Friday, May 18, 2012

The challenges of being a gay parent

Some of the things I struggle with most as a gay mom:

  1. There are days when, for the life of me, I cannot get my younger daughter to put on her shoes.
  2. When I see the things I dislike about myself in my older daughter, I react to them with a vengeance.
  3. I struggle between wanting to raise fit, healthy girls and wanting to let them make choices about their food and activities.
  4. Some evenings, I come home from work and let them play too long on the iPad, just so I can sneak in a few rounds of Words With Friends and collapse on the couch- only to spend hours after they are asleep going through digital photos of them on the computer.
  5. Although they still both openly adore me, the days until my daughters find me utterly, embarrassingly uncool are dwindling.
  6. Whether I tell them "no" or "yes" can depend as much on my mood as it does on the Family Rule.
  7. My older daughter is getting to an age where girls can get mean.  I want to protect her from it, and yet I know that adolescence is itself a rite of passage.
  8. No matter how many Build-a-Bears they have, they always, always want more.
  9. Being a role model gets exhausting.  Sometimes I relish an evening in a hotel room because it is such a relief to have Pringles for dinner in bed with the TV on.
  10. My girls are scared by what they see as a world full of problems too big for them to solve.  I struggle to keep their hope alive without sheltering them from reality.

Sound familiar?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tikun Olam

The other day, a friend and I were talking about electric vehicles.  He asserted that electric cars actually have a larger carbon footprint than gas vehicles.  I told him he was nuts; the sheer scale of electric power generation vs. the internal combustion engine made the electric car a clear winner.   A few days later, after some Googling around, he came back to me with more information: the gasoline vehicle wins by a nose if you assume that you will, at some point during the 130,000-mile life of the average car, need to replace the battery in the electric vehicle – because there is so much carbon tied up in the production of the battery itself.  If you don’t buy that assumption, the electric vehicle is a much better choice – unless, of course, you happen to live in a state that derives so much of its power from coal that electricity is actually quite dirty.

So the choice is clear.  As mud.

This is frustrating, because the answer really matters to me.  Jewish philosophy includes the concept of Tikun Olam, or "repairing the world". It is a phrase with roots in classical rabbinic literature.  In modern Judaism, it has become associated with societal change, including environmental stewardship.  The interpretations of Tikun Olam are myriad, but what seems common is that we all have a responsibility to fix what's broken - however we define it.  To face the world's problems with resignation is just not cool with the tribe.
I want to do the right thing… I really do.  But here in downtown San Jose, most of my family's purchase decisions are at the end of a long, dark tunnel, illuminated only by advertiser-sponsored billboards.  Doing the right thing isn’t always so obvious.  Who grew our food?  Where is our electricity coming from?  Why is bamboo so much more expensive if it grows so much faster?  What chemicals were added to the “organic cotton” T-shirt I’m buying to make the dye adhere?  Where exactly do cage-free hens live?  In a world where we are so distanced from the source of most of the goods and services we consume, it’s hard to know what choice we’re really making when we pull out our wallets.  

I know I’m not alone in this struggle; so many of us set out to do the "right thing" and wind up like lost tourists, glancing nervously at our maps and forcing weak smiles.  It's enough to make you give up and just ask the barmaid to bring a pitcher. And yet, as a dear friend once said to me, all the divine can ask of us is that we try.

So we embrace the effort to make good choices.  You can see our hopeful faces everywhere, trying to be responsible consumers.  Take farmers’ markets, where urbanites flock to buy directly from growers.  According to the USDA, there were 2,863 operating farmers’ markets around the US in the year 2000; in 2011, there were 7,175.  There are also nearly 13,000 farms with community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs around the country.  And consider the burgeoning backyard chicken-farming movement and the online communities aggregating at sites like  We may buy our pants from an anonymous factory halfway around the world, but dammit, we know where our eggs came from.

There is a silver lining to this effort: in our quest to reconnect with the goods we buy, we reconnect with each other.  Farmers' markets gather communities. Your neighbor with the avocado tree barters with you for oranges from yours.  Schools become pickup spots not just for our kids but also for CSA programs.  And from these connections sprout relationships that enrich our lives.

As for the Civic hybrid in my driveway… it sure seemed like the right choice back in 2003, but how can I be sure?  Does my vehicle have a smug problem, as they say on South Park?  Maybe.  At least I tried.  That much, I can say, feels right.  It feels even better when it's sitting in the driveway because I'm biking to work or walking to the store - which is pretty often.  And if I meet a neighbor on that walk or find a riding partner in the bike car on Caltrain, then that's one more connection pulling me into community.  If I list it on RelayRides and make it available when I'm not using it, that's another.  At the end of the day, maybe that's the piece that matters most - because if we're all in this together, the odds of our making choices with our eyes wide open increases exponentially. 

I came across this quote from David Levithan about Tikun Olam, and I think it's an apt way to close this post:

Maybe that’s it. With what you were talking about before. The world being broken. Maybe it isn’t that we’re supposed to find the pieces and put them back together. Maybe we’re the pieces. Maybe, what we’re supposed to do is come together. That’s how we stop the breaking.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Why God broke our wine glasses

We have broken two wine glasses in the past two days.

Karen: I think this is God’s way of telling us not to drink so much.
Paula: I think this is God’s way of telling us to drink from the bottle.    

We were both joking, of course – but secretly, more often than I’d like to admit, I find myself trying to interpret the stream of events in my life as signs getting beamed to me from the great unknown.  Six red lights in a row on the way to the train station: I am a bad person in need of punishment.  Finding an all-day free parking spot in downtown Menlo Park: kiss my ring, world, I have been singled out for greatness.  Sunrises, hummingbird visitations, finding the silhouette of a wolf in the stucco of my bedroom ceiling… all these things make up a collective compass that is guiding me through a scripted and meaningful series of acts.  And superstitions: I love them.  Just pennies alone… I have spent countless hours wondering what the terms and conditions of “Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck” are.  Is “all day long” 24 consecutive hours, or just until midnight, or perhaps nightfall?  Is it lucky only if you find the penny heads up?  (I find nothing in the scripture to support this, but still… I don’t touch the tails pennies.)  What if it happens to be your own penny that you find, in your own house, but in an unexpected place?  I think the equivalent of the Talmud could be written about this simple verse.

I started to wonder what makes this harvesting of signs and signals so attractive, if a little embarrassing.  Superstition has a negative connotation to most people – the stuff of simple-minded, uneducated Old Country women.  But say “I believe everything happens for a reason” in the quiet ceremony of an interpersonal dynamics T-group or a first date, and the response is likely to be a solemn and respectful nod and an appreciation of your spiritual depth.  We’re all looking for a logical trail of breadcrumbs that leads to exactly where we are today, whether there are black cats, or bad people turning into pillars of salt, or yoga retreats along the way.

If you Google “why are people superstitious”, you’ll come across a Web MD feature on the subject, based on an interview with Stuart Vyse, PhD, and the author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition:

Wanting more control or certainty is the driving force behind most superstitions. We tend to look for some kind of a rule, or an explanation for why things happen. "Sometimes the creation of a false certainty is better than no certainty at all, and that is what much of the research suggests," says Vyse.

This sounds about right to me.  I’m good with false certainty; after all, mindset is an important element of well-being and happiness, and having an explanation for things helps me feel that the next thing that happens to me may be good, or bad, but at least it won’t be random (and therefore entirely out of my control). 

But I think there’s more to it than being a control freak.  I think we all want to get to the end of our lives and find that our autobiography is a rich and meaningful story – one that ultimately had not just a sense of purpose, but an actual purpose.  We are constantly attuned to the circumstances around us that might somehow be our cues.  And we are worried that if we wave away the oddity of two broken glasses in a week, we might be missing something: perhaps the one cue we’ve been waiting for to pivot from our current trajectory and discover our true reason for walking this earth.

Well, actually, the wine glass thing was just a really funny conversation.  We got a lot of mileage out of it on Facebook (my source for personal validation.)  But it did get me thinking about this topic, and then writing about it.  And the next time I turn a corner and come face to face with a giant, orange moon hanging just above the horizon, I will think to myself: I am destined for greatness.