A Gay Girl's Guide to Stumbling Through the Joys of Marriage and Parenthood…

Standing Up for Ellen

 

Have you heard Ellen DeGeneres’ most recent news? She’s been hired as a spokesperson for JC Penny.

It seems that JCP recently hired former Apple  guy Ron Johnson as their new CEO, and he has helped design a new, modern image for their ‘fair and square’ mission statement. Part of that makeover includes Ellen.    Who better to be a spokesperson for ‘fair and square’ than Ellen, someone who truly embodies the message?  Ellen is everything many people strive to be: successful, happy-go-lucky, funny, kind to animals.  She’s blissfully married to one of the most beautiful women on the planet, and she is extremely generous to others.  I recently watched an episode of her talk show where she partnered with JCP to give a financially strapped elementary school in Pennsylvania $100,000.   Awesome, right?

Except not everyone thinks so.  The conservative group ‘One Million Moms,’ an offshoot of the misnamed ‘American Family Association,’ has attacked JCP for hiring an ‘open homosexual’ and called for JCP to fire Ellen because she has the audacity to be…well, gay.

The backlash against the conservative groups has been immediate, and effective.  The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has launched a #StandUpforEllen campaign, which includes this graphic:

It’s bizarre to me that in this day and age, I can still get fired from a job in this many places because I am gay.  It galls me that conservative groups still think it’s okay to call for the firing of someone just because they are gay.

I’ve had enough of these crazy groups forcing their inane “culture war” BS on average Americans. If these groups were truly ‘pro-family,’ they would immediately cease this ridiculous crusade, because there is nothing ‘pro-family’  about trying to force your religious agenda on families who don’t look exactly like yours.  There is nothing ‘pro-family’ about making your kid feel ashamed of his natural self, and certainly nothing ‘pro-family’ about trying to force gay people into settling for second class status under the guise of  ‘remaining neutral in the culture war.’  I have news for you: my family is NOT second class.  My family is not part of some made up ‘culture war’ or ‘lifestyle choice.’  My wife and my son don’t deserve to be treated with disrespect just because gay people make you feel icky.  We deserve the same rights, benefits and privileges bestowed upon every other family in America; not SPECIAL rights, the SAME rights, and we are not going to sit down and shut up about it until we are treated fair and square.

I stand for Ellen because no one should have to listen to hateful and misguided rhetoric. It’s high time these anti-gay groups realize that we are NOT going back into hiding; that we will stand up, out and proud, for Ellen and for every other LGBT person who has been insulted, bullied, denigrated, fired, beaten up and murdered just for being who they are.

Thank you JCP, for hiring a wonderful, outspoken, successful, generous and kind-hearted woman for your ad campaign. I for one, will make JCP my FIRST choice for shopping in the future.

So I had my Companions in Christ group tonight.  CiC is a group at my church for people who are seeking a closer relationship with and a deeper understanding of God through Jesus Christ.  For me though, it is serving as a sort of stepping stone to help me in my quest to reclaim my faith in God.  I’m making progress, but still feel a lot of things that I think interfere with my desire for a stronger faith – anger, depression, helplessness and even occasionally, hopelessness.

I admit I don’t think of myself as a very good group member.  I often forget to do the required reading, and seldom complete the activities lined up in each chapter of our workbook before coming to group.  When I am there, I’m often afraid to participate in the discussion, and half the time it feels like it’s a struggle to remain in my seat and listen.  Tonight I even walked out of my house and forgot my workbook, bible and journal, which I guess didn’t really matter, since I didn’t even crack it open in the last seven days.  This group of women keep me grounded though, so I keep suiting up and showing up.

So there I am, sitting in the group, listening to the other group members talk about prayer and letting go and all this stuff and suddenly I am crying.  Not just a tear here and there (although that is how it started) but a full on tears running down my cheeks-nose full of snot-can’t catch my breath-out of control-oh my God-what the hell is wrong with me kind of crying.  And I couldn’t stop.  A few times I thought I was getting myself under control, but then it would just start again.  I cried for nearly the entire hour and a half group, and part of the drive home.  Even now there are some residual tears.

It’s common for me to have tears in that group. My faith is an extremely personal, emotional, and sometimes volatile thing for me.  I haven’t always nurtured it the way I feel I should, and the last three years have been especially vicious.  I’ve had periods of time where I abandoned my faith before, but never this long.  This is the first time I have had so much difficulty taking it back.  So crying isn’t unusual, but it doesn’t usually last the WHOLE group.

I’m not sure what it is about this group of women that makes me feel able to let go and just cry my eyes out.  To the concerned questions, all I could manage was ‘I feel out of control.’  It’s true, I feel like I am spiraling.  These women are a source of comfort to me, a safe place.  No matter how embarrassed or humiliated I feel when I lose control of my emotions, they are there with no judgement, just warm hugs and ‘I love you’s’ and plenty of tissue.  They seem to accept me for exactly who I am, a damaged soul desperately searching for something more permanent than a band-aid.

Lat week a group member said something that reverberated through me.  We were talking about prayer and she mentioned that sometimes she didn’t feel she deserved for God to answer her prayers. I realized at that moment that was EXACTLY how I felt, ALL THE TIME.  How could God, who knows everything I have ever done, want to answer the prayers of someone like me?  Why would God even listen to me now, after I abandoned my faith and wallowed in so much self-pity and bitterness for so long?  I’m stuck here, in this undeserving place, in my head and in my heart.

I’m not sure what was said tonight, if anything, that triggered my tears.  Is it God, trying to get me to a place where I am open and willing to let go?  I just don’t know.  I remember at one point –  sometime after the tears had started – the discussion turning to who we would offer a prayer of intercession for, and my first thought was for my son  I want so much for him to grow into a happy, healthy and emotionally stable young man, in spite of the rough start he had in life.  Then I thought ‘how can I give him anything if I can’t even keep myself together’ which of course, started a whole new round of tears.  I swear sometimes there are days when it is all I can do to get out of bed, much less be the mother he needs me to be.

It’s not like I don’t try.  I take Brendan everywhere he needs to go, and I am always on time, which, if you know me, is a miracle in itself.  I’m writing again, albeit intermittently.  I’m getting in better shape, and eating healthier on most days.  I’m thinking about joining the choir, if I can overcome my shyness and sing in front of people again.  These are all recent developments in my life, because I am tired of being stuck.  My wife takes up the slack on my bad days.  She is my rock, truly a stabilizing force in my life.  Just hearing her voice can sometimes ease the storms inside me, but I know she needs me to be stronger, to get better.  My meager efforts are no longer enough.

My family shouldn’t have to bear all this responsibility to care for my apparently fragile psyche.  I know I am depressed.  I know I am having some serious self-image and self-esteem issues.  I am broken, and I know I need help.  I want to believe that God forgives me, so it’s okay to forgive myself.  I want to believe.  Tonight, I just don’t.

I’m not really sure how to finish this post.  It feels a little fragmented and incomplete.

Like me, I guess.     

The Meaning of Christmas

It is Christmas Day, 2011.  I’ve spent a lot of time in thought this holiday season, reflecting on the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas.  If you have read my earlier posts, then you are aware of my ongoing struggle of reconciling my faith with the faith of other Christians whose ideas don’t match mine.  If you really know me,then you have seen this struggle firsthand and can attest to the anger, rage and bitterness I have allowed myself to get caught up in for the last three years.  I have worn my bitterness as a shield, blocking others from my authentic self. I have worn my anger and rage as a mask, hiding my true heart and soul.  My thoughts and my words and my actions have been…well, just plain ugly.  With despair and self-righteous indignation, I  have turned my back on the God of unconditional love and justice that I have always known.  I have even denied the existence of God, citing science and rationality.

Except I haven’t.  Not really. 

Always, always, always there has been this little spark.  Through my three years of raging at the injustice of inequality, a quiet voice promised me justice. Through my despair and hopelessness at the deaths of my young brethren, sometimes by their own hands,sometimes at the hands of the cruel, a soft, caressing touch like arms around  my shoulders gave me courage to stay on my feet.  Even further back, in the days of my darkest secrets, I’ve heard whispered assurances that God was always near, waiting patiently for this prodigal child’s return. 

This time around, it felt like I had moved so far away from God that I wasn’t sure I could find my way back, even if I wanted to.  And sometimes I did want to. I missed my faith.  I missed that feeling of being loved just the way I was, of believing in myself because God strengthened me.  I truly believed that the spark was extinguished forever.  I grieved, and became numb.  

And then, a Christmas miracle in the form of a boy, adopted with the last bit of love I had left inside me.  The kindling that ignited the spark inside me once again, he nurtured this little flame in me without even knowing it.  Born of a desire to expose him to faith, I tentatively reached out to a new faith community, and found open arms and a home quite literally bubbling over with joy.  The unconditional love and acceptance of my new family has served as a catalyst, building up the fire, warming my insides, melting away the numbness, burning away my hatred and exposing the new, clean skin underneath.  Admittedly, it’s still a little raw and tender to the touch, but it feels a little stronger everyday.

This, to me, is the true meaning of Christmas – love, joy, families of birth and of choice, giving of myself and expecting nothing in return, closing my eyes and singing Christmas hymns and truly feeling a part of something special for the first time in years.  The best part of this season has been watching my son learn about the humble beginnings of a baby born who was loved and adored and went on to do such selfless things for others over 2000 years ago.

What a beautiful lesson for us both to learn.

Not So Different After All

5:30am…the new alarm clock goes off in Brendan’s room; we can hear it from our bedroom across the hall. Angie starts to get up, and I stop her. “Wait a minute…let’s see how he does.” It’s his first day with an alarm clock in his room. We talked with him last night, and discussed the things he should do when the alarm goes off. Now, we will see if our “guidance” has paid off. After a few seconds the alarm is silenced, his door opens and we hear the patter of feet cross the hall and enter the bathroom. Angie and I look at each other and smile. So far, so good. He finishes his morning bathroom business and returns to his room. When Angie and I get up a few minutes later, he is making his bed. Awesome.

I help him through his morning shower and dressing routine while Angie gets his breakfast ready in the kitchen.  We sit at the dining room table together and talk while he eats and has his morning medications.  I tell him to scoot upstairs  to floss and brush.  We can hear him humming as he flosses, then the buzz of his electric toothbrush.  He returns five minutes later, and while we wait for the bus to come, I quiz him using addition flash cards.  We make a game of it, I get to keep the ones he misses and he gets to keep the ones he gets right.  He loves seeing who has the most cards left at the end.  Angie encourages him to practice the belt form he has been learning in karate class.  He practices it a couple of times while we watch, encourage him and clap loudly when he gets it right.  The bus pulls up, and we both kiss him on the top of his head, hand him his backpack and hustle him out the door, waving to the bus driver.  Angie and I decide to head to the gym for a morning workout.  When we return, Angie heads to her home office to work, and I sit down with the computer to do some writing.

Later that afternoon, Brendan returns home from school.  When the bus drops him off, he and I immediately jump in the car so we can get to his occupational therapy session on time.  I encourage him to start his homework on the drive over.  He does, and while he is in his session, I review his work.  After OT, we head straight to karate class, where Brendan spends 45 minutes learning about and practicing courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit-the five tenets of tae Kwon do.  We head home, where Angie has warmed up leftovers for dinner.  We eat together at the dining room table, Brendan has his evening medications and then clear the table together, putting our dishes in the sink.  Angie helps him finish up some homework he doesn’t understand, and then he heads back upstairs to change into his pajamas and floss, brush and rinse.  Once again, he hums around the flosser, we hear the buzz of his toothbrush, and then more humming as he uses his fluoride mouth rinse.  Once I hear him rinsing the sink, I go upstairs and lead him to bed.  Sometimes he wants to read a story; tonight he wants me to sing him a song.  He lays his head on my shoulder as I sing to him a song that makes me think of him every time I hear it…’I’ll Stand By You.’  He sings along with me, garbling some of the words adorably, and smiling as we sing together.  Angie comes up, and we both kiss him goodnight.

The next morning, we do it all over again.

Not so different after all, I think.

A Spiritual Journey

I’m writing a sort of ‘spiritual autobiography’ for a group I am a part of at my church.  I’m finding this a difficult task, since my spiritual journey has taken so many twists and turns throughout my life. That being said, here goes:

As long as I can remember, I have gone to church. My first memory of it was a smallish place called East Hills Christian Church, and I went there with my parents when I was young, but I’m not sure how young – grade school age, I’m sure.
The small church got bigger and outgrew its space, so they built a new church. It was huge, and I was a big part of it in junior high and high school, attending services on Sunday mornings and evenings, bible studies on Wednesdays, church camp every summer and various church activities throughout the years. I can’t really say how much I truly believed that God was a part of my life during that time. I was made to go church by my parents. I enjoyed it mostly for the social activities with other people my age, and I claimed to love God, although I don’t know if I really meant it or not.  The reason I say this is because once I came out as a lesbian, it was really easy for me to leave the church and not look back.

I came out at age 15, and continued to attend church for a little while, but I was never very good at keeping secrets so my sexual orientation became an issue with the youth pastor. When I was age 16, he came to my house to talk with me. I remember that we sat in his car, parked on the street next to my house. His message to me was this – you can’t be gay and be a christian. Even at 15, I knew that I would never be able to change my orientation; or maybe I just knew I didn’t want to change it and being true to my feelings was more important to me than worshiping a God who would condemn me for those feelings. I stopped attending church at that time, and put God out of my mind. I was also kicked out of my house, and lived with an open-minded, kind-hearted member of that same church for about two months. It is to the credit of a teacher (who happened to be gay) at my high school who facilitated mediation with my parents that I was able to return home until I became an adult.

During that two-year period before adulthood, I participated in some church related activities at my Aunt Donna’s  church, The MCC. I went because my Aunt was gay and my only true support system, and I wanted to be around other gay people.  I had to do it in secret so my parents didn’t find out. This MCC had no pastor, was very non-traditional and did not really subscribe to much in the way of one particular faith belief. Instead, different church members led services each week and pulled from their own faith beliefs. One week you might hear about Jesus and the next you might participate in a native american ceremony celebrating the earth and nature.

It was at a dance at this church where I met a girl named Naomi.  She was the 15-year-old, blue-eyed daughter of Marsha Stevens, an out christian singer who penned “For Those Tears I Died,” among other songs.  They lived in Southern California, and I started visiting her on weekends.  At 17,  I went with her and her Mom to the Long Beach Pride parade and I heard the Reverend Troy Perry, founder of MCC, speak..  There were hecklers all around who were holding signs and shouting awful things at us. Reverend Perry out-shouted them all and it was in that park that I think I first believed the words spoken in John 3:16. It was at that moment I truly felt as though I believed, and that because I did believe, God loved me, no matter what. I think that may have been my first ever spiritual awaking.  I felt whole and complete and like my life meant something.  This did not last long, however.

I should also let you know that I dabbled in drinking and drug use starting around age 16, and later wasted a large part of my life in activities surrounding acquiring and using drugs.  I wouldn’t even mention it except that it’s an important part of the process of making me who I am today.  During the time when my parents had said ‘be straight or leave our house’ I started drinking pretty regularly.  Then after I came home, an adult cousin came to live with my family for a short time, and he asked me to score some cocaine for him.  I knew of a student who had a brother who did that kind of thing, so I asked her, and we were able to buy some cocaine.  I did my first line with my cousin, and really liked how it made me feel.  I continued to use it occasionally until my cousin left six months later.  At 19 I started dating a woman who was, unbeknown to me,  heavy into the use of meth.  I remember going to a party at her friend’s house where they were passing around a mirror covered in lines of what I thought was cocaine.  Not wanting to be the odd woman out, I did a line when it was passed to me.  I immediately knew it wasn’t cocaine because it felt like I had just snorted crushed glass.  Right after that, a feeling came over me like nothing I had felt before.  After that, meth became the love of my life, my God and my religion.  I devoted my life to it for the next three years.  I realized I needed to quit when I looked at myself naked in a mirror one day and saw that I looked like a walking corpse. I was skin and bones with visible ribs and pasty white skin, bloodshot eyes sunken into my skull and virtually no muscles to speak of.  I remember thinking to myself that I was going to die.

Shortly after that, I moved to South Texas, and into my parents house for a while.  I detoxed and started college.  I picked Mental Health as my major and started focusing on addiction studies.  This lead me to AA and NA, and through my involvement with them, I found another MCC church.  AA and NA taught me that I didn’t have to accept the traditional image of God taught to me when I was young.  I could fashion my own image of  God or a “higher power,”  and put my faith in this new image in order to help me make better decisions in my life.   The meetings were held at the MCC in Corpus Christi, and I started attending there as well.  I really started to appreciate and enjoy the liturgy, the rites, and the camaraderie of the community.  I also got involved with a group that provided weekend retreats that focused on exercises in christian community living.  It was at one of these retreats that I was reminded  that God loved me in spite of,  and because of, who I was.  It was something I had forgotten.

I moved to Dallas/Fort Worth for a job after a few years, and began intermittently attending the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas.  It was the 2nd largest MCC church in the U.S. with an active membership of around 3000 people.  I loved the formal, ornate services but I never really felt connected there.  It was just too big, so it was easy to get lost in the crowd.  I spent six years clean from drug use, and then had a monumental relapse that lasted for 10 months.  To this day I can’t explain what happened, except to say that an opportunity to smoke cocaine presented itself to me, and I did not say no.  This was, and continues to be, easily the worst 10 months of my entire life.  I lost everything important to me, including my job, my home and several people I cared about. I just couldn’t stop.  I was confused by this because before, when I had decided to quit, I just did it.  I was uncomfortable for a few days, but overall it was easy to stop.  This time, however, I just couldn’t.  Drugs had become my God and my religion, once again.  I finally had to move home again to remove myself from the temptation to use.  I took a new job and white knuckled myself into recovery.  I dreamed about smoking cocaine literally every night for a year, and every morning I asked a God I wasn’t even sure I believed in anymore to please help me through the day.  Looking back, I am amazed that I was able to resist the pull, and I can honestly say that the grace of God held me close, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

Two years later, I had an opportunity to move to Georgia.  I wanted to be closer to my sister and her family, so I stepped out on faith and made the move.  Shortly after moving, I went online to find the local MCC.  I printed out the directions, and on Sunday set off to find the church.  I ended up lost and pissed off, having spent two hours driving around, unable to locate the church.  The following Saturday night, I decided to try again, so I logged on to the internet and started typing the address of the MCC.  Something made me stop.  I erased what I had typed and then put ‘open and affirming churches in Georgia” in the search engine.  I was surprised at the number of churches I found, and pleased that there was one not 15 minutes from where I lived.  It was a United Church of Christ.  I had never heard of them, but I was willing to give it a try, so the next morning, I headed off to Pilgrimage UCC for the first time.

I instantly felt welcomed and accepted at Pilgrimage.  They were warm and loving, and talked about God in a way that made sense to me.  It felt like a thinking person’s church, where you didn’t just blindly follow a set of rules, but were encouraged to use your brain as well as your heart to practice living a more Christ centered life.  I felt at home there for several years.  Although I was struggling with a faith crisis at the time, my wife and I were married there, in front of God and around 60 or so people, including my sister and brother-in-law, my Mom, my Aunt Jean and my Aunt Donna, the gay aunt who was my only ally as a teenager.  It was important to me to be married in a religious ceremony in front of all these people, as if, somehow, God’s blessing made my marriage more real, to them and to me.  We had to go to Connecticut five days later for the actual license, but I still count myself as married from May 16th, 2009, the day we exchanged rings and vows in front of our pastor, our friends and family and God.

Now, about that faith crisis I mentioned.  It began on election day at the end of 2008.  I experienced joy as I watched the president I had voted for win by a landslide and then total devastation when Proposition 8 was passed by California voters, taking away the rights of Californians to marry the person of their choice.  How could God allow this to happen?  How could God’s followers believe that it was EVER okay to take away someone’s rights?  If this was the kind of God who people believed in; an intolerant homophobe who trampled on the rights of others, then I wanted no part of it.  I started thinking that maybe God was a figment of people’s imagination, a mass delusion of some imaginary person in the sky who dictated how people are supposed to live.  What proof is there that God exists?  Isn’t it more likely that humans are desperately in need of something to believe in, and churches take advantage of this to lure people into their lairs and take their money, all the while telling them who to love and who to hate?  The anger I felt was unimaginable, and didn’t go away.  To this day, I have never felt such rage toward a group of people, and even now, my tolerance for people who believe gays shouldn’t be able to get married, or adopt children, or teach in schools or even attend church is extremely low.  I have very little love for those who view me as a second class citizen, although I’m not quite as angry about it anymore.

I have continued to have this crisis of faith for almost three years now.  Until recently, I have refused to go to church, pray, close my eyes when others were praying, or attend any activity with a religious tone.  I was even irritated when I had to put my hand on a bible and swear ‘so help me God’ when I went to court to have my surname legally changed.  I have felt spiritually numb.

Then last year, my wife and I adopted an 8-year-old boy.  Little by little, I have felt my heart opening back up.  I decided that even if I wasn’t sure I still believed, I wanted my son to attend a church and develop some spiritual beliefs so that when the time comes, he could make his own informed choice about God.  We went back to Pilgrimage a few times, but the drive from our home was long and it was difficult for us to make it on time.  We started “church shopping” and attended a couple of new churches I found online.  When I inquired about its open and affirming status and whether or not my family would be welcome there, one church told me that I was welcome to attend, and that hopefully Jesus would come into my heart and my desire to push my ‘sexual agenda’ would go away.  I must be getting better, because I did not immediately fire off an angry response about the audacity of viewing us not as the family we are but as people with a ‘sexual agenda.’  I mean, what the f*** is a sexual agenda, anyway, and why is it that when a religious person finds out you’re gay, they immediately start thinking about sex?  It’s absurd!

Fortunately, we found Kirkwood UCC.  My family and I have attended for a few months now, and love it’s open and affirming beliefs, and the warmth and kindness of the people there.  I even like the small storefront building, as it reminds me of my first experiences with acceptance, way back when I attended my first MCC church, also located in a storefront.  I love that my son, from the first day, has settled right in and become a part of the children’s ministry.  Even though I am struggling with my faith, I feel like I am in a safe place, where no one judges me for my messed up beliefs and everyone accepts me right where I am, struggling or not.  Today I can say I believe in God, but I don’t know where God’s place in my life is, or if I am even able to accept God in my life.  I’m still a little (okay, a LOT)  angry that God allows his followers to get so off message that it causes such harm to the psyche of gay people.  That’s okay because today I am willing to at least suit up and show up.  I really want to be willing to let God back in.

I’ll end this with a poem I wrote back in 1999. I think it describes my spiritual journey quite well.  It’s called Faith In Madness:

I’ve walked the fire of my fears

Mile after mile of burning need

I’ve endured the pain

And fought through the shame of my sins

I’ve run away from love

And thirsted

And drank from its sweet, sweet cup

I’ve felt the pull of overwhelming passion

Swam the murky depths of despair

I’ve shared myself with demons and devils

And been embraced by the presence of God

I’ve been cornered, caged, labeled

Then found the ultimate freedom

I’ve wanted to taste the finality of death

And had a raging desire to live

I’ve stayed awake for days on end

I’ve slept through periods of my life

I’ve been broken, fragmented and complete

All at the same time

I’ve wondered what is left for me

And embraced life with a vengeance

That is mine alone

Through it all

I cannot say

I have not

…Lived.

I have always wanted to have children.  My wife, not so much.  Shortly after we started dating, I learned this about her, and we had a conversation about it.   I said that I had always wanted children, and knew that children would be part of my future so if this wasn’t something she wanted, then we should probably stop before our relationship progressed any further.  She sat down and took my hands in hers and told me this:  “I have never seen children in my future, but when I think about my future now, I can’t imagine you not being a part of it.  If that means children eventually, then so be it.”  Fast forward a couple of years.  We’ve bought a house, moved in together, gotten engaged, had a commitment ceremony in our church in Georgia, and gotten legally married in Connecticut.  Over the years we have intermittently discussed children.  We have jokingly concluded that I would like to have a baby and Angie would like to adopt a 17-year-old with his or her own set of luggage in one hand and a college scholarship in the other.  In the end we compromise and split the difference.  We decide that adopting a child around ages 6 to 10 would work best for us.  We also both agree that we want to give a home to a child with special needs who might not otherwise get the chance to have a home.  That becomes our future plan.

One night while we are out having dinner with some friends, I drink a couple of beers for courage, and I mention that I have recently read something in our church bulletin about a young 10-year-old girl who needs an adoptive home. Angie’s immediate response  is “Absolutely not.  We aren’t ready.”  We talk about it further for a little while, but her answer doesn’t change, and feeling quite dejected,  I drop the subject.

The next day at work, I receive a text message from her.  It says ‘why don’t you call and get some information about adoption.’  I am elated.  In her typical understated way, Angie has thought about it some more and decided it can’t hurt to learn more.  I immediately call for more information, and we begin the process of becoming certified foster/adoptive parents, the first step in adopting a child in the custody of the state of Georgia.  This process takes several months and requires massive amounts of paperwork, classes, home visits, and all around intrusion into every aspect of our lives.  We accomplish the requirements and become certified at the beginning of 2010.

All along we have had this girl child in mind to meet.  We still know very little about her beyond a few generalized facts.  Once we are certified, we are invited in to review her file, which turns out to be quite large.  After reviewing it, we are daunted but still have it in our hearts to meet her.  We attempt several times over several months to set up a meeting, but things keep interfering and going wrong.  After these failed attempts and a long conversation with our case manager, we decide with heavy hearts to let this idea go and focus on other available children.

Our case manager brings us some photos and bios of children we might be interested in, and I am struck by a picture of a young, smiling boy named Brendan.  He is 7 years old and that smile looks like it can light up a whole room.    Angie and I have two nephews close to that age, and we begin thinking this might be a better fit for us.  We call about him and review his file.  We learn that he has recently had a kidney transplant and that he will be required to be on medication for the rest of his life.  His file also notes that he was abused by a so-called father figure as a baby and suffered a head injury which caused a stroke affecting his motor skills on the left side of his body.  His skull had to be cut open to relieve the pressure on his brain.  This abuser went to prison, and because the biological mother had proven herself to be incapable of caring for a medically fragile child, her parental rights were eventually terminated. We are also told that he was moderately mentally retarded with a 48 IQ and in special education classes at school. My wife and I talk it over.  There is much to think about.  Are we capable of taking care of the medical needs of a young child?  Are we ready to care for a mentally retarded child, possibly for the rest of his life?  After much discussion, we decide that yes, we are.  We call and say we would like to meet this boy.

In August of 2010, we drive to his foster home in Conyers, Georgia for our first visit.  Nervously we ring the doorbell, and when it opens, the boy with the 1000 watt smile is standing next to his foster mom.  I fall in love instantly.  After 30 minutes it is painfully obvious that what is in this child’s file does not reflect his reality.  This child is clearly delayed, but mentally retarded?   I don’t think so.  The visit goes very well, and several more are planned.  After some day visits, and then overnight visits, we decide we would like to take over fostering Brendan while we work towards adoption.  On September 30, 2010 Brendan comes to live with us full-time.   There is a little concern when we learn that the biological father’s parental rights have not been terminated yet.  A judge had previously decided that the Department of Family & Children’s Services, or DFCS, has not diligently sought to locate and advise the father about his son’s status.  That is soon rectified when the father is located and notified, but makes no effort to see his son.  His parental rights are terminated in late October and Brendan is finally free for adoption.  We sign notice of our intent to adopt in November and begin the process.

The adoption is finalized in record time.  We go to court on December 20, 2010 and Brendan legally becomes my son.  I am obligated to adopt as a single parent because although the county DFCS office was extremely supportive of my wife and I fostering, Georgia’s Neanderthal laws do not allow same gender couples to adopt, even if they are legally married.  There is precedent in Georgia for 2nd parent adoption, but not in the county we reside in, so we are forced to make do with single parent adoption and updating our wills to reflect our wishes.

It has nearly been one year since Brendan came to live with us, and it has not been without some stress and difficulty, especially in the beginning.  There was a time when we had difficulty understanding anything he said due to his speech difficulties.  This was frustrating for all of us.  He also tried to push the boundaries of discipline and did not like it when we pushed back and he was held accountable for his behavior.  We had to experiment and figure out what worked and didn’t work when it came to discipline.  In some ways it has been the most difficult year of my life.  It has also been the greatest year of my life, so far.  Angie and I have basically had a crash course in parenting, and it hasn’t always been pretty.  We’ve made mistakes, tried different things and really learned what it truly means to be responsible for another person’s  life and well-being.  Angie has proven to be a wonderful mother, surprising even herself in the process, I think.  I could not ask for a better partner in motherhood.

When Brendan came to live with us, we enrolled him in 2nd grade in the special education program, because that is where he was placed in his last school.  He could not read beyond very simple words.  He apparently had problems at his previous school, as his teacher called the foster mom daily to discuss his behavior.  That teacher really wanted to speak with us about Brendan, but I chose at that time to ignore this and start him with a clean slate.  I’m glad I did.  Within a couple of weeks we had to have a conference with his teachers; not because he was in trouble, but because it was clear that he was being under served in his current academic placement.  I believe due to his medical issues, Brendan had never consistently attended school. Coming to live with us became the first time his academic needs were addressed as a priority.  A meeting was scheduled to update his individual education plan, and at that time he was placed in a first grade classroom with some assistance.  Granny and Grandpa bought him a Hooked on Phonics program for Kindergarten, First and Second grades.  His hearing and vision was also tested and we learned he had a hearing loss.  Re-reading his file, we learned that this was caught in 2005 but never followed up on.   We immediately had him fitted for hearing aids.  The look on his face the first time he wore his hearing aids is something I will never forget – A look of wonder and that beautiful smile of his.  Priceless.  Brendan did quite well in his first grade class in spite of coming in halfway through the year.  He attended Summer School for deaf/hard of hearing kids, and he finished all three grade levels of Hooked on Phonics by the end of the summer break.  He changed schools to one with a dedicated deaf/hard of hearing unit and is currently in the second grade in general education.  He attends speech and language arts therapy at school, and also receives occupational and additional speech therapy privately.  He is working on the Hooked on Phonics Master Reader and Hooked on Math programs.   Today, Brendan brought home his spelling test with a big 100% at the top of it. My Cousin Vicky said it best when she met him for the first time last month:  “48 IQ my ass.”  He’s also a yellow belt in Karate.  He enjoys playing video games, is a huge fan of soccer, football and baseball, has a big crush on Abby Wambach (the star forward of the US women national soccer team), sings pop songs in the car at the top of his lungs  and reads everything he can see, from cereal boxes to street signs to the closed captioning on our television.

I could not be prouder of this astounding little boy, our son, who has survived a young life filled with trauma that no one should have to experience, risen to every challenge we have placed in front of him so far and continues to amaze me every single day with his personality, his wit, his happy-go-lucky nature and that perfect 1000 watt killer smile.

Brendan, we love you more and more with each passing day.

I created this blog in an effort to get rid of the overwhelming number of random and not-so-random thoughts in my head.

Sounds crazy…I know.  Let me back up.  I promise to be brief.

In late 2006,  I met a woman.  Shortly after that, I realized that this woman was different.  She was unique.  It wasn’t so much about her, but about how I felt about myself and who I was when I was with her.  It was just…different.  For the first time in the sordid history of my years of dating, living with and loving women, I felt like I was in a grown up, adult relationship.  We became exclusive.  Not quite one year later in 2007, we bought a house.  A year and a half after that, we got married.  One year after that, we started researching foster care and adoption.  At the end of 2010, after fostering for only a couple of months, we adopted a fantastic eight year old  special needs boy, and  I stopped working in the corporate world to devote my time to raising him.  Now I am a part-time nanny to my two adorable nephews, and full-time wife and mom.

With so many life changing events in such a short amount of time it’s no wonder my head feels like it’s going to explode!  I have moments where so much is going on that my brain literally shuts down, and all I can do is stare blankly at my wife Angie, who is usually trying to remind me of some important activity I’m supposed to be taking my son Brendan to but have forgotten about, or getting my opinion on whether we should have leftovers or splurge and order a pizza because we are both too darn tired to cook anything.  On most days when I assume the vacant stare, my wife is a trooper – she deftly handles cooking dinner, night-time meds, shower time and bed time rituals.

I certainly don’t claim to be an expert at marriage or parenthood or adoption or anything, really.  Mostly, my life is a series of trials and errors, mistakes and do-overs, tears and joys.  I am fortunate to have some people in my life who have modeled what  good mothers and good wives are supposed to look like.  I definitely don’t look like that, even on my good days, but I am working on it.  Maybe getting these random thoughts out of my head and in print will help.

We’ll see.

Welcome to my world.

 

 

 

 

 

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