Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tennis, Anyone?

One of the annual bright spots during the typically dreary month of January is the start of the professional tennis season. While it is bitter cold and snowing outside here in New York, I get the pleasure of watching the first grand slam tennis tournament, The Australian Open, on television and listening to the announcers talk about how the on-court temperature has risen to 100 degrees and that the players need to be on the lookout for heat stroke. Is it crazy to feel a tinge of jealousy in hearing that?

Stewart and I are huge tennis fans, both as players and as avid followers of the professional game. As players, it has given us yet one more thing to be competitive with one another about – in addition to ping pong, backgammon, squash, Ms. Pac Man and who can get Max down at night the quickest (just to name a few!) Ironically, as competitive as we are when matched against each other, tennis has also literally brought Stewart and me together as a team unit. Before Max was born, we regularly played doubles together in a few tennis leagues in the city and have a few trophies to show for it. Everyone at the time worried for the state of our marriage when they heard that we played together. Would a pivotal missed shot by one mean that the other had to sleep on the couch that night? Fortunately not! We really enjoyed playing together.

We are also such fans of professional tennis that, perhaps sad to say, I can actually mark significant events within the parenthood journey to the four grand slam tournaments: Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and the French Open.

Wimbledon marks a momentous moment in our path to parenthood because the tournament was taking place while Stewart and I tried to conceive a child with Christie for the first time in July 2009. Christie and her family are not big professional tennis fans, and I remember how tentative I was in asking them to turn the television to the tournament while we were hanging out in their living room trying to escape the intense summer heat of Georgia. When we tuned in, it was to the now-epic men’s tournament final between top seed Roger Federer and American Andy Roddick. Federer squeaked out the match 16 games to 14 games in the 5th set in the longest Wimbledon final ever. Christie’s husband Bill later told me that because I had us tune into the match he was actually able to join in on the water cooler conversation his colleagues were having the next day at work about the historic final.

Our first attempt at conceiving a baby that July did not take, and nor did our second try that August. Our third try was scheduled for early September, which happens to be when the United States’ tennis grand slam, the U.S. Open, takes place right here in New York City. Since Stewart and I started dating in 2001 we have gone to the US Open each of the three days that mark Labor Day weekend to watch the pros in action during the middle rounds of the tournament. We were crossing our fingers that we would not have to be in Georgia that weekend in 2009, because we knew it would be our last chance to attend the tournament with complete freedom and abandonment before the responsibilities of parenthood set in. Fortunately our fertility doctor in Georgia did not need to see us until the following week, and we had a wonderful time as always at “the Open.” However, that U.S. Open still marks a Max milestone because he was actually conceived the next weekend, which was the date of – you guessed it – the men’s tournament final. While we had other things on our mind and on our plate that day, we later learned that Roger Federer lost that final to up and coming Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in another epic showdown that lasted over 4 hours.

By the time the Australian Open rolled around in January of last year, Max was busy growing inside Christie and Stewart and I were feeling some measure of relief that he had made it through the nerve-wracking first trimester. But that didn’t mean that my life had become smooth sailing. I had recently been laid off from my job. While the Australian Open was broadcast live on television during the wee hours of the morning, Stewart and I made the big decision that instead of looking for work, I would devote myself full-time to preparing for Max’s arrival, and become a stay-at-home dad once Max entered the world. The rest, as they say, is history. Federer beat Scotsman Andy Murray in the tournament final in straight sets.

When the French Open rolled around in late May, Max was a couple of weeks old and Stewart was just returning to work. The tournament was broadcast live in the early morning New York time, and Max acted as my failsafe alarm clock. I would groggily get up and lay a blanket down in front of the television in the living room for Max and me to lay down on side by side to watch the early rounds together. Having my favorite sport to watch helped to distract me from the reality that I had the whole day ahead of me with just me and this brand new, fragile child who I was just getting to know. My one saving grace was a duela that we had hired to visit for a few hours at a time in the early-going to help answer some of our questions about how to take care of a newborn. One morning during the tournament she arrived and looked on in surprise at my set up in front of the TV. She laughingly told me that only a man would hang out with a newborn side by side on a blanket on the floor. She was used to seeing new moms clutching their babies tight against their bodies. She didn’t seem to get it that I had my space on the blanket and Max had his!  Oh for the days that Max would just chill on his side of the blanket -- long gone now! The Spaniard Rafael Nadal beat Swede Robin Soderling in straight sets to take the men’s title.

We can't wait to raise Max as a tennis player and as a fan of professional tennis.  After all, as you can see that his tennis roots already run deep!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Exciting News About . . . Passport Applications?!

In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about how my husband (Stewart) and I believe that we made legal history in Georgia when we obtained a pre-birth order from a state court judge there stating that, even though we are two men and only one of us is a biological parent of Max, both of our names may be listed on Max’s birth certificate. I went on to write that while the Georgia Vital Records Department fulfilled that order, we were disappointed to discover that they would not alter their form to reflect our family structure and insisted instead on listing Stewart as Max’s “Mother”!  While Georgia may have a ways to go in this area, I am pleased to report that the U.S. State Department is finally starting to catch on that its forms wrongly assume that all families are structured the same way – i.e. the “straight” way.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently ordered the State Department to change the wording on all applications for U.S. passports issued to children. The designations “mother” and “father” will be replaced with "mother or parent 1" and "father or parent 2". (Interestingly, the government originally intended to eliminate the terms “mother” and “father” altogether and just use “parent 1” and “parent 2”; however, backlash from conservative groups caused the government to retreat slightly and compromise with the “or” formulation that I mention above). The State Department website explains the purpose behind the new terminology: "These improvements are being made to provide a gender neutral description of a child’s parents and in recognition of different types of families.” The gender-neutral passport applications will be rolled out next month.

Why is this important? Because while for most families applying for and receiving a passport is what it should be -- a forgettable bureaucratic chore -- when that process serves as an official reminder to you and your child that your government does not recognize your existence, and instead turns your “papa” into your “mama,” those documented lies aren’t so easy to pass off and ignore. Childhood for everyone is full of uncertainty and anxiety. There is no reason the government has to encourage our family structure to be an added basis for that.  So any time that the government removes an official imprint of “otherness” stamped onto our family, that is a big positive in and of itself -- even if there isn’t also an immediate and concrete benefit resulting from the change, since we are not planning to go anywhere outside of the country with Max anytime soon.  

And of course many more than just our family will benefit from the government's thoughtful announcement.  “The updates remove significant challenges for the two million children being parented by lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) parents,” said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Family Equality Council, which led the effort to change the forms.  So I applaud them, and the State Department, for this small but important step in making passport applications as boring for us as they are for most of you.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


As the New Year begins, our family is going through a period of transition and mourning. Did someone close to us pass away, or did something else tragic happen? Thankfully, no and no. It’s just that Max’s part-time nanny, Gloria, found a new family willing to take her on full-time this year, so she sadly had to say goodbye to us recently to embark on that new adventure. Gloria had been a part of our lives since Max was 5 weeks old, watching him at least 3 mornings a week. I would not have thought, before Max was born (and even after he was born) that a nanny moving on due to external circumstances after 6 and a half months would be a great source of trauma and transition for us. Sure, I thought, maybe Max would get upset for a time, but in actuality Max is taking it much better than I am! At eight months old now he continues to crawl all over the place and puts everything he passes along the way into his mouth – as if nothing happened. What a well adjusted kid!

But while Max may be moving on both literally and figuratively, I am having a harder time. Six and a half months is most of Max’s life, as well as most of my life as a parent. That’s a very formative and emotional period to share care-giving duties with someone, and of course I grew attached to Gloria. Stewart and I were very fortunate to have found her. But perhaps more accurately, Gloria was the one to find us. My sister had been sharing Gloria’s time with a friend, but no longer needed her hours when my nephew began pre-school. The timing was perfect because Stewart had recently returned full-time to work, so we picked up my sister’s hours from her.

Not only did we get a nanny, but we got a mentor and a parenting guru as well. From day one I was very comfortable leaving Max with Gloria. During her first days with Max, Stewart was very busy with work, having just returned, and I was just getting used to being alone with Max for most of the day. I couldn’t wait for her to show up on her designated mornings! Gloria, a spry 50-something from Peru, has a look about her that screams “baby maestro.” Stewart and I considered ourselves lucky to have somebody older than us who is very experienced with babies to help show us the ropes. For example, if we discovered some weird markings on Max’s skin some morning, or he exhibited some odd behavior that we hadn’t seen before, we were comforted in knowing that we could ask Gloria for the 411. She was always happy to share her wisdom and to give us suggestions. She also dove in where Stewart and I feared to tread. For example, she told us that she is an expert nail-cutter of infants, and thank goodness for that, because we were terrified to go anywhere near Max’s squirmy, miniscule hands with anything remotely sharp. She also pointed out that the sun hat we had for Max over the summer could use a wider brim, so she simply went out and bought him a new hat that worked better. Max’s favorite security blanket, a blue stuffed dog, was also a gift from Gloria that will remain a fixture for our son well after she has moved on. It is neat to still have these little reminders around the apartment of her helpful presence in our lives when we needed it the most: as a new and anxious family.

I also appreciated the fact that Gloria insisted that Max be very active with her. The vast majority of the time they spent together was out of the apartment amidst New York City. In the summer, she took him to Tompkins Square Park every day and discovered parts of the park that I never knew existed and will be returning to with Max this spring. In the winter she discovered neighborhood libraries that I also didn’t know existed, and now Max and I are regulars.

I joked above that Max has moved right on since Gloria reluctantly said goodbye to us at the end of the year, but that’s just the nature of babies – the truth is that he adored Gloria as much as she demonstrated, on every visit, how much she adored Max. When Gloria would enter the apartment on her mornings with us, Max would stop whatever he was doing on a dime and coo and crawl to her.

I fear that Gloria is an aberration. It is hard when you start off with the best. Where do you go from there? Thankfully Stewart and I have accumulated a lot of parenting miles over the past 8 months and feel much more confident and self-reliant running the show alone. So while we do have a new nanny as of this week, luckily for her the pressure is off. We don’t expect her to be Gloria. So far she has been wonderful in her own right and Max and she are already good buds.

Thankfully, Gloria remains in our lives. Earlier this week she had a day off from her new job, and blessed us with a visit to see Max and to show our new nanny, a friend of hers, places where she can take Max in the neighborhood. It was an incredibly thoughtful gesture, completely unsolicited by us. So I would like to say to Gloria’s new family: you are very lucky to have found Gloria; she is a true professional who will love your child unconditionally and go the extra mile for your family. Appreciate it – we sure have!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Being Bubbe

Happy New Year everyone!  It is with great pleasure that I kick off 2011 for Gaddy Daddy with a guest post from Max's Aunt Paula, who has been extraordinarily supportive of Max and his daddies ever since he was just a twinkle in our eyes.  We would truly be lost without her, and you'll see why when reading her post.  Thanks for everything Paula!

Here I am typing my first ever blog entry. (Yes, I admit it, I am not even sure what a blog is and luckily, Jacob sends me all his entries via a link in a nice old fashioned e-mail…otherwise I am certain I could never find gaddy daddy, great fan though I am.) So, where was I before my spontaneous luddite confessions burst out? Oh, yes, I am typing my guest blog entry and as I do, I am glancing over at a photo of me holding Max at a recent family Chanukah party at Aunt Sheila’s and I look exactly like – a Bubbe! Max looks a little startled and I look extremely possessive and a bit maniacal in my pride at holding him. I had just wrestled him out of my son Josh’s arms and was feeling total ownership. It is a definite Bubbe look.

Aunt Paula and Max at the Chanukah party

What exactly does a Bubbe “look” like? Let’s try a description that rules out all the things a Bubbe is NOT. So, a bubbe is not the kind of grandmother who zips around to pick you up and take you to the latest sale at Century 21 before her Pilates session. A bubbe is not the kind of grandmother who makes sushi in her kitchen for you because she just took an authentic Japanese cooking class. No, a bubbe is your Jewish grandmother who cares about your grades in math and science, about your neshama (your soul) and about whether you are eating enough protein (read: corned beef, brisket and chicken soup).

Stewart lovingly calls me Max’s spiritual advisor. Jacob calls me Max’s Aunt Paula (I am, afterall, Jacob’s sister-in-law, not his mother). I, however, have come to realize that I am most of all Max’s Bubbe. I am not actually old enough to be Jacob’s mother (though I have been his sister-in-law since he was twelve) and I don’t really focus very much on grades. (And Max has not yet mastered the color yellow, never mind Algebra and Chem.) While I cook brisket and chicken, the only proteins I eat are quinoa and beans. Still, I lay claim to the title: I love being Bubbe.

I care more than anything about Max’s neshama. Before he was even born, I talked with his Abba and his Papa about raising the future baby as a Jew. Stewart started reading and Jacob started planning. As Jacob’s sister and as a rabbi, you can imagine that I was joyful at the prospect of a brit milah (often called bris – ritual circumcision) to bring Max into the covenant as a Jew. Five months later, Jacob and Stewart brought Max to the mikvah (ritual bath) to immerse him with rabbinic supervision and complete the process. Jacob has paid me good money not to embarrass him, so I won’t really mention the fact that when Rabbi Craig Scheff gave him a clear set of directions about how to immerse Max, Jacob was so nervous that he lifted Max and dunked himself! Stewart caught the whole thing on video. I was so weepy and faklempt that I didn’t see it happen at all. Whoops! Did I really just tell all? Jacob, you have final editing rights! It’s your blog!!

Max looking rightfully nervous at his mikvah

The amazing thing about the choices for a bris, a Hebrew name, and a mikvah is that no one was pressuring Max’s fathers. (I had not yet taken on my mantle of Bubbe!) Everyone in the Wallace and Drill families was so delighted to welcome this healthy, beautiful baby into our lives that no one had any other expectations. Jacob and Stewart, however, wanted to anchor Max to a tradition that is almost 6000 years older than he is and to a people who will care about his soul and the mark that he makes in the world. I could not be more proud of this miraculous little family.

Max consults his "spiritual advisor" at his bris

As we enter the new year 2011 (just a few months into the Jewish year 5771) I pray for Jacob and Stewart the blessing that any Bubbe would bless: I pray that they raise Max Wallace Drill (Moshe ben Yakov) to understand the meaning of the covenant into which they entered him. I pray that they always inspire him to seek truth and ways of peace, but to stand up and speak up when necessary. I pray that Max’s heart be open to Torah and that he grow to be a blessing to his fathers, his family, his people and all humanity.

And to that, there is nothing left to say but Amen.