Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Family Walk

An actual dream come true.
When we were on the adoption wait list, every once in a while we allowed ourselves to dream.  To dream what life would be like once we had our baby.  Sometimes it was just too painful and we forced ourselves to stay present in the moment, but at other times we couldn't help but think of the things that we were most excited about. And one of those things was always the family walk.  Any time Carla and I took our dog, Frankie, on a walk while we were waiting to adopt, we always talked about how wonderful it was going to be when these family walks included a baby.

And then it happened.  Chicago has been taking an extra long time to warm into Spring.  Just when we think we might be there, we get another day of below freezing temperatures.  However, on Thursday we had our first day of above fifty degree weather.  We had our second post-adoption visit scheduled with our adoption counselor in the evening, but we desperately wanted to squeeze in a walk. So as soon as Carla got home from work, we bundled up the baby and suited up the pup and we were on our way.

You know, one of the things that I am learning is that some of the things that you dream about in parenting turn out to be no where near as delightful and wonderful as you think they are going to be.  For example, a family holiday seems like this amazing time to spend with a baby, until the baby gets totally overwhelmed and overtired and just wants to go home and go to sleep.  But other things, well, they far surpass anything you ever dreamt them to be.  That's how the walk was.

It was this image that we had in our minds for so long and we were actually seeing it come to life right in front of us and it was simply magical.  I know, it's just a walk, but it still managed to be one of the absolute best moments thus far in my life.  It is rare in life to realize a dream.  It is rare to want something so badly, for so long, and then find yourself getting exactly what you wanted in the exact way you wanted to get it.  And all of that was wrapped up in this one wonderful family walk.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why Marriage Matters

So this upcoming week is a big one for gay rights in the Supreme Court.  On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about Proposition 8, a voter-approved initiative that banned same-sex marriage in the state of California.  The Supreme Court is being asked to declare these bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.  Then on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) which defines marriage as between a man and a women on a federal level and therefor denies gay couples all of the federal benefits that are given to straight couples even if they are recognized as married in their own states.  The Supreme Court is being asked to find this unconstitutional as well and thereby get rid of DOMA which would allow same-sex couples to be recognized at the federal level and gain access to all marriage benefits.  

Carla and I had the wonderful joy of getting legally married in the State of Vermont.  We have an actual marriage certificate that is identical to one that Vermont would give to any couple getting married.  We also are lucky enough to live in a state that recognizes civil unions.  When it came to adopting Millie, this made it much easier than it would have been in other states.  We are lucky.  And some people might wonder, isn't that enough? Isn't it enough that we can have a civil union? To me, that sounds frighteningly similar to someone saying, "Well sure, black people have to ride in the back of the bus, but they still get to ride on the same bus as white people. Isn't that enough?" Often times I have been asked if there is a difference between a civil union and a marriage.  People wondered why we went to Vermont if we could have just gotten a civil union in Illinois.  Why does it matter to us to get married instead of just getting a civil union? Well, for a lot of reasons, marriage matters.

There are the emotional reasons.  It matters to me that we are married instead of having just a civil union.  It matters because I believe that my love and commitment to Carla is no different than anyone else's love and commitment to his or her heterosexual partner.  It matters because when I tell my students that I am married to Carla, I don't want to have to worry about calling her my wife because someone might ask, "But, I thought you couldn't get married to someone of the same sex?" It matters because marriage is a word that easily translates to a verb and a civil union just does not. I don't know how to say that I am "civil unioned" without committing a serious grammatical error which I try to do as rarely as possible. It matters because the word "married" means something and it stands for something and that is what I want people to see us as. It matters because when Millie grows up, I want her to be able to say that her parents are married without ever having to worry that someone might tell her that she is wrong because her parents aren't allowed to get married.

But more than it mattering to me, I believe that the message civil unions send is that we, as gay and lesbian couples, are somehow inherently different or even less than a straight couple who wants to get married.  I worry about the message this sends to young, gay kids who hear over and over again that they are less than or that something is wrong with them and then they look to what their country has to say about it and their country agrees with all those people who are telling them that they are not quite as good as someone who is straight.  They send this message by creating an entirely different set of rules and laws for people who are gay and this separate system denies us the rights that are given to straight people and that makes it a lesser system and a lesser institution and the message that sends is harmful and it is dangerous.

As long as our country continues to deny us equal rights, they are giving ammunition to the people who spread hate.  They are making it more okay for people to say something is wrong with us.  They are making it more okay for kids to continue to feel scared of coming out and to continue to think something is wrong with them if they are gay.  I know that there are people who believe that fighting for gay marriage to never be allowed is really about fighting to protect children.  No matter how many studies prove that they are wrong, there are people who believe that raising a child without a father or without a mother is a dangerous thing.  Well, I can guarantee you and I can guarantee all those people who are shouting about protecting children from ever having to be raised by a gay or lesbian couple, that nothing can be as harmful to my child as having you scream and yell and hold up signs that tell her that her parents are going to hell.  Being raised by two mothers can never be as dangerous as growing up in a country that tells my daughter that her family isn't as good as other families and that her family doesn't really even fit this country's definition of family.  That is what is harmful.  That is what could hurt her.  Not the fact that she is being raised by two women who love her more than life itself and would do absolutely anything to make sure that she is happy and healthy and safe.  And that is why marriage matters.

Those, to me, are the most important reasons that making gay marriage legal on a federal level is important.  There are the other reasons too.  Like taxes.  Right now, Carla and I can file as married in the state of Illinois, but we have to file as single on our federal taxes.  We then have to file a third form to explain why we are filing as married on our state taxes and single on our federal taxes.  That is all thanks to DOMA.  And then there are things like the insurance debacle we dealt with when switching Carla onto my insurance once we had Millie.  Because the federal government does not recognize us as married (again, thanks to DOMA), the financial benefits that I receive for Carla's medical insurance are not tax deductible, as they would be for anyone else receiving benefits for his or her spouse. So I end up having to pay extra federal taxes on that income that my straight coworkers don't have to pay for their spouses to be covered on our insurance.  And those practical pieces of all of this make me angry too.  It just seems ridiculous to me that we even have to worry about all of this and it is an outrage to me that people think it is okay that we have to deal with it.

As I discussed all of this yesterday with a good, dear friend, I said to her that it is my hope that one day, many years from now people will look back on all of this in disbelief that our country ever had laws that treated gay marriage any differently than straight marriage. I do believe that gay marriage is inevitable.  I just hope, with all of my heart, that it comes sooner rather than later.  I hope that it comes in time to make my daughter's life just a little bit easier.  I hope that it comes in time for her to grow up knowing that her family is no different than any other family, at least in the eyes of the federal government.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Worlds Collide

Well, I survived.  Perhaps it was because I knew that I had to work one week and then had another entire week to be home with Millie on my spring break.  Perhaps it was because I have one of the most wonderful classes that I have ever had the privilege to teach.  Perhaps it was because they welcomed me back to school with the most open of arms. Or perhaps it was simply because I am lucky enough to work in a place where I feel incredibly supported and looked out for.  Whatever it was, going back to work was manageable.  More than manageable actually.  There were moments of real, genuine joy this week.

It was also kind of an amazing experience to step back into the role that I filled so comfortably before Millie came into our lives.  I was stepping back into the same role, but I was no longer the same.  I felt it most at the end of the school days.  In the past, I was happy to stay at work way past when the kids left.  I took solace in the quiet of the hallways and in the emptiness of the room.  I did my best work there and I was fully focused on my class and the work I needed to do to prepare for the next day of teaching.  But now, things are different.  As the day ends, I feel this incredible joy at the thought of finishing up and heading home to my family. To my Millie.  Instead of sitting down for a few hours of work at my desk, I pack up my bag and head out the door.  The work will get done later at night or early the next morning.  Either way, it will get done.

I realize now that being a working mother will make me no less of a teacher.  A teacher who gets things done in a different way? Sure.  A teacher who has to adjust some priorities? Absolutely.  A teacher who will always be worried that I don't have everything done that needs to get done? Well, I was that anyway, so not much has changed in that regard.  What this week has taught me is that I need to let go of doing things the way I used to do them and instead hold on to the idea of getting things done in a way that will feel good about my work at school and feel good about my work at home.  I imagine that takes time to get a hold of, but I have seen glimpses of the possibility of it all this week and it gives me enough hope to quell my fears for now.

So anyway, the week was good. It was a good week to come back as the craziness of my return to school was wrapped up in the craziness of the week before spring break.  It was nice to know that everyone in the entire school was a little off anyway.  It was also nice to walk back into a classroom and instantly feel welcomed and loved as if I had never left.  I worried that my students would be a bit like our cats and give me a bit of a cold shoulder for having left them.  Turns out, children are not cats.  There were absolutely no cold shoulders here.  There were hugs and posters and so very much love.  It was magnificent.

The highlight of the week came on Thursday when Carla and Millie made a visit to my classroom.  I told the kids in the morning that they would be coming and they were beyond excited.  When they walked in to the room and met Millie, they were almost in awe.  They truly just stood and stared at her. Now, if you haven't been around fifth graders in a while, let me remind you that, in general, a group of twenty-one fifth graders is rarely, rarely quiet.  But they were silent.  They were respectful. They were curious.  They were everything that is good.

Here is what struck me most of all.  I walked the kids to art after they first saw Millie and Carla.  As we walked down the hallway, one of the kids asked me if Carla and Millie would still be there when they got back to the classroom.  Another fifth grade student who is not in our class asked one of my students, "Who are Carla and Millie." And one of my boys responded, "That's Mrs. Lifshitz's wife and baby." And that was the conversation.  That was it.  The boy who wasn't in my class seemed satisfied and my class walked right on to art.

In the moment, it was a small thing.  When I thought about it later, it was huge.  It wasn't that long ago that I was scared to come out to my coworkers, let alone my students and their parents. And now, here I am, not just talking about my family, but bringing my students right into the very heart of my family.  There are conversations in the hallway, between fifth grade boys, about their female teacher's wife and the conversation is accompanied by zero laughter, no awkward looks, nothing.  It was so, amazingly, normal.  I am just not sure I thought that was possible.  I think about these kids going out into the world beyond elementary school already armed with the knowledge that a family with two moms is not that strange.  I think about the parents of my students who have been so, so happy for me and for Carla and for our family.  They have never once asked me not to talk about my family in class, instead they have asked if it would be possible to have a party and if it would be possible for Carla and Millie to be there.

All of this makes me feel so very lucky.  I know that there are many schools around this country where this kind of openness just wouldn't be possible.  It breaks my heart to think about having to keep this immense joy a secret from my students.  I don't know how I could possibly have gone through all of this and not been honest about it with the kids.  But I know that there are many teachers who would have had to do just that.

When I first decided to come out to my students, several people asked me why I felt that I had to come out at all.  They asked if I ever really talked about my personal life anyway with my students.  And yes, there is a line between what I share with my students and what I don't. But when it comes to sharing who I am, the very person that I am, it stopped feeling okay to hide that from my students.  And now.  I could not have been happier that I came out a few years ago, so that when Millie entered my life it didn't have to be a secret.  Having my students, their parents and my coworkers share in the joy of Millie has magnified and multiplied my joy in so many ways.

So now I get another week at home with Millie and I know that I will love every moment of it.  I have missed her this week and I am excited to spend the days with her again, but I will do it knowing now that I will be okay when I have to go back to work again and I will make it through the last few months of the school year and it will all be okay.

One picture for the road.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On Going Back to Work...

My days at home with Millie are quickly running out.

Okay, well that might be a tad dramatic.  But come Monday morning, I will be dragging myself back to work.  I simply cannot believe that six weeks is already almost over.  But here we are.  I have been home with Millie for six weeks and it is now time to get ready to go back to work.

Let me start by saying that I love my job.  I absolutely love being a teacher and it has been one of the greatest joys of my life. In many ways, teaching gave my life purpose and brought me incredible amounts of fulfillment.  Before I became a wife and a mother, the thing that I most identified myself as was a teacher.  I like to think that I have made school an enjoyable place for the kids in my classroom.  I like to think that I have made those kids feel good about the people that they are and that I have allowed them to feel confident enough to ask questions, take risks, and boldly go about their lives.  I have always loved being able to give those things to kids and I do look forward to continuing to do those things for a long long while.

With that being said, I am absolutely dreading going back on Monday.  Dreading might be the wrong word.  I am scared.  Terrified really.  I have loved being home with Millie.  Sure, there were days that I felt absolutely stir crazy. And yes, there were moments when I felt like I couldn't shake a rattle for one more second.  But, overall, I have loved and cherished this time with Millie.  I have gotten to know my daughter, her quirks, her likes, her dislikes, what her cries mean and I have loved it.  I have learned more in these past six weeks, than in any other six week period in my life.  I may not have been very good the things I was trying to do, but I certainly have done my best and I am proud of the relationship that Millie and I are building.

Now, I know that relationship is not going to stop.  I know that my learning isn't going to stop.  I know that plenty of moms go back to work and that there are actually a lot of good things that can happen because of this change.  I know all of that and I still hate that I have to go back.  When things seem overwhelming, I always feel that if I can outline what it is that is really scaring me, then I have a better chance of being able to deal with it all.  So here goes.  In no particular order, the things that scare me about going back to work:

1) Being exhausted.  I am lucky.  My wife and I share the nighttime responsibilities, she is fantastic about knowing when I need a break and making sure that I get one.  But still.  Babies are exhausting.  Teaching is exhausting.  And I am unsure of how I will manage both.

2) Not being the kind of teacher that I was able to be before.  I have always put my entire heart into teaching.  I have given everything that I have to my job and to my students and I never want to be a teacher in any other kind of way.  But now my heart is so very full of Millie.  I am not sure how I will have the time and energy to continue to give as much to my students as I have before.

3) Missing my Millie.  I am just worried that I will miss her.  I have spent almost every moment of the last six weeks with her and now I am going to gone for these huge chunks of time.  I will miss her and I worry about missing the moments that fill myself with such incredible joy.

4) Getting it all done.  There is so much work to be done.  I worry that I won't be able to do it all.  The work at school and the work at home.  I tend to be tough on myself.  I like to do things perfectly.  I recognize that rarely do I actually do anything anywhere close to perfect, but if I don't do things well, I get frustrated, I shut down, and I give up. I am worried about any or all of those things happening when I can't, inevitably, do all the things that I want to do as well as I would like to do them.

I think that's about it.  Again, I know that all of this will be fine.  I know I will find the balance eventually and be able to do the things that I need to do in a way that is good enough to do them.  But I just worry about the transition and the adjustment.  Those of you who know me well, know that transition and change are two things that I have never excelled at.

So the plan is for me to go back on Monday. Carla will be off next week to stay home with Millie.  I am actually thrilled for her to get the chance to be home with her for the week.  I am excited for her to have that time with Millie because I know that she has been craving it.  After that is my spring break.  Yep, that's right, I am actually only going back to work for one week before I get to be home again for a whole week for spring break.  And still I am dreading it.

And then, come April 1st, Millie starts daycare.  Until summer time (when I will be off yet again) Carla will take her two days off at the end of the work week and I will be off on the weekends.  That leaves only three days a week that Millie will be in day care.  It does mean that we are without a day at home as a family, but at least until the summer time, we both feel like we would prefer for Millie to be in daycare for as few days a week as possible.  Then, I will be home with her all summer and in the Fall we will decide what we will do from there.

There is much still to be said about Millie going to daycare and why I am excited about the daycare that we chose, but that will have to wait for another day.  Thanks for listening to more of my irrational worries.  I promise that there will be more to come.

And because Millie is changing so very much and growing so much bigger, I will leave you all with some more pictures so that you have an idea of just how giant this girl is getting.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Two Months Old...One Month at Home

Millie is officially two months old.  While I would like to think we were a family that remembered to take one of those cute pictures each month, we actually are not that family.  But, luckily we have lots of other pictures to mark the occasion.

Things here have been going well.  After a pretty scary first sickness, Millie seems to finally be on the mend.  The cold turned into a pretty nasty cough that had us at the doctor's office three times in less than a week.  She needed a nebulizer treatment and the doctor told us if her breathing got worse, she would need to go to the ER for another treatment.  Boy, did I freak out.  The next day I even made Carla come home from work because I convinced myself that she wasn't breathing correctly.  As soon as Carla got home, I handed Millie to her and I dropped to the floor in a semi-fetile position and just cried.  I insisted that I was not cut out to be a mother because I was too prone to irrational worrying.  Well, in spite of my melt-down, Millie went back to her normal happy self after a few days and while she has the lingering symptoms of a cold and cough, she is no longer making me worry every second of the day (for now).

While she was sick, all Millie really want to do was sleep.  And the only place she wanted to sleep was in someone's arms.  Now even though she was pretty miserable, she continued to be the cutest thing.  Here are some of the many sleeping positions of our dear little Millie.

Sleeping on Mama.  
Mama learning to eat while holding a sleeping baby.  
Mommy's turn to hold sleeping Millie.  
Soon everyone needed to nap. 
Frankie had to get in on the action.
And then Frankie took over watching the sleeping baby.  We knew she was feeling better when she was willing to nap in something other than our arms.

Luckily, the worst of Millie's sickness passed and she was back to her normal happy self.  Here are some pictures of what she has been up to

Millie has been ordered to complete more tummy time each day (more on that later).  These doctors are not messing around! Here she is on her tummy, enjoying her favorite book.  
Happy Millie once again!

Don't worry, she is still not tired of her favorite toy. 

Here's Frankie learning who is really boss in the house now. 

And here is Frankie joining in with Carla and Millie for some group tummy time.
Millie's room is filling up nicely. While the room is still not used for sleeping, there is a lot of eating and rocking taking place in here. 
And because I just can't help myself, here's Millie in video form.  The first one is Millie in her happiest of moods.

The reason for this extreme happiness? That's and white dots!

And finally here are the kinds of conversations that now occur in our household...

So that's the update.  Things are going well.  We took Millie to her 2 month check-up yesterday.  She looks good according to the doctor.  Her wheezing is gone and she is no longer contagious.  She gained an excellent amount of weight and continues to grow.  She got a round of shots, that she did NOT at all enjoy, but luckily she woke up this morning feeling good again.  Our only small words of caution, as I mentioned earlier, is that she needs a bit more tummy time as she is beginning to get a flat head in back.  Now of course, I fixated on this bit of news and convinced myself I was a terrible mother who was already ruining my child.  Thanks to a calm wife and a wise mother, I am feeling better about this today.  I am constantly amazed at just how incompetent motherhood can make me feel.  I am learning to take it all in stride, but it was a part of being a mother I just wasn't prepared for.  

So starting today, we are getting serious about this tummy time.  Well, okay, right now Millie is happily napping in her swing, but I promise, as soon as she wakes up we are getting back to business!