the hand that rocks the cradle

I never wanted to be that parent. I was determined to allow my children to fight their own battles. I promised myself that no matter how much I wanted to intervene I would keep to the sides because so much of growing up is about finding your voice and learning how to use it.

The day my youngest son came home from school in tears because a boy on the bus had been mean to him I explained (after a reassuring hug) that, well, people are mean and you can choose to either return that meanness or ignore it and move on.  A few weeks later when my oldest son reported that a classmate had called his glasses ugly, I asked my ten year old if he actually cared what this boy thought of his glasses and when he admitted that he did not I said, “So what’s the problem?”

But then shortly after Christmas a classmate called my son gay and suddenly it became less about kids being mean and more about people being hateful and in that moment everything I thought I believed went out the window and my ice-cold-keep-to-the-sides resolve began to crumble and I became that parent.

I hated that I was being put in the position of being angry or offended because some little jerk had called my son gay as if being called gay or the act of being gay were something I (or my son) should be offended by…but then it was not the word itself that offended me, but the ugliness and the history of the ugliness behind the word that offended me.

My rage further increased after learning the teacher had dismissed the name calling incident with a shrug. Look, we all know what that kid meant when he called my son gay and I am confident that had he used a racial or ethnic slur or a term of misogynistic endearment or any other form of hate speech that his actions would not have been dismissed with a simple shrug.

Realizing that I had no choice but to intervene, I sat down at the computer (with a drink…to calm my nerves) and composed a thoughtful email to the school principal. I was calm and respectful and in no way was my tone accusatory, which is very unlike me by the way. I informed the principal about what had happened and closed with “I do not expect the boy or the teacher to be reprimanded nor do I expect that my son or our family should be treated any differently than a traditional family, but I do believe everyone from staff to students could use a lesson in tolerance and acceptance.”

The principal immediately apologized and assured me that the school took my concerns very seriously. In addition, she promised to “address the importance of tolerance with her staff.”

Okay then. I was satisfied.

A few weeks later the same boy made fun of my son for having two dads, bringing my son to tears. Again, I contacted the school to voice my concerns and again I was assured that the school took my concerns very seriously.

Okay then. I was skeptical, but satisfied…

…until the following week when the same boy pushed my son to the ground in gym class and my son – in the face of a school and administration who had done nothing up to this point to support him – stood up for himself (and his family) and pushed the boy back. When the principal called to tell me that my son had been suspended, for defending himself, I lost it.

There is movie from the early 90s called The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.  It stars Rebecca De Mornay as a homicidal nanny. There’s a reason she’s homicidal but it’s rather convoluted so just watch it on Netflix because it’s a good movie and also because you can see a pre-A-list Julianne Moore get murdered by a greenhouse. Anyway, in the movie one of Rebecca’s young charges is bullied by a classmate and so, like the good homicidal nanny that she is, Rebecca walks up to the kid and does this: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

Now, when anyone is mean or unkind to one of my kids I immediately imagine that I am Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. I walk up to the pint-sized offender in my tight little pencil skit with my Banana Republic sweater slung over my shoulders and I grab the little shit by the wrist and I say “I’m gonna rip your fucking head off.” This momentary flight of fancy usually calms me and I’m able to move on with the rest of my day.

Usually.

But not this time.

This time I threatened to (metaphorically) rip the fucking heads off everyone….the school, the administration, the kid who pushed my son, the parents of the kid who pushed my son.

I went DEFCON 1.

It was perhaps not my finest moment…except it was. My kid needed me and I was there for him. I had his back. The reality is someone has to stand up for kids until our kids learn to stand up for themselves.

So for now I am that parent and, as it turns out, I will rip your fucking head off.

 

 

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his story

My ten year old son Chris asked if he could write something for my blog. He wanted to share his story. The following post is written by him–these are his unedited words. 


 

My name is Chris and I have two dads. I was born in Oregon. I lived there with my grandma and grandpa and sisters. I love them and miss them. My sister Brittany and I would play cars and I played Mariokart on the DS my grandma gave me.

After my grandfather died, I went to live with a foster family. I stayed there for two years. My foster parents were named Brandi and Neal and they were very nice. I was grateful for them. They had a big backyard. There were other kids in the foster home and we played in the yard. All the kids were adopted, but then new kids would come to live there and we would play the Wii. I kept bugging my caseworker to find me a family.

When my caseworker told me I was going to be adopted I was very happy. I was so excited to meet my new family. I couldn’t stop smiling. The first time I met my Dads I thought they were awesome. They love me so much. I make them happy. We play all the time and now I have a brother too.

Some people think it’s strange having two Dads, but I don’t because I never had a mom and also because my Dads love me very much. I am so grateful for them and for being adopted.

Adoption gave me a family.

it’s okay, he has two dads

I rarely encounter prejudice. I’m not naïve – I know it exists. It leads the nightly news and it clogs my social media feeds. It seems everyone is getting it but me.

Perhaps I am too caught up in my own little world to notice the ugliness around me. As a gay man and as the father of two adopted children (one who is bi-racial) you would think prejudice would be everywhere – in line at the grocery store, peeking out the windows of the houses on my street, lurking in the shadows at my children’s school.

But if it’s there, I’m not seeing it.

I suspect my inability (or unwillingness) to see it has less to do with progress and more to do with politeness. We no longer announce our prejudices with burning crosses and limp-wristed gestures. It is considered passé in these early days of the 21st century to be a card-carrying bigot. We are more subversive in our bias.

We have no problem with African Americans…as long as they don’t cause trouble. We champion women in positions of power…as long as they don’t act like a bitch. We applaud when a non-traditional family adopts a child…as long as we can pity the poor child behind closed doors.

I recently read an article titled He Doesn’t Have a Mom. It was written by some well-meaning mother of three who, in short, believes a child needs to have a mother in order to be happy. In the story the authoress details an encounter she had with a young boy in her son’s class. The boy is depicted as being emotionally needy, immediately clinging to the writer and telling her, this stranger, that he “loves her” and that she is his “best friend”.

The author learns (from another well-meaning parent) that the child does not have a mother and suddenly in a flash of privileged arrogance it all makes sense. Never mind that the author notes the child is being raised by his grandparents, two people whose actions are the very definition of parenting. Never mind that this boy has a mother, his grandmother. Never mind that 90% of this woman’s story is total fabricated bullshit.

Never mind any of this because it is too late – she has gone full Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.

She hugs the child. She cries for the child. Her heart breaks for the child. As she reaches up for her Academy Award, she vows to pray for the child. She promises to connect with him in the years to come and (threatens?) to bring him into her home so that he may experience “family time”.

She concludes her tale by saying that the boy does have a father – no, not his grandfather, but his capital letter “F” Father – God.  He “who has promised to take the place of parents for those who have been abandoned”. She hopes the boy will come to God and be redeemed because, you know, as a motherless orphan he must be godless.

Look, I’m not even going to touch the religious angle here because the author’s faith is between her and her capital letter “F” Father and if HE rewards condescension and arrogance then the author has bought herself some prime real estate in the afterlife. However, as the parent of two kids who don’t have a mother and on behalf of all the nontraditional families in the world let me just say this to the author: Blow it out your ass.

A mother is a wonderful thing, but a mother is not a parent. To be clear, a mother is defined as a woman in relation to a child to whom she has given birth. By this definition she is a womb, an incubator. She has a job for nine months and then after nine months she is either unemployed or she accepts a promotion and becomes something more, a parent.

And parents are not defined by gender or convention. Parents are not a check mark made inside a box labeled Mother or a signature above a line designated Father. 

My husband and I are more than mother or father, we are parents.

We raise and nurture our children.  They are happy. They are loved. Their lack of convention does not require your pity anymore than their non-traditional circumstance cries out for your self-serving prayers.

They are whole. Even without a mother.

I sometimes encounter prejudice.

I may have to look for it, but it exists.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here.

holiday (monster truck) blues

The holidays can be a time of great joy and celebration, but also a time of profound sadness and grief. The period between carving a turkey and opening presents can bring up a host of memories for many people, especially adopted children. Perhaps it’s the tradition of the day or the gathering of families or the ghosts of holidays past. Whatever the reason, the days leading up to these special moments can be an emotional minefield.

For my two sons, both adopted, the holidays are a reminder of all they have lost—family, friends, pets, a favorite toy. The life our boys had before often goes unmentioned for months at a time, but every December, like the ghosts that haunt Scrooge, they reappear and make their presence known.

It was Chris who this year first began to steal visits down memory lane. At Thanksgiving dinner he waxed nostalgic about his grandmother’s mashed potatoes and her homemade mac-n-cheese. A few weeks later he recalled all the Christmas mornings spent playing with his three older sisters. Last night he told me (for the first time) about a blue monster truck his foster parents had given to him.

As Chris told me in great detail about this much-loved truck, I began to understand that he was not telling me so much as reminding himself. I could hear the sadness in my son’s voice as he tried to hold on to his former life, to maintain a connection to a past that grew more and more distant with each passing day.

I was reminded of this truth this past weekend as we cut down our Christmas tree. On our way to the tree farm Elijah began to talk about his “mom” and his life in West Virginia. Elijah was telling us a story about his (former) dogs when suddenly he paused and whispered, “I can’t remember their names anymore.”

If you want to know what it feels like to have your heart break or if you ever need a good cry, just imagine a five year old coming to the realization that life is full of pain.

These ghosts used to scare me. They would make me doubt myself as a parent and question my children’s happiness because if I were a good parent and if my children were truly happy then why would they need to visit the past? I thought the only way for our family to move forward was to run from these ghosts, but to run from them would be to deny my children their story.

And that would be wrong.

I tell myself those dogs had a name and that those names are important. I remind myself that while life at grandma’s house was not always easy for Chris, there were mashed potatoes and homemade mac-n-cheese and Christmas mornings with his sisters.

There were blue monster trucks.


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.

time in a bottle

Three years ago today we chose adoption.

We tried to get pregnant for fifteen years but the tests kept coming back negative. I remember thinking, “What were we doing wrong?” We had tried everything. Candles, soft lighting, instrumental soundtracks, romantic comedies, hanging from the ceiling. I eventually realized the reason we weren’t getting pregnant was because we were both guys.

We were not the first couple to find ourselves in this situation and while I am being facetious I am by no means making light of infertility. My point is when you want a child it does not matter if you are gay or straight, male or female, single or married, you just want a child; how you get that child is irrelevant.

For people like my husband and me (GAY!) who couldn’t have children the old fashioned way, we were forced to be creative and consider other options. As I meet and talk with more and more couples who are “just like us” (GAY!) I’ve come to realize that many same-sex couples are opting out of adoption and instead choosing to use a surrogate or attempt IVF, but for us adoption was always a first choice. And not the get-on-the-plane-and-fly-to-Malawi/India/Russia kind of adoption, but the look-in-your-own-backyard and adopt any one of the more than 100,000 foster children in the good old US of A kind of adoption.

You want a kid. These kids need a home. It’s simple math.

From the beginning we understood that our decision to adopt, specifically our decision to adopt domestically within the foster system, meant that we most likely would not raise a child from birth but we didn’t need a newborn any more than we needed to have a biological connection to our child. The fact is our child would be ours whether or not he shared our DNA. The fact is you become a parent the moment you see your child for the first time.

Still, adoption is not for everyone. If you need a child to look just like you then adoption is not for you. If you need to have a healthy white newborn baby then adoption is probably not for you. If you want a perfect child then adoption is definitely not for you.

But if you want to make a difference and share your heart and change a child’s life and in the process have your life significantly changed then adoption is absolutely for you.

Adoption takes time. It requires patience with an imperfect system. It demands that you be honest with yourself (and with your partner). It will make you wait and while you wait it will crush your soul and make you feel absolutely inadequate until the day you finally meet your child and you realize it was worth every minute, every frustration, every feeling that you just don’t measure up.

Our journey to parenthood took longer than nine months. It did not begin in a bedroom or in the office of a doctor. Ultimately it didn’t matter how we got there because we did get there. We now have two children. We adopted them when they were five and seven.

Adoption changed us. We used to be two people who wanted a kid. Now we’re a family.


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).