Thursday, August 23, 2012

Are homophobes really assholes?

Hey, GayMom followers. I've got a new blog where I'm posting stuff that's not so personal and more political in nature. Today's post straddles both - looking at what homophobia really is and why we shouldn't call homophobes assholes.

Go take a look at KaufmanOnAmerica. And subscribe to that if you're interested in reading more.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Why Uma Left

Well, it finally happened. A clear-eyed understanding of their pain and anger and confusion about their other mother moving to Florida. And it was so simple and straight forward. I guess memorable moments aren’t always dramatic.
It started with a post on Facebook about an anguished father, raising money so he can fight for custody of his son.
The girls were looking over my shoulder and made me click on the link. It’s a sad story. He was the primary caregiver for six years. Then he and his partner broke up, and the ex moved across country with his son. The ex is the biological parent. Actually, that part’s not clear. What’s clear is that the man raising money is not the biological parent. He was just the stay at home dad for six years.
Part of the argument in the fundraising plea is that studies have shown children are better off with two parents raising them. When we got to that part, I thought, “Uh-oh.”
But I didn’t say that. Instead I took the political route.
“This is why gay marriage needs to be legal all over the country. Gay people can’t adopt in every state, and so sometimes when they split up one parent has no rights to see his child. If they were straight, then legally both parents – whether biological or adopted – would have a right to see their children.”
They nodded. Silently. They didn’t want to go down the political route.
“And I think it’s horribly unfair when gay people hide behind the lack of law in divorce cases.”
They nodded again. I relented and took a more direct route.
“By the way, that is not what happened with Uma.”
“But she moved to Florida,” Dixon said.
“Yes, but I would be perfectly happy if—“
“You want to get rid of us,” Delaney said, clearly joking, and slapping her hand over my mouth.
“No,” I tried to stammer out, “I would be happy if...”
“You want to get rid of us,” she said again, laughing.
I garbled out another answer, then playfully tried to bite her hand.
This comes from another discussion we had a few days earlier. I have spent the summer at home and have consequently spent almost every waking moment with the girls. Since we are most definitely nocturnal beings, their hours have gotten later and later, especially since Olympic coverage ended at 11 most nights. They told me the other day that I’ve been way too short tempered for the last week or two. I answered that they’re lucky my temper held out this long and that I needed a break. So Delaney took it to its most likely extreme.
“Seriously,” I said when she took her hand away from my mouth. “I would be very happy if Uma lived near here and picked you up on Sunday and had you till Tuesday night or you would come home on Wednesday after school. I would be happy to have you see her every other weekend like you used to.”
I got up to empty the dishwasher. This seemed like a good time in the scene to put some space in the blocking.
“If you and Uma had stayed together,” said Dixon, “would we all have moved to Florida?”
“If Uma and I had stayed together, we would all probably still be living here.”
“But she moved to Florida for a reason.”
“But if we were together, staying with us would have trumped the reason she moved to Florida.”
“Then why did she move?”
I paused, put away some dishes.
“She moved to Florida because being near the ocean is healing to her. She’s happy there. For some reason she could not be happy living near us. And she was not happy living with Coco (her grown daughter who lives an hour and a half away). When she told me she was moving, I wasn’t happy about it, but I knew it was the best thing for her.”
I looked at them.
“The problem is, it’s not the best thing for you.”
There was a silence. Delaney was standing at the table browsing on my computer. Dixon’s crumpled face showed the computations going on in her head.
“Why is the beach more important to Uma than her children?”
There comes a time when raising kids when you can’t fix the hurt. You just have to let them feel it. And you have to affirm the pain, affirm the validity of their feelings, without taking them away.
The reality is that their Uma loves them very much, misses them horribly, and is tortured by the idea of having a half life with them. It’s much easier for her to be away than to only see them – and me – part of the time. She stuck close longer than I thought she would. And the other day she asked if I could look for employment in the south, so she would be within a day’s drive. But if she’s going to be tortured without us, she needs to be a in a place that makes her feel alive and whole.
I understand that. And I understand that for my children, it’s wholly unfair.
We stood in the kitchen for a while in silence, me putting dishes away, Dixon staring somewhere in the vicinity of the floor, till Delaney broke the spell.
“Can I take a cooking class?”
Dixon and I laughed, and I teased her about the non-sequitur.
 “Hey, I don’t hit things head on,” she said. “I go around them.”
I’m still pondering how to handle that one.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Brave: Pixar’s Cowardly Movie

According to my American Heritage Dictionary, “Brave” is defined as:
  • Possessing or displaying courage; valiant
  • Making a fine display; impressive or showy
  • Excellent; great
  • To undergo or face courageously

I have told my daughters many times that bravery is being afraid, but doing it anyway.

Here’s what “Brave” isn’t: being a petulant teenager who almost ends your mother’s life because you’re being forced to do something you don’t want to do.

Granted, the stakes for Merida – the hero in Disney Pixar’s new movie “Brave” – are higher than being allowed to stay out after curfew or wear torn jeans. Merida’s mother, the queen, sticks steadfastly to social norms and traditions. From the beginning of the film, she is constantly telling her daughter what “ladies” don’t do., presenting herself as the very model of “ladylike” behavior.

Merida is portrayed as an extraordinarily gifted tomboy who can scale rocks as tall as buildings in a single bound, shoot arrows with pinpoint accuracy while riding a horse at high speed, and fight like...well...a boy – at least how boys are defined in her mother’s world.

Which is why it’s scary and appalling when the queen tells Merida she must marry – and presents her with suitors who don’t begin to match Merida’s fearlessness and skill.

I, too, would balk at having to put myself away to please and be subservient to a husband. I, too, would fight what Merida labels as “becoming my mother” – or, rather, adhering to limited views of what women are or can be embodied in my mother’s generation.

In fact, I did balk at that. Thirty years ago. And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with the movie “Brave.” It makes epic promises about Pixar’s first female heroine who must save her country, evoking thoughts of “Braveheart” or “Star Wars” or even “Norma Rae.” What we got instead was “Mary Tyler Moore” – a story that would have been groundbreaking  at a time when women couldn’t open checking accounts on their own, that now seems backwards in its view of women and the roadblocks women and girls must overcome.

The smallness of the story is what bothers me. Luke Skywalker is a boy from a remote, tiny village who doesn’t realize the power he has, but who finds himself fighting to save the universe. Erin Brockovich is a woman who doesn’t realize how smart she is, but ends up almost single-handedly triumphing over corporate cruelty and greed. Gandhi is a man who finds power in stillness, and ends up taking down a nation.

Merida is a girl who is trying to get her mother to be less uptight.

What makes it more egregious is that Merida’s “bravery” is really displayed as petulance. And her mother – who has dedicated her life to constricting herself by what she is supposed to do – comes off as wise.

Because, you know, only petulant, self-centered girls forge their own paths in life.

I can’t help thinking that if the main character in “Brave” had been a boy, his prodigious skill would have been enlisted to save his country. Or he would have struck out on his own, leaving expectations behind, stumbling into and foiling a plot that would have destroyed the kingdom. He would have been asked to shoulder responsibilities beyond his years – to be afraid, but to do it anyway.

For Merida, the roadblocks she has to overcome are of her own making, and they’re made with a rashness that plays into both the stereotype of an hysterical woman and the stereotype of a fiery redhead. The choices she makes are not brave, they are stupid, and the movie is really about how she scrambles to dig herself out of the holes she’s dug.

Because, you know, that’s really all that women can do.

At its heart, “Brave” is a relationship movie, a chick flick. As she tries to solve the problem she’s created, Merida comes to see that her mother really does love her. As her mother watches (and helps) Merida try to solve the problem, she comes to a better understanding of how powerful and fierce her daughter is. And somehow she comes to appreciate it, without seeing that fierceness as a repudiation of her own choices.

I suppose that’s an OK message for middle class America, where so many women still are tempted to mold their daughters based on the limitations of society. But it leaves out so many mothers and daughters for whom this is not the norm.

Wouldn’t it have been better to write a film script without those limitations, to show how truly powerful women and girls can be? Wouldn’t that have been a great message for mothers and daughters to take out of the theatre?

This movie is billed as a movie about bravery. It’s billed as a movie about going out into the world. It’s billed as a movie about saving the kingdom. And I’m afraid that for so many little girls – and misguided mothers who want to limit them – the smallness of scope of “Brave” will only send the message that women really shouldn’t try saving the kingdom – or even running it.

Four years ago, our country almost had a female presidential candidate. It’s very likely we’ll have a female president within the decade. And when we elect her, I’m not going to care how she got along with her mother, or whether she’d be willing to marry a suitor from another kingdom. I’m going to care about whether or not she can save the world – or at least run one country.

Where’s the movie that will inspire little girls to want that?

I put out a call to my Facebook friends to come up with titles of epic movies in which the hero saves something larger than him or herself. What interested me was the range of answers to this question. Following, in the order I received them, are the answers that were posted (some by the same people):



The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Pan's Laberinth


The Alien Trilogy

A Civil Action

The Marathon Man

The Verdict

12 Angry Men

Erin Brockovich

The Accused


Lorenzo's Oil


Superman. Spiderman.

All the President's Men


‎Two very different Tom Hanks films: Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan

Three Days of the Condor

The Insider

Blue Velvet

Gideon's Trumpet — a made for TV movie with Henry Fonda. Clarence Gideon is one of the most unlikely heroes in American history.

Schindler's List

Erin Brockovich and Norma Rae

Star Wars

The Crucible and To Kill a Mockingbird

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Wizard of Oz

Lawrence of Arabia. Bridge on the River Kwai.

First Knight. A Knight's Tale. The Patriot. The Expendables.

The Shawshank Redemption

We Were Soldiers Once. Robin Hood (any version). Excalibur. Master and Commander. Peter Pan. Count of Monte Cristo.

Finding Nemo

The Unforgiven

The Last Starfighter

The Dirty Dozen

The Great Escape

Hunger Games


Thursday, February 9, 2012


It's funny how your views on things change once you have kids.

I still remember that day, 20 years ago, when I was single and childless and I made my way to Rosemont, Illinois for the annual motorcycle show. It was there that I fell in love - with a black Yamaha Virago. I spent almost the entire day salivating over it

Viragos are sweet bikes. They're built like women - curvy, big-hipped and elegant. And low to the ground. At 5'8" I'm not short, but it's amazing to me how many bikes make me stand on my tippy toes when I hit a red light. I wanted my feet flat on the ground. And my heart to soar. The Virago promised both.

And then I went away and thought, "I can't afford one. I don't deserve one. My mother says I'll die if I get one." And yet...

I had spent at least 10 years by that point riding bicycles long distances. Since moving to Chicago the year before, I frequently spent my Saturdays riding from the northside to Winnetka or Highland Park, then west out to Milwaukee Avenue, which would take me home. I had routes of 30, 40 and 50 miles. It was incredibly exhilarating, and it made my Sundays more relaxing than I think I will ever experience again.

It also made me highly road conscious. I could hear and feel and see every driver in my proximity. I had a sixth sense. I was a road warrior.

So why just use my feet to drive the machine? Why not use a motor?

Ah, the dreaming.

Fast forward a couple of years. I was with my girlfriend of less than a year - who turned out to be the other mother of my children and, now, my ex. We were visiting her family in Iowa. We had seen a motorcycle for sale in front of someone's house. On a whim, we inquired about it. It was tall. My toes didn't like that.

So Connie, who thus far had enthralled me with her lack of restrictions - her lack of a mother's voice telling her she was going to die if she tried something risky - suggested we go to a bike store. It was there that we met her. My love. She was seven years old. And black. And beautiful. I wanted her. I knew she wanted me. And I found myself in this strange euphoria when Connie said, "OK, let's buy it."

You can just DO things like that? Without planning and fretting?

I had that bike for eight years, and I found out two really important things. One, Viragos (at least ones built in 1987) are not very comfortable. I didn't do too many long distance trips. Two, when you live in the city - especially when your office is within a half mile of Wrigley Field - there is no better transportation than a motorcycle. You can park them anywhere. As much as I got off on the exhilaration of flying down the street on a beautiful day, I get off just as much from the beauty of practicality and efficiency. And there is nothing sweeter to me than something that serves multiple - and equally important - functions.

Then I got pregnant. And it occurred to me that they don't sell infant seats for motorcycles.

Really, it was the practicality that got me first. We weren't living in the city anymore, and there was no way my ass was going to survive the 60-mile round-trip commute to my office. The bike would just sit in my garage, unused, while I strapped my twins into the car seats of my new minivan. I supposed I could drive it to Walgreens, or the bagel store as Connie stayed home with the girls, but that seemed rather sad.

So one late fall afternoon, when I was six months pregnant, but not yet on bed rest, Connie and I took my beautiful Virago out for one last ride around our neighborhood streets, before the truck came to take the bike to California, where Connie's son was going to school. It was also a perfect bike for beach towns and college campuses. He would do well with it.

Then came the day when Connie decided to impress our daughters with how cool she thought their mother was. The girls were about three or four, and as the three of them were walking down the street, a motorcycle passed. And she said, "You know, your mother used to have a motorcycle."

When my children burst in the door, their astonishment and joy and excitement and admiration blew me away. Yet the realization that they now knew it was OK to ride a motorcycle made my heart freeze and my stomach drop.

You can die riding those things.

They didn't have the road warrior training that I'd had. If they get a bike when they're 30 and past the teenage anger and compulsiveness, that might be one thing. But knowing, even before you can drive - even before you know how to ride a bike - that motorcycles are something you could imagine in your future. No. Not my children.

No more motorcycle dreams.

As the girls have gotten older and my car ricketier, I now wish I had kept that Virago - or traded it in for something a tad more comfortable. So what if I would only ride it every once in a while - or when my car was in the shop. And my kids are not rash. They listen very carefully about road rules when we ride our bikes around the streets of our town. Teaching them early is the key to safety.

And then I saw the little blurb about the International Motorcycle Show in Rosemont. It's this weekend, and I thought, "I could take the girls." Then I thought, "It's not practical. I can't afford it. And I don't want to put ideas into their heads."

And yet...

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

That Sinking Feeling (or the effect of grandparents)

You should always own up to your lies. That's what my grandfather taught me.

Grandparents have special import in our family. My children are named after all four of mine, and when the girls were little my parents gave them each lockets with tiny pictures of the couple whose name (at least in Hebrew) they carry on.

My daughters have also heard stories about my special connection to my mother's dad, who thought that I was the smartest, funniest, boldest little girl he'd ever known. I thought he was the wisest man in the world, despite the fact that he never went to high school. He adored me. And I adored him. He had a tremendous influence on who I am. And my daughters get the benefit of his self-deprecating humor. The Kaufman girls know how to laugh at themselves.

Dixon has his smile or, more accurately, what we used to call his shit-ass grin. My grandfather was wild when he was a kid, and mischievous even when I knew him, but he always told the truth. He couldn't help it. His grin would always give him away. As does Dixon's.

My girls only have one set of grandparents. And the mutual adoration is a bit much to take sometimes. When my folks visit, I tend to stay home and do all the things I've been wanting to get to, while the four of them happily go off and do something. OK, while the four of them happily go off and shop. Because shopping and style are surely the legacies that my children are going to take away from their grandparents.

And that's OK. Dixon has a unique personal style, and has been saying since she was three that she wants to be a fashion designer. She has an acute eye, and I rarely go on a date without asking Dixon how I look.

I do not have a sense of style. I'm a dyke. And I'm stubborn – another legacy of my grandfather. When I was a teenager, my mother took me shopping every Saturday and I figured that if she was going to torture me in this way, I was going to be as miserable as possible just to torture her back.

I learned a lot from those weekly outings, but it was a mix of things. I learned that my mother wanted me to be something I wasn't, and that neither of us really understood at the time who I really was. I also learned to be very sensitive to the criticism my mother gave me about how I looked. That was how she got me to go every weekend. And I've found that when you grow up, the impact of those criticisms doesn't go away.

But I also took away a vague idea about what style is, and a notion that I should try to look good – whatever that meant.

So, when my mother looked at me on my daughters' birthday this December and told me I needed new bras, I immediately knew she was right and that I was doing the world a disservice by walking out my door with saggy breasts in 2-year-old bras. Of course, I was also pissed off. I had just spent the day greeting all of the parents of the 14 people my kids had invited to the bowling party, and my mother picks just before we go out to dinner to tell me that my breasts are touching my knees?

Where are the days when she wouldn't let me out of the house with holes in my jeans!

I immediately got new bras and asked the girls to please let me know when they thought I needed to replace them. Honesty is important in our house, even when it's not always complimentary. Taking yourself too seriously is deadly. It's laughter and truth that make happy people.

This truth thing came up last week with Dixon, who justified getting school hot lunches by telling me that they serve vegetables in every box. I asked her if she actually ate those vegetables. She told me she preferred not to answer that question. In the ensuing discussion I explained to her what the Fifth Amendment was, and that every American had the right to not have to tell if they were guilty of something. She pleaded the Fifth. Of course, I then told her that was just a legal technicality – anytime anyone pleads the Fifth, everybody knows he or she is guilty, they just can't use it in court. She looked at me, and then she said, “Let's talk about homework.”

Just like my grandfather would have done.

This morning it was my turn. My daughters bought cupcakes at the store on Saturday. There were six of them, and they carefully apportioned out who would get which cupcakes – three, of course, for each. But last night I noticed that they had only eaten one apiece. There were four left. And the cupcakes were already 2 ½ days old. They would be getting stale soon. So, in the spirit of the mischievous grin, I ate one, concocting a story I would tell them in the morning about little elves who came in and cleaned up the kitchen and must have helped themselves to the cupcake.

My daughters are 9 and, despite the fact that their favorite TV show is about mermaids, they didn't buy the elf story. Delaney, in particular, was outraged that I had eaten one, mostly because it was in her row. I suggested that the only solution was to sacrifice one of Dixon's to the little elves tonight.

“Mom,” said Delaney, “Tell the truth.”

“And don't take the Fifth,” Dixon chimed in. “We know you're guilty.”

Just as I was figuring out how to answer this, I noticed Delaney looking at me funny.

“Um... that shirt doesn't look good on you.”

“Really?” I said. “Should I change?”

“Tell us the truth and I'll answer you.”

Seriously? She seriously decided to prey upon my blindside for style to get me to fess up to the cupcakes? I was caught between my desire to surreptitiously eat my children's treats and my desire not to walk out of the house with my mother's disapproval ringing in my ears. She had me, and what was worse was the realization that she was completely believable. Dixon might be a designer, but Delaney has the makings of a remarkable actor. Frankly, that scared me more than being caught with the cupcake.

“Yes. I ate it. Happy?”


“Good.” I paused.

“So how's my shirt?”

I'm thinking now that perhaps my daughters should spend a little less time with their grandparents.