotypes- thank you!).
I know enough surrogates to know that this stereotype is far from the full story, but like all stereotypes, there is a small percent of people who do fit the stereotype, and one shared characteristic is enough for humans to lump lots of diversity and variation into one loose-fitting category. Our brains have evolved to categorize things, to make decisions simple and quick, because a wrong decision for a hunter or gatherer could have been deadly. Today, our brains are far too good at categorizing for our own good, and those quick decisions often get us into deep doo-doo.
Oysters make similar quick decisions when they are presented with something unusual, a grain of sand or a bit of broken shell, for example. It takes that small source of irritation and adds layer after layer of complexity to create a pearl, something unique and valued. What started the formation of that pearl was something unpleasant and not that valuable, but we almost entirely ignore that small grain in the center of the pearl in favor of the everything that came after it; it’s no longer seen as a grain of sand, but as a pearl, something totally different. For our part, we do things slightly differently. We take that small defining characteristic- be it race, ethnicity, gender, orientation- and use that as the basis for defining an individual. We ignore all the complex layers that the world and the individual have added to make a unique, beautiful individual. We see humans as inverted pearls, with the beauty on the inside.
What I’d like to see, and what I’m seeing more of every year, is seeing that individuality as the beauty that it is. I’m going to take a bit of creative license and totally reinterpret the saying “The world is my oyster” at this point. The world IS our oyster- it gives us experiences and challenges that are often a response to our identity, makes us a more complex person because of that experience, and makes us so much more valuable than those categories that we’re initially put into as a part of our identity. And not just us, this process happens to everyone; we are all so much more than the sum of our parts. Thank you, The Next Family and readers, for seeing the beauty in diversity and the value in all people. You’re helping to create a future that is far more interesting and accessible, and I appreciate that.
By: Lisa Regula- Meyer
The school year is in full swing now in Kent, and we’re heartily enjoying life with a second grader. Specifically, we’re enjoying this second grader and his second grade class. This year, our school is trying out a mixed 1st and 2nd grade classroom. Two teachers, two student teachers, and two grades in an extra large room (really two rooms with a collapsible wall between them that’s not used very often now). Kenny’s been thrilled about it so far, and seems to be doing well with this new set-up, in part because the first grade teacher was his teacher last year, and he really enjoyed working with her. We’re glad that he has another year in a safe place where he enjoys learning, and his official teacher for this year has a similar pedagogy and manner to his first grade teacher. His daily pattern is familiar, he’s making progress on school work, and meeting new friends.
I may not work with young kids, but I do teach, and I take my profession seriously. So much in education is bad news- rising tuition, rising student loan amounts, another assessment added to the schedule, and test prep taking more and more time away from teaching. With all of that, it’s great seeing innovation and child-centered learning still making its way into some areas. Classrooms being treated like research, following evidenced-based practices and contributing to that evidence, trusting teachers to take leadership of their own classrooms, those are the things that I like to hear happening.
In my own classrooms, I’m trying some new things, as well, like virtual presentations and some new lab activities. It’s surprising how different things feel with just a little bit of a difference; those little changes make such a big deal in overall outlook. For me, seeing changes in my syllabus come together, and seeing how other people shape their classrooms for the students (with supportive administrators, even!)
By: Lisa Regula Meyer
Three ways to create a family frequently discussed on The Next Family include gestational surrogate, traditional surrogate, and adoption. There are far more other ways, but I wanted to focus on these three because it’s an area where there is frequently some confusion. As a reminder, “gestational surrogacy” is when a woman (the GS) outside of a couple carries a child that is not related to her for the recipient couple, the intended parents (IPs). The child may be the genetic child of one or two of the people in the IP couple or not, depending on how the couple goes about the surrogacy process. “Traditional surrogacy” is when a woman (the TS) outside of the IP couple carries a child that is related to herself, her own biological child and the half sibling of her own children. Usually the child is related to one of the IPs. Adoption concerns an existing pregnancy for the birth mother, and the child is placed with an adoptive family, to whom it does not have a parent-child genetic connection.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these methods, and finding the correct balance of benefits and drawbacks depends on the parties involved. Gestational surrogacy tends to have a more sure ending legally, and if there is a child created it is 99% likely going to go home with the intended parents, since the child was created/intended for them, and the surrogate has no genetic link to the child. Traditional surrogacy tends to be less expensive, and does not involve the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF), but is seen as riskier for the parents since the surrogate has a genetic tie to the child. The infamous Baby M case was a traditional surrogacy. Adoption is the most legally risky, as birth mothers can rescind their decision and choose to parent instead of abdicate her parental rights and responsibilities within a set period of time. The child was not created with the intent of the adoptive parents, so legally, they are typically seen as having fewer rights than intended parents. We’ve seen the outcome of this policy discussed by The Next Family writers, and it’s painful.
I wanted to address this in writing in one place here because there is an important distinction between surrogacy of either type and adoption- the matter of intent. That the child was created with the intention of the parents is crucial legally, and ends up being important in how we view these constructs socially. I’ve been both a GS and TS myself, so I have first-hand experience with those processes. I’ve often had well-meaning people call my role as TS “birth mother” because birth mother in an adoption case is more familiar than a TS is, and it’s easy for them to understand and convey to others. But being simplistic in this manner ignores intent and adds a layer of assumptions about identity that I don’t appreciate all that much. I do know some TSs that identify as birth mothers, but it’s not common and not always healthy, resulting in a blurring of lines and creating a feeling of loss that I don’t think anyone should have to endure.
Socially, we often see adoption situations with a particular lens- a mother losing or giving up her child, a child being given away or not wanted in the first place- and assuming that there is a loss in that situation. A family is created, yes, but a parent and child are separated, something that we see as a bad thing (look at the Baby Veronica case and how contentious it has become). That loss is not assumed in a surrogacy situation, because there is no family that is broken up, only a family that is formed. That’s a joyful situation and should be celebrated, however it happens. Obviously, there are cases where a surrogacy can end up hurting the surrogate as well, but from what I’ve seen it’s usually not the case, and if it does occur, the pain is due to something outside the birth of the child, the relationship with IPs, extended bed rest or stress on her own family, and other reasons.
Identity is important as it frames how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. Because of that, I think it’s important to remember the full complexity of a situation and embrace that complexity instead of trying to simplify, and it’s especially important to recognize people by their chosen identity, not one that we wish to use for them out of simplicity. Our identities take time and thought to form, so taking time and effort to recognize them correctly is appropriate.
By: Lisa Regula Meyer
In keeping with the theme of additions started by the kittens, we’ve added another member to the family. Specifically, my mother in law has remarried a high school friend, and the man that introduced her to my father in law. I’m happy for them, the groom seems like a great guy (and Dwight asserts this is the case, and Dwight’s known the groom since he was young). They seem infinitely happy, and summer is a season in my life that needs additions to balance the subtractions, so it’s all good. I’m also optimistic that the groom’s longstanding friendship with the father in law might make for less strenuous holiday trips; only having to do one giant holiday bash for each holiday would be amazing.
The nice thing about blending of families for adult children is the limited functional changes that occur. In my experience, I enjoy not having to adjust too much to a new member of the family, and the limited potential for negative interactions that come with that. We get the benefit of a new addition and expanded family without the messiness of blending two families into one. At least that’s how it was with my second step father compared to my first. We’ll see what this new transition brings, but I’m positive about the situation.
My one concern is names and how to refer to people. Dwight’s dad is very happy with his title of “Grandpa,” a title that he doesn’t share with any living person, as my step dad is “Mr. Dusty” in Kenny’s eyes. I don’t want to take something as important a part of his identity away from Dwight’s dad by calling the groom “Grandpa” also. Dwight’s mom has already started that trend, but Dwight and I are leaning toward “Mr. David” instead. The groom has yet to express any preference, and seems comfortable with whatever (can I say that his laid-back temperament is a huge plus?). Kenny has enough problem with names that the groom will probably be “What’s your name again?” for a year or more.
I am, and will probably always remain, a staunch supporter of respecting self-identity, whether that’s in gender, name, career, whatever. You get to choose what other people call you, and the forms of address you respond to. I also tend to think of family less in terms of bloodlines and more as “chosen family,” be it chosen through adoption, friendship, foster care, or some other tie. It’s acting like a family that makes a family, not genetics, as far as I’m concerned.
At the same time, we’re constantly defining not just ourselves, but our relationships to one another. How many jokes and comedy skits have featured the scenario where a new couple are figuring out terms of endearment or relationship status? The awkward “So… are we boyfriend and girlfriend?” moment in high school comes to mind. It’s a human trait- we like to name and group things. If the person is has no preferred title or name, but others are identifying him/her in more way than one, what’s the “correct” term? Is there such as thing as “correct term”? Companies and individuals pay big money for naming rights to sports centers, stadiums, and other buildings; who has naming rights in a child’s relationship? Only time will tell. Besides, as The Bard once said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.”
By: Lisa Regula Meyer
Recently, Alan Chambers, the president of influential Exodus International came out and admitted that he was wrong and apologized for the damage he and his group have done to the larger community. Exodus was one of the groups that has been based on the idea of helping people (specifically non-straight) change their sexual orientation through religious conviction- the infamous “pray away the gay” programs. Chambers even went a step further and has vowed to shut down his own organization.
This comes on the heels of a handful of Republican legislators throwing their support behind marriage equality, and while we wait to hear a decision on two marriage equality cases currently before the Supreme Court.
It’s possible that I’m being overly optimistic, but the prospects for changing the course of history feels very real right now. I’m hopeful that these events are more indicators of growing public acceptance of the LGBTQ community and their right to the pursuit of happiness.
Obviously, there are still discriminatory laws on the books, and bigotry abounds, but most signs point to improved civil rights recognition and moving closer to full equality. It’s important to note that while the fight for marriage equality may be turning a critical corner soon, there are also other major battles that need to be fought and won as well, like ending housing and employment discrimination.
Marriage is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s a big piece that provides protections not just for the married individuals, but for their children as well. Access to insurance, recognition of parental rights, availability of social supports like Social Security Survivor benefits, and lessened risk of deportation for a parent are all good things to come out of marriage equality. There’s also the very real tax benefits to married couples that provide additional discretionary income for those families.
It’s no wonder that so many resources- both financial and energetic- are spent trying to gain access to these benefits of marriage, although it does remove available resources for other facets of the equality fight as well.
I’m not going to lie, waiting for the SCOTUS decision this week has me excited and a little distracted. Here’s hoping for a ruling sooner this week rather than later, so I can get on with my to do list sooner, and so we can start working on those other issues of equality sooner. I am hoping that the summer of 2014 is going to be one filled with weddings.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
I was in Florida over the holiday weekend, visiting my mom and step-dad, and had a great time. While we were there, mom and I walked the John Ringling Causeway, just the two of us. I’m not sure why it was so important to her, but we did it and it was a nice walk. While we were walking and talking, my writing came up, in part because I have deadlines for projects that I did not finish before we left. She asked me a question that really struck me in that discussion, “You write a lot, did you ever write memorials for Dad and Kim?”
I really wasn’t sure what to respond to that, because what exactly is a written memorial? My dad’s good friend and I put together the music for Dad’s memorial service, and that was all I was asked to do when he died in 1995. For my sister, the memorial and funeral were two giant cluster____s spread across different weekends and different places and different people. So, no, I did not write a memorial service or any portion of it for either Dad or Kim.
But is that really all a memorial is? Or does writing a memorial require naming something for the person being memorialized? I did not have an easy answer for her. Sure, I have written plenty of things- poetry and prose- about the two missing members of our family; I guess that means I have written lots of memorials to them? A large chunk of the problem lies in defining what represents a memorial for my mom and I. I tend to fixate on processes, she is more interested in the product. In a way, my dissertation is a memorial to Dad, because without him teaching me inquisitiveness and tenacity, I never would have made it as far as I have. And my venturing back into poetry lately is very much a memorial of sorts to Kim, as she and I wrote heavily when we were younger and often our first reader was the other sister.
At the same time, how can a few mere words ever be fitting to remember two of the three people who most helped me shape my early identity? My memorial to them is not some fixed thing or point in time, but my very life- how I live, and what I do. It’s only in something as big as an ongoing series of actions that I feel I can really express the full extent of their influence on me. That’s not at all to say that there’s a right way or a wrong way to any of this, just different points of view and different ways of thinking about the subject. Loss is one of the few universal human experiences, but with such vastly different ways to react to that experience. It’s intriguing to me to see all the ways there are to approach the same emotion, and that variety highlights our individuality and all each person has to offer to the world.
OK, come to think of it, there are wrong ways to memorialize people, like harming others in their name, or actively working against what they held dear, but I tend to think those are exceedingly rare in how we see humans reacting to the death of a loved one. What are your thoughts? How do you memorialize those you have loved and lost? And how did you celebrate Memorial Day earlier this week?
By Lisa Regula Meyer
This past Friday was my birthday. My mom had come up to visit and was staying with us for a few days, and that night she and Kenny had quality “Grandma-time” while Dwight and I went out. Just us, together. It’s not something that happens often, and this was special because we were going out to see a friend of his from high school as the featured poet celebrating her new chapbook. It was a real live adults’ night out!
Alexis’ poetry was great, and it was amazing meeting her and her boyfriend. The open mic poetry and slam poetry were also quite interesting, and the venue, Karma Café, served a mean chai. One poem especially spoke to me, a poem about Alexis’ children that she doesn’t and won’t have. I can’t say I understand how it feels to know you’ll never be a mom, because I don’t know that feeling, but I do understand the feeling of loss knowing you can’t have something you want.
And I kind of understand wanting to be pregnant. Maybe it was the birthday blues. Maybe it was the talk with my doc about “as we age” crap. Maybe it’s the fact that all my friends seem to be doing baby stuff. Whatever it is, there’s a part of me that has delusions of pregnancy. It’s kind of odd, I’m not sure why I feel like this, and I’m not sure how this plays out.
The one thing I do know for sure is that I still do not want another kid. So I did what any reasonable person would do- I went and shopped for some of my baby-laden friends simply to look at cute clothes and accessories. I watched cute baby animal videos on Teh Interwebz. I looked through my son’s baby books and photos of our early months as a family. I signed up to sponsor a child on Plan USA a la “About Schmidt.” I talked baby-talk to the cat. I met a new-mama friend for coffee and tried playing with her baby, only for it to look at me as if I were a complete and utter moron (and my friend claimed I had a similar expression on my own face). That experience, followed quickly by a stench of a dirty diaper and tears, reassured me that my heart most certainly was not melting, and I was still my usual curmudgeonly self.
I don’t want another baby. I just want to be pregnant again. Or at least a little part of me does. I want to feel the joy of creating a family again. I want to feel that creative energy again. And the little internal kicks. Of course, an excuse for the extra slice of birthday cake wouldn’t hurt, either.
I’ve heard stories of similar feelings from other surrogates before, and I went through something like this during my second surrogacy. I’m off to think on the topic, do lots of soul searching, and figure out where to go from here.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
This weekend, I had the honor of not only seeing two very good friends get married, but also getting to be a part of the whole thing in a way I’ve never been, other than with my own wedding. Actually, come to think of it, I probably put more planning into their wedding than in mine, considering my husband and I essentially eloped (with about a dozen people in tow). The process of getting these two beautiful people hitched really got me thinking, for many reasons, not the least of which was the discussion of privilege that was at the center of their wedding plans.
See, Chris and Kris are both very aware of the benefits of marriage, and how they automatically are put into a privileged position by virtue of the fact that they are a straight couple, and thus can have their union recognized by the state and federal governments. For them, their awareness and general amazingness lead them to choose not to accept that privilege by not getting legally married. They had the ceremony, but aren’t filing the paperwork. This leaves them in basically the same situation as all of their same-sex couple friends, and they plan to stay in this state of non-legal marriage until their friends can join them in matrimony.
Plenty of people look at marriage as a religious rite, and a marriage ceremony is most definitely a religious rite, but a marriage is so much more than those rites; it’s a relationship, it’s a joining of two people, it’s a commitment to each other, it’s a joining of two families and communities, and possibly the most important facet (from a practical standpoint) marriage is a legal contract.
This contractual agreement between two people can be very formal, including extensive pre-nuptial agreements, and post-nuptial agreements, or it can be extremely informal, simply taking advantages of what is offered by right of being married. This informal agreement at one time (and still in some states) was granted automatically to common-law marriages, or live-in relationships that fit the functional definition of marriage for a certain period of time, but that has changed in many places. Marriage is now mostly considered an opt-in status, because of all the privileges that it conveys, and the difficulties in undoing those privileges if or when a relationship fails.
What exactly am I speaking of when I say “the privileges of marriages”? Well, it’s certainly not the dirty socks in unlikely places, or the fights over who forgot to pick up the kiddo after tutoring last week, as those go along with a relationship with or without the legal recognition. No, the privileges I’m referring to include access to employer-supplied health insurance, the presumption of paternity for children conceived in the marriage, access to federal benefits from tax filing status to Social Security Survivor benefits, automatic inheritance and hospital visitation (as well as decision making power) benefits, and many, many others.
In fact, there are enough benefits to marriage that some young people are getting married to a best friend of the opposite sex simply to have access to things like medical insurance or spousal benefits under military jobs and careers, or to help a foreign friend stay in the country after being fired or dropping out of school (I can’t cite statistics here, but I personally know of former students with whom I still keep in touch who are doing just these things).
All of these little (and not so little) things add up to a mountain of privilege for opposite-sex couples in a married relationship simply by virtue of the fact that they happen to love a person with different genitalia than they have. If this isn’t a system that sets up a second-class-citizen scenario, I don’t know what does, and I know all too many people reading this piece have an even better knowledge of what I’m speaking than I do, because unlike Chris and Kris- I did say “I do” legally.
I won’t lie and say that I don’t worry about my friends, and what they’ll do should something happen to one or the other of them, but I admire their deep courage and commitment to equality over this matter, and I worry about this same issue for all of my same-sex-couple friends as well. Especially considering the administration’s continuing deportation policies and breaking up of families , I really worry for my same-sex, different-nationality coupled friends (and this includes one of my surro-families).
My husband and I were married nearly a dozen years ago, before much of the current battle over marriage equality became prominent, and before Ohio added a “one-man, one-woman” ammendment to the state constitution. While I don’t have the bravery to get a divorce simply to not be the beneficiary of a fantastically flawed system (nor do I feel like spending the money, time, and changes it would take to do that right now), but at this moment in my husband’s and my marriage, it definitely drives home exactly how lucky we are, even if those arguments and out-right fights continue to plague us. So instead, I’ll fight as much as I can to help my fellow married friends of all relationship groups have access to the same benefits that I have, and admittedly take advantage of.