By Lisa Regula Meyer
Today marks the start of the holiday shopping season, the day after Thanksgiving, when Americans take to the malls in droves looking for spectacular deals on the latest, greatest thing for this year. Or at least it had been the start of the shopping season until the recent craze of opening earlier and earlier began. So this year while most of us are home enjoying a holiday feast with our loved ones, retail employees will be stocking shelves and ringing up orders of people who can’t wait another day to spend.
I’ll admit that I have a vested interest in maintaining the day off that had been far more common just a few years ago, as Dwight works in retail. Having a day off to celebrate the holiday with family is also something that I believe is just plain the right thing to do. It’s not often that families today have a day set aside that everyone can be together, between more businesses being open more hours, and many people working more than one job. The biggest irony that I see is the messaging that we send- give thanks and treasure time with those you love on one hand, and love is equal to a purchase, but especially a deeply discounted one, on the other hand. It’s a sad way to start the season, in my opinion, focusing on the purchases and the profits instead of being together.
I realize that their are some people who want to work on the holiday to earn extra income for the holidays, and I hope that those are the people who are the ones staffing the Thanksgiving retail floor, but I also know that at most stores these will be mandatory work days to make sure that staffing levels are high and customer service is up. Wouldn’t valuing families mean paying people enough that a day off with their own families was a sacrifice that they could afford?
As much as I may be complaining, I’m thankful that- for the most part- we’ll have some time together as a family this holiday season. I cooked for our kin that can make it, and lit a candle for those that couldn’t. It’s entering the end of the semester, which is a busy time for the students and teachers alike, and we have both in Dwight’s side of the family. I’m thankful for the chance to do what I love and teach biology to undergraduates. I’m thankful to have my dissertation done and submitted, and my hooding coming up. I’m thankful for the families that I’ve seen through the family building process, and child-free friends who remind me of my more carefree days before kids (and let Kenny and I participate in their big Random Acts of Kindness endeavors).
Being thankful for these things makes me want similar privileges- family, friends, living wages, education- for other families as well.
By: Lisa Regula-Meyer
For better or worse, Kenny’s grown up in classrooms of all sorts. His first day of class was at the tender age of two weeks, and we had Drawing II, Plant Biology II, and Piano II. I took a year between undergrad and graduate school as a “post-undergrad,” auditing classes that I hadn’t gotten a chance to take previously, working on some research projects with a faculty member, applying to grad schools, and generally easing into parenthood. I realize that it’s a huge privilege to be able to do that, and I’m grateful for that year. Since then, he’s had graduate level biology and ecology courses, history classes for graduate students, and sat in on some classes taught by myself or my husband. We’re kind of used to blending family-time and education.
Recently, we’ve been more conscious about also including everyday lessons where we can around the house, too. Rolling coins becomes a math lesson, baking and cooking can draw on both math and chemistry, driving around leads to discussions on geography and ecology, and listening to music or watching TV ends up as a history lesson. It’s not easy, but we enjoy talking as a family in a more directed manner than Kenny’s usual blathering. Honestly, he talks nearly constantly so if we can direct his verbosity in some direction other than the latest Bayblades episode, all the better.
All of this focus on education has helped him to 1) love school, 2) be comfortable asking questions and finding answers, and 3) created a minor tyrant that thinks that he must. know. EVERYthing. That need is exhausting and can be maddening when he comes up with a question that we don’t know the answer to, or that doesn’t have an easy question. Our family focus on education has also lead more than one well-meaning friend to assert that “Kenny would do so well as a home schooled kid! Have you thought about doing that?” What can I say? Our friends are interesting folk.
I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t considered it on occasion, usually after a rough day at school for him or when we get together with friends and hear all the fun things they get to do with the increased flexibility with a home-school schedule. I’d also be lying if I said any of those discussions ever ended anywhere other than, “But we’d all go insane being with him that long without a break.” Homeschooling is not in our future, but supplementing his education we are more than happy to do.
I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it here before or not, but there was a time when I thought I could be an early childhood educator. Boy, was I wrong, and thankfully I had a professor who pointed out this oversight to me. I switched to biology as a major, and never looked back. Like so many other people, I assumed that simple lesson content material would equate to simplicity in teaching it. Except working with children is a whole other ball game than working with adults or young adults and helping them learn. There’s that whole development that makes a big difference- lack of logic, lack of foresight, lack of restraint, and so on.
I am very appreciative of the people who can teach small children, and the work that they do; I couldn’t do it well for all the money in the world. They’re also my peers in the educational field whom I respect to no end. My amazing students are the results of other educators’ time, talent, and yes- sometimes tears. I don’t want to take their job in my child’s life, I want to work with them to give him the best education that we can. I don’t want to cut their funds and make them work harder, with less resources; I want them to have what they need to do the job that I can’t. I don’t want to remove my child from a system that isn’t working perfectly; I want to work to improve that system for everyone’s child. To those people who can homeschool their child, more power to you, but it’s not right for our family. I still respect your right to choose the path that is best for your family, and know that I’ll be doing what I can to improve our educational system just in case you ever do need to use it instead of homeschooling. Maybe it’s a long path to travel for me to get to this point, but this is where I am. I’m happy to see people coming around to this point of view in whatever way they do. We could all stand to take a lesson from each other on how best to teach the next generation. Keep what works, change what doesn’t, and keep the baby when you toss the bathwater.
By: Lisa Regula- Meyer
The school year is in full swing now in Kent, and we’re heartily enjoying life with a second grader. Specifically, we’re enjoying this second grader and his second grade class. This year, our school is trying out a mixed 1st and 2nd grade classroom. Two teachers, two student teachers, and two grades in an extra large room (really two rooms with a collapsible wall between them that’s not used very often now). Kenny’s been thrilled about it so far, and seems to be doing well with this new set-up, in part because the first grade teacher was his teacher last year, and he really enjoyed working with her. We’re glad that he has another year in a safe place where he enjoys learning, and his official teacher for this year has a similar pedagogy and manner to his first grade teacher. His daily pattern is familiar, he’s making progress on school work, and meeting new friends.
I may not work with young kids, but I do teach, and I take my profession seriously. So much in education is bad news- rising tuition, rising student loan amounts, another assessment added to the schedule, and test prep taking more and more time away from teaching. With all of that, it’s great seeing innovation and child-centered learning still making its way into some areas. Classrooms being treated like research, following evidenced-based practices and contributing to that evidence, trusting teachers to take leadership of their own classrooms, those are the things that I like to hear happening.
In my own classrooms, I’m trying some new things, as well, like virtual presentations and some new lab activities. It’s surprising how different things feel with just a little bit of a difference; those little changes make such a big deal in overall outlook. For me, seeing changes in my syllabus come together, and seeing how other people shape their classrooms for the students (with supportive administrators, even!)
By: Lisa Regula Meyer
Three ways to create a family frequently discussed on The Next Family include gestational surrogate, traditional surrogate, and adoption. There are far more other ways, but I wanted to focus on these three because it’s an area where there is frequently some confusion. As a reminder, “gestational surrogacy” is when a woman (the GS) outside of a couple carries a child that is not related to her for the recipient couple, the intended parents (IPs). The child may be the genetic child of one or two of the people in the IP couple or not, depending on how the couple goes about the surrogacy process. “Traditional surrogacy” is when a woman (the TS) outside of the IP couple carries a child that is related to herself, her own biological child and the half sibling of her own children. Usually the child is related to one of the IPs. Adoption concerns an existing pregnancy for the birth mother, and the child is placed with an adoptive family, to whom it does not have a parent-child genetic connection.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these methods, and finding the correct balance of benefits and drawbacks depends on the parties involved. Gestational surrogacy tends to have a more sure ending legally, and if there is a child created it is 99% likely going to go home with the intended parents, since the child was created/intended for them, and the surrogate has no genetic link to the child. Traditional surrogacy tends to be less expensive, and does not involve the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF), but is seen as riskier for the parents since the surrogate has a genetic tie to the child. The infamous Baby M case was a traditional surrogacy. Adoption is the most legally risky, as birth mothers can rescind their decision and choose to parent instead of abdicate her parental rights and responsibilities within a set period of time. The child was not created with the intent of the adoptive parents, so legally, they are typically seen as having fewer rights than intended parents. We’ve seen the outcome of this policy discussed by The Next Family writers, and it’s painful.
I wanted to address this in writing in one place here because there is an important distinction between surrogacy of either type and adoption- the matter of intent. That the child was created with the intention of the parents is crucial legally, and ends up being important in how we view these constructs socially. I’ve been both a GS and TS myself, so I have first-hand experience with those processes. I’ve often had well-meaning people call my role as TS “birth mother” because birth mother in an adoption case is more familiar than a TS is, and it’s easy for them to understand and convey to others. But being simplistic in this manner ignores intent and adds a layer of assumptions about identity that I don’t appreciate all that much. I do know some TSs that identify as birth mothers, but it’s not common and not always healthy, resulting in a blurring of lines and creating a feeling of loss that I don’t think anyone should have to endure.
Socially, we often see adoption situations with a particular lens- a mother losing or giving up her child, a child being given away or not wanted in the first place- and assuming that there is a loss in that situation. A family is created, yes, but a parent and child are separated, something that we see as a bad thing (look at the Baby Veronica case and how contentious it has become). That loss is not assumed in a surrogacy situation, because there is no family that is broken up, only a family that is formed. That’s a joyful situation and should be celebrated, however it happens. Obviously, there are cases where a surrogacy can end up hurting the surrogate as well, but from what I’ve seen it’s usually not the case, and if it does occur, the pain is due to something outside the birth of the child, the relationship with IPs, extended bed rest or stress on her own family, and other reasons.
Identity is important as it frames how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. Because of that, I think it’s important to remember the full complexity of a situation and embrace that complexity instead of trying to simplify, and it’s especially important to recognize people by their chosen identity, not one that we wish to use for them out of simplicity. Our identities take time and thought to form, so taking time and effort to recognize them correctly is appropriate.
By: Lisa Regula Meyer
In keeping with the theme of additions started by the kittens, we’ve added another member to the family. Specifically, my mother in law has remarried a high school friend, and the man that introduced her to my father in law. I’m happy for them, the groom seems like a great guy (and Dwight asserts this is the case, and Dwight’s known the groom since he was young). They seem infinitely happy, and summer is a season in my life that needs additions to balance the subtractions, so it’s all good. I’m also optimistic that the groom’s longstanding friendship with the father in law might make for less strenuous holiday trips; only having to do one giant holiday bash for each holiday would be amazing.
The nice thing about blending of families for adult children is the limited functional changes that occur. In my experience, I enjoy not having to adjust too much to a new member of the family, and the limited potential for negative interactions that come with that. We get the benefit of a new addition and expanded family without the messiness of blending two families into one. At least that’s how it was with my second step father compared to my first. We’ll see what this new transition brings, but I’m positive about the situation.
My one concern is names and how to refer to people. Dwight’s dad is very happy with his title of “Grandpa,” a title that he doesn’t share with any living person, as my step dad is “Mr. Dusty” in Kenny’s eyes. I don’t want to take something as important a part of his identity away from Dwight’s dad by calling the groom “Grandpa” also. Dwight’s mom has already started that trend, but Dwight and I are leaning toward “Mr. David” instead. The groom has yet to express any preference, and seems comfortable with whatever (can I say that his laid-back temperament is a huge plus?). Kenny has enough problem with names that the groom will probably be “What’s your name again?” for a year or more.
I am, and will probably always remain, a staunch supporter of respecting self-identity, whether that’s in gender, name, career, whatever. You get to choose what other people call you, and the forms of address you respond to. I also tend to think of family less in terms of bloodlines and more as “chosen family,” be it chosen through adoption, friendship, foster care, or some other tie. It’s acting like a family that makes a family, not genetics, as far as I’m concerned.
At the same time, we’re constantly defining not just ourselves, but our relationships to one another. How many jokes and comedy skits have featured the scenario where a new couple are figuring out terms of endearment or relationship status? The awkward “So… are we boyfriend and girlfriend?” moment in high school comes to mind. It’s a human trait- we like to name and group things. If the person is has no preferred title or name, but others are identifying him/her in more way than one, what’s the “correct” term? Is there such as thing as “correct term”? Companies and individuals pay big money for naming rights to sports centers, stadiums, and other buildings; who has naming rights in a child’s relationship? Only time will tell. Besides, as The Bard once said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.”
By: Lisa Regula Meyer
It’s getting later into the summer, and we’ve hit a cool spell in Northeast Ohio. By cool, I mean autumn-like night time temps of 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. As usual, the season’s gone too fast and I’ve not gotten enough work done, nor had enough recreation time with my son and husband. It seems that four classes in a semester is my maximum right now. Forgive me if being busy work hard and playing harder means that I don’t write much or always on time before the return of some normalcy with back to school in a few weeks.
Music is something that’s always been a panacea for me, and Kenny shares some of that tendency. All three of us are heading to a concert out of town later this week, and really looking forward to it. My only concern- we’re going out of town, and will be meeting up with a high school friend of mine and his partner. Most of the times I’ve gone out of town to visit gay friends, I have returned home pregnant; I need to remind my body that that’s not the plan this time (ah, surrogacy jokes…). One bit of semi-regular fun on evenings that Dwight has to work has been Cleveland Orchestra concerts on the lawn of Blossom Music Center for good mama-son time. In particular, last weekend was a selection of highlights from Porgy and Bess alongside some spirituals. It was a special time for Kenny and I, as the song “Summertime” is something that has long been a connection for us. I’ve loved it since I was little, and it was a go-to song when he was fussy as a baby. That image of infinite protection leading to vast freedom, the idea of a parent as protecting and preparing someone who’s bound to leave of their own volition, that’s the image of parenting that has always struck most true for me.
As we snuggled on a blanket under the night sky, listening to the music, and his face turning to tell me that the singer was “doing it wrong- not like you sing it,” I realized that despite all my misgivings, maybe I was doing it right after all. And that moment was sweeter than even the freshest blueberries this year.
Tonight is another concert night, with Broadway hits and a picnic dinner, and I’m very much looking forward to being reminded of how we each dance to our own beat, when Kenny’s flailing and spinning in movements that I have never been able to replicate.
By: Lisa Regula Meyer
Recently, Alan Chambers, the president of influential Exodus International came out and admitted that he was wrong and apologized for the damage he and his group have done to the larger community. Exodus was one of the groups that has been based on the idea of helping people (specifically non-straight) change their sexual orientation through religious conviction- the infamous “pray away the gay” programs. Chambers even went a step further and has vowed to shut down his own organization.
This comes on the heels of a handful of Republican legislators throwing their support behind marriage equality, and while we wait to hear a decision on two marriage equality cases currently before the Supreme Court.
It’s possible that I’m being overly optimistic, but the prospects for changing the course of history feels very real right now. I’m hopeful that these events are more indicators of growing public acceptance of the LGBTQ community and their right to the pursuit of happiness.
Obviously, there are still discriminatory laws on the books, and bigotry abounds, but most signs point to improved civil rights recognition and moving closer to full equality. It’s important to note that while the fight for marriage equality may be turning a critical corner soon, there are also other major battles that need to be fought and won as well, like ending housing and employment discrimination.
Marriage is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s a big piece that provides protections not just for the married individuals, but for their children as well. Access to insurance, recognition of parental rights, availability of social supports like Social Security Survivor benefits, and lessened risk of deportation for a parent are all good things to come out of marriage equality. There’s also the very real tax benefits to married couples that provide additional discretionary income for those families.
It’s no wonder that so many resources- both financial and energetic- are spent trying to gain access to these benefits of marriage, although it does remove available resources for other facets of the equality fight as well.
I’m not going to lie, waiting for the SCOTUS decision this week has me excited and a little distracted. Here’s hoping for a ruling sooner this week rather than later, so I can get on with my to do list sooner, and so we can start working on those other issues of equality sooner. I am hoping that the summer of 2014 is going to be one filled with weddings.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
It’s a crazy world, that of IVF. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, and it does one heck of a job on your body, not to mention the toll it takes on your mental and emotional health. But it’s a useful means to a great end- that of building a family. Friends of mine are taking up the IVF journey soon, and are figuring out how much they have to learn. The process of becoming a family could be really easy for them, two women with a known donor chosen and agreed to the process, but they want to go the extra step to involve both moms- one as egg donor, one as egg recipient. They’ve recently passed the first hurdle in this whole process, getting one of them a job in a company that provides domestic partner benefits to same sex couples. I’ve been assigned the role of “surrogate worry-wart” in winding their way through this maze, in an effort to let them relax a bit.
Another of my friends are finally pregnant after years of intermittently trying (when they had funds available) while fostering children in hopes of the chance to foster-to-adopt. Still others finally had a surrogate give birth to beautiful little boy. Another is recently pregnant with an unexpected (and unwanted) sixth child, one recently lost a pregnancy at 11 weeks, and one is dealing with pre-eclampsia and an early birth. Lots of babies happening around here.
In biology, I teach my students about the seven classic requirements for an organism to be considered alive:
- Response to stimuli
Most of these are really automatic for humans, we maintain our body temperature and water balance without thinking about it, except when something goes wrong. It’s the same with our cellular organization, use of energy to fuel body processes, increasing our size (we’re maybe a little too good at that now, says my belly pudge), and so on. But that last characteristic- reproduction- can cause enough headache to make up for all the easy parts of being a living organism.
In the larger sense, family building is also the thing that makes all the rest of it worth doing. We’ll put ourselves on diets, through hormone therapies, have surgeries, and try to give and respond all the right signals to bring the next generation about. It’s really quite impressive, that desire for a family.
Obviously, “family” means something a little different to humans than it does to, say, a slug, even if our own family may have members that more resemble a slug than a human some days. But the drive is still there to have others like you in the world, either by choice or by blood, and to have that opportunity to influence the future of the world in some minor way. That influence on the world is one way of making ourselves “live” a little longer, and maybe be immortal in a sense, and it’s an extremely fulfilling endeavor in and of itself. Given all that, is it any wonder we go through so much to create a family?
A given all the hurdles that couples or individuals have to face on the road to parenthood already, why on earth would we want to make it harder for families to be created and supported, through the means that most fit their needs. We don’t tell groups of people that they can not grow past five feet tall, and enact legislation to prevent them from growing to that height. None of the other traits are subject to such regulations as making a family. How about we stop acting like there’s a good reason to do so?
By Lisa Regula Meyer
I was in Florida over the holiday weekend, visiting my mom and step-dad, and had a great time. While we were there, mom and I walked the John Ringling Causeway, just the two of us. I’m not sure why it was so important to her, but we did it and it was a nice walk. While we were walking and talking, my writing came up, in part because I have deadlines for projects that I did not finish before we left. She asked me a question that really struck me in that discussion, “You write a lot, did you ever write memorials for Dad and Kim?”
I really wasn’t sure what to respond to that, because what exactly is a written memorial? My dad’s good friend and I put together the music for Dad’s memorial service, and that was all I was asked to do when he died in 1995. For my sister, the memorial and funeral were two giant cluster____s spread across different weekends and different places and different people. So, no, I did not write a memorial service or any portion of it for either Dad or Kim.
But is that really all a memorial is? Or does writing a memorial require naming something for the person being memorialized? I did not have an easy answer for her. Sure, I have written plenty of things- poetry and prose- about the two missing members of our family; I guess that means I have written lots of memorials to them? A large chunk of the problem lies in defining what represents a memorial for my mom and I. I tend to fixate on processes, she is more interested in the product. In a way, my dissertation is a memorial to Dad, because without him teaching me inquisitiveness and tenacity, I never would have made it as far as I have. And my venturing back into poetry lately is very much a memorial of sorts to Kim, as she and I wrote heavily when we were younger and often our first reader was the other sister.
At the same time, how can a few mere words ever be fitting to remember two of the three people who most helped me shape my early identity? My memorial to them is not some fixed thing or point in time, but my very life- how I live, and what I do. It’s only in something as big as an ongoing series of actions that I feel I can really express the full extent of their influence on me. That’s not at all to say that there’s a right way or a wrong way to any of this, just different points of view and different ways of thinking about the subject. Loss is one of the few universal human experiences, but with such vastly different ways to react to that experience. It’s intriguing to me to see all the ways there are to approach the same emotion, and that variety highlights our individuality and all each person has to offer to the world.
OK, come to think of it, there are wrong ways to memorialize people, like harming others in their name, or actively working against what they held dear, but I tend to think those are exceedingly rare in how we see humans reacting to the death of a loved one. What are your thoughts? How do you memorialize those you have loved and lost? And how did you celebrate Memorial Day earlier this week?
By Lisa Regula Meyer
We’re a week into the foster cat experiment and things are going well. Our cat has finally made peace with the foster cat, Chowda seems comfortable, and the kittens are growing well. Kenny thinks the kittens are the best thing ever, and the kittens aren’t nearly as afraid of him as they once were, in large part because he’s gotten much better at not being a scary rambunctious giant. Having two mamas in the house for mothers’ day was interesting and gave lots of food for thought.
Possibly the most insightful bit has been looking at “mothering” and how it differs across species. I was having a conversation with a family member about how natural being a parent is, and that everyone knows how to do it instinctively. That sentiment right there set off some questions in my head, because we all know people for whom parenting is anything but natural- think of all the stories that make the news of parents doing utterly stupid things with their kids. And really, parenting doesn’t really seem so natural for Chowda, either. She frequently will lie down on top of the kittens, drop them from the bed, and do other seemingly less-than-kind things to the kittens. But she hasn’t killed one yet, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
For us human parents, the list of things to do for our kids is even longer than “keep kids alive” and includes some extremely unnatural items, like “help with homework,” “put together toys,” “fashion coach,” and “taxi them around town.” Sure, those are things that most of us have done ourselves, but hardly makes them come naturally to us. Really, almost everything above basic survival is learned and pretty impressive that we have figured all this out.
From my viewpoint, it’s the unnaturalness of parenting in the twenty-first century that makes it worth celebrating. We’re in uncharted waters here as a species, and we’re doing OK. Even well, in many cases! We’ve managed to learn an extraordinary amount, and found ways to pass on that knowledge so other generations could build upon that base. We do so much more than simply maintain life, but to enhance and improve it for our kids. We have expanded the family beyond blood ties to chosen families and nurturing our friends and neighbors. We don’t just create life, but ideas, organizations, and art. To all those who “mother”, those who nurture, create, and sustain things other than themselves- thank you, and congratulations; you’ve made a difference in the world.
Now to make sure that the kittens are all safe and where they’re supposed to be…