Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Down and Dirty on Diapering

This is a guest post from Stewart, aka "Papa":

Earlier this summer, I happened to catch an interview on sports radio of New York Jets running back Shonn Greene. At the time of the interview, the NFL lock-out was still in place, so Greene wasn’t permitted to work-out with the team in preparation for the upcoming season. He was on the radio instead to promote a big barbeque being held in the city for first-time fathers, sponsored by Pampers, that Greene and some other local celebrities were hosting. He mentioned that he is a first-time father himself, with a 7 month old son at home. Given the NFL lock-out situation, the radio interviewer jovially asked Greene whether or not, with all of his unexpected free time, he was keeping busy by changing his son’s Pampers. Greene laughed and said essentially “all but the poopy ones” -- which he left to his wife.

Jacob pointed out to me that this was a rather curious response for a man promoting a Pampers event to give -- “Pampers – best left to your wife!” -- and likely not the message the execs at the diaper company were striving for in pushing their brand on new dads. But I was more chagrined by the fact that he is skipping out on one of quintessential experiences of parenting a baby. That’s right, my entirely unsolicited advice for the Jets running back is this: You’re missing out! Change some poopy diapers!

Now we know why Shonn Greene wears gloves

I have been an uncle for approximately 10 years now, and throughout the first few years of each of my niece and nephews’ lives, whenever I saw them I was encouraged by family to change their dirty diapers. My family told me that far from them pushing on me a thankless job, they were actually doing me a favor -- taking on this role would afford me the enviable opportunity to embarrass my niece and nephews for time immemorial with the classic retort to any of their later flack: “I used to change your diapers!” While that was all well and good, I remained suspicious that the real motivation of their pep talk was simply to get out of changing a diaper. Now that I am a parent myself, I am sure of it. I must admit that there have been times when we’ve had guests over to see Max, and he decides to drop a little present into his diaper, that I’ve been tempted to continue the family tradition of “re-gifting” that present for our friends to handle.

So, armed with my suspicions, I never did change my niece and nephews diapers. After all, one of the great perks of being an uncle or aunt is that you get to spoil your nieces and nephews as much as you want. You become their favorite, and the second an inconvenient or undesirable parenting moment arises -- like a full diaper -- you get to hand those smelly little tykes back to mommy or daddy.

There was one exception. About two and a half years ago, I was asked to babysit my then two year old nephew Luke for an evening -- alone. Before leaving, his mother rattled off Luke’s nighttime routine, which included, if necessary, changing his diaper before bed. I just kept nodding: “oh yes, of course of course.” Well, when that fateful bedtime hour hit and it was time for Luke to get into his PJs, I realized I had no idea how to know if this change in ensemble required a diaper change. Or, more importantly, how to perform it. At this point Jacob and I knew that parenthood was in our future, so I decided I better go for it, before poor future Max became my guinea pig. Of course changing an active 2 year old is a little different from changing a sleepy, sedentary newborn. I ended up changing Luke in the bathroom while he was standing up and chattering away about whatever he was into at the time (trains, most likely, but I was too focused on the daunting task at hand to listen properly). It turns out that changing a child while he or she is standing up is a fairly unorthodox and advanced diapering technique, and I was way out of my league. And, wouldn’t you know it, his original diaper was dry and didn’t need changing after all. Too late. Thankfully, Luke didn’t seem to mind my fumblings with the tabs of his new diaper, or puzzlement over which was the front end and which was the back, or the sad, droopy end result that he wound up wearing under his PJs as a result of my ineptitude. But, while I was nervous all the next day that I would get a phone call from his mother about the plastic trainwreck I had patched around her son’s butt, the call never came and I breathed a sigh of relief. I had done it!

With Max in my life, I must have changed a thousand diapers by now -- of every degree of wetness and of every shade and consistency of poop. I’ve changed a poop in the men’s room of a highway rest stop in the middle of nowhere while feeling the collective stares of the truck drivers passing through as I sang “twinkle twinkle little star” to Max to keep him calm enough for me to finish the job. I’ve changed a poop in an airplane bathroom that had no changing table and was so small I could barely bend down to maneuver. I’ve changed a poop while wrestling Max on my lap while sitting on the toilet of a public restroom because the sink was too small and the floor was wet. And I’ve ventured into the women’s restroom to get the job done, stressing all the while over the reaction I might get from the ladies who could walk in at any moment. And as long-time readers of the blog know, Jacob has had his own diapering misadventures with Max, as chronicled in this early post, as well as this one.

Getting down to business
I know that I am far from alone in these experiences, and I’d love to read in the comments about your own diapering fiascos. But how are these experiences an endorsement for being an active participant in cleaning your child’s diaper messes? Put simply: it’s character building. It is not an exaggeration to say that in these small, trying moments of parenthood I’ve felt a particular closeness with Max, perhaps resulting from an intimate embarrassment shared and survived. I’ve also felt a palpable sense of accomplishment in carrying Max out of a restroom and back into the world looking perfectly clean and content, and me acting perfectly nonplussed, when in reality the past five minutes of changing his dirty diaper felt like fifty, with neither of us having any desire to re-live a single one of them. So Shonn Greene may think he’s making out by leaving the dirty diapers to his wife, but I strongly disagree. You may sacrifice a little of your dignity in the process of changing them, but it grows back stronger – like breaking down muscles in the gym in order to pump them up. Surely a pro football player like Shonn Greene can appreciate the value in that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Prophecy Fulfilled

Earlier this month I celebrated a milestone birthday: I turned 38. I realize that most of you probably think that I’m two years early in making this proclamation, but let me explain why the age 38 has such significance to me. I mentioned in a post I wrote last March about the 10 year anniversary of my first date with Stewart that ever since I came out as gay at age 22, I envisioned for my future not only a kid in my life, but even the exact age I wanted to be when the kid was born: age 38. Because I felt like a late bloomer at the time, I rationalized that the intervening years would give me enough time to mature and get my shit together, which included plenty of time to experience being a single guy, and then plenty of time after that to find Mr. Right and settle down in a serious relationship. I knew I would need that stability and security before I could ever tackle parenting.

Still, picking age 38 to have a kid instead of, say, age 35 or 40, still sounds pretty arbitrary. But actually -- and perhaps this was purely subconscious -- the age 38 has numerical significance for me. Thirty-eight years old is the mid-point age between when my dad had his first child (at age 30) and when my dad had his fifth and last child, me (at age 46). At age 22, I knew that I would not even be close to being ready to have a child by 30. My goal for 30 was to be in a serious relationship, hopefully, or at least to have had a meaningful relationship by that point. On the other hand, I knew that I didn’t want to wait to start having kids until I was 46. While I am very lucky that my dad always had lot of energy raising me and is still spritely for his age, I can’t count on those wonderful genetic qualities being passed along to me.

Over the years after I came out, my age-specific goals somehow never left my mind. First I met my goal of being in a serious relationship by age 30, having started dating Stewart a few years earlier. By the time I was 35, Stewart and I knew that we wanted to start a family together, and my target age of 38 was looking good. But I decided that it made no sense to wait to try to get the age perfect, for several reasons. First, although I had reached a comfortable place in my life, I realized that even so there was never going to be a day that I would simply wake up and say: “Now I am ready to have a kid!” I don’t think anyone ever feels completely ready for such a major life change. So I thought Stewart and I should just take the bull by the horns and go for it instead of letting my goal of age 38 turn into an excuse to put off such an intimidating undertaking. Second, as I have discussed before, having a child through surrogacy involves a lot of factors, and you can’t pinpoint how long it is going to take before you are successful. We were very lucky to find the surrogate of our dreams almost right off the bat, and that she was as motivated as we were to get the process going and to get pregnant. So while Max arrived during my 36th year on this planet, becoming parents could have easily taken until I was 38, even starting the process as early as we did (see my last post about how surrogacy can take years for some couples).

There have been many birthdays past where I have lamented to myself: “Oh my god, I am now such and such an age and look where I’m at in life. I haven’t achieved x, y or z yet,” perhaps in relation to my career or something else. But now at age 38 I look around and I can’t believe the wonderful place my life has taken me. I am a stay-at-home dad, married to an amazing husband, and we are raising an amazing 15 month old son. Also, we have such a great support system from our families and friends. Despite the proclamation I made at 22 years of age about my life goals, in my wildest dreams I did not dare to imagine that I would be sitting where I’m sitting now. I’m more than lucky.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Star is Born

Following up my previous post, last week Stewart and I spoke to prospective dads at the city’s LGBT Center about traditional surrogacy, just as we did in 2010. The meeting had an excellent turnout – doubling last year’s total – which is particularly impressive given that it took place in July when a lot of people are away. I’d like to attribute this bump-up to more people being open to traditional surrogacy, but it’s more likely due to the increasing popularity of surrogacy in general amongst gay couples in town. Now that we all can officially get married, pleas from our parents for grandkids inevitably follow!

As much as I’d like to report that Stewart and I were the stars of the meeting, that distinction must go to our traveling companion: Max. While bringing him allowed us to both attend, while avoiding the hassle and cost of a babysitter, our main reason for having Max attend was not for our own sake, but for the sake of the other members of the group. We wanted to show them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

As many of you know, Stewart and I were very fortunate when it came to our surrogacy journey. We matched with our surrogate, Christie, a little over a month after we first posted our ad on the Surromoms Online website, began the fertility process a few months after that, and Max was born less than a year later. Believe me, this is a very quick journey to parenthood compared to most of the guys in our group. Sadly, there are couples who attend the meetings who we first met when we began attending them in early 2009 who are still trying to conceive a child through surrogacy. It is only natural for these couples to feel some frustration and despondency at the long wait for their time to come. Perhaps the child that they thought would be right around the corner has turned into a hazy abstraction for them, leading them to wonder if the long slog to parenthood is even worth it.

We brought Max to the meeting to remind them of why they have invested so much time, effort, money and heart into the surrogacy process. As they could see embodied in our Max, wobbling in front of them at the start and end of the meeting, there is a wonderful living, breathing, adorable, playful, maddening child in their future that is worth all of the struggles they have faced in their quest for parenthood. The best part for us: we could even see it in their faces as Max fearlessly worked the room with his chirps and babbles, stumblings and bumblings, and his big smiles when the group was forced to concede to him that he was, indeed, the star of the show. Not bad for a kid who can’t even talk yet!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tonight's Message: Be Open to Openness

This evening Stewart and I have been invited back to discuss our surrogacy experience at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center’s monthly “Planning Biological Parenthood for Men” meeting. We attended these meetings in the months leading up to, and during, our surrogate’s pregnancy with Max, and learned an amazing amount about the surrogacy process from those who had been through it. Once Max was born, we were asked to return to the group, this time as the speakers instead of as the listeners. I blogged about that meeting here. I can’t believe that it has been almost a year since we first spoke to the group. So much has transpired!

As some of you might recall from that post, when we were asked to talk to the group last year I was very concerned about what Max was going to wear. We were introducing Max to a room full of very discerning gay men, so I wanted Max to wear a hip outfit; but, at the same time they were the wannabe dad kind of gay men, so I didn’t want Max to look too hip. In short, it was complicated! A year later, though, the only criteria I have for his outfit is that it be clean and have minimal stains. Actually, that’s not as easy as it sounds since we’re talking about a 14 month old here!

On a more serious note, Stewart and I are thrilled to have the opportunity again to discuss our experiences because we are big advocates of the method we chose to create our family: independent traditional surrogacy. Plus, our enthusiasm for this choice has grown even greater over the past year due to the amazing relationship we’ve maintained with our surrogate, Christie, and her family, as well as the other family that Christie conceived and carried a child for via traditional surrogacy (a beautiful little girl named Georgia who you can read more about here). Last year we could only tell the group about the type of relationships that we hoped to keep with these families. This year we can tell them about our actual experiences, which I think is the best evidence possible for why couples looking to start a family via surrogacy should at least seriously consider taking the independent, traditional route.

Stewart and I pursued independent traditional surrogacy (where the surrogate is both the egg donor and carrier, who you find yourself) rather than gestational surrogacy (where you find a separate egg donor and carrier through a process usually arranged via a professional agency) for several reasons. We wanted to conceive with as few people involved as possible, to make an already complicated method of creating a family as uncomplicated as possible. We also wanted to develop a natural relationship with Max’s biological mother -- as opposed to choosing her from donor stat sheets -- and really get to know her. And it was important to us that Max not only know the identity of his surro-mom, but also that he grow up knowing her as a person.

Call me a crazy pessimist, but I believe that no matter how you raised, or raise, your kids, they are going to be angry at you for something. For Max, I much prefer that anger to be about mundane things like why he isn’t allowed to ride his bicycle without a helmet than about something as deeply felt and personal as his identity. Besides, Max should know the woman who has given our family the tremendous gift of its very being. So one of the main reasons we matched with Christie is because she was on the same page as us in this important regard. But while we all agreed on open, ongoing contact, we left unanswered what that meant. I don’t think any of us were really sure. We choose instead to let our new lives -- with Max suddenly a part of them -- tell us organically what felt right.

A while back Christie wrote a moving guest post about her experience as our surrogate, and in that post she described our relationship as an extended family. That truly is the best way to describe it, and is a term that not only describes the relationship that we have with her and her family, but also the one that we have with Georgia and her parents as well. Since Max was born, we have seen Christie and her family multiple times in multiple locales, including most recently on a beach vacation to Florida that also included Georgia’s family. Seeing the kids all together, happily playing, alone made it a wonderful trip.

with half-sis Georgia

And that is what strikes me most about our relationship with Christie and her family -- not the number of times that we have seen them, but that we are part of each other’s lives in such a natural, unforced way. During our regular workaday lives apart, if anyone in our families does something fun or interesting, we don’t hesitate to email or text each other about it on the spot, and maybe snap a photo to go along with it. And when we hang out together, we are all equally happy running around town with the kids or just sitting on the couch enjoying idle chit-chat while the kids romp around. In other words: normal family stuff. Normal, but incredibly special and extraordinary at the same time.

with half-bros Drew & Dean

If tonight Stewart and I can convey even a fraction of this wonderment to our surrogacy group, we just might convince some hopeful couples to see the potential that independent traditional surrogacy has to be a truly magical way to create a family.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Something Good

If you are even the most casual reader of this blog, you will know that here at Gaddy Daddy we believe that the concept of family contains multitudes. In that spirit, I am pleased to present the following post about the Fresh Air Fund. Through this amazing program, every summer nearly 10,000 New York City children from low-income communities spend a week or two of summertime bliss with volunteer host families from out of town who open up their hearts and homes to them. This summer the Fresh Air Fund is in need of 850 more families to sign up. If you, or someone you know, might be interested in participating in the program, please contact the Fresh Air Fund: here.

This post is authored by our good friend Joy, who has wowed us not once, but twice before at Gaddy Daddy with beautifully written, moving and eye-opening narratives about parenthood. It should come as no surprise that this inspirational post is yet another must read, well worth the time even if you are not able to support the cause.

Pam wasn’t writing that day, which was odd. She was the oldest woman in the class; the leader. With her gentle manner and calm demeanor, she often set the tone, and set an example for the younger students. With her on my side, I knew I had the respect of all the women in the room. But there she was, staring at her black-and-white composition book, pen lying flat on her desk, arms crossed defiantly across her chest.

I had given one notebook to each student at the start of class based on the specific instructions I received: no spiral-bound notebooks, as the spirals can be sharpened into weapons. No red notebooks, as red is a gang color. This class was being taught in prison, and prison rules are to be closely followed. I found that out the day I arrived to teach in a tank top. It was summer, over ninety-five degrees out. I knew I couldn’t wear green, as that was the color of the women’s uniforms. I knew I couldn’t wear open-toe shoes, in case there was a riot and I had to run. But I didn’t know tank tops were forbidden because they are apparently considered too sexy. I almost wasn’t allowed in that day, but after several guards conferred on the matter, I was permitted to teach my class.

That day, the day Pam wasn’t writing, I had asked the students to write about a time something good happened. I leaned over to Pam, who was sitting in her usual chair directly to my right.

“Are you stuck?” I whispered, so as not to disturb the other women, who were writing with bowed heads and expressions of concentration.

“Yeah,” she said, not looking up from her blank note book page. “I can’t think of anything good that ever happened.”

Pam had written about her childhood in previous classes. I knew she grew up sharing a room with her three sisters, sleeping two to a bed. I knew her mother was often harsh and occasionally abusive. I also knew Pam was in jail for a long sentence—25 years—and that she was nearing the end of her term. I also knew her crime: manslaughter. So I knew Pam hadn’t had many good things happen to her. But even the darkest lives usually have moments, sometimes very small moments, of light.

“It doesn’t have to be a big thing,” I said softly. “It can be a really small good thing. Maybe something that surprised you?”

Pam bit on the end of her pen and I looked at her. It was really hard to tell how old Pam was, or how old any of the women were. Stripped of makeup, jewelry, or their normal clothing—everyone was in army-green uniforms—all of the women appeared younger than they were. There were a few girls in the class who appeared like teenagers, and I was shocked to find out, through their writing, that they were in their late twenties.

Then Pam started to write. “I thought of something,” she said. “Something good. Really good.”

After about fifteen minutes, I told the students to finish their last sentence so we’d have time to hear a few people read before the end of class. I was used to teaching homeless teens, who often had to be coaxed to write even a few lines. But my students at the prison seemed to be able to write all night. I think they liked the calm environment of class, the normalcy of sitting in a room with desks and bulletin boards. Usually the room I taught in was used for GED. The papers tacked to the bulletin board, some with stickers and smiley faces, make the room look like a fourth-grade classroom. In that room, it was easy to forget my students were incarcerated; that at the end of the evening I would walk out the door and eat a slice of pizza on my way home, while they would be escorted back to their small locked rooms.

I’m not na├»ve. I know some of these women committed serious crimes. But I also strongly believe that many of them were victims of the circumstances in which they grew up, rife with poverty and violence. Many of them wrote about the abuse they suffered, both physical and sexual. We often spoke about anger; what to do with it, how to both honor the very real reasons they had to be angry, yet not let anger overpower them into making bad decisions and getting into trouble. I tried to help them see they could respect their anger by putting it on the page, by writing about it. In that way they could get their anger out, but not in a way that would hurt themselves or others. One woman in class was reluctant to write about the abuse she had suffered, even when I told her she could write about it, then rip the page out of her notebook and throw it away. I kept thinking she was afraid that someone would see her writing, but finally she admitted that she was afraid to see it herself. “If I see it, then I have to believe it,” she had said. “And I still don’t want to believe it.”

When time came for the students to read that day, Pam volunteered. As she started reading, it was almost like she retreated into the past. The details she remembered made it seem like she was writing about something that had happened the day before, not in 1967.

As a child, Pam had asthma, and on the advice of a doctor, who thought getting out of the city would help her breathing, Pam’s mother signed her up for the Fresh Air Fund. Not any of her sisters; just Pam. She remembered everything about the morning she left for her first-ever summer vacation. Pam was six years old. She and her mother got up very early in the morning and took a subway to Penn Station. Pam was not scared at all; even when the time came to say goodbye to her mother. She was completely ready for departure, for freedom.

Pam wrote about waiting with the other children for the train, the kind of sandwich she ate while she waited, and transferring from the train to a bus to go even further away from the city. She didn’t sleep at all even though she had awoken much earlier than usual—she didn’t want to shut her eyes because she refused to miss a single moment of looking out the window at grass, trees, and open space. It was the first time she had even seen these things, aside from city parks. And she was transfixed.

A big surprise came when the bus finally stopped in Maine. Pam thought she was going to a Fresh Air Fund camp, but in fact she and the other children on her bus were going to spend a few weeks with families. Pam remembered the shock of seeing so many white, smiling faces coming to retrieve so many small, black children. Pam didn’t know many white people back in the city, and those she had met had never seemed too happy to see her. Some kids from the bus cried, but not Pam. She happily joined her host family—a mom, a dad, and three children, all around Pam’s age.

In the following weeks of class, I urged Pam to continue to write about her experience with this family. I learned that her time spent with them was the happiest time in her entire life; that she returned to spend summers with them for many years, and that she is still in touch with the children, who are now grown-up. Pam also told me that she wrote about her time with the Fresh Air Fund one Thanksgiving as part of a writing contest, and her piece was chosen as the winner. I believe Pam said her mother used the prize money to buy Thanksgiving dinner for the family.

Sadly, the cycle of classes I was teaching ended before Pam could finish her story. I urged her to continue on with it, and I hope she did.

I also hope those of you reading this who live outside of New York City will consider hosting a child through the Fresh Air Fund. By doing so, you have the opportunity to provide an inner-city child with what may turn out to be the happiest memories of his or her life. 850 host families are still needed for this summer, and all types of families are welcome to participate. To learn more, click here

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wedding March

As most of you are probably aware, my home state of New York recently passed a bill granting gay couples the right to marry. Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law late Friday night, June 24th, which (wholly coincidentally) was perfect timing to kick off New York City’s gay pride weekend, which always takes place over the last weekend in June. Stewart and I are already legally married, thanks to our northern neighbors in Canada, but nevertheless we were absolutely thrilled that the state will finally recognize our marriage, and that it will allow thousands of other gay couples to plan and hold their own dream wedding in our hometown. 

Like most gay New Yorkers, as soon as we heard the news that the marriage bill would pass the state senate, we knew instantly where the party would commence -- at the iconic Greenwich Village gay bar: the Stonewall Inn. That is where the gay civil rights struggle for equality unofficially began, in the form of a skirmish between its gay patrons and police over their unwarranted raid of the bar back in late June 1969 -- hence the city’s gay pride parade taking place in late June ever since to commemorate that special night of defiance. So of course it being gay pride weekend, and another historic night being upon us, the Stonewall Inn was everyone’s instant destination.

Stonewall Inn riot
Unless, of course, you are a gay couple caring for a sleeping one year old. Stewart and I couldn’t make it to the Stonewall Inn that night for that obvious reason. That made it particularly important to us to make it to the pride parade to take place down 5th Avenue that following Sunday afternoon, so that we could have our moment of celebration too. To be honest, in the pre-Max years this parade was not all that important to us. Our focus that day instead had been on an annual brunch that we traditionally had for friends at our apartment before the parade, and to the bar-hopping festivities that commence after the parade has wound down. Due to Max being in our lives, we haven’t had our gay pride brunch for the past two years, and last year Max was too tiny for the parade.

Between the historic nature of the marriage equality bill having just passed, and Max now being old enough to marvel at all of the sights and sounds of the city, we were determined to get to the parade this year, and luckily we had some very good couple friends with us to join us (one of whom are getting married next month themselves!). Like past years, this year we didn’t stay at the parade for long, but that didn’t prevent me from getting all teary-eyed once we arrived, which believe it or not is very unusual for me. Right as we showed up, with Max on my shoulders, we saw Governor Cuomo march past. The crowd cheered louder than I’ve ever heard them, because everybody knew that not only did he sign the marriage equality bill into law, he was the key supporter who risked his political capital to make sure the bill passed the republican-controlled state senate. No previous democratic governor had put forth that effort or achieved that result -- even when the senate was controlled by fellow democrats.

Gov. Cuomo and other supportive pols marching in the parade

And if the raucous cheers in recognition of his heroic efforts weren’t enough to get me choked up, the “It Gets Better” project was marching right behind the governor, followed by the Trevor Project (a national organization providing crisis and suicide prevention services to LGBT youth).  It is no surprise that these floats were linked to Cuomo and his accomplishment. After all, marriage equality is a very tangible sign that life does “get better” for the LGBT community, and hopefully LGBT youth witnessing first-hand their state government beginning to treat gay relationships with as much respect as their straight counterparts will give them the courage to live open and proud lives.

Max and his daddy taking in the festivities
And I was particularly thrilled to watch the parade, with all that it symbolized this year, with Max on my shoulders watching along with me. Because I realized that Max will now blissfully get to grow up never knowing a time in his life when his parents’ marriage wasn’t official or wasn’t recognized by the state. This is one aspect of our lives that we’re happy to be perfectly banal in the eyes of our son.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Southern Comfort

This summer is flying by so fast! It has already been a couple of weeks since we returned from our vacation. We spent five days on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and two in Savannah, Georgia. The last time Stewart and I were away for a week was a year and a half ago, when Max was not yet in the picture. Obviously, a vacation with Max is much different than one with just the two of us. The biggest difference is in the type of vacation we chose to take. We enjoy the beach, but we usually tend to go on active vacations, where we do a lot of hiking and exploring. But with Max, we were more than happy to just chill out by the pool and visit the beach once in a while. We actually spent more time on the beach than we thought we would, because surprisingly Max wasn’t into eating the sand (as opposed to rocks, twigs, and leaves, all of which he’d stuff into his mouth with abandon if given the chance!)

Having just returned from a vacation in the South, many people have asked us about how our “alternative” family was perceived down there. We weren’t too concerned about it in planning our trip, or otherwise we wouldn’t have gone. Stewart and I try to be optimistic and not pre-judge strangers who come into contact with us as a family. Living in worry and fear of the worst is not a good way to live life, nor is it a good example to set for Max. And I was pleased to be able to tell those who asked that in both Hilton Head and Savannah everyone we encountered was very nice to our family. Not only that, but many of the people we met were very enthusiastic about Max (I hope it is not getting to his head!) For example, by the end of our stay in Hilton Head, practically everyone hanging out by the pool knew Max and wanted to interact with him.

Our "Big Squirt" on the hotel pool deck

There were a few awkward moments from the trip that jump out -- mainly (and thankfully) due to their rarity. These occurred when we encountered people who did not know what to make of our family structure, or perhaps were simply in denial about it. At the hotel breakfast buffet in Hilton Head, on two different mornings with two different waitresses, Stewart and I were asked if we needed separate checks. It wasn’t like one of us was solely taking care of Max during breakfast, while the other one read the paper or sat ten feet away; we were both clearly parenting Max throughout the breakfasts (mainly, imploring him to eat the banana and not to squish it between his fingers or throw it on the floor!) We never heard them ask any man and woman with a child if they wanted separate checks, and never in New York have we been asked that question when out at a restaurant with Max. So culture clash seems like the most likely explanation.

Another awkward -- but more funny -- moment came when one time our family was getting out of the hotel elevator and a woman with a strong Southern accent asked Stewart and me if: “y’all are brothers, because your noses look similar.” I replied that we are definitely not brothers! Besides both of us being white guys of approximately the same height, I don’t think we look that similar.

But perhaps the most bizarre encounter came in Savannah. Stewart, Max and I were at a park and Stewart was insisting on taking a photo (per usual). A batty old woman approached us and asked us if we would like her to take a photo with all three of us in it. I whispered to Stewart that maybe we should decline because the woman seemed a little off of her rocker, but Stewart said that he didn’t care: “a photo is a photo and getting one with all three of us in it isn’t always easy.” So we had the woman take the photo, and as she handed the camera back to us, she said, pointing first at Stewart, then at me, and lastly at Max: “Let me guess: grandfather, father, son.” A smile must have crept onto my face at her crazy proclamation, because the woman got excited and said: “I knew I was right!” and wandered off as we stood there in silent amazement. Despite my smile I felt a little bad. While Stewart is older than me, as I remind him of often, he is only older by eight months and hardly looks like anyone’s grandfather. I tried to console Stewart by telling him that the woman probably thought I looked about 20 years old, meaning she wouldn’t have been that far off in estimating his age if he had had kids young, as they are wont to do in the South. Stewart wasn’t buying it. I can’t say I blame him. If this had happened in reverse, and she thought I was the grandfather, I probably wouldn’t be blogging this story (or if I did I wouldn’t be laughing while typing it up!) Fortunately Stewart has a great sense of humor about it in retrospect.

Me, Max and "Grandpa" in Savannah

When the most awkward family situations are the funny, innocuous ones I’ve just described, you know we had a great vacation among great people. Who knows what prior beliefs some of the people we met had about gay people, or about gay people getting married and having kids. But I’d like to think that their experience of having met us and Max, and seeing that we are just another young(ish) family trying to enjoy a nice vacation, either made them realize -- or solidified their pre-existing belief -- that we should be welcomed into their tourist towns with the same famed Southern hospitality they offer up to everybody else. That’s how we felt when down there and we’d go back to both spots.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chucking the Checklist

Max is at an intermediate stage of his development, stuck between being a baby and a toddler, and therefore the people we meet out and about are no longer satisfied just by learning Max’s age. They also want to know what developmental milestones he’s reached. So after they ask how old he is, the next question (usually one of several) is “Is he walking yet?” And I know I’m not alone in getting this question. My friend who has a kid three days older than Max complains that her doorman asks every other day if her kid is walking yet. My advice to her is: threaten to withhold his holiday tip if he asks again! In all seriousness, the questioners are usually well-intentioned, and I don’t think they mean to be annoying to the parent who has to respond to the same inquiries time and again . . . but, let’s face it, the questions do get tiresome.

So I try to get over the topic as soon as possible, getting all the info out to them in one fell swoop -- something like: “Nope. My kid is not walking yet, not saying any words yet, or recognizing any parts of his body yet; but . . . he is truly advanced in the teeth department!” My response is intended to be informative, but also, by bringing up Max’s dental accomplishments, hopefully hints at how silly I think the whole comparison game is for kids whose ages are still measured in months. Basically I’m saying to these people in a joking way: Unless your kid, grandkid, or whoever else you’re comparing my Maxxie to, has or had four front and bottom teeth, plus two molars, already in at 13 months old, you’re no one to talk comparisons with my child!

While I like to think of myself as pretty mellow when it comes to assessing whether Max’s development is keeping up with that of his friends’, I do have my slip-ups when my competitive streak slips out. One of Max’s playmates, who is six weeks older than Max and seems advanced in all of the main developmental yardsticks, for several months now has been able to point to his nose and ears when prompted. So, shortly before Max’s birthday, I couldn’t help myself but to test him for this skill . . . with no success. At Max’s 12 month visit with his pediatrician, I casually mentioned to him that Max is not able to recognize his body parts. The pediatrician responded by looking straight at Max and asking: “Max, you are not a trained seal, are you?” Point made, and naturally that humbled me and reminded me that my instincts about how silly all these developmental comparisons can be was spot on in the first place.

A couple of weeks later, my same friend with the inquisitive doorman mentioned that she visited the American Academy of Pediatrics website to look up developmental milestones for one year olds. As is human nature, she immediately focused only on the ones that her kid wasn’t doing yet:

• Says “dada” and “mama”

• Uses exclamations, such as “oh-oh!”

• Tries to imitate words

Of course Max wasn’t doing any of these things either. And, unfortunately, the number of teeth that a child has did not make the Academy’s list! To try to reassure my friend, I told her that Max was in the same boat as her kid. I was all nonchalant, like: “Why are you looking these things up? You are only setting yourself up for disappointment. These developmental steps will happen when they happen.” I truly believe that to be the right attitude to take -- but of course in my pep talk to her I omitted the part about my own recent neuroses in this area that I had displayed in my nervous questioning of Max’s pediatrician about his nose-pointing deficiencies.

All this said, I’m not trying to downplay the enjoyment parents do and should feel when kids reach developmental milestones. I am enjoying watching each of Max’s friends develop on their own time. It’s exciting to see the ones that have begun to take their first steps. It’s like they are drunken soldiers! Of course, I enjoy seeing Max develop the most, and he is truly at a great age for it. At the moment, Max is standing up on his own for up to 15 to 20 seconds (at the longest) before he topples over or sits himself down. It’s really cute to watch, and particularly because he is so proud of himself when he does it!

Max standing (daddy method)

And, as an example that most babies eventually do develop the skills set forth for them on all the checklists out there -- sort of -- in just the past week, when I ask Max where his nose is . . . he points to mine. It is so adorable, and at least he is pointing to someone’s nose when prompted! Needless to say, I’ll take it. Max is pretty perfect in my book and it’s very easy for me to be proud of whatever he accomplishes, whenever it happens and whether or not it is on somebody else’s checklist.

Max standing (chair method)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

When Three's a Crowd

Naturally in any triangle of human relationships someone is bound to feel left out. When it came to my relationship with Stewart and Max, however, it never crossed my mind that this concept would directly apply to me! When I am alone with Max he gazes at me like I am his one and only. But whenever Stewart enters the room, I suddenly become chopped liver in Max’s eyes and he only has time for his papa. At first, I championed Max’s fondness for Stewart. I loved that Max would smile, get all giddy, and make his way immediately over to Stewart when he came home from work. First off, Stewart is an excellent dad and deserves all the recognition that Max can give him. Secondly, it is an easy way to pass Max off to Stewart at the end of the day so that I can have some time for myself.

Over the past month or so though I’ve lost my benevolent attitude towards Max’s behavior, because his preference for Stewart has grown beyond my limits! These days, when Stewart tries to hand Max over to me after they have spent time together, Max starts wailing and reaching out for his papa. When Max is with me in one room of the apartment, and knows that Stewart is somewhere else in the apartment, he will crawl his way to whatever room Stewart is in. And there is a game that Max likes to play that is particularly disheartening. When Max is being held by Stewart and people come up to them -- family members, friends or even random strangers -- Max will reach out his hands, motioning them to take him from Stewart; but, just as they are about to do so, Max turns into a big tease, yanking his hands away and turning in the opposite direction. I used to think this game was sort of entertaining, until I became the main target!

I will admit that my feelings get hurt, especially given that I am the stay-at-home parent who spends all day with the kid, entertaining him, feeding him, changing his diapers, soothing him and looking after his many other needs. I had been in a complete state of denial that Max would ever favor one of his parents over the other -- but especially over me given how much of this daily love and sacrifice I dispense! I mean, come on folks, how many kids get to spend their days with a cool fun dad like me?!

Fortunately, Max’s favoritism of Stewart is not personal, but rather a perfectly normal phase of childhood. In a recent poll at, more than 90 percent of mothers and fathers said that their children favored one parent over the other at some point.  Indeed, favoritism is considered healthy behavior for an emerging toddler. According to Parenting magazine:
Playing favorites is actually a sign of emotional and cognitive growth. It helps your child explore relationships and intimacy, exercise her decision-making skills, and assert her independence.
It is also not unusual for a one year old to favor the working parent, who is not with the child all day, over the stay at home parent. In other words, all of my nurturing of Max that I thought would beholden him to me is apparently working against me! Basically, he’s taken me for granted – a good way for a baby to feel, for sure. Stewart, meanwhile, leaves Max at least every weekday morning, so Max is naturally more clingy to him when he is around, since Stewart’s companionship is not as much of a given in Max’s mind.

I’ve also learned that a child will go through phases of favoring one parent for a spell, and then switching 180 degrees and preferring the other parent instead. For example, check out these mothers in an on-line parenting forum complaining about their husbands being favored when their kids were one year olds, and the encouragement back from other moms to wait it out because soon enough the shoe will be on the other foot!  And I have to admit that this has been our experience. When Max was three or four months old, Stewart used to come home from work and complain that Max would only look at me and not him. I would say I think you’re imagining things, but secretly I was a little happy about it since I was spending all this time with Max and appreciated the recognition from him.

I hope Stewart is more mature than me and is not secretly enjoying the current period of time of being the favorite, however long it might be. Because it isn’t fun. Despite knowing in my head all that I mentioned above about why I shouldn’t feel shame about being the odd man out with Max, I still do. I am not exactly sure why, but it is probably because I spend most of my days with Max and still feel a little rejected by him. All I can tell myself is that just as it is a natural phase for him to sometimes act as he does, it is also natural for me to sometimes feel disheartened by it. But I am not complaining, because one thing that is constant throughout all of Max’s temporary phases is how much I love him, and how much I know he loves me back.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Complete Tales of Stew and Pooh

In my last post I wrote about Max’s affection for board books, and promised a future post about our favorite books to read together. But one book stands out so much that I thought it made sense to dedicate an entire post to it.

As you can surmise from the post’s title, I’m talking about Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh and I have had a long relationship. I was a dreamy child who would happily while away countless hours alone in my bedroom concocting elaborate interactions among my dozens of stuffed animals. They all had names and they all liked to play games with me. But first of course they had to go to school, which consisted of rows of desks I fashioned from hardcover books laid sidewise. They each had homework that they wrote on scraps of paper that they kept under the front covers of their desks. I was the teacher and homework-grader, and while some of the stuffed animals were better students than others, they loved school and their teacher and they especially loved recess.

So naturally as a young child I gravitated to books about personified animals. I loved The Velveteen Rabbit, The Wind and the Willows, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and of course Winnie-the-Pooh. I certainly related to Winnie-the-Pooh’s Christopher Robin, who in the books bemusedly oversees the foibles of his menagerie of stuffed animals and is always there to swoop in at the last moment to extract them from their usually self-made predicaments. I was the Christopher Robin for my own collection of stuffed animals and they were just as lovable and prone to pickles as Pooh, Piglet, Roo, Tigger and the other animals roaming Hundred Acre Wood. (As an aside, I will admit that I was completely confused as a child as to why Christopher Robin wore a blouse and wore Mary Janes on his feet. I couldn’t decide if it was more likely that a girl was named Christopher or that a boy actually dressed and went out in public like that!)

While, like any child, I eventually outgrew Winnie-the-Pooh, the series has periodically re-surfaced in my life in delightfully unexpected ways.

When I was in high-school I took a class about the world religions. The teacher took great pains to tout the wisdom of the Eastern religions to us over what he considered to be the oppressive nature of the Western religions -- much to the consternation of his entirely Judeo-Christian class of students, who had yet to reach the level of maturity required to appreciate the pedagogical benefits of an alternative point of view. We thought he was a witch-doctor. In that class our teacher introduced us to the Tao of Pooh, a book by Benjamin Hoff that endeavors to introduce the principles of Taoism to Westerners through the accessible vehicle of the Winnie-the-Pooh series. As explained by Wiki:

Hoff uses many of Milne's characters to symbolize ideas that differ from or accentuate Taoist tenets. Winnie-the-Pooh himself, for example, personifies the principles of wei wu wei, the Taoist concept of "effortless doing," and pu, the concept of being open to but unburdened by experience. In contrast, characters like Owl and Rabbit over-complicate problems, often over-thinking to the point of confusion, and Eeyore pessimistically complains and frets about existence, unable to just be. Hoff regards Pooh's simpleminded nature, unsophisticated worldview and instinctive problem-solving methods as conveniently representative of the Taoist philosophical foundation.

Who knew? Given that my world religions class was in a permanent state of near-rebellion, assigning the class the Tao of Pooh was a brilliant move by our teacher. What teenager could resist reading Winnie the Pooh at the dinner table and sassing back to his exasperated parents that he’s simply finishing his homework?

But my academic foray into the House at Pooh Corner did not stop there. In college I took a small freshman seminar on existential literature. We read Sartre and his lover de Bouvier; we read Camus. The class just screamed “college” and I loved it. For our final paper we were tasked with applying existential theories to some form of popular art. One classmate applied existentialism to Pink Floyd’s The Wall; another to Madonna’s “Material Girl” video. I applied it to Winnie-the-Pooh -- or, more specifically, a poem by A.A. Milne that featured the classic Winnie-the-Pooh characters. (Sadly I cannot remember the title or find it on-line). My paper was ominously called “Childhood: Enter at Your Own Risk,” and was about how while the popular conception of childhood is of care-free frivolity, in actuality, for the child, it is an anxious time of fear and uncertainty -- and thus childhood is like existential literature (cue eye-roll, I know, but work with me here!) Exhibit A for my paper was a Milne poem from a dusty tome I found in the Vanderbilt University library in which the Pooh characters were experiencing their typical angst over some pickle they had gotten themselves into. The kicker was that the poem ended with the characters bemoaning their fate and how they wish Christopher Robin would come bail them out . . . but the poem just ends and he never shows up! (Just like Waiting for Godot!). You’ll have to trust me, but the paper was brilliant and I got an A.

Fast forward to commencement weekend 3 years later. My roommate and I are in our room packing up our gear to head home. Lo and behold on my bookshelf I find the very book of poetry that I had checked out freshman year and that naturally had never made its way back to the library. Upon seeing it, I bragged to my roommate about the wildly successful Pooh paper I wrote freshman year, and cracked open the book to show it to him. My roommate began reading the poem, with me reading over his shoulder, and when he got to the end of it he tried to turn the page -- but it was a little stuck to the next page. He slid his pinkie in-between, dislodging them, and flipped over the page. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the poem continued on the other side! I had completely missed the final stanza due to the sticky page! I read along with him in dawning horror as the poem concluded with Christopher Robin indeed coming to the rescue of his little animal friends. In other words, the poem that I had proudly made the centerpiece of my freshman paper about the hopelessness of childhood completely undermined its central thesis. Not to mention that I had defrauded my professor. My A grade instantly turned from a source of pride into a mockery. I was seriously unnerved, as I was graduating that weekend with honors in English and a not small part of my self-esteem at the time was wrapped up in this accomplishment. My roommate just laughed. He was a mechanical engineer. Coincidentally, the English Department was having a cocktail party that evening for all of the senior classes’ English majors and their families. I knew my seminar professor was going to be there and I debated whether or not to tell him. I hadn’t officially graduated yet. Could he change my grade ex post facto? Strip me of my honors? Prevent me from graduating? Absurd through and through, of course. My professor was an incredibly nice man and would have gotten a kick out of it. But still . . . I didn’t tell him.

Now fast-forward 15 years. Your surrogate is pregnant with your child and suggests that you and your husband read aloud to the fetus. A natural reaction to this suggestion might have been, “Say What?” Mine was: Let’s choose Winnie-the-Pooh! You see, we learned very early on in our journey with our surrogate Christie that she knows what she is talking about when it comes to pregnancy (and a lot of other things) that we just . . . don’t know. Christie told us that our baby could hear voices from the outside world starting around six months in utero, and would be able to recognize them once he was born.  So she suggested that we tape ourselves reading a book that she could then periodically play aloud for the baby for the remainder of her pregnancy so that he would feel comfortable with our voices once he was born.

It was a very sweet and thoughtful gesture that Jacob and I enthusiastically embraced. We bought the Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, a digital recorder, and -- get this -- “belly buds” for Christie, which are headphones designed specifically to be adhesed to a pregnant woman’s stomach so that the sound from them is targeted directly into the womb. Seriously. I have learned not to be surprised by anything I see that is marketed towards hormonal pregnant women. That Christie humored us and agreed to use them should alone qualify her for sainthood!

Jacob and I had a great time taking turns reading Winnie-the-Pooh to Max via a digital recorder and emailing the files down to Atlanta for Christie to download onto her ipod. I got surprisingly emotional during the process, and several times had to stop the tapings. Even though Max was over 700 miles away, reading to him was an incredibly intimate experience and brought Max right into our apartment with us. I felt like a parent for the first time, and that is a feeling that Jacob and I had been dreaming about for a long time. That Max’s very first story from his daddies was Winnie-the-Pooh completes a special circle for me that started when I was a little child with a room full of stuffed animals. I know I’ll be romping in Pooh’s Hundred Acre Woods with Max for many years to come, and I hope he gets as much out of the series as I have.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Number Sixteen

My good friend Joy wrote one of the most popular -- and important -- posts to be featured on Gaddy Daddy, so it was a no-brainer to invite her back to share more of her insights on parenting.  Naturally, her new post is once again beautifully written and thought-provoking.  Thanks Joy, and to my readers: enjoy it!

When I went into labor, I packed a bag full of entirely useless things: a few of my nicer maternity outfits to wear at the hospital when guests came to visit; makeup, so I’d look my best in the first picture of me with my son; shampoo for the shower. Needless to say to anyone who has ever had a baby, I didn’t use any of these items. I did not change out of the hospital gown until I went home, and if I could have worn it on the streets of New York City and into the car, I would have. Not only did I not wear makeup in the hospital, my mascara had dried up by the time I unscrewed the cap again months later. As for the shampoo, I didn’t shower for nearly a week, and from the look of my fellow patients on the maternity ward, neither did they. I could hardly stand upright, let alone consider washing myself. And after a while, my hair was so dirty that it naturally molded itself into a ponytail on top of my head. I hardly even needed a rubber band.

I did bring one right thing, though: my grandmother’s diamond earrings. I put them on before I left for the hospital, and I wore them for nearly the entire year after my son was born. Before becoming a mother, I was a dangly-earring kind of person. Because I’m tall with a long neck, I always thought larger earrings helped balance me out. And even though I knew a newborn wouldn’t have the coordination to reach up and pull a big earring, it just seemed more practical to wear studs. I think it also occurred to me that my grandmother’s earrings might bring me some of the strength for which she was renowned.

My grandmother was not a “grandmother” in the traditional baking-cookies sense. And by that I mean that she did not like children. It wasn’t something her ten grandchildren were meant to take personally; from my mother’s reports, she hadn’t particularly liked her four daughters when they were children, either. “I think she liked me better when I got a driver’s license,” my mother has told me. “Because then I could be useful to her.”

My grandmother wasn’t a mean or neglectful mother; she just wasn’t particularly warm and cuddly. She didn’t negotiate with children; her word was the final word. My mother and her twin sister were dressed identically until they were fourteen years old, despite their different heights, appearances, and tastes. They were not allowed to have their own friends because once while my mother was on a playdate, my aunt cried for the entire time she was gone. My mother has told me many times that she would sit at the piano practicing for hours while my grandmother was in another room, presumably listening. My mother would call out, “Was that good, Mommy? Was that good?” hoping for the praise that rarely came.

My grandmother was entirely unsentimental. She thought toys were dust collectors, and when my mother and her twin sister were ten years old, she forced them to give their prized china dolls to their young niece. My cousin Marcy had no interest in dolls; she was a horse girl. My mother mourned the loss of her beloved Linda, whose lashed eyes closed when you tilted her back and who said “Mama” when you tiled her upright. My mother’s own grandmother, who was the warm and cuddly type, had made a wardrobe of clothes for Linda, which my mother packed up one day at her mother’s order, along with Linda, to give to Marcy. I can only imagine that my mother (also the warm and cuddly type) was devastated to part with Linda, and her pain was compounded when, a few weeks later, on a visit to my cousin’s house, she found Linda lying in the front yard. Linda was naked and her china face was cracked because she had been left out in the sun.

Given these and other stories about what I perceived to be my grandmother’s heartlessness (Pinky, my mother’s pink bear that went missing one day, blamed on the housekeeper; the Ginny doll, there one morning and gone when my mother returned home from school), and my own experiences with her when I was a child (which largely consisted of her coming to visit on weekends and going shopping with my mother while I was left at home with my grandfather, who chain-smoked and watched the Red Sox at top volume), I had never really sought to emulate her. But now that I have become a parent, I find myself doing just that.

My grandmother never freaked out. Ever. She rarely if ever complained. She was rock solid. My grandmother was honest. She told it like it was; she didn’t worry about other people’s feelings, even though sometimes her directness hurt people. One time it hurt me. I was riding in the car with my parents and my grandmother when I was in college. My grandmother was talking about the beauty of a cousin of mine. “My Joy is beautiful, too,” my mother said, to stroke my ego, or her own. It was meant to be a rhetorical statement, but my grandmother didn’t let it go. “No,” she said, shaking her head back and forth. “Joy has other attributes, but Rachel is the beautiful one.” She didn’t seem to realize—or care—that I was right there, in the seat behind her. My grandmother didn’t say things just to be nice. She said what she believed. To my mother, beauty is the ultimate goal. “You look like a model,” is her highest praise. To my grandmother, beauty is just one thing a person may or may not have.

When a member of the family was going through a hard time, my mother would often tell me she and her sisters had decided not to tell my grandmother, in order to spare her the worry. I always thought the energy they put into protecting my grandmother was wasted. It wasn’t that she didn’t care about us; she just didn’t express that care by agonizing.

When she was older and started experiencing health problems, I would often ask her how she was feeling. Ask my mother or me how we are feeling when we’re unwell and you’re in for a detailed explanation of our symptoms, what the specialists say, what treatments we have done and what we plan to do next, and so forth. But my grandmother never provided much detail. “I’m doing what the doctors tell me to do, dear,” she would say. And then she’d move on.

Moving on was, in my opinion, the key to her longevity. She lived into her nineties. She never had a career. She didn’t have many hobbies, although when she was younger, she had knit each of her daughters a blanket (same pattern, different colors). Ours was brown, yellow, and orange. For some reason, it always surprised me to see its red, white, and blue twin at my aunt’s house.

She wasn’t a particularly effervescent person, but she wasn’t a morose person either. She was consistent and steady. She liked what she liked: round tables at restaurants so she could see everybody; hair pulled back from the faces of her granddaughters; lipstick, both on herself and on all other women; butterscotch candies; really hot tea.

Last week I removed by grandmother’s earrings from my ears and put them back in the cloth-covered red box in which they were given to me. I replaced them with little silver circles, also studs. They were a Mothers’ Day present, and I think I’ll wear them almost every day for the next year, maybe longer. They’re more “me” than the diamonds were, really. But I’m glad I was wearing my grandmother’s diamonds when my son came into the world. He would have been her sixteenth great-grandchild (she called them her “grands”). She softened in her older age and to her grands, she was kinder and more accessible. They even called her “Grammy,” which always struck me as odd since she was really more of a “Grandma,” or even “Grandmother.” I think if she had lived to see number sixteen’s heart-melting smile, it would have melted her heart, even just a little.

My son is just about to turn one year old, and I hope as he grows I can weave some of my grandmother’s fortitude into my own parenting style. I don’t think I’ll ever make him give away his beloved stuffed dog Woof Woof, but I want to be strong for him. Unbreakable.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Talking Q-Talk

A couple of Saturdays ago, my friend Frank, who is trying to have a baby via surrogacy, told me that he was going to Q-Talk. It’s a monthly late-night gay-centered talk show at The Metropolitan Room, a small cabaret spot on West 22nd Street in Manhattan. This month’s topic was perfect for Frank: LGBT Parenting through surrogacy. Of course it was also of interest for me, but to be honest, my main motivation in wanting to go was simply getting out of the house Stewart worked that Saturday, and after being with Max all day I was ready for a change of pace. Before Frank could even extend me an offer, I invited myself to join him!

I was new to Q-Talk and didn’t know what to expect. It turns out I was in the minority about that. A good-sized crowd of 40 to 50 people showed up, and when they were asked if they had attended Q-Talk before, an overwhelming majority raised their hands. The crowd seemed to be made up of mostly gay men and a sprinkling of women. The other thing I immediately noticed is that there didn’t seem to be many parents in the audience. This should be quite interesting, I thought!

The show’s guests were John Weltman, a gay dad and president and founder of Circle Surrogacy (an agency that helps infertile and gay couples have kids via gestational surrogacy), and Tony Brown, a gay dad featured in the CNN documentary Gary And Tony Have A Baby, about the journey he and his husband Gary took towards having their baby via gestational surrogacy. Since Frank and I are both fairly educated on the topic of surrogacy, and have met John and Tony before, their ensuing discussion that night wasn’t very illuminating for us, at least as far as surrogacy is concerned. We did, however, both find it amusing when John mentioned how, while he enjoyed very much the documentary and how it portrayed Tony and Gary’s journey to parenthood, he did have one serious beef with it. The show mentions at least ten times throughout that Tony and Gary used an agency to help them with the surrogacy process, but never once mentions the name of the agency. Why did John care? Of course because the agency Tony and Gary used was none other than John’s own agency, Circle Surrogacy!

While we didn’t learn much new about surrogacy that night, the show was hardly a disappointment, in large part due to a surprise guest. John brought his 15 year old son with him to the show. I don’t know many gay parents to begin with, but none of the ones that I do know has teenagers already. Because we all know that those can be difficult years for any parents, I am very interested in hearing what teens of gay parents have to say about their experiences growing up in that household, and also in seeing how they interact with their parents. John’s son spoke to the Q-Talk audience that night, and I was very impressed with how articulate and open he was about his family life. Just as I had hoped and expected, he was a typical 15 year old – a kid who liked to give his dad a hard time, but in a fun-loving way. He seemed content and comfortable in his own skin, which can’t be easy for someone his age in a room full of strangers who are prying into his family life. Most importantly, I could tell that he was proud of his dad and that they enjoyed a strong, loving bond. Oh, and to top it off, the kid was funny too. When an audience member asked him what it was like having two dads, he replied that it was pretty awesome. Why? Because he can leave the toilet seat up without anyone in the household getting mad at him!

Thankfully Max is a long way away from being a teenager, and since the country is continually improving in how it treats its gay citizens, hopefully by the time Max hits those years the environment for gay-lead families will be more welcoming than it is today. But it was certainly nice to see from John’s son at Q-Talk that even now, what there is still a lot of work to be done in this area, there are teenagers out there being raised by gay parents who are just what any parents would wish their children to be: happy, loving and well-adjusted, with just enough back-talk and humor thrown in to keep things interesting!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Break

I have never yearned for spring more than this one. As all of you reading this in the Northeast know, it was a rough winter. And long. I thought that Day Light Savings Time signified that spring was just around the corner, but only now, over a month later, is the weather finally coinciding with the time of year. Of course it doesn’t help that I am simply not a winter person, and it seems that every year I complain about the cold weather more and more. I can be overheard to say on more than one occasion each winter that one day we need to move somewhere warmer; but, besides having most of our family and friends here, we love New York and couldn’t imagine raising Max anywhere else. I guess that means I’m resigned to bitch about winter for many years to come!

What made this winter tough wasn’t just it being frigid and long, but that it meant more often than not being cooped up in the apartment with Max. You see, before Max I was never known to be a homebody. And, and since Max was a spring baby, I didn’t have to become a homebody after his birth. Until early November of last year, I spent most of my days with him out of house, and much of that time we stayed outdoors. I strolled Max on long walks, pushed him in the bucket swing at the play ground (after he was 3 or 4 months old), and chilled with him at one of the numerous community gardens in my neighborhood.

Max happy to be back at the playground

Obviously during the winter months these activities are limited, so I really had to challenge myself to still get out of the house with Max and have at least one activity for us to do each day -- such as: attending story time at the local library, meeting up with other new parents for a play group, or entertaining Max at music and movement classes. But even with these different activities, there was still a lot of idle time at home, and this idle time became increasingly challenging as the winter months crept by. Max was growing before our eyes and becoming increasingly mobile. He quickly learned to entertain himself by finding and frequenting all of the danger spots in our apartment and playing with all the possible harmful objects in our place. Even after baby-proofing, it seemed like most of the time we spent together in the apartment was occupied by me either chasing him away from those places or distracting him from going to those places with more appropriate playthings, such as toys and books. I now understand why parents of little ones need so many!

Max fights the winter blues at Chelsea Piers
So for me, the arrival of this particular spring season is exciting, beyond the general pleasantness of warmer weather, because I can once again spend a lot of time with Max out of the apartment and into the great outdoors. And just in the nick of time, because these days I desperately need to get out with him between 5 and 7 pm, which can be the most difficult hours of the day. In the late afternoon, Max can grow cranky and fussy just at the time that I get wiped out from having ran around taking care of him all day, and Stewart hasn’t gotten home from work yet. It is too late in the day for Max to take a nap, but too early for him to go down for the night. Plus, during this time there aren’t any planned activities for infants or toddlers. Most parents are instead winding down their day, having dinner with their families or getting their kids ready for bed. Thankfully, now that the weather has improved, I can spend that time strolling Max around the neighborhood, letting him roam at the playground, or pushing him in a swing, until Stewart gets home. Everyone’s mood brightens at that point, because I am happy to get the break I need, Max is happy to see Papa, and Papa is happy to play with Max for the hour or so before his bedtime.
Our family is thrilled that spring is back!
So welcome back spring, you were missed!!!