Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ordinary Summer Days

                                               ** Motor boat motor boat go so slow**
                                               ** Motor boat motor boat go so fast**
                                               ** Motor boat motor boat step on the gas**

In the summer when the kids were little I took them to the public pool every afternoon.  If the day's forecast was hot and sunny (but hot and overcast was never a deal breaker) I'd plow through the housework and laundry at a breakneck speed.  My wee ones would would scurry around picking up their toys under the threat of "We're not going to the pool unless you do your chores."

Who was I kidding?  The pool was as much for me as it was for them.  One time I ran into another mom who said her kids would just as soon not go to the pool and I thought "Not go to the pool?  Then what in the world are you supposed to do with them every day?"

It seemed that just when one Fisher kid graduated from the toddler pool to the main pool another pregnancy would send me and the newest bambino back a grade.  I learned from another mom that freedom for the older kid would come only after finding and buying the brightest colored swimsuit so that you could easily spot them from the confines of the baby pool.  When I was pregnant with Mallory, I befriended another pregnant mom that summer - her with baby #4 on the way to my #3.  Every afternoon we'd talk while entertaining our toddlers while simultaneously telling our older kids "No you absolutely can not have anything from the snack bar and didn't we talk about this before we left."  I wondered if she'd had her baby when a few days had gone by without seeing her.  A week later she was back with her newborn in a stroller parked in the shade.  By the end of July I'd follow her to labor and delivery and by early August my baby was parked next to hers. After that summer I never saw her again until twenty years later when I ran into her at a restaurant. "You probably don't remember me," she said.  "We were friends one summer at the pool."  Who forgets who they shared the foxhole of a summer pregnancy with?

Through those summers I bounced my babies in their floppy hats up and down in the water, held onto chubby toddler fingers saying "kick kick kick" while they proudly wiggled their legs back and forth, caught kids jumping off the side into my arms, heard "Mom watch this" a thousand times, tossed quarters from the side so they could dive for them, was Marco to their Polo, grabbed them when they came up choking on water, and played Motor Boat - twirling them round and round, faster and faster, until they motor boated right out of my hands.

"Again," they'd say over and over.

When it was time to leave we'd pack up our wet towels, sunscreen, and empty baggies of goldfish and drive home in a stifling hot car - bloodshot eyes and a trail of chlorine wafting behind us.  Exhausted from the sun and swimming, the three of them would flop on the floor and watch cartoons - too tired to argue over whose turn it was to pick.

Sometimes we'd go twice in one day - our standing afternoon date and then again after dinner when their dad could come along. He would play monster or dinosaur, chasing them, grabbing a hold of them and flinging them in the air. "Not so high," I would say. "Higher," they'd say and he could motor boat those slippery, little, squealing kids right into the deep end.  Swimming their way back to him they'd tap him and say, "Do it again, Dad."

One by one they peeled away from me and our trips to the pool  What kid in middle school wants to be seen anywhere with their mom and siblings?  My daily appointment with three kids got reduced to two and then one until eventually we stopped going all together.  You would think such a momentous occasion as the last trip to our favorite summertime place would be something I remembered but I don't.  The end came like many ends do - quietly and without a proper farewell.

I went back once more - by myself this time to the adult pool where the grass wasn't nearly as green as I had been led to believe. From where I sat I could see a new group of moms bouncing babies in floppy hats, pulling a toddler by their chubby fingers reminding them to "kick kick kick", all while keeping a watchful eye on the older ones who were step by step inching their brave toes into the deep end.

Take a snapshot, Mama, of these ordinary summer days I was tempted to say.  You don't know it yet but time is the fastest motor boat of all.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Band of Mothers

"We have to be aware that there are people out there that would kill him for who he is."

"I know that but I am his mother.  If I dwell on that I'd never be able to get out of bed every day."

When our son told us he was gay I held on to that information for quite awhile.  I had to kick it around in my head and come to terms with what that meant for my plans for him.  Eventually, I realized that my plans had nothing to do with any of my kids and that their lives and futures were for them to dream.  Sure I could participate but being Head Planner was never my job. A few years ago I wrote something about that time in my life that got a bit of attention.  His coming out seems like eons ago so I tend to forget about it until I am jolted out of the ordinariness of having a gay kid.

I occasionally get calls from mothers asking for advice on coming to terms with the news they're processing that they have a gay son or daughter.  My first reaction is to cry for them because I know how hard those days are.  I might take it for granted for myself that this is not that big of a deal any more, but that day only came after a bucket of my own tears.  I listen to these moms with their worry and their fear and I get it.  Oh my God do I get it.  But after they've purged all that I tell them something else. 

I tell them that having a gay kid will be the best thing that ever happened to them. 

That this kid that's causing all this anguish at the moment will be the one that will open their eyes to a world that they could never have seen before.  I tell them that this son or daughter will point a very bright light on their preconceived notions about love, about faith, about commitment.  This child, I say, will show you in a thousand different ways how closed-minded you have been about a lot of people.  How quickly you judge, the faint smile of dismissal we are prone to give to someone we just don't care to know, the eye rolls and the heavy sighs because we don't approve.  You will be shocked, I tell them, at the regularity in which you do that, but when it's your own kid that could easily be the subject of that kind of behavior you start to pay attention to how you interact with everyone.  It will shove you so far out of your comfort zone you will think you're on another planet.  And then you will begin to change in ways that will one day make you proud of how far you have come.

Through a comment I made once on a blog, a teenage girl found me and what I had written about my son and started emailing me.  "I saw what you wrote.  Do you really think I can like girls and not go to hell?  My mother asked me once if I liked girls and when I didn't answer no fast enough she slapped me across the face."

"Oh dearie, I promise you that you will not go to hell.  I don't believe that's how this all works."

"I locked myself in my room to read what you wrote about your son and I cried so much.  I wish you were my mom."

We emailed a lot for awhile and then it stopped.  I will never stop wondering what happened to her.  Did her mom find out?  Did she get kicked out of the house?  Is she okay?

I will never know the answers to any of those questions.  I only know how I have chosen to live my life.  I understand the prayers of mothers in the beginning to not have anyone know their kid is gay.  I also know that this sends missed signals because I was guilty of that myself.  "I love you but for the love of God don't tell anyone."

There are some things I would do differently now with my own kid if only I could rewind. With the screw ups, though, comes the learning.  Recently a mom asked me, "How did you handle it with your friends and family? How did you tell them and not succumb to their disapproval?"

"Here's the thing about me:  I think I give off this vibe that I will not put up with that shit with my kid.  It has never been intentional but it's there.  I know it and so nobody has ever given me a hard time or tried to convince me that my kid made a choice that he can get bible-thumped out of.  I do not go there with anyone.  Ever.  My advice would be to do the same.  Don't ever entertain a conversation that isn't completely supportive of your kid.  You betray him when you do and that seems to me to be an especially ugly thing to live with."

The body count in Orlando stands now at 49.  That means forty-nine mothers got the worse news of their life.  Maybe they accepted their kid without hesitation, maybe they slapped them in the face when they didn't renounce their attraction to the same sex fast enough, maybe they didn't even know their kid would go to a gay bar.

The world for mothers in this club just got a lot more dangerous and that is a terrorizing thought to live with. When my son is going out with friends I always say "Please be careful." I say this to my girls, too, but when I say it to him it is code for "Please, please be aware of where you are and who is around you.  Don't get yourself into a place you can't get out of easily."  In other words, be very careful about how gay you are when you are in public.  Chalk that up to another mixed message and a dose of reality.

Will living his life, freely and safely, will always be a worry for his dad and me.  I have learned to live with that fear most of the time.  In Orlando there will be decisions for forty-nine mothers to make.  Funeral homes, pall bearers, the clothes to pick out for their kid to be laid to rest in.

It's not difficult for me to imagine being in their shoes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I'm Not Your Girl

Before I got married I worked in Chicago processing insurance claims for a utility company.  There were four of us out front and we were referred to as "the girls."  We literally had stacks and stacks of bills rubber-banded by day on top of the filing cabinets.  If we could get through a couple of days a week we were doing okay but by the end of the year we were bombarded.  December, January and February were all six day work weeks.  On Monday, the boss would come in and say, "How'd you girls do Saturday?  Did you get a lot done?"  The girls pushed thousands and thousands of dollars in claims out the door every day.

When Mark was in graduate school I was the breadwinner and worked in a bank.  I'm sure I got the job because I waited two hours for the interview.  I was desperately seeking employment without much luck and had nowhere else to go that day.  I think they hired me out of guilt.  Whatever the reason I would stay there for four years until we moved to Maryland.

When I started I processed auto loans and would later move to mortgage loans.  Over on the mortgage side I would work for a real go-getter.  A young loan officer out to prove himself meant I was piled with an incredible amount of work to balance, type, copy and prepare for closing.  It was during that time that I got pregnant and my first trimester was a doozy.  Every day between 10-10:30 you could find me on the bathroom floor dry-heaving until I finally barfed into the toilet.  It was like clockwork every damn morning.  One time, Mr. Go-Getter knocked on the bathroom door, stuck his head in and said, "Are you almost done?  I need you."  When I came back to my desk he said, "I hope you're using that time for your break."

For two years I was the treasurer/VP of finance for the PTA.  Thousands of dollars passed through my hands from fundraisers to carnivals to the annual auction.  It was at the auction when we were closing out and trying to get everybody settled on what they owed that one of the dads said to me, "Let me take over here, honey.  I think I know money a little better than you do."

At my last job all money in and out came through my desk.  Thousands of dollars every day were my responsibility. I paid every contract and bill from the heating to the toilet paper for four buildings. I reconciled thirteen staff credit cards every month.  Every check for a donation, grant, membership renewal, or rebate from the electric company for switching to LED lights was my responsibility. When someone new joined the staff and my boss was taking her around to meet everyone, she said about me and my supervisor, "These are my girls."  I was 57 years old.

I have been a one-person crusader in my home these last few months for Hillary Clinton.  I argued with every person in my family on her behalf.  They wouldn't budge and neither would I.  You would think five against one would sway me (and maybe make me feel the bern) but it didn't so last night when she sealed the deal and gave her speech I was a weepy mess.  When she said, "This is because of you," I knew exactly what she meant. This was for the young woman on her first real job working six days a week shoving paper through a hopelessly clogged system.  For the puking mom-to-be trying to get through morning sickness and hold onto her paycheck nearly thirty years ago. For the volunteer treasurer being pushed out of the way by the man who knew money better than she did. For the woman who has worked for decades but was stunned into silence when introduced as "my girl."

That are many uncertainties in this election going forward but I think one thing has been settled.

We're nobody's girl.