Archive for the ‘lesbian motherhood’ Category

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Bea handed me a small and intricately wrapped box on December 26th.  It was our Christmas celebration, since she was in LA for the 25th and didn’t fly east to be with us until the next day.  We had a big family meal with some cousins planned at our favorite Long Island restaurant for the 27th and a bacon-wrapped turkey dinner in the wings for the 29th.  Everyone wanted to to see her, to spend time with her, to take pictures with her and give her some presents.  But when she first arrived at my sister’s house, where the twins and I were spending the whole long Christmas break, it was just the five of us.  My sister.  The twins.  Bea.  Me. 

I gave her the presents I had managed to buy for her with my meager earnings.  The twins and my sister Gloria gave her their gifts.  There was a fire in the fireplace, laughter in the house, a happiness that had been absent from the family holiday celebrations Bea had missed.  She gave me a photo album, unwrapped with just a red shoelace holding it closed,  that made me cry.  It was filled with pictures of the two of us together on one side of each page and a brief description on the other side.  It was beautifully, painstakingly decorated with shells and stickers, beads and images that meant something to both of us.  The first picture was of me in a softball uniform with Bea, 2 years old, sitting on my lap.  We’re at a cafe after a game.  She’s smiling impishly and drawing with a broken blue crayon.  “My Favorite Picture of Us,” it says in magic marker on the facing page.  The words are surrounded by stick-on, 3-D butterflies.

There’s a photo of us in Aunt Gloria’s pool.  There’s one of us on a kiddie roller coaster and two of us together at the Early Show, from when she used to come with me to work.  There’s one of the two of us at Legends Field in Tampa.  She’s maybe seven weeks old.  Her first of many Yankee games.  The second to last page is a list of “A Few Reasons Why I Love You.”  A few.  There are 21.  I counted.  And the last page has a pretty, multi-layered heart, the kind you might use on a homemade valentine, with love always written in script.  It’s signed, simply, bea bea.  Because that’s what I call her.

And then, almost as an afterthought, she handed me the little box.  I wiped away the tears the photo album visited upon me and bravely soldiered on.  A little box, that rattled curiously when I shook it.  The wrapping peeled away easily and found its way to the fire.  “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor,” she had written on the lid.  And, “Be strong, mom.  I’m proud of you.”  The lid slid right off.  Inside was a crystal clear memory of happier times.  Or were they happier?  It was when her other mother and I were pretending to get along.  It was when we both had jobs.  It was when we had a house that felt permanent, like a warm wool sweater that would last a lifetime.  I smiled at all the smooth, cool pieces of sea glass.  Bea had been collecting them for me.  The edges were softened, like the memories of our turbulent past, when half our lives seemed to be filled with arguments, disagreement, disappointments, when walks along the shoreline were my refuge from the craziness that had become my life.

Bea would come with me sometimes, hold my hand, watch the sand for a dull glint of green or white or, miracle of miracles, blue.  We’d go to Cape Cod every August, to Provincetown to spend a week with other same-sex couples and their kids.  Herring Cove was where we would gather almost every afternoon.  Once the twins were a part of the family we’d set up a tent for the babies and little kids, a place to keep them safe from the crispiness of the baking sun.  Soon, they were old enough to walk along the shoreline, too.  Every single piece of sea glass was cause for celebration.  Every tide pool along the way was a rest stop on the journey to find a tiny bit of quiet, a few moments of peace.  It was on these leisurely but adventurous strolls that I first began writing my memoir in my head, Bea perched upon my tanned shoulders, wearing a sunhat and a long-sleeved white shirt to cover her peachy skin.  She’d hold on for dear life as I carefully bent to reach for what might or might not be the highly coveted glow of old glass.  If we found a piece that was still jagged and clear we’d throw it back in, declaring it not quite ready for the collection.

Once, Bea and I decided that the coolest piece of sea glass we could possibly find would be an old marble that had somehow found its way into the waves.  So we bought a bagful and tossed them in, thinking, one day, maybe we’d discover them again, perfectly round and muted and smelling of the ocean.  We figured, even if we never did find one again, someone might, and that would be truly awesome for them.  It was our small contribution to future sea glass collectors everywhere.

The box trembled in my hand.  The good memories it brought back far outweighed the bad.  I could smell Cape Cod Bay.  I could feel the summer sun warming my tired bones.  The waves were licking the shoreline like a still-blind kitten finding and tasting its mother.  The kites were dancing happily, crazily in the on-shore breeze.  The girls, all three of them, were small enough for me to scoop up together in one giant, delicious group hug, golden sand falling from their hair and tiny feet.  I thanked my kid for knowing me, for understanding the sweetness of sentimentality and bringing back to me those warm and happy thoughts.

I’m planning to go back to Provincetown some summer, soon.  With all of my girls.  For lobster and clam chowder and sunburned friends and quiet days at the beach.  For finding crabs in tide pools and fishing and swimming and shopping on Commercial Street.  For dunes and bicycles and drag queens in comedy shows.  And maybe, for one perfectly round, weathered piece of sea glass.  A muted orb.  A circle.  Like life.

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At the age of six months you had your first real belly laugh.  Before that you had let loose with lots of giggles and squeaks, but that day on the couch, when you laughed, really laughed because I was appearing and disappearing and appearing again suddenly, was the first time you understood that some things were funny and that laughter was the appropriate response.  It was infectious, that laughter of yours.  I caught it and it took us a long time to calm down.

By the time you were a year old you were a pro at walking.  You never crawled as a baby, preferring to scoot along the floor on your butt, pulling yourself forward with your outstretched hands.  Once you learned to amble here and there on two feet, though, there was no stopping you.  A toy block in one hand and a plastic doughnut in the other, you would glide all around the house and one time, even right out of it through the open, street-level front door after we had come in with bags of groceries.  Your other mom found you, happily singing the Abiyoyo song while strolling past the brownstone next door.

Singing.  You were always singing.  Did you know that you come from a long line of singers?  Your great grandmother Aida was invited to study with the great Enrico Caruso at the very beginning of the 20th century but had to say no because, back then, “good” girls didn’t do things like that.  Aida sang beautifully, though, opera and Neopolitan love songs, and of the 10 children she had, three turned out to be fairly gifted singers also.  There was Aunt Lee, who had a deep, throaty, torch-y voice and loved to sing “Some Of These Days” like Sophie Tucker or “Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy” and was almost always asked to perform at weddings and large family gatherings.  Her son Bernard has an amazing voice.  He has sung the National Anthem at baseball games, but I think his favorite songs to sing are the old standards by Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.  There was Uncle Tommy, too.  His signature song was “Male Femina,” which he would sing in the Neopolitan dialect he learned from his mother.  His daughter Aida, my cousin, who was named for our grandmother, has a stunningly beautiful and raspy, smoky voice that never fails to make me smile.  And there was my mom, your grandmother.  Sometimes, when I listen to old recordings of her singing, she sounds like a young Ella Fitzgerald.  Another amazing voice.  My mom gave birth to three singers.  Each of your aunts has her own unique style and both were the lead singers in garage bands in high school and college.  And your mom, of course.  I don’t really sing anymore because my hearing loss makes it difficult to do well but I know you remember all the Billie Holiday, Beatles, kd lang and Elton John songs I used to sing to you every night at bedtime.

You were my little buddy for so many years.  We drove everywhere together, singing “So Happy Together” in the car as loud as was humanly possible.  We walked everywhere together, stopping to observe every anthill and spider web we found, collecting acorns from the park for the squirrels in our yard, jumping over cracks, putting errant worms back in the grass.  We walked often to the abundant playgrounds in Park Slope and then our leafy suburban neighborhood, where I would blast you off on a swing and push you almost to the sky.  When the twins were toddlers and started coming with us you would offer to pull them in the little red wagon but would always give the handle back to me.  I didn’t mind.  I would pull all three of you to the ends of the Earth, still, if I had to.

Once you learned to ride, we biked places together, like softball practice if there was time, or for pizza and iced tea in town.  Your Aunt Gloria has always made sure you have a safe and age-appropriate bicycle.

Do you remember all the dancing and tumbling we did in the living room, how I would ride you around on my back all over the purple rug and then lie down and make you fly, on the bottoms of my feet and wait until you were confident enough to let go?  Do you remember the seemingly endless games of Sorry and Battleship by the blazing fireplace on stormy winter evenings?  We’d stop playing to gaze out the window at the streetlight, glowing that special orange glow that only shines through snow.  In the morning we’d shovel and make a snow woman, sometimes even a snow dog.  A few times there was a pale blue tint to the snow and we knew we could build a fort or an igloo.  Eskimo snow, we called it.  So rare in these parts.

How many stories did I make up, pull out of nowhere, for you and your sisters?  Hundreds, I would guess.  And songs.  Crazy songs about crazy things.  “Bobby and Bella were buddies.  They liked to go to the park.  One day they had to run out of there ’cause the zoo had released the land shark.”

I guess, normally, a story like this would end with some kind of reference to you now being all grown up.  But you’re not, are you?  You’re 14 years old and getting more famous by the minute.  You are an amazing singer, much more amazing than all the other family singers who came before you.  And you are a songwriter, too.  I wrote songs when I was 14 but not one of them ever made it to the radio.  Yours will.  Soon.  I know you are working your butt off to make this happen.  And I am so incredibly proud of you, my Love.  But I haven’t seen you in two months and I miss you like crazy.  I miss the baby you and the toddler you and the schoolgirl you and the teenager you.  I miss a house full of your friends.  I miss chicken oreganata around the dining room table and drawing Cartown with chalk on the long driveway so you and your sisters and all the neighborhood kids could scooter and “shop” and pretend play all day.  I miss you.

You’re back on the east coast this week.  I’m hoping for a day.  One day for us to spend together and reconnect.  Please.  I can’t wait.

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Image      I’ve had some awesome birthdays, I’ve had some stinky birthdays.  Mostly, because of where my birthday falls on the calendar, I’ve had more than my fair share of beautiful birthdays, weather-wise.  Late September can almost always be counted upon to be lovely, as close to perfect as it gets, here in the Northeast.  It tends to be sunny with temperatures in the upper 60’s to mid 70’s.  Softball weather, I used to call it, back before I wrecked my Achilles tendon and could actually play.

The only thing I remember about my 4th birthday is how I somehow misbehaved at my little party and my mother, chasing me up the stairs trying to gently swat my butt with a metal slotted spoon because she couldn’t find the wooden one she usually used, more as a scare tactic than an actual weapon of punishment.  I can still feel the tiny taps through my frilly dress as she herded me to my room, no doubt for a short time out.  She was a single mother at the time, stressed about money, working full time, trying to raise three girls with little help.  Still, she never resorted to serious corporal punishment, even though there were times, I’m sure, that she wanted to.

On my ninth birthday, I think my grandfather finally had me figured out.  He was terminally ill with lung cancer, but living with us and experiencing some good moments as far as his strength was concerned.  He drove his long black Cadillac to the store while I was at school and after dinner that evening he presented me with one birthday gift I will remember as long as I live.  I opened the box and found a football, complete with hand pump so it could always be properly inflated, and a red football helmet that I put on instantly and wanted to wear forever.  It was 1967.  He died just a few short months later.

The celebration of my 23rd birthday started in the wee hours of the morning, after I had finished spinning disco and early new wave dance music for the tourists at the New Orleans Hilton, in a nightclub on the 29th floor where, through the windows that circled the place, I had a nearly 360 degree view of the twinkling Crescent City and the mighty Mississippi.  Back then vinyl was king and I was mixing Disco Inferno into Instant Replay into Get Up And Boogie into Walk Right Now Into Super Freak into Shame into Call Me into Private Idaho into Whip It, six nights a week.  The bar closed at 3.  A bartender from South Carolina named Kimmer took me to some gay bars and I, to this day a lightweight drinker, got plastered on Long Island Iced Teas.  When we parked outside the second bar it was after 5am and the signs all said No Parking 9am-4pm.  I thought for sure we’d be okay because, even when you’re celebrating your 23rd birthday and you don’t have to be in at work again until 9 that night, there’s no way you’ll still be in that bar drinking by the time the parking spot becomes illegal, right?   Well, we walked out of the bar at 9:05 to find my car, my sweet 1970 Plymouth Duster, already attached to the tow truck.  I remember pleading with the operator, saying something idiotic like, “You can’t tow my car, it’s my birthday!”  The burly guy in work gloves just laughed and went on with his task.  Kimmer and I got the car back hours later, from the impound lot.  And when I think back on it now, I’m glad my car got towed.  We were both too drunk to drive.

My 40th birthday was the worst of my life.  I was almost 5 months pregnant with Bea and experiencing some of the most intense uterine fibroid pain of my entire pregnancy.  To top it off, I had to spend almost the entire day at a hospital in Brooklyn, waiting while my ex underwent surgery and then couldn’t stop puking in recovery.  It rained all day, of course, which was so unusual because for my entire life up to that point I only had memories of glorious and sunny birthdays.

For eleven years now, though, the best part of my birthday has been sharing the day with my twins.  They were born in Viet Nam on the day that I turned 44.  “You say it’s your birthday.  It’s my birthday too, yeah,” I sing to them every September 30th, to their giggles and delight.  I have mostly convinced them that I no longer care about my birthday and that the day belongs to them.  I mean, it’s bad enough that they have to share it with each other.  Might as well take myself out of the equation so they can each have the most special day possible.  They’re turning 11 today.  I think once they get older they will more easily embrace the idea of the three of us sharing the day.

And now, it’s not even just the three of us.  Turns out little Leroy, Bea’s micro-teacup Yorkie, was also born on September 30th.  Crazy, I know.  And even though he’s in LA with Bea as she chases her dream of being a rock star, I find myself wishing I could give him a hug and a treat and a little kiss on the top of his hairy little head.  He’d be with Bea, of course, and oh how I wish, every day, but especially today, that I could hug her, too.

Happy birthday, Georgia.  Happy birthday, Esther.  Happy first birthday, little Leroy.  And yes, happy birthday me.

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It was touch and go there for a few hours.  Tricky, I can say, now that it’s 14 years later.  Back then, tricky wouldn’t have been the first adjective to cross my mind.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I was only thinking in expletives at that point.  Childbirth hurts like crazy, especially after 19 1/2 hours of labor, 4 hours of pushing and an emergency trip on a gurney down the hall for a last-minute forceps delivery in the O.R.

I was 40 and my blood was everywhere.  You were brand new, blue for the first few seconds, blue like a low sky on a perfect June day, and you had sepsis.  So the nurse who helped the doctor drag you out of me warned that it could only be for about half a minute when she gently placed you, all peachy and clean, across my still-heaving chest.  You weren’t even crying.  But you did look me in the eye.

“There you are,” I thought, before the nurse could whisk you away to the NICU for an antibiotic drip.  “I’ve known you all my life.”  I know you felt it too.

Resting comfortably, after I knew you were okay and your other mom had followed you down to the NICU, the next thought that occurred to me was, “Yay!  I’m not pregnant anymore!”  I was cleaned up and stitched to within an inch of my life, since you weighed 8 pounds, 1 1/2 ounces and insisted on emerging with your right fist tucked neatly against your right temple and could not be persuaded to arrange yourself otherwise.  So basically your appearance into the realm of the living ripped your mother to shreds.  Your large size and my small size were working in concert to make it nearly impossible for you to return to the world (since we both know you’ve been here many times before) in the natural way.  There are friends who tease me to no end whenever I tell them this story, blaming my “small size” on the notion that a vagina gets bigger, more accommodating, through repeated use.  Not only am I a woman who has not repeatedly had sexual intercourse with a man, or men, but I am a woman who has never had sexual intercourse with a man.  Not once.  One of my favorite sentences to say out loud to people as I relate the story of the miracle of you is, “I got pregnant the first time sperm entered my body.”  The sperm that fertilized the egg that became the miraculous you was, yes, ejaculated by a man….  Into a cup and then a syringe and then injected into me by your other mom as I lay ovulating on our Brownstone Brooklyn bed.  I was 39 and you were a rapidly expanding cellular blob at T-minus 9 months and counting.  The angel Gabriel did not need to inform me; I just knew.  And three seasons later, there you were, my virgin birth.

As I rested, having just gone through the most difficult yet most rewarding 20 hours of my life, in a small white room just off the O.R. where we both came close to not making it to the other side of the ordeal as members of the living but sliding instead down together to that other realm where you had just been so sweetly floating, I heard the the cleaning crew wheel their equipment into our emergency operating room.  My senses were functioning at maximum levels and I distinctly heard one of them say to the other, “What the fuck happened in here?”  Thankfully, it was my blood and not yours that was splattered on all the tools and instruments and soaking the sheets.  My quiet laughter was borne of relief and joy, not from any disrespect for the two poor souls who were given the task of cleaning up our near-disastrous mess.  I rested quietly, alone with my desire to see and hold you once more and with my doubts about ever being able to feel truly clean again.  Having a monthly period was bad enough for a grown-up tomboy like me.  Now I was torn to shreds and bleeding real blood, the blood of wounds not womanhood.  It was disgusting for a few weeks.  Painful, too.  But I had you now.  And that made it all worth it.

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