L O V E was TATTOOED on his RIGHT KNUCKLES

love_hateH A T E on his left.

“Do you have any questions?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he paused. “What’s this ‘no loose jewelry’?”

I shut the new employee production orientation guide.

The manufacturing company where I work as a Human Resources Manager is a packaging manufacturer. We make paper and plastic bags. On the plant floor, hairnets are mandatory. Another rule is no rings, loose jewelry, or loose clothing.

He added with dismay, “My dad made me take my nose piercings out and they have already closed.”

Large black circles were stretching his earlobes. He had post piercings under his lip.

“Usually, the Production Manager, decides what’s acceptable,” I said. When I saw the look on his face, I quickly added, “But, since that’s your dad, I’ll have the Quality Manager come down and look at you. She’ll tell us what’s okay.”

He sighed with relief.

“I’ve got long hair but I keep it under my stocking hat.”

“When you’re around the machines you need to keep it tucked in. Just like if you’re wearing a hoodie you can’t have the strings dangling. It’ll pull you into the machine,” I warned.

He shuddered. “I need to use my hands to do crafts.”

While we waited for the Quality Manager he told me that he would be turning 19 next month. This was his first manufacturing job. He wanted to make sure that he understood the rules because he wanted to do everything right.

“You need to be here on every scheduled work day,” I said. “No lates, no absences.” I repeated again for emphasis, “You have to be squeaky clean for your first 90 days. Is there anything you have scheduled?”

He thought for a moment, then said, “I’d like to have February 14th off. I’m old fashioned like that.”

I shrugged. “Fair enough. I’ll make sure they have it down that you are approved for that day off.”

The Quality Manager came in the room. She looked him over.

83589021“What other piercings do you have?” I asked. Then I shook my head quickly and put up my hands. “I don’t need to know about any of the piercing you have under your clothes, just what would be showing.”

“I have a piercing on my eyebrow that I’d like to keep on if I could,” he said. He pulled out an Altoids box and opened it. He reached for a straight pin.

The Quality Manager asked him to put it on. She studied him for a moment, then determined that it wouldn’t be in danger of falling into a machine and that his safety glasses covered the piercing.

She explained that it wasn’t just about the piercings falling into the machines but also the customers that came through the plant.

I spent 5 hours in orientation with this new employee. He changed me. If I would have passed him on the sidewalk – he adorned with his tattoos and piercings and dressed in all black – I would have been anxious.

But this young man was courteous, respectful, caring, and wanted to present his best self. Underneath all the ‘stuff’ he was gentle.

I told his dad the next day that sometimes it takes a few years for our outsides to match our insides. I know it did for me.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gift of Randomness

Monster Dolls

Monster Dolls

I used to tease Crystel that I was going to give her seven American Girl dolls to the nursing  home. But, it really wasn’t teasing. “Why do you need so many dolls?” I’d ask.

One of my first jobs was as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home. I recall women lovingly stroking a doll’s hair, cradling the doll, and putting the doll to sleep. The doll was like her baby. I thought, what better home for these 18 inch life-sized dolls of Crystel’s?

When the children were young, their giving amounted to them filling up a paper bag with toys to give away before they could get a new toy. “We have to make room,” I’d tell them. From there we moved on to going through their closets and dressers to give away clothes they had outgrown.

Antonio and Crystel are 13 now.

Recently, Crystel joined me at the police station. She was assisting me with maintenance on police cars. This amounts to going through a check sheet to make sure all the bells, whistles and lights work on the cars and that there is a teddy bear in the trunk. Teddy bears help police officers relate to youngsters after car accidents, domestic violence, and abuse. I had explained this to Crystel. She decided that she’d add one of her Monster Dolls to each teddy bear. It intrigued her that some random person would get her doll.

F3646_styling_chair_1[1]A couple of weeks after that Crystel decided that we could give away a doll crib and American Girl doll hair salon chair. I walked the items over to our neighbor. She had a visitor. The visitor’s eyes lit up when she saw them. “I might have an American Girl doll to go with these,” I told her. “I’ll have to check with Crystel.”

Crystel brought out Molly. She sat on the floor and carefully changed Molly’s clothes. She wanted her to be dressed in the same clothes that she had come to her in from the American Girl doll store. I couldn’t help but think how similar this looked to Jody and I bringing Crystel home from Guatemala. Crystel and I talked about that as she was straightening out the pleats of Molly’s dress and picking out an extra outfit for her.

After brushing Molly’s bangs, she straightened out the red ribbons that held her braids tight.

“Ready?” I asked.

We walked across the street and knocked on the door.

Molly

Molly

Crystel handed her doll to the lady that neither of us knew. The woman wiped away tears. She said that she hadn’t worked for a few months because she had been caring for her sick mother. In doing so, she didn’t get paid and was worried about what she was going to give her granddaughter for her 5th birthday and for Christmas. That was until Crystel gifted her.

The following week Crystel went to the Mall Of America with Jody. I was shocked when she came home with new outfits from the American Girl doll store bought with her own money. I thought we were giving away American Girl dolls and their clothes, not buying more. Then Crystel explained, “I’m going to take a doll to Guatemala on our next trip to give to some random person,” she said. “I want the doll to look nice.”

Downsizing is a Seismic Shift

The move looked like upheaval, but changes had reverberated through our lives for several years before my husband and I sold our house. Our sons no longer needed us daily, so we had stepped back into an advisory role. We focused more on fun, less on careers. The shift—from raising children and working full-time—was as natural and inevitable as tectonic plates moving.

Our old house

Our old house

We dreamed of a new life. The vision was a little vague—we wanted to live in the Twin Cities instead of the suburbs, in a neighborhood where we could walk to shops and restaurants, in a house with more character, less yardwork.

our old backyard

Our old backyard

What we chose is a 90-year-old, story-and-a-half house with a postage stamp-sized yard to replace our 40-year-old, three-story walkout with a generous yard.

Our new house

Our new house

New yard

New yard

But the change is deeper and broader than square feet and location. We chose a life that offered new possibilities. We are counting on ourselves to invent the life that goes with it.

Although I’m pleased with the new home we chose, occasionally I feel disoriented. Everything that was familiar has changed. How much room we need. How much activity we want. How much noise we can stand. How to stay connected to people who no longer live nearby. How to be good citizens in a city of activists.

Sometimes I feel like I’m on good behavior here. I pick up clutter and put away dishes obsessively—which goes against my messy nature—but I’m trying to learn new ways. I think carefully about what we bring into this house since we have so much less space. We gave away many of the fine things we’d accumulated during the past 25 years. Once we’d unpacked we needed to give away even more. But really, how much stuff do we need? And why? The habit of coveting is hard to break, though.

Walking around in my nightgown with the blinds down is odd, but our windows face the neighbors’ windows and I value my privacy. I’ve had to get used to locking the doors with a key. All the time.

But eating breakfast in the glow of the little lamp on the buffet is cozy even if the blinds are drawn. My gardens are so small that caring for them is fun now instead of drudgery. I like walking to neighborhood coffee shops and hiking alongside the creek. The energy and variety of the city appeals to me. Most days, I drive toward my new home without lapsing into autopilot and heading south of the river.

The bedrock our lives—raising children and working full-time—has given way. The foundations of our new life are couplehood, part-time work, and fun.

We’re still figuring out what our new life should consist of. So we rearrange the elements we want to keep (good meals, time with friends and family), discard ideas and activities that no longer fit (PTO and soccer practice), and relish the new possibilities (guitar practice and art history classes for my husband). For me, the choices are yet to be determined. I’m making it up as I go along.

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.

 

 

 

Try And Make Me!

9781623364069_p0_v1_s260x420[1]I still have my book. It has di Grazia scrawled in black magic marker on the front cover.

It is my guidebook, rules to live by. I have no intention of ever purging the book or giving it away as I have many parenting books.

Today, I leaf through try and make me!, pages stiff from absorbing moisture in the bathroom. “I’ve seen that book,” Crystel says as I carry it upstairs to write this blog. Indeed she has. For kids from 2 to 12 it says on the front cover. Antonio has just turned 12 and she’ll be 12 in six weeks. She most likely saw me reading on the couch when she was little. I also recall many times when I slipped away from the two toddlers to read a chapter that was happening RIGHT NOW. That’s what I liked about the book. I could relate.

Crystel and Antonio on our visit to see Antonio at Boy Scout Camp

Crystel and Antonio on our visit to see Antonio at Boy Scout Camp

Defiant kids are born or made. Because Antonio and Crystel are adopted, I was constantly trying to determine where their behavior stemmed from. In the end it didn’t matter. It wasn’t a question that was on my mind when my three-year old was jumping up and down in Super Target yelling, “No, no, no.” Instead, I glanced around for a place to sit. Then said, “Let me know when you’re done.” (Thank you to the mothers who acknowledged me and asked if I needed help).

Once, I did ask for help. I asked a security guard at the Mall of America if he would escort me and my child out of the store. He looked like a policeman to the five-year old who immediately glommed on to my legs when he realized what was transpiring. “Do you see what is happening here?” I said. “I can’t walk you to the car alone.”

12-years old

12-years old

Page 6. Never, Ever Give Up. That was the child’s last fit. It took years of constantly disengaging from his behavior and letting his problem stay his problem.

Four characteristics of defiant children are: control-craving, socially exploitive, blind to their role in a problem, and able to tolerate a great deal of negativity. Beyond these characteristics there is another difficulty that can make a child seem defiant: inflexibility.

To combat these Jody and I keep to a schedule, have rules for the children, and when they don’t follow them there are consequences. Because we have been doing this since they were young, few words need to be spoken. “Dude, you just lost your electronics,” is sufficient. Sometimes, I just purse my lips (so I don’t respond in anger), shake my head back and forth, and say, “You can continue–but there will be a consequence.”

Crystel, Jody, Antonio, Beth

Crystel, Jody, Antonio, Beth

When the children were young I often looked for the root cause of a fit. In reviewing the Mall of America incident, I came to realize that I had broken my promise to my child to take him to the Lego Store. It had gotten late and I could see that he was over-tired (problem). I thought it was more important to eat than to go to the store because all of us were hungry (problem), which led to the broken promise (big problem).

If I had been proactive, I wouldn’t have been at MOA with a screaming flailing kid at my feet, concerned that I was going to be asked for identification. In the days to come, I apologized to my child and told him that we would go on a date to the Lego Store. “We won’t buy anything. We’ll spend up to 45 minutes looking at everything.” And that is what we did.

It was my child’s 12th birthday when I realized how far we’ve come. He was on his fifth day of a weeklong Boy Scout camping trip at Many Point. I promised him that we’d come see him on his birthday even though it was a 10-hour round trip.

Lots to be proud of.

Lots to be proud of.

He saw us drive into the parking lot, and ran hollering, “Mama Beth, Mama Jody, Crystel.” Before his long strides reached us I thought of the bugs, the night, and the uncertainty of tent camping and a group of boys cooking outdoors. All those ‘thing’s’ that bothered him as a child. When he was young, to reduce his anxiety we bought a tent trailer, cooked food HE liked (and didn’t let it touch other food on his plate), and I accompanied him on all Cub Scout camping trips. This time he was alone to manage for himself.

I started crying before he even reached me. This child had grown up and was doing just fine. I hugged him hard with the knowing of how far we both had come.