School Nightmares

For some reason, my husband and I lucked out with our kids in the sleep department.  They’ve always been great sleepers; typically they’ll sleep a good twelve hours no matter what time we put them to bed, and they rarely wake up with bad dreams (although our son had several sleepless nights after seeing Cats; Mr. Mistoffelees was just too much for him to handle…or maybe it was the hackneyed music).  In the past few months though, our daughter has woken up in the middle of the night with school-related nightmares.

A month or two ago, I had a trying day at school.  My kids will likely go to the school where I’m currently teaching, and feeling downtrodden on that particular day, I sarcastically broached a touchy subject over dinner.

“How would you guys feel if we moved?  You could go to a new school!”  The kids gave me a double take, and my husband rolled his eyes.  “Whatever…it was just a thought.”

Later that night, our daughter woke up inconsolably crying, and when my husband went to check on her, she told him through her sobs that she had a nightmare about going to a new school and missing all of her friends.  I’m sure he was really happy with me at that moment, but I can’t know for sure because I had already gone back to sleep.

Last night, she woke up from another nightmare, this one not quite as powerful but enough to produce some saddened moans that stirred me when I went in to turn off her night light.  I rubbed her back, and she slowly opened her eyes.

“Daddy, I had a nightmare.”

“What happened honey?”

“I dreamed that I was at school and every class I went to I was the only black kid.”

This is of course nearly a reality for her living in our mostly white suburban town.  Our daughter just turned eight, and she’s been showing more and more interest in her racial identity, which couldn’t make me prouder while at the same time making me very nervous.  I want to make sure we’re providing a sound foundation for her, and I’m constantly worrying that what we’re doing isn’t enough.

“That’s unfortunately going to be pretty close to what your experience will have to be going to school in this town because there aren’t very many black people who live here.”  Had this been a daytime conversation, I certainly would have given her a little age-appropriate lesson on redlining, but it was late and I was just about to head to bed myself.  “You know that because we live where we do, Daddy and Poppy try hard to make sure you have black people in your life.”  I named a few key individuals, including two friends who had attended her birthday party who are kids of color and also have gay parents.

“But they don’t have skin as dark as me.”  Another teachable moment on the realities of colorism, but again, it was late.

“No, but black people come in all different shades, and they’re still going to be identified as black; they’ll be great friends that you can turn to as you all grow up because you’ll each know what it’s like to be in a different kind of family like ours.”  I could tell she was starting to come around; I decided to remind her of last year’s classroom teacher.  “And you know what?  I’m sure Ms. H. would be happy to talk to you any time.  You know she’s the only black teacher in your school, so she knows kind of what you’re going through.  I’m sure if you just stopped by before school, she’d find time to talk to you.”  She smiled a bit remembering that connection.  “And as you get older, there will be a few more black kids that join you.  When you get to middle school, there will be a few from each of the elementary schools in town that will all go to school together, and then more when you get to high school.  And then for college, you might decide you want to go to an all-black college.”

“They have those?” she asked, her eyes widening.

“Yup, and that’s why learning everything you can in school is important because it will give you options down the road.”

“I want to go to one of those schools.”  I was suddenly reminded of a video I show in professional development courses I teach where a black Boston student attending school in the white suburbs describes her impending shift to a historic black college.  She says that she had felt like an exchange student her whole life, and she was excited about finally getting the chance to relax that aspect of herself in college.

“Well that’s totally up to you.  If at some point before college, you decide that being around other people that look like you is important, then we’ll talk about you going to a different school, but right now, I think you’d rather stay with your friends right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, but if that ever changes, you let us know.”

I kissed her good night, and as she drifted back to sleep, I did what every great parent does: I questioned every decision we’ve ever made on behalf of our kids and hoped for the thousandth time that it would all turn out alright.

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In Our Dreams

Today should have been my first day of teaching in 2015.  My kids should have been returning to their elementary classrooms with tales of holiday gatherings and showing off their wearable holiday gifts.  Instead, we were 3000 miles from home saying goodbye to my grandfather who passed away the week before Christmas.

The death wasn’t a surprise.  I wrote about his failing health last November.  And the last two weeks have really been a combined family reunion-vacation-funeral trip.  The majority of my very large family is in California, and we get out her so seldom that even when we’re here for a difficult event like this, there are many new memories to be made at the same time.  And of course my children are just six and seven years old; two weeks of grieving just isn’t in the cards given their youth.

Last weekend, my dad and his wife hosted a small gathering of friends, including some of my high school friends.  They’ll typically do this during our visits so we can see a bunch of friends and family at once.  During the festivities while I was catching up with friends, one of my dad’s neighbors leaned over to me and said, “Does anyone even miss your grandfather?”  I was a little taken aback by the comment, and after a deep breath, I assured him that my grandfather was missed deeply.  The neighbor just shrugged his shoulders and gestured to the room, as if to suggest that he certainly couldn’t tell given the context.

Today, a few dozen family and friends gathered at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery for veterans where my grandfather’s ashes are being interred.  As my immediate family of four headed toward the outdoor pavilion where the military send off would take place, I fought back the tears and held my son tightly to my shoulders.  My daughter was walking with my husband, and after looking at me, she said to my husband, “Poppy, why aren’t you sad?”

“I am sad,” he told her.

“You don’t look sad,” she replied.

“People show sadness in different ways.  You can’t always tell how people feel based on the way they look,” he explained.

And this was definitely a sad occasion.  My grandfather as a great and amazing man, and I’m so proud to have been a part of his family and a benefactor of his parenting–both directly and through his son, my dad.  Prior to the ceremony, my kids were fighting like normal, which means just shy of bodily harm.  I counted to ten and dropped down to their level.

“This is a really hard day for Daddy, and I really need you and Poppy here with me.  If you can’t behave, Poppy will have to take you out, and I can’t do this by myself.  I’m really sad and having the three of you near me helps me feel better.  Do you understand?”  They nodded silently, and a few minutes later in the car, my daughter was complaining that her brother was looking at her funny.  I wasn’t sure they’d make it, and I worried I wouldn’t be ready to forgive them for being so young any time soon.

Then during the ceremony, my daughter clung to me while the volley shots were fired, and she brought my hand to her face lovingly while “Taps” was played.  When we were seated for the few short words shared about my grandfather’s life, my son climbed into my lap and hugged me as tightly as he ever has.  The entire thing was overwhelming for me–saying goodbye to my grandfather, hearing some of the wonderful memories about him, the majesty of a military funeral, and feeling the loving pressure of my family so close to me.  When it was over, I turned to my son with tears in my eyes and saw my emotional state mirrored in his own.  Through his own tears, he said, “I’m just so sad Daddy.”  We held each other and just cried for a bit before he shared some of his tiny hugs with his great-grandmother and my dad.

My aunt had printed up my grandfather’s obituary with a few color photos on it.  My daughter noticed something she thought might cheer up her brother: “That’s you in the picture!”  We looked, and sure enough, the photo of my grandad had been cropped from a photo with my son.  We could just make out the corner of my son’s short afro in the bottom of the frame.  He smiled, proud to feel so permanently connected his great-grandfather.

In the car, we all talked a bit about our feelings.  My son told us, “I’m just so sad because I used to dream about my great-grandfather all the time, and now I can’t do that any more.”

“Of course you can buddy.  That’s where he’ll live forever.  When you miss him and you want to see him, you can do it in your dreams.”  This apparently made an impression on him, because during the reception he mustered the strength to get up in front of the crowd and say so into the microphone.

I can count the number of times my son met my grandfather on one hand, yet he feels connected to him in this totally tangible way.  I’m sure it’s got something to do with his status as an adoptee, like he’s subconsciously clinging to the things that validate his permanence in this family.  And that’s something that my grandfather did for him.  The two of them are separated by 82 years in age, but it’s comforting to see the impact his presence had on the next generation of this family.

It’s something I’m sure I’ll talk over with my grandpa in my dreams tonight.

NaBloPoMo Ultimo

With this post, I meet my goal of posting every day for the month of November in honor of NaBloPoMo!  Woo-hoo!

As I close out the month of daily posts, I’m thankful for the ways in which stopping each day to take stock of our family’s daily life has helped put things into perspective, both from the personal meditation and reflection this forced upon me and from the commentary and feedback I’ve received from friends, followers, and fellow bloggers.  When I start to freak out because things in my life are spinning out of control, and I’m screaming at my family like an unmedicated bipolar alcoholic, at least I can look forward to decompressing a few hours later and processing it all through writing.

I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to read these posts themselves; I anticipate some interesting and difficult conversations will arise, and I look forward to the challenge.  With that in mind, I’ll continue to blog…but I’m definitely going to give myself a few nights off this week!

Thank You Ptown

About a thousand years ago, I first experienced Provincetown at the very tip of Cape Cod when my husband brought me to visit his childhood music teachers.  These teachers were a couple, two men who my husband refers to as “why I teach” and “how I teach,” respectively, who owned a house in Ptown where they would spend every school vacation until they moved here upon retirement.

I must have been barely twenty years old when I first came here, and as a young gay man, I found tremendous possibility in the acceptance and equity of this beautiful town by the sea.  I think it was a combination of seeing men walking down the street hand in hand without fear and the opportunity of getting to know these two influential teachers from my husband’s past that showed me the potential for happiness that lay in my future as a fledgling Gaysian.

Nearly two decades later, my husband and I were married with children, and we visited Provincetown during Family Week, a week-long celebration of LGBT-parented families.  Before that, Ptown was a place of sanctuary from our regular lives where living openly as gay men felt like constant work; now with kids, it still represented that and it took on additional meaning.  The town embraced our kids as lovingly as it had us so many times before.

At the end of that first Family Week, my husband and I were looking at property, trying to figure out how we might swing a second home in town so that our kids could get to know this wonderful place more intimately as they grew older.  When we walk down the street in Ptown, there are other families that look just like ours; when we go to the playground, there are other kids of color with two dads, and nobody awkwardly asks where their mother is.

For the past fours years, we’ve enjoyed getting to know the town in a new way, this time with kids in tow, and it’s been incredible.  Our kids smile from ear to ear when we pack the car up and make the circuitous drive to the end of Cape Cod, and as they walk through town, they love waving hello to the people they know.

Tonight, we bundled up in our heaviest winter gear and headed into town for the lighting of the lobster trap Christmas Tree.  As I stood in the crowd, fighting a potential hernia to hoist my daughter into the air so she could watch a crane lower the giant tree topper made of tinseled fishing buoys, I glanced up at her face.  She was beaming with joy.  She was so excited to be experiencing this moment with the crowds, and she was probably thinking ahead to dinner at her favorite restaurant where one of the bartenders is a black woman that shares her name who always gives her the biggest hug when she comes in.  In spite of the freezing cold and the pain creeping into my muscles from holding aloft our ninety pound daughter and our hyperactive son doing cartwheels around us with snot running down his face, it was a moment I wanted to savor and one that I look forward to repeating in many ways as our kids grow older.

Post-Holiday Haiku

I’m still in a coma from yesterday’s eating frenzy, and it’s been an incredibly exhausting day dealing with a six-year-old who got up way too early to find the elf on a shelf and spent the rest of the morning throwing tantrum after tantrum.  All I can come up with today are a few snarky haiku.

FOR MY SON

Yes you’re annoying.
I really do love you but
I’m too tired to smile.

FOR MY DAUGHTER

Do not think I’m blind
To the way you get me to
Yell at your brother.

FOR MY HUSBAND

When I’m mean to you
It’s only because I can’t
Pummel our children.

Tryptophan and Back

My son has always had a hard time eating appropriately.  Before he turned two, our pediatrician told us he clearly had a problem “pocketing” his food, which meant that he would stuff his mouth with more and more food, “pocketing” it in his cheeks like a hamster.  Sometimes, we’d be brushing his teeth hours after dinner, and when he spit out his toothpaste, out would come half his dinner.  I would dry heave into the toilet in disgust, trying not to shame him but having a hard time hiding my frustration between gagging fits.

We’ve tried lots of different strategies over the years with different goals in mind.  We’ve tried the “you need to take at least a bite of something and swallow it before you decide you don’t like it” strategy, which resulted in more pocketing than ever.  We’ve tried the “you don’t have to finish everything but don’t ask for more bread unless your plate is clean” strategy when he got a little older, and he ended up chewing and chewing the same bite of food for half an hour while we washed the dishes and cleaned the table around him.  The doctor gave us suggestions (recently she became mildly concerned about his lack of vegetable intake), but nothing has ever really worked.  These days, we’ve settled on making one dinner for the family; the rule is he doesn’t have to eat anything he doesn’t want to eat, but if he’s still hungry and doesn’t want the food on his plate, he gets a piece of bread with butter.  We’re not making multiple meals each night.  He eats a lot of bread with butter these days.

This has all been exasperated by his maturing psyche that begs to be treated like a “big kid.”  He gets jealous of his older sister at restaurants when she orders like a matronly food connoisseur: “I’ll start with the lobster bisque and for my entree I’d like the truffle oiled baked mac’n’cheese.”  It doesn’t help that we heap praise on her adventurous and varied palate, and he yearns for that kind of attention.  What happens of course is that he orders something that he’ll never eat in a million years and then pushes it around his plate sheepishly wondering whether one bite or two will be enough to get dessert.

For now, we’ve taken to giving him tiny portions of protein and vegetables, which seem to cause him the most trouble, and heaping servings of carbs.  A typical dinner plate for him will include about two cups of white rice, a barely visible morsel of chicken, and two green beans.  He usually eats the rice, carefully maneuvering his fork around the chicken and beans, and then asks for his bread and butter.

Today at Thanksgiving dinner, he threw a fit when we didn’t serve him enough stuffing.  I tried to reason with him that if he ate all of what little stuffing we gave him, he could have more, but that wasn’t good enough.  “You aren’t me!  You don’t know what I’ll eat!” he cried.  I rolled my eyes, which egged him on even more.  My husband gave me that “why can’t you just let him be six?” look and gave him a second spoonful of stuffing.  Thirty minutes later, the entire pile of stuffing stood untouched on my son’s plate while he resisted the urge to pocket a second helping of turkey he insisted on receiving only because his sister asked for more.  I looked at him and pleaded with him to just spit out the food in his mouth and be done, but he stalwartly chewed on.  I think he’s still working on it now.

I think this all bothers me so much because of the complete lack of logic in it.  If he doesn’t like the food, why does he put it in his mouth?  Why can’t he just try a tiny bite and then swallow it down and say he doesn’t want any more?  When we give him an option to just spit out his food with impunity, why doesn’t he take the opportunity and move on?

I have friends with underweight toddlers who probably cringe at reading something like this.  I don’t know why I even choose to fight this battle night after night.  We all have these pet peeves with our children that drive us nuts, and if other families are anything like ours, they even cause discord between the adults.  My husband and I have completely different irritations when it comes to each individual kid.  One of us will try to support the other while at the same time say with our eyes, “Does this really matter?”

We all know the answer.  Of course it doesn’t matter.  And at the same time it really does.  The adult voice in our heads tells us that logically we should let it go, and in the moment, letting go feels like it will send our children down a slippery slope that ends in spoiled debauchery.

I’m getting better at letting it go, about not falling into the same routines night after night after night.  It’s a slow process, but I guess I’m technically an old dog learning new tricks at this point.  There are aspects of helping a young person lead a good and a right life that end up doing precisely the same thing for us as adults.  As my kids gets older, I find that I’m maturing a bit too.  Tonight, I’ll just sit and chew on that thought for a while as my son chews on that extra turkey he asked for.

Guest Blogger: My Daughter

I was at a bit of a loss for what to write about for Day 20 of NaBloPoMo, so I asked my daughter if she wanted to be a guest blogger today.  She dictated, while I typed, and she kept a very watchful eye on what was going up on the screen to make sure I wasn’t editing her words!  I asked her to talk a little bit about what it’s like living in our family as a black girl with two dads and a Latino brother.  Here’s what she came up with:

I like being with my family and I love my family and I think it’s my favorite family I have ever been in.  I still love my mom and grandma too.  I love all of my friends and families and cousins.

I hope the world will change in a different way; I want the guys that don’t treat us well to treat us well, even the girls too.  I should say women.  Because I know some people are really mean to us because that’s the people they are and they know that they’re doing that to us, the ones who are doing bad.  They should learn how to treat us in a better way.  But we should treat them the way we treat ourselves because the ones who are doing bad deserve some goodness so they can learn from us.

Me and my brother, we are both black-skinned.  And I like it that way because I’m who I am.  And I love myself.  I’m going to talk about being black.  It’s kind of cool having different colored skin because when you have black skin, it’s kind of different that the white people.  You can see that it’s really dark.  I have brown skin, but they call it black skin; I don’t know why, but that’s a silly name.  My brother has lighter skin, but it’s not really that black; it’s kind of like a peanut butter color.

Me and my brother have the same hair.  My hair can do really awesome stuff, like you could braid it, and then you could put beads in it, and then you could wrap it around like a pony tail, or you could put little buns on the sides or one in the middle.  There’s lots of things you can do with my hair that other people can’t do with their hair.  My hair is awesome.  I love it.

My destiny is the best I can think of because I love my destiny.  My destiny is everybody’s whole life because I care about everybody.  And everybody deserves that.

My fathers are from different states and have different colored skin too.  All of us have different skin and different destinies.  I have two cats.  They are very special to me and I love my house.  It’s cool to have what I have in my family.  It’s kind of cool having two dads (or two moms) because you get two of the same type of person, like dads.  These dads are really important to me because they are in my family and I love them.  And they belong to me and I belong to them.