Friday, March 30, 2007

Voices from the back seat

The one good thing about chauffeuring teenagers and their friends around to their many critically important appointments (e.g. the ones with the salesgirls at Pac Sun) is that they often seem to forget that there's not a glass privacy screen between them and their limo driver; I get to hear the teen tribe speak in their native tongue rather than the grown-up as a second language that they speak to us directly. So I'm driving them, and mom's boring alternative radio station is on for aural camouflage. They're talking about what they're going to do in the junior-high musical. One of the twins says, "I might do sound," and their best friend responds, "Oh sound is so gay! You should do stage crew." Suffice it to say, they didn't end up doing sound.

So let me say here that these are girls who, during their childhood, were taken every month to a "Families Like Ours" (Gay, Lesbian, interracial, and otherwise oddball families) potluck social. They know and are at ease with the many openly gay men and lesbians in our world. And we've always told them, "Love is rare enough that it doesn't matter where it comes from." Blah, blah, blah.

So I have some wonderings (not,'How can they allow their friend to use that as a slur?!' I remember being a teenager well enough to know that not being seen as a dork is a whole lot more important than anybody's rights, gay or otherwise). What I wonder is:

1. What does their friend, in this context, mean by "gay?" It's clearly not 'homosexual' because, unless things are REALLY different these days, sound crew is the province of geeks not gays (and I know some of the kids doing it -- geeks). So.... "gay" just the only acceptable all-purpose slur left? The twins are asian and their friend is multiracial, but even if they were white, I really can't imagine them saying, 'Oh sound is so Asian,' or 'Sound is so black.' So does it have some nuanced meaning to them? Unmanly? OK, but they're not guys so who cares? Finicky? Then why not say 'it's too picky....'?

and finally....

3. What do my daughters think when they hear it? Do they think of their former (lesbian) babysitter who they adored? Do they think of our many lovely friends and wince internally? Or is it, to them, just meaningless junior-high speak -- like girls calling each other 'dude?'

If I were to ask the girls, they'd just look pained and mumble, "I don't know." And I don't know either, but I listen and wonder, and it does keep my brain busy while I drive them all over creation.

Any thoughts, anyone?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Watching my daughter Watch Dumbo

My daughter C. is autistic. People often ask me if she's high functioning or low functioning, and there is no easy answer to that. She's a mixed bag. On the one hand she can do high-level math -- geometry, algebra -- quicker and better than I can do it. But on the other hand, she has a hard time talking and often behaves like a five-foot tall toddler. Recently, when checking on her in her room late one evening I found her, looking like Braveheart's daughter, smeared from head to toe in blue paint. I don't know how she found paint. I didn't even know there was paint anywhere on the second floor. But it was there and she found it and it was 11:30 PM and boy was I tired and irritated. Which is to say she's perplexingly mixed-function. A specialist once said to me, "Even among the special population C. is special," meaning she's complicated and hard to sort out, hard to figure out how to help. That's my girl. We don't do anything by halves.

Her favorite movie lately is Dumbo. For a while now, she's been asking to watch it every day. Usually I take her TV time as time I can safely (and without guilt) ignore her for a bit. But the other day I sat and watched it with her. You remember the story -- Mr. Stork brings the long yearned-for baby. The world is thrilled until, "gootchi gootchi goo!" he sneezes and his freakish ears are revealed. He's separated from his mother (she's thrown in bad-elephant jail for defending him) and is alone and unloved until a little mouse befriends him.

The parallels to our life were striking to me. My uterus brought us our much-longed for baby. The world was thrilled until ("why isn't she talking? Why isn't she talking?") her diagnosis. Then (and here Dumbo's mom comes off better than me) she too was separated from her mother, not because i went to bad-elephant jail, but because I had a nervous breakdown and couldn't function for a while.

From there Dumbo and the mouse get drunk on clown champagne, engage in Flying Under the Influence, and end up blacked out at the top of a tree. And Dumbo learns that it is the very ears that make him a freak that give him the ability to fly. He becomes the star of the circus and everybody loves him.

As C. and I watched, I began to understand what the movie meant to her. C. waits and dreams, as her father and I do, of the day when her amazing inner life and abilities will break through the shell of her disabilities and fly free for all to see. And people will no longer stare at her, shun her. Little kids at the playground will no longer point to her and ask, "What's wrong with her?" They will love her for who she truly is inside and she'll finally be our hero.

My baby girl dreams of flying, and I want it for her too. But she works so hard, struggles every minute of every day, trying to learn to do the things that come effortlessly to the rest of the world. Every stride she makes is a mini miracle. Not many can see it, hidden as it is behind the camoflage of difference and disability, but that struggle itself makes her, already, a hero. And I believe one day I'll see her fly.


Success is relative:
It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things.
--T. S. Eliot

It's late and I have to go to bed, but I just wanted to share this quote. Here's one of the world's most "successful" poets reminding us that life is mainly accidents and screw ups and it's not the accidents and screw ups that define us, rather it's what we do with them.

So, goodnight. In the words of another major literary player, Tomorrow is another day (to spin my screw ups into gold).

Sunday, March 18, 2007

kids say the darndest things....

Yesterday my youngest daughter, who's eight, said, "Mom, I want to go to Hamsterdam."
I corrected her gently. "You mean AMsterdam."
"OK," she said, thought about it for a moment, then asked, "But what's an amster?"

Friday, March 16, 2007

Thought I'd be the coolest mom.... (think again)

I'm back in the land of the living after a prolonged trip to flu-land, and back to whatever normal is.

Recently I had a parent teacher conference with one of the twin's teachers (we have a worrisome case of sudden-onset grade slippage). The teacher was telling me that we needed to work on writing skills, adding details, etc. I said that I was a writer and so understood the importance of concrete examples in writing. One thing led to another, and the teacher suggested that I come in to class and give a talk about writing. I said I'd love to, and joked about how embarassed the girls would be. We laughed at the amazing ease and exquisite joy of humiliating teenagers.

When I got home I mentioned that the English teacher wanted me to visit the class. I got mutinous looks. I asked perceptively, "So you don't want me to come to class?"
"No," they mumbled, eyes looking everywhere but at me.
"Why not?" I asked.
They shrug and mumble, "I don't know...."
"Will you be embarassed?"
No answer.
"Is it because you'll get too much attention?"
They nod.
"Like what?"
Reluctantly Sara answers, "Everyone will say, How come you don't look like your mom?"
Rose and Sara, born by another woman of another race in another country, don't look like me. I don't think about it much. But, of course, they do. They're teenagers, and teenagers, at the best of times and often for no reason at all, feel weird and different. All their friends know they're adopted, but among strangers and acquaintances they can pass for "normal" people who come from parents who look like them, whose biological mother didn't give them up. So for me-- with my pale skin and curly brown hair so different from their medium brown skin and shining straight black hair -- to come to school is to make them feel like freaks that are fundamentally different from all of their classmates. I understand.
So I nodded and told them I understood and that I wouldn't come to class.

And I do understand. But what surprises me is how sad it made me. For years now they haven't wanted me to participate in any school events. I thought it was because they just didn't want their dorky mom around. But really it's because I look different from them and that raises embarassing questions and they don't want to deal with it. I remember not wanting people to see my mother pick me up after school in our embarassingly ancient car when I was their age. I get that having an embarassingly different mom could be a teeny bit worse than that....

I always thought I'd be the coolest mom. Among our friends who have adopted, I was always one of the mothers most at ease with talking to the kids about the facts of their birth, with the idea of another mother. I told them from the start that they have two mothers. Admirable, forward thinking me. But I guess the difference is that I was setting the terms, defining things for all of us. Now they're growing up and they're setting the terms. and I have to let them. That's my job.

But, apparently, I don't have to like it. Yesterday I dropped them off for drama club. Rose and Sara hopped double quick out of the car and I watched them disappear into the auditorium as other mothers walked in with their kids, the kids who looked like them, to bring refreshments, help with set design, whatever. I longed to join them and I took my foot off the brake and let them go.

Maybe someday they'll understand that we're all freaks, we're all wounded, we're all grief struck. And embracing that can give us compassion, love, oneness with all our fellow travellers. And maybe someday I really will be the coolest mom and it won't matter to me at all.