Last weekend, Alex turned three. Two years ago for her first birthday, we sent out party invitations and ended up with a full house: 25 adults and 11 children. To say that Alex was overwhelmed is like saying the Affordable Care Act websites didn’t work quite as expected at first.
This time around, we only invited half a dozen children, with one parent per child to maintain control while keeping the crowd to a minimum. By Thursday we were set with party favors, cupcake plans, and the requisite Elmo balloon when Alex started sniffling and whining. Kris and I exchanged worried glances. The birthday girl was coming down with a cold.
By the weekend, Alex was a sick little kid. She slept on me most of Friday night, and on Saturday morning she followed me around the house moaning, “Mimi, I don’t like it.” And, “Mimi, I need help from you.” Exhausted from the previous night’s sleeplessness, I have to admit that at first I found my constant companion somewhat unwelcome. But by mid-morning she was so miserable that I gave up any thought of spending time with the twins or my parents, who are currently visiting. I spent the majority of Saturday holding Alex, including a two-hour nap on the living room couch where she burrowed against me twitching and wheezing while I read WWII history on my phone’s Kindle app.
That afternoon, we finally cancelled the party. This was the second year in a row we’d had to change plans for Alex’s birthday due to illness, leading Kris to remark, “Winter birthdays suck.”
This bug seemed like more than a measly cold to me. Alex, our prolific eater who has never met a vegetable she didn’t like, barely ate anything that day other than the fruit and honey-cinnamon concoction we offered her. By nightfall, I was genuinely worried.
“Something’s wrong with her,” I fretted to Kris as we got ready for bed. “Something’s really wrong.”
Kris hugged me. “She has a bad cold. She’ll be okay in a few days.”
Looking back, of course, I realize that it may have been the profound lack of sleep that kept making me tear up that night. After a better night’s sleep, Alex woke up the next morning not cured but significantly less clingy and far more smiley. I, however, was no less grouchy.
I did feel a little silly for worrying as I had, but that’s parenting. As my sister-in-law G. once said, no one warns you ahead of time that once you have a child, you will worry constantly. Irrationally, rationally, logically, illogically—your worry travels with you, just as your love does. And just like your love, your worry is easily triggered by a look, a word, a touch.
By Monday morning, Alex was back to almost normal, i.e. dancing and singing made-up words to made-up tunes.
“I’m so glad you feel better,” I told her, smiling at her across the breakfast table.
A little while later, I checked the online news headlines. And here’s the first headline I saw the morning after Alex’s birthday: “Lawyers: Gay marriage a detriment to children” – Associated Press
First thing Monday morning, and already the AP was crafting headlines giving top billing to the baseless, bigoted opinions of anti-gay hate groups.
Here’s what the headlines should have read:
- “Attorneys defend same-sex married couples from well-funded hate groups”
- “Homophobic groups target gay parents—again”
- “Anti-gay bullies old enough to know better”
- “Federal court battle pits Bible-thumping bigots against peace-loving, tax-paying, law-abiding gay folks”
Instead, a week rarely passes without some headline proclaiming that same-sex marriage damages children. My marriage. Damages my children. That’s what they’re saying.
Know what damages children? Not having parents who love them. Not having homes to live in and beds to sleep in. Not having food and attention and care and affection. Not being able to sing made-up songs while they dance around a room with a gaggle of adoring adults looking on. Oh, yeah—and being told by bigots that their family isn’t real, doesn’t count, shouldn’t be allowed to exist.
A friend of mine has a child that she and her wife adopted. Recently she told me that the little girl had been born to straight parents who were in the system because low IQs prevented them from being able to take care of themselves, let alone a baby. Social Services knew that the woman was pregnant, and her social worker was anxious to ensure the baby’s safety. But a few days before the little girl was born, her parents vanished off the radar for six full weeks. By the time the social worker found them, the baby was in such bad shape that she had to be airlifted to the hospital and fed via a stomach tube for two weeks.
Now, a few years later, you’d never know that this vivacious, laughing little girl nearly died at the hands of her heterosexual biological parents. And why is that? Because her adoptive moms have given her nothing but love and attention and care. They have provided her with a loving home, and given her the therapy and attention that she needed to overcome such a rocky start in life.
“She’s the light of my life,” my friend told me recently. “She is literally the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
I knew exactly what she meant. We sat together in her living room watching our daughters play together, our eyes brimming with the same tears of love—and worry—for our children.
After last weekend, when I held my daughter and bathed her and fed her and soothed her and sung to her and cried for her and grabbed only a handful of hours of sleep for myself, my temper is necessarily short. As Alex could tell you, I was not in the best mood this morning when she woke me up at 4:30, nor was I very pleasant when she kicked me in her desperation to avoid having a bath a short time later.
“When you’re tired,” the late actor James Gandolfini once noted, “every single thing that somebody else does makes you mad.” Another bit of wisdom all new parents should be given.
Today, armed with sleeplessness and fresh worry, I want to say “F— you” to the anti-gay activists. F— off, you hate-spewing hypocrites. You call yourselves Christians? I think not. And Jesus probably thinks not, too.
Obviously, I’ve gotta get more sleep. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with an image of Alex on one of her recent good days during Family Dance Party, an after-dinner tradition we usually manage to observe three or four nights a week: