The Perfect Summer
As I type this, the children are sitting in time out. Andrew is doing a repeated sigh, I can only assume he’d like me to know that he does not enjoy time out. Jordan is sobbing, because it’s not fair to have a time out for choking Andrew when Andrew deserved to be choked.
We’ve entered the hazy, lazy days of summer vacation. The ice cold drinks in the sun are punctuated only by the joyful sounds of children. No, wait. That’s not joy, it’s the sound of two little boys choking each other.
In summer, one day blends slowly into the next. It’s hard to say when one day ends and the next begins, as we sit in the endless twilight, enjoying the company of beloved family.
No, it’s 3:17 in the afternoon, which means that we’ve been on summer vacation for three and a half hours. Three hours and twenty minutes, if you only count from the time the children got off the school bus.
Here’s what I’ve done on my summer vacation:
I put on my hat and walk to the end of the driveway, waiting for Jordan’s bus. It’s beautiful out. I scroll through twitter on my phone while I sit on the retaining wall at the edge of the driveway.
Jordan arrives home. His bus driver, who adores him, wishes him a wonderful summer.
Jordan is on the floor, sobbing. He wanted to drive to New Jersey to visit my in-laws. Today. Because it’s summer vacation now, isn’t it? Our trip to visit them at the end of May was too long ago, and “also it was boring because it was too short and short trips don’t count as trips and I don’t love Bubbe and Zayde anymore anyway and I do not want to see them. EVER. AGAIN.”
Jordan has calmed down, and would like a snack. I explain that we’ll be having lunch in about five minutes, as soon as Andrew’s bus drops him off. Jordan sobs again.
Jordan curls up on the couch with his stuffed cat. I go to meet Andrew’s bus.
Andrew’s bus arrives.
Andrew hates lunch, but he’s glad we’re eating outside on the new patio. Jordan spilled his milk, and he “hates lunch even though I ate it all and if you make the same thing again I will not eat it and I will not eat lunch outside again. NOT. EVER. AGAIN.”
All of the boys’ toys are boring, and the only way they will have any fun this summer is if I take them out to buy new toys or let them play on the Wii U.
Andrew tickles Jordan. Jordan chokes Andrew.
Andrew takes the Lego pieces Jordan was playing with. Jordan slaps Andrew.
Andrew would like to do some homework. So he does.
One hour of Mario. No one hits, no one bites, no one screams, no one scratches.
The hour is over. Jordan is on the floor, sobbing.
We’re in time out again, because we can’t stop fighting.
I’m pretty good at breaking an egg with one hand.
I realize that this falls pretty far short of being a super power, but it makes me feel competent in the kitchen. I don’t have any other particularly identifiable cooking skills. I do fine, but I make a mess, and I take longer than people who are actually good at cooking. But breaking an egg? I do great.
Whack side of sink. Crack over bowl. Shell in the garbage disposal.
This morning, I made myself some scrambled eggs. But instead of my usual skill, I goofed it up. Instead of popping open the first egg over the bowl, I opened it right down the garbage disposal. Not because I hit it too hard on the side of the sink and it leaked out. No, I just dumped it right down the drain.
I made a mistake, obviously. My first thought wasn’t, “Oops,” though. I went immediately to degenerative brain disease. It’s been ten years since my aunt died, and I remember the dismissal of her earliest symptoms. She complained that she’d find herself standing in a room with no idea why she had gone there, and my family said, “Yes, that’s called getting old.”
It’s not that the answer was a bad one. I’ve put the milk away in the cabinet instead of the refrigerator. I’ve put a tea kettle on the stove and come back an hour later to find a broken, dry tea kettle smoldering. These are signs of distraction, not a degenerative brain disease. Except that sometimes they are the signs of a degenerative brain disease.
My maternal grandmother is in hospice care. She lives in a nursing home, and has had a steady decline since my grandfather died four years ago. She’s moved from sometimes confused to often confused, from often confused to usually confused. Now we only get a rare glimpse of the person we know and love.
The staff at the nursing home have been wonderful, but they’ll never know my grandmother. My mother and I laugh whenever someone at the nursing home describes my grandmother as “sweet,” or “cute.”
“There are lots of words I’d use to describe Nana,” says my mother, “but ‘sweet’ and ‘cute’ will never be on that list.”
My Nana was an English teacher. She retired on June 19, 1978. I know the date because I happened to be born on the last day of school that year. She is whip smart, and possessed of a biting sense of humor. I like to think that she invented the side eye.
She could do flawless impressions of people. Not extended performances, but if she was telling you a story about something someone said, their words came out of her mouth in their voice, not her own.
In the mid 80s, when my brother was probably 4 or 5, she baked us a batch of chocolate chip cookies. My brother told Nana that her cookies were good, but “not as good as Almost Home,” a brand of packaged cookies my mother would often buy. I don’t think Nana ever quite forgave my brother for that slight.
Nana mostly sleeps these days, and if she happens to be awake, her speech is infrequent and incoherent. On Friday, when my mother visited, Nana was annoyed. She snapped my mother, snapped at my father, snapped at the social worker from hospice. When they went for a walk, the social director of the nursing home put her hand on my grandmother’s arm and said good morning.
My grandmother grabbed the woman’s hand and dug her nails in. My mother had to pry her fingers off.
The woman shrugged it off and said, “Oh, Agnes, you’re surprisingly strong.”
My mother laughed as she told me, “Now that’s the mother I remember.”
On Saturday morning, the boys had waffles for breakfast. Andrew really likes pancakes and waffles, in part because we let him practice using a knife. Neither of the boys has great fine motor control, so practicing with a knife is a lot of work for him, and it just doesn’t always go the way he wants.
This was especially the case with his waffles.
I’m not entirely sure how it happened. I know that I couldn’t reproduce it if you gave me a hundred waffles on which to try. Before Andrew managed to take a single bite of his waffle, before any portion of it was cut from the whole, his waffle was somehow airborne. It flipped end over end, almost in slow motion, and plummeted toward the floor.
It did not hit the floor, of course, because the world’s happiest dog caught it and swallowed it in one triumphant gulp. She waits under the table at every meal, because she is no fool. She knows where food falls. But a whole waffle? This was no accident. Buffy was certain that Andrew had given her the greatest gift a child can give to a dog.
So the humans are all silent for a moment, taken aback by the sight of a flying waffle. But Buffy knows what you do when someone does something nice for you, so she trots over to Andrew to thank him. Her tail is wagging so far from side to side that her entire back half is waving with it, and she rests her head on his lap.
Part of Andrew knows that this is funny. But another part of him is certain that he has LOST HIS WAFFLE FOREVER. He’s trying to hold back his tears, but it’s a struggle. There’s a sharp intake of air after every word.
“I <gasp!> know <gasp!> that <gasp!> you <gasp!> didn’t <gasp!> mean <gasp!> to <gasp!> take <gasp!> my <gasp!> waffle, <gasp!> Buffy! But <gasp!> I <gasp!> really <gasp!> wanted <gasp!> to <gasp!> eat <gasp!> that.”
Once Austin and I were able to stop laughing long enough to reassure Andrew that we would replace the waffle, everything returned to normal pretty quickly. But Buffy, who usually thinks Jordan is a more reliable source of food, has been standing a lot closer to Andrew at meals now.
Food can still be sort of fraught for my kids. It’s better now than it used to be. Usually it’s safe to mention food in front of Jordan these days. A couple of years ago, if you mentioned food outside of mealtime — “I think I’ll make spaghetti for supper today” or “What’s your favorite food?” — it was likely to trigger epic crying and screaming. The idea of food was just too much. Too powerful.
It still holds a certain power. Last week, I had a call from the psychologist at Andrew’s school. He had been late getting to class a couple of days in a row, because he was in the cafeteria eating breakfast.
A few times this year, Andrew has taken it upon himself to buy breakfast after I take him to school. His lunch money is on an account with the school, so if he buys two meals instead of one, we won’t notice until he runs out of money sooner than we expect.
The first time he started buying breakfast, it was a conversation.
“Are you hungry when you get to school? You have breakfast at home every morning, and you bring a snack to have in the morning.”
No, not hungry.
“Would you rather have breakfast at school instead of at home?”
No, he hates the idea of waiting until he’s at school to eat.
“Ok, so then you’ll eat breakfast at home, and not at school. You really don’t need to buy breakfast at school.”
The second time he started eating breakfast at school, we had the same conversation. Not hungry, not willing to wait for breakfast. Great, then stop buying breakfast. We eat when we’re hungry. If you’re hungry, let me know, and we’ll get you more food.
The third time he started buying breakfast, he realized he could eat slowly, and then saunter into class fifteen minutes late. It’s hard to blame the teachers in the cafeteria for letting him be late. They assume, and I suspect it’s usually a good assumption, that kids who are buying breakfast probably need that breakfast.
So this time I spoke to the teachers in the cafeteria. They had suspected something was unusual — most kids buy breakfast more regularly than my son, and most of them don’t wait until their parents are out of sight to buy it. I had kind of hoped that it was something he’d be able to manage — Dad told me not to buy breakfast, so I won’t buy breakfast. — but it looks like he needs some adult assistance to stop himself.
A couple of weeks ago, we went to a Bar Mitzvah for one of Austin’s cousins. We had a good time, and it’s always nice to see Austin’s extended family, who are fantastic. But despite warnings that it was almost time to leave, both kids were in tears as we went out the doors. Jordan was crying because … well, because there was a transition, and we always cry at transitions.
Andrew, though, was upset about two things:
- Austin and I were irresponsible parents, and we had let him eat too much, and now his tummy hurt.
- Austin and I also were mean parents, and would not let him have any more ice cream.
I tried to explain that those were really mutually exclusive things to be upset about, but you can imagine that kind of argument doesn’t have much weight.
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Consumerism
To say that my dad loves Christmas is more than just an understatement. It would be like saying, “Hey, let’s watch some reruns of my favorite old tv show, I Kind of Like Lucy.” Or maybe that the characters in a Nicholas Sparks novel are fond of each other. My dad looks at Christmas with the kind of glee that most people reserve for winning the lottery. (It’s the kind of glee that I reserve for a night when marriage equality becomes reality in three more states.)
My dad’s Christmas-mania extends to all things winter. When snow is predicted, he can’t sleep through the night. He wakes up hourly, hops out of bed, and looks out the window to see if it’s snowing yet, or how much has accumulated. It drives my mother crazy, but after forty years, I suspect she’s less annoyed by it than she lets on.
The last two years, we’ve had a pretty low-key Christmas morning at my house. We do the whole Santa thing, but the boys don’t seem to get too bonkers with anticipation. They wake up on Christmas morning, open some presents, have breakfast, play for a little while, and then we spend the rest of the day with my parents and extended family at my parents’ house.
Last week, I suggested adding a new activity to the Christmas Day lineup.
“Hey, Mom,” I said, “I was thinking that maybe it would be fun for you and Dad to come have breakfast with us on Christmas morning. You could see the boys open their presents, and they’d think it was fun.”
She wasn’t convinced. “They’ll want to get up and open their presents awfully early, won’t they?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, “I can probably hold them off until 7:30 or 7:45 without a problem.”
The line was quiet. I know that getting up for breakfast madness at the crack of dawn is not Mom’s idea of a good time.
“We’ll see,” she said.
“Ok, but be careful. If you mention it to Dad while you’re still thinking about it, you won’t have a choice anymore.”
We spoke again on Saturday.
“I mentioned your Christmas idea to your Dad yesterday,” she said.
This is good. My mother can be a little slow to warm up to an idea, but mentioning it to Dad meant that she must be on board. I mean, sure, getting up early is annoying, but there are only so many chances to watch the boys open presents on Christmas morning while they’re still young.
“I assume Dad jumped up and down like the boys would?” I asked.
“No,” she laughed. “He said, ‘Maybe we can go to their house on Christmas Eve, after the boys are asleep! Then we could sleep there, and surprise the boys when they wake up in the morning.'”
“You’d certainly be welcome,” I said.
“I tried to remind him that we’ll have houseguests at own house that night,” she said.
“Well, it’s up to you guys,” I said. “I’m going to try to get a Wii U tomorrow, and if I do, it’ll be a very exciting Christmas morning.”
On Sunday morning, I got up before the boys were awake, and drove to the local Target. We like to joke that it’s the secret Target, because there’s never anyone there. You can go there on a Saturday and not see another customer. But when I got there a little before 7:30 on Sunday, there was already a small line of people waiting for the store to open at 8AM. I was seventh in a line of very cold, but very friendly, people.
I thought I was all set. I mean, certainly there would be enough consoles for seven people. Over the next little while, the line kept growing. A few minutes before 8AM, there were probably thirty people waiting. Literally, that’s more people than I have ever seen at this quiet little Target.
The manager came out. He asked if everyone was waiting for a Wii U. Obviously we were. Then he let us know that his store only had four of them. Oops.
Well, the local Best Buy was going to open at 11AM. I have limits, and I wasn’t going to stand in line outside Best Buy for three hours on a cold Sunday morning. I went home and had breakfast.
I said to Austin, “Ok, I’ll drive by Best Buy at 9:30. If there’s a long line, I’ll just come home. If there’s only a few people, I’ll try waiting until they open.”
So I made some coffee and drove over to Best Buy. There was no one waiting. Too good to be true? I parked, and walked up to the door. A few minutes later, a woman got out of her car and walked up to me.
“Are you waiting for a Wii?” she asked.
“I think you’re in luck,” she said. “There were a few of us waiting at 7, and the manager gave us tickets when he got here. He gave out six, and said he had four more. I haven’t seen him give out any tickets since then.”
Turns out I didn’t have to wait very long. They decided to open the store an hour early to get rid of the crazy people camping out on Sunday morning for a Wii U.
I got a ticket, and the manager said how glad he was that he worked in the suburbs now.
“I used to manage the Boston store,” he said. “I will never forget the launch of the PS3. We had to call the police, and they came in riot gear. This is much nicer.”
Much nicer, indeed. They had enough that everyone who was waiting was able to get one.
That was most of my Christmas shopping taken care of right there, in one swipe of the credit card. The boys are totally going to lose their minds when they see a Wii U under the Christmas tree.
I might lose my mind, too. There’s a new game console in the spare bedroom closet, with a new Mario game, and I have to just leave it there for a whole month.
I had never considered this possibility when I thought about becoming a parent.
The other day, I joked to Austin that “first grade is like the black box on an airplane. We’ll only find out what’s inside when it crashes.”
In some ways, I think no news is good news. I’ve had very brief conversations with the school psychologist and with the special education teacher who supervises Andrew’s classroom. It sounds like there’s not much to say because the things going on are the things we expect. But I’ve found myself missing the daily communication that came with preschool and kindergarten.
When I pick up Jordan from preschool, his teacher always lets me know how his day was, even if it’s just a quick “great day today, buddy!” directed at my son. When it’s a more complicated day, she tells me about the specifics.
This week, though, I had one of those phone calls that I was a little surprised I hadn’t received in the last six weeks. Andrew’s gym teacher called me.
“I just want to start by saying that Andrew is fine. He hasn’t been injured. Parents are always worried when I call,” she began.
Her list of concerns about Andrew’s behavior in her class was exactly what I would expect. He fails to follow directions, doesn’t attend to tasks, and can’t keep his hands to himself.
“Yes,” I said, “those are definitely the kind of challenges Andrew has in a classroom.”
It’s why he has an aide in his classroom, but it sounds like the gym teacher isn’t really kept in the loop on that. Actually, it sounds a little like she’s left in the lurch with no assistance.
I couldn’t help feeling that she expected me to have a solution for her, something I would say that would fix the problem. It’s something my best friend and I had talked about just the other day, too, that we’re just not shocked enough when teachers call us.
“I swear to god,” she said, “the next time his teacher calls me, I’m just going to say, ‘My son is autistic?!?! I had no idea!'”
It’s hard not to feel like you’re falling short as a parent when people keep looking to you for solutions that you don’t have.
A Gay Dad Responds to Rupert Everett
This morning, via Joe.My.God., I had the misfortune of reading an interview with Rupert Everett in the Telegraph. You may or may not want to read the whole thing, but the money quote is short and sweet:
I can’t think of anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads. Some people might not agree with that. Fine! That’s just my opinion. I’m not speaking on behalf of the gay community. In fact, I don’t feel like I’m part of any ‘community.’ The only community I belong to is humanity and we’ve got too many children on the planet, so it’s good not to have more.
Where to begin?
I can think of a few things that are worse than being brought up by two gay dads, Rupert. Would you like some examples? Shall we talk about about how my children came to be in foster care?
My sons lived in a home where they played in animal waste. Their mom tried to take care of animals and children, but didn’t know how to take care of either. So the animals and children didn’t have enough food. I’m pretty sure there was at least one dead animal present one of the times my sons were removed from their home.
Is that worse than being raised by two gay dads?
When my older son was four, a foster parent brought him to the dentist for the first time. His teeth were literally rotting out of his head from neglect. He had to get six crowns, in addition to a whole bunch of fillings. I know how unpleasant getting a crown was at the age of thirty. I can’t imagine what it might have been like at the age of four.
Is that worse than being raised by two gay dads?
Once, my older son arrived at daycare and told his teachers that “Daddy hits Mommy.” Another time, neighbors called the police when they heard a dispute. The police found my sons’ parents assaulting each other on the bed next to my younger son. He was not yet one week old.
Is that worse than being raised by two gay dads?
My younger son once arrived at daycare with burns on his hands. His parents had been using the oven to heat their apartment, and my son tried to climb in.
Is that worse than being raised by two gay dads?
How about the foster parents that called the social workers and said they couldn’t handle my younger son anymore? He couldn’t see food without screaming, probably because he had so often been hungry. He was two and still couldn’t speak, so his only means of communication were screaming and crying.
Is that worse than being raised by two gay dads?
What about the next foster home, where my younger son was assaulted? He had bruises all over his face, even behind his ears, and the doctors couldn’t identify what item had been pressed into his face so hard that they could still see the pattern when he was finally brought to the emergency room. Maybe the sole of a shoe, or a tennis racket. Something with a pattern like that.
How about that, Rupert? Is that worse than being raised by two gay dads?
Listen, I understand that you were a trailblazer. You came out when I was in high school. And it mattered. It made a difference. It was meaningful to me.
And I also understand that you paid a heavy price for coming out. Your career has not recovered. Though I have to be honest — sometimes I wonder if part of the reason your career hasn’t gone where you hoped is that you seem unable to give an interview without saying something hateful and embarrassing. If I were producing a film, I expect I would want that film to be the story, and not the internalized homophobia of its stars on display. You might want to give that some thought.
But I would ask you to think back twenty years, Rupert. When you decided to come out, what motivated you? Did you hope you could make a difference? Well, you did make a difference. At least one kid — me — saw you, and knew that things would get better.
You’re making a difference again, Rupert, when you give interviews like the one you gave to the Telegraph. But it’s the wrong kind of difference.
UPDATE 9/17/2012: I wrote a brief followup to respond to a couple of reactions to this post.
Failure to Launch
Our new morning routine is working pretty well. Austin gets up and gets ready for work, the boys get up and Austin gets them ready and feeds them breakfast while I get up and get ready. Austin heads to work, then the boys and I get in the car. Jordan’s school starts at 8:30, so we drop him off, and then Andrew gets dropped off at 8:45. I’m back home by 9:00, and have a luxurious nearly two hours before it’s time to pick Jordan up at 11:00.
Yesterday was only the second day of preschool, so a lot of the kids are still nervous about being dropped off. This school does a car line (which is awesome), and yesterday there was a very sad little boy ahead of us in line. I’ve seen some sad kids in the first weeks of school, but haven’t yet seen one quite as upset as Jordan’s new classmate. He really seemed to think his mom was driving away, never to come back.
Once Jordan gets out of the car, I have about five minutes alone with Andrew in the car. This is the time of day when we get our best talking done. There are no distractions, so he can actually pay attention long enough to get his thoughts together.
Andrew had noticed the little boy crying and screaming, and asked me about it. I explained that it was only his second day of school, and he was scared.
“Remember when some of the kids at your old school were scared? I remember how sad Aidan was for the first couple of weeks, but then he realized that he loved school. And remember how scared Aubrey was, and she wanted you to hold her hand all day?” I reminded him.
“I wasn’t scared about starting a new school, though,” he said.
“No,” I said, “you get really excited about it. But you’ve had a lot of practice. You went to daycare when you were very little, and then you went to Headstart, and then preschool.”
He was quiet for a moment, then said, “That’s not all.”
“When I was little, I lived with different families, too. So I had lots of practice meeting new people and going new places.”
“You’re right, you did,” I said. “You’ve had a lot of practice.”
“I don’t think some of these kids have had very much practice.”
“No, you’re right. This is the first time some of them have gone to school,” I told him.
“Daddy, I think that some of these kids have lived with their mommies for their whole lives. Can you even imagine that?!”
I explained that almost all of them had lived with their moms for their whole lives, and we talked about a few kids we know who are also adopted. We don’t know many kids who actually remember a time before they were adopted, though. Even his little brother doesn’t really have a clear picture of a time before he lived with us.
Something about the way he said it made me chuckle, though, like he just couldn’t fathom these underachieving three-year-olds who were still living in their parents’ houses.
Why Zach Wahls Is My Hero
If you’re the kind of person who reads my blog, you’ve probably already seen Zach Wahls’ fantastic speech at the DNC from last night. Just in case you haven’t, here’s the prepared remarks:
I’m a sixth-generation Iowan, an Eagle Scout, and I was raised by my two moms, Jackie and Terry.
People want to know what it’s like having lesbian parents. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m awesome at putting the seat down. Otherwise, we’re like any other family. We eat dinner, we go to church, we have chores. But some people don’t see it that way. When I was 12, watching the 2004 Republican convention, I remember politicians talking about protecting marriage from families like mine.
Now, supporting a view of marriage as between a man and woman isn’t radical. For many people, it’s a matter of faith. We respect that. Watching that convention on TV, though, I felt confused, frustrated. Why didn’t they think my family was a real family?
Governor Romney says he’s against same-sex marriage because every child deserves a mother and a father. I think every child deserves a family as loving and committed as mine. Because the sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other to work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones. It comes from the love that binds us; that’s what makes a family. Mr. Romney, my family is just as real as yours.
President Obama understands that. He supports my moms’ marriage. President Obama put his political future on the line to do what was right. Without his leadership, we wouldn’t be here. President Obama is fighting for our families — all of our families. He has our backs. We have his.
Now, there were plenty of positive mentions of marriage equality during the Democratic Convention. And that’s awesome. To me, it felt important. Having marriage equality included in the Democratic platform really makes me hopeful for our future. I can die a happy man if I never have to hear another anti-gay politician say, “My views on gay marriage are the same as President Obama’s.”
But Zach Wahls is doing something a little different.
Zach Wahls is advocating on behalf of my children. My sons are six and four. They’re far too young to advocate for themselves, so that task falls to Austin and me. And I think in general we do a pretty good job of it. But we sure don’t speak as eloquently as Zach Wahls, nor can we speak from the perspective of a child of gay parents.
When he spoke about being twelve and watching the 2004 Republican Convention, I felt a little knot in my stomach. My sons are young enough that they have never heard a negative comment about their family. They don’t know that some people don’t think we’re a family. They don’t know that some people believe their dads are harming them. They don’t know that some people hate Austin and I because we love each other.
But the day they learn that is getting closer, and it’s unavoidable. That’s why I’m so touched to see Zach Wahls speaking on behalf of his clearly amazing mothers, on behalf of his family, and on behalf of families that look like his.
Now, living in a house of four men, my sons are really unlikely to be as good at putting down the seat as Zach Wahls. But I would be very proud if they grew up to care about others and speak on behalf of those who cannot.