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Where my Heart wants to Go

Listening to the wind of his soul, as Cat Stevens once sang, and letting the music take him where his heart wants to go, it’s Thing2’s time to dance, as it is every night after his homework is done and before dinner is ready.  With the Big Guy’s borrowed iPod and and my old ear buds, he leaps and twirls, shakes, rattles and rolls, his eyes half closed as he translates the music into motion.

An angelic smile lights his face as he looks at the Big Guy for approval.  The Big Guy is bemused.  Thing2 turns to me for non-verbal feedback, but his gaze falls first upon Goliath, still steeped in homework at the round pedestal kitchen table.  Always willing to be a distracted from his studies, Goliath has stopped to watch our private performance.  His face is a study in preteen angst.  A smile lurks, but the fear that this performance might be repeated in public also knits his brow.

Thing2, unsure of Goliath’s evaluation, stops mid pirouette.  He stares at his big brother as another one song ends.  When he finds his tongue, it is not nearly as dextrous as his feet.

“WHAT?!?” he demands.  Goliath shrugs and bows his head over his book again, and the Big Guy and I worry the time to dance has ended.  But the dance continues until the last plate has been set at the dinner table. Thing2’s monosyllabic outburst was not a question after all; it was statement that he will be who he will be as long as the music keeps playing.

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Sympathy for the Giant

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The steps creak a little more each day as Thing1 descends from his bastion on the upper bunk.  He’s been taller than his mother for a year now, and, even though he enjoys sizing up the difference every time we pass in the hall, I am getting used to looking up at someone I used to carry around in a Snugli.  It’s strange feeling, and a few weeks ago, I realized that Thing1, evoking a decidedly impish quality, didn’t really suit him anymore.

I’ve been using nicknames for my kids and husband since this blog’s inception.  My six foot six husband is the Big Guy.  My twelve and six-year-old boys are known as Thing1 and Thing2 (or SuperDude if he’s wearing his cape and wig), respectively.

My decision to use nicknames was not so much to safeguard their internet safety – very little is private anymore now  – but more the result of the feeling that, especially with the kids, I had the right to tell our stories but not the right to opt in the use of their real names until they were old enough to make that decision themselves.  The result has been a mostly illustrated blog (the few photos of the kids are usually old enough to prevent easy recognition by anyone but the people who already know them), and I’ve been happy with it.  Now, however, as I’ve been searching for a new, more appropriate nickname for the gentle giant that roams our house, I realize that part of the motivation for the original nickname was my denial that he is growing up.

There is still a bit of the imp in him, but middle school and the discovery that a world lies outside Minister Hill have made him serious.  When the imp is revealed, Thing2 is often the inspiration and the provocation.  Like any good younger brother, Thing2 carries around a bit of loving hero worship for his big brother.  Most afternoons he expresses his love by snuggling up to his older brother, but there are times when love hurts.

Sometimes inspired by boredom, sometimes by that most flattering of desires – to imitate his older brother in every possible way – Thing2 will sidle up to Thing1 at his desk or on the couch.  He’ll work to inhabit the space with his brother.  Then he’ll ask to play whatever Thing1 is playing, listen to whatever song Thing1 has blasting, or watch whatever show Thing1 thought was great last night but couldn’t care less about this afternoon.  He is dogged in his admiration, and, when Thing1, in the time-honored tradition of surly preteens everywhere, ignores the initial overtures, Thing2 finds a plan B.

Snuggling becomes poking.  Then poking becomes climbing, and sometimes the climbing hurts.  Thing2’s faith that Thing1 would never hurt him is stronger David’s in a God that would guide his slingshot was.  For the most part his faith is well-placed. Unlike the ancient Goliath, when our giant needs a lot of needling before he responds in kind.  Sometimes the giant will lose his temper, but he rarely loses his cool.

Lately he’s been taking on more grown-up chores around the house.  He’s attentive and responsive when we need a quick favor.  Naturally, I see him through my maternal bias, but as I watch the imp becoming a man, I’ve decided it’s time for someone to get a new nickname and rehabilitate the name Goliath.

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Honor Thy Family, Honor Thyself

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My mother’s parents, in their later years, moved from Hawaii, where they’d spent much of their retirement, to Ohio so that they could be closer to their children and grandchildren.  My grandmother suffered a series of debilitating strokes soon after they moved, and my parents, especially my mother, became instrumental in supporting both my grandparents, emotionally and, often, logistically.  

My mother made sure our family visited them regularly during the week.  She helped my grandfather adjust to his new roles of caretaker, housekeeper and cook – tasks my grandmother had primarily done during the fifty-plus years of their marriage.  When my grandmother passed away, my parents – geographically the closest of his children – continued the Sunday dinners and afternoon visits with my grandfather.  They took him on family vacations, provided (in the case of my father) second medical opinions, and did everything they could to ensure that he was independent but not alone in the last years of his life.

It was labor, but there was more love than obligation in it.  Although I know both my parents felt blessed to have those last years with my mother’s parents, it was not always easy.  Watching both parents rise to the occasion with love and grace, however, was a powerful lesson for me and my sister.  It is one I think about often as my parents have started their retirements.

So when, at the first meeting of the Hubbard Hall Writer’s Workshop, Diane Fiore revealed that she would be writing about her Saturday drives with her late father, I knew her blog would be good before I read a word.  It was.  

For most of the last year on her blog, Merganser’s Crossing, Diane has been telling the story of how what started as a daughter’s duty to help emotionally and logistically support a father suffering from increasingly intense dementia became a path to a close relationship and better understanding of her dad.  It has been humorous and heartbreaking, honest and enlightening.  Illustrated with sketches, photographs, and now, the loveliest watercolors, it is also evolving.

After learning that her mother had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Diane decided (with her mother’s support and permission) to chronicle the next phase of her journey on her blog.  Already the story has seen her and her husband move so as to support her mother’s needs better.  As she writes simply but compellingly of her new life, navigating the changes and relationships, the same love and grace I once saw in my parents comes shining through.  

We live in an often harsh world.  Too often culture and media not only reflect that harshness, they amplify it.  It makes stumbling on a story like Diane’s all the more valuable and inspiring.  It’s an oasis of kindness and hope, and it’s worth visiting again and again.

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About Family

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My younger son dances.  He sings.  He has a crate full of costumes – including a rainbow wig, several superhero outfits and a tutu – and a puppet theatre complete with curtains sewn by his grandmother.  He loves dressing up and taking on all sorts of personae.  He is the sum of his arts – joy in a skinny six-year-old package.

We make him leave the costumes at home (on school days anyway), but he brings his joy everywhere he goes.  He dances when he walks.  He falls in love with people at the drop of hat and is still at the age where he wants to marry everyone with whom he falls in love.

Most of the time his antics and his expressions of love – for his parents, his brother, the waitresses at Bob’s –  produce smiles from people around us.  It’s hard not to smile at someone who’s compulsively happy.  But every once in a while I’ll catch another adult watching his gaiety, and I can see a question forming behind the gaze.

I know the look and the question.  The look is judgement warring with joy.  The question is the wondering if the gaiety is evidence that our dancing, affectionate child is gay.  I don’t know.  I also don’t care.

I have seen and heard this story since I was in high school.  Several of my closest friends came out to our circle of friends before and after graduation.  Some came to the realization that they were gay very early in life.  Some had supportive parents.  Others lived in the shadow of projection (once with a violent result) because certain mannerisms or affinities were proof to others that they were gay long before they had considered the question themselves.

I would like to say that I was always mature and supportive.  With my male friends I remembered it made no difference.  With my best friend, I am sorry to say, I was less mature, mainly because she was suddenly dating and someone else was monopolizing her time.  At the time I wasn’t adult enough to remember I had done the exact same thing to her a year earlier.  The one thing I do remember, however, is that who my friends dated didn’t change how I saw them because they were still the same loving people who had accepted me for all my flaws as we went through the high school gauntlet together.

Today, as I’m watching the news, waiting to see how the Supreme Court is going to rule on marriage equality in California, I’m thinking about our journeys.  Some of my friends are still single.  Some have had commitment ceremonies – two couples the same year the Big Guy and I were married – and are still happily married themselves.  Our journeys have been different, but the parallels are still there.

We all wanted to fulfill our potentials.  We all wanted to love and be loved.  And we each wanted to be part of a family of our choosing.  It’s the same thing I want for both my kids.  But, most of all, I want them to have the same chance at happiness that I have had – regardless of the person they find to love.  So today, to me, this issue isn’t about politics.  It’s about my family.