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What’s (MORE) worse for a kid than having ONE Jewish momma?

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A year ago I decided our son needed to be around more Jewish kids and to learn about the Judaism that is closer to mine and Carol’s philosophy. I felt strongly that one particular camp would be the one. And so I started the process of seeing how I could find the funding to get Judah to C.J. Why C.J you ask? Well for me, it is multifaceted…not just one reason. First of all, I spent 10 summers there… not as a camper but as a staff member. I did attend their sister camp for the older kids when I was 15, so I wasn’t totally wide eyed when I started working here. During my first two summers at CJ (I was 18 and 19 years old) I was a Madricha (counselor for Offarim) and the remaining years I was the Omanut (art) specialist. As much as I did enjoy being a counselor, I really loved being the art specialist. Gosh, of course I did. It was what I was studying in college and it gave the opportunity to do my own art…was my outlet. And so, I worked hard to start a ceramics program and moved the art program to a bigger space to house the new kilns. (It’s so cool the art facility is still in tact as I left it with improvements. My work wasn’t in vein.) I loved camp and I cared about the well being of the art program. But for me there was another equal reason I have a special connection to this place. Camp was my salvation. It was a place I felt safe and where I never had to struggle. I didn’t have to worry about bills or my next meal. Camp was a safe place for me and a place I felt free and included. Many of my friends there knew my mom had died when I was 15. But the secret I held for many years was that my dad was abusive. Especially after my mom died, my life with my dad was nothing less than hellish. And so C.J was my place of refuge. It gave me many friends who taught me to be the person I am today. It educated me in ways life never did. It gave me Year Course and more life experiences. CJ made me realize I counted in this world and I could achieve any thing in my life as long as I worked hard. Of course some of that was a young person’s “I can conquer the world” ideal…but for me it allowed me to watch my peers and to see I deserved better. And for all of those things I am so thankful.

Now, as good as CJ was to me I must be honest about my last summer with them. That last summer I worked there, it was not one I like to remember. I have to mention it because it is so relevant as to why I knew Carol would not approve of sending our son to CJ. And I must be honest, I totally understand as I am still baffled how such a place…a place that was my home could betray me in that way.

It was the late 1990’s and Carol and I were dating. Because camp was one of my favorite places on earth I wanted Carol to see it…I wanted her to love it like I did. And so, I had permission for her to come to camp to spend every Shabbat with me. Because I was a specialist in charge of an activity that was not allowed to be done on Shabbat, I had that time off.  Carol and I were good friends with the horse staff and a few of the Israeli’s. The Teva specialist has been our dear friend ever since. Anyway, Carol got to know camp well. She hadn’t converted to Judaism yet but she still learned many of the prayers and Israeli songs. We’d have tea with the two shaliach families. At first she enjoyed all of the things I loved about CJ…Shabbat, Havdallah. But what happened…the reality of us being a couple, the dark side was exposed and I was shocked. I couldn’t believe how people’s attitudes changed when they realized Carol was not just my friend…I’m sure it became obvious as we were in love. I couldn’t believe how it was people who knew me for years and I called many of them friends could just start treating me as a freak. Carol and I never displayed any affection in public but that didn’t matter as staff members started horrible rumors about us. They’d laugh and whisper when we’d walk by and they’d get campers to ask me questions that were NOT appropriate. Even the Shaliach got in the hateful action…she made it clear that because I was gay I should not be around children. She demanded I be fired and even held meetings with staff members who felt the same way. I know this because our friend Bosmat, who was the teva specialist was the only one to stand up for us in those meetings. We were so grateful to her loyalty and can’t even begin to tell you the love we have for her and her family to this day. Not many have stood up for us over the years. Bosmat did and she never cared how that alienated her. If only we had more Bosmat’s that summer.

After many years at CJ I was shocked this could happen in a place I felt so comfortable. I felt betrayed. Carol was appalled by the behavior especially coming from a camp who prided themselves on being accepting. AND SO as I thought about sending our son to CJ, I knew Carol would not be happy. She rightfully still harbored anger. And folks, that’s not all. Back when it all happened I wrote a letter to the big Kohuna of Young Judaea about what happened to us, I gave examples of other staff members who’s opposite sex boy and girlfriends were allowed to come visit…I told him about how we were treated. W*E*L*L, I got a letter back from him blaming me for what happened…after all we chose to be out and never tried to hide who we were. I won’t even mention this director’s name as he is still very involved and well liked among Judaeans, But a mensch, this man is F*A*R from it. My movement I loved and was an integral a part of kicked me out like a piece of garbage and I was hurt. Carol was furious and never forgave them for what happened. AND SO It didn’t matter that it had been almost 20 years later. I knew Carol would NOT be happy with my decision to send Judah to that camp.

Listen, I knew Carol was right. Why would I want to send out kid to a camp that rejected his parents? Why would I want to support a place that didn’t support us. That very thing was the reason we no longer attended Synagogue in our own town. In fact at the time when many in our Jewish community turned against us, the only ones who embraced us was the the Rabbi and his wife from the Chabad house. Y’all, kindness can go a long way even when I know and understand their interpretation of Judaism. But, we didn’t have to justify who we were or argue about why we were. There, we just were.

AND SO, I knew the first thing I needed to do was to find out how and if CJ had changed. I had friends who told me it had but to be honest, they could not really know if it had as they weren’t us. Would they really be aware of the bigotries…would they even notice the subtle hatred?  SO, my first course of business was to find out how GLBT staff and campers were treated at the camp. How would our son be treated because he has two moms? It was important to know the philosophy at camp had changed and negative behavior against GLBT would not be tolerated. After months of my friends assuring me it had changed they encouraged me to speak to the new director. After receiving a call one afternoon from the director and speaking to him for a good hour, I felt confident things were different. Gosh, it had been 20 years later and after all our kid now 11 had never even had an issue at school with having two moms. How people viewed us had changed. But, I knew my partner well…I knew she still would not like it ….she would not like sending Judah to a place that harbored such a horrible time for us. For me though, I couldn’t condemn CJ because of that one summer even as bad as it was for us. There was more to that place…and if they had changed I knew Judah would be a good fit there.

Without telling Carol I began the process of looking into scholarships to pay for camp. I knew there was no way we could pay for it. We had just bought a house…the dog of the neighborhood just so we could afford it. A lot of work needs to be done to the house and we both committed that any extra money would go towards our house to get it fixed up.  SO, I knew sending Judah to camp would be a long shot. There was no reason to even worry Carol (or to tell Judah) if I couldn’t make it happen.

After a few months I had a plan of action. The only thing was it would meant we’d have to take a good amount we were using to fix up the house and put it towards camp. YIKES! It was time I told Carol my plan and to convince her of the benefits of sending Judah to this camp. I was nervous to say the least. I wanted her to be as excited as I was BUT I knew that was not going to be reality. Not only was I suggesting we send Judah to the camp that ostracized us BUT I was also saying we needed that money that was to go into our house. I won’t lie y’all. Carol was not happy with me. If Judah had not been excited about going, I know for sure I would have lost this battle. And y’all know what? Carol would have had a case no doubt.

Of course Carol reminded me of how we were treated and what that could do to Judah. She never wanted him to be treated badly or differently and up to now Judah hasn’t been. Listen, Carol wasn’t concerned with the kids. Judah knows how to handle that. After all Judah once said, ” All kids get teased…it’s just what it means to be a kid. But, it’s not worth my time to respond to the other kid (who’s doing the teasing). They’re dumb. I know they won’t go anywhere in life by being that way and I know I will. SO why bother getting upset or angry or anything else? After all you can’t change stupid.” Carol was confident Judah would be fine with the other kids. It was the adults that concerned her. For Carol it was  not knowing the staff and trusting total strangers to care for our kid. Listen, I understood her fears. However, I felt confident that the director was supportive and would never allow anything to happen to our son.

Of course I had my fears. One being I never had been away from my kid for that long. And the other was Judah being in culture shock. With us living in a small Southern town it’s not easy raising our kid Jewish. It’s not easy being the only Jewish, lesbian couple raising a son. We went through many hard years not in the community at large but just in the Jewish community when we came out. It’s been very difficult to get over the meanness. And as I mentioned before one group who accepted us without question was the local Chabad group. But as nice as they are, their belief system is not ours. Their religiousness is not ours. It’s not the Judaism we belong to…it’s not our philosophy. I also know Judah feels like an outsider there. That was why I felt CJ would be good for him. I just knew if he could get used to all of the Hebrew and be comfortable with attending services…if he could just find his own purpose and place at camp, he’d love it as I did. AND who better to have as an addition to CJ than a child of the new generation of “family.”

I know people laugh at me and Carol for our worrying about our kid at camp. But, there is the reality here.  He’s a kid who has two moms and that’s not like the other kids. We are learning from Judah every day. He has taught us his norm is having two moms. It’s just what it is. Because of that he does’t think so much about it as we do. He also doesn’t worry about it as much as we do. Even so, it’s still hard not to worry. Our kid is only 11. The world around him is not a sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya. He will hear other kids and adults say things and those things may possibly be hateful. Not knowing every staff member at CJ and not knowing how accepting they are, it’s hard to simply relax. For us it’s not just about our son being away from us. There is that added worry for us that most other parents don’t have to be concerned about when they send their kid to camp. For the most part our son has come through his 11 years unscathed from those bigotries.  But, him being away in at place for nearly a month it’s difficult to not concern ourselves with what he may come across. We can only hope we have given him the proper skills, the courage and the strength to handle any situation that may come his way. Listen, when I was a kid I got teased for being Jewish and Carol did for wearing glasses. But y’all this is our son. It’s so different being on the parent side. OY is it hard!

I do want to thank Carol, my love, for allowing Judah this opportunity…for sacrificing. I know letting go was not easy and until he’s back home won’t be easy.  Your bravery is beyond words as I know you have added fears that are justified. We can take a little comfort in knowing Judah was ready. We do have to put our faith in our kid and know that “we done good” preparing him. He wanted to go even though he was nervous. We’ve done a great job.. we should be proud how far he’s come from those days he couldn’t even walk into a crowded room let alone stand on a stage. Who would have thought Judah would go to a “strange” camp and feel comfortable even before we left. We have to try to focus on those good things.

AND SO, here we are not even at week one and these two Jewish moms are pacing the floor. You can rest assured we will continue to check the camp website every 5 minutes for pictures of our son. We will analyze every facial expression we see to make sure he is OK. We will look at his clothing to see if he’s changed them…please don’t let it be our kid who gets the camp talk about the importance of cleanliness. We will wait with bated breathe for a letter from our kid and complain every day we haven’t gotten one. After all what’s (MORE) worse for a kid than having one Jewish Momma? YEP, that would be to be THE kid who HAS TWO Jewish Momma’s!

P.S. My kid swore he would NOT do the following when he got to camp:

* Go horseback riding * Do any kind of dancing * Be on the stage * Participate in any kind of cheering * Do the climbing wall * The zip line *Anything art related * Singing * Wearing something silly

AND NOW NOTICE THE PHOTOS THAT CAMP CAPTURED OF MY KID: Not bad for his first week of never doing these things.

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Horseback riding

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Dancing

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On stage

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Art..far right.

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Singing: Birkat counts, yes?

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Wearing something silly…glittery bow tie and a belt on his hat.

This is my first letter from Judah from camp that arrived on today (Tuesday, July 21). I already knew what chug Judah chose- I found out through another kid’s (who’s in the bunk) father. But, that’s all I knew. Y’all, I’m so glad he’s having an amazing time but gee whiz! Did he just HAVE to add the part about not missing me? REALLY, KID? Anyway, here it is…THE LETTER!

Judah letter

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Posted by on July 19, 2015 in Weekly photo challenge

 

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A son’s confession

My wife and I were sitting on the couch watching our favorite TV show when our seventeen year old son asked if he could talk to us. He was upset about something so we turned the TV off and invited him to sit in the chair next to us. He appeared to have been crying. As parents it broke our hearts to see him upset. My wife took our son’s hand and told him he could tell us anything. I then told our son we loved him very much and we would always be there for him.

Our son told us he loved us and he never wanted to hurt us. We listened intensely as our son said with tearful eyes,” Mom and Momma, I’m straight.”

My wife and I sat there in shock. It was as if someone had hit us with a brick. I was feeling so many emotions at that moment. I felt angry and sad at the same time. My mind was racing with so many thoughts. What does my son mean he’s straight? This has got to be a phase. What does he know about being straight? What would our friends think? What about his future? Did our son even understand what this confession could do to him and our family?

My wife and I began questioning ourselves. Where did we go wrong as two moms? We watched over our son and loved him. Suddenly, my wife and I looked at each other in a horrified way as it dawned on us that maybe our son had been molested. My wife leaned towards our son, took his hand and in a whisper asked our son if he had been abused by anyone to have made him turn this way. We were shocked at our son’s reaction to our caring question. He swore he had not been abused and angrily told us that just because he was straight didn’t mean he had been abused. He only kept repeating he was born that way as if we’d believe him.

My wife just sat there stunned by our son’s confession. She felt a range of emotions as I did. She reflected on his childhood. She started blaming herself for not encouraging our son when he was a little boy to dress up in my frilly skirts and to wear my high heel shoes. My wife being more masculine, she just didn’t think about it. She knew in her gut something was just not right when our son only wanted to watch football instead of figure skating on TV. I wondered if it was because we had allowed him to play with those GI Joe dolls and those miniature soldiers instead of with Barbie dolls like the other boys did. He was our only child and we didn’t think him playing with gender specific toys could change him but clearly we were wrong. It was our fault. We gave him those straight tendencies. What were we thinking? We should have forced him to play and do all of the gay normal things that the other children were doing. Instead, we allowed him to express himself the way he wanted and now look where that got us. It got us a straight son!My thought was interrupted when my wife got angry at our son and she yelled,” What do you mean you are straight? How can that be? You have always dated boys and you never wore a single, straight piece of clothing in your life!” At that moment it dawned on me that our son had been lying to us for many years. I asked our son about his boyfriend who he had supposedly been dating for 2 years. Our son told us they were just friend’s who pretended to be dating. Our son’s “boyfriend” was helping our son pretend to be straight because our son said we’d never understand the truth. Then, our son told us his “boyfriend” was straight too. My wife snapped with anger. She yelled at our son that it was his hanging out with those disgusting type of kids that made him straight. They influenced him. My wife told our son he needs to stop hanging out with those boys and with help he can change. She begged our son to get help.

Our son looked at me and my wife with an intensity I had never seen. He told us he didn’t need help and again he insisted he was born that way. He even had the nerve to twist things we had said in the past to benefit his lifestyle. Our son said we’ve always had a family rule to never lie no matter what it was and he didn’t want to lie to us any longer. He tried to give us a guilt trip by saying he had contemplated committing suicide if he had to continue living his life as a lie.

My wife started to cry. It pained me tremendously to see her so hurt and upset by the things our son was saying and for something he had the power to change. My wife was a wonderful stay at home mom who spent so many years nourishing our son. I couldn’t imagine how betrayed she felt. Maybe things would have been different if I took more time with him and didn’t work so much. I know it’s important for a child to have both parents around and especially the parent who is more feminine to help set a good example of who our son was to become. Don’t get me wrong I loved my wife but there was no way she could has given our son what he needed. Even so, the fact was our son was choosing the straight lifestyle. It was clear he was doing it to hurt and embarrass us. What did my wife and I do to deserve this from our son?

My wife, unable to deal with the situation any longer, yelled, “Holy crap! Our son is a breeder!” She looked at our son and said,” I raised you better!” Before my wife left the room, she made it very clear to our son that she would never accept or support his disgusting lifestyle.

When my wife left the room I looked at our son who was still sitting in his chair. He wouldn’t look at me. He only looked towards the floor and wept. As I looked at him I started reminiscing about his childhood in my mind. He was such a sweet little boy who only wanted to please his two moms. He used to talk about falling in love with the man of his dreams and adopting lots of children. He even drew us a picture of the family he wanted. He was the perfect little boy with all of the normal dreams of every other child. I loved him so much. What happened to make him be this way? How could he hurt us like this? What did we do to deserve this?

With one statement our son broke our family a part and changed our lives forever.

My purpose is to try to show our straight loved ones and friends how selfish and painful our parent’s words can be when our gay and lesbian children come out to them. It is so easy as parents to only talk about our hurt and pain and forget to see our child’s pain. Our children in many ways are being forced to live their lives as a lie so they may preserve a parent’s love and protection. We as parents make a great point to tell our children to never lie and yet in reality we don’t want to hear the truth. Why do we send them mixed messages?

We, as parents, can say the most destructive things to our children when they tell us something that’s not agreeable or different than what we dreamed for them. Are we being selfish? In many ways we are being selfish but now that I’m a parent I can better understand why. I place expectations on my own child and do because I love him so much and want only the best for him. And yet as pointed out to me recently, what I feel is best for my son may not be what he wants or chooses. Ultimately, I as a parent have to let go and let my son live his life as he desires even if it is something I feel strongly oppose. It all came to light when my sister in law said to me, “I am not going to just stop speaking or loving my children because they are doing something I don’t like. That would be dumb.”

I’ve thought long and hard about what she said. I wrote this story long before my sister in law said that to me. After hearing her I thought about my role as a mom. Is it my purpose to raise my son as a carbon copy of me with all of my exact philosophies? Well, as the preverbal Jewish mom, part of me says, “Hell yeah!” But in reality I know that just isn’t realistic. I’ve come to realize how can I write a story to tell parents to put their expectations for their children on the back burner (even when the parent disapproves) when I can’t do the same? In essence my sister in law has chosen the path of “unconditional love”. And by her allowing her children to live according to their own choices and desires means she is allowing (and accepting) them to handle their own consequences whether good or bad as a result. How can that be bad?

I suppose my biggest fear is losing my son to a partner who will take him away from me and his other mom. Love has that power. He’s my only child and my fear of losing him is huge. I suppose this is where my past haunts me. I know my son is only 7 but I too have to learn to slowly let go. I have to trust my son will make good decisions for what is best for him. I have to learn to live by the philosophy I am requesting of other parents. Now, I truly understand how difficult it is. But as I am asking from others, I too must rememberto put my expectations to the side and to allow my son to create his own path into his own journey in life.

By: MaLea Shved Breland

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in abusive fathers

 

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