My husband Dom alleges that french fries don’t appear out of thin air, chicken nuggets need to be breaded or something, and salads are good for you. That it takes a lot to make a stew. It’s by piecing a meal together, one ingredient at a time, that the end product can then be enjoyed. It makes me wonder if parenting isn’t much of the same.
Dom says that cooking is all about trial and error, combining the things you like best from dishes you’ve had before, and being willing to try new things. As days turn to weeks and months and years, and as we get to know more and more men and women with children, we’ve been watching and absorbing, working on our own recipe for the kinds of parents we’d like to be. Well, okay, we’re mostly just stealing the good stuff, and we’ll take credit for it later.
Our neighbor Donna, whose son Rocco rose to Gays With Kids fame in the piece, “The Kid Next Door,” is a mom worth mentioning. Donna has become one of my closest friends, but it’s Donna’s mother Inez that we should talk about for a moment. (Because lord knows that if I talk about Rocco anymore in one of these pieces, or post another picture of him on social media, either you as readers or my friends and family will run me out of town on a rail.)
So instead, we focus on Inez. Nanny, as she’s called. You see, it’s from Inez that we’ve learned about the sacrifices a family makes to support itself. Both Donna and her husband Paul work to support their family, and it’s Inez who is next door with Rocco on mornings, or some nights, to play with him, to read to him, to watch "Frozen," again, with him. Inez lives over an hour away, and makes the trek not just to spend time with her grandson, but to help her daughter and son-in-law. She drives here when it’s dark, when it’s cold, when it’s snowy. It’s there on the Garden State Parkway that you’ll find Inez behind the wheel, because she loves her family and will do whatever she can to be the most helpful.
I’ve watched Inez work on flash cards with Rocco for over an hour, with her back aching she’s lifted him off the ground over and over and into her arms, and dropped everything to help support her daughter in a pinch. As a grandmother, she’s developed her own language with Rocco, and they speak back and forth with words I’ve never heard. It’s a language that makes me remember that one day Dom and I will have a dialogue with a child that is uniquely ours. “Dippy” is diaper. “Pop pop” is popcorn. “Peeshy” is…well, you probably can guess that one.
Inez is a veritable trinity of inspiration, and we have seen the effort she puts into being a woman, a mother, and a grandmother. And all of it done without question, without hesitation, without remuneration. It should also be mentioned that Rocco is only one of several grandchildren for whom the same grace and love is shown and given. Sacrifice, versatility, and support. Boom.
Over two thousand miles away, Dom’s cousin Joey lives on the beaches of Southern California, married to his wife Jen, with their gorgeous daughters Emily and Andie Lynn. Their family is such an inspiration to us, because it shows us that balance, open-mindedness, and a sense of humor are all among the most crucial of ingredients when putting together a recipe for exceptional parenting.
In their relationship, they’ve decided that Joe is the stay-at-home dad and house-husband. Jen, besides being the most beautiful ginger on any coast, East or West, sits in California traffic for hours every day to go out to work. They are a young couple, married for little more than a handful of years, and they’ve managed to make their day-to-day routines not just work, but really and truly thrive. Joey is probably one of the first people who confirmed to me and my husband that men can do the work of parenting just as well as women, and that the balance in a relationship is set by the two people in that relationship, period.
Joey has worked on the beach, in a bike shop, and has sewn sails. He’s made dinner, and changed diapers, and been covered in baby spit-up. Because that’s what his family needs him to do.
Besides the obvious tips (“Be careful when using Method Dish Soap. Yea it smells nice and does the job well enough at an okay price. But more times than not the soap has a shooting range of 3 feet”), Joe has allowed us to see that men don’t have to just survive parenthood, they can actually be pretty damn good at it. That juggling isn’t struggling.
Reading about the ways in which Joey handles being a dad, a husband, a brother, and an avid surfer aren’t just inspirational, they motivate us to take those attributes that work best in their household, and to ready them for the eventual arrival of our own little boy or girl. For more on the ways Joey’s rocking and rolling as a stay-at-home dad, and the occasional shirtless pic, gay dads, you can check out his blog here.
That brings us to Judy, one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Judy and her husband Dave adopted their daughter Liz, and son Zak. Liz and I dated for six weeks in sixth grade, culminating in the most romantic date a middle school boy could have: going to see “Muppet Treasure Island” together. Thanks Gonzo, I’m now married to a man, and Liz dates girls. That’s the kind of clarity only a Muppet movie can provide.
Liz’s younger brother Zak is another character altogether, and through our relationship, I’ve learned that life on the autism spectrum presents gifts and lessons for everyone lucky enough to know him.
Judy balances work as a speech pathologist, being President of two separate Boards of Education, and living with an adult child with special needs. And really, to call that “balancing” doesn’t do it justice. I’ve seen the way Judy adjusts on the fly when Zak is having a moment that requires more attention, I’ve watched the ways she’s encouraged his passion in hockey, and I’ve seen her brought to tears by ignorant comments made about her lesbian daughter and autistic son.
Judy knows, and has taught us, taught me, can teach you, one of the most valuable lessons. Speaking quietly means that even though less people might hear you, more people will actually listen to you, and the best ingredient in any parenting cookbook will always be unconditional love, dispensed freely, with a little salt to taste.
And I will disclose, with no hesitation, that Judy has been every bit a mother to a young boy from a poor home with nicotine-stained walls and little else, who grew into a man on his own road to showing a child that a family isn’t exclusively your biology, but the people you find, and who find you. And boy, if that isn’t a lesson worth learning, and then teaching, nothing is.
It’s said too much that those who don’t learn from their mistakes are bound to repeat them. For us, it’s almost the opposite. We’re focusing on all the things we do want to repeat, learned from the inspirational teachers all around us.
And to say we’ve been blessed in getting to see the footprints in the sand from all the gay dads we’ve gotten to know during this process, doesn’t even scratch the surface of how appreciative and lucky we know we are. We are putting together a recipe for parenthood that will be a twist, our own unique take, on recipes you’ve invented. And while parenting can sometimes feel like a 30-Man Over-The-Top-Rope Royal Rumble, for you all as parents, just know that there are those of us on the sidelines, furiously scribbling notes and trying to be as much of a sponge as possible.
So while we are now beginning our home study, we’ve taken stock of everything in our pantries, both physical and emotional. And if it’s good enough the first time around, hey, you never know, maybe there’s enough for seconds.