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Camp It Up!

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Year-old tie-dye hanging out to dry, Berkeley, CA.

As it turns out, tie-dye shirts which have yet to be “set” and rinsed can indeed sit in a crumpled ball for a year, intimidating and then later forgotten, and be resurrected the weekend before departing for the family camp whence they came the year before! Patience (and neglect) rewarded.

Heading up to Camp It Up! family camp for the week. I sang its praises at VillageQ last year upon return, and don’t mind saying that if you don’t currently squirrel away all your spare pennies for a queer family camp (you queer families), well, you should try. Because it’s worth every one of those pennies.   (Here’s a regionally varied list of them I did back in April at VQ.)

Up at camp there is – ! – no cell phone reception & no cable/ wifi internet access. Schlubs who have internetty work to do make their way into the nearby town for the wifi-enabled cafe. I believe I’ll be among those schlubs, in which case I may also have the opportunity to share a photo or two.  I share this tidbit because I’m working hard at the whole “please keep blogging” thing with which I ended my talk the other night. It’s almost as good for the mental health as a nice, long, family vacation.

 

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Sharing the table

Tracking PixelThis is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Barilla, but opinions are my own.

My beloved and I distinctly remember the moment.  We were sitting at our dinner table in our first wee home. We locked eyes, and said to each other: “We’re ready.”  Ready, finally, to take the leap from where we were – a family of two committed people – into the inky unknown of two-plus.  If we were the luckiest people in the world, we would be led into that unknown by a few small people we could call our children.

Turns out we were indeed the luckiest people in the world.  My beloved’s will and bodily fortitude coupled not just with my own love and dedication, but with the courage and generosity of two old friends. One of them had a great idea (use my husband as your donor!), and the other of them (said husband) had great genes and an open heart.

Plenty of talking followed at each others’ dinner tables over the course of several months: we were proposing, after all, that we join our two families together with a uniquely powerful bond: children, our own and each other’s. There could be no knowing what that would feel like, yet also no going back.

#ShareTheTable

Of all the things that define our family, this non-nuclear beginning will always be one of the things I cherish most. Our children are quite literally the products of the best of what humans can do with and for each other.  They are precious harvest not just of love and will,  but also courage and generosity, and trust on all four of our parts. Without all these ingredients together, my beloved’s and my children simply wouldn’t exist.

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Home, lost and found

lastThanksgivingLast Thanksgiving with Dad, 2012, Berkeley, CA.

 

Twenty years ago last month, I was in the daze of my first weeks without my mother. I had been attending San Francisco Lesbian Avenger meetings during the summer, and then dropped off during the weeks before and after her early September death.

Finally I called fellow Avenger Masha Gessen.  I had to acknowledge what had become evident: that I wasn’t going to be able to come through with whatever commitment I had made at the last meeting I attended – back when I knew my mother was mysteriously ailing, but didn’t know it was a terminal metastasis of her breast cancer, in its final stages.

I told Masha what had just happened ­– that my mother had died a week or two back, and that all I could do was struggle each day to remember how to breathe and sip and swallow and walk.  Masha said: “Come over. My mother died less than a year ago. Breast cancer. Come over right now.” I was staying at my parents’ place in the East Bay, and Masha was in San Francisco.  It was late in the evening already, but something in her tone told me I needed to go.  I was spinning in an abyss, and her voice was the first thing I had encountered that sounded like it might arrest the spinning, maybe even establish a marker by which I could begin to navigate deep space.

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For the short time that we’re here, we are here together

Partly to get that ginormous picture of me in the previous post off the “top of the fold” of this site (gadzooks that’s a big picture! even though I hope you locals will spread the word about that event!), partly because I just happened across it again today, and was struck anew at its depth and eloquence, partly because now, nine years later (weeks after my daughter’s birthday), I now know every word of my dear old friend’s to have been not just brave but prophetic, I share with you my friend’s essay, “Extended Family.”

 

UntitledI wrote an ode to her here: “Happiness is an old friend.”Context: I met Sybil Lockhart,  author of “Extended Family,” in September 1980, when we were both fresh-faced, mulletted freshmen in college (okay, maybe it was only me who was mulletted; memory is a tricky thing). She is a neuroscientist (really! a Ph.D.! in neuroscience!) and a very gifted writer. The essay appeared years ago, first at Literary Mama, where she wrote a column and served as book reviews editor.  Later it formed a part of her moving caregiver’s memoir, Mother in the Middle.

Two more things to keep in mind, as you read what Sybil wrote. One, the children she speaks of – hers and ours – have now been special cousins to each other for as long as my children can remember, and probably most of what hers can. Sybil’s youngest now strolls over to our house once a week after middle school. We’re an old, familiar way station-away-from-home, a place to sip a smoothie and do homework (or play with our kids) ’til one or another parent picks her up at the end of the afternoon.  She comes to us now just like her older sister did before her years ago, when she was in middle school, needing a place to come to rest as much as we needed to provide it to her.

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There she lies

There she lies
Turning nine before my very eyes
Turning nine before my very tired eyes
Effortlessly, in her sleep
Bigger now than she has ever been
Yet half the age she’ll be when she leaves home.

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At the bakery

Fridays, we both take the kids to school, rather than to the bus stop, since the school kicks off the day with a community-wide meeting. Today, after leaving school, we stopped by The Cheese Board, our venerated neighborhood collective cheese shop/bakery.

The man in line in front of us turned around at the sound of my voice, and smiled.

“You’re– you’re so-and-so’s mom.” And then he saw my partner and adds “S.”

“Yes! And you’re Keiko’s dad.” D.

I might have split a hair or two about how in truth I’m more so-and-so’s parent, really; she calls me Baba; we’re naming the liminal space between the falsely dichotemized poles of mother and father, but still, I totally get the shorthand thing – who has time for Althusser before your morning coffee, you know?

Neither of us had had a sip of coffee yet, so that part stayed in my brain.

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Rainy day cabin

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Hailstorm near Soda Springs, CA.

In the realm of vacation getaways, we are perpetually dependent on the kindness of friends and colleagues who own such things. We’re lucky to have them. Kind, kind folks, whom Mrs Dad has known for years, offered their beautiful mountain home as a late summer getaway.  And so hence we hustled, laden down with playing cards, bathing suits, and gratitude.  This getaway the more appreciated since as of a few days into our last attempt at a family vacation, our girlie’s body temperature shot up never dropped below 100. So home we went, playing cards, bathing suits, and all, to nurse the rest of the week-long bronchial scourge.

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Still here

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Father love, Berkeley, CA

“Still here” meaning both the author of this blog (quieter of late), and my pops (even more quiet of late). The photo above was taken a year ago today. My pops has aged a lot over this past year, more so in the past six months. Still more so, it seems, in the past six weeks. During this, his 92nd year here, time is speeding up all around him, and taking its toll.

But today, I am grateful to be able to say, we can still thank him directly for his loving presence, his affection for people, his inherent generosity, his sincere desire to make those around him smile. So after breakfast and home-made kid gifts in bed, we’re off to see him, whether or not he sees much of us.

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