Sunday, June 29, 2008

Some Thoughts on Marriage

I've been silent on the topic of same-sex marriage for some time, but that doesn't mean that I don't think about it. I do think about it; I think about it a lot. I know dozens of couples who are married, domestically partnered, civil unionized, or simply together. I respect, admire, (and let's be honest; sometimes envy) their commitment to one another. But their actual legal status matters not to me and I think that in our national discussions of marriage, we have lost sight of what marriage really means.

Some background information is essential to understand my point of view.

In the last few years of my relationship with JT's other mom, a relationship I believed was a lifetime commitment, my then-partner worked for a gay civil rights organization that, among other things, litigated on behalf of same-sex marriage. They filed law suits seeking legalization of same sex marriage in five different states. She was not a lawyer, but she played one on television, serving to draft the message and communicate with the media on behalf of the lawyers filing the lawsuits. She talked about our family and our relationship as part of that message. I believe that the organization valued her more because she was one of the many lesbian parents seeking legal recognition of her family.

Then she began having an affair with a colleague at her workplace. And one memorable Friday afternoon she walked out on my son and me and moved in with her new girlfriend. She then pursued me in court to protect her rights to the child who is my biological son; whom I am now raising on my own. At the same time, she has continued to advocate on behalf of same sex marriage.

Understandably, I think, the topic is rather loaded for me. On the one hand, as a lesbian and an American, I strongly believe that gays deserve equal rights under the law, in all areas of their lives. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that marriage is simply a matter of rights. And as a political scientist, I know that state-sanctioned marriages for same-sex couples without accompanying federal protection is just so much legal smoke and mirrors, offering very little of the actual legal protections of marriage.

For all that I am a woman of progressive politics and sometimes downright radical views, I am also a woman who is somewhat conservative in my personal habits. I try to live by the Golden Rule; if I make a promise, I strive mightily to keep it. I believe that a parent's first obligation is to her child and his needs. I believe that in most circumstances divorce is wrong. I believe that being a good parent is my most important obligation in life. I am the only person in my circle of close friends who is raising a child as a single parent and I think that most people have no idea how difficult life can be for a single parent.

I think that's one reason I find the entire discussion of same-sex marriage to be, frankly, pointless. When divorce is so easy to secure; so readily accepted by our society, what purpose does a legal marriage truly serve? When marriage is discussed in terms of individual liberty; when people say, "it's my right!" I think that misses the point by a mile.

I believe that in the realm of personal relations, rights don't exist. In that realm, we are talking about obligations and responsibilities. I don't have the right to care for my son, it's my moral obligation. To love him; to feed and clothe him; to look after his heart and educate him to be a good and kind man; those are my parental obligations. I take them enormously seriously and they bring meaning to my life; these days they are the meaning of my life. I felt those same obligations toward my then-partner: to love her and keep my promises to her and our family was tremendously important to me. I thought that my family was forever and I was prepared to do the work to keep it that way. I don't need government sanction to do these things.

When my partner left our family, she explained that she didn't love me and wasn't happy. Then she told me, "JT has a right to a happy Mommy." More than anything else, that statement showed me how very different our value systems are. Because when my son is tearful at night; sad that Mommy isn't here to read a story, wishing that Mommy could join us in a game of backyard baseball, anxious about things related to Mommy's new life, I'm left with no explanations. I am loathe to tell an 8 year old that he must bear his sadness so that his Mommy can be happy. To me, her actions, driven by her individual desires, are utterly unthinkable. My family didn't just break, it shattered into a million tiny pieces. I am still trying to pick them up.

So I guess that I feel pretty ambivalent about a "right" to marry; to join a social institution that isn't very healthy these days. . I'd be much happier if gays organized as a movement and then went about the business of making the world a better place. Let's raise our children to be good, kind, and tolerant. Let's devote our considerable economic resources to helping one another. Let's be a minority group of progressive liberal values; so impressive in our commitment to one another that other groups are envious and seek to emulate us. Let's quit talking about our rights and consider instead, our obligations: to our children, to one another, to our fellow citizens in this nation and on this planet.

That's a movement I could get behind.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Three Times the Fun

When my sister and I were growing up, visits with the boys, our cousins A and B, were like a trip to a foreign country. For two girls, those boys were a window into the exotic world of GI Joes, Green Machines and loud, loud noise. Years later, my sister and I are the mothers of boys. This past week, as we were together in New Jersey, KO and I got to enjoy some loud cousins again; this time my sister and I were on the parental side of the divide. And the only thing better than being a little girl playing with your boy cousins is being a big girl watching your own boy play with his cousins.
Our boys are growing up quickly and we live a continent apart. A week where we are together is a precious commodity. The cousins headed back to the left coast this morning and my house has only one thundering boy on the stairs, less crumbs under the table, and it's missing the sound of my sister's laugh.

I miss them already.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bad Beach Behavior

At the beach yesterday, before S got another case of cold-induced hives (it seems to be an actual condition and we think he may have it), one beach towel away from our towel, there was a couple loudly playing mariachi music and entwined with one another in such a way that their intentions could not be mistaken.
The music was loud enough to drown out the waves. KO and I were torn........should we get out a hose, spray them, and loudly announce that they should get a room? Or should we give in, listen to the mariachi music and hope that soon someone would soon be serving some cold Coronas with salsa and chips?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Here at the Armed Encatment

We had a full Tuesday here at Sassafras House.

We had a leisurely breakfast of freshly baked blueberry muffins. We had plans to put up the tent in the backyard and then hit the local pool in the afternoon. After a bit of rain, we all headed to the backyard to put up the tent (a sample run for next month's camping trip). There we were, all five of us, when we realized that the cats were also in the backyard with us.

Our cats aren't permitted outside.

Panic ensued. We shot off in all directions, trying to catch cats. And cats just love that, when Mama is shouting and children are running at them in a hurried fashion. Auntie KO quickly organized a new plan, staffing the backyard. The cousins went inside to check all the doors (we'd left the sliding glass open) and JT and I headed out front, where Tiger had gone in search of adventure.

In the backyard, Auntie KO caught a frantic Lucy, though a frightened cat is quick and Lucy slid out of KO's reach, administering all sorts of scratches and loudly meowing her dissatisfaction. The yelping caught Tiger's attention and he headed to the backyard to check things out. JT and I followed and as we came through the gate, we saw Auntie KO, ushering the cats back in the back door. Safe!

After the cat escape, JT posted warning signs on every door in the house. If you forget to shut the door now it's because you are blind.
The afternoon would surely be less be less exciting. Or so we thought. We'd been at the pool a couple of hours when we headed to the snack bar. While we waited in line, we noticed that S had blotches all over his face. KO thought it was the effect of uneven application of sunscreen. But once out of the bright sunlight, it became perfectly clear that it wasn't just his face and they weren't splotches. S had large itchy hives. Everywhere. He said they itched, but he wasn't complaining of any pain. A kind mom nearby offered some Benedryl and S washed it down with some M&M chasers. We calmly packed up the towels and headed home to give S a shower and his daily allotment of string cheese. Within 30 minutes, the hives had begun their retreat.

Surprisingly, when you consider that the mamas are armed with digital cameras at all times, we don't have any picture of Hive-Boy. You'll have to trust me that they were a most impressive set of angry red hives. We still don't know what caused them, though we wonder if it was chlorine. We do know that we've had our full dose of vacation-induced adrenaline. We're hoping that today will prove more peaceful.

But, ummmmm, there are three boys in this house, so what's the chance of that?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What's for Supper?

One of the things that brings me great satisfaction is to cook for people, especially the people whom I love. I make supper every evening and JT and I sit at the table and talk about our day. But I am at my most satisfied when I have a table full of hungry people. So having my sister and nephews in town is an opportunity that I relish. Though my son and nephews are the world's pickiest eaters, when you make them the food they love to eat, they are happiest of picky eaters.

Whether it's big bowls of macaroni and cheese for hungry boys (though they prefer a Kraft box to my homemade mac & cheese, a blasphemy with which I was able to make peace)...
...or Sunday night's tacos with beans and rice (we are all Californians, after all), it makes me happy to be in the kitchen.
On Sunday, as JT approached the table with his cousins he was loud in his praise, "My mama makes the best guacamole tacos," he announced. Music to my ears, a statement like that. Last night I grilled burgers and made tater tots.....not exactly gourmet, but all the diners at my house were happy.
At the end of the summer, when JT makes a list of all the things he enjoyed the most, I'll make a list of my own. And it's a safe bet to assume that cooking for KO and her boys will be among the highlights of my summer.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Three is a Charm

Though the sound of three boys coming down the stairs is fearsome (it sounds like a herd of large, fast, loud, hungry beasts), there is a whole lot of fun to be had when you are three boys on summer vacation.

Whether it's baseball in the backyard...

...or a road trip to Baltimore...

...or getting ready for a game at Camden Yards...

...three is a whole lot of fun.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Guest Bedroom

Under normal circumstances, the guest bedroom in my house serves as temporary quarters for laundry, sweaters, and other detritus of daily life. The kittens each have a soft pillow to sleep on and the room is in a holding pattern. But it's a lovely room with a window to the backyard, a view of the big old tree, and warm yellow walls with white trim. So when family or friends come to stay, I make the bed with fresh linens and brighten things up. I even set out a good book for nighttime reading (this time it's Mama Makes Up Her Mind by Bailey White).

A few years ago, I had a daydream of running a bed and breakfast. These days, I'm not much good at planning my next week, let alone my future. But I still love to have guests and it's nice to get things organized.

Let's just hope that the kittens are willing to share the guest room with the Sassafras Sister.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Midnight Snack

My nephews arrived in town on Tuesday night and after some excited playing, the next order of business was a midnight snack. For now, togetherness is the theme and so they decided they to sit next to one another, hurriedly setting the chairs in a row.
But it really was midnight and exhaustion had begun to set in. Within 20 minutes of this picture being made, teeth were brushed and they were in bed. Asleep. I am not kidding.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

What White Children Eat

In the children department, my sister and I have both been cursed with picky eaters. I maintain that in her case it's the karmic reward of her lifetime of picky eating, not to mention the year of her adolescence that she spent eating only baked potatoes. From the microwave.

In my case, it's undeserved.

In any case, as preparation for her visit she sent me the list of foods to have on hand to feed her hungry children for breakfast. It reminded me of this blog though I imagine that actual white people eat arugala lettuce dressed with light balsamic vinaigrette dressing, organic avocado, and a side of fair trade crackers.

What the white Sassafras nephews will eat, as reported directly from KO's e-mail:

-Yoplait french vanilla yogurt...plain old kind in the red/white container...not whipped
-Eggo homestyle waffles (make sure you have cinnamon sugar for C and syrup for S)
-Poptarts-brown sugar variety only
-string cheese-Kraft brand only (it's the firmest, and we don't like a flaccid string cheese)
-mild cheddar cheese single serve rectangles (I buy the Target brand)
-apple jacks
-if you can find any smallish chocolate muffins, that would delight C
- sesame seed bagels

This is food that is largely devoid of color; the stuff that white children eat.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Meanwhile, Back at the Nest

In the middle of May, while we were looking for an errant baseball in the backyard, JT and I came upon a robin's nest in the middle of a giant, thorny bush.
It was startlingly beautiful, this project of a robin and Mother Nature, and JT and I were immediately charmed. We showed our secret nest to everyone who came to the house, amazed by the secret wonder. JT never doubted that the eggs would hatch and we'd have baby birds to admire. I worried that he'd be disappointed or, worse yet, the birds would hatch while he was away and he'd miss it all.

Then, last week there were cracks in a few of the eggs. Finally, on a terribly hot Saturday morning, two of the tiny birds emerged. JT heard them first while he was playing outside and he rushed inside to share the news with me. "Mama, they've hatched; they've hatched," he said with great excitement, "Come and see."

And indeed they had hatched. We could hear their sweet chirping when we stood on the back deck. I am often reminded that New Jersey really is a garden state, wooded and lush with greenery and wildlife, even here in our corner of a town located less than two miles from a major highway. I appreciate that about this place and, more than that, I love having a boy with which to share such wonders.

The boy has been away for the past week, visiting his other mom's family. I've stayed here at our temporarily quiet nest. I've missed every element of regular life as guided by JT........distribution of fudgesicles, backyard baseball, silly jokes, bike rides, dirty hand prints on the glass, reading to a boy before bed......all of it. It all returns tomorrow, when the boy walks through the door.
Safe travels, little boy. The nest hasn't been the same without you.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Signs that I Need a Weed-Whacker

I recently trimmed grass along the edges of my lawn with these scissors. This is something that my mother would have done and in this case the family resemblance is nothing to be proud of.

Friday, June 13, 2008

In Praise of Sticky Traps

There once was a mouse in Sassafras House.

The kittens were all in a lather.

They'd pace all about, in the kitchen and out.

I wasn't sure what was the matter.

Then one day that mouse, it ran out.

The kittens were ready to pounce.

A sticky trap said the Mama.

We'll have no more of this drama.

The hunters were crushed.

Soon the was dust.

And the house slept in peace once again.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I was once a very strong John Edwards supporter, not because I didn't like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, because I did and I do. But I liked Edwards more, for a lot of reasons. His understanding of poverty in the United States was far better than either Clinton or Obama. His healthcare plan was the best of the three. Straight-up, he was a better campaigner than Clinton and he was well-spoken enough to give Obama a run for his money, especially with core Democratic constituencies. When the Edwards campaign didn't take off, I was sanguine and not especially surprised; this is the year that the Democrats were breaking with tradition and seeking a candidate of the 21st century. Fine.

But now that the nomination is in Obama's hands, I really hope that Edwards gets the vice presidential nod. He would be a terrific veep; on the campaign trail with Obama (and more likely on his own, because that's how these things are done), he would be positively impressive. This post over at Washington Monthly has all the details and numbers and is well-worth a read. Edward's personal story is compelling and, together with Obama's, represents two versions of the American Dream that voters will find powerful. The evidence for Edwards is strong.

I know that Clinton supporters would like to see her receive the nod, but I think that she will have a terribly difficult time playing second fiddle. Moreover, even with her recent enthusiastic endorsement of Obama, she waited too long to smooth over the disagreements between the Obama and Clinton camps. Most important of all, the Democrats need her in the Senate. Personally, I would like to see her replace Harry Reid as Majority Leader.

Right now, the Democrats need to close ranks and position themselves to win in November. After 8 years of a disastrous administration, we cannot afford to lose the White House again. The stakes are high and Democratic prospects are good, as the whip-smart Charlie Cook points out. Democrats need to strategize across the board and position ourselves to hold control of the Congress (by a larger margin than we won in 2006) and win the White House. Obama/Edwards '08 can make that happen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Error Charged to the Daughter

In a recent conversation with my father, I mentioned that JT and I had been watching so many Yankees games of late that we both know the team's batting order. I allowed that we are really enjoying the games and are looking forward to going to a real game at Yankee Stadium when my sister and her family come to town. And then I said, "I've almost become a fan."


And then my father asked, "Almost?"

Sensing disinheritance in my immediate future if I misspoke, I went straight to the family playbook for an appropriate response. "Well, they ought to be good with that colossal payroll," I said.

The tension eased and we commenced to vehemently agree about the many ways in which the Yankees are the devil incarnate.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Lunch Box Vacation

I am an orderly girl, so every night of the school year before I go to bed I pre-pack JT's lunchbox, placing within it the items that don't require refrigeration. A piece of fruit. A water bottle. Some cookies. Pretzels or crackers or garlic bagel chips (the teacher must hate me when she sees that baggie exiting the lunch box). A fruit roll-up (does this even count as food?). I leave it there on the counter to await the final touches come the morning. The next day, I finish packing the boy's lunchbox as I sip my first cup of coffee, desperately hoping that the caffeine will provide inspiration.

No kid in the history of kid-dom has ever come home from school, thrown his arms around his mama, and thanked her for the contents of the day's lunch box. Instead, what you hear is a steady rumble of dissatisfaction. I could write an entire book on the lunch box conversations that have occurred in my house since JT began carrying a lunchbox to preschool 5 years ago.

"R always has Oreos in his lunch." Please forgive me for making home baked goods when a pre-packaged corporate-cookie would be so much better.

"D eats sushi for lunch." And I am filled with envy, because JT would never consider such adventuresome eating. He'd sooner die than eat cooked fish, never mind the raw.

"I am sick of fruit rolls ups." And yet I am certain that some days a fruit roll up is all that stands between the boy and a full-blown case of scurvy.

On one memorable occasion, JT announced, "I will never again eat a ham sandwich." Panic seized the kitchen staff (that would be me): what would be the new replacement main dish?

So it was with great fanfare that I emptied out the lunchbox for the final time last Wednesday afternoon. For the next three months, the yawning empty mouth of the lunchbox will not be the first thing I see in the morning. In September, when school resumes, I'll be a sucker for countless articles in magazines promising yummy, nutritious lunches that my child will love. I will pack some of those lunches, filled with hope that 3rd grade will be different.


Saturday, June 07, 2008


So, I was reading the dictionary (American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd edition, for those of you who like precision).

Its none of your business why I was reading the dictionary, but I will say this: I was not looking up all the naughty words.

So I come across the entry for Sacramento, as in Sacramento, California, the state's capital (and, incidentally, the town in which I was born). The entry reads, ""The capital of CA, in the N-central part, NE of Oakland." This is all true, of course, but NE of Oakland? Because it strikes me that many people have no idea where the hell Oakland is. So maybe instead of NE of Oakland, how about NE of San Francisco? It's a slightly more well-known landmark.

That is all.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

June 5

Today, the news is filled with stories that Hillary Clinton is expected to suspend her campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Though the last few days have made it clear that she would not win the nomination, it's still an important moment. In fact, 2008 has been rich in historical moments, as the nation watched two path-breaking candidates for the presidency in Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Either one of them could have secured the nomination and been assured reams of press coverage about the change they represented. I can't help but think how fitting it is that it happens now, at this moment in historical time.

Forty years ago today Robert F. Kennedy won the California primary, thus strengthening his bid for the 1968 Democratic nomination for the presidency. And that evening RFK was assassinated. I can't help but think that so many things might have been different for our nation had things gone differently on that day.

I wasn't even one year old when RFK died, so none of my personal political memories are about him. But in 1988, when I was a junior in college, I wrote a paper on poverty in America. Research for that paper taught me a lot about RFK. I was particularly engaged by his poverty tour of America and his visits to places near where I had grown up. I've been a fan ever since.

At RFK's funeral, Senator Edward Kennedy spoke of his brother and said of him, "My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it." It's a set of very simple ideas and yet they have lingered in my mind ever since I read them when I wrote that paper 20 years ago. In last weekend's New York Time magazine, the quote was repeated in an article about RFK's funeral train. This week I've been thinking again about those words.

There will be much celebration of Barack Obama in the months to come. I'm a Democrat thrilled by the fact that he is my party's nominee; I am excited at the prospect of real change. And I want of my nominee and for my nation the very things that RFK wanted 40 years ago: to be good and decent people who provide healthcare and the chance for real opportunities for our fellow citizens; to end this war and once again make our nation a shining light for liberty, freedom and human rights; to be a force for good in our hemisphere and the world.

I believe that we can do this. And I believe that we must.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Trouble in My Mailbox

Months ago, back when John McCain was the laughingstock of the GOP presidential candidates, down and out on his luck, I went to his website, looking to buy a couple of bumper stickers for my classroom bulletin board.

To get a McCain sticker, I had to make a campaign donation of $5. I wanted that damn sticker for decorative purposes and so I made the donation. The McCain campaign has since sold my name and address to every Republican organization they can find. I get mail from the Republican National Committee; the Republican Senate Re-election committee, even Grover Norquist and his evil minions have dropped me a personalized letter full of alarming statistics about taxes and the government's desire to eat every last penny of my income and then take my first-born.

But yesterday took the cake: the Heritage Foundation wants to know how I feel about taxes and government spending. What I think is that they wasted their money contacting me. What I further think is that I will waste a few more of their pennies by returning their post-paid envelope. The real question is what I will write inside that envelope. Should I out myself as the progressive liberal that I am? Or should I stay under cover, and claim to be a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who loves unnecessary pork barrel spending?

Either way, it's a delicious choice.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

June 1st: Backyard Greenery

June 1 has arrived and brought my tree branches full of deep green leaves. There is a lush feel to my backyard this time of the year and old man tree is the quiet king of everything that surrounds him. He provides shade while I drink my morning cup of coffee, quietly oversees games of baseball in the yard behind him, and in the early evening when supper is grilled, he is there to frame the view from the back deck.

One of the joys of my home is the backyard and the tree makes it the perfect restful place that it is.