The Family Tree

The Bayside Tavern in Fish Creek, Wisconsin has two buck burgers on Mondays during the off season. There’s a choice in seating– high tops, low tables, tiny booths for two, or stools at the bar. Narrow windows keep the inside dim. It is the place to go before the community Christmas tree is lit across the street, before the high school musical, to watch the Packers or Badgers or Brewers play. Maybe the Bears or Cubs for those brave enough to wear such jerseys. If you are a local, or a seasonal local, they probably know your name.

My Dad preferred a booth and ordered fried onions on his burger. He had haunts in Door County including the best places for good food. He knew the parents of people important in the community—the Catholic priest, the sheriff, a few bar owners.

So it was at the Bayside that my cousin Jeff Frisque and I met for lunch, the first time we had ever talked to one another except at family funerals. We connected through Facebook where many of the cousins have friended each other. Taking a risk, Jeff and I moved from responding to postings to trying a direct message.  Jeff’s father and one aunt are the last living siblings.

In my book, The High Cost of Flowers, the eldest sibling comes to the realization that to have the kind of extended family you want can require effort. And as the elders age, the responsibility passes to the children to do something, or to walk away. My husband and I are the elders of our families. That sounds easier to me than embracing the concept of adult orphans. We value the small circles of those connected to us by birth or marriage. Along with those we love, we have developed new traditions to stay close.

The Bayside Tavern might become a comfortable setting for weaving together the grandchildren of Michael Frisque. In his prime he spent many hours in bars, but I don’t know if he ever sat at this one. I didn’t know my grandfather well enough to say how he felt about his children and grandchildren. None of that was important in sharing lunch with my cousin Jeff.

Jeff is known locally for building and restoring exquisite log homes. We share love for Door County. We both showed up with spouses, a sign of how we value our families and would go to great extremes to protect them. We are not members of the same political parties although we may share a few beliefs. I think we are both tender-hearted about the right stuff. We both love or admire each other’s fathers. We walked away with each other’s email addresses and telephone numbers.

We also both like burgers at the Bayside. Mark that on the family tree.

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It’s A Different World

A few weeks ago, my job was expanded to include another plant under my human resources umbrella. I introduced myself to the General Manager and the office and production employees. I started with the personal.

“My partner and I have two children. They are 14 years old. We adopted them from Guatemala as infants.”

I shared my philosophy of human resources. I view my human resources department as a service to employees. I explained how they would see me on the manufacturing floor. I welcomed them to stop me and ask for a W2 form, address change form, vacation slip, etc.

Their eyes lit up when they understood that I would come to them instead of them having to come to me.

I marveled that I could bring me to them. The all of me. Specifically, having a partner.

It wasn’t that long ago that I never mentioned the word ‘partner’ at work. I kept the personal to myself. I wanted people to judge my human resources style not my personal life.

What changed for me was that same sex marriage became legal in Minnesota on August 1, 2013.

I am legitimate. I don’t need to hide behind unspoken words. I don’t need to say anything about my personal life. Or, I can.

This past January, Jody accompanied me to a work outing. I introduced her to the President, Vice President and others as my partner.

It’s been 4 years of living in a different world.

It’s a good thing for all of us.

The Perils of Being a Writer and Other Favorites

This month marks WordSisters’ three-year anniversary. To celebrate, we’re sharing a selection of blogs—our favorites and yours.

crazyquiltWe hope our new readers will enjoy getting to know us better. If you’ve been reading WordSisters from the beginning, we hope you’ll enjoy rediscovering some of our perspectives on parenting, families and relationships, working women, and the writing life.

On Losing My Ambition (Open Letter to 35-Year-Old Hiring Managers) 

My friend C. mentioned that after years of freelance writing, she was interviewing to be a marketing communications manager—a position she’s eminently qualified for. During the preliminary phone interview, the interviewer expressed concern that C. wouldn’t be satisfied with being a mid-level manager. We both burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. More

The Perils of Being a Writer

“I knew it,” she says. “I knew it! I knew you were going to say it one day!” She jumps up and runs out of the room.

“What!” I say, alarmed.

I look down at the writing on my laptop and immediately know what happened. There in black and white it says Antonio and Crystel aren’t my children….More

It’s a Good Day When I Kick Somebody in the Head

I started Tae Kwon Do, at Kor Am Tae Kwon Do School when I was 50 years old. Yes, it was an age thing, time to do something new, challenge myself, and show the world that I’m really not all that old. More

Competing with Friends for Writing Awards

Earlier this month, I applied for an Emerging Writer’s Grant and a Loft Creative Prose Mentorship, knowing full well that I’m competing with my good friends for these honors. I really want to win. So do the women in my creative nonfiction writers group. More

Your Moms Can Get Married Now

I 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. More

God Bless Middle-Aged Daughters

As I walk into the skilled nursing center where Mom is rehabilitating, I see other women like myself and think, “God bless middle-aged daughters.” We’re the sensible, competent women who make it all happen. More

When we launched this blog, we envisioned making new friends and sharing our perspectives. But the reality of our weekly conversations with you has exceeded our expectations. Thank you for reading WordSisters and sharing your thoughts!

Naming Rights

The ring I wear on my left hand honors my marriage. My maiden name—the name I’ve had all of my life—honors who I am as an individual.

J&E1985bWhen I married 30 years ago, this was an important and controversial distinction. Like many people, my parents worried that I would offend my in-laws and that our future children would encounter problems because my husband and I have two different last names.

Nonetheless, we felt strongly about this decision. He’d keep his name and I’d keep mine. For practical reasons, we didn’t choose to hyphenate. Shriner-Sakowski is just too much name!

Without meaning to, I did offend my in-laws, but they came to accept our decision. Our sons tell me that my different last name hasn’t been an issue for them. Perhaps some of their teachers or coaches assumed that my husband and I were divorced, but divorce is so commonplace that no one commented. I chose not to be offended when people called me Mrs. Sakowski. I knew who they meant and that they were trying to be polite. Often I pre-empted the discussion about names by introducing myself as “Greg’s Mom” or “Mike’s Mom.” That was all the teacher or coach wanted to know—my relationship to the kid in question. These days, I rarely have to explain the name difference.

So it came as a surprise that using a maiden name has been resurrected as an issue. Recently, a friend recounted a conversation she overheard at a coffee shop. A young couple was talking with their minister about their wedding ceremony and the minister said, “Some ultra feminists don’t even take their husband’s last names.” Huh? I can easily list half a dozen women I know who kept their maiden names. It’s not that radical.

Equally surprising was my recent experience with two different lawyers (one was settling my aunt’s estate and the other was handling my mother’s estate). Each assumed that I was Ellen Sakowski or Ellen Shriner-Sakowski. With my aunt’s lawyer, I explained several times that my real legal name is Ellen Shriner. Finally, I had to state unequivocally that I had never changed my name, and I wouldn’t be able to cash an inheritance check made out to either of those imaginary women.

But then I recalled that four young professional women I know who’ve recently married all took their husband’s names. I was surprised and remain curious. Is the gesture that was so important to me when I married irrelevant now? Does it no longer feel necessary to make that distinction? Are women’s independence and equality a given for those young women? I hope so, but I’m skeptical.

Despite my skepticism, I’m not trying to take anything away from women who choose their husband’s name. As a feminist, I believe women have the right to handle their names however they like: keeping their maiden names, using their maiden name as a middle name, or taking their husband’s name. I would never prescribe what a woman should call herself. Naming is a very personal decision.

I think of one friend who was glad to shed her father’s name when she married. They had a difficult relationship and taking her husband’s name was a way of distancing herself from her father and asserting her new grown-up identity. Changing her name was a mark of independence.

Another friend, who survived a childhood fraught with sexual abuse, invented a whole new name to mark the break from her family and her hard-won emotional health.

What really matters is whether the choice of name is based purely on personal preference rather than perceived societal expectations. As a feminist, I just hope that women today feel much more free to choose the name that pleases them than I felt 30 years ago.

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.