Be loved, beloved

I grew up in a simpler time. Back when I was young, there were only two genders.

My how times have changed! I always thought I would stay young and keep up but I find myself old and out of touch. I don’t understand although I do try. My daughter Arabella was trying to explain everything to me. I had a hard time understanding certain things like gender fluidity. She had a friend that changed genders several times throughout the day. She also had a friend that didn’t want to ascribe to any gender at all.

I thought things were hard in the early high school years when she wanted a birthday party sleepover with friends that were gay and in a relationship together. Now her best friend went from a female to a male and is dating a male that identifies as a female. It was time for the birthday party sleepover again. She wanted all the kids to sleep together in one room. Since the male identifies as a female, can he sleep with the girls? Umm, no! But mom! It was more complicated since he was dating someone of the opposite gender. I have always been against mixed gender sleepovers. But now the lines are blurred and I am some kind of phobe.

I didn’t want someone who was underage and dating sleeping together in my house period! I was especially uncomfortable because their parents did not know. I am also against going behind other parent’s backs when it comes to decisions with their kids. God forbid if someone gets pregnant at a sleepover at my house! But mom, they are not going to do anything because they feel too uncomfortable with their own bodies. Why are they dating then? I wasn’t born yesterday!! Thank God for COVID as the traditional birthday party sleepover didn’t happen.

I try to call her friends by the names and pronouns they have chosen although their parents never address them by those names or pronouns. What I also thought was unusual is that they chose gender neutral names like Jordan, Blake, Alex, Casey, Jessie/Jesse, or Erin/Aaron. I would think they would want more gender specific names.

I asked Arabella what her part was in this community. Are you an ally? No mom, I’m gay. That is how I found out.

My first reaction was to think that perhaps she was mistaken. But it did take a lot of courage on her part to tell me. She worried whether or not people would accept her. How were people at church going to accept a gay atheist? What about family?

At first I even blamed myself because that is what I do. What did I do wrong? Why is my daughter struggling so much?

Then I questioned everything I ever was told and/or believed. Was she born this way? Or was there some choice involved? Is it a sin? To be honest I never really thought much about it. There is a lot of debate about this topic even within the Christian community. So I decided to read the Bible and do a little research myself to come up with my own understanding.

But regardless, as a parent, I did not want to be in a place where I had to choose between my daughter and my church. It didn’t come down to that, but I felt conflicted. In all honesty, I still do. It’s all very confusing for me too.

I have chosen to love my children, all my children, regardless of whether I agree with their choices in life or not. If Jesus taught us anything, it’s to love. He never told us to condemn, judge, or hate.

Be loved, beloved.

Who are you?

Arabella changed into a whole different person a year ago. It seemed like the difference between night and day to us. Or maybe that is when we noticed because she became so different from us.

It’s not terribly strange to have a teenager rebel or espouse things independent of their parents. In a way, I almost think it is necessary in developing who they are. In order to find themselves they have to lose mom and dad a little. But this seemed different.

Before the change Arabella was pretty easy going. She went with the flow. There was little conflict and she rarely challenged us. Kind of like the month of March, she came into the world like a lion so I was hoping she would leave childhood as a lamb. Not so, my friends.

Before she was the teen involved in church. She liked volunteering at Bible camp, helping with the kids program, and singing in church. Then practically overnight she became an atheist and slept in on Sunday mornings. At times I was afraid to go to church because I was afraid if I wasn’t there she might make an attempt again. She scoffed at our religious beliefs. We no longer shared the same views on politics either. It didn’t seem as if she was finding her own way as much as it seemed like she was rejecting us.

She didn’t want anything to do with Estelle and cut herself off from all of the kids she once considered friends at her new school. She started hanging out with her friends from her old school. Instead of being a foreign exchange student with Estelle, she wanted to finish high school at her old school which was only 30 minutes away. We said we were okay with that because she seemed so miserable at the new school.

She started hanging out with her old best friend who became transgender around that time. Actually all of the kids in that group were either gay or transgender. They all seemed to have issues with their identity and also suffered from depression. I really had a hard time understanding what they were going through. In my day, I don’t remember a single kid that came out as gay and changing your gender was something most likely featured in sci-fi movies. I went to a small town school where there was very little diversity.

I knew about her friend’s being gay or transgender before their parents even did in most cases. I called them by their chosen names and pronouns. I’m not going to say it was easy. I still can’t get it out of my mind that calling someone them or they isn’t rude. It was difficult to call someone I knew as a baby a different name and pronoun. But I imagine it was a lot more difficult for them and their parents. I couldn’t help but wonder if my daughter was hiding something from me like her friends were from their parents.

NOLA

We drove across a bridge for a half an hour and entered a whole new world called New Orleans. We saw many different things we don’t see at home like houses on stilts, moss covered trees, and interesting looking boats. I remember feeling a certain kind of melancholy, a homesickness of sorts, that happens when I’ve reached a place far from home. It’s hard to believe that I never left my country.

The city of New Orleans itself was bustling, busy, and congested loop of bridges and old style European houses. To be honest, the city made me feel rather trapped. All the houses were so close together. Plus there were so many people. (Although everyone was saying how dead the city was because of COVID). We stayed at an AirBnB in the French Quarter. It was a good place for adventure. The place we stayed was over a hundred years old.

The entrance of our apartment.

We unlocked the gated door after parking in the fenced in driveway. I’m not used to gates for doors.

The yard also hosted a grapefruit tree which Paul and I went round and round upon. Was it an orange tree? Or a lemon? Paul finally asked the owners and they told him to help himself. He said it was the best grapefruit he ever ate.

The city was also very pet friendly. A lot of people walked with dogs and there were cats everywhere. Several people had signs to not feed the animals. One of those signs was at our AirBnB.

We even got a wake up call from a cat in the morning which was the only thing that reminded me of home.

When we arrived in the city, we had our hottest day of the trip which was 75 degrees. It was incredibly humid but felt different than our high humidity days at home which doesn’t even make sense. By the time we left the high temps were in the mid 50’s.

We spent a lot of time walking around the French Quarter. We checked out quite a few shops and bought souvenirs for the kids. We even checked out a shop that sold Mardi Gras type costumes. I would’ve loved to have bought one, but they were quite expensive and people would look at me as if I totally lost my mind if I dressed that way at home. I did buy some beads with rubber duckies on them which were super cute. People in New Orleans dressed with such flair.

We spent a good chunk of time walking on Bourbon St. Since we were one of the few tourists, we got targeted more often by beggars and scam artists. We had about 3 people ask us a day where we got our shoes. They bet if they guess right, you have to give them money and they get mad if you don’t. Then they tell you that you got your shoes on Bourbon St. Thankfully I heard about the scam online before we left.

I did have a guy put beads around my neck and ask for money. We did give him a couple bucks and I also gave him my leftover food which was appreciated.

Just keep walking…

Bourbon St. was creepy at night. But it was the most happening street with restaurants and live music outside. What really really bothered me is that we got approached at night by young kids asking for money. We were approached first by two pre-teen girls, then a little later by little boys alone. They had to be anywhere between 8 to 10 years old. I couldn’t imagine the life of those children or the things that probably do or could happen to them out in the streets. Personally I would not feel safe alone there at night.

Paul really loved the food in New Orleans. Almost every night he ate raw oysters. We tried different Cajun and Creole dishes and ate po’ boys and gumbo. I liked the fried alligator. It tasted like chicken.

One of the major problems of the city was that bathrooms were hard to come by. I saw several people unzip and pull up to the wall in broad daylight. The city has serious drug and alcohol problems which I guess probably isn’t unusual for a big city. We got offered edibles countless times. We saw a man having an angry conversation with himself. We saw another too drunk to stand although he was trying. We came across a scene where someone on a bike had a close call with a car. The lady was screaming expletives at the man holding up traffic. It was a great place to visit, but I would never want to live there.

We walked around Jackson Square and walked inside of the oldest continuous Catholic church in the USA. It was very beautiful and ornate as expected. One thing I wasn’t expecting was that there were fortune tellers right outside of the church. I didn’t understand it because in my mind they blatantly didn’t belong there. It was like accepting a one way ticket straight to hell and I’m not even Catholic.

We were hoping to take a paddle wheeler ride but the day we were hoping to go it was very windy with a high of 55. For some reason they cancelled the tours for that day so we went to the aquarium instead.

By far our favorite thing to do near New Orleans was to go on the Airboat Adventures tour in Lafitte. Thankfully we were able to see some alligators in the wild. Apparently the tour the day before did not have any alligator sightings.

Without wildlife it was absolutely stunning too.
The mossy trees which are homes for spiders and snakes plus can hide a few alligators.
I thought this bad boy was going to crawl up into the boat.

One of the other things we enjoyed was visiting the Oak Alley Plantation. This was a sugar cane plantation with hundreds of slaves. We saw the slave quarters. It’s really hard to think that people were forced to do such brutal work in the heat with inadequate food and housing. We got a tour of the plantation house which was rather awkward. The tour guide was a black man and three other black people were on the tour with Paul and I. I felt horrible sadness for the way black people were treated as slaves. There even was a job for a child slave to pull a rope for the fan over the massive table. I couldn’t imagine a child having to do that. Sometimes history isn’t pretty.

The trees in front of the plantation house are several hundred years old and were planted when they were adult trees to show off the wealth of the owners. The trees created good air flow in the summer for the huge house.

Oak Alley Plantation

One of the other things I really enjoyed doing in NOLA was taking a cemetery walk. Unfortunately I didn’t realize the cemetery was closed for renovations before I bought the tickets. I was hoping to spend all of our time in the cemetery on the tour because it was so fascinating. Instead we walked outside the closed gates and spent the rest of the tour looking at mansions of the rich and famous in the Garden District.

All of the cemeteries we saw in New Orleans and surrounding areas had raised tombs because of hurricanes and flooding. I wondered how it all worked because there seemed to be a lot more people that lived in the city than tombs. What I found out was that more than one person can be buried in the tomb. When someone dies they put the body in a casket in the tomb. After a year or two the bones are removed, placed in the back, and it is ready for the next person. Hopefully there is not a plague or pandemic where multiple people need to use the tomb at once. The tomb can be used for multiple generations of family or sometimes clubs get together and purchase a tomb for burial of its members.

Sometimes the tombs are abandoned or fall into disrepair. We purchased the tour through Save Our Cemeteries which uses most of the money from tours to upkeep tombs. They go through great lengths to try to find the owners of the tombs, but if it is found to be abandoned the tombs can be sold. From what I gather, a lot of people choose cremation.

I wasn’t planning on ending this post with death and despair, but here we are. New Orleans is a great city to visit, but again I wouldn’t want to live there.

The benefits of working

Just like our greatest strengths can be weaknesses, some benefits of working were the same as the downfalls. Working for the census was adventurous and exciting yet at the same time anxiety producing. I had fears yet at the same time I had the joy of confronting my fears. I had to go to dangerous neighborhoods, yet at the same time it was sobering to see how other people lived.

There were some things I really liked about working. Working allowed me to get out of the problems of my own life and throw myself into something productive. I got paid well. I was able to contribute a paycheck to help support my family. I was able to set my own hours. I believed in the importance of the work I was doing.

I got some exercise because I did a lot of walking. I explored parts of my state that I’ve never seen before. I became familiar with the neighborhood around me.

As crazy as it sounds, this job also pulled me out of my shell especially in the time of COVID when I had every excuse not to interact with people. I met some really awesome people that I probably would hang out with as friends if we met under different circumstances.

I felt respected by the community in general. People thanked me for my service in counting the people. Other people respected me simply because it was something they could never do.

There were fun times that I just had to laugh at myself like the time I almost got into someone else’s car because I wasn’t paying attention. Then there was the time I came home from work and realized I must’ve stepped in dog crap somewhere along the way.

I met up with a lot of different families. I listened and learned about other people’s lives. I watched and observed how other people lived without judgment. People are very interesting. It was a job I could combine facts with people.

Thankfully the whole time I worked I was able to stay healthy and safe. I think the experience was worthwhile.

An extreme outlier

There are some things I am rather hesitant to write about. Then I find this struggle within myself to describe things as they really are to give you an accurate recording of what the experience was like for me.

There was a downpour that evening as I was about to end my shift as a census enumerator. I found myself at a house in the middle of nowhere at the end of a long gravel driveway. There was a man hanging out in his garage drinking. He had a full bar out there complete with bar stools and a couch. Several guns were on display on the wall behind him.

As I approached he told me I should take off my mask because they didn’t believe in wearing masks. I hesitated. The census told us if we did not wear a mask on the job we would be fired. It wasn’t as if the guy would be calling me in to report me though. I honestly didn’t even know how I felt about having to wear a mask. I just did it because I had to. I admit that I am a big time rule follower, something I both love and hate about myself.

All these thoughts were whirling around my mind as I hesitated. I was not afraid. But I didn’t know this man. I was at his house. He had been drinking and was very blunt as I stepped out of my car into the pouring rain. Things could go very bad and I was alone with him out in the middle of nowhere.

I felt like I was being tested. If I failed the test, I would need to take it again or they would send someone else back. The guy asked me if I was some sort of liberal or something. I told him I was not and took off my mask. I tried to find the common ground between us to reach him.

I noticed the man had a puppy that was very well behaved. I asked him a few questions and complimented him about his dog. I finally passed the test. He invited me inside to sit down, but not on the couch because that was the dog’s bed. He said I could if I wanted to but I would get full of fur. He completed the questionnaire and bid me a good evening.

Thankfully with this job I worked with my people from my culture. I knew how to handle the situation whereas an outsider might have freaked out by the outliers. I don’t feel like I compromised my beliefs in any way. But I did break the rules to complete a case.

It was never as easy as walking up to a stranger’s door and having them give me their personal information. You really had to think quick on your feet and be prepared for anything. But most importantly, they needed to feel like they could connect with and trust me.

I miss the life I planned

Today was a sad day. We cancelled our trip to Florida.

There has been a lot of feelings going around our house lately from sadness, anger, and anxiety.

We are preparing to spend the next two months at home.

Our foreign exchange students are having an especially hard time because they are not at home. The separation from their families has been heartbreaking for them at times. Both students have shed tears of sadness and fear.

Some of the foreign exchange programs are sending their students back home. But as of right now, ours is not. My daughter is uncertain about whether or not she wants to be a foreign exchange student next year.

What isn’t uncertain at this time?

Prom has been cancelled. My daughter’s college graduation has also been cancelled. Thankfully she lives off campus because otherwise we don’t have extra room at our house for her to move back home.

One of the host parents of a foreign exchange student said she could no longer handle the responsibility of caring for a child that is not hers. They decided out of fear to abruptly stop hosting. Now the child does not have a home.

The foreign exchange students are panicking. Will they be sent home? What will they be sent home to? Will they have to stay longer? Their whole experience is off the rails now.

Our foreign exchange student from France, Estelle, has parents who are not together. They disagree about what should be done. Her dad wants her to come home, her mom wants her to stay.

Now I long for the days when I had to convince my kids to get out of bed to go to school.

This is the beginning of the new normal.

All of the restaurants and bars closed in Wisconsin. I never thought I would see the day the bars would close on St. Patrick’s Day. The churches will be closed on Easter. They closed the mall today. We can no longer order items on Amazon.

I’m trying to get everything done before I can’t do it anymore.

Today I got fingerprinted for the census job. I tried to make an appointment immediately after I got the link but apparently the link was not active right away. I called their 1 800 number and got a recorded message. I figured I needed to get in ASAP because I didn’t want to call that number again.

I plucked my eyebrows and shaved my legs. I even painted my nails. This will be the last time I leave the house in awhile. Normally I wouldn’t shave to get fingerprinted. I mean, it is too cold to wear shorts.

Yesterday I ran outside. I won’t lie, it was cold. I had to be careful too because the roads were icy in spots and I nearly fell. I really miss the gym. I even miss my stalker. I miss the guy that sweats on the machines around him. I miss the lady my age who runs and smiles at me. I imagine we are friends although we never spoke.

I miss the life I had planned. This is my new life now.

On a good note, I should not have an excuse not to write everyday.

Stay safe!

Gratitude week 2

  1. We spent the weekend in Chicago and didn’t get murdered. The girls and I went to Chicago with Paul. He attended a conference and we went shopping. I had a nightmare before we left that the girls got murdered. I was a little nervous being the “chaperone” of my daughter and our two foreign exchange students. I was afraid because they do not understand our culture and might not know what is safe. All the people that we met were wonderful. We walked 6 miles then took an Uber back to the hotel and didn’t get murdered. I don’t know what I was so worried about. Ah, I am too much country mouse.
  2. We were supposed to get a major snowstorm on the way back from Chicago. Instead we only got a dusting of snow which made the drive a lot better than we were expecting. Gotta love when the weather forecasters are wrong!
  3. I met with my therapist who read my book over Christmas break. She said it was a Christmas present to herself (which is good I told her, since I didn’t get her anything). She thought it was so wonderful she wanted to read it again. She thought I should go deeper with my writing. I am grateful that so far two out of three readers were very happy with my book. I am meeting with my third test reader tomorrow.
  4. I decided to get an even shorter haircut this week. I also am growing out my blonde hair color and letting it go grey. I think it doesn’t look the greatest. However, I got complimented by two strangers on my hair this weekend after wearing a hat on it most of the day. Bizarre. Two people raved over my unbrushed hat hair. Then another stranger complimented me on my new glasses.
  5. I am grateful my son was in a really good mood all week. Although now that I think about it, maybe it was because we were all leaving for the weekend and he had the house to himself. I also found a really cool shirt for him that he loves.
  6. I am grateful to find a beer that I am not allergic to. Also, I am grateful for goat and vegan cheese so I can enjoy macaroni and cheese and pizza. Although we had good Chicago style pizza, I am grateful that my husband makes the best pizza around that I can eat.
  7. Although I love to travel, I am grateful to be sleeping in my own bed tonight with fresh clean sheets.
  8. I am grateful we stayed at a really unique hotel called Fieldhouse Jones in Chicago. The decor was amazing, all antique sports stuff. Our bedroom wall was about 10 feet from the L which was cool. Paul and I played a game of air hockey in the hotel basement this morning. Although he beat me by one point, it’s been a long time since we had fun together.
  9. Although there were periods of rain and snow, I am thankful it wasn’t too cold to walk around Chicago.
  10. I am grateful that I don’t have a lot of plans for the rest of the month and can finally have some down time.

My intolerance

You may have remembered that I said I was going in for allergy testing a couple weeks back. Let’s just say that now I know why my mom wanted me to go in for testing. Something about misery loving company.

Although I don’t have any allergies that could send me to the ER, I was found to be intolerant of several of my favorite things. I guess the whole general premise is that if I am able to give up the things I am sensitive to, then after a year I may be able to reintroduce them into my diet.

The top foods that I am sensitive to are dairy, chick peas, and brewer’s yeast. I wasn’t expecting it at all. So no more cheese or beer for me for awhile. I might as well just exile myself from Wisconsin. Gotta love the dairy state. Not to mention that beer is pretty much a staple here as well.

I decided that after the Oktoberfest party this past weekend, I was going to give up the things I am most intolerant to. Then I will work on things that I have a minor intolerance to such as black pepper, rice, eggs, tomatoes, peanuts, almonds, crab, turkey, and baker’s yeast (breads, pizza crust, etc..). Seriously, what can I eat??

Friday night Paul made his famous homemade pizza. Then I sampled almost all of our friend’s homemade craft beers at the party on Saturday.

The party went by way too fast and soon Sunday morning came. I drank my coffee with my new hemp dairy free creamer. Yeah, my coffee tasted like rope.

I am a total cheese addict. I honestly don’t think I’ve gone a day without dairy in the last 20 years. It has been really hard. Although I do feel a lot less bloated.

Yesterday I went to a health conscious food store with my mom. She is dairy free too. I felt better after that. I was able to find some goat’s and vegan cheese. I was even able to find mac and cheese. Now if the stuff tastes good, that will be a bonus.

I am hoping to feel better and have less stomach issues. Maybe after I get this whole food thing figured out, I’ll go in for hormone testing. Two weeks of the month are total heaven and the other two weeks are complete hell. Thankfully the 50k will be in the good 2 week span. But I am back to having insomnia again. I haven’t slept for more than a few hours at a time over the last several days. I’ve been trying hard not to bite anyone’s head off, especially when I see them eating cheese.

A cold craft beer with a side order of cheese curds sounds so nice right now. I’m sure it will get easier and I will feel better. But right now giving up my favorite things has not been a lot of fun.

Expectation reflections

It hasn’t been too much of an adjustment having 4 teenagers in the house.

Our foreign exchange students have been very quiet and friendly. When we told others of our plan to have 2 foreign exchange students, they cringed. Most shared horror stories of wild teen exchange students that made every effort to sneak out and party. So far there haven’t been any problems.

It’s probably because they are not comfortable being family yet. There aren’t any fights or talking back. We are all on our best behavior, no belching or farting. My husband has been giving them special treatment. He is buying the foods they like, taking them to places they are interested in going, asking if they are too hot or too cold. It’s hard not to treat them like visitors.

This is going to sound insane, but I felt a twinge of jealousy. It triggered something inside of me that reminded me of my mom’s special treatment of my autistic brother Matt.  Everything in our house revolved around Matt and what he wanted. I honestly wasn’t expecting to feel that way.

Of course, the students paid a lot of money to have a great experience here. I want things to be wonderful for them. Things are going really well. The girls don’t seem to be too homesick. If anything, at times they seem a little bored. But I’m sure that will change once school starts and they make friends.

It’s fun because they get excited about all of the little things, like going to the grocery store. They eat differently than we do. They use their knife and fork to cut things more. They cut up grilled cheese sandwiches instead of just picking them up and plunking them in their soup like I did.

Today Clara made homemade German potato salad for our friend’s Octoberfest party tomorrow. Real German food!

I also didn’t realize how much Hitler and the nazi’s were the butt of American jokes in TV and movie comedies. Awkward! But none of us were alive when any of that happened. If anything, countries that were once at war can be friendly towards each other again.

Hopefully in the next couple weeks the girls will come out of their shell a little. As for right now, I’m really happy that things are going better than I expected.

A new family

Last night our foreign exchange students arrived, Clara from Germany and Estelle from France.

I felt anxious all day. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

I worried. Would our new “children” like us? What will this next year be like?

My oldest two children are not as excited about it as I am. I think they think I’m replacing them. But maybe in a way I am. They are adults and don’t need me being a mother hen to them anymore. They are off living their own lives like they should be.

I am excited about this new adventure, but as with anything new a little frightened too.

I wonder what it would be like to see everything for the first time through their eyes. Maybe even for us, the old will become new again.

I hope it is a wonderful experience for all of us.