Oct 112010
 

I have 2 other time-sensitive posts brewing in the back of my head: Yesterday should have been the “Letter to Noah” post for the month, and this weekend I was at the awesome and amazing Blogalicious Weekend conference in Miami. Those posts will be forthcoming.

I wanted to title this post “Happy National Coming Out Day,” but then I realized that this year, that title just doesn’t fit.

In the wake of four young men — really, one young man and three boys — committing suicide, and two more teens and an adult being kidnapped and tortured, all for either being gay or being perceived as being gay, 2010 isn’t a year where I feel celebratory about coming out.

There are bright spots. Dan Savage and his partner Terry launched the It Gets Better project, designed to give young gay teens hope and encouragement. Tim Gunn, of Project Runway, has a particularly moving video contribution.

And my own life with my family is a very nice life indeed. I am out pretty much everywhere — everywhere that it makes sense in context. I’m out in the neighborhood, I’m out at church, I’m out to the people in my PhD program (both students and faculty), I’m out at the kids’ school.

At the wonderful Blogalicious conference last weekend, there was a contextually appropriate way for me to come out on my panel — we were talking about finding your voice as a blogger, and I really found mine about 6 months after I started blogging, when I became pregnant with Noah and got obsessed with finding other pregnant lesbians and their blogs. I was out to the people I knew at the conference before that moment, but as the “lawyer-panelist” there was a good chance that there would be no contextually appropriate opportunity for me to come out on the panel, which would have been fine.

Really, the only time I’m not out is when I can’t find a contextually appropriate way to come out. (Or when I forget that I haven’t found one yet and think I’m out, but my absentmindedness is a separate issue.)

For example, I doubt I’m out to the people at Walgreen’s. It would be weird, right? “I’ll have 2 packs of diapers, a bottle of generic headache medicine, and by the way, I’m a lesbian!” Looking the way I look, coming out is nearly always something I get to choose.

Which puts me in a very different position from all those dead and tortured boys.

They had no choice.

They look the way they look, and the people around them perceived them as gay, as different, and as so wrong that it was deserving of humiliation and violence.

And in the cases of the boys who killed themselves, they internalized those judgments, and it was fatal.

In spite of how my life has turned out, and that I was not treated that way for being gay, I do know how that feels.

When I was 8 or 9 years old, I contemplated suicide. I wished I was dead, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do it that wouldn’t hurt. I had more physical fear than emotional misery, so I didn’t die.

I was in the 5th grade, younger than my classmates, socially inept, and both fashion and hygiene unconscious. I picked my nose, and I ate the boogers. My classmates called me Liz Lizard and Booger Girl.

I’ve been looking at that last paragraph and debating erasing it for 15 minutes. Here I am 40 years old, and admitting those things still makes me jittery with nerves.

But in the spirit of Coming Out Day and the It Gets Better Project, I can tell you, whether or not you are gay, if you are picked on or bullied in school, it does get better. It gets so much better. I was lucky. For me, it got better in high school, where I was lucky enough to find a whole cadre of smart, weird, interesting, funny friends. Even if you are not lucky enough for it to get better that quickly, I promise you, it still gets better.

If I had succeeded in coming up with a way to end it all back when I was a child, I wouldn’t have these two beautiful, heart-filling sources of joy in my life. Or their This Mommy.

Sib Love

PS In the universe of surface-unlikely but actually-perfect pairings, if you would like to read a totally charming story about how it can get better, I recommend Ernessa Carter’s novel 32 Candles. Her narrator Davidia Jones is poor, abused, and believes she is what her classmates call her, “ugly as a monkey and black as the night.” Her life gets better, with some very clever twists that I don’t want to spoil. (And the author is a Smith alumna.)

 Posted by at 6:21 am
Jun 012010
 

Today is Blogging for LGBT Families Day, the 5th annual such celebration and acknowledgment. Having been part of it since the inception, with varied degrees of advance planning and success, I can’t let it pass me by.

But today, I’m feeling both sad and delighted for some of my friends and their LGBT families.

I’m so sad to have heard this weekend that Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and her now-former partner, Lauren Azar, have separated and dissolved their domestic partnership.

Lauren was a classmate of mine in law school. While we haven’t stayed close over the last 13 years, there was a time when we knew each other well. In fact, before she and Tammy met, Lauren briefly dated one of my housemates — an interestingly intimate way to get to know someone. She and Tammy seemed so well matched, but having a spouse who travels constantly, and sharing an under-the-political-microscope life must be extremely difficult. And of course, it is impossible to ever really know what is going on in someone else’s relationship.

Still I can’t help but believe that social support for a relationship helps keep it healthy and intact. Who knows whether theirs would have lasted if they could legally marry? Or if it were as difficult and expensive to dissolve a domestic partnership as it is to legally divorce?

Regardless of the whys, wherefores, or their eventual long term happiness, my heart goes out to both Tammy and Lauren. I hope that they untangle their lives with as little pain and suffering as possible. I hope each of them eventually finds herself in a thriving new family.

The good news I’ve been thinking of this weekend is every bit as good as the bad news was bad. This weekend welcomed to the world an adorable baby boy, Walden, son of another of my law school classmates and her partner. It also welcomed an adorable baby girl, Cady, daughter of one of my undergraduate classmates and her partner.

Walden and Cady, each of you are celebrated, welcomed, and so eagerly anticipated as members of your two-mom families, and your wonderful, thrilled extended families. All four of your mothers are part of a movement that expands how families are perceived — and at the same time, both of you owe your existences to one of the most fundamental human drives. We love, we crave family love, and we are driven to create families and to nurture new members of the next generation.

Walden and Cady, thanks for making that happen for your parents. I know you’ll bring your mommies as much laughter, terror, love, frustration, affection, awe, and exhaustion as Noah and Josie bring to me and to This Mommy.

And to Andrea and Rebecca, Kim and Peg (and big sister Bea!), my most heartfelt congratulations on your beautiful new babies.

May 182010
 

Really.

You see, as we contemplate how to fit our family into various houses that we have attempted to buy or are considering buying, we’ve also been contemplating furniture changes — some critical, some needed, some we’d like to make.

At one point, a bunk bed for the kids was on the table.

Somehow in the course of my internet research, I found this breathtaking fantasy bunk bed from CedarWorks. (This is not paid advertising, my only material relationship with CedarWorks is that they sent me a catalog in the mail. After I asked for one online.)

I needed the catalog because the web site doesn’t have any prices. You can design your own fantasy playset or bed and ask them to send you a quote by email, but you can’t actually see that an adorable bubble shelf wall-panel for your bunk bed costs $175. (Not for the bunk bed; for one of the panels that makes it kind of a bunk-bed playhouse. That’s a heckuva lot more.) (CedarWorks? Please come join the 21st Century; it’s very nice here! Let us see the prices online. Please. We can handle the truth. And if you’d like some help communicating with Mommybloggers or other social media, we should talk.)

That’s also my only complaint about their web site. They have the coolest online design tool ever, where you can configure a playset or loft bed or the bunk bed of your dreams.

Do not ask how much time I spent playing with that tool. Or how many imaginary beds I saved, or whether or not they were REALLY for Noah & Josie. (Or for 9 year old bookworm Liza.)

Seriously. My new lottery-winning fantasy involves these CedarWorks Rhapsody “playbeds” for both children. Ahem. Maybe they will let me play or read in there with them.

For Noah, I’m daydreaming about the fire pole exit, a climbing wall panel, and a nice private nook area where he can go when he needs his “Don’t look at me!” space.

For Josie, my fantasy involves a slide exit with a hiding nook underneath, flowers you can peek through, and those adorable bubble-shelves I mentioned above.

Possibly both of them get chalkboard panels in this fantasy. If I could make it look nice.

Nine year old Liza would have been all about the reading nooks, with as much hiding ability as possible.

I’ll let you know if I win the lottery and can move these daydreams into reality. But even if that never happens, I’m enjoying my children’s furniture fantasy quite a bit.

Apr 022009
 

You may notice that over there on the right, the BlogHer Ad sidebar deal isn’t running any ads.

They got upset about my 23andMe post. I knew that I wasn’t allowed to do paid reviews or run other ads above or parallel to theirs, but I didn’t realize that I couldn’t cross post things from a place I’m paid to blog to this blog. (I don’t plan to do that often — cross posting seems boring to me.)

They gave me 24 hours to sort out getting the post to an ad-free page. There were instructions on how to do it in a wordpress blog, but seriously, my technical skills are inadequate. I might be able to make the changes they want, but not in 24 hours.

But I’m kind of annoyed.

I don’t know if I’m going to make the changes. I don’t really like someone telling me what I can’t talk about here.

While I like the company and the ads — by and large, they make it easy — the money more or less covers paying for the blog, but not a whole lot more. On the other hand, am I going to spend the time and energy finding advertisers on my own? Not really.

Anyway. That’s what I’ve been thinking about for the last day or so.

That, and I’ve been cursing bureaucracy in the form of challenges communicating between the Wisconsin and Georgia departments of Labor. I *think* I understand what I’m supposed to do to get unemployment compensation. Unfortunately, I can’t test that theory for another 48 hours.

 Posted by at 10:15 pm
Mar 072009
 

We have had a lot of technical difficulties with our home land line here in Wisconsin.

I know, a land line? We aren’t using it for phone service, so if you would normally think of calling us at home, please don’t be offended that we didn’t give you the number. Jill needs a land line for faxing for work.

First we went the traditional route: AT&T. Somehow I managed not to sign up for long distance with anyone, and so Jill wasn’t able to send 90% of the faxes she needed  to send.

Then someone came along selling a Time Warner Cable cheapo deal where we would get everything including free Showtime for about $5 more than we were paying for basic cable and fast Internet already. So we agreed to try VOIP/digital phone.

It has been a very difficult 12 days.

We have not gone 3 days without a service call, although to be fair, some of those calls were for cable or Internet problems, not only phone. But 3 were because we didn’t have any dial tone. Three separate technicians have come to our house.

Two calls ago, TWC credited our account with a free month. At that point, we thought we would use that month and then go back to analog phone service.

Yesterday, when the dial tone wasn’t working again, Jill’s head exploded.

The soonest we can have analog service again is Wednesday. We thought we might try to catch up on all of the episodes of The L Word that we haven’t seen this season — which is all of them — before we cancelled.

Unfortunately, Showtime On Demand didn’t work last night either. So we have watched two episodes, and the prospects of our fitting the rest in before Wednesday are dim. At least we already heard that Jenny dies.

 Posted by at 7:58 am
Mar 022009
 

Have you seen the news story about the Ohio woman arrested for child endangerment, because she was driving, breast feeding, and talking on her cell phone at the same time?

Normally, I try not to be too judgmental about other moms, but I can’t seem to stop myself from making an exception here. ARE YOU KIDDING? Nursing while driving??????

Maybe I’m the freak. I usually won’t even start driving until Jill’s seatbelt is all the way fastened, much less Noah’s or Josie’s. And yeah, I also admit that I’ve made mistakes on buckling them in, so on about 2 occasions each, they’ve been driven somewhere when I thought they were buckled in, but I was wrong.

And of the two times when I discovered my error en route, I pulled over to buckle Noah in properly.

Incidentally, when I first heard this story, I assumed the driver had an infant. Who among us who is a parent can’t relate to the heartbreaking cry of an infant who is hungry and OVER being in the car seat? It is awful.

I admit to endangering myself while Jill was driving, once, about 45 minutes before the end of a ~4 hour road trip with Noah while he was 7 months old.

I climbed into the back seat and contorted myself into a crazy yoga-esque position so that I could nurse him while he remained securely locked in his car seat.

But this child wasn’t an infant. He or she was almost 2 years old. That’s old enough to be told that you have to wait, or to be offered a solid food snack.

That’s also a larger sized child, not an infant who could concievably fit into a sling while being driven somewhere. I don’t advocate that, I’m just able to envision it making nursing while driving physically possible.

That’s the other thing. Maybe I’m just uncoordinated, but I don’t think I COULD drive, talk on the cell phone, and nurse at the same time. It seems like one of those crazy tricks, like rubbing your tummy, patting your head, and blowing a bubble at the same time. Only dangerous, and dangerous to your child, not just yourself!

Apparently this mom could get up to 180 days of jail time for what she did. While I have no problem with extended nursing, and think that weaning because mommy had to go to jail would be awful for a child, I find myself hoping that she does get jail time for her reckless behavior. All those beneficial immunities in breastmilk don’t protect children from being killed in car crashes! And what would she have said if that happened? At least s/he didn’t die hungry?

Ok, I’m done ranting. For now.

 Posted by at 9:59 am
Feb 182009
 

If you ever click on the posts at the bottom of those BlogHer ads that run in the right hand side of this blog, you may have noticed that they’ve started featuring a member post and talking about it on the BlogHer site.

This week, the featured BlogHer post of the week is about race and friendship. There’s also been a bit of drama on the topic around some of the feminist and mommyblogosphere of late.

I’ve given a lot of thought to that topic over the years, but I haven’t written much about it here. In fact, the only posts I can find are related to my high school reunion and some of my reading material.  Clearly my posting about race lags way behind my thinking about it.

Here’s what Miss Britt said that provoked this post:

The last thing I want is to insulate myself or my kids from the diversity that this country – and the world as a whole – has to offer. There is real danger that grows from that kind of ignorance. And yet, I don’t want to begin befriending people because of the color of their skin and the cultural learning experience that they can provide to my family.

“Hello, yes, you there. You look ethnic. What are you doing for Sunday dinner? Me and my socially tolerant and diverse family would like to invite you over.”

Somehow I doubt that is what Kelly was suggesting.

But what’s the answer?

No. Seriously. This is the shit I think about. If we run the risk of not seeing color simply because there isn’t any color in our lives to see, is the solution to seek out opportunities to “diversify”? And if we do, doesn’t that type of ulterior motive sully both the seeker and the sought?

At the risk of opening a shitcan of worms, Oh Great Blogosphere, discuss.

Britt has cogently identified the overanalytical dilemma of the white liberal.

I don’t have a magical “right answer” but I have some experience, and I have some success and some failure in this area. And while like many white people in the US, I’m not entirely comfortable talking about race, I’m also not so uncomfortable talking about race that I have to avoid it altogether.

So.

In a broad sense, I think that context is the most important piece of the question of how we build lives that are inclusive and diverse.

In other words, if you want a life that includes people from different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, classes, etc, you have to put yourself in places where you will naturally meet people who are different from you.

This is kind of like how losing weight takes exercising more and eating less. Obvious, and yet not easy.

Most people in the US live in fairly homogeneous communities, go to homogeneous churches or other worship facilities, spend our recreational time in homogeneous spaces, etc. In fact, I think most of us become somewhat uneasy if we find ourselves “out of place” — in the distinct minority — in many of those places.

In some cities, the work world is a little bit more integrated. Atlanta surprised me with how diverse the professional world was, although even my former employer, diverse as it was, had racial clustering in some positions and departments. The legal department was far more white than the call center, for example. In Washington DC, support staff for organizations were often African American, while professional staff were more likely to be white.

But mostly, I think the only way to achieve diversity is to seek it out. And in the case of our children, to foist it on them.

And that seeking has to be from the heart, not as Britt so amusing described, like trying to get a Yahtzee by having friends from each category. Or “friends” as it seems like it would be if the only basis for the friendship were the cultural enrichment/liberal street cred you can provide to me by being my token ______ friend. Or having me as your token lesbian friend.

In a lot of ways, I was incredibly lucky as a kid and teenager. My parents actively worked to create a diverse circle of friends, and to put my sister and me in contexts where we would naturally meet people who were different from us.

In school, that worked amazingly well.

At church, it was a lot more awkward and uncomfortable. The church we went to was probably 60% African American, and uber-liberal on every political-religious issue you can think name. But it was also a mixture of classes, and the majority of the white church families were middle to upper middle class, while the majority of the African American families were working class or poor. There were exceptions, in both cases, but I’m giving you a fair description of how it felt.

So that’s what I think works.

I also think it only works if you actively maintain it.

I am still friends with a surprising number of people who I knew in high school. But of the 20 or 30 people I hung around with the most in high school, maybe half a dozen were biracial or African American. And of the dozen or so I’m still in touch with regularly, and NOT just via facebook, 3 are biracial. And two of them are siblings.

I’ve had occassional email contact with 2 others, but one is currently living in Monrovia and I didn’t even know it until I looked her up on the State Bar Association website, so I don’t think I get to claim a serious ongoing friendship in those cases.

All friendships take maintenance, yes. But I think that maintenance needs to be more conscious if you have an authentic desire for a diverse experience of life.

I’m going to rat myself out about my most educational failure on this front, and then declare this post done. But it also speaks to this consciousness issue.

Early in my career, I worked for a non profit organization in Washington DC, which focused on Internet constitutional law issues. I often sat in big coalition meetings and made little marginal notes about the number of women and people of color in the room. (Usually about 10-15% women, and maybe a person of color. Seldom 2.)

My organization was asked by Senator Daschle’s office to recommend several candidates for the Children’s Online Protection Act Commission. I was the liason to his office. We went back and forth with some of the people we knew wanted the appointment, discussing the politics of this interest group, that corporation, etc, and eventually made a recommendation of 3 people.

They were all older, white guys. Typical of the industry. But EVEN the LIBRARIAN we recommended was an older white guy!

After the whole thing was over, Daschle’s office called back. They told us that they had followed our recommendations, but that they were extremely disappointed in us for sending such a homogeneous list, and that if we ever had the opportunity to do something like that again, we had better do better.

And they were right.

I ***immediately*** could think of women who we could have recommended, who worked in similar positions (perhaps less senior) in the same corporations as the men we recommended. And God help me if we couldn’t have found female librarians who were up to the job.

Yes, we would have had to work a little bit harder to find people of color. But I know we could have done it.

Just because the first people who came to mind for these positions were a certain demographic does not mean that those were the only qualified or the best qualified people.

And you can bet that I’ve never forgotten that experience. In fact, my embarassment over my own role in helping to fill that commission has helped keep me mindful about diversity and outreach in later public events.

And it has me very appreciative of the work groups like BlogHer do, to make sure that they are inclusive well beyond any kind of token level.

What do you think? Can we ever build an effortlessly diverse community or life? If you “don’t see color” are you accepting of everyone or blind to the impact race has on our lives?

 Posted by at 2:56 pm