12 May 2012

On to the Wild Rumpus In the Sky

Maurice Sendak died this week.  We pulled Where the Wild Things Are out of the book bin to read Tuesday night after hearing about his death earlier that day.  We had not read it in a while as Isaac works on his own reading and requests chapter books most nights when we read to him.  But Tuesday evening was sad for a couple of reasons and Sendak's classic fit the mood perfectly.

The classic story of childhood mischief and search for acceptance and security is one that resonates through the ages and will remain a childhood staple.  It has been dramatized, surprisingly well, and mass-marketed, but it has not lost its impact.  The text seems simple but it speaks to people of all ages, at every stage of life.

Shortly after his death, articles about his life appeared, remembrances were broadcast on talk shows, classic interviews were posted, and Facebook statuses were updated with quotes from his book.  I thought back on my own association with his work, mostly connected to his most well known book -- the times I have read it aloud to classes and the lessons that have accompanied it, reading it to Isaac since he was an infant, making Isaac's wolf costume so he could be Max on Halloween when he was a toddler, seeing the movie and reflecting on how the meaning of the story shifts as a person's world view expands.

The remembrances are important.  Sendak is an important author/illustrator in the history of children's literature.  But when I told Isaac that Sendak had died as we prepared to read Where the Wild Things Are the other night, I couldn't help but wonder how many other families might be doing that same thing in other houses across the country.  It seemed like the most fitting remembrance of the day.

01 May 2012

What Is Marriage?: A Letter to Our Son Explaining Why We Will Vote Against Amendment One

Dear Isaac,

As we write this, you are 6 and one half years old (we know that that half is very important to you).  You have been asking some questions recently that we have tried to answer in such a way that your 6 ½ year old brain will understand.  But your questions have brought up issues that you will have to wrestle with long past your next birthday, so we are writing this letter to help you find the answers you will need later.

When you asked us what “marriage” is your father told you what we believe.  It is a partnership; a commitment that two people make to each other; an invitation for another person to permanently become part of your family.  When you asked us who can get married we told you that legally a man and woman can be married, but there were other couples that wanted to be able to marry each other.  And we told you that we believe they should be able to be married because any two people who want to be in a marriage partnership and make a commitment to each other and create a family should have the right to do so.

Marriage for any couple is not easy.  It requires work and communication.  We work very hard at our marriage, as do many other people.  We each bring strengths to our partnership and we try to balance out each other’s weaknesses.  You do not realize it now, but you recognize our strengths and weaknesses, even though you are still only 6 ½ years old.  When you ask tough questions, like the one that this letter is trying to answer, you usually ask your father first, while you go to your mother for more practical needs.  Your dad is the thinker, you mom is the doer.  But never think that your father speaks only for himself when he answers your questions.  If we do not have time to talk about how to respond before he gives an explanation, then we talk about what he told you afterwards.  Because parenting you is an important aspect of our relationship and before you were born we agreed that we would be partners in raising you just as we are partners in our marriage.

Marriages are not static, Isaac.  They change and evolve, just as people change and evolve.  We are not the same people who married each other almost 15 years ago, and our relationship has gone through many phases.  We would probably have answered this question differently when we were first married because we had not taken the time to think and question and debate then as we have since.  And that is one important lesson that we hope you take away from this letter.  We want you to be able to find your own answers.  We are giving you our thoughts and explaining our beliefs, but you need to decide for yourself as you grow what you will believe and what you will tell your own children when they ask what marriage means.

You asked about marriage because you have observed and overheard us talking about an issue that upsets us.  It has been proposed that an Amendment be added to our state constitution which would state that some of the people that we believe should be able to be married would never have the right to do so.  Isaac, what you cannot fully understand right now is how important it is to comprehend what this Amendment will do and how it is different from simply passing a law.  A law can be changed by the people whom we elect to represent us.  An Amendment has to be approved by the people of the state and cannot be changed again unless the people want it to be.  A law can be temporary; an amendment is all but permanent or, at the very least, hard to change.  Throughout history there have been laws that have taken away rights from groups of people and there have been other laws that have given back those rights.  Historically, amendments are used most of the time to protect rights or give people more rights.  Rarely are amendments used to take away rights.  But that is what Amendment One does and that is why we and so many other people that you know are upset about it.

We told you that a legal marriage is between a man and a woman and there is a law in our state that says that only men and women can be married.  So, passing an amendment to the constitution is not necessary and will not change anything that couples can do in our state.  But it could take away rights and protections from a lot of people that would be almost impossible to give back.  This is called discrimination.  It is a word that you will hear again and again because, unfortunately, there will always be people who want to take away rights or privileges from another group.  What you will need to do, Isaac, is learn to recognize discrimination and decide how you will respond to it.  

We are not political people.  We vote because we believe it is our responsibility as citizens, but we don’t put candidates’ yard signs in front of our house, we don’t put stickers for political issues on our cars, we don’t wear buttons or t-shirts supporting political parties.  We typically just don’t get involved because our everyday lives are very often not much affected by the outcome of the contest.  But for this vote, this question, we feel differently.  On this issue we have decided that we will post the sign and wear the buttons and speak out because this time the issue is personal and, while it does not affect our marriage, it hurts people that we care about.  And we believe it is wrong.

Many times when issues like this marriage amendment are being debated, people on both sides will try to use God and religion to support their arguments.  It will be up to you, Isaac, to listen and discern where the truth lies.  And ultimately, to come to your own decision about what is right.  Don’t be manipulated by emotional ploys or messages meant to make you fearful.  As your parents, we will guide you for as long as we can, but we will try not to tell you what you have to believe.  We hope that you will follow our example, which is one of the reasons we are being more vocal about the marriage amendment than we have been on issues in the past.  But there will be times when your beliefs clash with ours or you disagree with positions we take.  You may ultimately disagree with us about this very issue.  But one thing we want you to always remember is that even if we disagree, you are our son and we love you.

We will be honest, Isaac, and tell you that we are worried that this Amendment will pass.  If it does, then there is more work to do to try to repeal it.  But, there is work to do even if it does not pass, because, though the Amendment may not be added to the state constitution, there will still be people who believe it should be and there will still be laws that discriminate. One day, many years from now, we hope to see you in a partnership with a person to whom you choose to make a commitment and invite into our family.  You may decide to make the relationship a legal marriage, or you may not.  What we want for you is to have that choice without the fear of losing the rights that choosing marriage would give you.   

So, son, we hope this helps you understand what we believe about marriage.  We are glad you asked the question because formulating our response helps us think through the issue and refine our beliefs.  It also shows us that you possess enough confidence in us as parents to ask tough questions and that you trust us to tell you the truth.  Thank you for that and for challenging us to be better parents and better people.

With Love and Laughter,
Mom and Dad