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.