crying on the toilet and other bathroom distractions

The following is an excerpt from my book Which One of You is the Mother? You can purchase the book on Amazon here.


The difference between five and nine is greater than four. We learned this new math in the days and weeks following Elijah’s placement with us. I had imagined a five year old would arrive factory ready — just plug him in, flip the switch and presto! you have a fully functioning mini humanoid. This is untrue. It turns out five year olds are basically talking babies that can use the toilet. You still have to bathe them, dress them, tie their shoes, hold their hands in public, teach them to read, force them to nap, force them to brush their teeth, monitor them as they brush their teeth, and clean up after they brush their teeth, and while they may be able to talk the toilet business is 50/50 on a good day.

Chris was a breeze in comparison. Granted he was a few years older, so he could be trusted to take a bath, dress himself and not run out into traffic. Elijah was another story. He was exhausting. He required constant attention. I laugh at the former me who once considered adopting a child under the age of three. I could absolutely handle a newborn, I bragged to my friends and family. If an all-things-considered-well-behaved five year old nearly drove me to the brink a newborn would have killed me.

And Elijah is a good kid. Oh sure sometimes he pees his pants while waiting in line at the amusement park but otherwise he’s fairly continent. He is an average five year old who listens 75% of the time and hates napping. He has never once been horrible in public, which is more than I could say for those non-GMO-gluten-free-Paleo kids I see at the mall. (And for the record, I see you other parents judging me when my son eats his genetically modified deep-fried sugar-dipped potato-in-a-bun.) Elijah may ask a million questions but he asks them because he’s curious. He wants to learn. There is no end to his inquisition: What are clouds? Where does the moon sleep? Do girls have wieners? I do my best to answer his questions, but I also recognize that I am not an expert in meteorology, astronomy or female anatomy.

The endless questions were nothing compared to the boundless energy and I began to fear that I had met my match. Here I was a forty year old man and my undoing would be at the hands of a five year old. Elijah had been with us for about two weeks the Sunday afternoon I fell victim to a plate of questionable Middle Eastern kebabs. Food poisoning is never pleasant and I spent the better part of the night projectile vomiting the previous day’s spaghetti dinner.

The next morning I awoke dehydrated with a blinding headache. If it had been just me I could have managed the situation. I would have popped a few aspirin, confined myself to the couch and slept the day away. But it wasn’t just me. It was me and a five year old (due to a clerical error Elijah was still not enrolled in school).  Todd had gone back to work the previous week and now I was on daddy duty, food poisoning be damned.

Five year olds don’t understand being sick. They don’t understand blinding headaches and dehydration. They cannot be left to their own devices while you cough your best Camille in some faraway Bavarian sanatorium. Five year olds want to play and be five. Five year olds do not want to sit quietly and watch Law & Order reruns all day. They instead prefer to run through the house singing at top volume and pretending to be a Disney princess. At least that’s what my five year old preferred to do on this particular day. When I suggested we take a nap after his 437th encore of Let It Go, he laughed at me. My five year old son laughed at me and then he threw all forty pounds of his little body onto my stomach which at this point, now void of food, had begun to digest my internal organs.

It was sometime around 2:45 p.m. that I excused myself to the bathroom where I cried for seven and a half peaceful minutes.

I do this a lot now. I excuse myself to the bathroom and I cry. The bathroom is my sanctuary. I have spent the better part of an hour holed up behind its locked door, watching videos on my phone or reading the back of the shampoo bottle. Sometimes I turn on the water and I pretend I’m taking a shower. Sometimes I slip down into the bubbles and let Calgon take me away. Sometimes I fall asleep on the toilet.

I would kill for a midday nap. I think most adults wish they could indulge in a nap at some point during the day. But children hate naps. If I tell Elijah to take a nap he will collapse on the floor and begin to sob uncontrollably. The first time he did this I hurriedly closed all the windows in the house, afraid that the neighbors would think I was beating him. Now if I even mention the word nap he launches into a five-act opera entitled Emotionally Unstable Italian Grandmother at the Funeral of Her Dead Husband.

The truth is we’re still figuring him out. He’s an odd little kid; he thinks it’s hilarious to look you directly in the eyes when you’re speaking to him and then do the exact opposite of what you just told him to do even though you’re sure he heard you because, after all, he was looking you directly in the eyes when you were talking to him. He also loves to repeat everything you say except for those moments when he’s pretending not to hear you. He eats nothing but chicken nuggets with mustard. Give him a choice between eating a plate of fresh vegetables and being water boarded by Dick Cheney and he’d go with virtual drowning by Darth Vader.

If Chris is the very definition of resilience, then Elijah is the very definition of obstinance.

But still, he makes me laugh. His preschool teacher remarked that she had never before met a five year old who understood sarcasm…and then used it. His caseworker noted in his file that Elijah was “a chameleon”. She said, “He could adapt to any environment and would often assume the personalities of those around him.” It was no doubt a coping mechanism he had adopted, the result of having lived in so many different homes.

In the foster home where he lived before, Elijah had been taught that physical affection was unacceptable; there were no hugs or goodnight kisses. He adapted to this environment and learned to live without affection. When we met him Elijah was emotionally reserved, if not aloof and frosty. He forbade us to hug or kiss him for those first few months. One night before bed he told me that I could not kiss him on the cheek because “boys don’t kiss”. They do in this house, I said, but respected his wishes. Finally after months of watching us shower Chris with affection Elijah changed his outlook. Now he hugs first and when we tuck the boys into bed he demands to be kissed goodnight.

Time moves slowly when you are living inside a moment. In the time before hugs and kisses Elijah would only call us by our first names; it seemed we would never be Dad and Papa. We never forced the issue. If he was comfortable calling us Sean and Todd then he could call us Sean and Todd. Still, when addressing one another in front of him we always referred to each other as Dad and Papa. We instructed Chris to do the same when talking about us to Elijah. We laid the groundwork and it took time, but eventually Elijah began to experiment with our new names until those new names became our only names. Now every morning he wakes me up by crawling into bed and whispering mischievously into my ear, “Daddy!”  Now he rushes Todd at the door and with open arms delivers a welcoming, “Papa!” No longer Sean and Todd, now it seems we are who we have always been, his Dad and Papa.

He has become so much like the three of us; it’s hard to know who he is after us especially when we never knew who he was before us. Our obstinate little chameleon has now assumed our manner of speaking, our casual attitude, our sense of humor. Unfortunately he has also adopted some of Chris’s less desirable qualities, like selective laziness. Long gone are the days when Elijah would voluntarily (and thoroughly) clean up after himself. We’ve said goodbye to the boy who eagerly offered to set the dinner table. Now we’re left with the pint-sized smartass who, when asked to carry more than one bag of groceries into the house, indignantly replies, “I only have two hands”.

The difference between five and nine is still greater than four. But with each whisper of Daddy, with each offer of I love you, with each willing hug that difference shrinks. Chris and Elijah wanted a forever home, but what they received in the bargain was so much more than a roof and four walls. They found each other. Elijah idolizes Chris and has assumed the role of loyal companion and much smaller shadow. And Chris, the boy who wanted an older brother, has himself taken that role and become the defender, confidante and best friend.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.

the question that inspired the post that started the blog that inspired the book

This was my first post on this blog. It appeared in October 2014.


Sixteen months ago we adopted our son Chris.  We are trendsetters (not really) so this was way before gay adoption become fashionable.  Kind of like how we got gay-married two and a half years years before it became legal.  Or how we started watching Orange Is the New Black before everyone on Facebook was taking those quizzes to determine if they were an Alex or a Piper.

At that point in our relationship Todd and I had been together for almost 17 years so it was either get another dog, adopt a kid or grow old in a suffocating air of quiet resentment.  As appealing as quiet resentment is to both of us, I think we chose best because Chris is the absolute best thing ever in the whole wide world and I (we) cannot remember what our lives were like before he agreed to let us be his dads.  I know we had a life before Chris, but in retrospect, I think we were just killing time until we could adopt him …because as I said he is the best thing ever in the whole wide world (even when he isn’t and, boy, does that little shit have his moments).

So sixteen months ago we adopted our son Chris and became (hot) gay Dads.  The best part of this (aside from Chris) was that no one noticed.  I mean people were happy for us and incredibly supportive, but in the context of us being two guys adopting a kid, it was not a big deal.  The day after the adoption the headline in the local paper did not read: “Local Gays Adopt 7 Year Old!  Younger of the Two Dads Even Hotter Now!”  It was a non-event and I liked that because it meant we were living in a time and place where something as superficial as our gender was irrelevant.

And for the most part that has remained true.  But every now and again I am met with this question: “Which one of you is the mother?”  The first time someone asked me that question, I laughed, thinking it was a joke.  But when they repeated the question, and I realized they were serious, I was just confused.  I mean, seriously, how in the hell do you answer that question?

“Which one of you is the mother?”  Well if we’re relying strictly on gender stereotypes, then I suppose, as the more emotional of the two, that I fit the maternal role.  But then in terms of household duties it’s a 50/50 split: I clean, but Todd does the laundry and we both do the cooking.  Todd is better at dressing cuts and bruises; while I just look better in a dress.  And although Todd gives better hugs, I am Oscar-worthy in my role as a manipulative, overbearing drunk.

Ultimately, the problem with the question is that it is not the question.  They ask, “Which one of you is the mother,” but what they really mean to say is, “Which one of you is the WOMAN?”  It’s that age-old heterosexual preoccupation people have with two guys and sex: what goes where.  I hate that question and I hate that anyone even considers it when they see me with my family.  But oh well, there you have it.  I should probably just be happy they gave me a kid.


Which One of You is the Mother? is available for pre-order on Amazon: Buy Which One of You is the Mother? here. No seriously, buy it now. It’s only $4.99 for the Kindle version and $9.99 for the paperback edition. A venti Starbucks Frappuccino costs more and unlike that Frappuccino this book won’t make you fat(ter).

Which One of You is the Mother? – Available on Amazon NOW!

So I wrote a book. It’s called Which One of You is the Mother? It is based partly on this blog…but mostly it’s based on every day of my life since I became a big gay dad to my two adopted sons. I have been publishing excerpts of the book on social media for the past week in anticipation of the book’s Kindle release on August 24, 2015.

toddwanted

Todd and I share a lifetime of photos. We could fill countless scrapbooks; volumes devoted to our respective births, our terrible twos, the first day of school. But of Chris we have no picture memories before the age of five. We have clues. Fragments of stories shared with us; stories like the time he accidentally spilled spaghetti sauce on the floor and his grandfather beat him with his belt. Or the one about that time when he was three and his sisters lost him in the airport. We have distant narratives written by overworked caseworkers and reports dictated by psychologists who I doubt ever bothered to even look up from their notepads to see the scared little boy in front of them. I look at our photos and it’s easy to remember that we had a life before our son. I read through his files and it’s strange to think he had one before us.

samPR

The day we brought Chris home from Oregon I had one thought and one thought only: I need to delete the browser history on the computer. Before you have children the internet is a limitless utopia, an adult playground where anything and everything is possible. But after you have kids the internet is basically an unexploded grenade in the shape of big chocolate candy bar with a sign on it that says Don’t Eat Me. Every time Chris asks if he can go on the internet I experience what I imagine a stroke must feel like. My right arm goes numb, a sharp pain shoots through my brain, I forget how to breathe, everything goes dark and then twenty minutes later I wake up in a puddle of urine wearing my mother-in-law’s wedding dress. Chris once asked me if we could Google pictures of bears. Five seconds later the screen was flooded with images of hairy middle-aged men. A few months later when he asked if he could see a photo of a baby inside the womb I thought it would be educational. But here’s the thing: if you Google baby in the womb you still get the beaver shot.

chrispr

I grew up feeling like an outsider, a stranger in a strange land. I never quite fit in and while my parents loved and supported me I’m not sure they knew exactly what to do with me. For the most part I was free to be myself. Left to my own devices and without much-needed guidance I struggled with being different. I stumbled awkwardly in adolescence, navigating an often unsuccessful path through my weirdness. I would eventually learn to embrace and celebrate that same weirdness I now see in Chris. But unlike me at his age, Chris does not stumble or struggle. He happily marches to the beat of a different drummer. In fact, he is that drummer and it doesn’t matter if he’s the only one who can hear the music. Everyone else is just missing out. Some days I think I need to intervene and point him in the direction of the herd. Life will be easier for him, I tell myself. But of course that’s not true.

elipr

At first, Elijah would not look at us. He just sat on the floor playing with his toy cars. He said a few words, part of a brief narrative directed at and for the benefit of his toys. Barely five years old and already he had mastered the art of freezing people out. The minutes ticked by slowly, passing into hours. We didn’t exist. I freaked out. Chris asked more questions. Todd, no longer standing, now sat stoically. And then something clicked and the four of us came together. Suddenly Chris and Elijah were running around the office engaged in an endless game of hide-n-seek. Suddenly I was hiding under the desk with Elijah, having been roped into the game. Suddenly Elijah was holding Todd’s hand as we walked to the car. Then we were at the zoo and Elijah was following Chris everywhere, shouting “Chris! Chris!” as he chased after the big brother who seemed to have been there his whole life. For me it was in that moment when Elijah asked me to carry him, because now I could be trusted. It was after Elijah fell and Todd scooped him up into his arms and cradled him, both looking as if they were finally home.

The book has received notable critical praise:

“After reading this brilliant, touching book, all I could think about was having Sean and Todd tuck me in at night. Please adopt me!!!!”  — Simon Doonan, Barneys Creative Ambassador and author of The Asylum

Which One of You is the Mother? is a “thoughtful, charming (and funny) essay about gay parenting that proves, not just engaging, but enlightening to gay and straight families alike.”  — Terry Galloway, author of Mean Little deaf Queer

I don’t like to think of us as boring, just profoundly unremarkable…, writes O’Donnell in the first chapter, but I beg to differ. Their story of starting their relationship to adopting their children is remarkable, considering all they had to go through as a gay male couple. Their story is one for anyone, a story of true love, commitment and what it means to be a family in the US in 2015. O’Donnell is a natural story teller who puts the reader front and center in their daily lives. It’s a story of hope, a story of compassion, and a story for anyone who has ever wondered what those Club Kids from the nineties are up to these days.” — Thomas McMillen-Oakley, author of Jesus Has Two Daddies

Ultimately I just want people to read our story because it is a story that no one else is telling. I think once people read it they will understand that although we are a different kind of family, we are also just like every other family. Only funnier. And gayer.


Which One of You is the Mother? is available for pre-order on Amazon: Buy Which One of You is the Mother? here. No seriously, buy it now. It’s only $4.99 for the Kindle version and $9.99 for the paperback edition. A venti Starbucks Frappuccino costs more and unlike that Frappuccino this book won’t make you fat(ter).