Wednesday, May 18, 2016

damn you, jose osuna, you are always making me cry

Each day at Homeboy starts with a Thought of the Day--a personal story or short inspirational speech by a staff member or trainee. It's part of the reason I don't bother going to church anymore; I live at church (a church that welcomes atheists, a church where even the priests meditate with gongs and burn sage). (I also know how the church sausage is made, which both dims and enhances the magic, but that's another post.)

Naturally Fr. Greg's TotD's get the most accolades, followed closely by TotD's from especially vulnerable and courageous trainees, the taste of both tragedy and transformation fresh in their mouths. But my personal favorite TotD-giver is Jose Osuna, Homeboy's Director of External Affairs. He is a former client, who started as a solar panel program student and worked his way up through the ranks. But he's quick to point out that he was never one of those kids who grew up in Boyle Heights with Fr. Greg as a shadow-dad even during their darkest days. Jose has always been a bit of a renegade, and he is also incredibly smart and kind and unafraid to speak the bald truth to power, which is why I love him.

His TotD today was about flying. He opened with a quote from Coco Chanel. (He is also unafraid to speak Coco Chanel to a room full of homies.)

He said: "Today I'm going to talk about flying. I have this daughter named Isabel. She's 24 now, and I asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday. Last year she wanted to go on a helicopter ride, so we did, and it was amazing. I was in jail for so much of her life. I missed so many years."

This year, Jose said, "She said, 'Let's go skydiving.' I said, 'Great, you can go skydiving.' I switched the 'we' of that right around."

I thought this might be a story about how Jose worked up the guts to jump out of a plane, but it wasn't. Isabel went up in the air and Jose stayed on the ground with his phone, ready to text her mother and the rest of the family as soon as her green-and-black parachute opened.

"I saw her floating toward me. And I just started crying. I thought about all those years I wasn't there for her. People wondered why I was there that day, since I wasn't skydiving, but I'm her father. Who else is going to catch her?"

I think Jose knows, better than most people, that Isabel had to land on her own. He hugged her, he was proud of her, and she had a great birthday. But the real pang came, he said, when he saw the picture she posted later that day.

"You know, she never went down the path I did," he said. "She never got in trouble or did drugs. She accepted the parents she had, and she accepted that her brother was murdered at 17. She was just really, really mad at me for a long time. She was so angry. Then I saw this picture of her at the door of the plane, getting ready to jump, with her hair flying all wild. The caption she wrote was, 'I flew.'"

I started listening to Jose's TotD as a parent, trying to imagine Dash jumping out of a plane one day (eeeehhhk). But I quickly realized that in this story, I'm Isabel.

My dad never went to jail; his mistakes were of the too-straight-and-narrow variety. He and my mom saved every penny they earned. They were determined to create financial and emotional stability for our family. My mom grew up with an alcoholic dad who moved their family to a new house every year or so. My dad's dad died when he was a year old, and although his mom was kind and devoted, it wasn't easy to raise two boys on her own. 

"She might have had a couple of years of fun when our father was alive," my Uncle Robin once confided, "but for the most part I don't think anyone in our family really knew what fun was."

My family valued happiness, but it was understood to be dessert, the thing you ate after you choked down your vegetables. 

Yeah, I'm still not a salad fan.
For better and worse, all my dad's hard work--plus some luck and the privilege that comes with being white and male and coming of age at a time when putting oneself through college was a bit more doable--paid off. All those worried phone calls from campground payphones to his business partner regarding the real estate investments that tanked in the recession of the early nineties. All those clothes my mom bought at thrift stores--she would drop a $2 skirt like it was on fire if the tag said "dry clean only."

My parents started planning for retirement when I was in elementary school, daydreaming about the house they might build in the middle of a redwood forest. (This was largely my dad's dream. My mom wanted to be close to people and a good hospital.)

Jose and Fr. Greg.
My mom got sick the year after I finished college and died three years later. My dad realized, in the most heartbreaking way possible, that you can't take it with you. And while he didn't exactly go on a spending spree--he still stocks up on frozen yogurt whenever it's on sale--he did purchase the first new car of his life, a sweet little wine-colored BMW convertible that hugs the road so fiercely even I can appreciate its ultimate-driving-machine-ness. 

My dad's girlfriend Susan pointed out to him that, rather than leaving my sister and I a chunk of money when he dies, it would be more fun (fun!) to help us out now, when we're younger and needier and he's alive to enjoy us enjoying it. 

At times I've resisted his help. At times I've humbly embraced it. At times I've reluctantly embraced it. I thought my reluctance came from my class guilt and feelings about social justice (and it does), but a recent post in one of my online parenting groups, the Dead Parents Club, made me realize that I'm not just concerned about living on the backs of the oppressed. I'm also living on the backs of my parents, perhaps especially my mom. 

I one hundred percent know that she would have loved seeing me parent the baby whose adoption fees she and my dad paid. I know that she would have loved seeing AK and I nest in the house that my dad is now looking for, to purchase so AK and I can rent from him. 

And yet.

This house has about six more bedrooms than the ones we're looking at. But I still feel like I'm living some kind of crazy mansion dream.
House hunting these past couple of weeks with AK and my dad has been surprisingly smooth, the pieces--so far--falling easily into place, although we haven't found the place itself yet. But I'm grateful that they're both such good people and such good communicators. Let's just say we've all come a long way from our 2010 trip to England, when my dad tried to see All Of The Best Things In The UK in the space of a week and AK periodically stomped off in exhaustion and frustration. 

This feels like the right time and the right direction. Also squirmy and bittersweet. But hearing Jose talk about what it meant to watch his daughter fly cut some of the strings of my guilt. This is what my dad wants for me. And if living in an awesome house is what I have to do to make him happy, I will make that sacrifice. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

beach babes

1. the turns our lives have taken

My last post was so melancholy. I mean, that was the space I was in, but sometimes I think I only know how to write in Sad Voice anymore, even when I’m happy. I’m like the most emo 39-year-old you’ll ever meet.

But I’m healthy—those quarterly appointments are a new lease on life, no matter how much I try not to let my world revolve around them. And I just got back from vacation.* So it seems like a good time to try my hand at writing about a good time.

That's Amy on the left. This is 2008, which in my mind was two years ago.
It was a pretty simple trip—a few days with friends in a rented house on the Central Coast—but we’d been planning it a long time. Amy and AK go way back to a women’s group at the Gay & Lesbian Center, and Amy and I go back almost as far. I remember the night we stayed up late eating cheese and talking at her friends’ gorgeous Craftsman house where she stayed in raw early days after her breakup with Kim, her first wife. I’d just miscarried and was equally raw. We could not believe the turn our lives had taken. We were good girls, privileged but hardworking. We wouldn’t have said it out loud, but we sort of thought The Best awaited us. At least I did.

Amy met a new love and moved to Atlanta. Carrie had a then-three-year-old son, and when Amy left, she said, “It’s like we were both members of the Childless Woman Club, and now I’m not, but I hope you’ll keep my picture on the wall of the clubhouse.” She meant it kindly, but I hated her for a minute.

It was tough being a stepmom, although Amy was and is resilient. The pangs of not having a baby to raise from scratch resurfaced. We commiserated.

And then one day Amy sent me an email with the subject line: The dreaded email: I’m pregnant. I was grateful to her for tearing the band-aid off, even though I cried when we talked on the phone and yelled something classy like “You don’t know what it’s like to be afraid you’re going to die before becoming a mom!”

But life is weird and unpredictable, and AK and I became moms three months before Amy’s twins were born. Meeting her kids—and re-meeting each other a year into our parenting journey—felt like a thing coming full circle.

2. baby reality show

When we all arrived at the house, a little two-bedroom blocks from the beach in Morro Bay, one thing became clear: Dash is tall. We’d all seen lots of pictures of each other’s kids, but Facebook doesn’t really convey personality or proportion. Dash was slender and teetery, a new walker at 15 months, what with his high center of gravity. Callan and Bennett were busy little munchkins, bustling about at 12 months.

Sweet chaos.
I could watch them all, for hours, like a TV show. Parenting, when it’s just you and the kid, can be lonely and even maddening. You want someone to share the hard parts and laugh at the silliness. I know that single parents get paid a lot of lip service while receiving very few resources (as do parents in general), but damn, I have so much respect.

But with four parents and three kids, life is the best kind of chaos. The parents in question were AK, me, Amy and Amy’s mom Lisa, because Carrie had just started a new job and couldn’t get time off.

Callan and Dash, partners in crime.
We took turns cooking and kid-watching and relaxing, while Dash, Callan and Bennett were kittens who refused to be herded. They pulled all the phone books out of the living room cabinets and threw them on the floor. The banged pots and pans. They fell backwards into buckets and collided with each other and cried about it. They fought over books and toys and moms, although their moments of outrage rarely lasted longer than thirty seconds.

Dash grabbed Bennett’s clothes and she screamed bloody murder. Amy said, “Well, Bennett, now you’ve met a bigger kid who is actually mobile. What does it feel like?” Bennett, apparently, liked to take charge at daycare and at home. She smiled easily, showing her dimples, but she also yelled and cried when things weren’t going her way.

Callan was chill personified, with big brown eyes and a sort of professorial look that sometimes gave way to huge dimples of his own. He loved filling paper bags, eating seaweed and rolling smooth stones around in his mouth.
Callan (right) indulges his inner freegan.
Chill and chilly.
We spent a stretch of Friday at Montña de Oro, a stop on many Klein family vacations when I was a kid. AK and I usually went on a run along the bluffs there on our San Luis trips, and now I hoped it would become a tradition Dash would grow up with.

We picnicked on the beach below the bluffs with Holly, Joel and their son Wendell, who were in town visiting Joel’s parents. The babies shared sandy, slobbery bottles and I surrendered to the messy and sticky. They dipped their toes in the cold surf. Holly and Amy talked about cloth diapers.

Dash pouted when he saw AK cuddling Callan. It was the first time we’d seen him get jealous.

I kind of understood it. Seeing AK hold Callan sent a quick ripple of emotion through me too. They were so sweet together—I couldn’t help but wonder whether it might be nice to have a second baby. But another part of me wanted to step in and reclaim AK. For myself or for Dash? I wasn’t even sure. Freud probably would be.

3. the future as seductress

The Second Kid Question has pros and cons that march through my head more loudly than I’d like. I know for sure that I could be very happy (and probably a more prolific writer and less poor) with just Dash. “Just” Dash, ha. Dash is everything! I also know that I would love any younger sibling who might come along. Then I remind myself that we literally could not pay double our daycare bill right now, and the answer gets easier.

Party of three.
What I want to do is live in the present. That’s what Dash deserves, and what AK and I deserve too. The future is a dangerous siren. This is a bit of an experiment in being, to leave the door to a second child open without officially declaring it a Goal, which would be to officially have to be disappointed if it didn’t work out. Right? Are those the rules? I know the dance that desire does in my brain, and I’m wary of it. I only like to let it take hold when something really, really counts. But when you’re queer and infertile—when it’s impossible to have a kid without a hell of a lot of intention—how do you have a second child without letting desire drive the bus?

4. we met a goat at avila valley barn

The weekend took a small turn for the sucky when Amy got sick. She’s a doer by nature and kept apologizing for not helping, but AK, Lisa and I did alright with our one-to-one adult/child ratio. Moms always joke about wanting sister-wives—a thing that vaguely annoys me as a gay woman, as if living with another woman is all about harmony and everyone proactively doing the dishes. But I also totally get it. Cooking, cleaning and childcare are so much more fun when there are other adults around.

Damn you, twentieth century America, for isolating the nuclear family. Then again, I really wouldn’t want to live with my parents or AK’s, and I’m too antisocial for roommates and too disorganized for a commune, so it looks like I’m a product of contemporary American family life despite my critique of it.

We took the kids to the pier in Avila Beach, which was a bit of a bust. The sea lions were farther away than I’d remembered, and I got jelly-kneed every time one of the kids got within three feet of the wooden railing.

This goat is all, I'm a private dancer, a dancer for lettuce.
On the way home we stopped at Avila Valley Barn, where Dash fed lettuce to the world’s gentlest-lipped goats and llamas and one sweet-eyed cow. We bought him a T-shirt that said I Met a Goat at Avila Valley Barn. The only thing that melts my heart more than animals, or Dash, is seeing Dash with animals. I hope he loves them this much his whole life.

*I started this post on Tuesday. Now it’s Sunday. Aaaaaarrrrgh, time.