31 July 2007

Introducting Mr. and Mrs. Yummy Mommy

Gender is often discussed at our dinner table.

Bella wants affirmation that it is okay to like more so-called "boy" things, such as catching bugs, and still be a girl. She often tries to balance her masculine traits with her feminine traits in a mathematical equation so that the scales don't dip too far in favour of girl over boy or boy over girl. She's seeking equilibrium as a reassurance of some kind.

That same search for gender equilibrium also carries over to us. Even though the kids have two moms, they frequently have gendered discussions about who is more like a dad or like a mom. The way they explore gender is through activities which are easily categorized as boy or girl. To a degree, they try to uncover the essence of a father-figure in each of us so that they're not really missing out by not having a Dad.

While Wifey and I have never had a butch/femme relationship, or one that has been predominately defined by gender roles, during my parental leave how we decided to divide roles has definitely left us with a more common or stereotypical division of duties. I'm the primary homemaker and Wifey is the primary breadwinner. For now.

When discussing us over dinner one night, Bubaloo stated that I was his "Yummy Mommy." His rationale for this was that I did all of the cooking, was always working in the garden and was around during the day. Oh, and the yummy part came from agreeing with Wifey that I was cute.

Now that I was the "Yummy Mommy," Wifey inquired as to what she was.

"You're Mr. Yummy Mommy," Bubaloo said proudly. And she's, pointing at me, "Mrs. Yummy Mommy."

When asked why Wifey was Mr. Yummy Mommy, Bubaloo explained that was because she works, works and works, and fishes, too.

So there you have it. The Mom and Dad gender division in all its childlike simplicity. Moms cook and Dads work. Moms garden and Dads fish.

I do, however, wonder what the kids think when I mow the lawn or when I paint the house. I can tell you that their jaws dropped to the floor the first time that Wifey cooked them dinner. They were shocked to learn that she knew how to cook and vocalized huge disbelief when I explained that before they came to live with us Wifey did most of the cooking.

Just wait until September when I go back to work and their whole ordering of the universe is thrown on its head.

27 July 2007

Attack of the 6ft Tomato

Everyday I'm hoping that the contractors will finish off my fence project so I can finally show off my last gardening project of the summer. The new side step is built and installed, although it still needs to be stabilized. The posts for the fence are now in. I just need a fence to go between the posts. Oh, and some pictures of the project. And, I need it to stop raining so that the contractors can work on the project.

Instead, I'll share with you the tomato plant I'm in awe of.

While I haven't quite exactly yet measured it, I did have to stake it from the eavestroughs at the back of the garage. This involved standing on tiptoe and reaching above my head. I guesstimate that the tomato plant is well over 6ft in height, 5ft in width, and it's still growing.

monster tomato plant

This is a sweetie cherry tomato and it's covered in fruit. None of the fruit has ripened quite yet.

Holy compost. That's all I have to say. And my teensy regret is that I didn't put one of my heirloom plants in the former compost area. I'm sure that would have knocked my socks off.

The tomatoes in the raised beds are starting to ripen. Only the cherry tomatoes here, too. We've (kids, wife, dog and birds) been munching on some of the christmas grape variety.

cherry tomato

26 July 2007

Who Are the People in Your Neighbourhood?

Having kids makes you out and come out all the time.

We're pretty out. We're pretty big activists within the queer community. Having children makes you out, everywhere, all of the time. It makes you out to that huge mainstream community of which we were often only peripherally a part of as a couple and are now part of daily because we have kids.

While I've never had an incident or experienced overtly hostile homophobia, I'm always a little fearful when having to disclose that I'm a big old homo to new people. Even more so now because I want to protect my kids from any possible negative reactions others may have. I recognize that this fear is mine and I have to own it.

Most often when I come out to someone new, I get to hear all about a gay aunt, uncle, sibling, distant relative, high school friend, college buddy, co-worker, neighbour or random acquaintance. For the record, telling a queer person that you know someone else who is queer as a way to show that you're okay with queers in general is really quite bizarre. Even more bizarre is when you tell me about a same-sex crush or the homosexual experience you had when you were a kid, in high school or university. I'm left wondering if you tell me because you also needed to feel a huge sense of relief in finally having disclosed this big, dark secret to the only other gay person you happen to know.

Driving the kids home from camp earlier this week, we drove past a neighbour on another street who has fabulous rose bushes edging her property. I like to drive by and ogle her garden. But this time, the roses were gone.

I commented on their absence and Bella filled us all in on all of the details.

She's a lesbian Bella told us. She also had dug up the plants and sold them.

When we asked how Bella knew she was a lesbian and how she knew about the plants, Bella let us know that she had been chatting with this neighbour and shared that she is going to a summer camp for kids with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans parents.

The lady then shared with her that she's also lesbian and a mother and two other gay guys live down the street from her. Not the same two gay postmen who live on our street.

While it's great to know that we live in queer central, we were more than a bit flabbergasted when we had to point out to Bella that the woman she was talking to was a stranger and she's not supposed to talk with strangers, and especially not share all the details of our lives.

Bella's come out about her family, we've been outed to a neighbour, the neighbour has been outed to us through our kid and has outed some other people in the process. Apparently, by fluke, we've purchased a house in Mr. Roger's very gay neighbourhood.

14 July 2007

I'm Back!

The vacation is now over. We're back from the cottage. It was relaxing, refreshing and enjoyable. I do think that if we had a choice we'd all rather be sitting by the lake right now. Well, I'd be sitting by the lake and the rest of the crew would be fishing in it.

I did manage to "sneak" my laptop to the cottage and "sneak" in some blogging time. When I get a moment, that is, after I deal with the earwig infestation in the garden, I'll back post the entries.

Update - I've back posted 5 entries from our vacation. Missing is a video on the Bug Buffet that I want to add, but it needs to be edited first. If only for length.

Also posted is the first installment of our adoption story, which as I write it is becoming less and less of a story and more of a saga.

13 July 2007

Scrabble is Educational and Leads to Educational Moments

scrabble at the cottage

Over our two weeks at the cottage, Scrabble emerged as the family favourite board game. I’m not quite sure why the kids love it so much and request to play it ad nauseum. I know that Wifey loves it because she has usurped me as the household champ and regularly achieves scores over 400. As a parent I love it because it involves language arts and math!

We’re using Scrabble to build our kids’ vocabulary and explore the world of words. The kids need quite a bit of assistance still, whether it is in deciding where on the board to play, what to spell or how to become a master in using all of your tiles laying only three letter words.

During a game earlier in the week between Wifey and Bubaloo, Bubaloo thought of a 5-letter word all on his own. Only he didn’t have the letters to spell the word correctly.

On our most recent game, he begged and pleaded for help again. Wifey quickly eyed his tiles and let him know that he now had the word he had wanted to spell the other day but didn’t have the letters for.

That’s when D-I-N-K-Y came into play on our Scrabble board. I raised an eyebrow and laughed.

Later that evening D-I-N-K-Y was replayed in conversation. Bella asked what it meant. I offered that it has two definitions: 1) small or tiny; or, 2) another word for weenie.

As in all good spelling moments, a definition is useless without putting the word in context. Before Wifey and I could offer up a sentence, Bubaloo came to the rescue.

“My dinky, as in my weenie, is dinky,” he exclaimed while pointing to his groin area and then making a small gesture with his thumb and pointer finger.

We all fell to the ground the laughing. But he wasn’t finished yet. In earnestness he continued on.

“My foster dad, even though he had never seen me…you know…naked…always used to joke that my weenie was dinky. I wonder how he knew that?” Bubaloo shared with a confused expression.

More and more laughter erupted from the family. But, the dinky conversation wasn’t yet over. Somehow it morphed into an opportunity to talk about circumcision. So I explained. While they now get what it is and the why, it was really difficult to give them a good visual picture of the difference between a circumcised and uncircumcised penis.

They requested photos. I suggested that we go to the library to find a book. They rolled their eyes at me and then asked, as if it would be a huge, taxing effort to go to the library, why I didn’t opt to use the internet instead.

09 July 2007

Gee, I Want to be Like You…Sorta

Here's a snippet of conversation lifted from our day.

Bella says, turning to me, "Mom, I want to be just like you. I want to be just like both of you. Except for the lesbian part. I don’t want to be a lesbian."

I'm not even going to bother going in to detailing the lesbian processing that occured with that one - both with, and without, Bella.

08 July 2007

Fishin' for Food

the biggest bass....EVER

I am the only non-fisherman in a house full of fisherman. (Can you guess who is not in that photo?)

While every now and then I don’t mind the thrill of a good cast and a fish to reel in, I don’t touch hooks, lures, worms or fish. I don’t use my teeth to break a line. I don’t search out the best fishing haunts or relish waking up with the sun to discover what will be the catch of the day. And least of all, I never engage in the exchange of the Great Fishing Tales.

Bella thinks her fishing skills are genetically imbued, an insight she garnered earlier this month when we shared with her an album her bio-father had sent to CAS for her. Bubaloo just really seems to enjoy fishing. Wifey lives for it.

Surrounded by three fishermen with open access to a lake full of bass, perch, trout and crappies, there has been no shortage of fish. It started out with bringing the small ones home to cook up for a snack. Each catch was precious cause it was some sort of first. And, as they began to hook the larger ones, it evolved into keeping the large ones for meals.

We’ve had countless meals of fish, and I’m fished out. I’m even eyeing the cans of tuna I foolishly bought earlier in the week with contempt.

I like fish, I really do. But I’ve gotten caught in the trap of being unable to eat what is brought from lake to plate.

From 1991 to 2001, I was a vegetarian. I really did believe, and still do believe, that you should be willing and able to be self-sufficient and sustainable with food and part of that philosophy includes a respect of the lifecycle and that we kill to feed ourselves. We rely on pretty horrid means to eat meat and are amply removed from that process because we don’t kill the animals ourselves.

I sort of like to think that if I had to raise chicken and cattle for food, that I’d be able to raise, kill and eat them as necessary.

The fish on my dinner plate this week has taught me a new lesson. I can raise animals. I could even possibly kill them if I had to. I cannot, however, bring myself to eat what we directly bring to our plates. I’m repulsed. I gag. I can’t eat it with any sense of enjoyment.

Exactly what I’m going to do with this, I don’t quite know yet.

05 July 2007

I'll Have a Dash of Tact With That Ice Cream, Please

Today it rained, and rained, and rained and rained. All of this wet was accompanied by a show of thunder and lightening.

The family was laid up in the cottage, listening to the CBC and the crackle of the fire in the woodstove. Wifey and I read while the munchkins worked on some crafts of some sort.

When the storm temporarily broke in late afternoon, we decided to take a drive into the town of Westport to explore the tourist trap and get a spot of ice cream.

After looking at boat upon boat tied to the pier, we stopped into a local ice cream shop. It was a terrific place in a fantastic old house, with art on the walls and posters advertising local happenings. It sported a variety of ice cream flavours, which included moosetracks (my favourite!).

The spot was nearly perfect. The service, however, was not.

Before the kids even had an opportunity to look in and read the labels on all 32 flavours, the server was already badgering them to make up their minds.

To take the heat off the kids, I placed my order. Bella then settled on Bubblegum which the server made her taste before she dished out because it was a special type of Bubblegum that wasn’t to everyone’s liking. It past the taste test and Bella got a dish along with explicit instructions how not to eat out of a waffle dish to avoid it breaking.

While Bella and I dug into the ice creamy goodness, Wifey was patiently helping Bubaloo make up his mind. She was reading him the various names. She was asking what he liked. He also took this as an opportunity to taste test multiple varieties.

Loosing what little patience hadn’t been there when we first walked in the door, the server barked at Wifey, “Don’tcha know what kind of ice cream your kid likes?”

When Bubaloo was at the table safely out of earshot, Wifey politely let the server know as she handed over the money to cover the tab, “We only adopted him four months ago, so ice cream is one of the many things we’re still learning.”

03 July 2007

Mom and Other Mom

Even before Bella and Bubaloo moved in, there were long and complicated discussions around what to call us. We were involved, the foster parents were involved, the adoption and foster workers were involved, as well as Bella and Bubaloo themselves. These conversations often ran parallel to one another and at no time were more than two parties engaged.

Our adoption worker asked us in early January, “Have you given any thought to what you would like to be called?”

Wifey and I shrugged no. Because it wasn’t up to us. Our soon-to-be 9 and 11-year-old children could call us whatever they would like. We couldn’t tell the kids what to call us other than the names we had been given by our parents at birth. I’d been down that road before with my serial step-parents. No way in hell would I have ever called any of them Mom or Dad.

After their second or third visit, Bella asked her foster father what she should call us. She’d wanted a Mom again for years, but having two at the same time had thrown her a loop in the naming department. He said that she could call us Mom. Bella asked which one. And, her foster father responded she should call us both Mom. But Bella couldn’t wrap her head around how she could have two “Moms,” or rather, call two people by the exact same name.

She briefly contemplated calling one of us Mom and one of us Dad. But since we’re both pretty girly, and embody differing so-called masculine traits, that didn’t stick. It did however, give Wifey and I ample material for an endless series of inside jokes.

It turns out that everyone involved had an opinion on what we should be called. It was like a huge grab bag of naming possibilities was circulating and what we were to be called, and by whom, at any given point in time was determined by a random blind draw from this little black bag.

After a time of building our family, the kids started to try on different variations of Mom to fit us. We suggested that if they wanted to give us the title of Mom, that I could be known as Mom and Wifey could be known be Mama. Sometimes that works, most often it doesn’t.

Most frequently we get called Mom, Mommy, Muuuuuum, Mother, Mama, Maman and others. Only the kids have yet to develop an individual Mom identity that distinctly refers to one or the other of us. With the exception of one (one which in academic-speak I might label a quasi-Derridan-like la difference).

Mostly frequently heard in our house is the bellow of Mom. Half of the time neither of us answers. In part, this is because we’re not quite sure which one of us the children are referring to. And in part, sometimes we both forget that we have this new name.

The other half of the time, only one of us answers to the call. And the response comes in an overly exaggerated and frustrated tone as if we should have instinctively known better, “NO! The Other Mom.”

Mom and Other Mom. That’s the moniker that has stuck most of all. It easily fits into a variety of social situations and wonderfully differentiates one of us from the other. It also clearly defines that there is more than one Mom heading this family.

For example, we took the family on a studio tour this past Sunday and stopped at a place with a wonderful rose garden. Wifey and I were admiring and smelling the various flowers, while Bella had engaged the owner in giving her a personal tour. Part of the conversation we overheard was a discussion on mulch. Matter of factly, Bella explained to the garden owner that unlike here, her Mom uses pine mulch in the garden as her Other Mom is allergic to hay and gets hives.

Mom and Other Mom. It’s fluid. Who is the primary Mom and who is the Other Mom shifts depending upon context. It’s a relational title.

It’s part humourous and part peculiar. We’ll see how its usage evolves in our household. I’m all for organic and novel uses of language. I just don’t know how thrilled I’d be to be permanently referred to as Other Mom.

01 July 2007

Finding Bella and Bubaloo - Part 1

We discovered Bella and Bubaloo quite like Wifey and I discovered one another. Through the internet.
In September 2005, one week after our wedding to be exact, we went to an adoption information session at the Children’s Aid Society (CAS). We’d heard that only a small number of children became available for adoption each year in our city and it would take 3-4 years to be placed with a child. We were eager to have our names placed on the list for timing purposes – we would be ready to have a child when one became available for us.

The session confirmed for us that in Ottawa approximately 80 children are up for adoption each year. People wanting children under the age of three need not apply. Older children with varying needs were the hardest to place.

We approached the worker after the session and laid out our adoption scenario. Older child. Special needs were okay. Behavioural issues were also okay. She told us that we could be matched with a child and placed before Christmas, a mere four months away. Shocked and overwhelmed, we ran from the room without placing our names on the list.

Our adoption plans were temporarily shelved.
The following spring, my biological clock began to tick furiously and I once again hopped on the family starting train. This time, Wifey and I had series of long, serious conversations about adoption.

I began to read book upon book on adopted children and the issues we could anticipate as adoptive parents. I found little published on public adoption and adoption of older children. It was then I turned to the internet to scour for blogs. The ones I liked, I read from beginning to end.

It was during my travels on the virtual highway that I stumbled upon an adoption website that actually allowed you to view children and read profiles of those waiting to be placed. With a single click, AdoptOntario quickly became my favourite site and I checked on it with feverish frequency. I could tell from the counter indicating the number of posted profiles when more children were added and when ones finally found a home.

I celebrated for a child when their profile was taken down and it saddened me when more children were placed for adoption.

AdoptOntario was a last resort for many of these kids because they were hard to place and efforts in their own communities hadn’t been successful. Sibling groups. Global delays. Severe disabilities. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Effect. Non-white children (as agencies often were holding out for a racial/cultural match).

Then one day “Rachel” and “Brad” appeared. Call it a gut feeling. Call it intuition. Call it mother’s instinct. I knew we had found our children.
In that moment of finding “Rachel” and “Brad” our lives changed. The mentally mapped life we had envisioned instantaneously changed from one child to two. Everything that we had imagined was turned on its head. Our plans of adopting a boy and birthing a girl flew out the window. Suddenly, we were compelled to adopt two and we had to redesign the blueprints of our architected life maps.
We expressed our interest in adopting “Rachel” and “Brad” through AdoptOntario. The children featured on the AdoptOntario website could be living anywhere in the province.

My phone conversation with the coordinator was quite enlightening. She requested the name of our social worker. I responded, “We don’t have a social worker at this time.” She asked if we could forward our homestudy. I asked, “What homestudy?”

It turns out that Ottawa was piloting a new intake model. Instead of sending all prospective adoptive parents through the intensive screening and homestudy process, they’d pre-screen prospective parents and send them through a training about fostering/adoption before determining their eligibility and putting them forth to complete a homestudy.

Adoption agencies across the province were apparently holing an abundance of parents they were unable to match with children. They were the wrong kind of parents for the kinds of children with varying needs that would be in the care of the CAS. Unrealistic expectations. Wanting babies or very young children. Not wanting children with special needs. Not understanding or wanting to erase the myriad of issues that adopted children face.

In lieu of having none of the prerequisites prospective parents normally came with, we were mailed a huge package of forms to complete. We completed the paperwork after an abundance of lesbian processing and really had to ask hard questions of ourselves that revealed some not-so-great things that we had to come to terms with.

Why would we be willing to adopt a child who was HIV-positive or deaf, but not a child who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome or was blind? Why did we not want a child affected by global delays or of significantly impacted intelligence?
In choosing adoption we encountered ugly truths that we needed to reconcile within ourselves. Unlike biological parents, we did have a choice in the basic make up of our children. We got to pick and choose from a checklist of traits and issues that would be used to help match our family with children. It’s like genetic screening from a pool of children. Pick a desired age. Pick a desired personality. Weed out all that is not desirable to you.
We received a call from AdoptOntario shortly after submitting our paperwork to pass along the name and contact information of the children’s adoption social worker. We had passed our first test.

The social worker’s name was P. She worked with the Ottawa CAS. From anywhere in the province, we had chosen children living right in our own backyard. Coincidence #1.

We called P. and requested a meeting. Two weeks later, we met with her for the first time.
As spring had turned into early summer, we still noticed water seeping into our basement from the western side of the house. Having been apprised of the minor issue during the house inspection the previous fall, we’d already attempted the first level fix. Worst case scenario, we were told, we’d have to tear up the driveway near the house and pay around $4,000 to have the exterior wall waterproofed. We opted to explore the second level fix – to locate where the water was coming in and have only that section waterproofed.

Now that we were getting serious on the child front, we didn’t want to have the possibility of any environmental issues in the basement as a potential threat to their health.

I set up a series of consultations with foundation companies. The first one was scheduled to take place the day after our meeting with P.
In the two weeks before the meeting took place with P. we cautiously spoke about the adoption with random people. Namely, those of our acquaintances who were current and former foster or adoptive parents. We spoke in hypotheticals. We didn’t dare utter any of these hypotheticals with our families or closest friends.

It was during one of these aforementioned conversations, that Coincidence #2 was revealed. It only served to further solidify my belief that these were our children.

Wifey was chatting with colleague N., a current foster parent and decided to disclose that we were looking at a child-specific adoption. Wifey related the events to date and the colleague asked for more information on the kids.

As Wifey racked her brain to recall details from their profiles, N. began to prompt her on these details. N. knew as much about these kids as Wifey did. That’s because N.’s foster kids were the ones we were interested in adopting.