family

Friends, now what? Chapter 2 of my version

J&EI have to admit it didn’t cross my mind that our friendship would be anymore than that; friendship. Considering the gruesome breakup I was experiencing, I certainly was not looking for anything more. But somewhere between that first, “Geez, why doesn’t she just go away?” and my realization that I was going to be devastated if she really did move to Israel as planned after her graduation, the relationship had moved into something else entirely. Much to the amusement of our other friends (yes, I made more friends regardless of what my daughter Nené might say) we became a couple. The story of the in between is quite a tale unto itself, but that is ours to savor and occasionally let tidbits out, but for now I move on to the next step: cohabitation.

When Bashert and I first moved into together, it was as if we were on vacation every day, well at least at home, well at least some of the time. You know that closet that you hear about gay people coming out of? Well, let us say our life was pretty much one big walk-in.

I was still immeshed in that nasty ongoing divorce and my attorneys at the time suggested that I not reveal to my daughter the true aspect of our relationship. The laws in the state of South Carolina, the state that had power over the divorce proceedings, were not kind to those of my ilk. The ex-husband-to-be was not below using any and all means to keep my daughter away from me and cut off any kind of financial support he could. Bashert and I were forced to set up a farce of a roommate situation whenever Nené stayed with us.

Bashert had graduated and was in the “real” world teaching art at the local Catholic high school. I know, joke in the making: Jewish, lesbian teaching at Catholic school. When she was hired, she had to sign a “moral turpitude” contract. This meant that they had control over her so-called moral behavior even outside of school and oh, let us see – what was the official 1997 Catholic standing on homosexuality? Oh, yeah – get the hell off our property, die and burn for eternity. We were forced into another farce of pretense. Not that we were very good at it, in either situation.

By this time Nené was around nine years old and it was pretty apparent that we weren’t doing such a good job keep ourselves in the closet around her. I found a crumpled note in her room after a weekend visit. “Mom – I think you are gay with Bashert”. I guess it is hard to explain to a nine year old why Mom’s “roommate” is involved in most every aspect of our lives and not have her be suspicious. Trying to be something we were not in order to keep Nené in our lives was causing more damage than helping.

Things at Bashert’s job were not much better. Bashert took her ring off each morning before work, a painful thing for both of us. She took “beards” to various school functions. We separated whenever anyone from her school was seen in our vicinity when we were out and about – even at the grocery store. Despite the precautions we thought we were taking, we ended up having our car keyed and wonderful rumors were heard about us being seen making out in the Winn Dixie parking lot. Really? At least they could have picked a more up-scale place than a grocery store parking lot..

On a weekend excursion to Atlanta, we stopped in a jewelry store and lo and behold, Bashert heard a student call her name, “Hey, Miss Smith!”  Arg. We couldn’t even relax when we went out of town. The closet was getting mighty stuffy.

In 1999, after two years of teaching there, the Catholic school Bashert was working for suddenly “lost” their funding for the art department and her contract was not renewed. Funny how the funding was “found” two months later when they hired a new art teacher. I’m just saying.

Now at this point you may be wondering why all this background. Why not just jump right in with the baby story? Well, to understand some of the coming story, you had to know some of the back story. You see, it took those years of struggle – finding each other, overcoming our differences (still working on that one occasionally), hiding from family and the world – to build the determination and convictions needed to start fresh as an open and proud family.

After Bashert lost her teaching job, we decided that whatever job she found it would have to be one that accepted us. No more hiding. I also made the decision to fire my attorneys. All the secretiveness had done nothing to further my cause, in fact, it had done more harm than good to the relationship with my daughter. It wasn’t until Bashert and I made the decision to “come out of the closet” together that Nené started to come around.

Bashert found another job as a graphic artist at a place that really didn’t care one way or the other about her personal life and I found an attorney who specialized in representing gays and lesbians. We were on our way. The only thing left to work out was my lingering strings tying me to The Jackass. Bashert wanted to expand our family and I did not want to bring a baby into our relationship until I was able to say I was free and clear to be hers. You see, as liberal as my views had become, I was still old fashioned enough to say that we needed to be “married” before we had kids.

It took two more years before the divorce could be finalized and believe me it wasn’t for want of trying on my part. By the time it was all said and done, I had graduated with my BFA, started not one, but two part time jobs, Bashert had started working for a private dinner club as Membership Director and Nené had begun high school. It was a long haul to get to that sad, but relieving day in May.

Once the shock of the reality of my divorce had worn off, Bashert wasted no time in preparing for our commitment ceremony – she had that fierce determination going again. On July 27th we were standing in front of 50 of our closest friends and family to proudly show them that we were committed to living an open and loving life together. It was a beautiful ceremony that people still talk about today 12 years later. I only hope our legal wedding will be half as warm and special when that day comes (hint, hint to the federal government).

After the ceremony, Bashert began talking in earnest about wanting to have a baby. I admit it, I was nervous. I was now 40 years old, trying to maintain two jobs and going through the teenage years with Nené. One by one, Bashert knocked down my arguments, made sure to include Nené every step of the way and had me convinced.

We were going to make a baby.

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A baby story – my version of the tale

J&EMy partner Bashert is writing a series of exposés on our journey to have a baby (Yoda). She is amazed by all the wonderful responses she is receiving. I’m not surprised at all. She can tell a story, that woman. She pours all her heart into what she is regaling and lays it on the line, warts and all.

I am reading right along with all of her other fans. It is funny to read about my life from the outside. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I sit and make note of things I had forgotten and sometimes I revisit very angry moments. It was a roller coaster ride for sure. If you haven’t read her exciting tales of the road to motherhood then pop over to her site: www.bashert04.com.

I was teasing with her when she told me with wide eyes how many hits she had in under an hour the other night just after she posted another segment. I joked that maybe I should write my own version of what went on. She said why not? I thought about it and decided, why not? So I present to you my side of the story – our baby story.

 

We Meet

We met in college. In 1995, at the age of 34 and seeking some source of sanity, I returned to school to finish out my Fine Arts degree I started back when the dinosaurs roamed about. I was two years into a very nasty divorce and custody battle that would eventually drag on for another eight years. I was emotionally and physically scarred and needed a place to help me feel good and right about myself.

Learning had always been a refuge for me, but starting over was hard. I was so socially removed, I barely spoke above a whisper and held everyone at arm’s length. To say that I tried to keep to myself is a radical understatement.

Bashert was ahead of me in the program despite being nine years my junior. A couple of years earlier, she fought to gain her independence from an abusive father and get into college. Fighting hard for things is a major theme in Bashert’s life – keep that point in mind as we go through this story. She knew no strangers; she had friends and acquaintances all over campus.

As a sculptor, Bashert had no love loss for two-dimensional work. Give her some clay to play with and she is a happy camper. Back then the closest thing she came to painting was applying glazes to her ceramic creations. I had the reverse situation. Three-dimensional work and I just didn’t get along – never did; I still have the pinch pot I made in third grade as testament to that fact, the poor malformed little thing. No, give me paper and pencil and I was in heaven.

I never really painted before taking that class, but oh, it was love at first stroke! The way the paint moved across the canvas, pushing and pulling in a beautiful dance of negative and positive spaces. The sharp, piney tang of turpentine and the mellow musk of the oils were heady perfumes for me. And the colours – oh, the colours! The painting studio turned out to be my home. There was only one thing out of place there – Bashert.

It would be suffice to say that painting and Bashert didn’t get on, but add in that we later found out she was pretty much colour blind, that sealed the deal. At the time, I just thought she had been sent into my life to be yet another punishment for whatever hellbent life I had lived earlier. Shy to begin with and emotionally crushed on top of that, I did not know what to do with this girl.

I would arrive at the studio to find her sitting cheerfully at my station with a big grin on her face announcing that she “borrowed” some of my cadmium yellow or a cleaning rag or any number of other supplies. She would chat away as I tried to start my painting day and tactfully extricate myself from her. But she had worked it out so that her painting station was right next to mine and the badgering never ended. Often I would find myself staring in wonderment that she couldn’t get it that I was yearning to left alone.

Get it, she did not and the barrage of questions kept coming either about myself or ultimately about how to paint her images. “How would you do this one?” What colour should I use?” “Could you just take the brush and show me how?” My reply was always, “It is your painting.” I think this made me more a challenge to her. I remember going to my therapy sessions and telling the doctor in an exasperated voice, “That girl has some serious boundary issues!”.  I was already dealing with a vindictive ex-husband to be and a hormonal seven-year-old daughter, another aggravating person was the last thing I needed in my life. On some level I think I was relieved when the class was over just to end the torture from Bashert.

But remember what I said in the beginning? Bashert knows how to fight hard for the things she wants and for some unfathomable reason, she wanted to be my friend. She didn’t give up.

We went on a university sponsored trip to Washington, D.C. and she made sure that I couldn’t bury my nose in my crossword puzzle book on the ride up. She asked me to help her with the art gallery at school where she worked putting up monthly art exhibits. She asked for rides around town to her various other jobs, despite the fact that she hated my 1968 Mercury Cougar muscle car. I loved that car…sigh. But that’s another story.

All the while we were together, she would talk. And talk. And talk. Slowly, oh so slowly, those rides became stops and the talks became conversations, long conversations that lasted into the wee hours of the night. The aggressive girl with the boundary issues taught me how to be in the world again and somewhere in the midst, miraculously became my first friend in almost 15 years.

Baseball – it’s berry, berry good

atbatThe Braves cried this week, not just because they lost for the first time, but because it was the end of the season for them.

For many, including Yoda, this was the first real team they ever belonged to. It was the first time they felt a brotherhood built around a common goal. The goal was not necessarily to win, but to bring out the best in each other. That they did.

In five months, the Braves went from a team of loosely joined boys with little experience to a determined and undefeated west county championship team. It was a joy to see them grow. Yoda went from barely able to throw the ball 20 feet to hurling it to the cutoff man from outfield with palm stinging power. We watched a frozen infield turn into a quick response team. In nine and ten year old boy abilities, it was like watching the Keystone Cops turn into the Bolshoi Ballet.

We were all astounded at their progress, but most of all we were proud of the sportsmen they became. To a man, the Braves played honestly and with honor.

Their head coach, Joe Lewis (and yes that is his real name) made it clear from the very beginning that baseball is a game to be played using the best of themselves. Coach Lewis and the other three assistant coaches, Benton, Clack, and Thigpen always upheld themselves as the examples of what they wanted the kids to be. Each advancement made by a boy was celebrated proudly with a high-five, swooping hug or just a “guy” fist pound and each frustration handled with finesse as to bring out a betterment, not an embarrassment.

This true coaching led the boys to an undefeated title in their division of live pitch. And as such, they were slotted to play in the wider all county championship series. And play they did.

The first game of the series, they played on fire, but the flames were doused by a nasty thunderstorm. In the second inning the game was called due to weather. They would have to begin again the next day.

The boys were a bit dispirited the second day. Whether it was fatigue or their first exposure to the darker side of sportsmanship, I’m not sure. This was the first time the boys had experienced parents that openly mocked them, shouted insults and attempted to overrun the umpires’ calls. It was disheartening to see such behavior directed toward nine and ten year old children.

It took a lot not to return in kind, but instead we returned in kindness. We applauded every effort and every well-played inning. We drowned out the ugliness with cheers. Coach Lewis made sure that his boys would not be the ones to create animosity on the field or that his parents would not be thrown out during this championship series. We chose to show the boys the high road.

The boys ultimately lost the series, but not for trying. There were great hits, excellent pitches, throws and catches. There were a couple of amazing and clever home plate plays and even a tie-breaker extra inning, but it was not to be. The shameful tactics used by the other team won out. Cheaters do sometime prosper.

The boys were upset that they lost. It was hard to face their first losses this late in the game, but it wan’t until they cleared the field and gathered their equipment out of the dugout that the true meaning of the loss hit home. It was their last game together.  For Yoda, it was as if he lost his best friend and he wasn’t the only one. Reports from other parents were the same.

Several of the boys are moving up to the next level, as is Coach Lewis. The Braves as we knew them will not return, but we are glad to have the experience we did. It could have been something so different. Coaches Lewis, Benton, Clack and Thigpen built a team based on camaraderie and pride in a game well-played; the boys’ reaction to the last game proved that.

We were fearful that long ago blustery try-out day in February. We had heard the horror stories of spiteful parents and coaches that screamed, but fortune smiled in our favor. We became part of the Braves and Coach Lewis, we got a piece of that pie.

Dibs on the MatchBox Car

In my grandmother’s home was a magic box. Every child in our family was magnetically attracted to it. It sat almost at the end of a long hallway that divided Mama’s shotgun house, directly in front of the single bathroom.

It wasn’t a grand thing. Only about as wide as a five year old’s arm and covered with brown shelf paper, it was an unassuming vault of treasures. It was Mama’s toy box.

As soon as we entered the house, my younger brother and I would beeline through the living room, dart through the doorway from the dining room and race down the hall to the awaiting trove.  Lucky was the kid who arrived first, she or he got first dibs on what was the choice item of the day.

It varied from time to time what things it held for us to discover. Slinkys, yo-yos, soldiers with their feet frozen in blobs of green plastic or some ViewMaster reels might be found. Often, Matchbox cars, HotWheels and Tonka trucks were at the ready to populate the small, two-story garage handbuilt by my Grandfather or race down the long hall.

There was never anything large or very expensive in the box. Mostly just odds and ends left over from birthdays or Christmas’ past. Things to be discarded or treated with possible childhood distain would be magically transformed into an object of desire. Mr. Potato Head might not have both ears, but his pipe and glasses were there and that was great. Only a few Spirograph gears might be available, but there was enough to create fabulous designs to captivate any willing adult art admirer.

Palpable delight was felt in digging through the bit and pieces, mining for just the perfect toy to claim for the day or the hour or until Mom told us our turn was over. Imagination would take over when we found the stray crayon or some pirate coins hidden in the back corners.

Built way before mandatory locking hinges and I’m sure repurposed from another use, the box had a lid with the tendency to fall back into closed position. You really had to make sure that it was all the way back before starting to rummage. Once, in my haste to grab a good toy, I failed to push the lid all the way back. Slap! across my nose the hasp came – blood, tears and a lesson well learned.

The inevitability of growing up and its cruel disassociation with the magical never really affected Mama’s toy box. It never moved. Even as we grew and became busily involved in the ways of adulthood, it remained steadfast in its place guarding the long hallway ready to offer any passing child a chance to play. The next generations would soon experience the joy of running through the house to claim their daily prize.

In these often harried and tense days, it is nice to bring to mind the magic box in Mama’s hall. Though the home she kept for 40 odd years or so has been gone for quite some time, claimed by urban planning, the memory of it and that box full of childhood joy will always be there ready for another day of play. Race you there.

Peas Under the Plate

I owe my mother apologies for many things done or not done over the years, but I believe high on the list should be a hearty, “I’m sorry” for the repeated utterance of the following three little words:

“What’s for supper?”

Every night the same inquisition. Every night the same stares of anticipation. Every night the same dread. What’s for supper?

My Mom faced this eternal (infernal) question each night from four children, a husband and various and sundry pets who passed through our way for thirty years or so. Bless her little heart. I wonder if she, like I now, wanted to slap a frying pan upside someone’s head when those three little words came out?

Mom made do. I admire that and wish I had more of her “do”. She made supper and we ate it (with the exception of my younger brother Ernst, who subsisted on peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for 18 years, but that is another story). We had a meat, a veggie and a starch every supper. She made it work, whether we deserved it or not.

When we asked “what’s for supper?” I’m sure there were plenty of turned up noses at times, but the menu she worked out is what we got. There was no ditching the kitchen and heading off to the nearest fast food establishment. Going out was for special occasions and with dinner guests numbering from four to six most of the time, it was rather expensive, too.

We lived on my Dad’s one salary. Mom made it work. Some nights we had Spam patties as the meat source, other nights we had round steak that had been split in half lengthwise then pounded out to stretch. There were other nights of fried chicken or pork chops and mashed potatoes (not applesauce).  Looking back those must have been the times my parents were more flush, but it didn’t matter, we partook of what we had, which is not to say we ate it all – no, I remember clearly trying to hide peas under the rim of my plate and I’ve heard stories of my brother Stavro covertly placing items behind the refrigerator.

Supper was the time the family regrouped. All were called by the rallying cry, “supper’s ready”! Off went the t.v., down went the books, the telephone conversation was cut short, play was halted and we all came together.

We had marvelous conversations and learned of each other’s daily lives. We told stories, passed on new knowledge, played word games and made plans. Occasionally, we would fight, but most of the time we laughed, a lot. Supper became less about the food and more about the time spent together. It was something I think we took too much for granted. Another apology owed to Mom.

Maybe that’s the “do” I’m missing. Even in the worst of times, Mom found something to make for us so that we could sit together and eat. She may have wanted to conk each one of  us on the head for asking what’s for supper, but she didn’t and we survived to ask another day.

Perhaps I need to take the message more to heart. The t.v. needs to go off, apps turned off, Yoda called in from play and make supper the focus it should be, our family reconnection. Stretched paychecks and crossed schedules need to take a backseat to the preparation of what’s for supper. Nothing says I can’t resent the question, but everything says I can make it mean something else.

Thank you, Mom.

Day Tripping

The Bedlam family went traveling yesterday.  We hit the ATL; Hotlanta.  Well, we sort of went to Atlanta.  We actually landed in Decatur. It’s a small suburb south of the great city.  It is a city reborn, full of great little boutiques and wonderful eateries.  Our daughter Nené attended their premier women’s college, Agnes Scott for a year.  It’s the county seat of where we lived a while when I adopted Yoda as his legal second parent. It’s a beautiful little city to visit.

 

 

We had two missions, the first was an appointment Bashert made to see one of the downtown shop owners.  Bashert is an artist, too and a good bit more enterprising than I.  Since college, she has actually made money.

 

 

 

 

 

The shop, Wild Oats & Billy Goats, is a funky little place chock full of fabulous folk-art.  We were both in seventh heaven to be immersed in good art again.  A refreshing breath of air.  I believe we would have stayed much longer if we didn’t have Bashert’s second mission to accomplish.  We usually stick around and take all the photo ops we can, but time was pressing, this was a day trip and the weather reports for later were rather ominous for driving.

After a quick lunch at a local pita establishment, we were off to find Dick Blick’s Art Supply.

 

Here is where it gets a little tricky.  You see, I had a couple of very long days/nights this past week.  My archaeology professor guilted me into digging the site for several hours this week on top of having to be at work until 5:30 – 6:00am (yes – AM) and attending classes.  Exhausted doesn’t cover it.  I was asleep when Bashert printed out the routes and all the way up to Decatur.  I didn’t check  the maps.

Turned out that what Bashert thought was just Roswell road, was actually Roswell, the city, just north of Atlanta.

 

 

Unless we have an absolute, written in stone map, traveling with Bashert can be a bit dicey.  She can locate her childhood home with the barest of landmarks, but give her a map?  So when we discovered that the route involved a toll highway, we were put a little on edge.

The day was saved by my new(ish) toy, the iPhone.  We were able to pull up a decent enough map (I refuse to activate the GPS) to guide us around the toll and to the right destination.

Much to our delight, by not taking the highway, we also got to experience downtown Roswell, a place neither of us had been, despite the fact we are both from Georgia; Bashert being born in Atlanta!

Roswell is a historic city, built on the labors of slaves and mill workers.  This month the town hosts the largest Black History celebration in Georgia.  If we had known our travels were going to take us through there, we would have made arrangements for time to stop.

After the shopping excursion in Dick Blick’s (another slice of heaven for us, even though we were just there for supplies for Yoda’s school), we headed back to visit with Nené for a minute or two.  She was at work so it wasn’t a long visit, but Yoda was overjoyed to see his big sister even for a short time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The torrents of rain held off until we got home – not that I would know, I was fast asleep again once the car got moving. Bashert must have known how tired I was because normally I’m not allowed to doze in the car.  I’m navigator and wingman to keep the driver alert.  Bless her little heart.

All in all it a good day trip.

Adieu, Shit Dog.

Our Doobie, My Shit Dog

Here I sit a quivering mess and the day is not going to get any better.  Today is the day we say goodbye to Shit Dog.  The bladder cancer has finally gotten the better of him.  He was supposed to be gone before August, but in grand Shit Dog fashion he held on just to prove a point.

He’s gotten a bit chubby over the last couple of months or so because we have been saying what the heck let him eat it – he won’t be around much longer.  Leftover pancakes, roast trimmings, rice, french fries, pizza crust, chocolate cookies – about the only thing he turned his nose up to was veggies.  He would eat them with resentment when Elisheva was alive, but then that was a competition.

We knew something was up last week.  He refused a piece of biscuit.  He also hasn’t touched the bag of dog food that’s been sitting out in the open for four days.  Bashert had to hold her hand in front of his nose on Sunday for him to know she had some chocolate.  And if Shit Dog is anything, he’s a pureblooded chocoholic.

Our cat Winnie came over to lie with him this weekend.  She doesn’t do that.  He hates having his space invaded, particularly by one of the cats and they know it.  Bashert thinks Winnie was saying goodbye.  She did that just before Elisheva died, too.

We have a checkered past, Shit Dog and I.  I alluded to some of it in an entry back in July.  So it’s kind of ironic that he and I should be spending the day alone together.

He’s lying in his corner, atop his mass of appropriated blankets and pillows – he started out with one assigned blanket and dog pillow, now he has three of our bed blankets and two of our sofa pillows added – snoring away, past caring that he’s leaking urine all over himself.

I sit staring at him futilely trying to remain stoic, watching his occasional labored breath and seeing that he can no longer curl up into his tight little ball because of discomfort.  I let him out a moment ago and he peed on my foot not being able to control himself (at least I’m going to believe that – one last challenge there, eh boy?).

I know that what we are doing is right for him, but it is tremendously difficult.

Damn you, Shit Dog.  Doobie…you’re breaking my heart.

Peace Out

I’ve been absent a while.  School has resumed, the holiday lull at work has given way to busy nights and I’m getting up in the mornings to take Yoda to school since Bashert is still working her long term sub job. Hectic reigns supreme.

That’s why I skipped last week’s photo challenge.  Peace is a fair ways from my threshold.

I must admit that peace is a difficult concept for me anyway.  To say I’ve been through a few rough spots in my fifty years would be about right.  And for the past fifteen years, I’ve learned what it is to live amongst the tribe of ADD.  Our last name is Bedlam.

In an effort to help out, others have made suggestions on how to gain more peace in my life.

Yoga just doesn’t do it for me, besides I look like a stuffed sausage in those outfits.  I’m Jewish; I don’t do pork.

Guided imagery was a hoot.  Once we got to the giant floating bubble, I lost it – I had a complete vision of Glenda the Good Witch gliding down into Munchkin Land singing to Dorothy in a quivering voice.  The leader did not appreciate my giggles.

Exercise?  See the above comment about stuffed sausage.  I’m lazy and I think I’m allergic.

The closest I have come to finding some sort of peace is when I’m involved in a jigsaw puzzle.

There’s just something zen about it to me – finding all the interlocking pieces.  But with aforementioned tribe clamoring about (okay, there’s only two of them, but you come stay a while and you’d swear there are more, too.), four cats, one ailing dog and only one table in the house large enough to work on, peaceful turns into a jaw clenching challenge to finish before it goes flying or that one last piece goes missing.

No, peaceful is not an adjective that lives in my mind, but if the theme ever comes up as “discombobulated”  I’m in the money!