Changing Tides and Good Tidings!

My youngest children, my twins, turned 10 last week. I don’t believe that I’d thoroughly prepared for that milestone as it had gotten shuffled between the craziness of life, sports, school schedules and the harried holiday season. Sure, I’d remembered presents but it has always been a flurry of gift-buying at this time anyway for the large family and extended family, so it wasn’t like I was totally unprepared. It was more an emotional wake-up to no longer having kids under 10, which put me in a different parent category. It may just be in my paranoid mind, but there seems to be less sympathy for parents who have older kids vs. younger. It’s as if other parents think that we somehow lose our memory of how hard those years were and that we can’t possibly “really know” what parents of toddlers are going through. Again, maybe just my imagination,but as a parent of twins, let me tell you that those young years are indelibly etched in my mind!

At ten years old, the gifts have moved quite a ways from crafts and toys, to clothes¬† and whatever’s new in electronics. When we had the family birthday party, minus both of the older sisters for the first time in their lives, it was different, for sure. There were 4 minor things for them to each open, one after another of mostly clothes that they had picked out themselves. Before they had received their main present, my wife decided to play a bit of what seemed like emotional torture on them as she asked our daughter if she had a nice birthday. “Yes,” she beamed, which made me even more uncomfortable for her. What if she was secretly hoping for something she hadn’t gotten but was afraid to seem disappointed? I could wait no longer and instructed their 12 yr. old sister to fetch their surprises. I had worked hard to find them both gently used iPod touches on eBay, outfitted them with new cases, and wrapped them up tightly and repeatedly so that the suspense would be prolonged. The excitement and surprise were beyond my imagination and their thankfulness made me proud. Of course they were from both my wife and I, but I also knew that electronics aren’t her thing, so the blissful time then (in my mind) would probably not last long(in hers)!

Several days later and we’ve got app addicts. After we give them a week to work out their excitement, they will need them confiscated every day before school, before meals, and before bed. They may even go to a reward system sign-out sheet if after a week this drug-like desire does not wane. “No, I do not want to FaceTime with you while I’m making dinner.” “Yes, I’m an adult, when you get to be an adult you can take your itouch into the bathroom with you too, but right now, it stays out here!” And, “yes, I’m coming up to put you to bed soon but just let me finish down here before you text me again!!” We’ve created monsters. A new generation of soon-to-be adults who will no longer be able to communicate without abbreviating!

Ten years ago, on the day that my wife gave birth to our twins, the most vivid memory that I have was in the pre-dawn hours when she woke me to say that her water had broken and she was in labor. We were ready with a bag packed and contingency plans in place for our then 2.5 yr-old who was asleep upstairs, but we had not planned on a snowstorm that night. I got up like a flash, ascertained that my wife was capable of getting ready to leave by herself, and dressed to go out and get the car warmed up. At no time the previous day were there warnings of an impending snowfall, so imagine my surprise when I opened the garage door to see at least 8 inches of white stuff blocking our exit. I quickly ran back into the house to tell my wife, call the neighbors for help, and to quiet my panic. No answer across the street. No other friends would be able to get to the house to assist unless they had a plow. Did we have a plow company to call? I didn’t handle that job, my wife did. I didn’t want to panic her… “Honey, I’m just going to go back out and shovel us out a bit.” “No, it’s not bad. I’ll be done lickedy split!”

I returned to the task, which seemed insurmountable at the time, but resigned myself to making quick work and getting to the hospital safely. I surely didn’t want to deliver them at home and knowing that a C-section was pending gave even more fury to my shoveling!

As I looked down the street, my eyes seemed to be playing tricks on me. I saw one golden light haloed by the falling snow. It was moving towards me ever so slowly, quietly, but coming nearer until I could see the outline of some sort of tractor. It was our new plow person, a farmer, apparently, who my wife had just the day before arranged to plow us that winter! I didn’t know him then, but he will be forever known as our angel who guided us by plowing the entire 2 miles to the main road. We still don’t know how and why he was there at that time with that singular purpose, but we are grateful that our treasured spirits were watching out for us and got the message to him!

We attended the annual family Christmas at my in-laws the other night. It has been a zoo every year for 16 of the years I’ve attended as the 8 children, 24 grandchildren(probably more…) and increasing numbers of grand kids and great nieces/nephews under 3 were underfoot in the small house. It seems that every year at this festivity, we mark the day with the memory of one who is no longer with us. It is a reminder to me of my own pending mortality as I imagine the day when these new parents will be seasoned parents and maybe even grandparents, mourning the passing of us middle-agers.

New babies arrive, older relatives die, and the cycle goes on. At the other end of the spectrum, my wife’s dad, who in his mid-eighties is the oldest and the patriarch of the family. He has been spiralling downhill in the last year and will likely be the next to go. The loss of a friend or relative near a special holiday or occasion seems to leave a permanent damper on one’s soul. I/we could use to get through this season with no more sorrow to add to an already emotion-filled time.

As the Christian holiday approaches, and those who are religious as well as those of us who either practice another religion or cling to the residual effects of an upbringing laden with spiritual overtones, I hope that we can all remember the joy as well as the memory of those who have passed and who will forever be in our hearts!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Mele Kalikimaka!

Sandy butts and the hands of time…

When my first child was born 22 plus years ago, I was a much “looser” parent. I know that, because I’ve been watching old movies of myself, my kids and family, and my life as it used to be, far enough ago that there are people in my videos who I barely recall. It’s a project that I have had on my “to-do” list for years, converting all of my different video formats to digital files. It’s long, tedious work, but the trip down memory lane has been quite eye-opening, to say the least.

My younger version of myself in 1991 laughed and played with my then 2 year-old daughter, not giving a care for the silty, black sand firmly ensconced on her bare cheeks and squeezed into who knows how many cavities! Naked kids are fine, and by the number of naked kid videos that we have of her, my younger self didn’t care. Watching it now, I scream in my head, “what the hell were you thinking?!”

What was I thinking? I was thinking that kids are pure, kids are clean, and fresh, and should run around naked until they just don’t want to anymore. Imagine that world? I can’t anymore.

When that same daughter was just shy of four years old in January of 1993, we had the opportunity to attend Bill Clinton’s first Inauguration. It was a family affair, and lots of pictures were taken. That was before digital cameras, when the “old-fashioned” cameras required film, which then needed developing. Soon after arriving back home from Washington, I headed to the one-hour photo at the mall to do some shopping before picking up my child up from school. Little did I know that a film technician had alerted police that a certain roll of film that he’d processed had pictures that looked suspiciously like illegal material.

Upon my arrival back at the photo shop to pick up my finished photos, I was immediately flanked by 2 plain-clothed detectives. After identifying themselves, one started flipping through my pictures in front of me, asking repeatedly, “Is this your photo?” “Did you take this photo?” Do you know who this child is in this picture?” “Yes!” “That’s my daughter,” I said.

I was asked to come down the “station.” I was allowed to drive my own car, so I navigated myself to the building. I happened to have a mobile phone, which back then was the size of a breadbox, but nevertheless, was quite handy. I called my partner and frantically explained what was happening and she immediately called our lawyer for help.

I was led into an “interrogation room,” for the first time in my life, and although I was very nervous and probably sweating profusely, I still carried my well-honed butchy swagger. I would answer your questions, I decided, but I’m not holding back any contempt towards you when I answer, I thought to myself.

I was asked whether I had taken the pictures and I said “I don’t know.” “Why don’t I know? Because I’m not the one who ALWAYS takes the pictures!” If I’m not IN the picture, well, it could be me, or it could be my partner.” “Yes, I’m in a relationship with a WOMAN! Do you have a problem with that?”

He showed me a picture, of my daughter. She was standing in the doorway of our kitchen. We kept the camera right there on the kitchen counter so that we could snap away, and obviously one of us decided to capture the moment! She was naked, had slipped her little feet into my partner’s boots, and was standing there like a little naked cowgirl. When the shot was snapped, she smiled as big as day, shook her wet curly locks, and grabbed her crotch and pulled up! High. So high that it made you look again to be sure you just saw what you thought you saw!

“Can you explain this?”

“Yes. That’s my daughter. She had just gotten out of the jacuzzi and had decided to try on her mom’s boots. She was ¬†proud of herself and loved smiling for the camera, so obviously one of us grabbed the camera and snapped it! Why? Is there something wrong besides she obviously grabbed her crotch right when the picture was snapped? What other explanation are you posing?”

“Who’s that?” he asked.

“That’s Ann Richards. We went to an event where she was at. You know her? She’s the Governor of Texas?”
(writer’s note: I know that all of my quotations aren’t perfect, but who cares, really…)

He went on, asking me about every photo, trying to trip me up when he asked questions repeatedly. I answered in a “tone,” I’m sure. It’s the same TONE that my wife hates, and I think I finally used it in its proper place as I sneered back at him!

“Why? I mean honestly…Why would I take pictures of the President’s Inauguration, and then add a few pornographic pictures at the end? And WHY, would I come to the mall and have them developed by some technicians? If I really wanted to be into that business, I think I’d be smart enough to either have a photo lab person who I trusted wouldn’t squeal to the cops, or I’d develop them myself!” I continued to answer his stupid questions…

“No, officer, I do not let my child wander the house with her hands in her “vaginal area,” and if we were to be precise, I would call it a “labia” (I did say that in my inside the body voice because I could tell he was pretty uptight) ” We have a policy that if she wants to touch herself, she can do it in her room where we don’t have to see it!” “No, that wasn’t one of those times. This was a spontaneous act!”

He then went on to tell me that he had 10 kids and “None of them did things like that!” To which I said, “I’m sure that they do. All kids touch themselves. If you spent more time with your kids you might actually see that, so don’t tell me my kid is some kind of anomaly!”

I realize I’m using a LOT of exclamation points now, and trust me, it was an exclamatory day!
How dare anyone accuse me of something like that? What? Taking a picture?

The lawyer finally called, told me not to talk to them anymore, and I left. They didn’t have a charge per se, but they were putting the incident in for an “investigation”. The State Police became involved. It was a scary time. We could only think in worst case scenarios. We had a baby then as well, who was just 16 months old. We grabbed them both up and took off to a hotel for the night. Our lawyer updated us daily, and after 2 weeks, several outside investigative visits and a $1000 legal bill, we were cleared. But our case was put on “probation,” meaning that we needed to not come up on the system again for at least a year.

Standard procedure? I don’t know. Am I more cynical now? For sure. I know that from that time on, I have been a changed person. I think that we all have been changed little by little over time. I know that I am more fearful than I used to be and I am less and less trusting. I don’t take naked pictures of my kids anymore. Afterwards, my friend, who wrote for the local newspaper, wrote a feature on our story and I heard parents everywhere talking about it. Most of them were saying that they had “TONS” of pictures of their kids naked! The world we lived in as children is not the same as it is for our children or will be for their children. Time changes things. Years go by and life goes on and we adapt. We change.

I worked at an event last Saturday. It was an event for LGBTQ and the rest of the alphabet if they wanted to join us! We had a great time, good food, entertainment, and the weather held up well, but one surprising point was when a well-known elder in the lesbian community came up to me and introduced herself. It was a woman named Alix Dobkin, one of the revolutionary lesbian-feminist songwriters who debuted in the 1960’s, when I was just born. She wanted me to be sure to know about the “Old Lesbians Organizing for Change” group, and that they would love to have a chapter opened in the Northampton area. I think she must have asked someone about me- my gray hair, my radio headset on (I was working the event), my “take-charge” look – and focused in on me as a new recruit for the group. I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know what to do. I thanked her, smiled, smiled again just to be sure she saw it (because I know I’m pretty limited in the number of them that I’m willing to give out on a daily basis), and I tucked the cards into my back pocket. I tucked the memory into that bin I keep of stories to tell the wife when I got home. Can you believe her calling me an “old lesbian?!” When I googled the group, it was for over age 60 lesbians! I just hit 50 a little over a year ago so don’t rush me! Who thought up that gem of a name for the group, anyway?

I’m not willing to be “old” yet. I will call myself “experienced,” “mature,” I don’t mind “wise,” or “super,” or “cool,” or “super-cool.” I’ve been “awesome” on occasion, and I like “interesting, smart, but “old?” “Old and lesbian” together? Sure, time has passed since that reddish dirty-blonde hair of mine was showing all over, but if I were to start an uprising, it would be more aptly called, “The Raging Hormones” than a name that has the word “old” in it!

Sure, I’ll admit it, the hands of time can be cruel and challenging, and just when you think you’ve got as much as you can handle on your plate, here comes another helping. My life, and all of the lives of friends I know, have gotten more complicated over these years in many ways which I think has created a feeling that often resembles a top spinning out of control. Some people resort to drinking or drugs, or sex, or other forms of addiction. Some folks seek medical help and subscribe to the more acceptable forms of control like anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, or other prescription drugs.

I often think about the people in countries like Libya who have spearheaded uprisings in their country. I wonder if they have the availability like we do for the use of anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs. I wonder if anyone has ever studied that impact and if not, if anyone ever will.

I believe my “fiery” energy is here for a reason. It’s here to ignite ideas, creativity, fluidity, movement – life! If I let the anxiety or depression win, then I’m resorting to something that will suppress it. That may work for depression, but sometimes anxiety is telling us something, telling us that we need to channel that energy into something positive!

I heard a line used on the radio last week by Thom Hartman, one of the smartest guys I’ve ever heard on talk radio. He asked a guest on his show, “what’s the opposite of love?” His guest answered, “hate.” No, said Thom, a wise person once said, “the opposite of love, is apathy.”

Here’s to love, happiness, and more time for fiery energy!

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