I love calendars and goal setting and the hope of a brand new year.
A few days ago, my husband Bryan and I sat down and looked over the goals we’d set for 2018. As I looked back over the year, I noticed that some things that had been priorities just disappeared. We’d had to change gears.
For example, one of my goals was to develop relationships with women of color. There are things that I simply cannot know as a white woman raising black girls and I need to listen to and learn from women of color.
I did not do this. Instead, I carefully sought out people who could teach me about parenting a gay son.
Early last January, my son came out as bisexual. The how and why of Caleb’s coming out is his story to tell; it’s certainly not mine. Suffice it to say that there was a beautiful boy and some alternate truths at the center of it all. It was not a celebratory or a tidy coming out.
It was more of a roll-out with no master plan and no point person.
During this time, there were multiple disagreements that ended with Caleb and I crying in different parts of the house. Caleb was a child who had always made sense to me and suddenly, he didn’t. I was heartbroken that he didn’t tell me about something so important happening in his life.
Bryan was, as always, steady and kind. He said to me, “This isn’t the coming out that Caleb would have wanted either, Anna. It’s our job to make sure he knows that he is loved. We have to keep him safe.”
My clearest memory of this time was passing Bryan on our stairs in the middle of the night. I was going up to check on Caleb and he was coming back down from doing the same thing. It was like we had a newborn again, which in some ways, we did. Caleb was vulnerable and we didn’t know what we were doing.
Caleb asked for privacy regarding his sexuality, so we didn’t tell anyone. He started dating a girl. A few weeks into this confusion and loneliness, I called my girlfriends to my house because I couldn’t stop crying. They wisely brought dark chocolate. They were the first people I told and they were so helpful and reassuring and patient with me.
Actually, all the friends and family that we told responded with love and kindness and even some joy.
It seemed we were through the worst of it when some people at Caleb’s school made it their business to tell the world his news. This second phase of his coming out felt even scarier because it was way more out of our control. Caleb’s sisters didn’t even know yet and teachers at his school were talking to him about the rumors. So, I told the twins and Caleb told his older sister; they did not freak out.
When Caleb starting dating the same boy again, we figured out how to navigate the relationship better. I was learning new things every day, such as the truth that gay guys share clothes in a way that totally makes sense. (I imagine that if these relationships end, serious mediation is required to return sweatshirts and ripped jeans to their rightful owners.) I also realized that “spend the nights” would always be complicated. We were able to finally talk about things openly, but Caleb wondered why we were still talking about his being gay.
It might be a generational difference, but I thought it was all a really big deal. There were so many social situations where I felt like parents were looking at me, wondering if I knew about Caleb and me wondering how many of them knew. Soon enough, I started to care less and less. I finally realized that if Caleb didn’t feel the need to call a press conference, then I didn’t either.
Instead of writing about what our family was experiencing, I mostly wrote “around” it all last year. I got more of us into therapy. I started treating Caleb’s relationship with his boyfriend the same way I’d treat any serious relationship my kids were in. We started texting and following each other on Instagram. I made sure he felt included in activities with our family, such as the Christmas Eve service at our church.
I’ve gotten some things right and some things terribly wrong.
When Caleb wanted to ask the beautiful boy to Homecoming with a fireman themed poster, complete with flames, I asked, “Isn’t that a little too gay?” I regretted saying it immediately. I think I was just scared for him to be so very out in small-town Georgia.
I tried to make it up to him by buying fireman hats; his sister made the poster, just like she did when he was asking a girl. I ordered two coordinating but not matching boutonnieres without oversharing to the florist. I took pictures of Caleb and his date and put them on social media. I practiced saying, “my son’s boyfriend” without any hesitation or apology in my voice.
Exactly none of this was on our goal worksheet for 2018.
We became a different kind of family than we were a year ago. We’re more honest and we’re bolder. We’re more careful with each other.
This past year, I’ve gotten the opportunity to actually live out the values that I claimed to hold. For years, I’ve been writing and saying and preaching that “love is love is love.” I’ve advocated that same-sex marriage and ordination for LGBTQ leaders were the direction our denomination should go. I come from a progressive family and I’ve raised progressive children.
Nonetheless, I didn’t handle my son’s coming out as well as I wish I had. It was mixed up with him needing some space from me, which I now realize is appropriate and healthy for a teenage boy. I think I would have handled it all better if he’d been twenty-five years old instead of fifteen when he came out, but that’s not how it unfolded.
I wasn’t prepared and I let fear be the boss of me too many times.
As I look at the blank sheet of goals for 2019, I’m hesitant to write anything down. I’m learning more and more that we can’t possibly know what is around the corner. The best that I can do, I think, is make sure I’m strong enough to handle whatever is coming. I can keep my heart open. I can let love, and not fear, be the boss of me.