mardi, juillet 20, 2010

lundi, juillet 19, 2010

teach your children well

It might be the hormones, but I'm all sniffly after reading Aaryn's One Love post about this weekend's Pride parade. (Visit her blog to see all the awesome photos.)

We missed this year's parade due to the heat and the fact that I'm 40+ weeks pregnant. As we drove through Hillcrest, we talked about our plans to take our little one to future parades. Part of the conversation centered on the values we want our children to understand. And part of it was about the sheer joy of community.

I'm confident that our little one will grow up understanding that diversity is beautiful, that his gay aunts and uncles love their children in the same way we love him, and that it's better to do the right thing than the popular thing (because the majority is often wrong). More to the point, I hope he has the courage to be who he is, and to know that we will always love him. As usual, Aaryn summed it up much more eloquently:
I don’t know who Ruby will love when she grows up. And I don’t care. I just want her to love, to be loved and to be happy. I hope that’s what she is learning from me.
I can't imagine a better message or values to give to my child than this.
One Love
By Aaryn Belfer 18 July 2010

I never really understand why people are hesitant to take their kids to the Gay Pride Parade. Over the weekend, I had several different conversations about it—since I’d planned to take Ruby—and got several interesting reactions. One couple I met at breakfast this morning said that they’d always wanted to go, but motioned toward their six-year old and whispered that they’d heard it’s “basically a porn show.” Another friend dismissed it because all the “cocks” aren’t appropriate for her daughters.

Now, the porn thing is off by astronomical distances: This is a public event with participants from all across the city. The Mayor was in this past Saturday’s Pride parade, as was Republican Ron Roberts from the County Board of Supervisors, and believe me, there isn’t anything remotely titillating or even vaguely pornographic about either of these guys. Even the public defender’s office represented with a float bearing the slogan “Getting people off since 19[something or other]!”

However, while nobody was whipping out their cocks along University Avenue during this weekend’s party, I have to admit the my friend’s concern was wholly legitimate.

I stand corrected because I did indeed see Cox at the parade. As did my daughter and my bestie’s daughter and all the many children and grown-ups and families who sat on the curb in the heat, beneath a sky the color of swimming pools, sharing sun screen and snacks and spray bottles, celebrating our gay brothers and sisters.

Ruby was very excited about all the swag, the horses ridden by the Wells Fargo people (I suppose it could be argued that bankers are pornographic), and the stilt walker.

I was excited about my friend, Barbarella‘s piglet, Carnitos—who may have cured me of my bacon habit forever—and the Gay Men’s Chorus, since my friend’s Skip and Andy were marching.

I didn’t find Skip and Andy but they were out there and they were proud, I know.

Oh, and speaking of excitement, Ruby just about peed her pants at the sight of the man with the RAINBOW! HAIR!

Who’s not tickled by RAINBOW! HAIR!? I was tickled by the message on his shirt because the message is the reason I bring my daughter to the parade. Love, not hate, is what I wish to instill in her.

I guess this could be considered Jesus porn because I was practically orgasmic at the sight of these folks.

Standing there in the street watching groups of people march beneath such signs is encouraging. They make you believe in humanity and remind you that The Rock church doesn’t represent all Christians. Just too many of them.

Of course, I’d be lying if I represented the parade as all Hail Marys and Holy Water. There was a little bit of shaking, jangling flesh out there, too. And God Bless it!

So she has pasties on her nibbles. Still: Not porn. Just a little edgy. And, I’m guessing, much cooler than my flesh-toned padded bra that’s so old it has dimples. Anyway, have you been to the beach lately? Right. Moving along…

Every parade is better with queens:

In fact, pretty much every situation in life is improved by the presence of a drag queen.

However, the people you really want on your side when the chips are down (or up, no matter) is your family. Which is why PFLAG is the greatest part of the Parade every single year. PFLAG is, hands down, the very best group, float or no float.

I challenge anyone to remain stony when these people walk by. I wanted to run up and hug them. Instead I took their blurry picture with my phone.

I don’t know who Ruby will love when she grows up. And I don’t care. I just want her to love, to be loved and to be happy. I hope that’s what she is learning from me.

dimanche, juillet 18, 2010

attention, baby: we have you surrounded

I had three due dates. I say "had" because all have elapsed and I still haven't gone into active labor.

The first due date was July 10 (based on my last menstrual period).
The second was July 12 (measurement #1 on an early ultrasound).
The third was July 14 (measurement #2 on an ultrasound taken the same day). We embraced the third due date for a few reasons:
  1. It was the latest of the three dates, and given that this is our first child (and that first babies are usually a few days late), this was the most "realistic" of the three dates.
  2. It was Bastille Day -- a phenomenal due date for a francophile like me.
  3. It was safely after the World Cup finals would be over -- a phenomenal date for a rabid soccer fan like Leo. (Remember, Uruguay qualified for the Cup for the first time in a long time. Although there were high hopes, at the beginning of the competition, Leo reminded me that it was statistically unlikely that Uruguay would make it to the end of the tournament, but did clarify that given the choice between watching Uruguay play in the final or watching me in the agony of labor, he knew where he'd rather be. Then Forlán and la Celeste did what the pundits considered impossible -- they kept advancing, until the heartbreaking deflected goal in the final seconds of the third place game on July 10.)
It's now well past all three dates. My contractions never got rhythmic or really strong (they have pretty much stopped at this point), my water hasn't broken, there has yet to be a bloody show because my cervix is still not fully effaced, and our little boy appears to be hunkering down and waiting for an eviction notice ... thus Leo's Facebook status this weekend:
Attention baby: we have you surrounded. Come out with your hands up. Don't try to be a hero.
After attempting to trigger labor in all of the non-medical ways possible, I've made my peace with the fact that I won't be meeting my passenger until at least Tuesday, when I'll be induced. I suppose it's just the first of many reminders that parenting means letting go of the illusion of control, timelines, and predictable outcomes. It also means being excited about the adventure, no matter how the process unfolds.

samedi, juillet 17, 2010

modern love: mom/ not mom/ aunt

I have a few friends who are walking the path to parenthood via donors and surrogacy. I hope their outcomes are as wonderful as this one.
Mom/Not Mom/Aunt
July 16, 2010

AFTER five loving, fulfilling years with my boyfriend, Drew, I suddenly found myself online, looking to meet a woman.

I spent hours poring over profiles, bios and stats, looking at poorly lighted digital pictures and videos of awkward faces uttering tightly rehearsed self-promotional pitches. I narrowed the flash mob of candidates to six. Then I summoned Drew for his approval.

Together we had a decision to make. One of the strangers on this Web site could end up contributing half of our child’s DNA.

“Big nose, bad hair, gross skin, ugh — those eyebrows.” Drew sped down the list and blackballed them all.

I fought for a few: “But she has a 4.0 at veterinary school, and this one teaches autistic kids to tap dance!”

Drew was unmoved.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. As a writer, I’m drawn to characters with intriguing quirks and heart-tugging back stories. But for Drew, who spent 12 years overseeing reality programming for MTV, this was proving to be just another casting session, albeit for the significant supporting role of egg donor.

We’d been instructed by our surrogacy agency not to use the “m-word.” “This child will have two fathers,” the staff member scolded. “He or she will have an egg donor and a surrogate, but no mother!”

Whatever you call these young women, there’s no shortage of them. For all those who are desperate to stop gay couples from adopting, there are others who are eager to help us down a more complex path to parenthood.

And for the most part, they are merely girls — some as young as 19, still in their awkward phases. You click on a face and up pops a video in which an acne-cheeked college sophomore talks about her poli-sci major, her love of soccer and “One Tree Hill” and, eyes wide with optimism, about the corporation she’ll be running in five years. A few write in texting shorthand: “Would luv 2 help u.” Drew and I are nearly twice as old as some of them. If we’d been straight and careless, we might have had a daughter their age by now.

Drew and I found each other via similar means, an online dating site. We used the kind of systemized vetting that, these days, takes the place of destiny. Drew screened out guys who liked house music or who mixed up “your” and “you’re.” I vetoed anyone who in place of a head shot uploaded a crotch shot.

Choosing a biological relative for our unborn fetus wasn’t going to be as simple. There were so many more variables and bigger questions to ponder. Most candidates requested the standard $8,000 fee, but some negotiated their own rates. If she was blond, athletic and Harvard-educated, she thought she was worth 30 grand.

Everybody wants their children to have the best, but this process threatened to bankrupt us even without all the premium options.

Besides, who knew what that money would really buy? If we picked someone with an astronomical price tag, couldn’t we be saddling our child with the greed gene? And how would we explain it to him? “Your egg donor was top of the line, son. We got you, and she got a Porsche.” Or, “We wanted you to be taller, but anything over 5-foot-9 was out of our price range.”

For us, two men who struggle over which Netflix movie to watch, this decision could stretch on long after our biological clocks had run out.

That’s when Susie called.

“You know you can have my eggs if you want them, right?” she said.

It was that swift, that casual, as if we were talking about borrowing her hair dryer or Ani DiFranco CD’s, rather than a part of her womanhood. But with that simple statement, it got even more complicated. Susie was everything an egg donor should be: kind, beautiful, smart, a gifted artist and, at 28, practically at the peak of her fertility.

She was also Drew’s little sister.

Despite being nine years apart in age and on opposite sides of the country, Susie and Drew couldn’t be closer or more alike. They talk on the phone nearly every day, make the same facial expressions, laugh at the same dirty jokes, have the same mercurial temper. Drew was constantly trying to persuade Susie to move to Los Angeles, where we live. He offered to lease an apartment for her, find her a job, do whatever it took to have her close by. With Susie’s offer, I knew generosity was yet another trait they shared.

All along Drew and I had wondered whose sperm we would use. With Susie, the matter was settled: I would be the biological father. Yet for the first time, Drew and I were also able to imagine what it would be like to have a child who had genetic roots in both family trees.

What would she look like? How would he act? How would our respective features merge into one warbling little miracle? We’d grown up when coming out meant putting an end to dreams of fatherhood. Now we were giddy with the possibilities of reproduction that most straight couples take for granted.

But what exactly would Susie be sacrificing?

She was young and unattached. She wanted her own children but wasn’t ready. So was she prepared for someone else to have her child? And how would she explain this particular brand of baggage to a potential husband someday? Most of all, would she be satisfied always being Aunt Susie to this child and never, you know, the m-word?

Drew and I had doubts, but Susie considered it a done deal. This was her brother, and if he needed eggs, damn it, he was going to take hers. She was exactly as stubborn as Drew would’ve been if he were offering and she were the one in need.

She didn’t flinch when the doctor explained the pain and inconvenience she would endure before her eggs were extracted: months of genetic tests, weeks of self-administered hormone injections and the resultant mood swings. Most troubling of all, she’d need so much time off for trips to California that she could risk losing her job. To all of this, she shrugged and asked only one question: “When do we start?”

When the day of the extraction finally came, the hard part was supposed to be over. With the right dose of medication, most women Susie’s age produce dozens of healthy eggs. But for reasons the doctor couldn’t explain, Susie produced only five. Of those, two failed to fertilize.

The outlook was bad for us, devastating for Susie.

The physician spoke about her fertility the way Al Gore describes the polar ice caps: Time is running out, and it may already be too late. He warned that if our surrogate couldn’t become pregnant with Susie’s eggs, it was unlikely Susie ever would, either.

We all agreed the only option was to implant the three embryos and begin an excruciating wait. If this didn’t work, Drew and I would return to the Web sites full of strangers, if we even had the strength to try again. And we didn’t want to think about what that would mean for Susie.

TEN days later, we were visiting Drew’s family in upstate New York. It was two days before Christmas, and we all were trying our best to talk about anything but babies. My cellphone rang, and a hush fell over the room. The nurse on the other end didn’t stall.

“Jerry!” she squealed. “I have some exciting news.” A cascade of cheers drowned out the rest of the call, and Susie, Drew and I shared a tight hug that seemed to last for hours.

A few weeks later, we joined our surrogate for her first ultrasound, where an even bigger surprise awaited. From the grainy soup on the sonogram monitor, two peanut shapes emerged. Drew and I were going to be the fathers of twins.

Our son and daughter are now 10 months old, and when I look at them I see traces of each of us. My nose, Susie’s eyes, Drew’s chin. They’re just starting to invent a secret language to communicate with each other. If we hear one baby cry, it’s a safe bet that the other just stole her pacifier or hit him with a stuffed monkey. But then, when no one’s looking, sometimes they’ll reach out and hold each other’s hands.

Susie gets to witness it all, because her frequent phone calls with Drew have become video chats with our whole family. And as I watch Drew proudly showing off our children for her, I realize the gift Susie has given us is much more valuable than just a genetic link to our offspring. It’s a brother and sister — tiny, perfect and gradually building a special bond all their own.

Jerry Mahoney, a writer, lives in Los Angeles.

samedi, juillet 03, 2010

cribs vs. beds: parenthood's all-out war

Over the years, I've learned that everyone has an opinion on everything ... myself included. If I'm passionate about something, I'm likely to speak up. And parenting is no exception.

Being 39 weeks pregnant, I'm very much on the receiving end of a lot of questions and advice -- about the birth (from "wait, you're using a midwife, but you're going to a hospital?" to "for the first one, there's no need for heroics ... get an epidural!" to "having a scheduled C-section was the best decision I ever made"), circumcision (from "why would you even consider something so barbaric and unnecessary?" to "you know, my nephew wasn't circumcised and now they have to put steroid cream on his penis every day because his foreskin isn't stretching properly as he grows and it's horribly painful for him"), and vaccines (from "you're not getting the MMR shot, are you?" to "please tell me you're not one of those crackpots who thinks vaccines cause autism!"). Depending on my relationship with the person making the comment, I either ask questions or change the topic immediately.

Leo and I haven't made up our minds on everything about parenting, but we do read a lot, listen a lot, and ask lots of questions. We've opted to take the same approach to parenting as we are with the birth -- focusing on being prepared (understanding all the options), confident (within reason), and flexible (who knows what will happen when it's actually 'go' time?) -- because that's the best way for us to deal with the unknown. In some ways, I think we're pretty much free agents on most things, taking a moderate approach when possible, and ordering 'a la carte,' rather than choosing everything on the pre-defined menus. This article neatly gets at the quandaries and passions of parenting, and left me laughing to boot...
Cribs vs. Beds: Parenthood's all-out war
When it comes to raising a kid, two gangs dominate, and they agree on only one thing: You're doing it wrong
By Peter Birkenhead
Friday, Jul 2, 2010 14:01 ET

A wise woman once said it takes a village to raise a child, and as a new father I have found this to be true.

But lately I have also found the village to be dominated by two gangs of extremely, frighteningly organized parents, whom my wife and I spend a lot of time trying to avoid. Members of these gangs are lurking in every Pain Quotidian and farmers' market in Los Angeles, fighting tooth-and-nail turf wars over the best way for kids to be born, eat, learn and especially sleep, which is how the gangs came by their now notorious names in our house: the Cribs and the Beds.

The Cribs, as you probably know, believe in "crying it out," "walking it off," and midcentury modern furniture. The Beds, of course, believe in co-sleeping, home birthing and placenta soup. Both groups believe that I, as a new parent, am a dangerous idiot, and they are not at all shy about letting me know that.

So I'm writing this to take a stand, to ask for your help in taking our village back, and in not getting the stink-eye at parties.

After only eight months of fatherhood I've learned a lot about the gangs. I've learned to recognize the Cribs' distinctive attire (if I see a pair of orange Crocs coming my way, I just cross the street). I've come to know the Beds' brutal hazing rituals (which they refer to as "Bikram yoga"). I've learned each gang's colorful parenting patois.

But the main thing that distinguishes the gangs from each other is their philosophies. Fundamentally, the Cribs and Beds disagree about how kids should sleep. The first member of the Cribs I ever met explained to me, over a steamy quadruple espresso, that they believe a child will grow up to be calm, secure and independent as long as — over the sound of his own terrified howling and the screech of a white-noise machine turned up to 11 — he can't hear his parents grinding their teeth with worry over following the same sleep-training regimen all their friends do.

The Beds, on the other hand, believe that independence is something a family does, together, in bed. According to a conversation I overheard at this year's Topanga Canyon Soy Cheese and Hemp Festival, the Beds feel that nothing can match the sense of security a child feels when she cuddles with her mom, dad, sister, brother, stepsister and ferret, safe in the knowledge that they'll all be with her through the night. Every minute. Of every night. While her brother farts on her knee. Family Bed parents feel that co-sleeping will engender a sense for the child, later in life, that she can face anything, as long as a much older man with gray back hair and bad breath holds her tight while she does.

The gangs speak their own languages when it comes to things like sleep training, and it's important to learn to decipher them. For instance, our friend Marsha recently asked me whether our daughter was "sleeping through the night yet," which in gang-speak means, "How are things on the Island of Misfit Parents?" I tried but failed to change the subject, and when I described the ambivalent, improvised approach Jenny and I take, I was met with the inevitable phrase, "Whatever works for you!" which means, "Have fun visiting her in juvie!"

The Cribs and Beds are mostly in agreement, however, about the notorious peanut dilemma. My wife and I love peanut butter. The first thing I did when she told me it was time to go to the hospital to have the baby was make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for her to have later. I put them in our special "Go Bag" with the earplugs, lip balm, Rebozo support slings and thought, "Did I just release evil peanut dust into the air? Is this the last PB&J we'll eat for 18 years?" Many children, of course, have an allergy to peanuts, which doctors now believe is probably caused by an early exposure to peanut butter, and which can be prevented … by an early exposure to peanut butter. I understand this might be confusing, but don't worry — it's not your fault — it's peanut butter's fault for being mind-alteringly scrumptious. Both the Cribs and the Beds believe in the current scientific consensus that we must stay vigilant against peanut butter, by feeding it to our children early, but never. It's a fairly safe subject to bring up, and good for fooling the gang-bangers into thinking you might be one of them.

And some Cribs and Beds are finding common ground on other issues. For instance, when Jenny was pregnant, and before we knew the sex of the baby, I, as a Jewish soon-to-be father, started to feel the pull of a 2,000-year tradition and considered circumcising my possible son. I mentioned this fact at a rumble ("baby shower"), where I learned that I was just as likely to be called a barbarian by a mom with seven holes punched in her ear and a line of credit at the pediatric homeopath's as I was by the father of a 6-year-old figure skater. I also learned that the idea of not circumcising my son could get me accused of breaking a sacred covenant … by a twice-divorced Hollywood agent. I have to admit that, at that moment, it felt very tempting to join one of the gangs. To at least know where I stood, even if I had no idea what I thought. Maybe effective child rearing was really all about navigating life's daily obstacles with the comforting, quiet sense of smugness that only parent-gang membership could provide. But I fought that impulse. I reminded myself that I have my own brand of arrogance, thank you very much. If there's one thing a lifelong, fence-sitting commitment-phobe is good at, it's not choosing sides.

But sometimes conflict is unavoidable, and it's not pretty. The home-birthing wars could flare up again any minute now, and this time Ricki "On the Business of Being Born" Lake could make a full-fledged comeback. So, if you're not in a gang, it's very important to keep your wits about you. Soon after our daughter was born, we met a person who taught us the word "lactivist" is a real thing that exists. She said it in public, and she wasn't laughing, so I guess she was more likely to be a member of the Beds than the Cribs. But she lacked any of the usual identifying accessories, such as the Bolivian slings that many members of the Beds use to carry their babies, or the actual Bolivians that the Cribs prefer, so I couldn't be sure. Jenny had had a tough time getting our daughter to nurse properly for the first few weeks after she was born. After a very frustrating talk with the lactivist, Jenny asked her if it would ruin everything if she supplemented the baby's feeding with a bottle once in a while, and through an ice-cold smile, without hesitation, the lactivist said, "It would." As far as I'm concerned, the tears that popped out of Jenny's eyes at that moment were a consequence of our first brush with gang violence.

Passions run very high on these subjects. The Beds feel that in defending something like home birth, they're defending something primal and sacred, that they're on the side of Mother Nature herself. The Cribs feel they're on the side of modernity, of rational thinking, science and safety. When I hear them talk about it, I actually think both sides make a good case. But then, when I think about it a little more, I wonder about their sanity. Did I mention that I'm an ambivalent type? I wonder if maybe investing so much emotion in these issues isn't misplacing it a little. Couldn't they use all that righteous indignation for fixing the education system?

But see now, as I write that, I wonder why I'm being so hard on the gangs. Having a kid was an overwhelming experience. All of a sudden I was confronted with this fragile, chaotic, mortal life that I was responsible for. And then there was the baby! Seeing my own humanity clearly was one thing, but seeing my daughter's was all things, all at once, forever. Living, breathing, surprising chaos right there in my mortal hands. It was enough to make me fear that chaos a little bit. To want to hang on, maybe a bit too tight.

When Jenny and I were in the hospital, we never ate one of those PB&J sandwiches. Her contractions never once settled in to the regular pattern we were told would mark the onset of labor. We never used anything in the "Go Bag," or any of the special labor positions we'd learned and practiced in birthing class. But I'm glad we learned them. I'm glad we planned and made promises and came up with lots of rules for ourselves, because it helped focus our minds. It eased our worries, made us feel like this was doable. Made us feel like a family. Real gang members say that's how they think of their gangs — as surrogate families. Not many of us live in the same house with our uncles or grandmothers anymore. These days our friends are our families. So maybe what the home birthers and crib lovers are defending isn't merely about practices but about love and companionship. How these things help us find the sweet spot between chaos and order. Maybe people are just trying to find their footing on ever-shifting sands. Maybe we should all cut each a little slack.

Except for the people wearing orange Crocs, of course. You guys need to buy some real shoes.

Peter Birkenhead is the author of the memoir "Gonville."

jeudi, juillet 01, 2010


Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color. - W. S. Merwin, William Stanley Merwin (New York City, September 30, 1927) is the seventeenth United States Poet Laureate and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (in both 1971 and 2009).