The Shark Stands Alone (with coffee)

One of my girlfriends, who I adored with what I’m now sure must’ve felt like stifling intensity, really enjoyed spending time alone.

No, not like time alone with me. Time alone. Like by herself.

This baffled me.

What did she think when she was by herself? Didn’t she get bored? What was going on in her head that required time without me?

If my response to her wanting a damn minute to herself seems a bit off-the-wall to you… GOOD. That’s likely because you’re a well adjusted human.

Good work.

I, on the other hand, was a college-aged kid who was terrified to spend a minute alone with my own thoughts. I was so afraid of my own interior life that I didn’t even believe I HAD thoughts to mull over. It never occurred to me that thoughts were supposed to be a precursor to conversation. Nope. I didn’t really analyze much of anything until it was flying out of my mouth.

I discovered a lot about what I thought and believed by hashing it out with other people. Which was great, mostly. But I still couldn’t stand to be alone. And I resented the hell out of my girlfriend for wanting a private thought life.  Or maybe it was less resentment & more jealousy. I wanted to be interesting enough to spend time alone.

I tried that once… spending time alone. I went out to a cabin in the woods by myself. Not that I’d planned it that way. I’d been dating a girl for a couple years. We’d booked the cabin for our anniversary. Then we broke up a few weeks before the trip. I decided to go anyway. I was filled with all kinds of I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar independence. I’d go and relish the time alone. I was sure of it.

In the woods, by myself, I was struck with the most breathtaking loneliness. Even well over a decade later, if I’m outside when the light hits the trees just right, I can still feel the aching emptiness in my chest. Even thinking about the forest brings on this intense melancholy.

I wish I was kidding. I am not.

So, yeah, solo camping isn’t for me.

But being able to think IS for me. Digging through my internal landscape and using my brain to uncover what I thing about something before I open my mouth… yeah, that’s for me, too. It’s such a gift, this ability to be alone. To not be terrified what my mind will turn over and over if don’t fill every second with constant chatter. To like my own company. Hell, to like myself.

I’m so grateful that I reckoned with enough of my emotional wreckage to not ever have to wonder again why someone might need a minute alone. The peace that comes with solitude, and the connection to myself and the world around me, is a grounding force in my life. Running, yoga, meditation (which I’m awful at. So bad) connect me to myself. Which feels a little miraculous and a lot triumphant.

Because that’s what I’d been running from the whole time: ME.

 

 

Eight is GR8!

Elizabeth Jane (Lizard, Lizzie Jane, Janiepants, Bug, Bear, EJ, Chicken, Monkeybutt Jr, etc…) is 8 years old today!

Honestly, I have no idea how my favorite human in all the world is 8 years old today.

It both seems like I’ve known her forever and like she just got here. I do know that she changed my world forever the very moment she entered it. And that I love her more & more with each passing day. Which I would’ve sworn would be impossible as I stared into her sweet little newborn face. But here we are: I love her infinitely more today that I did on the day of her birth. Because now I know her. And she is breath-taking.

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Jane really sees people, in a way I think most of us have forgotten to. She finds the very best in people, and she holds it up for everyone else to see. She reminds people that they are good at their core. She believes it.  And she’s made me believe it again, too.

She loves without condition. Even when people are difficult. Because, hell, aren’t most of us difficult some of the time? She offers a lot of grace–room for mistakes, space for second chances. She’s quick to forgive. And always 100% ready to help someone feel better.

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Jane’s primary resting state is happiness. She’s enthusiastic beyond measure. And she’s silly. She’ll totally walk up into her classroom strutting like a chicken. NBD. She’s a stripes-with-polka-dots-and-a-tutu-just-because-she-likes-it kind of kid. I love her willingness to simply be herself. She often tells me she enjoys being herself–that she likes herself. I hope that remains true for always. There’s just so much about her to like.

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She’s not perfect, this kid. Not by a long shot. And, if she were reading this, she’d say “Nobody’s perfect, Mommy. There’s always room for improvement.” Amen to that. I think what I admire so much about her is that she really grabs a hold of opportunities to improve. Oh, not right away. But she’s willing to ponder situations where things, let’s say, could have gone better. And, after an initial blame shuffle, she’ll quite often own her part in the meltdown of situation normal. Good Lord, I couldn’t do that until my mid 30s. Sometimes I struggle to do it now.

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The other day, she came home proclaiming, “Mommy, we’re so close, it’s almost like we’re sisters instead of mom & kid.” Sweet, but wildly untrue. I’m Mommy 100% of the time. Motherhood is no fucking joke. Even with the sweetest of kids, it’s a job fraught with tears, frustration, and meltdowns (mine as much as hers). But what IS true is that there is no other kid on this planet–in the multi-verse, even–whose mother I’d rather be.

My favorite thing to tell Jane is that she was worth the wait. It took us 2 years to conceive her.

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I’d definitely given up hope by the time we found out we were pregnant with her. But that struggle made me appreciate her brilliant presence in our lives all the more. I can’t imagine a world without my sweet Elizabeth Jane.

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As far as I’m concerned, I am the luckiest mother in the world (8 years running).

Why do they call it “The Birds & Bees” talk? Way to make it even WEIRDER.

I want to control the narrative that my kid receives about sex. And I CERTAINLY don’t want her friends explaining it to her…

My (almost) 8 year old knows more about the female reproductive system and how babies are made than I knew when I started middle school. Let me tell you, NOT knowing about sex puts you at a distinct disadvantage in recess conversations. Because if your parents don’t tell you about sex, some kid is going to. And, most likely, they’ll get some pretty big parts of the equation completely wrong.

I want my daughter to understand her own body. I want her to know sex is not shameful. I want to give her knowledge.

And I have. Kind of.

In a theoretical sense, she knows how babies are made. Or, more accurately, she knows how SHE was made. She knows that making a baby requires a girl part (the egg) and a boy part (the sperm)–and that’s true no matter who is making the baby. But, she was conceived in a doctor’s office. While I looked up at star garland that had been placed along the ceiling for just such an occasion. But what she DOESN’T know is how the vast majority of babies are conceived.

And, you have to admit, compared to her conception story–where a doctor is strategically placing the sperm it has the very best chance of connecting with and fertilizing the egg–sex is just WEIRD.

I mean… come ON. A penis goes WHERE??? Can you imagine receiving this information as an 8 year old?

I can’t. Because no one ever talked to me plainly about any of this sex stuff. In fact, like so many other girls my age, my mother just handed me a book about sex, and the body, and puberty and told me I should report back with any questions. I grew up conservative Presbyterian. You can imagine that the Focus on the Family book she gave me wasn’t exactly sex-positive. It was homophobic, masturbation-shaming, abstinence preaching bullshit. But it shamed me into ever talking about or fully exploring my desires as a teenager. So, I guess mission accomplished?

I want something different for Jane. And that involves arming her with facts. Before the other kids try to “educate” her.

I think she’s gonna be pretty mad if I don’t explain the whole penis/vagina thing before someone else does. It’s a pretty big piece of the puzzle to leave out. But, wow, is that an odd conversation to instigate.

The other stuff has come so naturally. We want Jane to know her conception story. It’s an important part of who we are as a family–in part because we’re an LGBTQ family and in part because I just think people should fully understand their own story. So, telling her about the egg/sperm connection was easy. And, since she’s my constant sidekick and nothing gets by her, she asked about tampons at an early age & I told her what they were for. No one in this house is period-shaming. It’s just a thing that happens. No shame. No stigma.

But, you know, sometimes it takes more than one conversation for all the relevant info to sink in. The other day, I got my period and needed a fresh pair of underwear. So I shouted for Jane (who was standing right outside the bathroom door—because motherhood). She got me a pair… then she asked if I was okay (she was probably pondering why her perfectly capable mother seemed incapable of getting her own damn underwear. At least, that’s what I would have been thinking). I said all off-hand like, “Yeah, I’m just bleeding. NBD.”

Her eyes opened wide.

“It’s okay. I’m not hurt.”

She was still staring at me. “You are bleeding? From your VAGINA? Mommy, I’m not sure your vagina is supposed to do that.”

I laughed. Explained periods again. And we moved on. She’s still skeptical about the bleeding part. I mean, again, it IS kind of weird. In the way that the WHOLE human reproduction thing is weird. You should have seen her face when I explained how babies come OUT…

So, yeah, it’s time to explain all the weirdness of sex without making it, well, weird. Fingers crossed that the S-E-X conversation isn’t the first thing she brings up in therapy years from now…

Let’s All Play to Our Strengths: I’ll Make the Coffee

My husband just popped his head out of his office. I could feel him peering at me tentatively. “Hello…” he began.

I turned around from where I’d been reading and writing at the dining room table my desk. Really, I’d just been trying not to make any sudden movements and wake up the dog, who has a propensity to be a close-talker and follow me everywhere I go when she’s awake.

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He continued: “If, at any time, you know, over the next hour or so you wanted to make coffee, that’d be really nice. I’d love a cup.”

I stared back at him for a moment. “Maybe you should just ask for what you want,” I replied.

He looked unsure but proceeded anyway. “I’m on a conference call. Can you make me a cup of coffee?” He paused for just a beat. “See why I didn’t want to do that? It sounds like you’re my secretary.”

“Yeah,” I concurred. “I thought that’s what I wanted you to say. But now I just want to punch you.”

Ah… marriage.

I made him the coffee, by the way. It’s brewing right now. He didn’t ask because he’s a chauvinist asshole who thinks that women should make the coffee. He just really sucks at making coffee. I have no idea how it goes so sideways. But it does, every time. So, I take mercy on him, and I make the coffee.

Truth be told, I like to do nice things for him now. There’s something about actively choosing the person that you’re with–and not at all in a theoretical sense–that brings clarity that every day is a choice. And so is kindness. And love. So, I make the coffee. To save him from himself.

It’s this constant refrain of choice in our relationship that makes me bristle when people hear about Simon’s transition and they utter a little sigh and say something akin to “Love is love.” It used to bother me because I thought such a glib statement somehow diminished my identity struggles. But now I hate it because it doesn’t honor the hard work we put in to stay together. It overlooks the absolute honesty with which we had to face each other–and ourselves. And it takes a helluva lot of bravery to be completely honest in a 10+ year marriage. The greeting card version of our relationship can’t even scratch the surface of what I feel for him–and the pain, and loss, and work it took to uncover those feelings. I am so proud of us. But none of this came easily.

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We laughed recently about how completely normal our lives are. I mean, on some level we must thrive on chaos, since once we got 100% on board with staying together, we moved. Then I decided I’d open a bookstore. But it’s normal in that nothing is imploding. And our lives don’t feel like constantly shifting sand anymore. In fact, our lives feel solid–like ground that we can build something real and lasting on.

Books, Tea Parties, and Local Atlanta Magic

I’d never had much use for tea, until I encountered Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party in Atlanta.

 

I was raised on coffee. I drank coffee-milk as a preschooler (it’s a delightful concoction of milk, sugar, and a little coffee. It’s warm, sweet perfection). So, I never really gave tea much thought. I mean, sure, it was fine… for other people. But I couldn’t take it seriously.

But, like so many things, that’s shifted for me since I moved to Atlanta. Primarily because of this whimsical, amazing, quirky little place Candler Park:

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When you walk inside the shop, everything feels like gloriously cluttered and warm. Chalkboards with list after list of various types of tea line one wall. They’ve snugged together several small tables in the front room that feel intimate and lively. Paper ornaments and lights dangle from the ceiling. And the tea is nestled behind the counter.

It feels close. Connected. Alive with thoughts and ideas and conversation.

In the next room are two long tables nestled right next to tall, full bookshelves that remind me both how much I love to read and how much knowledge, how many stories, I’ve left unexplored. The lights stay low, which makes it feel like a rather intellectual, bookish type place. And folks are always typing way on their computers. I’m sure some of them are just doing plan old work. But in my mind, all of them are researching, and writing, and forming networks of thoughts and experiences that will shape the world. Or that will at least shape them. And, amid all this amazingness, are dozens of paper umbrellas–in various states of repair and coherence–dangling upside down from the ceiling.

I was instantly in love. From the second I walked in the door. In love and compelled, because I wanted the full experience of being in such an eclectic teahouse, to drink tea. And, because if I’m going to drink tea I want to be the valedictorian of tea, immediately I decided I wanted to attend a High Tea at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party.

But something as special as a high tea needed to wait for just the right occasion.

And then I forgot all about it. For months.

Until I picked up There Goes Sunday School, by Alexander C. Eberhart, where the protagonist (bless his heart) finds himself in Atlanta at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party in one of the most charming scenes I’ve read in a while.

And right then, I knew: when my sister brought her family to Atlanta to visit, we’d go to Dr. Bombay’s for High Tea.  And so we did:

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I adore the fact that I picked up a random novel in a bookstore and not only did I find parts of my own story represented that random LGBTQ YA novel but I ALSO remembered something important to me, an experience that I wanted to give to people I love that I’d forgotten all about. But then I remembered. And being there, felt like doubly a gift–because I am blessed with people I love who I want to share experiences with AND because I’d been given a story that reminded me of those very things.

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The Nitty Gritty: A Review of There Goes Sunday School (Alexander C. Eberhart)

I had so many feels about this book, it’s hard to even get them into words. I love LGBTQ Young Adult novels. For real. They’re a gut-punch reminder of what it’s like to be young, falling in love, and figuring out your sexuality… while trying to navigate the impeding (and inevitable) doom of folks finding out you’re gay. Add into the mix that There Goes Sunday School is set in Atlanta… Totally swoon-worthy.

What I didn’t expect was for this YA novel to unearth so many feelings for me. I mean, I didn’t just relate to the protagonist… at one point I WAS the protagonist. Anti-gay upbringing? Check. Conservative Evangelical church? Check. Being told I was for sure gonna burn in hell? Check. But, perhaps especially when it’s rooted in pain, it turns out that representation is just as important at 43 as it is at 13. Watching my own story play out (with some significant plot deviations, of course) was cathartic.

Eberhart wrote believable characters with realistic responses to their surroundings and upbringings. He managed to create a tender novel that didn’t read as over-dramatized or simplistic. And he got in some wins for his characters that, for me at least, are incredibly important to see in print.

Being gay isn’t a tragedy. In fact, coming out and living into your truth is a victory. Even when it’s hard. Being who you are is worth risking everything for. And that’s a truth that everyone needs to hear more of.

It’s Who We Are

Outside our small, yellow house in Atlanta, a huge Pride flag waves in the breeze. I love that flag. It tells a part of our family’s story that is no longer easily visible.

The near unraveling of our marriage in 2016 broke something in me. I thought I’d try to piece it together, to come up with some patched, passable version of the life I wanted. But, sometimes, when something breaks, the best thing to do is clear away the wreckage and begin again.

I felt so shattered by Simon’s transition that, for a long time, I insisted that I was a lesbian and he was… well…him. But ultimately, insisting I am a lesbian doesn’t honor who Simon is. And, besides, it makes it harder to explain the cute, bearded guy I’m married to. Eventually, I settled on “queer” because it honors our whole story. And, really, it’s a story worth honoring.

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Photo Credit: RM Lathan

Watching Simon grow fully into himself has been profound. I respect the thought he puts into the kind of man he wants to be. It’s amazing (and unusual) to be privy to this kind of conscious choosing–choosing the way he moves in the world and how he wields his privilege.

Truth be told, Simon isn’t the same person he was before he transitioned. Not really. For a long time I wanted him to be. Sure, there are soul-elements that’ve shown that they’re impervious to change. And he still knows that I love chocolate covered marshmallows and that I’m afraid of birds. But big life events change us all.

I’ve spent a lot of time getting to really know and understand him over the past year and a half. I’ve found that I love this version of him. Really love. Not out of convenience. Or habit. But that daily I choose him.

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Photo Credit: RM Lathan

We’ve had to work hard to build a relationship after the Unraveling of 2016. When I wrote about it last Summer, I didn’t understand how far from done we were with the rebuilding. In fact, we’d barely begun.

That’s the trick about putting a marriage back together: it’s a process.

But, sometimes, when I look at him, I get that little spark that starts in my chest and zips down to my toes–the small bolt of lightning that feels like love. And I know we did right by each other.

Right now, our biggest problem is how to get our kid to stop rolling her eyes at us. And how to let folks know we are a queer family. I thought about just getting a shirt that says, “The cute bearded guy is trans.” But, I mean, would I have to wear it every day? He does have a collection of trans-themed t-shirts in his clothing rotation–and on those days we feel seen. But we haven’t found a good way to let folks know exactly who we are.

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His shirt totally says “This Is What Trans Looks Like.”

Right now, that giant Pride flag outside is our way of being visible, of declaring that things DO get better, and of being proud of our story. And of our love.

 

 

Pride Flag Photo: Peter Hershey on Unsplash