This week is my middle son’s 6th birthday. For the next four months I will have two 6-year olds in the house until my oldest turns 7 in May, which means the time of year has arrived when I will be explaining to strangers why I have two 6-year olds but they are not twins. I actually start by telling the stranger that they are indeed twins, even though my oldest is African-American and my middle son is the blonde surfer type. Perplexed looks follow.
I have just started to notice a distinct change in my soon-to-be 6-year old boy. He is starting to control his emotions, thankfully. Oh, he still has his occasional meltdowns, but even with those he is able to bring himself out of it faster. He is starting to try new foods, although in his life he has yet to try a slice of bread.
He is in love with Lego, which may not raise an eyebrow in your home but in ours is definitely noteworthy. Let’s just say that Dylan’s taste of toys has evolved. It started with matchbox cars, trucks and soccer until he turned about 2 years old. Then for these last 4 years it’s been anything pink and purple that is girlish in nature. It’s been dressing up like a princess at home, with tiara and high heels and tutu. It wasn’t every day, but it could have been. We supported him with as much of the accouterments as possible, searching Ross and Marshall’s sales rack for dresses and oversized shirts, yet cringing when he’d suggest wearing the outfit outside of the house. He has outright refused gifts that are too boyish, and will not partake in roughhousing with other boys in his class. He has a full collection of My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, and every Disney Princess. He was very attached to his baby Tweet-Tweet (he chose that name), a life-sized baby that he can dress up and keep in the bassinette we put next to his bed for her. He also loves his Smurfs collection, which is a bit puzzling, but then again blue IS the warmest color.
All this has given my husband worry lines. He is 100% sure that Dylan is gay. I on the other hand am 100% sure that he is not. Either way, of course, we love our son. It’s just that life is a little (or a lot) tougher being gay (first hand experience here!). Some of the world hates you and your family – even wants you dead – without ever having met you. You have to struggle just to be treated equally in your own country. We want to give our son every advantage in life, but being gay is not always an advantage. I’m sure that however things turn out, he will be a confident, happy individual that is able to protect himself (luckily he is the biggest kindergartener in his school.)
But as I’ve said his tastes are evolving. He hasn’t touched Tweet-Tweet in months. He no longer dresses up, but he still likes it if his clothes or shoes have a decent percentage of pink on them. He is focusing on his Lego skills, although for right now it must be from the Lego Friends collection (generally for girls.) He absolutely knows that all of this pinkness is frowned upon by many of his male schoolmates, and my husband insists that his “evolving” is actually him suppressing his real desires and tendencies in order to conform with his normal male counterparts now that he is in big boy school.
I’m excited to see how it all turns out. Dylan is a beautiful, caring boy with a heart of gold, but I know he wishes it were pink. And that’s okay with me. Happy Birthday, my son!
By Brandy Black
I have gotten some flack lately for “throwing my wife under the bus” in my writing. Well, I should be honest, Susan has been hearing it and has reported back to me. She claims that she isn’t bothered but I feel I should set the record straight. I vowed that I would do two things when I began writing. I will always be honest and I will always read my writing to Susan before it is published. It is an unfair advantage that everything comes from my perspective and truthfully I need her perspective in pretty much every aspect of my life, or at least I want it. I also think it is important for my voice to be true to my life and not sugar coated with what I think people want to hear or what might make me or her look good. Let’s face it, relationships are hard, marriages even harder and marriages with kids, nearly impossible at times. It is not easy making the shift from a young doting couple with very little responsibility to parents, homeowners, and heads of household. We actually had a friend tell us last night that we should publicize our troubles more often because people can relate. So yes, I write from MY perspective, it may be selfish, at times could be angry, misunderstood, unloved, unheard, lost, confused but it represents all of my very honest stages of parenting with Susan. I’m sure some can relate and others probably agree with her. That’s the point. We all play very different roles in our relationships.
I have been pretty honest throughout time about going to therapy, the struggles we face, the fact that I miss the days of missing her. We have had moments in our relationship when we didn’t think we could make it, we came close to calling it quits and yet here we are still holding on. In our wedding ceremony, far before it was legal, 10 years ago, we made 80 guests vow that they too would help support our marriage. I crave hearing honesty from other parents. In the first year of parenting I got to a point when I couldn’t live in a bubble and pretend I wasn’t sad and sometimes lonely in my marriage. When I would talk to friends about their challenges I realized it wasn’t just us. Having those honest people in my life have helped me get through the tough times. I want to be that candid voice. So, sometimes I’m honest at my wife’s expense but always with her approval.
But in hearing this criticism I realized that it is far too easy to focus on what she does wrong and not what she does right. It is a life lesson really. How often do I stop and thank her for allowing me to throw a fit about the missing school ID sign only to have her find it in my car. I don’t stop to thank her for taking me out every Wednesday night without fail until midnight , and then turning around and waking up at 4am for work the next day, without complaint because she knows that I need those nights for sanity. She is the calm beneath my tornado.
She is my best friend. She makes me laugh and on some nights I remember why I fell in love as I watch her shuffle from side to side, hands in pockets, head down, kicking rocks. But if I’m being honest and not sugar coating, I hold back, I don’t tell her that I find her incredibly sexy, that she makes me laugh more than anyone, that she is and always will be my best friend. I don’t know why I stop myself, is there too much water under the bridge? Do I feel like I will lose control and become vulnerable again? Having kids, changed me, made me stronger, tougher and the very thing she loved most about me, my need to be taken care of, to lean into her, to be small in her arms, disappeared and I became a Mama Bear! With it she lost her baby, the one that needs her, shows her her value with doting eyes and an open heart. I’m working on allowing my heart to be exposed again, to say exactly what’s on my mind, to never hold back, to see her as my wife and not the other mother of my children. It’s a delicate dance, a 15-year-relationship, one that could end at any second, because let’s be honest, they all can.
TNF: How long have you and Dan been together?
Charles: Dan and I have been together for 23 years. We plan to legally marry in May. We have six adopted kids. Our family was featured in the HBO documentary “All Aboard Rosie’s Family Cruise” in 2002. We only had five kids at that time. Our kids are Ray 19 a United States Marine, Maggie 16, a junior in high school, Kayla 15, a freshman, Justin 14, a freshman, Jayda 11, Nekos 5.
TNF: How did you and Dan meet?
Charles: Dan and I met at a gay club. I basically watched him for over a year but was too shy to ask him out. I asked him to dance and he said yes, I then asked him to dinner and he turned me down. The following night he came up to me at the bar and asked if the invitation was still good, he had broken off with someone he was dating and we have been together ever since.
TNF: Where do you live?
Charles: We live in Little Ferry, NJ and are very accepted in our community. From the beginning we knew we wanted a family. I never dreamed we would have six kids though. Four are biological siblings and two are also biological from a different family. Our goal was to have them grow up together.
TNF: What has having a family meant to you?
Charles: Having a family has changed our lives in so many ways. First off, the amount of love in our home has been multiplied 8 times. It has brought Dan and I such a sense of accomplishment. We have been able to take our love and give six wonderful kids a forever home. Having a family has made me fight even harder for our legal rights. I have become very protective of our kids and made my voice loud and clear in New Jersey. Putting our families to a [popular] vote would not be in the best interests of any of our children and that doing so would put our families into a very vulnerable position. We are thankful it was overruled allowing us to finally marry in May 2014. Our family was honored to be a featured family in the HBO documentary “All Aboard Rosie’s Family Cruise” and what makes it really special is we plan to have the exact ceremony with Cindy Love performing the ceremony. What’s even more special is the kids are all older and our son will be our best man. Our kids are an example of our 23 years together, our love and our strength as a couple. Our children are our lives, they are every breath we take and we are just thankful that we were able to first become foster parents legally and the be able to adopt our kids legally as a couple.
TNF: Tell me about your family.
Sara: We are married. June 21st 2002 we were married in a solstice service at a Methodist church here in Montpelier. Our pastor was able to perform the service because, on paper, we were husband and wife. In fact, since we live in VT, we actually had to go through the humiliation of being denied a civil union license because my partner, Danielle, is transgender and her birth certificate still reads “male” though her driver’s license etc… does not. Quirky PA law (she is from Beaver County, PA – hahaha! – totally true) Anyway, she signed on the groom line and we have been legally married for 11 years.
TNF: How did you meet your wife?
Sara: Danielle worked with my Mom as part of a care team for the mentally ill. This was prior to Danielle’s transition, so I knew my present partner as “Dan” first. We spent holidays together for years as my mother would have Dan carry the pager for the clients and she would provide the feast for us (her four kids and families) and Dan would get to come. We became friends and eventually, when Dan transitioned to Danielle, our family was there to support her.
TNF: Do you feel different from other families? If so, how so?
Sara: Let me count the ways… two women heading the household, one of us transgender, four kids from a previous marriage so there is all the step stuff that goes along with that (though I do get along well with my ex and his wife and her kids). Also, Grace, our youngest was adopted at the age of five (with my ex husband) but my husband left before she had been home a year, so Danielle is truly her other parent, though she does have a good relationship with her Dad too.
The thing I miss the most though, if I am to be truly honest, is the social currency I had as a heterosexual. It is all about the little things. My husband and I would go to a restaurant with our children and older couples would smile and nod at us and tell us how well our children behaved. At parent conferences, we were assumed “normal” because we were heterosexual and when Danielle and I attend, it is clear that we need to demonstrate our normalcy – I don’t know how it is communicated, but it really is palpable. As a special educator, I don’t have a picture of Danielle on the wall in my office – just the kids. Not because I was told that it wasn’t OK by anyone and really everyone would say “of course it is fine” – but I know that for some parents, it would only cause uncertainty and fear and sometimes, I just don’t feel like being the poster child for this whole gay, transgender thing.
TNF: Where do you live? Is it tough being a gay couple where you live? Do you feel accepted?
Sara: We live in Vermont and it is the best place in the US to live – it is where the whole movement started and Danielle and I have been truly blessed to have a front seat to the politics of change. We were here when civil unions passed – the first legislation of its kind. No, not marriage, but a start. We literally sat in the well of the House of Representatives when Marriage passed by one vote! And so, in a sense, I do feel accepted. But again, it is the little things. For example, we wanted to celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary at our Episcopal church (a very welcoming community) but we’re not going to be allowed to use the Book of Common Prayer to do so because of anti-gay rules with the higher ups. There is a separate but equal service for the gays. Yeah. I feel like the little things are sometimes worse because outright bigotry is easier to deal with because it is right there on the surface and you can reject it, but this other stuff – the institutional lip service of acceptance when deep down there is still a lurking homophobia and you end up knowing clearly that your place at the table is provisional. Don’t get uppity or back out on the street you will go.
TNF: What has having a family meant to you?
Sara: In a word, everything. They are our legacy. I leave the world a better place for having journeyed alongside these four souls. Now that they are all officially adults (last one just left for college) I can really see the great people they have become. I would choose to hang out with them I think. They are really diverse – I have a country music loving daugher (Annalise) who is engaged to a sweet guy in the military, a son (Alexander) who is a writer/bartender who is headed for adventures in San Francisco but spent his college years racing cars, another son (Christopher) is a talented singer/songwriter who is raising a son on his own and maintaining his sanity and sense of humor, and a daughter (Grace) who is currently taking Boston by storm but whose heart is in Nicaragua with a non profit groups she works with… they are compassionate, funny, wise people with plenty of quirks and charm. Not perfect, mind you, but we definitely support each other and move forward together on the journey.
Thank you Sara and Danielle for sharing your family story.
TNF: How did you meet Jeanine?
Steph: We met on Match.com in May of 2003. I was on Match and Jeanine had just moved to the Bay Area (CA) from Colorado and was encouraged by a friend she was staying with to “just try it (Match)”. That friend kept pushing, another friend helped to write her profile, and that evening she was on Match.com.
The way the Jeanine tells it….
“I posted my profile but I wasn’t going to pay to sign up – I wanted to see what this was all about. As I went looking around I realized
that there was only one person on the whole site that I would actually like to talk to or meet. I told my friend this and signed off.
The next day I got a notification that I had an email from a Match.com member. It was that person, the only person that I would actually like
to talk to or meet. Oh geez, now I have to “pay” to be able to reply to her.”
Well, it’s a good thing Jeanine did – I am “that person”.
After about 18 months of ups and downs and trying to figure out if each were “the one”, we moved in together (September 2005), into Jeanine’s house – merging our cats, my bird, and all of our “stuff”. Another adjustment period…
Then, in December of 2005 we spent Christmas in Colorado – my 2nd trip back to CO to meet/be with Jeanine’s family – and we flew back on New Year’s Day. Sitting at the Denver Airport on that day I said – we need to move to Denver… long story short.. we sold our house, I quit my job (Jeanine’s company let her stay on from Colorado), and we moved.
TNF: Where do you live?
Steph: Currently we live in Littleton, Colorado. We moved from the Bay Area where I was from and Jeanine had been living for about 4 years. Jeanine is a native of Colorado and my large, close-knit family was moving/spreading out so we moved to Littleton where Jeanine’s family is. We built a house not far from where Jeanine grew up and recently sold it. Next month we will move into our new house which should be completed the last week of November. Currently we are living with Jeanine’s mom and dad until our build is done.
TNF: Are you married?
Steph: Although we are not married right now (the state of Colorado does not allow same-sex marriages), we have been “officially” together since April 2005. In March of 2012 we had the Schmalz Family Commitment Ceremony where our pastor from California flew in to join us as a couple in front of about 100 friends and family from 7 different states. Our kids call it the “Big Party” where we all got our family necklaces.
TNF: Is it tough being a gay couple where you live? Do you feel accepted?
Steph: Coming from the San Francisco area to Littleton, I was not sure how we would be accepted. We were building a house in a new neighborhood and no one knew anyone – I was nervous. Luckily, I had no need to be. We were accepted and made many good friends where we lived. In fact, just 6 doors down from us was another lesbian couple with twin boys.
Now that our kids are in school I find myself checking in with teachers/administration, etc… just to make sure that everyone is okay with the whole “2 mom” thing. The most common response is something along the lines of – huh? OH, 2 moms, 2 dad, 1 mom, 1 aunt – makes no difference to us… family is family.
Of course there is an exception to every rule and you might have heard about this story – a bakery in Lakewood, Colorado that refused to make a cake for a gay couple for their wedding. Most of the articles mention that the January prior to this couples’ request, the bakery refused another couple – that couple was us. Here are a few links (there are a ton if you Google my name – Stephanie Schmalz – and Masterpiece Cake):
This TV piece went nationwide; there was a bigger piece that ran locally. We got calls from all over the country and found it in multiple countries too. We were on the front page of the Huffington Post and in this blog.
TNF: What has having a family meant to you?
Steph: To me having a family means the world – they (Jeanine AND my kids) are my world! I was one of those people that grew up never really thinking about that fairy tale wedding, or that “knight in shining armor” that my Nana always told me would come my way. I knew at an early age that I was “different” and I didn’t really know why until I was a little older. As a way to protect myself, in case I never fell in love or never let myself fall in love, I always said that I don’t see myself married or having kids. Everyone always told me that I was the “Pied Piper of Children” and I would say that I was sure I’d always have children in my life but didn’t really think I’d have any of my own.
After meeting Jeanine and being a couple in a way that I never thought I would be able to experience, openly, I couldn’t imagine us not having kids – a family of our own. While motherhood is definitely my most challenging “job” thus far, it is rewarding beyond words and makes my heart full of joy!
For Jeanine, who is adopted, having a family meant creating a blood line of her own. She always knew she was adopted and her parents and brother ARE her family. However, for her, once we starting thinking about who would carry our children she expressed the importance of creating something of herself that would carry on the way of heritage and genealogy.
Along those same lines, since we are a same-sex couple, in order for me to be on the birth certificate of the children I had to go through the process of adopting them. Luckily Colorado offers 2nd parent adoptions and we were able to complete that process for all three kids shortly after each of their births. I am proud of their birth certificates that say “mother” and “mother”.
Thank you Stephanie and Jeanine for sharing your story and your beautiful family pictures with The Next Family.
This week New Jersey became the latest state to offer marriage equality. Oregon also took a step closer by recognizing same sex couples married in other states. We have turned a corner on the question of same sex marriage. In this last year more states have extended basic civil rights to LGBT Americans, thanks to a landmark SCOTUS decision, and the trend is not likely to stop. That is very good news.
It is time, therefore for us to have a serious talk. Because we as a community have made strides in regard to marriage, does not mean that you necessarily need to take similar actions in your personal life. You do not need to run off to New Jersey with your wonderful boyfriend or girl friend in order to make a political statement.
For the same reason, that the anti-gay and hatred communities are wrong to hold marriage back as some symbolic gesture to marriage structures of the past, pro-gay people cannot rush into it as a new symbol of political gains of the present. Getting married is not political; it is a very big deal on a personal level.
As my Republican mother ungraciously asked me, “Why do you write in favor of gay marriage so much when you blew your own?” She is wrong. Gay marriage IS right. She is right that while I worked hard on mine, it did go wrong.
So here is my talk to all of you who are considering taking this step in your lives. I share this as one who has been through it and from what I did not know at the time. My ex-spouse and I grew with the marriage movement. We registered as domestic partners when it meant practically nothing. We married in San Francisco on Valentine’s day when Gavin Newsome briefly allowed it in a move of civil government disobedience. We divorced when we were under the full weight of state marriage laws without the dignity of ever calling ourselves truly “married”.
To be fair, I thought we had discussed much of the important list that I am going to give you. We had not. Not by a long shot. We should have. If we had, we might actually be together today, or we may have been able to separate in a more amicable way. In any case, I offer this to you from the vantage point of 20/20 hindsight. Dream the dream of a happily forever after with your soul mate… but also make sure that you both are clear and agreed on the following questions.
1. Are you prepared for mutual financial responsibility? Public debate on marriage equality has complicated the issue with a lot of things that are irrelevant in real people’s lives. The financial factor is supremely relevant. When you marry, you take responsibility for each other’s finances. Are either of you prone to debt? Is one a higher earner with more assets? Make a plan on how all this will work and how you will each commit to it, and make it fair.
2. How will you resolve conflict? This is the big foundational one. The issue is not whether or not you will disagree on something… it is when. What are your rules for resolution? Who will you both go to as a third party when you can’t find agreement? It will make matters worse if that person is someone that one of you can’t stand or does not trust. What are your rules for arguments? “We will never go to bed mad.” Is a good example. How can you each confess mistakes safely?
3. What is your growing vision of your family? You as a couple are the seed of a family. The anti-gay and hatred communities refuse to believe this, but it is the truth. You may not have children, or you may, but you will certainly have pets and there will be special people that you emotionally adopt. With all these, you need a mutual vision. Will you adopt? Will you choose surrogacy? Will you become fostercare/adopt parents? The latter, which is how I became a parent, is a path with its own character challenging issues (actually there is no path without them), and you should be well versed, together, before venturing blindly into it.
4.How will you parent? Should you and your spouse decide to become parents, this is the most important aspect for you to explore. When my spouse and I considered becoming fostercare parents, I solicited advice from a friend who had adopted a fostercare child with his wife. He shared with me that the hardest thing was seeing the parent his spouse became and realizing that he could not parent that way. They ultimately divorced, and so, ultimately, did we. Figure this out up front with ways to adhere to it to be successful —your children will thank you for it.
5. What are your priorities regarding extended family? Marriage is the seed, the end of which is an entire family. How far will yours go, and what are the terms? If one part of your extended family is anti-gay, how will they be prioritized against your spouse and immediate family? I have seen this elephant in the living room of several gay couples. And the elephant eventually charges. Cage it.
6. What is the state of your intimacy and how will you protect it? This question can be subtle and have different superficial representations that get focus, but end up not resolving the real issue. This requires you as a couple deciding your on-going standard of physical, emotional and communication intimacy. Preserve it. Cherish it. It will be under siege not just by the hot third party person who lusts after one of you, but also by those cherished children who zap you of time, energy and attention. The former is pretty obvious on how to handle, once temptation is dealt with, but the latter can be tough. It is vital that you relationship be your “favorite child”, nurtured and grown, otherwise, your other children will ultimately pay the price.
7. What is your spiritual plan for your family? Yeah, the God stuff. It is not important that you both agree on this, but if you have kids, a common foundation from which for them to grow is important. This also gives an important touch point if you run into problems elsewhere. It is good to have a set of mutually agreed upon spiritual principles on which to reflect when you are feeling in trouble.
8. How will you mutually nurture your careers and avocations? Dreams can be complex things. How will you nurture the dreams of each other as life throws “chance of a lifetime opportunities”? Have a plan, a fair one.
9. What is your mutual loyalty agreement? This feeds many other areas on this list, but it is broken out here to recommend a conscious, discussed and understood agreement. At what point is a flirt gone too far? What porn or erotica involvement has crossed the line? What friend confidences are too much, and how will the keeping of secrets FOR others be handled? Decide these upfront, but also acknowledge that no one is perfect and mistakes will be made. An agreement to pre-forgive would also be helpful.
10. What are the terms for the end of your relationship? I realize this has the romantic appeal of a fart during an intimate good night kiss, but, it needs to be understood up front. The fact is, barring a meteor hitting your car as you are both driving out of the Senior Center many decades from now, your marriage will end with one of you leaving either through death or divorce. Each scenario needs a plan, and it is far, far better that those awful details be decided when heads are clear and caring rather than grieving, angry or potentially bitter. One of the sad realities of the divorce system is that it only works remotely well when the divorcing parties can cooperate, communicate and come to agreement with as little friction as possible. Since they are usually in a mindset that is the antithesis of everything that would create that scenario, having a plan up front is the best way to get there.
M. Scott Peck said that “Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” That is the basis for this list. It is not the most warm fuzzy article you have read on the subject of same sex marriage, but I feel like it may be one of the most important as you work towards you ultimate happiness which is what I dearly and fondly wish for you. Fight for your rights, demand the choice to marry the love of you life, and when that happens… make it right. Opposite sex married couples are only at the 50% success mark. Let’s do it better.
By Brandy Black
TNF: Tell me about your family.
Kristin: We live in Middletown Pa, Bucks County. We met a mile away from our home now. Diane owned the house across the street from my parents’ house. As neighbors we became friends and feelings began to form. We dated for about 9 months before we became official and moved in together. Ten months later we were engaged; yes the cliché of proposing in Magic Kingdom at Disney World under the fireworks. We took our time and planned and paid for our wedding by ourselves since neither of our parents had the financial means. Our official wedding day was August 28th of 2010, which took place on the beach of Asbury Park, NJ. Then we traveled back to PA to fulfill the reception that would be close to home.
TNF: Do you have any kids?
Kristin: At this time, we have one child, he is 6 years old. We found him on an adoption website within our state, almost like a catalog of foster children that need permanent homes. We fell in love immediately and just knew this was meant to be…and it was. He is a biracial, low functioning, autistic little boy that we love more than words can express. We were told he may never be able to talk, plus many other things that people take for granted, it was not promised would ever happen for him. He is now talking quite often and has already overcome the challenges we were told would continue through out his life. Now, we are opening our home to foster/adopt up to 4 more children. We feel that after seeing our boy live through 3 foster homes in 2 years and face neglect and abuse, we need to save as many children as possible.
TNF: Do you feel different from other families?
Kristin: Living in the area that we do, there are many prejudices that we see quite often. It went from having an issue being in a straight bar/restaurant looking “obviously gay” to now being 2 mommies with a biracial child. Our area is very judging if you are not the typical Caucasian straight family. We deal with things as we go, trying best to protect our child and future children in every possible way. We do have a few very close friends here that are family to us, that are, of course, the exception to the rule. We have made the decision to not adopt a child that is dark skin African American only because being adopted is hard enough, let alone adopted as an African American that will stand out with 2 white mommies. We could never let a child deal with all that ridicule that would come living where we do.
We feel very different from a lot of families that we know. We don’t know what it is like to go through child birth, feel the growth, and witness his birth. We don’t even have baby pictures of our son. But on the other hand we know what is it like to fight for something and we battle every day to make him feel that we will love him for the rest of our lives, unconditionally. Not only is it tough bringing an adopted child into the mix of friends and family, but being an autistic child raises that bar to a whole new level. We have to weigh the surroundings and how it may affect him. Simply going to a birthday party means thinking it through first, if not the right setting it can throw him completely off. He can’t ask for things or have conversations with other children; he doesn’t have the capability. Those that judge us or him have found their way out of our life, those who haven’t are considered family or showed the meaning of family and are the world to us.
TNF: What does having a family mean to you?
Kristin: Having a family has meant the world to both of us. We are extremely proud of how far we have come and all that we have accomplished. Now we are not just the lesbian couple that show up to kiddie parties with no kids, we are a part of the group for once. We fought hard to have what we have and remember that fight everyday, we can’t take a thing for granted.
Thank you Kristin and Diane for allowing us to interview you. You are a true inspiration and we hope you keep in touch as your family grows.
By Brandy Black
From morning till night I’m taken by someone else. My iphone alarm goes off dictating my morning stumble to the shower, my quiet time, in which I prepare myself for the day ahead. The squeak of the hot water valve and the creek of the shower door cue the twins to begin their morning chatter. “Mama” Maaaaaammmmma”. My pace quickens as I dry, lotion and prepare milk for their morning routine. They jump up and down in their cribs when I enter the room. My son throws his pacifier on the ground with delight and reaches for his “ba ba.” Bella, collects her blankie, pacifier and bottle, holding on with all her might. The day has begun. Shortly after, my 5-year-old wakes up, sometimes happy and cheerful with good mornings to all and others with a shout and a slam of the door. I brace myself each day, not knowing which direction it will turn.
I struggle to get ready while also ensuring the twins are changed, Sophia is dressed, teeth and hair brushed and all is in order for “Breakfast time.” This is when I open the door of our hallway and we make our way to the kitchen, our au pair waits, usually half awake and prepares breakfast for the kids. I don’t know what I’d do without her on the other side of the door. She gives me an additional 15-minutes to make myself presentable for whatever meetings are coming my way.
I choke down my priobiotics at the table as the children all laugh at me knowing I really don’t like the sour tang in my little yogurt container. And off we go, bye bye to the twins. Sophia and I head to school. The day moves on, in and out of meetings, conference calls, checking on the twins when I have a spare moment, usually followed by angry tears when I escape again. I am grateful that I have the ability to work from home but we are at the stage where they always want to be with Mama and that can be hard on everyone.
5:00 comes and it’s time for me to put down my phone, computer and work and focus on the kids. This is witching hour, they are clingy, they both fight to be held and don’t want to sit, they want me standing and walking around the house with one of them on my hip. My oldest wants my attention too. I brace myself for this. I love having kids in my arms, I’m going to miss it when it goes away but I won’t miss the fight for attention that happens every afternoon when I walk in the room. I wonder if that will ever end? I feel like I’m letting everyone down and sometimes want to retreat under the covers and cry. I have learned to compartmentalize, I have to close each chapter, each moment in order to open a new one. I cannot linger or wallow, there is no time and my children simply won’t allow it. I imagine putting all the children to sleep and sitting in the back with my wife to detox and release the happenings of the day, but even that rarely happens. The time is ticking and we race to finish before exhaustion sets in. Dinner. Check. Books. Check. Pajamas. Check. Twins asleep. Check. Now homework with our oldest daughter. Lately this seems to be my job. I’m learning Japanese with her, she is in a dual immersion school and so we sit for 30 minutes a night and practice both English and Japanese. Once we’re both tired of flashcards and characters we move on to reading. I have always loved this time with my daughter, we’ve been doing it since she was three weeks old. Two to three books every night. But these days, I find myself thinking of other things while I read, calculating my night, what needs to get done before the day begins again tomorrow. Wait, stop, don’t drift, back to the book. Live in the present.
We are done, I kiss her good night, I grab her mom when she’s not working for the rest of the bedtime routine and suddenly the house is quiet. It is just me and sometimes Susan. Now we clean. We put away the day, books on shelves, blocks in boxes, dishes in cabinets, food in fridge. We make Sophia’s lunch and my time becomes my own. On some nights I work, catching up with my busy day, others I work for Sophia’s school, sending out emails, signing off on papers, ordering supplies, clothes for the kids, and on the fun nights I sit with Susan and talk or watch TV, once a week we even sneak out for a date. By 11, I’m tired, I need to sleep.
I get in bed and wonder, what would life be like…suddenly I’m asleep.
And here she comes, with all the latest baby gear, loaded with all kinds of baby accessories, slow and calculated walking, like Rambo with her ONE single baby, she gave me the “watch out I am a modern, smart, big deal mom” kind of look and all I could think was phsss I have 3 of those missy and half of the arsenal…
One thing that most women own and defend is the fact that they have the natural ability to be moms. That is serious stuff, their pride and prehistorical experience on that role is something you are not supposed to mess with.
Anytime a female discovers my role as principal caregiver of 4 babies with the total absence of a female in our household, something changes, I notice a subtle higher pitch in their voice, their attention becomes more acute and their body posture tends to acquire an upright position. My sensors tell me, it is time to go for the test again. I can feel the wave of emotions coming my way, it feels like their entire weaponry is pointing at me.
Its mostly pity the feeling they manifest, pity and some superiority. I can see how they shake their heads with their eyes. They are too smart to really shake their heads but not enough to hide the real feeling behind their expressions.
Some may feel fear and even defiance. They may think – Who in the hell do you think you are to usurp the job I have done exclusively for thousand of years, the role I played so well that no man ever, was able to even think about taking? This is my own nature you are insulting…
Then is when all the unsolicited advice starts to shoot my way. And yes they never had triplets but they took care of their cousin’s irish twins, and you don’t know how hard it gets later, and good for you! You must have your hands full. God BLESS you! Translation: ha you don’t know how much blessings you are going to need from now on.
And the Spanish women… Oh well that is a whole new post… I don’t know if that is because of their culture or because we are both Latinos and they feel they can be more intimate with me, but they are especially animated and eye rolling when they learn I am a gay men with children.
They eyes open big, I am afraid their fake eyelashes are going to fall right in front of me. Then there are those few seconds of awkwardness when they are thinking of how to digest the news and be supportive and true to their own person at the same time, they can’t hide their surprise from me, I know it’s coming, I just relax my shoulders, take a big breath and think, “Bring it lady, bring it on”
I would hope all these impressions are only in my head and none of these are real but my gut assures me: You are under test, watch what you do or say. You are playing on sacred territory. Smile and keep walking, don’t look back because they could cut your throat in a blink of an eye.
TNF: How did you two meet?
Annie: We met in The Stonewall Chorale, the first LGBT choral group in the country. Emily is an alto and I am a soprano. We were both with other people at the time, but we knew right away that we were meant to be together. After an agonizing year of figuring things out, we were legally married in NYC (though we live in NJ, where it may happen soon!) We both work in New York City, and really feel like New Yorkers even though we live across the river. A couple of weeks later we had a small family wedding in our close friends’ yard two doors down from our home.
TNF: Do you have children?
Annie: We have twin boys who were born on August 13, 2013. I have filed to adopt them as Emily carried them, we don’t want any legal issues later. I’m adopted myself so it seems normal to me (even though a straight couple who did IUI using an anonymous donor wouldn’t have to do that! But don’t get me started…)
TNF: Do you feel any different from other families?
Annie: We feel different from other families in a good way. We are both in education, have a very strong relationship, and are equal partners in raising our sons. Everyone we know says how lucky our boys are to have two mamas.
We are lucky that we live here in the Northeast. We do not feel different from other families at all. We have lots of friends with and without children, from all different family make ups. The other day we went to a meet and greet for the families in the Montessori school I am the Director of in Brooklyn, and all the families congratulated us on the new babies. No one even blinked that we are married and have a family. They were all just happy for us. Emily is from Texas, and when we go there we are just as open about being together, but do not always feel the love back. Her family is wonderful and more than accepting, but we can always see how much more awareness needs to be grown in that part of the country than here. Both our families are very accepting, and they are thrilled about our new additions!
TNF: What has having a family meant to you?
Annie: Having a family means the world to us. We know how lucky we are to have two healthy, sweet boys. Many people who struggle with their sexuality or coming out also struggle with whether or not they will have a so-called “traditional family”. As soon as we fell in love, we knew we wanted a family, and feel so much gratitude each day for finding each other and having our boys.
TNF: How have your lives changed now that you have twins?
Annie: Besides being exhausted, we feel complete now that the boys are here. Our lives have changed but so much for the better. It has made us evaluate our priorities, and have gratitude for the little things, like naps or time together as a couple. We cannot imagine our lives without both of them, and we feel that they were just waiting for us to find each other so that they could come be with us.
Thank you Annie and Emily for sharing your beautiful family with The Next Family!