Monday, November 17, 2008

(another chapter of The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage)

When We First Came to Portland

One of the most challenging things about being a stay-at-home mom is the isolation. When our older kids were young, I was around people all day, but they’d either be talking a blue streak about dinosaurs, handing me a pile of books to read, or needing a diaper change. I was never alone, but often lonely, while up to my elbows in dishes or indescribable body fluids.

At times, I’ve wished for co-workers. They allow you to obsess about your job to a degree that simply won’t be tolerated by others not in the field. When I start telling Jannine about the sub-context in a Disney film, or ask her whether she’s noticed the preponderance of divorce in kids’ movies, her eyes glaze over and I lose her. But when I talk to another stay-at-home parent about the same thing, he or she understands, has seen the film under discussion twenty times or more during the eleven-month flu season, and has analyzed the hell out of it, too.
Though finding moms you can talk to about compulsory heterosexuality in juvenile entertainment is harder. Stay-at-home moms you can find, lesbian ones are few and far between. Though, since it seems every lesbian couple in America is spawning, the odds are increasing.

In those early days in Portland, when I spied a mom, straight or gay, who looked like a potential comrade, we did the mommy-dance. It’s not unlike the way dogs circle each other when they first meet. The mommy-dance consists of manipulating your children into either moving towards the area where the other mom’s children are playing or stalling your children while she moves to you. The second phase of the dance consists of remarks which reveal the depth of your parenting commitment. One might open with, “Did you notice the glass near the slide?” The other mom will respond with, “One day, I was here and someone had peed in the tunnel,” which will lead almost inevitably to a discussion of AIDS, gangs, child abuse, the state of the schools today, the hole in the ozone layer, random violence, commercial television, kidnapping, and belly button rings. By the end of ten minutes, or when your children are ready to drag you away by your hair, you’ve catalogued each others’ fears and decided whether they are compatible and you can be friends.

So much of early parenting is about keeping your children out of harm’s way while they have the common sense of a flea.

Phase three involves more sharing of fear, can go on for years, and evolves over time to the kvetching parents do about their kid’s messy room, questionable grades, or frightening dating choices. My friend, Amy, and I used to get together and carry on under a cloud of life-threatening gloom and doom for hours. It was like knocking wood. You think if you catalogue every horrible thing that can befall your children, then it won’t be able to sneak up on you unawares.

We found a lot of these friends in our house, spilling out on the porch, or dissing President Bush on the deck, during times of worry. Shared interests or values kept us in touch past whatever crisis brought us together, so that by the time they came to celebrate our marriage with us, there was absolutely no gloom and doom to be seen.

However, I did find myself standing on our deck in the sunshine, holding a Diet Coke and chatting merrily to Megan, my mother, and Aunt Maggie in a rapt state of marital bliss about the eventuality of civil unions, saying that they were better than a kick in the head. At my own wedding reception, I was talking about accepting this second class solution with a smile. It must have been the sleep deprivation.

Ironically, Megan and the others were ticked off that this option should be presented by anyone as an acceptable alternative. “It should be marriage!” Megan insisted. They were mad for us that we should live in a country that would even consider passing a constitutional amendment to make sure we cannot marry, as Bush was proposing, and would offer us civil unions to keep the liberals happy and us firmly in our place.

My mother insisted, “I think your marriage will stand. The state won’t be able to take it away. It’s hard to undo something that has been done,” reiterating the sentiment Thad, John and Carol’s teenage son, had expressed about the Multnomah County marriages, “You can’t get the toothpaste back in, once it’s out of the tube.”

Soon there were cries of “Cake, cake, cut the cake!” and Jannine and I were ushered to where the dining table had been pulled out, so that we could enjoy the traditional cake cutting ritual.

The kids, who had been invisible throughout most of the party, suddenly appeared like vultures when the cry of “Cake!” rippled through the house, and there were paper plates held out eagerly as we joined hands to slice through the top layer. It was a sight, all those excited young people, most of them assuming we were already married before that Wednesday morning, in happy ignorance of the law. We loaded up the kids with cake; then Grandma took over to dish out slices, while we had some of the best wedding cake we’ve ever eaten, all the sweeter due to the day.

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