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Posts Tagged ‘the New Yorker’

Insisting I get back to “normal,” I found myself on a bike at the gym reading the New Yorker. It’s the latest issue and the extremely long, entangled article titled, “Are You My Mother?” (a gay couple, an adoption plan, and a brutal custody battle) by Ian Parker held my interest; so much so that I would have never have left the bike if not for my aching back! New York family law was in the midst of defining what makes a parent for same sex couples – biology, adoption, support, intent? After all, it is a bit tricky.

Still I had two mothers long before it was even possible with open adoptions, LGBT rights, and the latest in reproductive wizardry. My mothers had made an arrangement in 1949; Nell would care for me while the Flapper was recuperating from her injuries. My biological mother couldn’t afford to pay her and she didn’t offer. I found out later the Flapper was receiving a small stipend from the state of PA as a widow with children, but my foster parents never asked for money. No papers had been signed, only an oral contract asking Nell NOT to adopt me.

In this Brooklyn case of two mothers (Hamilton v Gunn) there was also no contract signed. Two women were a couple who had planned to adopt, it was an international adoption and so one had to “pretend” to be a single heterosexual woman, only before the adoption became final these women broke up. Pure and simple – they were no longer a couple, yet the one woman, Hamilton, who had begun the process of adoption still wanted a child. And so she continued and brought home a boy from Ethiopia. They had never married, though one claimed they’d been engaged.

For years the previously romantic couple continued their friendship, naming the other woman, Gunn, the boy’s Godmother, To complicate matters, this other woman continued to help financially and also to babysit at times. It wasn’t until Hamilton decided to return to Great Britain where she would be able to find work and be close to her family that Gunn sought out a lawyer, thereby striking new territory in parent equality cases – many times while reading this article I thought to myself, if this had been between a man and a woman what would have happened? Why is a same sex couple treated differently by the courts?

In most family law cases it comes down to this: what is the best decision for the child! This best-interests rule is dubious at best. Hillary Clinton wrote in 1973 that the rule is used as “…a rationalization by decision-makers justifying their judgements about a child’s future, like an empty vessel into which adult perceptions and prejudices are poured.”   http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/22/what-makes-a-parent

Who will be able to afford the best schools, the better vacations, etc and most commonly it was the marginalized parent without resources who would inevitably lose. The women’s movement gave us some freedom, but made mothers who traditionally hadn’t developed a career outside the home, more vulnerable in family custody hearings by granting more rights to fathers. Remember the movie Kramer vs Kramer? That scenario scarred me for life.

In the end, Gunn lost her case because the judge said that their plan to adopt had terminated – that it had not “continued unabated.” The little boy would get his passport back, but since Gunn has appealed the ruling, there will be no flying away to England in the foreseeable future. So the lawyers get richer and the child is stuck in limbo.

In cases like these, I am always drawn to the Biblical story involving two mothers and the sound Judgement of Solomon. I want to believe the real mother would naturally give up her child in the end, would never allow a sword to be used, even in the metaphorical sense. Maybe that’s because I was always going back and forth, between two mothers, two states, two very different temperaments. With Nell and Daddy Jim I had the unconditional love of two parents, and for that reason the Flapper never insisted I return to her. She worked hard, she moved to NJ, and she waited, until it was my decision.

And in my opinion, love, like the definition of family, is expanding all the time.

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As some of you may know, I signed up to follow the Parnassus Bookstore blog, Musing, almost as soon as it launched. I follow its editor, Mary Laura Philpott, on Twitter too. It’s a fun way to keep up with literary happenings in my daughter’s adopted city, Nashville. And a recent post on Musing made me wonder if I had ever been afraid to read something, anything. I won’t go to horror movies, but that’s different. I’m aware that I’ll read crime and mystery novels only on vacation – like the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series – but me, afraid to read something? Never!

In “Reading (and Writing) Through Fear” Philpott reviewed a book that she admits she normally wouldn’t read. The Bear, by Claire Cameron, is written from the point-of-view of a five year old; a terrified child who has just witnessed a bear kill her parents. Certainly horrific territory, and granted it is maybe a book I would pick up in a bookstore, read the jacket, and put down. Not necessarily because I’d be frightened by the content, but when you have lost a family as a child, as I did in my first year of life, it’s not something I would want to read about. In the same way that Bob doesn’t like to see war pictures, since his work is sometimes like a war zone. He gets enough adrenalin in the ER.

But then, Philpott interviewed the author. Cameron said that before she had children she wasn’t afraid of anything, but then…

…my sons were born. The first time a babysitter came over to look after my six-month old, I stood outside the front door and could barely make myself walk away. It was, I realized, a new kind of fear. It’s one that comes alongside loving someone else completely, be it a child, partner, lover or friend. The world is big. It can be scary. And I couldn’t protect the people I love at every given moment.

While I was working on the first draft of The Bear, I thought I was writing about that — the fear of not being able to protect my children from everything. After I finished, I talked to a friend about the story. Knowing me well, she said that I was actually writing about my fear of not being a parent. What if something happened to me and I wasn’t there for them? The minute she said it, I knew she was right.http://parnassusmusing.net/2014/03/06/reading-what-you-fear/#more-660

So I bought the book. Because it’s always interesting to see how an author finds the authentic magical thinking voice of a child. And because I knew I was deep-down afraid to read it. And the only way to keep growing, is to challenge that fear.

And today I’m going to read The New Yorker article, “The Reckoning” by Andrew Solomon, about his interview with the father of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook killer. This really scares me, but I hope that some insight for some struggling parent out there will come through his words. When I heard Solomon say on a news show that Adam’s mother Nancy was more interested in Adam having a “good day” instead of a “good life” it sealed the deal. Sometimes a parent can live in so much denial, they begin to believe in the insular, sclerotic world their child has created. A world in which the bear is the child himself.  Unknown-1

 

 

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