Ode to my Mother

As you already know, my mother passes away on May 16th.  That transition brought her out of suffering and into the arms of Jesus – I believe that with all my heart.  And yet, I find that this process on MY side of the peace is a bit harder.  I am way more retrospective, I am sad, and of course very thankful that I was able to say what I needed to say before she went onto Glory.

Having said that, I must share without hesitation a truth about my mom, one that I have known for over 20 years, which something I didn’t hold in such regard until recently.  She was someone with tons of flaws (aren’t we all?), but in one area she was always consistent and that was in the area of unconditional love.  She never turned away a person from her home, she never added criteria to extend love to people, and she was someone who found good in everyone.  And, she saved my life.

In my mid-twenties I came to realize that no amount of prayer was going to change the fact I was attracted to women.  By this point I had been married around 5 years and Kirstie was about 3.  I had spent agonizing hours crying out to God to heal me, to change me, and nothing had happened.  I went to seminars at my church to “build my faith”, I attended women’s conferences to become more “A woman of God”, I constantly asked for prayer coverage and I certainly laid this before the Lord in all transparency and supplication.  I even saw a special “spiritual” person who was famous for their ministry of cleansing the “sins of the fathers” so that it would not carry forward into our own lives.  And yet, I felt as though I was so steeped in some sort of sin or lacked faith or was not important enough because of some failure in my life for God to heal me.

And I wanted to die.  I honestly thought being on the earth was damaging those around me the most, especially my daughter.  I felt I was doomed to hell anyway, so what would the final straw of suicide matter?

So I ran away from my life, not sure I could go through with suicide, but determined to rid the filth that my very existence from the presence of those I loved the most.  Because, at that time all I wanted was to be love by God, be whole for Him (aka, be straight), and I knew I was failing.  So I ran from my life and somehow ended up at my mom’s house.  Without saying much, other than some story about dealing with “marital issues”, my mom knew something was hugely wrong.  And she didn’t pry.  She didn’t corner me.  She just loved me.  She made me coffee.  She cooked for me.  She sat and talked to me as she smoked her Marlboro 100’s and showed me the stray cats that ended up staying with her and her roommate.  Even as I existed with these pieces of comfort, I was not peaceful – I still struggled and determined in my mind that I had to do something drastic, and all roads lacked any sort of hope.

Then one day, I remember sitting on the curb outside her house, contemplating just walking until I could not walk one step further………and she came out and sat next to me.  She didn’t say a word, she just sat there.  She smiled, I think she even touched me.  But she didn’t speak.  And before I could realize what I was doing, I said to her “Mom, I think I am gay.  No, I don’t think it, I know it.  I am gay.”

It felt good to get it out, to say the words, because at that moment what I was looking for was to have someone outside of myself validate the fact that I was this horrible, shameful thing that needed to disappear.  I needed that one push to get me from this stagnant uncertainty of despair and get me to action.

I remember Mom not reacting.  Her fact didn’t change.  She looked at me and said, “Okay.”  I waited, I am not sure how long, and then she said, “You are Gina.  When you were just a small baby, you hated dresses with ruffles and frills.  You would cry until I changed you.  You were so different from your sister in that way, you wanted plain and functional dresses to wear.  So I dressed you differently.  You always loves playing outside and were so athletic, you still are, and you even taught yourself to ride a bike without anyone’s help.  You have always stood up for the underdog, even if the bully was twice as big as you were – remember that time that boy punched you in the mouth when you were protecting your brother? –  and you always like to sit and talk to Grandma and other people who are older than you are.  Not many young people like that.  You are a wonderful mother and a wonderful daughter and I am so proud of you.  I can understand that you might think it is bad that you’re gay, that it changes you somehow.  But I don’t think that is the case.  You are Gina.  You are my daughter.  You are so many things that are wonderful.  Nothing you can say will change any of those things.  I love you.  I will always love you.”

I remember staring out to the street, replaying those words through my head for several minutes, trying to calibrate what had just happened.  I was a bit mad at first, thinking even in my expectation of her reaction, I was way off base.  But as the words replayed over and over, I understood what my mom was trying to say.  That it was okay.  That I was okay.  That maybe I was not an abomination.  That even if I was gay, I was still something that could be loved.  That should be loved.  That there were pieces of me that brought value to the world, that not everything was measured against my sexuality.  That she wasn’t going anywhere, even after I told her the horrible truth, and that in itself made me thunderstruck.

I honestly don’t remember what I said back to her.  The days after that moment are somewhat of a blur to me.  My life was still kind of a mess and it still took me almost 10 years to tell others I was gay and 15 for me to come out and accept it truly for myself.  But in that moment, for the first time since I was about 13, I stopped hating myself.  I stopped wanting to end or damage myself.  I stopped feeling as though God hated me.  I still prayed that He would heal me, but I didn’t picture His angry face and pointed fist directed at me.  And it all started with my mom, who I knew LOVED ME, period.  I am so thankful that she gave me life, twice, and taught me in not only word but in deed how to love unconditionally.  I am sorry that it took me so long to share this memory with others, though I am glad she knew what a huge impact it has had on my life.  I love you, Mom.

Jan

My mom.  She was many things.  She hated the name “Janice”.  She loved her kids and grandkids so much – we are her legacy.  She was an artist, and now I appreciate her paintings more than I can explain.  She used to blot her lipstick on envelopes, pieces of paper, junk mail……her lip imprints could be found anywhere.  She used to drive like Mario Andretti, though I was never scared.  She was an amazing dancer back in the day.  Some songs would make her cry even if she wasn’t sad.  She always had long fingernails, and they were super strong.  My Dad never called her by her name, at least where I could hear, but instead called her “babe”, “honey”, etc.  She had friends from all walks of life, from tons of different races, and made equality a way of life not a byword.  Okay, so she met my Dad in a bar when he was in the Navy, and may have been nine years older than he was, but hey she was smoking hot and had pull.  She was a real estate agent for over 20 years and her clients became family; most were repeat customers multiple times.  She was not afraid to stand up to anyone, especially when someone was being a bully to someone weaker/smaller.

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She had an amazing laugh.  One look would shut up 100% of her kids – no yelling needed.  She loved to play the slots in Las Vegas or Laughlin.  She was an amazing cook, and as an Italian always made way too much food.  She was generous to a fault.  She was 5′ 3 1/2″ most of her life – and yes she always said the “and a half” part.  She was pretty witty for most of her life.  She could be awfully scary too (remember, she was Italian)!  She was an imperfect soul that I loved immensly.

Janice “Jan” Lorraine Gates Fakelmann Minard.  You will be missed and will remain forever in our hearts.

Reflection of Life

Those who have known me for a while know I had some rough times relating to my mom over the course of my youth.  Her being bipolar has had a lot to do with that, and reality is – we all have some form of dysfunction in our lives.  None of us are perfect.  Yet, if you’ve known me more than a week, you also know I often tell people I’ve had a pretty amazing life, my childhood was pretty legit, and I am pretty proud of the person I have grown up to be.  (Okay, so I am still pretty immature, but that’s besides the point.)

I am currently in the ICU ward of a Southern California hospital, my mother having been moved back here a few hours ago.  Right now she’s resting well, is under wonderful care, though due to that care it is difficult for her to communicate with us.  She has a face mask on and it’s pretty much impossible to hear anything she has to say.  Add that her voice is still recovering from the breathing tube that was only removed a few days ago, and well……the only real thing we can understand is her nodding yes or no.  Yet her eyes are so expressive, I could sit hours just gazing into them, reassuring her of my love, that she’s been a wonderful mother, that she’s doing a great job, and the like.  But, as she rests I thought I’d write some thoughts, as that is my therapy as I fight to stay strong but would rather fall in a messy heap and sob my heart out.

So, whether or not I struggled with my mom, no matter if there were times when I was not sure I could deal with her…….every negative thing I might have easily conjured up in the past lays silent as my mind and heart are overwhelmed with love and appreciation for her.

When I was about 6, my mom and I went grocery shopping.  I am not sure but I think we had guests; maybe my Grandma Minard was visiting or maybe it was someone else.  But we were there and we were buying items.  At the checkout I asked for a candy bar, which I usually didn’t do and by the way…..we hardly EVER had candy on the regular.  That was for special occasions.  Anyway, my mom said yes and I was shocked, EXCITED even!  But then I remember her getting really upset (not at me) and things being moved around and my mom acting weird.  But I didn’t understand it at all though I sure did enjoy that Snickers!  Come to find out later, as my Dad pulled me aside, and asked me to not ask for candy again.  He explained that my mom didn’t have enough cash for all the things we had to buy and that it was hard when she had to put things back.  I didn’t appreciate that as much when I was six, but as an adult who once upon a time had similar situations occur, I have to give my mom props for saying YES to the candy, and then letting me keep it even though she had to put back groceries.  I am sure the candy bar was not the tipping point, but you get what I am saying.

I was in a musical in kindergarten – I played the triangle BOOM – and my mother told me she would not be able to attend.  I was sad, because even back then I was extroverted and wanted nothing more than for my mom to see me rock the triangle.  I will always, ALWAYS remember the moment I hit the side of the instrument, looked up, and there was my mom standing in the back row!!!!!!  That filled my heart with happiness..

I have more to share, and I expect to do so in the coming days, but the truth of the matter is this – my mom did the very best she could.  While she may have made mistakes or regretting doing (or not doing) some things, that doesn’t matter.  And when I sat with her yesterday, all she could do was struggle to get the words formed in her mind and tell me what was heavy on her heart.  She didn’t let her confusion or her recovering vocal cords or her health get in her way.

Mom:  you are well liked

Gina:  thanks mom

Mom:  no, no (pause as she thought of the words) you are well loved

Gina:  awwww mom, thank you I love you too

Mom:  that’s it.  I love you.  I love you.  I love you.

And that, my friends, is all that really matters.  Love, and knowing when to share it.  And really, it should be shared always.

 

 

 

 

lgbT

The latest hot topic regarding transgenders and bathrooms has created a lot of political and media fodder.  It is NOT my intention to discuss this topic nor debate it, but the fact remains – because of this new focus by many, new questions have been raised with me and Deana.  These have NOT been mean natured, judgmental, or within the “bathroom” realm of questioning.  Instead, people who have never really considered the “T” in LGBT have begun to seek to understand.  This is always a good thing and we welcome and applaud the idea.  However, it also opens up the need to clarify a few things – and that is the basis of this post.

First, let me get the harder part out of the way, and this is not so much because people have asked us this, but because it seems to be a prevalent correlation when the topic of LGBT comes up in general; just because someone is LGBT, does NOT mean they are a pedophile.  While I am sure there HAVE been occasions where a pedophile is gay, I believe statistically there are more straight pedophiles abusing children, based on the fact there are more heterosexuals in our population.  So pedophilia is NOT a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered issue – it is a societal issue.  (See this medical research for info on that, so you know I am not just spouting my views).

Now, for more interesting questions.  We have been pleased that many of our friends have been researching transgender information and trying to understand people who identify as transgender.  I will be the first to tell you, I have walked down the same path of inquisition.  We have a few very close friends who are transgender, some we only knew as the gender they identify with, and some as they transferred to their identified gender.  In both cases, I can’t tell you honestly that I wasn’t just as confused as you may be.  I mean, just because I am a lesbian doesn’t mean I totally understand what these children of God are going through.  And that is the first question I’d like to address in detail – Deana and I are NOT Transgender; we both identify as women and we both feel attraction towards women.  Of the two of us, I am definitely more androgynous and am more drawn to things that society has deemed more “male” in nature.  I like baseball caps, sports, cargo shorts, etc.  Sometimes, the clothes I wear were made for men, but not because I want to be a MAN, but because the style fits me better.  However, the majority of my clothes were made for women.  When my kids were younger and Mother’s Day was approaching, I’d get so irritated that the mothers were given a “tea” at school while the dads got to play in a tennis match.  I am not much of a “tea” person EXCEPT when I am in England and then look out, I am totally down for finger sandwiches, crumpets, and the like.  I really don’t like to shop nor do I prefer to wear frilly clothes that flow and swish.  But really, there are MANY women, even straight women, who are similar to me.  Deana, well she fits the more feminine mold for sure, likes to wear platform shoes and long necklaces, but can play basketball with the best of them and can intimidate others with her hispanic attitude…..and that’s okay too.  But neither of us wants to be male.  I enjoy many things that society has labeled as “female”, and pretty much I have always felt female.  Neither of us have any desire to change that.  That’s NOT to say we’ve not had those theoretical conversations where we’d say “it would have been SO MUCH easier if one of us was a man”.  But that’s a different topic.

So, that leads to the “B” in LGBT, signifying bisexual.  While it is not my intent to get too graphic on this site, nor do I want to expose details that should remain private, I often get asked if I am bisexual given I was married for 16 years to a man.  I feel it would be unfair to ignore this question.  I loved my husband and never felt an aversion to being a wife to him.  My goal, when we were married, was to be straight and to be healed of my attraction to women – it was never my intention to allow my attraction to women to develop further than the secret pull that was within me.  Other posts have shared some of the struggle I went through during this period of my life, so I won’t go too deep here.  But, I want to be clear – my heterosexual marriage was not torture for me.  HOWEVER,  I was conforming to what I felt society, my church, my family, my everything was demanding I be – a heterosexual woman.  After spending my entire post-puberty life (and 16 years with my husband), I knew I was lying.  That began my present journey that ultimately lead to meeting and marrying Deana, whom I’ve been with for 13 years.  So, despite my marriage to my ex-husband, I do not identify as bisexual.  I identify as a lesbian; I am attracted to women and feel completely fulfilled within my marriage with Deana.

Now to “G”, signifying gay.  In general terms, gay is associated with homosexual males, whereas “L” is associated with homosexual females (or lesbians).  You will see I sometimes use “gay” to describe myself.  I have shared the technical definitions, though in my own life, lesbian and gay are used interchangeably.

Now to “T”, transgender.  This is someone who identifies with a gender that does not correspond to their biological gender.  And, let me start by saying……..that’s hard for me to understand.  As someone who has always felt and liked being a female, it is hard for me to truly absorb feeling differently.  (Wait…..disclaimer…..I resented that I could not go topless on a hot day when I was about 8.  My brothers were allowed to “because they were boys” and that did tick me off.  Ha.)  It seems “weird” for me to consider feeling like a man when I was born a woman.  But, in a small way, I can see aspects of it in my life.  I mean, when I was little I resonated more with my male friends, wanting to play with hot wheels and throw a football.  I NEVER wanted to play dress up, put on makeup, etc.  And I knew, without anyone telling me anything, that I was “weird” and shouldn’t probably act that way.  How much more would the pressure be if my very MIND told me day in and day out that my body was totally wrong?  What if, as I began going through puberty, the breasts that began to develop was a significant affront to the fact I felt like a man?  (Which, side note, had I been born transgender this would not have been an issue since I was Olive Oil until after I had Kirstie!  🙂 )  In any regard, I don’t understand why people are transgender, really I don’t.  I have just as many questions as you probably do.  But I do know this – those I know and love are honorable people.  They struggle and pray and cry out to God, and they are humans and have feelings.  Not one of the transgender people I know have changed their mind, thinking “Oh shoot, I am really female (or male) after all!”.  Every one of them truly wishes they were born with the correct biological bodies so they didn’t have to struggle to align what they feel inside with what shows outside.  And every one of them feel whole now that they have started or completed their transition.  And, every single one of them are Christian.  That’s not to say ALL are Christian in the transgender community, but neither are those in the heterosexual community.  And I feel compelled to share – for those of you who are Christian, Christ calls you to love EVERYONE, even your enemies……even transgender people.  And many times, you may not even realize the person you are interacting with IS transgendered!  And that is the truth.

So, all that to say, Deana and I are not experts on transgenders.  We probably have more acceptance for them than many do.  We still shop at Target, and again……I don’t really like to shop so I guess I am stepping outside of my comfort zone to “take a stand” for those who were thrown into the limelight and I am not even sure WHY they are there.  I encourage you ALL to “seek to understand”, as Mr. Covey tried to teach us with his “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”.  Sometimes, seeking is the most important part of this thing called life.

 

The Circle of Life

I have been blessed in many ways in my life, abundantly so.  One area that is a huge blessing that often fills my heart with gratitude is being a mother.  This area runs the gamut of emotions; joy, uncertainty, frustration, fear, excitement, pride, love……and the list goes on.  Sometimes it seems like just yesterday I was holding my first born daughter for the very first time, amazed that I was actually a mother, freaking out that I was responsible for this precious little bundle of joy……..and then to be hit in the face with the reality that she will be 26 this year.  What the HECK?!?!!?!  How did this happen?????  To watch videos of my oldest son learning to ride a bike, showing a determination and tenacity that was amazing, as I plan what to do for his 21st birthday.  To receive a text of my 15 year old son’s haircut, realizing he STILL has a pretty darn big head and has become this young gentlemen that blends the best of his father and me.  To pump up bicycle tires for a family ride, and notice all the hair on your 14 year old son’s masculine legs, as his 12 year old sister impatiently rides around you, seamlessly using the best project manager’s tone with perfection.  To have these thoughts running through your brain as you fall asleep, and then to wake to this video by Nichole Nordeman that a friend posted to Facebook…….WOW!!!!  My friend warned that we’d need tissues, and she was right!

 

Time DOES need to slow down, and as a mother of five kids I can attest to that.  But an interesting dynamic also exists in my life, and the last few days I’ve been pondering it.  Recently, I’ve been dealing with my mother being ill; she has struggled with her health for many years, though at the age of nearly 81, it seems her struggles have become more……I don’t even know the right word to write.  She and we have realized there will come a day, and perhaps that day is not as far off as it felt before, when she will graduate to heaven.  And that realization has made me think of my own childhood, of all the memories I have shared with my mom, and with my dad, and with my siblings and friends and aunts and uncles and grandparents.  And, even when these memories have been the most heartwarming and fun to reminisce over……..looking at my mother in her diminished state, hearing her voice that suddenly sounds old, seeing her hands shake or her skin bruise so easily…….seeing her now even as the memories of her back in the day taking no crap from anyone…….I wonder with awe where the hell the years have gone.  Even with the years of illness she’s been through, I feel almost blindsided by the reality that my mother is nearly 81 years old and somehow became this person that needs gentle care, needs mothering and gentleness and words of comfort and compassion, and will not be on this earth forever.

And as I have emotionally and physically been trying to process this realization, not always holding it together….and in fact losing it occasionally as I regress to an 8 year old girl that needs her mommy while also fully existing in the role of the parent, coordinating updates with my siblings and talking to doctors and making sure she has money to pay for food…….I can’t help but acknowledge my support system.  Of course Deana has been there for me in thousands of ways for which I can’t express enough in words.  But to sit here and ponder……my own children have stepped up into a new role as well.  Kirstie flew with me to California to visit my mom, and neither of us realized how much she’d be a tower of strength for me as I would swing between 8 year old and 48 year old Gina.  She was there for me when I cried, she validated my anger when I raged, and she encouraged me when I felt hopeless.  She saw her own grandmother struggle, and the compassion and empathy she displayed, the love she extended to the woman that used to hold and care for her as an infant was a blessing to behold.  The maturity in which she balanced the fact that this could be the last time she saw her grandma, while ALSO comforting her own mother as I dealt with this same realization……made me realize the dynamic of family is so complex and robust and strong and……and…….beautiful.

I could go on and on about each of the kids.  How Kenny seems to have radar and calls or texts me at the perfect time, knowing if I need to laugh or to talk or to just hear his voice.  How Josh speaks to me, even as a teenager that has a full social life and sometimes moms aren’t as cool, but still enjoys interacting with me.  How Zack always, always asks if I’ve had a good day, but more importantly follows up if I admit my day has been rough.  Sophia, who is truly a mini me, gets when I am stressed or feeling inadequate because I really DON’T have the answers or the solution, even though she’s only 12.  Through it all, even when I sit here watching that video and ponder where the time has gone, I must also admit these children that rely on me are also a huge support system.  They feed my soul and care for me in ways I never planned.  And, really, I thank God so much that He provided them to ME, that the very people I’ve taken care of for so many years have turned the table and are taking care of me.  It is weird and majestic and awesome.  And I am thankful for this, even if I just realized it.