101Monday. It’s cloudy and there’s traffic- not the worst it’s ever been, but it slows me down. Even so, by the time I reach Albany, I’m clipping along, 70 miles an hour, on my way to Monday.

I pass my mom’s old exit and, every time, think about how many times I got off here to visit her, to visit my dad. All the pool parties and barbecues, helping out after surgeries, Christmas Eve dinners, the first time I was there after he died.

The bridge is clear, and my Fastrak works perfectly, “Valid, etc.”, popping up on the machine as I pull through (why does it say that?). I try not to rush too much. Safe is better than sorry. As I get off the freeway and head for the house, I’m smiling, just because I can’t help it.

This little person, my grandson, has brought out the happy in me. He sees me and laughs, each and every time, and how can you be serious around all that “grandma you’re funny!!!?” (which, at only one year old, he can’t say out loud yet.) I honestly have trouble being serious around him. My wife says he’s teaching me to play. She’s right about that, because with him, that’s my job, my serious job, first and foremost; to play with him. To love him and to play with him.

My kids, my wife, they accuse me of loving him best. Not true! What is true is that I am in wonder at the astonishing beauty of his new life. How can it be that last year, he was tucked away in his mommy’s belly and now, here he is in the world?  Every Monday, he sets out (without any apparent effort) to delight me. I have felt this wonder before; with each of my children, when I met my wife, sometimes with dear friends… We are all miracles. We all started out fresh and full of possibility.

So he makes me love life, and I love everyone in my life more for it. Sometimes I think about the accident of being born into this generation. I am so grateful that these experiences are possible for me. If I’d been born just a few years earlier I wouldn’t ever have had children, since I came out as a lesbian at 17 and NOBODY I knew had children unless they were mothers before they discovered their sexuality. I wouldn’t have been able to marry, to enjoy the profound privilege of being a mother, and then, icing on the cake (sugar free for my grandson), my child becoming a parent!!!

I pull up in front of the house, park the car, gather my bags, walk down the walkway. It’s going to be a great Monday!

Empty Nest

Time passes and it certainly has for this blog! I was shocked to see the date of my last post. And also not surprised that I haven’t been writing. Sometimes life is so big it doesn’t seem to fit on the page!

I have made that mighty transition to “empty nest” I’d heard so much about. And also the transition to “grandmother.” If these were the only two things that came into my life this past year, it would have been so full. But, in fact, I nursed my mother as she recovered from her own near-death, I watched my middle daughter find a passion and an outlet for service and leave for Asia for 4 months to pursue it (See my recommended blogs to check her’s out, “Life Will Smile for You” and “Give Your Gap”). I found a new focus for health and watched my wife become a jock! So many different experiences. So many different directions!

And now I find I want to talk about it all. Where to begin?

My youngest child left home last summer. I had my psyche timed for a fall departure, but she worked away from home all summer then immediately left for college, so I hit that wall, unexpectedly, in June. Unexpected too was my reaction. All I could think was, “my life is over.” I was bereft. And I wasn’t prepared for this. I had done all I could to be ready. I had joined a choir two years ago to have a new thing in my life that wasn’t parenting. I had talked with my wife about the time we would have together and how that would be a pleasure. I had begun to think about what I might want to try in my work, now that I would’t need to spend as much time parenting.

But when the moment hit, none of that seemed to help at all. I just felt old and tired. Lacking meaning. Life is over and down. What does it all matter. You live and then you die. I was in an existential crisis! The optimist couldn’t see the point of anything. I was shocked at myself.

It took me awhile to get to the central question. First I had to accept that, yes, my life as I had known it for 31 years was, indeed, over. I was not defined by my role as “mother” anymore. And that brought me to the need to redefine the meaning of life. (When all else fails, I seem to become philosophical.)

About a month after my initial plunge, I really began to sort out what I believed about life’s meaning. At first, no answer came. I just kept wondering. And then one day, it seemed to dawn on me, born almost whole in my mind. The meaning of life is that each person has the opportunity to be born, and experience all that life is, and make of it what they can. Each person comes with a right to this experience; all the wonderful, terrible, meaningful and mundane moments. All the dull disengagement and wondrous epiphany. The going towards what you want in life and the avoiding it. That’s enough.

At first, I thought of this in terms of my children and my still unborn grandchild. Wow, they each have these lives to live that belong to them, and I get to watch every aspect of those wondrous journeys! I had been excited about becoming a grandmother even though I wasn’t clear on the meaning of life. But now, his life became an amazing adventure that I was going to get to watch, and sometimes participate in. I had been excited that my children were having these incredible lives, but now it gained depth and breadth in my imagination. “This is the wonder of life,” I thought.

And then it dawned on me- I have the same opportunity as they do, for the rest of my life, to experience whatever is happening. I have new chapters to write. I have songs to sing, blogs to write, relationships to cherish and times when the dailyness of my life is plenty in itself.

So now I have a renewed desire to live it. To cherish the people I love, but also to cherish this experience called living, each moment, until the last moment. I only need remember…

True Love

The night I met my love, my wife, I knew I would.

It had been a year and a half since my first wife died. In those years before she died, I expected grief to be all pain, but it wasn’t. I found I could keep myself company, and pay attention to myself throughout the hard moments and that, if I did, they passed pretty quickly. I found that putting my hands in the dirt and on the piano keys soothed me. I found that singing was sometimes all I needed to feel a deep sense of solace.

So that night, thinking I was ready for love again, knowing that it was now, frightened me. I put off going out, took a long bath and went, just myself, to the sushi bar. I had never had a sense of foreknowledge like this, and, though I didn’t really trust it, I couldn’t shake it.

I arrived at the salsa dancing party late. This was unfortunate, since I actually needed the lesson they offered at the beginning. Everyone had found someone to dance with, and I stood awkwardly on the side, not sure what to do. The woman running the night noticed me, the wallflower on the side. She drew me over to the chairs, and asked one of the women sitting there, “will be her partner?”. Slight hesitation and then she said yes.

It’s hard to stay objective about the first time you lay eyes on a great love. She says for her, it was love at first sight. It took me until our first dance finished up.

There’s nothing sensible about that kind of love. It hits you like a thunderstorm, insisting on itself! Yet ultimately, there is nothing more sensible! We hardly danced that night, because we were so busy talking. Three subjects dominated our conversation; death (she had lost her father a few months before I lost Joanne), children (motherhood for me, aunthood for her), and spirituality (as opposed to religion). At one point, she said, “I practice a sort of Christian, Buddhist, Native American kind of thing,” and I thought, “this could work!”

We stayed until the dancing ended, and then I invited her to the sweat lodge I was part of. She had been looking for one. She gave me every number she had (I think there were 4) and I gave her mine (I didn’t have as many).

Yes, we knew right away. She went home and emailed her friend, “I’m in trouble and she has children!” I went home and, when my teenager missed her curfew, I let it slide and told her, “you lucked out because I met someone tonight.” The next day, at lunch with my parents, I told them I had met someone who was going to be important.

Nearly fourteen years later, I am no less sure. I have had the great honor of exchanging vows with my beloved 3 times (doing our part for the gay marriage thing). We have parented together, prayed together and mopped the floor, painted the living room and gone to school meetings ad infinitum. I do not take this life for granted. I know in my soul, through experience, that loss is inevitable and we have each other for just a brief time, even if it is a lifetime. So every day, even when I’m mad or tired or just plain cranky, I know I am lucky.

I wrote a song a little while after we met called, “Lightening Striking Twice.” The odds against that are just as long as the odds against two great loves in a lifetime. But I have been that blessed, to have loved and been loved to the very depths twice in my life. I will never take my wife for granted. I will treasure her for as long as I am given, and beyond.

In Memory

Joanne and Me 1970

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the death of my first wife. As I write these words, I feel a kind of stunned disbelief- how could she have been dead so long? And yet it also feels much longer- all the kids are grown, or nearly so, I have been married to Deb now for going on 12 years, and, face it, I look A LOT OLDER!!
That time in my life, her 8 year illness, her decline, her death, brings so many different feelings when I remember it. Strangely, the one that comes up first is joy; because, really, there is no greater joy than facing ALL of life with a strong love and a community that supports you. (And also, gallows humor is pretty damn funny).
I met Joanne when I was 16 and I’d like to be able to say that we caught each other’s eyes and knew, right then, that we should spend our lives together but, c’mon, it was the 60s and I was 16! We finally began a “relationship” (if anyone had been calling it that then) when I was 18 or so, but it was a pretty loose thing. It wasn’t until I moved 3000 miles away and missed her too much to describe that I realized she was Important (capital I intended). She moved to California to move in with me.
Once again, I’d like to say we lived happily ever after but, hey, now it was the early 70’s! Lesbians just weren’t doing that. Monogamy was a bourgeois invention to support the Man, we needed to be free, marriage was to keep women imprisoned by men, blah, blah, blah… The two of us fell apart within a few years.
But here’s the really strange, or maybe pretty lesbian, part- we never really fell out. We morphed into the kind of friends who call each other at the worst times, just to hear a loving voice. We encouraged each other, came through for each other, protected each other (well, ok, maybe she just protected me). I knew, even then, that having a true friend that loves you, absolutely no matter what, is a supreme blessing. And I felt that, even while we were breaking up!
I hesitate to say this (my kids read my blog) but the gen-xers did not invent Friends With Benefits. There was that too, when we were single, lonely, whatever. We didn’t really consider turning it into Something again until…
I remember the day she told me about the cancer. She asked to go out with me and the person I was living with. We met at a restaurant and sat in the bar area. I was looking forward to seeing her. She came in with that big old smile she had, her confident walk, a little trouble in her face.
“Well,” she said, “the good news is I’m not crazy! The bad news is, it’s really bad.”
She had been experiencing severe back pain for 2 years, and couldn’t even get a doctor to give her an xray. (One of the doctors later admitted to her that he hadn’t taken her seriously because, in the medical community, if an African-American presents with back pain, they are assumed to be malingering!!!!) By the time she was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a form of blood cancer that breaks your bones, she had a broken back. She was given six months to a year to live.
I was there for her right away. You bet; this was my friend! I had her power of attorney within a year. She said it was because I was the only one who could pull the plug if I needed to (and eventually, I pretty much did need to). What I couldn’t have predicted was that we would fall in love again, and this time we would have a marriage. For 6 ½ years, we lived with death in the background, but it only seemed to make life more vital. (Well, at least after I got done panicking! That took a couple of years.)
She started talking right away about having a child together. I thought she was out of her mind! A baby and a dying partner? Not to mention the older kids…
About 4 years in, we went to Hawaii and somehow, being in that air just helped me get ready to take the risk. Was I going to put off life because of what might happen? That didn’t seem to line up with anything else we were doing. So, we came back prepared to begin having a baby (we planned for me to give birth).
The universe had a different plan! The day we came home, we met a mother who needed to place her baby. Within a week, my youngest daughter, two months old, had moved in with us, forever (although we didn’t know it was forever for a long time). One of our friends said, “I was thinking this just doesn’t happen to people, and then I thought, it does if it’s you two!”
It was a crazy decision (I’m sure you’d all agree) and the expected result, the one I feared, happened- Joanne died 2 ½ years later. But it was also a right decision- the blessings that have come from loving a dying woman (her, specifically) and bringing that baby, now 17, into our lives cannot be counted. Everything is richer having learned even more deeply that some crazy things are right things.
I can see that many good things in my life are possible because I learned to live more fully. And even loving again, taking the risk of losing love, eyes open to the preciousness in each day, has made my marriage to Deb, and our true love, richer and deeper, because I’m just not that timid, uncertain person I was so long ago.
I honor Joanne for helping me learn that love is the only answer, the only thing worth risking everything for. I thank her for opening up my life ever more fully to the living. If there is a life beyond this one, I know she’s somewhere winning at Scrabble, attracting people to come near, just to be around her and most of all, laughing a hearty laugh.
Happy death day, my friend!

Bragging Rights

While out to dinner one night, I’m sitting across from my youngest, and she says, “why don’t you write about ME, Mom?!!!” and then the middle one says, “Yea, I haven’t noticed a column about me graduating from college yet. That’s worth a piece, right?” The oldest wasn’t there, but I’m sure she would have chimed right in, “don’t I get a blog?”
The funny thing is, I was staying away from specifics about them, thinking they would accuse me (well, at least the youngest) of getting in their space if I wrote about them. On the other hand, what’s a parenting blog without DETAILS about the actual CHILDREN!
So I am about to engage in wanton bragging- I warn you in advance in case bragging mothers make you want to… fill in the blank!
Excuse me while I flip a coin, so that they know I am not showing favoritism.

The youngest won the toss. Her sisters probably feel like that happens way too often these days, since she’s the only one still living with us. Where to begin? She is an actress, a dancer, a soccer player, an independent thinker, a social activist, and has been in student government since seventh grade. She protects her friends, whether they want her to or not, states her opinion, sometimes very stridently, and is never invisible. Weekly self portraits in kindergarten all had a “tada” quality. She can make a case like you wouldn’t believe, sometimes convincing us that she could (or will) become an attorney.
She plans on writing one of her college essays on Gay Marriage, and has made it clear she wants us to fact check. Period. Yes, she is VERY independent. And impressive, and seems very much like a grown up until I remember that she hasn’t retired all the stuffed animals, and she still needs a little guidance now and then (whether she thinks so or not).
And the middle child- she has just graduated from college as a linguist, having spoken in her short lifetime 6 different languages. She has travelled the world, absorbing different cultures and making friends on a global scale (sometimes even a boyfriend here or there). She is kind and protective and sometimes quiet, but very able to express what she wants when she wants.
We were separated for some of her childhood (that is a story for another day) but the thing that I noticed when I was able to be in her life again was that this was the very same beautiful soul I had known from birth, the same steadiness and observing eye. And now, that spirit is in an adult body, and I have the phenomenal honor of watching her walk though her life, loving her along the way. She teaches English to foreign students, creatively inspiring them to converse. Her respect for other people is palpable.
The oldest, who has had the most time to be herself, knows how to make beauty of her life and in the lives of others. I see the result of her beauty making in a very successful interior design business, but also in good friends and a happy marriage. She glides through life (we could call it poise) and yet is very clear on her own limits and boundaries- she knows how to speak for herself.
As a Resident Assistant in college, she gave workshops on how to support the LGBT community, and, when I visited once, I noticed she had a sign at the entrance to her room, letting everyone know this was a “safe space” where no bigotry towards members of the LGBT community would be acceptable.
She meets each new person expecting them to be wonderful. This has allowed her to influence and teach many people whom she has very little in common with- including the ultra conservative church where she sang in the choir in high school (how did she even find them?), resulting in a whole lot of lesbians showing up for the Holiday Concert. The congregation looked mighty confused! When they couldn’t change their stance on gay rights to her liking, she left, but not before she really tried to bring them over to her way of thinking, and I mean really tried.
These little snapshots are so limited- how to capture these children of my heart in just a few paragraphs? But what I notice reading it back is that they are all three very, very good people! They want a better world and they are each, in their own way, creating it, as world citizens, ambassadors, and teachers, just by being who they are.
When I’m depressed about gay teen suicide, or the fact that my marriage isn’t recognized, or the way “that’s so gay” is still an insult, one or the other of them will say, in some way, “don’t worry mom, when it’s up to us in a few years, this is a NON ISSUE.” And looking at the strength of their convictions and the force of their characters, I believe it!!!

Stable Marriages

Last week I read all 138 pages of the decision ruling Proposition 8 unconstitutional, on every ground. Mostly, the arguments supporting the decision were things I’ve thought about, talked about, written about. But there were a few things I’d never really articulated, and that meant the most- that a legal expert had thought about the law, and democracy, and justice enough to surprise me!

Here are a few points I especially enjoyed:

(In response to the Pro8 folks positing that society has a vested interest in supporting sex within marriage for the purpose of procreation).

“To the extent California has an interest in encouraging sexual activity to occur within marriage (a debatable proposition…) the evidence shows Proposition 8 to be detrimental to that interest. Because of Proposition 8, same-sex couples are not permitted to engage in sexual activity within marriage… To the extent proponents seek to encourage a norm that sexual activity occur within marriage to ensure that reproduction occur within stable households, Proposition 8 discourages that norm because it requires some sexual activity and child-bearing and child-rearing to occur outside marriage.”

(In response to the Pro8 argument that society should promote stable families):

“Proponents argue Proposition 8 advances a state interest in encouraging the formation of stable households. Instead, the evidence shows that Proposition 8 undermines that state interest, because same-sex households have become less stable by the passage of Proposition 8. The inability to marry denies same-sex couples the benefits, including stability, attendant to marriage.

Proponents failed to put forth any credible evidence that married opposite-sex households are made more stable through Proposition 8. The only rational conclusion in light of the evidence is that Proposition 8 makes it less likely that California children will be raised in stable households.”

Finally, a bit of sanity!

For about 5 minutes, I engaged in the fantasy that couples waiting to get married would now be able to rush down to the courthouse, at least until the Court appeal. Those hopes were dashed when a stay was granted to halt all marriages while the appeal process unfolds. (This was reinforced by the appeals court yesterday- no marriages until the appeal process is concluded)… Stopped at the door once again.

The irony is that those of us who want to get married are main stream. We’re pretty straight and narrow (pun intended!) by and large. We live in our little abodes, we have children or we don’t, we share resources with each other, we go to work, we’re sure not out there worrying about all the activities the Pro 8 folks think we are. We have no interest in undermining straight marriages or taking over the world. As my brother once said, “Cheryl, you’re the straightest lesbian I know.” (I was afraid to ask him exactly what he meant, but you get the gist).

So, for now, I can imagine the day when the question will be settled and we can all just go on with living. May it be sooner than later, at no cost to anyone (especially emotional or physical), and may we all get a chance to celebrate a win for democratic principles!

Make it Work!

The summer proceeds in its lazy, frantic way. I remember having time to be bored in the summer, so by the time the fall came, I thought I wanted to go back to school. There isn’t much time to be bored for our youngest. Soccer, theater workshops, trips and friends- each minute seems to be full. And, if nothing is going on, there is still the constant drone of the “text” alert on her phone.

I am beginning to think that humans are undergoing a genetic mutation. Anyone under 25 is automatically destined to become a cyber-techno! Every new gadget we get, our daughter knows how to use sight unseen- I mean every single feature! For a fifty-something, I’m not bad, but she’s still my go-to person when I get stuck.

Of course, I have to prepare for the inevitable “tsk” of the lips, possibly accompanied by the eye roll, and, if I’ve already irritated her that day, an “oh, mommmmm.” Sometimes it’s worth it, to watch her click a few buttons, competent and sure, taking me where I need to go or fixing what I did wrong. I may not actually learn how to do it myself- her fingers move at lightning speed over whatever keyboard is in play- but I’ll know it CAN be done.

It makes me remember all the things I thought I knew and I thought my parents didn’t. These were of a more sociological nature. I knew we needed to undergo a sexual revolution, that old ideas about gender were antiquated, that not everyone was straight. What I didn’t realize was that every option I had in my life, all the thoughts I was allowed to think, had been won because my parents DID know something about what needed to change. They had gay friends, my father supported my mother to have a career. He did the dishes and played with me. They laid the groundwork for me to go further. But, in order to go as far as I did, I had to believe that what I was doing was entirely new- that I had invented change.

My mother told me a story recently about visiting her grandmother as a little girl. There was still no running water, everyone had an outhouse, and her grandparents taught her how to well witch (i.e.find water with a stick) out in their field. This was not a casual occupation- they needed the water! My mother commented that, in her one lifetime, an unbelievable amount of ground had been covered! Sometimes it staggers my mind to think of what the changes will be by the time I’m 80. I have lost the sureness that I will be able to keep up!

If I can’t, I know I’m going to hear about it, “it’s so easy mom, what’s the problem.” But then, one of those beautiful kids, or their friends or spouses, will probably touch a view dials and make it work. How lucky am I!?