Defining death. To a child.

I love words. I love reading and writing and hearing peoples’ stories, and telling them, myself. Anyone who knows me will freely say that I’m not often at a loss for words. I’m finding, though, that as a parent of a nearly three-year-old child,  attempts to describe or define the meaning of words and actions often leave me without the means to accurately convey a concept. To be sure, some of it is developmental; small children are not the most abstract thinkers. But beyond that, there’s a desire to shield him from the ugliness of the world, at least for now, while still making good on my values to raise him in honesty and reality.

As we walked through the cemetery in our neighborhood yesterday afternoon, I thought of my mom, as I often do, and that I should visit her grave. It’s been awhile; I have a hard time ascribing meaning to that space. I asked D if he wanted to visit Grandma Patti’s cemetery, and he said yes. He immediately started chattering as we walked home, about seeing her, bringing her some of the chocolate strawberries his dad had made for me the day before. We talk to him about my mom a lot, show him photos, tell him stories, to help him understand her importance in our lives. It broke my heart to listen to him, knowing that I needed to try to explain the reality of the situation.

We got to her grave, and he smiled, recognizing my mom and dad on the etching in the headstone. “Is Papa Steve coming here, too?” he asked. I told him no. A car pulled up, and he stood, wondering aloud if that was Grandma Patti. He really believed he was going to see her. I took a breath, and asked him to sit with me. I said, “Grandma Patti isn’t with us anymore.”He asked where she was. Knowing that he attends church with his other papa, I tried to use terms that he might have some concept of; “She’s an angel now. She’s all around us. She watches us.” He just looked at me. I finally decided to try to level with him, as leveling with a three year old is always the smart choice (ha ha). I said, “Honey, Grandma was really sick. There was something in her body that made her very, very sick, and it made her heart stop working. We need our hearts to live-so we can breathe, and play, and be with other people. She can’t do those things anymore. Her body didn’t work, and now it’s here, in this ground, to be kept safe. This big stone helps people to remember who she was, and lets us come visit her and think about her.” The entire time, I kept telling myself to stop talking, to stop being so pseudo-biological and blunt about it.

He listened, looking at the ground and running his fingers through the thick grass around him. “She’s in heaven?” he said. “Yes, baby.” “Oh.” For a moment, he looked like he might start crying, and I regretted all of it. Enough of us had shed tears over her loss, and I didn’t want him to take on that burden. Not yet. He never even got to know her, just being held by her once, when he was three days old. And then she was gone. But, I think he understood, as much as his three year old abilities would permit him. “You miss your mommy, Mom?” I blinked back tears. “Yes, I do.” He gave me a little smile.

We started to get up to leave, and I said my goodbyes aloud to my mom. He followed my lead, and said, “Bye, Grandma Patti. I love you and miss you. The doctors will come and fix your heart to work again, and you will come back to life”, blowing her a kiss. More blinked-back tears. That innocence over the permanence of death, the desire to make someone else feel better, made me both incredibly sad and happy at the same time. He’s trying to understand how others feel, while learning to manage his own emotions within those contexts. That’s a hard thing, something that most of us struggle with well into adulthood.

As I drove home, him watching a show on my phone, I thought about what happened. Maybe it was OK that I shared what I did; after all, life does not exist within an absence of conflict and sadness. I want him to grow with the understanding that it’s OK to display emotion, to communicate pain in a constructive manner. Maybe he can’t really grasp the concept of death, but he can understand sadness and hurt and love. Something that my mom instilled in us was empathy, and to truly see people and their complexities, even if they aren’t on full display. This experience with D yesterday made me hope that perhaps I am starting to lay the same foundation for him, to help him intuit what is in other people’s hearts, even if he can’t fully know what has hurt them.


The personal IS the political.

It’s a given that I’m an Obama supporter.  Anyone that knows anything about me knows this.  However, I am not naive enough to believe that he is capable of solving all that needs to be solved.  It’s a job far beyond the time and scope of any one administration.  If you believe otherwise, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.  Knowing this, I am voting for the man who I believe best understands the needs of the Americans he will represent, and works to align himself with meeting those needs.

We’ve all got issues that are important to us.  For me, those issues are health care, poverty, education, the environment, human rights, the economy, and equality-in marriage, adoption, legal protections, military service, and the general right to enjoy the freedoms that others are afforded.  And today, this last one is heavy on my mind.  I caught this Huff Post article that talks about Romney’s attempts to marginalize the gay families of MA during his tenure as governor, by supporting an amendment to ban gay marriage, and to also make it all but impossible for the non-biological parent of a same-sex family to appear anywhere on the birth certificate.  Each sentence disburbed me more and more, but this is what sent me over the edge:

Julie Goodridge, lead plaintiff in the landmark case that won marriage rights for gays and lesbians before the Supreme Judicial Court, asked what she should tell her 8-year-old daughter about why the governor would block the marriage of her parents. According to Goodridge, Romney responded,“I don’t really care what you tell your adopted daughter. Why don’t you just tell her the same thing you’ve been telling her the last eight years.”

Mind you, this “adopted” daughter he dismissed was, in fact, her biological daughter.  A fact Romney was quick to overlook, because he ultimately doesn’t care.  He’s made it clear on multiple occasions-gay families are lesser than straight families.  He has no interest in protecting the rights or interests of an entire subset of the population he desires to serve.  For a man who believes in the idea of reducing big government, he certainly has no problem with forcing that same government into the homes/beds of thousands of Americans.

You may say that this isn’t an issue that affects you personally; 90 % of the population will never contend directly with the difficulties that same-sex couples face when trying to be a family.  Many of you may not even have anyone in your lives whom this affects.  I do.  So, allow me to introduce you to Corinne and Lisa:

Corinne and Lisa are two very dear friends of mine, who were married a little over two years ago in MA, in one of the most beautiful ceremonies I have ever attended , and are expecting their sweet baby boy this February.  Pretty standard story, right?  Only, these two spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to conceive, and contended with the heartache and hurt that came with that process.  It was heartbreaking as their friend to watch them struggle with the failed attempts, and incredibly gratifying to get the news that they were finally pregnant.  As difficult as this was, it was far from the most trying challenge they continue to face in trying to start a family.

These two women are going to be the most amazing parents, and I cannot wait to see them as a family, raising a baby boy who is going to be surrounded by so much love and happiness, that his little heart will overflow.  I am excited to see pictures of the three of them over the years- on the beaches of their home state,  celebrating holidays with their families, the little guy running around and playing with their dog Olive, and the little moments of pure, unabashed joy that fill their lives.  I can’t wait to hear them talk about how no matter how badly they always knew they wanted him, nothing could have prepared them for the love they felt when he was finally in their arms. I am looking forward to these things not only because I love them, but because they deserve it.  They deserve the right to find happiness and joy wherever they can in this world, to experience every sweet drop of life as a family.

Even though his arrival is just a few short months away, there are still battles to be fought.  There is all the legal paperwork to contend with, so that Corinne is protected as the other legal parent of their son.  And with that, comes exorbitant cost and jumping through hoops to prove herself to the state, a state that doesn’t yet recognize their marriage.  For example, Corinne AND Lisa (the biological parent) must complete fingerprinting and background checks, as well as a home study.  Lisa is a veteran of the US Air Force, who served this country proudly for six years, and is being made to follow an exhaustive process, because that same country doesn’t recognize her marriage or family.  Corinne must provide letters of recommendation regarding her character, from multiple sources.  Corinne also has to follow a tedious process to ensure that if, God forbid, something happen to Lisa before,  during or after childbirth, her child isn’t taken into the custody of the state and taken from her.  Because without all of this, he would be.  The state would find foster parents, strangers, better suited to raising this child, than his other mother.  Disturbing as this all is, same-sex adoption wasn’t even legal in Florida until two years ago, so this is what progress looks like.

These are experiences most people never even have to entertain, when deciding to have a child.  Why is the default that parents are considered fit unless proven otherwise, when the parents are straight?  I think time and experience has shown that children are no more secure in straight-coupled homes, yet heterosexual couples don’t have to prove themselves to be suitable parents before being allowed to have a child.  So, when you find yourself thinking about this issue, this topic that may never directly impact you, I want you to remember their faces, their story…because this IS personal to them, and thousands of families just like theirs.

And although you may say you disagree with Romney’s policies on equality, yet still plan to vote for him for his economic “policies” (which are what, again?), remember that by voting for him, you are still responsible for perpetuating anti-gay legislation and rhetoric.  Remember that your decisions, and Romney’s (if elected) have human consequence.