Monday, September 28, 2009

Educating Mommy

So I am a bit late with my updates lately. I have had so much going on and it’s been so busy here at home, so I feel like I have sort of an excuse. The good news is, I am not on my soapbox today. I guess I am just playing catch up. And things are moving fast, believe me. Our beloved Jenda has started kindergarten.


I knew it was coming, and tried to prepare for it as best I could by living in denial until the last possible moment. The schools here in Forsyth county sent out a list of needed supplies that was about as long as ‘War and Peace’ so I knew that I would have to find the strength to get to the local Walmart and get her all of the things she needed. And let me tell you something. For the uninitiated (parents sending their kids to school for the first time) that is a terrifying experience. Those experienced parents buying school supplies at Walmart are savages. They kill their own.

So I had Jerry with me to fight our way through the throng of crazed parents buying everything from pie tins to tie pins. I had to fight with one crazed mommy for the last Disney Princess backpack. Suffice it to say that I won, and fortunately, her injuries were not life threatening. I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t me. I yelled to Jenda that it was the last one and she jumped into the fray. That’s my girl!

We got all of her supplies together in a U-Haul and drove them to the school for orientation. The school was mobbed, so we had to stop and ask for directions from one of the teachers in the hallway. She was most helpful. “Y’all just keep walking down this hall, past the liberry on the left, and then turnleft at the end of the hallway and her room is right there on the left.”
At the point that this teacher said ‘liberry’ my eyeballs popped out of my head and dangled there. Jerry handled it beautifully. He said, “Oh thank you. You’ve been a tremendous help. By the way, what do you teach?” Of course, she teaches math so my eyeballs went back into place and I was much relieved. So we went past the ‘liberry’, turned left, and sure enough there was the room. We met with the teacher and her assistant and they were very nice. They let us know that Jenda’s first week would only be two days. Half the class would go Tuesday and Wednesday, and Jenda and the rest of the class would go the next two days. Just to help them acclimate, which I thought was a good idea. They mentioned that they would be starting the children on computer training, at which point Jenda asked if she could bring her learning dvd-roms and proceeded to go launch the internet. The teacher said maybe they could find something else for her to do. Then, the teacher made her fatal mistake. She said that parents could come in the following Monday, the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, to observe for a little while.

So in we went. Obviously, the other parents have either been down this road before or just don’t care about their children. Jerry stood there snapping some pictures, and I stood there crying. Jenda was mortified, and her teacher kept waiting for us to leave, which I finally did when I heard the words ‘recess’ and ‘call security’. What can I say? This is all new for me. Jerry was so excited to have grown up time alone together with me. He asked, “Do you know what this means?”

Yes. We’re repainting the upstairs bathroom.

We managed to get through the first few days with no major calamities. That is, until Jenda lost a stick. It would seem that someone on staff worked for the CIA or was a math major at MIT or something, because they have this reward system that only a licensed code breaker could have designed and can figure out. So it works something like this. Each student starts the day with three sticks. If they behave all day, they keep the sticks and then earn stickers for certain multiples of sticks. You lost yet? Yeah, me, too. Once they have accumulated a certain number of stickers, they get to go to the prize box and pick out some little doo-dad. Well Jenda made it to Wednesday and then she lost a stick. Did you all feel that big jolt? It was the earth no longer spinning on its axis. It was the sun falling out of the sky. It was global meltdown. She cried all the way home. She cried all the way through homework. She sobbed all the way through dinner, which in my case was a handful of Xanax and a glass of Shiraz. We finally convinced her that the sun would in fact rise the next day and all would be well. Of course, it rained.

The good news is that she didn’t lose anymore sticks and was able to get a toy out of the prize box, and life has gone on pretty much as normal. She is doing well and seems to like school and I am dealing with the separation anxiety without the Xanax and the wine. I have been making Jerry do home improvement projects and I am now on an HGTV moratorium. So life is good, really good.

Until someone loses a stick!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fighting For Families

It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons. ~Johann Schiller

It’s safe to say that I enjoy both the humor and bitter irony of life. I also laugh the loudest at myself, because there’s never a shortage of material. Being a wife and mother, hell, just being a human being means that I will always have enough humor and irony in my life to keep things interesting for the remainder of my life. With that said, sometimes the irony is too bitter to swallow. When irony chafes into a blister of ignorance, and then festers into a full blown case of hatred, I have to take a strong dose of self perception, followed by a strong measure of righteous indignation. I hate having to do that. They taste like shit.

My day started off innocently enough. I took Jenda to the park and, armed with a purse full of Capri Sun and the Sunday paper, I planted myself on a bench so I could peruse the news and watch Jenda play. The park has both a playground and a HUGE pile of dirt to climb on, so of course Jenda headed for Mt. Dirtmore, and I settled in to read the paper. And that’s when the bitter irony jumped up and bit me on the ass.

The article was ‘Man Fights Florida Over Gay Adoption.’ That sparked my interest because, let’s face it, there is a very vocal gay constituency in South Florida and DCF is really doing a terrible job. So why would Florida fight against gay adoption? There are so many children living in orphanages, or living in squalor with drug addicted parents. There are horrible stories in the news daily about children who are abused, molested, neglected, killed. Here is a man who has provided a foster home to two young boys since 2004. Why on earth would the state seek to break up the family that they have created after they have been together for five years?
According to the article, the brothers became eligible for adoption in 2006, and no state or local government entity made any move to displace the boys from the foster home. So why now? Why are we still living under some arcane law that decrees that gays and lesbians can’t be loving and attentive parents? I assume that some people feel that perhaps Mr. Gill will somehow try to ‘convert’ these youngsters. Maybe he’ll try to turn them gay.

Nonsense. If they are gay, they were born that way.

I have a cousin who was adopted by my aunt and uncle. They are both professional people, very well off financially, and very devout. They raised my cousin from the day he was born, sent him to good schools, took him to church, and loved him unconditionally as parents should love their children. And they didn’t change him. He is gay. They are not. He has made poor decisions and mistakes in his life as we all do. Being gay is not one of them. Another close friend of mine is a gay father raising two children. They both do well in school, attend church, and they adore their father. By all indications, they are straight. Their dad is not. Who is being converted to a different sexual orientation? It is a flawed argument.

There can be no denying that Martin Gill has changed these two brothers. They were living in squalor with a drug addicted mother who neglected them. Feeling unloved and unwanted, they were placed in foster care with Mr. Gill. And that did change them. They were given a nice home, they were clothed and fed. They received an education. They suddenly had a father. Being a parent, I can imagine Mr. Gill sitting up late nights caring for these boys during childhood illnesses, and comforting them and drying their tears after nightmares I’m sure they dreamt. They were wanted and loved. Sexual orientation be damned; that is being a good parent. To break up a home where they have forged a loving bond with the only real father they have ever known is heartbreaking and maddening. He’s not trying to convert anyone to the gay brotherhood. He doesn’t get a Kitchenaid mixer or toaster oven for every child he brings into the fold, so to speak. He is trying to be the best father he can be, and he is fighting to hold his family together. Good for him, and good for the two brothers that he loves as his own sons.

So I stand by my belief that sexual orientation does not change. My experience is that it is in our nature, not how we are nurtured. But as parents we do mold and shape young lives. In the case of Mr. Gill (which sounds like the title of an Edgar Allan Poe story) he has indeed changed their lives. He has given them a loving home. He has kept these brothers together to ensure that they will always have each other and keep that familial bond. I can only hope that lawmakers will come to their senses and put aside fear and prejudice to think of what is best for these two young men. Mr. Gill not only built a family with these two boys. He has given them a future. He has given them hope.

Those are the greatest gifts a parent can give a child.

Don't Meddle With Her Medal

Now that I have turned forty, I seem to be viewing life differently. Or perhaps, I am just viewing it more deliberately. With my daughter now in kindergarten, I have plenty of time to watch the news, catch up on reading and cleaning, so there’s no more kid TV during the day to keep me from what is going on in the real world. Sometimes, that’s not always a good thing. At least kid TV is friendly and nice.

I have been reading with interest the case of Caster Semenya. Some of you might not be familiar to you, so allow me to introduce you to her. She is an athlete, a runner from South Africa. She won Gold in the 800 meters last month in Berlin. But that is not where her story ends, rather, it is where it begins.

Judges were amazed at the speed with which Ms. Semenya won the race. They felt that something was amiss. So they required her to undergo various tests, one of which was a test to determine gender. It was discovered and announced to the globe that Ms. Semenya was intersexual, or, as it is sometimes known, a hermaphrodite. And of course the tacky jokes started.

“Caster….like castrated! She’s a dude!”

“Semen-ya! Yuk, yuk, she’s got semen, ya!”

Pathetic, folks. Really pathetic.

Intersexuality is a rare condition affecting less than one percent of live births. And while I have not writing a biology lesson here, suffice it say that on the outside, Ms. Semenya looks like a woman, but instead of ovaries, she has testes. If you don’t know what any of this means, shame on you! Take an anatomy class! At any rate, she identifies herself as a woman. She did not ask to be born with this condition, and happily, has refused to allow it to hold her back from living a
full and rewarding life.

I first heard about this condition as a child. I used to spend summers with my maternal grandmother, who we called Dug. Dug was a first generation German immigrant and a Southerner so you can imagine what those summers were like. Anyway, Dug was enjoying a little Mateus Rose one day and decided to tell me the story of her childhood pet, a cat named Hephzibah. Hephzibah is a biblical name meaning, ‘My delight is in her.’ Which I found strange because Dug said Hephzibah was a boy. At any rate, I knew this because Dug said that he still had his testicles but then gave birth one day to a litter of kittens! I thought this was the coolest, funniest thing ever so when I returned from my visit to Dug’s house, I laughingly greeted my
parents with the question, “What’s a morphodite?”

Daddy sent me outside to play while Mother called Dug, ostensibly to read her the riot act. After that, my mother sat me down to explain what hermaphrodite meant, and how it impacted people’s lives. I felt such sorrow at that moment, and knowing firsthand the spite of people towards those who are deemed different (I remember the ‘fat kid’ thing) I made a vow, with the earnestness of a child, never to laugh at people just because they are different from me. And while that didn’t completely stop me from being mean, I have never stooped to pick on anyone with a disability.

Because this condition is so rare, I would imagine that many who have it are ashamed or embarrassed. No one asks to be born with a disability, or any condition that leaves them vulnerable to the taunts of others. It was bad enough being the fat kid in school. Could you imagine, at such a young age, dealing with confusion about your gender identity? Or the cruelty of other children?

“She-male! Chick with a dick! She can do it with herself…haha!”

Trust me, when I became aware of this story, I heard them all. It made me physically ill. Now comes the news that The International Association of Athletics Federations wants to strip Ms. Semenya of her medal because of her condition and the fact that her intersexuality causes her to produce testosterone. She didn’t use steroids, she didn’t take hormones deliberately. This is just, for her, a fact of life. To take her medal away is such a slap in the face to any person who is differently-abled. To make her condition such fodder for public gossip and spite is wrong, and evil. Caster Semenya is living her life as she sees fit. She is refusing to allow her condition to hold her back. I admire that, and I believe she deserves to keep her medal. And for the people who find her condition amusing, who make fun of her because of her intersexuality, take your sick jokes and go screw yourselves.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kids Really DO Say the Darndest Things

Here's a poem that Jenda wrote for me....well, made up and recited for me as an early birthday gift. I was rather impressed, and ran into the house like a wounded buffalo to make sure I got it down before I forgot it. Hope you enjoy it.

When you see the stars, and see a shooting star
You know that it is magic
Like a lollipop way up in sugar land, high in the sky
And always remember that love is more powerful than death

By Jenda Harp, September 6, 2009