Hard Truths

Through quick glances in my rearview mirror, I watched my sweet 6-year-old sob on the way home from the grocery store yesterday. I wish it was because I wouldn’t buy her something in the checkout line. Or because she’d gotten in trouble AGAIN for her reckless driving of the shopping cart. But it was much more complicated–and painful–than that.

Through quick glances in my rearview mirror, I watched my sweet 6-year-old sob on the way home from the grocery store yesterday. I wish it was because I wouldn’t buy her something in the checkout line. Or because she’d gotten in trouble AGAIN for her reckless driving of the shopping cart. But it was much more complicated–and painful–than that.

She was crying because she’d just come to the difficult (and necessary) understanding that some folks are not going to like her because she’s white. My outgoing, loves-everybody child found this particular truth heartbreaking.

Here’s what happened:

Jane and one of her closest school friends were in the back seat of the car. Sometimes I pick this friend up from school, if her mom needs a quick childcare fill-in. Neither girl had known they’d be hanging out together that afternoon, so they were super excitable. Chattering, squealing, giggling, saying bootie and chicken nugget constantly–the usual. Once her friend realized that she probably wasn’t going to get a full-length playdate at our house, she asked if I could drop her off at another friend’s house instead of taking her home. (Uh… NO. But good try) Jane protested that she wanted to hang out, too. Her friend responded, “You could come too! Oh… no. No. You couldn’t. She (this other friend) wouldn’t like that. She doesn’t like white people.”

To her credit, in the moment Jane kind of just skipped right over what her friend had said. They carried on. More BOOTIE! More CHICKEN NUGGET! And so much running around the store. They drove me crazy–and had a blast. They hugged each other goodbye  one MILLION seven hundred and forty-seven times.

Then her friend was gone, and I got to have the tough conversation in the car. The one that made her cry.

I get it. I like to be liked. And, even though I have a much broader perspective of systemic racism and white supremacy than my six-year-old, it still stings when a person doesn’t give me the benefit of the doubt because I am white. But then I pull myself together, recognize my own privilege and acknowledge that, by and large, white folks have done very little to facilitate positive, interpersonal relationships with black folks. In fact, we’ve spent a lot of time doing precisely the opposite.

And that’s where I started my conversation with Jane.

This past weekend, Jane interrupted me in the second to last chapter of The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. She started talking to me as if nothing were going on, while I was mired in the child narrator’s perspective on the Birmingham church bombing–the one where four black little girls were slaughtered at the hands of white men. Once I finished the book, I had to explain why I was so upset when she interrupted my reading. I reminded her what she’d learned about the civil rights movement. How separate was not, in fact, equal. And how people fought so hard for the very basic civil rights that she and I enjoy every day. Then, I told her about the kind of hate that would drive grown white men to bomb a church and kill little girls. Just because they were black.

Fast forward a few days…as Jane sat crying in the backseat yesterday, I reminded her about the church bombing in 1963. That MLK got shot for leading black folks toward liberation (or civil rights, at least). That her black friends will not always get the same benefit of the doubt that she does, simply because of the color of her skin. And I reminded her that we still have to say that Black Lives Matter, because to so many, they don’t.

These are hard truths. These are truths her black friends are never spared.

Jane is a warrior for what’s right. It’s just in her nature. She believes passionately in fairness and equality. To her, someone not liking her because she’s white is the epitome of unfairness.

But when I reminded her of the unfairnesses–in education, employment, housing, incarceration, etc, etc, etc–that black and brown folks endure every single day as white folks keep institutional and systemic racism firmly in place, well… she found a little bit of perspective on the unfairness of some kid not liking her because she’s white.

And, just for good measure, I begged her to never say “not all white people…” because FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. NO.

Instead of worrying about what one little girl she doesn’t even know thinks about her, we agreed that maybe she could focus on all the lovely friends she does have. And that she could do her part to try to make the world more fair for everyone. And that, regardless of what comes her way, she would always, always be a warrior for what is right.

I Love You More Than Littlest Pet Shop

Jane is an easy child to parent.

There. I said it.

By nature, she is kind, warm, independent, curious, and fun. We exchange I love yous like trading cards—each one more fantastic than the last.

“I love you more than peanut butter.”

“Well, I love you more than my new Shopkins backpack.” (that is SO MUCH LOVE right there, y’all).

Sure, we have our tussles (like when she asks me what something is, I tell her, and she says, “No, it’s not.” WTF, kid?? Then why did you ASK me???) And she constantly brings down a torrent of parental wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the chaos that is her bedroom floor. But she’s an easy kid, and I know it.

Here’s what I also know: being a mother is the toughest challenge I’ve ever undertaken. Because you’ve gotta bring your whole self to this mothering gig. Your BEST self. And that’s tough.

She sees me. Really sees me, in a way that almost no one else does. Sometimes I swear she can read my mind. Which means, there is no hiding my reactions from her. So I damn well better be on my mental A-game all the time.

For me, that translates into: no negative self-talk, offering apologies when I’m wrong, radical acceptance of my body, prizing strength (of body & spirit) over beauty, laughing at myself, and being honest about what I know and what I don’t.

I suck at all these things.

BUT… I am approximately one TRILLION times better at them than I was 6 and a half years ago.

I’ve considered all the things I want her to be when she grows up… then I’ve tried to become all those things myself. Because, let’s be honest, I have no control over what she will choose as an adult. All I can control is my influence on her now—how she sees me live my life.

So, I am passionate about social justice. I look for the best in people. I ask questions about the whys of people’s behaviors, instead of just making assumptions. I see great beauty and pain in the world—and try not to shy away from either. I dance for no apparent reason. I sing loudly in church—even though I’m confident that Jesus is the only one who appreciates my singing. And I pursue my passion—even when I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to write—because I want her to one day feel fully justified in pursuing hers.

Jane makes me a better person. Every day.

On the morning of her first day of First Grade, I sighed as I redid her braids three different times. She stood there in her brand new navy uniform dress (the one with the ruffle on the front & the bow in the back) and complained of boredom. I rolled my eyes because the braids wouldn’t stay in right. But we both stuck with it—because Jane has tremendously well-honed sense of self. The braids were an important part of her first day outfit, the way she wanted to present herself in this new chapter of her life. And I want her to live into her vision for herself. I wish I’d known who I was at six years old.

She went to school brimming with excitement, self-confidence, and hope. She will rock First Grade. I’ll cheer her on—through both the super-amazing stuff and the not-so-easy stuff. And I’ll hold on to the hope that, one day, she’ll look up to me as much as I look up to her.

 

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Practically Perfect in Every Way (photo credit: RM Lathan)

 

 

Back Together Again

Breaking up and getting back together—all within a 48-hour span—well, it’s not for the faint of heart.

When Simon & I woke up the next morning, it was like being on an incredibly awkward first date. In my pajamas. With someone I’d known for over a decade.

I had no idea what to do or say.

I made coffee, like usual. That seemed right. We probably still needed caffeine to function.

We sat down in the living room—which miraculously was still OUR living room—and I chattered on in a way that managed to be simultaneously overly-chipper and politely reserved. Which translated into rather happy, equally meaningless, small talk. (I despise small talk.)

Beneath my frantic efforts appear normal(ish), I felt completely unmoored. I was thrilled to have Simon back. But I was terrified if I did or said the wrong thing, he’d decide all over again that we were done. But for real this time.

The problem was that I both knew—and did not know—exactly what had gone wrong. When I could focus long enough to sort my thoughts, I knew that Simon had left only because he believed I didn’t want to be with him anymore. He thought he was doing me a favor. He thought he was fixing things. But the why was buried under my fear, which just kept shouting: He left you! He doesn’t love you! He left you!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fear is a bastard.

In yet another bizarre twist, on this awkward, small talk filled Saturday morning, we also needed to go rent a U-Haul to fetch the remainder of the furniture we’d stored at our best friends’ house. Moving furniture together is an admittedly odd reconciliation activity. (Note: I do not recommend). But we dropped the kid off with said friends and headed out for a day of furniture relocation.

Odd task aside, sitting in a U-Haul truck next to Simon (without the kid anywhere in earshot) allowed us to talk openly and honestly for the first time in probably over a year. The stark reality that Simon could leave (and would, if he didn’t feel like the relationship was serving both of us well) knocked the anger and resentment right out of me. And not in the way that fear robs people of their fight. I wasn’t angry or resentful anymore because I’d been presented with a real, viable exit strategy. For the first time since Simon told me he wanted to/needed to transition, I felt like I had a choice. And I made my choice. I chose to stay. Because that’s what I wanted.

It was amazing to look at Simon (probably for the first time ever) and feel completely awash in love. I mean I was smitten. I was all hand-holdy and lovey. And I was driving him batshit. Because these ways, they are not his ways. But he understood. And he held my hand. And told me he loved me, too (for the 400th time).

We talked about difficult things. We talked about how to start over. We acknowledged that we needed to bring our best selves to this reconciliation—whatever that looked like for each of us. I asked questions I was scared to ask. He trusted me enough to answer me honestly. It felt real. Like communication. Things felt possible again.

It was in the middle of this hard but good conversation that we pulled up to a red light at Memorial Drive. I didn’t see them at first, because I was looking at Simon. But his eyes got wide. He looked excited. Like, kid picking out a puppy excited. And he said, “Are those LLAMAS?!?” And sure as shit, I looked across Memorial, and there were 15 or so llamas being led around a small enclosure. Outside a bar. In intown Atlanta.

Some people find signs in rainbows or floating feathers. Ours came in llamas. Because the pure joy that those llamas brought Simon wouldn’t have even been possible a day or two before—not with all that baggage we’d been carrying around. But now, he could be as exuberant about those llamas as he needed to be. Unfettered. Because now we’d both made a choice we could live (happily) with.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Viator.com (image has been altered)

But It’s Not Over Over. Right?

Callie & Arizona broke up. And this set into motion the epic meltdown of 2016.

SARA RAMIREZ, JESSICA CAPSHAW
Photo Cred: Ron Tom_ABC

But, I guess you’ll need a little more background than that: Simon & I watched Grey’s Anatomy voraciously last Fall. We’d dissect the characters’ (often baffling) life choices and analyze their relationship dilemmas. This gave us a safe way to talk about hypothetical relationship issues without really delving into our own.

This seemed like a good plan—until it almost ended us.

I guess I should pause to note that nothing really “seemed like a good plan.” We didn’t consciously decide to avoid our issues. If you’d asked me at the time, I probably would have said there wasn’t anything to talk about. And, as for Grey’s, who doesn’t love good catharsis? Which is what I was getting every night. But catharsis can’t alleviate the underlying problems. It’s just a temporary, feel-better fix. Hindsight, though. In that moment, Simon & I were just hanging out, loving Grey’s, as folks do.

But we’d reached a point in the ever-winding plot that proved problematic for us:

  • the focus was on Callie and Arizona’s relationship. And seeing two women together brought up all my feelings of loss and displacement… and anger.
  • Callie & Arizona were having some relationship struggles. And so, I’d pick a side and argue it passionately, with way more investment than necessary. Because what I wanted to do was argue with Simon. But I was too emotionally exhausted. So I argued with characters in a TV show.
  • Then they took a break. From each other. And this plot development turned out to be disastrous for us.

Simon & I had been negotiating a rather uneasy peace since we moved to Atlanta. I looked around every day and celebrated just being in the city, living a life that for so long felt like it would never be a reality. I immediately immersed myself in racial justice activism, in Jane’s elementary school, in work with new, fun clients. Simon—well, he liked Atlanta just fine. But he certainly wasn’t as intoxicated by just being here as I was. (It is fair to note that I am given to bouts of extreme enthusiasm.) The distance between he & I grew daily. I didn’t want to know what was wrong with him. I just wanted him to fucking fix it.

I was exhausted.

We’d been through a lot in our 13 years together: being batshit crazy drunks, getting married, getting sober, infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy, parenthood, getting married again, Simon’s transition. Any one of these events can end a relationship. We’d been through all of them. And, I guess, after Simon’s transition, I expected everything to be smooth sailing. But Simon will be the first to tell you that transitioning doesn’t fix everything. Simon still had some work to do. And I was completely ignoring everything I felt, saving just enough energy to make passive-aggressive jabs at Simon about what I thought he needed to fix.

At various points, I’d thought about leaving. Or asking for an open relationship. I just wanted to not feel so responsible for us. I wanted to think about me for a minute. There hadn’t been a lot of time for that in the past two years.

Then it happened. One night, after Grey’s Anatomy, Simon said, “I think we should do what Callie & Arizona did. Take a break.” I looked at him like he had sprouted a third eye. Because WHAT? I was the aggrieved party. I was the one who’d married someone who changed the terms of our relationship when he transitioned. How DARE he suggest a break? What the ever-loving hell was wrong with him? Which I asked him, in colorful language. He said he thought I’d be happier. I asked if this was a break or a break up. Everything about what he was saying sounded so final. He said he thought it should be permanent. And, just like that, we’d started the process of conscious uncoupling.

I called my best friend the next morning to fill her in my newly bizarre and topsy-turvy world. Actually, what I told her was that I thought Simon had broken up with me. Because I couldn’t fathom this whole turn of events. I mean, did relationships really end just out of the blue? I didn’t want my relationship to end. I wanted it fixed. It could be fixed, right?

Bless her, she had to deal with my anger (if he wanted to split up, why the hell didn’t he just stay in Tampa?), my fear (holy shit, I can’t pay for the house by myself… what am I going to do?), and my tears (but he didn’t even try to work it out. Doesn’t he love me? I always thought he loved me). And she was also managing her own shock. Because, if you weren’t living in our house and couldn’t feel the ever-present tension and complete disconnect between the two of us, this uncoupling seemed to come from nowhere at all.

But it did come from somewhere. It came from almost a year of drifting apart emotionally, of divesting from each other’s lives, of believing deep down we’d be better off apart. We were so emotionally estranged by this point that, in the preceding months, when I’d found a lump in my breast and been terrified it was breast cancer, I didn’t lean on him for support. And he didn’t offer much of it. We were totally broken. But, even if we were currently shattered, I didn’t want to give up yet. We had Jane to consider. And I knew that I loved Simon. Even if I couldn’t see how to get back to a healthy version of us.

I corralled him into a discussion about the unraveling of our relationship that afternoon before I picked Jane up from school. Could we work things out? No. Could we go to couple’s counseling? No. Could we just try one more time? No. No. No. He’d made up his mind, it seemed. He’d decided that Jane & I were better off without him. That he was only an albatross, weighing us down. It didn’t really matter what I wanted or what I said. He was convinced that our split was the best thing for me.

My head exploded. I yelled. I cussed. Then I yelled some more. I went over the edge completely. Who was he to make this decision for me? I’d stood by him through his transition, held his hand, worked so hard at being okay (at least I thought so at the time). How DARE he leave me now? But he was gone. We were, in fact, over.

(To be continued…)

Flux

Life is constant flux. Knowing is transitory. Grasping destroys even the most beautiful things.

When Simon transitioned, I knew—knew down in my bones—that this would be better. For him. For our family. For Jane. But that knowing clashed against my belief about who I was—defined largely by being a lesbian. I couldn’t conceptualize how I could be gay and be with Simon. People often rail about being put into a box—they don’t want to be labeled. But I did want to be labeled. I’d worn this particular label (lesbian) for over 20 years. And I was pissed that someone would try to snatch that away from me. I felt betrayed by Simon’s need to be himself. Because that self wasn’t what I’d signed up for.

Everything I wrote about that summer—two years ago now—was true. We did reconnect in meaningful ways. Our physical spark returned. We fell in love again.

But all the while, I felt off-kilter. Like I was lying to myself. I didn’t know if I could be married to a man. Because I didn’t want to be. I’d married the person I wanted. Now she was gone. And in her place was this guy—who looked like her, who both was but was not the person I fell in love with. My everyday life was a total mindfuck.

Angry. Sad. Betrayed. Lonely. Scared. All of this I felt with varying intensity, all the while cheering Simon on through his transition. Which was never about us (it couldn’t have been; it shouldn’t have been). Simon transitioned so he could live, really live, his own life. Which left me to figure out how my lesbian self—fit into this new life of his. And how he fit into mine.

More and more, I was convinced that he didn’t.

I crafted the life I wanted to live. I built it up brick by brick, carefully constructed to fortify me in case of disaster. Because disaster loomed large any time paused long enough to evaluate our situation. Which wasn’t often. Emotional survival became the ultimate goal.

When shit went wrong (like, really, really wrong), my fortification didn’t do jack to protect me. I felt vulnerable. Crushed. And searingly lonely. Everything I’d believed to be true for more than 13 years suddenly felt like a lie. A complete fabrication. I couldn’t breathe.

But I could see clearly.

I saw that grasping at a label—even one that served me so well for so many years—was destroying me. I finally saw the person standing in front of me—and he had real needs, fears, desires. Those had both everything and nothing to do with me. When I could just see us standing there—me and him, stripped of labels, and free to choose—then I knew that I wanted him. Not in that sure, we’ll stay together way. But in an I choose you way. Not you are good enough, but you are ALL that is ever going to be good enough.

So I chose him. And in the choosing I found freedom.

Kindergarten Pandas

IMG_3360Simon & I spent a lot of time planning our family. It took us 2 years to get pregnant, so we had lots of time to choose baby names, to debate how we’d handle hypothetical disciplinary scenarios, to make crazy proclamations like “She’ll never wear pink or play with princesses!” But all that time, I wasn’t imagining a baby. I was imagining a little girl who would bound home from school each day, discard her school stuff haphazardly at the front door, and clamber up to the kitchen table for an after school snack.

So, imagine my surprise when, in late January 2011, I found myself staring down at the face of an adorable, incredibly helpless baby. I was overjoyed and full of “what-the-hell-do-I-do-with-this-tiny-person?”. Fortunately, Jane is a good teacher. We muddled through each baby and toddler stage with varying degrees of success. But always with so much love & forgiveness for each other’s shortcomings.

This week, my baby girl started Kindergarten. And this… this is everything I dreamed it would be.

Jane likes learning (although she does have to fight through always needing to be right, in order to absorb new information. No idea where she gets that). She’s enthused about new adventures. And she adores people. New friends? Loves them! New teachers? Just more folks to love. Jane’s amazing preschool experience at the YMCA in Tampa set her up to completely rock Kindergarten. But there’s always an element of the unknown when dealing with a 5 year-old. So, I eagerly anticipated her first day of school, all the while fretting about how it would go. This is my way. It’s just what I do.

She’d made a specific request that we NOT be late on her first day. I’m not sure why… we aren’t usually late to things… but she was clearly worried. So I promised we’d get there early. But, on the morning of her first day of school, she slept past 6:45. Excuse me, but WHAT THE HELL?!? We’ve been trying to get this kid to sleep past 6:45 forever. And she never does. Not on Saturdays. Not on Sundays. Not on holidays. But on her first day of school? Sleeping like a log. I had to shake her to wake her up. And then she flopped right back in bed like a dead fish. Again, WHAT THE HELL???

She perked up when we wandered into the kitchen for breakfast. But I started eyeing the clock as it passed 7, and she was still munching pensively on her raisin toast. I swear, she was eating it so slowly that it was spontaneously regenerating. I told her to hurry. I wrung my hands. I asked if she was almost done. I bounced my leg anxiously. Nothing would entice her to eat faster.

Then, Bobby… oh, sweet, understanding, perceptive Bobby…stepped in, picked her up and asked if she was scared about her first day. And then there were tears. Yes, it turns out. Eating toast excruciatingly slowly is a symptom of being scared. She shed precisely two tears. Then she wiped them away and began excitedly chattering about her classroom, her Shimmer & Shine backpack (etc, etc, etc).

By the time we got her in her adorable uniform and walked up to the front of the school, she didn’t seem nervous at all anymore. She greeted the Principal and her teacher with her general bubbly good nature. When she saw the art and activity stations in her classroom, she exclaimed, “This will be FUN!” And then she was officially a Kindergartener. No more tears (from her or me).

And having a school-aged kid is just as amazing as I thought it would be. She chatters about her new friends, tells me what they did each day, and professes her love of being a Panda (it’s their mascot). She is growing up so quickly. And I am so grateful to be along for the ride with her.

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Resilience

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“We are going to move away from the only home you’ve ever really known,” we said.

“Okay,” she said.

“We know that you’re leaving behind friends and family. It’s okay to miss them, and its okay to cry.”

“But I will get to live in the same place as my best friends. And their moms. And we love them so much. So, it’ll be okay,” she said.

We said goodbye. To the house. To family. To friends. To our house.

“I am sometimes sad saying goodbye,” she said. Then she cried broken sobs that shattered my heart. I held her until she was done. She dried her eyes, looked up at me and said, “But it’ll be okay.”

We made the long trek from Tampa to Atlanta and arrived in our new (temporary) home after 11p.m. Nothing of hers had made it here yet, except a few favorite toys.

“I love sleeping in my sleeping bag next to you, Mommy. It’ll be okay,” she said.

The next morning we got up bright and early; the three of us walked to one of the most stellar breakfast spots in Atlanta. She ate a pancake, which she declared the best she’d ever had.

We set out to walk home and she burst into tears. “I miss everyone,” she sobbed. Her Bobby held her until she was done. “It’ll be okay,” she said, “as long as I can ride on your shoulders home.” So she did.

We sent her off to spend time with her best friends and their moms, the ones she loves so very much. She declared that definitely much better than okay.

We explored this big, beautiful city, and her eyes grew wide with wonder. “This isn’t like Tampa,” she said. “But I think I like it okay.”

We found our new YMCA, and I signed her up for camp. She cried before we left he apartment on her first day—something she has never, ever done. She didn’t want to go. I sympathized. I cajoled. And then I finally insisted she go. She looked so small when I dropped her off, there in this new place with new people she didn’t know. When I picked her up, she got in the car and yelled, “Today was the best day ever!” So, I guess that means it’s okay.

She is 5. She’s full of enthusiasm, optimism and a flair for the dramatic. And she’s not afraid to feel things. Not sadness. Not joy. Not even fear. She names her feelings for what they are, feels them, and then lets them go. She is amazing. Adaptable. Resilient.

She is making Atlanta her home, day by day. She has friends at camp. She can’t wait for Kindergarten (just another week and a half!). And she loves the friends she already had here. She is joyous and aglow when she is with them. And I am so grateful to have a child that does not shrink from living her life.

And she is definitely okay.