Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In Support of Marriage Equality

Today, like many others, I changed my profile picture on Facebook to the symbol for the Human Rights Campaign. I live in Austin, a delightfully open-minded place, so pretty much everyone I know did the same - from my gay friends to my gay relatives to my straight friends and my straight relatives -- all the way to my fearless 65-year old mother who lives in my otherwise conservative home town. I'm proud to be part of a vast network of people who support our friends who don't yet have the legal right to marry the person they love.

When my husband Tim noticed I changed my picture, he replied with a perplexed, "????" 

Now, before you start thinking I married a homophobic man, you haven't met my husband. The man sews. He wears cuff links. Long before I married Tim, I worked with him, and I thought he was gay because he owned and boldly wore a mustard yellow linen suit. But lucky for me, he's a boob man, so we're all good. It wasn't that Tim was questioning my support of marriage equality; he simply didn't recognize the symbol and was momentarily baffled by it. I joked on Facebook that for a brief moment, Tim thought I was moving to Sweden. 

I then explained that I also wasn't familiar with the symbol until a few months ago, when I spotted a blue and yellow sticker on the car next to me at our neighborhood grocery and actually wondered if it had something to do with Sweden. The kid driving the car was an Austin hipster in skinny jeans who smiled at me.

"What does that sticker mean?" I asked.

He explained that the sticker was the symbol for the Human Rights Campaign, and that it was connected with supporting marriage equality. 

My 9-year old daughter was with me, and since he was getting in his car and I wanted him to know I wasn't just your typical straight SUV-driving mom, I said enthusiastically, "Rosie and I support you! We watch Glee!"

And then, I snorted a big fat nerd snort and got in my car and drove off while he rolled his eyes at me. 

Okay, so I failed to adequately convey my support at that point. I made a huge, important human rights issue seem silly by comparing it to letting my daughter watch a prime time show with gay jokes and characters. So today, I'd like to try again. Or, better yet, let some somebody more qualified do it for me.

Enter Jean Podrasky, cousin of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who was present at today's US Supreme Court hearing on Proposition 8. This is what Podrasky had to say on the matter of marriage equality:

“Everyone in this country has a family member who is part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community…,” she wrote. “As a Californian, I want nothing more than to marry my wonderful girlfriend. And as a tax-paying citizen, I seek basic fairness.”

I'm one of those people who has a family member who is part of the gay community. And I agree with Podrasky, chances are, we all do (whether we know it or not, or whether that person has felt safe enough to share that often difficult reality with their loved ones). Lucky for me, my mother raised us to be open to all kinds of things that society deems as "different," so having a gay relative was, and always has been, a non-issue. Until now.

I want my relative to be able to have a legally-recognized marriage with his partner of 20+ years. I get to marry my partner, why can't he? I want my dear, childhood friend -- a boy I spent most of 7th grade trying to get to kiss me and who caused me to develop a complex until I learned he liked boys -- be able to marry his partner of 16+ years so that they can grow old together. 

If nothing else, I want my LGBT friends to have the same rights to get married, so we can all share the same jokes about marriage. Like, for example, when Tim and I tell people that when we got married, we said, "Divorce is not an option. But homicide is." Or, when Tim says, "The only thing worse than being married is being single."  After all, shouldn't we all have the same rights to be miserable when our spouses don't shut the kitchen cabinets or leave the salad dressing lid just a little bit loose? Every time? (And, for the record, that's me, not Tim. I leave salad dressing lids loose. I am sorry. We won't mention who leaves kitchen cabinets open..)

There are some who feel passionately that the institution of marriage is strictly for a man and a woman. While I personally think that is utter hogwash, I am also very sorry they feel that way. I am especially sorry for people who feel that way, marry a member of the opposite sex, and then decide to have a child. And then, that child grows up and finds the courage to say that they are in love with a person of the same sex, and is faced with having to figure out how to tell their parents the truth. Because it happens all the time, and only the tolerant survive those situations, look back, and wonder what all the fuss was about. The one thing that gives me hope is that I know people have the ability to grow and change, and to be more accepting.

I simply cannot understand people wanting to put restrictions on love. We should all be free to love and marry whomever we want. I personally don't care if you want to marry a guinea pig as long as it makes you happy. 

So I'll close with this, a quote from the lovely Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame (because by now you know that I have a certain need to associate important issues with gay-friendly TV shows):

"When women got the vote, they did not redefine voting. When African-Americans got the right to sit at a lunch counter alongside white people, they did not redefine eating out. They were simply invited to the table. That is all we want to do; we have no desire to change marriage. We want to be entitled to not only the same privileges but the same responsibilities as straight people." 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Chapter One on Judgement

A few months ago, one of my girlfriends was in the waiting room of her vet's office with her children in tow. She has three of the yummiest, most fantastic kids ever -- a 3-year old girl, 2-year old boy, and an infant boy. As she describes it, her infant was in his car seat, being an infant and doing nothing, and the two older kids were playing quietly beside her. Everything was cool. 

My friend goes out with all three kids all the time, never batting an eye. It's not always a calm scene, like the other day, when her 2-year old was at the top of a playscape and decided to remove his pants and Pull-Up and sit naked on his older sister's face while the infant began howling for his bottle. Yet my friend handles it all with the greatest of ease.

On this particular day, on top of three kids, she had a large dog in the mix. An older woman in the waiting room observed my friend and her children, looked at my friend and said, 

"I think it's time you stopped having kids."


When I heard this story, I was absolutely livid. The nerve!

"What did you do!?" I asked,  "How in the world do you respond to something like that?"

My friend is polite to a fault and simply smiled and said nothing, probably the best way to handle a bitter old bat like that. And while she surely came up with a lot of responses after the moment, in the end, she simply ignored it and went on with her day.

This reminded me of when my daughter was an infant. Though I'd had lots of practice with children because I have two stepchildren, I didn't enter their lives until they were 4 and 5, so going out into the world with a newborn was extremely intimidating to me.

When my daughter was about 2 months old, I was shopping and minding my own business when she began to cry. Never one to let a baby cry it out, I grabbed her out of her car seat and began to pat her back and try and comfort her. A woman (perhaps the exact same woman my friend encountered at the vet's office), approached me and said, 

"She's hungry. That's the kind of cry they cry when they're hungry. You should feed her."

What this ballsy woman didn't know was that I had been having a terrible time with breastfeeding, to the point where our daughter was actually losing weight instead of gaining. It was scary. She was born right before Mother's Day, and to this day I will not show anyone the photographs my husband took of  my exhausted, overwhelmed fake smile as I held our frail, underweight baby. It's just too painful.

What this ballsy woman also didn't know was that I was unknowingly moving around in a pretty serious state of postpartum depression. So when she came to me and gave me instructions to feed my daughter, I didn't respond with the grace that my good friend used at the vet's office.

"Really?" I asked, biting and sarcastic, "She's hungry? Well breastfeed her yourself, then!"

Looking back, I'm kind of proud of myself for being crazy and quick enough to respond in that manner, but at the time, her remark struck a painful chord that just made things seem worse. And now that it's been nine years and I can reflect on how difficult that time was, it makes me realize just how much judgement awaits us when we become parents.

I label this post "Chapter One on Judgement" because I can't address all of the levels on judgement in one piece because there is so much of it out there. So for today, let's just consider the judgement placed upon the parents of infants.

I read very few parenting books before having my daughter for a variety of reasons -- time, fear, stubbornness -- but the primary reason was because there was so much information out there it felt overwhelming. So when the baby came, I ventured out on walks in the neighborhood, and learned a lot about parenting from other mothers with babies. One of my neighbors was that enviable kind of mother who pops out a kid without drugs (I had a scary emergency C-Section), loses her baby weight the same day she delivered (I have baby weight 9 years later), and produces enough breast milk to fatten up her happy little baby and have enough left to donate to the Mother's Milk Bank so 16 other babies could eat as well. I kind of hated her.

One muggy afternoon at the park, I sat with my friend and some of her other marathon-running moms, cross-legged and sweaty as my baby cried the "I'm hungry" cry. My friends gracefully whipped out full, non-sagging breasts ripe with nourishment, and their plump babes ate peacefully while my daughter screamed and grimaced as I shoved an empty boob at her red, angry face.

"You're having a tough time with breastfeeding?" my neighbor asked, concerned.

I nodded shamefully as I fought back tears and my daughter wailed, and briefly considered begging her to breastfeed my baby just to give us both some relief. She gave me some tips, suggesting that I try to relax first (yeah, right), and invited me to join her at a mommy meet-up group. I know that she could see I was desperate for help.

I put off going to the meet-up group until I worked out the breastfeeding issue, and after several lactation consulting home visits and doctor's appointments, learned that it simply wasn't in the cards for me and that formula was a better solution. Though I felt like a failure in the breastfeeding department, things were getting much better at our house, and the baby was gaining weight like a champ. So I decided to venture out to the meet-up group and spend some time with some moms. I didn't ask questions before hand. 

I should have asked questions.

I won't reveal the name of this particular group, because that's ugly, but I learned quickly that I was out of place in a big way. I arrived with my daughter in her car seat, completely unaware that nobody else had a car seat in sight, as if their babies flew there on magic hippie love clouds. After settling in, I noticed that everyone wore a sling. I'd already given up the battle of the Baby Bjorn, so a sling was nowhere in my vision of how to schlep a baby. 

The topic of the day was toys, with tips and advice on where to find wooden toys. I swiftly buried the plastic teething ring underneath a blanket in the carseat and listened while I learned how terrible plastic toys are. Don't get me wrong; I knew very little about BPAs and the dangers of plastic then, and if I could go back I would make some different choices, but at the time, my biggest concern was getting my baby to eat, so banning plastic toys was really low on my priority list.

While I learned about wooden toys and resisted the temptation to ask, "But what about splinters?" I looked around to see all sorts of full breasts feeding all sorts of rosy-cheeked babes. And toddlers. And kids that might have been a little old for the breast? But if I'm discussing judgement, I guess I shouldn't be judging.

I prayed that my daughter would wait to cry her "I'm hungry" cry until the meeting was over. Of course that didn't happen, so I sheepishly whipped out a plastic bottle full of formula and began feeding my happy baby.

"Oh," said one of the moms, eyeing me with a mix of sympathy and distate, "You don't breastfeed?"

"No," I said, "It just didn't work out for me..."

And with that, I began to cry. I apologized for crying, scooped up the baby, carseat, plastic teething ring and bottle full of formula, and excused myself and left. And I never returned. And for me, that was a good thing.

It's so easy for all of us to judge. I do it constantly. In the car the other day, I told my husband that more than one bumper sticker on a car is a good indicator of a crazy person. But the problem with rushing to judgement? I have one school bumper sticker on my car now, and another one waiting to go on for my stepdaughter. As soon as I start judging, I have to turn around the finger I'm pointing and point it at myself.

So what became of the frazzled mother, riddled with postpartum depression, guilty for turning to formula and plastic toys?  Once she gave up breastfeeding and stopped worrying about what other people thought of that, she turned out just fine. And most of all, so did the baby.