Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son


Sunday Snapshots


No coffee, or rather, no milk, which means no coffee for me, given present esophageal conditions. Sugar and the Bean get dressed, count down the minutes until the local grocery store opens, and return victorious, bless them.

~ ~ ~

Sugar and the Bean make pancakes. Banana for me and Sugar, chocolate chip for the Bean, because calories he will eat > calories he will not eat. (He didn’t eat much yesterday and was up repeatedly in the night, until applesauce and milk finally applied at 4:30 in the morning.) He eats a whole one, cut in squares! He asks for another, a dinosaur this time. I do my best with a paring knife.

Dinosaur pancake

He smiles. “No, I don’t want a dinosaur. I want a square instead.”

~ ~ ~

It’s my father’s birthday. He was going to come to the East Coast for a meeting next weekend and spend a day with us, but my mother is too sick to be left alone. It will be easier for us not to have him, as Sugar’s mother is coming that weekend, but I am still disappointed. And envious.

~ ~ ~

I unaccountably find myself crying over some dumb article about baby shower etiquette. Rude to plan one for yourself, they say. Unless someone offers, have everyone over for a cookout to meet the new baby, instead.

Point of order, I don’t want a shower, exactly. We don’t need much stuff. (Another chair. Maybe a few cute things that can belong just to this baby.) I don’t need to be treated like a princess or a well-maintained incubator or whatever. I wanted to be pregnant and I like being pregnant; I don’t think gestating makes me more special than those who aren’t. But it is work, especially while keeping the the Bean alive and my students more or less on track. And given how much of my work feels invisible at all times (see: daily parenting, adjunct professing), I admit a small desire to be noticed, just for a minute.

Sugar thinks we should just invite people over for champagne as a combination un-shower and early birthday party for her, since we are usually traveling for Christmas on her birthday. I seriously doubt any of our friends will actually care about the etiquette of such an event, especially if there is champagne.

I think the real reason the article got to me is that it presupposes a place in a social structure that doesn’t exist in our lives. We don’t have local family. (Well, one aunt I love and never see.) We don’t live near our hometowns or our high school and college friends. We don’t (and I’m not sorry) have a place in the cavalcade of heteronormativity these rules presupposes. I don’t regret the decisions that have led us here, but sometimes feeling different is too close to feeling wrong.

Moreover, I remain envious to an unflattering extent of people who are well enough to host parties two weeks postpartum.

~ ~ ~

The Bean naps today. Not for all that long, but it is sweet watching him fall asleep. For once.

~ ~ ~

In the afternoon, Sugar makes bread. The Bean is appalled.

“Punch down the bread?? That would be terrible!”

Yeah, Sugar. No hitting.

~ ~ ~

I vacuum the bedroom. It’s getting harder to do that sort of thing; I am not what you might call gainly. But it is worth it for the Bean’s praise upon inspection: “This looks beautiful to me!”


On Discombobulation

The Bean is having another not-nap today.  There is distinctly unrestful thumpery emanating from his room, but so far no crying for me to come.

He’s not ready to give up his nap, that much is clear.  He never napped on Monday and was an emotional wreck for the remainder of the day.  Yesterday we were on the subway to the Bronx Zoo at his usual nap time.  We were with friends he adores, but he spent most of the ride staring, glassy-eyed.  He steadfastly refused each offer of a bottle of milk (his usual at bedtime and nap), although he would normally accept a bottle with no going-to-bed strings attached in a heartbeat.  I thought he might do the usual inconvenient baby trick of falling asleep two minutes before our arrival — last time we did this, he fell hard asleep two minutes before we pulled into an elevator-less station where construction forced us to make a three-stairway transfer — but no. He was full of energy to run (and run away) at the zoo, to find the tigers, to prove I’d been wrong when I told him there were no buffalo or red pandas (apparently he remembered them from his last trip, the better part of a year ago), to continually ask for the cookies I’d told him were a treat for the ride home.

He desperately wanted to see the giraffes, though, but when we headed their way after lunch, he fell asleep in his stroller before we could see them and did not wake up until we were nearly home again.  Whereupon, seeing our friends, he smiled and said, “on a special, special train!” Then he spread his arms in a comic “what gives?” gesture and said with a twinkling eye, “Oh! No cookies?”

One possibility is that he’s ready to switch his nap to the afternoon, which would complicate our lives in some ways and simplify them in others, if only I had the first idea how to facilitate the switch.  But I wonder if there’s something else in play here.  Several times in the past week, he has woken up — or rather, not woken up — with night terrors, long periods of flailing and a kind of screaming I never hear from him in neurologically ordinary moments.  Screeching that would peel paint off the walls, that floods my body with adrenaline, my brain frantic to find who is skinning my baby alive.  That kind of sound.  He’s been like this before, generally after naps — I refuse to believe these are tantrums; he’s so clearly not there — but not in a few months.  Their reappearance makes me wonder if the nap refusal is part of a larger pattern of sleep disturbance, perhaps related to a leap in cognitive/neurological development.

It’s happened before: the last time sleep went deeply to hell (not that it’s ever great around here), Sugar noted that his vocabulary was just exploding.  Growing a brain is a lot of work; big changes are bound to require some disruptive furniture-moving in there.  No wonder he’s a mess.

*    *    *

I wonder if any of my readers are surprised that I’m not posting about the goings-on at the Supreme Court this week.  Naturally, I feel strongly about these cases.  I even have some thoughts about them, imagine that.  I don’t have a good answer, except that I somehow can’t bear to.  Just reading about them for a few minutes at a time leaves me in tears.  Sugar can’t bear to read at all.

I nearly wrote just now that we are hardly on the front lines of these cases, living in a state that recognizes our marriage and having the usual denial about the death-related problems Edie Windsor’s DOMA case centers on.  But the truth is, we are on the front lines here, whether we want to be or not.  By virtue of living our lives in the most truthful way we know how, we are subject to having those lives dissected in, at best, dispassionate terms by powerful strangers in faraway chambers.  Moreover, our lives are subject to discussion by everyone with a mouth or a keyboard, and what isn’t deliberately dehumanizing is too often the kind of devil’s advocate “objectivity” unpacked very well here and here (in terms of feminism, but a very close match).  While nothing about the details of my days this week sounds terribly heroic — nap strikes, zoo trips, endless games of trains — I feel nevertheless buffeted by invisible winds.

Yesterday, my Facebook feed bloomed red.  Huge numbers of my friends, including tons of straight ones (and one who seems to be calling herself straight now, despite an impressive track record to the contrary in her youth, ahem) have replaced their avatars with HRC’s red equal sign logo.  Then came the mutated memes, the equal signs made of wedding rings, card catalog cards, broken matzo squares.  There are Rotko-esque ones, Muppet ones, Lucy/Peppermint Patty ones, and one made of belly-flashing corgis.  Eventually, even I had to get over my profound irritation that HRC, who are admittedly dab hands at branding, is going to be associated in people’s minds with this moment, when it is the ACLU who deserves the praise and the donations.  (Okay, I’m not over it. But it’s no longer my principle feeling.)  It truly is remarkable that, as one friend put it, “for the first time in my life, being gay is cool.”

Like a number of my married gay friends, I changed my profile picture to an image from our wedding.  I found I liked seeing these friends marching along my feed in their fancy dress, cutting cake and exchanging vows, kissing and just grinning at the camera.  There is something visually right, to me, about these pictures being surrounded by the sea of red, the allies sublimating themselves for a moment to those of us who, like it or not, find ourselves on the front lines.

This moment is incredible; if you’d told me, even five years ago, this week would happen as it has, I’d never have believed you.  I can’t believe, as I frequently tell my students, that the conversation has gone from, “Should gays be allowed to teach school/live in settled areas,” to, “Should gays be allowed to marry,” in only the time it’s taken me to get from high school to here.  It doesn’t seem possible, anymore than the strength our elders have shown in carrying us here seems like something I could find in myself.  I see this picture of Edie Windsor* entering the court today, and I see a warrior.  I see this picture and I think of song by Sweet Honey In the Rock: I don’t know how our elders have done it, but I do remember.


*from the ACLU twitter feed

I admire more than I can say the bravery of the people who have taken the most public steps to bring us here, though I know all of us who have made this issue seem real to our friends and families are helping in small ways, too.  Even though small ways are exhausting in a week like this.  Allies, we are so happy to have you, so proud of you.  I can’t think I’m the only one who feels the strain, though, so I ask one more thing this week.  Please, be gentle.  As in the Bean’s brain, big changes are happening in our worlds.  It’s surely no wonder if some of us are a bit of a mess.


On The Habits of Breeding Lesbians of South Brooklyn

For all your lesbian ornithological parody needs, click through to this piece I wrote for Rebecca O. Johnson’s erstwhile respectable blog, Urban Ecology.

It goes a little something like this:

1. The South Brooklyn Lesbian: Species or Race?
Much controversy surrounds the taxonomic status of Brooklyn Lesbians: should the Lesbians of North and South Brooklyn, concentrated respectively in Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick and Park Slope/Prospect Heights/Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy and adjacent neighborhoods, be considered separate races of a single species, like the Yellow- and Red-shafted Flickers of species Colaptes auratus? Or are they more properly defined as two separate species, like Baltimore and Bullock’s Orioles, once thought types of Northern Oriole?

It is the position of this author that the Northern and Southern Brooklyn Lesbians must properly be separately named species of the genus Sappho. The two display marked distinctions in plumage and diet, with the Northern species preferring H&M ‘80’s nostalgia synthetics and Pabst Blue Ribbon and the Southern natural fibers, Dansko clogs, and whiskey-based cocktails.


In our natural habitat, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Note: salt water sandals are a common summer plumage variation, always reverting to clogs in the winter months. Think fall and spring warblers.


On Marriage

Better late than never, eh? Seems apropos, given the subject.

Hi, again, internets. Hope you enjoyed NaBloPoFortnight as much as I did. Following the streak-ending snafu on Tuesday, the Bean got an awful cold and refused to even try to sleep except against one or both of us, which didn’t mean much sleep for us at all. I ate Thursday night’s dinner in the dark of his room, to give you some idea, lying on my right side with him on my right arm, my plate balanced on my left hip, lowering bits of omelet into my mouth like an ancient Roman at a La Leche League banquet. Very conceptual and hip.

Things are somewhat better now: though the Bean still flat out refuses to fall asleep except against us, he can at least be transferred once asleep. In a related story, he has now officially climbed out of his bed. He did wait at least eight months longer than I though he would.

Anyway, here, terribly late, are some disjointed thoughts on marriage for that blog carnival I told you all about. Can’t wait to read the rest of the posts.

Sugar and I were legally married in Connecticut, three years ago last Tuesday. It was Friday the 13th, because that was the date our parents could all come. We wore pretty dresses and rode the commuter rail up to Greenwich with them and two friends: through a funny piece of fate, each of us had a lifetime friend living within a few blocks, despite neither of us having grown up here. Sugar’s friend was the little brother of her childhood best friend, the one they’d made walk out on thin ice in the swamp to test its strength and sacrifice his baseball hat to carry home a deer skull from the woods. Mine was my only true babyhood friend, born six months before me to a friend of my mother’s who later took care of us both. Before I was born, my mother held her on her lap. I kicked and she started crying. She’s been getting me back for it since. A friend from the community garden gave us a box for our rings and the most beautiful bouquets, a mix of store bought flowers and a few miniature roses still blooming in our garden in November.

We went to Greenwich because it was the closest place on the train line with a tolerable attractive court house. I had hoped for nice weather and a wedding under a red leafed tree, but the wind blew the rain hard that day, and we settled for the fluorescent gloom of a conference room lined with disapproving portraits of the Village Selectmen of the mid-1950s. The camera seized up from the humidity and refused to focus.

Same sex marriage wasn’t legal in New York yet, but the Governor had declared the state would grant them reciprocity if they were performed in jurisdiction where they were legal. This shouldn’t have been big news. States routinely recognize each other’s marriages, even marriages (such as between close cousins) that are not legally allowed in every state; there is no such thing as federal marriage law in the US, except for the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, including the one specifically giving states the right to refuse to recognize same sex marriages. But under the circumstances it was big news, and it was the best news we thought we were likely to get. We thought we’d better act on the offer before a less friendly governor or a constitutional ban rescinded it.

In 2009, we’d been together for 12 years. It was a little strange that we weren’t married in some sense already. We’d certainly shown any number of other kinds of commitment, including beginning to try to conceive a child together. But we don’t have a faith in common and didn’t especially feel like making our own ceremony, unmoored from a religious or legal framework. It’s a fine thing to do, but it’s not our thing.

So up to Greenwich we went. Our friends met us in at Grand Central, and we got everyone on the train. I spent the ride up sewing a button back on my good coat. We piled into cabs and found our conference room and submitted the paperwork afterwards. We looked at some regrettable art in the hallway. The train ride back to the city was pack with commuters, so some of us stood and the others sat alone. We all had a nice dinner at a Korean restaurant in Park Slope. I got a positive on my ovulation predictor pee stick, but despite the potential romantic story, we did not do an insemination that month. Our parents went home.

I didn’t really expect any of it to change our lives much. It seemed like the thing to do, something we ought to take advantage of, if only to insist to the world that we meant the things we had always said about our relationship to one another. Our parents seemed happy about it, although they would probably have been happier if they hadn’t all been sharing the same vacation rental apartment. But really, we’d been together for 12 years, and this wasn’t a big party with lots of family and friends and all that. This was just for the sake of form.

When it comes to practical matters, the ways our particular marriage — as opposed to just the act of living in a place where gay relationships are generally accepted and sometimes celebrated — has improved our lives is a fairly short list. For the first year, the New York State Revenue Service couldn’t figure out what to do about our taxes, but now that marriage equality is the law here, we save some money by filing jointly. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, there are a whole host of marriage benefits we cannot have, including the right to file joint federal tax returns. Because we are legally married, Sugar’s employer gives her some money to partially offset the imputed income penalty we pay for her to have me on her health insurance, a form of taxes straight couples do not pay. The money doesn’t make up for the whole penalty, but it’s a nice gesture.

The surprising thing, then, was in fact how very different being married does feel from being “married,” as we were for many years. The difference hard to pinpoint or explain, but it is profound. Immediately, I felt more confident in my right to have my relationship respected, more settled in the world, in some fundamental way more real. Alex Ross has recently written a very fine essay for the New Yorker on the history of gay rights advocacy, one that describes with a more dramatic scope of time what I try to explain to discouraged college students now: how incredible the changes feel, how rapid this can seem sometimes, even for someone who is simultaneously impatient for greater change (the end of DOMA, a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act). He says about his own marriage,

When you get married, your relationship is taken more seriously by those around you; when you are also gay, the sense of public affirmation goes strikingly deep. Friends reacted as if we had done something vaguely heroic. I realized, as with coming out, that personal gestures ripple outwards into politics.

On election day, couples in three more states were given the right to find out for themselves how it feels to go from talking about my “partner” and “girlfriend” to saying, with the sense of pride and absolute authority that only the law can give someone like me, this is my wife. Congratulations. I hope it feels as good for you as it does for me.

Forty-one states to go.


Tricycles and Gender

Sugar here. I haven’t written here in a while, but I’m thinking I’m going to try to get back to it, so here is a post:

I was on the playground with the Bean the other day, engaged in my usual playground activity, eavesdropping. This playground has a lot of donated, semi-broken toys, many of them plastic cars, rolling benches shaped like cars, and tricycles. The Bean was busy sitting on cars. He can do this for a very long time, just trying out what it feels like to have his butt on each vehicle, so I had a lot of time to sit and notice what else was happening near by.

A couple of feet to the right of the Bean was a mom trying to take a picture of her son, who was maybe three years old. He was rolling along on a pink and purple tricycle with silver streamers on the handles.

“Oh your daddy’s gonna love seeing you on that pink bike!” she said. She didn’t tell the kid to get off the bike, and she clearly didn’t think it was that big a deal, but there was still humorous disapproval in her voice.

What the hell? I thought. This woman, in addition to caring for a toddler, apparently also has to worry about the reaction of her husband to any, ANY, non-normative gender behavior in her son, including the sin of just thinking that an available tricycle is awesome and not shunning it because it is pink. Are men really this fragile?

Here is another example of this phenomenon. A colleague of mine has a son, who at the time of this story was four. She described to me the difficulty she had when she took him to buy pencils at the grocery store. He really, really wanted a particular packet of pencils, but they were Dora the Explorer brand and were purple (purple!) with glitter in the paint. She knew her husband would be very upset if he saw their son with those pencils. Unsurprisingly, the four year old didn’t think much of this argument. Now, I’m having a kind of emotional day here, but this story kind of makes me want to cry. JUST BUY THE FOUR YEAR OLD THE PURPLE PENCILS. Also, maybe leave your husband. Ok, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but COME ON.

One thing that is interesting to me about stories like this one (and I don’t have just one of these, I swear some woman or other tells me something like this at least once a month) is that they are always told in a sort of resigned and conspiratorial way, the subtext of which being, “I don’t really think this matters, but you know how men are. Too bad we are stuck propping up their masculinity and norming the hell out of our kids all the time, but it has to be.” My answer to this, if anyone ever said this out loud to me, which by the way they never will because they are so deeply embedded in their fun-house version of reality to be able to tease out the subtext of anything, would be, “You are not stuck doing that. You are choosing to do that. And your choice is based on things you think are important and real, but which are in fact trivial.” Fixed gender identity? Nope, not real. Your husband withering into a melted pile of horror-movie yuck when he sees his son wearing a pink garment? Probably not going to happen. What will the neighbors think? Sorry, but the neighbors aren’t really paying much attention.

So, Ok, I’m probably not the best person to play the resigned-and-conspiratorial card with. For one thing, I don’t have a husband. I’m not all, poor men and their egos! Being a feminine looking gay woman with a toddler gives me this bizarre window into straight-world thinking. Other moms forget that a) I don’t have a similar story about my husband not helping with whatever, and b) I do have a very different perspective on the necessity of shaping myself or my son according to societal expectations.

Here is a simple question I wish these moms would ask themselves: why is what my (not even present in the situation) husband thinks more important than what a) I think and b) my kid wants to do? Why is my husband worth protecting, and what am I protecting him from? Or, to be more charitable, why do I believe what I am saying/doing helps my child?

I suspect that the answer to this last question would be that all this norming helps the child learn how to not be teased, to learn (right now, at age 3!) to live in a world that expects and enforces cisgender behavior. I reject this. This is just wrong. It’s wrong on the small and immediate scale, in that purple pencils and pink bikes don’t really say anything about the gender of a 3 year old, so you are just making a big sad confusing deal out of nothing. It’s also wrong on the large and eventual scale, in that every time you label an activity or preference as ‘wrong,’ i.e. gender-nonconforming, you are teaching your child that he lives in a hostile world that judges him on the basis of how closely he can conform to a nonsensical ideal.

I find conversations with many straight moms (And I guess I should be clear here that at our local playground this means pretty, young, white, straight, married women with money – so basically people who’ve yet slam up against the ugly side of societal expectations or bias – just wait, ladies) so frustrating because it is clear that they don’t see their ideas about gender as ideas. Rather, those ideas are just part of the fabric of the reality that surrounds us, invisible and immutable. So there’s no conversation to be had. But there is. There is so much of a conversation that should be had about this, and people need to be having it before they raise another generation of sad people who are uncomfortable in their own skins.




Barely Legal

The deed is finally done!  We had our second-parent adoption court date yesterday, and BAM, we are now a legal family in all fifty states and the good ol’ D of C.  Feels mighty good, I tell you what.
Between Sugar having to run home from the subway station to fetch her ID, my brilliant decision to take a different train downtown (forgetting how infrequently it comes and not knowing the elevators were broken at the downtown station), said train’s passing us without stopping after we waited for one hundred years, torrential rain, and all the joys of going through security with a stroller, a toddler, and all the accoutrements both collect, we thought we would be so late that they’d tell us we were out of luck, but somehow we weren’t quite that late after all.  The elevators were confusing, but the nice man at the desk where we had to leave our camera gave us directions and congratulated us; when we got upstairs, there were toys in the waiting room and the court clerk went down and retrieved our camera.  Thanks to her, we have this winning picture of me with half-popped collar — I am tough, but sensitive — and blinking with our lawyer:



The Bean is chewing on a wooden block from the adoption office, a block likely encrusted in the spit of hundreds of fellow Brooklyn babies. Ah, tradition.

The Bean was an amazing sport about the whole thing, especially considering it was very much nap time. A lot of cookies were involved. Special thanks to the guys working security, who stood next to huge signs prohibiting food or drink in the court house, x-rayed our huge bag of Bean food, and only asked if the steel water bottles had hot liquid.

Afterwards, the Bean napped in his stroller while we walked to and through this phenomenal new park; when he woke up, we visited a playground and had a magnificent feast at Superfine, thanks to a sweet friend (and stupendous non-bio mom) who is a chef there.  After a postprandial return to the waterfront, we climbed back into Brooklyn Heights (that name is no joke, y’all) and rode the subway home, exhausted and happy.