A Story of a Marriage

It was 1985 and I was just shy of my 25th birthday. I was living in Philadelphia, where I had created Morgan Calabrese and penned the weekly comic strip for a handful of of queer papers around the country. My day job was designer for a Main Line party planner for ridiculously low pay and insane hours. (It remains, weirdly, my favorite job.)

It was on that job that I met Kate Bornstein. Years before she became known as the gender outlaw, the two of us connected over art and politics and the impossible coincidence of having occupied the same apartment, one after the other. (I was still receiving utility bills in her dead name).

Unlike New York, Philly in those days didn’t possess a single all-night cafe (no really – we looked), but we stayed well into the morning hours, night after night, in whatever cafe would have us, and over countless coffees, conceived of a women’s performing arts company. (We called it a “feminist evolutionary arts ensemble” but hey, we were young and it was the 80s.)

Over the next few months, we launched our first production. To help with casting and possibly, to stage manage, Kate wanted to bring in someone she knew from NYC, who happened to be between shows.

Sue came on board and instantly meshed with our all-night cafe and art/politics habit. As she needed a place to stay while in Philly, she ended up with a room in the the large Germantown house I shared with a half dozen lesbians and a revolving cast of girlfriends.

The two of us worked every day, rehearsed for hours every evening, then stayed up all night to talk. We were somehow able to do this for weeks functioning, without sleep, on caffeine and creative energy alone. Our conversations never faltered, never lapsed into awkward silence. We never ran out of things to talk about and never tired of our talks together. It was time compressed; we packed years of aquaintance into those several weeks. We became great friends.

Then we fell in love.
Serious love. The kind that bitterly resents the intrusion of mundane obligations that made us part ways for even a few hours. The kind that, all the same, doesn’t miss a beat over distance or time, but picks up as if there’d never been any interruption.

Sue is the shaft of sunlight that breaks across my shuttered gloom. She’s the soft ground I return to after a new enthusiasm has me untethered and drifting into power lines. She’s the adorable goofball on the dancefloor when my vanity makes me too self-conscious to just have fun.

We lived together almost from the day we met. 34 years later, we’ve never been apart.

Life has made it’s demands. Sue left theatre for the regular, if inadequate, paycheck of social work. I continued to do art – but of the commercial, client-centered kind, rather than the kind that kept me up at night, stewing in passion and energy. And always, it’s supplemented by a Faustian-bargain day job that’s meant to make pursuing art possible but leaves no time or bandwidth for it. Our struggle with money has never for one moment relented.

From the beginning, we dreamed of having kids. For years, we played a sort of Mr Potato Head, combining and recombining our favorite parts of ourselves onto our imagined kids. And for years, we held off, waiting for the time it made better financial sense. Until it became clear that it never would. Ten years after we met and privately exchanged vows and rings at a women’s music festival, Sue became pregnant with my brother’s donated sperm.

And lo, our son and daughter look like the best of both of us. They mirror us in their talents, and quirks, and flaws, and in their very best qualities (of which they have a very great many). I have been fortunate to have known great love – but it did not prepare me for the intensity of the love I feel for these two beautiful humans who call me “Ima”.

They are young adults now; our daughter, our baby, is just days away from leaving home for a year in Europe, before starting college. When I allow my mind to touch on this fact, I can’t breathe. Even as I write this, I feel my eyes tear, my lower lip tremble, my throat close. “No!”, I want to scream. “Do-over! It was all too fast!”

There is no happily ever after. There’s sometimes hardship and discord. We’ve grown up together, but we’ve also changed as we’ve grown and so there is negotiation and navigating the unfamiliar.
And every day, we get up again and make it up as we go along. Because that’s what marriage is.

Back to School at the Mall

Back to School at the Mall

Wild Child and the Diva are headed back to school. When they arrive for their first day in a higher grade they will be kitted out in new outfits that say to one and all, “this is who I am this year”. I imagine it’s the same for kids across the country; they’ve grown over the summer and not just in shoe size, so they’re gearing up to start again as a new and improved version of themselves.

It begins with the back-to-school shopping trip. These days, we buy everything from pillows to power tools online but, come the end of summer, with growing kids in tow, we head to the mall like running salmon because there’s no online substitute for “*sigh* Go in and try it on”.

I hate malls. I hate what they represent, hate their climate-controlled artificiality, the pseudo bargains, the foot-tenderizing acreage, and the crowds. Even so, shopping with the Diva is a blast; with Wild Child, there are really good moments. But with the both of them . . . well thank god, it’s only once a year because it easily shaves that much off my life.

Fifteen seconds over the first threshold, Diva kicked things off by loudly proclaiming her disgust at the garment industry’s insistence on adding pink to everything made for girls. In store after store, rack after rack, carrel after carrel, she sucked her teeth and “tutted”, her fashion sense mortality offended.

“This one’s nice”, I say to her. “Yes,” she says, simultaneously cocking her left hip and her right eyebrow “except they just had to slap a peace sign on the front of it.” Okaaaay. Last year, peace signs were “oooh, so cute!” but I make a mental note; no pink, no peace signs. This turns out to be easier than expected because at ten, she’s already so tall that she can no longer wear girls’ clothing. Now while I could hardly be described as a prude, I note that many women’s fashions are really not meant for ten-year-olds. Naturally, it’s precisely these that she prefers. “Oooh!” she exclaims, like she’s just found a stray kitten, “isn’t this adorable?” “What? Where?” I say, “I don’t see anything. Oh that – I thought that was a couple of loose threads.” This earns me several moments of aggrieved silence.

Meanwhile, Wild Child is venting his boredom by crawling around on floor and hiding in the clothes racks. “Hey Iiiiiima – you can’t seeee me.” For his part, he made it clear he would consider nothing but t-shirts and he played skateboard with the cart until we made our way to those racks. For him, if it glows in the dark, smells like cookies when scratched or references video games or annoying sisters, that’s the shirt for him. And a hat. He’s got to have a hat. One of those gawd-awful hip hop hats that perches on one’s head like Papa Bear’s cereal bowl. There’s just no way to get through to him that as skinny as he is, the effect is . . . not really what he’s going for.

Which brings us to jeans. I have a pair of beanpoles; skinny jeans are kind of a cruel joke. “Do you have these in slim sizes?” I ask the sales associate. She looks baffled. “Nooo, they’re skinny jeans.”
In and out of the dressing room we go, my son’s tenuous grip on himself visibly unraveling. “Okay look,” I say to him, “try these ones.” He stands there. “Ima, those are girls‘.” “Yes, I know, but they don’t look like girls’ and they’re skinnier than the boys'”. “Ima…” his eyes shift left, then right. I’m starting to unravel a bit, myself. “Just try the damn things on – they don’t look any different.” Shoulders hunched, he slopes back to the dressing room. They fit. They look good. Great, in fact. And no pink anywhere.

Diva, meanwhile, has found the sneakers for her. The child who has grown three shoe sizes in five months wants a $75 pair of kicks. I calmly explain that such a purchase is madness. She’s thoughtful for a few moments. “How muchwere you going to spend on shoes?” “I was hoping about half that.” She smiles. “Well then, you spend that much and I’ll use my allowance for the rest. I really, really love them.”

Later, as she’s cooing over 3 inch heels, my son sidles over to me. “Ima,” he says quietly, “I don’t mind that they’re girls jeans.” “No?” “No. But, you said it so everyone could hear.” “I embarrassed you.” He nods. “You kinda do that, you know.” Mm. “I apologize. I will try not to do that.” He nods again. “Okay. Thanks.”

Yep, kids grow over the summer.

Fast Food

Fast Food

The other day, I made food that both children ate. Such is my life that this is noteworthy and cause for some degree of celebrating. The kids liked it, I loved it, and my spouse loved me just a little bit more for making it. Upon hearing about it, a number of friends have asked that I post my recipe in this blog. It seems like a reasonable use of the space, so here goes.

First, credit where due: The original recipe for Cambodian chicken & pineapple stew came from Jillie69, posting on Allrecipes.com. Since I do not measure and can’t leave anything well enough alone, I have modified it. My version follows:

After retrieving them from school, drop the kids at the house with instructions to attend to their chores while you are at the store.

Head straight to the store with your nicely organized list. In the produce section: Grab one bunch of green onions, a handful of jalapenos and a ginger root. Hmm. What if your daughter doesn’t want the stew? Add a salad backup.

Meats: Boneless chicken breast. You’ll need two for the stew but you may as well get the big family pack because god knows, you go through it and the price is better in bulk.

In the “Ethnic Foods” aisle: Wait. Was that the cereal aisle? The kids have been complaining about the cereal choices at home. Pick up a new box of something. Now that you’re thinking of it, is there going to be enough milk for the cereal? Probably not; grab a gallon.

Oh, pet food. Right, the cat is down to a single can of food and you don’t want to have to run out in the morning so you’d better get some more of that, as well.

Where were you? Ethnic foods. Two cans of coconut milk, Thai red curry paste, curry powder, Thai fish sauce. Crap, they haven’t got that. Over in pasta and sauces, pick up a can of anchovies to substitute.

Canned fruits: A can of pineapple tidbits. Oh, the little fruit cups are on sale. Add a few of those for kids’ lunches. Wait; weren’t pears on sale too? Back to produce for fresh pears. Now back to canned fruits to return the fruit cups still in your cart.

Okay, assuming there’s still some vinegar, sugar and chicken broth at home, you should be all set.

At home, honk the horn to alert the children that you need help carrying in groceries. When no response is forthcoming, carry them in yourself.

Observe that the TV is on, the carpet un-vaccuumed, the trash baskets full, and the dogs about to explode. Do not stop to holler as you now have only 18 minutes to prepare the soup before dance classes; holler over your shoulder and keep moving.

In the kitchen, drop everything on the table. Heat a skillet with a tablespoon of oil over a high flame while you cut 2 chicken breasts into chunks.

Make 2 cups of white rice, however you usually do that.

Toss the chicken into the skillet and don’t panic about the 18 inch flames, because they’ll burn themselves out and fortunately, your son didn’t see them. Don’t overcook the chicken; it will continue to cook even after it’s off the stove so leave it a tiny bit pink.

Chop up 2 jalapenos. No, three. Wait. No, your daughter won’t eat it that hot. Fish some of it back out. Okay, 2 jalapenos, 2 to 3 garlic cloves, a tablespoon of peeled ginger roo

GET THE DAMN CHICKEN OFF THE STOVE!

Put the chicken on a paper plate and put the chopped stuff in the skillet.

Check the time.

Saute the chile and garlic stuff ‘till it’s soft. Put it into a blender along with both cans of coconut milk, 2 cups of chicken broth, a tablespoon each of vinegar – who cares what kind? It’s vinegar – and fish sauce (or a wee can of anchovies). Add at least 2 tablespoons of red curry paste and about half as much curry powder. Add a couple of teaspoons of sugar. Blend the crap out of it. Yell over the blender to your child to put on dance clothes and shoes.

Pour the blended stock into the rice pot. Add the chicken. Drain the pineapple tidbits and add them. Stir and leave it all on the stove while you go break up a fight in the other room. By the time that’s done, the stew will have thickened nicely.

Serve with chopped green onions as a garnish….you didn’t chop any green onions? Serve it without the damn things, it’ll still be the best thing you ever ate.

On Becoming Ima

We’d been together ten years before we got talking seriously of having kids. We’d always planned on children, but we needed to work out the when and the how and – unique to lesbian parents – the who.

Over those years, we’d frequently played something akin to Mr Potato Head, taking our favorite parts of ourselves and sticking them onto our future children: “She’ll have your legs.” “Okay, but your sense of humor.” “He’ll be really smart.” “But I hope he gets your hair.” Etcetera. We had talked often and at great length about our values and our views on discipline, education, creativity and chores, enough to know that we were well in sync. We had not discussed what our children would call us.

​”Mom” and “mom”, beside being impractical, sounds, well, stupid. As we are neither hippies nor teenage babysitters, having our children address us by our given names was also out of the question. I have always wanted kids. I used to drive around conversing with my imaginary two-year-old, six-year-old, preteen. (I see you singing along to Prince in your car so don’t throw stones.) In all those imagined conversations, my child called me “mom”. I so looked forward to being that in another person’s life — “Mom”. Not “Mum”. Not “Nana”. Not any of countless things we considered. And certainly not “Ima”.

​”Ima” is Hebrew for “mom”; we’re Jewish so it seemed like a fairly clever solution. It also seemed appropriate that as the more strongly Jewish-identified, I should take the Hebrew name. I tried it out. In my head, on my tongue . . . and no matter how or how often I said it, it still felt wrong. It wasn’t “mom”, no matter what the dictionary claimed. It was a terrible dissapointment.

​Eventually, the day came when my first child – not even looking at me, but glancing over his shoulder in my direction – called me Ima. I’d love to say the moment was electrifying; that I had an epiphany. But I didn’t. What I felt in that moment was . . . natural. “Yes, that’s right, honey; that’s a ‘cat'”. In that moment, I suppose, I really did become Ima.

​And not only to my own children. On warm sunny days, the neighborhood rings with “Ima”. It matters not a bit to the other children that I’ve told them my name, or that my children have explained that it means mom. One small girl, recently adopted by her aunt, simply beamed when told this. She looked at me and my spouse and chirped, “now I have three moms!” She summed it up well for lot of the other kids.

​Ours is the house where the kids congregate. I’m the mom that makes lemonade slushies and fixes everything from bikes to boo boos. They know I claim to hate messes but tolerate quite a lot of it. Often times, I don’t even know who these children are or where they come from. “Ima, this is my cousin Hector. He’s from Puerto Rico and don’t speak English much. Can we go out back and bounce?”

​One day, during a friend’s visit, two of the boys who’d been riding their bikes up and down the street dragged in a third I’d never seen before. “He wiped out” they told me. The nine-year-old was shy and trying manfully not to dissolve into tears as he lifted his shirt to show me the nasty road rash. I cleaned the scrape and sprayed it with Bactine. I guessed he was at that terrible age when a kiss still would help but can’t be accepted, so I gave his shoulders a little squeeze.

My friend was quiet until after I’d given him an “all better” swat on the behind and sent him on his way. Then, chuckling and shaking her head, she asked, “isn’t he spending the summer with them right across the street?” I nodded vaguely. “Then how come they all come over here to get patched up?” I straightened and looked at my friend. “Because I’m Ima”.

Perchance to Dream

I’m having some difficulty sleeping. Oh, blame it on the heat, or my propensity for drinking coffee until very late at night, but I have another theory. I’m a night owl by nature; I get bursts of inspiration and tend to do my best thinking sometime after midnight, so on a typical night, the rest of my family is already in dreamland when I finally stumble up to bed (this solitary time may account for the timing of my inspiration, but there you go). Only the dogs snooze by my side or underfoot waiting for me to call it a day.

We have one behemoth of an air conditioner that we use to cool the downstairs during the worst of the heat, and one small, ancient, horrifically noisy little beast, sufficient for cooling a single room. In keeping with the wisdom of the airline industry, we put this in the parents’ bedroom. We don’t want moms overheating now, do we? So, on a hot night, this thing goes through its cycles:

rattle rattle rat tattattattattattat rattlerattle griiind griiind griiiiiind rattlerattle ka-chunk! ROAR ROAR ROAR GRIND GRIND ROAR KA-CHUNK! rattle rattle…..

Add to this, that my beloved snores. Twenty five years ago, it was a small, cute sort of noise that was in a way reassuring. Over the years, it has morphed into a great, monstrous symphony of snorks, gurgles, and noises that sound like a balloon deflating, and something reptilian trapped in a drain. Nor are they in the least bit rhythmic, in which case it might be possible to adapt. No, each sound is new, unexpected and guaranteed to jolt one from any light sleep one might have achieved through the previous assault. I use earplugs when  I’m not expected to wake to an alarm but as I am the one who drives the kids wherever they need to be in the morning, that’s not often.

Years it took to get the kids to stop sleeping in our bed whenever they feel like it (pretty much always) but it took only a single 90o night to move them back in. With them, of course, come favorite pillows, stuffed animals, hardcover books, tomorrow’s outfit and today’s stinky cast offs — arrayed as though shot from a concert canon. Both kids fling bony limbs every which way, earning my son with the adolescent-boy joints the nickname “ankle-osaurus”. So we dragged in a twin mattress and told them to make the best of it. The other night, my daughter discovered that the dog bed was infinitely more comfortable than sharing space with her brother.

Now we can’t reach the bed without a half-twisting vault from the doorway only ever attempted by Nadia Comaneci in the 1975 Olympic trials. It is not possible to reach the closet by any means at all. And there we have it: beastly AC, symphony of snores; books, clothes, bedding, and mattress on the floor, one kid on said mattress, another kid on the dog bed. This, I suspect, may be at the root of my insomnia.

The other night I climbed the stairs, performed the vault from the doorway… and landed squarely on a dog. A 70-pound dog whose startled yelp woke the dog occupying my pillow. As I retreated back off the bed, I stepped on the cat. I gave up, went back downstairs, put some Bactine on my cat scratches, and dropped onto the couch.

And can I just say, that is one comfortable couch.