That Far Into Life

DSCF0151-1024x768Occasionally the Divine Miss M will say something simple yet profound and I am reminded at how complicated we adults make life.

I don’t fixate on the life of celebrities, at least in comparison to our culture as a whole. Granted, I am obsessed with anything written by Aaron Sorkin because he’s nothing short of brilliant and easily the best writer of our time.  Also, even a lesbian can recognize that George Clooney is preternaturally handsome. I mean, seriously, is he even real?  I am in awe of Meryl Streep as an actress and watch every movie she’s in, but I don’t pretend to know anything about her personally. I recall thinking it really weird when I got up to get ready for school one morning in 3rd grade and found my mom crying because someone named John Lennon died.

However, I have to admit, the news of Robin Williams’ death totally threw me. I didn’t start sobbing or anything but I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. I know everyone my age has probably been saying this but I watched him as Mork when I was a little kid (LOVED that show) … and then in everything else as I grew up. Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet’s Society (Oh Captain, my Captain), Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting – “I gotta go see about a girl.” Man, that’s a great movie.

So maybe it’s given me such pause just because this was a celebrity I grew up with, more or less? I mean he was a freakishly rare talent but still, it’s not like I knew him.  Yet, this feels a little like grieving.

M and I were discussing Mr. Williams – she knows him only as Genie in Aladdin and Peter Pan in Hook. She noted that you don’t hear of that many celebrities committing suicide. I pointed out there are more who overdose, accidental and possibly otherwise, and even if it’s the former, “maybe it’s a little like suicide because if you’re that far into drugs …” I couldn’t think of a way to finish that sentence but she responded, “You’re not that far into life?”

I was speechless for a moment. She was probably just being literal, as she tends to be, but there was something deeper there. It’s an apt metaphor for both addictions and depression. They lie to you, they cut you, they cloud you and the world around you, mar your perceptions, chain you down and they hold everything out of reach. They darken every corner so that you can’t see any hope, can’t even imagine it. They leave you forlorn and despairing, it’s so much worse than merely hurting. They make sure “you’re not that far into life.”

I have an uncle who committed suicide several years ago. He had been the most severe alcoholic for decades, on and off the wagon. When he was sober, he was handsome, charming, witty as hell and extremely caring. When he wasn’t sober, he was … none of those things. When I received the phone call about his death, I was saddened and hurt of course and looking back over parts of his life, couldn’t help but think about all the wasted potential. The fact was though, he was never going to slay his demons, temporarily maybe but they were always going to be there. I suppose some people were probably angry with him, people who were going to miss him terribly and I don’t think that’s unjustified on their part. But all I could think was how tired he must have been. How tired he had probably been for a long time. I felt such an overwhelming compassion for him, for his decision. His demons ensured that he was never going to be that far into life. That has to be somewhere beyond exhausting.

But having compassion for how someone reached that point doesn’t mean suicide is the answer. I hope for those who have already chosen it that they found the peace so eluding them in life. For those of us still here, I hope we can help each other more, find the help we need more, understand more about depression and addiction, and for God’s sake make the help more available because mental health treatment in this country is grossly, inhumanely lacking. Yes, it will cost us money but right now it’s costing us lives.

I hope we cast light on the darkest corners so the people we love who are in them can see flickers of hope. I hope we can be that far into life, at least enough to not want to leave it.

Posted in Evidence of humanity, Grim Reaper, Random thoughts | 8 Comments

The Ultimate F Word

 

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And I told you to be patient
And told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind
… Ed Sheeran

 When the Divine Miss M was in second grade, she told me that her best little friend had whispered in her ear ‘the ultimate F word,’ and “I’m not going to repeat it to you but it rhymes with duck.”  I was caught between humor and dismay, chuckling at the description but also thinking ‘Really?  Already?’ It turned out M wasn’t really all that interested in the scandalous art of cursing, she wanted grown-up confirmation that it really was ‘the ultimate F word.’  (That child has lived in a black and white, need to know world from day one, let me tell you).

More recently, I was having a conversation with her and she ended up referencing, very matter-of-factly that the opposite of love is hate.  She continued talking but my thoughts paused with that statement, as they often do when I hear that basic sentiment expressed.  It’s so easily accepted – hate is the opposite of love.

It’s not, of course, except in a child’s world.  The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference, which coincidentally is far more painful.  She’ll probably learn that some day, which as a parent I’d do anything to prevent but I can’t, of course.

I wonder if she’ll also learn ‘the word that rhymes with duck’ isn’t actually the ultimate F word.

Cursing is used in many ways – sometimes in jest, but often to express incredulity, shock, anger.  In any event, it’s used for emphasis of one sort or another.  Fierce anger, incredulity, shock, dismay.   All emotions or reactions that may drive people back, away from us.  Logic would dictate then that the ultimate curse word would be the most effective at that.  It’s not, of course.  Because the ultimate F word isn’t a curse word at all, it’s Fine.  I’m Fine.

I don’t mean the fine that comes in an argument with your spouse or partner.  I feel confident Jodi is not the only person aware that when their spouse says fine at the end of an argument, usually in a short, clipped manner with possibly gritted teeth, things are anything but fine.

I’m talking about the “I’m fine” that stands as a common response to “How are you?” or “Are you okay?” or “Is something wrong?” So many times, no matter who is asking, we respond to those inquiries about our well-being with the words, “I’m fine” or “Everything is Fine.”  Even when we are so not fine we might well be crumbling inside, when it’s an effort to take the breath necessary to even say the words, we still manage “I’m fine.”

Why is it so important to be fine?  When exactly did that become the image to which we all aspire?   It doesn’t make us stronger to be ‘fine,’ to be unaffected or emotionless. If anything, it makes us stronger when we can admit to weaknesses, hurts, outrage, indignation.  But there’s no question that “I’m fine” usually ends the conversation – drives people back a little and puts up a wall.  Occasionally it’s understandable – maybe it’s not someone with whom you’d want to discuss it, maybe it’s someone who’s asking more out of obligation than true caring, maybe it’s just not a good time.

The truth is though that many times it’s someone who loves us that’s asking. It’s our spouse, our best friend, a member of our chosen tribe and they’re asking because they want to know. And many times we still answer their inquiry with “I’m fine” or “Everything’s fine.”

I’m not sure about other people, but I know my messed up reasons for answering that way.  At some point along the way, I adopted the thinking that if I can’t change something, then it’s a failing on my part to not be able to accept it and move on.  To be bothered by it is nonsensical and therefore a fault.  (A healthier person might recognize the demands I make on myself, and others, are a tad high …). 

 When I hear the lyrics from Ed Sheeran that I quoted above, I always picture that as talking to myself.  I tell myself to be patient, kind, balanced and fine, dammit.  (Ironically, I get very IMpatient and UNkind with myself when I can’t manage the other two.)  I say a lot of “I’m fines” on Father’s Day.  I could probably have a relationship with my father if I never openly acknowledged my family when we spoke and I was only ever around him without my partner.  But I find that unacceptable for several obvious reasons. Thus, to an extent, that’s my choice, I suppose.  As a result, it seems ridiculous on my part to not be fine, especially since I am fortunate enough to have other father figures in my life.   I should be fine.

We tell ourselves that a lot, that we should be fine, that to not be fine we have to know we’re justified in not being so.

And yet, I find myself very accepting of the fact that we all have a little crazy. We all have irrational things that trigger bizarre, extreme reactions and that even if we know what those are, we can’t always stop ourselves.  And that’s okay.  Just like it’s okay to not be fine.  If someone asks you if you’re alright, it’s not a failing to say, “No, not really.”  Putting up the wall of I’m fine isn’t something to aspire to, it isn’t helpful, it isn’t honest and occasionally it sells short the very people who are asking.  If we’re lucky enough to have people in our lives who care enough to ask, then let’s refrain from throwing up the wall of the ultimate F word.  Let’s practice occasionally answering with “no, I’m not okay, and here’s why.”

Posted in Chosen tribe, Lessons, Random thoughts | Leave a comment

A notable excerpt as the dominoes fall

UnknownOver the past year, I haven’t done a blog post when a state’s same-sex marriage ban has fallen.  However, it has been an amazing thing to watch.  I try to concentrate on the positives of each victory.  Inevitably the subsequent photos of couples (often temporarily) marrying, so often older people who have been together for decades or couples with children or simply couples in love, moves me to tears.  Unless it’s been denied to you, I don’t think it’s possible to know, really know, the monumental emotion that comes with acknowledgement.

I say ‘try to concentrate on the positives’ because there is a part of me that realizes we haven’t had a ruling from an appellate court yet.  I anticipate the Tenth Circuit will be first, which has authority over my home state, because it was the first to hear oral arguments on the same.  Though the Fourth Circuit has now as well.  I am very cautiously optimistic on how those will turn out.  But even then, I’ll have the same gut-level dread I have now … at some point, the Supremes are going to be asked to weigh in and the LAST thing I want is this Supreme Court to rule on same-sex marriage.  We won the partial DOMA challenge but based on last summer’s arguments on California’s Prop 8, I don’t look forward to a ruling on marriage.  Until we have conflicting rulings from appellate courts, they may very well not elect to hear an appeal on these matters (though, I anticipate the Fifth Circuit will take care of that for us.  I have a little doubt any circuit court will uphold a ban, but I have no doubt the Fifth will).

But back to concentrating on the positives, I haven’t done a blog post referencing any of the truly eloquent opinions that have been issued in the last year that have struck down same-sex marriage bans. However, I wanted to share this excerpt from the Oregon opinion released today.  This isn’t actually the legal minutia portion of the opinion, though that’s certainly in there, but it is an excerpt I loved, especially the last sentence because I have always been a sucker for an inspirational message who calls us to be more.

I am aware that a large number of Oregonians, perhaps even a majority, have religious or moral objections to expanding the definition of civil marriage (and thereby expanding the benefits and rights that accompany marriage) to gay and lesbian families. It was these same objections that led to the passage of Measure 36 in 2004. Generations of Americans, my own included, were raised in a world in which homosexuality was believed to be a moral perversion, a mental disorder, or a mortal sin. I remember that one of the more popular playground games of my childhood was called “smear the queer” and it was played with great zeal and without a moment’s thought to today’ s political correctness. On a darker level, that same worldview led to an environment of cruelty, violence, and self-loathing. It was but when the United States Supreme Court justified, on the basis of a “millennia of moral teaching,” the imprisonment of gay men and lesbian women who engaged in consensual sexual acts. Even today I am reminded of the legacy that we have bequeathed today’ s generation when my son looks dismissively at the sweater I bought him for Christmas and, with a roll of his eyes, says “dad … that is so gay.”

It is not surprising then that many of us raised with such a world view would wish to protect our beliefs and our families by turning to the ballot box to enshrine in law those traditions we have come to value. But just as the Constitution protects the expression of these moral viewpoints, it equally protects the minority from being diminished by them.

It is at times difficult to see past the shrillness of the debate. Accusations of religious bigotry and banners reading “God Hates Fags” make for a messy democracy and, at times, test the First Amendment resolve of both sides. At the core of the Equal Protection Clause, however, there exists a foundational belief that certain rights should be shielded from the barking crowds; that certain rights are subject to ownership by all and not the stake hold of popular trend or shifting majorities.

My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on this issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences. I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.

Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other… and rise.

Posted in Random thoughts, Rights and Legal Stuff, Us | 3 Comments

The Time I Lost it in Arkansas

I don’t like confrontation and take great pains to avoid it.  But even the least confrontational among us can be pushed too far … especially when it comes to protecting our children.

I was reminded of this when reading a blog post recently written by a mother whose teenage son had been the victim of an ambitious Amway-seller.  It seems Ms. Amway felt it necessary to point out this boy’s acne in an attempt to sell him products. The author/mother had to battle her mama bear instincts not to call the woman and tear into her.

July 2011, That Blonde and the Divine Miss M.  They seem so little now.

July 2011, That Blonde and the Divine Miss M. They seem so little now.

I suppose it was the mama bear in me that came out in Arkansas in the summer of 2011.  We were visiting Hot Springs and a few other places that week with the Divine Miss M and That Blonde, daughter of the Labor Coach and M’s best friend.  On July 4th, we had dinner at a restaurant with a patio/deck area on a lake.  It was lovely, picturesque even.  At some point before we finished our meal, a man and two women, one of whom was a little loud, walked up from the area of nearby docks and chose a table next to ours.  I didn’t think much of it really.  It was Fourth of July, people had probably been out on the lake all day drinking and it’s not like she was belligerent or anything…

After we were finished eating, Ms. M and That Blonde were walking back and forth between our table and the other side of the deck where they were feeding ducks.  They were heading back toward us, passing the loud woman’s table when M started explaining the difference between male and female mallards based on their coloring.  Unbeknownst to me, the loud woman had deduced Jodi and I were a couple and began making comments about how sick it was for children to be with us.  (Though not all that important, I have never figured out how she reached that conclusion.  Neither of us are prone to PDA, I can assure you we weren’t holding hands at a restaurant in the middle of Arkansas and had only even shared the same side of the table when the sun reached a point on its way down that it was shining in That Blonde’s eyes and I’d switched her places.)  In any event, I was oblivious and didn’t realize what the woman was saying. But Jodi did.

Jodi began gathering our things and the kids and directing our exit.  I finally started catching on when I heard the woman mocking Ms. M for her male/female mallard explanation.  I stopped for a second, confused and honestly trying to understand if I was hearing her correctly. I suppose a grown woman mocking a ten-year-old child isn’t the first place your mind goes.  Just as the girls rounded the corner and entered the restaurant door, Jodi leaned over their table and I heard her tell the woman, “We may be lesbians, just like you said, but at least we’re not in a public place, drunk and saying inappropriate things in front of children.” That’s when it all finally clicked in my dense head.  They’d been talking about us, they’d been mocking our children – who easily could have heard them – simply because those children were with us, a same-sex couple.

And then it was exactly as I’ve heard people describe moments of great anger. There was a definite rushing in my ears and the world shrunk down to that moment and place. I was overwhelmed with the misguided feeling that I had to DO something in response, like it was an obligation.  The only thing near me was the full cup of water I’d left on our table.  The loud woman was mid-sentence in her sarcastic response to Jodi and the next thing I knew, the cup was in my hand, my arm was shooting out and water was splashing across their table and their laps.  I slammed the cup down on their tabletop and walked away - quickly.

I’ve no idea who was more stunned, the people at that table or Jodi.

That scene replays in slow motion in my head, especially as the water flies through the air toward their table.  In the big scheme of things, it was a stupid thing to do.  If I’d thought logically for even a second, I would have realized the girls hadn’t heard her and there was no need to take further action.  Those people of course followed us as we were leaving the deck and that could have been a much uglier scene than it was.  We finally left and the girls’ only comments were M asking why we were talking to those people and That Blonde answering for me with, “I think our family had a disagreement with theirs.” Bless her innocent heart. Thankfully, they didn’t see or hear much.

I could should have simply walked away and held my head high. Been the bigger and better person rather than crawled around in the figurative gutter with those people.  And if it had been comments directed only at us, I would have been able to do that fairly easily.  My only defense is that it was my first experience with someone directing their intolerance at our children. Also, it caught me completely off guard and I felt a little blind-sided. We weren’t at some kind of political event or anywhere I anticipated that behavior.  We were simply eating dinner on a lake right before we went to watch a fireworks show.

I swore Jodi to absolute secrecy but I had to tell the Labor Coach on the off-chance That Blonde saw more than I thought.  Plus, I felt a little compelled to confess I’d done something that irresponsible while her daughter was in my care.  Though her response was something along the lines of, “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard” and begged me to let her tell people.  I am torn between chagrin over my actions and laughing at the uncharacteristic nature of it all.

The real long-lasting effect, however, has been that anytime I get mad, Jodi now gets to make quips about hoping there isn’t any water nearby.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Repost: Reflections on a Union May 1, 2013

One year ago this morning, it was snowing outside, the ground already covered with a few inches that had fallen overnight, and I was having breakfast at The Buff with my new spouse (technically, ‘party to a civil union’ but *eye-roll*)  and our daughter. As we, and many other couples across the state, celebrate our first anniversary, I thought it would be a good time to revisit one of my favorite posts.   I still don’t think I captured the magic of the night quite adequately enough, but it’s the closest I can get.  Happy Anniversary to our family, and to so many others.

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May 1, 2013 approximately 2:00 a.m.

May 1, 2013 approximately 2:00 a.m.

Colorado’s Civil Unions Act went into effect on May 1, 2013. Denver and Boulder County Clerks took the date quite literally and opened their offices to the public at 12:01 a.m. to begin issuing civil union licenses. Jodi is on the Board of Directors for OutBoulder, the local LGBT non-profit organization that coordinated with the Boulder County Clerk for the midnight celebration.  Thus, she was already going to be present and we took the Divine Miss M along to witness history.

We didn’t go that night intending to get our civil union, though Jodi and I had been engaged for over a year.  One night out of the blue, she presented me with a scrapbook, on every page a different theme and pictures from our life together. When I flipped to the last page, I saw the words, “Will you marry me?” I said yes, obviously, as I’m wise enough to know how rare a find she is.  We waited on a ceremony, hoping it would come with not only our own promises of faith and commitment but also legal recognition as well.  When that hope was realized with the passage of the Civil Unions Act in March, we began to talk about when and what kind of ceremony we wanted. We had strongly considered May 1st but we are blessed with family members who quickly informed us they wanted to be present. So, we decided we would wait until late summer or fall so others could attend.

As the midnight celebration came together, the beauty of this event began to unfold. Businesses and people donated items, including an anonymous ally who donated a long-stemmed red rose for every couple.  In what became known as the “Party Room,” there was a DJ and dancing.  PFLAG of Boulder County and other groups brought cake, food and sparkling cider.  There were gift bags for the couples. A local photographer, who was an absolute angel, set up in one corner and offered a free photo shoot to every couple. The generosity of the entire Boulder community was out in full force.  In one hallway, dubbed “Blessing Alley,” numerous faith leaders, pastors and laity decorated the area with small tables, flowers and candles and were present to bless unions and conduct ceremonies, including our own Pastor Bruns.

And then the couples themselves began to arrive, along with their children, families and friends!  Couples of every single age group, some in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, many of whom had been waiting decades for a day like this. There were also people who weren’t there for any particular couple, but just wanted to be present for the moment it all began, who thought they’d never see the day and stood by into the wee hours to cheer and support and just experience.

The County Clerk’s office is on the second floor.  OutBoulder loosely organized couples in sequential order, calling for them in groups of five or ten, some in casual clothes, formal suits, tuxes, wedding gowns, one couple and their friends all in pajamas.  I watched from the crowd as the first five couples went up the stairs at 12:01 a.m. and into the office. The crowd below cheered and cheered and as each couple came back down those same stairs with their license, the crowd blew bubbles and cheered even more.  Miss M was assigned the task of official bubble blower, a role she relished and performed dutifully, when she wasn’t trying to sneak more cake.

In all, there were between 250-300 people, they filled the party room, the hallways and the stairs. The excitement in the air, the happiness and the celebratory nature was the closest to palpable I’ve ever experienced.  It was impossible to look around and not get choked up at the truly innocent nature of why everyone was so happy.  We were being recognized as valid, we were being offered rights and responsibilities.  That was all it was, and it was everything. Everyone was just happy.  Or, maybe the right word is joyful. Laughter and smiles and a pure, simple unadulterated joy I’ll likely never be able to replicate in my lifetime spilled through the crowd, shining on everyone’s faces and echoing off the walls.

I began weaving through the crowd in the hallways and Party Room, peaking down Blessing Alley to watch a few ceremonies, always finding my way back to Jodi, who was helping near the stairs, to watch the ascending and descending couples.  A woman next to me was smiling and clapping and said to her friends, “This is a lot different than when we were here protesting in 2004! Did you think we’d ever see this?!” I wasn’t here in 2004 so I don’t know that particular protest but I can certainly imagine.  Taking it all in, I had to reflect on the road to get there, the good and the bad.  How many hours of legislative committee hearings and endless floor debates had we listened to exactly?  30? 50? We’d met with legislators, trying to persuade them to recognize our family. One particular night we’d spent at the Capital sitting through a seven-hour Judicial Committee hearing. I’d squeezed Jodi’s hand until it surely hurt when they finally took the last vote, while also silently willing them to hurry because it was later than we’d told the sitter and we needed to get home. (Yes, it’s a radical gay agenda at our house, let me tell you.)  I’d known this was supposed to be the year but I tried not to let my hopes get too high.  Then, finally, the Act passed, the Governor enthusiastically signed and May 1st had arrived as the first official day.

It didn’t take long that night for us to realize we didn’t want to leave the County Clerk’s office without our own civil union. May 1st had been the day at the forefront of our minds since that final vote in the House in March.  This was what we fought for, this was the culmination of talking, persuading, debating, getting knocked down but showing back up. It was historical and well, magical.

We talked with M who nearly bowled us over in the crowd with her enthusiasm.  We spoke with our Pastor and asked that he bless our union and sign our license, and that we would do our full exchange of vows later with family present. He readily agreed. I told our friend, Aubree, who was organizing the couples, to add us to the end and about an hour later, at 2:15 a.m., we became the official “last couple up the stairs.”

And then unexpectedly, the County Clerk employees added a whole other layer of memories. When we ascended the stairs and went into the office, there were around 10-15 employees present who were utterly thrilled to be there – in the middle of the night – and made it clear they’d been looking forward to this night/morning for years.  I read later that some even worked in different departments and had volunteered because they wanted to be a part of it all. There was as much joy upstairs as downstairs. Molly, the clerk who did our paperwork, was actually disappointed when we told her we were the last couple. Aside from what it felt like personally, when you have a 12-year-old child who has watched and experienced a government refusing to recognize your family, it was a marvelous, beautiful thing for Molly to sit across from all three of us and make us feel like it was her privilege and honor to usher in our recognition.  I will never, ever forget her.

We filled out our paperwork and were given our license, then we descended the stairs to be greeted with cheers and shouts from the still present crowd.   When we got to the end of the hallway with our pastor, I realized it was snowing outside, a perfect addition. I took Jodi’s hand and Pastor Bruns said a beautiful blessing over our union.  Then he took our hands in his and said a prayer.  And yes, for those that know me, I may have shed a tear or two and maybe even had our pastor choked up.  There was much hugging and laughing and the Divine Miss M was beside herself with excitement. Then we signed our license, along with our Pastor and our friends, who acted as witnesses. We headed back into the Clerk’s office and it was official.

I’ve certainly tried but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe the evening in a way that feels adequate.  We are going to start the adoption proceedings now and soon we won’t be Jodi, Jen and M, anymore, we’ll just be the Martins, a regular family.

Posted in Boulder, Colorado, Family, Rights and Legal Stuff, Us | Leave a comment

The Shoe of Society

The Divine Miss M and her dear friend, the Non-Conformist*, made this Shoe of Society collage this weekend.

The product of intelligent and independent Seventh Graders.

The product of intelligent and independent 7th grade girls.

In their words, the left side represents societal views of women, dominated by pink. The right side represents more independent thinking, accomplishments, “some pink but less pink” (I personally loved the Title Nine inclusion).  The ballerina in the center is dancing her way over to the right side, while breaking out of the final Shoe of Society clamped firmly on her foot.

They declared that from now on whenever they see aspects of society that try to pigeonhole women or hold them back, they’ll recognize that as a “Shoe of Society.”

Wow … that’s so much more than I was doing at 7th grade sleepovers.

I would LOVE to take full credit for Miss M’s feministic views and no doubt we encourage independent thinking, individuality, choices and the idea that there isn’t anything she can’t accomplish.  But in reality, the biggest seed for this aspect of her personality was unwittingly planted by the world, not us.

When she was in First Grade, I was reading The Magic Tree House series to her. The books feature two children who go back in time to historical places and events. In one particular book, they went to Greece during the first Olympics. While there, they met a girl about their age who was being educated in secret.  M asked why it would need to be in secret and I explained that during that time period and in some places today, girls were/are not allowed to receive an education.  Her sweet little face looked at me so quickly and she snapped, with incredulity, “What?!”  To a child who had never known anything but a family that placed priority on school and learning, this was utterly foreign but even I hadn’t anticipated the depth of her reaction.  From that moment forward, without any prodding from us, she was extremely cognizant of any distinctions made by people, books, society in general between boys and girls, men and women.  It was actually quite fascinating and as you can see from above, still is.

*Moniker chosen by her personally. ;)

Posted in Growing Up, Parenting, Shoe of Society | 2 Comments

The Voices in My Head – My Messy Beautiful

Jen's Blog

We are not careful with each other, or with ourselves.

On paper, my life is impressive. Or maybe it’s more that the paper in my life is impressive. On my walls hang diplomas – Bachelor of Arts, Juris Doctorate (With Honors, no less, emblazoned right there on the degree), license to practice law from two states. Newspaper articles, newsletters referencing my involvement in the community – advocating for justice, volunteering my time on boards and committees and for various social work. Ever more importantly, a Civil Union license meaning someone chose to build a life with me. Lots of paper evidencing a sassy and brilliant 13-year-old daughter. Photographs and cards from friends and family who all seem to consider me important.

Looking at all this paper documenting my life, it appears I’ve turned out alright. Words abound reflecting a multitude of people who love me, intelligence, success, priorities mostly in order.

Here’s the thing, I don’t think the voices in my head can read.

If they could, they’d surely cut me some slack.

Instead, they constantly berate me for my shortcomings, failings, mistakes. They whisper, which is worse than shouting: you’re worthless and unwanted; you’re careless with your partner’s feelings; you screw up parenting all the time; your daughter’s anger issues are because of your own; you throw snarky comments at your best friends; you’re selfish and mean-spirited; you’re petty and vengeful; you hate easily; it’s your fault; you’re demanding and impossible to please; you’re never happy; you’re life hasn’t made any difference, doesn’t mean anything. You are a failure.

And every shortcoming they point out is prefaced with if you were a better lawyer, a better litigator, a better spouse, a better daughter, a better in-law, a better parent, a better friend, a better communicator … always if I were just BETTER.

While I’ve written before about struggles with depression, this isn’t that. This is just my normal.

I’d like to go a day, get through a social event, or worse, a family gathering, without the voices analyzing how everything played out. If I might have said anything wrong, if anyone mistook my words, if I inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings. It can’t possibly be normal to go through a mental and masochistic debriefing every time I have contact with people.

The anxiety doesn’t even wait until afterward, it’s during. In my head, while I’m talking to others, it’s like live action commentary of a football game, followed by hours upon hours of replay analysis. Trust me, ESPN has nothing on my brain and family gatherings are like the Super Bowl.

And these worries, they smack of narcissism. People are not obsessed with my every word, for God’s sake. To be this concerned indicates I think they are. … Maybe if you were less self-absorbed …

It. Is. Exhausting. And limiting. It makes me fearful, cowardly. Afraid to try new things because what if you fail, what if it doesn’t go well …. Visiting with friends or family … you’re saying that wrong; they’d rather you go; are you sure they want to know you that well? Every single time I post something on my blog … no-one reads anything you write, you’re not saying anything worthwhile, no-one’s going to look at this.

I’m not alone in this. The voices may take different forms but when I dig deeper with people, I find being self-abusive in our thinking is almost universal. Why is that? I have said that people are not careful with each other, but at times it’s even truer for how we treat ourselves. One of my favorite quotes is, “If someone treated your best friend like you treat yourself, you’d kick their a**.” Oh, how very amen. After all, the voices in our heads are really just our own.

When someone comes to me about how they have fumbled parenting, let their spouse or best friend catch the brunt of their bad mood, let old resentments interfere in relationships, ruminated on revenge instead of forgiveness – words of compassion come quickly and easily. I remind them that life is indescribably amazing and impossibly hard, we can try our best and yet we have so little control, we experience resounding successes and spectacular failures and sometimes, well, we just flat screw it up, don’t we? We make the wrong call, say the wrong thing, we even fail, god forbid. But failing is not the same as failure – something the voices will never acknowledge. There are no perfect parents, no perfect spouses, no perfect daughters, friends, family and no-one who says the right thing all the time.

Yes, I can offer that so easily and sincerely to others. I can wrap people in words of compassion. But the voices don’t listen any better than they read.

Still, in spite of those ever-present mutterings, I can’t logically look at my life and conclude I’m a coward or failure. Two years ago, my partner and I gathered our daughter, our pets, our belongings, our careers and left Oklahoma. We moved to Colorado to start a new life in search of community and friendship. We started a new business in a town where we knew no-one and had no connections. It was equal shades bravery and insanity, and deliriously freeing. No matter how hard it has been and is, I am endlessly proud we had the nerve to do it. We are happy on some substantive level I’d not previously known, our daughter is thriving and our business is growing, slowly yes but growing.

Every day I wake up in a place I never thought to live, with a partner I never thought to find. I make myself do the things that scare me, in defiance of the whispers telling me all the reasons to do otherwise. I know how much effort it takes to overcome myself. I have to see that part as an additional accomplishment when I try new things, interact with people, post something on a blog …

We are none perfect.  We are all messy and beautiful. It is our individuality, our nuances, faults, quirks and sometimes just plain weirdness that make us who we are. We should strive to love that person, embrace her, offer her the compassion you offer your best friend – that is the definition of being careful with ourselves. And achieving it might quiet the voices.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Posted in Random thoughts, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Embarrassing Mom Moments – the Porn Wolves

They do it when you least expect it.

The Divine Miss M’s elementary school always had Open House about a week after school started.  I had particular fondness for Open House. Meet the teacher, find out the new class rules and procedures – all while it was too early in the year for said teacher to be pulling me aside to discuss a certain child’s behavior.  Back then, I considered the first few weeks of school “the honeymoon period” – for both me and the teacher. The only difference being I knew we were in the romance stage, the teacher was sadly oblivious.  Add the fact I knew most of the parents in the school and Open House was barely short of a party.

Second Grade’s Open House, though, held an unexpected surprise.

Her school’s mascot was the Wise Wolf and each student in her class was supposed to draw a Wise Wolf to put on display in the hallway right outside their door.  I unsuspectingly headed to her classroom and, with many many parents around me in the hallway, the Divine Miss M proudly pointed out her drawing:

Porn Wolves

Mother of God. I stood there, stunned, with my face (and ears, as Jodi will tell you) turning 500 shades of red.   I don’t recall what I said at first but I remember trying to keep a neutral expression on my face as she was telling me all about her drawing – that she was pointing at directly so I couldn’t even pretend we were discussing any other picture on the wall.  I found myself asking what her wolves were doing and as soon as I uttered the words, I panicked internally with what she might answer. But instead, she responded like I was an idiot, saying, “They’re playing.”

After we were in the classroom a while, I tried to convince myself maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.  Later in the hallway, I  grabbed the elbow of a parent I knew and told them to look at M’s picture. She immediately gasped and brought her hand to her mouth. Dammit, it was exactly as bad as I thought.  The Labor Coach, who knows not an ounce of loyalty during a moment of need, laughed until I thought she was going to hurt herself and then dubbed them ‘the Porn Wolves.’  A name that stuck as that artwork turned into legend.

The Divine Miss M will have children of her own someday. I hope they like art as much as she does.  If so, I might make a point of attending all their Open Houses.

Posted in Chosen tribe, Parenting, Us | 6 Comments

Ignoring Birth Control as Health Care

That tiny little thing is why I've been able to avoid a hysterectomy for the past several years.  It also costs $1000.

That tiny little thing is why I’ve been able to avoid a hysterectomy for the past several years. It also costs $1000.

I am oddly prudish about discussing anything female-related and discussing sex. I am way too old to feel this way.  Even discussing these things with my Chosen Tribe, I find myself whispering and looking over my shoulder to make sure no-one else can hear – to their great delight, I can assure you.

Having said all that, after hearing the oral arguments yesterday before the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby (“HL”) case, I feel compelled to discuss a few things about my own medical history.  I’m flabbergasted at how often it is overlooked ignored that thousands of women use contraception for medical reasons unrelated to controlling birth.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m a lesbian.  I’m also a lesbian in a long-term, committed relationship.  Obviously one of the benefits of such a life is that neither of us should need to use birth control. However, I have an IUD, one of the most expensive forms of contraception available.  And I have it for medical reasons.

When I was 33, I went to my doctor due to specific and extremely problematic issues I’d been experiencing. An ultrasound and other examinations revealed I had developed polyps in my uterus along with a very rough (I forget the medical term) uterine lining.  The polyps were removed and the lining was scraped. Luckily for me, after the torturous three day wait on the testing, the polyps were benign.  However, my doctor and another agreed that over time, the same things were likely to develop again. I was presented with four options:

(1) Hysterectomy – I was 33, M was a little girl, I was nowhere near ready to say I absolutely for certain didn’t want more children. Plus, that’s an extremely expensive and invasive procedure with other long-term effects.  It was also unnecessary because I had the next three options.

(2) Birth Control Pills – I tried, I did, but I didn’t do well on those at all. Some made me nauseous and others gave me migraines, which then made me literally vomit.  I learned that some women just don’t do well on birth control pills. I was one of them.

(3) Progesterone – you know what makes a woman so exhausted during her first trimester of pregnancy? The progesterone hormone suddenly coursing through her. I was a full time lawyer raising a young daughter. I already fought fatigue.  Living that way perpetually was not a realistic option. By afternoon, my words were practically slurring I was so exhausted.

(4) IUD – Intra-Uterine Device. It keeps the lining of the uterus extremely thin and has very little side effects (actually none that I’ve been able to tell). The problem?  Without insurance, it costs approximately $1000.  Luckily, my insurance covered it or I simply would not have been able to obtain this.  It is a medical necessity for me – unless I want to have a hysterectomy.

I had many thoughts while reading the transcript of yesterday’s Supreme Court arguments (yes, I do that.  I’m a con law nerd to the highest degree).  I’ll list four here.  First, just thank God for female Justices.  They were amazing.  Second, how is it we could be listening to a Supreme Court Justice note that HL is only objecting to three or four birth controls (again, IUDs are two of them) and then ask “that’s not terribly expensive stuff, is it?”  Wow.  Love how informed Justice Scalia is on the facts, not that he generally allows facts to get in his way, of course.  Luckily for my blood pressure, General Verrilli responded that IUDs were the most effective but also most cost-prohibitive forms of contraception.  $1000 is not something I could have even come close to shelling out last year when it was time to have my IUD replaced (which hurts like absolute hell, by the way.  The joys of being a woman.).  Third, a bit of an aside, I appreciated Justice Sotomayor’s reference, albeit briefly, to HL’s hypocrisy in that prior to the ACA, HL’s employee insurance plans actually covered two of the very contraceptives they’re complaining about now. After the ACA requirements went into effect, it specifically changed its insurance plan to exclude those. This resulted in its no longer coming under the ACA’s grandfather clause, which would have allowed it to avoid the requirement of covering the other two contraceptive methods about which they now complain.  Then they brought their lawsuit.

Fourth, and most importantly, I am exceedingly concerned that there was not one single mention during oral arguments that birth control is often used for MEDICAL PURPOSES – the precise reason people have health insurance in the first place. I had a specific medical problem and in order to avoid an unnecessary surgery, I use an IUD – a decision I reached with my doctors after considering various medical options.  It is astounding to me that, depending on the summer’s ruling in this case, a corporate owner’s religious beliefs could trump that decision and force a woman in my situation to have a hysterectomy when an IUD is available and would prevent it.    Frankly, I have a religious objection to that.

Surely we can do better than this absolute nonsense.

There are a dozen more legal issues wrapped up in this case, too many to address here. But I do want to mention that the possibility a corporate owner/shareholder/managing member could assert their religion in order to avoid compliance with federal laws will spell hell for the LGBT community.

As always, predicting a ruling based on oral arguments before the Supremes is a fool’s errand.  So, it’s yet another June wait.

 

Posted in Rights and Legal Stuff | 4 Comments

Reflecting on the Passing of Fred Phelps

We have a choice to make.

We have a choice to make.

As many of you know, Fred Phelps recently passed away.  He was the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church known for picketing funerals of Matthew Shepard and U.S. soldiers, as well as concerts and various other venues, with signs such as “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” I’ve been a little more preoccupied with his passing than I anticipated. Surprisingly, at least to me, there are some within the LGBT community who consider Mr. Phelps beneficial.  “Fred was a net positive for the LGBT community,” said Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen. “The organized Religious Right despised him. They would spend big money to concoct elaborate schemes that tried to make raw hate appear to be love. Then Fred would come along and foil their careful plans with a ‘God Hates Fags sign.’”

 I can see Mr. Besen’s point, though I’m not sure I can go so far as to see Mr. Phelps’ actions as beneficial.  However, with the recent ‘license to discriminate’ bills being considered by several states in which legislatures ponder allowing businesses to refuse service to gay customers all in the name of “protecting religious freedom,” there is something almost refreshing about someone approaching with the “God Hates Fags” sign.  It is, after all, easier to battle those wearing white hoods, easier when you know what you’re dealing with.

At his passing though, I’d prefer to concentrate on a truly positive thing surrounding Fred Phelps. One of the most immediate responses to the Westboro Baptist protests was people showing up to form human shields between the protesters and the funerals.  As far as I know, those forming the human shields didn’t usually know the families they were protecting and it’s likely some of them didn’t even support gay rights.  But those people, often strangers, came together because they not only recognized a wrong, a hurt being inflicted on others, but they stepped in to stop it. Over and over again we saw this somewhat spontaneous display of love and protection. As history has repeatedly shown us and what I occasionally hold on to with a white-knuckled grip, whenever individuals show us the absolute worst in humanity, other people respond by showing us the absolute best.  Ironically, Mr. Phelps’ protests often worked to restore my faith in those around me.

On that note, I hope when Mr. Phelps’ funeral arrives no-one pickets or protests, tempting as it may be.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint. A part of me feels relief he can no longer organize hatefulness and distraction during a time when people are experiencing levels of hurt and loss I can’t even fathom. Years from now, Mr. Phelps will be a footnote in the history books representing religious fanaticism. For many who are followers of Jesus, Phelps’ extreme beliefs are the antithesis of the unconditional love of the outcast Jesus practiced. Maybe Phelps’ life as a whole is nothing more than a lesson about hubris, the pride in being right that can blind us to everything else, including people.  If that is the only thing that can be said of one’s life, then it was a wasted one indeed.  I can’t feel more than sadness for that.

Many organizations have discouraged others from emulating Mr. Phelps’ actions at his passing, to let him instead go in peace.  I can’t disagree.  I also think people feel compelled to do something because of the helplessness we’ve felt at watching these actions over the years.  I can’t disagree with that, either.  But if we feel compelled to do anything, then let it be concentrating on opening not only our minds but also our hearts when dealing with those with whom we disagree.  Some have already started – when the Westboro Baptist Church showed up at a concert to protest after Phelps’ death, they were met with ‘counter-protesters’ who held this sign:

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 9.23.37 PM

Reacting to hate requires not only an immense amount of compassion, it takes courage and an affirmative decision to not turn a blind eye.  It takes showing up, as people have repeatedly done in forming human shields.  Seeing the worst of humanity is your opportunity to display the best. Remember this and you will find that even in the darkest of moments, there are always beacons of light and hope – you can be one of them. If we can do that, then today is not a day of remembering terrible things Mr. Phelps said or did, it’s a day of celebrating that even in the depths of hate, love can bear fruit.

… I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last …” John 15:16. I choose the fruit of compassion and I choose to show up.

Posted in Evidence of humanity, Lessons, Rights and Legal Stuff, Uncategorized | Leave a comment