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This May Not Make Me More Friends

In case you haven’t heard, I am queer as fuck. Relentlessly gay with a twist, flannel and skirts, Docs and eco-friendly glitter.

I have a kid. Her papa and I named her Lucy, it seems to fit. It might not always, and that’s ok. We call her “her,” and the same applies. I tend to stick to more neutral language but for pronouns with her; she’s my sweet baby, my smart kiddo, my helpful kid.

I never really thought much about teaching her the words for “man” and “woman” until she came home from daycare last spring and I realized she called men “daddy” and women “mommy.” It made for a few interesting interactions when she’d babble at some guy walking by with his girlfriend and Lucy would point and shout “Daddy! Daddy!” 

I’m not the only solo parent at her daycare; there’s at least one other mom who is also a widow. We’ve connected on a very superficial level and I made it a point to remember her name. Other than that, If the holiday cards are any indication, the percentage of two-parent, heteronormative nuclear family units is quite high. I may be the only openly queer parent, but maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. Or it didn’t, until Today.

Her daycare, now preschool, knows I’m queer and a widow. They know I wear some sort of crystal every day, that I’m a writer, and that I don’t live in town. I doubt they know I am witchy, and I’m certain they don’t know about my late wife’s evangelical upbringing and subsequent church-induced trauma. If they had the slightest idea of what my reaction would be, Tuesday would not have gone down the same way.

It was the first time a glossy invitation came home in Lucy’s lunchbox. I know this is how they distribute birthday party invitations to the parents, because all the kids’ lunchboxes goes home at the end of the day. The parents hand the stack to the teacher, and when the kids are napping or aren’t in the room, the teacher tucks one into each lunchbox. Boom, invitations sent, no stamps or even personal interaction with other parents necessary.

My first thought, “Aww, her first invitation!” was quickly replaced by a swift kick of guilt that I hadn’t gotten her birthday invitations out yet. I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for time ahead of invitations for kids’ birthdays, but I figured around 3 weeks was sufficient. I added the task to my to-so list absently as I looked at the invitation. Something felt wrong; it took me a second to notice there was no information about a kid’s name, birthday, or anything. There was a picture of a kid, maybe 6 or 7, on a mechanical bull wearing a cowboy costume. That was my first warning bell. I flipped it over and saw some activities listed, encouraging kid-friendly Halloween costumes, games, and food options. It was a free community event, but it didn’t say who was throwing it, just that all were invited. 

Then, there it was, the mark of the beast. In the bottom right hand corner was a tiny logo for a church. The warning bells rang in triumph.

The tiny human that won’t stop growing suddenly ran in, distracting me for the moment from diving deeper. She didn’t care about the invitation at all. Seeing as she can’t read yet, it was just a picture on thick paper, and she wasn’t particularly impressed. 

We had a quiet evening; watched her favorite show, read some books, colored some pictures. It wasn’t until after I put her to bed that I remembered the invitation. The initial urge of wanting to say something to the teachers had passed. I didn’t want to create a scene, and I was sure there was no harm intended. Still, I was curious if I had been right in my initial thinking.

I looked up the church and saw familiar language and practices – dedication of infants, the distancing of baptism from salvation, the term “Christ-follower.” All the FAQ were answered carefully; too carefully, for my recovering Catholic brain. Ah, there it is: “proud members of the Covenant Church.” It wasn’t until I clicked on that link that the word “evangelical” finally came into view. It took just two more minutes for me to learn that the Covenant Church had voted to “involuntary remove” two churches from the denomination for continuing to perform and support same-sex marriages. The vote for removal had occurred in the last week. 

Four clicks. It had taken me just four clicks from the initial website to find the evidence I’d suspected; granted, I had the breadcrumbs, and I knew what I was looking for. I almost wished I hadn’t looked into it, because now, I definitely felt like I had to say something. 

This time, Lucy wasn’t affected. She is still learning her letters, and learning that they can be tumbled together into so many words; words that make stories and books and invitations – and messages. Messages that deny the full personhood of our family in multiple ways. 

What’s going to happen when she can read, and she sees this party she wants to go to? It looks like fun! There’s costumes and Halloween activities, food and friends. That will be the day she starts to figure out why we don’t eat at Chik-Fil-A, why we live in New England and always will, why calling her other parent ‘Papa’ draws quizzical looks. She will learn that the rainbow flag doesn’t hang in every house; that rainbows in general mean more than beauty; that the books on her shelf are not found in every kid’s room. She will learn that there is intolerance and hate in the world, and it directly affects her family. She will understand what she has heard many times before – the first Pride was a riot, love is love, and why when she calls other people “mommies and daddies” I correct her to “people.” 

That day is coming. As an inherently queer parent, I have to acknowledge and accept that, just as much as I do that the day will come when she no longer believes in Santa. As a single femme queer parent, she’s protected from much of what she may otherwise see, what I (and especially Hawthorne) have seen. I have a cloak of invisibility in my femininity and single womanhood. Gaydar aside, it’s very possible to look at me and see what is still taken as the norm – a tired single mom. The heteronormativity is implied and expected, which is in part why I try to live my life in a way that screams GAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY. I say this with my politics and my paycheck. I say it with my signature on petitions, with my attendance or lack thereof at events, with memes and blogs and whenever I have the chance. I say it when I take my kiddo to Pride, when I buy her rainbow princess dresses and toddler boy’s pants, when we talk about her Papa. My queerness is absolutely integral to my identity, my life, and my parenting. I love my queerness, and I’m privileged enough to be safe in celebrating it every day. I have a very real fear that this will not always be the case, so I will be as loud as I can about it for as long as I can, and I will show my daughter those ways. 

I have asked my daughter’s preschool to refrain from sending home anything else from any faith-based organization. A blanket request; I don’t think a secular preschool should be handing out anything with religious affiliation at all. Plus, in my experience (and yes, more than this one), it is the evangelical denominations of Christianity that find it acceptable to recruit through children. There are those out there reading this who may be thinking, “You’re overreacting! It’s just a free community event, it’s not recruiting! It’s just a nice thing for the community!” To them, I say that, if that were true, why would an organization go to the trouble and expense of having quality paper invitations designed, printed in bulk, and given to members to be distributed? There has to be some return on investment expected.

The teachers were both wholly accommodating and surprised; as I suspected, they weren’t aware it was from a church. One of parents had asked if they could give out invitations to this free community event. Additionally, I don’t think the parents would necessarily recognize this as I do, but who knows? I certainly don’t know any of them. Since it seems there is at least one family that aligns with not recognizing mine, I’m in no particular hurry to get to know any of them any time soon. 

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My Apologies to Anne Shirley Cuthbert

October is unpacking her bags, filling up the dark corners of my mind. She is wily; she smiles with knowing eyes and bared teeth, as she knows she is right on time. She makes herself at home, walking over victories and bright memories and turning them to dust beneath her feet. She tucks sharp, intrusive thoughts into hidden nooks and settles words that bite like vicious rats into their daytime cages. She crowds the space with self-doubt and unhappy history until there is no room left for the light to wind through. Seratonin maintains its feeble protest at the edges, still present because it has no choice, but rightfully intimidated. 

I hate October.

I used to think it was because it marked the death of my father, now sixteen years gone. It bleeds into winter, and the death anniversaries of my grandmother and my great-uncle. Our family is small, and the loss of those 3 people in a two-year span felt like a cleaver. We didn’t do holidays together anymore. My mother held hard feelings about the other family members around her perception of how much they cared; she was wrong, but the bridges had already burnt. I maintained contact with everyone; certainly no one had asked or intended, but I felt the pressure as the only thing keeping our family together at all. Now, I am keenly aware of that feeling in its new form after the losses of my father-in-law, my son, and my wife. I have almost no contact with my in-laws, and none of the wherewithal to try to span that chasm. 

I remember being afraid last year of what the dark winter would bring. I had been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder at some point, but I’m not sure I recognized it as such until last year. I would tremble on the way home and cry in the driveway, the baby sleeping in the back, at the thought of facing another night. It was less that it was another night alone, and more the unrelenting darkness. 

The first winter after Hawthorne had been so full of things to do – pack, move, find an apartment and a job, transition our whole lives to a new chapter. Seasonal symptoms were masked or obliterated by raw grief. I didn’t have the time, mental space, or energy to even think about anything else. I was still in therapy, and trying to find a therapist in my new state to move to. I had no local friends yet, and the first Covid vaccines had just been released for those at the highest risk, so most of my family was still hibernating. October’s manifestation had been silenced that year. 

I was anticipating it to be rough last year; bad, but not as bad as it was. I functioned; I took care of Lucy, I went to work. I made plans with people, had standing dates for dinner, and tried. The exhaustion felt different; it felt false and unearned. I felt robotic, and after I had gotten Lucy to sleep, could feel myself power down. I would put the TV on and tell myself I was invested in the show, pull the blanket up to my chin, and sleep. Most nights I wanted to stay there, not having the energy to get myself to bed, but the fear of withdrawal from not taking my antidepressants eventually pushed me to my room. 

One night in February, I called a help line. I wasn’t thinking of hurting myself; I already hurt enough. I did not want to kill myself, but the intrusive thoughts of simply not wanting to be alive anymore terrified me. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt this way; the last time I had, I’d gone to a peer mental health respite house. So that’s who I called. 

Just that connection, to a landline phone hundreds of miles away, tethered me back. Two things had just happened: I had called out for help in my weakest moment, and the call had been answered with love and compassion. At 11 PM on a February night, the first flicker of dawn shone gray through the deep and the dark. 

For the holiday season, I had gifted myself a solo writing retreat in a cabin in New Hampshire. That trip came less than two weeks after that phone call, and those two actions are definitely in the top 5 best things I have ever done for myself. That was when the light began to come back. The skies didn’t fully clear for another month, but hope began to grow in the frost-hard ground. 

This past week was a harsh reminder of last winter. I’d had flickers of worry over the spring and summer that this was going to be bad again, but I felt bolstered by the work I had done. I had spent five months waitlisted and am now working with a therapist who is incredibly well-suited for my needs. I have a network of friends and family, local and not-so-local. I have lists upon lists – self-care ideas, people to call, things I’m looking forward to. I’m making a tangible toolbox with these handwritten lists, colorful stones, pretty happy stickers, and my action plan, updated and yes, colorful. 

I have the tools, the supports, the plans to get through this upcoming winter as healthy as possible. I know who I can call when I’m sad, when I’m scared. I will be OK; it’s just that getting there is going to suuuuuuuck.

I don’t want to hate October. I’m not generally a pumpkin spice latte fanatic, but if not for the darkness, I’m much more L.M. Montgomery – I’m so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers. I like football, and apple picking, and fall fests and leaf peeping and all the beautiful benefits of living in New England in autumn. I try to fill my days with them, soaking as much sun in as I can before the light changes to gold, before the evening arrives earlier and earlier. 

The clocks will change soon. I’ll reset the three in the kitchen, the last I have that don’t update themselves. I’ll change the batteries in the closet lights so I can see my clothes without waking the little one who occasionally stumbles in for 2 AM snuggles. I’ll turn the heat on, weed the garden one last time for winter, and trim back the branches that have started to block the way to the trash bins. I’ll get Lucy a new heavy coat and new boots, and pack up my sundresses. Garland of leaves will be hung, costumes finished, birthday plans made. I will stand outside and stretch my arms out and lift my face to the thinning light, trying to warm myself like the cormorants on the rocks.

Spring will come, with its tulips and its birdsong. October will last exactly thirty-one days, and the following months at their prescribed intervals. Even in winter, the sun rises. 

I would have made a terrible Alaskan.