Tuesday, August 25, 2009

No Wedding Bell Blues

I felt like the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his Merry Band of Moonie Ministers presiding over multiple weddings as I officiated at a dual ceremony last night at our neighbor’s house.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that Ken and Corina, who live right next door to us, were planning to get married by a Justice of the Peace. They’ve been together for seven years and have two kids, but hadn’t been able to make their relationship legal until now. Maya and their two-year old daughter, Jira, squeal with toddler delight whenever they get together.

So I went to Corina and said, “I can do the wedding. C’mon, we’re neighbors and friends. I’d love to be part of it.”

“We’re not doing anything special,” said Corina, a 25-year old Romanian. “We’re just going to sign the papers in our home. Very simple.”

Then she added, “And my sister is going to get married, too.”

Adina is two or three years older and has been dating Marco, someone she met at work, for not quite a year.

So I rubbed my hands together in glee and said, “Great. Two weddings. Two sisters. I can’t wait.”

Yesterday, the four of them went to the County Registrar’s office and brought in the appropriate documents (birth certificates, legal IDs) and left with more paperwork (marriage license, temporary certificate) for the minister-rabbi-priest-officiate-neighbor to complete.

We had to wait until after 8 pm for the ceremony to begin. Verna and I needed to get Miguel and Maya to bed and Marco and Adina didn’t get off work until 7:30. Verna and I brought over a digital recorder and a chilled bottle of champagne.

When we got to Ken and Corina’s everyone was watching the tail end of a baseball game. Adina said, “We have to call our mother.”

“No, we’ll wake her,” Corina said.

“But she wants us to wake her,” Adina insisted.

After the call, their mother went online so both of Adina and Corina’s parents could watch the ceremony via web cam.

“How do you say ‘nice to meet you’ in Romanian?” I asked, and then repeated what Corina said. “Tell your mother ‘Down with Ceausescu’.”

Ceausescu was an evil Romanian dictator who terrorized the country in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Everyone laughed after I denounced him.

First we signed the licenses and I filled in the marriage certificates. Ken and Corina and Marco and Adina served as witnesses for each other. Then we gathered in the living room as Jira rolled on the floor and her 9-month old sister, Kaya, who has just started walking, tried to grab the camcorder wires.

I made some very brief comments about how special wedding ceremonies are, then looked directly at Marco and Adina:

“Before I continue, I need you to know that I have been officiating at wedding ceremonies since 1997 and everyone is still married. So I am counting on you two not to ruin my track record. I have a reputation to maintain. So if you think for any reason things aren’t going to work out, let me know because I cannot continue.”

Marco and Adina smiled. “You won’t have to worry about us,” Marco said.

Then, being the good Jewish boy and Jewish scholar that I am, I read a brief passage about love from First Corinthians in the New Testament. “Love is patient…” etc.

I paused and felt a surge of emotion bubbling inside me. Tears started to well in my eyes. “And now,” I managed to say as I looked first at Marco and Adina, then at Ken and Corina, “it is my pleasure, granted by the State of California and this community of friends and neighbors, to pronounce you married.”

Verna, who was filming the festivities, shouted from the kitchen, “You may kiss.” The couples kissed and then Corina informed us that her mother and father were crying. I yelled, “Mazel tov” then we popped open the first bottle of champagne and toasted the foursome in Romanian. Something about having a great married life.

Ken and Corina and Marco and Adina have plans to wed next year again in a Romanian Church in San Francisco. They are already processing the necessary paperwork to get Corina and Adina’s parents travel visas so they can attend the ceremony.

“And you celebrate with us then,” Corina said to me as we all hugged and posed for pictures.

“Yes, yes,” I said. “I’m planning on dancing with your mother.”

“Oh, no, no.” she said. “My mother is too wild for you. She is the kind who dances on the tables all night long.”

“Well, you tell her that I may not be a good dancer,” I said, “but I will dance on the tables with her.”

So now my date with cultural destiny and a rowdy Romanian woman who has never flown on a plane is set. I only hope I don’t provoke an international incident. After all, I do have a reputation to preserve.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Girls Really Just Want to Have Fun

And so does everyone else. It’s just that we’re still not sure what it means to be a male or a female. Last week at the track and field world championships in Berlin, the international track body (the IAAF) asked the winner of the women’s 800-meter race to undergo gender testing in the wake of suspicions about her rapid improvement, muscular build and deep voice.

Caster Semenya’s team manager said she “believes her talent is God-given and will continue to exercise it.” Semenya’s father said, “She is my little girl. I raised her and I have never doubted her gender. She is a woman and I can repeat that a million times.”

Semenya’s case has taken on ugly overtones amid what should be a glorious moment for the young woman, her family, and South African athletics. Our own recent gender issues are completely mild compared to the media firestorm and circus surrounding Semenya.

Early last week, Miguel announced that he was planning to be a girl for Halloween. “I want to get nail polish and lipstick,” he said. Then he added he wanted to buy a wig and a dress, or at least use one of Verna’s.

My initial reaction? “He’s gay.” I know that’s not an enlightened or even fair perspective, but that was my first thought. Believe me, whatever sexual life Miguel drifts toward or adopts as he grows into manhood will be fine with Verna and me. And whatever latent issues of prejudice and discomfort I have about his sexuality will surely dissipate into a swirl of parental love. I just want him to be happy, healthy, and safe. Blah, blah, blah.

In some ways, Miguel’s costume choice for this year is a relief given that Maya still reacts with abject terror when she sees a mask of any kind. And, frankly, I would much rather see Miguel clad in a skirt than wearing a slasher-goblin-zombie mask with fake blood dripping from his face and gashes across his neck.

Maybe it is my fault anyway. Verna and I have always been fairly open with Miguel about physiology and all that. He’s known from an early age that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, knowledge which made me highly fearful that he would explain his understanding of human anatomy in public.

And one time he kind of did. We were behind a young girl of eight or nine in line at Best Buy in early 2006. Her t-shirt said, “Girls Can Do Anything.”

Miguel looked at her and said, “Girls can’t do anything. They can’t take out their wieners and look at them.”

While I was tempted to scold him for sharing his views out loud in a store on a Saturday mrning, I was impressed by his logic, which was true.

Since Maya is young and we still bath her and she also sees us using the bathroom and the shower, we’ve schooled her about the body as well. She routinely reminds me I can’t touch her vagina, which is great because Verna and I have told her about how certain parts of her body are private, just for her. Of course, I’ve had to tell her that Mommy and Daddy can touch her when we are giving her a bath. But it is easy to see how messy gender and body issues can become.

Yesterday, Maya said she was a boy.

“No, Maya, you’re a girl,” I said.

“No, daddy, I’m a boy.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I am a boy.”

I guess I need to be careful what I’ve wished for. After years of bonding with Miguel, first as an at-home father and then as a play partner, I do have a certified sports buddy. He and I wrestle, play catch, one-on-one basketball and golf, watch sports, and manage a fantasy baseball team together.

I fancy Maya becoming a tomboy like her mother used to be. I cringe whenever someone gives her a frilly outfit or when we dress her in something delicate for holidays and department store photo sittings. So I have made an effort to be rough and tumble with her: I toss baseballs at her as she swings her Giants bat. I chase her around the playground.

But I am fully aware that she will be whatever she will be. She may display the athletic acumen of Misty May-Trainer, Babe Didrickson, or Serena Williams and look like an international runway model and dress like a Beverly Hills denizen. Or none of the above.

So Miguel wants to be a girl for Halloween and Maya says she is a boy. And I am happy that they are adjusting to life and society and culture as individuals, self-actualizing themselves through the ever-present gender minefield of the 21st century.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Forever Young--Not!

Maya started preschool summer camp last week as a prelude to full blown preschool, which begins August 24.

Trepidation is usually a parent’s province, as in will our daughter have a toddler nervous breakdown when Mommy or Daddy deposits her for her first day of school? Or, more importantly, will the separation anxiety leave me—the adult—emotionally and physically tattered?

Maya provided a rapid answer to our internal questions when she told Verna, after they’d been at preschool last Monday (August 3) for about two minutes, “You can go now.”

Maya might as well have added, “And don’t worry about coming back until I am 18.”

Yes, Maya, budding social butterfly, who smiles and hugs and laughs and embraces life with sublime abandon, is adjusting just fine to her new surroundings. After Day One her teacher told Verna, “Maya seems like she’s been here before.”

Just call her Adaptable Girl.

There she goes (again), holding onto her cloth lunch bag, a baseball cap atop her head, clad in a black Tim Lincecum t-shirt and her ubiquitous dog sweater, bouncing into the classroom with open arms and heart.

When she got there on Day One, she hugged AJ, our 3-year old neighbor who is ranked either first or second on the I Am Maya’s Boyfriend List, a rather long collection of toddler males that I will only tolerate for another few years at most.

She ate her entire sandwich at lunchtime, including her snack, fruit, and water. Then she came home and took a nap. Yesterday she was so excited after school that she met me on the stairs just to show me the art project she’d completed: a cuter than cute photo of her surrounded by a burst of bubbles inside a wooden frame she’d decorated with shiny stones.

She loves school and apparently school (and her friends and teachers) love her. So, in honor of my sweet, sweet daughter, who I DO want to grow up, I cite Bob Dylan’s Forever Young:

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.
May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Play Ball!

I was thinking about George Carlin’s hilarious riff on baseball this past weekend as I roamed under sunny skies at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Carlin hearkened back to baseball’s pastoral roots as he explained the game’s Zen-like fascination with “going home”:

He continued: “Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - might have extra innings. In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there's kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there's not too much unpleasantness. In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe!”

Carlin’s routine was on my mind this past Sunday when the Giants played the defending World Champion Phillies because Miguel and I took Maya, who is 3 ½, to her first professional baseball game. I realized the deliberate pace of baseball is well-suited to the inner and outer rhythms of toddlers, mine included.

Speed is a virtue in baseball, but sometimes the players are not in a rush. They move at their own pace for good reason. That sums up Maya’s approach to life. And I wondered how that would play out at the game because Miguel and I enjoy watching baseball. Maya is just fascinated by the general stirrings of life as they simmer and bubble before us.

We got to the park in time to watch the Giants take batting practice. Miguel went over to the leftfield bleachers, hoping to snare a batting practice ball, while I took Maya over to the kid’s park, which has a miniature baseball diamond and a few twisty metal slides under a giant Coke bottle.

Maya lined up on the right side of the plate, as I steadied the camera, and whacked at the ball resting on the batting tee. She clobbered the tee, which caused the stem to wobble, and the ball plopped a few feet away.

“Maya, run!” I said, and she bolted in the very general direction of first base, beaming as she ran.

Then we climbed the stairs to the slides. We waited briefly in line as Maya watched a few kids in front of her descend. When it was her turn she begged off, “No, I don’t want to go down.”

OK. So walked back down to the bottom of the slides, where Maya decided that she did want a turn. So we climbed back up and she did slide down this time. I jogged down the stairs and waited for her at the end of the slide.

Maya was beaming again. “I want to go again, daddy.”

Walking through the stadium to our seat, through the maze of people, sights, sounds, everyone and everything teeming with the crackle of life, Maya was quite content to amble along with seemingly no cares at all.

We arrived at our seats just above third base in the upper tier and settled down to eat the sushi I’d brought for us. Miguel and I said we’d be happy if Maya sat for four innings. In the bottom of the second, Aaron Rowand ripped a shot into the deepest corner of centerfield, Triples Alley, and Freddie Sanchez motored home with the Giants’ first run. The crowd erupted. Miguel and I high-fived each other. Maya joined in the communal revelry and started clapping. Then she slapped Miguel’s outstretched palm. I leaned over and extended my hand, hoping to get a little high-five love from my daughter. She looked right at me and pulled her hand back. The celebratory moment, she seemed to be saying, was only for her and Miguel.

We went back to the kid’s diamond in the 5th inning so Maya could swat the ball one more time. She’d been saying for the past inning or so, “I want to go to my baseball game.” This time I lined her up myself on the left side of the plate (hey, she is a leftie) and she bopped the ball toward the pitcher. Then she ran, hair flying, smiling, around the bases again and stepped on home plate.

Miguel, Maya, and I posed for pictures just behind the leftfield bleachers and then started walking toward the exit in the 6th inning. I was holding an overstuffed backpack (which had two sweaters for Maya, two sweatshirts for Miguel, a freezer lunch bag, two bags of snacks, a plastic water bottle, three Pablo Sandoval t-shirts they gave out for free, one Tim Lincecum toddler t-shirt for Maya, one psychedelic Giants t-shirts for Miguel, and two sweatshirts for me) when Maya asked me to carry her back to the car. I guess all the excitement and overstimulation of a day at the ballpark was too much for her to trod a ½-mile to where we’d parked.

Maya insisted she wear her new t-shirt to bed and the following day to preschool summer camp. “I want to wear Lincecum,” she said.

And she did.

For the record, the Giants beat the Phillies, 7-3. The next morning Miguel read that the Giants pitcher Barry Zito even had a base hit in the 5th inning.

“Zito got a hit?” he asked.

“I guess so. Must’ve happened when we were back at the kid’s park with Maya. We missed it,” I said.

But we were cavorting in our own Zen-like picnic atmosphere, just making sure that Maya got safely home after she'd had, like everyone else, her turn at bat.