Just a year before my mother died, she game me some advice that I couldn’t understand. Of course today it makes perfect sense. At the time though I was 14 years old and very clueless by what she was telling me. Here was the thing…she knew her days were numbered and she wanted to tell me something she felt was important. My mom told me I was a person who had always and would always beat by a different drum. She said that I’d take a different path in life than most others and she wanted me to know it was OK. I remember thinking, “OK, what the hell is she talking about?” Honestly, she made me mad because she wasn’t being specific. “Dammit, stop talking so generally and just tell me what you mean!” G-d I was an awful 14 year old. But realistically even if she had told me what she meant I have no doubt I wouldn’t have understood and maybe have even been offended. I have no doubt she understood my ignorance but told me anyway with the hopes I’d remember (just when I needed to).
On that day she was talking to me my mom was barely able to walk let alone stand. Even so she made a point to walk to the kitchen where I was. While she was standing in front of me the grimace on her face said it all. She was in excruciating pain. However, my mom had a message to give and dammit she was going to give it. That was Momma. She continued to tell me that no matter how untraditional of a life I was to choose I was to always be proud of it and follow my heart. I remember thinking, “OK, and so what?” Listen, my mom banked heavily that I’d never forget what she told me and for some reason I didn’t. I suppose I knew it was important to her. Maybe it was because I knew she was dying? Maybe. Meanwhile, even as a snot nosed 14 year old, I stored what she said somewhere in that brain of mine. All I can say is I hope I have made her proud by doing exactly as she encouraged me to do.
Listen, all I could hear was my mom’s advice as I was going through each stage of my life. Her words allowed me to stand up to adversity, to maintain the confidence (that I had value in this world) and to have the ability to wipe myself off to continue moving forward. Her words empowered me to love another woman even though it wasn’t popular and may make others dislike me. My mom didn’t need a crystal ball to know I would have some up hill climbs in my life as a result of who I was. As much as I wished she could have been with me physically, I have no doubt she will always be holding my hand in a more spiritual way (as she had done to help me through so much in my life). More than anything though, I am most grateful for one thing and one thing only. That was that my mom gave me the strength, passion and drive to make my dream of having a child a reality. I am certain she was the one giving me all of those little kicks in the ass to keep me going so the brightest light of my life could emerge; our son, Judah.
Moving on to the real world after Judah was born I was amazed by the amount of support Carol and I had. I’m sure at first many friends and family were concerned for Judah. After all he was being raised by two moms and because of that they had the preconceived idea that he would be void of any male influence. Folks, how would that have been possible? And why would we have done that to him? Just because we are two women doesn’t mean we don’t like men. We just chose not to marry one. That was all. Meanwhile, Judah had (has) a wonderful array of uncles, male cousins and a grandfather all of which were (are) involved in his life. And then on top of that there are our adopted families who have loved Judah just as much as their own family members. It really does take a village to raise a child…any child no matter who their parents are. We are incredibly grateful (more than words could ever ever express) for the love Judah has gotten from my family, Carol’s family and from friends who in many cases helped raise me. Judah has been one very lucky boy.
OK, so now I would be remised if I did not mention Carol’s family. Listen as proud as I am of the unconditional love and support I have received from my sister, her husband and their two children, they are my family. I know them and I am used to their ways. They are mine. And the truth was Judah was directly related to them. However in mine and Carol’s relationship not being married in the eyes of the law it was uncertain to us how Carol’s family would react to Judah. Now before I can even get to Judah, I must explain the differences between mine and Carol’s family and their reaction when they first met me.
To say our two families were total opposites would have been an understatement. For one Carol’s family are Christian…from the Episcopal side. However, even though they are not church goers they do have a strong Christian belief system as their foundation. Christmas is a time for family to gather. They have traditions which are sensible and understandable. They were Southerners who took turns talking in a conversation. They hardly ever got loud. They were polite and always said “Sir” or “Ma’am”. Their food dishes of choice were black eyed peas and rice, green bean casserole and “Mama’s” macaroni and cheese. Carol and I refer to her family as “white bread” which means they are plain (in a very good way) without any added unnecessary frills. What you see is who they are. If they ask you, “How are you?” That’s exactly what they mean. No more, no less.
Then there is my family. We are Jewish in religion and culture. And as if I need to say more, I will for those of you who don’t know what that entails. We too celebrate our holidays and have our own traditions. However, our holidays usually come with tons of drama. For instance most of our holidays are about how others tried to kill us but through our perseverance we made it…we survived against all odds…we were the army of 10 in a world with armies of thousands who wanted us dead…get my point? In my family if you wanted to participate in a conversation you had to roll up your sleeves and get in there. The louder we spoke the more we were heard. And the thought of allowing someone to finish their thought was absurd. Why? Just get in there and say what you gotta say. Now, even though my mother was VERY Southern (being raised in Birmingham, AL during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s), because my father was from Brooklyn (and I spent more time with him after losing my mom), I took on more of the NY ways. “Sir” and “Ma’am” were foreign to me. Funny, though, my sister says them. I suppose her being 7 years older and having more one on one time with my mom, she picked up a little more on the Southern ways. At any rate in regards to food our Sundays usually included pastrami and tongue sandwiches on rye or pumpernickel bread. Our dad’s breakfast usually consisted of sardines and bagels topped with a ton of cream cheese.And so we refer to my family as “pumpernickel”. We are spicy and all about frills (necessary or not) and we have a tendency to cause gas if you aren’t used to us.
OK, so basically when I first met Carol’s family, I saw them like soft cotton sheets just fresh out of the dryer and I have no doubt they saw me like burlap that had never been washed. Get my drift here? AND SO I know it wasn’t very easy for them to open their hearts and to accept me. I was the epitome of everything they weren’t and somehow their family member, Carol, had fallen in love with me. OY VEY was right. OK, so they weren’t saying, “OY VEY!” Maybe “HOLY SHIT” was more like it.
I’m not sure where it all turned around for Carol’s family to finally feel comfortable with me but (in time), they took me in as if I was one of theirs….well, one of their “adopted” ones. Maybe because they could see I loved Carol? Maybe. Or was it because I wasn’t going away and they had no choice? More than likely. But whatever the reason they welcomed me. Even so, I was terrified as to how they would accept Judah once he was born. I felt Carol’s parents would be Judah’s grandparents and Carol’s siblings would be Judah’s aunt and uncles. However, Judah was not genetically apart of their family. Hell, Carol and I couldn’t even be married in the eyes of the law. That meant there wasn’t even a way to justify to Carol’s family that Judah was her stepson. Her family being very traditional I was fearful they wouldn’t see Judah as one of theirs. And of course that scared me because I never wanted our son to feel like an outsider in a family he was to grow to love.
I have to tell y’all, my worry was for nothing because once Judah was born and once they got to know our sweet little boy, they couldn’t help but to fall in love with him. We were very lucky because Judah’s kind and easy going spirit was heartwarming which made it easy for others to open their hearts to him. Carol asked her mom if it would be OK for Judah to call her Gram and her dad, Papa (like the other grandchildren). I don’t know if Carol’s mom told her Judah could because she was more worried about upsetting Carol or because she really did see Judah as a grandson but honestly, it didn’t matter. What was more important was that our son was given a huge gift…he was given the love of another family which was so incredibly special to me. After all by the time Judah was four he would share that family’s last name, so genetically or not, he was one of them.
I will never forget when Judah was 3 and we were at a family gathering at Carol’s brother’s home. Carol’s sister, Rachael, was introducing us to someone and she said, “This is my sister, my sister in law and my nephew.” Said was able to introduce us casually and comfortably as if it was no big deal. Another time Carol’s father introduced me to someone as his daughter in law. And on my side of the family my sister and her husband introduced Carol as their sister in law.
Listen, Folks, Carol and I understand we are not going to be accepted by everyone. We didn’t expect to be even when we had been the brunt of that rejection (many times during our lives together). However, it was important that we be accepted by our families. It was important for Judah to have that support. Hell, it was important for us to have that support too. I am incredibly touched and moved to have so many generations of family members who love us for who we are. Lets face it folks, if two families like mine and Carols can do it then anyone’s can. Both of our families as a result have allowed us to give the most incredible and precious gift to Judah. He will be raised knowing he has an extended family who accepts and loves him as the individual he is. In a world where he will be judged time and time again, he will have the comfort of knowing his family will never past judgement simply because of the parents he has. As a result they are helping us empower him in the road of life he chooses to take. And so far, he’s taking a very good one!