I am the Mother of a Gay Son

rainbow flagI heard my 7 year old child quietly crying. Roberto was wiping the tears from watery eyes. I wondered if I should say something. “Give him a minute,” I told myself. “Let him have a moment. Everyone needs a moment to work through their grief.”

As his breathing slowed and tears were blotted dry, I asked Roberto, a sweet innocent person, “Are you okay? You seem very sad.” Deep breaths, interrupted with quick short sniffles. “Heave-ho,” his chest physically vibrated.
“Some kids said I was gay.”
“Gay? Doesn’t gay mean happy?” I asked, allowing him to control the conversation.
“Yes, I think so, but… they meant boys-like-boys, girls-like-girls gay.”
“Why did they say that to you, why do you think?” I wondered.
“I don’t know. One of them said that the color of my eyes were not like theirs so I must be gay.”
The adult in me simply said, “They are just uneducated, uninformed”. The feeling miffed person said, “Ignore them.”

Gaily, life went on. Mostly, Roberto enjoyed happy days, with many days trying to figure out what life means – only in a way a young child is capable of.

___

I heard my 12 year old quietly crying. Roberto, almost a teen, was wiping the tears from watery eyes. I wondered if I should say something. “Give him a minute,” I told myself. “Let him have a moment. Everyone needs a moment to work through their grief.”

As his breathing slowed and tears were blotted dry, I asked Roberto, not so small, not quite a grown person, “Are you okay? You seem very sad.” Deep breaths, interrupted with quick short sniffles. “Heave-ho,” his chest physically vibrated.
“Some kids said I was gay.”
Why did they say that to you, why do you think?” I wondered.
“I don’t know. Some of the kids think I am different. One day someone is my friend, the next day they don’t talk to me”.
“How does that make you feel?,” I questioned.
“I feel bad. I just want a friend I can trust, be myself with.”
The adult in me simply said, “Just be patient. Somewhere, a friend is waiting in the wings“. The feeling miffed person said, “Ignore them.”

Gaily, life went on. Mostly, Roberto enjoyed happy days, with many days trying to figure out what life means – only in a way a preteen is capable of.

___

I heard my 17 year old quietly crying. Roberto was wiping the tears from watery eyes. I wondered if I should say something. “Give him a minute,” I told myself. “Let him have a moment. Everyone needs a moment to work through their grief.”

As his breathing slowed and tears were blotted dry, I asked Roberto, close to being an adult, “Are you okay? You seem very sad.” Deep breaths, interrupted with quick short sniffles. “Heave-ho,” his chest physically vibrated.

“I don’t want to ruin the dynamics of a nuclear family. I don’t want to disappoint anyone,” Roberto emotionally forced the words out of rather strong vocal cords.
“Why do you say that?” I soothingly asked, already knowing the answer.
“I am gay,” he stated, voice quivering. He fell to the floor, emotionally overwhelmed.
I knelt next to Roberto, told him to always be true, true to who he is.

Gaily, life went on. Mostly, Roberto enjoyed happy days, with many days trying to figure out what life means – only in a way a close to being an adult teen is capable of.

____

I heard my adult son, laughing happily, content with who he is. Knowing his family supports him no matter what, a family who doesn’t judge him based on who he chooses as a partner, but rather a family who embraces his warmth, his kindness, his love, and his life, without conditions.

A boy.

brad at newport 2012

A boy.
Stood.
Looking out to sea.
Wondering.
If.
He’d ever go back in.
Into the water.

He wants to.
But.
He’s scared.
Because.
When he was younger.
The ocean tried to swallow him up.
When he was just playing.
Splashing in the waves.

That boy.
Was pulled under.
Tossed around.
Until finally.
He was spit back out.
By the teasing sea.

Since then.
The boy will not even allow.
The foaming waves.
To lap his toes.
Not at all.

Not yet.

A Boy and a Wad of Wet Paper Towels in the School Bathroom

Brad joyfully squeezed the soaking wet paper towel, after he yanked it out from under the rushing water. In just a moment, that ball of slop would be splatted against a bland-colored wall in the boys’ bathroom. Oh the joy of doing something so fun, with three other boys. Boys who didn’t follow the rules. Bored boys spending their recess in the restroom, messing up the place.

Splat! Two wads flattened and spit water, side-by-side, midway down the eggshell sheen. Cheers all around. The next wad was aimed up, thrown at the semi-high ceiling. Thud! Perfect shot. A few droplets fell back to the floor. But those boys didn’t care. They just stood there, amazed at how easy it was to make a wads of wet paper towels stick. Stick and stay put.

The mirror received a Wham! Then another. Both slowly sliding down, into the sink. Then Brad threw the final ball of goo. Which clung to the mirror. Water oozed, distorting their reflection. So Cool! Artists. That’s what they were. So they thought. They left the facility with proud smiles on their faces.

Days passed. Dried wads were peeled away. A few weeks later, the janitor had complained that the situation was getting out of hand. It seemed the wads of wet paper towels had become some kind of ritual. Some kind of overdone game. A kid was questioned. Accused of the crime. He said, “It wasn’t me. It was him!”

“You! Here! Now!” yelled the custodian, tired of cleaning the stupidity of kids. Brad walked slowly toward the angry adult. A bit teary-eyed. Sort of scared. On that day, he was dressed so nicely. Had worn all black and even put on a tie, which made him look super cool. And handsome. Different from all the other second graders. He knew he was guilty, just not on that day.

The day he and those other rule-breakers made the mess, no one noticed, or at least didn’t seem to care much. Other boys made the new mess. But he didn’t say anything. He took one for the team. He deserved it. He was punished. Had to collect trash. Beautify the school during his lunch recess.

A Boy, A Girl, Their Aunt, and Some Barf

The phone rang. My mom answered. All I could hear was my mom’s  side of the conversation. She said, “Uh-huh…Yeah… Oh, sure.. When?… Alright… Ok… They’ll love that!” Then she hung up. Aunt Marge had asked my mom if my brother Andy and I, ages 10 and 13, respectively, could take the train down, to visit her and my uncle for several days.

Aunt Marge and Uncle Bill lived in a gated apartment building, in a small, but elegant living space. The fridge was full and the TV was turned on. One night they had plans with friends. Not us.

“Kids, Uncle Bill and I are going out tonight for a few hours. Will you be alright on your own?” our aunt asked.
“Yes,” we both answered, politely.

As the front door closed behind them, Andy and I immediately started antagonizing each other. We knew each others weaknesses. Scary stories and scary movies. We told each other gruesome tales and watched even more frightening thrillers. Suddenly, and I am not sure why it happened, Andy felt sick. Maybe it was because we just told too many, over the top, could be real life stories, or simply because we overate all the junk food we could get our hands on.

“I think I am going to barf!” Andy choked out.
“Hurry! Go. Go into the bathroom!” I demanded.

He threw up, that’s for sure, but not directly into the toilet bowl. His aim was awful. Vomit was everywhere. On the seat, on the floor, on the lovely bath mat.

“Ugh! I feel gross!” Andy moaned, his face cherry red. His eyes teary.
“Ewwww!” I responded with the only vocabulary I could think of.

Then I walked him to the couch, sat him down, covered him with a blanket, switched the channel to a comedy with the laugh track on full blast, and plopped myself onto the opposite end of the sofa. An hour had passed when I heard a key jiggling in the lock.

“Hello. We’re home!” Aunt Marge exclaimed.
“Oh, hi,” I said. “Andy got sick. He threw up.”
“Are you okay?” she seemed concerned, walked over to him. Felt his forehead.
“Yeah. Daphne was telling me scary stories. I guess they literally made me sick!”

I laughed, doubled over, cracking up, admiring my little bro’s sense of humor.

Aunt Marge walked into the bathroom. “What the ____?!” Well, she didn’t really say a bad word, but she said something with an angry tone.

“Why didn’t you clean this up?!” She was staring straight at me. The older kid. The one who should have known better. The one who should have known to scrub away all the bits and pieces of Andy’s regurgitated food. The one who should have understood the value of cleaning up before the owners of the pristine apartment returned home after a fun night out. Without a word I shrugged my shoulders, opened my eyes wide, and pinched my lips together. I had nothing to say.

Later – minutes? hours? days? – after Andy and I had returned home, Aunt Marge called the house, talked to my mom. All I could hear was my mom’s side of the conversation. “Uh-huh… Yeah… Oh… Alright… OK… I will tell them…”

“Aunt Marge says she thinks you are a brat,” she told me. “And that you lack common sense.”
“Really?” I was actually surprised, and hurt, because never in my life had I been referred to as a brat. I sighed, felt tears pooling against my lower lids. I told my side of the story.
“Being a brat doesn’t sound like you at all, but I do understand Aunt Marge’s point of view,” my mom stated. “Sadly, she says no more visits for the two of you. None.That’s it. Done.”

Andy and I lowered our heads, ashamed. We felt dumb. But then we looked at each other and tried not to laugh. But, laughter ruled. And, thus, we let loose.

expected

The next day. A new conversation. ( Yesterday: unexpected)

“Good Morning,” Brad sheepishly says.
“Morning. Would you like some tea?”
Yesterday is over.
Today is here.
It’s easy for me to forgive.
Without saying a word.
I figure it’s best to forget.
Yesterday’s mishap isn’t something to hang on to.
To drag out.
It’s over.
Today starts anew.
“Yeah. I want tea. Thanks, Mom.”
“I’m making oatmeal. Want some?”
“Yeah. Sure.” He seems relieved I didn’t bring up yesterday’s bitch-fest.
We eat breakfast, together.
We watch a little TV.

Then I clean.
He plays video games.

After a bit, I make lunch.
“Before you eat, I need you to pick up your soccer net. Take it apart, or drag it to the back yard.”
“Alright,” he quietly says as he opens the front door.
“Thanks,” I tell him, my voice exiting through the kitchen window.
I watch him.
My son.
He’s a good kid.
Just growing.
Trying to find his own grounding.
Wants some independence.
Soon enough, he will have it.
I know.
“You want juice or milk with your lunch?”
“Juice,” Brad says as he walks back into the house.
Washes his hands.
“Thanks, Mom.”
“How does it taste?”
“It’s good.”
I smile.

“Later, this evening I need to go out. Do a few things. Wanna go?” I ask him.
“Mmmmm….”
“We can rent a movie.”
“Can we get something for dinner? To bring home? Eat while we watch?”
“That sounds good. Sure.”
We go to Rite Aid.
To develop photos of my students.
We go to Stater Bros.
To rent two movies from RedBox.
“Where would you like to go to get food?” I ask.
I always let him decide.
Why not?
It’s really his thing, not mine, to pick places.
I’ll go anywhere.
I don’t mind.
“Why do I have to decide? I always have to decide,” he questions.
“Oh. Well, every time I mention a place you seem to give me a reason why we shouldn’t go there. So, I figured it’s easier to just let you chose,” I answer.
“That’s true,” he smiles. Sort of laughs.
“How about McDonald’s?” he decides.
“Oh, yeah. A Filet-a-Fish sounds pretty good. And fries. A shake, too,” I tell him.
“I want Chicken Selects,” he states.
I’m not surprised.
We don’t go out to fast-food joints too often but, when we do, often enough it’s Mickey D’s.
The Selects are always Brad’s top choice.

Bagged food on his lap, I drive home.
I pull into the driveway.
Not all the way.
Enough so that he can let himself out, before I back completely in, next to my daughter’s car.
He needs the extra space to open the passenger-side door wide open.
He gently closes the door.
I back in.
He waits by the front door.
I turn off the car.
Get out.
Walk across the grass.
Unlock the front door.
Open and close it carefully.

No kitchen table tonight.
We both plop down on the couch.
Watch a funny movie.
Eat fattening food and slurp down a cold drink.
The company is good.
For both of us.

unexpected

A conversation, 5 years ago…

“Hi, Mom,” Brad casually said as he climbed into the car.
“Hi. Everything okay?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’m good.”
“Alright. Good. Just wondering. You are a little later than usual. I just called your phone. Left you a message.”
“I’m fine.”
“You’ve got soccer practice. 5 ‘o clock.”
“Ah. I wanted to go to Jared’s house.” He looked at me, hoping I’d allow it.
“Nope. You are going to practice. You made a commitment.”
“What?! Can I go over there before practice? For a few hours?”
“Welllllll? OK.”
“I need to call him. Make sure it’s okay,” he stated.
“Call now. While I am driving that way.”
“I don’t have my phone.”
“Use mine,” I said.
“I don’t know his number. It’s on my phone.”
“Well, I am not going to drive home, wait for you to call, then drive all the way back.”
“Are you kidding me?” he raised his voice.
“Seriously. I’m not.”
“I don’t get it!”
“I am not going to spend my time driving there, here, and everywhere. Forget it!” I, too, raised my voice.
“This sucks!”
“That’s rude!”
“I will just ask Liz or Roberto to take me over.”
“Good luck with that. They are both at work. I’m sure they are not going to tell their bosses they need to leave to take you to a friend’s house.”
Silence.
“I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?” Brad continued.
“Keep it up and I will not take you to soccer practice, either.”
“I don’t care.”
I drive.
Silence.
The air could be cut with a knife.
I pull into the driveway.
He jumps out.
Slams the car door.
Hard.
As he walks toward the front door he kicks the soccer net that sits on the pavement, waiting for some attention.
Attention it got.
A big thump!
Parts of the piping disconnect.
I gather my things.
Pissed.
I open the driver’s-side door.
“You are so rude!!”
“Whatever!”
I shove my house-key into the locked bolt.
Brad barrels his way into the front door.
I follow, slamming the door shut behind me.
Boom!
For a second I thought I broke the door off its hinges.
“You are acting like a little brat,” I yell.
“Who cares!”
“That’s it. No soccer. In fact, no nothing all weekend!”
I am so frustrated.
I cuss.
Feel bad.
Yet, I don’t care.
“Whatever,” the little stinker says.
“I see now. As long as I do what you want everything is awesome. Tell you no, the fangs come out!” I bellow, loud enough that should someone be walking by they would hear my anger.
“Now I know you hate me!” he says, testing my reaction.
“And you must hate me!”
Silence.
I slammed some pans onto the stove.
I was determined to make the spaghetti I had planned for the evening.
I’m almost certain no one will eat it.
But who cares.
I follow through on my goal.
Brad plops down on the couch.
“Don’t you dare turn on your PlayStation. You cannot play any games,” I state, matter-of-factly.
“Why?”
“I am going to sit there. Drink my tea.”
Silence.
Dinner prepped.
Tea made.
I plop my butt down on an over-sized chair.
He leaves the room.
Goes to the kitchen to eat an Oreo or five.
He takes his cookies with him to his room.
I watch a recording of Grey’s Anatomy.
I allow myself to breathe.
Deep.
It’s 5 ‘o clock.
Soccer practice time.
“I’m taking a shower!” he yells from down the hallway.
I know this is his way to call a truce.
To say something normal.
To apologize without apologizing.
I ignore him.
I thought I was going to have a nice late afternoon with my son, watch him practice  instead of walking, like I usually do. I’d develop some photos. And maybe rent a movie. A relaxing Friday evening. With my youngest kid.
Guess not.

Ah, Parenting

“Mom, will you come with me when I move into the dorms, when I leave for college?” Brad asked me this question years ago as he was observing parents carrying luggage and pillows up the stairs, into the massive buildings, in anticipation of ‘letting go’, helping their children start a new chapter in their young lives. We were inside the campus bookstore at the University of Arkansas, browsing, when Brad’s thoughts meandered to his own future.

I remember when I first became a mother. I was young! Yet, I was ready. Elizabeth was placed on my chest eight days before our 2nd wedding anniversary. Roberto popped in three years later. And finally, Bradford, a whopping 8 years later. Definitely planned, planned, and planned! I embraced motherhood. I was meant to guide (yes guide, not control!) these children of mine through life, to help them learn new things. They were  continually raised with focused guidance, making sure peace, love, and happiness were being absorbed daily.

Elizabeth began at a very young age (year 3, to be exact) to ask very personal questions.  You see, when a child is that young, she has no idea that her questions might be hard for mom and/or dad to answer. That was the beginning of my understanding of what a very important job I had been gifted to undertake. Not only was I supposed to help the kids develop morals and values, and simply love them, I needed to be there (individually, and as a group) emotionally.

I honestly feel Elizabeth opened me up, way back when she innocently, yet inquisitively, asked “Where do babies come from?” She taught me, in that moment, what kind of parent I was going to be. Neither of us realized how great the relationship between my three youngsters and myself would develop over the years. I simply listen, openly. In the end my kids like having me around, like my company.

So, when Brad asked me if I’d be with him, I knew he asked because he likes me. “Of course,” I stated. “Good,” he returned. “Because I want you to help me.”

Roberto William – Happy B-Day

IMG_1062

A moment in time occurred twenty years ago. A moment never forgotten by Rudy. A memory instilled within his soul of days long ago when he used to drop Roberto off at kindergarten.

Their morning started off, as usual, with Rudy helping Roberto dress, and feeding him a hearty breakfast. Something like cold cereal or a PopTart.™

After sitting in the car, cruising along for a mile or so, listening to music and chatting about living the life of a five year old, Rudy would pull the red two-door Honda hatchback up to the curb, next to the chain link fence, and state Okay, Buddy, which was Roberto’s cue to climb out of the car and walk through the kindergarten gate about ten yards away.

Dad don’t leave yet, Roberto cheerfully commanded.

Rudy always waited until Roberto made his way onto the kinder playground then he’d drive off, heading to work for the day. Yet, on that particular day, for the very first time, Roberto made a request, telling Rudy to stay where he was, in the motor-running car. Suddenly, there was Roberto, backpack dropped to the ground in front of his feet, his teeny-tiny fingers entwined through the links of the fence.

I love you, and drive careful! Roberto yelled to him.

From that day on, this endearing ritual found a place in their private world.

And I love you, Bud, Rudy responded, giving Roberto a thumbs-up. Then Roberto would grab his school bag and run off to play.

Parenting 101

REPOST from Sept. 15, 2012: (stands the test of time…)

brad, age 13

There’s this fine line between disciplinarian and friend, when it comes to being a parent. Kids need rules, yet, they also need someone they trust. Someone to talk to. Someone like me.

I’ve never grounded my kids. Rather, I find quiet moments to talk about a situation, without making a big deal. Which in turn develops a bond between us. A solidarity.

One day, when Brad was at a friend’s house, I took the opportunity to clean his way too messy room. As the pile of clothing, and other junk, began to diminish from the top of his dresser, having settled back into the drawers, I spotted the Kindle Fire. I had forgotten about the electronic reader, as I had given it to Brad to use for school; so, for me, it was out-of-sight-out-of-mind. During the summer, he said he wanted to spent some time getting acquainted with the gadget, to just play with it, learn how to use it.

Sounded good to me.

I picked the Kindle up, which was tucked into its black leather jacket that I had bought, to protect it. I stretched the elastic band off the cover, flipped it open, turned it on, and browsed through items Brad had downloaded. Just checking in, one might say. Games, Facebook, and a few magazines.

I should have guessed, but I hadn’t. Nor was I surprised. Or even mad, that one of the magazines included lots of photos of girls; young women, actually, in teeny-tiny swimsuits. HOT women, emphasizing breasts and rear-ends.

I laughed. To myself.

Later, when Brad was lounging on his bed, I walked in, asking how his day was. It was fun, he told me. And he thanked me for cleaning his room.

“Oh, and by the way, I was looking at the Kindle,” I began.
Brad gave me a sideways glance, narrowed his eyes, and smirked a bit.
“I saw the magazine you downloaded. The girls,” I continued.
He just looked at me. Waited for me to do some more talking.
“I see you have good taste,” I joked.
He smiled, and looked down.
“And, well, anyway, I have no problem with you looking at those pictures, but a word of advice.”
He waited, patiently.
“You need to delete them. The Kindle is for class books, for reading, and I don’t think your teachers would like those photos on campus.” I finished.
“OK,” Brad answered.

The night before his first day of school, I asked him if he had everything he needed. If he was all packed up.
“Yep,” he responded. “And, yes, the magazine has been deleted.”

I am sure he will not be surprised when another respect for women conversation drops into ours lives somewhere down the road.

I am building a lifetime with him. A trusting relationship, so that he knows that no matter what, he can always count on me.