Through the kid’s eyes

February 12, 2012 12:59 pm

When Hannah was just learning to speak, I always wondered what she was thinking about.  I liked the idea that she was marveling at the mysteries of the universe.  Conversing silently about the whys of life.  Then she spoke.  Turned out that she was thinking about Kitties.

Now, I still like to see what she sees.  I like the ways she sees things.

For Michele Bachmann

August 31, 2011 1:02 pm

Congresswoman Michele “I’m really from Iowa” Bachmann has spent some time lately wondering whether same-sex couples with children can be considered family.  Apparently they cannot, in her world.  Mrs. Bachmann has hardly been a friend of the LGBT community in the past.  But since she wants to become President, there are some things she should know about the people she proposes to lead:

  • Approximately two-thirds of Americans do see same-sex couples with children as families, according to 2010 research from Indiana University.
  • Based on 2010 U.S. Census data, there are more than 901,000 same-sex couples in the U.S., 25% of whom are raising children.
  • Same-sex couples with children live in large cities, suburbs and small towns all across the country.  The fact that there are 13,360 families with same-sex parents in New York may not seem surprising.  But the Census also reports:  6,290 families with same-sex parents in North Carolina; 2,585 in Oklahoma; 4,550 in Arizona and 2,372 right here in Minnesota, the state she represents.
  • And here’s one for Mrs. Bachmann to chew on: support for same-sex marriage is growing in Iowa – even among Republicans.

If children will teach you anything, it is that things change.  Not that long ago, gay men and lesbians assumed that coming out meant that they would never become parents.  Now, young gays and lesbians assume that they can.  Not that long ago, same-sex marriage seemed improbable at best.  Now, it is legal in six states and Washington, DC.  What’s more, 53% of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage – with support reaching 70% among young adults.  Clearly, there are still fiercely divided opinions about same-sex marriage and parenting, but public attitudes are shifting and younger generations are driving the change.

“So,” I say to my daughter, “some people think we’re not a family because we don’t have a mom and a dad.”

“That’s stupid,” she says.

“What is it about us that makes you know we’re a family?” I ask.

She shrugs and looks at me like I’m a bit dim.  “It makes me feel good.  I feel cozy and safe.  I don’t know.  We just are.”

Marriage Equality Gets the Seven-Year Itch

May 17, 2011 4:11 pm

Originally posted by Beacon Broadside, including thoughts from other authors on what has changed, or hasn’t, since the Massachusetts decision:

Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage seven years ago and what has changed? Well, let me point out that the marriage rate nationwide has declined – a-ha! –  perhaps same-sex marriage does undermine heterosexual marriage after all.  But the divorce rate nationwide has also declined – so maybe same-sex marriage actually strengthens heterosexual unions.  Or, here’s a thought, maybe it does neither.

Meanwhile, here in the heartland, we’re having none of it.  Six years and 49 weeks after Massachusetts’ action, some Minnesota legislators introduced a bill to define marriage as between one man and one woman in the state Constitution. The bill has been moving quickly through legislative committees and, despite the fact that Minnesota already denies marriage to same-sex couples, it will likely go to the popular vote in the 2012 election.  The bill’s advocates are positioning it in the usual ways, of course:  giving “the people” the chance for a “dialogue”; protecting children; upholding the will of God.  What is clear is that the “dialogue,” when it happens, is likely to play out heavily in the media, to cost millions of dollars, to pit different communities against each other, and to take up a whole lot of time and energy that could be put into other things like – oh, I don’t know – solving the budget deficit, planting gardens, playing with our kids.

Meanwhile, the real dialogue continues, mostly quietly, in communities across our state and the nation.  Since Massachusetts (and Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa and Washington, DC) legalized same-sex marriage, more gay and lesbian couples across the nation have become willing to be honest about who they are.  In Massachusetts – but also in places like Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky –same-sex couples are increasingly admitting that they are, in fact, not just roommates.

Maybe this is what the supporters of the Minnesota amendment fear most:  that people across the country will increasingly discover that gay men and lesbians really are pretty much like everyone else.  And there’s a reason for their fear.  Three national polls have now shown that more than half of Americans think that gay men and lesbians should have equal marriage rights.  This shift is not occurring only among the young and the liberal, but across religious and demographic groups (though, admittedly, more slowly in some places than others).  The primary driver is familiarity.  As more people have realized that they are related to, live near, work and volunteer with gay men and lesbians, they have also realized that gay men and lesbians are really just people who deserve to be treated fairly.

That, more than anything, is what has changed since the decision in Massachusetts.

Cussing

April 28, 2011 11:04 am

“I know four words that have swear words in them,” Hannah says as we drive to school.  She is fascinated by profanity these days.  I’ve overheard her trading curse words with her friends like Pokemon cards.  What’s incredibly satisfying to me, though, is that they really only have about three cards among them.

I find it remarkable that Hannah has made it to second grade and is still so naive about cussing.  This is the result of sending her to a school where language is taken seriously.  Never once, in two years of dropping her off and picking her up at school, have I heard a kid swear or — more important to me — call someone gay or fag.

“Do you, now?” I say.

“Yup,” she says with satisfaction.  I wait.

“HELena,” she says.  ”HELen.  DAMage.  And ASphalt.”

Ooh, she’s bad.  That’s my girl.

Not This Time

February 19, 2011 3:04 am

“Who’s that?” Hannah asks.

I am reading Crossing the Barriers, the autobiography of Allan Spear.  On the cover, he is pictured addressing a crowd of people.

“He was a legislator in Minnesota,” I say.  “He helped to make rules for our state and he was the president of the Minnesota Senate for a long time.  He was one of the first legislators in the country to tell people he was gay.  He worked hard for equality for gay people.”

“Did someone kill him?” she asks.

Things I Love About You

February 18, 2011 1:28 pm

I drop you off at school in the morning and linger a moment in the car, watching.  Your light blue backpack slides off your shoulders and hangs on your elbows.  You shrug it back up.  Your navy blue yoga pants rumple on top of your snow boots.  Your hair is pulled back in a messy pony tail.  Your bangs, which you insisted on cutting and re-cutting yourself, are held by barrettes clipped perpendicular to your forehead.  You walk inside.  You walk away from me.

* *

You are catching a cold.  You count your sneezes all day long.  “Sixteen,” you say at dinner.

* *

We play games at bedtime before you fall into sleep.  One of your favorites is “Would you rather?”  Would you rather . . . be a peanut or a walnut?  Would you rather be a rock or a tree?  Would you rather be a bird or a song?

* *

You are obsessed with birth.  In pre-school, you announced that you wanted to be a baby doctor, you wanted to help babies get born.  I walk down to the basement one evening after dinner and find you and Jane watching something on YouTube.  “What are you doing?” I ask.  You look at me with a huge grin.  “We’re watching a giraffe give birth,” you say.

* *

Another game.  The object is to make up the longest, most winding and wandering sentence you can imagine.  We call it Melville.

* *

You love the planets.  Jupiter is your favorite.  You like to name its largest and most famous moons.  “Ganymede, Europa, Callisto, Io,” I hear you recite.

“I’m getting tired of being cold, Hannah,” I say one day.  Snow piles outside our windows and the temperature seems stuck at ten below.

“Good thing we don’t live on Pluto,” you respond.

* *

You adore weddings.  You fill notebook after notebook with your wedding gown designs:  sleek, ruffled, Victorian, modern.  You have planned a wedding for Jane and me, down to the shoes we will wear and the food we will eat at the reception.  You will be the bridesmaid, of course, and you have that dress designed as well.  From time to time, you ask if we will get married as soon as the government says it’s OK.  As though to remind me.  As though to promise yourself that it will happen, it will.

* *

You love history.  You can easily spend an hour in an antiques store.  You save your money to buy an antique typewriter.  You are enthralled by your grandpa’s genealogy work.  But you are also seven and have a seven-year-old’s sense of humor.  “Spell ICUP,” you and your friends say to each other.  “I-C-U-P.”  Endless giggles.

* *

One morning before school, you wake unusually early.  You call me in to cuddle with you.  Jane is getting ready for work, in her long blue bathrobe, her wet hair wrapped in a towel.  You call her in.  “Come snuggle with us,” you say.  She lies down on the other side of you.  “Where would we be without family?” you say.

Chutzpah

August 24, 2010 11:16 am

A letter that Hannah wrote recently:

Dear Queen Elisbeth,

I was wondering if I could send thee majesty some clothing.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Her Majesty’s clothing choices, of course, but Hannah loves to design gowns.  Apparently she’s ready to share.

And why not?

Prop 8 and the 7-year-old

August 4, 2010 11:17 pm

“You remember that judge in California, Hannah?  The one who was going to decide if the law saying that two men or two women are not allowed to get married is a good law or a bad law?”

“Yes,” she says.  We were in San Francisco, coincidentally, on the day of the closing arguments, so we had talked about the case over Prop 8.

“He made his decision.  He said that it should be OK for two men or two women to get married,” I say.  “He’s just saying that for California, but it’s still really important.”

“YES!” she says.  “This is the most important thing of all to me.”

I’m a little surprised by her reaction.

“Why’s that?” I ask.

She points to Jane and then to me.

“Hel-LO?  Girl.  Girl.”

I know that she wants same-sex marriage to become legal, in part because she wants to plan a wedding for Jane and me.  She wants to be a bridesmaid.  She wants to ride in a limo.  She wants ice sculpture in the shape of a swan.  She wants us to wear elaborate gowns.  But honestly, I think what she really, really wants is for us to be married like everyone else.

And, in the end, I think it’s her reaction that is the most important thing of all to me.  Yes, I would like to have the rights and recognition that come with a marriage license.  Yes, I think that gay and lesbian people should have the same range of choices as straight people – whether around marriage, parenthood, where we work, where we live, whatever.  That said, for me personally, legal marriage sounds a bit anti-climactic, now that Jane and I have already been together – and believe me, married – for 26 years.

But it matters a lot to me that it matters so much to Hannah.  For those of us who have children, it is tremendously important to be able to show that our families are just as valued as everyone else’s.  We can tell our kids that our families are just as important, but those statements are undermined by laws that say they aren’t.  The truth is that our kids are on the frontlines of explaining our families to the world.  Marriage rights would make that work much easier because they would take away one of the major ways in which our families are set apart.  And, if they mean that Hannah gets to be a bridesmaid, so much the better.

Names

July 29, 2010 10:24 am

When Jane and I were considering names for our daughter, in the months before her birth, we settled happily on Hannah.  Neither of us had known a Hannah growing up, so didn’t have any of those unpleasant associations (paste-eater, nose-picker) that we had with some of the names of our childhood peers.  In fact, we thought we were wildly original, only discovering after the fact that our wildly original name was actually the fourth most popular choice for baby girls that year.

Apparently other gay and lesbian parents are more creative, according to a new list of the top “gayby” names recently released by Goodkin.com.  Based on a survey of hundreds of gay and lesbian parents, the top names for babies born into our families are, by and large, not the same as the top baby names overall.

How are they different?  Think less Jane Austen, more Harper Lee (Harper, in fact, rings in at number 5 for girl names).   Parents overall (which means mostly straight) are still opting for Emma, Abigail, Isabel, Jacob and Ethan.  Not so the gay dads and lesbian moms.  The top names for boys raised by gay/lesbian parents include Atticus, Charlie, Milo and Dashiel.  Girl names include Vivienne, Charlotte, Billie and Scarlett.  Remarkably, only 3 names – Alex/Alexander and Noah for boys and Ava for girls – showed up on the top ten lists for both gay and straight parents.

Maybe gay and lesbian parents (other than, apparently, Jane and me) are bigger risk-takers or more out-of-the-box thinkers when naming their kids.  It’s possible that gay parents feel they have more leeway to be creative given the fact that our families are already different.  Or maybe gay parents are at the front end of the next trend.  Who knows?  A couple of years from now, little Atticus’ may just be showing up in nurseries everywhere.

I feel compelled to add, though, that Jane and I might have been more daring than it seems.  Hannah’s middle name is Elisabeth.  With an s.

Moe

July 9, 2010 8:15 pm

So here I am in Fort Worth, Texas, Gateway to the West, surrounded by public radio fundraisers and pictures of steers.  I come back to my hotel room to do some work and my cell phone rings.  It’s Jane.  “We need to talk,” she says.

“What’s wrong?”  I immediately feel my body lurch into the red zone.

“Nothing’s wrong,” she says.  “It’s just . . . we have a cat situation.”

A cat situation?  Did one of our cats get sick?  Get lost?  Kill a raccoon?

The next voice I hear is Hannah’s.

“Hi, Mama,” she says.  “We’re at the Humane Society.”

Oh, good lord.  I go away to Texas where I cannot nix the idea and they run off to the Humane Society.

“There’s the cutest kitten here and his name is Moe,” she continues.

No, I think, his name is Ours.

“Put Mommy back on the phone,” I say.

I hear Jane’s voice.

“What, exactly, were you thinking?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she says.  “We just kind of ended up here and he really is adorable.”

Jane is barely capable of driving by the Humane Society without a cat springing into the back seat of the car.  As Jane tells it, she took Hannah to lunch in our old neighborhood and, on the way, they drove by the road that leads to the Humane Society.  Apparently, the magnetic pull was too much.

“He’s black and white and has a little star above his nose,” Jane says.  “But I wanted to talk to you first,” she adds.  Which, honestly, is very sweet, although the deed is so, so done.

Oddly, I’m not upset, although it would not be my first choice to live with three cats.  My first choice would have been the puppy.  That we do not have.  But there are two girls in my life who are sappy for cats and they’re standing in the Humane Society in Minnesota holding fluffy little Moe while I’m standing in a hotel room in Texas.  Moe might as well move in and make his bed on my pillow.

“It’s fine,” I say.

“He really is cute,” Jane says.

Hannah gets back on the phone.

“And there’s this other little kitty named Burt, and he’s Moe’s brother, and do you want to hear him mew?”  I hear a sound that is disturbingly like a dog toy being squeezed.

“Put Mommy back on the phone, Hannah!”

Burt???????

This may have been part of the wily plan, but when I find out that Burt is not, in fact, part of the adoption package, I feel as though I have dodged a furball.  Suddenly having three cats will not be bad at all because, hey, it’s not four.  Lucky me.

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