Saturday, July 2, 2011

Parenting: The hardest job that brings Me the MOST JOY!

I became a parent as an act of love. Sonny's Mom and Dad loved him enough to let me raise him from birth. I tell Sonny everyday or as often as his tween-self will let me now, I prayed him from heaven*.

When as a couple, my partner and I decided to care for Sonny, he was 4 months in utero. We knew we were stepping out as Gay Men raising a child. It was done before us but there wasn't a huge community to draw from then. Neither of us knew how to access that part of the LGBT community. We weren't a part of it. It's nice to see now, 12 years later, a community of Gay Dad's who are out, raising kids, and being a part of all communities.

My friend loves to tell the story about the time before Sonny was born. I was working full time as an Executive Director of a nonprofit, I was in graduate school full time working on my MSW, and working at an internship so my life was regulated. I lived by a schedule. In my madness, I believed I could put Sonny on a schedule. I made one out. His schedule had eating time, nap time, play time, and his activities. It sounds crazy and ludicrous now, but I did it.

As parents know, newborn babies don't have schedules. They eat every few hours. They poop and pee, often. They burp, a lot. Nothing about their first few days, months, and years can be planned. You adjust your schedule around them.

I like to tell people that Sonny is a book baby. I lived here in Minneapolis when Sonny was born and away from my family. I didn't have help in knowing what developmental stages were or what was going on. No one in my circle of friends had children. I had many books on newborn babies. I learned by trial and error. When I did get a chance to meet a parent of a new born baby, I asked.

When Sonny came into my life, I was in a committed relationship. My partner shared in the responsibility of feeding, bathing, and changing diapers for the first few weeks. Cause, that's really all they do. LOL

Needless to say, after a few weeks, my partner moved into the living room and out of our lives so I was alone in caring for Sonny. Sonny was a colicky baby for the first few months. What we later discovered was that it was his formula. It was not suitable for him and once we changed it, life got better. Parents of colicky babies learn to try to tune out their wailing baby. Walking them, rubbing their back, swaddling them, rocking them, and every parenting ploy you try but nothing. They cry.

Parents of new born babies know sleep deprivation. I remember those times. I could fall asleep at a whim. I could sit in a chair and sleep. I took a nap any chance I got. I gave up quickly on taking care of the house or myself because sleep and tending to Sonny consumed all my energy.

I remember a sleep deprived moment in the first few months, as Sonny cried his colicky cry, a random thought crossed my mind: I can see why dogs eat their young. It was a crazy, random thought. It was exhaustion and exasperation speaking. I couldn't do anything. I was alone so I just sat rocking Sonny and we cried.

What I learned being a parent is how to love unconditionally. My heart grew. It reached the limits of the universe and beyond. Silly milestones, I cheered. The cooing, I giggled at. The accidentally peeing, I learned to laugh at. The poop in the tube was only part of life. Burp and smelling like it was my life.

Falling in love unconditionally is scary. Every fear creeps in. All the 'what if's' come to light. You want to wrap your baby in bubble wrap so they won't hurt themselves when they learn to walk. You want them to stop, as they scream in pain cause they are pulling their own hair. They don't know themselves yet.

There were many sleepless nights watching Sonny sleep. Having a spoon under his nose to make sure he was breathing. I learned to sleep so lightly that when he moved, I woke. I remember, waking up in terror, making sure he was ok.

As time goes along, you learn to manage the fear. You put it away in a recess of your mind, cause to live with it all the time would drive you stark raving mad. At least I had too...

Sonny would fall asleep when I sang, Amazing Grace or Inkpata ( I barely knew the words but I sang what I knew. It soothed him. He found comfort in my voice. He wasn't critiquing what key I was singing in or if I had a good voice. He would fall asleep when I sang.

Joy bubbles up from the center of my being. I adore Sonny. When he first walked and I saw it, I cried. When he sat up, I cried. When he got his immunization shots, I cried. When I left him, I cried. When he cried, I would cry at times. I was an emotional mess and still am, at times. LOL

Being a parent is the hardest thing that I am accomplishing to date. I can't say that I've done it perfectly. My life and his at times bump into each other. My communities needs and his needs, I learn to negotiate. Doing it all is very, very hard as a single parent.

Parenting has taught me to become a better person. I have a capacity to love that I haven't known before. I have the ability to manage fear. I can see hope now, where I couldn't. I have deeper sense of faith and God than ever before in my life.

As a Social Worker, I've seen parents who have failed their parental responsibility. As a human being, in my opinion, I've seen parents who shouldn't be one. I've seen couples struggle to become parents. Good people. They are thoughtful, deliberate, calculating in their effort but nothing. I rage at the senselessness of when 2 people having unprotected sex and unplanned pregnancy results. Don't even get me started on absentee Dad's and Mom's who don't even know who the baby daddy is...

Here is my advice: if you ain't ready to care for a child – DO NOT have unprotected sex. I'm all for sexual freedom and expression. Pregnancies happen if you are having raw unprotected penile/vaginal sex. Finally, take the responsibility for your mistake and make the right decision for everyone involved. Make this decisions in accordance to your beliefs and value structure, no one else.

I'm now watching my siblings older children have their own kids. It is amazing. It starts all over again. I can see myself in them. Watching them grow as parents. I hope they know, they can ask for help. I'm open to help but I am not going to take over parenting for them. It's their journey, now.

My Mom loves to tease me about how ridiculously crazy my behavior was when I was child. She loves to remind me of how I was to her. She laughs hysterically when Sonny is been obstinate and argumentative with me. When he is speaking his mind and debating with me. When I digress into, “I know I am but what are you?”....Those moments when I take a deep breathe and exhale. I remind myself, I will love him past this stage in life.

Don't tell Sonny but he's still my baby. He loves to jump in bed with me and let me rub his back. When he is sick, he loves to sleep in my bed. His big-boy self now won't let anyone know, he still needs me. That's ok. I will write about it. I will keep those memories for us.

People who are considering becoming a parent and are waiting for the right time -here's a hint: there is no right time. Sure when you are economically stable and you've achieved your career goals sounds great but when life happens, allow it. If you are in a suitable enough place in your life, I'm telling you: It's worth it! I love being a parent...

For people who know they are too broken (emotionally/spiritually) to have children, let someone else do it. If you are so consumed by yourself and know you can't care for another human being, please don't. You will damage them. Let someone else love them while you get better. No one is judging you.

Being a good parent is filled with lots of happy memories, tragic accidents, fear, joy, laughter, love, embarrassment, courage, and faith. I hope one day Sonny will appreciate it but until then...I will love him unconditionally.

*Read his Birthday Poem, “I dreamed you into being: An answer to my prayer”

Stop the Madness: Rationalizing away racist behavior…

As a person of color, Native America – broadly and specifically - Sicangu Oyate (Burnt Thigh People), I’ve learned to live with racism. I’ve been on the receiving end of this behavior. I wish I could say racism has gone away but it hasn’t.

In the past, when I've tried to confront someone’s racist behavior and explain how it is derogatory and degrades me, I've usually given up. My upbrining has taught me, the Creator takes care of such things. When I stood up to these people, I’ve been told to stop. Stop making a scene. What they are putting out there will be returned to them in-kind and much worse.

I now know that many of these things I’ve learned over the years are coping mechanisms that helped me survive growing up on a reservation surrounded by white ranchers and white folks. We learned to co-exist with them. Underlying all this was fear. Fear that white men could physically harm us.

If you’ve ever had a group of white men try to stop your car, been called a prairie nigger, shouted at while you shopped, watched throughout the time you were in a shop, and made to feel so uncomfortable your only option was to leave. Those are real moments. They are fucked up!

It saddnes me that as people of color who survive racism, we've learned to rationalize racist behavior away. We think of the promised land. We pray for strength.

We internazlie it but it manifests itself in our own destruction. We drink a little more so we don't feel. We cope with a bottle booze. We create an “us vs them” mentality with our own people. We create a subculture in our own communities of good people and bad people. We stand on each other so we can feel better about ourselves, figuratively and literally.

I've spent many years in fear of violence against me. I've experienced it at the hands of people who said they loved me. I've known it by strangers. With that said, violence begets violence. I know that. What I know is that I am not going to live in fear anymore.

The more of us who speak out against racist behavior and tell people then we contribute to our own well being, collectively and individually speaking. 

The next time you see a store owner watching an elderly Native person shopping ask them, “what are you looking for?” It will be enough of a shock that they won't know how to answer your inquiry. The next time someone brings out a medicine bag in a bar then tell them, “that's absolutely, incredibly innapropriate and I'm offended.” Finally, don't call me “Chief” because that is a heralded position in my community and I am not such.

As we speak out against racists behavior we become more fully ourselves. We realize our own beauty. Generations of people survived so we can stand tall and be proud. Our lives, our bodies, our spirituality – all maters. We are a beautiful people, individually and societally.

Stop internalizing all that ugliness. Make a difference and speak out against racism. Native and Proud! XOXO, Nick

Grow the Hell Up!: Intergenerational Dating

Pet Peeve: a young person who is romantically involved with a much older person. When I see Hugh Hefner with a 20 something year old (60 year difference) I must be the only prude here cause it turns my stomach and makes me angry. Besides the grossness of it, what do they have in common? What do they talk about? How do they look past the decades of life lived?

I am keenly aware of my own aging in reference to my son. I don't intellectually feel older but physically, I know the difference. I can't go out without taking a nap. I can't eat without consequences. I can't drink without compromising my ability to think coherently the next day. Small changes but enough so, I know they are there.

As someone who was younger who dated older men, I know. Don't get me wrong these men were incredible: successful, cute, smart, caring, and adored me. I just never felt right. I didn't feel like we had enough in common. I felt like they wanted to parent me. Believe me, I had a father and mother so those jobs were filled.

It took me awhile to discern my understanding of what was going on. I had to unravel lust and fantasies from what was really occurring. I listened to that voice that kept saying, “this ain't right”.

I look at those couples now and I realize my own stuff I still carry. I project my young self into their relationship and I think I know what is really going on but here is the reality, I don't. I don't know what is going on. I don't know what their love is. I don't know they can't survive past it.

There is a time and place for people of similar ages to date. That's what I know. I know, I should have dated someone my own age. 20 somethings date 20 somethings. There is a process in understanding yourself that comes with that. Both of you are finding your voice at the same time, figuring out what you value, healing old wounds, and can speak in a language that both of you know.

I've given myself a 10 year age limit on both sides of how old I am (39) on who I am willing to date. If someone is below (29<) then I encourage them to keep dating and we'll talk in a few years, if I am single. Finish growing up.

If they are over 10 years above my age (49>) which will put them resoundingly in their 50's then I'd consider it. I'd first want to make sure what they are looking for and what I want are in line. The age of raising kids is dawning and I know it. I'm at the age where I'd like to travel more and see the world. I'm interested in slower activities, movies, theater, comedy shows, jazz/blues concerts...

Don't get me wrong, I know there are mature people who believe they can date mature individuals. I'm just advocating to be self-aware enough to allow a young person their time to be young. Make all the mistakes they can. They have free reign in figuring themselves out. I hate it when it is obscured by someones ideas and viewpoints of life.

Needless to say, Grown folks need to date Grown folks. Allow people their time to mature at their own rate. Don't circumvent their life. Don't short circuit life so you can have the latest and youngest model. Reliving that time is not worth it. If your ass is left because you weren't aware of it then blame yourself. You believed you were enough. Here is reality: it's not about you.

That's what I know about dating someone decades younger/older than me. Proceed with caution. I'm interested in someone who is mature enough to know right from wrong. I'm learning to grow old gracefully. I'm looking for that someone to do it with. XOXO, Nick

An Aha Moment: Surviving and Enduring in the Face of Racism

An aha moment this morning when I realized why People of Color use chemicals and/or spirituality to endure racism, explain away bad behavior, and cope under extreme circumstances.  It doesn't justify abuse but helps me understand the lengths brown people go to survive in America.  Race and class are so inextricably bound together.

As a poor working class single parent, I find myself with white people using ma'am and sir, more frequently:  "Yes, Ma'am", "No, sir".  I've  learned to endure the references to being called, "Chief", and hear derogatory statements made about Native peoples bodies, lives, choices, spirituality.  The more I know about living in America, I realize how unwelcome I am, and I survive at the discretion of liberal white folks guilt.

The white bus driver only 50 feet from the bus stop didn’t care to open his door for the elderly Native woman regardless of the protests of passengers and her eagerly waving.  His way of dealing with it was chastising the elderly Native women by snidely stating, “I see you made it”.  She nodded her head in acknowledgement.  He lurched forward speeding to our next stop.  She nearly fell finding her seat and sat there resolutely.  No sign of anger or disdain, just acceptance.  I guess we need to be thankful that we can sit anywhere on the bus or just have a ride...