From Mac on the Occasion of his 17th Birthday

For Mac on the Occasion of his 17th Birthdayweb

 

Wanting to protect him in his formative years, I’ve never written Thing1’s name on this blog. On the occasion of his 17th birthday last week, however, Thing1 went on a walk-about up the back of Mount Equinox, the highest peak of the Taconics. It was from the top of the Equinox, about 4PM, that he sent me the photo that inspired this painting.

Mac – short for MacLean is as independent-minded as you’d think someone with a name like his might be, but he’s also something I’ve never been.  

He’s brave. Not fearless – but brave.

On the way up the mountain, he texted a few photos and the occasional weather report –  ‘a storm is passing and it’s so cool – don’t worry, Mom’.  His phone ran out of battery before he could text about the bear that crossed his path on the way down the mountain, but neither a lack of communications or a close encounter of the furry kind sent him scurrying to our doorstep.  The only thing that brought him off the mountain seemed to be the acknowledgement that, as it got darker out, his mother would be doing what mothers do best – worrying.

When he got back, he showed us the pictures he’d taken and told us of everything he’d seen — the abandoned farm, the gates of the monastery that sits midway up the mountain and the animals that had crossed his path.  He ended his story with plans for a next hike and an invitation to join him on a future adventure, and I realized we’d received the best possible birthday present from Mac on his 17th birthday.

We heard a kid who could acknowledge the reality of unexpected dangers on a hike while refusing to let fear keep him from the path.  And I knew his invitation wasn’t a cry for help but an encouragement to join him on a new adventure.

In It Together

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My sons are the center of my life.  They are the center of my husband’s life. 

Today, Congress began changing the future drastically for my eldest son by endangering his ability to obtain insurance when he is an adult. 

Today Congress rolled back Obamacare, and with it, protection for millions of people with pre-existing conditions (replaced with high risk pools).  My son is one of those people. He was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder (a lifetime diagnosis) that requires medications that would be unattainable for us without insurance. 

He’ll be a man soon, and, again – through no fault of his own –  he may find it more difficult to get coverage or possibly even job, since he will have to evaluate the laws in each state and not every employer will want to cover hires in his situation. It will  Even so, he’s lucky compared to the millions of Americans who will lose insurance outright. He’s still on our insurance plan, and we’ll keep him there as long as the law allows.

Jimmy Kimmel hinted at some of this the other night in his emotional monologue. He briefly touched on the fact that, prior to the ACA, a child like his would have reached his lifetime insurance cap before he left the NICU. If that child had appendicitis, or a broken bone, or cancer, that cap would have left many parents bankrupt at best or burying their child at worst — even if they had insurance.  

I have thought a lot about those other parents in the months since our son was diagnosed. When we get our meds, I silently thank our company for making it possible and then shake my head that anyone in a country as rich as ours might have to watch their child suffer or even die.  I shake it when I wonder how many people die prematurely because they don’t have access to the same healthcare we do, and I wonder how we benefit as a society from treating children and poor people like disposable objects. 

I call my representatives. I donate. And I shake my head. But today I’m done shaking my head.  I’ve thought about moving our family back to a country with stronger healthcare, but I’d still be shaking my head at the drugstore, wondering how people back home were managing without access.  

So now I’m still calling my representatives and donating, but I’m also looking for new ways to show solidarity with my son and with all the other people who are being pushed out in the cold. Because, as Jimmy Kimmel so beautifully stated, “We need to take care of each other.”  

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Yours, Mine, Ours

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For some reason I had a lot of gay friends in high school. It wasn’t something I planned or even thought about until senior year, when a number of friends started coming out.

Homosexuality was not an issue prior to that, and my friends were my friends. Who they loved would never became an issue for me.  They were wonderful people before they were out, and they were (and are) wonderful people after they were out.

Those relationships stayed close beyond high school and brought new friendships with them.  It never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about having a lot of gay friends because that was what I knew.

Most of my close friends had relatively supportive families when they came out, but over time I heard horror stories of people being shunned and even threatened with violence by their own flesh and blood.  I knew of at least one friend who was beaten up simply for ‘acting’ gay even before he himself had seriously contemplated who he was.

It wasn’t until I started dating more that I realized that some people really did have a problem with homosexuality. Some of the objections were religious, but more frequently, there seemed to be an unfounded fear of unwanted sexual advances (ironically often in men who themselves were aggressive with me).

I ended relationships when it became clear that the man I was seeing would never accept my friends.  For a long time, I believed my own intractable position was founded on the fact that my friends were a non-negotiable part of my life, but as I’ve married and we’ve gone our own ways geographically, my feeling is stronger.

It wasn’t until I had a son who defied convention with his tutus and fairy wings that I understood why it had mattered to me so much back then that any companion be accepting of my gay friends.  But when my unconventional son began asking to wear his rainbow wig to the diner, the empathy and love I had felt for those people crystalized.

It wasn’t just acceptance of my friends, I had wanted. It was the assurance that if any child of mine was different, a future husband would respond the way the Big Guy does — by asking if our different child wants to wear his superhero cape with his wig.

It hit again Sunday when the news came in from Orlando, and I read of a mother reading the last texts from her son, knowing he might be dying and that his last moments were filled with terror.

It hit because as a mother I knew that the last thing she probably cared about at that moment was who her son loved.  The only thing that mattered was that she wanted him to be safe so that he could love.

I knew that could have just as easily been my kid who had wanted acceptance and freedom from fear.  It could be your kid that was refused housing or service or even medical care. It could be any of ours that was in that night club in Orlando, murdered for the crime of loving someone.

I don’t know what the future holds for my unconventional son, and it is not our job to project an orientation on to him. It is our job to make sure he knows that our love doesn’t come with conditions and to work for a world where everyone’s kid can be honest about whom they love without fear.

A Simple Life

Growing up, I loved Little House on the Prairie. I loved it so much, I thought I wanted to switch places with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved the idea of making everything you used, and there seemed to be a simplicity to their lives that doesn't exist now. Once I got older and learned to appreciate things like penicillin and voting, that wish vanished (now I'd settle for a Time Machine for the occasional visit),

Searching through town records and shared family trees, it's clear rural life was definitely simpler back then. You were born. You lived. You struggled. If you were lucky, you made it to adulthood and struggled some more.

We struggle with bills and schedules. We struggle with chores and parenting, but when I come across the all too-frequent pairs of dates indicating the existence of a child who died as soon as he or she drew breath, I know I don't really struggle at all.

That struggle is one any parent can imagine. To imagine it happening one or two times in a row – sometime five or six in a lifetime – and still keep fighting just so you could keep parenting the children that managed to draw a next breath, however, is to begin to understand what real strength must have been (and still is where this story continues to plays out around the world).

It is also to begin to appreciate in earnest that a complicated life is actually a fortunate one.

 

Cursed

Cursed

   Seven-year-old Thing2 and his thirteen-year-old brother Jack take turns sitting next to me when we go to Sunday breakfast at Bob’s Diner in Manchester, VT.  Thing2 is still at the age where he’s easily entertained by shiny objects and it was my wedding ring caught that his attention the other morning.

Waiting for our drinks to arrive, Thing2 grabbed my hand from the table and began inspecting the rings, twist and turning my finger.  The Big Guy told him the story of the stone (they came from his grandfather’s ring) and then of his own gold band (also owned by his grandfather).  

Thing2 tried to pull off my ring for close inspection, but I stiffened my finger and the ring would not come off.  It would twist, but it would not move up my finger.

“It won’t come off,” exclaimed Thing2.   The server had now brought our drinks.

“It’s not supposed to come off,” I said.

“What is it.. cursed?” he asked turning to ancient pop culture and Ringo Star’s ruby ring in the move Help to explain the phenomenon on my finger.  Even Jack had to laugh at the question. Our server took our order and walked away giggling.  

Thing2 was now wedged between my arm and body.  Sun flooding through the plate glass window bathed Jack and the Big Guy on the opposite side of the table.  It was just an ordinary Sunday with nothing planned except wood stacking and hanging out around the homestead.  I had his answer.

“It’s not cursed,” I said.  It’s blessed.