Love is Love

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2015familyday403 (1)For the first year, I took my daughter to Albania’s Gay Ride Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.  If we were in the US (or another country were queer people were openly accepted), I am sure she would have gone earlier.  But, fear of violence has kept her at home.

This is one of the difficulties I face while trying to raise my daughter overseas.  I want her to be surrounded by feminism and an understanding that women are empowered, strong, brave, self-sufficient leaders.  I want her to not feel compelled to adhere to sexual and gender stereotypes.  I want her feel secure being the person she wants to be. I want her to know that she can like both pink AND blue.  However, she mostly just gets this message from me and a few close friends.  Albanian culture is mis-teaching her about gender and sexuality.

Also complicating factors is not being visibly a queer family.  What she (and the world) see are a single mother with a beautiful little girl.

Before the ride, I decided I wanted her to not just enjoy a day out in the sun and activity with Mama— I wanted her to understand why I was riding.  I wanted to reiterate that love is enough and gender doesn’t matter.  I wanted her to know that some people don’t believe this and that they are wrong.  I wanted her to know that she can grow up to marry whoever she wishes or no one at all.  I wanted her to see my gay friends as gay, not just as friends who happen to be holding hands with people the same sex.  I wanted her to know that not every body comforms to the body it is born in.

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So we talked.

And, at the end, I asked what she understood.  She said it perfectly: “Love is love.  And that is ok.  And there is enough love to go around so no one should tell you not to love when you do or who you do. And, I still think it is ok that I am not gonna marry anyone because I am gonna live with Mama forever.”

A friend of a friend lent me a bike with a child seat on the backside.  My nearly 4-year-old was very disappointed that this was how she would ride; she wanted to ride her own balance bike!  In the end, once someone gave her a flag to wave, she enjoyed herself.

*** *** *** Today is Blogging for LGBT Families Day, an annual event sponsored by Mombian. Check out all the entries from this year! Here are my entries from other years:

  • My best reason (2014); “The thing about having a kid is, she becomes the center of your universe and, ultimately, the reason you make the choices you make.  Or, at least, for me, this is the case.”
  • Suddenly the World Seems Like Such a Perfect Place (2013): “Love isn’t what Hollywood sells us.  It isn’t just grand gestures.  And song.  (Well, maybe sometimes it is, if you are lucky).  It also isn’t always tragic or fated.  Love, the kind of love that grows families, is in the small things.  It is the everyday things.  It is getting up in the morning to make coffee because your partner has to.  It is letting go of a bit of yourself to be there for the other.  It is reminding the other who they are and supporting them in that.  It is having the same interests.  Laughing at little inside jokes even when they are no longer funny.  Sharing values and night time diaper changes.   It is feeling comfortable and safe.  It is being safe.”
  • Families by Choice (2011): “I sit writing this, waiting for the arrival of my daughter. As a bisexual woman married to a man, I worry about educating my child. I worry how to create a home environment that is safe, a place where she can grow up without shame, knowing who she is and who her family is. I worry about the best ways to help her grow in a bilingual, biracial household– especially when that is located in a third culture. I ponder how my messages can be stronger than societies. I worry about everyday stuff and big picture stuff.”
  • Because of a Little Piece of Paper (2010): ”So often I feel this unearned privilege of having married a man thrown in my face. What if S had been a woman? My life partner very easily could have been a woman. And what protections would she have been given? The unfairness of it all burns. And, you think I exaggerate, but writing this, my eyes are welling with tears.”
  • Blogging for LGBT Families (2007): “Karen Atala, a Chilean judge with three children, had her children taken away from her by the courts in 2004 when she moved in with her partner. The courts granted custody to the father, he ex-husband. Ms. Atala, being a lawyer and judge herself, appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Chile which ruled on the basis that, “[the children] would suffer psychological harm living with Ms. Atala and her partner…[and that] they would become confused about gender roles and suffer from discrimination and isolation.” The court then nullified all her rights as a mother and gave permanent and total custody to the girl’s father forever. She is still fighting, now on an international front, to have her children returned to her.”

Don’t forget to check out other posts for 2015 Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day.

To write or not to write

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I have been debating whether or not I was going to do NaBloPoMo this year. The truth is I haven’t been blogging a lot recently. The words just aren’t there. And the ones that I need to write, are the ones that aren’t mine to say. Plus, I am traveling, and it is so much harder to blog when traveling. This was exacerbated by a decision to not bring a laptop and rather rely on my iPhone and iPad. Poor choice.

It has been so cold recently and I’m not used to the chill anymore. I thought I would post this picture on the first day of November to keep my options for NaBloPoMo open. Sadly, I just found out that today is November 2. I guess I failed before I began. Oops!

End of an Era

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All Rights Reserved Top: In the hospital day 1, bottom left: today, bottom right: feeding last year

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Top: In the hospital day 1, bottom left: today, bottom right: feeding last year

Dear Little Elephant,

Before having you, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed.  I knew all the health reasons behind it.  I knew about all the studies of the positive effects.  I knew that I wanted to have that close relationship and bonding time.

I also knew that a lot of people struggled with it. One common complaint I have heard from other breastfeeding friends is that they weren’t warned beforehand that it would hurt at first, that their nipples would become raw and even bleed.  They complain that people didn’t warn them and they felt under-prepared.

People had warned me— my sister had.  I know that it can be hard.  I was proactive and met with a lactation consultant in the hospital who was wonderful.  I am not saying it was all rosy, but I was lucky.  I had a little girl with a solid latch, a solid milk supply, a good work environment, and enough support to muster through.

I had always supported women who continued breastfeeding until their kids were toddlers.  It takes a huge amount of dedication.  It takes having a supportive family and work environment.  It takes a strong milk supply and good nutrition and discipline.  I never imagined I would be one of those women!

Yesterday, my milk supply dried up.  To the day, you were 3 years, 3 months old.  I nursed you for  1,186 days!  On the last day, you poked my chest, saying “Mama, there is no milk here”.  We decided to cuddle and rock instead.  Over the last few months, we have been talking about how you are a big girl now and that soon you would leave Mommy milk behind.   I think you were prepared; I am just not sure I was.

I love you today more than any other.  And even more tomorrow and the following. Mommy milk or no, you will always be my little girl.

Love, Mama

To my Little Sunshine

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Dear Little Elephant,

This morning you woke up wanting to sing with me “You are my sunshine”. We cuddled in bed, my arms holding you tight, as we sang it 5 times, each time you were able to sing more of the words, by the end, taking the lead. You then bounced up, wanting to find a book about sunshine to read.

If, in your enthusiasm, you had looked back, you would have seen the relief in my heart to no longer be seeing that song. It took all I had, to sing those verses, over and over, knowing you were okay, without crying.

The last time I sang you that song, we were in London, in a hospital, surrounded by doctors and you were resisting general anesthesia and I was failing at holding back my tears.

At 11 am, we had had an appointment with a dermatologist to see this fingernail sized “bad freckle” hiding by your hairline behind your left ear. This doctor was the reason we had flown to London. In 30 seconds, she discarded it as “not yet a problem”. Further discussion led to the conclusion that it needed to be removed and, given your age, you wouldn’t lie still for local anesthesia and a full biopsy plus stitches.

It was 11:32 when I walked out of the office. I had to feed you by noon and from 12:00 to 14:00 you were allowed only white liquids. At 15:00, we were to show up at the hospital for a 18:00 surgery and overnight stay.

The timeline was daunting, not allowing me to really think. Food first. Then call Daddy in Chile and Grandparents in Wisconsin to let them know. 28 minutes to find a restaurant and eat a meal. We ended up at one of those bakery/ sandwich shops. I bought an avacado shrimp salad and a deluxe sushi tray that had both raw salmon sushi and cooked shrimp sushi. Grapes and a berry smoothie to top it off. Little Elephant, you are your Mama’s daughter. You loved the sushi (including the raw fish) and you insisted on learning to use chopsticks during the meal that had a hard end time.

Back we went to the hotel for a nap and a few frantic calls and emails to multiple continents. I packed a bag while you snored.

I hate waking you from naps, but the nurse said I had to. Into the stroller and off we went to a hospital specializing in and well known for children’s cancer. They had 18 beds and we had one.

I can’t even express how privileged I feel to know that I was able to fly to another country to get the best care in Europe, that I was able to be in the private healthcare system where I was given a bed the same day, that the people seeing my daughter (for the most part) dismissed my fears as they see much much sicker children every day. I don’t for a second want to say that I am ungrateful. But, the possibility of what could be, what I couldn’t bare to imagine, was hard to avoid when all the signs and brochures in the hospital were about it being a renowned children’s cancer hospital— the signs didn’t give me a sense of encouragement, more, they made me face my terror.  I was checking my 3-year-old into a cancer hospital for immediate surgery.

Meanwhile, Little Elephant, you were crying, telling me you were tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. Begging me to take you back to the hotel.

We had watched a Sesame Street episode about Big Bird being hospitalized and I kept pointing out similarities.  I was grateful that you had that as a point of reference; it helped you to understand what was happening.  Only, you didn’t really understand.  I wouldn’t let myself really understand.

We were led to a solitary room; you refused to put on the hospital gown– they agreed they could dress you after you were asleep.  They covered your hands in a numbing cream and covered it with tape.  The very sweet nurse drew a happy face on the tape, but you were not fooled.

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We went to the playroom, seeing that I was completely overwhelmed, a “play specialist” brought us into their sensory room, a quiet closet filled with bubbles and colored lights.  She could tell it was my first time.

“Has anyone talked to you about the anesthesia?”

“No.”

“It will likely be a mask.  You will be asked to hold her while they put it on. If you can convince the anesthesiologist to hold it up to the face to get her tired before strapping it on, that would be best.  Kids hate how tight the mask feels and fight more”

“Okay.”

“Right before she goes under, her whole body may feel like it convulsing.  This is normal.  It is not a seizure.”

“Okay.”

“They will bring you up to your room after she is asleep and someone will get you to bring you down again.  If you are lucky, you will be there before she wakes.”

“Ask questions of the doctors if you need to.”

“Okay.”

I was in shock and had no words. I had no questions.  I am so thankful to this woman.  She is the only person who really took time to explain things.  Luckily, she was the only person who had time— like I said, my daughter ended up being the healthiest kid in the hospital.

When we went down to the operating room, the anesthesiologist tried to get you to breath to fill up a green balloon that was attached to the mask giving you the gas.  I was supposed to encourage you to blow the balloon up.  You fought.  I started singing “You are My Sunshine” and you grabbed at me and looked into my eyes as you feel asleep.  I felt your whole body go limp and placed you on the table.  You looked so tiny on that table!

I was guided upstairs where I called Nana (my Mom) in Wisconsin.  Tears streaming down my face, I wanted to know if she or Dad had done the same for me when I had tubes in my ears.  18 minutes later, I was brought down to the OR to pick you up.

I was not there when you woke, I was stuck no the other side of a door that wouldn’t open. You screamed for me and I called back.  When we got in, someone was holding you, having rapped you in a blanket.  We lay together on the gurney and you begged to go home, to go back to the hotel.

We spent the night in the hospital; they had to make sure you had no reaction.  You ate like a champion: smoked salmon, shrimp salad, baked salmon, and your specially requested “pink ice cream”.  More than anything, you wanted to take the port out of your hand.  You begged everyone who came in.  You tried to pull it out yourself.   Luckily, someone finally agreed.

We slept together in a tiny bed.  Well, you slept.

It wasn’t until nearly noon that we were allowed to go home.  Exhausted, you insisted that I push you in your stroller around London.  We walked for 6 hours.  Two days later, results came in.  The “bad freckle” was benign.  We flew home, relieved and exhausted.

You are my sunshine. You make me happy everyday.  I can’t even begin to think about what it would be if the results had been different.  Everyday since I have sent out happy thoughts and the closest I come to prayer for every parent who has ever landed on the other side of that diagnosis.  Little Elephant, I love you.

Mommy

Photo Wednesday: Lost on the Moon

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Valle de la Luna

I always loved this photo— actually the place. It is like walking on the moon. I guess, for some, it isn’t much of a landscape. But to me, growing up in Wisconsin, being in the dessert is about as unique an experience as you can find. Even better, if you go the right time of year, it isn’t too hot and I can actually enjoy it.

This photo was taken in 2007 when my parents were visiting and we traveled to northern Chile, Valle de la Luna.