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.”

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.

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.

Momo 006

Hengeman

May 24, 2010 - 2:01 pm

There are a lot of things to say about living with a seven-year-old, and here’s one:  playing Hangman is a lot harder than you ever thought.  Why?  Because she’s still learning to spell.  So, I lose again and again on words like:

LOOME (what you weave on)

CONTINU (something that keeps going)

and my personal favorite,

CARISMAS TREE (something you might decorate in December).

It brings Hannah no end of joy to draw all of the little body parts of the poor hangman, right down to the eyes, hair and incongruous smile.  She tops it off by writing on the side, WINNER HANNAH.

Loser, Mama.

Missing

May 19, 2010 - 3:24 pm

I’ve been in Texas for a few days now and I’m off to do a reading of She Looks Just Like You tonight at BookWoman, Austin’s independent feminist bookstore.  And I’m missing the kid.  Her school, in a fit of brilliance, sends out a daily e-mail summarizing what the first-graders have been doing, along with some pictures of the little tykes collecting bugs on the playground or making geometrical shapes out of paper in order to count the faces (flat sides) and corners (you got it).  Normally, these messages are a great way to stay in touch with what she’s up to, since she comes home and regularly reports that they did “nothing” in school.  But when I’m away, I hang on them, waiting to see her face today, today.

On the Road

May 8, 2010 - 5:02 am

Well, I’m here in Akron, Ohio, getting ready for A Different Kind of Mother’s Day, my first official book event.  I arrived yesterday after an interesting (harrowing) flight through a thunderstorm (did I mention how much I dislike flying?).  But here I am, trying not to be nervous.  Today’s event, which is sponsored by a public radio station (91.3 The Summit) along with the Gay Community Endowment Fund, Equality Ohio and the Community AIDS Network, will be held at the Weathervane Community Playhouse.

I am nervous, yes, but also excited.  I’m also jazzed by how often people say they’re interested in She Looks Just Like You because: a) they are GLBT parents themselves; 2) they are related to GLBT parents; 3) they are friends of GLBT parents; 4) their kid goes to school with someone who has GLBT parents.  We are everywhere and that is a radical change.

No Puppies Here

May 4, 2010 - 3:04 pm

Ever since Mike Huckabee shared his ever-helpful opinion that “children are not puppies” (and therefore should not be experimented with) as a defense in his so-called argument against gay and lesbian parenthood, I have been musing about his observation.  Not the part about gay parents being akin to pedophiles, but the part about the puppies.  And I have to say, Mike, you’re not joshing.  Kids are not puppies.  Puppies are way easier.

There are the obvious things, of course.  You can kennel the dog.  You don’t have to send the dog to college.

But then there are the less obvious things.  Kids are way wilier than puppies.  A puppy will shake your hand 10,000 times if you keep giving him liver-flavored treats.  But kids?  They keep changing on you.  And this (in addition to the pedophile and incest part) is where Mr. Huckabee is so wrong:  raising kids is all about experimentation.  Yes, you can have rules and standards.  Yes, it’s important to be consistent.  But what works one day may very well not work the next.  It’ll drive you crazy, especially if you expect a kid to respond like a dog.  But it’s a good thing, really.  Parents have to keep experimenting precisely because kids keep growing and learning and stretching out in new directions.  If they didn’t do any of these things, parenting wouldn’t be nearly as challenging or nearly as fun.  And if they didn’t do any of these things, kids would grow up to be well-trained, perhaps, but not the leaders, the artists, the thinkers that we (presumably) want them to be.