Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Secret

Someone going through a hard time in their marriage recently asked me, “Do you ever feel like you and Laura are barely holding it together? If not, what's your secret??”

A little guiltily, but without hesitation, my answer to the first question was no.  It was sort of strange to answer no to that question because I am a child of divorce, I never thought I wanted to get married and I never thought I wanted kids. That said, I have never had doubts about whether Laura and I will make it.  It still sort of trips me out.

My answer to the second question is kind of simple.

Laura and I get time together.
Without Simon.

And we do this by maximizing the resources available to us.

Laura and I have an incredible amount of resources. We both have families that not only accept our relationship, but cherish it and do everything possible to help it succeed. They have never made us individually or as a couple feel like we are “other”. As a queer couple, that sometimes feels like a freaking miracle. Because we grew up loved and supported, we are both comfortable being totally out as a queer couple, wherever we go. This seems like a little thing, but it actually allows us to live a full and happy life and go and do things freely as a family without the threat of "discovery" hanging over us.

Our parents give us time and they give us money and they give us listening ears. They help us keep it together. We have a close knit group of friends who love Simon like he’s their own. They watch him so we can get breaks, cook us food, make us laugh and show us buckets full of love. I have a fantastic boss who has the same values that I have about work/life balance.

This weekend, Laura and I made a decision to leave Simon at a medical facility with strangers so that we could have time alone to celebrate 6 years of marriage. We didn’t have to do this. We could have chosen to once again ask our devoted friends and family members to watch him. We could have chosen to not do anything to mark our anniversary. We could have chosen to just go out to dinner. But we didn’t. We decided to use the resources being offered to us (free respite care at the George Mark Children's House). And like most things in life, it was hard and it was good.

We arrived at the George Mark House on Friday night at about 6:30 p.m. It was pretty quiet, with staff  and one of the young people staying there (a very sweet 20 year old young woman) hanging at the nurses’ station.  After we got our bags settled in the Jungle Safari room and before we got to go swimming, we had to do a little intake process.

Like, with a nurse with a stethoscope and blood pressure machine. Like, because we were in an actual medical facility. Not a hotel. Riiiiiiight.

Simon was NOT happy about this. I ended up holding him on my lap, having him count as high as he could in three languages to get through the process. We never did get a blood pressure. By the end, he was a sweaty mess. We were a little rattled. I think we conveniently forgot that the whole reason we could blithely leave him here without lots of training of the people taking care of him was because he would be under the care of medical providers.

After that bump, we did the only logical thing to do. We went SWIMMING! They have a great 12 person hot tub that is set at about 90 degrees and lots of toys so we took a little dip before bed time. We could definitely get used to that!

We did bedtime with Simon in the Safari room

Then went into the main playroom/TV room to wait for him to fall asleep. A Dad of one of the kids that was there was in the room and he left as soon as we came in. It all felt a little awkward, being in other people’s space, having people in our space, being in a place that sometimes felt like a mansion and sometimes felt like a hospital. It was just weird. Good mostly, but definitely weird.

After a quiet night (save for Laura's head cold snuffling), Simon woke up at 7:30 a.m. and wanted to go to the playroom. We walked out to the nurses’ station and I coached Simon to ask for his food and meds, thinking they’d just hand everything over to me and that I’d do it. Instead, the nurse, whom we had not met before, told me she’d bring it to us. “Awesome”, I thought, because I wouldn’t have to measure everything out and draw all his meds. Someone else would do it for us!

An hour and a half later, we were still waiting. Not so awesome. I forgot. We were back in the medical world where you are at the mercy of other people for conveniences. You can’t just do what you want to do when you want to do it. And the day shift nurses are usually total hard-asses compared to the night nurses. This clearly held true for George Mark too. She was nice enough, but had that steely crispness and rigorous adherence to protocol that was welcome when Simon was super sick but really a pain in the ass when we’ve been living independently for almost 3 years.

After he got his food and meds, volunteers started showing up to help with the 4 kids that were staying and also to be part of a big Halloween event. At one point, two volunteers were playing with Simon and Laura and I realized that we could actually just chill out and snuggle on the couch. I forgot that sometimes families stay there for the respite care and just have extra hands there to help with whatever needs to be done. It was amazing.

Simon, scoping out the pumpkins

Our friend Lilian and her two kids came to visit.  We mostly avoided the crowds and played on the play structure, the wagons and the big play room. At one point though, Laura ran into a family that she recognized from our lengthy stay at Children's Hospital.  When Laura asked if their daughter was there today, they quietly replied that she had passed away.  Then her grandmother proclaimed that she would give her right boob for Simon's eyes.  The left one too, she added, if it came to it.  We're a hearty lot, us families who walk in the shadows...

Simon gazing adoringly at friend Ardalon who came to visit

After another dip in the pool, Laura and I decided it was time to head out on our Anniversary date. Time to leave our little boy in the hands of strangers and in the company of 3 kids that were also sick/disabled enough to be at George Mark. WHAT?

But we did it. And just as we were leaving, Kevin, the security guard, caught a little lizard for Simon in one of the rooms.  We walked out together, they let the "baby dragon" go free on the beautiful grounds and we were free to go celebrate.
Baby Dragon liberated by Simon

We went to check in the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco (Laura scored on Priceline) and walked down to Union Square.
Us, getting a little exercise on our night out.

We had a mediocre dinner at Roots (but with a coupon, so who cares!). Our room was nice enough, but the view was SPECTACULAR.
Nighttime view from our bed

The next morning, we decided to go to the Claremont for their insanely expensive buffet brunch. It was worth every penny. We sat for 2 ½ hours, ate ourselves silly, looked at the beautiful scenery and read stupid magazines. It was heavenly. Battery charging. Totally extravagant. And absolutely perfect.

The Claremont Hotel

On the veranda of the Claremont

We did a quick errand and then we headed back to pick up Simon. He barely even looked up when we came in, he was so busy playing with a volunteer. 

Ready to rock it

We were having a sweet little reunion, asking the volunteer how things went, giving Simon hugs and kisses. I noticed a sibling of one of the kids who was at George Mark was in the playroom with us and I casually said “Hey I saw your family packing up in the parking lot. Are you going home?” thinking that they’d be heading home for the week and maybe one parent would stay with the child that was here.

My brother died yesterday”, he replied, in a matter of fact way.


Right. This is also a HOSPICE. Kids come here to die, not just to swim and play with nice ladies and have access to unlimited toys while their parents are off being frivolous. Families come here to be with each other while a child takes their last breaths.

It was so discordant, to be coming back from a leisurely 24 hours to hug a little boy whose brother died in the room 2 doors down from where Simon had been playing all weekend.

And worth it. 

Here's my secret.

We cobble together what we have, whether they are big bountiful gifts or complicated hard gifts and put them all together to make a marriage.

The herd of sheep clearing grass up the hill from the George Mark House.  Simon was obsessed with meeting the "farmer"-really the sheep herder in the orange hat.

Saying goodbye to staff as we left

Reunited and it feels so good!

Thanks for playing with me so much, Eileen!

Anniversary flowers from my Dad

We came home to this card. Robin Winokur is Simon's pediatrician and an on-call doc for George Mark.  Seriously. Amazing.

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