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Married

So the tree fell over. Full of lights and ornaments…a slow whoosh and then a whump. Ornaments everywhere, pine needles everywhere, but nothing broken–kind of amazing, given that the tip of the tree grazed a glass-fronted cabinet in the arc of its descent.

Very dramatic, no harm done. Which is how I like my drama.

Putting the tree to rights involved one of us going in search of a new tree stand at 5pm on a cold Sunday evening (thanks Husband! See reverb post #14, gratitude), and then pulling the tree out of the broken tree stand, wrestling it into the new tree stand, and then a lot of “is it straight?” “is it straight now?”  “what about now?” “NOW for god’s sake?”

The boys had no interest in re-hanging the ornaments–that was last night’s activity, part of the three-boy sleepover (using the word “sleep” here very loosely)–so Husband and I put the ornaments back and looped candy canes over the branches. It wasn’t a Rockwellian scene, by any stretch, but it was one of those moments where I felt really married.  Maybe that’s a weird thing to say, but putting our Christmas tree back together reminded me of our partnership in creating this entity called “family.” We’re not, in fact, just running some kind of odd race that involves passing our children back and forth like batons during a relay.

It’s a bit like what used to happen when the boys were younger — we’d be walking down the street and if one of them would yell “mommy,” I’d spin around, looking for the person who should be responding, only to realize a few seconds later, Oh. Wait. That’s me. I’m the one in charge.

Probably the boys will remember this Christmas as “the year the tree fell down,” and not remember any of the more deliberate stuff that Husband and I have put in place (like that damn advent calendar). And so that too, is a metaphor, for the way that family memories get made: from the random shit that happens, no matter how carefully one plans.  Our tree fell and we…well, actually we sort of laughed (mostly from relief that nothing broke and no one was hurt). We laughed and then we fixed it.

Together.

Continue Reading · on December 19, 2010 in Children, marriage

Reverb: 5 Minutes

Reverb prompt from yesterday, which means I’m almost caught up. Except a new prompt came today and there will be another staring me in the face in the morning, and then there will be another… breathe, breathe, breathe. 

5 minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

What I would remember:

Walking in the dunes outside Qasr Al Sarab.

The sweaty triumph on Liam’s face as he received his black belt

Caleb’s confident smile as he emerged from school on after the first day of first grade.

The last few paragraphs of David’ Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

Writing my letter of resignation from my old job.

Floating in the hot springs pool at Indian Springs, in Calistoga, with my oldest friend in the world. The water was as blue as the sky.

Husband and I strolling through the Chicago night on our anniversary, children safely with Grandma, looking at Buckingham fountain and imagining our next eleven years.

What I would forget:

The Tea Bag Heads, the “ground zero mosque” kerfuffle, all movies based on comic books,  “Heroes,” Franzen’s Freedom, the fashion industry’s attempt to revive harem pants, every single one of the Kardashians and all the Real Housewives no matter where the fuck they live, Fox News.

The Kardashians notwithstanding, it was a pretty good year.

Continue Reading · on December 16, 2010 in Books, Children, marriage, Politics, reverb10

Reverb10: Gratitude

The prompt: What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?

Be warned: mushy sentiment ahead.

So Husband left last Tuesday for Abu Dhabi; he comes back Thursday night. Yes, for those of us keeping score, he will have been gone just shy of two weeks. He says it’s nine days. I say when you’re solo parenting, once it’s more than a week, I stop counting. Mostly because I’m too tired to count.  When I factor in the business class (and actually he got bumped to first class on the way out, poor thing), then he’s really been gone for like two months.

But. But. Here’s the thing. We have this advent calendar that we bought a long time ago, when Liam was a bitsy toddler, because we thought it would be charming to fill the little drawers each day as we counted down to Christmas.It looks like this:

What a stupid fucking idea. It’s not just “fold back the little window, see the picture, ooh that’s nice, six days left till christmas.” Noo. It’s shit, gotta find something small to fit in that little cubbyhole–and now that there are two boys, it’s two small things. Can you say fat pain the ass?

Husband came up with a brilliant solution: he bought a smallish lego set and broke it down into different little bits, each with a page of instructions. Yes, it’s kind of insane and more than a little OCD, but it feeds the rat of that damn advent cubbyhole calendar. As Husband was packing to leave for his trip, as he gathered together the book manuscript he’s finishing, the various files he needs for the meetings he’s going to, etc etc etc., he took the time to organize all these little bits–the right lego pieces, a xeroxed page of instructions–into separate envelopes for me, each with a date, to help me be the fucking  Christmas Elf.

Husband is way better at things like that than I am; he pays attention to details, especially details that make the boys happy. I forget, way too often, to tell him thank you for attending to all the details–like the Christmas Elf, like all our gadgetry, the list goes on and on.  So…This post is a blanket “thank you” for all those details, all those things that I forget to acknowledge.

And next year we’re getting different advent calendars, dammit.

Continue Reading · on December 15, 2010 in marriage, reverb10

the kids are all right…but what about the plot?

 

The Kids Are All Right

“The Kids Are All Right” (photo credit: focus/everett/rex features)

Five or six years ago, towards the end of a summer graduate course that I was teaching, a student in the class came to my office.  She said she was going through a very painful breakup and as a result, she wondered if she could have a few extra days to complete her final project–she was moving out, which meant driving back and forth to the house they were selling, several hours outside the city.

Okay, usually I’m a suspicious bitch of a teacher and my standard response is “uh, no,” but it was summer and the student was easily the best in the class, so I said “sure,” and we talked a bit about how hard it was to end a relationship. In the course of our conversation I said, “what does he do,” meaning the other party in the breakup.

There was a pause, the woman looked at me, smiled, and said, “well, I’m gay, so it’s a she, actually, and she’s a lawyer.”

Now, I spend a lot of time in class talking about the need for students to examine the assumptions that they bring to reading and interpretation–I sometimes tell them it’s the “baggage theory” of reading, as in, whatever your own baggage is, it will provide the basis for your interpretations, so you’d better figure out the nature of those spoken and unspoken assumptions.

So right there, in my office, there I was: BAM! Smacked in the face with my own assumptions about heterosexuality–a sort of straight suitcase of assumption, as it were.

I was mortified, apologized profusely, made a (lame) joke about heteronormativity, and that was that.  I doubt the woman has given it a second thought.

Earlier this week, I played hooky from my desk (I think the desk understood) and went to the movies with a friend, who showed up wearing the same shorts I was wearing, so that was also mortifying, but in a slightly different contexts. Sartorially twinned, we hiked to the top floor of the theater to watch “The Kids Are All Right,” the new movie by Lisa Cholodenko about two kids and their lesbian moms, and what happens to the family as a result of the kids finding their sperm donor dad.

I thought the movie was great. Loved the image of an upper-middle-class marriage, those years way after “happily ever after,” when staying married has more to do with an act of will (and inertia?) than all the hot sex and romance of the early years; loved the way in which the kids love their “moms”  and are driven crazy by them on an almost daily basis.  (And okay, yes, the whole Mark Ruffalo with his shirt off thing made me pretty happy too.)

The movie sort of renders moot the whole idea of “gay marriage” by showing that gay marriage exists and is, more or less, a lot like straight marriage, particularly those marriages with kids (who according to New York Magazine,  make us all miserable).  There is a lot of unflashy and unromantic love in this movie; the kind of love that, as Julianne Moore says near the movie’s end, “endures” through the rough patches, even when things look hopeless.  It seemed to me a sometimes funny, sometimes heart-tugging examination of women in mid-life, in mid-marriage, and of the ways that kids do (and do not) understand that their parents are, you know, human.  You could say it’s the cinematic version of that Talking Heads song we all find ourselves humming from time to time: “this is not my beautiful life…how did I get here, anyway?”

I got home and started chatting about this remarkable thing called a “grown-up movie” in an actual movie theater! In July!  A movie where nothing blows up but Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore get nekkid.

Then I started reading around the internet. Never do that, if you want to preserve your own opinion. 

And BAM! It happened again: the hetero baggage whapping me in the face.  Why, as Roxie’s World asks, should a lesbian marriage be “just like” a straight marriage? Why, as Dan Savage asks, shouldn’t a sperm donor (or surrogate mother, in the opposite context) become a part of the family? Why would a lesbian film-maker rely on the age-old plot device of a vaguely dissatisfied lesbian falling into the arms of a man?

Why hadn’t any of those questions occurred to me? I mean, among all my various relatives, you can find just about every permutation of “family” you can imagine, so why wouldn’t it occur to me that there might have been other possiblities available to Cholodenko in creating her story?  Is it because my own marriage is a pretty straight-forward (oh yeah, totally intentional pun) hetero dyad?

Some of the negative commentary about the movie does seem, as Dan Savage points out, along the lines of “gosh why didn’t she make a different movie,” and there have been some vague implications that maybe Cholodenko was doing what she had to do to get the movie financed (greenlight a perfect lesbian family in which there are only happy kids and hot sex? never gonna happen).  I don’t know what the financing politics were–nothing in Hollywood seems to make much sense to me (“Grownups,” “The Expendables,” or  “Kitty Galore,” anyone?)

But after all was said and done, I remain convinced that it’s a really good movie, even if it’s not perfect. And one of the reasons it’s good, I think, is that it made me  re-realize how easy it is to stay stuck in the ruts of my own assumptions about the world–and thus miss the oppportunity to see the world through the eyes of others.  Would it be nice if the movie re-imagined family in a more capacious, less conservative way? Sure. But that’s not the movie that got written–and I think that, ironically, there may even be something positive about the fact that we live in a moment when we can say that a Hollywood representation of a lesbian marriage is “too conservative.”

Continue Reading · on July 24, 2010 in Children, Gender, marriage, pop culture, Uncategorized

Now He’ll NEVER Throw Anything Away

 

IMG_1695

Like many New Yorkers, we of the tribe of the minimally closeted, we have a Stuff problem. Which is to say, we have too much stuff.  Most of us probably have too much stuff, right? We are never quite sure why we have it (that roll of brown felt? the slightly broken wooden figurine?), which is the counterpart to to all the stuff we used to have but don’t any more, even though we can’t quite figure out where it all went.

Husband, however, has STUFF. In fact,  he’s been known to tell our children not to come into the part of our apartment that serves as his office (we call it “the nest”) because it’s not safe – too much stuff, too many piles. It’s not quite “Hoarder,” but let’s just say the quantity of  His STUFF is an ongoing discussion in our household.

But today, Caleb wanted to know what a lava rock looked like.

Husband said, I think I have one.

Later the same day, it appeared on the table: a gen-yoo-wine chunk o’lava, plucked from Mt. Vesuvius itself.

In the summer of 1984.

Caleb was delighted and now the rock has a prominent place of honor on his little desk, right next to his pirate treasure chest filled with Important Sticks.

It was a key victory for STUFF.

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Continue Reading · on July 14, 2010 in family, marriage

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