Confessions of the Other Mother

Harlyn Aizley

Part 8

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Fran has not shared with the boys our historic diaculties with her parents. Maybe someday. As they grow into men, they will understand the prejudice and forgive the behavior. Certainly their mother has wished it could have been diae'erent and easier.

While at times we have questioned the authenticity of the improvements in our relationship with Franas parents, these days the genuineness of their intent matters less than before. What matters always are the boys, and all of usa"their familya"working to get along. When Franas folks invite us to vacation with them, we do. We make it a point to include them in all important activities and events that are meaningful to the kids. They partic.i.p.ate. What has developed, at least, is respect. Under the circ.u.mstances, I guess you could say weave come a long way.

Our boys, whose feet once couldnat reach the floor as they sat at our table, are now men who overwhelm the kitchen when they enter the room. They canat help but sprawl. They are tall and gangly. Arms that were once slender and smooth are now muscular and hairy. Their wrists are thick, they have beards, and they shave. I remember teaching them how to use a razor. Their once-tiny feet that wore the kind of sneakers that blink on and oae' at the solesa"you know the onesa"are now mammoth, both size thirteen. What happened and how did it happen so quickly?

They couldnat be more diae'erent; theyare opposites, really. One is cerebral, with a wry sense of humor. The other is physical, and sometimes exhibits a confidence that surprises us. One loves to be silly and wants to discuss people at school, the he-said-she-said of life; the other one wants to know the genesis of the Armenian genocide, what caused the federal deficit, and how to abolish the electoral college. One can be intense and exhausting, the other refreshingly simple and sweet. One is very much a teenager; the other we call our forty-year-old adolescent.

They both share a love of movies and music, like me. I make sure they maintain a healthy sense of humor and the ability to laugh at themselves. They have learned to kid and tease and joke around, like mea"like my father taught me to do.

Their sensitivity comes from Fran, as does their sense of justice, caring, and compa.s.sion. She is the one who makes certain that they (and I) eat properly, exercise, and keep a clean house. I am always making up things to celebrate and I devise special breakfast menus for the days of the Oscars, the Tony Awards, the Super Bowl, and the World Series.

Both boys look like their beautiful biological mother, but the other day a student of mine who saw Harrison and me together said, aIs that your son? He looks just like you!a Harrison and I shared a good laugh, the same as my mother and I used to when people said we looked the same. You know, after all these years, we honestly do!

Fran likes to say, the older they get, the dumber we become. Donat you know, they know everything?

Our discussions are no longer about brushing their teeth before bed or their friendas new puppy, petty diae'erences on the playground or making costumes for the school play. We talk about the news and real problems. They are seasoned campers who have been to Australia and French Polynesia without us. One is a member of the gay-straight alliance at school. There is no more talk of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. They both hold weekend jobs. Harrison is driving and we sit nervously in the pa.s.senger seats trying to be calm, as our parents did with us.

We still do things as a family and we feel that this is an accomplishment. There have been no rebellions unpleasant enough to make us want to run away from home. The boys can be diacult, but they have never been too much to handle. As we have always said, our house is a aNo Mean Teen Zone,a and they respect that.

We expect much from the boys. They are men who will go out into the world and reflect the values they have learned, the home that they came from, and the school they represent. It is important to us as women, lesbians, and human beings that they reflect well. Manners are essential. Common courtesy and sensitivity to others matter. Education is paramount.

Defining Family.

So much hate is directed at families like mine. Some people will never be convinced that two women or two men can love each other and raise healthy, productive children. Many of us take more care rearing children and working at our relationships and marriages than folks in traditional families, not necessarily to prove anything, but rather to demonstrate that we are the same. We want the same for our kids. Our day-to-day lives are not that much diae'erent. We do many of the same things. We have the same types of worries about the future.

I wonder, why canat we respect each otheras diae'erences without judgment? If anyone is going to judge, at least know what you are talking about. Come to my home. Talk to my teenagers. Get to know my partner. Talk to me about who I am and where I come from.

In recent years the boys have become our champions. Harrison was among the supporters at the State House in Boston when marriage became a reality for gay people in Ma.s.sachusetts. Nicholas has gotten into fights because other children say horrible things about gay people. They want us to get married and have even asked how we can become a legal family. They understand that if we were really threatened in any way, if some horrible tragedy or accident befell us, I am the most vulnerable. I know they would fight for me.

One boy is a soph.o.m.ore and the other a junior in high school. One is looking at colleges already. It stands to reason that we are less a part of their everyday experiences at school than we were in elementary school. Even though I am enjoying this time in their lives, sometimes I long for those moments when maybe they needed us more. It will be diacult at first to have them out of the house, and that time is coming faster than I can adjust. There are times I will remember forever that aarm our decisions and the choices we made from the start of our journey.

One of those times was a year ago. Nicholas was agraduatinga from eighth grade. The school makes a big deal out of its studentsa transition to high school. It is a lovely and sweet aae'air. Traditionally, there is a parent who speaks during the ceremony.

One night before the event, there was a call from the princ.i.p.al. I answered the phone and he said the school would like it very much if I could give the graduation speech representing the parents. I was sure he had me confused with Fran. I know we sound alike, so I told him Fran was not at home. No, he answered, I mean to talk to you. I felt so honored. Of course I agreed. For me it was one of the most emotional and gratifying events I have ever partic.i.p.ated in.

Uncle Bobby was there. Franas parents were there.

I was acknowledgeda"recognizeda"by my community, our friends, and our family, for being precisely who I was and what I was to all of them.

Somehow that night felt diae'erent.

From that night forward, I promised myself I would try not to be as afraid. I would try not to feel as vulnerable again, as we adoptees sometimes do about permanence . . . that it is fleeting.

On this night I belonged.

I very publicly took my place with my familya"a family that didnat grow under my heart, but in it.

Contributors.

Nancy Abrams is the author of The Other Mother: A Lesbianas Fight for Her Daughter (University of Wisconsin Press, 1999), which was named among the top ten books of the year by Chicago Pride Magazine, and among the ten best-selling books for women by Lambda Book Report.

Dawn Beckman is a nurse pract.i.tioner. She and her family live in the Boston area.

Cynthia Benton is the nonbiological mother of her son, two dogs, and two cats, and the biological mother of her daughter. She works in San Francisco, California, as a psychiatrist specializing in lesbian issues.

Fern Bliss coparents in a happy, healthy family of three in Brooklyn, New York.

Mary Cardaras has worked for CNN Atlanta, CNN London, and other television stations in four other major markets in a career spanning more than twenty-five years in journalism. She is the recipient of two Emmy Awards. She continues to produce doc.u.mentaries and has established a nonprofit organization, the South End Cinema Foundation for the Arts, to support the work of independent cinematic artists. Mary is completing a doctorate in press and politics with a focus on the Middle East. She shares her life with her partner, sons, and faithful canine, Sedona.

Heather DeRosier lives in Seattle, Washington, with her partner, their seven-month-old daughter, and their two dogs. She runs her own graphic design studio out of her home and, when not fielding calls from clients, she takes care of her daughter.

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Isabel Fox is a bicoastala"not bis.e.xuala"actress. She has appeared on stage, television, and in movies, as well as in a tent in her living room with her daughter.

Judy Gold gets around. She appears regularly on Comedy Central and VH-1, has made several appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and is the host of HBOas At the Multiplex with Judy Gold. One of the stars of the 2005 film The Aristocrats, Judy has won the Cable Ace Award for her HBO half-hour special, and two Emmy Awards for her work on The Rosie OaDonnell Show. Judyas funny yet poignant one-person show, G-d Doesnat Pay Rent Here, was the breakout hit of the 2005 Montreal Just for Laughs Festival and is soon to be produced in New York City. She is the TWJL mom of two sons.

Hillary Goodridge is the director of the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program. She and her partner were the lead plaintiae's in the case that led the Ma.s.sachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to extend marital rights to same-s.e.x couples.

Mimi (Miriam) Hill currently works as the executive administrator of a small hospice-based nonprofit called WAMM. She continues to build her home business in Santa Cruz, California, and to design Web pages.

Suzanne M. Johnson is a professor of psychology at Dowling College in New York. She and her partner, Elizabeth OaConnor, are the coauthors of For Lesbian Parents:Your Guide to Helping Your Family Grow Up Happy, Healthy, and Proud (Guilford, 2001) and The Gay Baby Boom: The Psychology of Gay Parenthood (New York University Press, 2002).

Casandra McIntyre and her partner, Amy, own Rugg Road Paper Company in Boston, Ma.s.sachusetts.

Amie Klempnauer Miller is a writer and fundraising consultant. Her essays and articles on pregnancy, parenting, and gay families have appeared in Brain, Child, Minnesota Womenas Press, and Salon.com. She lives with her partner, Jane Miller, and their daughter, Hannah, in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

Polly Pagenhart is a writer and teacher who lives with her family in Berkeley, California. She has published in the areas of feminist pedagogy, queer theory, and popular culture. She is currently developing a Website and writing a book about lesbian fatherhood.

Robin Reagler is the executive director of Writers in the Schools in Houston, Texas. Her poems have been published in numerous journals, including Ploughshares, Maverick Magazine, Colorado Review, American Letters & Commentary, VOLT, and Gulf Coast.

Faith Soloway is a musical-comedy mama. She co-created the nationally acclaimed Real Live Brady Bunch, as well as the sellout schlock operas Jesus Has Two Mommies, Miss Folk America, and Debbie Does Falcon Ridge. She composed the music for Chicagoas longest-running musical, Coed Prison s.l.u.ts. Faith and her tibbies live in Boston.

Shira Spector is a co-mom, multimedia artist, and d.y.k.e drama queen. She graduated with a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal, and her work has been exhibited in Toronto and featured on the covers of various publications. Look for her in Queer Combo with Cheeseas upcoming production, Roxy Goes to Mars, where she appears as her alter ego, a s.e.x-crazed pink-beehived alien in platform heels.

C. J. Ward lives in Washington, D.C. She has been an emergency medical technician for sixteen years and taught medically related programs for the past twelve. Her medical writing as well as her poetry have appeared in numerous publications. Currently she is completing a series of medical textbooks as well as a memoir, t.i.tled Waiting for Abigail.

Acknowledgments..

This collection would not have been possible without the courage, candor, and generosity of each of its contributors. To all the moms (be you Mama, Mommy, Baba, Ima, or Mommy Bath) who shared their stories so that others might find support, a huge and heartfelt thank-you.

Thank you to my agent, Helen Rees, for her support and encouragement, and to my editor, Brian Halley, for his enthusiasm and supreme patience.

A kiss blown in the direction of all the moms, dads, and children in the weekly playgroup that has sustained my family and informed me as to the many flavors of parenting. Three years later, we are family.

Eternal thanks to Faith, who teaches me to have faith and who is the best Daddy v.a.g.i.n.a money could never buy.

And of course, my lifelong grat.i.tude to Betsy, and her patient lessons in parenting and gradual unfoldings of the heart.

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