Friday, August 11, 2006

The Political Act of Changing Diapers

I read an email the other day from a member of a gay and lesbian parents group, encouraging me to go to the Gay Pride parade. It is a moment, she said, when we celebrate and are reminded “that creating our families is a political act.” Political act? I’m knee deep in diapers, apple cores, and dirty laundry. Today alone, I went to two birthday parties, darted into the store in between to pick up something other than hot dogs for dinner, cleaned up dog poo out of the back yard, put away clean laundry, which meant having to fold the entire contents of each child’s pawed through drawer emptied of the three shirts, one pair of pants, two shorts, four pair of socks, worn by each of them during the 14 hours they were awake. I cut up four apricots, peeled three bananas, sliced four apples, cleaned up a cup of rotting cantaloupe the four year old found in the back of the refrigerator and promptly dropped all over the floor. I made six different sandwiches, poured four bowls of cereal, toasted one bagel, opened and stirred six yogurts, set the table five times, cleared the table five times, changed diapers (too many to count), cooked a dinner largely untouched due to its vegetable content, bathed, read to, and finally, plunked into bed, three children. I’m not feeling the same kind of political power I did in my old days, chanting in front of the Statehouse, “Act Up! Fight Back! Fight AIDS!”

But I realize it is. Politicians hold so much power over our lives. Laws decide whether or not we can marry, whether or not we can adopt, whether or not we can give each other property upon death, and most importantly, both get the tax deduction for the kids. I don’t have quite the glamour and opportunity to invite the President and his partner, oops, wife, to my house the way Rosie did on TV, but heck, they can come on over and watch how I’m crumbling the very foundation of our civil society. I’ll even meet him up at Barnacle Billy’s, his dad’s favorite lobster place in Maine. Of course, my kids will be the highlight. The oldest will alternate between whining and being fresh, showing a lack of respect for our company, let alone his parents, clearly on a straight path to anarchy. The middle son will ask for ice cream for dinner, zeroing in on our anxiety, hoping to get by with the outrageous request, and repeating the question over and over until in desperation we whisper yes, in a minute, now please sit down. The youngest, a two year old, will cling to my neck, wiping clam chowder all over my best suit, and point out all the secret service people, asking “Guy working? Momma? Guy working? Guy working? Momma? Momma? Guy working?” until I nod at each one, and repeat back, “Yes, honey, guy working. No, lady working. Yes, guy working…” I’m not sure what they’d think of our parenting style, but then again, their daughters have managed to get in some trouble, too. Maybe we could bond a little over how hard it is these days to parent without a good nanny. Okay, maybe shouting at the top of my lungs outside the Statehouse was easier. Much easier.

I generally don’t feel political at 6:02 AM when a sweet faced six year old shakes my shoulder and points to the clock, “Mom, the first number is a six! Time to get up!” I feel loved, needed, a deep sense of place and belonging in life. I am grounded, rooted. Okay, maybe I feel that just after my first cup of coffee, but I do feel incredibly gifted to have these three children in my life, along with a partner who loves me, even when I roll over and push her out of bed, “It’s your turn.” In those moments, I feel like a mother, a spouse, a person who works twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. I love what I do. I sometimes am frustrated, angry, occasionally bemused, usually at a loss. I have become a great cook, a better writer, more able to close my eyes at night and wait till the next morning to worry, and, at times, the same parent my mother was- well, the good parts at least. In short, I’m like most parents I know who like being a parent. The only difference is, the straight parents I know get rewarded by our society and by our government. Somewhere along the line, someone decided my family was something to hate, fear, and legislate against. I mean, President Clinton, the presdient of the “greatest nation on earth,” signed a bill protecting the institution of marriage from the likes of my family. If I have that kind of power, how come my two year old still sits on top of the piano?

Is it I’m older now, more cynical, but the argument posed by the Christian right seems more a political power play than of a sincere belief their marriages will go straight to hell if two women are married in Vermont and the entire nation has to recognize it? And so what if they get divorced a year or two later. Straight people, honored with the deeply sacred right of matrimoney get drunk in Vegas, married by an Elvis impersonator and everyone thinks it’s a hoot when they get divorced two weeks later (see Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra). Maybe most of America could really care less who gets to marry who. Maybe it’s more about whipping people into a frenzy about their religious beliefs, so when election day comes, no one is paying much attention to the rest of the candidates platform.

Tomorrow morning, when I start my cereal pouring, laundry folding act of civil disobedience, I will remember fondly the days of protesting apartheid, picketing against the Gulf War, signing petitions and participating in enough far left wing groups to surely have earned myself a space on some list at the FBI. I realize how important those acts were, how valuable front line participation is, even if I do wonder out loud why all the Lesbian Avengers have long hair and dress so… so… well, so not like me. And value, if not exaggerate and boast some, of my own glory days. But I do appreciate the reminder, the celebration, of my choice to parent. It is not an everyday occurrence. Tomorrow, I will revel in the political act of changing diapers.


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