Monday, January 13, 2014

3 Days in the Life of a Blended Family of Seven

            I am a planner.  Google calendar is my friend.  I have five kids’ and two adults’ calendars on my phone with alerts programmed to mine and theirs (though the youngest two don’t have phones yet).  If you don’t put it on the calendar, I make no promises.  Even with the best laid plans, in my life in a blended family of seven, I often resort to hanging on to the top spinning with controlled chaos and waiting for the slow steady revolution of a calmer day…that if it comes, lasts only until you have a split second to breathe and it spins again. 

It started on a Friday afternoon around 4:00.  Up to that point, my day had been relatively uneventful.  We were going to have the three teenagers scattered for the night, but rides were arranged and I was planning a low-key dinner-and-a-movie evening at home with the younger two.  Then I got the email.  And the chain of events, thought not all directly related, unfolded over the next three days and the top began to whir. 

            “I am not going to make it home in time to go get the check, so can you go by and pick it up?  I will send directions.  By the way, I forgot my phone at home today.”

            Okay, so, I knew he forgot his phone at home since he drove two hours out of town and I hadn’t heard from him all day and when I checked, it was still on his night stand.  And I knew I might have to go pick the check up.  But considering it was 4:00, and I had not heard from him (after all, he was with people with phones) and since he had to pick the girls up from their mother’s by 6:00, I thought he must have gotten out on time.  When I got his email at 4:20, I was at the grocery store getting dinner.  I flew home, dropped the groceries, got back in the car and raced to his office.  While reading his email telling me to hurry up and respond so he could get to the girls (seriously?), I missed my turn, drove 10 minutes out of the way because I am still learning my way around my new city, and barely made it to get the check by 5:00. 
            Phew!  Now the relaxing evening can begin, I thought as I drove at a more reasonable pace to drop the check in the ATM and stop to get a bottle of wine at the Rite-Aid and get $20 extra for the one going to the movie later.  Wrong.  When I got home, his phone rang and it was daughter #1.  She began to explain a change in plans that included her mom dropping her off at a birthday party (this was planned) and then bringing daughter #2 to our house instead of him picking her up as usual (this was not planned).  Apparently the ex had left him an unreceived message indicating this change earlier in the day.  I explained the forgotten phone situation to daughter #1 and told her I couldn’t get a message to him, but if needed, daughter #2 could be dropped off at our house and he would just realize it when he got to her mother’s house.  Long pause for relay of this information to the mother followed by the mother taking the phone (big sigh!).  A repeat explanation of the forgotten phone and she is dropping daughter #2 by our house.  Daughter #2 gets dropped by (late) and I race to the mother’s house to try to catch him so that he doesn’t worry why she is not there.  Before I make it, my phone rings and he is calling from our house.  Oh well, I tried. 

            I fixed dinner (late) and fed those that were home.  Son #1 was at the football game playing in the band, daughter #1 was at the birthday party and son #2 was headed out to the movie.  Husband and I caught each other up on our day before I started son #3 and daughter #2 toward bed.  By the time they were in bed, husband leaves to get oldest two home by ten.  All go to bed and I lay half asleep waiting on son #2 to get back from movie that he shouldn’t have been allowed to attend because the 8 o’clock show was sold out and the 9 o’clock ended past his curfew.  Oh well.  I tried. 

The next two days went something like this:  Son #3 (who is kid #4) and I arise at 5:45 am to get to his swim meet an hour away.  Husband and kids 1, 2, 3 and 5 get up thirty minutes later to squeeze in every ounce of sleep and meet us at the swim meet.  Meet ends by noon, we grab lunch and everyone goes to get a Christmas tree since the next time we are all together will be two weeks away.  I skip the tree purchase to run by the store to get hot chocolate and jeans for son #2 who told me the day before that he only had one pair for his upcoming week-long trip with his father.  Husband bought tree with lightning-quick speed and calls to see where I am.  I rush home to get decorating started.  Son #2 thinks that everything is taking too long and moves from the couch to couch lamenting this torture.  Son #3 and daughter #2 are giddy and “helpful” getting into everything and impatiently waiting to be able to put the ornaments on.  Son #1 keeps disappearing to play guitar and/or text his girlfriend who he is trying to arrange to come to the movie in the street downtown later because we are trying to fit some “fun” into the weekend.  Daughter #1 helpfully puts lights on the tree in the foyer only to discover when she gets to the end that she has a receiving end plug for the lights and can’t plug them in to the wall.  “I have a problem” is followed by her walking off and leaving me to re-do the lights.  We finally got things decorated with EVERYONE pitching in like it or not, and in the midst of me making popcorn and daughter #1 making hot chocolate (or should I say “burning” hot chocolate) to take to the movie, I realize I have not considered that this brood might need to eat dinner and we are minutes away from leaving for the movie.  We stop to grab dinner at a drive-through and eat on the way to the movie.  We get to the movie and set up seven camp chairs, distribute popcorn and burnt hot chocolate, console son #1 whose girlfriend cancelled to get her ears pierced and shivered though an unusually cold (for Lower Alabama) night.

Sunday, son #3 and I got up at 6:00 am to get to Day #2 of the swim meet an hour away.  Husband and kids 1, 2, 3 and 5 slept late and went to church.  Son #3 and I grabbed a calm lunch on the way home, arrived home to get son #1 ready for symphony practice and then youth group (which he now will not miss due to the girlfriend’s attendance of the same group), got daughters #1 and 2 ready to return to their mother’s and got sons #1, 2, and 3 to shower and make lunch boxes before hitting the bed.

Husband and I hit the bed not sure how we were going to get up the next day and realizing that we have not gone to the grocery store for the week.  Oh well, we tried.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Lesson in Bravery

I am not gay.  As a non-gay person who supports gay marriage and gay rights, I have seen things changing for the better.  The recent Supreme Court decisions knocking out the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 are exciting and have us, as a country, heading in the right direction.

I am also not na├»ve.  I am not blind.  I see enough to know that things still are not easy for my gay friends.  But because I do not live their experience every day, I sometimes forget.  I forget that it can be a daily struggle to feel accepted by others.  I forget that it can be a daily struggle for them to accept themselves.  I forget that they do not have all of the rights and benefits that I, as a straight person, have.  I forget that they struggle to have their families accepted as “normal” by whomever thinks they have the right to define “normal.”

Recently I have gone through a period in my life in which people have said negative things about me that are not true.  I spoke to my friend Morgan Reid during a time when I was struggling with worry about what people thought of me.  Morgan, at the ripe old age of 20, taught me what it means to be brave.

Morgan is from Pensacola, FL.  Pensacola, ironically, hosts one of the most well-attended gay pride weekends every Memorial Day weekend, yet remains one of the most conservative areas of the country both politically and religiously.

So when Morgan came out in high school, not only did her family struggle with reconciling their faith with her sexual identity, she struggled with it as well.

“My family went through phases.  There was crying, they were very emotional.  My parents are very religious, so they didn’t know how to fit it in with how they saw my life.  They weren’t really sure how to handle it, so we fought a lot,” Morgan said adding that now her parents are completely supportive and were very welcoming to her ex-girlfriend.  “They are pretty good, but it took time.”

Morgan admits that she had to work through how her faith and her life fit together.  She had been taught in Sunday school her whole life that homosexuality was wrong, and she had a vision of gays as being big burly, sharp-toothed men trying to get little children.  While her parents have not discussed how or if they have reconciled their faith with Morgan’s lifestyle, Morgan has reconciled it for herself.

“I have been through a lot of theories on it.  My perspective is, I have been a Christian my whole life,” she said. “ I have been a committed Christian.  I dedicated my life when I was 13.  I have been in church my whole life, and one thing they always told me was that God loves you and God created you and God doesn’t make mistakes.  For a while I thought I was a mistake, and you know, he cursed me.  Now I see it as a gift because I am able to talk to people that are totally against it.  Because of the religious aspect, there is so much hatred from that side because people don’t understand it.  I am not really sure how I feel about the scripture parts of it, but I know that God loves me and that this is part of his plan and He made me a lesbian.  So part of it is talking to people and letting them know God loves them.  I feel like this is just another part of it for me.”

Despite her own struggle with acceptance, despite living in an area of the country that is not accepting, despite being 20 years old, Morgan wants to get involved in the political dialogue. 

“I feel like it is really important because I know if anyone is facing coming out, it’s hard when you live in a country that isn’t as accepting as it should be and if [young people] are anything like I was at their age, information is really important,”  she said.

There are days when Morgan feels empowered and days when she feels discouraged.

“Some days I feel like it’s great and I’m doing an awesome job and making a difference, and some days it’s like, ‘ah man, I’m never going to win,’”  Morgan noted adding, “It’s not always fun, but I don’t feel burdened.  I feel like people have to fight for a lot of different rights.  There’s always going to be something to fight for, and I just think it’s worth it.”

Growing up in a smaller, conservative town has fostered Morgan’s desire to get involved.  She began with her own high school when she petitioned to get a book that was positive about gay marriage put back in the library after it was removed.

“At Milton High School specifically, there was a book that was taken off the shelves.  We petitioned to get it back on the shelves.  It was a book talking about gay marriage, and not in a negative context.  There was a different, really old book that is still on the shelves that calls [being gay] a mental disorder, and that’s been disproved for years,” Morgan said. “They had taken the book calling it acceptable off the shelves and left the negative one.”

Morgan believes that being politically active and letting others, especially young people, know you are there, helps with acceptance.

“I feel like people don’t know,” Morgan said. “As soon as young people know you are out, they kind of cling to you.  They will find you on Facebook, or call you because they don’t know who else to ask.  When you are getting information out there, you are letting them know that it is not as taboo as everyone thinks.”

Morgan said that in her high school, when she came out, teachers became less interested in her plans, her future and who she was.  Before that, she was a favorite among teachers.

“It is a struggle.  I think a lot of people don’t see it that way, but I think the gay community does,” Morgan said. “Really, the only difference between a heterosexual couple and a gay couple is that they have the same parts or different parts.  The love is still there, the family is still there.”

Morgan thinks that the more familiar people become with gays and the less of a taboo subject it becomes the more things will change. 

“I’m pretty sure when you meet someone, you think of them as a human being, but when you don’t know someone, you don’t have to.”
            The changes in Washington DC with the recent Supreme Court decisions give Morgan hope.

            “I thought I was always going to be on the outside, that people weren’t going to look at me with any kind of sense of worth.  I immediately felt stigmatized after coming out.  You are not really a Christian anymore, you are not really worthy of all of these great things.  You have to work harder for it, and I guess that’s not a bad thing,” Morgan said. “But I guess passing these bills makes me aware that I am not the only one and that people aren’t all the Milton, Pace, Pensacola community.  That everyone won’t look at me the way some people here will.  There is a part of the world out there that will see me as a human being that has potential and has the right to be me and not hate me for it.”

Love is Love

The best reason to attend a wedding is the celebration of the union of the bride and groom…or the groom and groom…or the bride and bride.

This is according to a recent poll conducted by SurveyMonkey in which respondents were asked to share their opinions about how activities at gay weddings compared to those at straight weddings.  In fact, 76 percent of respondents believe it. 

The poll revealed that the people by-and-large believe that gay weddings are basically the same as straight weddings.  Fifty-two percent believe that gay weddings are just as much fun, 73 percent say there is just as much alcohol, 52 percent believe there is as much dancing and 54 percent say the food is just as good.

Beth Auld of South Carolina, who recently planned and stood in as mother of the groom at her nephew’s wedding, agrees that gay couples want the same experience as anyone else when they get married.  She equates helping her nephew plan his wedding to planning her own. 

 “We had a lovely catering company.  If you walked into the wedding, you would never have known it was any different from any other wedding reception,” Auld said, “The ceremony itself was very traditional.  They chose traditional vows.  They did what they chose to do as far as how we proceeded in an out.  It was in pairs and the wedding party came down in twos.”

Auld’s nephew and his husband live in Atlanta and belong to a very liberal, gay-friendly Methodist church.  The church does not condone gay marriage, and instead performs a blessing of a civil ceremony.  Joe and Dan, the grooms, went to Iowa to get legally married, and then had the big church blessing ceremony and reception.

“They had a reading that the church typically does on Mother’s Day,” Auld said. “It was the blessings of different types of families.  We have our core family.  We have our church family.  We have our community family.  We have our world family.  That was really neat because it spoke to the fact that a family is who you make it.  That was really cool.”

Morgan Reid, 20, of Florida, who is gay, agrees that there is little difference in gay and straight weddings.  She said her church does gay weddings as well.  There is a ceremony once a year.  Couples are in a group where ten to twenty people walk down the aisle.

“It’s fantastic, actually.  I kind of love it,” she said.  “It’s a little bit different, but mostly it’s all the same.  Everybody is just as happy, just as excited.  It’s pretty normal.”

Reid noted that as a child, she thought about getting married, but didn’t really have a clear picture.

“When I was a younger, I drew a dress and it was in every color in the world, but I didn’t really have a wedding planned out,” she said. “When I think of it, it would be pretty normal.  I imagine I would follow the tradition that you don’t see your bride before the wedding, stuff like that.  The pre-marriage prayer would be something I would do.”

Both Reid and Auld are encouraged by the recent Supreme Court landmark rulings ending the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 and believe that people’s views on gay marriage are slowly becoming more positive. 

A  Pew Research Center survey in May showed that for the first time, more than half (51 percent) of Americans favor allowing gays to marry and that 72 percent of Americans believe  legal recognition of same-sex marriage is inevitable regardless of their own opinions of gay marriage.  This trend is a dramatic change from 2009 when 37 percent of Americans told Pew Research Center that they supported gay marriage.  Since 2009, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage bringing the number of states where it is legal (or will be soon) to 12.

“The majority of my [gay] friends want the same thing that everybody wants,” Auld said. “They want someone to love them, someone to respect them, someone to spend their life with and for the most part, children.”

Reid echos that sentiment.

“I will definitely get married,” she said “I am a committed person, a monogamous person.  I want to get married.  I want to have children.  I love kids.  I am a nanny right now because I want to be around children more. There are so many things I want to do.  I am so young and I have time, but I want to squeeze it all in there.” 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why I am Proud of Daphne High School for Offering Arabic as a Foreign Language

Dear Daphne High School,

I have read the recent article posted on and would like to express my pride in your decision to offer Arabic at Daphne High School.  I have five children in public school, one at Daphne High School. I am a big believer in public education. Decisions like yours to offer and defend the offering of this course are teaching our children all of the right lessons.

I am raising my children to be be informed, to be open minded, to be tolerant of everyone alike or different, to question authority without disrespecting it. I am teaching them that they have the power to become informed and educated and by listening to others, make decisions on their own. Your decision supports my goals.

Narrow mindedness is bred by ignorance. To listen to those who have said that by teaching Arabic at school, you are teaching "a culture of hate," would be to encourage ignorance in students that limits their abilities to form their own opinions.  Thank you for ignoring that narrow mindedness.

Open- mindedness is taught by exposing children to different people, cultures, and viewpoints. By allowing them access to language and culture from around the world, you are reinforcing the idea that it is okay to be different from each other. Thank you for encouraging diversity.

Tolerance is taught by example. By allowing children access to different culture, language and religion through education, you are teaching them to embrace those who are or believe differently and encouraging open and respectful discussion.  Thank you for teaching tolerance.

Our country was founded by immigrants.  We are a country of many languages, cultures, religions and traditions.  By learning about all of our cultures and roots, by learning about all of our histories, by learning about all of our religions, we teach our children to live with an understanding of others rather than a fear or hatred of them.  Thank you for teaching that understanding makes it impossible to hate.

Providing children information from every perspective gives them the belief and the tools to change their futures and impact the world. By teaching them an understanding and practical knowledge of a different and globally significant culture and language, you are empowering our children to participate in a global market, to embrace a global perspective and to teach others these same skills thereby changing the future...maybe even reducing hate and fear bred by ignorance.

We live in an area with a great deal of diversity and however you believe, it is important for all children to know that anything is possible and barriers of all kinds can be conquered, even the barrier of judging those who are different from you.

Elizabeth Denham

Friday, February 8, 2013

Keeping Kids Out of the Middle

            An amazing thing happens to most of us when we become parents.  We change for the better.  The gravity of the responsibility and the intensity of the love that we feel toward our children hits us in the heart, and we do everything we know how to do to nurture them.  We become better people, trying to lead by example.  Often we start eating healthier, working out more, going to church, wearing seat belts.  Many times we quit cursing, smoking or driving fast.  We are keenly aware of our behavior and the influence it has over our children because we see ourselves reflected in their cherubic little (or not so little) faces.
            And then, sometimes, divorces strikes.  Divorce hurts.  It angers.  It scars.  It can consume us to the point that it is difficult to remember that our every move, every word, every action is being recorded by the sponges that are our children’s minds, hearts and souls.  To be in agony ourselves and to gather the strength to remember that we must put that agony aside for our children takes Herculean effort. 
            Putting our children first during a divorce means putting aside our own anger, hurt, betrayal and sadness, particularly when directed at our ex-spouse, and putting the emotional needs of our children ahead of our own.  Unless there are real and grave safety issues, everything must be done to preserve the relationships the children have with both parents.  No matter what your ex did or how you feel about him/her, that person will always be your children’s parent.  And that is okay.  And you are responsible for making it okay for your children to love that parent when they are around you.   
            In eight years of being divorced, I have had a lot of practice in learning how to navigate co-parenting.  There is no easy solution, but I have realized that, as bad as it can seem at the time, nothing is really the end of the world.  This realization has helped me let go of control and anger and helped me to make sure my children have whatever relationship their father gives them.  I have recently re-married, and my husband and I must try to balance our children’s relationships with each other, us and both of our former spouses.  Here are some things we have learned that take the pressure off you, your exes and your children:
·        Do not speak badly about your ex to or in front of your children.  This is something we all know, but it is easier said than done.  This includes looks, gestures and disinterest in things your child wants to tell you about time spent at the other house.  Not only should you not speak negatively about your ex, but you should encourage your children to talk to you (without grilling them) about the time they spend with him/her so that it is not something with which they associate negative feelings.  This means no limits on what they are allowed to say, and no eye rolls or snide remarks from you. 
·        Do not make the children responsible for any form of communication between you and your ex.  This includes scheduling, school information, transportation changes, etc.  Making children communicate for you forces them into a potential situation where they may get a reaction that should be reserved for you.  If they just feel a little uncomfortable giving a message to your ex, that is unacceptable and easily avoided.  Even if they seem fine with communicating messages, it is not their job.  It is yours.
·        Never discuss money with your children as it relates to your ex.  Do not discuss child support even if it is late or unpaid.  Do not discuss who pays for what.  It is not the job of children to worry about money, and it always pits one parent against the other as it is such an emotionally charged issue.  The court has decided how money is to be paid.  If you don’t like it or it is not getting paid, go back to court.  Just be sure to leave your children out of it. 
·        Accept the fact that you do not control what goes on at the other parent’s house.  If you are able to devise a uniform parenting plan with your ex for both homes, great.  If not, you must, except in the case of real physical danger, accept the fact that you can only control your home and your ex gets to control his/hers.  You cannot make rules for the other house.  This puts the children in a terrible position of having to follow rules of which the other parent is unaware and potentially lie about them to the other parent.   You cannot expect a full report every time the children return.  This puts them in the position of feeling like they are tattling or getting the other parent in trouble.  Any time a child feels guilty to you about something that occurred with the other parent, you have put them in the middle of your issues.
·        Do not ever make you children feel guilty for being away from you.  They do not need to know if you are sad when they leave, if you are lonely, if you are sick or if you are working extra hard while they are gone.  Making them feel sorry for you, again, brings them into your issues.  Further, it makes the children feel responsible for your feelings, and they are caring for you.
Going back and forth between homes is not your children’s fault and not their choice.  Give them the freedom to be happy wherever they are.  It is the greatest gift you can give to them after their family has broken.  They will love you and respect you for allowing them their own relationships, their own feelings and their own time.  So send them off with a smile and an “I can’t wait to hear all about it when you come back!”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314)
Emily Dickinson 1830–1886

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Petals of the Fallen

This was written by my step-daughter, Hannah Denham.

Gone, but never forgotten - in honor of the twenty flowers who entered heaven's gates December 14, 2012.

Petals of the Fallen

 I came across the Painter today
His gently worn hands were spattered with flecks
of exuberant colors and hues

He used a cloud for a canvas
Red from passion mixed with the purity of white
for the pink of childhood's rosy cheeks

Dipping his fingers in the green
from virescence of recurring life,
he romanced the image to the skies

"What are you painting?"
I asked the bearded Man
with brown eyes that pierced the soul

He said not a word as his fingers worked
but I took no offense at his silence
and watched as his answer took form

Stalks of green were coaxed to the skyline
One, two, three, I counted
and when creation was complete, there were twenty

Pink blooms smeared the white space
above the stems, painted
not with precision, but untouched beauty

But then the Artist's expression changed.
Deep and anguished sadness
engraved the creases of his face

The white of the canvas turned black
with the darkening of the horizon
and the upheaval of the skies

And then it rained.
The sky opened, its quiet tears disappearing
into the shadow of uprooted innocence

I had forgotten the painter was next to me
until he exhaled into the mist, and
droplets of grief hastened from his whisper

He brushed his fingers once more
into the green of vitality,
sprouting life from the petals of the fallen

It occurred to me then -
though cut off from its source of survival
the essence of each blossom lives on.

From the rain of suffering, and from the tears shed
each spirit can grow, be revivified in the form
of a future in remembrance of the original twenty seeds.