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So, people loved this TED talk about coming out of closets.  It’s about how we all have closets to come out of.  It was about courage.  If you haven’t seen the talk yet, you should.  People wrote on Facebook, “Unbelievable.” “Powerful.”  “I’ve never been impressed with a TED talk … until now.”

I, however, was not impressed or inspired.  I was uneasy.  When speaker Ash Beckham said, “All a closet is, is a hard conversation,” I cringed.  I had to turn the video off halfway through.  And then I felt bad about myself, because obviously this sentiment appeals to people.  Was I just bored and unimpressed because having a kid in preschool means that I come out to 4-year olds every day?  Well, yeah, but I also felt anger.  Where was my anger coming from?

Making pancakes of our own.

So, apparently people really like hearing a butch lesbian tell them they have closets too and that their closets are just as scary as gay closets.  I think I understand this part.  We all suffer; we hide things; we’re ashamed.  We long to hear that our pain is real and that people are all the same, after all.  Aren’t we all afraid?  So yeah, Ash Beckham, I feel you there.  Secrets are bad, being inauthentic is bad, and if you keep things inside instead of being brave, you’ll get stressed and sick and poison yourself with guilt and self-loathing.  You should just be you! Awesome!

But do we need to call every uncomfortable truth a “closet” and do we need to then, on top of that, insist that all closets are equal?  No.  It’s annoying, unnecessary, damaging, hurtful, and unkind to equate all closets — or even to refer to pregnancy as a closet.  Make your point about personal courage without stealing the language of gay struggle for a cheap round of applause at a conference and 15 minutes of Facebook fame.  Because there are important differences between misfortune and oppression.

Misfortune happens.  So do cataclysmic life events.  Divorce, pregnancy, love – they happen.  But oppression is systemic.  I mean that when you are gay, there are actual laws and systems and customs and social norms that say you are less than, that you cannot get married, that you can be mistreated for being who you are, that you cannot adopt children or that you must adopt your own children , as we did, to prove they are yours.  A relative of mine lives in a state in which he can get fired from his job for being gay.  He is not alone; 29 states allow companies to fire gay workers for no reason other than who they are. On top of the legal punishments for being gay, there’s social rejection.  To put it more bluntly, people find you repulsive, they hate you, they think you are a child molester.  They might wish you were dead.  They might kill you.  Or, if you are like two women who live near my wife’s home town, someone might come out to your house in the night and poison your four dogs.

Happy kitchen chaos.

Happy kitchen chaos.

Many of us would like to believe that we live in a time when being gay is safe.  I’ve been to the Walnut Café in Boulder, and it is clearly, decisively gay friendly.  Anyone who brings a kid in there is not going to hurl homophobic invective.  When describing the supposedly powerful moment when she came out to a 4-year-old girl while waiting tables, Beckham builds up the suspense of her confrontation and then says, “It was the easiest hard conversation I have ever had, because pancake girl and I, we were real with each other.”  Okay, fine.  Ash Beckham was real with a 4-year-old in a progressive lefty café in Boulder.  It’s a cute story.  But it’s ridiculous to suggest that gay people stay in closets because they are unwilling to “be real.”

Helpers.

Helpers.

Actually, gay people stay in closets because they could get sexually assaulted in the bathroom of their own high school.  Or because they are more likely to drop out of high school or be turned out of their homes by their own parents or, once they are homeless, be forced into prostitution to survive.  Or because they are more likely than straight kids their age to commit suicide.

Unfortunately, whether we want to face it or not, being gay is dangerous — even in New York City, even for adults.  Just ask the gay men who have been attacked in Manhattan recently, while going to a movie. Yet Beckham is so intent on connecting with her straight listeners that she makes it seem petty to mention the particulars of gay struggle.  Not once, not for a moment, are we supposed to mention that oppression doesn’t always wear a pink dress and smile back.

Bunny Rabbit.

Bunny Rabbit.

When we pretend that coming out to a 4-year-old or socializing at a relative’s wedding is the scariest part about being gay, we risk keeping our straight allies in the dark about how much we still need their help toppling oppression.  Straight allies, please don’t be fooled by this TED talk: we need your help.  We need a lot of your help because things are pretty bad.

As I wrote these words, I repeatedly watched Beckham’s talk.  At times, I wavered in my criticism.  She’s just trying to share a personal struggle and help other people grow from it, right?

Toward the end of the talk, Beckham’s call to personal authenticity rings true and clear.  I found myself nodding along.  Let’s be free.  Let’s throw down our lies and take the risk of being who we are so that we can stop wasting energy hiding and use it doing things that matter to us.  For me, the call to authenticity is embodied in a quote from the gospel of Thomas that I’ve kept near my writing space for years:  “If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.”

Finally!

Finally!

This mandate to manifest oneself is powerful.  I’m glad that Beckham is issuing that invitation to all of us to be brave, to own publicly and unapologetically who we are.  I just don’t think that we need to insist that all misfortunes are created equal.  Let’s talk about what it means to be bankrupt, pregnant, sick with cancer, Mormon, divorced,  in love, lesbian, out of love with a spouse, one-armed, allergic to cashews, a poet, a stay-at-home mom, a prostitute, an atheist, biracial, an immigrant.  We don’t need to erase the historic specifics of one group’s oppression to make everyone else feel good about proclaiming themselves.

Our pancake rules: From scratch. Buttermilk.  Maple syrup.

Our pancake rules: From scratch. Buttermilk. Maple syrup.

A lot of people I love and respect were moved enough by this talk to repost it, and they weren’t offended in the way I was.  They were gay people, straight allies, people with serious critical thinking skills and multiple degrees.  So I’d love to hear from these people.  Tell me, am I off base? Am I being nitpicky?  In what way did Ash Beckham’s talk speak to you?  Did anyone else have misgivings about her closet analogy?  If I’m just a heartless, militant lesbian mom of two, let me know.  (My armpits are a bit hairy right now, to be honest.)  If that’s what I am, at least I can be real about it with the next 4-year-old I come out to when I pick my son up from school today.

IMG_4212[1]

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Last week when Finn was over for the day, I snapped a few photos.  You know Finn: Miles’ mini soul mate and comrade-in-arms.   Every other Thursday, Alicia and I take turns taking both kids so that the other can go do all of the things it is undesirable or impossible to do with a 2-year-old hanging on. Uninterrupted vacuuming. Pleasure reading. Forming adult thoughts in complete sentences. 

This arrangement has worked well for us, although things can get a little wacky with two 2-year-olds.  Like the time Finn peed her pants and Miles, while I was cleaning her up, pooped all over himself and the head of my childhood stuffed bear, on which he was sitting.  Or the time one of them slammed a door on the other one’s body as part of a “game,” or the times when, instead of napping, they lay in adjoining rooms and sang the alphabet to one another for 40 minutes.  There’s Thursdays I spend the whole time saying, “We don’t strangle our friends,” and “Finn is playing with that.  Can you find something else to play with?”

But other times, much of the time, they are crushingly sweet and I think I just can’t stand how much they love one another.  It’s too much, the way Finn says “Miles!” incessantly in a tone of joyful astonishment, as though she had just discovered rainbows.  The way they initiate smiling contests during lunch and make a game of kicking one another’s feet under the table. 

Smiling contest.

   

"Miles!"

Looking at the photos of the kids painting last Thursday, I was struck with the stillness and beauty of the images.  It had been an especially busy morning, with play-doh, blocks, madcap chasing, cooking in the play kitchen, Miles bossing Finn relentlessly (“Finn don’t use that block!”), and then the two of them painting, crayoning, stickering. 

These photos lacked the tumult I remembered.  In each one I saw not our life but an image of life as we wish it were: gentle, lovely, orderly.  Sunlight flooded through tall windows.  The children dipped brushes into paint, perching on their grown-up chairs with no concern for the great distance to the floor.  Their beauty pained me.  In Finn’s dangling foot I saw the precariousness of our innocence, and in Miles’ kneeling form the resilience we bring into the unknown.  The moment seemed hushed, invented, idyllic; even the bowl of fruit on the table seemed as though it had auditioned for its role. 

Whoa, you’re saying, hold on! I’ve lost you, haven’t I?  You’re asking, where do I come up with this nonsense?  It’s a picture of two kids painting watercolors!  Get a grip! 

The truth is that I am sad.  The truth is I don’t want any more time to pass.  The truth is that this photo is life as I wish it were, because in this photo Miles and Finn are painting together forever.  But Finn and her moms are moving to Boston, and we will see them only one or two more times before they go.

There will be trips to Boston.  Miles and Finn will chase one another and shriek, and all the moms will drink coffee or beer and laugh and tell stories.  Friendship will change and continue, like us, finding new forms and expressions.  Siblings will be born, and we won’t believe how much love there is to go around, more and more and more. 

But just for now, let’s linger at the table.

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I hope this email finds you well.  I apologize most sincerely for my rudeness in not responding earlier; my mothers are quite adamant about restricting my use of the computer.  “Miles, don’t touch that!” they chide, thinking I simply want to press the buttons and make a disaster of their external hard drive.  How can they fail to understand that I need to keep up on my correspondence?  They ramble about “screen time” and how it is bad for my brain development, yet I think we both know that my brain is developing appropriately.  Perhaps if you, a physician, write to them and ask them to relent, they might reconsider their cruel rationing of the iPhone, the Internet, and Sesame Street. 

But on to other matters.  You asked about the new neighbor downstairs.  I have not yet had an opportunity to make her full acquaintance, but I confess to a deepening affection for her bicycle.  She parks her bicycle on the second-floor landing, and each time my mothers and I come and go I examine it with interest, naming its parts aloud. 

(I’m talking now, by the way.   Sometimes I speak in sentences, as tonight when I was holding my stuffed monkey up to see the moon outside my bedroom window.  “Monkey, see moon,” I instructed it.  But I digress.  My attention span has yet to mature.)

When I pass the pink and lavender bicycle — yes, I know my colors now too — I often say, “Handlebars!  Seat!  Pedals!”  In case my mothers should think I believe the bicycle is mine, I also clarify, “Heather’s bike.”  Sometimes, I admit, I get confused and knock on Heather’s door, asking for you and Min.

Although the bicycle is charming, I am more than ready for you to return.  Please move back in downstairs at once.  I understand that this will be detrimental to your career and that your family might object to your moving so far away from them.  Yet, as I am sure you know, 2-year-olds are famously egocentric.  Everything is about me, of course, and I prefer that you come back. 

If you must know my reasons, they are simple: you played with me so very well, you were kind to my mothers, you saved Luna’s life, and you always pretended not to be bothered by the sound of me throwing wooden toys on the floor at 6 a.m.   Additionally, any place without subways cannot be a good place.  As I have matured, my interest in transportation has grown exponentially (see above discussion of bicycle), and I shudder to think that anyone for whom I care would be deprived of decent public transit.

It sounds as though the short mother is almost done running my bath.  I must close this letter quickly before she realizes I am not in fact cooking imaginary omelets in my play kitchen.  I regret deceiving her, yet I could not allow another day to pass without my responding to your kind inquiries.  I look forward to seeing you and Min very soon as you move your things back in to the apartment.  Please hurry — my birthday is next week, and if you ask very politely my mothers will probably let you take me to the zoo.  They always liked you. 

Warmly,

Miles

P.S. If I need to communicate with you again, I will do so through the blog.  My mothers have cut off service to my cell phone.

P.S. #2 Attached, please find a recent photo of me.    I hope Min will enjoy it.

On Sept. 17, David wrote:

Dear Miles, 

Probably by now you are wondering where we have gone. Don’t worry, we are still around just a little farther away, in a place far away known as Arizona. It’s a strange place unlike the comforts of our walk-up in Brooklyn. People here have golden blonde hair and bronze colored skin. They also drive in big pick-up trucks, and can you believe that they don’t know what a subway is?! Arizona is great though. There are surprising a lot of restaurants to try here, which keeps us busy during the weekends.
 
Anyways, we very much miss New York, especially walking around Park Slope. But most of all we miss you and your family, as well as Violet and hers. We have been keeping up on your blog. Min absolutely loves it, especially the candid pictures of you. Anyways, I know you still have your cellphone, so call me anytime you like. Tell Melissa and Robin we said hello and that we miss them too. Hoping that the new tenant below is friendly.  
David
 

My, what big teeth I have.

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Country Time

For Robin’s birthday, we visited her family in Georgia.  She comes from a small town — and when I say small, I don’t mean a town with a McDonald’s but no Taco Bell.  I don’t mean a town where the mall has a lousy selection and a cheesy fountain. 

I mean a town without a gas station.  A town of fewer than 300 residents.  A town where the only street light is the blinking caution light you roll through as you pass the abandoned mill.  A town where there is one restaurant, named simply, “The Chicken Place,” that until last year was housed in a defunct gas station with sagging old-time pumps.  In this town, Robin’s father was at various points both the mayor and the fire chief, and neither of those was his full-time job. 

It was the perfect place for some R&R in the midst of a summer of nonstop travel.  We lolled in the pool, walked in the woods, played with kids and, of course, ate and ate and ate.  Miles disappeared into the play room at Nana and PaPa’s house for long stretches of time with his cousins.  I curled up on the couch with a book for most of a day.  At Aunt Martha Ann and Uncle Bill’s house (clear across town, about a quarter of a mile away), we feasted on turkey, cornbread muffins, black-eyed peas, butter beans, macaroni and cheese, cornbread dressing, garden-fresh sliced tomatoes, creamed corn,  sweet tea and caramel cake.  Miles climbed tractors, a boat and a handful of lawn mowers.

So, basically, it was exactly like daily life in Brooklyn.  (Not.)

Into the woods.

 

"Miles have it?"

 

Nana's kitchen.

 

Turn signal.

 

Photo by Taylor Davidson.

Boat!

 

Cousins.

 

Homeward bound.

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Peas in a pod.

On the way home from music class Friday morning, we stopped spontaneously at a large, lovely playground that we don’t get to very often.  It’s about a 15 minute walk from our apartment, so we usually go somewhere closer unless we are meeting someone.  Miles, thrilled with his good luck, clambered up a metal ladder (when did he start climbing ladders?!), chattering away in multi-word sentences (when did he start chattering?!).

At the top of the slide, he shouted joyfully, “Binn!”

Playgrounding in February.

“What Miles?”

“Finn!  Finn! Is she?  Where … is she? Where?”

I realized with shock that he was remembering the last time we’d played at that playground, almost a month earlier.  We’d played with his very best friend, Finn, and he expected her to be here today.  He scanned the playground eagerly from his perch.  Big kids shouting, tots racing through a water sprinkler, everywhere the hot sun.  No Finn.

Of course he expected to see her.  We see Finn at least once a week, and it had been much more than that since our last play date.  But Finn was on vacation with her moms.  “Sorry Miles,” I said.  “No Finn today.”  After a few seconds, he gave up, skidding forlornly down the slide.

Spring.

He’s been this way about Finn for quite some time.  Like the first time I mistakenly mentioned we were going to Finn’s house an hour before we were supposed to leave.  Miles marched to the door and began banging on it, chanting her name.  In case I wasn’t getting the point, he grabbed his shoes from the bin, thrust them into my hands, and entreated, “Go!” 

For several months, I was sure he thought Finn’s name was “More.” 

“Do you want to go see Finn?” I would ask.

“More, more, more,” Miles would chant, firmly signing “friend” with his hands. 

“Are you saying more friend?”

He’d look at me.  Concentrate. “More.” (Sign “friend.”) “Please.”

Got milk?

They met at two months old in a coffee shop.  A mutual friend connected Robin and me with Finn’s moms, Alicia and Melissa, because we were lesbian families who’d had babies within two weeks of each other.  At that point, Miles and Finn were bald and squirmy grubs, rooting for the breast.  They couldn’t have cared less about socializing.  Then they moved on to parallel play, eyeing one another with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion, until their first tortured attempts at sharing.  Now their friendship is a passionate and intense toddler love fest.  He mostly calls her “Binn,” and she mostly calls him “Biles.” They’re a funny pair, both blonde and blue-eyed, running around like a couple of Scandinavian elves out of a fairy tale.  They scream each other’s names. 

“Biles!  Biles!  Biles!”

“Binn! Binn!  Binn!”

“Biles!”

“Binn!”

They debate the finer points of Elmo and Ernie.  They hug, they read, they giggle, they grab, they cry, they push, they chase.  

So funny!

A few months ago, we asked Miles and Finn for the first time if they would like to kiss each other goodbye.   We were finishing up a play date, and they’d been milling about, grabbing toys off the ground, turning in circles, grabbing the dogs’ tails. 

Both stopped.  They looked at each other.  And then they bolted — not away but toward each other — collided belly to belly and nose to nose, and bounced back, stunned.  Contorting with suppressed laughter, we asked if they would like to try again.  Finn smiled.  Miles approached.  He tilted his head and teetered.  Finn grasped his arm and leaned and… contact! 

The smooch train.

With Finn and Alicia, we go to the playground, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the amazing sandbox at Pier 6, the Transit Museum, the park.  Sometimes Robin and I babysit Finn, and other times Alicia and Melissa babysit Miles.  In the Fall, Miles and Finn will be together in a cooperative preschool, which means Alicia and I will be taking turns (with other parents) teaching and providing snacks. 

Best of all for me, as the kids’ friendship has developed — in between the breastfeeding, the diapers, and the snack times — Alicia and I have become great friends too.  We sneak in actual, adult conversations sometimes, conversations that help keep me sane and balanced.  On weekends sometimes we get together all six of us: four moms talking and two toddlers climbing and babbling.  In those moments, I realize just how eloquent our son really is.  More.  Friend. Please. 

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Two little monkeys jumpin' on the bed.

Play date.

 

Push!

 

 

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On Sunday afternoon, RJ and Robin and Miles and I stood outside our apartment building. 

“You look so rested,” RJ was telling me.  “Doesn’t she look like she just came back from a vacation? Your face looks different.”

“It does,” Robin admitted.

Which was kind of weird.  I hadn’t come back from a vacation; in fact, I’d just returned from a three-day trip in which I flew to California (with a layover in Minneapolis), attended a memorial service, slept very little, got up in the early morning dark, and flew back to New York (with a layover in Minneapolis).  On the various planes, I’d been squished in between snoring businessmen, stuck without food for hours at a time,  and, worst of all, had the window seat next to a couple returning from a fractious visit to their in-laws.  (“He was mocking me the whole time.” “That wasn’t mockery — why would you say that?” “He was mocking me.  You never notice it.”)  All of this followed by a harrowing cab ride complete with a skidding, screeching  near-death on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

I’d had, by most people’s reckoning, a brutal few days.  Yet I felt magnificent.  Why?  They were three days without Miles.

I’m not a horrible mother.  Really.  I just needed a long break, a break so long that I would be forced to stop planning, coordinating, anticipating, meeting needs.  A break in which I would be Not In Charge of Anything.  A break in which I would not wipe anyone else’s bottom, prepare anyone else’s food, wipe up anyone else’s spills, bathe anyone else’s body, convince anyone else (ever so cheerfully) to please, please, please climb the stairs or get out of the tub or let me put on your shoes or sit on the potty instead of running around naked and shrieking.  Yet as much as I needed such a break, I could not imagine taking one, and I could not imagine being without Miles for several days.  The longest I’ve been away from him is ten hours.  Leading up to my departure, I was anxious and fearful.

Then I got on the plane.  Almost immediately, I started having thoughts.  I thought about Robin dancing, my years working at a newspaper, the neighbors we had when we first moved to Brooklyn.  I thought about college and friendships, about my childhood cat, about family, about the man whose life I was traveling to celebrate.  And then I thought, “Hey, I’m back!  I’m Melissa!”  Meaning, not Miles’ mom.  Meaning, the person I have been my whole life, since I was a kid, that consciousness that has accompanied me through decades and changes of scenery.  That consciousness I’d somehow lost track of.  For the last two years my brain has been tuned to a different channel — the channel of snacks and naps and meal plans and housekeeping.  The noise of daily parenting had become so loud that I couldn’t hear anything else. 

Three simple days.  I read three books.  I listened to people.  I went where I was supposed to be.  I carried only the things I needed.  (No toy trains!  No sippy cups!)  I felt calm.  And I made a list of what I need to do to feel this way again.  It included things like nights out, yoga, back-up day care, meditation, reading books, writing in a journal.

 After the list, I turned to a fresh page and wrote one sentence.

It was: I don’t want to lose this.

This is dedicated to all those parents who are so busy doing they don’t have time to think.  Let’s figure it out together.  Let’s change the channel sometimes, if only for a few minutes.  Let’s listen to ourselves.  And then let’s gather up our partners and our children and hold them in our arms, as I did with Robin and Miles on Sunday, and let that peace emanate from us to them.

You missed me. Admit it.

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Yeah, so I haven’t been on the blog too much. Here are some recent photos, in no particular order, with no particular theme. My apologies — more entries soon!

Crib.

Seriously?

The reading room.

Train to D.C.

Raisins.

So fresh and so clean.

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