Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fast Neat Average

The other night we had the first meeting of the USAFA Gay Alumni Association.

It felt historic.

Although I am not officially an aluni from that esteemed but vitriolic institution (see this post for an explanation), and although I've become a pacifist since my youthful decision to attend the Academy (I wanted to go to college somewhere that was free like so many people who choose the military for economic reasons) I felt like it was important to get involved and be a resource for current and future cadets.

There were people on the conference call from the class of '72 up to the class of '01 and everywhere in-between, across the globe.

I heard today on the Stephanie Miller show that nearly 70% of Americans feel that the ban on GLBT individuals in the military should be dropped.

Now only the republicans need to catch up.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Skirting Society Part Deux

Yesterday afternoon a neighbor and very good friend of ours was over enjoying the sun and the kids.

I say this to emphasize the very innocuous-ness of these things when they happen.

So we were playing with Big and his new tricks:

Where's Seven?

(Points to Seven.)

Where's Sidekick's Little Sister?

(Points to her.)

Where's Baba?

(Points to me.)

The neighbor and very good friend then says:

Where's Daddy?

My heart dropped.

I'm not sure exactly what he was doing. I told him that I thought it was mean. But that was only a part of what I was feeling. I'm sure it was not meant maliciously, just without thought or consideration.

These are the types of interactions that I worry most about for our kids. Those moments where they may feel some sort of hole or loss where maybe they hadn't before. Maybe they hadn't even considered it before.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Skirting Society?: The Name Game Continues

So, overnight it seems, Big's lanugage (receptive at least) has blossomed. After months and months of reading the same books, and pointing to the same pictures and identifying the pictures and colors, he seems to be actually getting it.

BioMom, pointing to the "red" page, and pointing to the raspberries: Where are the raspberries?

Instead of his usual blank look, or insistence on turning the page, he reaches out his little finger and actually points to the raspberries.

This literally happened over night. He went from not being able to identify anything, to identifying everything. Everything in that little book, obscure parts of other books (where are the pilots?) to all of his body parts.


During one ID session, BioMom asked: Where's Mama?

I wasn't in the room and, according to her, he looked around and couldn't find me and didn't point to her.

We're still trying to go with the "Baba" for me and "Mama" for her thing, but Seven has not really adopted the "Baba" moniker, so all big hears her call me is various forms of "Mama" (usually followed by a "will you" to the extent that I am sure he'd call me "Mama will you" if we didn't play our little ID games.

He and I often read this book about airplanes. One picture shows a jet with people lining the windows. I always ask him who the people in the windows are:

Where's grandma? (he points to someone -- 'grandma' changes every time we read the book)

Where's grandpa? etc.

Once I asked Where's Mama? As she was sitting next to us, he just pointed to her.

And then: Where's Baba?

He smiled and turned his eyes up to me as if to say, Don't you know where YOU are?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Baba's Day

In following LD's Baba's Day Proclamation we began the day with Seven's home-made-coffee in a mug chosen especially for me and a t-shirt from BioMom to match one of Bigs', then on to the farmer's market where we meandered and split a yummy roll, then on to meet the grandparents to honor the great lineage that began my lovely little family, then back home to spend some time playing, reading, resting and napping. We finished up the day with a little bbq with some friends. In my own dad's words, it was a great "all-round" day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

This Just In

A new 18 month old "achievement" for Big.

He found the laundry shoot.

And some humor.

What has gone down: Dirty laundry. My shoes. His sippy cup. Trucks. Seven's Tamagachi (Maya).

What has yet to go down: his lunch.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Is It A Happy Father's Day When the Lesbian Father Out-Mothers the BioMother?

In this past Sunday's Modern Love column in the New York Times, Amy Sohn writes about her reactions to her husband's stay-at-home dad-ness. This is a topic that, in its own variation, comes up at our house quite a bit. I sometimes (somewhat unwillingly, rarely purposefully) "out-mom" BioMom.

Sohn writes "[A]fter we married and began to talk about having children, I realized that a child could have a side benefit for our relationship. If Charles took care of the baby full time, he would be providing care that would otherwise cost at least $25,000 a year. . . He wouldn't have to take on the small jobs he hated, like landscaping and carpentry, and I could stop griping about the credit card bills. We wouldn't have to leave our child with a stranger, and I could feel secure knowing that she would be in the care of her loving father. In this radical-feminist vision, I was little more than a vessel for the baby."


"As I began to realize that I liked being a mom, Charles started to see that he needed to be more than just a dad...Besides, I found myself thinking, if Charles and I split the child care on the days we don't have the sitter, then the baby will never love him more."


"Our arrangement, of course, has all the stresses of traditional marriage roles, even if we're reversed. Like the archetypal working father, I constantly feel the pressure of being the primary breadwinner and worry that one day my work will dry up, we'll have to sell our apartment and leave the city, and it will be my fault. But the upside of my financial burden is that I never feel guilty about working. . . And I've stopped worrying that my daughter will love Charles more. The other day while she was toddling around the living room, she accidentally knocked a wooden chair down hard on to her foot. I rushed to comfort her . . . and she said, 'Daddy.' I handed her over and watched as he stroked her head, kissed it and told her she was O.K. . . . A year ago I would have seethed with jealousy. But as a mother of a toddler I know that her preferences change and it has little if nothing to do with me. As Charles sat in the armchair and held her, I watched from the floor. Then I reached for her again, and this time she came."

BioMom have faced similar issues as I (a little over a year ago) slid into the primary caretaker role for Seven and, mainly, Big (as he is in need of much more primary caretaking). Like Sohn and her husband, it made sense for us at the time for various reasons; I could easily take a year off of work, my work involved a regular, weekly commute that involved two nights spent away (from which we were both anxious to see a hiatus), she earned more money, etc. etc. So, reading this was all fine and dandy for me at least until I got to this quote:

"At the time I was seeing a 92-year-old Austrian psychoanalyst, and whenever I expressed concern about the financial inequity of my relationship, he would shake his head and say, 'For the relationship to survive, you must be the woman, not the man.'"

We've thought about this too. For our relationship to survive, must I be the Baba and she the Mama?

Sure, the changes involved sacrifices that were unexpected: while her career vamped up, mine has been put somewhat on hold and Big comes running to me--often pushing BioMom aside--when he is hurt or in need. What I don't think we expected were the reverberations of the reversal of gender roles that we had never truly consciously adopted.

Sure, she falls a little on the more femme side and I fall a little on the more butch side. We joke about the butch-femme continuum (see this blog entry from last year, ironically, when I first embarked on what I then called Stay-At-Home-Babadom). Here's an excerpt:

In fact, BioMom and I have our own 'butch-femme' scale with 10 being "highly feminine" and 1 being "highly butchy" and we will rank each other's actions or outfits based on a) our subjective determination and b) our desires for any particular event! On average though, I'd say I'm about a 4 and she's about a 6. We have speculated that sustainable relationships usually aggregate to a 10 on this scale. In other words, if the individual's butch/femme scale is much below 10 (say, two "3" butches) or much higher than 10 (say two "7" femmes) would not engender a sustainable gender-balance and would, therefore, be doomed to failure.

It turns out that this shift in our professional and personal lives (me halting work temporarily, she gearing back up in a heretofore unprecedented manner) has resulted in many unexpected consequences. I, for example, have unexpecedly fallen in love with being a SAHB. But, this has had some repercussions on our household's delicate gender balance. How does one, for example feel butchy, or masculine (an identity one has carried throughout life and that permeates all of their socio-psychological persona) after spending a day changing diapers, attending all-female baby classes and singing songs like "the wheels on the bus" and "bumpin' up and down in my little red wagon?" And, in the reverse, how are one's partner's feelings altered by this shift? Especially when she has kicked her career into high gear?

So here I am, a year into the reverse of Sohn's story, the stay-at-home-Baba who unexpectedly out-mom's the BioMom. Have we (like Sohn's) fulfilled the radical feminist vision?

I think that through this blog I am beginning to see strains of several "big questions" that I have about life as a SAHB and our kids. One of these questions really gets at the differences between GLBT families and their heterosexual counterparts, indeed, if there really are any. This strain is just another mirrored facet on that disc-ball that is that BIG QUESTION. In being a Stay-At-Home-Baba, are we fulfilling the radical feminist vision that Sohn talks about? Or am I just another woman who stays at home with her toddler (for the most part)? Are there consequences to what I'll call the "reverse specialization" that Sohn struggles with when we're dealing with same-sex couples? In short, do lesbians "do" gender?

What can gender roles do for us?
Gender roles can act like other social institutions as a behavioral short-cut. Instead of negotiating each task, each moment of the day, it is just easier when you know who will do what. Economists would say that gender roles decrease "transactions costs" in the sense that new negotiations are not necessary for each task: Are you mowing the lawn today? No! I thought you were going to. I changed the poopy diaper and emptied the dishwasher. Isn't that worth a lawn mow?
Why shouldn't lesbians take advantage of this shorthand, ending some of the mundanity of the everyday negotiations?

How can gender roles against us?
Of course, gender roles hurt us as a society when they become immutable. When they dictate that women can't become firefighters or high-security prison guards and men nurses, regardless of their abilities.

Do lesbians "do" gender?

The fact is that GLBT people have grown up in a society with gender roles (let's face it, while gender roles are immutable, changing over space and time, they still exist and while they can evolve in the course of a single generation, they are powerful and imposing). They/we soak them in like the rest of us.

Furthermore, as stated, "doing" gender can sometimes actually be efficient.

However, what's fun about creating families that fall outside of the societal norms, is that you can pick and choose which societal norms suit you. You can choose to reject all of them, or you can choose to not reinvent the wheel in other cases. (Of course, at some level, this is making lemonaid out of lemons. It'd be a helluva lot easier to just be able to get married and have all that legal stuff taken care of, voila!)

I am very interested in the interplay between how couples (het and homo) "do" gender, how they divide labor in the household (and by that I mean not only the mundane every-day chores as well as the public/private split. That is, how do couples make decisions about careers, breadwinning, and (when kids are involved) child rearing/stay-at-home-ness. Are decisions purposeful? Do they match or reject societal cues? Or is there economic logic behind the decisions that focuses on efficiency over equity? If so, in the case of a lesbian household, is it possible to create an efficient division of labor?

In a couple of papers (here and here) I have explored the idea that lesbian and gay households are not as politically correct as they may seem to the casual observer. Most research indicates that lesbian households tend to be more equal than are households of heterosexual couplings and there is some theory to back up that observation. Because social institutions don't generally support glbt unions, we have less protection in the event that our relationships dissolve. What this translates into is that we (as glbt partners) may be unwilling to, for example, become stay-at-home parents (i.e. strictly specialize labor such that one person becomes the breadwinner while the other performs non-wage labor in the home) because they have no legal recourse in the event of "divorce". Sure, we can proxy some legal amenities, but this is more costly (both money and time-wise) and it doesn't cover everything. But in a small sample of qualitative interviews, I found that some lesbians in some places actually did gender in the way that hetero couples did. And, although my sample was not big enough yet to show this, I suspect that had I interviewed enough couples with kids, this effect would be exaggerated.

As it turns out, I'm not sure the gender continuum is adequate. At least not for this butch-turned-SAHB. Masculinity and feminininity are not either-or's in any one person. We can be both high masculinity and high femininity. For us, the gender-role-short-cut wasn't clear cut and now we find ourselves again, paving a new path along a road less travelled.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Irregular Monthly Newsletter: 18 Months

Well Big, while you officially turn 18 months old on the 9th, you were emotionally 18 months at least about 10 days ago.

Something clicked in you and you now regularly show preferences for things other than food, like footwear (often you prefer your rainboots, colorful and easy to get on but with that pesky corollary that they are also easy to fall off) and you display negative emotions at a much regular frequency than, say three or four months ago.

You've been working on your upper eye-teeth for a while. The tooth issue has been a breeze for a while as you still only have ten (six on top and four on the bottom). But now the doozies are coming in and you have been sleeping in fits and starts waking us with loud exclamations of aches and pains.

You seem somewhat more needy lately, which is, honestly, a time that I love to share with you. At night you've been waking up a bit and it only takes a little back rub to calm you back into sleep.

You climb on everything, including the diningroom chairs. Often, I'll look away and back again and find you teetering expertly, one toe on the tip of the chair which has, by that time scooted away from the table, your body hanging on for dear life.

Unlike Seven though, you rarely fall, even though I often get the feeling that you're about to crack your head open.

You can literally drop kick a ball (one of Seven's friend's mom's saw you do this at a soccer game and was blown away. I didn't know that there was anything special about it).

You're getting better at eating with a fork and spoon, but the more 18monthish fact about this is that you absolutely refuse NOT to eat without the utensils. As a result, you eat everything with them, even clear finger foods.

In the same vein, you copy Seven in the mornings by eating cereal out of a bowl with milk. This has obviously been a source of personal pride for you. You look at us as if to say I'm no baby! Give me some MILK with my Cheerios!

You are passionate about scooters (see previous post).

Your languge expression has not yet exploded (as some say will happen) but you clearly follows and understands everything.

New clear words include "truck" and "bubble" but still no purposeful "mama" or "baba".

"Wee-ooo-wee-ooo-wee-ooo" which previously was devoted to only apparent rescue vehicles now seems to be applied to yourself when you need or want something. Instead of your usual grunt-and-point, you've started to "siren" your need.

Just so you know, it doesn't make us move any quicker.

You definitely understand the command to give someone a "raspberry" and do so whole-heartedly. At bathtime, at bedtime, in the morning, afternoon and evening, you've been known to go up to Seven or BioMom, pull back an article of clothing and blow onto their skin, and then smile radiantly at the sound you've made.

We love you like crazy, Big.
-Baba and Mama and Seven

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

And Now. . . The Question We've All Been Waiting For

BioMom had to take an overnight trip for work so maybe it was just that having one of us around seemed easier or something but tonight was the night that she asked the question.

She's been a bit curious about her private parts this week for some reason. Perhaps she only recently got a good look at them and they seemed strange. This launched a conversation on the topic of the female anatomy and what everything does. She's okay with this. We've had similar discussions at only the depths that she has been ready for, for years. For example, she is aware that at some point in the future she will menstruate. So yes, this was not an unusual sort of path and I was, therefore, still highly unaware of where we were going with it. I'd go so far as to say I was extremely naieve.

At some point I dropped the "s" word. A word that I had never used before with her. A word that sounded, suddenly VERY adult.

At this, she responded: I know something.

She had clearly heard this word before and was under the impression that this was something that only men and women and, therefore, was definitely NOT something that occured in our little three-girl-one-little-boy household.

She went on to say that she was aware (clearly, by the way she was speaking, this information had not come from us) that it takes a man and a woman to have a baby (this part has come from us) and that two women cannot, absolutely cannot produce a baby (this part not from us, although, obviously, true. It's just that we've never actually come out with those words. At some point a while back she asked if it took a man to help make her and we answered yes and she walked away happily, that being enough information at the time).

So now, this question: What is the name of the man that helped you have me?

Whoa. It was like an anvil to the head. She had worked it all out for herself at some level. Without our help at all. She was matter-of-fact comfortable and this question sounded like some curious artifact that would help her simply slip the last, most difficult blue-sky-on-blue-sky piece into the puzzle that was her life to make it complete.

It was also serious relief. Oh! I thought. Of course! She just wants to know his name! How obvious!

But only those four-digit identifying numbers rushed into my brain. No names. No photographs. No beers-by-the-fire. No relationships whatsoever.

This launched what I'll call "the rest of the discussion." . . . When a man and a woman can't make a baby, or a woman and a woman or a man and a man want to make a baby. . . Some really nice women donate an egg to help people who can't make a baby and some nice men donate sperm to help other people make a baby. . . Blah Blah Blah.

I probably over-talked.

I have been known to be guilty of this.

But she seemed somewhat relieved to know some of the facts. That there was a doctor. That we've never met the man. That he was one of those nice people who donated of himself (literally in this case--not like dropping a little envelope into the basket at church) to help others.

When we were about to wrap it up, after her preferred song, and when her eyelids were falling and sleep was near, I had one last thing to say.

Me: You know, this means that you and I are not genetically related.

I touched her shoulder and then touched my chest, emphasizing our connection.

I'm not sure she understood the concept of being genetically related and I didn't feel it appropriate to go into the whole eye color thing at that time.

Me: But I feel like I've known you forever. For like a thousand years.

She: Like we were reincarnated?

This topic comes up, believe it or not, a lot when you are an atheist living in a household of catholics, one of which attends a catholic school. You feel like you've got to defend your position once in a while.

Me: Yeah.

She: Me too.


In celebration of this short amount of time between when Scooter Libby received his sentence (30 Months in Prison and a fine of $250k for "lying to investigators about his role in leaking the identity of an undercover CIA officer") and when Bush will (as is expected) pardon him, I purchased Big a three-wheeled "Kiddie Kick" scooter.

If you clicked on the link, you'll see that it is for ages 3+ which, obviously, Big is not (although he is a lot closer weight-wise than you'd think). However, the scooter has been a somewhat contentious item at our house (embodied now, as it is, by a characteristic 18 month old boy). For months now he has been literally obsessed with not only his sister's scooter, but he is also obsessed with every scooter he sees.

You might ask, is Minneapolis the "Land of Scooters?"

Well, yes, it seems to be. Would be my answer. A couple of nights a week we attend on of Seven's soccer games at a local park. Big enjoys running the sidelines like all of the other forelorn younger siblings who are not yet of age to join a team. Many of these kids bring along scooters and other things to occupy the hour that the games usually consume. One nearly four year old who we see often and looks to be about the same size as our Big, scooters by expertly, one leg pumping and swinging happily up and down the sidewalks. Big, ambitiously looks around for another scooter to borrow (pilfer actually), usually leaving some other kid scooterless and sad on the sidelines.

I say "ambitious" because Big actually thinks he can do it. Scooter on a two-wheeled scooter. In many ways, too, he is well on his way. He puts one foot on to the base, and then the other attempts to push. The problem is, he cannot balance the handle bars and, because they can rotate 360 degrees, and because they are generally taller than him (even at the lowest setting) they become unwieldy. This does not stop him, however, from pushing our hands away from the handle bars emphatically as if to say: GET AWAY! DO YOU THINK I'M AN IDIOT? OF COURSE I CAN HANDLE THIS SILLY MACHINE!!!

We end up spending an inordinate amount of time exploring Seven's scooter around the yard. He tries to ride it, he turns it over and inspects the wheels. Turns it back over and inspects the handle bars. It goes on and on.

In order to mitigate some of his frustration, I 'intended' a three-wheeled scooter (yes, I'm reading The Secret. Cheesy, I know.). Anyway, and this is not an exaggeration, literally that afternoon, I was standing on our corner, waiting for Seven and BioMom to pick me up to head out to her piano recital. A fellow pianist and her mother were walking by and we started chatting. I told her about my predicament with Big and the scooters. She said: "We've got a three-wheeled scooter from when she was little. Do you want it? It is pink and Barbie."

Yes! I exclaimed! He LOVES pink!

Turns out he doesn't. Well, I have no idea if its the pink part he doesn't like or if the fact that it is Barbie-themed is significant. For some reason he literally doesn't see it as the same or even a similar object. It wasn't made of metal and didn't have the same feel to it.

So that's what we'll be doing this afternoon. Celebrating the incarceration of one scooter and the freedom that can be found with another.

Friday, June 01, 2007

2nd Annual Blogging for LGBT Families Day

In honor of the 2nd Annual (International!) Blogging for LGBT Families Day * I am going to write about BioMom, her bravery, and the effects it has had on our school choices thus far for our kids, Seven and Big.

It was a few short years ago when we were considering which kindergarten Seven (then four) would attend. I, being an educator and aware of the blind-numbing effects that traditional Deweyesque forms of education have on ourselves and our children, was inclined to the extreme, new-agey sorts of educational paths which, in their uniqueness also end up being extremely expensive and attract a less-than-economically-diverse clientele (which was a major drawback for us). BioMom, having attended Catholic schools through college (the only reason she didn't go to a Catholic law school is that she didn't have the grades or the LSAT scores. . . She'd admit to this), was more inclined to the local catholic schools. I implored that they weren't the place for us. At the time, the pope had just come out and said publicly that GLBT parents were abusing their children, and I felt that the schools would follow the doctrine and our kids would hear a negative message about their family. BioMom took it on herself to go and talk personally to all of the principals in the nearby catholic schools.

BioMom: Will our daughter be in an environment that teaches her that her family has been made in the image of God like all the other kids?

The nun-principal at the Catholic school across the lake (the one that I preferred actually due to its start-time and because there was a bus that would drop her off and pick her up neatly at our corner) actually responded:

Nun-Principal (uncomfortably and with bugged out eyes according to BioMom): Oh, uh, well, uh, we've never had this situation before but. . . I think that you would be allowed to attend the school. . .

Needless to say, that was all it took for us to put the kebosh on that school.

BioMom's bravery in consistently questioning teachers and other authorities in our kids' lives about being sons and daughters of GLBT parents felt second-nature to her. Being a GLBT parent is, somehow, like coming out all over again, except now with more responsibility. In many ways it is similar to the realization that you should start taking vitamins and exercising when you have kids. Your decisions carry a greater weight now.

At the same time though, we walk that strange tightrope of not making too much of being our kids' GLBT parents. Our kids are more than just the sons and daughters of GLBT parents and I hope that they are not defined by that gradeschool rant (that we hear, thankfully, only occasionlly): You can't have two moms!?!

In the paraphrased words of bell hooks: Forget that I am a black woman but don't ever forget that I am a black woman.

*Check out this site for links to other posts in celebration of Blogging for GLBT Families.