Adjustments

I spoke today with a friend whose son recently came out. Her son is in his early teens, and the announcement was not a surprise to her or her husband. They love and support their son completely, and want, like all of good parents, to spare their child hurt and pain.  Just that fact puts the three of them on a strong and steady path.

I was honored to be confided in, and even more honored to be asked to share my experiences in going through this same experience with our son.

Children give us many hints about who they are.  So many hints that, if we have our eyes open at all, we shouldn’t be surprised to be learn what their sexual orientation is.  But the lack of surprise doesn’t change – can’t change – the emotional roller coaster we find ourselves on.

The fact is, that from the moment you learn you’re having a baby, you start to have dreams about that child’s future.


We can’t help it. We want the best for our children, and we want them to have happy and fulfilled lives. And we visualize happiness through our own experience.

  • If you’re a professional and love being a professional, you think that perhaps that would be good for your child.
  • If you’re religious and find great comfort in your faith, you think that your child will likewise find joy in religion.
  • If you’re hooked on sports and exercise, you think your child will naturally be active and even athletic.
  • And if you’re straight, you think that your child will be straight. Of course.

Except it doesn’t work that way.

I shared with my friend the best story I ever heard as a way to grasp what you, as a parent, go through when you learn the truth. I read about this years ago in an Ann Landers column, in a letter written by a woman who had just given birth to a Down’s Syndrome baby.

Suppose, she wrote, you’re planning a wonderful vacation to Italy.  You spend nine months thinking about what you’ll do and what you’ll see.  You think about the delicious pasta, about the fabulous artwork, about the canals of Venice. You’re so excited when you get on the plane, ready to land in Rome. But when the plane lands, you find yourself…in Holland. Now there’s nothing wrong with Holland.  But it’s not where you thought you were going. It takes you a little while to adjust and open your eyes to the beauty there – the Van Goghs, the tulips, the windmills – and yes, the canals of the Netherlands.

When our son confirmed that he was gay, I had to come to grips with the fact that my son’s life would be very different from what I imagined. Worse, I had a whole new world of fears to contend with – AIDS, bullying, hate, discrimination. And if you don’t think that took a little while to adjust to, well, you’ve never been a parent.

None of this changed the fact that we adored (and adore) our son, and we fully support him. But we did have to go through some change ourselves. I learned how to stand up proudly and say, “My son is gay.” I learned to tell people who were telling gay jokes that I found that humor distasteful and not funny. Oh, and did you know my son is gay? I learned that some people are judgmental, and nothing you say will open their eyes to the biological facts of life.

And I learned that knowing my son, for who he is and who he will be, is an incredible gift.

If you find out your child is gay, I can almost promise it will be an adjustment for you. Our dreams are changed, and we must build new ones. But the new ones can be glorious, and the future bright.  If your heart is open to it.

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Sisters and Brothers

Sisters, sisters
There were never such devoted sisters,
Never had to have a chaperone, no sir,
I’m there to keep my eye on her
Caring, sharing
Every little thing that we are wearing
When a certain gentleman arrived from Rome
She wore the dress, and I stayed home
All kinds of weather, we stick together
The same in the rain and sun
Two different faces, but in tight places
We think and we act as one
Those who’ve seen us
Know that not a thing could come between us
Many men have tried to split us up, but no one can
Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister
And Lord help the sister, who comes between me and my man!

This little Irving Berlin ditty from White Christmas is a long-time favorite of my sister and me. To our husbands’ (and let’s face it, our children’s) horror, we’ve been known to spontaneously burst into this song, given little provocation (and maybe a wee dram or two).

With the emotional and physical turmoil of the past few weeks, I found myself humming this song a lot.

My sister, Joan, is two years older than I am.  She was always the smart one, the logical one, the analytic.  She became a successful attorney but an even more successful mom, raising her kids with warmth, total attention and a sense of humor.  I was the artistic one, the flibberty-gibbit, the disorganized let-it-be kid, who figured that everything would always work out in the end.  I became a successful executive, but until the last few years, never thought of myself as a successful mom, when I saw how wonderfully our children have turned out (could be dumb luck, of course).  But Joan was always my idol.

Joan and Terry, Fort Buchanon, Puerto Rico, 1954

This time of stress has drawn us closer together while our senses of humor have kept us sane.  My sister is one of the few people who has made me laugh so hard that I’ve snorted scotch out of my nose.  I like to think I do the same for her (except in her case, white wine as she doesn’t drink scotch – besides, snorting white wine out of your nose is much more ladylike).

Because our relationship means so much to me, I’ve always wanted my son and daughter to share the same closeness.  While Carolyn and Andrew were very close as young children, adolescence pulled them apart.  Then Carolyn moved far away to South America, and then to the UK, and I wondered if they would ever find comfort in each other again.

This was a very good weekend for them, despite my mom’s illness, I think.  Andrew finally got to meet his nephew, Lucas.  Carolyn got to see her brother as a very loving uncle.  When we had to run off to the emergency room on Thanksgiving Day with my mom, I tossed the recipes at the two of them and said, as I was dashing to the car, “You guys are in charge of dinner!!”  Together they pulled off a magnificent feast.

I don’t know that the two of them could make each other laugh to the point of snorting various liquids out of their noses, but there is still hope.  I was rocked to sleep their last night in town to the sound of my grandson’s hilarious shrieks of glee, as his Uncle Andrew played peek-a-boo with him.  Yep, could definitely happen.

This was the toughest but perhaps the best Thanksgiving ever.  We are blessed.

Turn, Turn, Turn

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
(Ecclesiastes III (King James Version))

This is my time to change.

Since going part-time in February, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I really want to do next.  One of my early realizations was that after having the opportunity to work at Sun, I was going to find it difficult to replace that experience.  I need some distance, and so it feels right to return to my consulting roots.

And so I’m taking a deep breath, and I’m leaping off that cliff of comfortable routine and well-known territory.  As part of that, although I remain a part-time employee of Sun, this shall be my last post at blogs.sun.  You can find my new posts – and my old ones – at tmacwords.wordpress.com.  Please join me!  And please wish me luck.

Sun will always hold a special place in my heart. Starting with Scott McNealy, Sun allowed me to take big risks, try new things, and build what was the finest employee communication team in the world.  I don’t know what the future holds with Sun and Oracle, and I hope I can have a part in the next chapter.  But even if I don’t, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sun and its thousands of employees.

That was then.  This is now.  See you at my new adventure!

Terry

 

When the News Fails Us

For the past week, I’ve been in Northern Minnesota in a fairly remote wilderness area, staying with friends in their summer cabin. My mobile didn’t work, and I couldn’t get email to save my life. But I could get to Facebook. And thanks to that, we were able to take decisive steps during the wildfires that threatened our La Cañada home.

The first hint that something was amiss came on Wednesday, when I saw an update from one of my more casual Facebook friends commenting on smoky conditions. I instantly tensed up – when your house is 100 yards from the National Forest, fire is a constant concern.

I started to surf for news, but found pitifully little. Apparently the 2,000 homes under wildfire assault in a northern suburb of Los Angeles wasn’t of sufficient interest for newspapers to cover. If only Lindsey Lohan lived in my neighborhood…

I can’t begin to describe how frustrating it was to search for updated information. There simply was very, very little. Oh sure, today the story has finally become a priority for our pathetic downsized newspapers – the fire has killed two firefighters, destroyed 18 structures and swept over 42,000 acres, with no control in sight. But last week, when our home was in a mandatory evacuation area? Ha – good luck getting an update.

Wildfire

One hundred yards from our house (photo courtesy of Washington Post)

Thank goodness for social media. I starting messaging other folks in my Facebook network, and quickly learned what was happening. From there, I was able to connect with our friends and the house sitter who evacuated the pets and a few valuables from the house. With our fur family safe, I was able to take a more detached view of the situation.

Look, no one wants to lose their house. And I was kicking myself for not having a few other items taken out when I had the opportunity. But given that I was almost 2,000 miles away, I was just so grateful not to have to worry about the Boo and the cats that the rest seemed inconsequential.

Up until our return last night, we monitored what was going on, largely via Facebook. The online news continued to be of limited help, but we could count on our local friends and bloggers to keep us in the know via updates. And as the fire spread, impacting more of our friends, we not only know what is going on but we could offer our support and prayers to them, as they did for us.

The mainstream media failed us. But we found Facebook to be an e-community that is truly a neighborhood, offering information, support and friendship.

Yo no hablo espanol good

“The blue bowl broke.”

I still remember how irritated I was when I came home from work and found my housekeeper’s note next to the remaining shards of my favorite casserole. “Who are you kidding,” I muttered to myself, tossing bits and pieces of blue ceramic into the trash. “Yeah, the blue bowl broke. All by itself. It must have grown little legs and in a suicidal moment, thrown itself off the counter.”

I was still ranting and raving (these were in my pre-Paxil, unmedicated days) when Scott got home. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you making such a big deal out of a $40 piece of cookware, “ he asked me. A good question, I had to admit. And when I got down to it, my temper tantrum really had little to do with the dish (although in my own defense I must point out that it was the casserole I bought to replaced its deceased twin which met a similar fate a few months ago). In the end, it wasn’t the dish – it was the note. The note in which, as I saw it, our housekeeper took no responsibility for the act. “The blue bowl broke.”

Scott proved once again that he is both wiser and more compassionate than I. He reminded me that our housekeeper was from El Salvador, and her note was not avoiding responsibility – it was simply a translation from the Spanish way of explaining what happened. In this case, it was the bowl that broke, not her.

Oh fine. That’s what speaking another language will do for you, I grumbled to myself. Prove me wrong in both English and Spanish…

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Scott saved an article for me out of Scientific American about language. He gleefully pointed out that the article used an almost identical example to illustrate how grammar and culture shape communication.

This confirms for me that people who speak more than one language have a real advantage in life – not just in getting around the globe but in thinking through problems and understanding others’ perspectives. Carolyn and Juan Carlos are raising Lucas to be bilingual, that lucky baby. JC speaks only Spanish to him, and Carolyn speaks only English to him. That way the baby will learn to speak with correct accents in both languages. (Although heaven knows how growing up in England will play all this – Spanish with a British accent? Brilliant!)

Words are the heart of how we relate to each other, and I’m quite grateful that I’ll be able to communicate with my grandson in English (American with a slight Midwest twang). Because heaven knows I’ve already insulted enough people with my poor Spanish.

So in a rather clumsy segue weakly linked with words and their reflection on the communicator and audience, I’m doing some name changes. Because words, rather than my company, are what I’m identifying with these days, I’ve changed my twitter name from tmacatsun to tmacwords. And I’m going to be moving to a new blog on WordPress called tmacwords. Stay tuned for the URL once I get it up and going (and a thank you to all of you bloggers who have been offering advice on how to transfer our blogs from Sun to a new site).

Until then, continue to tune in here for McKenzie adventures, warped insights and editorial comments. But no Spanish. If we’re both lucky.

Gifts

When I was in Cleveland last week, my mom gave me her gold cuff bracelet. For a bracelet that is easily 50 years old, its elegant clean lines make it as contemporary a piece as you could hope to find in the stores today. But it’s the bracelet’s lineage that makes it precious to me.

First and foremost, I watched my mom wear this bracelet as I was growing up. It’s not so fancy that it can only go to grand occasions – rather, its classic lines made it appropriate for dinner out, bridge with the girls, and our school functions. And she wore it to all of those plus more.

Second, my grandparents gave it to her as a gift when she was a young woman. My grandfather had an eye for beautiful things and I see his hand in selecting this particular piece.

Third, the bracelet is not perfect. Although my mom tried to get the bracelet repaired, there’s no hiding the tooth marks of a certain poorly behaved miniature schnauzer who shared our home for 15 years – and who had a penchant for getting in trouble. Big trouble.

Finally, my mom gave it to me because she can no longer wear it. Her illness has cost her a lot of weight, and the bracelet just hangs on her thin wrist. She passed it onto me so that I could enjoy it next.

Mother, grandparents, childhood dog – this bracelet is irreplaceable because of all the memories it contains.

My family is in a period of great transition these days. The joy of our first grandchild, the sadness of my mom’s cancer returning, and Thursday night, the passing of my husband’s mother. I’m in the UK now, and I find spending this time with my daughter and grandson to be a great comfort.

I’m more aware than ever of the importance of building memories, of making deep connections. As I rose at 5:30 this morning to pick up a restless Lucas so his mom could grab some sleep, I thought how fortunate I am to have this opportunity. Watching him kick his little legs, changing his diaper, cuddling him close to my chest and rocking him back to sleep – these are memories I’ll always have.

Before I left for London, Scott and I were enjoying our Sunday afternoon ritual of doing the crossword puzzle in the hot tub, having a glass of wine and just getting caught up with each other. I mused out loud about how painful it was for us both to be losing our mothers, and Scott quietly reminded me that this is how the circle of life works – the old pass on so that the Lucas’s have a place in this world and in our hearts.

Walking the Walk

Although in work-related situations, I have (ahem) a rather big personality, in my personal time, I’m somewhat introverted. Hate big parties. Don’t like crowds. Don’t like meeting strangers. Don’t like asking personal questions. That kind of thing really stresses me out.

And yet, there I was on Saturday morning at All Saints Church in Pasadena, going through training on how to canvass a neighborhood and find out why people voted as they did on last November’s Proposition 8. I was nervous and jittery. Not only was I doing something completely outside my comfort zone, but I was doing it with strangers. Nice strangers, mind you. Extremely appreciative and supportive strangers, in fact. But strangers.

During the training, we were taught both key messages and methodologies. We learned how to make sure there wasn’t a vicious dog behind the fence, waiting to lunch on our leg. We were reminded that we had three objectives: to identify why people object to gay marriage and try to soften their view, and to entice those who support gay marriage to volunteer. The best weapon, we were told, is our personal story – why we are doing what we’re doing.

Mine was easy: I’m a mom with two children, one has the right marry because she’s straight, and the other doesn’t, because he’s gay. As a mom, I can’t live with that.

I was assigned a canvassing partner – we would work the same block on opposite sides of the street (damn… I would have been so much more comfortable if we could have worked the houses together, but we were told that was intimidating). But at least my partner had done this before…

Rob was great – in fact, spending two hours with him was the best part of the experience (you can read about Rob at his blog.) Rob told me about how hurt he was by the election – that for awhile, he hated all straight people. That he was so angry at conservative Christians. And that canvassing was at least something he could do to make a difference. I was inspired but still terrified.

We arrived at our target community (which was in the foothills, so there was lots of huffing and puffing accompanying our efforts), and I rang my first doorbell. A very angry looking man came out. Intimidatingly angry, in fact. The thundercloud on his face increased when I told him I was there to learn voters’ views on gay marriage. I was polite but got the heck out of there. They told us what to do about mad dogs, but not what to do with frothingly angry voters. The next house had no one home. Nor did the one after that. I was relieved, to tell you the truth.

The day got better after that (how could it have gotten worse??). My high point was talking with a 75-year old grandmother who just didn’t understand why people cared about gay marriage – why do they want to tell other people how to live? Don’t we all deserve love and happiness? I wanted to hug her. My most puzzling conversation was with a mom like me – she also has one straight and one gay child. She raved on and on about her lesbian daughter, how responsible she was, how lovely. But no, she could not support gay marriage. Civil unions? You bet. But marriage brings in a religious piece that she feels is sacred. And, she assured me, her daughter felt the same way. Hmmm, I don’t believe that for a minute, but I understood her perspective. She voted for Prop 8 last time, and would do it again.

I was shaking my head when I walked away from the door. But part of me thinks she has a point. As soon as religion enters the picture, toxins join it, and emotions get very high.

So let’s do this a different way, and make ALL marriages civil unions. Mine, yours. Make sure we all have the same rights under the law. Then, if you want to be married in God’s eyes, do it separately in the church of your choosing. If your church doesn’t perform same sex marriages, leave it and go find a church that loves and respects you for who you are.

Live and let live. Love and let love. Equal protection under the law. I don’t care much about equal protection under the church – that’s not my right nor my problem as a U.S. citizen, where separation of church and state is the law of the land.

Will I canvass again? I don’t know. It was a highly emotional experience, and one of the more difficult things I’ve done in my life. I can’t promise I’ll be up for it again. But on March 21, 2009, I stood up for my son, my niece, my friends, my colleagues, my fellow human beings. And for that, at least, I can be proud.