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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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I would like to state for the record that some things about being (almost) 2 are not so terrible.

Around 2 years old, children develop symbolic play.  That’s fancy child-development speak for, like, pretending and stuff.  They personify their stuffed animals and use toys to act out little scenes.  For reasons I don’t fully understand, this is closely tied to the development of language.   Which means that Miles is able to tell us a little of what he’s imagining, and we get a peek into his inner life.

There’s lots of hugging and kissing in Miles’ inner life.  His toy animals hug and kiss each other ardently, with little regard for preserving the purity of species.  You’ve heard of the lion lying down with the lamb?  Well, in our house the chameleon lies down with the monkey, and the giraffe lies down with the bear.  The animals are quite promiscuous, actually.  The animals also have conversations.  The stuffed dogs will not shut up. (“Ruf!” “Ruff Ruff!” “Ruff… ruff.”) 

There’s lots of cooking and eating in Miles’ inner life.  In his play kitchen, he unloads groceries, washes his hands, munches on grapes, and drinks pretend coffee. 

Other rituals confuse me a little.  Cows take naps inside houses made out of cut-up milk cartons and then wake up to endlessly climb invisible stairs.  (“Upstairs!  Downstairs!”) Huh???

And yesterday, this happened.

"Doggy read. Miles read. Book."

He put his little stuffed dog in his lap, nestling it in, the way he nestles into my lap when we read before naptime.  Then, patiently, struggling with the pages and smushing the dog somewhat dreadfully, he “read” the dog  several books, pointing out significant objects on each page.

"Truck. Fire truck."

Did I die from the cuteness?  Yes.  Yes I did.

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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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Remember how we were worried about Miles’ weight because his growth stalled and his percentile plummeted?  (Okay, by we I mean I.)  And how I’ve been stuffing him with waffles and Quiche and all things eggy, breaded, cheesy, fried, and meaty?  And how his growth curve has recently resembled a prairie more than a foothill?

He had a scheduled weight check today. He aced it. 

In three months, he had gained almost two pounds (one pound in the last 7 weeks alone) and grown an inch.  The pediatrician is not at all worried about him any longer. 

Huge exhale.

Robin came to this appointment because I was sure he was still “off the chart.”  I knew the doctor was going to have Alarming Recommendations for us and that we would need to make decisions. 

I wasn’t happy walking in the door, and Miles wasn’t pleased to be there either.  He’s old enough to know what the doctor’s office is all about. As soon as we got past the toys and walked to the exam room, he started shaking his head.  “No.  No,” he insisted politely.   He glared at us as he was weighed and measured.  I steeled myself.

Then the doctor breezed into the room and pronounced Miles perfectly fine. 

“Really?” I asked several times.  “Really?”

“Yeah, he never looked sick to me,” she said.  Which is true.  She said that he didn’t look sick but that we should do blood tests and stool samples just in case.  Any parent knows how horrifying those three words are, how treacherous they can be.  Like, your child might be healthy.  Or he could have a bowel disease.  You know.

“It’s usually just behavior,” the doctor said cheerfully.  “They get picky and stop eating their meals, and then you start giving them snacks all day to compensate, and then they never really get hungry enough to eat.” 

It’s kind of a head-scratcher, but whatever.  I know toddlers who graze all day and are like mini linebackers.  And while it’s true that I was offering Miles snacks all day long, he never refused to eat at mealtime.  (I’m sure this will come later. I’m not claiming to be exempt from toddler pickiness;  I just don’t think it was the issue.)  So was the doctor right, and was Miles wasting away from too many snacks?  (So weird.)  Or is this just the pattern his growth was going to take because of some instructions written deep in his genetic code?  I have no idea.

Meanwhile, as we chatted with the pediatrician, Miles nabbed a ride-on toy tiger and headed for the door.  He wasn’t about to stick around long enough for someone to poke him with needles or stick things down his throat, no sir.   

Here’s a cell phone photo of him making a beeline for the lobby.  The feet on the left are Robin’s.  The feet on the right are the doctor’s. 

I’m not sure who was most happy and relieved when we walked out and let the door swing shut behind us. 

The escape artist.
 
 

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Miles, though obviously a budding poet/athlete/astronomer/zoologist/engineer, spent most his first year being stunningly average. At every medical appointment, his height and weight came in at the 50th percentile. I for one felt absurdly proud of this: we had created a child whose measurements were in no way objectionable! No one could find fault with the length of his limbs or the rotundity of his trunk. Passers-by might make their usual way-off-base comments — “What a big boy!” or “Is he (four months younger than his actual age)? No? Well, he must be small!” — and I would smile proudly and, with great satisfaction, announce, “His doctor says he’s average!”

Five months old.

Then, at his first birthday, his weight percentile plummeted to 22nd. He had recently had some minor surgery, and the doctor said he would probably bounce back by the next appointment. But he didn’t bounce back. At the fifteen month appointment, he had dropped off the chart. He’d had the stomach flu recently, we reasoned. Maybe that explained it. At 18 months, the doctor became concerned. (It was not his low percentile that was worrisome but the dramatic drop in percentile — from average to off the chart in six months. If he’d stayed steady, no problem.)

“Often times when toddlers slim down, it’s just behavior,” our pediatrician said, meaning that they become picky and eat less. However, she warned me that we needed to rule out certain other causes for his unexplained decline in growth. We talked a little about Celiac disease (which is gluten intolerance) or “intestinal issues,” but our doctor kept the details fuzzy and the tone upbeat. We took a stool sample, changed his diet to include more protein and fat, limited snacking and milk-drinking between meals, and scheduled a weight check for six weeks later.

Since that appointment, I have thrown myself into packing the utmost calories (and nutrition) into every meal. I carry chicken sausages for his snacks, concoct quiches with bacon and heavy cream (and spinach!), whip up the cheesiest mac and cheese recipe I can find, then top it with buttered bread crumbs. I make carrot-cranberry waffles and spread them with pecan butter or, better yet, use waffles as the bread for his PB&J. I brown ground turkey, slice up spicy chorizo, and churn out cheese quesadillas with guacamole. Once, to Robin’s horror, I fed Miles butter. Just a spoonful of unadorned butter. Most parents scheme to get vegetables into their children; I view vegetables as a necessary evil. They’re low in calories and take up precious belly space. Vegetable tempura I grudgingly accept. At least it is battered and deep fried!

I know I sound a little crazy. What’s new? But the thing is, even as I have been cooking and baking and cookbook-scouring, somewhere deep inside of me I have felt that Miles is really okay. He’s perfect. His arms, his legs, his cheeks, his belly: they all seem just right. He’s happy. He’s healthy. He constantly astonishes me with his discoveries, his curiosity, his questions. He glows with joy, running toward us with his dandelion puff hair wafting in the breeze, and throws his arms up in the air for a group hug. How could a child who is so obviously thriving be sick? How could his immaculate cells hide some unknowable something wrong? They couldn’t.

We have many reasons to assume all is well. People reassure me with some variation of, “All toddlers slim down! He’s so active!” And, “He’s just burning off calories faster than he can eat them.” The pediatrician said he doesn’t look like a child who is suffering from Celiac or any other major illness. His stool test came back negative for all of the things they were looking for (whatever those might have been). Then there’s the fact that I myself was a teeny baby and am now only five feet tall. Couldn’t that explain his diminutive stature? It could. Of course it could. So I have been calm and confident. Except when I’m not.

Sometimes I can’t help but notice how much smaller he is than other kids his age. Or that he hasn’t been growing out of his clothes. In fact, other than getting more hair and becoming more agile, he hasn’t changed physically all that much for a long time. I watch him race about the playground and think, treacherously, too small. The voice of worry starts its whispery taunting.

After his six-week weight check, he had gained 9 ounces but was still “off the chart.” I bit my lip and agreed to schedule blood work. The blood work came back negative — all clear — giving both Robin and me a sense of relief. The next step is another weight check at 21 months, about three weeks from now. If he’s still off the chart, what next? What will the doctor say, and how will we respond?

My worry is two-fold. One is the pure and simple worry that something might be wrong, Celiac disease, some kind of bowel problem, or some other thing I can’t even imagine and don’t want to Google. The other is the more nuanced fear that Miles is fine. Wait, you’re thinking? You’re worried that he might be fine? Yes. Apparently, I am an extremely advanced worrier. My fear is that if we go further with tests or (gulp) see a specialist, we’ll be subjecting Miles and ourselves to needless and stressful interventions, sucumbing to a culture of fear and pathologizing our innocent child’s idiosyncratic growth pattern. Really, I should just recognize him as the healthy specimen he is and get on with the play dates and building blocks. I should tell the doctor to back off and leave us alone. Right? Right?

So I am alternately serene and apprehensive. He’s so absolutely lovely these days, but this weight thing plagues me. I understand that this is not a calamity. Parents deal with actual, real medical problems (as opposed to this phantom of a maybe problem) every day. Yet he’s my kid, and I want to know that he is healthy. I wish I knew a right way to navigate the next few months, if there is a right way. I want to stop the churning and doubting and second-guessing, just shut my brain up. Robin doesn’t churn and doubt and second-guess! It’s not in her nature, I suppose, which is probably part of why we’re together.

So, lucky you, you’re along for the ride. Would you like to see some cute photos of my perfect, obviously healthy kid? Of course you would! Here goes. And thanks for listening.

Joyful.

Barry Bear.

Fighting fires... and homophobia.

Who me? Yes, you. Couldn't be. Then who?

(Disclaimers: our doctor has been very calm and reassuring; Miles seems to be getting taller lately; and no one has even breathed the words “referral to specialist.” I just forget to focus on these things when I’m worrying. Then I reread this blog and hear Robin’s cheerful and optimistic voice reminding me of all these things. Thanks, Robin.)

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Cereal

Remember when I got all choked up about Miles eating his first Cheerios?  Well, breakfast is at a whole different level now.   Instead of a handful of Cheerios on a tray, he’s eating a bowl of Kashi with milk, using the spoon himself.  Robin and I actually just sit there and eat our own food.  It’s bizarre — and, of course, cute.   And I hardly ever cry about it.
 
Spooning.

 

Body art.

 

Concentration.

 

Shoving it in.

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