By Brandy Black
The Next Family has launched a new video series called “The Next Living Room” in which my wife and I will be addressing various topics of discussion around family. We would love your input and suggestions for future shows. It is a 2-3 minute video that will run once a week. Today’s topic is “the other mother.” How do you describe yourself? Lesbian dad, the other mother, non-bio mom, or are you like my wife, see what she has to say.
By Brandy Black
The other day I sat with my three children and the computer and went down blog memory lane. In an effort to find out when we transitioned from crib to toddler bed with our oldest, I took the computer out and began flipping through blogs and pictures. The twins were thrilled to see images of their big sister as a little girl, we read about all the silly questions she had and the funny things she would say. Sophia pointed at the videos and pictures “Look Penn, look Bella, that’s me at your age.”
It got me thinking about how little I document their tales, I have a book for everything on our oldest, a birthday book, travel book, art book, scrap book, photograph books and the twins I think I have one maybe two. I already feel them hating me in therapy years from now! I swore I wouldn’t be that parent. I’m all about fair, everything equal, to the point that I got in a fight with our couple’s therapist years back. I believe in making things as fair as humanly possible. Yet here I sat with the computer on my lap, heartbroken, wondering what stories I will be able to show them.
The truth is, there is a lot of juggling with three kids. Life moves fast at our house and I’m lucky to remember to pay the bills and make sure they get haircuts and clothes. I don’t know how people do it. I envy the parents like John Jericiau, who seem like they have it all together. I need more hours in the day so that I can sit down and write my thoughts, make picture books and take the time to collect memories that will last them forever. If anyone has any advice on the topic, I sure need help.
I guess the twins have many amazing experiences that my oldest didn’t, like being dressed in the mornings by their big sister or learning games and how to spell their names in Japanese and having one another to laugh with each morning. I hear them in the monitor giggling “You funny” Bella says to Penn, laughing. They have the gift of family, one that my wife and I truly fought for and it was a sacrifice, not a loss but a conscience effort to selflessly give our children the gift of siblings.
This is how I talk myself off the ledge, this is how I justify the tough conversations I will have with the twins when they are 10 and want to see all the sweet memory books that I put together for them. Or perhaps you will suddenly see an influx of blogs and images of our twins. “Not sure what happened in the early years kids, but I sure kicked in when you were two.”
By Shannon Ralph
There are days when you think you are actually doing pretty well at this parenting gig. Days when your children seem almost content.Almost happy. Days when you are in the zone—the parenting zone. You all know what I mean, right? Days when you look at your children and you think maybe—just maybe—their financial futures will not be riddled with the pock marks of extensive therapy debt. Days when you see nothing in their future but promise and success and roaring accolades. Days when their little souls seem at peace and their little psyches intact. All because you are one fucking badass mother.
You can read more by Shannon Ralph on her blog
By Tanya Dodd-Hise
Chemotherapy finally ended in mid-October, and soon plans were being discussed about starting radiation. I had another surgery that I was waiting to have approved, one that would, for all intents and purposes, be my version of reconstruction. The surgeon needed to go back in and remove more skin and fat, as I remained a bit deformed and misshapen after the double mastectomy in April. Once the second surgery was approved, I spoke with my Oncologist, and he said to proceed with it before starting radiation – otherwise I would have to wait a while, until my skin had completely healed from treatments. And I did NOT want to wait any longer.
Surgery was performed December 2nd, with an overnight stay at the hospital, and then it was back home and back to doctor appointments, follow-up appointments, lab work, and consultations to plan for the next round of treatments. Once I consulted with Dr. Ilahi, my Radiation Oncologist, it was decided that I could get through the holidays and begin radiation on January 7th. I was beyond thrilled! During the interim, I had gotten a follow-up PET scan, and on November 14th was given the report that there was no evidence of previous tumors in any of the areas where it had been given. In other words – the chemo had worked and I was cancer free! This made me really question why I absolutely needed to continue on and put myself through radiation; but Dr. Ilahi said that it was an extra measure to help prevent it from coming back – like, by a large percentage. So with that information, I knew that it was something that I needed to do, as much as I did not want to do it. For myself. For my wife. For my children. If it increased my odds of STAYING cancer free, then hell yes I would be doing it.
Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went, and I began to slowly start feeling better after chemo life. Dragging my feet, I went in and started the routine:
Treatments would be every day, Monday through Friday, at 3:30 PM, for six and a half weeks
Dr. Ilahi would see me every Wednesday to check my skin
There would be 33 treatments, of a particular dose, and none could be skipped
Since it is like sun damage, the negative effects would build, each week getting a little worse (and would end up like a bad sunburn…so they said)
Fatigue would be a side effect, but it wouldn’t get too noticeable until around week four
Anna (one of my radiation techs) showing the machine of my torture…LOL
Me, on the table, about to begin treatment
By week three, my skin was already a ruddy red color, all across my chest on the left side (where they were radiating). I battled with nausea, which boggled the doctor and techs’ minds, because supposedly nausea is not a common side effect when getting radiation in the chest area. But then again, EVERYTHING makes me nauseous. By week four, I started getting tired. And I started noticing, for the first time, that my left armpit was getting really dark. They were blasting me in the armpit, too?? I had no idea. By week five, I was getting really tired, really easily. My chest became blistered, but no skin had opened up. I developed itchy, little, red bumps on my upper back from exit radiation. My armpit got darker red, and started to hurt. By week six, I was tired. Like, bone dragging, dawg ass TIRED. I was using up to four lotions/creams at a time, multiple times per day, on my chest and armpit areas. They both hurt and itched all the time. By the final week, which would only be three days, I was beyond ready to be finished. I could barely stay awake during the day or evenings, and couldn’t wait until kids went to bed at night so that I could retire to our bed as well. I had prescription hydrocortisone for the itchiness, and was using it rapidly. And with three days left, my second degree burns under my arm had opened up, now requiring Silvadene cream twice a day.
It got to the point that I was in tears.
Shot of part of the chest burn, just a few days from the end
Three days from the end, and it finally got the best of me.
The 2nd degree burns under my arm (and yes, they got worse than this)
But the end was in sight…
For more on Tanya Dodd-Hise you can visit her blog
Photo Credit: Richard Bonser
By Brandy Black
I have two-year-old twins and a 6-year-old daughter. This might be my favorite combined age of all three. They play together (sometimes), they laugh and most importantly they help each other. We, for the first time in two years, sit back and watch until one of them chucks a car at the other’s head. Tonight my wife was working and I made dinner for all three and watched as they danced around the kitchen singing “I want to build a snowman” from our new family favorite soundtrack. Sophia showed Bella how to dance like Elsa so that they could play “Frozen” together. Penn hummed to the music while pushing cars back and forth beneath my legs. When their plates hit the table they all marched over, Bella climbed into her highchair because she no longer requires, or should I say allows our help. Penn stood dangling with one arm waiting to be perched up and Sophia plopped in her chair with her doll Lile beside her. They all use forks, they all chat, at the same time. Our kitchen is loud. I never imagined having a house full of children and a constant buzz of incessant noise. My back turned, adjusting the volume on the speakers, it hit me, all at once, I heard my children. I have children, that fill this house and make it a home. Three very distinct personalities. Bella, assured, bossy, a tomboy–prefers Penn’s clothes, a foodie, independent, distant to strangers giving them the F eye when they look at her. Penn, quiet, happy, always preferring cars, trucks, balls and anything that makes sound, he gives hugs and kisses, and has learned everyone’s name in the house but his own. He adores his sisters above all. Sophia, girly, sassy, full of attitude, thoughtful in ways that I have never been–making things for everyone in the house daily, a kind, gentle, hard-ass sister that doesn’t put up with anything. She rules with an iron fist and a heart of gold.
When dinner was finished Bella got out of her high chair and pulled up a big kid chair to sit between her brother and sister. I gathered their berries and granola for dessert when I heard a loud scream from Penn. I turned to find him holding onto his twin sister who was dangling sideways from the chair. She had a tight grip on his pinkie finger and that hold was the only thing keeping her from hitting the ground. Penn has always been her protector, her hero! The three of them take care of one another in their own unique ways and I’m merely the lucky Mama that gets to sit back and watch their bond grow each day.
TNF: How did you meet your wife?
TNF: Do you feel different from other families?
TNF: Where do you live? Is it tough being a gay couple where you live? Do you feel accepted?
TNF: What has having a family meant to you?
By Brandy Black
I met her in a diner on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. We flirted in a bar a few weeks later. We first kissed in my bungalow. We had long talks in the car outside of my apartment. We ate ice cream cones on the curb of Fairfax. She dragged me to yoga. I dragged her to dance clubs. We moved in together a year later and shared a 500 square foot apartment. We went to Palm Springs on a whim and learned to aim at a shooting range. We mastered craps in Vegas and stayed in a suite on the strip. She wore sunglasses at night. We ran a marathon and dreamt of our future. We mapped it out. It came true. We bought a condo in a less cooler place than West Hollywood. We planned a wedding when it wasn’t legal. We were engaged for two years. We were married on an island with 80 of our closest friends. Everything went wrong. The wedding was perfect. The honeymoon even better. I learned esposa means wife in Spanish and used it while at Maroma in Mexico. We sold our condo, made some money and bought a house. We dreamt of babies but couldn’t make them, we tried everything. We got a dog. We loved him. I was still sad. We went to Italy and hiked Cinque Terrre. We were still sad. We did IVF. A couple times. When we were about to give up, I got pregnant. It was a miracle. Life was perfect again. We got pregnant again, this time with twins. We sold our house and moved into a bigger one. We got an au pair. We said goodbye to my Audi and got a bigger car. We juggled twin babies and a 3-year-old, it was tough. We muddled our way through. We started date night. That helped. Our twins are 2, our oldest 5, on Friday it will be sixteen years since that first kiss.
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.
By Brandy Black
Our daughter is in Kindergarten now. The immense change that has already transpired this year blows my mind, our conversations have evolved in ways I’ve always dreamed of and I’m so proud of the girl she has become. I worry, everyone knows this, about protecting my kids from the evils and misunderstandings of the world. I would do anything to ensure that none of my children feel hurt or pain even though I know this too is one of life’s little gifts.
I do know, however that life will be a bit more complicated for my children because of the parents they have. Even though the country is changing rapidly and laws are slowly embracing LGBT families, we are not safe from bullying and discrimination. My wife and I are lucky to live in a city that is rather accepting of a two mom family and we rarely face outward discrimination but there will always be an opportunity to educate those around us. I correct people daily that make the assumption that I have a husband or my children have a daddy. I don’t mind this, it is understandable that they jump to that conclusion, I often wonder if I inadvertently do the same. But what I am most grateful for is those around us that are thoughtful and understanding of families like mine.
I went to our first parent/teacher conference for grammar school. Our 5-year-old has two teachers. Both teachers referenced me as Mama and Susan as Mom, they had taken the time to get it right, to know that those words have significant meaning. Susan could not be with me (thank god for the voice memo app on my iphone so that I could record it) and my daughter’s teacher seamlessly referenced her in conversation as my wife. I volunteer at school once a week and one day in class the teacher was talking to the children about their parents and she said “Mommies and Daddies or Moms and Mamas” and I actually laughed, which I realize wasn’t the best reaction especially considering how happy it made me but I was genuinely surprised. All of these simple choices in wording can make a family feel like they have made the right choice in schools, friends, colleagues etc. It is the simple use of parent/parents in place of Mommy or Daddy that are inclusive rather than exclusive.
Our school has a dance coming up called the Daughters’ Dance. This is inclusive rather than the exclusive title it had in previous years “Father Daughter Dance.” I was told that a child with heterosexual parents had a best friend that had two moms and she felt that Father Daughter Dance did not fairly represent her BFF’s family, she petitioned to the school to have the name changed. And so they did. From what I understand it wasn’t that they were trying to be exclusive it simply hadn’t occurred to them. These things are simple, and sometimes take a little thought that perhaps not all parents are the same, perhaps there is only one parent in the family. It has been a work in progress but awareness and understanding makes all the difference in the world.
I realize living in a big city like Los Angeles can make life much easier for two moms than raising a family in a rural part of the United States, I know that there are families that struggle to be understood by those around them. I spent quite a bit of time with the Executive Director of Family Equality talking about the laws that need to change, the support that is lacking for the LGBT community and the challenges that we face but I don’t want to forget to celebrate the wins that happen every day. The teachers, friends, doctors, colleagues, and even strangers that make my day by bending down to my daughter and saying “You’re a pretty lucky kid to have two moms.” It’s not that my kids are any luckier than anyone else, it’s that they are just as lucky.
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.