Category Archives: children

a wish for a safe world

My son is gay. 8th-grade boys who are happily and comfortably out of the closet are pretty rare, so he serves as a sort of unofficial model for the kids at school, demonstrating for them daily by his mere existence that being gay is just another way of being human and nothing to get upset or angry about.

In large part because of my son’s openness at school and the (relative) lack of negativity he’s received from kids or adults, a friend of his (let’s call him C) decided it would be safe for him to come out, too.  One huge difference between them is the fact that C’s dad is extremely homophobic; but he figured his dad would be angry at first and then get over it.

So, C came out, at school and at home.

And his dad left.

I don’t mean he left the room — he left the house. He left his marriage. He left his family.

When this happened, C tried to “fix” the situation by recanting on his admission. No, he said, I’m not gay after all. I don’t know what came over me.

And his dad came back.

But it didn’t last long. C had tasted the freedom of being his authentic self. Of being able to talk freely to my son and his other friends about who he is and who he likes and what he wants from life. After a few days, C came back out at home.

And his dad left.

Apparently his dad isn’t planning to return to his home as long as he has a gay son living there. Of course, I don’t know what the parents’ marital status was before this; maybe it was shaky anyway, and he was looking for an excuse to leave. But I can’t pull together the words to describe how tragic I consider this situation.

A bright, handsome, talented young man will carry with him the rest of his life the conviction that he caused the breakup of his family.

A husband and father is so overwhelmed by hatred and disgust for something that he won’t even try to understand, that he rejects his own son and, by association, his wife and other children.

The other family members must try to cope and sort out their own thoughts and emotions, as they’re pulled in opposite directions by people they love.

I do not — cannot — understand the father’s actions. I want to go to the mother and beg her to support her son and love him no matter what. I want to offer the boy refuge.

I want the world to be safe for my son, and for C, and for the countless GBLT boys and girls who are sitting in middle school (or high school, or college) today and concentrating not on their classes, but on how to tell their families and friends their most private secret so they can finally, finally be themselves.

wow

Today I watched an ultrasound of my son’s heart. (It was a follow-up standard thing as part of making a decision about surgery on his sternum to correct his combination pectus excavatum and pectus carinatum.)

The last time I was in a room with an ultrasound machine, I was pregnant with the boy who was now lying on the table, watching his tiny  heart beat inside him, inside me. Now that heart pumps blood for a 6-foot-tall almost-man, who is still and will always be my baby.

The doctor pointed out valves, chambers, and blood flow. It was all very cool — and also, for me, not exactly a spiritual moment, but … a “wow” moment. My boy. His actual heart. Right there on the screen. Valves rhythmically opening and closing, blood flowing in and being pumped out, a chunk of untiring muscle that keeps alive one of the people I love best in the world.

Wow.

an abundance of unkindness

Last night at dinner, my kids were talking about school and some of their teachers. My son said, “Mr. Jock [not his real name] keeps doing something really annoying.”

And what might that be?

“When two guys are wrestling around in the hall or something, Mr. Jock will ask them if they’re going out. Or he’ll call them girls — like, ‘Girls, are you coming to class?'”

Mr. Jock apparently makes such comments fairly often. Homophobic words litter his everyday speech.

His — and a lot of other people’s.

Teenagers have taken to using the word “gay” as slang for something stupid or ridiculous. Don’t like a movie? “It was really gay!” Think a kid at school is doing something goofy? “He’s so gay!”

I can fix that behavior within the confines of my house. My daughter’s ex-boyfriend learned to eliminate the negative “gay” figure of speech pretty quickly. Now we’re working on the new boyfriend.

But I can’t fix the behavior of my son’s teachers, and the other students, and all the people he’ll encounter for the rest of his life, who will speak and behave in ways that are bigoted and hurtful. Many of them will do so unconsciously, reflecting the way they were raised and taught. Others will do so very much on purpose.

And we live in relatively enlightened times! I’m frightened enough for my son as he faces the rest of his teen years and then adulthood. What must it have been like for parents of GBLT youth 20 years ago, or 50? It gives me some slight inkling of what it must be like to parent a child who’s a member of racial minority, even today. How did mothers and fathers bear to let their children leave the house in the days before Civil Rights brought at least partial sanity to our society?

For our gay youth, there is still very little sanity in the United States. Hate speech of the kind that is no longer tolerated when it refers to skin color is commonplace when it refers to sexuality. GBLT people can’t talk openly about their relationships or hold hands with their partners on public streets without risking verbal or physical violence. Prop 8 and similar laws around the country remind them that regardless of the strength of their love, many people consider their relationships “wrong” and unworthy of cementing with a marital bond (unless, like some dear friends of ours plan to do over Christmas, they travel to one of the few enlightened places that allow gays and lesbians to wed).

I love my son more than I can possibly express. I want to be able to ensure that his every moment is filled with happiness, love, and sunshine. But I can’t. I’m helpless even to ensure him a hate-free environment at school — we decided that it’s better not to try to address Mr. Jock’s behavior, lest fallout come back on my son; and my daughter has warned her brother that although the high school he’ll attend next year is a relatively GBLT-friendly environment, he’ll face plenty of unthinking insensitivity there, too.

All parents want their children to experience the very best that life has to offer. In the United States, all parents want to tell their children that they live in the land of equality and freedom. But some of us have to tell our children that as much as we love them, and as great as our country is, life for them will not be equal and free; instead they’ll encounter venom and hatred and disgust, not because of who they are but because of who they love.

No mother should have to say that to her son. It isn’t fair to either of us. And it makes me very, very angry.

Obama field trip

On Wednesday, we’re going to hear Barack Obama speak at the Change We Need rally in Indianapolis. Yes, that’s right: the capital of Indiana, a traditionally Red state that this year is wavering toward going Blue. A wavering so distinct that the Democratic candidate is coming here less than a month before the election. Who would ever have thought it possible?

We’re taking our daughter (a high-school senior) out of school to come with us; her boyfriend’s family has also agreed that he can go. What better civics/government lesson could they receive than watching our great American democratic system in action?

I Am Excited to see and hear Obama in person.

shameless parental bragging

My daughter got her ACT score today. She’s planning to go to Indiana University (she’s only applying to one school). Today’s ACT score, combined with her GPA and her class rank, automatically qualify her for an Indiana Excellence Scholarship and admission into the Hutton Honors College.

Doug and I are indescribably proud. (And who knew, when we painted our kitchen red 12 years ago, that having a cream and crimson color scheme would be so appropriate?)

Way to go, sweetheart; you rock!

class of 2009

I just registered my daughter for her senior year of high school. That meant that in addition to the usual handful of papers — schedule, lunch information, PTO forms, and so on — she received an oversize, glossy color catalog from a company that sells every variety of graduation souvenir, from gowns to announcements to mortarboard tassels.

She’s excited.

I’m wondering how I’m ever going to get along without my girl after next year.

lost in translation

https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41g6gTQYtEL._SL500_AA280_.jpgMy daughter drives an old Volvo that doesn’t have a port for an iPod cable. We originally got her an adapter that played her iPod via the cassette player. When it broke after a few months, we looked for an alternative. It arrived from Amazon yesterday: the Eforcity 3-in-1Charging and Car Holder FM Transmitter. She plugs it into the car’s cigarette lighter (yes, the car is old enough to have one of those), tunes the radio to an unused frequency, and plays her music through the radio.

If I were to write instructions for using this gadget, they’d go something like this:

  1. Set your iPod in the cradle, and adjust the arms on each side so they hold the iPod firmly.
  2. Plug the cable into the iPod.
  3. Plug the cigarette-lighter adapter into the car’s cigarette lighter.
  4. Turn on the car radio, and locate an unused frequency.
  5. Turn on the iPod, and you’re ready to rock.

Here are the actual instructions printed on the package insert. (Step 2 is my favorite.) Note that the punctuation is as written:

  1. Insert some cigarette ends of iPod car kit in some cigarette devices of automobile of yours, and adjust the suitable angle, so that your convenient operation iPod.
  2. Draw back both arms, put your iPod into and equal to the urgent both arms , let your protection firmly of iPod among them .
  3. Will charge the plug and connect it on the base interface of iPod, in this way you can charge while listening to the music .
  4. Choose the transmission frequency of this equipment according to the local frequency situation of radio station , the switch is presetting frequency to stir the frequency band , try one’s best to avoid the frequency of the local strong radio station , then open wave band , FM of auto radio , of you , is it search platform or manual to search set let auto radio of you receive frequency that you preset automatically to choose, in this way you can listen to iPod stereo music of high-fidelity taken the place of to you through iPod car kit device .

Parts of step 4 are almost haiku-like:

then open wave band
FM of auto radio
of you

My daughter thinks the manufacturer wrote the instructions in Chinese and then ran them through a translator. Just to see what would happen, I took my version of the instructions, translated them to simplified Chinese on FreeTranslation.com, and then translated them back to English on Babel Fish:

  1. Establishes you in cradle aspect iPod, on adjusts the arm nearby each, therefore they have iPod firmly.
  2. The plug enters to the iPod wire.
  3. The plug enters to automobile’s cigarette blasting machine’s cigarette blasting machine switch.
  4. Turns on the car radio, discovers frequency which has not used.
  5. Is decided in iPod, prepares the jogging with you.

I think that (thankfully) technology has a long way to go before the writer/editor’s job becomes obsolete.

vacation photos

trip photo4,000 miles and 1,300 pictures later, we’re home again. It was a wonderful trip: no traffic, no crowds, beautiful weather the whole way.

I’ve pared the photos down to a representative sampling of 142, which you can view on Shutterfly. They’re in date order. The photo names tell you where they were taken, and many of the pictures have descriptions that will tell you more.

If you’d like to see more scenery (lots more mountains, canyons, and amazing rock formations), or you just really like looking at pictures, you can view 679 pictures on Adorama. (They don’t have descriptions and aren’t entirely in order, due to our using multiple cameras, one of which had the wrong time setting.)

The full set of 1,300 pictures is on CDs. We have 100+ pictures taken in Antelope Canyon (example below), 50+ photos of mules at the Grand Canyon, and much more. If you’re ever around and want to see them, you’re welcome. 🙂

Antelope Canyon

400

400: That’s how many meals I prepared this weekend, with considerable assistance from my family.

The Louisville Contra Dancers hold an annual dance weekend at O’Bannon Woods State Park, and this is the second time I’ve catered most of their meals (3 meals Saturday and all-morning brunch Sunday). The event sold out, with 100 participants coming to dance, attend workshops, and enjoy an absolutely beautiful spring weekend in the Indiana woods.

Here’s the easiest way to express how much food it takes to feed 100 people for 4 meals: 1 Saturn Vue full. The shopping took 4 hours, and at the end my car was full. As in, stacked to the roof everywhere except the driver’s seat. My husband came home at lunchtime to help me unload and locate storage places for all the food for the 2 days until the event. Fortunately my mother has an extra refrigerator in her garage; Doug emptied out all the soft drinks and filled the fridge and freezer with salad, vegetables, lunch meat, and more. Our upright freezer in the garage was full to overflowing with garlic toast. And our refrigerator brimmed with 20 pounds of butter, 4 gallons of milk, and 8 dozen eggs.

I spent much of Friday making cookies, brownies, and chocolate chip cake. Saturday morning the kids and I got up at 5:00 a.m. (an hour that I don’t normally admit exists) and headed out on the scenic 45-minute drive to the park. They both volunteered to go out early with me, rather than coming a few hours later with their dad, and I was delighted. They were a huge help, and having them there made everything more fun (and much easier!). Talk about quality time with my children: this was it.

The kitchen at O’Bannon Woods State Park’s group campground is … eclectic. For one thing, you have to bring with you absolutely everything you may need in the way of cookware, utensils, storage, and cleaning supplies. I’ve made a list for next time, because this year I forgot to take measuring cups and a whisk, and we could have used more knives. And then there’s the stove. I’m sure it’s the ultimate in unbreakable, low-maintenance appliances for high-use group facilities, but it’s a pain in the ass. It has 6 burners, 2 of which didn’t work. The burners aren’t gas, and they aren’t standard electric coils or the newer flat burners. I can’t find a picture online: Envision a metal disk about an inch thick and the diameter of a standard burner. Sounds fine, but there are two problems: 1. Any pan you place on the burner must have an absolutely flat bottom, so it makes contact with the disk at all points. If the pan is slightly curved or warped, you can’t boil water in it. 2. The disks stay hot approximately forever. I’m used to turning a burner off or to a lower setting and having it cool relatively quickly. These take a very, very long time to adjust downward.

Another exciting feature of the kitchen is the walk-in refrigerator. The light within is dim, the walls and shelves dark metal, the air frigid, the overall effect extremely creepy. The large, heavy door sticks just enough that every time you have to go in, you wonder for just a moment whether you’ll be able to get out.

Despite the eccentricities of the kitchen, everything went extremely well. During the course of the day Saturday, the kids and I took turns at napping in the back of the car when we had some downtime, enjoying the lovely breeze blowing in an open door. Once the pasta buffet was set up for Saturday dinner, I left to play with Guilderoy Byrne at the Blue River Cafe, and Doug and the kids cleaned things up. I got home at 11:00 p.m., and yet managed to pull myself out of bed again at 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Doug and I headed back out to the camp to handle brunch; our daughter drove herself and her brother to church (it’s great to have a child who can drive!). We were finished at noon after a very successful morning. At home again, I took a 3-hour nap, and after dinner I went to play at Brendan’s. (Yes, in the big scheme of things it would have been better not to have 2 band gigs the same weekend as the cooking. I’m just glad I had time to sleep.)

It was an excellent weekend all around. We got every meal ready on time; and the attendees, hungry from their dancing, were very happy with the food. I did a better job this year of estimating quantities and ended up with fewer left-overs. It was wonderful to have my family working with me; we had a lot of fun, so despite the long hours I was never stressed. And the money we earned will be a huge help toward our upcoming summer vacation. Who knew that a killer weekend could make me so happy and satisfied? 🙂

Oh — if you’re interested, here’s the menu:

Saturday

8 -10:30 a.m. Breakfast
—————————————

— Assorted cereals & milk
— Assorted Danish pastries
— Bagels, cream cheese, peanut butter, jelly
— Mixed fruit

11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Lunch
—————————————

— Assorted breads, meats, cheeses, and hummus for sandwiches
— Veggie pasta salad
— Black bean and couscous salad
— Assorted chips
— Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and snickerdoodle cookies

5:30 – 7:30 Dinner
—————————————-

— Spaghetti and rotini pasta
— Marinara, alfredo, and pesto sauces
— Meatballs
— Vegetable lasagna
— Green salad
— Garlic toast
— Chocolate chip cake
— Orange cream fruit salad

Sunday

9 a.m. – noon Brunch
—————————————-

— Biscuits with sausage gravy, jelly, honey
— Cheese grits
— Mini quiches
— Asparagus with lemon butter
— Vegetables and dip
— Mixed fruit
— Left-over sandwich supplies, salads
— Triple-chocolate brownies

the age of accountability

Tim has written an excellent, thought-provoking essay about the FLDS sect and their indoctrination of woman and children into the belief that it’s OK for a middle-aged man to “marry” and have sex with multiple underage “wives.” He points out that many religions offer their own indoctrinations of one sort or another, and he points out that in many Christian churches, very young children are encouraged to get up and proclaim their own personal relationship with Jesus. He ends his essay as follows:

Perhaps the members of the FLDS Church are afraid that if the girls were older, that they might choose to not marry 49 year-old men. Perhaps they might not choose to engage in that kind of lifestyle at all. Perhaps they would choose to think for themselves, instead of just falling mindlessly into behaviors that are so easily encouraged when a child is so young.

Perhaps Christians (like myself) are guilty of the same thing with spiritual issues.

I had no idea that children made “professions of faith” at age 5 or 7. But here’s the thing: kids that age also make “professions of faith” in Santa Claus. They’re raised in an environment where the adults around them tell tales of a big guy in a red suit who arrives by night with a sleigh full of toys; and sure enough, on Christmas morning, the toys are there. So of course they believe in Santa: the proof is under the tree, plus their parents told them this was The Truth. They’ll continue to believe until reason and common sense (or friends in the know) convince them otherwise.

Now I’ll use Christianity as an example, although I don’t mean to single it out. Take a small child who’s being raised in a Christian environment. The child’s parents tell them about the big guy in heaven and his son, and about all the wonders that befall those who Believe. It’s clear that having a “personal relationship with Jesus” is a Very Big Deal to the child’s family and friends. And sure enough, the child sees that when people get up in church on Sunday and talk about their relationship with Jesus, those folks get a lot of positive attention. The child knows that their parents expect them to announce their belief at some point. Maybe one of their friends has already made the trip to the altar and been subsequently showered with praise. So of course the child will do the same thing: all the evidence is that they’ll be rewarded for doing so, and their parents have told them that this is The Truth. They’ll continue to believe — how long? In some cases, forever. In other cases, until new people, new situations, or their own contemplation, convinces them to change their minds.

I go to a Unitarian Universalist church. We don’t have a specific creed or dogma; each member is free to determine their own spiritual path and individual belief structure. Our Sunday School classes teach the basics of all the major world religions, familiarizing our children with the history, major figures, and beliefs of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Humanism, and more. We stress to the kids that it will be up to them to determine what they believe.

But despite that broad education, the fact is that our kids also have a natural tendency to believe in the same things their parents do. My own children have grown up with a Humanist/Atheist mother and a Humanist father who has a vague sense of god as the life force that binds the world together. We’re very liberal Democrats. And surprise, surprise, our teenage kids have liberal beliefs about social issues, they’re Obama supporters, and my daughter is a professed Atheist.

My daughter is 16. I believe she’s mature enough to make a statement about her belief (or lack thereof). My son is 13; he’s still sorting out his thoughts, and I wouldn’t ask him to make a firm statement about where he stands on religion. I wouldn’t begin to ask a 5 or 7 year old for a real, permanent statement of their faith — just as they’ll say they believe in Santa, if you ask them about religion you’ll get a recitation of what they know their parents want to hear and whatever will get them the most positive attention.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Along similar lines, I expect this is why nationally, laws indicate that kids under 16 can’t legally consent to have sex; having raised a child to that age, I’ve definitely seen this age as a defining point in her growth and maturity. My almost-13 year old son is by no means anywhere close to being ready for the emotional or physical toll of a sexual relationship.

I consider it unconscionable for the FLDS sect to “marry” girls that age to men so much older; girls of 13 or 14 aren’t ready to give informed consent to sex with anyone, let alone a 40 or 50 year old man. I absolutely believe that those women and children go along with the program because domineering older men have embedded those thoughts in their heads from infancy on; and in their sequestered environment, they don’t know any other way. As Tim suggests, if the sect waited until the girls were mature enough to make their own choice, they would almost certainly resist the idea of a union with a vastly older partner they have no affection for.

If we all waited until our children were 16 before we mentioned our religious beliefs (or political stands, or any other strongly held opinions), then I think many people would be surprised and perhaps shocked at the outcome. If I presented the notion of Santa Claus to my daughter out of the blue today, she’d be very unlikely to believe. If a 16 year old who had never heard stories of any supernatural origin of the earth or been told of a supreme being were given an outline of Christianity’s fundamental tenets, including the 7-day creation, the virgin birth, the rising of the dead man, and so on, I think they’d be very unlikely to believe that, either.

But we all want our children to be like us, and to believe what we believe. I am a parent; thus I indoctrinate. The important difference between me (or my Christian friends) and people like those in the FLDS sect is that we’re trying to give our children positive, constructive beliefs that we think will help them lead good lives and be good people. The FLDS parents (and others in similar cults) are giving their children negative beliefs that encourage them to participate in harmful, destructive, even illegal behavior. As far as I’m concerned, their right to teach their children about their faith ends when child abuse begins.