Lesbian and Gay Parenting book coverIn a Family Way

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Bedtime for Bonzo

Posted By on July 1, 2009

In a Family Way – Bedtime for Bonzo

By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

This is a very difficult column for me to write. As many of you know, I’ve been writing a parenting column for the past 12+ years. Actually, I write three parenting columns, one of which has been this Irma Bombeckish mostly humor, sometimes deadly serious, column about my life as a lesbian mom. The column began on AOL, and was then published on LesbianNation.com, and was picked up by a number of LGBT print newspapers, and online magazines across the country.

The very first column I wrote started out as an email to a Lesbian MOMS email listserv I’ve been a member of since my older son was an infant. It was the story of my trying to get my nails manicured and having my toddler decided he needed to use the potty while my nails were still wet. I honestly didn’t intend it to be particularly funny (it felt like an overwhelming crisis at the time), but Potty Training and the Femme hit the funny bone of many Moms who probably just hadn’t had enough sleep for months, and suddenly I was documenting the daily ups and downs of queer parenting. Please remember the word Blog hadn’t yet been invented.

Now potty training has many funny (and some not so funny) moments. I began to suspect that we were in trouble when I was telling someone the story of my potty training manicure when he was about six years old, and he leaned over to me and said, “Momma, that is private please.” So I became more careful about what I wrote, and for the seven years have been able to find things to say that won’t humiliate him when he goggle-stalks himself and finds it on the web. But I’m here to tell you those days are over.

It’s not that my 13 year old doesn’t do and say things that are worth of a column. It’s that, at 13, most of the really good, really juicy, really interesting stories, are well, “private.” He can roll his eyes about his potty training stories now, but I’m relatively sure that his very active teenage social life is completely off limits – unless of course you are his friend on Facebook – and certainly from his moms’ perspective. Not a day goes by that I don’t think, “Oh that would make a funny column,” and sigh, because it will have to wait now, until he is at least 30 and can bear to find his teenage life funny once again.

So over the years I’ve written about 50 columns, maybe more, on what has come to be called In a Family Way. These columns are available on my Website (www.choicesconsulting.com) and you can follow the growth of my two boys, for at least the first decade of their lives.

It seems fitting to end this column at this time in my older son’s life: he just became Bar Mitzvah this past Fall. Even he says, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m thirteen!” In Judaism, becoming Bar Mitzvah means that a child has become an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community and signifies that he is fully capable of making moral decisions and to fulfilling religious obligations. My partner and I shared a traditional blessing for our son at his Bar Mitzvah, written by Rabbi Eliezer, known as Rabbi Eliezer, the Great (note: Eliezer is his younger brother’s name), which says “A parent needs to take care of his son until he is thirteen, from then on the parents says “blessed is the God who has exempted me from the punishment of this one.” Our prayer read,

I hereby release my son as an independent soul under the protective wings and guidance of the Shechinah [the feminine face of God]. I will no longer bear responsibility and take the spiritual consequences of his mistakes, sin, and errors as I did when he was a child. In the presence of this holy congregation I declare him to be a young adult with both the freedoms and responsibilities that this title implies.

Needless to say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, perhaps even more poignant when you get the visual. My son towers over me. He is, no joke, over a foot and two inches taller than me (it’s not terribly hard to be taller than me since I am only four feet, eight inches tall, having shrunk 2 inches in the last few years, but he towers over almost all adults now). We read those words looking up, way up, at him. My partner wanted to make him sit down, but I voted for reality as it is. One of the pictures of our family on the day of the Bar Mitzvah I have relabeled: Gulliver and the Lilliputians. My son leans his elbow easily on my shoulder and bends his entire body way down and over to hold and kiss me, which he still does, hello and good-bye, in public and before bed. I once had a dream when he was a small baby: I was putting something in the trunk of my car when this tall brown boy leaned in over my head to help me. I remember in the dream thinking, “Oh, it’s you, my son, that’s who you will be.” I woke up and here he is.

I am writing this column the day after my younger son (Eliezer, the great) celebrated his ninth birthday. Now, I know some of you are saying, NINE YEARS OLD, where the hell did that decade go? Well, like the cute ways that babies wave their hands when saying “bye-bye,” they are gone, behind us now.

The future looks quite bright. My boys are healthy and thriving. The big one enters Albany High School in the Fall, and the little one starts fourth grade, whizzing around town on his new ($200) big kid 2-wheel birthday bicycle with handbrakes. Parenting is everything I ever hoped it would be, and nothing like I had ever imagined.

So in putting this column to bed, I want to say that you are not done with me yet. As I mentioned earlier, I am also the proud parent of two other columns, one is published in the, and the other has been published for well over a decade in many online parenting sites and a number of magazines including Proud Parenting and Transgender Tapestry. It is called Dear Ari, and I figure if I can play Irma Bombeck, I can also play Dear Abbey. It is an LGBTQ Parenting Advise column, and I still receive a few emails a month asking for advice. I will begin to reprint these here in CommUnity; feel free to write me and ask for advice. It’s not quite Dan Savage (and I have no idea what his kid will think about his column in a few years!?), but I’ve not yet been called conservative by anyone over 13. And my dear friend Vince Sgambati will continue to write his bi-monthly In the Family column for you – he’s a lot funnier than I am anyway.