From the Front Lines of Two Kids

Carlos and I recently made the transition from being parents of an only child to taking on the full-time tag-team wrestling challenge of having two children. At the end of February, we welcomed Ruby, and made Rockford a big brother. The first week was a blur, and the second week was like watching the landscape fly past a train window. Here, a couple days into week three, things are starting to feel like real life again.

Sixteen days in, here’s what I’ve learned in the land of multi-child parenting.

 

  • Say goodbye to sleep. Oh, I still sleep, but the sleep I get now is a sad, Newman-Os for Oreos substitute. It’s a second round of all the best parts of newborn sleeping – the weird noises, the every-two-hours feedings, waking up in a puddle of breast milk, with the added perk of fighting a toddler for space in my own bed.
  • The costume changes are constant, except when they’re impossible. Newborn-size diapers are too small, size 1 is too big, and the result is the same either way. Is that mud on the big kid, or poop? The only difference is how urgently the pants need changed. Why do I keep smelling sour milk everywhere? Oh, it’s me. Again. How many kinds of jam are OK on one toddler t-shirt? Doesn’t matter – there aren’t enough kinds in the house to either convince the kid to change, or to obscure the demonically-smiling face of Thomas the damned Tank Engine.
  • I never was in control. The aforementioned Thomas t-shirt? It was the second blow to my carefully constructed Thomas-free zone. Yeah, he knew that Thomas existed, kind of, inasmuch as PBS Kids plays the show. But we don’t watch it, we don’t know which train is which, we don’t know anything about that little world, and intentionally so. It’s often thanks to shared Thomas-hating that I reveal myself to other parent as, well, kind of a commie pinko. Except, all that is ruined, now, thanks to one interactive pop-up book and a stupid t-shirt.
  • There’s no shame in defeat. Yeah, we’re all wearing some component of pajamas to the grocery store, but hey, we’re out of the house! Rockford doesn’t live here anymore, you say? Fine, does Thomas the “helpful blue engine” want to eat his dinner? Oh, and you’ll only go to sleep bundled up on the couch? Fine, as long as you go the hell to sleep.
  • Take what you can get. I will absolutely let the toddler put himself to sleep on the couch, because a winning scenario for me is one in which he, y’know, sleeps. And yeah, I will put him down in his own bed, knowing full well that he’ll be in mine by morning, because I can’t give up that sliver of grownups-in-bed-alone time.
  • The first kid is the hardest part about having a second kid. Sleep when the baby sleeps: yes, except who’s watching the toddler? “It’s NOT Ruby-size, it’s Rockford-size!” Luckily, Rock is a quick learner, and only had to attempt to put on one newborn-sized outfit before he was convinced that Ruby-sized was a real thing. Some parents worry about every little noise waking their baby; I worry that the baby’s noises will wake the big kid.

It’s not all doom and gloom and sleep disruption, though. Rockford insists that he likes Ruby, and she likes looking at him (when he gets close enough for her to see). Having a baby in the house is helping Rockford embrace the transition to big kid. Toddler attitude makes me really grateful for baby-scale problems.

Finally, some things are only remarkable in how little they have changed. Remember how Carlos is an excellent father? A creative, compassionate, solver of problems and swaddler of babies – he is still all of those things, and more. The satisfaction of feeling a tiny person cooing and snoring is exactly as rich the second time around. The laundry – still never-ending. The sudden, catastrophic hunger of breast feeding: yup, still sneaks up on me.

It’s a whole new world, the same world that we’ve been in all along. As ever, I am incredibly happy to share it with the people that I do, and I’m delighted to add Ruby to that list.

 

Family Home Evening

One of the levels of fallout from disengaging almost entirely with my family of origin has been the liberty and challenge of building our family life the way that makes the most sense for our actual family. When Carlos and I decided to build a future together, he told me, “we never have to be normal people, Rosie.” It was, without caveat, the most important thing another human has ever said to me.

We never have to be normal people!

Our life is not “normal,” and that’s the way I like it. We have the chance to pick and choose the things that make sense for our life, which makes us incredibly lucky. And, being true to who we are, we shape those things to be fit our life, rather than any other way around.

One tradition of other families that I have chosen to adopt full-force is Family Home Evening. Naturally, there is no prayer or hymns the way we practice, and the definition of “family” that we use would surely irk most Mormon elders. Family Home Evening as practiced by our family is likely to include conversations about consent, collaborative troubleshooting of people’s various relationships, and trading off toddler-harassing duties. All this, of course, bathed in the noise and laughter of adults coming together because we enjoy each other’s company, and bubbling over with the joy of knowing we are among our people.

Sometimes I find myself in an awkward position trying to explain exactly what was so special about a couple friends over on a Wednesday night, and I marvel at how my life has grown. We never have to be normal people, but we get to be true to the people that we want to be.

Christmas Songs for Grumpy People

Now that Thanksgiving is over, even the totally reasonable retail establishment where I work has taken a turn for the Christmas-y. The radio has been switched to a “holiday” station, and so it begins: the time of Christmas music. I personally like to celebrate the season by arguing with loved ones over which holiday songs are the worst. Carlos’s personal peeve is “Little Drummer Boy,” and the folks I work with universally hate “Dominick the Donkey.” But I’m trying to be a little more positive this year, so instead of addressing why we should all drop Bing Crosby from our Christmas playlists (it’s because of domestic violence), I thought I would share Rose’s List of Acceptable Christmas Songs! In no particular order:

The Waitresses, “Christmas Wrapping.”

Harvey Danger, “Sometimes You Have to Work On Christmas”

Robert Earl Keene, “Merry Christmas From The Family”

Nightmare Before Christmas, “Making Christmas”

And because it IS well loved, just not especially by me, Pogues, “Fairytale of New York”

Sanctuary

Winter is coming to Columbus, Ohio, one chilly evening at a time. Last year was terrible (I am told; it was exactly what I expected) and this year is supposed to be similar. For a pair of desert-bred, west-coast softies, this means it’s time to buckle down into some serious preparation of our home. It also means spending some time contemplating the ways that we want our home to feel, to welcome friends, to offer us peace and sanctuary.

Part of me is annoyed at the growing discovery of exactly how much of my comfort at home boils down to things being clean. I think back to my mom telling me about her mom warning her that she would never been a good housekeeper, and the scorn in my mom’s voice at the idea that that mattered. I have no qualms admitting that housework is a really weak area for me, too, and just like my mom, I can trace its lineage, though nothing productive comes from examining why I hate washing dishes. Recently, I have managed to clean every dish in the kitchen for one week straight, which is frankly kind of embarrassing at almost-34. But I feel really happy about it. I appreciate that everything is in its place and ready at hand when I wake up in the morning, and the feeling of relief is greater than that. I didn’t realize how much my dirty kitchen was putting me in a defensive position about having people in my home. And I am tired of being defensive about my life.

With just the few dishes left from breakfast sitting in the sink, my worry is free to settle on the laundry on my bedroom floor – except it’s all in the washing machine. So, on to the next topic, and each little domino falls away. With no space to settle on the floors, the dishes, the laundry, I find my mind traveling with ease to the places that need love but don’t cry out for it every day. I know (I KNOW) it’s really basic, but putting the time into the little stuff every day keeps that stuff little, and keeps the bigger stuff from becoming overwhelming. We had a houseguest for a whole weekend, and hosted a brunch at the same time, and I never felt the pressure that my space wasn’t good enough or welcoming enough. Of course, we are still untidy, beset on all sides by toddler toys and dog hair, but that is our reality of life with dogs and kids.

Another thing that’s really basic, but I’m still learning: as I feel less defensive about the work I’m doing, I feel more joy in it. My next project is making insulating Kume curtains, and they’re going to be awesome. They are going to be awesome not only because they should greatly improve the heat retention of our old house, but also because they’re something that I get to do to make our house our home. In the meantime, I know that when I step away, my sanctuary remains, relatively undisturbed by the detritus of neglect.

 

photo courtesy of Max Baars

The Only Constant Is Change

Once upon a time, Carlos and I were just two old friends who were having some fun dating, soaking in the sweaty summer fun. It was the closest to “normal” our relationship has probably ever been – on our third date I allegedly told him I wanted to have his kids, and about the same time, he told me that monogamy wasn’t a thing that works for him, and we decided to make this thing work forever.

From the beginning, change has been an integral part of our plan: neither of us really thought marriage would be a factor in our lives, but we dove in. I didn’t think that I was interested in participating in a non-monogamous relationship, but I discovered that being with Carlos was more important to me than not sharing him. Once we moved in together, we had to adapt again, addressing my insecurity about his dating, building tools for communication and learning how to live our life together. Every year, every milestone presents new opportunities for our relationship to adapt and grow.

When we began our partnership, I wanted very little to do with the other people in Carlos’s life. I wanted to know who they were, but I didn’t really want to be friends with them. As time went by, it became harder for me to justify avoiding the poly people, especially as I got to know more of them.  On the one hand, Carlos tends to have pretty excellent taste in people, and on the other, I really do enjoy being part of a community, way more than I enjoy avoiding people who may have been involved with my partner.

I am, and have always been, a weirdo. It has taken me long into my adulthood to figure out the ways that my weirdness is shaped, but now that I have a sense of myself, I recognize that I am lucky to have a like-minded community of people who aren’t tied to the lies of being “normal.” I absolutely, unequivocally LOVE that I can call Carlos’s sweetie when I’m having a rough day. I love that Rockford tries using her to get out of nap time (except for the “trying to get out of nap time” part). I love that Carlos tells me, “you should date that person!” even though we all know I’m just going to chicken out or decide that I like my Friday nights at home better.

In many ways, I think I have been very lucky to have come into my forever-relationship this way. I never started another dating relationship with the same level of clarity about the way things would go. Even though Carlos and I couldn’t predict the future, knowing that change would be an inevitable part of it gives us enough of a roadmap to find ourselves every time the path gets murky. Even if our co-habiting, bill-sharing, primary partnership passes on, Carlos and I will always have a relationship, because we made the commitment to bring children into the world and raise them to be the best people they can be.

Whatever things life brings our way, there is comfort in knowing that they will change. My first boss used to tell me about her mother saying, “this too shall pass,” for the good and for the bad. Some things are within my power to change, and some will change despite any effort to stop them. I absolutely have to remind myself to embrace the changes instead of fighting against them, because I am, after all, still me. It’s always there, though, and that is reassuring (and yeah, potentially terrifying). This, too, shall pass, and that’s how it should be.

Attitude Adjustments

Hello, my name is Rose, and I have Impostor Syndrome. This is not a new experience for me, nor a surprise for many of you. Lots of us experience it! It’s another of those mental phenomena that seem easy to address, but which doesn’t necessarily respond to “logical” arguments. Luckily, I think it’s one that has a lot less stigma than our old friend depression. Unluckily, it’s one that can also stand between me and the things that I need to get done.

One premise of our book project, and one of our driving life philosophies, is that expertise is less important than well-applied energy. I can’t speak to or instruct anyone else on how they should best go about putting their energy to work. What I know about myself is this: I am easily disheartened, and I let little bumps stop my progress. It doesn’t take much frustration for me to be ready to give up, and that is a problem that only I can address. And it’s one that has become a major problem for me with regard to taking care of the business of writing our book, and writing at all.

I keep hitting little bumps and letting them throw me completely off track. One of the things that I need to do to keep up my momentum is write about things that are not directly related to the book. I need to write about food again, and knitting (and, for that matter, do some knitting), and toddler behavior, and I don’t know what else. Craft projects! Things that are bullshit.

So, here we are, at the place where I am facing down some intimidating tasks, and without the luxury of giving up. For me, that means that I’m probably going to need to do a lot of pep-talking and reminding myself that I’ve got this under control. The good news for you is that this means more content! More pictures of things! More semi-nonsensical ramblings about craft projects gone awry! Probably more pictures of That Kid adorably interfering with whatever I’m trying to accomplish! And probably a lot more talk about process. Oh, and definitely some ranting about children’s television. I’ve got a lot to say about that.

While that is happening, most of the book-related writing is probably going to be a little more behind-the-scenes. I don’t really like sharing my unpolished work, and more importantly, I don’t want to give everything away. I think I also need to invest a little energy into reminding myself that I am, actually, competent. Impostor syndrome is the balls, guys! But I don’t feel like an impostor when I’m talking about food, or crafts, or things that are bullshit.

As ever, thanks for reading. I’m happy to have you here!

 

 

Pain Is Better Than Poison

Overnight on Monday, something happened on CNN that got a lot of people up in arms. A white woman anchoring a broadcast asked, “Why are they using tear gas, and not water cannons?” Given the shameful history of water cannon use in the United States, people were understandably somewhat outraged at her suggestion that police might use them.

The thing is, that horrible British CNN announcer is not 100% wrong, asking why the police in Ferguson don’t use water cannons instead of tear gas.

Yeah, I know that’s a statement that is going to make people mad. I can’t say that I’m entirely comfortable with having typed it. The first reaction of many people, her co-anchor included, ranged from side-eye to outright outrage. There are Americans walking around today who were subjected to fire hoses and water cannons as police broke up Civil Rights protests in the 1960’s. Images of water cannon use are still horrifying, decades on.

But, as terrible as it looks, as brutal as it is to be water cannoned (I have to assume, I have not had that experience) the consequences are shorter-lived and less devastating than those associated with the long-term use of tear gas. We, as Americans, are ashamed to be seen using a water cannon, because of their historical use against black bodies, but we are alone among first-world countries. The suggestion that we should use them forces us to confront a painful wound in our past, and instead, we choose to deploy internationally-banned chemical weapons against our own citizens.

Here’s what the National Institutes of Health have to say about CS tear gas (the type that has been deployed in Ferguson):

Based on our current knowledge, if CS tear gas is used by properly trained law enforcement officers and exposed combatants leave the area rapidly, few, if any, significant or long-term human disabling effects should occur.

Their recommendations are that people exposed to the gas leave the area within 10-30 minutes. Kinda hard to remove yourself from the exposure when it’s being shot into your front yard during a curfew, right? Or when you’re asleep in bed and it’s being fired indiscriminately into your neighborhood.

The NIH also acknowledges that there is precious little information about the long-term effects, but acknowledges that some populations are likely to be at increased risk of damage. Who are those populations?

those with asthma or chronic obstructive disease, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease and possibly those taking neuroleptic drugs.

Anybody wanna take a guess about which American populations are disproportionately affected by asthma, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease? Bueller? African Americans, of course, especially those with limited access to quality health care and nutrition.

While it feels extremely shitty to say “water cannons are better than tear gas,” the truth is that there’s not much damage a water cannon in the street can inflict on a kid sleeping at home, unlike the days and days of tear gas exposure. I still can’t believe I’m making this argument, but: a water cannon is a targeted tool. Tear gas is a blanket chemical weapon. Does that mean it’s a good idea to use water cannons? Good gravy, no.

I think every officer currently in Ferguson should be pulled from duty, the National Guard pulled out, Amnesty International and the Red Cross allowed in, and Darren Wilson arrested. Of course, in my fantasy world, Mike Brown would still be alive and in school today, and none of this would be necessary, but that is not the world we live in. I think we’re all right to give Samantha Church all the side-eye we can, but once we’ve done that, we should acknowledge that there’s something to her question. Why are we more comfortable deploying chemical weapons against our own people than facing the discomfort of our own history?

Ferguson is Enough

Over this past weekend, something happened in Ferguson, Missouri that has been happening around this country. It was something atrocious, horrifying, and worst of all, mundane. On Saturday afternoon, a Black man named Michael Brown was killed by the police. He was unarmed, and complying with their orders. In the first two days after it happened, White media lied about his grieving community, police lied in attempting to justify their murder, and the mayor of Ferguson threatened to arrest anyone who shows up to protest. The police in Ferguson showed up to community vigils with military hardware. We still don’t know the name of the police officer who fired 10 shots into an unarmed man. This is what the news in neighboring St. Louis had to say about it Monday:

The reporter of that quote, and the mayor of Ferguson, want you to believe that the “much bigger problem” here is the fault of the black people who rioted over Saturday night. They want you to believe that the community full of grief and anger at the unjustified, needless murder of one of their children is the problem. They are wrong.

There IS a much bigger problem in Ferguson, MO, and everywhere. The problem is that we do not value the lives of Black people. We, as a nation, have built our wealth on the suffering of Black people, all the while discounting their very humanity. We cannot, as a nation of ostensibly good people, let this continue. In 2012 alone, 313 Black men were killed by the police or vigilantes. That’s one every 28 Hours. That is too many, hundreds and a baker’s dozen too many.

This is an overwhelming problem, one with roots that reach into dark parts of our past, and show us how dark our present still is. It has to stop.

It is not the job of Black people to stop this problem. No amount of respectability, no Talk from parents to kids, no action taken by Black people is an answer to this problem, because the actions of Black people are NOT the problem. This is a problem of white supremacy, of White privilege, and White complacency.

Don’t believe me? I live in Ohio, a state with Open Carry rules that permit anyone who legally owns a handgun to carry it anywhere, as long as it is not concealed. And yet, in a Wal-Mart toy department, police officers killed a black man for holding a bb gun that he was going to purchase. His name was John Crawford. He was killed for allegedly doing something that is not only 100% legal (carrying a firearm in an Ohio Wal-mart), but something that White-lead Open Carry organizations do ALL THE TIME. How many of them have been shot, I wonder?

So now what?

There are some things we need to do now. Some of them are going to be simple, and probably some of them will not.

You can start by showing up. Communities across the country are observing a National Moment of Silence on Thursday. Show up. Stand together with your neighbors and know who is suffering.

Get to know your local NAACP. Learn about police accountability. Sign this petition to enact new laws protecting us from police misconduct.

Those are the easy things. What are the hard things?

Examine your own behavior. When you hear about a Black person beaten, abused, killed, look at your own reactions to it. Do you think, “what did s/he do? What was s/he wearing? Why was s/he in that neighborhood?” Ask yourself whether you would ask the same of any other victim. Learn to recognize the signs of institutional racism.

We have to protect every American life. We have to stop asking “what did they do to deserve that?” and start saying, “no one deserves to die for being Black in America.”

It’s time for us ALL to start having the talk: The police are not our friends. They exist to reinforce the status quo, and that status quo is state-sanctioned murder. This week, it has been three Black men. Chicago is still waiting for the police officer who shot Rekia Boyd to see trial. The officer who shot Oscar Grant was acquitted.

We have to stop accepting the premise that Black lives are worth less. We have to stop accepting the premise that ANY life is worth less than another.

In Defense of Rules in Relationships

Recently there has been a renewed discussion among poly bloggers about the place of rules within relationships. Wesley Fenza has written a fairly reasonable take on the role rules (or agreements) play in intimate relationships. His premise is that we agree to rules within our relationship to compensate for deficiencies in our own in-the-moment decision making. He described a rule as “a thumb on the scale, weighing the analysis in favor of the prior commitment.” I think that this is true in many situations, but it’s not a comprehensive explanation of why partners agree to rules, or what purpose they serve. Franklin Veaux has written a response to Fenza’s post that is so absurd that I can’t even believe it’s meant to be real. In general, he is heavily scornful of rules in relationships, though, and it’s that general approach that I take issue with.

First, let’s do a little disambiguation: Fenza and Veaux both use “rules” to describe two kinds of agreements, those negotiated and agreed-upon, and those unilaterally handed down. I’m not going to defend unilateral rules – if they make sense in the context of your relationship, that’s fine, but they frequently serve as an ultimatum or a wedge to coerce behavior from one partner. Negotiated agreements, though, are an entirely different creature, and they deserve more examination.

Agreements negotiated between partners serve a couple of important functions. First, they give each party an opportunity to communicate honestly about fears, expectations, past experiences, and other factors of real life that affect the functioning of relationships. We are all in agreement about the importance of communication, and especially when trying to move ethically through changes in our relationships. Fenza says we agree to rules on the expectation that a time will arise when we want to act in ways inconsistent with our prior agreements. Veaux says, “All you really need to do is communicate what you need to feel taken care of, and your partner will choose to do things that take care of you, without being compelled to.” In both cases, they acknowledge that the rules have (or have not) arisen out of communication and negotiation between partners.

Veaux argues that making agreements about how to handle new relationships before the “newcomer” has arrived is equivalent to hobbling them once they do. I disagree. Especially in situations where a previously closed relationship is being opened, I think it’s critical for the existing partners to be honest with themselves about the pitfalls that they can foresee, and open to the likelihood that there will be challenges they haven’t imagined. Negotiating agreements about how to handle such situations makes us better prepared to handle those situations carefully when they do arise. We are not all birthed full-formed as competent executors of open relationships. It takes practice, and often, guidelines. Negotiating and adhering to agreements helps us learn the ropes while minimizing the potential for damaging our existing environment.

Secondly, negotiating agreements with new and existing partners allows us to establish trust in one another. This is important when opening an established relationship, and when building new ones. We agree to terms that ensure each party’s comfort is protected. We continue to build our relationships, being mindful of the boundaries that our partners have set, and in so doing, demonstrate that we are playing on the level. Especially in the world of complicated polycules, agreements (gasp, rules!) give us guidelines for treating other people’s existing relationships with care. Just as we respect the boundaries that our own partners have communicated are important to them, we share our bonafides with metamours by treating them, and their boundaries, with respect.

Despite the way Franklin Veaux and others write about them, most relationships are not founded on immutable, written-in-stone rules. Certainly this isn’t the case in relationships where partners are ethically and honestly working to find a path forward together. Describing a relationship as “rule-based” is as truthful as religious conservatives describing gay marriage as “sodomy-based.” Don’t mistake a tool for a foundation. Agreements are made to help the relationship move in the direction desired by all parties involved. Sometimes rules are necessary, not because parties can’t be trusted to act ethically, but because they serve to bring everyone to the same page.

 

image courtesy marsmet549

On Why We Have Been Gone

 

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Part of the reason that we have been quiet here lately (me especially) is because of the unfortunate events of last year. I am hurt and angry, still, and fundamentally offended at having been given an ultimatum to choose who gets to be my family.

I have been angry, and I have used it as an excuse to hide. That was wrong of me, and I am sorry. Writing for this blog has been incredibly difficult while working on sorting out the turmoil of the last year’s occurrences. We have spent countless hours talking about love, and the lessons we have to learn in this. I love having the outlet that this blog provides. It’s just a little hard to write about love while your own wounds keep bleeding.
It hasn’t all been terrible feelings, though. Part of why we have been quiet has been really good stuff. We came to Columbus, Ohio, and we fell in love. I saw it all the time, but when Carlos suggested Columbus, I thought, “there’s no way this little city far from the ocean is going to be as cool as he says.” Naturally, I was totally wrong. It turns out that I have a dormant love of rust-belt architecture, and there really is a difference in how people interact with strangers here. We have been actively engaging in finding and becoming part of our community. We’ve been practicing the skills needed to make friends in a city where we knew exactly no one.

As to the question of how long we’re planning to stick around here: we bought a house, which came with a whole assortment of new challenges. We own a basement! We also have tenants, and with them an opportunity to walk our talk. We spend a lot of time on house projects, on creating a space that is ours and that is welcoming and inclusive of the people who are already here. We have new loves, new draws on our time, and, oh yeah, an adorable-as-all-get-out two year old with his papa’s energy and his mama’s tendency to run away when asked “what are you doing?” A lot of the energy that might have gone toward writing about the ways that people love has been diverted into putting our beliefs into practice, especially giving our kiddo the best of ourselves.

All these things, they take up time and energy, and I have let myself let them push this project out of priority. Carlos has kept us moving forward, taking on a lot of the childcare burden while I’ve been working, ripping the hideous pink carpets out of our house, keeping up his own work. This blog, and the associated project, have been my responsibility, and I have been laying down on the job. I owe it to you, to Carlos, to Rock, and myself to do better on this thing. Thanks for sticking with us. I am incredibly lucky to have such a community of support, and I am eager to get back to doing my part in it.