By Carol Rood
I live in Southeast Virginia. I have been here since 2002 when the Navy chose to station me here at a local helicopter squadron. When I retired from the Navy in 2004 after 20 years of service I decided that I didn’t want to move and uproot my kids again, so I decided to stay here in Southeast Virginia. In July of 2006 we bought and moved into a house in a very nice subdivision in Suffolk. When we moved in I promised my two boys that we wouldn’t have to move again and that we would stay here until they graduated from high school. That was very important to me, and so we were thrilled when we found a house we loved in a very nice subdivision. I was a little leery about living in a neighborhood with a Homeowner’s Association, but we had a good feeling about the neighborhood.
Soon after moving in, my kids started school at the elementary school located within a quarter mile from our house, and I was even more excited about the neighborhood! The teachers were amazing, the school was within walking distance, and the after-school care was affordable. The kids quickly made friends, and I started to make friends as well.
I think one of the things I loved most about BG (our neighborhood) was the fact that so many people knew each other and everyone seemed so nice. My oldest son started playing Little league and we met more people who lived in BG. Then the boys transferred from our Chesapeake Boy Scout troop to a Suffolk Troop, and even more BG people entered our lives! Living in a community that felt so tight knit was awesome!!
The summer of 2007 we found out that BG had a neighborhood summer swim team, and I signed the boys up immediately. It was not free, we had to pay a registration fee, and buy swim suits, but to have an activity for my boys to participate in that was in the neighborhood where we lived, and kept them busy was a godsend for this worried mother. That summer my boys got hooked and we have been participating in the Tsunami Swim Club for the past 6 years!
The swim club has a short season, only 6 weeks, and we practice in the neighborhood pool 4 nights each week from 6:45 until 8:45 (two one hour sessions divided by age group of the kids). To be honest the first few weeks (from Memorial Day until at least June 20) the water is cold and the swimmers come out with blue lips at times. To their credit parents have to tell them to get out and get warmed up because the kids love the team so much they want to just keep swimming.
In 2009, our Homeowners Association Board of Directors decided it was time to charge us “rent” for the use of the pool. Keep in mind that the Tsunami Swim Club was formed in 1996 and had never been charged fees before this time. We were charged $700.00 for our 6 weeks of practice (where we use only 3 lanes of a 6 lane pool) 4 nights per week, and $200.00 per meet (we usually have 4 home meets), for a total of $1500.00. This is of course above and beyond our normal homeowners dues to use the pool. We said, “ok, that is fair”, and began paying 4 years ago.
3 years ago I became the Team Manager. This is a loose term because the team is parent run, but someone has to organize things, and I became that person. I had to attend the HOA Board meetings in March to “hammer” out the details of the swim club license agreement with them. Every year that I went I heard from at least two board members about how “neighbors complained” about Tsunami “taking over” the pool, and one even said that Tsunami was “trouble” for them. They reluctantly allowed us to continue swimming in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Each year as I entered the Board meeting in March I knew it was going to be a struggle and was going to have to hear all of the bad things about the team. I always kept my cool and countered each allegation with facts and no innuendos. This past year we were told that they felt “threatened” because our Treasurer sent an email asking for a refund for a night we could not practice. A child has vomited in the pool, and the lifeguards did not have the proper chemicals to treat the pool. If they had we would have been able to have at least one practice. When we asked for a refund due to no proper chemicals being on hand apparently they felt “threatened”. I am still confused about that to this day.
I did receive an email from the HOA President this past summer threatening to kick us out of the pool and “immediately cancel our license agreement”. One of the lifeguards had complained about something one of the volunteer assistant coaches said and I was sent an email about a “substantiated” report of disrespect. My response was that it was NOT substantiated because our side of the story had not been heard. He conceded on that point, and we continued swimming our season.
Last month I received a letter signed by the HOA President telling me that we would not be allowed to swim during the 2014 Season. No reason given. No explanation. Just “you will not be granted an agreement to use the pool.” I immediately shared this information with the swim team parents who were incredulous. We had not been given any warning. We had not been told of any problems. Our fees were raised in 2013, and we paid them with no complaint. I was shocked and couldn’t figure out why the HOA Board decided to vote this way. According to the letter it was a “unanimous” vote. A vote done without any conversation or meaningful dialogue. A decision to ban a non profit community team without a discussion. A team comprised solely of swimmers who live in the neighborhood.
Of course I organized a meeting with the parents to try and find a way to approach the HOA Board in a calm rational manner. We had a very productive meeting and voted to attend the next HOA meeting to ask for a meaningful conversation to try to reverse their decision. We knew we would probably have to make concessions, but were okay with that if it meant we could keep the team.
Then last night the President of the BOD sent out a letter to “all of BG”. In the letter he stated that everyone should come out and state their opinions, and that the Swim Team needs to hear them because of our “perceived importance”. Needless to say I was shocked. I couldn’t believe he would send such an inflammatory and biased letter filled with misinformation to the entire neighborhood. And he used the Neighborhood Watch email to send it. Definitely the wrong platform.
The Vision statement from our neighborhood website clearly states:
The mission of the Burbage Grant Owners Association is to develop and encourage new activities that promote community unity while maintaining the architectural integrity, maintenance, and value of our homes and community property through fiscal responsibility and upholding the highest ethical and moral standards.
It seems our HOA and BOD has forgotten the mission and has forgotten they are supposed to serve the entire community, not malign one piece of it. A neighborhood swim team definitely promotes community unity. We don’t have a “perceived” sense of importance. We ARE important. I guarantee you this won’t be the last word on this issue. We will be out at the Board meeting this week in force, and we will be a force to be reckoned with!
I think what floors me the most to paraphrase from one of our swim team parents is that their arguments are all one sided and without merit. It is without recent quantitative statical analysis or official data-points with any sort of official polling of our homeowners.
Strap on your seat belts it will be a bumpy ride.
Did You Hear the One About the Homophobes Who Wanted to Adopt Out Their 16 Year Old Lesbian Daughter?
By: Rob Watson
Jokes are supposed to be funny. They always start with a set up and then build to a crescendo where the plot twists and the listener bursts out laughing. A few months ago, a “joke” went viral, but no one was left laughing.
The “joke” was a piece titled “PARENTS PUT 16 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER UP FOR ADOPTION AFTER LEARNING SHE IS GAY”. It came from a site called “The Memoirs of DEACON Tyson Bowers III”, and had previous iterations on the Daily Bleach and Christwire. The site it came from had other “credible” material such as KENTUCKY MAN SUES MOTHER FOR NOT ABORTING HIM, DANGERS OF PRIDE WEEK, STUDY: LESBIANS MORE LIKELY TO EAT FISH, AFRICAN AMERICAN SCIENTIST INVENT SYNTHETIC WATERMELON and GAYS BUILDING SECRET PENILE SHAPED RESORT ISLAND.
The piece was written as humor…satire… but none of the 72,000 who shared it took it that way. They believed it to be real.
Who could blame them? The article described the mindset of a homophobic couple from “Southern Carolina” who upon learning their daughter was “gay”, sought to put her up for adoption. Those who believed the story did so because even though it was fake, the mindset itself is painfully and horrifically real.
The story sped through Facebook and pages posted it, in most cases temporarily, only to take it down again with the apology that they had fallen for the hoax.
The most heart wrenching thing to observe were the sweet souls who were willing to step up to help. Numerous people sought more information because they actively were looking to adopt the abandoned teen in question.
Here is some news for them, and for those of you who cared about the 16 year old girl in the fake story. She exists. The story was bogus, the situation was a lie, but she is the truth. She is 16 and 15 and 14. She is male, she is female and she is transgender. Her parents did not try to adopt her out… they simply kicked her out, and slammed the door behind her. “She” is our homeless lgbt youth. She not only exists, she makes up to 40% of the total of all homeless teens, even though lgbt teens make up only 3% of the total population.
Writer Cathy Kristofferson researched and wrote an important piece in which she paints an accurate and urgent portrait of the LGBT homeless teen. Of the disproportionate rate she states, “Simple. Youth who come out to their parents are rejected by those parents at a rate of 50%, with 26% immediately thrown out of the house to become instantly homeless and many following soon after as a result of the physical and verbal abuse that ensues after their declaration. Empowered by the gains in equality and acceptance with the heightened visibility the adult gay community has welcomed of late, youth are emboldened to come out at ever-younger ages while still reliant on parents who are a flip of the coin away from rejecting them. Simple factors of 4 tell the story of parental rejection and its effect on queer youth homelessness:
2 out of 4 will be rejected by their parents when they come out
1 out of 4 will be kicked out by their parents when they come out
3 out of 4 homeless queer youth will say parent objections to their orientation led to their homelessness
Youth homelessness is bad enough on its own but being queer further compounds the difficulties. Devastating statistics like 62% of queer homeless youth attempt suicide only begin to tell the story of the additional hardship endured when compared with their heterosexual counterparts. Queer youth experiencing homelessness are:
3 times more likely to commit suicide, and 8 times more likely due to parental rejection
3 times more likely to turn to prostitution and survival sex
6 times higher incidents of mental health and substance abuse issues
7 times more likely to experience sexual violence at a much higher risk of victimization by rape, robbery and assault “
So, yes. There was an article passed around the other day, and thousands were rightly outraged and cared. The article was a fraud, bur your feelings and mine were not. We need to not focus on the tomfoolery of the internet and focus instead on the WHY, the reason behind our feelings.
The WHY is that there are real kids out there that need not only our indignation, but our action. Last Christmas, I suggested reaching out to them in the spirit of the season. Now I am suggesting it in the spirit of what is right.
If you wanted to adopt the 16 year old in the story, find the real her and adopt her. If you wanted to send money, start a program, get involved, please do it. If you felt passion around it, please channel that passion into action.
If we don’t, then the unreal story becomes real. It becomes an allegory for the progressive community who chose to adopt out its youth in need. We are better than that. Let’s not have the next viral story be ours.
My entire body is in pain, I am barely walking by the side of the road, and I can feel every single piece of gravel imbedded in my feet, and it hurts. I’m thirsty, tired, confused and awfully lost. I want to get rid of all of these feelings, yet I don’t have any energy left, except for one last impulsive idea; a black, shiny and heavy semi-truck heading my way and nobody watching. For a fraction of a second I think, if I jump now it will stop, all this pain and misery will stop. That was my only solution at the moment, but for some unknown reason I didn’t obey my thoughts. Instead I walked slowly, picked up a half of a cigarette that somebody threw on the ground, lit it up and kept walking. I didn’t feel any relief for not killing myself that night because I knew sooner or later an overdose or an angry drug dealer would do the job. I was hopeless and I was convinced that for me, at 40 years old, my life was over.
I couldn’t understand how I got there. Only a few months ago I was drinking champagne with a friend on top of Montjuic Hill, in the Palau Nacional, in Barcelona, while listening to an impeccable orchestra and thinking, there is nothing better than this! I felt like I was at the pinnacle of the world and nothing would bring me down. But this night, I was walking at the side of the road, lost.
A few days later, after my miserable attempt to finish my life, I was done. I was ready to ask for help and to accept I would never be able to stop using drugs by myself. All I wanted at that point was not to die. I didn’t want my career back. I didn’t want my house back or my belongings back. I was desperate and I didn’t want to die. I went to my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting, and from there everything traveled uphill. This time it wasn’t a materialistic hill, like I had always thought was the solution to any problem. This time it was a journey of self-discovery, and the beginning of a connection with a power bigger than myself.
This time the growing was from the inside out. Something I never felt before.
After two years in recovery, free of Alcohol and Drugs, I met my partner, Patrick. We met like most guys met these days, online. I didn’t have any expectations of finding a partner, and all I wanted was a distraction for the night. In fact, I was praying a few days before, asking God to help me not to get into another relationship. At this time I wanted to take a nice break and enjoy my “solo” time.
Well, once again, things didn’t go my way.
Patrick and I dated for about a year, following the suggestion of my NA sponsor. After a year of getting to know each other, we were ready to commit, and we moved in together. My partner, which is the opposite of me, had a very organized and stable life. One day, he told me he had always wanted to be a father. I heard that like somebody was telling me, one day, I would like to be a Hollywood star.
Three months later, I was helping him paint the new house which he had just purchased, and I found him painting one of the guest bedrooms in a pale green color. It wasn’t a lime-green or rich kelly green, but one of those soft watercolor greens that makes you grit your teeth. I asked him why he was using that color, and he responded softly and quietly. “Oh, because this is the baby’s room. This is the nursery.”
The room spun. I felt like he was pushing me away. I had never considered a situation like this, in any relationship. I was in love with him, and I was hoping for our relationship to last. He was determined to have children. He had a visual board with pictures of pregnant women tacked to it. Rickey Martin and his children smiled back at me, among others.
After meditating, praying, and talking to my close friends, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t be just a witness of how he would create his progeny. I needed a clear position on the family situation. There were two possibilities:
- To leave. To refuse to have a relationship with someone determined to have children by himself.
- To stay and to be involved 100% of the way.
My decision was to stay. He is the love of my life, and I am in all the way. He was generous enough to let me into his life, and to share his dreams with me. A few days later we both were learning about surrogacy, egg donors, and adoptions laws. What amazed me the most was as soon as I accepted the possibility of becoming a parent, something clicked in my brain. I started to fantasize about having a son. I thought about teaching him to build tree houses and cardboard houses, (I’m an architect) and it felt good. I was excited!
We both become the sperm donors and we purchased eggs from an anonymous donor, (they should not be called donors since they charge a lot of money) we flew to L.A. and started our surrogacy journey.
A year later, after a series of trips, and a lot of baby gear shopping, I flew to San Diego, and waited until our surrogate called us. Our baby was coming! We rushed to the hospital, excited, scared, and overwhelmed. We waited for hours in the delivery room. It was awkward because by the end of the pregnancy, we were having a complicated relationship with our surrogate. All of us were ready to finish the deal and run away from each other. However, we remained polite and grateful. A group of nurses and doctors entered the room and while they were preparing her for delivery, they asked me if I wanted to receive the baby. I wasn’t sure what they meant, but I say yes. I thought they would hand me the baby, all clean and dressed, and I would smile for the picture. Well… no, I was wrong in the second part, because they handed me the baby but just straight from the womb, a baby still connected to her body by the umbilical cord, a baby time with all sort of fluids and textures.
I almost passed out. As soon as I looked at my son, I cried. I sobbed. I can’t explain my emotions. His birth was a symbolic and emotional rebirth for me. After my partner cut the umbilical cord, they moved our baby to a table where they cleaned him and checked him to make sure he was healthy. From the table he wailed, and I knew it was a good sign for a newborn. He looked so vulnerable. He was alive, yet fragile, and I couldn’t avoid feeling his pain as my own. I put one of my fingers close to his hand, instinctively, to help him and he grabbed it, he grabbed my finger very hard. In that moment I felt a strong connection, an unbreakable connection. I also felt how that little hole I had left in my soul was closing forever. I felt strong and ready to dedicate the rest of my life to the well-being of this child, my child.
Today I believe something bigger than me stop me from jumping into that truck, something bigger than me took me from my path of auto-destruction and place me into a path of recovery and decided that my purpose in life was to rise 4 beautiful children of my own and to have a full life. Today I have hope.
By: Brandy Black
I find myself crying a lot lately. Mostly tears of oh-my-god-life-is-moving-too-quickly-and-I-can’t-keep-up combined with my-daughter-is-becoming-a-little-girl-before-my-eyes. Since she started kindergarten a month ago it is as if she’s hit a million milestones. A couple weeks into school she had two teeth pulled at the dentist. Without me. I set a dentist appointment for Sophia to get a check-up and prepped Susan before she took her that they may suggest pulling a tooth.
I never dreamt that Susan would have them pull it on the same day, with no mental preparation for me or Sophia when it was 97 degrees, with a broken AC at the dental office. I was hanging at home with the twins when I got this text from my wife
I freaked out, panicked, called a dozen times, Susan would confirm this. I drive her crazy. She drives me crazy. No answer. No answer? This was happening. Next came a video from a bloody mouthed, happy Sophia with a tooth necklace dangling from her neck. Two teeth, gone. Check. First visit from the tooth fairy. Check. It happened too fast. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t there to hold her hand.
A couple weeks later, the homework began. Sophia called me from Susan’s car on the way home from school to tell me that she had homework, her voice was high and excited. She came running into my room/office a few minutes later, plopped on the bed and said “I’ll do homework while you work, isn’t this great?” Homework. Check.
Last Monday we started with Bob books, you know the scholastic books that are good starters for little readers. She’s never read a sentence in her life, she knows cow, and all of our family names but that’s about it. I haven’t pushed her, I’m more of a it-will-happen-organically kind of parent. Sophia’s never really shown interest. We sat down together and I struggled through 15-minutes of torture, wanting to help her while she SLOWLY sounded out each word. She finally made it through that damn book. The next night, she asked to read again, this time, something clicked, I saw it happen, in the same way she learned to swim this summer. Oh let’s check swimming off my list too. But in that moment,I knew that she would be reading. Sure enough, one week later, she’s reading all of her Bob books. I can hear a little voice in bed at night sounding the words out quietly. Reading. Check.
Every night we do homework in two languages. I’m watching this little girl grow up quickly before my eyes. I can’t believe I’m the mother of a kid that is doing flashcards and writing in Japanese. Our three kids sit on the playroom couch together flipping through books, they collect leaves in the backyard and then crunch them with their feet, they gather them again, fighting over the rake and then throw them in the air. It all happens so fast.
By: Tanya Dodd-Hise
It’s Monday, and as I type this, I am hooked up to an IV line that goes to my chest, pumping in the chemo drugs that had better be annihilating this stupid cancer. I am confidant that when I am done, the scans will show no traces of cancer, and then I can get on with radiation and finish out this year cancer-free. As I sit here, sweatshirt on, blanket on my legs, headphones in my ears and relaxing music piped in… I reflect on this past weekend.
While we were at camp – yeah, it felt kind of like cancer camp for grownups – we had sessions with counselors, art therapy, and some group sessions, to name a few things. One of the things that we did was make a list of things that cancer has taught us. We drew a circle in the middle of a page and wrote those words – “What Cancer Has Taught Me” – and branched things off of it. After we got done, I was pretty amazed at some of the answers – even my own – and thought about what a great blog it would make…so here we are. I decided that I wanted to write and share about what cancer has taught ME, so here are my top 10, done Jay Leno style.
10. Life is Precious. Now we ALL know this, or at least we all SHOULD know this. Our lives are ours, and we are the ones who have been commissioned to protect our lives, even when we don’t think we should. Each and every one of us matters, are important, and have value; and each and every one of us should always remember that.
9. Laughter is Healing. Something that I have always tried to do is keep a sense of humor, no matter what the situation. Yes, some might find it to be inappropriate at times, but sometimes you just have to lighten up a dark or grim situation – like cancer – by inserting some funny into it. The few times that I have cracked and fallen apart, there is almost always a laugh coming at the end of the tears. My friends – my good, true friends – are equally important and talented at knowing when to lighten things up, thus redirecting my focus OFF of myself and my situation and back to the business of being ME.
8. I am STRONG. This one took me a while to figure out. Many people say, when facing a difficult situation, that they don’t know how they will ever do it, or that they just know that they cannot do it. But you know what? We can do pretty much anything we put our mind to! I didn’t think that I could endure all of the loss, years ago, of family and friends who did not “approve” of my relationship with Erikka; but I did. I didn’t think that I could endure anymore hate and ignorance in this world that has been directed at my family, or other families like ours; but together, we have. I didn’t think that I could endure my oldest son’s teenage years and a custody suit that almost broke me down to my core; but I did and came through to the other side. I didn’t think that I could ever endure breast cancer and all of the procedures and treatments that I watched my mother go through seven years ago; but I did. I have. And I AM. I have discovered that I am way stronger than I ever gave myself credit for, and it is still amazing to discover it!
7. Our bodies CAN turn on us. The year before my surgery, I had started walking, then running, for exercise. I had lost 32 pounds before my diagnosis, and I was going to the gym at least three days per week for Aqua Cardio, as well as regular cardio and weight work. I was in better shape than I had been my entire adult life, eating better and taking care of my body, when I found a lump and was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. We have no way of knowing how much of my diagnosis was due to things that I had done in my unhealthy past (smoking, overeating, etc.), how much was environmental, how much was familial, or how much was just sorry luck of the draw. But it was eye-opening to know that cancer has no agenda, and will pick and choose whomever it wants to be its victim.
6. Our health is one of the most important things that we can control. Yes, we have control over our health. Many of us choose not to, until it’s too late and we are trying to control disease in order to extend our life. Had we taken control earlier, then we may not need to try to do damage control later on. But truly, knowing what I know now, if I could go back, I would totally change how I ate and took care of my body in order to not go through this. I will also say that while having cancer totally sucks and makes me feel miserable, I don’t think that I would give it back because of all that I have seen, done, and learned through this process. So take back your health, if it has gone askew; be the one to make healthy lifestyle choices and decisions – trust me, it makes a difference!
5. Love is stronger than fear. There is a LOT of fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis. While a doctor typically won’t tell you, “Hey you have cancer. You’re going to die,” it is still very scary to hear those words and resist the panic that comes with it. All of the “what ifs” creep in and can become overwhelming. What if I DO die? Who will take care of my kids? Who will close out all of my accounts? Who will make sure to clean out my nightstands before my mother decides that she wants to pack up my things? Who will take care of my wife? Who will take Noah to camp, and make sure that Harrison and Zoe remember me somehow? But somehow, someway, every time those thoughts sneak in, someone comes along and replaces them with love and assurance, and those fearful thoughts are banished from my mind.
4. Support can come from the most unexpected places. I was really, really worried when I got diagnosed about a multitude of things. I had no insurance, so how in the world would I get through treatment? Would the doctors recognize my wife as such and allow her to accompany me, for big things as well as little ones? What was I going to do about money, without me working and bringing in money for the majority of the year? What will I do about money now that the money raised for us is running out? But yet, my worries have all been answered by amazing people who have come out of the woodwork to offer love, support, and financial assistance when needed. We have gotten money sent to us from the most unsuspecting people, and have been eternally grateful for the kindness of both strangers and friends. And support hasn’t always been financial stuff at all. We have a multitude of friends who we consider family that have helped with both of the kids (mostly the baby), and without them, I don’t know how I would have gotten through some of the rough days.
3. There is a LOT of good in a LOT of people. I will never have an opportunity to thank and hug all of the people who have helped us get through this ordeal, especially in the beginning when it was all new and very scary. People that we didn’t know sent meals and filled our freezer. Other people that we don’t know, as well as those that we do, raised money and had benefits in my honor, and provided us with much needed financial help to get the bills paid during these months that I would not be working. I have had prayers and well-wishes sent to me via ecards, cards in the mail, and even cookies, by folks that I have never met and might not ever. Still others have cleaned our house for free, and taken care of our rambunctious toddler on days that I just don’t feel good enough to do so. Because of social networking, we are constantly bombarded and blasted with ignorance and hatefulness going on in the world around us, and it becomes difficult to see that there is still any good left anywhere other than mankind’s own agendas. But cancer has shown me that despite all of that ignorance and hate, there is so much good in our fellow mankind – friends, family, strangers alike. We just have to really, really look for it, listen for it….and it will present itself. It actually renews my faith in humanity, and because I’ve seen it and know that it’s there, it can’t be taken away from me.
2. Body image is a constantly evolving thing. Boy ain’t THIS the truth!? Just when I thought that I was actually getting happier with the body I was seeing when I got dressed, I got knocked down a peg or two! After surgery, it took weeks before I could look in the mirror when undressing and not want to cry. I still have my moments, too. But as the swelling has gone down only somewhat, I am learning to accept the new image that I see when I look in the mirror. And as I continue to take chemo – weekly now – I have noticed that my face has gotten more round and circular looking (like a plate head). I hate the way that I look! It has been very distressing to look in a mirror and know that this person looking back is not me – ohmygawd there is a SICK person looking back at me! I look like a cancer patient! Well holy hell….that sucks. So I now have to get used to a new normal, and hopefully when I am done with treatment.
And the #1 lesson that cancer has taught me….
1. Boobs aren’t all THAT important. Now don’t take this the wrong way, because I know how important it is to many mothers to nurse their babies and give them awesome milk to grow and become strong little people. But I had already used mine to nurse two babies, and before surgery, all I did was complain about their size and heaviness. I was constantly trying to find a bra that didn’t roll up underneath, or a sports bra that didn’t create a uniboob. I complained about their size, and was jealous of trans friends who got “top surgery” to take them off and not worry about them anymore. In the grand scheme of things? Mine tried to kill me, so I had them lobbed off, with no reconstruction planned or discusses. They were just big lumps of fat on my chest, and I do not want to die just to have them. Now that I am several months out from surgery, I have my moments where I miss them, and wish that my body was whole. I still struggle with how mangled and deformed I feel, and know that there is nothing that I can do to change it. I know this though – my breasts did not define me before, so they won’t define me now. I can exercise and work out again and build up my chest to not look so flat; and eventually have some badass tattoos done to cover my scars. But most importantly, cancer has taught me that no set of boobs are ever worth dying over….I’m just sayin.’
In Tennessee, gay couples can’t adopt, right? Well, it’s not that simple. The process for GLBT couples is often long, with extra and often invisible hurdles. While a heterosexual couple can adopt as a couple, one member of a same-sex couple must adopt as a single parent. A second legal process secures guardianship for the second parent. Further, many adoption agencies are religious, with doctrinal commitments that leave same-sex couples with few options.
Matthew Smith and Trey Darnell are like any other couple who want kids. “We both wanted to be fathers before we met each other,” Matt said. “I always wanted to have kids and surrogacy just cost so much money and I put it out of sight, out of mind.” As a couple, given the adoption roadblocks, their focus initially centered on surrogacy, often prohibitively expensive. In the end, however, research showed Matt and Trey that even “in conservative northeast Tennessee, adoption was possible.”
But possible is one thing, realistic is quite another. As they moved to the first stage of the process, a home study, they faced cold facts. “No local social workers would even do the home study, not even from Knoxville,” Matt recalled. In the end, a social worker from Nashville agreed to make the 4-hour (each way) trek.
When they had an approved home study in hand, Trey and Matt finally revealed to family and friends their journey toward parenthood. “Our moms were so excited,” Matt said. “Both of them worried we’d never have kids, and Trey is an only child, so his mom thought she might never have grandkids.”
Concern for what lay ahead, clouded that excitement. This was, after all, just the beginning.
Matt and Trey needed an agency, and many refused to work with gay couples, while others refused to promote them actively to birthparents. In effect, as Trey put it, “They were willing to take our money, but not to work actively to place a child with us.” Then came a rejection that spoke to every fear and internalized barrier: “birthparents looking to make an adoption plan for their child through Bethany are overwhelmingly looking for more traditional, married couples to place with.”
Disheartened, Matt and Trey traveled to Atlanta for an information session with the Independent Adoption Center (IAC), an agency recommended by the Human Rights Campaign. That weekend coincided with Atlanta Pride, and the discovery that IAC had a booth at Pride was a boost they both sorely needed. IAC represents nearly as many same-sex couples as heterosexual couples and would “promote [Matt and Trey] as a couple alongside others.”
This helped Matt and Trey realize that they had done exactly what those social barriers promoted. “We were being harder on ourselves than we needed to be. We accepted the stereotype that it would be harder for us and that no family would choose us.” Once they got past this internal block, Matt said, “Our experience showed us that there is a right birth family for every adopting family and reality wasn’t nearly as hard on us as our own self-image. We came to terms with the fact that you don’t have to be a traditional family to be the right family.”
The couple proceeded to IAC’s weekend intensive program about adoption and the legal hurdles, and then IAC helped them develop a “Dear Birth Mother” introducing themselves as a prospective family. Approval of this letter by IAC, a few months later, meant that Matt and Trey “went live,” were put through matching processes and submitted for consideration by birth mothers.
During the waiting game, the couple opened up about their path to adoption in the Johnson City Press. Though nervous about possible responses, the article led a local lesbian couple in the area who had already been through the process to contact them. They introduced Matt and Trey to a local attorney who would handle their case. Perhaps more importantly, they shared their experiences with adoption and parenthood with the young couple, and continued to be a source of support along the way.
Their path to adoption has been winding and expensive as many programs that help with the costs of adoption simply don’t help same-sex couples. Tennessee’s legal barriers make adoption harder for same-sex couples. Increasingly, however, national and local groups advocate for and work with same-sex couples in Tennessee.
Currently, there is at least one local agency, Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, that will help same-sex couples through both the initial adoption process and the legal proceeding legalizing the second parent’s status. JFS provides adoption services to Jewish and non-Jewish couples.
Matt and Trey remain positive in reflecting on their experience. “We want people to know that it may be hard, but if you want it bad enough and work hard, there are ways to adopt. It may not be fair, but having to work this hard shows how much we want to be parents, and what we’re willing to put into raising a child.” Most of all, they want to share that, even in Tennessee, where the barriers are so high, if you put yourself out there and work for it, “you’ll be amazed by the support you get, the positives outweigh the negatives and keep you going.” If things are ever going to change in Tennessee, Matt believes we have to “keep spreading the positives about same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption: it’s a good thing and it’s attainable.”
All that positivity and hard work hasn’t been for nothing: if all goes well, Matt and Trey will be welcoming Baby T-Rex (it’s a nickname, we promise) home in the next couple of weeks!
Congrats to Matt and Trey on the addition to their family. This is an article that was written about them by Out and About Nashville . We look forward to your upcoming blogs.
By: Carol Rood
I am a mother.
I am a mother of teenagers.
So far being a mother of teenagers has been uneventful for the most part. They get decent grades in school. (Yes I have to nag). They do their chores. (For the most part, but sometimes I have to nag). They don’t sass too much. (Most of the time.)
Actually I think I am pretty lucky in the kid department. (Their rooms are nasty though.) I gave up the room battle years ago. Now as long as I can walk across the floor without stepping on stuff I am okay with it. I choose my battles. Battles over grades will always win out over battles about their rooms. The way I look at it, good grades means opportunities, and clean rooms just mean clean rooms. Opportunities trump clean rooms, in my opinion.
So I am a mother to teenagers.
It went by so quickly. It seems as though just yesterday they were little, and were showering me with hugs and kisses and love. These days I still get love, but it is less frequently, and sometimes peppered with wise ass comments. They make fun of me if I cry during a movie, and while they will still hug me on occasion, kisses on my cheek are forbidden. (They will still kiss me if I ask nicely, and throw in a bribe)
But I can’t really complain. I enjoy my kids. I laugh with them, and goof off with them. I tell them everyday how much I love them. Sadly, I have friends who have lost children. My mother lost my brother. I can only imagine the pain and loss these women feel. I am sure they cry every day missing their children. I am grateful for every day I have with mine. But I know another day with them is not guaranteed. So I make sure every night before I go to bed I kiss them (they know resistance is futile), and make sure they know how much I love them.
When they were little I was always afraid if something happened to me they might not remember me. Now they are old enough to know how much their mom loved them if something happens to me.
But even with all of that, with the good foundation I have laid with my children about right and wrong and good decisions and bad decisions. About responsibility and foolish choices. About drugs, and friends, and sex and drinking. Even with that I worry. I am entering the years where I have little control and have to just hope and pray that the guidance and structure I gave them throughout their lives will win out when they have to make a decision.
When they are at a party and there is alcohol. When they have a girlfriend and the topic of sex comes up. When they are with their friends and someone pulls out a joint. I won’t be with them, and I have to believe that the values and ethics I tried to instill in them actually took hold, and they will choose to leave the party, choose not to have sex, and choose to walk away from the group of friends with drugs.
I am entering a new phase of parenting. An unknown phase. I was talking with a friend recently who has an 8 year old. I told her, “You are still molding your child. I have finished molding mine and am now just fine tuning.” And I truly believe that. I no longer tell my kids to say please and thank you. If I am still trying to teach them good manners, I missed the boat when they were 5.
I do think I am a good mom, and I have spent the last 16 years trying to be a responsible parent and raise two young men. I have always felt it is my responsibility to help them become responsible, polite, respectful, productive members of society who know how to be nurturing and kind. I think it is important that we give back and I have tried to instill compassion and a sense of doing right by others. Now the wait to see if my diligence paid off.
Now that I am the parent of a high school Junior, and a high school Freshmen, I will be able to see if what I tried to teach them actually sunk in.
I will let you know how that turns out!
By: Rob Watson
Last September, actor Rupert Everett shocked those of us in the gay dad world when he declared to a British paper, ” “I can’t think of anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads.”
Wow. It had only been six years previous when Rupert and I shared several car rides from the bay area to upper lake county. I listened intently as he told me of his early life, his struggles in Hollywood, and those irritating meetings with Madonna.
Ok, ok, ok. So Rupert was not ACTUALLY in the car with me. His voice was. And it was coming out of the car stereo from the book on tape where he was reading his autobiography.
I did not initially have a crush on Rupert. Years ago when I watched him in the movie Another Country, I was barely out about my sexuality. I did not feel attraction for him but rather identified with his character. Both of us though, it seemed, were VERY much enamored of a young Cary Elwes..
I do not really know Rupert Everett. I can say I know of him, and his hanging around in West Hollywood and the gay scene there. But, I don’t know him, not a thing about him, really.
This I do know, and I can say this with absolute certainty. My ignorance of him is NOTHING compared to his ignorance of me. I am well assured that he is quite unaware of my existence, let alone my personality, skills, talents, manner and ability to love.
Yet, with complete and total unawareness of me on the planet, and of many others who do what I do, he feels competent to tell a reporter that there could be “nothing worse” than gay dads.
I do not claim to be perfect in my life and in the things I do… but I can tell you that the one area that I am most focused to be the best I can be, is parenthood. I have been told by many that I am a “great Dad” and I accept those words because I aspire to be that.
Both my sons were born to practicing drug addicts. My eldest son was born six weeks before his due date, weighed four pounds and had heroin in his system. My partner and I needed to alter the nipples on his bottles so that he got exactly 16oz in each feeding so that his brain would develop properly.
My younger son, who we got at a year old, had never had a bath in his life. His mother had only wiped him down with diaper wipes. It was not her fault, she was doing the best she could. She shook so much from the drugs she feared that if she attempted to bathe him in water, she would drown him.
Do I think I am the “worst” alternative? No.
Like anyone else, Mr. Everett has a right to his opinion. I am not sure why that opinion should be given any more merit than if it had come from any other person with anti-gay bias. Because he presumably knows how to make love to a man, he is held up in the public and the media as if he should be an expert on all gay people. He is not.
I confess, when I saw Mr. Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding, … my heart fluttered. I really fell for his charisma, his wit, his charm. I did want to know him personally.
The reality is, I don’t know him personally, and he does not know me.
After his comments last September, as far as I am concerned, it is just fine for it to stay that way.
By: Brandy Black
My daughter started kindergarten. I remember the day my wife and I sat in a tiny Santa Monica office with a spiritual coach and tried to visualize our future kid. We had been experiencing infertility for close to 3 years and a friend of my mother’s recommended “an emotional reset” so we went, skeptically, begrudgingly and mockingly. She told us to picture the child that we would have and I saw her, she was a 5-year-old and reaching out to me. She had a whimsical spirit and a huge smile. Now, here I am, with my angel daughter who has begun elementary school. I call my children my angels because I believe they truly are a gift, that I prayed for, hoped for, cried about and ached to have. Now three beautiful creatures later I adore my life as a mother. I can imagine no better role to play in life.
The first day of kindergarten drop off both my wife Susan and I went along. I was strong, stronger than expected. Susan was supposed to be this way but I fall to pieces, usually. I was almost disappointed in my stoicism. I wanted more out of the first day but truth be told I was so worried about having everything ready for her, getting to school on time and being strong, that I was empty.
But day 2 wasn’t the same. I went alone, hand-in-hand with my daughter. ”I’m not talking about being in Kindergarten anymore, I’m IN Kindergarten!” she said as we walked across the street to her school. The crossing guard guided us with her bright yellow vest and proud smile welcoming all the kids. We got to the kinder area and found the sign that read her teacher’s name. I chatted with other moms while Sophia shyly made friends. Suddenly the line began to move and the parents were discouraged from following. I watched the teacher walk away with the sign as my daughter marched proudly forward. It was a coming of age, a change for us both. She is moving into another era, one that doesn’t include me as much as it used to. I began to sob, this is the beginning, only the beginning. She will spend half of her day learning a language of which I only know two words. She will translate what the teacher is saying through pictures, hand signals and only the willingness to ask other students in true immersion fashion. I am overwhelmed and overjoyed. But she is thriving. I see it in her glow when she comes home and raves about kindergarten. In one week she has managed to grown up, with her first loose tooth and all and I will sit back and watch and hopefully be invited to join the ride as often as she will permit.
By: Shannon Ralph
I was asked an intriguing question this week. Completely out of the blue and totally unexpected, Ruanita (a-little-too-casually) asked me the following:
“So…do you think we should hyphenate our last names after we get married?”
To be perfectly honest, this had never occurred to me. Amazingly—despite the tornadic whirlwind of wedding planning and re-planning I have done all alone in my bustling little brain—the question of changing my last name never even crossed my mind.
Here’s the thing, I experienced a bit of buyer’s remorse sixteen years ago when we had our illegal (I like to use the term “ illegal” because it makes us appear much more hip and dangerous than the bland couch-huggers we really are) commitment ceremony. At the time, we decided to keep our own last names. Actually, I don’t know if we ever even consciously made that decision. We just did it. Or rather, we just didn’t do it. Probably out of simple laziness.
Looking back now, I wish we had changed our names. Or at least that one of us had. Ruanita has never been very keen on becoming Ruanita Ralph (I don’t blame her…sounds like your everyday 8th grade dyke P.E. teacher, doesn’t it?). I, however, would have no issues with being Shannon Pierce. It just didn’t occur to me at the time.
When Lucas was born, because Ruanita and I did not have the same last names, we made the rather innocuous decision to hyphenate his last name. He became Lucas Matthew Pierce-Ralph. Not an altogether bad name.
If truth be told, however, I despise hyphenated names. I don’t know why. I know some perfectly lovely people with hyphenated last names—including two who were expelled from my very own vagina. (Okay…that is a lie. They were born via c-section, but “expelled from my own horizontal lower abdominal incision” doesn’t have quite the same pizzazz.) But I still hate hyphenated names.
As such, I really have no desire to hyphenate my last name. I mean Shannon Pierce-Ralph wouldn’t be so bad, I guess. I could get used to it. But there is still the “ick factor” with hyphenated names that I can’t get past.
I think I am just old fashioned. I firmly believe the members of a family should all have the same last name. That is so very anti-modern of me, I know. But I can’t help it. I am a product of my homogenous 1970s Southern Catholic school upbringing. I went into a mild mourning state when my mother remarried for the first time years ago and was no longer a Ralph. I’m a Ralph. She’s my mom. Logic would dictate that she should be a Ralph, too, right? Today, she is Shirley Marie Hardesty Ralph Robbins Bauer Ralph. Why can’t everyone just be a freaking Ralph?
As you can imagine, the fact that my children have hyphenated names bugs me. Besides the fact that they do not have the same last name as me, I am kind of saddened by the fact that I can’t buy any of the cheesy monogrammed stuff that places like Oriental Trading Company sells. You know, those wooden plaques and Christmas ornaments and tote bags and door knockers and mailboxes that say:
I can’t buy those because we’re not the Pierce Family. And we’re not the Ralph Family. We’re not even the Pierce-Ralph Family. My kids are Pierce-Ralphs, but I am not. Ruanita is not.
This is one of those instances—few and far between—where I would like to go back in time and make a different decision. Given the option of a do-over, I would have become Shannon Pierce sixteen years ago. My kids would be Lucas, Sophie, and Nicholas Pierce. We would have been the Pierce Family. The Pierces, Established 1997. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
Alas, I am not a Pierce. And neither are my children. We already have three people in my family with hyphenated names I do not care for. Why add two more to the mix? And I don’t think my kids would be keen on changing their last names now anyway. I mean, my daughter spent the last year of her life being referred to as Sophie P.R. in school because there were three other Sophies and/or Sophias in her class—so much for original naming. (As a side note, why she would not be Sophie P. instead of Sophie P.R. is simply beyond me. I mean…what the hell?) I think my kids like being Pierce-Ralphs. At least, they’ve never complained about hyphenated names. I am pretty sure, like so many other instances, I am the only one with an issue here.
And, aside from the psychological toll of changing a ten-year-old’s name, can you imagine the bureaucratic nightmare legally changing five last names at once would be? I don’t even want to think about it!
So do I want to hyphenate my last name? No. Do I want the members of my family to all have the same last name? Yes. Is one possible without the other? No. Am I shit outta luck? Yes.
There you have it.