No Merit Badge For This

davannis“After Penn Fest, Ryan wants me to come over and hang out and then we’ll go to the Mall of  America”, Juan said.

Juan would be finishing up his shift at Davanni’s. His second job. He was a line judge for soccer over the summer. A fellow cross-country runner told him that Davanni’s hired 14-year-old’s. His cross-country coach introduced him to the hiring manager.

I gave him a sideways look. “Who else are you going with? Who are you going to meet up with? I’ll need more information.”

“Just us,” he said.

I gave Juan the usual response. “I’ll have to check with his parents.”

We were driving home from Boy Scouts. Juan had hoped to have his final three merit badges checked off. (I was, too. If he’s in scouts, I’m in scouts.) He’s aiming to get his Eagle Scout by the end of this year.

Turning on Penn Avenue from 50th Street, I asked him. “What would you do if there was a fight in the food court?”

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

He dodged, displaying a typical defensive teenage move. “Ryan and I won’t be in the food court.”

I persisted. “Still, what if you were and a fight broke out?”

Juan described some superhero ninja moves he’d make leaping over railings, running faster than the speed of light. Then he paused, “Ryan isn’t as fast as me, though.”

I didn’t tell him that Ryan was white and didn’t need to be as fast as him.

Instead, I said, “You’re Hispanic. If you’re running from a fight, police could think you were a part of it. If the police ever stop you, you stop. You don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I went on to tell him that there were at least 10 teens arrested at the Mall of America the day before. All were juveniles, ranging in age from 12 to 15.

Juan is 14.

He doesn’t have any fear of the police. He shouldn’t. I’m a volunteer Police Reserve Officer, Jody is currently going through orientation to be a Police Reserve, and he’s never been in trouble.

He’s known to the Richfield police because he’s helped me with police patrol, vehicle maintenance on police cars, and wrapping gifts with the police at holiday time for Heroes and Helpers.

After his eight grade school year, he’s planning on becoming a police explorer.

Juan has no thought of being concerned. He’s an A/B student and active in three sports. All of his interactions with police have been positive.

Still, when there’s a melee involving 200 juveniles, he’s just another Hispanic. I thought of him getting thrown to the ground, kneed in the back, his arm twisted behind him.

I repeated, “If you’re ever told to stop, you stop, you don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I left him with these words, “What the police see is a Hispanic running away.”

 

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Signposts

Hemlock Trail

Hemlock Trail

I pointed my cross country skis toward the 3.2 km green striding trail. What’s that …. about 1 ½ miles? I could do that.

If only I wouldn’t have missed my turn. At each intersection you need to stop, look and think. I did but I still went straight on Memory Lane instead of turning left to stay on Hemlock Trail.

Hemlock Trail was certainly beautiful with the pines, their branches cradling snow.

Memory Lane was a straight path to the evening before.

Last night it was dark outside Indian Mountainhead Resort main lodge. A sharp cold. Not cold enough that I couldn’t stop, gaze at the brilliant stars and marvel at the wonder. I filled with gratitude for this great universe of ours and my life.

I have a good life.

February 23, 2015 168I had just left my 12-year old son in the swimming pool without even saying goodbye. He was with other Boy Scouts. Generally, Antonio and I bob heads, nod in acknowledgement to each other, or say a few words before I leave him. This time I didn’t. Not because I couldn’t see him in the fog that rose above the swimming pool, but because it wasn’t needed.

This was a first.

There was no signpost saying RITE OF PASSAGE. No moment of THIS IS IT.

It just happened.

Memory Lane

Memory Lane

The entire weekend was like that. He was independent of his two moms and sister.

He chose to be with the group of boys even though we were an arm’s length away.

When I told a parent about this later, she mentioned that it was a bittersweet moment.

It didn’t feel bitter. There was no sadness. I used to be afraid Antonio would never leave my lap and that kids would make fun of him. Instead of pushing him off because that certainly didn’t feel right, I learned to enjoy his closeness.

When I reached the River House, I knew I was on the wrong trail. I turned around and went back to the intersection and took a right onto Hemlock.

February 23, 2015 200Jody was already waiting for me in the warming cabin. She had gone further and faster than me. That’s not unusual.

The next day, I planned to ski Hemlock Trail again. And this time, I would know the signposts.

“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!

Lifelong Friends

After nearly five months of studying abroad in Spain, my youngest son returned, speaking Spanish like a pro, with his head full of the many sights he’d seen and the experiences he had. The culture shock of being back in the U.S. wasn’t what was hardest for Greg; rather, it was the realization that he will rarely see the many friends he made in the study abroad program—they live scattered all over the U.S.

Greg and friends in Spain

Greg and friends in Spain

Together, they endured the stress of being lost and clueless in a foreign city. They had the pleasure of discovering Roman ruins, Moorish palaces, Mediterranean beaches, and amazing meals. They stayed in sketchy hostels and traveled hungover on smelly buses. They saw each other at their worst and liked each other anyhow.

“Don’t worry. You’ll see them again,” my oldest son reassured him.  About a month ago, Mike had been in Los Angeles on business where he reunited with several friends he’d made when he studied in Italy three years ago. Over breakfast, Mike and his friends traded stories about the Real Jobs they’ve acquired and caught up on who’s seeing whom. But more importantly, they didn’t take themselves too seriously—they never have.

Mike and friends in Italy

Mike and friends in Italy

“You’ll be surprised how easy it is to pick right up where you left off,” he said.

I added, “There’s no reason you can’t be friends for life. The person you are in your 20’s is your essential self—you and your friends will still be those people 30 years from now.”

I can speak from experience. Several weeks ago, I met up with three friends I’ve known since I was in my 20’s: Pam, Rich and Sue (husband and wife). Together, we experienced the culture shock of moving from decent-sized cities to a small college town on the prairie. We muddled through our first full-time teaching jobs in a dysfunctional English department. We entertained ourselves by creating musical alter egos—a girl band called Pam and the Pamettes who were managed by Señor Grif, a.k.a. Rich. We planned spicy Mexican potlucks to heat up the long Minnesota winters. We shared poetry, short stories, and complaints.

More than 30 years later, we are the same in all of the important ways. Although I haven’t seen Rich and Sue in more than 10 years, the four of us were immediately at ease with each other. We’re still true-blue liberals, who love art, good books and good food.

Pam, Rich and Sue

Pam, Rich and Sue

As the antidote to a sobering conversation about coping with aging parents, Rich pretended to be a character called the Know-It-All Guy whose job is giving extemporaneous lectures (i.e., making up stuff about silver mining or the habits of dolphins). We laughed till our stomachs hurt. Pam and Rich riffed about the K-I-A Guy for days while Sue rolled her eyes and I egged them on—exactly the kind of silly fun we’ve always had.

I’m grateful to have these lifelong friends gracing my life.  With any luck, my sons will have lifelong friendships like these, too.