Trip to Remember

The last Friday in 2016, I got some pretty rotten news. My grandmother had cancer. She was given six months, maybe. Once we knew her plan for treatment, we booked a flight to Atlanta, a hotel, and a rental car. Having not been back to my hometown, the state of Georgia, or anywhere in “the south” (FL doesn’t count) in over five years, it was strange to think about. We knew it would be the last visit with my grandmother with the kids. It was timed so that she would be feeling well enough to enjoy seeing us, but as I’ve learned, things don’t always go as planned.

After we moved to Vermont, my grandmother, who the kids affectionately called “Gran Gran,” came to visit us twice a year. At 80 years old, she got herself to the airport, on a plane, changed planes somewhere, and after a full day of travel she would finally arrive excited and energetic as ever.

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The last time that she came, just three months before she died, she told me that she had been having some “spells” of dizziness and weakness. With her usual stubbornness, she also said that she hadn’t told anyone about it. A couple months later, after some questionably unnecessary medical intervention and assessment, we found out the cause. She was diagnosed with very advanced stage lung cancer which had spread to her liver. Just four days after we booked our trip, she died from an infection that she had gotten during her hospital stay. She was was septic and it happened very fast, just as she would have wanted.

She didn’t want a funeral and made me promise long ago that I wouldn’t spend money to send flowers or fly down for a service. Instead she wanted us to take the money we would have spent and go on a trip. So, that is exactly what we did. We already had one booked so it wasn’t difficult to decide where to go.

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Ocmulgee National Monument
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Vermont boy hiking Stone Mountain
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GA Hiking
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Joey with Pa
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Kids headed home (Babyland General)

We saw family, took the kids on a tour of the town that I grew up in, and visited the sites including the Ocmulgee National Monument, Stone Mountain, and Babyland General. It was a trip for fun and family. It was a trip for Gran Gran. A trip to remember.

Stigma, it must go…

So May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Do you know anyone with mental health issues? And I’m not just talking about people with Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression, and any of the other more publicly known mental illnesses. I’m talking about your friend that struggles with depression, your sibling who has a drug or alcohol addiction, your neighbor who suffers from anxiety. You get the idea. Mental health issues affect everyone in some way. And they affect the LGBTQ+ community even more (image below from the American Psychiatric Association data on Diversity).

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Why, then, is there such stigma around this topic?

We must be able to talk openly and honestly about our mental health.

I say this with such confidence, but here is some back story… Like many baby gays (and I use that term to mean any LGBTQ+ individuals), I struggled with figuring out and accepting myself. This struggle was a lonely and sad place to be for a long time. But, I didn’t talk about it. It was (and still is) customary in my family to not talk about our problems. Some delusional assumption that if we don’t say it out loud, it isn’t really happening or true. Unfortunately, the only thing that creates in my experience is shame and fear (and depression and a load of other problems).

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Baby Gay

I was born and raised in Macon, GA and I grew up attending a southern Baptist church. Some of the people that I was most nervous to come out to, were the most supportive, including my (at the time) 75-year-old grandmother who was also born and raised in Macon and an avid church going Christian. I remember being incredibly nervous. I worried about what might happen for weeks, probably months, before telling her. But I had decided that if I was going to continue to be close to her and share my life with her, I had to tell her. She called me when I was driving home from work one day and I remember her reaction very clearly. She told me that everyone had to live their own life and no one on this earth has a right to judge other people. It made no difference to her. She never blinked an eye at me, my wife, our family.

Coming out can be a truly exhausting process. One that I hope one day is not necessary. But what I gained when I came out to my close friends, and then family, and then co-workers is the realization that you don’t have to live in that place of secrecy and fear. In fact, I found through coming out that communication about things that were rarely discussed is very powerful. It is more powerful than the absence of communication.The way to end stigma, stigma of any kind, is to talk about it. So, let’s talk about it… This is something that I have done for many years as it relates to LGBTQ+ issues. I’ve taken the stance that if I am open and honest about who I am and that impacts just one person’s acceptance of the gay community in a positive way, then it was worth it. It’s time to take that stance for mental health issues also, which I personally find even more difficult.

Below are some fantastic resources for anyone who is looking for support, interested in providing support, or just looking to learn more about LGBTQ+ and mental health issues… I challenge us all to talk more about mental health. How is your mental health today?

Resources:

The Trevor Project

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Mental Health America

Pregnant Superheros

During my recent birthday shopping trip to Burlington, I stepped into Earth Prime Comics. As I was skimming titles, my wife says “You have to buy this one.” Which, by the way, is never something I thought I’d hear from her in a comic book store. But, she was so right (she is right about 99% of the time, I listen to her about 33% of the time, this is something I am working on). So now I am reading this…

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I know this book is a couple years old. I know there are articles out there, published when it was released, but it was news to me. A superhero that is pregnant!? I love the image. I love the idea. I love it. And here’s why:

  • I am a woman (won’t go into the complicated asterisk here, but stay tuned, it could be a future topic).
  • I have been pregnant, twice.
  • I don’t believe that being pregnant and being active are mutually exclusive activities.

One of the things that bugged me the most about being pregnant was people contantly cautioning me about doing things. Don’t paint the bedroom, don’t climb the ladder, you’re going to have to quit running, stop moving the furniture, get someone else to mow the lawn, take it easy. STFU. People seem to think that women are particularly delicate when pregnant and cannot do things. A ridiculous notion. You can be pregnant and do things. Physical and mental things, all kinds of things.

Disclaimer: This is not to say that at a certain point during pregnancy there are no physical limitations, in my experience there are. Nor is this intended to offend anyone (really, truly, honestly, everyone has a different pregnancy and birth and postpartum experience and all of those experiences are valid and worth large amounts of respect). Also, this is entirely my own opinion and not to be construed as medical advice (please seek the advice of your medical provider when determining the appropriate level of activity during your pregnancy).

To illustrate my point… I have been pregnant twice. During my first pregnancy, I ran the Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World. I even used a couple of photos of me during the race, sporting my “Running for Two” shirt to come out of the pregnancy closet. During my second pregnancy, we were rushing to finish a home improvement project before the baby was born and I was tiling the bathroom floor at 35 weeks, painting after that, and moving furniture, etc. During both pregnancies, I worked full time until either the baby came out or I was past my expected arrival date. All the while, I was literally making another human being.

Pregnant Wonderwoman with I grow humans what's your super power?

Side note, the superpowers don’t stop at making the human because at some point you have to get that human out of your body and (if you choose to do so) feed it by turning the food you eat into baby human food… WOW. Let’s just think about that for a minute.

Zooming back out, the great thing about pregnant superheros is that being pregnant and becoming a mother is not their everything. It’s not their defining role.

Motherhood does not have to be your defining role.

That is the take home. No one part of yourself is your defining role, not even motherhood. I identify with many labels: wife, mother, leader, advocate, writer, artist. But none of these (or any other parts of myself) solely define who I am.

Looking back on my childhood experiences, this was likely a contributing factor in my tenuous relationship with my mother. Though I have spent many years processing and coming to terms with this part of my life (and this is certainly an ongoing process for me), I’ve learned to frame my experiences as lessons learned. That way regardless of how shitty things may have been or seem now, I’m getting something positive from it. Something I can translate to my own parenting. Something that will make my kids’ experience better.

What’s your superpower? If you are or have been pregnant, what’s your pregnancy claim to fame?

Milestones

They just keep coming. How does this keep happening!?

This time it’s A’s first baby tooth. It has come out. It was one of those dangler teeth, hanging by some tiny thread of gum until it finally succumbed to a bite of cereal. It happened at school during snack time. The tooth is mine now. It is living in a little canvas bag (with a gold outlined tooth painted on the front) waiting for an undetermined destiny. We made a trade, one baby tooth exchanged for one  $2 bill. And of course, one special gift for a first tooth lost, Ultimate Spiderman!

IMG_20170514_142105895I am amazed at every milestone, every new experience that comes along with parenting. Ten years ago, I would not have believed that I would be here. Here meaning Vermont. Here as a parent. Here in this place in life. It is surprising and extraordinary and fantastic all at once.

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Birthday Weekend (the untold story)

Every six, eight, or eleven years (leap years make this calculation complicated), my birthday (5/12) and Mother’s Day are one in the same. I am used to sharing some of the birthday glory with the just before or soon to come holiday. As a child, this was slightly annoying in the way that it is often annoying for kids born near Christmas or another holiday. This annoyance was complicated by being told as a child that I was born on Mother’s Day, a lie that I was not aware of until I found out as a young adult that I was actually born on a Saturday. Something isn’t adding up here… I didn’t know it at the time, but that little lie was one of many devices that my mother used in creating the perpetual guilt that lives inside me. It was an element of control. It was unhealthy.

I’m skipping ahead, and believe me, I’m skipping a lot. Last Thursday night (5/11), I searched the internet for the best call and message blocking systems for my phone. Despite many conversations, messages, and emails, I still get calls and messages from my mother lined with guilt inducing comments or questions and I’m done with it.

I’ve spent (many) years ‘dealing with’ my own emotions surrounding my relationship with my mother and have recently achieved my greatest (thus far) level of acceptance and peace with it. Some of this peace has come from my own journey through motherhood and firm belief that my kids owe me nothing. I (well, my wife and I) brought them into this world. It is our responsibility to nurture them, teach them, raise them to be independent beings. Our hopes for our children are for them to be who they are and be happy. Simple as that.

My mother once told me, in defense of her anti-LGBT statements, “you’ll understand when you have kids of your own.” What I understand now is how wrong she was.

No one should feel like they have to maintain unhealthy relationships with people, related by blood or not. Not out of politeness, not out of guilt, not out of a sense of obligation.

For many years, my birthdays have been enjoyed (and sometimes not) with varying amounts of anxiety and guilt with Mother’s Day looming. I’m done with that, too. This year, mine was great.

Birthday Weekend

Sometimes when you are very fortunate and you have a birthday, it is amazing.

I woke up on Friday morning to each of my kids giving me a card and gift. They were both so excited and so cute. Earrings and chocolate, in case you were wondering.

Then, while I took a shower, my wife and the kids went downstairs and made me breakfast. My favorite thing: breakfast that I didn’t have to make. Nom.

Skip to eight-ish hours later, Ashley picked me up from work sans kids and we went shopping on Church Street in Burlington. We went into many stores without any child related interruptions. (We did however get a call from Andy to tell us that he lost his first tooth! More on how fast kids grow up later).

We took this adorable photo on the steps of the court house (where we were legally married in 2009).

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I got two awesome comic books (stay tuned, pregnant Spiderwoman may turn into a post of it’s own).

We had dinner at Butch and Babe’s, where I had a birthday beer (Life in Technicolor, Northfield, VT), and Green Bowties (not pictured).

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Saturday we spent the day getting getting stuff done around the house (one of my favorite things to do is cross things off a list). We had lunch and dinner care of the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier (lunch dine-in, dinner take out).

We took the Statehouse trail in Hubbard Park, an uphill walk to the the Tower (but downhill on the way back).

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All of these instances of ‘we’ are me-and-wife we, not our-family-of-four we, because the kids had a weekend at Grandma and Papa-U’s house (Thanks, Grandma!)

Birthdays happen. Sometimes they are good, sometimes terrible. This year, mine was great.