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The Perfect Summer

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.

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:

11:45 AM

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.

11:55 AM

Jordan arrives home. His bus driver, who adores him, wishes him a wonderful summer.

11:56 AM

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.”

12:01 PM

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.

12:03 PM

Jordan curls up on the couch with his stuffed cat. I go to meet Andrew’s bus.

12:05 PM

Andrew’s bus arrives.

12:12 PM

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.”

12:24 PM

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.

12:47 PM

Andrew tickles Jordan. Jordan chokes Andrew.

1:06 PM

Andrew takes the Lego pieces Jordan was playing with. Jordan slaps Andrew.

1:18 PM

Andrew would like to do some homework. So he does.

2:00 PM

One hour of Mario. No one hits, no one bites, no one screams, no one scratches.

3:00 PM

The hour is over. Jordan is on the floor, sobbing.

3:17 PM

We’re in time out again, because we can’t stop fighting.

 

ENDLESS SUMMER.

Would Your Kid Feel Safe Coming Out?

There’s this video making the rounds on facebook and twitter. It’s a gay couple’s wedding video, and it’s being shared because people are moved by the speech that one of the men’s fathers gives to his son and his new son-in-law. It’s actually pretty standard wedding fare, as far as I can see, but we don’t hear that often enough in the context of gay people getting married. I’m sure the fact that the dad is in the military is also part of its appeal — I guess people don’t expect a man in uniform to give a loving speech at his gay son’s wedding.

It’s not the speech that I’d like to talk about today, but a moment that comes just before that speech. You can watch the video below. The bit I’ll be discussing begins around the 4:45 mark, if you’d like to skip ahead.

Before I talk about the moment that made me uncomfortable, I feel like I should offer a disclaimer. This is a wedding video, and it’s very obvious the dad loves his son a great deal. I don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing this family. I’m just using this video as an example because it has a moment that I can point out. The problem is pretty universal.

I was scared to tell my dad that I was gay. I was scared to come out to my dad. I was just so down, and he was like, “What’s wrong with you?” … And he looked at me and he said, “What did I do to fail you? What did I do to fail in raising you to trust me?” and I said, “Dad, what are you talking about?” and he says, “Why can’t you tell me that you’re gay?”

So let’s talk about the ways that straight parents fail their LGBT kids. Let’s talk about why a kid might be afraid to tell their parents that they’re gay. This applies to parents of kids anywhere on the sexual orientation or gender spectrum, for a couple of reasons. First, you may or may not know if your kid is LGBT, so you need to apply this advice regardless. Second, even if your kid is straight, if you want things to get better for LGBT kids in general, you need to create an environment where all kids learn that LGBT people are just as good as anyone else, and just as deserving of love, family, friends, community, and respect.

For the purposes of this conversation, I’m going to assume you’re a parent who would want your kid to feel safe enough to come out to you, and that you would want to know if you were falling short of that goal.

First, take a look at yourself.

Are LGBT people ever a topic of conversation in your home? When an LGBT rights issue is in the news, is it likely to be discussed? Think about the last time you said anything about LGBT people. What would the takeaway have been for your kid? Do you ever make jokes about LGBT people, even ironically? Do you feel comfortable discussing LGBT people, or does your voice get a little quieter, like when people are afraid to say “cancer?” A lot of LGBT kids are gender nonconforming. If your son asks for a doll, do you get a pained look on your face, even just for a moment? Did you dress him up in one of those awful “Ladies’ Man” t-shirts, sending the message that you’ve already decided what his sexual orientation is? Do you tell your daughter that there are certain events to which she simply has to wear a dress? Do you talk about your child’s future in a way that makes it sound like you’ve got a specific vision for what that future looks like? If you do, you’re setting the stage for your kid to feel like they will be disappointing you if they aren’t able to provide exactly that picture. If you treat being straight or conforming to gender roles as the default, you’re contributing to an environment where an LGBT child won’t be sure if they can trust you.

If you want your kid to feel safe telling you that they’re LGBT, show your kid that it is safe to tell you. Show them that you don’t have negative opinions of LGBT people. Don’t sit your kid down for an awkward chat and say, “It’s fine with me if you’re gay.” Show them. Show them by the way you live your life. If I asked your kid to tell me what you think about LGBT people, what would they say? If they wouldn’t be sure of their answer, you can be sure that they will not feel safe.

Next, take a look at your family.

No one’s family is perfect, and you can’t control what your family says and does. You can, however, control your response. If your kid hears negative messages about LGBT people at family gatherings, you need to be certain that your kid hears that you disagree with those messages, that you consider those messages to be unacceptable regardless of who is saying them, and that those messages are never again to be repeated in front of you or your kid. If you have a family member who cannot or will not agree to that request, you need to think very carefully about what message you are sending to your kid. Allowing your kid to be subjected to negative remarks about LGBT people — even if you are not the one making those remarks — will tell your kid that you are willing to compromise on issues as fundamental as who your kid is.

What about your friends?

When your kid looks at the people with whom you choose to spend your time, what do they see? Are there any LGBT people among your friends or family? If your kid is LGBT, and when they look around, they don’t see any other LGBT people, how lonely do you think they will feel? If they were to consider coming out, would they be the only LGBT person around? Kids look to adults for models of what adulthood is and what they can be. Without living, breathing LGBT people, your kid is left only with the extremely limited LGBT representation we see in the media. When you went to high school, was it a lot like the high school in Glee? For an LGBT kid, Glee might be the primary example they see of LGBT people. I can promise you that the LGBT characters on Glee are as divorced from the reality of LGBT people as the rest of the characters are divorced from the reality of everyday people.

I’m not saying that you should go out and try to find a new Gay Best Friend. Actually, please do not go out and try to find a new Gay Best Friend. But if you look at your social circle and it seems somehow limited, you need to consider that your social circle might, in fact, be limited. And you may need to ask yourself some difficult questions about why that is the case.

Everything that I said about families applies to your friends, perhaps even more so. You may not be able to choose your family, but you’ve chosen your friends, so their attitudes about LGBT people will tell your kid a great deal.

A limited view of LGBT people — making assumptions about who is or isn’t LGBT based on behavior or appearance, spending time speculating about who is or isn’t LGBT — will tell an LGBT kid that your view of them, your view of their life and their future, is limited.

Take a look at your community.

Do you bring your kid to a church? What does your church say about LGBT people? Are there LGBT people in your church community? If so, are the LGBT people in your church community full participants in all the same rituals and ceremonies as everyone else? Are LGBT members of your church community able to be married in your church? If you expect your kid to participate in a church community that doesn’t seem them as an equal to everyone else, you are telling your kid that you don’t view them as a equal to everyone else. A kid who knows that their parents don’t think LGBT people are worthy of equal treatment is going to be afraid of what will happen if they come out as LGBT.

What is the climate for LGBT kids in your school district? I can promise you that your LGBT middle school or high school student hears the word “gay” used as an insult, probably every day. It may not be directed at your kid, but it is part of their environment. What kind of protections are in place for LGBT students, who are more likely to be on the receiving end of bullying than their peers? Is there a Gay-Straight Alliance or similar organization at your local high school and middle school? You can work to improve the climate for LGBT kids in your school district before your kid is even there. Change takes time, so if you wait until your kid needs the resources of a Gay-Straight Alliance or a non-discrimination policy, you may be too late to provide them. If it takes a year to get the Gay-Straight Alliance up and running, that’s a year that your LGBT kid went without. If you want your kid’s school environment to be a safe one, you may need to make it a safe environment.

You can keep extending this examination outward, in ever larger circles. What is the climate for LGBT people in your town? In your state? What are the priorities of LGBT activists and organizations in your area? In what ways can you help those priorities become reality? Every hard-won victory will slowly improve conditions for LGBT kids.

But you have to start at home. Even if you can’t get your extended family to stop saying negative things about LGBT people, you can make sure your kid knows that you disagree. Even if bigots on the school committee block adoption of a non-discrimination policy, you can show your kid that you were fighting on the right side of a moral issue.

Finally, we need to acknowledge that even if you do all of these things, your LGBT kid still might not feel safe coming out to you. And it may not have anything to do with you. Coming out is a deeply personal decision, and it will happen in the context of your kid’s whole environment — family, friends, peers, community, media, and politics all play a role — and you are just one part of that puzzle. When your LGBT kid does decide to come out, don’t make it about you. It’s not.

October Goals Update

I didn’t forget! I said I’d post another update mid-October, and here it is. (It’s not the last week of October yet, so it’s still totally the middle!) My younger son was home sick from school for three days this week, and it’s amazing how much I depend on those two hours every morning. They go by so fast, but you sure notice when you don’t have them. This month has been a mixed bag in terms of progress:

1. Blogging. I mentioned this on twitter last week, and got some great feedback from some other bloggers that was a huge help, but I hit a huge roadblock in writing about my conversation with a high school bully. I was writing about it every day, hating everything I found to say, and then trashing it and starting over. So I’ve set it aside for a little while, but hopefully will soon figure out a good way to write about it. The conversation was really good, and I feel like I learned a lot.

2. Writing. It’s moving along, if somewhat more slowly than I’d like. I’m going to take a little break from it for the month of November, and will be working on a new project for National Novel Writing Month. It seems like a good time for me to try a challenge in terms of increasing my output and getting myself to a place where I can write something on a plan instead of just when the feeling comes along.

3. Exercise. This has gone very well. I’ve been working on Couch-to-5K for six weeks, and am seeing big gains in terms of my ability to to push myself. This week, I did an 18-minute run that wasn’t broken up with any walking. Looking at my route on Google Maps, it looks like I ran about a mile and a half. I’ve been super fanatic about sticking to my schedule, and have been running every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning without exception. If you had asked me six weeks ago if there was any way I’d be able to do the workouts past the first couple of weeks, I’d have told you there was no chance in hell.

4. Weight Loss. This is also going very well. I’m a little more than halfway to my goal! Last weekend, I had to buy new jeans because my old ones were literally falling off. This is going to sound awful, but now if I look in the mirror, I feel like I look like me again. It feels a little shallow to say that, and I’m surprised that I feel that way. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I gained a pound last week, and was furious at myself about it.

5. Skin. About a month ago, I had my first appointment with the new dermatologist. Fingers crossed, but he seems kind of like he might be a normal human in possession of some empathy. I wasn’t sure that was possible! Regardless, one month in, I’m definitely starting to see results. My skin is markedly improved, and that plus the weight loss … just feels pretty great!

Expect to see a November goals update at the very end of November, so I can rate my NaNoWriMo success.

Only Skin Deep

Franck Juchaux, BIOalternatives, France
I’ve mentioned a few times that I dread the dermatologist, and that I think my negative attitude toward the profession deserves a blog post of its own. Don’t worry, there will be no dermatological horror pictures in this post. That photo up above is skin cells, and it’s as close as we’re getting.

First, you need to understand that I am descended from two families with bad skin. My mother had really problematic acne when she was young, and my dad’s family is full of recurring rashes and psoriasis and allergic reactions. So no one should have expected that they might get together and have children with beautiful skin. It just wasn’t in the cards.

When Austin and I were first talking about adoption, we both joked (is it still a joke if you’re actually completely serious?) that since we wouldn’t be genetically related to our children, there was actually a chance we could end up with some good-looking kids who would grow up to be traditionally attractive adults! And it does seem to have worked out that way. Our kids are pretty good-looking, and they might end up with that social advantage.

My first experience with bad skin came in the sixth grade. Every couple of weeks, our class would receive a visit from a science enrichment teacher. She’d go around the elementary schools in the district doing little extra science projects with classes. And one week, we made molds of our teeth. But instead of using whatever it is that dentists use to take impressions, we used Play-Doh. Actually, it wasn’t even Play-Doh, it was a generic version. So we had these little plastic trays, and we put Play-Doh in them, and then bit down on the Play-Doh.

It turns out that I am allergic to whatever red dye is used in generic Play-Doh. So once the molds were on the shelf to dry, and we’d moved on to math, I started to itch. A lot. And pretty soon I was in the nurse’s office, covered in hives. Sixth graders, I would like to take this opportunity to point out, are really sympathetic when that effeminate boy with no friends is covered head to toe in a rash.

Recurrences of hives were pretty rare, since 12-year-olds don’t spend a lot of time with red Play-Doh in their mouths. But it wouldn’t be long before my skin would find new ways to torture me.

In junior high, I started to get acne, just like everyone else. Mine was maybe a little worse, but we were all teenagers and we all had acne. What we didn’t all have was the weird thing that started happening with my hands.

In the late fall of seventh grade, one day my hands started to itch. For a couple of days, they were just itchy. Then, the itch turned into a rash. The rash turned … pretty gross, and pretty soon my hands were covered in a rash of little fluid-filled bumps. They itched, and they hurt. Holding a pen or turning the pages of a book was really uncomfortable.

Of course, my parents brought me to the doctor. They prescribed creams, and put me on steroids. My parents wanted to know what was making my hands do this. Was I allergic to something? The answer from my pediatrician and the dermatologist was clear — this was caused by stress and anxiety.

I believed the doctors. And I believed that it was, then, entirely my own fault. My parents wanted to know what, at thirteen, could be causing me stress or anxiety. Here I was, a kid who didn’t have any friends at school, who was tormented on the school, who was getting spit on during the bus ride home, and who often arrived home from school only to burst into the tears I had been holding back so my peers wouldn’t see me cry. I couldn’t tell my mom, “Well, everyone hates me because I’m gay,” so I didn’t say anything. I knew that I was alone in this.

Soon, the gross rash would start to go away. The little fluid lumps dried out and popped, and then all of the skin on my hands would dry up, get hard, and fall off. My hands were cracked and bleeding, the skin was tender and raw. I had thought that the rash was bad, but the rash going away was even worse. And I was pretty convinced it was all because I was gay. If I could just stop being gay, people would like me, and I wouldn’t be stressed, and this wouldn’t have happened.

It took about a month, and then my hands were fine again. The skin was maybe a little bit delicate, but I was kind of a delicate kid. It didn’t hurt anymore, at least.

Until the spring, when it happened again. Exactly as before. First a rash, then the bubbles, then the cracked and bleeding hands. About a month, and then it was like it had never happened.

It began to repeat like clockwork. Once in the fall, once in the spring. Every year. I called it “my hand thing,” because none of the dermatologists I saw seemed to have any name for what was happening to my hands. But over the course of the next few years, and a few different dermatologists, the answer was always the same. Whatever was wrong with my hands, it was caused by stress and anxiety.

And how could I say that they were wrong? I was literally a puddle of stress and anxiety. I did begin saying to dermatologists that it seemed strange to me that I was stressed and anxious all the time, but my hands only reacted to stress and anxiety at the end of fall and the beginning of spring. More than one dermatologist basically told me I was imagining a connection between the seasons changing and my hands exploding. The only connection, they assured me, was stress and anxiety.

In some ways, it was reassuring, because as I went through high school, things started to get a little bit better. I started to have a small circle of friends. I came out of the closet, and my deep secret shame didn’t feel as secret or shameful anymore. But my hands were the same.

So for twenty years I put up with this awful hand thing. Every fall. Every spring. I could pinpoint exactly when it was going to happen. The first really cold week in the fall. Bam. The first unseasonably warm week in the spring. Bam. I stopped bothering with dermatologists, because the steroids and the creams didn’t seem to do anything.

Then I happened to have my annual physical, at the age of 33, at the same time as my hands were doing their thing. My physician asked about it, and I told him the basic outline, like I’ve told countless dermatologists and physicians over the years.

“Well that’s ridiculous,” he said. “These fluid-filled bubbles on your hands are a histamine reaction. Do me a favor. In the fall, when it usually happens, try taking claritin for a few weeks. See if that has any impact.”

And it turns out that if I take a claritin every morning when it first gets cold in the fall, my hands are fine. Twenty years. Twice a year, every year. Painful, bleeding hands for a month. Fixed by a claritin.

So you’ll forgive me if I’m a little distrustful of dermatologists. But I did call this morning and make an appointment with one. Hopefully they’re better at treating acne in 34-year-olds than they are at treating acne and painful skin conditions in teenagers.

Setting Goals

I’ve mentioned on twitter that I’ve been feeling a little conflicted about the professional successes of some of my college classmates. We’re at an age now where people’s careers are really starting to take off — one of my classmates has landed a great role on a critically acclaimed television show, another is on the writing team for a new series on HBO, two of my classmates have had novels published in the last couple of years … you get the idea.

Let me be clear. I am thrilled for them. (Especially one of the novelists, who I’m really glad to be able to count among my friends.) I am proud of them. I know that they’ve worked really hard for these successes, and had to struggle to achieve them.

But their successes, through absolutely no one’s fault but my own, kind of make me feel like a failure. Sure, I’m a stay-at-home dad. By choice. But I stopped working well in advance of the kids moving in. A decade out of school, my career was in exactly the same place it was three months after I graduated. I had moved across the country, and wasn’t at the same company, but at 30, I was doing the exact same thing, in the exact same position (for the exact same pay!) I had done at 20. So leaving behind my “career” to be a stay-at-home dad didn’t really feel like I was giving anything up.

I don’t want this to sound like a “woe is me” kind of post. If there’s someone to blame for a stagnated, dead-end career, it is me. (And maybe, if I’m being completely honest, a certain amount of anxiety.) But mostly me. Certainly no one else. I didn’t push. I shied away from advancement opportunities that were outside my comfort zone. For a really miserable year in New Jersey, I pretty much only left the house to go to work. (And here’s some free advice — if you don’t like living somewhere, you can make it a whole lot worse by refusing to leave your apartment.)

This week, something happened that made me feel pretty good about myself. (And as a bonus, it had nothing to do with being a parent.) A pretty big website was interested in running my blog post about Josh Weed and my uncle. It didn’t work out, which shouldn’t be a big surprise, because in that post I basically called Josh Weed a murderer and outed my uncle. (These would be liabilities!) But the editor seems interested in some of my ideas for future posts, so hopefully I can make that work out. And really, just the fact that he thought people might be interested in reading something I had to say was pretty huge for me.

It definitely got me thinking, though. I need some goals that are about me, not my kids, and I need to start making them happen. I’ve been 34 for a month, which gives me 11 months on a “Things to Accomplish Before 35” list. That seems like a good amount of time, and 35 is starting to feel like something that’s looming on the horizon. (Which is ridiculous, I realize, but maybe sometime before I become eligible for AARP, I will maybe feel like an adult.)

So here goes:

  1. Update this blog regularly. Like, at least weekly. Once a week, I should be able to find something interesting to say. Tweets (and tweet-length blog posts) don’t count.
  2. Finish a first draft of my novel. Outlines aren’t enough. It’s time to put the fingers to the keyboard and really make this happen. Eleven months is plenty of time to turn an outline into a draft.
  3. Lose at least 30 pounds. It needs to happen. My weight has gone up every year for the last decade, and I’ve been avoiding buying clothes because I hate the way I look in everything.
  4. See a dermatologist. One who isn’t an asshole. (Does such a thing exist? This probably deserves its own blog post.) I’ve had acne for more than twenty years, and have pretty much given up on ever having decent skin. I’m tired of having to wear a t-shirt under every shirt I wear so that I don’t get blood on my shirts (that might be more information than anyone has ever wanted to know), and I’m tired of wanting to hide my face.
  5. Do something about my hair. There’s not much hair left, but I’ve been avoiding shaving my head or something like that because I use what little hair I have to hide the acne on my head! I have gotten dangerously close to a combover, and I really can’t let that happen. Really.
  6. Exercise regularly. This one shouldn’t be that hard, either. I don’t have any lofty goals, just to exercise regularly in a way that will increase my overall health and well-being.

Ok, six items. I’ll try to expand on some of these more in-depth going forward, and I will definitely make sure to post updates on my progress. Wish me luck, because I think it’s going to be a busy year.