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California Christmas December 14, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Travel.
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5 comments

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I couldn’t imagine a Christmas without snow. So for the first two years I lived in California, I dutifully flew home to spend the holidays with my family in Nebraska. This was a spiritual pilgrimage as well, as I did learn there really is such a thing as Purgatory – it’s being stranded indefinitely at the Denver Airport waiting for the weather “to clear.”

My husband, Richard, is from Idaho so even after we got married we alternated flying back and forth between these two exotic snow-covered destinations at Christmas. But at some point, traveling with two small children over the holidays got to be too much. It was time to establish our own holiday traditions – but a Christmas without snow?

Can you say Feliz Navidad? While everyone was talking North Pole, I found my answer to a Christmas without snow South of the Border. When we lived in New York, one year we flew to Mexico the day after Christmas. We stayed in Zihuantanejo, a small fishing village on the Pacific Coast.  This is what I remember. As we rode in a taxi with no seat belts to our hotel, a huge pig sauntered across the road. I turned to my husband and said, “This isn’t a developing country – this is the Third World!) When we arrived at our hotel shortly after 8 a.m., the manager, Pepe, had two icy Coronas in our hands before our luggage hit the ground.

Not only was Mexico warm and sunny, but it was (dare I say it?) so Christmasy! There were Christmas trees at all the hotels and restaurants decorated with tin and straw ornaments and elaborate nativity scenes nestled in piles of Spanish moss. It was gorgeous, colorful, and the atmosphere was festive. Think about it. Margaritas are green and hot sauce is red. My sons got to break open a red and white star pinata and the kids were excited to get a piece of candy and an orange!

When we moved back to California it was a done deal. Adapt or perish. Tradition is tradition, but we chose to embrace new traditions. Last week we put up the tree. It’s a real one as I love that fresh pine smell (not the pine scent you spray around the house). Our tree is festooned with Mexican tin ornaments and colorful woven spirals and straw angels. (Which also makes it earthquake friendly!) There’s only one ornament on the tree that’s breakable. It’s a clay angel bell we bought the first year we were married at the gift shop outside Mijares, a local Mexican restaurant that’s still in business. The angel dangles from the top branch of the tree as a reminder of just how fragile life can be.

The stockings are hung from the chimney. And yes, when the temperature dips to 45 degrees in Los Angeles, it really feels like it’s freezing. (Who forgot to add insulation to the houses here?) Our pig, Maisie, loves to lay in front of the fireplace so I guess we really have gone Third World.

So if you drop by our house on Christmas Eve, prepare to enjoy tamales and Mexican hot chocolate.  With Global Warming, I just wanted to give everyone a heads up as to what could be in store. In the meantime, Feliz Navidad!

I, Santa Claus December 7, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Parenting.
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6 comments

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My son, Ian, was in the third grade when I, Santa Claus, was exposed.  Only weeks after Christmas, Ian approached me with a bewildered expression on his face, clutching a piece of paper. “Why do you have all my letters to Santa Claus?” he asked point blank.  Oh s**t!  He’d found our cache of letters the boys had written to the big jolly man.  

The frozen look on my face said it all. “You’re Santa Claus?” Ian asked incredulously.  (Yeah, like I couldn’t eat a plate full of cookies).   “I…I…I am,” I stammered, and my son burst into tears. Before I could begin to explain how this ruse worked, I saw my confession’s stunning ripple effect.  Still wailing, Ian choked out, “And the Easter Bunny?”  I nodded.  More tears. “And what about the Tooth Fairy?”  At this point I was so busted that I merely hung my head.   Ian locked himself in his room and a tsunami of tears followed.   What my son didn’t see were my tears. 

You have to understand.  As a child I loved Santa Claus.  Just at that age (third grade), when everyone else was muttering something about Santa being your parents, I received a pair of roller skates from Santa that were the wrong size.  This was proof that Santa WAS real.  My parents would have known what size to buy me.  But with so many children in the world, I could forgive Santa for not knowing my exact size.  This mistake bought me (and my parents) another year of me being a “believer.”  To be honest, I don’t even remember when I finally figured out Santa was my parents, or if we even talked about it. Maybe it was so traumatic, I’ve supressed the memory. But I tend to think I finally realized that it was a bit of a stretch that some jolly fat guy could deliver gifts all around the world without routing them all through Memphis.  

When our first son, Taylor, was born, we were eager go play Santa.  It’s the role of a lifetime and we played it to the max.  We were living in New York City and the city is magical at Christmas.  One year friends invited us to their block association’s “Visit from Santa” event at a small park in Chelsea.  It was freezing and we huddled together stomping our feet to try and stay warm while awaiting Santa’s arrival.  

All of a sudden we heard a jolly, “Ho ho ho!”  We looked up and there on the rooftop of a three-story brownstone, illuminated against a starry sky, stood Santa waving!   I got goosebumps.  I was five years old again.  I was a Believer!   Moments later, Santa emerged from the front door of the brownstone with his bag slung over his shoulder.  He passed out advent calendars filled with chocolates before disappearing into a waiting Cadillac. It was only later, I found out that Santa was actually a Jewish guy named Morty. Morty was so overjoyed that he’d married off his last daughter, he asked if he could play Santa that year.  That’s what I love about New York.  

When Ian was born the next year, his big brother Taylor was only too happy to fill him in on Santa’s penchant for cookies and his elusive nature.  

On Christmas Eve, the boys would write their letters to Santa.  When they finally drifted off to sleep, we went to work.  I snarfed the cookies then wrote a letter from Santa on parchment paper with a calligraphy pen.  I even burned the edges so it looked like something out of a storybook.  Before Richard and I went to bed, we pulled out the fireplace screen just a tad and made big sooty footprints over to where the cookies had been.  It was a crime scene worthy of CSI.  

One year the stockings looked so adorable hanging above the fireplace that Richard took a Polaroid.  The mirror hanging over the fireplace reflected the flash and the image blurred.  It actually looked like a being of light was moving toward the fireplace.  In the morning we excitedly told the boys how we’d heard a noise and rushed out to the living room just in time to snap a picture of Santa.  Taylor was determined to contact the National Enquirer because he knew they’d pay lots of money for a “real” picture of Santa. “Finally,” he announced.  “We have proof!”

Taylor figured out the Santa thing by the fourth grade.  We were living outside Seattle by then and he seemed nonplussed.  He said it explained why Santa always gave gifts out of the Hearthsong catalog.  That year Taylor helped set up the stocking for Ian and enjoyed watching his little brother delight in seeing what Santa had brought on Christmas morning. After we moved back to LA, Taylor continued to play along.  Wink, wink. 

So Ian’s heartfelt tears were like a knife to my heart.  This wasn’t how I’d imagined it.  But how much of life isn’t?   So what did we do to help our traumatized son deal with the TRUTH. Taylor finally lured Ian out of his room and we all went to see a movie – A violent movie.  All I remember is it was rated R and there was lots of shooting, which as we all know, Santa wouldn’t approve of.  Ian walked out of the theater and the storm had passed.  

Ian is now 22 and loves to retell the story about finding Santa’s letters.  The funny thing is his favorite thing about Christmas is still coming out to see what Santa has left in his stocking. (We tried to phase the stocking out when he was 17, but he wouldn’t hear of it).  So I told Ian if I, Santa, still have to fill a stocking then he has to write “Santa” a letter.  So Ian writes a letter giving me (I mean Santa) an update on his college grades, and I, Santa write a letter back, but don’t bother to burn the edges.  And I still get to eat the cookies!

My Son – Who Happens to be Gay November 22, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Parenting, Politics.
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5 comments

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I have two sons. My younger son, Ian, happens to be gay. I didn’t set out to have a gay son. But then Ian didn’t set out to be gay, and to be honest, it came as a shock to him as well. He was confused about why he felt “different.” And he struggled alone. Even now, I can’t imagine what that was like for him when he was only nine and had a crush on a boy in the fourth grade.

When Ian was 14 and a half, we were sitting in the doctor’s office, and he announced he was gay. We laugh now remembering what happened next. I blurted out, “Oh my god, I hope my parents die soon!” This was because my parents had left their church in the Midwest over the issue of gay unions. My head was spinning. Driving home, I was in a fog. I’ve always had gay friends, but my son? My eyes brimmed with tears. Why me?  What I remember most is what my son said next. “Mom, I’m the same person I was before – it’s just that now you know.”

“Please don’t tell Dad,” Ian asked. My response? “That’s like asking me not to tell your father the house is on fire!” So he told his dad who was surprised, but ultimately okay with it. Then he told his older brother who shrugged. “Just don’t expect me to go riding around in one of those gay pride parades.”

Ian felt such a sense of relief to be able to be honest about who he was. This was the same kid who had written “I’m gay” in Sharpie on the back of another boy’s jacket in middle school. Talk about confused self-loathing. It wasn’t easy for him though.

Ian, who’s outgoing and always had lots of friends, thought once he came out, other students at his high school would come out as well. He waited…and waited. There was one other boy who was extremely flamboyant, who Ian wanted nothing to do with. Ian had played Little League baseball and considered himself a jock. His attitude was, “If I want to hang out with a girl, I’ll hang out with a real girl.”

Looking back, I can’t believe how brave my son was. Yes, he took a boy as a date to the prom. He was confident no one would give them a problem as Ian is infinitely likable and has a wicked sense of humor. No one did, but I held my breath. As a parent, I was frightened that someone would lash out at my son, verbally or physically. But being young, Ian was convinced he could change the world – or at least people’s opinions – one at a time.  And to his credit, he did and continues to do so.

Meanwhile, my husband and I found PFLAG ,Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians And Gays. (I should note that at the meetings I attended there were also families with transgender children.) We met so many incredible people at those meetings. People came because they too had family members and friends who were gay. Those who’d been attending for awhile always described being able to acknowledge their child’s sexual orientation as an amazing “journey.” It was painful though when parents who’d just found out their child was gay came to a meeting. Some were still in such a state of shock or denial they couldn’t speak. But the important thing was they showed up. It was the first step on their journey.

There was a Chinese woman who wanted to know if there were herbs that could turn her son, who was in his 30s and a doctor, back to “normal.”  There were African Americans whose childhoods were so interwoven with the church, they felt ostracized in their own community. And there were people who’d gotten married because, “I thought if I got married and had a family, it might make IT go away.” They’d come to the conclusion that telling a lie is easy, but living a lie takes a toll on one’s soul.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep The Secret any longer. After a year, I broke down and told my parents their grandson was gay. They were in shock, but they love Ian. Several years later when they were visiting, my father said to Ian, “Someday when you meet the perfect woman…”  He caught himself. “I mean man,” he said. Ian was overjoyed as he adores his grandparents.

My son has never been interested in the club scene. “That’s not the way you and dad raised me,” he said with such earnestness, that my heart ached for him. He talks about “when I have a kid.” He has that optimism that comes with youth. It helps that we live in Southern California. Ian is still put off by “girlie” guys and was critical of people who are transgender until he saw the movie Transamerica.  He watched it again the other night and said it made him cry. So even he has been on his own journey of understanding.

My son is now 22. He goes to college and he, and his boyfriend of a year, live with us. The other day he asked, “Mom, at what age are you considered a loser if you still live at home with your parents?” I told him with the economy the way it is, this might be as good as it gets.  But we’re all okay with that.

I really don’t give much thought to my son being gay anymore. It’s just one part of who he is, but certainly doesn’t define him as a human being. I was disturbed though when he came to me last night and told me how upsetting it was when several young men chanted, “Yes on 8!” when he and his boyfriend walked by. Ian is a peaceful person, and it was all he could do to not say something. And of course, you always think of just the right thing to say afterwards. But hate, even though Ian knows it stems from ignorance, still hurts.

So when my friend TIna, who also has a gay son, emailed this morning that she’s going to attend a peaceful march tonight to protest the passage of “Yes on 8,” I said count me in. She and some of our friends marched last weekend. They sent me pictures of them holding their placards. What impressed me most was that most of those who showed up didn’t have a gay child. They were there because they thought it was the right thing to do. They believe in equal rights for all Americans.

So now it looks like it’s going to be a gay day. I can think of a lot of things I’d rather be doing on a Saturday night. But the stakes are just too high. We’re not talking about one of THOSE people. We’re talking about my son.

One of the most eloquent and impassioned commentaries I’ve seen on this issue is “Keith Olbermann’s Response to Prop. 8.”  To view his commentary, please press the following link. Peace.

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