The love blog: for Haakon

When Haak and I were first together, I woke up one morning, rolled over and pretended to be surprised to see him.

“You again???!!!” I asked and we dissolved into giggles, drunk on the idea that for the first time, there was someone there who we were happy to see again… and again.

This weekend, we celebrate twelve years of waking up together.

2007Melbourne, 2007. 

Twelve years of comfort, twelve years of chatting late into the night, of tea in bed [which is my favorite thing and which you participate in even though it’s not yours]

Twelve years of stomach bugs and those late night fights where you still sleep side by side but try not to even brush against each other.

Twelve years of one or the other of us crawling into bed late and cold, maybe a little beery, to nestle up against the warm skin of our bedmate.

And seven years of late night and early morning adventures in parenting. Sitting up by the light of a lamp, befuddled, exhausted, fuzzily deciding who would change the nappy, you always there for me to hand the screaming baby to while I took respite in the toilet for a minute.

We were together for the long, hungover days following a wakeful night with a baby. Tired, we snapped at each other and argued over small details.

I accused you of trying to cook the babies when you put piles of blankets on them.

And I discovered new things about you as a parent. Like when you are REALLY tired, you sleep with your lips puckered. Sometimes you do it when you are driving, which worries me.

You are harsh with the kids sometimes – but I’ve never caught you being unfair. You teach them things – thank fuck! because I’ve realized I’m not a great teacher. I’ve learned a lot about the benefits of an explanation from you.

You create a solid world for the kids. A  world that they understand.

I love the way whenever we’re alone you always have some small confession to whisper in my ear [“WHO was that who I was just talking to?”].

And every time we do the moving across the world thing, I’m blown away by the fact that you’d do that, with me.

That you’d live in Australia for years at a time, away from your family and the woods and rivers you love.

I really never thought we’d end up here – our marriage was so tentative and did not include any of the traditional marriage promises.

We just wanted to keep spending time together.

I didn’t know then the detail of the challenges that an across-the-world romance would bring, but I knew that the big picture was doubtful – not just looking at the stats of marriage in general, but with the addition of deciding which country to live in and the strain of someone always being away from their home.

Also, we’ve both been skeptical of having a monogamous, committed relationship, scared about the isolation and about doing all the intimacy with one person.

All our intimacy eggs in one basket.

It wakes me up at night sometimes – the worry that we’ve melted together so much, we’re becoming one person. The further in we go, the deeper the risk of loss.

If we left each other, who would we be?

So I don’t assume for one second that you’ll be with me forever. I try not to take your presence for granted.

If you did leave, I’d spend half my income on plumbers and I’d really miss all the things you just whip up – computer stand, a house, baby bike seat, a tap just where I need it in the garden.

But I know I’d get along alright. I know you’d get along without me too.

This week, you’re passionately into making baskets out of willow. This morning you laughed and said, “I’m going to make you a house out of willow, lady.”

As we come out of the early parenting years and start to reclaim ourselves and our time, I’m delighted to realize that you’re still someone I want to spend time with.

This morning I rolled over and there you were – again! I bit your shoulder gently and said it: you again.

I love waking up with your warm body and your kooky surprised face so close.

Each year we spend together is a triumph. Each year convinces me more that this is worth working for and fighting for.

This morning you suggested I use a coaster to put my tea cup on. I said I spill so much tea I need a bucket. You laughed at me and said, “I love you.”

I love you too Karuzas.

I’m still in it for the giggles.

 

 

 

 

 

Small town color and Love

I have to admit, when I first saw the brightly painted, graffiti style van parked in front of the house on the corner, I thought that whoever drove it must be transitory.

A friend said to me once that there are a collection of people who live in this town only because they broke down here.

Maybe that was the case with the occupant of the little yellow house on the corner, a rental with a historically high turnover.

But I started to notice the house’s occupant – long, burgundy hair, sometimes in pigtails – and they weren’t leaving.

Seasons passed, and a sign went up:  a long, wooden, hand-painted sign that said: “Rock’n’Roll is my religion, and Jesus is my lord.”

I’d see someone chopping wood, or mowing, and once I rode past and saw a figure in thigh-high white leather boots standing by a smoldering fire in the backyard.

WHITE LEATHER BOOTS? THIGH HIGH? dressing up in Troy means putting on a pair of clean jeans, so who was this person, and what the heck were they doing here?

Small towns like the one we live in [Troy, Montana, population 900] often have a reputation for being small minded, and less progressive and tolerant than urban areas.

But are they really? There is certainly not much in the way of diversity here, but those who are different from the majority [white, working class, heterosexual, Republican] are often tolerated with a surprising amount of loyalty and love.

I believe I’m one of those who are different but accepted. People will tell me about those damned Californian’s who come up here with their money, and all those foreigners’ coming to take our jobs …and then look at me and say “but not you. I’m not talking about you. You get it.”

People here are sometimes racist and homophobic because they don’t know any different. When I was working at the high school I had to patiently explain to a white student that saying racist things about our then president Obama while sitting next to their African-American friend is hurtful.

The white student looked at me, confused.

It became clear that the black friend was not thought of as black. They were part of the community, accepted, the ‘otherness’ put aside, the color of their skin forgotten.

So I’m not “a foreigner,” or “an immigrant,” to my fellow townspeople, although technically I am both in this country. I am their Australian, someone whose motive’s they understand, someone familiar.

I think the same is true for our bright-van owning, leather boot wearing, lace loving friend.

I’m going to tell you the story of Michaela Love, who was born Michael in Massachusetts in 1959.

“I’ve been here for two years now, I can’t believe it,” said Michaela with a laugh after I finally asked if I could interview her, and she had invited me in and offered coffee.

What do you like about being here? I asked.

Michaela answered that although she misses the city for the music scene, the boutiques, and restaurants, “I like the people [here], there are lots of really good people in this town.”

Michaela’s home is cozy, the walls of the living room lined with her extensive record collection, and crocheted afghan’s on comfortable looking chairs.  This little cottage in Troy feels a long way from her previous home in West Hollywood, where, she said, there was a big transgender and queer community.

Michaela has one whole room devoted to her clothing collection: rows of ruffled, frilly blouses and dresses hanging from every vertical surface.

closet

Michaela said that coming in with confidence and openness has helped her find a place in the community.

“There is so much hate in the world …I will never contribute to that,” she said, sipping coffee “I try to live up to my name.” Born to Irish Catholic parent’s, Michaela Love is proud of her name and that her relatives carried it when they arrived on the Mayflower [the ship that transported English adventurers to what is now New England, in 1620].

So how did her Catholic parent’s respond when, at age four, Michaela began to ask for soft nightgowns like her sister had?

“My mom is the best kind of Christian,” Michaela explained “she would say ‘it’s not our place to judge.’ It’s Christianity 101. She has always been very accepting of who I am. She still sends me blouses!”

While her father apparently struggled more than her mother with accepting Michaela’s gender identity, and took her to see a therapist [who said: “the harder Michael tries not to be a girl, the more he will be a girl”] he backed her up after she was raped at age 16 by a male neighbor.

“I finally told my father what had happened,” Michaela said “and it was too late to report it, but my father went next door and told the man ‘if you ever go near any of my children again, I will kill you.'”

Sexual harassment is an unfortunately common experience in Michaela’s life, and she has had plenty of practice with comebacks and retorts.

“A man called me a prissy little bitch recently,” she said, ” and I just said to him: well, I may be, but I’m not your bitch.”

Another incident in a nearby Montana town, bigger than Troy, was harder to come back from:

“A real red neck man in Kalispell pushed me up against a car last year,” Michaela said. “I was scared. He said ‘I bet you like that, don’t you?'” and then his girlfriend, who was there, actually slapped him. Women are protective of me. They won’t let men hurt me, and they explain that hurting me is just the same as hurting a woman.”

Even within her community, my community, Michaela is bearing the brunt of other people’s confusion and prejudice.

“I was at the bowling alley in Troy, and a man who often goes there came up and grabbed my breasts [Michaela began hormone therapy about 8 years ago, but is not currently taking hormones, because of the high cost]. The girls who work there threw him out.”

Michaela has been married and divorced twice, and her second wife was a Russian/Norwegian Victoria’s Secret model [I saw the wedding photos!].

“I would love to meet the right person, and it could be anyone,” Michaela told me “but I want to meet someone face to face, I don’t have the internet or a computer, I’m a dinosaur in a modern age!”

Although she said that “being a glamour girl is hard when there’s snow on the ground,” Michaela has no plans to leave Troy or Montana, and part of her reasoning is to help small town folks see that she is no threat.

“I’m not ashamed of who I am,” she explained “I’m not going to sneak around. And I hope that at least one kid in Troy can see me and think ‘I can be what I am too,'”

Michaela’s  life has spanned years as a glam rocker in the 80’s in LA [she was in several local bands: Black lace, Lipstick Traces, and Danger Dolls] to now: a small town retiree who spends time playing guitar and touching up the artwork on her van and making trips to Arizona to visit her parents.

I saw her painting the fence of the local biker bar next to the train tracks this spring, and she is on a first name basis with our chief of police, along with everyone else in town. She is clearly part of our town, and tells me “I bring a little color to Troy.”

van

As I hop on my bike to ride away from the little yellow house on the corner, Michaela leaves me with a final thought:

“If you don’t express who you are, you are robbing yourself of life. To thine own self be true.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All we have to do is nothing

Last night, at about 4:45 am, I woke to the sound of a child crying and calling out.

It took a minute to realize it wasn’t one of my children, who slept in a tangled pile of sheets and limbs.

‘Haak? do you hear that child crying?” I asked and we both got up to stare blearily out of the open window.

A family with two young boys recently moved in across the street. The kids are about five and six years old, and the older one is in Atticus’ class.

It was one of those boys crying for his mom in the very early morning, and there was clearly nothing we could do to help.

As I settled back to sleep I had a strange thought about parenting, and kid’s emotions:

It’s gonna get ya in the end.

It sounds ominous, but I don’t feel ominous about it, really.

It is a truth that is still sinking in for me, though: that on some level, we, as parents, will be exposed to our kid’s emotional lives for the rest of their lives in a way we’re not with anyone else.

If our kids feel safe with us, they will show us how they feel. And when they are little, it’s very much a show.

It’s a powerful kick, a high pitched scream, a frantic fit.

Both of my kids, when they are really upset, often yell at the top of their lungs “you’re hurting me! Oweeeee! get off! I hate you!.

We can put a lot of energy into stopping their feelings – we can, if necessary, put a sucker [lollipop] or pacifier, or breast, into their tiny screaming mouths.

We can coax, cajole, bribe or beg our kids to please stop, not now, not here.

We can make it so our feelings are bigger than their’s, and our anger quietens them.

There are times I’ve done everything I possibly can to stop my kids having strong emotional expression – at the dentist, or during the vows of a wedding, and sometimes, a fact I’m not proud of, because I just couldn’t listen.

I think it’s fine to let our kids know, especially as they get older, that sometimes they have to hold it in.

But giving up the fight is sweet relief. I try to find a comfortable place to sit with them, take their boots off [weapons!] and surrender to minutes, even hours, of being there.

All we have to do is nothing.

When I hold my three year old daughter while she screams it feels like forever. Sometimes it’s 45 minutes, but mostly it’s seven, or three.

When I hold my six year old son, he is pure muscle. It takes more engagement to be with him as he gets older, and it happens less and less. Sometimes he flips me. Sometimes he comes in and out of fury and a little smile creeps across his face and we laugh and then he lashes out again, not wanting to indicate it’s over before it really is.

Lately, an image of a card some friends have always had on their fridge pops into my mind while the kids are screaming. It is a small white, business style card that has written on it, in red typewriter print: LOVE IS ALWAYS THE APPROPRIATE REACTION.

So I try to meet fury with love, and hard, fighting little bodies with softness. But I do not let them hurt me.

Here is Callie, really, really really wanting to wear a different dress, and carry the bag, and not wear a hat right before we left the house this morning.

I did not give in to her demands. But I did let her cry.

 

crop 2crop

When it is over, it’s as clear as the sun coming out from behind storm clouds.

My daughter, red and sweaty from fighting so hard, will snuggle in, her wet face on my chest.

And then, as if nothing had happened, she will say “can my baby come to the post office?” and we get on with the day.

Sometimes it takes me awhile to get to that sunny place. I’m irritated that the need to cry interrupted my plans and I feel drained.

Ideally, I would be able to do what they do so well, but in the absence, I try to be gentle with myself for the rest of that day.

If you put off listening to your kids, they will fight for the right to be heard. When they are young, if there is no time in the day, they will, like our neighbor’s child, cry through the night.

The repercussions in adult relationships can be much more devastating, and long lasting – I saw an acquaintance’s mom in the parking lot across the street, who said she had not heard from her daughter for three months and has no idea why. Her daughter has a family.

If we cannot hear the ways we are doing our children wrong and if we cannot tolerate their deepest feelings when the feelings are about not getting to take a toy on a bike ride, how will we hear their adult concerns? how can we remain impartial while they fuck up?

A woman with two daughters’s in their 50’s, who has good relationships with them both, was telling me a story and ended with “I’d prefer if they didn’t feel that way [her daughter’s] but, you know, as parents, we just have to cop it sometimes, don’t we? we just have to say nothing.”

As I watch my adult friend’s struggle with parental relationships, I’m ever grateful for the times I’ve watched my parents close their mouths, a conscious physical act to protect our relationship.

I hope like heck that as my children grow, and ‘do nothing’ turns into ‘say nothing’, that I have the power to follow through and be a good listener when the words may be more cutting than a generic and humorous “I hate you!”

 

 

 

Many of my thoughts expressed in this post spring from the theory of  Re-Evaluation Co-Counseling