Yesterday was built around our daughter.
Most of the morning we worked out logistics for the big event: her performance with her hula classmates in front of hundreds people at a swanky mall in Honolulu.
Between rehearsals, prepping, primping, transportation, eating, performance, and post-performance bonding, six hours of a Saturday mostly flew by.
Without missing a beat, though, and no costume change, we drove straight from the mall to a Girl Scout holiday party with wonderful friends, games, food, presents, conversations, and another rush of time. Five hours later, all The Three of Us could think about was sleep.
A funny thing happened, though, on the way to gathering with other parents at the stage area to cheer our kids on: a salesperson approached my husband and me with moisturizer samples from a boutique where even walking in and breathing the rarefied air carries the expectation of leaving a tip! I guess we were profiled!
Except that the tips were given to me by a young man from France who carefully massaged the left side of my face while telling me how to care for my skin. I swallowed down laughs and tried not to joke too loudly with my husband that this impromptu face treatment was going to cost a fortune.
Actually, said Guillaume, it would cost just a few hundred dollars and last two years because even after years of tennis and distance running, my skin, thanks to not smoking and my already being a fan of organic creams, was in pretty good shape.
He then asked the question I had been waiting for: my age. This time, I could not stifle my laughter. I made him guess. A good salesman, he made me several years younger. We talked a little more, but I was determined not to spend any money and to make it to my daughter’s hula performance in time. Guillaume expertly applied at least $30 of product to the other side of my face, made another sales pitch, gave us his boutique’s contact information, and let us go.
On the way to Girl Scout festivities, I talked to my husband about the fun and unexpected boutique experience. Mind you, I grew up avoiding malls. I’ve never had a credit card. I’ve usually held two or three jobs. Just last week, I blogged about how I had purchased my last piece of new clothing. I’m a fan of free samples.
My husband turned to me in the car at a traffic stop, smiled and said, “I’ve never seen your skin look better. Maybe you should consider buying the product.”
You see how lucky I am. Maybe it was my husband’s kind words, Guillaume’s magical potions, or exhilaration about my daughter fitting in so well into the communities we have found in Hawaii that I felt lighter, maybe even 5 years younger!
A day later, I’m back to the challenges and joys of parenthood, thinking of what I need to accomplish at work this week, and uneasy thoughts about the state of world affairs, but I believe my skin still has a certain glow to it — or maybe that’s just residue from the yogurt my daughter spilled on me this morning.
I love keeping streaks going.
Once I set my mind to something, I usually follow through.
Like writing this blog every day of the year in its first year (except weekends and holidays).
Like writing this blog every weekend (Saturday or Sunday) and every Wednesday in its second year.
Like finishing every marathon I have ever entered.
My entry on Sunday about parenthood promised a conclusion and some backstory.
And here we have Wednesday already!
So here I go.
Last weekend was typical for our family. Our seven-year-old daughter does not believe in sleeping in so The Three of Us were up by six, trying to stay pretty quiet for the neighbors, getting ready for a day of Hawaiian Studies and hula at the YMCA followed by exercise, followed by chores, meals, homework (for our daughter and her two dads for their jobs!), a lovely drive to take in Hawaii that we sometimes forget to do with the rush of everyday life.
Sunday brought a lot of excitement. Our daughter read an aspiration at Temple service. Her fathers squeezed in work. She then was installed as a Brownie at a large gathering of Girl Scouts. Her fathers held back tears and squeezed in a little more work.
Then we visited Ellen’s favorite museum for two hours while her one father tutored to pay for our daughter’s summer school. (We like to plan ahead.)
This father, the author of this blog, took Ellen to her favorite places. We had lemonade. The two hours went by quickly. We met a new family with two young daughters close to Ellen’s age. The girls played games together and really seemed to enjoy each other’s company. The father I met teaches special education. His wife is a specialist in genetics. Our conversation was easy. They both remarked how they could instantly see that Ellen is a smart, alert, and physically strong young girl with great social skills. Full of hope, I gave out my business cards. They could understand why I dream that she one day go to college. They said with a daughter like Ellen, they would do the same.
The girls left the volcano exhibit to play on a great lawn outside. The girls’ laughter filled the air. But the museum was soon closing, Ellen’s other father, who watched from afar, was wrapping up his tutoring. My new friends wanted to leave. We talked about a possible playdate which is such a rare occurrence for our family. Even when Ben and I have invited families to our home, prepared wonderful meals, engaged in fun conversations, we rarely hear back or are offered an invitation in return.
We’ve often wondered if people are a bit scared of their children having friendships with a girl born with an extra chromosome, or with her parents who often feel we come across as a bit needy or too hopeful.
A natural suggestion many people have is to join groups with other families with children with “disabilities,” a term that I avoid, especially around my daughter. It has always been our goal that she hold her own with “typical” children. And so far she has — at school, at the YMCA, at Temple services at Girl Scouts. She is thriving.
But she needs friends. So when at the great lawn at the museum when we were all getting ready to say goodbye, and my daughter inexplicably shoved her new, younger friend out of the blue, my heart stopped. It was not a hard shove, but a clear one. I made Ellen apologize. The girls hugged. The mother assured me her daughters shove each other all the time. But I was crestfallen.
At home, not the calm, steady Quaker I try to be, my voice shook a little when I explained to Ellen that a strong finish is perhaps more important than everything that came before, whether its miles in a marathon, the end of a tennis match or playdate, finishing a semester, the last sentence of an exam or poem.
I don’t know how much of that life lesson she took in. Why should I expect so much from her when I am still reminding myself how valuable strong finishes are?
It is no surprise for me that I have not yet heard from the girls’ parents I met last Sunday at the museum. My disappointment about how the Sunday afternoon ended is less intense now that it is Wednesday. I am, though, waiting for a few miracles to come my way. Maybe they have and I’m just a little too tired to recognize them.
What will I do when my best friend moves to China in a few weeks?
I can call her at any time of day, even though we are five time zones apart. I can continue a conversation begun two weeks ago. I can bring up any topic and know she will give it to me, a gay man, “straight.” She is loving, caring, practical, startlingly smart, and always a source of wisdom!
Once in a while I’m lucky to reciprocate for all she gives me. Recently, I encouraged her to move to China for a fresh start in her life, her career as a wonderful, nimble teacher, as a constant giver who has a chance to be given a bit of hope for herself.
I knew in my heart that China would be the right move for my friend, but I wondered how I could convince her. I mentioned that when I was barely in my 20s I received a Fulbright to study and teach in Austria. I knew that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I remember when I received the scholarship, I celebrated by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. I was so excited I could not speak. The only person who knew for a few days was my mother, a teacher who grew up in a mountain hamlet in Pennsylvania. I thought she might be proud of her firstborn son.
A few decades later, to my astonishment I was offered a job in Hawaii, for me the most beautiful place on earth. I played in a small tennis tournament in my mid 20s and at that time thought, “Well, I’m glad I’ve seen it. I always wanted to spend at least a week in Hawaii and Iceland.”
I did squeak in that 10-day trip to Iceland a few decades after Hawaii and before I met my stunning husband. I had given up on relationships, so I thought I would become a good development director, runner, and gardener. My husband is younger than I, and at the time, with encouragement from my sister, I decided I could squeak by in our age range.
Then it came to parenthood.
I had wanted to be a parent my entire life. My husband did not. Oh boy. Somehow, I persuaded him. Time was perhaps running a bit short for me as I was in my 40s, but we did it, the best decision of my life — tied with having the audacity to set myself up for a date with my husband. We have the most glorious daughter in the world. I squeaked by.
As a family, we lived on the continental United States, Germany, and then, Hawaii. I convinced myself it was still the right time in my life to try something new, to return to a paradise I had discovered decades earlier, to squeak by one more daring move to a new home. It was one of the best decisions, next to marriage and parenthood, I ever made.
I’m glad I could recall that recklessness when my friend was considering China, when my Bavarian gut, said, “By all means, do it now, you don’t want to wake up some day and wonder, ‘What if?'”
Maybe we’ve all squeaked by in some way, and you know what, that’s perfectly o.k! Listen to your heart, your gut, your brains, and go for it!
I’m lucky in many ways.
I live in Hawaii. I work at a school where for a few hours yesterday students and staff gathered for one of the first presentations in our new building. It was led by a gentleman who was a volunteer in the ’60s to assist African-Americans to overcome barriers so they could vote in Mississippi.
When I celebrate my birthday, I will always think of Edith Windsor.
Because of Edie, who died yesterday at age 88, the Supreme Court granted same-sex married couples federal recognition for the first time although it was “just” 13 states and the District of Columbia. The decision was handed down on June 26, 2013. Two years later, on the same day, my birthday, the Supreme Court allowed us to marry anywhere in the United States.
My husband and I had moved three times before and after we became parents to find states where we could raise our daughter as a legal married couple.
I mentioned to our guest speaker yesterday that I never thought in my lifetime that my husband and I could work in the same place as a same-sex married couple raising a young child and be warmly embraced by an extended community that includes hundreds of men and women of all generations.
I asked our guest speaker if he had known that Edie had died. He had not yet read the news.
It dawned on me later that as a young man, our guest had set out on a path in an area of Civil Rights that not only changed his life but thousands of others.
I read that Edie, when she was young, had never imagined that she would be an activist.
Like Edie early in her life, I did not want to stand out as a minority, but somehow I became a trailblazer: the first openly gay male in my vast extended family, the first to introduce my husband at a family reunion as my husband, the first openly gay male in at least four places where I’ve worked, one half of the first openly gay couple in my family to raise a child although now, thank goodness, a few cousins and their wives have joined me.
I wonder about my talented, bright daughter born with an extra chromosome. Will she receive a college degree as my husband and hope and will do everything we can to make that path appealing to her? She already has inspired many as a student in an inclusive public school where she is more than holding her own, as a Girl Scout, as a student of hula and Hawaiian Studies at our YMCA where our family was asked to be part of a campaign to help promote diversity.
Edie and countless men and women like the gentleman who spoke at our school yesterday have inspired quiet activism in me over the years: Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, Billie Jean King, Martin Luther King Jr. just to name a few.
Yesterday, listening to our guest speaker and reading about Edie, I was reminded of something I have known for years: never give up unless I really want to which doesn’t happen too often!
My daughter loves hugs. She enjoys giving and receiving them. She trusts easily, sometimes a little too readily. When she seeks affection or attention, she will often say to a person, “I love you.”
Ellen Bear recently said good-bye to a young boy at the YMCA, a classmate in her hula and Hawaiian Studies class and not someone we know too well yet. She called him Sweetie. When Ellen had her back turned, the boy poked his sister and gave her the same term of affection my daughter had given him, only in a slow, mocking voice. He did it twice.
I observed all this and tried to hold myself back. When he did it a third time, I went up to him, smiled, and said gently, “Guess what? My daughter was being nice to you. If you want to mock her for that, have the courage to do it to her face.”
My husband and I have had many conversations with Ellen about overhugging, about discerning when a person wants a hug and when not. We’ve even tried to define boundaries such as
Before and since Ellen was born, my husband and I have heard and read many instances of people with Trisomy 21 basking in hugs. We do not want Ellen to be a stereotype.
We also have two main fears about our daughter being overly generous with affection. First, that she shows it to the wrong person. Second, that she will be mocked and in much harsher ways than she was at the Y.
For the latter, I can’t, nor would I want to control every interaction my child has with her age peers. What I can do is try to reinforce, even role-play appropriate boundaries.
I’m still learning boundaries myself. Having come from a German-American home, we didn’t hug too often, especially in public. I joke with my mother that my yearly hug allowance with her is two. I startle her sometimes by telling her I love her even though I don’t have to. I’ve never doubted my mother’s love nor the other way around.
I’m pretty generous when it comes to hugging my daughter. Then again, I’m someone who has usually worn his heart on his sleeve, a blessing and a curse.
It’s always a balance, every day. I wrote most of this post before Ellen woke up. When she did, I hugged her.
I was cleaning our home at the end of a long Saturday and ahead of a busy Sunday: hula and Hawaiian Studies class at the YMCA Saturday morning; homework; late lunch at our daughter’s favorite restaurant; sports to improve her hand-eye coordination; reading and story retention practice; sleep!
This was before Sunday faith service and school; reading and math practice; a trip to Ellen’s favorite museum; more reading.
When Ellen made it to bed Sunday, I showed my husband what I found during cleaning on Saturday evening: a note Ellen had written when we encouraged her to spend some time on her own with both her parents in the house but during a needed break when we were all taking a little alone time.
How can someone be my best friend? Please can someone be my best friend?
Oh, boy. My heart stopped when I first read my seven-year-old daughter’s note.
My daughter is adored by her two fathers. I miss her when I’m at work. I miss her when I’m asleep! In Hawaii, she has aunties and uncles who love her but don’t see her often. Last year, she had a once-in-a-lifetime teacher who changed her life — and ours.
Ellen plays with a lot of kids at school and at the YMCA. She knows other kids in Dharma (Sunday) School and Girl Scouts. She has birthday parties although she herself has not been invited to any for two years. We have had a few playdates at our home. We put the word out that we would like more. Responses are kind, but there have been no commitments aside from a recent playground acquaintance.
My husband and I are treating that bit of promise carefully, trying not to go overboard while still being hopeful.
Ellen’s playground friend is also seven years old, in second grade, loves to play. Unlike Ellen, she has a sibling and she was not born with an extra chromosome. She has a mother and a father.
She and Ellen have exchanged a few notes and small gifts that they have brought with them when they have met at the playground. We hope in the near future to have a family meal together.
But we offer Ellen words of caution: take it slowly. Ellen usually does not. She loves to embrace kids, call them Sweetie, her Best Friend. We have told her it takes time to get to know someone and that best friends are truly a special gift. We have even told her that if she showers too much affection on people she doesn’t know too well, she will be mocked.
We know that may happen anyway given Ellen’s extra chromosome. But since she was born and a few national experts told us she was very healthy and had great potential, we have tried as parents and encouraged others to treat her just like any other young girl.
My daughter and I are very much alike. When I was a teenager, I wrote a poem called Nantucket Verses where I compared myself to a seagull flying too close to people, hoping for food and leaving hungry. The poem won a major award, but poetry did not always cure long stretches of feeling alone.
I kept taking my chances, though, on tennis courts all over the world, in book and running clubs, poetry and music groups, places I’ve worked and studied, faith groups, the scary world of dating, reconnecting with my family. Eventually I found friends, even those I would consider best friends.
I have one now, thousands of miles away, whom I can call at any time of day for any reason. I love her as much as any sibling or cousin. She is there for me no matter what. I can also count on her to give it to me straight, so to speak, a real gift.
So I’ve told my daughter it takes time, to be patient, to really get to know people and try to observe how they are responding.
It’s taken me decades to acquire this wisdom and I’m still learning! In the meantime, though, my daughter has two best friends already: her two dads.
Even before yesterday, Charlottesville and for that matter vast parts of Virginia would not be places my husband, daughter, and I would travel together. We have strong connections to West Virginia, but we won’t be walking down streets in that state holding hands together anytime soon either.
Since Donald Trump moved into the White House or has visited upon occasion when he isn’t staying at his resorts at taxpayers’ expense, much of the United States no longer feels safe to me. On my own, I might “pass” for straight (although even many of my friends may dispute that!), but I sure would be giving my real identity away were I with my husband and our daughter who was born with an extra chromosome.
Mark Twain, who hailed from America’s heartland, once wrote of Hawaii, “It is the only supremely delightful place on earth.”
No place is perfect, and as a guy of northern European heritage who can’t speak Hawaiian pidgin, I am reminded at least twice a week by well-meaning and sometimes not so well-meaning people that I did not grow up here. But all in all, in the part of the state we live, my family has been warmly embraced by the communities where we work, live, learn and play. We’re even featured by one of those communities in a national diversity effort.
It does take effort, and in many cases years, to open minds and hearts. A decade passed after I came out of the closet before some of my immediate family could acknowledge publicly, without embarrassment, that I am gay. After I brought my husband to a family reunion as my husband, the first time a same-sex couple in my vast family had done so, I was chastised for being a little too open about the nature of our relationship. Now, fortunately, I have several gay cousins, many of whom are also raising children, who no longer have to pretend or be subtle and taciturn in ways no one has ever expected from a straight member of my extended family.
My husband and I are very grateful for ending up in a part of the United States where we can be proud of who we are and raise our daughter to be proud of who she is — and appreciated.
Donald, do your part so that all families can feel this way in the other 49 states you are president of. By condemning yesterday as an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” rather than calling it by its name, white supremacy, you’re making the Land of Opportunity a No Man’s Land.
There are many reasons to celebrate today. The Charter of the United Nations was signed this day in 1945. Exactly two years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment requires all states to grant same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry. Pearl Buck was born on this day as well as yours truly.
I love how the French language makes everything sound beautiful and wondrous! Well, I have reached d’un certain age! A friend once said to me a few years ago, “Once we hit middle age, we hold onto it as long as we can!” He was right!
I try to celebrate every day and today, without thinking too hard, I can find many reasons. Our daughter performed hula for the first time yesterday! On a long afternoon, she lost steam at the end, but she hung in there. I had a great talk this morning with my husband about our life together, and we’re coming up on 15 years of being committed to each other. I have a fulfilling job where I have a new professional goal I’ve wanted to pursue for a while. This year, I’m going to do it! In a few days, I’ll have written this blog for an entire year. I’m running my 19th marathon in July and my 20th in December. A few days ago, my dentist told me my teeth were in great shape, that I was not getting too long in the tooth — ha, ha!
I live in Hawaii. And although I pretend not to care, I received really nice cards from my mother, my sister, and my father-in-law.
I would like to dedicate this post to him. He is a remarkable man who supported my husband and me to become parents and in so doing, gave me the greatest gift of my life: our daughter. He is a gentleman who has worked hard his entire life and had his share of devastating turn of events, but he has always looked after people he cares about. And he’s a much better runner than I’ll ever be!
A thousand thanks to everyone who has helped me run this marathon called life. You inspire me every day, and hope I can pay forward all your kindness and generosity.