Crossing the Threshold

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I didn’t notice the absence of my siblings, the eight closest living relatives to me. At other times, I have. I felt the longing for people who knew me, grew up with me, had a similar life. There was a time I yearned for them to see me and acknowledge my accomplishments.

The room was full of friends. People who supported me. Listened to my words. Really, listened to me.

Imagine if that teenager had had that support when she was 13, 14, or 16. Instead of the silence that accompanied the aloneness that scraped at my young heart. I was a pariah in my own family.

“When’s the baby coming home, Ann?” My 5-year-old brother who did see me would ask. “When’s the baby coming?” He wasn’t yet trained to pick up the subtleties, of who was in or out of the fold. He’s now dead. Died of a heroin overdose when he was 29 years old. I don’t hold any notion that he would have been there Friday night if he lived. My family runs in a pack or as a lone sheep in a gully.

With a sunkeness, I’d pat his sun streaked hair. It had the look and unruliness of summer cut straw.

Every time I speak of my birth son, the baby who didn’t come home, it’s a homecoming.

author 8-years-old

author     age 8

I live in this body. I breathe this air. I’m here to tell you that it does happen. Sisters sometimes get pregnant by a brother and have their baby and then if they are lucky enough, they get to write a book about it that people will read and celebrate with you at a book launch.

I recently read a Facebook post from a high school classmate who read, House of Fire, and she said that it had a happy ending. She was encouraging another classmate to read it.

Think of that. Out of tragedy you can have a happy ending. You can be a happy ending.

I was very happy Friday night at my book launch. Because you were there. And, if you weren’t, you sent me good wishes. All of me was up there at the podium, and it was enough. It has always been enough.

At the podium, I thanked relatives who came. And someone asked me later if my relatives were actually there. I smiled. It would have been something to point out a brother or sister. I would have wished for that before Friday night. But on this Friday what I had was abundance. “The relatives that are here are the chosen aunts and uncles that are in the book,” I said. Except my niece. That brave niece who came. Who fortunately doesn’t have the same story line I do though she’s looked across the fence at mine and knows it to be true.

My 40th high school reunion has come and gone. Not that I attended it. My book did though. Classmates are now reading, House of Fire. I’m in awe of the support. It’s unbelievable to that young teen who had nobody.

Coming home can be a difficult journey and yet the most wonderful. It has a happy ending.

photo-for-oct-21-reading_2If you’d like to hear more of my voice or you weren’t able to make it to my book launch, please join me and Su Smallen on October 21st at 7pm at Hamline University.

“Su Smallen´s new poems, a lexicon of snow, sing with notes of grief, sorrow, joy and resilience, pondering that great Midwestern element. . . . I am grateful for what this talented poet brings forward: pressing with renewed trust her words onto the pages the way you step — well, through snow.” – Spencer Reece

“House of Fire is a book of naked, sharp-edged truth, a journey into and through immense darkness. Yet it is also a profound testament to our deeply human ability to heal and transform.”
– Scott Edelstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middle School Dances Are Not Just For Kids

IMG_5199They are for adults, too.

It’s my reward for living with two squalling 10 month olds who I swore would always be 10 months old. I could not see the day that I would be standing with the two of them at their first middle school dance.

Middle school dances are also for the adults who volunteered in kindergarten and all through elementary. These same kids that we chaperoned on the apple orchard field trip and to Wood Lake Nature Center are now looking at each other with different eyes. And, if we are lucky enough, we’ll be able to discern who is looking at who.

Antonio showing his id and getting his bracelet.

Antonio showing his ID and getting his bracelet.

Middle school dances are also for adults who volunteered in the community as Cub Scout and Brownie leaders, supervised playdates to Edinborough Park, Children’s museum, and the Children’s theatre. All these places that our children are too old to go to now (almost).

It’s our due to see their faces clean, to watch them carefully choose their clothes even if it’s their favorite black hoodie.

Middle School dances are also for adults who never went to a dance in middle school or high school. You can pretend that you’re supervising the dance floor when really, all you are doing, is checking it out.

Don't let her face kid you. Crystel is excited that I'm at her first middle school dance.

Yah, she’s kidding. Crystel loves me at her dance.

If you are a Police Reserve Officer you can roam the halls with the middle-schoolers, duck into the karaoke room, the Wii dance room, the gymnasium with the four different inflatables, or stop and watch the donut eating contest.

Then go back to the dance floor.

Middle school dances aren’t for standing in one place.

They’re for watching, observing, and hanging out.

And, if you’re fortunate like I was, those same Cub Scouts and those same kids you chaperoned will smile and say, “Hi.” And, though you are much older, you’ll remember their name. And, let them use your cell phone to call their grandma to pick them up.

Antonio with friends

Antonio with friends

And, you’ll be asking your own kids about the kids who didn’t come.

Cause it was so much fun.

 

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.

 

 

 

Two for the Price of One

blog 2 002Antonio and Crystel are at that in-between age.

For example, Crystel completed a babysitting class and yet Jody and I have arranged for the 11-year-olds to have a nanny part-time this summer.

Crystel and her friend Allie’s babysitting advertisement states that they are responsible, trained, and caring. It is true that they are all three, but it is also true that Jody and I aren’t ready for Antonio and Crystel to be on their own for 8 hours a day.

 

They need supervision at the same time that they can supervise others.

I love witnessing—at arm’s length—their growing confidence and ability to manage themselves in this world—but not so far that my tentacles can’t grasp and reel them in.

Antonio with his new bike

Antonio with his new bike

Even before the snow was gone Antonio was riding his bike 3.44 miles to school. “You must like the freedom,” I said to him last night. “Yep,” he said.

During our latest bout of rain I watched him grow increasingly anxious waiting for it to stop so he could have his independence back. Finally, he quit waiting. He rode his bike in the rain.

I didn’t mind letting him. A kid should know what it’s like to ride in the rain so in the future he can choose whether or not to do it.

Also, I have this belief that if Jody and I provide experiences for the children that will make their hearts race perhaps they won’t need to search out excitement through drugs and alcohol. That could be ‘pie in the sky’ thinking. But, I’d rather take them to Guatemala and have them jump off of a cliff, zipline, kayak on their own, drive a boat, and ride a horse than be safe on our cul-de-sac.

"I've biked in snow, rain, and hotness."

“I’ve biked in snow, rain, and hotness.”

Speaking from experience, I know that my behavior growing up was most risky when I was busting out of the restrictions that were placed on me. It was when I was by myself, free of my parents’ rules that I acted responsibly.

Of course, Antonio has rules to follow when he’s riding his bike–such as wearing his helmet, letting us know where he is (we provide him a cell phone for this purpose), following the street lights and crossing at intersections. Do I believe that he does all of these things all of the time? Unfortunately, I am sure that he does not. That’s when the mother tentacles spring into action.

Crystel is excited about babysitting with her friend Allie. I like that she’s doing it with a friend. I always stressed to Antonio and Crystel to stick together walking home from the bus and to take the same route each day. Two heads are better than one, I’d tell them and two children together are less vulnerable than one.

This in-between age means that often they are not together.

This age brings many dilemmas for parents—deciding on when to say yes or no isn’t always easy or clear. It is also an uncomfortable time for the 11-year olds, especially if they forgot to erase all the messages on the cell phone, didn’t realize that Mom could see the You-tube history or their moms have come looking for them because they weren’t home at the time that was agreed upon.

They might think we want them to be nervous on purpose. No, when the time comes, we just want them to leave the reach of our tentacles fully intact with a sense of adventure and a joyful spirit.

Crystel and Allie. Message me to take advantage of their 2 for 1 offer.

Crystel and Allie. Message me to take advantage of their 2 for 1 offer.

 

The Importance of Friends

Oliver and Antonio

Oliver and Antonio

Before Antonio’s soccer game, I told him that we wouldn’t be able to stay after the game. He groaned. Two days ago we stayed late giving him a chance to play with his friends on the field. They took turns shooting the soccer ball into the net with one of them guarding. I enjoyed watching his fun and he relished playing with his two friends.Every parent wants their child to have friends and I was delighted watching Antonio with his.

Today, after Antonio’s soccer game his friend Oliver asked if Antonio could stay and play. “My parents will bring him home,” he said. Antonio’s eyes shone when I said, “Yes”, and he quickly became so immersed in his soccer playing that he couldn’t hear Jody saying goodbye to him.

Nattie, Crystel, Ally

Nattie, Crystel, Ally

Antonio is interested in soccer this year because that is what his friends are doing during recess at school. I was shocked when both he and Crystel said they wanted to join the spring recreational league. For years, they had shown no interest.

His coach this year, remembered Antonio when he was four years old playing soccer at YMCA.

I sighed.

“Antonio was more interested in sitting on your lap then playing soccer,” I said to the coach.

The next time he played soccer he was six years old and he would come off the field during a play and say, “Crissy you go in for me.”

Crystel and Gabby

Crystel and Gabby

“Antonio she not only isn’t on your team,” I said. “She’s not even signed up for soccer.” Still, no one seemed to care when she bounded on the field taking his place.Children’s friendships are important to parents. Once in a while a parent will comment that they hope their children keep the same group of friends throughout all of their school years. “It’s a great group of kids,” they will say.

Jacob and Antonio

Jacob and Antonio

I must confess that I wasn’t prepared for the mother who wondered if Antonio would date her daughter-espeically since her daughter and Antonio were only in preschool. I’m sure she meant it as a compliment, but I hadn’t taken that leap in my mind yet.

Now that the kids are ten years old, I allow myself to wonder about that occasionally.

I am interested to see who they gravitate to in their friendships and in their ‘special’ relationships. They were both born in Guatemala and are being raised by two white women in an English speaking household. Are they drawn towards Hispanics or whites in their friendships? Who will they choose for a partner?

Tinsae and Antonio

Tinsae and Antonio

Both Antonio and Crystel are attending a Spanish dual language school. This helped them be comfortable around Hispanics. I used to have to remind them that they were brown and Hispanic which is why they needed to learn Spanish.

This past winter when the cold seemed like it would never end and they were whiny, I asked them if they would like to move to a warmer climate. They both immediately said, “No.” Their friendships have become that deep.

I have been happy to observe that they have friends who are of mixed races, white, Hispanic, and African American. They are friends with children from divorced families, families with only one parent, and children from families who have two parents.

In other words, they are perfectly normal.