The Gathering Storm

The line for early voting at the Silver Spring Civic Center on Saturday was long, jaw-dropping long.  It snaked through the plaza in front of the building, around the corner, down a block, around another corner and past the Whole Foods and it was still rapidly growing in the direction of the parking lot once we found the end of it.

My mother, who was visiting for the weekend, predicted in dismayed tones that it would take two hours to vote if we got into the line.  Beth offered to drive Mom, June and me home and return. She was determined to vote because she was afraid Hurricane Sandy, due to arrive on Sunday or Monday, might cancel the rest of early voting and she didn’t want to stand in long lines on Election Day, a work day for her.

I hesitated, and suggested everyone but Beth go to Starbucks to buy some time to consider our plan.  We’d see how far Beth had progressed when we were finished and decide how to proceed from there. I wasn’t going to make Beth get out of line after a long wait, but the rest of us could go home on the bus, an option that was looking attractive as I considered the line. Mom was amenable to the Starbucks plan because she hadn’t had any coffee that morning. We’d been rushing to get out of the house by 8:45 for June’s gymnastics class and the coffee pot Beth and I never use had been temporarily mislaid.  So Mom, who suffers from insomnia and had not slept well the night before, was in need of caffeine and I’m never one to say no to a latte so we left Beth and went in search of coffee, chocolate milk and pastries.

We took our time and when we got back Beth was almost to the plaza so I decided to stand in line with her for a little while and see how things went.  Mom and June settled down to sit on a low wall. Mom started reading a Ladybug magazine to June. (I have been gradually handing these down to my cousin Holly’s four-year-old daughter since June reads Spider now, but we still have a few around and she does still like them.)

By the time we could see the blue no-electioneering-beyond-this-point line up ahead I knew I couldn’t turn back even if the line inside the building was also long. I went to confer with Mom about whether she wanted to stay or take the bus home.  In Starbucks, she’d just told me a long, detailed story about getting lost between a parking spot and a nearby restaurant and ending up the wrong borough on recent trip to New York with her sister, which made me hesitate just slightly about putting her on a bus with June, but the 17 goes right from the block were they were sitting to our doorstep and June knows the route so I would have let them go.

She asked what I thought they should do. She didn’t seem set on going home so I suggested they swing over to the farmers’ market that was in progress just steps away and buy some apples and we’d meet them back there.

Eventually, Beth and I breached the perimeter of the Civic Center.  The line did twist around in there, too, but it didn’t take too long to get in sight of the voting booths.  Because throughout most of the experience I’d been considering bailing and voting another day and I was preoccupied with the decision and the logistics of who would stay and who would go and how they’d go I had given very little thought to what I was actually doing.  It was the sight of those booths that jolted me into remembering. I was here to vote, on various offices and ballot questions, but most importantly for the re-election of President Obama and for Question 6, which would allow gays and lesbians to marry in Maryland.

After we voted, I found Beth in the lobby and, holding hands, we walked outside into the festive atmosphere of a warm October Saturday afternoon in downtown Silver Spring with the flea market and farmers market in full swing and crowds of our fellow Marylanders in line for their turn to exercise their franchise.  Mom was right. It did take two hours to vote. It was worth every minute.

After lunch at Panera–“Does this make us Panera voters?” I asked Beth — we went home to put the finishing touches on June’s lion costume (she sewed the tail herself!) in time for the Halloween parade that afternoon and to carve jack-o-lanterns. Mom participated in the pumpkin carving and used a pattern for the first time.  (Hers is the arch-backed cat.)  I decided to go with a quicker, traditional jack-o-lantern face so I could get a jump on dinner preparations.  The parade starts at five, which always presents us with a dinner timing challenge.  Do we want to eat at 4:30, or after June’s bedtime?  Some year we should make sandwiches to eat as we walk, but this year we were having pumpkin pancakes. Noah and I cook together on Saturday nights and he picks the recipes. He’s been on a pumpkin kick recently—pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and now pumpkin pancakes, always with fresh pumpkin, never canned.  I decided the thing to do was make the pancakes ahead of time, feed June before the parade and have everyone else eat reheated pancakes after she was in bed.

We drove to the start of the parade route and everyone but Beth got out of the car, while she drove it to the end of the route and walked back.  Mom took June to the area where the five-to-seven year olds were assembling and I accompanied Noah to area for the eleven and twelve year olds, and silently sized up the competition.  It’s the smallest age group so I thought he might have a chance at reclaiming his costume contest glory of last year (“The Curse of the Mummy’s Hand” 11/1/2011).  There was a kid dressed in the trademark Steve Jobs black turtleneck and jeans with a poster board iPhone screen full of app icons hanging from his neck, another one in a big rubber horse mask wearing a fedora and a trench coat, but no other serious contenders for Most Original.  And Original is the prize you’re gunning for if you show up dressed as a metronome.  A few ninjas and knights came over to Noah and asked him what he was.  He got that question quite a few times (and he was nice enough to give a patient, age-appropriate explanation to a curious preschooler). There were a few people who guessed without prompting however, some took his picture, and a girl in his age group wearing silver face paint said “A metronome. Awesome.”

The parade made its way through its initial loop up and down one block, which is where the judging takes place. No official asked Noah or June for their names so we had a pretty good idea they were not in the running for a prize.  Noah didn’t seem too disappointed.  He’s easy-going that way. The parade then made its leisurely way through the streets of Takoma Park, to the local elementary school where the Halloween party is held.

We heard the Grandsons perform and waited to hear the contest results. I watched June’s face as the winners in her age group were called and I thought I saw a flash of disappointment when she didn’t win anything, but there were some pretty good costumes in her group, including a boy who had a shirt rigged up so he appeared to be carrying his own head.  The horse, a horse detective apparently, took the original prize in Noah’s age group.  I liked the iPhone and thought if Noah couldn’t win, he should have but those are the breaks. (Later when this boy won the contest to guess how many candy corns were in jar I was surprised to learn it was his best friend from preschool—still lanky and blond but so much older than the last time I’d seen him as to be unrecognizable.)

The group costumes are always fun. The two most memorable winners were the family that came as a power outage and another one that came as the debates.  The members of power outage family (which included a classmate of June’s) were dressed in black, one of them was a darkened light bulb, another was an open freezer full of melting food and one was a utility company worker. They won scariest, which was appropriate, considering Sandy is headed our way. The debates had people in Obama and Romney masks, a little girl dressed as Michelle Obama. Big Bird, and, of course, a binder full of women.  On the way out the door, we picked up cups of apple juices, cookies and small bags of candy on and another Halloween parade was over.

Mom left this morning, and we spent much of the day preparing for the storm. We did two loads of laundry, ran the dishwasher, roasted pumpkin seeds and froze jugs of water. Noah vacuumed and we all charged our electronic devices and Noah and printed the papers we needed to do homework and work once the power goes out. Beth and June secured loose items in the yard, re-arranged items in the basement in case of flooding, and with great sadness, took down our elaborate collection of Halloween decorations so they could live to grace our yard another year.  And then we all watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown while we still had a working television.

It’s looking like a big one. School is canceled for Monday and Tuesday and Metro is shutting down some time tonight, so Beth’s not going to work tomorrow. I have been joking that perhaps this hurricane is the gathering storm the right wing warned about in those silly, anti-gay marriage ads.  If it’s a sign Question 6 is going to pass, though, I’ll take the storm, however inconvenient.

As much as possible, we are ready for the storm, whatever it brings. And as June pointed out, seeking reassurance, I think, even if Question 6 does not pass it will be okay because we’ll still be a family.  And we will, no matter what scary things the weather or politics blow our way.

Queer, Queer Fun

On Wednesday morning, the morning of the twentieth anniversary of our commitment ceremony, June crawled into bed with us at 6:40 a.m.  We all dozed a bit longer and around 7:00 Beth got out of bed and was walking around my side of the bed on her way out of the bedroom when I put my arms up for a hug.  The cue reminded her. “Happy anniversary,” she said.

The kids went to school and Beth went to work and the day unfolded like a normal weekday.  I read a few chapters of Catch-22, which I’m reading for my book club, and I exercised and cleaned the refrigerator.  I worked on a set of instructions for growing hydroponic green beans, cucumbers and lettuce.  I found out I’d landed a job writing three grants for a group of D.C. public charter schools. Okay, that last part was not so routine.  I haven’t written a grant since 1994, when I worked for Project Vote, so I greeted this development with a mix of excitement and trepidation.  But I can’t even start until I attend a series of meetings with school officials in early February so I can put it out my mind for now.

That morning Beth posted a picture of the two of us at our commitment ceremony on Facebook, along with a copy of a newspaper story from the Philadelphia Gay News, about how our commitment ceremony announcement in the Philadelphia Inquirer was the first one ever for a gay or lesbian couple.  (At the time my father was the managing editor of the Inquirer. He did not participate in the discussions about whether to publish the announcement but I imagine the fact that I was his daughter must have been a factor in people’s minds.  If nepotism did help break down the door for other people behind us, I have no problem with that.)

One of the things I love about Facebook is all the positive feedback you get on milestone posts.  All day long the congratulations poured in on both posts.  It made me cheerful every time I checked it and gave the day a festive feel, even if I was at home alone, writing or doing chores for much of it.

Shortly after June got home I started cooking dinner.  I wanted to get an early start on the eggplant-bulgur casserole because I was also making a cake, the spice cake with lemon glaze I make almost every year on our anniversary. It was our wedding cake.  June helped pour the ingredients in the bowl, mix the batter, consulted with me on what shade of pink to dye the glaze (it was a very deep pink, almost red) and helped spread the glaze on the cake.

While we ate dinner, we listened to one of the three mix tapes we made for our ceremony.  (Our ceremony was a very low-budget, DIY affair so we provided our own music.) I haven’t attempted the play the tapes in years and I wasn’t even sure if the one I’d selected would still play or if it would be warped, but it sounded fine after two decades (or almost two decades- a notation on the case indicated we’d re-made it in 1994. I don’t remember why).  It was the one we played last, the most upbeat one.  It starts with Prince’s “Let Pretend We’re Married” and the Eurhythmics “Would I Lie to You?” and goes on in that vein.  It’s a fun tape and I only had to rush to the tape player to turn down the volume once so the kids would miss some not quite age-appropriate lyrics.

The music, familiar and yet from such a different time in our lives, and the photo of Beth with her early 90s trademark flattop really took me back. Sometimes it seems like it hasn’t been that long since we were in our mid-twenties and childless and new to living in the big city, and sometimes it seems like another life entirely.

After dinner and before cake, we exchanged gifts. Beth got me Stephen King’s latest—11/22/63— and I got her a gift certificate for Giovanni’s Room, a gay bookstore in Philadelphia.  And why would I get her such a thing when we live in suburban Maryland?  We had a kid-free weekend in Philly ahead of us, that’s why.

We drove everyone up to Mom and Jim’s house on Saturday afternoon after June’s basketball game, dropped the kids off and enjoyed two nights and one day to ourselves in the City of Brotherly Love.  We had two very nice dinners at the Kyber Pass Pub and Cuba Libre. If you go to the first, the vegetarian meats (BBQ and fried chicken Po Boys) and the fried vegetables (okra and sweet potato fries) are very good. If you go to the second, you must order the buñuelos con espinaca. We visited Reading Terminal Market and had lunch there.  I got a vegetarian cheesesteak at a stand where the service was so bad it crossed over from aggravating to comic, but the cheesesteak was not half bad once I finally got it. We browsed at Giovanni’s Room and came out with a few books. We spent a lot of time in our hotel room and in a local coffee shop reading. We saw a non-animated, R-rated movie, the lesbian coming-of-age film The Pariah, which was well acted and a good story, though there were some odd things going on with the camera work, probably meant to indicate the protagonist’s emotional state.  Our room had a gas fireplace and a Jacuzzi and we employed them both.

We walked a lot on Sunday and made some serendipitous discoveries, stumbling upon the President’s House where the first two Presidents lived while the Capitol moved to Washington. The building is no longer there, but they have rebuilt parts of it, with low brick walls to show where walls went and some chimneys and doorways recreated.  You can also look down into the ground to see the actual excavated foundations through glass.  There is a lot of information posted on signs about the house and its inhabitants, including the nine slaves who lived there. It seemed a fitting place to visit during MLK weekend and we would have lingered longer and read more if it had not been so very cold (in the twenties most of the day and quite windy).

We also found the block where I lived from the ages of five and half to almost nine, quite by accident, and from there I remembered how to walk to my elementary school a few blocks away, so we did.  I don’t think I’ve seen it since 1976 but other than new playground equipment (and what I believe to be an addition) the soaring one-hundred-year-old red brick building looks just as I remember it.  It was odd, but not unpleasant to be walking around our old neighborhood on Sunday, because it was the second anniversary of my father’s death. As we walked along the blocks where he must have walked so many times, I imagined him in his thirties walking with a little-girl version of me, maybe headed to the playground, maybe going for ice cream or to peek inside antique stores.

On Monday morning we picked up the kids and heard all about their trip to the Franklin Institute. June loved the giant heart and veins you can tour (what kid doesn’t?) and the movie they saw in the planetarium about black holes and Noah liked the city that changed colors depending on environmental choices the citizens made.  June left Mom and Jim’s house laden with necklaces, a jewelry box and a wicker doll high chair.  (Mom is downsizing in preparation for her move).  On our way out of the Philadelphia area, we made one last stop, for soft pretzels, and then we were homeward bound, arriving mid-afternoon, in time for undone homework and weekend chores.  Our anniversary celebration was over.

But I still have one song from the commitment ceremony tape running through my head. It’s “The Queer Song,” by Two Nice Girls.  It makes me think how much has changed, not just over the past twenty years, but maybe the past thirty.  The speaker is re-assuring her love interest, who is still insecure in her sexual identity:

I’m gonna take you to queer bars
I’m gonna drive you in queer cars
You’re gonna meet all my queer friends
Our queer, queer fun it never ends
We’re gonna have a happy life
Both of us are gonna be the wife
I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
It’s queer queer fun for you and me

(If you don’t know this song, it’s worth knowing that it’s sung partially to the tune of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.”)  I have to reach far back into my life to remember a time when the idea of my own happiness being possible would have produced a subversive, defiant thrill, but I do remember.  I do.  I would not say my life is a never-ending parade of queer, queer fun—it has as many disappointments and sorrows as anyone else’s—but there is happiness in it, too.

As the Presidential election will no doubt remind me on a more regular basis than I’d like, my family’s happiness is still a hard pill for some people to swallow. That’s why this was a commitment ceremony anniversary and not a wedding anniversary we just celebrated. I have faith we’ll get there, maybe soon. Gay marriage will be on the table again in Maryland this year, as it was last year and a few years before that. I try not to get my hopes up.  I do want to be legally married for both symbolic and practical reasons, but on the deepest level, both of us already are the wife and we have been since that mid-January afternoon when we were twenty-four and twenty-five and stood before our friends and family and dared to imagine living a happy life together.

The Streets of Baltimore

Well my heart was filled with laughter
When I saw those city lights
She said the prettiest place on earth
Was Baltimore at night

From “The Streets of Baltimore” by Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard

I had to hold on tight to June’s hand in the parking garage and Beth had to call to Noah to stop and look for passing cars before crossing over to the elevators. We were on our way to visit the Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore ( and they were both giddy with excitement. Noah’s been asking to go to a museum for a long time and when he got a free child’s admission by submitting a code from Tropicana orange juice lids online, we decided instead of going to the Smithsonian as we usually do, we’d venture out to Baltimore.

We’ve been to Port Discovery only once before and that was the day Beth adopted June. The court proceedings were in Baltimore and afterwards we went to the museum and after that we went to the Inner Harbor and celebrated June’s three-month birthday and her adoption with cake. I couldn’t help thinking about that day as we walked through the doors of the museum and later as we passed the infants and toddlers room where June and I had spent most of that museum visit, nursing and playing on the floor mats and watching the giant tubes filled with moving bubbles while Beth took Noah through the exhibits. It was a joyous day.

We might be on the brink of another legal milestone for our family and then again we might not. On Wednesday gay marriage became legal in the District of Columbia. Shortly before this, the Attorney General of Maryland Doug Gansler issued an opinion that Maryland could honor gay marriages performed in other states and then Governor Martin O’Malley signaled his agreement with the opinion. So theoretically, we could hop on a Metro train, get married in the city and have it recognized at home. But of course, gay marriage is never that simple. A member of the state legislature has threatened to have Gansler impeached and the issue will surely end up either in the legislature, in the courts or both. It could be a while before it’s settled and Beth and I have decided we don’t want to do it unless it’s going to stick. We’ve already had a commitment ceremony in front of our friends and family. What we want now is legal recognition and we don’t want to confuse the kids by getting married over and over as the legal sand shifts underneath us. When we do it, we want it to be for good. I keep telling myself it might not happen and if it does, it could be a long time from now and then I go around the house singing, “We’re going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.”

The museum was fun. We split up because Noah was interested in the exhibits for older kids, such as the Egyptian exhibit and Miss Perception’s Mystery House where you get to solve mysteries. June played with pretend food in the farmer’s market, dressed up in a knight’s tunic (which she said was a princess dress), played an African drum, made her own monster out of cloth pieces that attached to each other with Velcro and played in the Curious George exhibit. She was almost as happy to see the statue of George as if the monkey had been there himself. When we had to leave, she insisted on hugging him and kissing him on the lips. The only exhibit that both kids could enjoy was the three-story metal and rope climbing structure and even then, he went in the big kids’ entrance that allows you to go all the way up and she went in the little kids’ entrance that doesn’t.

When the museum closed at five, we walked to Little Italy for dinner. Noah was crying most of the way because he had not finished the second mystery they started. He claimed there wasn’t time. Beth said he quit because he was too scared to climb through a dark drainpipe to retrieve a clue. June skipped along the sidewalk and offered occasional report: “He’s stopped crying. Now he’s whining.” I lifted her up so she could see a canal as we crossed over it and she spotted a tower in the distance. “A castle,” she exclaimed.

Noah had calmed down by the time we entered the restaurant and he loved the poster in the foyer with illustrations of dozens of kinds of pasta so much he went back to look at it after we were seated. Beth said it was the kind of Italian restaurant they have in Wheeling where they serve you soft white bread and salads made with iceberg lettuce. I knew what she meant. It was like an Italian restaurant in South Philadelphia. Sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

Beth had eggplant parmesan, I had gnocchi, June had rigatoni with tomato sauce and Noah had spaghetti with a butter sauce. He didn’t care for the sauce, but he was happy enough with bread and butter and the side order of broccoli the kids were splitting and every one else dug into their entrees. “Always trust a fat waiter,” the waiter said when Beth and I took his advice and got the chocolate mousse cake for dessert. Our trust was not misplaced.

When we left the restaurant at 6:15, it was still light. I was surprised. It always creeps up on me when the days start to get longer. Since it’s part of our family code not to visit Baltimore without stopping at Vaccaro’s (, we ducked into the bakery for Italian cookies and cannoli to take home. We emerged at 6:25 and it was noticeably darker. We live right on the border of D.C. and I’m often in the city, but rarely after dark, and to be walking through a different city in the dark blue twilight felt like an adventure. June must have felt the same way because she looked up at me and said, “I love this night.”

And walking through the streets of Baltimore, thinking of the day almost four years ago when June became Beth’s and Beth became June’s in the eyes of the law, and thinking of the day when Beth and I can say the same, I loved it, too.

Skip to the Love

“Skip, skip, skip to the love!”

It was Saturday morning. Beth was making oatmeal for everyone except herself. (She’s our designated Saturday morning oatmeal-maker but she won’t touch the stuff herself.) I was dodging around her getting something for June to eat while we waited. Noah was dancing around the kitchen, singing and hugging people. He’s been quite lovey-dovey recently, full of hugs and “I love you”s for Beth, June and me. The other day he pulled Beth and me together so he can hug us at the same time. Of course, June rushed over and pretty soon we had a whole-family group hug going.

Sunday was the seventeenth anniversary of our commitment ceremony. Right after breakfast we exchanged gifts. Beth got me The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For ( a collection of Alison Bechdel’s epic lesbian soap opera/comic strip. The strips in the book span the years from 1987 to 2008. I’ve been reading it for three days now and it really brings back old times.

I started reading this strip sometime while we were in grad school at the University of Iowa from 1989 to 1991. I used to find it a newspaper at the university library (I no longer remember if it was a gay and lesbian newspaper or a feminist one—I read both). Sitting at the long tables in the sunny periodicals room and reading it was my favorite study break. The well-developed characters and dead-on observations about lesbian culture drew me right in. And it was funny, too. When we moved to D.C., I kept reading it in The Washington Blade, but sometime around Noah’s birth I stopped reading The Blade on a regular basis. Every now and then I’d pick up a copy and read the strip, or in recent years I’d log onto the DTWOF website (, but mostly I’d read the paperback anthologies that came out every couple of years. However, I found that without reading it regularly I kept losing the thread of the plot. I’d find myself constantly wondering, who’s that minor character? And who’s sleeping with whom now?

So now I have a chance to start over and follow the strip’s whole narrative arc. (It’s somewhat abridged, but most of the strips are there.) Even though it’s been nine to twenty years since I read these strips (I’m currently up to the year 2000), I remember them all so well, but I find some of my reactions are different now. As a mother, I found Raffi’s birth more touching than I did at the time. And I remember being truly upset when Mo and Harriet broke up but now it just seems like another twist in the constant romantic shuffling of the core group of characters. As admirably diverse as the characters are, there is a notable dearth of stable couples represented in DTWOF. (And no, Clarice and Toni don’t count. Too many affairs.)

I think my reactions show me in what a different place I am in my life and especially in my marriage. I feel very secure in my relationship with Beth. I don’t find myself imagining what our breakup would be like when two cartoon characters split up or in every sad Ferron song. I’m almost immune to imagining it. I also find myself a bit distanced from all the melodrama of DTWOF now because my life is just not like that and hasn’t been for a long time.

Sometime before Christmas my sister and I had a phone conversation about why I want to be married and why she doesn’t. I focused on the financial inequities Beth and I face because I knew she’d understand that. Of course, I would like for us to pay less in taxes and to have the peace of mind of knowing I’d have access to Beth’s Social Security benefits if she predeceases me. I also mentioned that we’d be more secure in having Beth’s adoption of the kids recognized if there was an emergency while we were traveling out of state to places that don’t grant second-parent adoptions. But there’s more to it than all that and I don’t think I adequately explained. Beyond all the rational reasons, in my heart I just want to be married, to be able to say “my wife” and to be understood and recognized.

We also talked about how you become sure of someone else. My sister and I are children of divorce and it was hard for me to get to that place of certainty. I wasn’t 100% there when I proposed to Beth. I just realized I was as close as I was going to get without taking the leap. Sara can’t quite imagine being able to say forever to someone and believing it wholeheartedly. (Having a marriage break up after two years probably had something to do with this.) I did get there, though. I can’t say when. There was no epiphany, no dramatic breakthrough. I just know Beth and I are a team now, more than we were before the commitment ceremony, more than we were before Noah was born, and that I can’t imagine my life without her.

On Sunday morning I made our traditional anniversary spice cake, using the recipe we used for our wedding cake. Beth took June grocery shopping and I cleaned house. During June’s nap, the babysitter arrived. Beth and I were going to a movie, our third in as many months. (I think this is a record for us, as parents.) We saw Milk over Thanksgiving and Doubt while we staying with Beth’s folks at Christmas. We wondered what to go see. Revolutionary Road and The Reader were on my list but a movie about a failed marriage didn’t seem right for an anniversary outing. And a film about the Holocaust didn’t really seem that celebratory either. So we ended up with Frost/Nixon. I know, not exactly a date flick, but there weren’t any romantic lesbian movies playing at our local theater. Go figure. We went to Border’s afterward and I used a gift card I got for Christmas to buy a book (Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction). Then we picked up a white chocolate mocha for Beth and a green tea latte for me and we were headed home. Beth made a delicious Mexican lasagna and we ate the cake. It was a really nice day.

This morning Noah wanted to know what would happen if Beth and I split up. Would he live with Beth or me? These are big questions. I really don’t know why some marriages last and other don’t so how could a seven year old begin to fathom it? I just know we’re all still skipping to the love. We are, as June observed at dinner tonight, “a whole family together” and I hope he feels it. I think he does.

Let Freedom Ring

The morning after Thanksgiving we took Noah to see the Liberty Bell ( Last year in first grade they studied symbols of our country. That’s why we went to see the Statue of Liberty when we were in New York City to visit my dad last December. Then when we visited my mom last May for Mother’s Day, he wanted to go see the Liberty Bell, but we didn’t have time. First grade is long gone, but Noah was still interested, so on Friday morning, we left June with Mom and drove into the City of Brotherly Love.

Even with increased security, the lines were not as long as I remembered from my childhood when every out-of-town visitor and his brother wanted to go see the Bell. Either I was less patient then, or the Bell is less popular now, or we hit a lull. Once inside its spiffy new digs (, we went straight to the Bell. We took some pictures and Noah asked a ranger about the rivets at the top and bottom of the crack. Then we watched a movie about the significance the Bell has had to different people over time.

People active in a lot of liberation movements—abolitionists, suffragettes, and members of the civil rights movement—have all claimed the Bell as a symbol. I wondered briefly if the gay rights movement ever has, but if so, I’m not aware of it. (Before HRC adopted the equal sign as its logo—back when it was still HRCF—their torch logo was probably meant to evoke the Statue of Liberty. I still have a couple t-shirts that date back to those days.) My thoughts were interrupted by a clip of Martin Luther King giving the “I Have a Dream” speech; they showed the very end:

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

I’ve seen this speech so many times I expected to watch it with respect for its importance in American history and with admiration for the oratory, but not with much emotion any more, so I was surprised to find myself crying. Not just getting a little teary-eyed either, but with lines of tears streaming down both cheeks. I guess it’s going to be like this for a while. Until the reality of our first African-American President really sinks in (and who knows how long that will take?), these sudden flashes of astonishment and gratitude are just going to keep taking my by surprise.

We came back to Mom and Jim’s house for lunch and June’s nap. I lay down with her and slept deeply for forty-five minutes of her hour-long nap. (We’ve all been clobbered by an evil upper respiratory infection over the past couple weeks. It’s just the latest installment in our family’s Autumn of Infirmity. Anyway, it’s really wiped me out.) Fortified by the nap, I had the energy to leave the house again. Beth and I went to see Milk. If you exclude Wall-E, which Beth saw with Noah, and Horton Hears a Who, which I saw with him, Beth and I haven’t seen a movie in a theater since Brokeback Mountain (or was it Rent?). Either way, it’s been a long time. This was an event.

We got a bit turned around and missed the 4:30 showing. Beth was unsure about staying for the 5:40 one as it meant an extra hour of babysitting for Mom and Jim, plus putting the kids to bed, which wasn’t in the original deal. But I couldn’t get this close to seeing an actual movie in an actual theater and not do it so I called Mom and left a message with the kids’ bedtime instructions. I figured they were out at the video store. They had big plans involving making caramel apples, and getting movies and takeout pizza. I thought they’d be fine.

It has to be a coincidence, but the timing of the release of this film, which builds up to the defeat of a particularly virulent anti-gay proposition in California couldn’t be more poignant, coming so close on the heels of our recent loss of marriage rights in California after the passage of Proposition 8. On the one hand, it all seems so familiar, the long string of defeats, the raw anger, the frustration. On the other hand, the thought that we even had marriage rights in the first place would have seemed unimaginable to many of the 70s-era activists in the film. (Perhaps not to Milk, though. He was a visionary after all.) Gays and lesbians all over the United States did take to the streets again after the passage of Proposition 8, just as they did time after time in the movie. Beth’s and my days of attending every gay protest/rally/candlelight vigil have long passed, but we were planning to attend this one, even though it was at 1:30, smack dab in the middle of June’s nap. But when a cold hard rain fell that day, we reconsidered. Depriving a two-year-old of her nap and hoping she will drowse in the stroller is one thing. Expecting her to put up with all this and get drenched in the bargain seemed cruel and unusual, so we stayed home.

When we got home at 8:40, Mom and Jim had just finished putting the kids to bed. It was the first time anyone other than Beth or me has successfully put June to bed at night. She was again up at 9:50, but I had an hour and ten minutes to heat up and eat a couple slices of pizza and take a shower before I had to go lie down with her. This was an unexpected bit of freedom as well.

The inauguration is a noon on January 20, another nap disaster in the making and Montgomery County schools do not have the day off (at the time of writing—it’s become an issue of hot debate here in the ‘burbs). Beth and I attended the first Clinton inauguration so we know unless you have tickets, you don’t see anything but Jumbotron screens and the parade. Still, we are seriously considering pulling Noah out of school and June from her nap to take them down to the mall, to stand with our fellow Americans as history is made. When they’re grown up I’d like them to be able to say they heard freedom ring that January day when they were seven and a half and almost three. They may never have another opportunity like it.

Turn! Turn! Turn!

To everything
(Turn, turn, turn)
There is a season
(Turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose
Under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

From “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” by Pete Seeger
Adapted from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Sometimes you know when things will happen. Fall arrived at 5:51 a.m. this morning, as expected. Even though it’s been warm for late September, the humidity is largely gone and there’s a chill in the air in the mornings when I go out to collect the newspaper. The red berries have appeared on our dogwood tree; its leaves are tinged with scarlet and some have even fallen. We’re at a moment of balance between the light and the dark (that blessed time of year when you can still get good corn and tomatoes at the farmers’ market and sweet, crisp apples and pears are for sale as well), but the tipping point is here. Each time we go to the Y to swim at the outdoor pool, I wonder a little sadly if it will be the last time this year. Yet at the same time I look forward to seeing the leaves turn and the snowfall through June’s eyes, this first year she’s likely to notice such things.

June’s half birthday falls on the equinox this year. Like the seasons, she’s halfway between one thing and the next. Starting tomorrow, she will be closer to two than one. Some parts of this transition are hard. She still wants her morning nap and gets very cranky without it. So by way of compromise I take her for a ride in the stroller or Beth drives her somewhere to induce a short nap that will carry her to her afternoon nap. That’s the theory anyway. In practice, the abbreviated morning nap is sometimes still too long or comes too late and interferes with the afternoon nap, returning us to our original problem. I’m going to give it at least another week to work itself out before giving up and switching tactics.

Other steps she’s taking on her journey from baby to little girl seem almost magically effortless. June is currently experiencing what the developmental psychologists call a “word explosion.” That’s just what it seems like, too. Words are just bubbling to the surface and exploding out of her. Noah says if she were a character on Super Why, her superpower would be “the power to talk.” She knows more than eighty words and adds new ones daily. She’s eager to learn more and often points to an object whose name she doesn’t know and demands, “Say!” Sometimes when she improves her pronunciation of a word (for instance when she said “yummy” for the first time instead of “nummy” which is how she usually says it), she beams and looks to me or to Beth for approval. She lets us know now when she needs a diaper change by announcing “Boopy.” (We are hoping this means she will show more of an interest in toilet training than her brother did.)

Her utterances are getting longer and more complex as well as more numerous. Her first four-word sentence was “No way! No seat!” meaning “If you think I’m getting in that car seat you have another thing coming.” One recent morning she saw a school bus out the window and said, “Bus. Noah back.” And not only does she use words to communicate with us and to keep up little running commentaries for her own amusement, she also made her toys talk to each other for the first time today. I watched her sitting on the couch with a foam rubber dinosaur in each hand. She held them so they faced each other.

“Go,” one dinosaur said.

“Shoes,” the other suggested.

“Thank you,” the first dinosaur replied.

“Thank you,” the second dinosaur returned.

And so on and so on.

She’s physically more agile as well. At the playground she tries to climb on equipment designed for much older and bigger kids. About a month ago she learned to climb the ladder to Noah’s top bunk. We had to take it down for her safety as well as the safety of the toys Noah wants to stash in a June-free zone. He’s adjusted by learning to climb up the back of the bunks. Every now and then, though, we put the ladder back and let her climb (under close maternal supervision). It gives her such joy. This afternoon as an impromptu half-birthday present I dug Noah’s old push bike out from the basement and gave it to June. I had Noah demonstrate how to sit on it and push it along with his feet. She was eager to try, but couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. She ended up alternately sitting on the seat and bouncing up and down and walking alongside it, pulling it by the handlebars. I tried to remember how we taught Noah to ride it, then I remembered he was already in daycare when he got it for Christmas at the age of almost twenty months and that he’d been riding a similar one there, so we didn’t have to teach him. I guess she will figure it out on her own. I doubt it will take long.

She’s also “prettier every day.” I know because our neighbor told me. (I am a little sad to see the red fading from her hair as she gets blonder, but her curls are more than adequate compensation. At the risk of sounding shallow, I admit I wanted curly-haired children. My own wavy golden-brown hair is my only physical vanity, even if I usually wear it back.)

Tonight, after an equinox supper of pesto burgers, corn on the cob and apple cider, we had cupcakes with orange and brown frosting and yellow sprinkles to celebrate June’s half birthday. “Nummy cake,” she commented appreciatively. Then she pointed to something on the table and began to grunt excitedly.

“What do you want, June?” I asked.

“I want…I want…” she said and trailed off, the word eluding her.

Beth and I stared at each other. “Did you hear that? She just said ‘I want’” Beth said. I nodded silently. Both words were firsts. It was an almost solemn thrill to hear her first “I,” marred only slightly by the fact that we never did figure out what she wanted.

Of course any toddler worth her salt needs to know how to throw a proper tantrum. June’s working on that, too. As Noah got ready for bed and Beth gathered up the week’s recycling and I tried to wash a pomegranate juice stain out of her light gray onesie, June expressed her displeasure that no-one was paying attention to her at that precise moment by hurling herself onto the floor in a high traffic area (between the living and dining rooms) and screaming. She doesn’t have the kicking part down yet but I’m sure she’ll get there. It’s part of what comes between one and two.

Not all change can be so easily predicted, however. This week Beth and I were deeply saddened and angered by the decision of the Maryland Supreme Court that the denial of marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples is constitutional ( & The decision was longer in coming than expected. At one point Beth and I were daring to hope we might be married on our twentieth anniversary in July, and even after that day passed with no decision handed down, we still hoped, almost never speaking of it to each other, so as not to jinx anything. After the decision, Beth confided in me that she’d been wondering where to go for our honeymoon. I admitted I’d been wondering if we should buy Noah his first suit for the wedding. I’d also been mulling over whether he could be trusted with gold jewelry and if June could possibly follow directions well enough to strew flower petals at our feet in front of the judge. But now, something we were allowing ourselves to think of as at least potentially happening in weeks or months is again years (or decades) off. I think history is on our side, but when you look at history it’s easy to pinpoint an event as being at the beginning, middle or end of a social movement. When you are living in history, it’s harder to tell. It took American women seventy-two years to get the vote, counting from the first women’s rights convention, held in 1848 in Seneca, New York ( If we take the Stonewall Riots ( as the birth of the modern gay rights movement and it takes much longer than that, Beth and I might be shuffling down the aisle in our walkers. She’s worth the wait, but it would be easier if I knew how long the wait would be.

Sometimes, though, change takes you by surprise, like the four purple crocuses that bloom every September in our front yard. When we moved here our old landlady was re-landscaping and gave us a bunch of bulbs she’d dug up to take to our new house. We planted them in spring, the wrong time of year for planting bulbs. Some of them, like the hyacinth and the tiger lilies, got themselves straightened out and bloom when the neighbors’ hyacinth and tiger lilies do. Other mystery bulbs never recovered from the shock and put forth only greenery and no flowers every year. (Or maybe they are greenery-only bulbs. Is there such a thing? I’m no gardener clearly.) The crocuses, however, lay dormant for several years, and now bloom every year out of season, at the time of year perhaps when the ratio of light to dark matches that in March. I’m not sure how it works, but I know it does. Despite the fact that they’ve done this before, I forget every year and I am surprised anew whenever I see them poking up out of the ground some time in the waning days of summer.

I hope some day, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio or perusing my email to be similarly surprised, by justice, come unexpected, sweet and beautiful after a long wait.