In and out of closets (Part 1)

For me, coming out makes me feel more honest, relaxed, and free to express myself, but it is also a political choice. I believe that it is harder to hold homophobic views if you know someone who is queer and realise they are pretty ordinary and likable. By being visible I can draw attention to issues which affect us. It also helps me connect with others so we don’t feel isolated. I started coming out to people when I was 13, and from then until the past year I have attempted to be out in all contexts of my life. Friends, workmates from previous roles, people at church know that I am queer, and anyone who has seen me carrying a banner in rallies and parades!

Then I got pregnant, and suddenly I became aware of how much we are in the closet unless we are explicitly out. I was doing my fieldwork placement, and so meeting lots of new people, and it felt like I was constantly being asked questions like “What does your husband do?” or “Is the dad going to have some time off?” Then I realised that it wasn’t just the people I was working with making those assumptions. I suddenly became aware of all the people I could pass by in a day who would be seeing my big belly and thinking there was a dad in the picture.

Now that we are mums the questions about husband/dad continue, and I am also aware of all the subtle messages that we don’t quite fit: little things like filling out a form for a healthcare provider and it only has space for “mother___” and “father ___.” There has been a lot of coming out to people I am meeting when I am out with children and without L… and even some coming out together, e.g. turning up to a childcare centre or a doctor’s office as a family and the one not carrying the child being asked “and who are you?” Even once we have come out to people they forget, which bugs me now that Windhorse is old enough to comprehend what people are saying. We saw one nurse together as a family, and then I went back with Windhorse and as we left the nurse said to her “are you going to pick up daddy now?”

Being the non-gestational parent this time was very weird, especially once we were close to the due date. Sometimes I told people, like my new workmates, “we’re having a baby soon” and was met with confusion. On the other hand some people understood immediately and were excited. Miromiro has had a few health problems, and doctors and nurses have often spoken only to whichever of us is holding him, and sometimes say “mum” when they are talking about something which is relevant to both of us. We have generally been very supported. The midwives in hospital were fantastic. Once people know I am the other mum, most of them treat me no differently.

On my placement last year, the subject of self-disclosure came up in supervision, and specifically whether disclosing my queer identity to clients was ever OK. While my supervisor didn’t say outright that it was not OK, in our discussions she presented a number of reasons it could be “harmful.” For example, various hypothetical situations such as a client not feeling ready to come out and feeling uncomfortable. Changing the therapeutic relationship in a negative way, revealing too much, making someone feel I wouldn’t understand their situation? I don’t remember all the “problem” scenarios.

It didn’t sit well with me – particularly as a number of the people I worked with mentioned having an opposite sex husband/wife, in their introductions, as a way of building rapport and partial reciprocity, and this wasn’t seen as problematic. There were other forms of self-disclosure that could, in my view, potentially make people feel uncomfortable, such as wearing a cross on a necklace. For me, as a queer person, seeing a sign that someone was Christian would make me feel cautious about mentioning being queer to a therapist.

In my new workplace I wondered if people would have the same kind of concerns as my previous supervisor. I was considering talking to my manger or my supervisor about it. Then, before the boy arrived, my workmates put together a basket of baby things for us. Some of the young people we work with saw it and started asking questions, and my colleagues gave some matter of fact responses. Well, that solved the dilemma for me… it was out in the open, and nobody made a big deal of it. As new people come to the service, most will probably assume I’m straight because of the hetero -normative culture we live in. But if it does come up, or if they hear me mention my partner to a colleague, I’m not going to stress about it. In our work context, there is a lot of self-disclosure about partners, kids, and small details of our lives. By hiding that part of myself I would be contributing to queer invisibility. In my view, for a young queer person coming through our service, knowing someone who was queer, and open and happy about it, could be really positive.

 

Where I have I been?

Adjusting to a full-on new job… followed by the business of family life with a new little one (and still the full time job).

Our baby boy arrived in June. L carried him, and it was amazing for me to experience it all as the non-gestational parent. The birth was incredible. Miromiro is a sweet, gentle wee thing, smiling and chatting to us lots at the moment. He had some health issues which involved two brief stays in hospital and then minor surgery, which was all very stressful but hopefully everything is resolved now. Breastfeeding was not easy for the first couple of months; he had not read the textbook and also has a tongue tie. It has been very weird for me trying to help from the other side; things like knowing techniques for getting a decent latch but not being able to communicate these or demonstrate them from opposite L. Feeding has become much easier over time for them both though. This boy adores his big sister. He thinks she is the cleverest, funniest, most exciting person in the world. She adores him too, and sometimes we have to remind her not to squeeze him too tight or get too in his face.

Windhorse is three! She is a social butterfly and loves talking to and playing with friends and family of all ages. She has moved on from pointing and asking what the words in books mean, to noticing letters and numbers everywhere. She has just started drawing things which are actually identifiable (a pear, railway tracks…) She loves ambulances and her doctor’s kit. I love her doctor routine (baby dolls or obliging family or friends as patients): Check blood pressure; check temperature; “say aaah”, listen to heart beat, cut the umbilical cord, cut finger and toenails, remove prickles from feet, bandage arms, “OK you are fixed. Now you can go for a burger on the way home.”

L is doing fantastically, looking after them both while I am at work all day.

I am a real-life social worker!

 

 

The world through sunny glasses

The world through sunny glasses

Since the last post was about challenging parenting moments, it’s about time I balanced it out with some moments of delight. Here are three of the things I love most about having a two and a half year old Windhorse in our lives.

Having conversations. I had heard about children going through a language explosion, but I still imagined something more gradual, like going from a new word every couple of days to several words in a day. I also expected quite a lot of the new language to be picking up words which we had recently used. It was much more dramatic than that. Windhorse must have stored up a huge collection of words, phrases and sentence structures, and suddenly, one day, the gates opened. Within the space of a weekend she went from mostly pointing and naming things, to saying things like “it’s windy today, I need my hair up.” On the Friday she could refer to a few family members by name or title. On Monday she was referring to all the children and staff at her childcare centre by name. Instead of asking her a series of yes/no questions to find out about her day we could ask her what happened and get answers like “B and I played hide and seek” and the memorable “E found two eggs in my hair.” Now she joins in when we pause for a time of thankfulness before the evening meal, and she has phone calls – pretend and real – with friends and family. It is wonderful to know more about what she is thinking and feeling.

Sweet words. Sunny glasses, funflowers, tuddles.

Playing together. I love that at just two and a half Windhorse is already developing independent interests. Currently she is really into jigsaw puzzles – something that L and I have never been particularly interested in. She is currently enjoying a few 60 piece puzzles but could definitely move on if I could find something that was less of a jump up than 250 pieces. She loves building things with blocks, particularly very tall structures on wheels. She watched some children playing cricket and was fascinated, and has had a go with a kids set at home. One of my favourite games with her is hide and seek. Her hiding has improved – now instead of going to a wall and turning her back on the seeker, she goes into a different room or around a corner, and sometimes climbs under or behind something. When it is her turn to seek she gives clear instructions about exactly where we are to hide. Finding us still results in squeals of delight even when she knows where to look!

Kindness. When she shares her beloved Baa with someone who is crying, or brings a book or a snack to cheer someone up, or kisses one of us better.

Witnessing her imagination blossoming. Suddenly a lump of bread dough can become a ruru, and a lettuce leaf is a boat. Every day she comes up with explanations and stories which surprise and amuse us. How did shiny eggs appear in our garden? The Easter Bunny spat them out of its mouth, of course.

I hope this Easter the children in your life have brought you some moments of delight.

paper

Friday – the one with the screaming.

Since I embarked on my final fieldwork placement followed by research report Windhorse has been spending weekdays with other people. She has one day with her other mum, one day with her grandmother, and three days in childcare (I usually take her there, and the bus trip and short walk together is usually fun). It feels like a bit of a treat to have a day with her, so last night I was looking forward to today, when I would take her to visit a new friend with a baby and then we would go to her swimming lesson.

The day began sweetly, with Windhorse saying she wanted  “two more rest,” a phrase I think she has picked up from me saying she can have “two more minutes” of something she is enjoying. So we snuggled up together and had a delightful little rest.

Later there was porridge and milk splattered all over the floor, the high chair and two walls. Then grizzling in the car seat. Then a visit to a new friend with much cuteness in toddler-baby interactions. A slightly trying swimming lesson.

Then things went horribly wrong. It started with the shampooing. Then she did not want to have a nappy on, but I (foolishly?) pushed ahead because I didn’t want her to wee on the floor. Clearly it was a terrible assault on her body and her autonomy. She ripped the nappy off and tried to make a break for freedom. I was dripping wet and wrapped only in a towel. I did not want to follow her into the public area so I tried to block her. She screamed and wailed and punched my legs and the bench. She got away, I grabbed her and dragged her back and tried to dry myself as quickly as I could. She tried to crawl away under the bench and I dragged her back. I pinned her between my legs while I put on a bra, then plonked her on the bench. Got one leg into my undies, while she tried to bolt. Plonked her back on seat. Other leg, drag and plonk and bolt, repeat, with interludes of my kneeling, grabbing her by the shoulders and half shouting “Listen to me, listen to me! I can’t go outside in my undies!” (as though saying “Listen to me” loudly to someone in the throes of intense distress and rage is going to result in some kind of breakthrough). Once I was dressed I let her run because I actually didn’t know what she wanted. She ran out of the change rooms and I tried to carry her back in while she kicked and squirmed out of my arms. At one point we ended up on the floor, me saying “please, please, you need to wear a nappy” (as though pleading with a two year old who is beside herself is going to help) and trying to hug her while she looked at me an expression of rage and distress and the despair and shock of being betrayed and abused by one of the people you love most. I tried not to cry. Windhorse scooted away still lying on her back screaming. Strangers tried to help even though they didn’t know how and nor did I. Eventually she pointed at the individual change rooms with baby change tables. “You wanted to go in there?” Nod and sobbing. “Ok! Ok! We can go in there.  Which one? One two three four” (as far as she can count.” “Four” (said in a tiny whimpering voice). I flagged down one of the kind strangers to watch her while I went back to the main change room for the nappy, then joined her in cubical four. “Do you want to be changed on the bench or the change table?” “There” (pointing at table). “Like a baby? Sure, of course!” And she stopped crying, and let me put her nappy on, and we left, me with a grateful wave to the kind stranger and my legs a bit wobbly and the tiredness that usually comes after running a long way.

Did she not get the memo that this was going to be quality time?

Please share your disaster moments with me, because right now I think I’ve never seen another parent with a child showing quite that level of distress, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a parent almost shouting “listen! Listen!” or close to tears and pleading with a toddler in a public place, and it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing at this parenting gig.

This hurts

(Part two of two on the 2014 General Assembly)

Eight years ago I attended the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand as a youth commissioner. It was one of the darkest times of my life… I can’t blame all that on the General Assembly, but it didn’t help. My self-identity was already pretty negative, so sitting in a room with hundreds of people and finding out that 65% of them had just voted to exclude people like me from leadership roles because our relationships are considered immoral, abnormal and offensive was enough to tip me over some kind of edge for a time.

During the debate, I had spoken about how the message would put people off engaging with the church, how it would feel like a rejection to many members of the church, of how gay, lesbian and bisexual young people were already vulnerable and didn’t need another organisation telling them their experience of love was unacceptable, and of how the rule would cause pain to families and friends as well. I finished by saying “We don’t choose who we fall in love with. And we don’t choose to become leaders in the Church. God calls us. Let’s leave our lives in God’s capable hands.”

After the debate I was caught crying on the 6 O’clock news.

It was General Assembly time again at the beginning of the month. Even from a distance I have been experiencing waves of anger, sadness and pain. This year, proposals to remove the leadership rule (banning people in same sex or de facto relationships) failed again, and a new rule was added which bans ministers from marrying same-sex couples.

It hurts. It hurts to receive the message, once again, that we are not accepted and valued as we are. It hurts to have our relationships treated, not only as sinful, but as more threatening than other sins. So much so, that the church needs special legislation to protect itself from us.

So yeah, it hurts. Even for me, supported as I am by a wonderful inclusive community. I worry about the impact another rule will have on people who are more isolated, and especially for young queer people growing up in Presbyterian families who are just starting to figure out who they are.

When I started going to church as a teenager, it was all sort of hypothetical. I didn’t even know any queer people, so I was not very optimistic about the prospect of finding a girlfriend. I went to a church where the leaders proclaimed the “love the sinner, hate the sin” message. As a 14 year old I struggled to know exactly what that rule meant for me. What exactly defined “the sin.” Did having a crush count? Writing a poem about a girl? What about a kiss? At what exact point did things tip over from loving to hate?

As I wrote when I was a little older:

It sounded so simple when he said it,
“We love the sinner, but hate the sin”
yet somehow I can’t keep it all separate.
Sinner and sin.
Person and practice.
Lover and love.
Hater and hate.
Love the sinner, hate the sin…
Somehow I always end up
hating myself.

I was lucky. The support of my family, some of my friends, and eventually the welcoming congregation I found, carried me beyond the messages of hate.

Here I am, at home with my two dear ones. Windhorse, who is sleeping but just let out a little cry. I remember wondering what she dreamed about when she was tiny. Boobies and milk probably. Now she has grasped enough language to be able to sleep-talk about things we can understand! Apparently she dreams about train trips with her mums.

L is sleeping too. Tomorrow I will try not to stay up so much later, but tonight I’ve decided to snatch this late night quiet moment to finish this blog post. Soon I will tip toe into the bedroom and curl up beside her as she dreams.

Tonight, suddenly it has struck me – I have crossed the line.

This is the stuff they hate.

Our lives are so tangled together and so infused with queer love. Love which the church refuses to celebrate. Love which makes us unsuitable people who shouldn’t be given the same opportunities to contribute to our church life. There’s no way to separate out one part which makes us “practising” (and probably parenting without a man involved makes anything else we’re doing a moot point in terms of contributing to the moral decline of society). So this, all this, is what they hate.

How exactly is the church showing us it is still loving?

Tears, tantrums, and broccoli soup faina pizza (with recipes)

Last night, after Windhorse was quiet in her cot, I put the cup of tea I had made three hours earlier into the microwave for the third time. As it reheated, I contemplated the greyish broccoli in front of me, wondering whether I should still put it on our faina pizza. It was the last of the broccoli, which I had intended to blanch for a minute, but instead it had been left to boil for about ten minutes, then been left steaming  in the saucepan, probably for as long again. It was limp and soggy. It possibly resembled broccoli the way my grandparents served it 60 years ago. It looked horrible.

Usually we eat together, but last night the dinner preparation had been interrupted by a difficult nappy change, an unexpected trip to pick up L who had an evening audio conference and was held up because a train had crashed on our line, and multiple attempts to calm and distract Windhorse, who had reached the end of her tether. Shared faina had gone out the window. Bath night had gone out the window. Windhorse had helped make herself a scrambled egg, steamed veggies and pita bread – the distraction calmed her down and it was ready in a few minutes – and then all my effort went into getting her to bed as early as possible.

Back to the faina. I put on a few pieces of capsicum, and then, having ascertained that there were no other pizza compatible vegetables in the fridge, I put on the broccoli and cheese and put it in the oven.

I remembered my tea, took a sip, burned my tongue because I had misjudged the time required to reheat two thirds of a cup of lukewarm tea, and sat down at the table. I felt like crying. Or shouting. Or punching a wall. Or going to bed. Except all of those options felt too hard, and so I just sat and thought about the day.

It had felt like the hardest day of my life since becoming a parent. It is possible that there have been days that felt harder at the time – I may have been experiencing that special variety of amnesia that parents have probably evolved to have because without it no parent would contemplate having another baby ever again – but right then that seemed unlikely.

I thought about the conversation I’d had recently with friends of older children, who had assured me that it would keep getting harder, and wondered how it could possibly get harder still.

It had started with the first nappy change of the day. We had an early appointment with a doctor, so there was a limited amount of time to change Windhorse’s nappy, but still time to allow for the usual drawn out process. I have realised that forcing her to come to the nappy mat before she is ready still leads to a drawn out process but with more anguish. So, I changed pretend nappies on all the toys she put on the change mat. Then I practiced Pennie Brownlee’s “gesture of invitation” and also verbally invited Windhorse to come to the change mat. She patted her nappy and said “Meeee!” indicating that she understood that I had finished the toys’ nappies and it was her turn next, but then she ran away and crawled underneath a chair, giggling. I waited. Then I told her again that it was time for her to have her nappy changed.

“Meeee!”

“Yes, it’s your turn. Come and lie down.”

This went on for a while, and then I said “OK, I am going to get some other things ready. Let me know when you are ready for a change.”

“Meeeeeeeee!” Windhorse wailed, getting distressed and slapping her nappy.

“You want a change now? Great, come and lie on your mat.”

“No!”

“Ok, I will come back in a minute.” I left the room and Windhorse started crying.

“Meee! Meee!”

“You really want it changed now?”

“Yes!”

“Great.” I sat down and patted the change mat.

“No!”

“Windhorse, we need to go out to the doctor soon.”

“Aaah.” Windhorse mimed putting a stick on her tongue so the doctor could check her throat.

“You have to have a clean nappy on before we go out. You have been in that nappy all night and it is soaking.”

“No!”

“I am going to count to five. If you don’t lie down on your mat before I get to five, I will pick you up and put you there.”

“Nooooo!” Windhorse wailed. “Meee!”

“One… two… three… four… five. OK, we are running out of time so I am going to pick you up and put you on the mat.”

“Nooooo!”

I tried to pick her up but she slipped out of my grasp and crawled under her cot. I held her ankles and dragged her out, then rolled her onto the mat. She screamed, and tears rolled down her face. She flipped over and tried to escape. I managed to get her wet nappy off. I gave up on the cloth nappy I had lined up and reached for a pull up. I managed to get it onto one of her kicking legs. I tried to pull it on the other but she kicked the first leg out. Repeat. Repeat.

Then I came up with the ingenious trick of putting my hands through both leg holes, grabbing both her feet with my hands, and… oh wait, I needed another hand to pull it up. Or maybe I could use my teeth? Windhorse was screaming and thrashing around. Then she pointed at the cloth nappy. “This!! This!!” Sometimes she gets even more worked up when she has been expecting one thing (the cloth nappy) and I do another (the pull up). Sometimes I go back to the first thing and she calms down.

“Windhorse, do you want to wear the cloth nappy?”

“Yes!”

“Ok, that’s fine.” I started to put it under her. Seriously, sometimes this is the magic solution. Not yesterday.

“No!” Windhorse wriggled away and crawled under her cot.

“You have to have a nappy. I am going to put you into this pull up.”

I dragged her out, got the nappy over both ankles using my ingenious technique, and then held her kicking feet with one hand while I pulled the nappy up with the other. I got it as far as her knees, put she was pushing it off as hard as I was pulling it on.

“This! This!” she sobbed. OK, I tried the cloth nappy again.

“No! No!” Windhorse screamed, punching the floor with her fists.

I tried the pull up again. More screaming, more punching, her expression somehow conveying a mixture of rage, anguish, despair and betrayal. “This! This!” Since I was failing, again, to get the pull up onto her bottom, I tried the cloth nappy again, and this time she lay still, and I put the nappy on, and then (a small miracle) she let me put her in the first pair of trousers I reached for. Then I gave her a cuddle and asked if she wanted to choose which socks to wear, which instantly cheered her up because she has new socks to choose from (trains or ruru).

In the middle of that nappy change were some moments that made me feel horrible. When I was using force to pin my child down. When she cried and screamed and seemed to feel it was the worst thing that had ever happened to anyone. When I saw the anguished expression of someone who seemed to feel she was being tortured and betrayed by someone she had trusted. And I don’t want to torture my child, so it was one of the worst moments for me in what continued to be a trying morning, followed (after several apparently happy hours in childcare, where she was lying serenely having her nappy changed when I arrived to pick her up) by a hard evening for both of us.

I drank my tea, and felt sad and tired and like I was failing as a parent.

Then I remembered that we had made it to the doctor, only ten minutes late, and she had said that Windhorse’s chest sounded perfect, and I was thankful for the health of our child. Then I remembered that it was Tuesday, which meant that the next day L would be the primary caregiver, and I was thankful that L is able to spend one weekday each week with her daughter. I remembered friends who have had a house fire, and I felt thankful that I hadn’t forgotten the broccoli for longer and caused a house fire. I remembered that some don’t have enough to eat, and felt thankful for the broccoli that I had ruined. Then I remembered that we had both beer and chocolate biscuits in the house, which is almost as cheering as having two new pairs of socks to choose between.

I know there are people who face far greater struggles as parents. I know there may be greater struggles ahead for us. I have no idea how I will cope when I’m not even competent enough to change a nappy. But I made it through a challenging day. Without hitting my toddler, myself, or even a wall. For that, I am thankful.

And you know what? Melt-in-the-mouth broccoli-soup-flavoured (which is a very different flavour to lightly cooked broccoli) pieces on a faina pizza are not bad. Not bad at all.

Faina Pizza

We first encountered faina when visiting a friend in Uruguay. He took us out to a pizzeria and ordered “pizza a caballo” (pizza on horseback). We were served a normal pizza and a round flatbread made with chickpea flour. Our friend demonstrated the correct way to eat this – by putting a slice of the faina (the chickpea bread) on top of the pizza, making a sort of sandwich. It was delicious. A few days later at a cafe we found out you could skip the pizza base and put the toppings straight on the faina. It’s gluten free, delicious, and transforms pizza into a nutritious meal for vegetarians with the added protein and iron. It has become a favourite meal, with countless variations. The cheapest source of chickpea flour round here is Indian shops where it is called chana flour.

Basic faina recipe

1 cup chickpea flour
A pinch or two of salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup water
3 tbsp olive oil

Sift the chickpea flour into a bowl and stir in the salt and pepper. Slowly add the water, whisking as you go to so it doesn’t form lumps. Stir in 2 tbsp of olive oil (Some recipes have more oil and a lot more salt. I sometimes leave the oil out, it’s still tasty, perhaps a little less crispy). Leave the mixture for at least half an hour so that the flour absorbs the water.

Put a cast iron skillet in the oven and heat to 220°C (we’ve also made a larger serving of faina on a heated baking tray – it needs to have a decent rim as the mixture is quite liquid – but a skillet is best). When it is hot, take it out, quickly pour the remaining tbsp of olive oil into the pan and swirl it around, then pour in the chickpea mixture. Put it back into the oven.

If you are adding pizza toppings, leave it in the oven for a few minutes, until it has set enough to spread sauce on. Take it out, put your favourite pizza sauce and toppings on it, and put it back in the oven until the cheese has melted and the edges of the faina are golden and crispy. The sauce must be very thick, otherwise your faina pizza will be soggy.

Variations

Rosemary and parmesan faina
Stir 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese and a bit of finely chopped onion to the mixture. Sprinkle rosemary and rock salt on top. Bake until crispy.

Vegan pesto faina
Make a pesto of sundried tomato, herbs, pinenuts or sunflower seeds and olive oil, and spread over the faina once it has set, then bake until crispy.

Broccoli soup faina pizza
Prepare faina mixture. Make pizza sauce by simmering half a tin of chopped tomato, 2 cloves of garlic and a tbsp of basil. Get distracted by a shouting toddler. Remember the sauce when it is very thick and just about to burn. Put some broccoli florets in a saucepan with a little water. If you don’t like the flavour of broccoli soup and prefer your broccoli with a little bite, you might want to blanch it for a minute and then strain it. Otherwise, boil until the broccoli is mushy. Turn it off just before the water boils away, narrowly avoiding another kitchen fire. Cut up a small green capsicum. Strain a few olives. Grate some cheese. Pour some oil and then the faina mixture into the hot skillet and put it back in the oven. Once the faina has set, quickly but carefully spread the sauce on top, scatter over the toppings, finishing with the cheese. The “carefully” bit is important, so as not to injure the faina, but more importantly so as not to injure yourself with a very very hot skillet. If you are clumsy like me you might want to do this bit wearing long oven gloves. Put the faina pizza back in the oven until the cheese has melted and the edges are golden and crispy. Sit. Relax. Enjoy.

P1050175

The picture is actually of kale, caper and preserved lemon faina pizza; also delicious.