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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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.

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.

 

Gay Rights, or Civil Rights Expedited

While I was out visiting my aging grandparents this past weekend, both of them mentioned something that we’ve talked about a lot in the years since my husband and I adopted our two children.  We each believe that what really changes the racial dialogue is loving someone of another race.  My grandparents, who are both in their 80s, beam with a certain amount of pride that they now have two great-grandchildren of color–even my grandfather who is very sick and at times barely mentally present mentioned it to me.

This isn’t a new idea.  Sharon Rush’s book Loving Across the Color Lines is more than a decade old, and in it she details how the adoption of her black daughter changed her views on how race works in America.  As a white woman, she questioned the validity of certain racial minorities to claim race was at play in any given situation.  Once she loved, truly loved, a black child, she realized that her perspective had been flawed for many years.

Peggy McIntosh

I’ve found this to be true myself.  My late development of racial identity as an Asian man coincided directly with the birth of my daughter.  I’d read Peggy McIntosh’s article on white privilege in graduate school and used similar concepts to drive my teaching of certain issues of social justice in the classroom, but it never really became as imperative a concept as it is for me now until my husband and I brought home this tiny defenseless African American child.  When I became a parent, I discovered what most parents do: I wanted to make sure this little being was protected and sheltered until she could stand up on her own two feet and face the world head on.  And in thinking about how we could do that for this little girl, I came to fully embrace the ways in which her experiences will be different from my own as a biracial Asian man, and vastly different from my white husband’s.

Yoruba Richen

As evidence of this line of thought, I’ve always used equality for the gay community as an example.  Yoruba Richen has a great TED Talk where she outlines the rapidity of the gay rights movement in relation to the Civil Rights movement.  The former has began less than fifty years ago and true legal equality is just around the corner.  The latter needed approximately three hundred years to achieve legislated equality.  There’s certainly something to be said about the ways in which the diaspora of the gay community is spread across socio-economic groups equally, and that provides the group with a certain amount of power and clout to speed things along.  However, I think loving a gay family member is what has truly quickened the pace.

Contrary to what some people believe, people are born gay.  No one can dictate whether a baby will be gay or not, so when a parent spends 10-12 years loving a child so immensely, and then that child comes out of the closet post-puberty, odds are good that that parent is going to continue loving that child.  Of course there are lots of families where this isn’t the case, and I don’t mean to minimize the crazy numbers of LGBT youth who are thrown out on the streets.  However, the ones that are accepted by their families are the ones that are changing minds for the better.  They are the ones who are getting heterosexual allies to take a stand, write their congress people, call out their friends, attend rallies.

Of course no one can dictate whether a baby will be born black or Asian or Latino either.  It’s just highly unlikely that a parent wouldn’t know ahead of time that those options are possibilities before the baby is born.  Adoption agencies, even ones that work through the foster care system, typically allow parents to specify what racial background parents are willing to accept.  The odds of a parent having a baby of a racial background different from his/her own is far fewer than a heterosexual parent having a gay child.  And thus, the racial dialogue in this country is stymied and slowed by the inability of one group to truly empathize with another.

We’re seeing progress, and I’m happy about that.  At times it feels like with every step forward in relieving the racial tensions in America we take two steps back.  My husband and I though will continue to act as vocal allies for the black and brown kids out there like our own, supporting them as best we can even after they have the strength and independence to do it on their own.

A Tradition Continues

Today we headed off for our annual trip to the Target Portrait Studios for a holiday photo session.  We first made the pilgrimage when our daughter was just seven months old, and now a series of 8×10 family portraits adorn the second floor hallway in our home, and we hope to continue the tradition for as long as we can.

If you look carefully at that progression of family portraits just outside our kids’ bedroom doors, you’ll notice that my husband and I are essentially wearing the same several pieces of clothing, mixed up from year to year to create a different look.  The tie I’m wearing one year shows up around his neck a few years later, and his shirt from year two is on my torso in year five.  Last year, we just about came full circle.  The outfit I wore was his exact outfit from year one. This is of course one of the benefits of being a same sex couple who are basically the same size.

Today marked year nine, so we had to carefully check what we wore against history’s photos.  My husband came down in brown slacks, a crisp pink shirt and a patterned chocolate tie.

“How do I look?” he asked.

“It’s nice,” I muttered, thinking there was something familiar about this outfit.  I pulled out my phone and checked last year’s photo and flashed it to him before he swore under his breath and headed up to change.  He was wearing the same outfit as last year.

We finally got things squared away.  He found a brand new sweater vest and tie that has yet to appear in any of our holiday photos over the years, and I opted for a red shirt he wore in 2008, a sweater vest I wore in 2011, and a gray tie that will be making its debut in the family portrait scene.

(The kids of course looked fabulous in their brand new clothes; they’re growing so much that recycling old clothes is simply out of the question.)

In the early years, these portrait session entailed us screaming in our head voices to catch our toddlers’ attention and get them to smile: “Over here guys!  Look over here!  Look at Daddy!  Laugh!  Smile!  Ha ha ha ha!”  We had to build up tremendous stamina on the drive over to Target; we knew that this was going to take a lot of energy and we’d end up with a bunch of shots destined for the desktop trash can.  We always tried to reward ourselves with a nice lunch afterward.  We were all dressed up in fancy matching outfits, so why not show off how awesome a racially diverse gay family can be?  Our little ones tended to thwart those outings though by spilling ketchup on themselves or throwing a tantrum during the appetizers.  Two years ago, we sat down at the table and our son promptly spilled a glass of water all over the four of us.  That year, we simply got up and walked out.

Today though was different.  Our ten minute photo session was calmly exciting.  The photographer gushed over our adorable children, which led the two of them to turn on the charm for the camera.  They took some fantastic shots, and we didn’t have to say a word, much less shout a few choice ones, to get them to cooperate.  We headed to a fancy brunch afterward and had a great time laughing and enjoying each others’ company afterward.

This morning, I didn’t think this day would go the way it did.  All hell broke loose when our son kicked our daughter’s balloon.  Not once but twice.  Yes, he kicked the balloon and our daughter shrieked like he had stabbed her in the thigh with a dully serrated knife.  My attempts to get him to think about how his actions affected his sister resulted in his own meltdown: “Fine!  Kick all the stuff in my room!  Whatever!”  In the midst of all this, I turned to my husband and suggested we cancel our lunch plans, which only brought on more whining from the two kids.

Then things turned around.  We got in the car, and we were each able to let go of the difficulties from the morning.  And I could finally see what lies ahead of us as parents.  We’ve really hard trying to get these kids to grow up right, and we’re starting to see the dividends of that investment.  It’s been hard, really hard, for the past eight years, and now that they’re both coming into the age of reason, we can start to see glimpses of the moments of calm that are inevitably in our future.  Parenting is definitely the hardest job there ever was.  Imagine a job where when you did your best, your boss laid down on the ground for five minutes, screaming with snot pouring out of her nose.  You continue to do what you know to be best for your position, and your boss’s tantrums only grow worse; she starts using some nasty words to describe her feelings for you and she ends up head butting you in the chin a few times, something you want to believe was an accident but feels pretty damn purposeful.  And then, after six or seven years, your performance reviews start showing marked improvement, and your boss even has some pleasant things to say to you.  Your boss actually starts performing her job better as a result of your endless perseverance.  Maybe she even gets a better job with more pay because of all that you’ve taught her.

That’s what parenting feels like, and today, it started to feel a little better.

A Recipe for Marital Bliss

As good showmos, my husband and I have a few theater subscriptions in Boston.  When the show is kid-appropriate, we bring the children, but they aren’t ready for non-musical plays so more often than not we end up getting a sitter and heading to the city alone.  We find that these theater subscriptions serve two key purposes:

  1. We are kept up-to-date with our theater experiences.
  2. We get a chance to speak to each other.

If we didn’t purchase these theater tickets 6-12 months in advance, we probably wouldn’t get out of the house.  Weekdays consist of one of us taking the kids to gymnastics/dance/piano/soccer practice while the other one stays home so that dinner is ready when we come home from gymnastics/dance/piano/soccer practice.  After dinner, we throw the kids in the bath, put them in pajamas, let them read for a bit and turn out the light.  Soon after, we settle down on the sofa for me to catch up on my TV and my husband to catch up on some Z’s.

Weekends aren’t much different, except that Saturdays are consumed with soccer and Sundays are spent hitting the reset button for the coming week: laundry, groceries, hair braiding, homework, etc.  After all that daytime activity, we’ll settle in for the same sofa routine that takes place on workdays.  If we had to decide on a whim whether we were going out or not, we’d indubitably choose lounging on the sofa in our pajamas and hitting the sack by 9:00 pm.

Because of all of this, we almost never speak about anything of substance at home.  The few times we try, we’re interrupted a thousand times by one of the kids, usually telling us something supremely important like “the pink Angry Bird is actually pretty mean.”  We’ve tried sending them to the other room while we chat, but usually that ends in tears: “She said the red Angry Bird is meaner than the pink Angry Bird!”  After the kids are in bed, we’re simply too exhausted to have a meaningful conversation that doesn’t end in one of us getting annoyed because the other one is too tired to follow an important line of thought.

Hence the theater nights.

Today, I worked all day (yes, I taught on a Saturday), raced home to attend our daughter’s piano recital up the street, and then stopped in at the house for an hour or two to make dinner while my husband fixed a broken toilet.  Then tonight, a sitter will come over and we’ll have a little bit of time to chat in the car and grab a drink before tonight’s theatrical experience.  It’s not our usual full pre-theater dining experience, but it will have to do since our sitter can’t be here until after dinner.

I used to feel guilty about wanting this time away from the kids.  And I felt guilty about being too exhausted to explain to my husband what’s been ailing me at work during the week.  But so many good friends who have made it through these fatiguing years of young children have helped us to understand that we shouldn’t begrudge ourselves any of these small pleasures or desires of isolation.  We both work full time, and we both work really hard to raise these kids right.  By my count, that’s two full time jobs.  Maintaining a healthy marriage simply has to fly an auto-pilot most days, waiting for those refueling stops where we can ditch the kids and remind each other why we fell in love in the first place.

That’s our recipe for marital bliss while parenting young children: buy lots of theater tickets.