Change Won’t Happen Unless We Demand It

Today I am in despair, afraid that Americans don’t have the courage and persistence to address gun violence. We feel horrible when another massacre happens like the one in Orlando. We deplore the murder rates and stray bullets flying around in the Twin Cities, Chicago, and other cities. Sometimes we react by going numb. Often we are cynical. Regularly we tune out the nonstop news of a massacre, because we can’t bear to listen and we feel powerless to change the situation.

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Without intending to be, we are complicit. Essentially, when ordinary Americans don’t demand change, we become accomplices to the mass murderers. We’ve provided the setting in which acts of mass murder are easy to commit. We’ve accepted that guns and violence are part of American life. We’ve allowed gunmen to kill in schools and on college campuses, in churches, movie theaters, military bases, neighborhoods, and nightclubs. No place is sacred. No one is completely safe.

I don’t know how to fix the problem of gun violence, but we have to try. Feeling bad isn’t enough.

The solutions will have to be multifaceted, because the problem is complex. Our attitudes and American culture, as well as laws, regulations, and more have to change. Common sense gun control and better support for mental illness treatment are good places to start, but the solutions need to go deeper. We need cultural change. As Americans, we need to re-examine how we think about our rights to have guns, protect ourselves, and exercise our freedoms.

I know this won’t be easy and it will take time. But we have to try.

As Americans, we have changed how we think about alcoholism and drunk driving. We look at both issues differently than we did 40 years ago. We’ve made some progress. Not enough, but some.

We’ve raised awareness and begun to change how we view child abuse, domestic violence, and rape. Obviously, we have a long way to go, but 50 years ago we were in the dark ages on these issues. In those days, many people thought that parents could discipline children as they saw fit, that a husband beating his wife was a private matter, and that women who were raped did something to cause it. Too many people still hold those views, but our culture has begun to change.

As with those social issues, gun violence will begin to change when ordinary people start having the conversations that challenge cultural assumptions and attitudes. Change will happen when our state and federal legislators hear from us and understand that we’ve had enough.

Change is possible, but we have to insist on it.

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Why Get Married?

P8100024-1-2reducedJody and I are asked that question. Maybe we were asked that because we were married 12 years ago in our backyard. And that person thought that celebration was perfectly fine so why do it again?

The question made me stop and think. Why was getting married on August 10, 2014 important to me?

A myriad of reasons.

The most significant is that getting married made me feel legitimate.

Regardless of your political leanings my not being able to be married as a same sex couple and having the same lawful standing as my heterosexual neighbors is as close as I can get to how illegal immigrants in our country must feel.

You always stay a little hidden. A little under the radar. Don’t make waves. Someone might not like your relationship, your family and you will be discriminated against.

Discrimination is undeniable.

P8100031-1reducedToday I feel seen. I feel valid. I feel rightful. I have a partner. And her name is Jody.

This blog isn’t a political rant. Jody and I aren’t activists. We’ve quietly lived our lives as a couple on our cul-de-sac, with the same ups and downs, the same challenges as all couples. We have two children. We worry about them as you do yours.

Often we’ve had our children’s friends and parents over to our house to show how normal we are. Antonio was in Scouts and I was a den leader; Crystel in Scouts and Jody a troop leader. Antonio in soccer. Crystel in dance. All of us active in Tae Kwon Do.

Being a Police Reserve Officer I always hoped that ‘badge’ carried a little bit of weight when we were being sized up as a different kind of family.

P8100034-1reducedI hoped people saw us as safe even though we were a same sex family.

Jody and I never thought that same sex marriage would be legal in our lifetime. And, I’m not sure that either of us cared. We were going to do what was right for us and protect ourselves by having a will, power of attorney, assigned beneficiaries, second parent adoption, and the same last name.

12 years ago, August 10, 2002 flowers had opened to their utmost bloom and spread their green leaves their widest. Bees darted for nectar, dragonflies with iridescent wings dropped to the swimming pool for a quick drink. Butterflies watched from the fringes of the yard.

P8100020-1reducedMy wedding dress was sky blue, sleeveless, floor length, with a swoop back. It brought out the blue in my eyes and matched my toenails. Jody’s dress had the same design, and was champagne.

P8100021-1reducedMy niece, Jenny, was our flower girl, laying rose petals along the pool where we walked to the gazebo for the ceremony. Barefoot, we felt the softness of the roses.

Aunt Jo, my mother’s sister, an ordained minister, performed the Holy Union ceremony.

75 friends and relatives surrounded us while I told Jody, “I take you as my life companion. I pledge to share my life openly with you – to speak the truth to you in love. I promise to honor and tenderly care for you – to cherish and encourage you – through all the changes of our lives.”

And she, in turn, said the same to me.

155999_10204865713428150_1746575820117958063_n[1]12 years later, August 10, 2014 we did it again.

But this time 150 friends and relatives surrounded us, our lives having grown twice as large because of our children and because we ourselves had grown.

Crystel was our flower girl and best lady. Antonio our best man.

Our Officiant was Minister, Judie Mattison. Butterflies and dragonflies once again danced among the attendees.

And when “All of Me” by John Legend played and the words, Love your curves and all your edges All your perfect imperfections Give your all to me I’ll give my all to you, Jody and I held hands, rotated in the gazebo and slowly turned to face all of you- – –

P8100136-1reducedMy mother-in-law, sisters and brother in laws, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, fellow writers, Tae Kwon Do peeps, school and work friends, friends from long ago, and next door neighbors.

Then right before the ceremony ended we rotated once more and breathed in your good wishes and blessings to the music of Gloria Estefan. If I could reach, higher Just for one moment touch the sky  From that one moment In my life I’m gonna be stronger Know that I’ve tried my Very best I’d put my spirit to the test …

and we came out of hiding.

 

 

 

“Does Antonio Have A Dad?”

Antonio and Crystel - seven months old

Antonio and Crystel – seven months old

“Does Antonio have a dad?” the five-year old boy holding Antonio’s hand asked me. I glanced down at him, and then looked at my son. He eyed me as if he was waiting for an answer, too.

I imagined Antonio’s friend asking him on the return bus to school from the spring field trip to the apple orchard. Maybe he asked him during the hay ride, while we bounced over ruts and down the dusty lane that left a cloud in our wake.

Aunt Amie and Antonio

Aunt Amie and Antonio

Perhaps he knew better than the other children that the two women in the family picture taped to the kindergarten wall were not the same woman but two moms. Earlier, I had one child in his classroom attempt to convince me that I was the same person.

“It’s not me,” I said. “That other woman is a different person.”

But how do you argue with a five-year old who isn’t your own child and can’t conceive of anything but a mom and a dad in a household?

 

Aunt Kathy, Crystel, Aunt Pat, Antonio, Uncle Marty

Aunt Kathy, Crystel, Aunt Pat, Antonio, Uncle Marty

I think he won the argument.

I imagined Antonio shrugging his small shoulders in response to his friend’s question. Did he look away from his pal and stare at the dust hanging in the air or at the apples ready to be picked?

I hope not.

Maybe the boy took it upon himself and said to Antonio, “I’ll find out for you.”

Aunt Cara and Antonio

Aunt Cara and Antonio

While I was forming my answer, I thought about his classmate who sat next to me on the way home. His mom was dead, he said. After saying that I was sorry, I wondered about the children who called Antonio their friend. Maybe it was because of his very difference — being adopted and having two moms — that they thought that they too would be accepted.

 

Tia Anna, Antonio, Tio Scott

Tia Anna, Antonio, Tio Scott

The two kindergarteners expected an answer from me. This was a yes or no question.

Yet, how to answer? Though Antonio will most likely never meet his dad, does that mean that he doesn’t have a dad? Does that mean we will never celebrate Father’s Day?

 

Aunt Pat, Antonio, Aunt Mary, Crystel

Aunt Pat, Antonio, Aunt Mary, Crystel

Jody and I had prepared for this very moment — this question — and created a village of chosen aunts and uncles who would stand in for the missing people in Antonio’s and Crystel’s life. This village was formed before they even came home.

So I said what any mom would, “Of course, silly. Everyone HAS a Mom and a Dad. You HAVE to have a mom and dad to be born.”

Uncle Marty

Uncle Marty

I poked Antonio. “He feels real to me.”

Antonio smiled. That was good enough for him.

These chosen aunts and uncles have accepted their roles seriously. That was part of the deal — to have play dates with the children regularly, as well as show up for birthdays, dances, pinewood derbies, and holidays.

We’ve never asked them to fill the ‘dad’s’ role. Though when Antonio was much younger, I woke one night in a panic, and at the first opportunity I asked Scott and Marty to take Antonio into public bathrooms to show him what a urinal was and to tell him NOT to touch the urinal cake.

Crystel, Sam (babysitter), Antonio, Charlie (babysitter)
Crystel, Sam (babysitter), Antonio, Charlie (babysitter)

I have asked Antonio on occasion if he would like me to ask one of his uncles to accompany him on a Scout trip (and take my place) but he’s always declined. Darn.

Even after the babies came home, Jody and I continued to intentionally bring males into their life. Charlie and then his brother Sam were their fulltime nannies until each boy graduated from highschool.

Charlie, Antonio, Crystel

Charlie, Antonio, Crystel

I believe that all of the above people have brought so much love into Antonio and Crystel’s lives that they may really need to search for what’s missing when asked the question, Do you have a dad?

 

Boy Scouts did What this Mom Couldn’t

May 18 2014 056A 30 mile bike ride with nary a whine. Just an I Made It! text. And where was I? 10 minutes behind the Scout, my butt and legs hurting.

Our ride started at Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis, the meeting place of Boy Scout Troop 110, and ended at Carver Park Reserve.

It didn’t take me long to realize how out of shape I was. Before leaving the parking lot, I tipped over. I couldn’t get my foot out of my clipless foot clamp. Lying on the ground, I looked up at Antonio while other Scout leaders rushed to help me. His face was expressionless, a look that he’s mastering.

“Perhaps, I’d better ride around the parking lot a few times before riding out,” I said.

Antonio’s daily bike riding had him in good shape for this challenge. Still, it was 10 miles before I saw his first smile. Antonio and another Scout had found the electronics table at the Depot Coffee House in Hopkins, our first rest stop. I didn’t chide Antonio to join the other scouts outside. I could see that this was a boy bonding moment and his way into this Boy Scout Troop. Instead, I snapped a picture, left a bottle of Gatorade and chocolate chip cookie on the Playstation.

Before leaving for our next ten miles, he said, “I think I’m going to like this Troop.”

May 18 2014 057At the 20 mile mark, he shocked me with two hugs. This could have been because we were at Adele’s Frozen Custard in Excelsior and in a moment he would ask for gummy worms and sprinkles . . . or maybe he was overwhelmed with love for his mom. Either way, I was shocked when his rock hard arms came around me and squeezed.

I had been giving him space on the ride, staying closer to the back of our herd of 16 bikers. I didn’t want to crowd him as he found his way into the pack.

Sometimes it’s only in a gathering like this that I get a glimpse of Antonio or Crystel as the ‘different’ ones. They are such a part of me that I don’t see any differences between us. In this group, Antonio was the only person of color. Meaning that in this group I was his white mom.

I wanted Antonio to choose how to ‘come out’ in this group that he was adopted. After all, it’s his group.

I’ve watched Antonio step between the world of Hispanics and the world of whites with ease. In this gathering he was the only Hispanic, even though at school his very best friends are Hispanic and white. (Thank you, Richfield Dual Language School!)

Troop 110 found a way around

Troop 110 found a way around

Six years ago, in kindergarten on his way home from school he whined, “Why do I have to learn Spanish?” Perhaps, he saw himself such a part of Jody and me that he didn’t see his difference. I paused thinking ‘Shock alert here’ then answered, “Because you’re Guatemalan, dude.”

At Carver Park Reserve, I texted Jody and told her that I had arrived. Antonio would be camping overnight with the Scouts while I headed for home.

This was another nice surprise: Antonio camping with the Boy Scouts by himself. I had told him in Cub Scouts that if he needed me to I would camp with him until he was 18. Perhaps he is writing his own book, LIFE WITHOUT MOM.

Except his book is LIFE WITHOUT TWO MOMS.

Carver Park Reserve

Carver Park Reserve

I wasn’t sure that Antonio was ‘out’ yet to this Boy Scout Troop that he had two moms. I’m sensitive that he and Crystel are allowed to be visible in their own timing and in their own way. I wrote a blog post about this July 26, 2012 titled Truth Telling.

I had already checked with the Scoutmaster (in private) about how the Troop felt about Antonio having two moms. “Everyone is welcomed.”

Since Jody and I weren’t sure if Antonio had come out to this Boy Scout Troop, we gave him separate quiet goodbyes.

The next morning at 7:40 a.m., I received a text from Antonio: When do you pick me up?

The Boy Scout

The Boy Scout

I couldn’t read between the lines–did he have a good time? Didn’t he have a good time? Would he be adamant about never returning to Scouts?

I texted back the time and then asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how did it go?”

He answered, 10!

“Your Moms Can Get Married Now.”

Dsc00218I imagine someone at school saying that to Antonio and Crystel and them responding, “Huh?”

As far as they are concerned, we are already married, and Crystel, much to her chagrin, wasn’t a part of the wedding that we had before she and Antonio came home from Guatemala. She can hardly believe that we had a life before them.

Our wedding was 11 years ago this August. Some folks would ask us, “Is it legal?”

It was to us. Still we had our personal wills drawn up. We weren’t leaving our children, our money, or our belongings to chance.

Jody and I aren’t political or activists. We live our life the best that we can and hope that people will figure out that we are pretty normal. I think we have the neighbors convinced. We hold the yearly Neighborhood Night Out gathering in our backyard. We have come to think of them as normal, too. That’s what sharing a pan of brownies will do.

DSC00234On May 13, 2013, I got a text from Jody saying, “It passed.” I was confused and sent a text back, saying, “What passed?”

A kidney stone, a car, a semi, what??? It took an hour before it came to me.

Since she was the one who asked me to marry her eleven years ago, I figured I better man up.

I sent her a text, “Will you marry me? August 10, 2014?”

Aunt Jo, Our Unity Minister.

Aunt Jo, Our Unity Minister.

I didn’t hear from her for a while and wondered if she was re-evaluating our relationship.

But then came the “Yes!”

Later with Antonio and Crystel around the dining room table, I said, “You know a law passed and your moms can get married now.”

Antonio said, “Yeah, I know what that is. It’s the … what’s that called … same …” He was stumbling on the word “sex” and I came to his rescue. “That’s right,” I said. “It means two moms and two dads can get married.”

“I asked Mama Jody to marry me and what do you think she said?”

Crystel laughed leaned conspiratorially over to Jody and said, “She said, “No.” If drama is to be had, Crystel is there.

married

married

“No, I did not,” Jody said, “I said “Yes.” Crystel you can be our flower girl. You always wanted to be a flower girl in a wedding.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “She and Antonio will have to give us away.”

In one year, twelve years from the date of our first wedding, we will be married again. This gives us plenty of time to work out the details. Save the date.