Friday, May 16, 2014

Things I KNOW

When I was growing up, I KNEW that I wanted to be a parent.  My mother was a very good role model, and I KNEW that I wanted to experience the same kind of connection and joy she got from being a mom.  When I came out, I set that goal on a back burner of sorts.  Society wasn't too keen on gay people having anything to do with kids, and becoming a parent seemed like an insurmountable mountain.  Adoption and surrogacy are the most common methods, but they're lengthy and very pricey.  In those days there were plenty of stories about parents losing custody of their children, whether biological or adopted.  I also KNEW I didn't want to be a single parent, because I saw how hard it was for Mom.  It seemed like the universe was telling me that it wasn't in the cards.  Then one day it told me otherwise.

I met someone and fell in love.  He wanted to be a father too, and we started thinking.  Then planning.  I KNEW it wouldn't be easy.  I KNEW that we'd encounter problems along the way, and that it wouldn't be popular with everyone.  Then again, I'm not really one to put popularity first.  We prepared ourselves for negativity at every turn, but have been pleasantly surprised.  Medical and county offices not only recognized our relationship, they were cheering us on.  The hearts and minds of most people recognize love and commitment when they see it.  We still haven't had any major incidents of people being rude about our family because we're gay.

But just before Nessa's first birthday, we took a brief trip.  The morning we were heading home, we stopped for breakfast.  We had to leave before the little one normally gets up, and she was a bit out of sorts.  Her diaper had a blow out just as we were getting ready to leave the house, requiring a last minute bath so we were ready to meet with our attorney for the adoption later that day.  In her usual congenial way, Nessa was still a sweet and happy baby...but she was making a bit more noise than usual.  Not screaming or crying, but squawking and squeaking more than usual.

Our waitress rushed to the table and, in a genuine attempt to be helpful, offered a package of crackers to occupy her.  We politely declined and told her that in addition to the considerable mess that would cause, we would feed her egg from our plates as usual.  She replied that she was the one who would have to clean up the mess and that she didn't mind.  We again declined saying "I think we'll be fine, but thanks anyway."  One minute later, Nessa squawked again; the waitress appeared from nowhere with an open package of crackers, already handing them over to the munchkin.  Naturally, Nessa grabbed hold and cracker dust went flying everywhere.  "See...I told you that's what she wanted."  And off she went with a smile.

The waitress is lucky my mother raised me to use good manners, because I managed to choke out a "Say thank you, Nessa."  What I really wanted to say was "And I told you NO to crackers.  Twice."  I didn't, because she really was trying to be helpful.  Nevermind the fact that it wasn't the mess on the table or floor we wanted to avoid.  We wanted her to be somewhat presentable when we met with our lawyer...about the adoption.  We're funny like that.  Nevermind that we believe shoving food at our daughter's face is not the best initial reaction to every little noise she makes.  Perhaps we might want to try...parenting...first.  It's why we bring toys and books with us. 

Nevermind that giving her an entire cracker is probably not wise, given that she has a total of 4 teeth (barely) and is likely to choke if it's not broken up into smaller pieces.  Nevermind that, as her parents predicted, she wasn't interested in her egg when it arrived because she was looking for more crackers.  Nevermind that substituting a cracker for an egg meant she was hungry and fussy during a 4 hour drive home.  Nevermind that it's more than a little insulting to believe that you, meeting our daughter for the first time, are more capable of reading her wants and needs than the people who have cared for her night and day for the last year.  The fact that this belief seems based solely on the fact that you are a woman and we must be incompetent twits because we're "only" dads only adds insult to injury.

Truth be told, that's what hurt and angered me the most.  For some time I've KNOWN this was going to happen eventually.  But preparing for the experience and having it are two separate things.  I think the Dad squad handled the situation with grace and poise.  Experience is often the best teacher, and I'll handle it even better next time.  I'll still play nice in the sandbox, but I won't hesitate to make it clear that not only are we the customers, we're the dads...and we make the decisions and rules.  I'll explain my reasoning if necessary, but I won't just smile while someone countermands my parenting.  Not only is it my right, but I don't want to experience another long car ride like that if I can avoid it.  And that is something I KNOW. 

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Kindness of (Safeway) Strangers

Last week I was standing in Safeway waiting as the cashiers worked their way through lines of people.  This left me with some time for one of my favorite pastimes: people watching!  An older woman came along and offered a few “excuse me’s” as she waded through the line waiters.  She eyed me and said “you seem to be the tallest person here…could you reach something for me?”  I smiled and helped her out happily…even I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach the last jars of parmesan on the back of the top shelf.  I love it when the universe brightens my day by giving me a chance to brighten someone else’s.

Because it was busy, the customers in the next lane were only a few feet away.  I noticed a woman and her son next to me, and she seemed to be looking for ways to pass the time as well.  She sent her son on a mission to get a box of Ramen Noodles and, as he took off in a flash, muttered under her breath “and then I’ll think of something else for you to go get.”  I couldn’t help but chuckle, and she quickly realized someone had been paying attention.  She smiled sheepishly at me, and it was clear she just needed a parenting break.  I winked and said “I laugh because it’s the ghost of Christmas future for me…my daughter will be one in a few weeks, and there are already times I use tricks like that.”  She smiled back…and then I saw a light bulb go on over her head.  “That’s where I know you from!”

Phrases like that still sometimes stop me in my tracks.  I never know what words will follow.  Where will this conversation go?  Will it be someone whose password I reset back when I worked in IT?  Will it be someone who saw the article in the Casper paper last year who thinks I need to be saved from my heathen ways?  Will this person accost me or welcome me?  I haven’t yet encountered someone making hurtful comments about my daughter or my being a parent, and I’m not sure I will be able to respond with my usual grace and civility.  My mom was something of a momma grizzly bear, and I know it’s genetic.

“You spoke to my social work class last year.”  I nodded, still unsure.  Then came her excited smile, and “how is fatherhood going for you?  When you were there, she wasn’t here yet!”  We chatted for a bit and I gushed predictably about her smile, her eyes, the joys, and so on.  “Every time I see something on the news about gay rights or court cases, I think about YOU.”  My breath caught for a second time, but this time I knew why.  “I hope that the adoption process goes well for you, and that things change and get easier soon.”  I gave her a thank you, and told her that it meant a great deal to hear that.  As I left the store, I took a deep breath and smiled.  Then it was my turn to mutter under my breath: “Message received.”

Next week we have a meeting with the lawyer to get everything going in full swing.  We don’t expect problems, but until that paper is in my hand saying it’s a done deal, I will be nervous.  Scared.  Uncertain of the outcome.  Just as I was when my Safeway stranger recognized me.  I just have to do what I always try to: do what’s right, share my heart and my story, and live from a place of love.  I have to trust that it will touch hearts and that our love and commitment will be apparent to a judge as well as social work students.  

Maybe it was a message from my mom.  Maybe it was just random coincidence.  One way or another, the universe gave me exactly what I needed.  It reminded me that living my life the way I have has brought amazing people into my life, and sometimes those people are strangers.  It reminded me that the Universe really will provide, and that everything happens for a reason.  I’m SO glad that I grabbed that cheese from the top shelf.  I needed a little instant karma.  As I often tell others: “left foot, right foot…repeat as needed.”