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Home Life & Family (11)

Free Halloween Coloring PageIt's that time of year again.  All-hallows-eve approaches and soon street corners and doorsteps will be filled with every manner of goblin and ghoul imaginable.  As you set about your halloween projects of putting the finishing touches on decorations and costumes give the kids a fun coloring activity that reflects LGBT families.  Download this fun and free halloween coloring page from your friends here at RainbowWeddingNetwork.com.  We hope you enjoy coloring as much as we enjoyed creating it!

Download

 

...And if you'd like to check out our complete 30 page coloring book, click here for all the details: 

http://www.rainbowweddingnetwork.com/parenting/myfamily-coloringbook?action=orders&task=order&cid=33

 

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The Formula to a Happy Marriage

Tuesday, 23 June 2015
Written by Published in Home Life & Family

book-cover-305x450It's wonderful to know that this study included many gay and lesbian couples!  Focused on couples together thirty or more years, the researcher, Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer, tells us that it was also interesting to note that  there were no differences found concerning the data, advice and wisdom given by same-sex and hetero- couples.

Since we are working so hard to gain equal marriage rights, it's timely to also think about how we, as couples, can effectively follow-through to maintain our relationships well into the future.

This is a great, insightful piece!  Enjoy!

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Love, Factually: Cornell Gerontologist Finds the Formula to a Happy Marriage  
 
ITHACA, N.Y. – With wedding season in full swing, America’s newlyweds stand to learn the most from the experts: older adults whose love has endured job changes, child-rearing, economic certainty, health concerns, and other life challenges.

Filling our knowledge gap on finding a mate and remaining married, Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer completed the Cornell Marriage Advice Project, the largest in-depth interview study ever done of people in very long unions—surveying more than 700 individuals collectively wedded for nearly 40,000 years. The findings are detailed in Pillemer’s book, “30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage.”

To capture the voice of lived experience, Pillemer conducted a random national survey of nearly 400 older Americans age 65 and older, asking how to find a compatible partner and other advice on love and relationships. In subsequent in-person interviews with more than 300 long-wedded individuals—those in unions of 30, 40, 50, or more years—Pillemer captured more insights for overcoming common marriage troubles. His team interviewed divorced individuals, too, asking how others might avoid marital breakups.

The average age of interviewees was 77 years old, and included 58 percent women and 42 percent men. The average length of marriage in the sample was 44 years; the couple with the longest marriage were ages 98 and 101 and had been married 76 years. Responses were coded into the most commonly occurring recommendations, resulting in a list of the most frequently selected lessons for a successful, long-term relationship.

“Rather than focus on a small number of stories, my goal was to take advantage of the ‘wisdom of crowds,’ collecting the love and relationship advice of a large and varied cross-section of long-married elders in a scientifically reliable and valid way,” said Pillemer.

Pillemer uncovered common advice for couples walking down the aisle or decades into marriage. The top five lessons from the elders, along with Pillemer’s analysis:
 
Learn to Communicate
“For a good marriage, the elders overwhelmingly tell us to ‘talk, talk, talk.’ They believe that most marital problems can be solved through open communication, and conversely many whose marriages dissolved blamed lack of communication. One man in his 80s put it colorfully: ‘Keep yapping at one another.’”
 
Get to Know Your Partner Very Well before Marrying
“Many of the elders I surveyed married very young; despite that fact, they recommend the opposite. They strongly advise younger people to wait to marry until they have gotten to know their partner well and have a number of shared experiences. An important part of this advice is a lesson that was endorsed in very strong terms: Never get married expecting to be able to change your partner.”
 
Treat Marriage as an Unbreakable, Lifelong Commitment
“Rather than seeing marriage as a voluntary partnership that lasts only as long as the passion does, the elders propose a mindset in which it is a profound commitment to be respected, even if things go sour over the short term. Many struggled through dry and unhappy periods and found ways to resolve them – giving them the reward of a fulfilling, intact marriage in later life.”
 
Learn to Work as a Team
“The elders urge us to apply what we have learned from our lifelong experiences in teams – in sports, in work, in the military – to marriage.  Concretely, this viewpoint involves seeing problems as collective to the couple, rather than the domain of one partner. Any difficulty, illness, or setback experienced by one member of the couple is the other partner’s responsibility.”
 
Choose a Partner Who is Very Similar to You
“Marriage is difficult at times for everyone, the elders assert, but it’s much easier with someone who shares your interests, background, and orientation. The most critical need for similarity is in core values regarding potentially contentious issues like child-rearing, how money should be spent, and religion.”
 
According to Pillemer, “These unique insights show the value of using rigorous survey methods to uncover the practical wisdom of older people. Although a number of general studies of elder wisdom have been conducted, no one had researched the specific advice elders have for a critical life domain like marriage. Therefore, the study points the way toward the need for future research on concrete lessons we learn over the course of our lives.”

_________


Cornell Marriage Advice Project

http://marriagelegacy.org/

Melissa Osgood, Media Relations
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office: (607) 255-2059
mediaRelations@cornell.edu

 

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The Rainbow Road to Parenthood, Part II

Thursday, 30 April 2015
Written by Published in Home Life & Family

Kestin-week-1-003In this second installment of our two-part series, senior editor Marianne Puechl details the touching truths, comical interludes, heartaches and triumphs of her experiences through infertility and the adoption process.

They say the journey through infertility is a roller coaster. I liken our personal experience to a different carnival challenge: the labyrinth. Complete with dead ends, unexpected passageways, the feeling of going round in circles... yet always with that goal clearly in mind: the miraculous first touch and coo and smile of our own precious baby.

January, 2005 - Neither of us will forget the day we first went to the adoption agency: It was one of those life-moments that, at a glance, seems so mundane... yet in truth is anything but. There we were, two and a half years after we'd begun our quest to add a child into our family, now finding ourselves on the long drive across the state to the agency office, toting our dog and staying at a motel the night before as the introductory meeting was to last several hours that Saturday... The five-hour drive was uneventful and the scenery was flat and rather dull, but inside our white SUV we were a-buzz with conjecture and anticipation and joy. The morning of the meeting we stopped for pastries at a local coffeeshop: it was foggy and chilly and time moved slowly for us with the auspiciousness of the day.

At the introductory session, we met another gay couple, a heterosexual couple and a single woman also exploring their options through adoption. There were questions answered and fun exercises to play out and a video to watch, spotlighting various birthmothers and adoptive parents and their children. The stories were not always 'picture-perfect,' yet the realism brought Cindy and me to a revitalized sense of hope indeed. Our adoption coordinator said five simple words that, to this day, still make me teary-eyed. "It's not if, but when..." she told us reassuringly. And there were no further questions in our minds that this was the route to our baby.

Just about this time, I began a journal for our future child, sharing some of the details and anticipation we experienced throughout the adoption process. Every time I set about writing an entry, I imagined our son or daughter reading it sometime later with me... It became not only a gift for the baby, but an oasis for me. Truly, two and a half years had been a long wait... and even though the adoption felt like a fresh start, at times it was hard to believe that it marked a new certainty in our lives.

One new challenge that lay before us was the mountain of paperwork necessary for adopting. Some of it was tedious, such as extensive physicals and criminal background checks... but other parts of it were actually fun. -Marking checkboxes as we chose options as to what kind of adoption we would like (we preferred a newborn, we would be excited to welcome a biracial child into our family, we would consider a situation in which the birthmother had used certain types of drugs in the first trimester, we set our financial limits...) We began creating a family website, and put together ideas for our introductory letter that would be mailed out on our behalf to birthparents. Much of the paperwork involved answering essay-type questions about our own autobiographies, the parenting styles we envisioned for ourselves and the home life we planned to provide for our child.

Many of these things had been points of discussion between Cindy and me for years. Planning our family had been a high priority for us, so it was natural now and again for us to talk about it. -What the nursery would look like, how we would be good moms and what things we had to work on to be better ones, working out some of the discrepancies in our discipline strategies, even the basics such as how our work schedule would shift once the baby arrived.

By nature, Cindy is a storyteller, and she'd love to recount the tales of our baby-making experiences to friends and family, even to new acquaintances if they'd listen. One of her favorite jokes was how academic a process it quickly gets to be for same-sex couples to create their family, while for many heterosexuals the entire life-altering journey to parenthood begins on a rather unextraordinary Saturday night along the parkway with a six-pack of beer. Following that, she'd describe the stacks of paperwork and background checks and such we had to fill out in order to be considered as adoptive parents. Put the two facts together, she'd say, and it makes you wonder: Should there be a screening process for all prospective parents?... How many heterosexual couples discuss in such detail their family plans, arrangements, parenting techniques and strategies?... When the far-right conservatives make their claims that the gay community serves only to undermine the 'moral values' of our country's families, have they even begun to consider just how wanted and cherished and valued the children we are longing for really are?

Early November, 2005 - Many adoptive parents finish their paperwork within a few months; we completed ours, along with our Letter to Birthparents and our webpage, ten months after our initial intake with the adoption agency. What a reason to celebrate! We were officially in consideration now for birthparents to select us as the parents for their child.

With the agency and type of adoption we chose, it was not required for our names to sit at the 'bottom' of a list somewhere. Instead, we were in a pool with all the other adoptive families aligned with our agency: a birthparent could choose to contact us just as readily as they might choose any other.

Indeed it was an exhilerating time! Our counselor encouraged us to harness our excitement and put it to good use: to network ourselves through other adoption websites and related outlets, spreading the word that we were available as prospective parents for anyone considering adoption. Typically, we were told, we should expect to wait 12-18 months for our child's arrival.

We made other preparations too - updating the message on our answering machine, reviewing lists of questions and answers that a birthparent might want to talk about during a first conversation (believe me, it's quite nerve-wracking to anticipate that first call!)... Cindy even talked me into a new cell phone and finally, after years of dragging my feet about such things, I agreed to keep the phone turned on all the time. One of the unexpected perks, Cindy said, of this experience.

Thanksgiving, 2005 - A few weeks later I flew from our home in North Carolina out to California, to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. Cindy stayed home to mind the office, which allowed me a full week's visit with my family.

My parents have dial-up, so every other day I'd head to the local Starbuck's to check my email and catch up on business. That second drive, my sister Carol accompanied me and, as it turned out, it was wonderful that she was there to share the moment: Our First Contact! I simply held my breath when I opened my email inbox to find a note there from a young woman in Tennessee, due around Valentine's Day. Truly I vividly remember just about every swirl of that Starbuck's wallpaper, and the taste and scent of that gingerbread latte - it's a flavor that will forever bring a sweet smile to me. I called Cindy at once, and together we nervously replied to the email. ...It was just three weeks after our information had been officially posted with the adoption agency.

I cautioned my family that a first contact didn't always lead to the adoption we all hoped for; oftentimes a birthparent is just at the beginning stages of looking into her options, on occasion she pursues adoption but finds another couple... and rarely, a contact such as this one can in fact be sent as a prank, or by someone attempting to scam prospective parents out of money. But inside, of course, I was bubbling with joy.

We spent the next several days exchanging emails with this birthmother - Cindy and I sending out a letter after much discussion over the phone and critiquing ourselves, questioning our word choices and our exact answers to her questions. We wanted to sound excited, but not overly eager... We wanted to believe in our hearts this might be our child, but we also knew it was wise to temper our feelings with the reality that this was just the very beginning of our dialogue.

My family was wonderful - very supportive, as they had been all along over the past several years. They read the birthmom's emails with me and shared in my whirlwind of emotions.

Cindy and I both are lucky that way, in that our families have never taken issue with our desire to be parents; nor did they seem any less thrilled for us when we chose to adopt rather than to have a biological child. When we'd chat, my sister would regularly ask, "Any news yet on my niece or nephew??" And even before we had paperwork finalized with the agency, grandparents, aunts and uncles-to-be had sent along gifts, including precious newborn outfits, family keepsakes and a stroller. Their excitement helped keep ours intact, during those long months and years.

And so during Thanksgiving 2005, it was a delight to share the first contact we had with a birthmother with my own parents and sisters. Even though our child wasn't yet born, it was one important way we were gathering together as a family to welcome this new Little One into our lives.

December, 2005 - The birthmother from Tennessee stayed in touch for a little over a week, then asked us to send some photos from our wedding through the USPS mail. She wanted a sense of our commitment, and thus the commitment we'd be able to provide to our child. We took a couple days to compile a little photo book and sent it out to her. After that, we never heard back.

It was a challenge, to say the least. But not a heartbreak. Perhaps it was the fact that, after having been posted with the adoption agency for only three weeks, we were so surprised by the contact that we almost had a sense it was 'too good to be true.' Moreover, although a sad moment, it also brought a new frame of reference into our world: we now had actually experienced contact from a birthmother. It made everything about the hopes for our baby seem more real.

Christmas, 2005 - We took an uncommon break from work over the holidays, and decidedly I also took a break from checking my email. My professional emails are mixed with my personal, so it seemed like a good respite and a way to refresh for the upcoming New Year. After all, January would mark our fourth year of trying to bring a child into our lives.

Back at the office a few days later, my heart leapt when I turned on my computer and found a new birthmother's first contact waiting for us. It was amazing! Again, Cindy and I questioned our every word as we compiled a reply email... and, wonderfully, the birthmother responded within the next 24 hours. We exchanged a few more letters and within just days, the phone rang.

"Will this child be called 'my' baby, 'your' baby... or 'our' baby?" the birthmother asked, an hour or so after talking with Cindy that evening. I had run an errand, and arrived home to find Cindy on the back porch, phone to her ear, waving ridiculously to me. She was attempting to continue to sound calm to the person on the other end of the line, while managing to mouth the words to me: 'It's the birthmom, it's her!!"

All we did was cry, after that phone call. And jump up and down and laugh with joy. It seemed 2006 would be our year, after all.

January, 2006 - The time spent the next couple weeks, getting to know Birthmom Heather and her husband, was surreal. We had so much in common, in terms of our wishes for this unborn child... They had chosen us in particular, as a lesbian couple, because they wanted this baby to be raised with a liberal upbringing... Cindy and I quickly grew to admire and respect this young couple for so many reasons. We agreed to officially match with them without any second thoughts.

When the phone call came a few days later, and I was informed of the miscarriage, my first concerns were for Heather and her well-being. Her husband assured me she would be all right; though she was nearly hysterical with sadness and grief-stricken, he said, for our sake. She felt as if she'd let us down. The next few weeks were slow-time, and we were brought to face many unanswerable questions and process, yet again, utter disappointment.

Two beacons helped us make sense of that experience: First, Heather chose to re-contact us after a few weeks. We all cried together and decided to continue our friendship. To this day, we keep in close touch. She became an advocate for us and helped to spread the word that we were hoping to adopt. And now, we ask her questions about feeding schedules and teething remedies. Secondly, there was someone who shared a story that Cindy heard one day, many months prior. We repeated it to ourselves after the miscarriage often, out loud and through the quiet of our thoughts. It had been a story told by another adoptive mother, who was explaining how she had ultimately come to terms with her own infertility. 'I realized,' she said, 'after my adopted daughter had been with me for some time... Just how absolute was my adoration and love for her. And I thought to myself how grateful I was that, all those years, I had never been able to carry a biological child. Because if I had, then I'd never have been blessed with this child; I'd have missed out on this most perfect baby. She is my daughter. She is the one who was meant to be.'

Pride, 2006 - We had another brief contact from a birthmother in February who, after a week of dialoguing with us, decided to keep her child. Then, in June, I drove north to my hometown of Pittsburgh to visit with my sisters over Pride weekend. "Bring me home a baby!" Cindy grinned as we kissed goodbye that summer morning; she was recalling how last time I visited with my family, I'd received that first, first contact. Yet in fact it was to be, very nearly, the case.

Over the years, Pittsburgh Pride has grown and transformed measurably. From a short series of booths along a shadowed city block or two, now the event sprawls across the park between the Allegheny River and the Pirates baseball stadium and pumps the city with invigorated life and festivity. 2006 was a busy, enlivened event. Early that morning as I was setting up my booth, an acquaintance crossed the lawn to give me a hug. Lisa had recently moved to Pittsburgh from North Carolina (she had lived in the same town I did) and hadn't seen me for several months. We chatted briefly, catching up, then she had to be on her way.

Not long after, Lisa raced back across the grass. She was nearly breathless and wide-eyed with some very new kind of excitement: 'I just ran into a friend from choir...' she blurted to me, 'who told me she is pregnant and I said Congratulations but then she said No, you don't understand... I don't plan to keep the baby... Well we talked awhile and she's pretty sure about adoption and I said you and Cindy plan to adopt and that you're here today... And, well, she said she'd come over and meet you later! I know it's weird and if it's too uncomfortable just tell me and I'll butt out, but Oh My Gosh!!'

Everything about the day changed at that moment, of course. Beyond a day of Pride, it was now a day of life and new possibility. I was a-buzz with anticipation, and sure enough... a few hours later I was to have my first introduction to our daughter's birthmother.

Today - There are a thousand amazing nuances to our child's story, that would take pages and pages to share: how much in common we have with the birthfamily; the whirl of emotions that went with meeting them for the first time... what a coincidence it is that our daughter could have been born anywhere in the United States and yet was born in a hospital just about ten minutes away from where I myself was born... how Cindy and I surprised each other with rings and got engaged on a bridge in Atlanta back in 1999, and knew then that bridges would have meaning for us; Pittsburgh, as it turns out, is widely known as 'The City of Bridges...' just how truly thoughtful and health-conscious our baby's birthmother was during the pregnancy, and how we've now become an extended family... how, many years ago, Cindy and I noticed that dragonflies -symbols, pictures, decorations and even the real insects- would appear more often than not when we talked about our baby, and during that Pride in Pittsburgh I was wearing a shirt and a cap both trimmed with dragonflies when I met our daughter's birthmother.

One of the most touching moments occured when the birthmother and the hospital staff allowed both Cindy and me to be in the delivery room. Technically, only one of us was permitted, simply because the number of people must be limited. And yet both of us were there to see our daughter's head crown, both of us were there to hear her first cry and both of us were there to be the very first ones to hold her perfect little hands.

Parenthood is everything we'd dreamed it would be, and more. That may seem cliche, but's absolutely true. And at some point, we hope that in our home-state Cindy will be able to legally adopt our daughter... we hope that as a couple we'll be allowed to legally marry, and thereby provide even stronger assurances for our child's future. Those are issues we work and strive for, whenever possible, because now we know firsthand just how vital they truly are.

But these days, I am lucky enough to watch Cindy interact with our seven-month-old, to see finally how adorable she is as a mom. These days, we are amazed by every new thing our baby does as she explores her world. These days, we feel that much more like a family together.

And that makes all the other days gone by these past four years, filled with those labyrinthine challenges and seemingly endless moments of waiting and hoping ... all worthwhile.

Kestin-week-1-167Kestin-week-1-168Kestin-week-1-177RWN-2007 559

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Ball FamilyThe question of children’s welfare has been at the center of the legal and political debates over same-sex marriage for the last couple of decades.

According to the 2010 Census – the first to provide same-sex couples that live together the option to report themselves as married partners – 48 percent of LGBT women and 20 percent of gay men under 50 are raising a child under age 18.

In his new book 'Same-Sex Marriage and Children: A Tale of History, Social Science, and Law' (Oxford University Press, 2014), Carlos A. Ball, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law-Newark, takes a comprehensive look at the ways in which the child welfare arguments have been used to oppose same-sex marriage.

Rutgers Today spoke with Ball about the evolving view of families headed by same-sex couples on the occasion of the first Father’s Day since New Jersey recognized gay marriage.

Rutgers Today: Are arguments about the right to parent common throughout history?

Ball: The effort to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying is just the latest example of a recurring phenomenon in American history, as represented by earlier restrictions on marriage by individuals of different races and by people who are mentally disabled. In my research, I found that opponents of these marriages, like those who seek to prevent the legal recognition of same-sex marriage today, relied on the argument that the marriages were detrimental to children’s well-being.

The contemporary version of this argument is that children do best when raised by a mother and a father who are biologically related to them, and that households deviating from this type of family structure are somehow less than optimal. However, studies of families headed by same-sex parents conclude convincingly that these children are doing well: There is little statistical difference in terms of school performance, cognitive development, social functioning and emotional health between the children of gay and lesbian parents and heterosexual parents.

Rutgers Today: Who makes a good parent?

Ball: The social science literature is in line with what our intuitions tell us: Good parents are caring and nurturing, devote time to their children, discipline when necessary and are available emotionally. Factors such as parental gender and sexual orientation, as well as how families are formed, do not help us distinguish between good parents and bad ones.

Rutgers Today: How has the dynamic of families headed by same-sex couples evolved?

Ball: Until about 10 to 15 years ago, the majority of children being raised by gay and lesbian couples were born into heterosexual marriages. But since then, a significant change has occurred: Most lesbian and gay parents are now coming out first and becoming parents second, aided by developments in reproductive technologies and the increasing availability of surrogacy, adoption and foster care as means to parenthood. This has produced a large and growing number of children who are being raised by lesbians and gay men from the moment of birth or who were adopted shortly after birth.

Rutgers Today: What has your research shown you about families headed by gay fathers?

Ball: There has traditionally been more literature on lesbian mothers than on gay fathers. Over the last decade, however, we’ve started to see more studies of gay father households. Today, a larger number of gay men are pursuing fatherhood; gay men are now coming of age at a time when they have greater freedom legally and socially to become parents.

The studies of gay father households are entirely consistent with those of lesbian mothers: Gay fathers are doing a good job raising their children. Gay fathers, however, do face some challenges, including the perception that male couples are unable to provide children with the same kind of nurturing and caring available to children raised by mothers. But there is simply no support for this view in the social science literature.   

Rutgers Today: How does marriage equality benefit children?

Ball: Marriage equality benefits the children of same-sex couples by providing them and their parents with the legal structure and rights that accompany marriage. But just as importantly, as the Supreme Court emphasized last year in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, marriage equality is crucial in protecting children from the stigma caused by the government when it relegates their families to second-class status. Children raised by parents who do not have the option of marrying inevitably perceive their families as less valid and legitimate than those of children whose parents are permitted by law to marry.

In addition to making legal rights and benefits available to children, marriage equality is about making sure that children understand that their families – regardless of their composition – deserve social recognition, respect and support.

 ___________

 

Patti Verbanas | Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey | Media Relations | 65 Bergen St., Ste. 1328  | Newark, NJ 07101  | 973 972 7273  | patti.verbanas@rutgers.edu

http://news.rutgers.edu/news-center/rutgers-today#.UkLsxnKHfBE

 

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The Rainbow Road to Parenthood, Part I

Friday, 15 November 2013
Written by Published in Home Life & Family

In this two-part series, senior editor Marianne Puechl details the touching truths, comical interludes, heartaches and triumphs of her experiences through infertility and the adoption process.

 

They say the journey through infertility is a roller coaster. I liken our personal experience to a different carnival challenge: the labyrinth. Complete with dead ends, unexpected passageways, the feeling of going round in circles... yet always with that goal clearly in mind: the miraculous first touch and coo and smile of our own precious baby.

January 2002 – That’s the month my partner, Cindy, and I first tried to conceive through artificial insemination. I was to be the one to carry the baby: I’d always had the desire. It seems like a unique and amazing life experience and I didn’t want to miss out. Cindy too had always wanted children, but she had no drive to go through pregnancy herself. Adoption, she’d have said, was a unique and amazing life experience as well, and she didn’t want us to miss out.

As do most couples as they envision the story of their life together, we had made Our Plan: Shortly after our commitment ceremony in August 2000, we’d begin trying to conceive our biological child first, as I was already approaching my mid-thirties. ‘The eggs were getting older,’ Cindy would joke as we sat with all the other wide-eyed hopefuls at the insemination clinic. “How many tries?” we’d all ask each other. –No longer gay or straight, married or single... all of us simply prospective parents eagerly awaiting news of our baby.

Those who’d been visiting the clinic for several months didn’t have the same sparkle in their eyes. And slowly, over time, each of us would make our path beyond that waiting room, most never quite knowing whose pregnancy attempts succeeded, whose finances dwindled with the stress, whose heart ached beyond repair, or who now doted on a beautiful son or daughter... It was one of many surreal yet deeply intimate snapshot-moments we shared with people over the course of our journey to parenthood.

Had the insemination worked for us, our biological child, legally speaking, would not have been “ours.” We reside in North Carolina, a state that currently does not provide for second parent adoption, with regard to couples who are not legally married. And as a same-sex couple in North Carolina, we have no means to legally marry. In fact, with recent legislation that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, it may likely be several years before the state provides for any appropriate protections for us and our children.

With our lawyer, of course, Cindy and I have documented and outlined the rights and responsibilities of our committed relationship. We’ve drawn up agreements as specifically as possible so as to best protect ourselves and our growing family. However it is alarming to note how fragile much of the paperwork can be with regard to parental rights and guardianship. Our advice to other couples: Investigate your own state’s current laws, get involved with pending legislation as it evolves over time, volunteer with your local advocacy groups and continue to dialogue with others so they understand how important the issues really are, talk to your lawyer and perhaps a second lawyer as well... Consider marrying in another state such as Vermont or Connecticut or now New Jersey that can provide your civil union and thereby document your intent as a committed couple... And visit your lawyer regularly to keep your documents updated.

2003 – Turns out, the medical profession does not consider a woman to be “infertile” until after at least one or one and a half years of actively trying to get pregnant. At that time, I began to see a fertility specialist: lots of tests, questionnaires, shots, procedures, clomid...   By now Cindy could easily instruct new nurses as to how best to locate my cervix. “Over to the left,” she’d tell them, just as I’d grimace with the cramped pain. “Yep, there you go!” Then she’d tenderly hold my hand and lean close to say, “Sorry it’s so un-romantic, Sweetie...”

I knew I’d conceived several times. The nausea and the particular pinching 1-2 weeks after ovulation were completely new sensations for me. But I had evidence just once. Conception, maybe. But never a pregnancy.

Spring, 2004 – When we first began trying to conceive... we had decided not to share any news of a pregnancy until we were close to the second trimester. Many first pregnancies end in miscarriage - a little know fact as so often, with accidental pregnancies, the mother does not even realize she's conceived. But after two years of trying, when our conception showed up on the pee stick that glorious evening, we couldn't hold back the excitement and did in fact make the round of phone calls to family and close friends.

Such a disappointment followed, having to tell each and every one that just one day later the chance of a healthy pregnancy was gone.

There are myriad factors to consider on an ongoing basis, when journeying through infertility, which is another exhausting factor in the process. -Should we switch sperm donors, and if so, have I given my body time enough to acclimate to this particular donor before calling it quits?... Are my eggs unhealthy? Is my body rejecting the embryo, or is it just that my uterine wall is incapable of providing the ideal environment for growth?... Am I simply too stressed?... Should my partner try to conceive instead?... Should we invest the nearly $10,000 to try in vitro (if you are 36 years old or younger, some clinics provide a guaranteed four cycles for this price), or should we try a lower cost procedure? Are there surrogate options?... Should we try two or more inseminations per cycle?... Should we take a break? or should we go back to Square One and ship the sperm home and try ourselves, in a more private (and somewhat more relaxed) environment?...

And these questions inevitably lead to others, less clinical in nature: Is our relationship strong enough? Should we honestly be considering remortgaging the house? Are we truly meant to be parents if this is turning out to be such a seemingly endless challenge? Why are so many children born throughout the world, every day, who are not wanted or who have no safe home to go to... and I, surrounded by support and love and intending only the best for my child, cannot successfully create just one of my own?

It’s not easy to describe the full spectrum of thoughts and emotions that whirl through a body during the long months and years of infertility. For us, perhaps, the feelings were a little less sharp, as we knew ultimately we would move on toward the excitement of adoption. But indeed during the long cyclic months of trying and wishing and coping and wondering... there is grief, there is anger, there is jealousy, there is shame, there is hopelessness.

You have to find ways to stay buoyant so as to try again, you have to find ways to talk to your friends about something else, you have to remember that there is indeed more to your relationship than this one all-consuming focal point. As in the labyrinth, one must back up and keep seeking that new passage, even when it seems the walls are closing in.

_________________

Summer, 2004 – It just happened. One morning, when disappointment struck yet again after another intense fourteen days of hoping, I told Cindy that it was time to stop. I was drained from the up's and down's of measuring our lives into two and four week cycles. My heart had been hurting for months and my optimism had been low... but finally I had turned from that and I was able to see new hopefulness again. It was time to let go of what was not working, and move on to a fresh path.

I began researching options regarding adoption. It was important to us, at least with our first child, to adopt a newborn. And we wanted to create a situation in which we could be as open as possible, concerning our relationship as a lesbian couple. That led us to domestic adoption... and the tenets of an 'open adoption' seemed ideal. Via an easy internet search, I compiled names of several adoption agencies and lawyers and began sending out inquiries about their services.

Few actually wrote me back. Out of the four that did, two recited their policy against working with same-sex couples, and one became slow to answer my questions. That left us with one agency and, as Fate would have it, the option seemed excellent: years of experience and several offices throughout the country. Furthermore, their staff was easy to talk to and upon initial contact they immediately sent out an informational packet to us... along with documents and newsletters inclusive of gay and lesbian couples and their children. Photos of the families brought tears to our eyes: adoption had worked for them, perhaps it would work for us too.

Fall, 2004 - We were scheduled to attend our first meeting with the adoption agency in October of 2004. We had waited awhile, to allow ourselves to further process the lingering emotions of infertility. In fact, in one book I would later read, it is strongly suggested that prospective parents find ways to

grieve not only the loss of their biological infant, but also the expectations they held for that child.1 It is a serious loss and must be dealt with in earnest, for everyone's best interests... for ourselves as parents of course but moreover in the interest of our future adopted children.

Fate, it would seem, intervened yet again. In early September, Hurricane Frances made her way inland and devastated our offices. Cindy and I, and our devoted staff, were immediately inundated with the task of rebuilding the logistics of our company. It was a shock (as here in the mountains flooding that day was quite unexpected) and took our complete attention for some time. Sadly, I called the adoption agency to postpone our visit.

"To My Child Growing"
by Marianne Puechl
October 17, 2003

tho I've never seen your face
I know who you are
tho I've never held your hand
I know what it is to touch you

I miss hearing your voice
-from your coos to to your tantrums
yet I know how the beat of your heart goes
and I know your songs

one day you'll arrive and it will be
like you were never missing
yet I miss you now, yes I miss you now
-the way that your heart goes and your lullaby songs.

 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Continued in Part 2, Coming Soon!)

 

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Baby Books for LGBT Parents!

Thursday, 03 October 2013
Written by Published in Home Life & Family

For all too long, it's been a challenge for gay & lesbian parents to find just the right baby book to welcome their new Bundle-of-Joy.  Happily, that's no longer the case!

Rag & Bone Bindery, based in Rhode Island, proudly announces the addition of two new versions of their popular Baby's First Book. Each ribbon-bound baby book contains 24 printed pages and includes prompts such as "The story of our path to you," "Getting ready", and "How we prepared for your arrival."  It also includes pages designed for same-sex parents such as a "Family Tree," "Our Story" and "Before you were born." There's also plenty of room for photos and a vellum envelope to hold a lock of hair or other mementos. Choose from a variety of whimsical fabric cover options, printed paper designs or inquire about the Personalized Baby Book program.


Select the "Two Mom Pages" or "Two Dad Pages" from the drop-down menu on the Baby's First Book product page to order the versions for same-sex parents.  Easy!

Page Descriptions, as they appear within the Baby Book:


1.  A Book About...
2.  Before You Were Born
3.  About Mom & Mom / Dad & Dad
4.  Family Tree
5.  The Story of Our Path to You
6.  Getting Ready
7.  The Special Day!
8.  Welcome Party
9.  Naming
10.  Coming Home
11.  Baby's World
12.  Footprints
13.  Baby's Mementos
14.  Birth Announcement
15.  Family Photos
16.  Friend Photos
17.  1st Bath
18.  Baby's Firsts
19.  1st Holiday
20.  1st Year
21.  1st Birthday
22.  More Pictures
23.  More Thoughts
24.  Blank - for your own additions!


Check out further details and place your order at http://www.ragandbonebindery.com/babybook.aspx or email the bindery at studio@ragandbone.com or call their friendly customer service team at 888 338 8128 x0.  


Just enter the code: RAINBOW at check-out to save 10% - limited time offer!  CONGRATULATIONS on the new Sweet Addition to your family!

________________


Rag & Bone Bindery
1088 Main Street
Pawtucket, RI 02860
(888) 338 8128 Toll Free
(401) 728 0762 Phone
(401) 728 0763 Fax
http://www.ragandbone.com

 

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"I often say to people when I show them pictures of our family that we are the new Norman Rockwell family," says Alexander Fischer-Oelschlaeger, a registered nurse from Rock Island, Illinois. These pictures, though, include two fathers, Alexander and Curtis, two mothers, Suzie and Mary, and two children, Elijah, eight, and Emilie, six, all engaged in one of their numerous family activities.


Alex's husband, Curtis Fischer-Oelschlaeger, director of choral activities for Rock Island's Rockridge School District, recalls this family's beginnings. "I did not know Suzie and Mary when the subject came up as I had just started dating Alex. He asked me what I thought about kids, and I told him I loved my niece, nephew, and teaching. He then explained that he was thinking about helping Suzie and Mary have a baby." Curtis adds that these four became very close. "They (Suzie and Mary) decided they wanted Alex and me to play a larger role in the kids' lives and that is how it started."


There was only one problem. Wives Mary and Suzie lived three hours away. "We were all aware of our living situations when we started, so it is something we continue to work on," Curtis explains, adding that meetings were easier when the children were pre-schoolers. "Weekdays were also options of spending time with them, but now it is limited to the weekends."


But these fathers have happily adjusted. "Curtis and Alex both have weekend schedules and obligations," says Suzie, a Financial Accounting Analyst, celebrating her twenty-fifth anniversary with the same company, "so they work around those obligations as best they can. I'm always amazed at what a crazy, hectic schedule they will have, but will still spend a day with the kids even though they could be resting or taking a break." Suzie adds that she and Mary also take Elijah and Emilie to Rock Island so the six of them can be together and that periodically, Alexander ("Daddy") and Curtis ("Papa") have the children by themselves. Mary, who works for Nationwide Insurance, adds, "It is good to have the support of Curtis ad Alex to provide feedback and an extended loving family for Elijah and Emilie."


The family vacations together too. "This can get a little crazy as any trip with six people would be," Suzie says, "but they have been very enjoyable. This is something we plan to keep doing in the future as schedules permit."


In spite of the distance, this family's experiences have all been positive. Suzie says that having Alexander and Curtis to bounce ideas off of is a definite plus. "We appreciate all the time they spend with the kids and all the things they do with the kids."


Due to the distance, the mothers are in charge of most activities, but when Curtis and Alex are in town they shuttle the children back and forth. "We, also, try to make it to as many of their events as possible," Alexander says, "school or outside of school." Curtis adds, "If there is a practice or a party on the weekend and we are there, Alex and I are more than willing to take the children to those."


Concerning individual time with the children, each adult plays a unique roll. Suzie explains that the children have really chosen their own activities, but the parents will also choose activities for them to try. "Eli really did not like sports," Suzie adds, "but loves competitive cheerleading. Emilie is enjoying soccer right now." They both like swimming, Suzie's forte. "I don't like sports and I don't know anything about competitive cheerleading," she says," but I love swimming and being by the water as much as they do."


Mary enjoys walking, biking, and nature and likes to be outside with them. "I like to kick the soccer ball with Emilie. I also like to read books to Elijah and Emilie. I also take them to the zoo and farmers' market quite often."


Curtis says his position as a music teacher has filtered into working with the children. "I am also involved in theater and both kids seem to really enjoy creating new plays and using their imaginations."


Genealogy enthusiast Alexander wants the children to know the importance of family. "Knowing where one comes from can help where we go and help with our life choices. We can learn from our history."


Having such an extensive family means an extensive family history for Elijah and Emilie. And it means a lot of extra love. "They have four parents that get along and have so much love to give," Alexander says. "The kids also have so much love from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. By having such a big family, I believe Elijah and Emilie understand the importance of family."


The children get lots of love from family friends and acquaintances too, all of whom express happiness for this group. "As far as I know they are very supportive and accepting," Suzie says. "It's funny how when you decide to make decisions such as this, you really don't seek the approval of others. You do what is right for yourself. It has worked out for us and I think we have been very lucky."


"I think everyone that knows us well is used to our situation," Curtis says, "and they love to see the kids' pictures, to hear stories, and see them when they are in town." He adds that his parents travel to watch the children's activities and look forward to holidays together.


Alexander says, "The kids, Suzie, and Mary are loved/supported by mine and Curtis' family. My co-workers have been wonderful and love hearing about us. As I stated earlier, I tell people we are the new Norman Rockwell family."


But perhaps even more so than most families, this modern Normal Rockwell family has had no guidebook. "This has really been a learning experience for all of us," Curtis explains, "as we are really making up the rules as we go along. There is not a model for us to follow and we are just doing the best we can."


Their "best" appears to be fantastic, judging by the children's successes and healthy self-esteem. When asked what he wanted people to know about him, Elijah said it's that he's "awesome," and he has a lot of friends and he likes to play with them. He says it's "cool" to have four parents even though some people make fun.


And Emilie's comment, "I love my family!" seems to summarize the success these two moms and two dads have achieved.

_______________

Sarah Howery Hart is a California-based freelance magazine writer, and author of "Catch 'n Release: The Game," the first in her series of murder mysteries.  Visit her website for further information:  http://www.sarahhoweryhart.com

 Catch 'n Release: The Game

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Recent statistics state that between 31-45% of gays & lesbians, at some point in their lives, plan to have a commitment ceremony, civil union or wedding. Related statistics further find that three out of four lesbian couples will raise children; at least 1 in 4 gay couples will do so. It may be said, viewing these numbers, that the GLBTQ wedding industry may very soon become overshadowed by the GLBTQ family and parenting industry.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that gay and lesbian parenting is not new to our society: there are adult children who were raised by gay or lesbian parents… there are those of us whose grandparent or stepparent or godparent was gay or lesbian.

Yet the dynamics of America’s families are indeed evolving. Fifty or sixty years ago, while no family was as homogenous as was portrayed by the ideologies of the time, there were certainly fewer single-family households, fewer inter-racial couples, fewer international adoptions, fewer livin-out-loud gay or lesbian parents raising children. It simply wasn’t accepted; it simply wasn’t safe.

Nonetheless, the terms that come to mind when defining the word ‘family’ are in some ways timeless. -Comfort. Happiness. Companionship. Security. Interconnection. Dependability. Understanding. Mis-understanding. Commonality. Ancestry. Caring. Yet for most people, that single foundational element, capturing the essence of Family in one key word, would be Love.

While the dynamics of today’s American family are changing, at least on some level, that foundation of Love is solid. Perhaps more so, some would argue, as a greater number of people are choosing to live their lives with a greater degree of openness and commitment to authenticity.

____________

Kestin’s Grandma

I was very ill when my first grandchild was born, so it was a while before I held her in my arms. At that time, her mothers handed her to me willingly and without reservations - two of her mothers, that is.  The third, my daughter the birth mother, sat nearby, proud of her offspring, curious about any resemblances to herself and content with her choice to relinquish this baby to the care and nurturing of the pair who welcomed the responsibilities for this beautiful baby girl.  My daughter's wealth of logical reasoning and the easy generosity of the parents she chose for her child made the eventual separation relatively easy for me.

This was an "open adoption."  I'd not heard of such an arrangement but my daughter discovered it when looking into how we could continue to be part of this child's life.  Not one of us, least of all my daughter, wanted her child to ever believe we thoughtlessly had cast her aside.

Very shortly it became apparent to all that there simply was no problem.  Here were two guilelessly affectionate, responsible adults who were so lovable that my family "adopted" them.  As my daughter-in-law phrased it, "Our family is so small, we are glad to see it grow."  Since then she and my son added a wee cousin to the mix and perhaps there'll be more little ones.  In any case, we believe we have grown wholesomely.

My grandson was born with a good appetite and a bad case of colic.  His parents have found little time and energy for any but the most basic of events but I am happy to report the lad is thriving and his parents have remained adoring, in spite of his denying them much sleep.

Meanwhile, all of us are e-mailers, so communications between the Pittsburgh clan and others far away have been easy and frequent.  The adoptive parents also have maintained a variety of links to photographs and story lines....but once in a while we also enjoy an old-fashioned land line chat.  And snail mail is good for exchanging packages.

As I am thinking of how my granddaughter's adoption knitted so kindly, I've needed to credit her parents with many helpful contributions.  For example, prior to our meeting them, they had completed most of the adoption-screening process with an agency in their area.  That made it more comfortable for our family to gather important background information without having to subject the prospective parents to any sort of awkward inquisition.

We met the first time on neutral ground - at a restaurant.  Our dinner party included my daughter and her boyfriend, my son and his wife and me.  The adoptive parents included one of their sisters and her partner. But the event took a startling turn in the parking lot when a large vehicle crumpled the hood of the small convertible in which my very pregnant daughter was seated.  That became the measure of how each reacted in a crisis. The boyfriend may have been the first to catalyze the ease of conversation.  "Well," he said, "Since I'm not going to be driving, I'm gonna have a beer."  Humor thereafter became the mainstay of nearly all subsequent conversations among us.  So who's not to love in these circumstances?

Somewhere in the middle of the absurdly long adoption process, I visited my granddaughter and her moms.  As I expected, we had a pleasant time together, along with their menagerie of two dogs and three cats who also were loved and treated wonderfully. These animals are especially memorable for the sheer number of times they expect the door to be opened for their in/out, out/in routines.  No one in that household ever will be significantly overweight.   

My granddaughter clearly was thriving, joyful and well-behaved.  I remember wondering how her mothers found the patience to govern such a free spirit.  I may not have been so good at that - but a lot of time has passed since my children were little so I credit my advanced years to many convenient lapses of memory.  

The official adoption day was poignant for me because there was such a finality to giving this child another family's name.  I do not know if this was founded in sound logic.  It might have been rather like crying at weddings.  There she was, a toddler with a personality that filled rooms - even a judge's chamber - and she already was very, very proud of her mothers.  I am proud of her moms, too.

That evening, all of my granddaughter's Pittsburgh family gathered in my home for dinner.  Her moms and adoptive aunts generously gave us all the time we needed to play with her. There was another important factor of that gathering.  My daughter had invited the birth father (not her current boyfriend).  He offered his daughter shy overture and the child promptly swept him into her sphere of entertainment.  It became his contribution to help her "read."  It was precious to observe... and a reminder that my daughter understood his need to feel he could take a role in this child's life.

Now all of this inclusion is predicated on an agreement - one that might be unwritten, as it is in our case.  Open adoption means many things to many families.  Our situation is inclusive.  All constructive participants are welcome.  Other families might place more stringent limits on association between natural and adoptive families.  I cannot begin to dictate what is the best arrangement for any adoption but I have no reservations about the unmitigated joy and personal growth our adoption gives me and mine.

-Written by Marjorie L. Schmidt, alias "BeeGee"

Kestin Puechl’s Birth-Grandmother

________________

April’s Two Dads

April Conrad is soft-spoken yet witty, attractive, easy-going and wise for her years. She is a successful event manager for the Seattle Marriott Waterfront, a beautiful hotel on Elliott Bay in downtown Seattle. She is twenty-nine years old, was raised in rural Iowa and calls herself ‘a better person’ because she was, in part, raised by her dad and his partner.

“I grew up with my mom and stepdad in Iowa,” she recounts. “Dad was part of my life in the very beginning… Then he and Mac moved to Vegas and we didn’t have as much contact as we would have liked.”

From that point her dad, Paul Conrad, was not as active in April’s life until she was about fifteen. Nonetheless, his daughter always felt his support and presence. “When I was little and didn’t see Dad,” she says, “I guess I always knew he was there somehow. I’ve always kind of taken everything in stride,” she chuckles, “and looking back, I think he might have stayed away for awhile just to let our family grow… let my mom grow into her new relationship with my stepdad.” In essence, according to April, his distance was a truly respectful and loving choice, as difficult as it surely was at the time. “I know that Dad regrets it a lot now,” April continues. “He has said so a few times over the years.”

When Paul’s mother passed away, he returned to Iowa and reconnected with his fifteen-year-old daughter. Ever since, their relationship has remained constant, growing closer as they’ve continued to share a variety of family experiences, both the everyday and the exciting. While she was in high school, April’s father would visit his family in Iowa and see April several times a year. April would gather her friends and her fun-loving father would treat them all to a play or another special outing.

A Young Girl’s Perspective…

Despite her unique family dynamics, the easy-going April Conrad did not feel ostracized or particularly awkward, even growing up in rural America. Her hometown boasted a population of about 3000, with ninety percent Caucasian, five percent Hispanic and the remaining five percent Asian. With a community so limited in its diversity, a young girl in the 1990’s with a gay father might have felt some ambivalence, or encountered an occasional uncomfortable situation with peers. But April remembers it differently.

“I don’t think I really understood much about what was going on when I was really little… but probably in my teen years, when I started to realize a little bit more about the world around me, that’s when I understood that Dad was gay - I was probably ten or eleven years old . Growing up in rural Iowa is probably less accepting than many other places in the world, but I just remember thinking he was my dad… and so I didn’t think one way or the other about it.”

April laughingly recalls that she vaguely heard about someone -a neighbor or friend- who supposedly had a gay uncle out in Chicago; otherwise her experience was unique, as far as she knew.   “But I had a very strong core group of friends in high school. When Dad came to visit, everyone knew he was gay, but the situation was just treated sort of matter-of-fact. There were no major dramatics.”

One Child, Four Parents…

While April’s relationship with her father transitioned rather smoothly, she does recall worrying from time to time about her mother. “My mom and I have always been very close,” April explains. “I guess that’s why I was concerned about her. …And sometimes I used to wonder how it affected my mom, simply being in rural Iowa. Having people judge her –even though they shouldn’t have, I’m sure they probably did. As I got older, I used to think that it must have been a very confusing time for her, in some ways.”

When her biological parents were married and April was still very young, her father was already involved with Mac. Her parents’ relationship was open, so much so that on occasion Mac babysat for the little girl. “After the separation, and even now, my mom is good friends with my dad and with Mac,” April says. “So Mac has always been a part of my life.”

She continues, “I feel like I’m stronger and better and a more accepting person because of my family. Mac is funny, and quirky but career-focused through and through… My dad is energetic and fun, accepting of everything. And then there’s my stepdad who was not quite as accepting, as I was growing up… then there was my Mom who was in the middle somewhere… I’m just a step ahead of so many people because of my experiences. I’ve learned so much from all of them.”

Life with Dads

“My Dad is a fun person; he’s also just a good person,” April smiles. “And all along Mac has been his ‘rock’ – the two of them have been through a lot over the years with their parents, jobs, friends and different life experiences.” April herself does not know all the family stories; the challenges her father and his partner faced when coming out… the difficulties of simply being gay in rural America… the awkwardness of sorting the dynamics of several relationships and parenting long-distance.

“I don’t exactly know the family stories, but I do know it was an okay situation. Dad and Mac had family holidays together… Mac grew up in South Dakota and I know they would go visit his family sometimes, too. I’ve seen home videos with everyone laughing and joking around… Basically, Dad and Mac are both the type of people who are who they are and believe that others can either accept them or not, you know.”

April fondly remembers the quality time she and her dads have spent together, during high school and ever since: “Dad would visit when I was a teenager and that was great… And when I was in college, I went to Las Vegas for the first time. He and Mac took me casino to casino, they took me touristing… I’ve visited them often ever since. Most of all, it’s so much fun just to be at their house, relaxing, hanging out by the pool – they’re always firing up the grill and serving pina coladas.” She laughs outright. “I’ve met their friends and we all go out together. It’s a really good time.

“But most importantly, we’ve spent the last few Thanksgiving holidays together. I’ve gotten to cook the bird and everything… I’ve lived in Seattle the past six years, and Dad and Mac have come to visit at least once a year. It means a lot – it’s really neat growing closer now.”

The Broader Scope

Having been raised, in part, by two dads offers April Conrad offers a somewhat unique perspective about current issues affecting the GLBTQ community.   Marriage, she says, has not been a priority for her father and Mac. “They’re not married, and don’t ever wish to be. And marriage to me,” April adds, “well, it’s not so sacred to me either… It’s not a priority. But equal rights (for gay and lesbian couples) of course are important.”

And what might April say, to opponents of gay parenting and adoption rights? “I’m a better person because of Mac and my Dad, regardless of whether or not I was directly raised by them,” she voices without hesitation. “Adoption and parenting rights? That’s a no-brainer. Gay and lesbian parents can raise, educate and love a child, help them to be all they can be… just as well as any other parent can. Sometimes, maybe better.”

And what insights might she offer to the GLBTQ community, as we continue to strive toward equality with regard to marriage and parenting rights? With conviction, April says, “Keep fighting – it is absolutely your right to these things in life. I think society as a whole is making great progress, but there’s still a ways to go.” And with a smile, she adds, “Keep on!”

_____________

Sarah’s Two Moms

“We are the most traditional couple I know... even more so than our hetero- friends, even more so than my brother, really and his family...”

 

Melissa and Amanda know the exact moment they fell in love. It was September 17, 2001. Amanda had recently moved to the small Tennessee town where they now reside; she interviewed for a position at the local family doctor’s office... As it so happened, Melissa was to be her supervisor and conducted the interview.   Amanda was nineteen and Melissa was thirty-five and neither was looking for a new relationship. Quite simply, that’s how it happened.

Amanda (familiarly known as ‘Ace’) remembers well: “Within the week, I was hired and started my new job on September 17th. All it took was for us to see each other around the hallway. ‘Hey you,’ Melissa said, and it was love at first sight. After one month of working together, lunch-dates and excessive flirting, we shared our first kiss on October 25th. ...I’ll never forget seeing this woman, this Audacious, Bold, Beautiful woman, and thinking ‘I’ve got to get to know her.’ I had the most amazing feelings like I’d never had before, for anyone, and just knowing I had to jump at this chance at love… head-first,” recounts Ace.

Melissa was the pursuer, which Ace also found attractive. Melissa adds, “When I met Amanda, there was something about her that inspired me to want to know all the details about her, even all the {trivial things...} There was something about her that I’d never seen before in anybody. Everything from the way she looks at me, to the way she loves my daughter, every little thing about her... Before I met her, if you’d asked me if I believed in love at first sight, I’d have thought it was just a crock... but now – well... I knew the moment I interviewed her that I loved her.”

The age difference didn’t even seem like an issue then. Amanda was a mature 19-year-old: her father had passed away three years earlier, and she had taken care of her younger brothers, worked full-time, juggled finances and successfully finished high school. By the time she met Melissa, she had her own apartment, her own car and was responsibly beginning to build her own future. “The age difference may have hit us a few years later,” Ace comments, looking back. “When people my age, in their early twenties, were still in college, or starting to have kids... I hate it that I missed out on some of that, but life had a different road for me. If things had been different, then we never would have met.”

She continues, “Melissa had an amazing, beautiful daughter who she was raising by herself, for the most part -and doing a fabulous job... She is a very bold woman, who on the outside at least seemed like she had it all together. She was everything in a best friend and a partner that anyone could ask for; on top of that she’s an incredible mother.”

Melissa’s daughter Sarah was seven and a half in 2001. Within a few weeks, Melissa told Sarah a little bit about Amanda. “When they met for the first time, it was at the office. Sarah picked her out immediately and went right to Amanda and sat on her lap. She’s been sitting on her lap, so to speak, ever since. -They bonded that moment, and since have been inseparable. At times I’ve been jealous of the relationship that the two of them have.”

___________

“My moms are very accepting and always there for me...”

One year later, Melissa and Ace decided to move-in together. The transition was rather natural for Sarah, though it wasn’t until she was about ten that her moms sat down with her and talked in-depth about their relationship and what it fully meant. “She kind of understood, and was putting two-and-two together at that point on her own...” Melissa remembers. “We live in Eastern Tennessee, in the Bible Belt... The town we live in is very small. But no one really gave Sarah a hard time until middle school. I believe one time she said, ‘I just don’t talk about that. My personal life is my personal life...’ Another time, Amanda and I had to get involved and talk with the counselors; they nipped it in the bud... But the kids do make comments under their breath or whatever. And yet they know that Sarah has the biggest support team; she has three parents – we all make decisions together – and I happen to know that some of the kids are jealous. We’re involved with Sarah; a lot of the kids unfortunately don’t have that.”

Sarah adds, “I do have two friends that know that my moms are a couple.”

To be as supportive as possible, Melissa and Ace told their daughter that it was up to her when and if she wanted to tell her friends about her family. The women made a conscious choice not to go out often or spend much time in the party-scene, most of all to protect Sarah. “We had too much to lose, so we were very cautious in the beginning,” Melissa explains.

“It was also true,” Ace continues, “that Sarah was with us only every other weekend. So we didn’t want to miss out on that time with her by leaving her with a babysitter or friend. Now that she’s older, it’s a little different.”

Melissa adds, chuckling, “And those first few years, I didn’t really want to share Amanda a whole lot. So the three of us just spent our time growing and sharing together as a family.”

Today, Sarah happens to have a friend whose father is openly gay, yet the child’s mother makes the situation uncomfortable. “And very complicated,” says Melissa. “This other little girl is jealous of Sarah because of her own circumstances. But Sarah is straight to the point and tells her, ‘I’m not going to talk about my family with you; it’s my family.’”

When asked what advice she might offer to another youngster whose mom is about to marry another woman, fourteen-year-old Sarah says, “The moms need to prepare themselves for any kind of situation that {their son or daughter} is going to go through, especially with his/her feelings and emotions. They might have a lot of questions, so you’re going to have to prepare to deal with them and answer. And you have to just let your child take time to adjust to a new life.” To the youngster she’d specifically say, “It’s really fun having two moms. But it takes some time to adjust to the situation.”

Melissa remarks, “It’s true, we went through that; Sarah just needed time to soak things in when we had that first conversation; she just needed time to understand it all.”

“And now,” adds Amanda, “we’ve had lots of spaghetti dinner conversations.”

“Yes! Seems likes it’s always over spaghetti. I remember once Sarah asked what we were having for dinner... I told her it was spaghetti and she asked, ‘So what are we going to talk about?’”

_____________

“We’re a typical family: one child, our dog Princess Aurora’s Reign (Rory, for short...), two cars/no garage... In our house, we get up at 6am, we have to get ready for school, drop off Sarah, the two of us go to work, Sarah’s got her school activities, we have dinner on the table or occasionally go out to eat, bedtime is 9:30 or 10 o’clock... and then we do it all over again.”

After Melissa and Amanda moved in together, their life as a family continued to grow and unfold. Amanda, whom Sarah calls ‘Sissy,’ ‘Amanda,’ or ‘Mom’ became more involved with her step-daughter’s activities. When Sarah joined a competitive dance team, Amanda learned all the dances in order to help the young girl practice her routines. Ultimately the coach saw such talent in Amanda, that she invited her to join the adult team. “So,” Melissa says proudly, “they both became hip-hop dancers; they went on competitions together and loved every minute of it.”

“Lots and lots of make-up,” pipes Sarah. “I like that Sissy likes things that I like to do... She’s not afraid of being a kid with me.”

Amanda adds, “We like the same music and the same movies... And I get to be sort-of like a big sister for lots of Sarah’s friends.”

Currently, the family of three all work together at the same Ob/Gyn office. Sarah plans to help out throughout the summer filing charts, stuffing envelopes and supporting the nurses as she can, specifically with an office move that’s taken place in recent weeks. “She loves to organize,” Melissa smiles. “So she’s a huge help going through boxes and organizing logs. She’s been a burden-lifter for the nursing staff.”

“Next year,” explains Ace, “Sarah begins high school. As of right now she plans to enter the medical field eventually, so it’s good for her to be in this environment.”

Years ago, when Melissa and Ace transferred to the Ob/Gyn office, co-workers suspected they were romantically involved but it wasn’t openly discussed. “I think everyone pretty much suspected we were a couple: we drove in together... but it wasn’t really talked about –at least not to us,” Ace says. “Eventually they knew we come as a package, the two of us and Sarah too... And they truly adore Sarah.”

The situation with Sarah’s father has transitioned over time as well: currently the fourteen-year-old spends every other weekend with her dad and, in essence, she has three parents who keep her best interests at heart. “We’re her biggest fans,” Melissa says without hesitation. “And I have a great deal of respect for Sarah’s dad. He knows that when there are things that come up with Sarah -whenever we have to make family decisions- he’ll even say, well what does Amanda think?... He’s been very open and good about understanding that we don’t make decisions without Amanda just because she’s not our child’s blood-mother.”

The family dynamics will continue to evolve, perhaps with more obviousness in the near future. In the years ahead, Ace wishes to add another child. “I want to have a biological child,” she explains. “But most of all we want it to be the right time for us and for Sarah. I’m back in school right now, studying Education... Sarah is starting high school this year... And she’s the princess; she knows that.” Chuckling she adds, “So we’re still trying to figure it out. Things will happen as they’re supposed to happen.”

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“Sarah is one of the biggest influences in our relationship.  She is one of the reasons we decided to go forward with the ceremony. No it isn't legal, but it couldn't be more perfect.”

With her moms, Sarah likes to spend time at the beach, go to the mountains for hiking or rock-hopping in the creeks. She likes swimming, coaching football at school and last year she insisted that the family head to Atlanta for Pride. “My moms had been before, but I hadn’t. It was really one my favorite things.”

Melissa remembers, “Sarah wanted us to go to Pride last year, because it was a weekend she was with us, and she didn’t want us to miss it. Plus, she wanted to go and see other families; other kids with gay parents. Well, she saw things she never saw before... and she saw lots of normal.”

But it was talk of the baby in the summer of 2007 that inspired thoughts of a wedding for Melissa and Ace.

“Our anniversary {of our first kiss} was Oct 25th,” Amanda says. “So the coming October was going to be 6 years we would be together... So, in July, I said let’s do it on the weekend of our anniversary. Let’s say our vows first, before we have more children. Sarah got so excited, and said ‘Yes you have to do it!’”

Melissa agrees, “Back when we’d let Sarah know that we weren’t going to make her tell people or talk about us as a family until she was comfortable...   Well, despite that, she is and has been very supportive of us. She actually wanted us to have a ceremony: ‘You two have been through so much,’ she said... ‘We need to do this as a family.’”

About two years ago, Ace and Melissa became involved with a gay and lesbian softball league in Knoxville, a larger city than their own hometown. The couple met an entirely new circle of friends, many of whom have become honorary aunts and uncles to Sarah. “They come to see her dance performances, celebrate her birthday... Several people have said that she is the most generous and open pre-teen they’ve ever met. They all just love her too, for her acceptance of their own lifestyle.

“So we just knew this past year would be a great time to have a ceremony. Unfortunately neither of our immediate families are involved in our relationship, so it was nice to know that we’d have a solid group of friends who would be there for us.”

It was Autumn in the Great Smoky Mountains when Melissa and Amanda chose to marry: October 27, 2007 and the sunlight and the color of the leaves were beautiful that afternoon. The cabin boasted a wide wrap-around balcony; the brides took their time savoring the joy and solemnity of the day as they strolled around the deck and down into the yard, where a circle of forty-five guests awaited them.

“With the big, bright arbor and the minister and our friends, and walking down to enjoy the moment... Everyone was just- I don’t know,” Melissa says, teary, “it was just a moment of solace.”

Amanda adds, “...Very emotional. And it could not have been more perfect. Being able to say my vows to her in front of everyone, and for her and everyone to know that I was making a full commitment to her... We knew that within ourselves, but for everyone else to know openly – it was perfect.”

With the help of their minister, the brides wrote their own individual vows to each other, and then together wrote a vow to Sarah, declaring to love, honor and respect her throughout their lives together.

Says Melissa, “The two of us, being so completely in love with each other, that’s how we feel about Sarah too. And so we honored Sarah with vows that we had written for her. She had written vows to us too... And then we surprised her by presenting her with a matching band, on a smaller scale, to let her know that we can’t be who we are without her. There wasn’t a dry eye during this part of our ceremony.”

“Getting my ring was my favorite part,” Sarah smiles. “I wear it all the time.”

Ace continues, “One of our friends, Willis, told us: ‘I have to make a comment... You know, a lot of other lesbian ceremonies we’ve been to have been very alternative; yours was so traditional and it was just a nice change for our community. You guys were such a class act; it was such a breath of fresh air.’ He did have to joke, though, that we had to get married in the Fall so we could have the big orange bows for the Lady Vols.”

Two couples who were guests that day are now in the planning stages for their own ceremonies. “I think it’s because they want that level of normalcy for themselves too,” Ace observes, adding, “I like to think that Mel and I were a little inspiring... It’s true, we’re sometimes called the Dynamic Duo, because we’ve been together so long and are raising a child together. Nowadays in our town not even many hetero- couples can say that.”

Since their ceremony, Amanda and Melissa refer to themselves jokingly as an ‘old married couple,’ fairly set in their routine and living day-to-day with a level of consistency and, they might say, an inherent degree of integrity.

“But we do have our fun times,” Ace is quick to say, “I actually just surprised Melissa with a large surprise birthday dinner, with lots of friends. Then we drove late at night to go for a surprise weekend at the beach.”

Melissa sums up the outlook they’ve created and maintain for themselves, with a proud certainty:

“Our ceremony was very traditional. We are a very traditional family. Everyone sees that we can have a different lifestyle but we can still be very normal. We still have the same morals and values; we’re raising Sarah with those morals and values everyday.”

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When Erin Calabrese and Stella Sensel married at Cape Cod, Massachusetts on a beautiful July afternoon, accompanying them down the aisle were friends Rufus and Pepper.  But these two differed from the couple’s other attendants: Rufus and Pepper are Boston Terriers.  They and Jack Russell Terrier, Kahlua also honeymooned at Provincetown’s dog-friendly Captain Jack’s Wharf with Erin, a journalist, and Stella, Manager for Halloween Adventures.

According to recent statistics from the U.S. Travel Association (travelhorizonsTM), nearly 50% of national adult leisure travelers view pets as “family.” Almost 20% include pets in travel plans, a fact not un-noticed by the travel industry across America, including Kimpton hotels.

“We know pets are a part of the family,” says General Manager Ericka Nelson of Manhattan’s Muse, near the theater district.   “Whether it’s arranging for organic treat delivery, mapping out walking routes or recommending pet-friendly restaurants in the area, we do everything we can to make our guests, regardless of size or species, feel right at home.”

The Muse’s Director of Pet Relations, tea-cup Pomeranian Ginger, assures that visiting pets receive treats, water bowls, and toys.   The Muse also recently offered a "Free to Be Just You and Me" honeymoon package in honor of New York’s same-sex marriage legislation; numerous canine guests joined the festivities along with their newly-wed humans.

Like Erin and Stella, Steven Lindsey and partner Rod, of Dallas, Texas, travel with a terrier, Kendall.  “Of our four dogs,” says Steven, business owner, editor, and freelance writer, “Kendall’s the most social. She loves everybody and everything. She’s also a really good traveler.”  The couple only takes Kendall when they travel by car, and she burrows under blankets in her crate on the back seat.

Kendall’s travels have not included a honeymoon, yet. “We've been together 18 years,” Steven explains regarding his and Rod’s relationship, “but we're not having a ceremony until it's (same-sex marriage) legal everywhere.”

In, Goshen, Virginia, dogs such as Kendall would be welcome too, at Patty and Dan Harrison’s Hummingbird Inn.  A special first-floor accommodation has direct access to extensive lawns were dogs can run, and pets receive a treat basket, bowl, special towel, and rug. Dan and Patty go even further. “Recently,” Dan says, “we walked a dog for guests while they were out to dinner.”

For those preferring rustic locations, the historic C.O.D. Ranch in Oracle Arizona is ideal. It is believed that C.O.D. initially stood for “Come On Down,” and that invitation includes dogs accompanying their couples in the Round House, the Ranch’s dog-friendly accommodation overlooking  the Santa Catalina Mountains.  “There are no extra fees for dogs, and no limit on breed or size,” event coordinator Stacy Raneri explains.

In the southwest, Santa Barbara’s island-reminiscent Canary Hotel has history behind its dogs-welcome policy too.  The hotel’s website explains that the name “Canary Islands” probably stems from Insula Canaria meaning “Island of Dogs." Accordingly, Canary Hotel’s canine service is called “Club Canario,” and four-legged visitors’ packets include a limited edition Canary Hotel collar tag.

Partners Louis and Alan of Northern California say they don’t vacation anywhere unless five-year-old Carin Terrier Hairy Putter goes too. But usually, Hairy takes them, through his job as Director of Barketing with promotional firm Visit Mendocino County, Inc. “If we start to pack to go someplace,” Louis says, “he starts looking for his suitcase to be sure he is going.”

Because of Hairy’s work, that suitcase is huge, with contents including his sunglasses, five or six collars with matching leashes, hair brush, his black bowtie, and white bowtie, once worn by Cher, Louis says.

With the increasing advent of states passing same-gender marriage legislation, weddings and honeymoons are being planned, and venues are preparing for these couples and even their dogs. Included is Kathleen Mandevelle, owner of Kathleen’s Barn in Tivoli, New York. “Dogs are no issue,” she says. She once hosted a couple with seven greyhounds.

The rustic fully-equipped barn retreat is surrounded by acres of roaming space, a pond, and stream, making it an ideal setting for a rural honeymoon. A wedding too, as Kathleen is a wedding officiate, with a 25 year-background as an Episcopal priest. And, she says she’s thrilled to have couples’ dogs in their weddings.


Canine Travel Tips

There are tricks to traveling with dogs, and Steven Lindsey advises, “If the dog is riding loose,  I  recommend a doggie seat belt. I think the biggest thing when thinking about traveling with a dog is to consider the dog’s comfort and safety first.”
 
Louis recommends a product Hairy Putter uses, a dog water bowl, with wide rim to prevent spilling, designed for a cup holder.  “Now when we travel, Hairy has his own water at his level in the car.”

In any area of the United States same-gender couples might choose for weddings, honeymoons, or vacations, venues are increasingly opening doors and hearts to those couples and their pets.

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LINKS in this article:
Capt. Jacks Wharf, Provincetown
Manhattan's Muse Hotel
Hummingbird Inn, VA
C.O.D. Ranch, AZ
Canary Hotel, Santa Barbara
Kathleen's Barn, NY

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Susan Hart Hellman is a contributing writer, based in California.
susan@susanharthellman.com
www.SusanHartHellman.com

 

 

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Dedication to Our Children

Monday, 19 November 2012
Written by Published in Home Life & Family

Children have long participated in wedding ceremonies as ring bearers and flower girls – positions of service to couples on their Special Day. What if we make something more of our children during the rites and traditions of our weddings? It seems only fitting, given the fact that our community has striven so long to achieve marriage and family recognition ourselves, to fully honor the place of our children in our lives during the ceremony that represents our formalized union.

Instead of just presenting our sons and daughters in cute (and often itchy) garb as window dressing for a wedding, holy union, or handfasting, children of queer couples tying the knot can be included in something more lasting and important. A segment of the nuptial ceremony can include commitment of the adults to the children  – a ritual acknowledgement of the full family-to-be.

Happily, there are many ways blessing the child’s part in the relationship can be included in the wedding, from a simple statement of inclusion or commitment, to a candle-lighting ceremony added to that symbolizing unity of the wedding pair. The children can be present, or not: the important element is that both individuals state their commitment to the youngsters.

Preparing for a child’s inclusion in the wedding can provide opportunities for the adults and children to bond over what the child’s piece will be. If the child is still an infant or toddler, a simple presentation and blessing may be enough, accompanied by an item symbolizing the event (A little silver cup, engraveable, is one possibility which will be a keepsake for the child in later years.)

Older children can participate in more direct ways. The nuptial candle used in many ceremonies can allow for additional lighting from candles brought forward by the children of the immediate family, or the children can light their own candles from the nuptial candle, and place them in nearby holders. The holders, suitably engraved, later can be presented to the children as keepsakes.

A child acting as ring bearer could also put the rings on the couple’s hands during that part of the wedding ceremony, expanding his/her status in the rite. Couples using communion liturgy can include children, according to the practices of their beliefs (UFMCC, for example, welcomes children to the communion table as part of its regular ceremony, and some Protestant denominations include children or young teens.)

Another method of acknowledging the mingling of the family is the braiding of multi-colored ribbons.  The couple, along with the children, can then have their hands symbolically joined by the rope of braided colors as led by the ceremony officiant:  a simple yet meaningful show that the individuals are this day forever blended into one new family.  Later, the ribbons can be arranged in a special place on a personal altar or family corner at home.

Statements of commitment and welcome can be worked out together by parents and youngsters, providing the adults an opportunity to re-state love and loyalty to their children, as well as offering the children a chance to say what they need to about the new family configuration. Since most gay and lesbian households have already been in existence before a wedding is performed, both parents and children have had opportunities to think about and observe, firsthand, what they need from each other.

When partners Kerry and Katy married, they chose to actively include Kerry’s biological sons, ages three and nine, in their wedding. “Katy wanted to write a few lines to say to them,” Kerry says, “she wanted it to be something along the lines of how she promises to love and take care of them no matter what, that they are what makes our family whole and they will always be first.”

Kerry and Katy also planned to have an inclusive candle-lighting ceremony. “We wanted them to feel like it was OUR wedding as a whole, not just Katy’s and mine,” and “...of course, we will each dance with them at the reception!”

Dancing is a good method of bonding parents and children at the wedding celebration. In addition to ballroom dancing, folk or ethnic dances indigenous to either partner can naturally be included. Group line dances, like the Macarena, are also fun and fairly easy, yet just as symbolic.

When partners Melissa and Amanda married, they exchanged rings in a traditional rite, but also chose to give a ring to their teen daughter Sarah. As a couple they exchanged vows, and as parents they spoke promises to Sarah, ensuring that she felt included in the formalized recognition of their bond as a family.

The parent/child ritual, the ‘Saying of Promises,’ can be performed at any time during the celebration, either at the ceremony itself or during the reception.  It’s always best to resist forcing a child to participate, but by inviting her/his input on what promises will be made, the rite becomes that much more meaningful and sincere.  Encourage a supportive person outside the immediate family to help the child who wants to write her/his promises or statement of welcome. There should be no pressure on the child, only encouragement and a sense of appreciation for her/his participation in the ritual.

An example of what the new parent might wish to say:
“I promise, in the name of all I hold sacred, to do my best to be a good parent to you. I promise to listen when you need to be heard, to comfort you in times of sorrow, and to celebrate with you in times of joy.

I promise to love you as a parent loves a child, to help guide your steps as you grow to adulthood, to never mistreat you nor betray your trust. You were not born a child of my body, but today you are reborn as a child of my heart.”

The child’s words should come from her/his own manner of speech. Don’t put adult words in the child’s mouth. Let her/him decide what’s important to say on this special occasion.

Symbols of commitment might include a number of items: rings are possible, or other jewelry.  A piece of clothing, like a scarf or tie, possibly embroidered or otherwise marked with the child’s name and date of the ceremony might be appropriate, as well as culturally significant symbols, if the child is old enough to appreciate them.  A small flag, with a representation of the family, or hand-drawn new ‘family crest’ might be ideally suitable for many children, boys and girls alike.

Whatever choices are made, the care and respect that is put forth in finding a place for your child/ren in your marriage celebration will have a lasting impact.  Well into the months and years ahead, your children will carry that message within, knowing that you and your partner believed utterly in the importance of including them in your future together.  They will be reassured that yes, there is a unique and special place for them too, within the ongoing circle of the family.

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Patricia L. MacAodha is a freelance writer based in Oregon.
patmac31@juno.com

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