Vat am I to do?

A David Hockney-esque collage of vignettes, some forty-eight hours out.

At the dinner table, cradling my son in the crook of my left arm, looking half the time at his latch on the bottle of expressed Mama milk, half the time at the vast gulf of emptiness just beyond his head, the spot where Maxi would be, should be, even at her sickest, begging for food.

Blinking away the natural result of that realization, remembering the quiet, expedient management of uncontainable grief, a lesson learned thirteen years ago after the death of my mother.

Turning my attention back to the little peanut, who goes through a wincing pain from his vaccinations earlier in the day, and then smiles broadly at me from behind the nipple when his eyes meet mine.

The fey Grampy is in town — in fact, cooked this meal, and is at the table — and so I indulge in a little audience-appropriate cultural reference, and begin to sing, in a bad pseudo Cherman accent, in my worst approximation of Marlene Dietrich: “Fallink in luff again… vat am I to do/ kaaaan’t help it.” Because, as I look into the little peanut’s eyes, it’s true, I am falling in love again, despite the empty gulf just behind him.

Grampy then recounts a little about an octogenarian Marlene in Vegas, videos of which performances he has watched (but of course). “Her face pushed back up to here” (he gestures with palms clapped onto face, pulling back, approximating a scary plastic surgery job), “but she was still tremendous.” Then he launches into a rendition of her sung-spoken version of “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” which she evidently performed in all seriousness. I ask him, did he think she was in any way being campy about it? “There is no irony in Vegas,” he says, and then tucks back into the stir-fry.

My eyes are drawn again to the empty gulf still hovering just beyond my son’s head, and there, too, underneath the table. Empty empty empty empty empty.

Later, I am changing the son’s diaper while the beloved is putting the daughter to bed and Grampy is cleaning the dinner dishes. The beloved comes in to say that the daughter has asked after me, and I manage the Herculean task of waiting a few minutes, so as to enable her to (possibly) fall asleep before I get there. Herculean because I am directly requested some 35% of the time, as compared to Mama’s 65%. Not that I’m counting.

I scoot into her room just in time to find her in that sweet liminal state between asleep and awake. Her evening lullabies are still playing on the CD player: Jane Siberry’s Hush. Long ago we succumbed to a sleep consultant (money well spent, people!) who advised, among many other very specific suggestions, that we play the same music every night when she went to sleep. This would (a) help establish a Pavlovian association with the onset of sleep, and (b) enable us to parse out time with her when she got verbal and we began to need to bargain with her (“I’ll stay, sweetie-pie, but only ’til the end of the next song.” “Okaaaaaaay.”) When it came to choosing the music, we weren’t about to torture ourselves with Barney or Elmo. So we used something we could bear hearing over and over. If you go for this nighttime practice, I can recommend this Jane Siberry album with confidence, since it has held up to hundreds, if not thousands of repetitions as of this writing.

What’s playing, as I enter the darkened room? “Pontchartrain,” a song that always takes me back to September 2005. I would hear it, over and over again at night, when we were first trying to ease the lil’ monkey into a regular sleep pattern. I would hear it, and all I could do was think of a childhood memory of the long, low drive across that lake, its steely water, the Mississippi Delta into which it flows, and then my dear friends now living in New Orleans, and the images I saw and the scenes I read about that post-Katrina September, the most indelible of which was one of a mother, found in her attic, clutching a child whom she never let go of, not ever, and she had clung so tight that the rescue workers who found them days later were hard-pressed to separate the bodies from one another, long after their souls had left them.

It is with this image in my mind that I sit myself down on the edge of my daughter’s “biggirl” toddler bed, and stroke the strands of hair from her face. We live in the self-same world; the self-same nation, even, as that Ninth Ward mother and child. Irreconcilable. My daughter says a few nonsensical things to me, and then we settle into quiet, Jane serenading us. I leave my left hand beneath her face, and slowly, as she drifts to sleep, her head heavies, until by its weight I know she’s asleep.

Just two nights ago, this is how my dear, dear, I will never, ever know a sweeter being than her dog left her body: I was holding her from behind, and after the sedative went into her veins, she turned her head into my left hand, where it had been stroking her neck. Two old, familiar gestures, mine and hers. Moments later, by the weight of her head in the palm of my hand, I knew she was gone.

These juxtapositions might seem exceptional, but they’re not. They are perfectly ordinary, they are (to one degree or another) the bread and butter of everyone’s daily lives. They are why people are right about life, when they describe it thus: it is like licking honey off the edge of a knife.

Overheard under the ad hoc tent

Lil’ monkey: Pssst. Baby brudder. Now that we got some privacy I got to tell you some stuff. You listenin?

Lil’ peanut: Grpft smrfff grblzzzpft.

Monkey: I’ve been watchin them for a long time. The one that used to be your home, with the mama milk and the voice like honey and the longer hair: don’t be fooled; that’s the Bad Cop. The one that doesn’t smell like milk and talks in the falsetto Scottish accent while she does your diapers and has the shorter hair? That’s the Good Cop. But it’s only on little stuff. On big stuff, it’s freaky but it’s like they’re one parent. Different hair, same parent.

Peanut: Grpft smrfff grblzzzpft?

Monkey: Yeah, but trust me, after a while, we’ll find the crack in that façade. Now that you’re here, I think we can work together on them. Okay, so also? They’re really sappy. All they have to do is look at you and they get all googley. Just stare back. When you beome capable of moving it, I recommend you tilt your head down and then look up with just your eyes. That’s the best angle. Oh, and I’ve found that saying things with long and unexpected vocabulary words pretty much makes them fall off their chairs every time. It’s really fun to watch.

Peanut: Pfft! Pfft! Grpft smrfff grblzzzpft!!

Monkey: Don’t worry, don’t worry. I’ll work with you on the vocab. Oh you’re so cute. Or should I say, pulchritudinous.

Peanut: Mmmmmmmmmmmpft.

Monkey: Alright. Let’s start with something easy. Like… Like… How ’bout let’s try, “Hey big sister! Please can I eat your brussels sprouts?”

Peanut: Grpft smrfff grblzzzpft.

Eighth list of ten: High and low points hit in one day (Adoption Day)

one hundred stones
Original photo credit: The Windgrove Center, Tasmania, AU.

In celebration of the 100th post, part eight in a ten-part series.

[Key: lil’ monkey/ kid #1 = 2.3 yr old daughter; lil’ peanut/ kid #2 = 3 week old son]

As proof that a static state of happiness is a mirage, but then again so is a static state of misery, we oftentimes experience peaks of both in the same day. Sometimes in the same moment. As illustration of the relentless coexistence of misery and joy, behold

Ten high and low points conspiring to fill one day — yesterday — to the brim:

1. Low point: Slept fewer hours the night before than we had in the lil’ peanut’s young life, it seemed. Many of the hours I was awake I spent hacking and coughing up half a lung from the never-ending bronchial scourge that took hold before kid #2’s birth sent us into the Year of Sleep Deprivation. I am resigned to the possibility now that the hack may not leave me ’til the little guy takes his first steps. I wouldn’t be complaining about the sleep deprivation except for it was going to be a big day, as noted in Item #5.

2. Low point: Stepped, half asleep and barefoot, into dog pee in the kiddle’s room. The poor geriatric is on diuretic medication for a heart condition, bless her loyal canine soul. She managed to sneak in and relieve herself on the rug sometime between when I last took her outside, at 3:30am (it’s only fair, what with the diuretics), and when I got my arse out of bed at 7:00am.

3. Low point: The dog managed to foil us yet again when we tried to smuggle one of her twice-daily pills into yet another Trojan Horse delivery mechanism. We have tried: cheese (hard, soft, cream, Camembert, etc.), salami, even potato salad. She is a frickin’ Borg. She figures us out faster than we can come up with alternatives. A given med-smuggling food works for one, maybe two repetitions, after which point she gingerly takes it in her mouth, walks out of the kitchen, and patooi’s it out somewhere in the house, usually on a rug. We are now rotating randomly through leftovers and hope the variety there will work as a suitable cover.

4. High point: Sleep deprivation (see Item #1) had pumped such a fog around the beloved that she managed to think, for a moment, that a squeaking sound she heard (it was from a game the lil’ monkey was playing), coupled with the fluttering of something in her peripheral vision (it was a dried eucalyptus sprig, falling from a nearby shelf), was actually a bat. A BAT, people! Okay, so they are common in the Midwest, whence she came. But never once in her decade of living in these parts has she clapped her eyes on one indoors, hell, even outdoors. It was nothing but a sleep deprivation-induced hallucination, and the shriek she let out, coupled with her swatting away at nothing in particular, provided first me, then a moment later her, a great deal of relief from Items 1 through 3 above.

5. Low point: Late in the morning the lil’ peanut projectile-vomited most of the high-quality mama milk he’d just ingested. All over the beloved’s sweater. Which wouldn’t have been such a problem, except that it was the third time he’d done it that morning (previous targets: first the couch, then the cat, who’ll likely never lounge so close again). Why cry over hurled milk? Because we were all stressed out trying to leave the house TO GO TO COURT FOR MY OFFICIAL ADOPTION HEARING FOR HIS OLDER SISTER.

6. A high and a low and a high point again: At the courthouse, we packed the lobby with a dozen loving family members, blood and chosen and extended, plus a handful of friends (that would be a high point). My dear old friend, who launched the final chapter of our baby journey by suggesting we borrow a cup of her husband’s sperm, held the lil’ quilt-bundled peanut and was getting a contact baby high from sniffing his scalp (another high point).

Then the clerk comes out and asks whether we have forms number 215, 225, and 230. All we knew about was form number 200 (which we’d already sent in, along with several pints of blood and pounds of flesh). We had asked two or three learned sources just what we needed to bring to the court (the person on the phone from the court, plus an attorney friend, plus the person at the adoption agency whom we contracted for the social worker home visit). Not a one mentioned forms number 215, 225, and 230. Where was our lawyer, you might ask? That is another story entirely, but suffice to say the lawyer was more helpful absent than present. For illustration, see visual aid below:

[A nod to K. Vonnegut and his depiction of a certain bodily orifice in Breakfast of Champions. Get yours direct from the artist here (scroll just a bit for the famous *)!]

We finally got the court date on our own, after giving the lawyer the heave-ho. But there, finally in the hallway outside the courtroom, utterly bamboozled by the sudden need for forms 215, 225, and 230, we felt like the whole adoption was going to be sucked down the drain. Until the clerk procured copies of the three forms we could fill out on the spot (which we promptly did, snivelling and whimpering with gratitude).

It boggles my mind how anyone can keep their sanity and patience through an adoption of a kid not already cheering them up by being in their custody, much less in their country. I am certain that the rigamarole we did for a “second parent adoption” was a tenth, at most, of what folks do for regular in-country ones. And a hundredth that for international ones. (Not sure? Check out the To Do list of Adoption Steps in Artificially Sweetened’s right-hand link column.) I bow down to you all, sisters and brothers, and wish you godspeed.

7. High point: The judge, while shuffling through all the papers on his desk, asked (rhetorically) whether the “putative father” has signed away his rights and so forth, to which I was to answer “Yes.” Which I did. But it also happens that said putative personage, whom we lovingly refer to as our Donor Chum, was among the retinue, and seconded my response by dropping his camera from his face for a moment, smiling and waving to the judge and going, “Yep.” Then back he went to the work of documenting the happy event.

8. High point: Being declared by the judge to be my daughter’s lawful parent, which relationship no one can tear asunder. The assembled broke out into applause, and I stifled a tear and hugged the bejezus out of the lil’ monkey, who’d been on my lap the whole time. I referred to her as “Legal Daughter” the whole rest of the day, much like Bette Davis refers to her man as “Groom,” following their marriage, in the last scenes of All About Eve.

9. High point: After we all left the courtroom, most of us who could stay on adjourned to a nearby coffee shop, which was deserted before we came in and had just enough tables to enable us all to encamp there. Not long into the festivities, we broke out into song (to the tune of “For S/he’s a jolly good fellow.” Only the words went, “For she’s now your legal daughter/ for she’s now your legal daughter/ for she’s your now legal daughter…” — and at this point, we all revv up the volume — “which nobody can deny!”

10. High point: Though he slept through the entirety of the day’s proceedings, the lil’ peanut was not going to let the day pass without comment. After we’d gotten home, his big sister “kissey-kissey-kissed” him for the umpteen-gazillionth time. But yesterday evening, for the first time in his life (moved by a person, and not his bowels), after she kissed him, he smiled. A huge, toothless, There may be bad times, but lordy are the good times good kinda smile.

Happy Blogging for LGBT Families Day!


June first’s Blogging for LGBT Families Day, the brain child of Dana Rudolph, who publishes Mombian: Sustenance for Lesbian Moms. An exciting idea, especially for me who is: (a) still fairly recently a parent (lil’ monkey is clocking in at 22 mo. old later in June); (b) still fairly new to bloggery; yet (c) decades into a dedication to civil/human rights advocacy & community network building, via whatever means works best. And obviously the uncensored, unmediated, under-the-radar, into-your-home access of blogs would be a very effective means. So, first, a resounding Huzzah! to Ms. Rudolph for a great idea.

As with many of the other blogs who’ve participated in Blogging for LGBT Families Day (corralled here; it’s a thrill to see the number & range), the whole topic of this blog falls squarely in the midst of queer/lgbt family. By that measure, any ole entry might do to honor the occasion. I’ve already talked about my personal path to parenthood in an essay in Confessions of the Other Mother (the opening section of my piece is excerpted on editor Harlyn Aizley’s site). So in honor of Blogging for LGBT Families Day, I thought I might share my thus far warmest most revelatory moment, regarding the impact queer families will have on queer civil/human rights, and hopefully all civil/human rights.

Last year we marched in San Francisco’s bodacious queer family contingent, reportedly one of the largest in the parade, and collected, as did most families, in the kiddie playground at Civic Center Plaza. (Our Family Coalition and COLAGE and legions of volunteer help see to it that this space happens, which is a post-parade godsend.) Oh, certainly, strolling up Market Street with my impossibly adorable daughter atop my shoulders was a huge thrill; huger still was the thrill I got whenever I had a chance to see how much fun she was having, too.

monkey owns Market St., SF Pride, 06.27.05

One among many high points en route was a crib on wheels, emblazoned on the side with the sign “Rainbow Kids Will Save the Day.” That might have been what got me thinking. Because when we got to the end of the march, and encamped in the kiddie playground with our posse of lesbo family friends, I had a revelation.

The playground was choked with kids: big kids, little kids, kids sporting the entire gorgeous range of possible human complexion, tired kids, crying kids, drooling asleep on their parent’s shoulder kids, hopped up kids, totally immersed in their play kids. And I realized: 100% of these kids’ parents are queer, in one way or another, yet only a handful of these kids will wind up that way, most likely. And by handful I mean the standard 15-25% we expect in any given cohort, under current heteronormative/homophobic cultural conditions. But that makes for something really interesting.

These kids will grow up and be whoever they are (gardeners, cooks, CPAs, teachers, mechanics, bike messengers, capitalists, collectivistas, what have you) and take for granted the necessity that their family be legally and socially recognized. And when the straight kids among them advocate for queer civil/human rights, they will be doing so from a unique position. They will be both outside and inside the group whose civil/human rights they are agitating for. They will be both personally unimpeachable, on the one hand, and yet personally utterly committed and immersed. That paradox is fascinating to me.

And I know this is old news to folks who have older kids, and for those who are activist kids in lgbt families (god love ya, you people!). But it’s brand new to me. As I took in the riot of possibility in the “Family Garden” at Civic Center, I thought, Hot damn, I cannot wait for these kids to grow up and see what they do. Then I looked down at my wee sleeping daughter and thought, But none too fast, little monkey, none too fast.

Amor vincit omnia.