Second Social Occasion

April 27, 2009

On Saturday, we had another social occasion. I had nothing to do with organizing it. My daughter (known as “Mama” to Random Granddaughter) called in the morning to tell us that she, “Mommy” (as her out-of-law partner is known to her birth daughter, RG) and Random Granddaughter were attending a get together at a rented beach vacation house on the West side of our island. (My wife and I live a mile from the water in the woods on the East side of our island.) The occasion was being hosted by the co-dads and their families. Mrs. Random and I were invited.

Despite some confusion with directions, we eventually found our way to a large and fancy beach house. The families had gone for a hike in a state park and joined us about half an hour later.

Two family groups attended besides my wife and I and our barely extended family of Mama, Mommy and RG.One group consisted of:

Sperm Donor-Dad/, his mom, his brother, and his brother’s wife, and C, their eight-year-old daughter (hence RG’s cousin)..

Mom is a clinical psychologist at a hospital in Oregon (a degree she achieved and a profession she adopted rather late in life).

Cousin C has a reputation as a bit of a challenging child. We saw some evidence of this, though she and RG did have a lot of wholesome fun together.

The second group consisted of RG’s Co-Dad and his mom and step dad. Step dad is a Methodist minister in a New England state. Mom has worked as a journalist among other things and is now involved in helping out with her husband’s church.

Everyone was in a happy vacation mood and except for cousin C having a tantrum as they were leaving we all had a jolly and happy time.

One of the criticisms of homosexuals becoming parents (as Mommy and Mama have done) is that children are not exposed to parental figures of both sexes and thus will not develop in a normal way.

There are many points that can be discussed in this regard…

For example, both David Rochester and I had anything but a normal development in regard to our parental units. I dare say this is true for a large part of the population of the United States, not to mention the world. I am not sure what goes on in the rest of the universe, but I am not optimistic.

I thought about this as I saw RG happily sitting on a couch alternately cuddling her co-dads and roughhousing with them.

The good news is that RG has two male parental figures in her life whom she loves and respects. The bad news is that she is growing up to regard two homosexual men as suitable affection objects and as admirable role models. How messed up is this little girl going to be as she grows up?

It is very hard to conceive. For that matter, RG was conceived in a very strange way, involving a test tube. As I often say, she is a science fiction child in a science fiction family of the far out future, except what was my far future is right here right now.

 

Back to the brunch for my favorite volunteers, Mary from Peru and S (and her husband F) from Romania.

Now that S from Romania has a job, she and her husband bought a house. Just as my daughter when small had adopted aunts and Random Granddaughter has adopted aunts as well. For that matter, her sperm donor/dad and his co-dad are like adopted uncles. (As I’ve said, RG is much like a science fiction child of the future.)

S and her husband F have adopted nieces. On Saturday mornings S babysits three little girls who live next door. RG knows a few words of Spanish and we had discussed hola and adios with Mary from Peru, I asked S about the corresponding words in Romanian. They sounded very similar to salud and the Italian arrivederci to my clumsy ears.

I asked her husband, F, about his job at Microsoft. He talked about the operating system. It sounded to me as he has a very big propeller. I did not ask him details about his work as I would not understand it and if I could, I should not share it with you, because then I would have to kill you.

To go on safer ground, I asked S and F about Romania, though to stay on safer ground, I did not ask about politics or history. I asked what part of Romania they were from. They said they came from the second largest city, called Costanza.

Mary from Peru has become an American citizen, although as she then went to England for two weeks, I think she and her sisters, like my Aunt Naomi’s family, have become citizens of the world. However, as S and F started talking about Romania, it became obvious to me that they are rather homesick for their native land, and even though they have bought a house in American, I suspect they will return home one of these days, perhaps when they decide to start their own family.

My family asked about food in Romania. S and F said their favorite Romanian food in Romania was fish. “We eat fish all the time in Romania,” they said.

They talked about sturgeon and other fish in the Black Sea and they many rivers of Romania.

“Is the fish safe to eat?” someone in my family asked.

“Oh, yes,” they answered. I was a little skeptical, but I said nothing, as I avoid telling people from other countries about their countries. It is a good policy, I think. When I looked up Romania on Wikipedia, I found

 

Since almost half of all forests in Romania (13% of the country) have been managed for watershed conservation rather than production, Romania has one of the largest areas of undisturbed forest in Europe.The integrity of Romanian forest ecosystems is indicated by the presence of the full range of European forest fauna, including 60% and 40% of all European brown bears and wolves, respectively.

 

[the] Danube Delta Reserve Biosphere is the largest and least damaged wetland complex in Europe,

 

S asked about my daughter’s job and her school plans to study statistics. F then asked Random Granddaughter what she plans to do when she grows up.

 

RG had been listening very quietly to all the adult conversation. Later, my wife said to me, “I think RG must have been very bored because she was not the center of attention.” However, I think the situation is more complicated than that. RG likes to be the center of attention, but as an introvert she hates to be the center of attention. As a very intelligent child, she likes to participate in adult conversation, but sometimes becomes very flustered and embarrassed and fearful she is making a fool of herself in front of the adults.

 

Also, she surprised me. Up to now she has always answered the question with fire chief, train engineer, and ferry captain, but in answer to F’s question, she confidently answered, “I will be an artist.”

“What kind of art do you do?” F asked.

“I paint,” she answered. Mommy, a teacher, added, “RG is also thinking about becoming a teacher.”

Of course, everyone wanted to see some of RG’ art work. Mommy (Random Granddaughter’s birth mom and my daughter’s out of law partner) fetched some paintings.

RG held them up so everyone could see and pointed out people, Sylvie, (the family’s little black and white and world’s most affectionate cat), flowers and other interesting representations of her world.

 

The time had come for everyone to take their leave. We talked about getting together again. S and F often go hiking and camping on the north end of the large island where my wife and I live. (There is a beautiful park with wonderful trails and beaches in that area.) We talked about perhaps all of us going there for a hike in the summer.

Everyone took their leave. I felt that my efforts at organizing a social occasion had gone very well. After the guests left, my wife and I hugged Mama and Mommy and RG goodbye and headed home.

An Aunt Passes

April 22, 2009

 

I have three aunts on my father’s side: Diana, Naomi, and Henriette.

Diana, is most like my grandmother Agnes, a horrible narcissistic woman who may have ruined my father. Diana is in now a sanitarium with Alzheimer’s disease.

Henriette, the youngest of my three aunts, is still active and energetic in his 80s in New York City. She makes calendars to sell featuring reproductions of fine art she pulls from the Internet.

I bought her a computer and a fine printer so she can make her calendars. She has been paying me back at $30 a month. Her last check arrived Saturday. She proudly told me that she is half way to paying me back.

She also told me that it was sad about her sister, Naomi, thus informing me in this off-hand, roundabout way that Noami had died

Naomi was a force or nature. All of my three aunts were narcissistic personalities like their mom, but all of them turned out a little better than Agnes.

Naomi studied to be a ballet dancer. She reached the apex of her career when she danced in the chorus line of a road company production of the musical Oklahoma. She moved to California (I suspect to try and get into the movies), but then she divorced her first husband (whom I never knew).

One day she was at a party and she met Donald. Donald was about ten years younger than Naomi. He was an engineer and a cowboy from a California high desert pioneer family that owned a ranch near Hemet, California.

As soon as he saw Naomi, Donald asked her to dance with him, even though he could not dance a bit and Naomi, a ballet dancer, danced very well. As they stumbled around the dance floor, he told her, “I want you to marry me.”

Isn’t that one of the most romantic stories you ever heard?

So Noami married him.

Most of the time, Donald was very quiet. As a product of a cowboy family, he was the strong, silent type. Although he didn’t say much, when he did speak, it sounded very profound. Naomi sometimes said, “Donald is very deep.”

As one of three narcissistic sisters, she had met her match and brought out the best in each other and counteracted each other’s worst tendencies.

Their two daughters, Joanna and Valerie, turned out very well. I always thought of them, the product of a Chicago Jewish family of alternative health nuts and a California high-desert pioneer ranching family, as an example of “hybrid vigor.”

 

 

They lived in Fullerton, California for many years. Naomi ran a dance studio for during most of that time, teaching children to dance ballet and to tap dance. Donald went back to school and switched from being an engineer to being a chiropractor.

After a while they decided to become citizens of the world. They moved to England, then Sri Lanka, then India, and then to Australia. We lost track of them and they lost track of us. Donald became a professor of chiropractic at an Australian college. Valerie became a chiropractor like her dad, and married an Australian chiropractor.

Joanna, like my brother B, was good at learning languages. After becoming fluent in French and Spanish, she said, “Those were too easy. I am going to learn Chinese.”

Joanna moved to Taiwan and became fluent in Taiwanese Chinese and Mandarin Chinese. She started working as a translator and international deal maker, helping American companies and Taiwanese companies set up business arrangements. She met and married Kenny, a Taiwanese businessman. They started a company called Graco which makse baby furniture and baby strollers. They became millionaires. (Most of my relatives remain poor all their lives, but my cousin Joanna became a millionaire and my mother’s brother George Perle, an obscurely famous composer did pretty well also, being awarded a Pulitzer Prize in composition and a MacArthur Genius Award, honors which also pay pretty well.)

Similar to her parents, Joanna had two daughters. The youngest was born almost deaf. Joanna took her daughter to Australia, where she was the first Taiwanese child to have a cochlear implant. Joanna was so grateful that her daughter learned to hear that she decided to use her millions to set up a foundation so every deaf child born in Taiwan who can be helped by cochlear implants gets one and follow-up training. Unfortunately, Joanna died of breast cancer some years ago, but her foundation lives on. Her two daughters attended the “American School” in Taipei, Taiwan. The school built a library and named it the “Joanna Nichols Memorial Library” after my cousin.

My aunt Naomi, as I’ve said, was a force of nature. She was a person who engaged in relentless self-improvement, studying yoga, becoming a vegetarian, and following just about every plan she could find intended to defeat death and decay. I think she really hoped to live forever. She told me once that she died on the operating table during heart surgery in Taiwan and had the “going toward the light” experience that many people who have Near-Death Experiences report.

However, it discouraged her greatly when her daughter died before she did. Eventually, Naomi and Donald moved to Australia. Her hips gave out and Naomi the ballet dancer and relentless physical fitness follower became a cripple in her last years, cared for by her younger husband, my uncle-in-law, Donald.

In her last letter, Henriette informed me that Naomi died recently. I hope Aunt Naomi found the light she was going for.

RG’s Easter

April 20, 2009

 

I will interrupt my tale of the brunch at the mommies’ house with my two favorite volunteers with two other tales, and then return to the story in a little while.

First, I will tell you about RG’s Easter.

On Easter night, we received a phone call from the mommies. “Happy Easter!” they both said.

Then we heard the voice of Random Granddaughter on the phone. Her phone skills have evolved to a considerable degree. She often answers the phone when it rings at her house in a very adult way.

She began to tell us about coloring Easter eggs, and aboug participating in an Easter egg hunt at a friend’s house.

However, she seemed a bit distracted, and got off the phone fairly quickly.

My daughter said, “RG has a lap full of chocolate Easter egg candy and her mouth is full.”

As they do with Halloween, the mommies tell RG that she can eat as much candy of the candy as whe wants on the night of the holiday and then it will disappear.

We wonder, will this encourage her to become a binge junk food consumer as she gets older, or will it teach her to control such impulses as she gets older?

Then Random Daughter said, “She kept a secret from us for a week. It’s the longest time she’s kept a secret.”

The latest grandma had flown out to visit. If one’s child is in an unusual relationship–in our case, living with another woman–our society doesn’t really have words to describe the various relationships that result.

To some extent this is also true of “conventional” relationships as well. For example, I am not sure why we say mother and father in law but never uncle or aunt in law.

In our case, where my daughter and her partner have never tried to engage in “gay marriage” or even civil union (though they generally treat each other quite well) I have taken to calling her partner “Mommy” because that is what her birth daughter calls her and my daughter “Mama” because that is what her partner’s birth daughter calls her. I have taken to calling Mommy “Mama’s out of law partner.”

Mama, who has legally adopted her partner’s daughter might also be called a “co-mom,” I suppose.

RG knows her sperm donor by his first name and regards him as a sort of uncle, though she figured out that he is her “dad” by the time she was three years old. (She is a very bright little girl. As I have mentioned, her IQ has been measured at the age of four and it is almost off the charts. However, my wife and I don’t believe in wearing bumper stickers on our truck, so our truck’s bumper doesn’t say, “Our grandchild is smarter than your grandchild.” Also, RG is very tall for her age, so our non-existent bumper sticker doesn’t say, “Our grandchild can beat up your grandchild.” After all, we have been training her not to hit other children, at least not without plenty of provocation. I don’t know what she will do if other children say to her, “Your mamas wear army boots.”

Anyway, her sperm/donor/uncle/dad has a regular partner–what shall we call him–“co-dad?” This new grandpa lives in Connecticut and is a minister, so he was pretty busy on Easter. However, his wife, the newest grandma, flew out to visit her granddaughter (after all, wouldn’t you fly across the country to visit if you had such a splendid grandaughter)? And when she arrived, she told RG, “I have a surprise for your mommies. It’s an Easter basket. Don’t tell them, so we can make it a surprise.”

So RG kept it a surprise for a week.

Like the candy splurge, is this a good thing for RG to learn? Secrets may be fine for a five-year-old to keep, but what about when she turns 15?

I guess we will cross that bridge–or ride that ferry–when we get to it. Stay tuned.

 

When S from Romania and her husband F arrived, I was relieved. When they got lost trying to find the mommies’ house and thought about giving up, I had feared they might “bail” on us and not come.

I had been very curious to meet her husband. When he arrived, he struck me as a pleasant and presentable gentleman. In fact, he looked a little to my eyes like Tom Cruise, except not blow-dried and packaged by a Hollywood studio. (When I later mentioned this impression to my wife she told me I am completely incorrect, as she often does.)

S, who is usually very organized and on top of things, was very embarrassed at getting the address wrong. She began to explain that she had used a Live Search map and the map was stuck on a previous address search and kept taking them to the wrong place.

In part to get her to relax, and in part because it is the absolute truth, I said, “When I worked for the library system, my job required me to visit many locations all over a large county (larger than three states). I have a terrible sense of direction and bad eyes that are getting worse. I cannot tell you how many times I got lost. I printed out many maps and drove dangerously trying to look at a map on the seat next to me without  running into buildings and other cars as I wandered lost. When I had to go to new locations, I would leave an hour early and still get lost and still arrive late. Welcome to the club of people who get lost all the time. Also, as I am dyslexic, I might have transposed numbers when I gave you the address, so you’re being late is probably all my fault.”

S replied, “Mary found her way here. It is our fault, not yours.” She said she had eaten earlier and declined to to eat any of our brunch, though her husband did eat some of the quiche and a muffin.

I asked S about her job. She had indeed received a graduate degree from the University of Washington, and then had been hired by the medical school. I am not sure I understand her job, but it involves something to do with distance learning.

She said, “At first, I thought of this as a temporary job and then I thought I would move on to something else.” She hinted that the something else would have involved working for Microsoft (as her husband does). “However, once I started my job at the medical school, I found I love it. I am having a great time.”

My daughter asked about the physical location where S works in the medical school. My daughter is enrolling in graduate school in the fall at the medical school to study “medical genetics.” My daughter said, “I have gone to the building where you work a couple of times for interviews while I was applying and it seemed very easy to get lost in this building.”

S said it is indeed very easy to get lost. “Fortunately, I work in a little temporary ‘portable’ building outside the the main building. When I moved in, the little ‘portable’ building was a terrible mess with furniture that had been dumped there and old papers tacked to the wall and old files piled in corners and it had obviously not been cleaned for a long time, if ever. However, I am the only person there and so I get to set it up the way I like and get my work done without being interrupted, so I love it.”

As I’ve mentioned, S speaks English very well with a slight (and charming) accent. Her English is not only articulate and correct, but also quite colloquial. In the years I have known her, I have sometimes played a little game with her. I will mention some obscure American slang term and ask if she knows it (under the disingenuous excuse of helping her improve her English, which is already probably better than mine, not to mention that my grasp of American slang is probably more out of date than hers). As she described cleaning up the portable building, I said, “The colloquial term in English for what you encountered is “grody.”

 

 

 

Everybody, including Random Granddaughter, got the look on their face that communicates, “Oh, that’s just Grandpa. Ignore him.”

I ignored their looks (as I usually do) and said, “I invited S to our brunch because I consider her an intelligent and charming person and enjoy her company and I figured anybody she would choose to marry would be an intelligent and charming person, and I figured everybody in my family would enjoy her company as much as I do. However, I had an hidden agenda as well, which I will now reveal. My daughter will be attending the medical school this fall, and I think it will be wonderful for her to arrive and know somebody who works there already. If nothing else, she can call S and say, ‘Hi, I am lost in the medical school building. Please guide me.'”

S said, “I will be glad to do so. Let me give everybody my card with my phone number.”

 

Next; S and F talk about Romania.

 

 

I have known S from Romania for almost ten years. She was one of the first volunteers and I worked with and one of the best.

As a person with no skills at learning other languages, when I am around people who speak several languages fluently, I want to fall down at their feet and worship them. Similar to my daughter’s good friend, AnninaNokia (Annina’s husband works for Nokia but I have to say this because David likes to hear it), S speaks English with a slight accent and great fluency.

She is usually in the midst of a great hubbub of activities and projects, some involving good deeds, some involving self-improvement, and some involving her professional advancement. Along with whirlwind of activity, she is very intelligent and very charismatic.

 

S and F left Romania and emigrated to Canada some years ago. As in the case of Peru, I have a tiny bit of superficial knowledge about the country’s tumultuous history from reading. After World War II, Romania fell under the sway of the Soviet Union and suffered terribly under the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife Elena. From Wikipedia:

 

Nicolae Ceauşescu (pronounced [ni.koˈla.e tʃa.uˈʃes.ku]) (January 26, 1918 – December 25, 1989) was the Secretary General of the Romanian Workers’ Party, later the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 until 1989, President of the Council of State from 1967 and President of Romania from 1974 until 1989. His rule was marked in the first decade by an open policy towards Western Europe and the United States of America, which deviated from that of the other Warsaw Pact states during the Cold War. His second decade was characterized by an increasingly erratic personality cult, extreme nationalism and a deterioration in foreign relations with Western powers and also with the Soviet Union. Ceauşescu’s government was overthrown in December 1989, and he was shot following a two-hour session by a military court

 

I have never asked S about her childhood in Romania or about her feelings about the country’s history.

 

I met S about 8 years ago. She was one of the earliest volunteers I worked with. From the start I was struck by her intelligence and charm. From time to time, she told me what a good teacher I am and how much she was learning from observing me. I am very susceptible to flattery, so I was very suspicious that I was being manipulated.

However, it was quickly clear to me that she is an effective teacher, and it was clear that she was very kind and patient with the students she worked with. Ghandi has been attributed with saying, Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so if she was flattering me, she passed that test as well.

 

One of the classes I taught was Excel. My knowledge of Excel does not exceed the Dummies Guide to Excel level by a long amount. Occasionally, a student would ask me a question that far exceeded my skill and knowledge

I would pass the question on to S and in a day or two, she would provide an accurate and clear answer.

 

It is often the case that companies such as Microsoft and Boeing hire highly educated/skilled workers from countries outside of the United States and secure special work permits for them known as H-1B permits. In working with volunteers, I frequently met highly educated and skilled women whose husbands had come to the United States through such permits. Even when the wife’s educational background was equal to her husband’s, the women were seldom able to get work permits. Volunteering for the library as teachers allowed them to engage in useful, worthwhile, and interesting work.

In S’s case,it was clear that she chafed at not being able to get a job and exercise her skills fully.

 

Eventually, she decided to return to school and get a graduate degree in hope of getting a work permit and a job. She enrolled at the University of Washington in a graduate program in a program similar to an MBA, but slightly more slanted toward computers and data processing.

 

With her intelligence, charm, and formidable work habits, I expected S to do well in graduate school, but I lost touch with her. As I neared retirement, and thought about keeping in touch with Mary I thought of S as well, so I sent her an email and asked if she and her husband would be receptive to joining the mommies and RG and my wife and I for a weekend meal at the mommies’ house.

When I had last been in contact with S, she had told me that 1) she and her husband were thinking of buying a house and 2) she was thinking of having a child. I calculated she might be interested in seeing the mommies’ house and in meeting wonder child Random Granddaughter.

 

While we were eating the brunch and conversing with Mary, the phone rang. I had given the mommies’ phone number to our guests, so I guessed it might be S from Romania.

Indeed it was. From the conversation, I understood that she might have had trouble finding the mommies’ house. 65th Street is one of the main cross streets near where they live. S and her husband F were at 165th Street, perhaps 20 miles away.

From the conversation, it was clear S and F were discouraged and embarrassed by being so late and thinking about not trying to come. Mommy told them to come, and I spoke loudly so they might hear my voice, and said, “Please come. It will be fine.”

 

As we waited, Mary continued to tell us about her life in America. After she received her Master’s Degree in industrial engineering, she was hired by a large utility company that serves several counties, including the island where my life and I live. As our electricity goes out frequently from wind storms, I once told Mary, “The next time our power goes out, I will call you and ask you to come over to get it up again.”

She replied, “I’m sorry, I work in the natural gas department; I won’t be able to help you.”

 

At the brunch, I asked Mary about how her company is holding up with the economic troubles. Had they started to lay anybody off?

She said they had not layoffs, but their planning had been thrown into turmoil. All their plans were based on forecasts of continuing growth and for lots of news houses (and thus lots of demand for more power hookups).

Mary said she is going to England in April. She will see her sister who now lives in London. I thought her sister was a linguist, but Mary said she is a statistician. I brought my daughter into the conversation, mentioning that she will be studying statistics in graduate school this fall.

Mary has two weeks of vacation coming, so she plans to spend two weeks in London; one week to see her sister, the second just to travel around in England.

Mary’s boss asked her if she really needed two weeks of vacation, she said. This sounded very crazy to me, but as most of the bosses I have had in my 17 different jobs while I was working were crazy, it also sounded perfectly normal to me.

In any case, Mary is very stubborn (though very polite), so she always does as she pleases and seems to be quite unperturbed when someone else disapproves. If she becomes one of Random Granddaughter’s “adopted aunts” (a tradition in my family) this may be a good model for her to role for RG.

At this point, S and F, our guests from Romania, finally arrived.