Ashes

The bungalow was built in 1926, when the outer, outer, outer Excelsior was even farther from downtown than it is now.  They insulated the house with rolled up old newspapers.

The house wasn’t blue at the time.  In fact, when the bungalow found us in 1999, it was mustard yellow, with brown trim.  The summer that we moved in, we painted it the color of Batman’s cape.  One of our new neighbors asked, “Was there a mistake at Home Depot?” and we knew we would live there happily ever after.

In the winter of 2001, Tim moved in with us.  He was dying of AIDS, though none of us knew it at the time, and he moved into the small bedroom.  In March, it started raining and we learned the roof leaked.  In April, we hired a roofer.  Five days later, the contractor said, “We’re almost finished.  All we have to do is solder the seams on your gutters.”

You know that I’m Irish, which means superstitious, and the fact that this Friday was the 13th and Good Friday as well struck me as a particularly bad omen. But Brian was dancing with ODC/San Francisco, and it was opening night, and this was long before children, so Tim said, “Go. Have a date night.  I’ll watch the contractor. I’ll take care of the dogs.”

The performance ended, and as Brian handed me a glass of champagne, the phone rang.  Our friend Jon (long before he earned his status as uncle):  “Come back now.  Your house is on fire.”

Brian, grabbed his backpack, and hurtled to the car.  We raced to the outer, outer Excelsior, where sirens wailed and lights flashed, and a half dozen fire trucks stood in the intersection, Tim sitting on the sidewalk, four rescue dogs in his lap.

The firefighters extinguished the blaze quickly, but to do so, they flooded the old gumwood dining room.  Brian walked in, sat on the floor and cried.  Three in the morning, still in his dress velvet, he mopped the floor to get rid of the excess water, Wolfcub’s tail occasionally flicking the ashes.  Every towel, every t-shirt, every pair of socks smelled like soot.

Jon was married at the time, and his wife’s boyfriend had recently moved in. The three of them blew up air mattresses, so that Brian, Tim, me, Wolfcub, Miss Grrrrl, Daphne and Diva could all sleep in his living room, with one very nervous looking parakeet hung in a cage above us.

Jon woke up the next morning, brewed a pot of coffee, and handed me a cup, just as four hounds howled that they needed to go out.  As I searched for leashes, I said, “Thank you for doing all this.”

To which Jon replied, “We’re all neighbors.”

 

 

 

The Chronicle has great reporters who tell us the news. But I am not a reporter; I am a columnist who tells stories, some of them true.  I cannot fathom the scope of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the earthquakes in Mexico, the shooting in Las Vegas.  I understand only this,that great tragedies are made up of little tragedies.

There is an order of nuns called the Ursulines, who follow the teachings of Saint Angela Merici, a mystic who believed that service to the poor was service to God.  The Ursulines are dedicated to teaching, and since 1880, they have maintained a chapter house in Santa Rosa.  Last week, the Tubbs Fire burned that convent to the ground, leaving in its ashes only one thing intact: a statue of Saint Angela herself.  Sister Shirley and Sister Lil, who run the school that Aidan attends, drove up that day, and spent the next fifteen hours working with their community to find homes for all of the displaced nuns.

Both of them showed up to work at Saint John’s school the next morning at 630.

Another hero is Lindsey Margett, who got a call that there were two mares in a pasture with the oncoming fire. She went to rescue them, only to return to find her own home burning.  She and Lisa O’Connor of Sunrise Horse Rescue have evacuated hundreds of horses since.

“We’re all neighbors” and Santa Rosa, Napa Valley and St. Helena are as much a part of San Francisco as the outer, outer, outer Excelsior.  So donate clothes and blankets. Or money.  Be kind to a nun. Go to www.sunrisehorserescue.org and buy a horse a cup of oats.

Or just make a friend a cup of coffee.

Aptonym

 What’s in a name? A rose, by any other demonym, would smell as sweet.

 

One of my readers figured out my street address. He sent a google map of the blue bungalow, which really creeped out my husband, Brian, but me not so much. I admire a little detective work, just so long as the guy doesn’t ring our doorbell. The Fisher-Paulsons are more infamous than famous, and our celebrity extends as far as the Diamond Heights Safeway, where someone in the produce section will invariably ask Zane or Aidan, “Which of you got his head stuck in the concrete staircase?”

 

This reader insisted that because we lived south of Geneva Avenue, we did NOT live in the outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsior but rather in the Crocker Amazon.

 

Geography is relative.  Tomaaaytoe.  Tomahtoe.  To some of you the East Coast means New York and to others it means anything past Tahoe.  Personally, I side with O.Henry, who said, “East is East and West is San Francisco.”

 

The Excelsior, the last working class neighborhood in San Francisco, may literally mean “ever upward,” but to me it will always mean “ever outward.”  The reason I don’t claim the Crocker is a question of aptronyms and demonyms.

 

The term aptronym was coined by Franklin Pierce Adams of the Algonquin Round Table and it means a name that particularly fits a person, an apt name, like Doctor Angst, the professor of psychiatry; or Sara Blizzard, the British meteorologist; or Thomas Crapper, the sanitary engineer.  I hear tell that in that other Californian city, the one to the south of us, there is a lawyer named Sue Yoo.  And not to kick a man when he's down, but Anthony Weiner?

 

In French the word “trompe” (pronounced Trump) means to deceive.  It doesn't get any more apt than that.

 

An inaptronym, therefore, is a name that doesn't fit, like Lance Armstrong, who was more famous for his legs or Don Black, a white supremacist. In 1976 Pope Paul VI elevated the archbishop of Manila to Cardinal...Sin.

 

Demonymics is the study of how we name people from a place.  Sometimes we add an -er as in Michigand-er.  Sometimes we add -ite as in Ludd-ite or -ian as in Boston-ian.  Weird abbreviations work like Okie or Burqueno. Sometimes it's some random reference as in people from Indiana getting called Hoosier.  My favorite example of this is that of my cousins who live in the Pittsburgh/Johnstown Pennsylvania, area, who call themselves “Yinzers” because their second person plural is “Yinz guys,” as in “Yinz guys want a pop?”

 

This leads me a new category, apt nameplaces. Or aptdemonymics.  For both my husband and my buddy (Crazy Mike), their hometowns  add –iac to make Main-iac and Guam-aniac.

 

When Brian and I moved out here twenty-seven years ago, we had had enough of the boroughs.  We had been Brooklynites, Hobokeneers and Jersey City-ians, but never Manhattan-ites, or New Yawk-ers, proper.   Always a forty-five minute subway ride away.  So we were willing to pay the premium to live in Paradise.  No offense meant, but we didn’t want to be Oakland-ers or Daly City-ites or Marin-es.  We wanted to live in this beautiful town, where we change the Francisc-o to Francisc-an, even if it does occasionally confuse us with an order of monks.

 

Maybe the Board of Supervisors ought to take this up, and change our demonym to a nickname like Golden Gates or Fogheads or maybe just a  better abbreviation, San Frans, Friscos or my favorite: Friskies.

 

San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, but neighborhoods make for awkward demonyms. Growing up I was never called an Ozone Parker but I was frequently called by my borough (Queens).

 

But here in Frisky, I’ve hear people say, “I’m from the avenues,” but never, “I’m a Sunsetter.”  Maybe if we remembered to call ourselves by where we lived we might have a better sense of neighborhood.  Nob Hill, for example, lcould go back to origin.  The railroad barons built mansions 376 feet above the waterfront more than a century ago.  Nob is a contraction of the Hindu word for wealthy person, Nawwab so they could call themselves Nabobs. Those in Telegraph Hill could be the Telegrams, or Teletubbies. The Mission-aries might embrace their brotherhood.  

 

That insistent reader may not have realized how much of a inaptronym it would be to call the all male Fisher-Paulsons, the house of lost boys, Amazons.  Wonder Woman herself would shudder in horror. No, we much prefer to call our ourselves outer, outer, outer, outer Excelsorians.  Yes, our family is EXCELlent.

 

 

Total Eclipse of the Heart

The worst part of living in San Francisco is leaving.  Even an eclipse cannot lure me.  Tempting as it may be to drive up north for twelve hours to sit in the darkness for eight minutes, I’ll stay in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior.

Growing up in Ozone Park, I knew that I would eventually get out. The only notable who had ever lived there was Jack Kerouac, and he only got famous by writing a book about getting On the Road away from there.  Today’s coincidence:  Jack Kerouac and I lived at either end of Crossbay Boulevard.  No wonder we both discovered California.

I went to college in Indiana, which was, at the time, the farthest I had ever been from Queens.  I began to hear about the Golden West.  Daina’s friend, Aina, commented that of all the cities in the United States, San Francisco was the most Parisien.  Not having been to France this seemed terribly glamorous to me.

In the mid 1980’s, when Brian and I were living above a funeral parlor in Jersey City, he went on a lot of dance tours. When The Wizard of Oz played the Cow Palace, I jumped at the chance to meet him there.  Another dancer in the troupe took Brian and I to Muir Woods, and it was there, standing in Cathedral Grove, that I knew where we must live.

So a few years later when I got a job offer that I was totally unqualified for, working for a start-up software company, Brian and I loaded up a Ryder van with all our furniture and comic books and litter of newborn pekingeses and drove across the country in the hottest driest August of that century.  But we escaped from the burning sun on a Friday afternoon, as we drove up 101 North, just past Candlestick Point, the fog cascaded out in silver swirls and invited us to stay in Avalon.

For the rest of the country, San Francisco is the favorite place to visit, but for a lucky few of us, it is home.  Try this:  ask a friend what he or she likes best about San Francisco, and I guarantee you that no two answers will be the same, and that in asking, you will learn something about the city you didn’t already love. 

When I asked Crazy Mike, he said, “Because I have the ocean, a lake, a forest and a Safeway, all within walking distance.”

My friend Michele came up with: “the little cable cars, the rainbow crosswalks of the Castro, the organ player at SF Giants game, the China Town gate, Belden Alley, the installation of the Pink Triangle, the Moraga steps, Asia SF, the Tonga Room, the Alemany farmer’s market at sunrise.”

Long time reader of this column, Kay Coleman (the mayor of San Anselmo) said, “Impressionism.  And hats.”  She’s right.  A hat never looks quite as fashionable as when it is on the head of a San Franciscan.  I never owned a hat in Jersey City, but here I have baseball caps, trooper hats and even my very own Barney-Fife-Sheriff’s cap.

Kevin, who once upon a time, danced with Brian at ODC San Francisco, said, “The life I was able to build for myself.  It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn great.”

Mark Hetts named two favorite things: 1. The nooks and crannies and 2. The wildlife coexisting with the urban: hawks, owls, coyotes, parrots “…though we could use a few grizzlies to keep people alert and make them leash their dogs in public.”

My husband? He likes Le P’tit Laurent, the little French restaurant in Glen Park, where I really do feel like San Francisco is part of France. He also likes the white alligator and the butterfly exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences.  And on the subject of lepidoptera, yet another thing that I like about San Francisco is my career:  as the captain of the San Bruno facility, one of my responsibilities is guarding the last refuge of the endangered Blue Elfin Butterfly.  It doesn’t get any more poetic than that. Tell me you could get that job in Los Angeles.

The two best answers came from my sons.  Zane said simply, “It’s the place I can call home.”  And Aidan, what the thing you like best about Fran Sancisco? “No bugs.”

So on Monday of next week, let the umbraphiles race up to Oregon.  Here in San Francisco we don’t need the moon to eclipse the sun.  We have the fog.

Coffee

Every once in a while, even the President says something that makes sense. 132 days into his term, at 12:06 am, Donald Trump tweeted, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”

 

Disclaimer from the outset: I am part of that constant negative press.  Proudly.

 

Covfefe?  The twitterverse exploded with questions, and Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary stated, “The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.” And then the item got buried under the news of Comey, Sessions and obstruction of justice.

 

But in one of this thousand follow up tweets Trump wrote, “Who can figure out the true meaning of Covfefe? Enjoy!”

 

This is a man incapable of a philosophy longer than 140 characters, and yet he got it right.  Covfefe means nothing. Some days there is no explanation for why the good guys do not win.  But in the meantime savor the mystery.

 

There is no reason why fire killed those people in the Grenfell Tower or why three UPS drivers were murdered in San Francisco.

 

In the outer, outer, outer Excelsior, the workings of the universe also seem random.  There was no rationale as to why Brian and I lost the triplets. Or why Tim died from AIDS.  Or why both of my sons were born drug exposed, and will always be considered “special.”

 

John Lennon once sung that “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  There is as much wisdom in that as there is in Covfefe.

 

When Zane was a baby, before even his first expulsion, as I was changing his diaper, I noticed what I thought was the largest hunk of snot that I had ever seen in a child’s nose.  I took a swipe at his nostril and out came a lima bean.

 

Now I was tired, as was evidenced by the fact that at three in the afternoon I was still in my bathrobe. But what made this even more inexplicable was that I never cook lima beans.  I do not serve lima beans.  I’ve never actually tasted lima beans.  This dates back to Nurse Vivian who had a reputation for ruining vegetables.  Example: she boiled kidney beans in vinegar and corn with mayonnaise. So the night she surprised us with succotash, I took a stand, She coaxed, but if I inherited nothing else in my Irish genes, I got the stubbornness, and I said, “I am never going to eat a lima bean.” This is just about the only promise that I’ve managed to keep for 51 years in a row.

 

So I asked Tita Ann Mabutas, who had been baby-sitting Zane and she said, “Oh, yes, I fed him leem-a beans three days ago.”

 

When she looked panicked I said, “Tita Ann, ithappens.  Babies get lima beans in their nose.  I just want to know how.”

 

Tita Ann told me of a baby who grew a plant out of his belly button, and so she theorized that Zane had stuck one in his ear, and it had traveled down his Eustachian tube into his nose.

 

There was a more pragmatic theory: that I was a lousy housekeeper who hadn’t noticed the leftover vegetable in his high chair, which Zane found and stuck in his proboscis three days later to see if he could get his old Dad going. The lousy housekeeper theory would also explain the bathrobe at three in the afternoon.

 

And the third possibility is Divine Intervention.  The Universe may have decided that my boycott had gone on too long, that it was time for me to stop and smell the lima beans.

 

What do you think?  Sloth?  Passage through the Eustachian Canal?  Lima Bean Transubstantiation? Me, I’m going with the third answer because I like a little mystery.  When it comes to faith, it’s just as likely that the universe has a reason as that it has no reason at all, so I might as well pick the solution with the puzzle, because it makes life more interesting.

 

Eleven years have passed since the miracle of the lima bean.  I don’t know any more answers to the meaning of life, other than perhaps covfefe.  All I know is that this week that little boy walked home from school on his own for the very first time.  A decidedly different kind of miracle.

 

It strikes me that I have just said a nice thing about Donald Trump, so with regret I must report that I am no longer part of the constant negative press.  Make that just most-of-the-time-negative press.

Raised by Nerds in the Wild

Raised by Geeks in the Wild

Neither Zane nor Aidan has any problem on the schoolyard explaining that they are two straight sons being raised by two gay dads.  Oh, Zane has gotten into a scrape or two, mainly defending my honor.  Aidan once explained to me that the coolness of being both a deputy and a coach outweighed the dorkiness of me being gay.

Neither Zane nor Aidan has any problem on the schoolyard explaining that they are a black son and a mixed race son being raised by two Dads who are white.  At the Black Student Union, Zane points us out as the overachievers, the only ones celebrating Kwanzaa with color-coordinated mkekas.

We come from different minorities, so it’s hard to translate.  The problems of a straight black thirteen year old in 2017 are not the same as a gay white thirteen year old in 1971.  I wasn’t likely to get suspended for twerking and he wasn’t likely to wear bell bottoms and platform shoes.

My husband Brian does the heavy lifting, sitting down at the kitchen table and talking about everyone from Harvey Milk to Maya Angelou.

No, the only issue that either son has a hard time explaining is that they are two normal sons being raised by nerds in the wild. 

We are geeks, which is a subset of nerd.  The word nerd is just a little older than I am, coming from a 1950 Dr. Seuss book If I Ran the Zoo: “I’ll bring back…a nerkle, a nerd and a seersucker, too!” but as the term evolved, it came to mean the kind of person who studies a subject no one else is interested in.

“Geek” comes from the traveling carnivals of the early 20th century.  The geek was the one who did bizarre acts, like biting off the heads of live chickens.  Nowadays, a geek is a person very knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about a particular topic, as in wine or minecraft or Star Trek.  Nerds might always win Trivial Pursuit, but Geeks run the category in Jeopardy.

In our case, we are comic book geeks, as in the kind of family whose college fund consists of the first two hundred issues of the Uncanny X-Men, near mint.  Brian is only a geek by association, but I’ve been reading comic books since October 1963, when Pop bought me a copy of Teen Titans versus Ding Dong Daddy, the Demon Dragster of Doom.

You’d be surprised how much fifty-four years of comic-book reading affects a lifestyle:  for example, the bungalow is not just blue.  It is 1958 Batman cape blue.  The Christmas card pictures have included the Fisher-Paulsons dressing up as Superman, Johnny Quest and Captain America.   The boys have learned not to complain about this, by the way, because the year they rejected the Justice League motif, we took the picture of the entire family, including the dogs, dressed up as the Village People.

Thus, Zane never complained that we skipped the first game of the NBA finals to go to the premiere of Wonder Woman

I don’t worry about the gayness or the whiteness rubbing off on my sons, but I do worry about the geekiness.  Aidan now knows the effect of every different color of Kryptonite.  When we get into our car, the Kipcap, Zane says, “Atomic batteries to power!” to which Aidan replies, “Turbines to speed!” and then we move out.

But Zane takes geek and turns it into chic.  When I wear a Batman costume I look like Liberace in leotards whereas when Zane throws on a mask and cape, the girls come a-courting.

Aidan and Zane were good sports about the Flash costumes for the Silicon Valley Comic Con.  You want Geek?  The master of ceremonies was Steve Wozniak. We posted pictures on Facebook of the four of us posing with Imperial Stormtroopers and Nichelle Nichols and Green Arrow and Grant Gustin.  My friend Phyllis wrote to say that “I love that you are such a geek and a Sheriff’s Captain at the same time.  I love that your boys can experience the adults in their lives as complex, not easily identifiable.  It will serve them well in the future.”

Yes, it’s likely that other parents do a better job of explaining infield bunts and screen defenses.  But our sons will grow up in the Batman blue bungalow in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior knowing that any boy can grow up to be a hero.

Captain of the Nerd Patrol: not a bad legacy. 

Mitzi in the Window

Mitzi’s real name is Maisy.  She is a rescue dog, mainly Schnauzer, living in the Crocker Amazon with a very kind woman who my sons call Aunt JJ. Aunt JJ looks a lot like Mitzi Gaynor. She also has a rescue dog name Murphy and a rescue cat named Mopsy.

Mitzi likes to sleep in the window.

My boys go to two different schools now, at opposite ends of San Francisco, and so the drive home in our little Prius is spent with the boys trying to convince me that I like hip-hop and me trying to convince them that they like National Public Radio.  But we always drive west on Baltimore Street, two blocks out of the way and play the game, “Is Mitzi in the window?”

This is a very simple game: guess whether Mitzi is in or out of Aunt JJ’s window.

Aidan always guesses “In.” Zane always guesses “Out.”  My husband always says, “I am waiting to be inspired.” And then, just before we turn the final corner, he says, “Out.”

Took me a while to realize that these guesses were statements of faith.  Aidan says “In” because he believes that Mitzi, like God, like love, like his Daddies, would always be in the window, waiting for him.

Zane says “Out” because he believes that although Mitzi loves her home, she loves adventure more, and is always looking for one more car to chase, one more cat to conquer.

Papa says, “I am waiting to be inspired” because he believes that dancing and parenting, are leaps of faith, and that out there in the universe some force is waiting to inspire, or breathe life into his spirit.

And me?  I go back and forth: In or out?  In or Out?  And even though I cannot tell Mitzi from Maisy or Mopsy, I end up saying “In” just to even out the vote.  In that way, two of us are right, two of us are wrong, but all of us are together.  Just like life.

Juneau

I flew down to the sky glaciers

when the summer mountains still held snow

when the light limned longer than my solstice

and an eagle circled, searching.

 

When the summer mountains still held snow

a fire burned in ancient timber

and an eagle circled, searching.

I went looking for a hump-backed whale.

 

A fire burned in ancient timber.

The deep fjord declared my journey.

I went looking for a hump-backed whale.

A bear broke salmon for her cubs.

 

The deep fjord declared my journey.

As night crept in the borealis taunted.

A bear broke salmon for her cubs.

We each did what the rain forest teaches.

 

As night crept in the borealis taunted,

ice cascades to river to the sea.

We each did what the rain forest teaches.

I carved a totem of that eagle.

 

Ice cascades to river to the sea.

I flew down to the sky glaciers.

I carved a totem of that eagle

when the light limned longer than my solstice.

The Last Drag

My hair askew with

                                    that lopsided look I got from

sleeping in a hospital chair,

            the copy of Isabel Allende’s Zorro

                                                            fallen to the floor.

He had woken up before me, humming to the drip

                                                                    drip

                                                                     drip of morphine,

crumbs of the Nells on the white sheet

scenting the room in anise.

He pointed to the tin his sister sent:

“You’d think on my deathbed

she could bake them from scratch.”

 

A nurse walked in with marigolds,

            walked out with a bedpan.

 

Like thieves we unplugged each tube

                                         each canula and

I lifted his ninety-eight pounds into a wheelchair.

                                                            We scurried down the aisle and out to sky.

From underneath his gown came

one last secret Marlboro.

Three tries to light it.

We sat with the sweetbitter smoke of cigarette curling

into the fog around Mount Sutro, the ashes turning into

                                                                        dust of angels

                                                                        dust of devils

                                                                        dust of…

Since last We Met

Since last you whispered in my ear I learned

to sleep

with men.

 

Since last your cinnamon eyes looked into mine I lost

a biker with a tattooed thigh and married a man I like.

A lot.

 

Since last you smelled of new cut grass I earned

a star I wear each day and bought a bungalow.

I painted it blue.

 

Since last your fingers gripped my shoulder I gathered and

I lost

a family of broken angels

 

Since last your soft dry lips kissed mine I lost

the easy faith that you had

shoved into my back pocket.

 

But when the lights go out and fog

gathers round the bungalow,

your shadow crawls beneath my pillow

and that cold whisper

must be

enough

The Sun Sets All Ways in the West

The sun sets all ways in the west as the

shadows grow indigo follows the red

as darkness scratches around the garden,

the lilacs close, the calallilies led

 

to scent.  You sit upon the lawn, wonder

why the clover still stays still, warm and sweet

but underneath the dew whispers,

the petals of the angel’s trumpet sweet

 

against a crescent rising.

You wait upon the evening star.

An owl hoots, his feathers silent.

A cricket chirps from here to far.

 

You breathe your wish in one long sigh

to know that in east the sun runs nigh.

Syringa Vulgaris

In the backyard of our home in Yaphank,

a single lilac grew between the scrub pines,

gray branches hidden in blue spruce and snow

until late April’s deep purple glory.

 

A single lilac grew between the scrub pines,

for just one morn a fragrance in the wood

until late April’s deep purple glory.

On that first light, the trumpeter swans,

 

for just one morn a fragrance in the wood-

always a couplet, gathered their cygnets-

on that short light the trumpeters swans

arced across the Carmans River,

 

always a couplet, gathered their cygnets,

golden bills against white feathers

arced across the Carmans River,

great wings scraping the lake, but not the sky,

 

golden bill against white feathers

scattering the pale pink water lilies,

great wings scraping the lake, but not the sky

but as day grew wide, the violet faded.

Shoelaces Untied

My husband’s mother, who the boys called Nana, was a pragmatic and calm nurse from Maine. But even the most sedate of persons have little peculiarities. Nana read a lot of books, including Jane Austen, detective novels and Harlequin romances. But with every book she read, she always turned to the final chapter, read the very last page, and then returned to the beginning. She started every book knowing for certain that the butler did it.

But there are some mysteries for which we are not meant to find answers: Where does the other sock go in the dryer? How did your favorite pen move from the bottom of your backpack to the pocket of your winter jacket? I call this place the “Ballpoint Zone,” that mystery spot where what we know to be true no longer matters.

How is it that on most days your shoelaces will remain tied, but on some days your shoe laces choose to be untied, that no matter how many times you bend down and re-tie them, they will come untied, just as you are in the crosswalk of a busy street?

Raising any children, but specifically raising children with mental illnesses, is another mystery. There is no guidebook for which I can turn to the last page. Neither Doctor Spock nor the Super Nanny have ever experienced what it is like to be a gay man and his husband navigating the whodunit of raising at-risk children.

Brian and I have two sons, Zane and Aidan, and on many days, they seem like normal boys. But then there are the days that the mental shoelaces go untied.

Zane suffers from a mood disorder, and mixed in with that is oppositional defiance disorder, hyperactivity and depression. Aidan suffers from a conduct disorder, mixed in with attention deficit disorder and sensory integration disorder.

Like I wrote, some nights are normal. Some nights we eat chicken and broccoli for dinner, and watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Some nights, we lie quietly in our beds after brushing our teeth and putting on our pajamas, and we tell stories where Zane is a ninja and Aidan is a Jedi. And some nights, both of our boys sleep.

But then, for reasons we cannot predict, the shoelaces get untied. Zane gets mad at Aidan and runs away. Not down the block, but to the next town. Aidan gets mad at Zane and lights a bonfire in the bathroom sink. The struggle is that we never know when those shoelaces are going to unravel. We never know when Zane will throw a punch at the teaching assistant or Aidan will give away his great-grandmother’s wedding ring.

When the veterinarian suggested that Krypto suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, I almost lost it. In this crazy world of inscrutabilities, what I longed for was a week’s worth of normal. But all we got was crazy.

But the good thing about crazy is that no one expects you to be able to deal with it. So we get psychiatrists and social workers and psychologists and education coaches and music therapy and family counsellors. They throw everything at you, hoping that some scrap of sanity will stick to the wall.

Here is what I learned: We are all of us living in chaos. The natural order of the universe is for those two shoelaces to go flying apart. We can either spend the rest of our lives complaining about it, or instead learn to live with it, grabbing the moments of joy that we can. Even in chaos, a crystal can grow, order being a tiny part of every disorder.

There are some nights that are special, when all the mental shoelaces remain tied. And on those nights, we get two exuberant boys who finish off their pizza, put on pajamas with capes that don’t match and sit down for an episode of The FlashAnd that is when I know that the mysteries may not have an answer, but I can learn to enjoy the questions.

In the Weeds

I’m thinking that maybe my blog should be entitled “The Seamy Underside of Gays with Kids.”  Sometimes I really do feel guilty when I read the other blogs with young and hopeful dads raising the equivalent of Donna Reed or the Waltons. But there is a purpose to what I write, even if it is a cautionary tale about how NOT to parent. Sweet little babies become toddlers who become adolescents, who become pre-teens who have to make adult decisions. Brian and I don’t have older gay mentors, so we pretty much stumble through all of this, occasionally stubbing our toes on the right answer.

This morning as the dogs were barking and the boys were arguing about who had not brushed their teeth and who had fed pancakes to the dogs, Aidan sniped, “Oh, yeah? Why don’t you just tell Daddy that you smoked weed yesterday?”

The kitchen went quiet.

After an excruciating silence I asked, “What does that mean?”

“What could it mean, Dad?” Zane said sheepishly, “This kid named Momo had weed, and we smoked it yesterday, in the stairwell where people make out.”

I am not a very bright gay with kids, but I did figure out pretty quickly that this was a one-on-one conversation. I was hit pretty much unawares by the birds-and-bees conversation, as well as the adopted-but-chosen conversation as well as the why-am-I-black-and-you-white conversation, but for each of those, I figured out that the other son is just a spectator, and the best way of cutting the odds is one-on-one.

The boys put on their shoes, picked up their backpacks and got into the car.

It was raining as we drove to school. We dropped Aidan off first, and then Zane and I went and got hot chocolate for him and a green tea latte for me. We stopped a block away from the Middle School. I parked the car, and turned it off. The rain made satisfying pings against the roof.

I sighed, “First of all, thank you for telling me. I’m not going to be a hypocrite here, but I didn’t try it till I was in college. Now, I know I am old-fashioned, but it gets down to this: Twelve years old is not old enough to make this choice.”

“Yes, Dad.” No argument.  No eye rolling.

“Did you like it?”

“To be honest, yes, I did.”

“Well, here’s the thing, Zane. You know you were born addicted to crack. And it’s a hard thing to understand, but that is just what the body does. Sometimes a body likes a substance so much that the body uses too much of it, and gets hurt in the process.”

“Like Papa smoking?”

“Yes, like Papa smoking. And it took thirty years for him to quit.”

“Dad, I won’t do it again.” I did not tell Zane that this was probably not true. I just let him be. Each of the decisions we make are for just one moment of time. We cannot make promises for the future. We can only make decisions for the NOW, but twelve years old was too young to understand this. But Zane had told me the truth, and on the morning that I first learned that my son had used drugs, that victory had to be enough.

The rain picked up a little, and underneath those pings of rain against the car roof, there was the sound of the drops lightly plopping against the glass. “Which sound do you like better, Zane?  The drops falling against the roof, or the drops falling on the windshield?”

“The roof, Daddy.”

“Why is that?”

“If you think about it, that drop of water is part of a big cloud, and then part of a big rain, and after it falls, just a part of the river heading to the big ocean. But for just one moment, it makes its own drumbeat and you and I are the only ones who ever heard it.”

Stairway to the Stars

The firefighter said, "You're remarkably calm for a man whose son just got his head stuck in a concrete staircase."

 

I sat there, my son Aidan on my lap -- well, at least the part that was not stuck in a concrete staircase -- and smiled. I wanted the firefighter to think I was one of those stoic dads who handles any pressure, but the truth was this just wasn't unusual. Maybe it was 11 years of parenting but by the third time I'd changed a colostomy bag, the world lost its horror.

Maybe it's the fact that all the children we have fostered were born drug-exposed. Maybe not. But sometime after Zane and Aidan threw all the pencils into the microwave, or set off the fire alarm in church, or told off the chief of police, or shut down the baseball stadium, I lost the ability to be shocked.

I have no idea how the parents of normal children spend their evenings. I only know that my nights are spent getting gum out of the dog's fur and chocolate syrup off of the sofa cushions.

Two years ago, a woman offered me a free dog. The boys had seen him in the pet shop where we bought dog food. Turned out the dog was born with a bone defect. The woman said, "If you and your husband can care for these two ADHD boys and those three dogs, then adding in a crippled puppy won't really make a difference." On the Island of Lost Boys, all are welcome.

As Aidan and I sat in the cool evening air, waiting for the Jaws of Life, I said, "Aidan, I'm gonna press your ears in, and with my arm I'm gonna push up on the rebar.  When I say 'Go', you slide back to me, and if this works, you can have ice cream for dinner."  Five minutes later, we were on our way to Mitchell's.

We all get stuck on the staircase sometimes, and all we need is a little help to step up.

Lives Matter

My son Zane is Black.  His life matters.  My son Aidan is of indeterminate race.  His life matters.

I am a white gay man.  So is my husband, Brian.  And our lives matter.

There is a part of me that will always feel guilty, that will always question my cultural competence when it comes to raising a black son.  We celebrate Kwanzaa.  We watch Sidney Poitier films (although boy boys greatly prefer Samuel L. Johnson as Nick Fury). We listen to rap. This month, for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, my ringtone is the “I have a dream” speech.  But I will always know that this is not enough.   I will always know that I don’t understand the marginalization of persons with different skin colors.

I did a radio interview about a year ago where I felt ambushed.  The interviewer kept asking me what right I had to foster a black son, calling this a “plantation adoption.”  He did not ask me about my cultural competence.  He denied that it was possible for me to have any cultural competence that, in essence, because I grew up white, I could never understand growing up black.

That is probably so.

But it got down to this:  Zane was a crack baby, and a difficult baby at that.  There weren’t any other foster parents, black/white, straight/gay, thin/thick who wanted him.  The social worker said that he would probably end up in a group home.  And Brian and I are the kind of persons who take the long odds: boys with colostomies, and crippled dogs and unadoptable babies.  And, ultimately, Brian and I were the only two persons who chose to treat Zane as someone whose life matters.

Now, I grew up different from my parents, in a day and age when a boy had to hide the fact that he would not be heterosexual like his parents.  Zane will also grow up different from his parents.

There is a double burden on me because I am not a black man, and I am raising a black man.  It is my responsibility because I have chosen.  I did not choose to be white.  I did not choose to be gay.  But I did choose to be a father.

Zane earns an allowance, as does Aidan.  He gets $12 a week just for being Zane, but if he does anything special during the week, he gets a little extra.  If he does anything especially bad, he loses a little something.  So most Saturday mornings, I say something along the lines of: “Well, you started out with twelve dollars, but you socked your brother at dinner on Wednesday.  On the other hand, you did do your homework every night without drama, so this week’s total is $14.”

Zane can spend that money any way that he wants.  It is why we call it an allowance: he is allowed to choose the way he spends it.  So last month, in December, Zane earned an unprecedented $17.  That Sunday, while my husband was performing in the Nutcracker, Zane, Aidan and I walked into Cliff’s Hardware store, my favorite catch-all store in the Castro, the kind of store where I could buy washers for the sink and a marabou feather boa all at the same time.   As I looked through Christmas decorations and needlepoint accessories (Yes, I am that gay), Zane and Aidan wandered off into the toy section.

Zane came back with a white and orange plastic Nerf gun.  Despite the fact that I work as a deputy sheriff, I do not purchase toy guns for my sons.  I don’t believe in glorifying gun violence.  Just me.  If we had girls, I would probably not buy Barbie dolls because I don’t believe in an 18” waist either.  But this was Zane’s allowance, and I thought that by the rules we had made about it, I could not deny him the purchase.

Neither Brian nor I checked his backpack the next morning.  Neither Brian nor I thought that parents should be snooping in their son’s backpack.  And Zane went to school, and during study hall, he pulled out the new toy he bought and waved it around.

The teacher freaked out, went home sick.  When she returned three days later, Zane was charged with terrorist threats and expelled from the school.

Yes, I work as a peace officer, and, yes, I am aware of gun safety.  Yes, I have discussed with Zane more than a dozen times that twelve year old boys with darker skin colors who held toy guns have gotten shot by police officers with lighter skin colors.

This is a place where cultural competences collide.  I have friends who are teachers, and when I have told them this story, they shook their heads and said, “This is sad, but that is what the school district needed to do.” I have friends who are peace officers and they shook their heads and said, “This is crazy.”  I have friends who are Black and they shook their heads and said, “This is an overreaction.”

Truth of the matter is that the majority of persons who shoot people in schools are not twelve year old black males.  Truth of the matter is that a twelve year old black male who carries anything looking remotely like a firearm are suspect in America.

Zane’s is a twelve year old black boy with learning challenges being raised by gays in the wild.  His life matters. I do what I can to let Zane know that, yes, Black lives matter.

I have friends, well, associates really, who say to me that “Black Lives Matters” as a movement is wrong because all lives matter.  And I understand their perspective.  But I also understand, as a father who fiercely loves his son, that too often in this world there are people who don’t treat my sons, and other black sons, like their lives matter.  So I need to underscore this, that when the school abandons him, and he gets kicked out of basketball camp:

Zane’s life matters.

There's Gonna Be a Resolution

For more than 50 years, someone has asked me, or rather sung to me, "Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?" and then, right after, "What is your New Year's Resolution?"

 

Now, the great thing about being raised Catholic was that I could treat the New Year's resolution as a test drive for Lent, so if I gave up cotton candy or sky-diving, I would just see how hard it is for the first three days of the year, just to see if I could spend six weeks without that particular vice.

 

And it's not just me.  For 30 New Year's Eves my husband has given up smoking, and given it up again on Ash Wednesday, and some year it's going to stick.

 

I don't like New Year's Eve. In law enforcement, we call it amateur night. It's all those people drinking and smoking and eating like heck because they all face the prospect of waking up to their hangover the next day, knowing that they promised to face the next 365 days without bacon or vodka.

 

And there is something sad about daybreak on January 1st, seeing the neighbors in a rush to tear down their Christmas trees and Kwanzaa candles, rushing back to the gym and giving up.

 

This year, I'm not giving up.  I'm not giving in. I'm giving forward.

 

Instead of losing those 20 pounds that I will never lose, this year I'm going to start small:  my resolution is one act of kindness a day, whether that be contributing money to a charity, or calling an old friend to check to see how he is doing, or volunteering as a coach at the school.  And even if I am the worst basketball coach in the history of CYO, at least my boys will know that rather than spend my time fixating on the ice cream that I gave up, I am willing to learn the difference between a zone defense and a man-to-man defense, just to spend a little more quality time.

 

Should old acquaintances be forgot?  No, but make a few new acquaintances in the meantime.

Hard Candy Christmas

This was turning out to be the kind of holiday that Dolly Parton would have called "a hard candy Christmas."

 

Dickens got it right when he wrote A Christmas Carol.  Ghosts do not haunt us at Halloween nearly as much as they do at Christmas.   Every Christmas, we are haunted by Tim, who stole a dozen dinosaur ornaments from the Museum of Natural History so that we would have a Christmas present.  Every Christmas, we are haunted by Nurse Vivian, who may have given me that recipe for apple pie, but never did tell me the trick for getting the cream cheese cookies out of the cookie press.  Every Christmas, well at least for the past two Christmases, we are haunted by Nana, who bought us so many gifts, that even two years after her death we haven't finished opening them up  (this is a  true fact:  there is still, in our garage, an unpacked thirty pound copper unicorn weather vane that still remains in its wrapping).

 

And two days before Thanksgiving, Qp passed away, thus taking the last bit of estrogen out of the Bungalow of Lost Boys.  This is how the holiday season started for us.  And then Zane got expelled from the James Lick Middle School.  And Aidan developed a sleep disorder, so we have one boy who cannot stay in bed, and another boy who cannot stay in school.  In fost/adopt class, they do not tell you about the thousand heartbreaks, the ten schools your sons get kicked out of, the holes in the wall when you son digs through plaster with a spoon, the bonfire set in the bathroom sink with toilet paper, the ring that your grandmother wore being given away to a ten year old, the pencils in the microwave.

 

Brian (Papa) loves Christmas almost as much as Nana did but this has been the kind of Christmas that would make the herald angels panic.  In thirty years, this is the first year that Papa did not take the Christmas picture.

 

This week, all four of our therapists cancelled.  What are the odds?  Were they really all that sick, or had they just figured out a few days before us that our theme song had become "If We Make It Through December"?

 

But haunting is not always so bad.  Not really.  Sandwiched in there between Tim and Nana and Nurse Vivian and the Pekes (Miss Grrrl, Diva, Wolfcub and Qp) there was Grandpa Harold (Hap).

 

Sometime in the early 1960s, Aunt Mildred, who lived in Glendale, just northeast of South Ozone Park, decided to take a holiday crafts class.  Her sister-in-law, Nurse Vivian, joined her, and so the two of them learned how to make a snowman out of dry cleaner bags, and a Santa Claus out of back copies of Reader's Digest.  The last project was a Christmas card holder, and it was made out of felt, upon which were sewn beads and sequins in various shapes (holly leaves, Santa stars, angels, reindeer...)  Aunt Mildred finished hers in ten days, but Nurse Vivian struggled.  She was raising three difficult sons at the time, Brother Not X, who never did what he was told; Brother X, who had he been born fifty years later would have been diagnose as ADHD, and me, who was, well, frankly, a nelly queen in a family of decidedly straight Irishmen.

 

Nurse Vivian never did finish that card holder, but for reasons that remain obscured to either the sands of time or alcohol, my father, Hap decided to finish the project for her.  It wasn't too dissimilar to the beaded belt projects that he had worked with the Cub Scouts on, and mysteriously, the guy who climbed telephone poles for a living got the whole thing done.  Everyone liked it, even Aunt Bea,  and my father began sewing beads and sequins onto felt.

 

Hap was underrated for his creativity.  He was the only man I know who could write about the Battle of the Bulge in rhymed couplets, and he started designing card holder for others, and then Christmas stockings.  He sewed stockings for Nurse Vivian, and Brother Not X and Brother X and me, and all the aunts and uncles in the family.  He did the creative part.  Nurse Vivian took the felt cloth and sewed it and backed it, and made the whole thing into a stocking.

 

You knew that you were a Paulson when you got one of Hap's Christmas stockings.  As Brother X and Brother Not X got married, their wives each got a stocking, and as Brother X sired Daughter of X and Son of X, each of them was bestowed a stocking.

 

You can say all you want about gay marriage, but really, the moment that I knew that Brian had made it into the family, was the year that Hap sewed a stocking with the name "Bri"  No one has ever called my husband "Bri" other than Hap, but there was a chrysthanemum and a church sewn onto green felt and I knew that Hap was as all right with my marriage as he was ever going to get.

 

Hap developed macular degeneration in his eighties, which meant that there were dark spots in front of his eyes.  In 2003, Papa and I began the grand adventure called family, and Hap, living in an assisted living community in Saint Petersburg, Florida, went into action.  Papa and I had taken in newborn triplets, and you all know the story of Vivienne and Joshua and Kyle.  They moved in with us in April, and the first Christmas of their lives, Grandpa Hap was determined to make special. He could no longer see well enough to thread a needle, so he paid his next door neighbor a dollar a thread to thread a dozen needles at a time for him, and he sat in Room 222 (which he called triple deuce) and sewed and sewed and sewed, and each of them was given a stocking.  The night they took the triplets away, the social worker refused to take the stockings with her, so somewhere in our basement rests the cloth of our dreams.

 

Grandpa Hap died a few years ago, almost exactly as he had predicted, dead in bed at 93.  Of course, he had predicted that he would die in bed at 93, shot by a jealous husband, and although that was not quite how the event worked out, that is, in fact, the story we will one day tell our grandchildren.

 

That year I realized that there would no longer be a Grandpa Hap to sew stockings for his grandchildren. Family means keeping the tradition going, and in our case that meant that the Dad had to start sewing.  Oh, I may regret this by the time that I become Grandpa Kip, but the month that Grandpa Hap died, I started sewing.  Never good with beads and sequins, despite being the gayest of the Paulsons, I began to work in needlepoint.  Why needlepoint?  Why not? I liked it, and it was, mathematical in its beauty.

 

I just said that it was unusual for a man who climbed telephone poles to sew sequins, so I guess that it is not that odd for a Sheriff's Captain to sew needlepoint.  Only I never realized just how complex the project would be.  Ten thousand stitches.  Ten thousand stitches.  Took me a few years (Papa says four, but, frankly, I have lost count.)

 

Maybe it was that last ghost:  the ghost of Normal.  This was the year that Brian and I both gave up on Normal, that our lives would never ever be like the Hallmark movies, that the victories raising two challenged and spirited boys would always be small victories.  For us, three minutes of order would be all the victory we would have in a year of chaos.

 

Zane had an almost perfect "F" average before he was expelled from James Lick Middle School  Ruining that perfect score was one single grade in English.  Mr. Brody, the English teacher, asked him to write an essay about Zane's own experience, and this is what he wrote:

 

Zane’s Christmas Memory

Sometimes the meaning of family can be found by something as small as cinnamon rolls.  This story takes place in a royal blue home, somewhere in the southern part of San Francisco. The people involved are Dad, Poppa, Aidan and Zane, and the dogs.  But that is not where this story begins.  It begins in my crazy alcoholic birth mother’s womb.  There was no happiness there.  This story is about me getting adopted by two loving gay men.

 

My birth mother was a drug addict who left me in the hospital. She did not care if I was dead or alive. I was put into a foster home after my birth father was arrested for trying to rob a liquor store

 

When I was ten months old, I moved in with Dad and Poppa. They loved me and cared for me and taught me how to walk.  Later, Aidan moved in with us, as well as the rescue dogs

 

My family taught me the meaning of love and care for those who are different from us. Love is expressed in little ways, like trips to Disneyland/Disneyworld, camping with friends and baking cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.  Christmas is very special in our family.  We invite all of our friends over the Sunday before Christmas to sing and play and help decorate the tree.  And on every Christmas morning, Dad bakes cinnamon rolls, just like Nana did when they were boys.

 

That is what family is really about, not the people who gave birth to you, but the people who love you.  Cinnamon rolls bring people together, people like two orphans, a gay couple and four pekingese.

 

by Zane Fisher-Paulson

 

This was the only A this semester.

 

But this week was the week I was determined to finish.  Not entire sure why, after it already took me years, I was determined that this be the year.

 

Papa, God bless him, took over Nurse Vivian's role and sewed all that felt together, and yesternight, while the boys watched White Christmas, I finished the hand sewing.  Turns out that just like Hap, my eyes are starting to go, but thanks to the very strong bifocals and equal determination, the stockings are done.  And now both Zane and Aidan have a felt needlepoint stocking that is filled with a father's love.  Let's hope that wives and grandchildren do not come too quickly.

 

For those of you who live on the West Coast, this is as close as it gets to an invitation to the Ornament Party.  You know we are not the kind of queens who do invitations.  Here is what we do:  on the Sunday before Christmas Eve, we go out and get a couple of boxes of cheap red wine and we mull it.  We put up a tree on the porch, and friends come over and decorate that tree.  And take the ornaments when they are done drinking mulled wine (or mulled cider).  Our friends who like better wine usually bring it.  Uncle Quentin, at some point in the evening, says, "Do you mind if I play the piano?"  And somebody sings Silent Night.  And someone sings White Christmas.  And by the time that we get to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" I look like George Bailey in the last scene of It's a Wonderful Life. For us this is tradition.

 

May your Christmas be filled with cinnamon rolls.  

Feast of Saint Nicholas

I thought that it was easy to celebrate the holidays just like my Irish arents did.  But when I married a husband and adopted two mixed race boys, I found out that it was a lot harder than it looks for the Easter Bunny to dye three dozen eggs or for the tooth fairy to stick that quarter under the pillow without waking up the kid.

Oddly enough, Kwanzaa was the easiest of the holidays, because we had not history to compare.

When I was a boy, we celebrated December 6th, the feast of Saint Nicholas, as Little Christmas. My brothers and I put our shoes out the night before, and, mysteriously, the next morning, those shoes were filled with nuts and oranges and Hershey’s kisses.

That might have worked in the 1960s South Ozone Park, but not in 21st century San Francisco.  First of all, no other kid celebrates the holiday, so both of my boys are asking, “Daddy, why should we put our shoes outside?  Won’t they get stolen?”

Second, I had one pair of shoes growing up.   Zane has inexplicable become the Imelda Marcos of the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy and he is able to produce no less than twelve pairs of shoes to put out on the stoop.

But hardest of all is the grade inflation.  In 1963, I was delighted with a Bonomo Turkish Taffy bar, but nowadays, my six year old Aidan is asking, “Daddy, do you think that Saint Nicholas can fit an Xbox into my shoe?”

Sometimes parenting is about lowering expectations, showing up with those chocolate kisses when you know the kid really wants a drum set.   So last year, Saint Nicholas filled up all twelve pairs of shoes with hot chips and sour gummies and all the bad foods they loved to eat, and I braced myself for the inevitable, “Dad, why didn’t Saint Nicholas put a bicycle into my Nikes?”

Instead, Zane got up, smiled at all the food, and stuffed his backpack.  When I asked what he was doing, my son of many colors replied, “I’m bringing the treats in for the other boys in the class, who aren’t lucky enough to be Irish.”

The Wiggles

Over the weekend, my sons and I watched Pitch Perfect 2.   About halfway through, the character named Fat Amy announced that she knew three of the Wiggles.  Intimately.

My husband and I laughed, but my ten year old Aidan paused the movie and asked, “Who are the Wiggles?”  His tone indicated that he believed that Wiggles were a secret gay term for some kind of deviance.

Alas, thirty years into a relationship, I no longer know the secret language of gays, and I am much too tired for deviance.  But I do know the Wiggles.

Stick with me here.  You don’t need to have watched Pitch Perfect 2 to get this.  You don’t even have to know who the Wiggles are.

Seven years ago, my boys graduated out of Barney, and the next program up was a group of Australian boys known as the Wiggles.  They each wore a different colored mock turtleneck sweater  and they sang songs like Hot Potato and Fruit Salad.  Kind of like Teletubbies, without the antennae.

The Wiggles were a pre-manufactured group, like the Monkees or the Village People.  Withcharacters like Captain Feathersword and songs like “Get Ready to Wiggle,” it wasn’t a hard market for gay men raising children to buy into. And when my sons were toddlers,  they loved them.  So much so that I drove down to San Jose to take them to their concert.  Yes, four singing Aussies, five thousand screaming children and me.  I remember nothingother than my three year old son smiling blissfully and saying “Wiggow.”

But now, Aidan doesn’t  remember Wiggles, and the part of me who spent a couple hundred dollars in San Jose resented this.

This is what parenting means sometimes.  You watch what your son watches.  You hum along to the Wiggly Safari album.  And then a little later, your little boy discovers little girls and forgets all about the Wiggles.

Sound hopeless?  No.  Sounds like life.    Turn the DVD back on.

Take your child to every Wiggles Concert you can.  They won’t remember it.  But you will.

Pluto

Give up on all expectations.

Last Sunday, I helped my sons, Zane and Aidan, put together a jigsaw puzzle depicting the solar system.  As usual, I assembled the border pieces while the boys pieced the planets together one at a time.  Aidan worked diligently on Jupiter, while Zane raced through the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and the Asteroid Belt.  Within an hour he had gotten as far as Neptune, and announced that he was done.

“What about Pluto?” I asked.

“There’s no planet named Pluto.”  He said.  And my fourth grader was right. Both the jigsaw puzzle and I were wrong.  Those last tiniest pieces belonged to Pluto, which had at one time been the ninth planet in the solar system.  Sometime after I had completed my one course in astronomy, other objects got discovered in the solar system, like Eris, a disc shaped rock in the Kuiper belt that claimed to be 27% bigger than Pluto.

On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union announced that Pluto was no longer a planet but had been subcategorized to Dwarf Planet, along with Eris and Ceres, a planetoid in the Asteroid Belt.

Now, I have nothing against these two orbiting objects, but what I disliked is what they did to poor Pluto.  They belittled Pluto’s eccentric orbit, which sometimes brings it closer to earth than Neptune. 

Think about being Pluto for a second, there you are a full classed planet for seventy-five years, only to get a letter telling you that size indeed does matter.

Why do I care?   I grew up with the Mnemon: Mary’s Violet Eyes Make John Stay Up Nights---Proposing.  Now, no one knows why John is staying up,  leaving his nocturnal activities to the imagination of my all-too-imaginative eight year old.  I can compromise, and fit in Ceres and Eris.  Mary’s Violet Eyes Can Make John Stay Up Nights Eagerly Proposing.  In this age of political correctness, I intended to teach my children that even rock and ice objects can be planets too.

The universe always uses coincidence to humble me.

On the following Saturday, there were soccer tryouts in the park near my house.  Hadn’t had enough, what with autumn soccer league, cross country track, winter basketball, early spring t-ball and spring baseball. No, my kids needed good reason for getting mediocre grades, and that reason would have to be a busy sports schedule.

So I get the boys up early, and they are excited to get their cleats and shin guards on, and they practically drag me down the field.  And there I am feeling out of place, as twenty boys with twenty parents all kick balls around the grass, and me thinking that Starbuck’s would be a lot more fun at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning.

Did I mention that I am old and gay?  As a man in his mid fifties, I always feel spent watching the thirty-something parents play tackle with their kids.  And it’s always awkward when one of these soccer dads walks up to me and asks me what the little woman is doing while I am watching the game.

So I stood on the sideline and tried to look inconspicuous.  This lasted for about half an hour, until a jock standing next to me said, “This going great, eh?” I could tell by the accent thathe spoke English well, but as a second language, and I figured that I would have nothing in common with the guy, other than the fact that we were both up on a Saturday morning watching our sons kick a black and white ball across the lawn.  I nodded, not to enthusiastically, not really wanting him to mistake my answer for enthusiasm about starting a conversation. “Which kid is yours?” he persevered.

I pointed out the only black child on the field,  and, as I am not black, I figured that the guy would then know that I was not a regular kind of Dad, but, instead he said, “That’s great. I am no the only Adopted Father here?”

“Really?”

“Yes, usually my husband takes them to these things, but he had a conference and—“ wait.  This guy was not only adoptive, but gay as well?  And here I had been in stereotype city, just wanting to feel marginalized, when suddenly, I had a quorum.  So I asked if he had adopted here, or internationally, and he said, “Well, when my husband and I moved from France to California, we decided to adopt American.”

“What brought you to America?”

“I am a professor of Astronomy.”  Again, I got caught short, because there I was ready to become best buddies with this guy, but he may have betrayed me on my one cosmic issue. 

So I jumped in with, “You’re not one of those guys who voted Pluto out of the club, are you?”

He smiled and said, “Both of them.”

“Both?”

“You see, Pluto is not the planet we think it is. When we finally got a good look at it, we found out, that actually Pluto has a moon, Charon, and they are locked in an orbit together, which we could not see until now. In fact, Pluto has no barycenter.  In fact, Pluto isn’t merely a dwarf planet, but a binary dwarf planet.”

The lesson?  Never hold on to stubborn opinions.  Just when you think the straight guy next to you will never understand what you are doing, he tells you that the planetoid that you have been defending for the past few years is leading a double life.