J is for Judgement

J

judg·ment
ˈjəjmənt/
noun
1. the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.
2. an opinion or conclusion. a misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment.

Four years of Mothers’ Days, birthdays, care packages and mourning had passed and it was August 2002.  I was going to Maine to see their home, meet the rest of their family and see The Boy for the first time since he turned one and they came back to finalize the adoption.sideview mirror

I was living with a girl, but it didn’t occur to bring her, she was not someone I was proud of. I wasn’t either, but what can you do? I takes about 6 hours to get from Jersey to Portland, ME. I have always liked long drives, it lets you get used to going from one place another at a pace I could appreciate though this trip seemed to go by more quickly than I was prepared for.

Gwynnie and Gretchen had set me up at a local B&B, and I was thankful. I didn’t think I could stay in their home, there wouldn’t be anywhere to hide. It was the first time I had a hotel room to myself and that little pleasure was celebrated by jumping on the bed and laughing at myself.

Screenshot 2014-04-10 at 12.45.40 PM (1)I met them back at their house later. It is one of those big Victorians, with wide steps that lead to a porch wrapped around it. Each step felt heavy. Then, he was there. We were unsure of each other. It felt like a punch to the gut that you have to smile and say nice things, through.

Most people can look in the mirror and see the parts of them that come from this or that relative. The small ears from Nanna, full lips and pert nose from mom, that troublesome widows peak from dads side of the family, I have never seen myself in another’s face.  Though I had lived with my mother’s people, I look little like them, though I did have my grandmother’s ears. In pictures I resembled the small brown child some infertile member had adopted from an island nation.

There was no mistaking where this child came from. He was my darker version. I had anticipated the possibility of pain and the hardship of seeing him at all, would entail, but this came as as shock. I had seen plenty of pictures and knew intellectually that we looked quite similar, but the reality almost felled me. I rarely saw beauty in myself, but in him, I could see nothing else.

I think that they tried to limit the amount of people who might overwhelm me when I walked in the door, but still when we convened in the big bright kitchen, I was overwhelmed. The house was owned by three families, Gwynnie and two of her siblings had bought it along with each of their significant others. Her sister Penny and her husband Paul had the back half of the house. Her brother Matt and his wife Lisa had the third floor. Gwynnie and Gretchen had the front, and each portion was distinct to their personalities but somehow smoothly connected to the lives that inhabited it.

There was homemade bread, fruit picked at local farms and an endless stream of faces I couldn’t remember the names for.  Cousins, Aunts, friends, neighbors, I think everyone wanted a turn to meet me.

“We are so grateful for what you did”

“You are so brave”

“Everyone loves The Boy so much, you made them a family!”

“ You were so young and so selfless!”

“ OH WOW, you look JUST LIKE HIM!”

Rinse and repeat

I saw Gwynnie and Gretchen looking between our faces, along with everyone else and wanted to hide behind my fingers like a small child who believes it will make them invisible. I was not brave, or clever, or selfless, I was a train wreck with enough common sense to know it. I was afraid to look to closely at The Boy, I didn’t think I could touch him and I didn’t have the words to react to this kindness deluge. I wanted to trace his features with my finger and marvel at him. I never thought I would feel so broken and so full at the same time. I smiled and tried to find appropriate words to the words they sent my way. Even the deluge was easier than looking at The Boy, so I did my best not to be a blathering idiot in front of these people who were so nice.

This kind of home, this family, their friends, it was like visiting an alien nation where I didn’t have the language or the tools to navigate. I felt their judgement of my angelic deeds and saw no resemblance in the mirror. I wasn’t a nice person. I said inappropriate things, sometimes laughed at funerals, I slept with too many people, I had a free-flowing sense of morality, oh, and I curse like a fucking sailor. All of that was on a good day, and had nothing to do with the past four years spent on less than virtuous pastimes.

Broken clay heart

 

Not so easy definitions

Family has a lot of definitions. Many of them just aren’t that easy to incorporate into the language we’ve been given. My history doesn’t allow for many, if any, easy answers that work well in banal situation, but most of the people I know have a few of their own too. “Cousins” , “Aunts” , “Uncles”,  that never shared blood. People that became sisters and brothers, where the word “friend” with best in front or not, just didn’t cut it.

Our daughters recent 4th birthday was a big and obvious example of this. 30-40 people showed up, as they do for her birthdays. About 10 were my wife’s family and mine through marriage. One was my son who came with one of his real mommas (I’m his birth mom). The rest? They were mine, they were Asha’s, but they weren’t blood. They are more, and I don’t have the words to explain that to the new people we’re meeting in this new neighborhood we’ve moved too. My very friendly and kind new neighbor asked who was Robyn’s family and who was mine, and I found myself stuck with ” Well, this is my..Christina..um..”

These people are my friends, but they are a lot more, they are my family, they are my daughters’ Aunts, Uncles, Grandmas etc. They have been with me for years, they were all there the day she was born. These people banded together, rented huge storage space and scoured their own networks to fill it to the brim with furniture and baby gear when I had nothing.  They made sure I knew I could have this child and that I had support this time, I had family to give her. They have stood by us no matter what and never questioned if I asked for help.

This year, one of Robyn’s old friends, that has become a big part of our family, made a two-hour trek with three kids to stay with us for the weekend and prepare for this party. She stayed up until 3-4am designing and making belts for the Aquabats costumes my friends/family were donning for this insanity. She herded children and made last minute shopping trips, she costumed up herself and never missed a beat. She’s totally one of my heroes.

Add on to this amazing group, my sons’ family. I gave him up when I was 17. I picked his amazing mammas, and couldn’t have done better had I made them myself. His family has known me since I was a teenager. They have, been the only template I had for what a family could and should be. They are my family as well as my sons’, as well as my daughters. They are kinda heroes for me too. How do you define such a thing to someone in the course of getting to know you, chit chat?

I work with the Transgendered/Intersexed/Genderqueer community, and by work, I mean live, breathe, cry, rejoice and hug them. They are a large part of my life, the practice is small and intimate, we know each person, each family, each tragedy and triumph.  Some of them are also family and friends.

Should I say “These people?  They are brave, loyal, sincere, honest and giving. These people are who I want to be like when I grow up. “?  That’s the closest I can come to an easy explanation and I’m not sure that’s so easy to understand.

It’s a mixed bag with very little that’s easily explained.  Though it might seem cliché, this last weekend, at my daughters party, when I had no words and couldn’t explain or  make it easier for a stranger to get it or understand? All I could come up with was that I was really really blessed because,  all these people?  They CHOSE me, they CHOSE my daughter and my wife and my family. They made space in their lives to make us family too.  How fucking AWESOME is that?? How fucking amazing are they?