In all the glee over the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, there's a constituency that has received little notice: children with a gay service member nonbiological parent. Those parents have been unable to adopt their children, or sometimes even to live with them, for fear that knowledge about their family circumstances would trigger a discharge. That fear is now lifted. The children will now have greater economic and emotional security.
It's been bad enough when the couple raising the child stays together and does the best they can to nurture their children under a veil of secrecy. But it's been especially difficult if the couple splits up. The bio mom has had the heavy weapon of threatening to out her ex-partner if she tried to maintain a relationship with their children.
A case scheduled to be argued in the California Court of Appeal next week illustrates another insidious impact of DADT on gay and lesbian parents. California has some of the best law in the country for assuring that children do not lose one parent when their parents split up. But when S.B. and S.Y. split up, S.B. denied that S.Y. was a parent of the two children (now 11 and 6) adopted by S.B. during their thirteen-year relationship. Part of the evidence she used was that the couple were not registered domestic partners, S.Y. did not adopt the child, and S.Y., a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, maintained a separate residence for most of their relationship, even though she spent evenings and several nights a week in the home with the children.
After a two day trial, the court found that S.Y. did qualify as a presumed parent under California law. To S.B.'s contention that S.Y. was nothing more than someone she was dating who sometimes spent the night, the trial court said the following: "The [respondent] made sacrifices at her job, personally, financially, to care for the children. A guy who is spending the night on the couch ... would not do all these things, would not clean up my kid’s puke or set up college accounts, pay for their therapy, volunteer at school and so forth." The court made numerous other factual findings in support of its ruling.
S.B. has appealed. The appeals court is supposed to accept the facts as determined by the trial judge, who was in the best position to judge the credibility of the witnesses and weigh the evidence. Hopefully, that will be enough to sustain these children's rights to a relationship with both their parents.
From now on, fewer children should be in this position, as the end of DADT removes one more barrier to recognition of their families.
Amie Klempnauer Miller is the author of She Looks Just Like You: A Memoir of (Nonbiological Lesbian) Motherhood. She is a frequent speaker about gay and lesbian families, and her writing has appeared on Salon, inBrain, Child and Greater Good magazines, and elsewhere. Miller works as a development consultant to the public media industry and lives with her partner and daughter in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Congresswoman Michele “I’m really from Iowa” Bachmann has spent some time lately wondering whether same-sex couples with children can be considered family. Apparently they cannot, in her world. Mrs. Bachmann has hardly been a friend of the LGBT community in the past. But since she wants to become President, there are some things she should know about the people she proposes to lead:
Approximately two-thirds of Americans do see same-sex couples with children as families, according to 2010 research from Indiana University.
Based on 2010 U.S. Census data, there are more than 901,000 same-sex couples in the U.S., 25% of whom are raising children.
Same-sex couples with children live in large cities, suburbs and small towns all across the country. The fact that there are 13,360 families with same-sex parents in New York may not seem surprising. But the Census also reports: 6,290 families with same-sex parents in North Carolina; 2,585 in Oklahoma; 4,550 in Arizona and 2,372 right here in Minnesota, the state she represents.
If children will teach you anything, it is that things change. Not that long ago, gay men and lesbians assumed that coming out meant that they would never become parents. Now, young gays and lesbians assume that they can. Not that long ago, same-sex marriage seemed improbable at best. Now, it is legal in six states and Washington, DC. What’s more, 53% of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage – with support reaching 70% among young adults. Clearly, there are still fiercely divided opinions about same-sex marriage and parenting, but public attitudes are shifting and younger generations are driving the change.
“So,” I say to my daughter, “some people think we’re not a family because we don’t have a mom and a dad.”
“That’s stupid,” she says.
“What is it about us that makes you know we’re a family?” I ask.
She shrugs and looks at me like I’m a bit dim. “It makes me feel good. I feel cozy and safe. I don’t know. We just are.”
If your child's pediatrician diagnosed a contagious bug and prescribed medication, what would you do? Same as most parents, no doubt. Get the medicine. Give it to your kid. When a child's health is at stake, we tend to follow doctor's orders.
In May, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a widely publicized clinical report regarding kids and sports drinks. The AAP recommended cutting back on such drinks for kid athletes. In so many words, the kids' doctors group found them to be unnecessary at best, and at times even harmful.
Dr. Holly Benjamin of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness noted: “For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best, Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don’t need, and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay."
It's been three weeks since the AAP issued that statement. How many of us have heeded this simple advice? Anyone?
The sport-drink industry isn't exactly urging us to shut the spigot. Gatorade, for one, spends tens of millions each year in sports marketing. According to the Sports Business Journal, the four major sports leagues have deals with Gatorade as do a majority of teams in those leagues. Dozens of star players are paid to pitch the sports drink including Peyton and Eli Manning, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Garnett and Landon Donovan. Seventy-four college programs count Gatorade as a sponsor as do 13 college conferences and 11 bowl games.
Oh, and Gatorade is a highly visible sponsor of high school sports. Next spring, check out the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational Presented by Gatorade. I did last March. In a gym in suburban D.C., it was me, about 700 fans and about 700 Gatorade logos.
Maybe I'm off base and water is about to make a comeback as the kids' thirst quencher of choice. That would please your kid's doctor. It might not make the Manning brothers happy.
Sports drink photo by toniwbusch on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
The scandal that cost Anthony Weiner his seat in Congress may seem to many parents like yet another reason to turn off the news. That's an understandable reaction: parenting is challenging enough without the added burden of explaining why a Congressman would want to send an explicit photo of himself to someone he didn't really know.
But believe me, your kids already know a lot more about sexting than you might suspect (or like). After all, former-Rep. Weiner is hardly the first high-profile sexter, and your children don't have to be news junkies to know that Rep. Christopher Lee, ex-quarterback Brett Favre, celebrity mechanic Jesse James, and golfing legend Tiger Woods have all been caught with their cell phones down. And it's even more likely that your kids have followed the sexting exploits of celebrities closer to their own age, like "Hannah Montana" alter ego Miley Cyrus or "High School Musical" star Vanessa Hudgins.
In middle schools and high schools around the country, it's common knowledge among students that some of their classmates take and exchange nude photos. The exact percentage of kids engaging in this behavior is a matter of debate (1 in 10? 1 in 5?), but the fact that it happens and that large numbers of kids know about it is not.
That's one of the main reasons that I wrote my newest book, Cybertraps for the Young." It is designed to educate parents and teachers about the legal trouble that kids can get into online. Whereas most Internet child safety books approach the topic from the perspective of the child of victim, I think that the time has come to seriously discuss the potential dangers of the child as perpetrator.
So rather than turn off the news in disgust or try to change the channel, parents should embrace the Weiner scandal for it what it is: a great opportunity to educate their children about the risks of online behavior. The conversation obviously need to be adjusted to reflect each child's age and maturity level, but here are some basic concepts that every child should be taught if they're using electronic devices, regardless of their age:
1. It's WAY TOO EASY to Be Stupid Online Rep. Weiner is actually one of the more technologically-savvy members of Congress. But as Bianca Bosker of the Huffington Post Tech page pointed out, he got into trouble because he made a simple, careless mistake: typing the "@" symbol instead of "D" for "direct message," which meant that the photo of his briefs went to the general Twitter feed rather than directly to his intended recipient. The so-called "direct message fail" is merely one of the seemingly endless number of ways your child can be tripped up online. Everyone makes mistakes, of course, but what kids need to understand is that if they make a mistake online, the consequences can be much more far-reaching and longer-lasting than they realize.
2. Just Because You Can Do Something Online Doesn't Mean You Should Technology makes it all too easy to take inappropriate photos or type inappropriate messages, and share them with the entire world. Often, it's only a couple of clicks of a button, which can make it incredibly tempting to do. But just because something is easy doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. Tell your child to THINK!! and then to ask herself, will posting something online hurt her family, friends, or future?
3. If It's Digital, It's Public As the Weiner fiasco painfully demonstrates, if your child digitizes something, it is virtually inevitable that he will lose control of it. That's even more true if he shares it on a social network site or via e-mail. Even if former Rep. Weiner had typed his tweet as he no doubt intended, the simple fact of the matter is that he was still sending a digital file to someone who could save it, re-tweet it, post it to the Web, or sell it to a news outlet or blogger (most of which happened). As Stewart Brand once said, "Information wants to be free."
4. Employers, Colleges, and Journalists Will Find Out All major employers and most of the better colleges are looking at social media sites when they review job or college applications. If your child has posted an embarrassing or inappropriate image of himself on a social media page, the odds are very good (regardless of his privacy settings) that it will be seen by someone making a decision about his future.
5. They're Called "Privates" for a Reason Your child (or your boyfriend, for that matter) may think it's hysterically funny or irresistibly flirtatious to take explicit self-portraits and distribute them online, but it is stupid, embarrassing, and dangerous to do so. Rep. Weiner may be an adult, but if your child is under the age of 18, he or she is violating state and federal child pornography laws by following his example. The potential penalties are severe, including expulsion from school, incarceration, and/or registration as a sex offender. None of that looks good on a college or job application.
In my previous book, American Privacy: The 400-Year History of Our Most Contested Right, I describe in some detail the corrosive impact that technology has had on the concept of personal privacy. The core value in the concept of privacy is the ability to control what information you release and to whom, and to control how that information is used. The value of individual control over one's personal information is infused into the Bill of Rights, and is essential not only to our individual safety and freedom, but also to the long-term well-being of our democracy. We may laugh at the late-night jokes told at Anthony Weiner's expense, but they mask the far more significant issues raised by the relentless collection of information about our shopping habits, our preferences, our opinions, and our beliefs.
The time to talk to your kids about these types of issues (particularly the avoidance of criminal activity) is always about three years before you think they're ready. It may be five years before YOU'RE ready to have these conversations, and that's understandable. If you just don't think either you or your child is prepared to discuss this right now, don't worry: there'll undoubtedly be other high-profile cases for you to discuss in the months and years to come. But remember, the goals here are not only to help your kids avoid serving as an object lesson for some other generation of kids, but to help them understand the importance of personal privacy in our democracy. They'll thank you for it someday.
In honor of Father's Day, we share this excerpt adapted from Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father's Search for the Wild.Tom Montgomery Fate is the author of five books, including the collection of essays Beyond the White Noise and the spiritual memoir Steady and Trembling. He is a professor of English at the College of DuPage in Illinois, where he lives with his family. His cabin is in southwest Michigan.
My son, Bennett, has a fever today and can’t go to school. So I’m staying home with him. As I write this — on my laptop in the family room — he is playing on the floor at my feet. In spite of his illness, he is happily lost amid two gallons of LEGOS, which we just found at a garage sale. Their newness, and the infinite possibilities, seem to enthrall him. He sits rapt on the carpet inventing and quietly talking to himself––as if conferring with another seven-year-old inventor.
Every fifteen minutes or so, after he has clicked a few more of the red, blue and green plastic pieces together, he shows me something. “Look Daddy. See this guy? He’s driving the ship.” Then a bit later: “Look Daddy I put a coffee maker on the main ship. But I put a lemonade maker on the shuttle.” “Which is the shuttle?” I ask, now understanding it was a rocket ship, rather than a sailing ship. “Here. Look!” he says, unhitching a red match-box sized platform from the main ship. A driver sits in a little chair and I assume a green thimble-sized cylinder attached to the back is the lemonade maker. He flies the shuttle completely around the sofa, making a whooshing noise all the while and pausing twice to fire imaginary machine guns at a couple of Hot Wheels cars below him. Then he lands it on my thigh. There he takes the driver out, straightens his legs, and walks him to my knee, which is now clearly a precipice looking out on an alternate universe. An inch tall, the plastic, square-headed man surveys the messy terrain of the family room. “He’s an explorer,” Bennett said. “What kind of explorer?” I asked. “I don’t know. Like a Power Ranger, or maybe an Indian,” he said.
Well, I wasn’t expecting Meriwether Lewis, but the odd contrast of cultures fascinated me, as did the power of Bennett’s raw imagination––all that he saw and discovered in a pile of discarded plastic LEGOS. He was the explorer that most impressed me.
Last week he brought me a red truck to repair. He broke off its wheels while “driving” (bouncing) it down the stairs and then left it on my work bench in the basement. The cracked wheels were plastic and couldn’t be glued or replaced––a lost cause. Or so I thought. “That’s OK. I’ll keep it Daddy,” Bennett had said and carried it back upstairs to the playroom. I see it now on the carpet—a red plastic sled hitched up to a three legged horse with a Star Wars character riding in the flatbed. Luke Skywalker seems to be lashing the horse with his light saber. I’m still not sure why the horse is standing upright, or how Bennett knew that it would. I just don’t see that way.
This feeling, this inability to see, is not new. I used to get it each day when I dropped Bennett off at the preschool at the college where I teach. Because it was a lab school there was a long one-way teaching mirror in the front hallway. Students and parents could look in at the kids without them seeing us––our window was their mirror. But it took me several days to even notice this. I was often in a hurry. After the sign-in sheet, the hug, the nod to his teacher, I usually bolted off to my office with my briefcase to do important things.
Yet one day, on the way out, I paused for a moment and caught a glimpse of my distracted self in the window. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. The kids are supposed to see themselves on the other side. But when I took two steps toward my faint, self-absorbed reflection, it disappeared. My “I” yielded to my eye, which suddenly saw through to the world on the other side, the world I so often just walked by: children sprawled everywhere on the carpet in a kind of wild and holy innocence—working wooden puzzles, reading board books, rocking dolls, singing silly songs. My God, they were delirious with curiosity, and I was thrown into their childhood, and my own, so abruptly that I found myself in tears.
What was it about this window?
I could see the kids, but they couldn’t see me. If they tried to look back at me all they saw was themselves and their own world: Four-year-old Maggie, in pink, glittery slippers and a baggy, green velvet dress and two strings of white plastic pearls, stirred a pan of air on a little wooden stove with a rubber spatula and intently adjusted the dials until the temperature was just right. Then James came running over with a little snake he had rolled from a ball of blue Playdoh and popped it in Maggie’s pan. This perturbed her at first, but soon she began to stir it in and to readjust the dials. Bennett, who wore a black and silver stethoscope, sat cross-legged on the carpet next to Maggie and diligently checked the heart rate of the stuffed green dinosaur he was cradling. Then he tucked it into to a wooden crib and whispered something to it—perhaps a bedtime prayer.
How odd it was to see Bennett but not be seen by him, to be in the same room with him, yet not. When I got up to leave for the office, and was several feet away from the window, I again turned it into a mirror, again caught my dim likeness in the glass. It was then that I finally saw the obvious: I was watching Bennett through the dim reflection of myself, weighing my own childhood against his, the known against the unknown. That’s a hard thing for parents—to stop seeing ourselves in our children. And to stop waiting—consciously or not—for them to demonstrate that one attribute or flaw that would mark them as a part of us. As they get older, I wonder who will be blessed with a modicum of musical or athletic ability, and who might inherit my impatience or depression.
But thankfully, the dimming mirror is also a sparkling clear window.
And I think that paradox was the source of my tears and confusion that day at the lab school. I saw myself in the presence of those little kids and wanted to crawl on all fours back into their world, to dress myself up in their total surrender to the now, and in a kind of vision that could turn LEGOS into spaceships and play-doh into edible blue snakes. When, I wonder, did I first begin to lose my faith in the moment I was living in? When did my life first start to feel like a sprawling “to do” list?
* * *
Like me, my own dad sometimes struggled to see life’s blessings amid its burdens, and to shift from the I to the eye, from self to world. He too could get overwhelmed by work, and the future, and struggle to get back to the present. Or at least that’s how it seems now, in the shadows of memory. But that was all a long time ago. Dad and Mom are close to 90 now. And though they have sharp minds and still swim most days, their bodies are wearing down, as they approach the deepest mystery of all.
Yet, it was just forty years ago that Dad was my age and I was a little kid. And he sometimes picked me up at the lab school in Ames, Iowa, where he was a young pastor with a large church and four sons. I can see him leaning on the chain-link fence on the edge of the preschool playground, watching me play freeze tag on the blacktop with my four-year old friends. And there, in his sport coat and slacks, I imagine him waiting and watching us for a few slow minutes before calling my name, before waving me in—before hugging me, zipping up my open coat, adjusting my hat, and taking me home. Just a minute or two of pause, of revision, before returning to real time.
Maybe it’s because I’m now almost exactly in-between my son and father—forty years older than Bennett and forty years younger than my Dad--that these small moments seem sacred. This morning I’m wondering how my Dad found such moments along the way—amid the chaos of family and church, amid all those sermons and meetings and potlucks. But I’m hoping he did sometimes, while lingering on the edge of that playground. That my little friends and I, in our crazy games of tag and kickball, could, like Bennett did for me, somehow loosen the grip of time—giving him a moment of presence, of prayer.
* * *
By mid morning Bennett is still lost in his LEGOS. I tell him I’m going into the kitchen to clean the floor. He says “OK,” but after about ten minutes he calls in to me, “Where’d you go Daddy?” “I’m in the kitchen,” I say. “O.K.” he says, again seemingly satisfied. A few minutes later he carries in an arm load of Lego spaceships and shuttles and sets up shop on the kitchen table. Soon he is sailing off to other galaxies and planets while I scrub the floor on all fours. It is not long before he flies one of his Lego ships over my head and dramatically ejects the pilot into my pail with a soapy kurplunk! and a squeal of laughter. “He can’t swim! He can’t swim!” I say. Bennett laughs.
The rest of the morning seems to pass quickly, or I barely notice that it’s passing. Bennett keeps drawing me back into his play, and then I return back to cleaning. I know this is “parallel play,” and that I should be fully engaged with him rather than trying to finish my work projects. But this is the best I can do today. And he seems pretty happy. Later, when I get out a sleeve of Ritz crackers and a can of Seven Up, he looks both excited and thankful for the simple snack. “I like staying home with you Daddy,” he says, as he starts to make lean-tos and little towers out of the crackers. “Yeah, I like it too,” I say.
His gratitude startles me and awakens my own. And again, for a brief moment, I can see just beyond my own reflection into a greater presence.
"Last month my son and I were playing with his friend Oliver (not his real name) when Oliver had a seizure.
It came at me sideways; his scream possessed a rattling amplified quality, as though it were coming through an old speaker, and I saw his little body flex and seize out of the corner of my eye. I knew Oliver had epilepsy (as well as other difficulties) but I confess I needed an agonizingly eternal five seconds to understand what was happening. I was knocked out of my momentary paralysis by Oliver's mom, who leapt over to him and shouted at me to call 911. Even in the moment, some part of my mind murmured to me a reminder that I had been spared watching my child go through what Oliver was going through."
"Mother's Day is my favorite holiday," my daughter Hannah says to me one morning. I don't believe her for a minute. I know that Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday because we drive from our home in Minnesota to southern Indiana where all of her cousins live, so that she can spend 48 glorious hours gorging on whipped cream with pumpkin pie and playing hide-and-seek with the other girls. But I'm packing her lunch and she wants me to put in a piece of candy. I grant two points and a bite-size Snickers for a savvy pitch.
Whether she's just angling for a treat or not, it's a good thing that she claims to feel this way. Mother's Day is a twofer in our home. Father's Day, on the other hand, doesn't much register, since there is no father here. We are a nuclear family with a twist: two moms, one kid. We do pretty much what other families do on Mother's Day, I suppose, but twice over.
For me, it happened when my four-year-old daughter returned from a weekend visitation with her father and announced, "At Daddy's house I get chocolate cereal."
For Louise Heit-Radwell, a vegetarian mom in New York City, it happened gradually after her daughter, Molly, entered first grade. Molly would say things like, "Oh, at school, those chicken fingers smelled so good…."
For all parents, it's only a matter of time. We try to feed our children healthful, nutritious foods without antibiotics, pesticides, and unpronounceable chemicals. (Some of us, in fact, begin buying organic only after we have kids, because it seems more important to protect their newly-forming bodies than our already-wrecked ones.) We include foods in our religious rituals. We plant gardens with our preschoolers. We take them apple-picking. All the while, we explain why we're doing this, why we don't want to poison the earth or eat animals.