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.

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Conversations Postponed

This morning, I walked into my office at work, saw a trusted colleague and friend, and started sobbing.  It was one of those moments where I didn’t really know it was going to happen.  I kept thinking I could recover, but it soon became apparent I couldn’t.  We found a private space, and she talked me down off the ledge.

I don’t think there was any one thing that set me off, but the last few days have been personally tumultuous.  With the news out of Ferguson on Monday night, I came in on Tuesday morning to a school-wide email from a fellow colleague that she planned on addressing the events in Missouri overnight in her classes and she hoped the rest of the staff would as well.  I was conflicted.  I know the conversation is important, and I know that talking all of this about openly and honestly is the only way to get to a better place.  Things were just too raw for me, and I knew that if a kid started talking about how race played no role in Michael Brown’s death I was going to lose it.  And that wouldn’t be productive for any of us.  The focus of a classroom conversation like this needs to be on WHY people are so angry as opposed to whether or not Darren Wilson should have been indicted.  The classroom needs to be a safe space for all my students, not just the ones who have the same political perspective on the world as I do.  And I just wasn’t ready to maintain that kind of focus with my students.

So I chose to stay silent.  The few times I thought I might speak up, tears welled up in my eyes and I had to stop.  At lunch, some colleagues talked about how the conversations went in their classrooms.  Most of the kids reported that they hadn’t talked about it, and in one class a group of African American Boston students were more than ready to get a few things off their chest.

I called the friend who taught that class later that night and expressed frustration that we weren’t taking a more collective approach to addressing this issue as a school.  She challenged me to articulate which I’d prefer, teachers having the conversation even if they weren’t adept at leading it or simply promoting silence on the matter.  I know that teachers can actually do more harm than good if they aren’t careful and deliberate about how they facilitate these conversations with students and I also know that silence sends a much heavier message.  I just kept coming back to the idea that we needed to come together with some consensus as an institution about how to deal with issues like this.

Then I spent the rest of the night reading articles and blog posts and Twitter feeds about Ferguson, which didn’t help my emotional well being.  One post (I can’t remember where I read it, but I want to say it was Tim Wise) mentioned that white privilege surfaces even in the liberal reaction to the events in Missouri this week.  The post essentially said that if you are outraged by what is happening in Ferguson, you are still in a more privileged position than the millions of people who have had their fears reinforced by what happened between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown.

That made me pause for a moment.  I am absolutely outraged by the events that began last August, and at the same time, I fear for the day when my children will fall victim to the bias and prejudice that leads to innocent black deaths over and over, seemingly with increased frequency.  Our son is incredibly impulsive as a six-year-old, and I worry how that impulsivity will manifest in his teenager years, especially as brown-skinned boy in our all white town with a nearly all white police force.

During my breakdown this morning, I realized that my real issue is the way in which my husband and I have to prepare both of our children for the reality that they need to treat each encounter with a police officer as a potentially fatal one, no matter how unfairly they feel they are being treated or how safe they think they actually are.  And this isn’t something that my husband and I have experienced as fully as they will.  I can attest to a certain amount of fear when being pulled over with my Human Rights Campaign emblem and rainbow sticker on the bumper, but gay men aren’t strapped with the stereotype of aggression that black and brown men are.  And my fears are fairly irrational when compared to the statistics–not so for my kids.

After I recovered, I blew my nose and ran off to focus on Holden Caufield’s fictional problems, which ended up being far easier to do than focusing on my own.  And now that the Thanksgiving weekend has officially begun, I am hoping I can focus on my family, give thanks for the love that keeps us together and the wits that will keep us safe.  And next week, I’ll find the courage to steel myself from how very personal this all feels and chat with my students a bit about how Michael Brown is playing an important role in getting us all to talk about this country’s race problem.

Reacting with Understanding

In eighth grade, I was a short gay Asian kid with pimples and a mullet.  I was awkward, just like everyone is at that age.  My weirdness mostly blended in with everyone else’s; I had good friends and people liked me.

Except Maria.  She sat behind me in English class.  Every day, we’d shuffle into Mr. Anderson’s room for the last class of the day, I quickly learned to begrudge the seating arrangement.  Maria hated me for some reason.  I may have known why at the time, but I don’t think I did.  She’d say horrible things to me, whispering them in my ear.  When I didn’t pass papers back quickly enough, she’d shove me in the back of the head: “Come on.  Pass ’em back.  What’s wrong with you?”  I was known in middle school for being a smart ass jerk to teachers, using my witty repartee to put them in their place or get a laugh from the class without actually saying anything that could get me in trouble.  Still, I was willing to make a federal case out of being bullied like this.

This daily assault continued until one day I snapped.  She shoved me in the back of the head, calling me stupid, and I turned around and backhanded her.  In the middle of English.  It was one of those moments where all you here are the proverbial crickets in the background as everyone’s head quickly turned to find the source of the sharp crack as my hand met her cheek.  Maria immediately started crying, and Mr. Anderson asked us to stay after class.

When I explained myself, Mr. Anderson felt I had been pushed into a corner after Maria admitted that she had been treating me horribly.  He moved my seat and made us promise to treat each other better in exchange for not reporting any of the bad behavior that had taken place in his room.

As I sit here today trying to make sense of the news out of Ferguson last night and the resulting protests–both the peaceful and the violent–I’m reminded of how quickly any one of us can be pushed to that snapping point.  The violence isn’t a result of one simple grand jury decision; it’s the catalyst for a mixture of volatile chemicals that has been simmering for far too long.  When I slapped Maria, I wasn’t thinking.  I was angry and embarrassed and I wanted to hurt her.  I look back and I know it was a mistake no matter how good it felt or how much mileage I’ve gotten out of the story in the last twenty-five years since it happened.  This morning as I watched the footage of the looting and the burning, I thought about how I can understand the reaction.  I don’t necessarily agree with it or think it’s the right thing, but I can understand it.

That same year in middle school–I wasn’t the best behaved kid–I got kicked out of choir.  There must have been about sixty kids in chorus, and all of my best friends were in the room.  I would talk and talk and talk with them any chance I got.  Mr. S, our choral director, would pause for a moment to chat with the pianist, and I’d zip over the sopranos to talk about last night’s episode of Twin Peaks.  Mr. S was incredibly frustrated by my behavior, constantly letting out a sigh as he called me back to me seat.  He often ignored the other people talking to focus in on me, and I started to feel like he was unfairly targeting me.

Then one day, I decided to make a change.  I wasn’t going to talk in class today.  I was going to stay focused and wait patiently in between songs.  Mr. S. pauses for a moment between numbers and turned his back to the choir, which immediately burst into gossipy action.  I sat quietly looking at my music.  Mr. S. turned around and with barely a glance at the room he called my name and asked me to be quiet.

“What?” I was incredulous.

“I asked you to stop talking.  Again.”

“I wasn’t even talking!”  Now I was getting riled up, and I started yelling.  “You’re always focusing in on me.  I know I talk a lot, but so does everyone else!”  By now the entire room was focused on me.  “You’re always calling on me to be quiet and today I wasn’t even talking!  What’s wrong with you?”

Mr. S. remained calm as the class listened for his response.  “I get the feeling you don’t respect me.”

“Well Mr. S., that’s something you have to earn.”  A few kids gasped.

“Please take a seat.”

The next day, I was informed by the main office I was no longer in choir.  Mr. S. never had a conversation with me and I resented him for years, even when I saw him at a wedding about ten years later.  I’m sure he didn’t feel that he’d done anything wrong.  I was a talkative kid who drew focus from his teaching.  As a teacher now, the kids who act like I did are the ones that drive me the most crazy, and I am in awe of how calm Mr. S. always in response to my constant pushing.  At the time though, I was even ready to admit that I was a talkative and distracting kid and I felt that he wasn’t treating me the same as the rest of the class.  Both of these realities existed for each of us, and maybe if we had a chance to sit down and talk about them, each really listening to the other, we might have reached a different end.

This is my contribution to the Ferguson reaction today.  There are many people in this country who don’t believe the black perspective.  Someone else’s point of view isn’t for any of us to believe or disbelieve; it’s for us to understand, even when its truth serves as a complete antithesis to our own.  In my professional work in these topics, when someone says that they simply can’t believe a particular position is true, we ask, “Well what if it were?”

These conversations need to happen more authentically more often.  And then maybe we won’t feel the need to react to perceived indignities with anything more than a measured dialogue.

Racism Explained to a Toddler

A really great friend of mine moved to St. Louis in pursuit of love more than a decade ago.  Being raised on the east coast, she was anticipating having to shift her fairly liberal mindset for her move to the midwest.  Thankfully, the amazing man she followed to St. Louis, a lifelong Missourian, helped ease her into this new life.  They settled in a liberal part of downtown, and as she quickly popped out three kids in succession following her marriage, she felt a loaded decision looming: where should they send the kids to school.

She’s an educator like me; we actually met teaching at a pseudo-urban school district outside of Boston.  At this school, most of the parents were working class, a large percentage of students lived in the projects, and the AP classes were populated with the children of upper-middle class parents who wanted to stay close to the city without being directly in it.  After the move, she found herself in a fairly similar suburban school in St. Louis County, although the cultural identity of the school was clearly very different than where we met.  A few years went by and she had the opportunity to apply for a job in a wealthy suburban school district; we lived strangely parallels lives, as I was making a similar shift at the same time.  We both ended up taking jobs with these new districts, and we both ended up moving our families out of the city into those districts where I children can earn a top-notch education.  And go to school with mostly white kids.

Of course my friend and her family are all white, yet the decision to move her kids out of the city and into the suburban schools was one that she weighed just as heavily as my husband and I did.  She is an amazing ally for equity of all sorts, and she often pushes herself to have tough conversations with friends and family simply because she knows she has the privilege not to.  She’s referenced on many occasions that knowing the way my family must live its life has often influenced her decisions in what issues she feels she must address in her world.

Then this past August, she found herself near the epicenter of racial tensions in this country when Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer.  She says that Facebook became a place she could no longer frequent due to the vitriolic postings that she felt she couldn’t ignore.  The result of course were rampant flame wars battled out online with people she felt had always been measured and calm in their understanding of the social constructs of this world.

I spoke with her on the phone this weekend.  As the country eagerly awaits word on whether the grand jury will indict Darren Wilson on murder charges, the anticipation of violence has permeated the media where we live.  She assured me she was safe, and she told me some of her struggles:

“This is going to be in my kids’ textbooks in twenty years, and I don’t want them to wonder why they had no idea this was going on right down the road when they were kids.  But how do I tell them about this without totally betraying their innocence?  I’m just so completely aware that I don’t have to have this conversation, but families like yours do.  And that feels really horrible.”

I told her I think she need to have the conversation.  She needs to lay the foundation for the more in-depth conversations that will occur as her children grow older.  She needs to provide a bedrock for the inevitable loss of innocence that her children will go through when they really see how race works in this country.  Without that, she runs the risk of shielding them from every knowing their privilege and actually contributing to the problem.  (I may be elaborating a bit more here than I actually did on the phone.)  Of course, she needs to do all of this in an age-appropriate way.  I took a stab at it and took on her role:

“Listen, mommy needs to talk to you about something very serious.  There is a lot going on in St. Louis county right now.  We’re safe where we are, and there are a lot of people nearby who don’t feel as safe as we do.  We feel comfortable knowing that the police officers in our town will protect us, and there are some people who don’t feel that way.  Isn’t that awful?  Well you know that sometimes police officers have to hurt people in order to keep them from doing bad things to good people right?  A few months ago, a police officer with white skin made a mistake and hurt a young man with black skin who wasn’t doing anything wrong.  The police officer was acting on impulse, which means he just acted without thinking, and a lot of people think he had a bad reaction simply because of the color of the other man’s skin.  Is that really bad that someone would react like that?  What has made people really mad is that this has happened a bunch of times before, and people are just tired of it.  Mommy is really sad about it and wants it to stop happening too.  Think about the people we know with black skin.  If someone hurt them, even by accident, we would probably be really mad and sad right?  Well that’s what’s happening right now.”

No work of art, but that’s essentially what I suggested she do.  I’m not sure if she’ll be able to follow through, but it makes me incredibly happy to know that she is pushing herself beyond her comfort zone to educate her children about what the world is like for others; she surely doing her job as an amazing parent by improving her kids’ empathy and guiding them to consider the world from a perspective other than their own.

Maybe her kids will have questions, and she might have to say, “I don’t know.  Let me know think about that and get back to you,” or maybe her kids will simply ask if they can go play with their Legos.  The important thing is to have the conversation so that they start hearing that dissonance to the message being promoted by the high decibel silence in most white families’ homes.

Who knows what will happen when the grand jury verdict comes out, which may happen any minute now.  Whatever does happen, it will likely result in another difficult conversation for every black household in this country and the choice to ignore the conversation in so many more.

Hard Work

I had the pleasure of facilitating a student leadership conference yesterday helping participants grapple with the difficult conversations of race relations in their home schools.  My school sent a contingency of three black students, two white students, and one Asian student, and there were ten other schools participating, with more than 75 students in attendance in total.  It was a great opportunity to have some difficult and honest conversations about the role race plays in our specific school settings.

One of the most challenging things was hearing students from all schools express frustration about the lack of support they get for the sustainability of their initiatives.  They come back from conferences like this filled with ideas and enthusiasm, and most of them will get something started in their home schools, whether it’s something simple like celebrating Black History Month in February or planning an assembly highlighting diversity.  The issue though is institutionalizing these endeavors so that they do more than checking a box.  Did we cover diversity this year?  Check.  Should we cover it next year.  We’ll see.

In my nearly fifteen years as an educator, I’ve seen lots of interesting proposals come from colleagues and students about how to improve the dialogue around race in schools, and I’ve watched as the really great ideas produce meaningful experiences for the stakeholders involved…and then I watch how the following year we start from scratch, sometimes acting like we solved the problem and sometimes acting like we have no idea what we could do to address it.  Several years ago, a group of teachers organized an assembly at my school celebrating diversity; a teacher spoke about his experiences coming out, a black female student detailed her feelings about never being asked out by a white student, and a freshman girl bound to a wheelchair explained what her daily life is like.  After that assembly, I remember my classes had the richest discussions about diversity we’ve ever had.  And then we haven’t had an assembly like it since.

This isn’t really the fault of any individual or policy; it’s the nature of education I think.  We live in these cycles where one quarter of our clientele changes every year so that at the end of a four-year period we are dealing with a population that has no institutional memory longer than three years.  As teachers, we get caught up in this too.  The amazing veterans who have retired fade from our mind as we struggle to bring the newbies up to speed, and the amazing crew of students we had last year dissipate from our consciousness as they are replaced by a hundred new faces.

This idea of solidifying great ideas happens even on a small scale in the classroom.  I will teach a lesson that is amazing one year, and then the following year, I’ll forget how awesome it was and try to reinvent the wheel, only to remember that I had some ready-made hour of teaching buried in my computer’s file folders.  (I’m insanely organized, so I have to admit that this doesn’t happen that often, but it does happen on occasion.)

In any event, I did give our students at the conference yesterday a list of the things that I feel have been successful in the past even though they never got to experience them themselves.  Initiatives like this are all the more powerful when they are student driven, and guiding a group of students to make the right choices each year is exhausting for whatever adult ends up taking on the role of mentor.

But the reason I continue to do this work in anti-racist educational practices is because it does matter; it matters a lot.  I think I need to ask Siri to remind me that it matters every Monday morning so that I don’t forget.  It is the privilege of teaching where I do, where most of my students are white and middle class, that I can get away with focusing in on the symbolism of Holden’s red hunting hat instead of the ways in which the expectations of his affluence contribute to his depression.  I can work hard at drawing connections between the great literature I teach and the social problems of the world today, and sometimes I’m just really tired, especially when I’m merely planting seeds that won’t flourish in these students until well after they leave my classroom.  I need the reminders to give me energy to keep pushing even when I’m exhausted and the students seem apathetic.

Yesterday was that reminder, so Siri can take the day off tomorrow.

Family Adjustments

Our kids are only sixteen months apart in age.  We tried as hard as we could to plan out that ideal two year age difference, but it just didn’t work out.  Our daughter came to us at birth, and since that was our only experience working with the foster care system, we started the process of adopting our second child when she was about twenty months old, thinking that the roughly six-month process of updating our home study and all would bring us a second baby at just the right time and age.

There had been a change in leadership at the Department of Children and Families since our first adoption though, and concurrent placements weren’t really the norm any more.  When our daughter was born, the agency allowed social workers to make a decision whether or not to place a child in concurrent planning, which means that the professionals involved could work both for reunification with the biological family and eventual adoption.  They could concurrently plan for both outcomes.  Our daughter came into care immediately at birth because she was born with cocaine in her system and her birthmother admitted to drinking during pregnancy.  Shortly after giving birth, her mother left the hospital, leaving her baby girl behind.  On paper, the goal of the Department of Children and Families for this baby was reunification with the biological family.  Based on the circumstances, as well as the birthmother’s history of incarceration, struggles with substance abuse, and losing custody of two children already, the social workers made the decision to place our daughter in a pre-adoptive foster care home, our home, because they believed that the likelihood of this mother maintaining her parental rights was pretty limited.  Things worked out like the agency believed they would, and seventeen months later we legally adopted our daughter.  Little did we know at the time that our son was already a month old and living with a foster family about an hour away.

At the time, the agency had developed a more firm policy of not placing children in pre-adoptive homes until all biological avenues had been exhausted.  This philosophy makes logical sense.  It protects the sanctity of the biological relationship while also protecting pre-adoptive foster families from welcoming a child into their home that may in fact be returned at some point.  In practice however, many of these children will never be returned to their biological families, so the potential risk is probably outweighed by the security of placing these children in what might end up being forever families.  Still, the policy was in place and his mother gave birth in a prison hospital, our son spent the entire first year of his life in a temporary foster home.

The foster home was terrific, and we’re so glad that he had that stability early in his life; had he been placed with a pre-adoptive family, he never would have been placed with us, so things certainly work out the way they are supposed to.  At the same time, it made the bonding process difficult for everyone involved.  The handover process was swift and challenging.  I had time off from work and spent time with our son in his foster home, and then my husband joined us a few days into this process.  About a week in, we began the transition, which included introducing him to his new sister.  With the countdown to the big move at just three days, the three of us went to spend the day with him at his foster home, the last full day he would ever be there.  The following day, his foster family dropped him off at our house in the morning, and we brought him back that night.  The next day, we picked him up at his foster house, and he never returned.  This was two weeks after his first birthday and it was Father’s Day.

That first night as an official family of four living under the same roof, we decided to dine out.  We walked to a restaurant up the street.  After we sat down, our son immediately reminded us that his foster family let him throw his sippy cup when he was done with it by tossing it nearly into the laps of the family sitting next to us.  I retrieved the cup, apologized to the family, and returned to our table.  “We do not throw cups in this family,” I said in my sternest dad voice.  My son immediately started crying.

He didn’t sleep well, especially those first few nights after he officially moved in, and I’m sure he was wondering where the hell he was and why his family had been replaced by complete strangers.  He had been diagnosed with a speech delay and wasn’t speaking at all at this point, but we still talked to him regularly about his new family and how happy we were he’d joined us.  In the middle of the night though when he would wake screaming, it was incredibly challenging to keep my calm and not get angry.  I wasn’t always able to do either.

I know now that I struggled a lot with my fears that I wouldn’t get attached to this kid, at least not in the way that I had so immediately become inseparable from our infant daughter.  I can’t say when we all finally settled into one another, but I know it wasn’t immediate.  I wish now that someone had told me this might happen and that it’s okay.  My husband and I talked about it, but I remember being too afraid to actually admit that I wasn’t sure I felt like this boy’s dad yet.

The good thing is that it did happen eventually, and I think it’s good that I can’t actually pinpoint when it happened.  I know that he is my son, and I am his father.

I know some people will read this and think, “That’s why I could never adopt a child,” but I can tell you that it’s something you will quickly get over.  Before I wore contacts, I used to say, “I could never touch my eye every day like that!” but now I do it every day.  Maybe that’s not the best analogy, but I wore glasses and I was sick of having to deal with them.  I wanted to not wear glasses badly enough that I got over my initial fears of putting plastic on my eyeball, just like people who want to be parents badly enough–really want it–can get over their fears of attachment and welcome a child in need into their home, their family, and their hearts.

Cue the Violins

For day 21 of NaBloPoMo I found inspiration at the Daily Post‘s suggestion for a writing topic today:

Cue the Violins

If your life were a movie, what would its soundtrack be like? What songs, instrumental pieces, and other sound effects would be featured on the official soundtrack album?

While the prompt is interesting, I thought I’d take inspiration from it and go in a different direction (one that’s still fairly self-indulgent admittedly).

I of course started shuffling through my vast knowledge of musical theater to think about what would play out in the soundtrack of my life, and I was reminded of a time that I actually completed this assignment.  My husband and I went through a rough stretch a few years into our dating life, and as part of the processing of patching things up, I made him a mix tape that I billed as the musical soundtrack to our life.  It included liner notes that provided a little synopsis of the plot, listing who sang which songs when.  I can’t remember exactly what was on it, but I know it included “Who Are You Now?” from Funny Girl and “How Did I End Up Here?” from Romance, Romance.

A few years later in 2004, we were contemplating a different type of soundtrack as we planned our wedding.  Just six months prior, the Massachusetts Supreme Court had issued its decree that the state had six months to prepare for issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.  I was only 26 at the time, and my husband and I barely talked much about the decision except that it was good news in the long-term.  Neither of us really thought it would stick though, so we didn’t think too deeply about getting married…and of course marriage was never something that was on our minds since we legally couldn’t do it.  To then be confronted with the idea we suddenly could do it meant that we did the only sensible thing any young unmarried couple would do: we ignored it.

Then in May as same sex marriage became legal and the news showed footage of countless couples getting married on the courthouse steps, we independently began considering the option.  We were also in the market to purchase our first house, and as we walked down the city streets heading to an Open House one Saturday shortly thereafter, I broached the subject with my then-live-in-boyfriend:

“So what do you think about this gay marriage stuff?”

“It’s pretty cool.”

“I know, right?  I’m sort of nervous they’re going to take it away though.”

“Me, too.”

“Maybe we should think about getting married while we still can.”

“Maybe we should.”

And that is the romantic story of our engagement.  We had already been together for eight years, and for all intents and purposes we behaved and lived as a married couple.  We even wore matching gold wedding bands, although we never even had an unofficial ceremony.

That conversation quickly morphed into the gay version of a shotgun wedding.  As teachers, we had the summer available for the festivities, and as public school teachers trying to buy a home, we had little to no money available.  We checked out a few venues, fell in love with the Hampshire House, a beautiful old brownstone in Boston’s Back Bay just across the street from the Public Gardens, and we chose a lovely Thursday afternoon in August for the date since the food and beverage minimum was substantially cheaper than other other evening or weekend slot.

During the following six weeks, we planned all aspects of the wedding, and it was a whirlwind.  In hindsight, our youth, pocketbooks, and time frame kept us from making the wisest of choices.  We didn’t hire a photographer, opting instead for disposable cameras at each table (we have no photos from our wedding as a result), and we used a Justice of the Peace suggested by the Hampshire House (I barely remember the fairly impersonal ceremony).  We did have some great food, a beautiful location, and best of all the perfect soundtrack for the day.

With a Thursday afternoon wedding and no opportunity to send out a “save the date,” the attendance was small, only about fifty people.  We thought that a DJ and dancing with so few people would be strange, so we opted for a recital instead.  So many of our friends are singers and performers that we thought we’d put them to work making our big day fantastic.

A great friend provided the piano accompaniment, borrowing time on a friend’s piano to rehearse each number and racing through a recital rehearsal the day before the wedding.  We asked friends to select a song to perform, and each picked something meaningful to our relationship with them.

First up were two friends from my college days (one I’ve known since middle school).  These two ladies sang “Marry the Man Today” from Guys & Dolls, an apt song celebrating the union of two men.

Next, my husband’s childhood friend sang “When You Say Nothing At All,” the beautiful country song made famous by Keith Whitley and later by Allison Krause.

Another friend from my own childhood sang “They Say It’s Wonderful” from Annie Get Your Gun.  She introduced the song as important because when she performed in the show in college, I was so in love with the leading man that we literally stalked him, driving by his house and honking in the hopes that he’d come out so I could catch a glimpse of him in real life.

Then the “Marry the Man Today” girls were joined by a third super talented friend from college to sing “I Want It All” from Baby, a song from a show that we all loved about women who want career, love, and a family.  Little did I know I would be yearning for having it all just a few short years later.

Then my husband’s college friend sang a classical piece: Brahms’ “Von Ewiger Liebe.”  She explained the romantic translation of the German song, adding a touch of class to our mostly musical theater afternoon.

The second half of the performances included my husband’s middle and high school music teachers singing “What Would I Do?” from Falsettos.  These are two men who got married just a few weeks after us, decades into their lifelong partnership.  They served as role models for my husband growing up, both as happy gay men and as fabulous teachers, so it was incredibly special having them sing such a poignant tune.

Then I took the stage with my aforementioned fellow stalker friend to sing “Suddenly, Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors, a favorite of ours when we lived in New York City together and would spend every Saturday night at the Duplex in the Village.

A friend from graduate school then pulled out her guitar to sing the folksy “Give Yourself to Love,” before one of the ladies from “I Want It All” sang the touchingly hilarious “Taylor” (the latte boy).

The penultimate song was sung by a dear friend from high school that I introduced as “my last attempt at heterosexuality.”  She sang “Unusual Way” from Nine through joyous tears.

And finally, my husband and I stepped up to the piano and sang “All the Wasted Time” from Parade.  The song in the show is sung by the doomed Leo Frank and his wife while he waits in prison for a crime he didn’t commit shortly before an angry mob lynches him.  Not really the most romantic of contexts for a wedding song.  Still, we both loved the music and as we were putting together the ceremony and reception, we realized that the lyrics could easily be reinterpreted for our long wait to walk down the aisle.  Reading the words with the fight for marriage equality in mind, the song took on new meaning, and it still means as much today ten years later:

I will never understand
What I did to deserve you,
Or how to be the man
That I’m supposed to be.
I will never understand
If I live a thousand lifetimes
Why you did the things you did for me.
Just look at you –
How could I not be in love with you?
What kind of fool could have taken you
For granted for so long?
All the wasted time,
All the million hours,
Pushing you away,
Building up my walls;
All the days gone by
To glare, to pout, to push you out,
And I never knew anything at all
I never knew anything at all.

I will never understand
How all the world misjudged you
When I have always known
How lucky I must be.
I will never understand
How I kept from going crazy
Just waiting there till you came home to me.
Now look at me
Now that you’re finally here with me –
Now that I know I was right to wait
And everyone else was so wrong
For so long

All the wasted time
All the million hours.
Years on top of years
Still too proud to crawl –
All the days gone by
To feel that I don’t satisfy
And I never knew anything at all
I never knew anything at all

All the wasted time
All the million hours.
Leaves too high to touch,
Roots too strong to fall.
All the days gone by
To never show I loved you so
And I never knew anything at all.

I never knew anything
At all