Officially, Mom!

I have been full-time nearly 1 1/2 years.  Since coming out to my children, they have called me Amma.  That parental title was never enough for me.  Now, I am Mom, and I could not be more elated.

When I came out to my children just before I came out, my wife and I fought extensively over my parental title.  I had a strong pull to take a maternal title; she was having none of it.  I wrote extensively about how important parental title is to an identity (specifically my own), and for a long time, I was forced to accept a compromise title:  Amma.  It was the closest title to a maternal title she would allow, and it is all my children have called me for awhile.   Each time I heard that name, it never felt quite right, and when the kids recently started morphing her title from Mama to Mom, I began to feel physical pain, as that was the title to which I truly felt connected.

Recently, I asked my son why he was beginning to call Mama “Mom” more often.  He said he was trying it out even thought he knew I wanted to be called Mom.  My daughter, also in the car at the time, immediately wanted to call me Mom, and started in with “I love you, Mom!”  My heart fluttered, but I was immediately worried what the end result of that interaction would be.  What would happen when she tried to call me Mom in front of my wife?  So, I told my daughter, “If you want to call me Mom, you really need to talk to Mama about that first.”  Then, I braced for impact and a potential angry e-mail or fight.

A few days later, the entire family dropped off my wife at work as we usually do.  The children told my wife that they loved her, then my daughter turned to me and said, “I love you, Mom!  Mama?  Can I call Amma ‘Mom’?”  Here we go, I thought.  After a momentary pause, my wife did not flash any anger.  No impulsive reactions.  She simply said, “Yes.”  For the next twenty minutes, I was shocked by what had just transpired.  Did that just happen?  I was somewhere between crying, joy, and disbelief.  When I got home, I texted my wife:  “Did you just give the children permission to call me Mom?”  She responded that she had indeed done that.  She also revealed that for the past few weeks, she had been working with the kids behind my back to slowly transition into that new title for me.  It was intended to be a Mother’s Day gift, but the beans were spilled a little early.  And then, I breathed a sigh of relief as a new dawn began, and I was able to allow my daughter to freely tell me, “I love, you, Mom!”

While my daughter immediately transitioned into that title, my son took a little longer.  However, it only took him a couple of weeks to drop the Amma moniker, and now it;s all Mom for me.  There have been bumps and corrections (my wife is trying not to respond to “Mom” as she used to), and now we are beginning to settle into the roles of Mama & Mom on a regular basis.

Last year, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day, and it was a little tense and awkward.  This year, we more comfortably shared the holiday.  My wife even promised she would “win” Mother’s Day—and she did.  The family bought me a Pandora-inspired charm bracelet with five charms that totally suit me and my personality, including one that is a heart with the word “Mom” on one side.

I credit my wife with doing a lot of work to get to this point.  For a long time, she maintained that I would never be our children’s mother.  Now, she is trying very hard to show that she can share that title with me and that we can co-exist in this role.  I know that making this change is not comfortable for her, but I cannot thank her enough for making the effort and acknowledging how important this particular parental title means to me.

My son even brought home two Mothers Day art projects he made at school, one for Mama and one for Mom.  While it meant he had double the work than the rest of his classmates, he was super excited to share them with us.  So much love!

Being able to freely express myself as a mother and to be called Mom by my children and the world is the best gift I could have received.  This move helps validate immensely important pieces my identity and my womanhood.  I feel more complete, and the love of my children will never waiver.  I feel like a mom.  Now, my children can officially call me one.

Love & Family at Christmastime Through the Years

Growing up, I have had a long and varied history when it comes to Christmas.  From big celebrations to quiet dinners and everything in between, one theme has always been constant:  Love and family.  This year, as my world continues to change in the shadow of my transition, I approach a Christmas unlike any other, as the instability of my family and the resolve of my heart balance on a razor-thin wire.

My parents divorced when I was two, and so my earliest Christmas memories frequently involve waking up on Christmas morning to a wide range of presents that my single mom (and Santa) had placed under and around our tree.  Not that I appreciated it as a young child, but my mom tried so hard to make each of my Christmases special.  She overcompensated and spent money she did not really have to make my holiday special because we were by ourselves.  One of my earliest Christmas memories was waking up in our small cottage to a living room full of gifts, all for little old 5-year-old me.  A Big Wheel was my big gift that year.  What I did not realize at the time was that she was not just showering me with gifts because I was her only child.  She did that to make my Christmas memorable at a time when we had very little to celebrate.  This demonstration was likely her way of trying to show me how much she loved me despite a lack of resources.

My mom and I were incredibly close.  So, when she went to New York by herself for Christmas when I was 8-years-old, I was crushed.  I stayed at a friend’s house for 2 weeks, and it was like being in a whole new world.  The first night I stayed at his house, were supposed to sleep in bunk beds in my friend’s room, but I cried because I missed my mom.  We relocated to the living room, where I was given the couch, and my friend slept on the living room floor.  This calmed me because the living room had a large bay window.  Every night, I would stare out the window in to the night and look at the stars.  I would think about how my mom was looking at the same stars in New York, and we were somehow connected that way.  In this way, I was with my mom for Christmas.  To this day, I still wish upon stars when I am separated from close friends and family and blow kisses into the night sky hoping they will travel through the stars to those I am separated from.

On another Christmas when I was about 9, we traveled to my mom’s sister’s house in a remote Northern California town near Mt. Shasta.  I always enjoyed spending time with my cousins.  However, that Christmas, Santa left me a note saying my presents were waiting for me at home.  Also, both my mom and I were gifted with an ugly illness which forced us home and drugged out on a half codeine-half cough syrup prescription watching rented movies while laying miserably in my mom’s bed.  In mutual agony, we made the best of a bad situation, and I still remember the post-Christmas movie marathon to this day.

My dad was not entirely absent.  He lived about 20 miles away, and in later years, I began to spend the first half of my winter breaks with him.  That side of my family was a stark contrast to the relatively isolated world of my mom and I.  My father was adopted into an Italian family, and like any Italian family, holidays were an event.  Christmas was no different.  They were loud, boisterous, crowded… and fun.  My grandma and grandpa hosted about 20 family members each year, and we all crowded in to a tiny kitchen and living room in their apartment.  The family would play seemingly neverending games of 31, my unfiltered aunts & uncles would comment on my appearance and my life, and my half-brother (who lived with my dad and whom I have always just referred to as my brother) would tease me like any older brother would.  We would gorge on a huge spread of home cooked food.  Typical Italian Christmas.

What ties the two sides of my family together were love and family.  With my mom, we had an extremely tight-knit bond full of love and respect.  For 18 years, she was my world until I went off to college.  She celebrated me in times of achievement; she cried with me in times of great sadness.  And while that seems like par for the course for a mother, she brought intangibles tot he table that are too extensive for me to get into here.  Suffice to say, she shaped my early experience like no other.  She was my immediate family.  With my dad, I had the extended family.  We did not share the same emotional bond that I had with mom, but he showed me the importance of family in the greater sense.  The experiences I had—especially at the holidays—could not have been more diametrically opposed, but together, they helped me balance the importance of love and family.

In my later years, the world shifted.  I have lost my mom.  My dad has moved several hours away.  I no longer have any living grandparents, and the days of the loud Italian Christmases faded when grandpa passed away.  Despite the fracturing and loss of my family, the ideas I have revolving around love and family have continued to be important to me.  I have had many a sad Christmas, especially in my early to mid 20s, when I did not have a lot of direction in my life and I was struggling with school.  However, when I met the person who would become my wife, my connection with love and family found a new home with her.

As a romantic and with our nearly instant connection, I loved my wife with all of my heart.  Our first Christmas together came just two months after our first date.  That year, I have memories of taking her to see The Nutcracker after an epic night of finals, and going to a performance Cirque du Soleil on a cold December night in San Francisco.  We spent that Christmas apart, but early on, her family embraced me as a member of their family.  By the following Christmas, I once again had a large table to sit at my wife’s mom & stepdad’s house.  On her dad’s side, her aunt would later conspire with me to arrange a surprise honeymoon which involved crashing at her house in Florida, even though she had never physically met me prior to our wedding.  Later that year, we spent that Christmas in Florida with both of my wife’s aunts.

My wife and I began to build our own Christmas traditions.  Up until last year, we made it a point to make crêpes each Christmas for breakfast.  We always select and decorate our tree as a family.  We frequently take a holiday photo together.  And when our daughter was born just days before Christmas, we were lucky enough to wake up as a family of four on Christmas morning instead of being stuck in a hospital.  I have a really cute photo of my 2-day old daughter sleeping in a stocking that I will always remember.

My wife and I have been together for 11 years.  We have had many a Christmas where we have had to travel to sick family members. We have traveled to other family members’ dinners.  We have had quiet Christmases at home.  What ties them altogether is the love we have shared for each other and the fact that no matter the hardships, we have been together as family.  With my transition, the last two Christmases have been the most challenging of them all.  Two years ago, there was plenty of raw anger still present in the house.  Last year, I was on the verge of coming out to the world as transgender.  In fact, I came out to my kids just shy of the new year.  In spite of the polarized emotions of the last two Christmases, we held it together as a family, and we continued to celebrate with most of our traditions and provided the children with the best experiences we can provide.  Much like my mom did, I want the best for my children, and while we have to get creative to make it work, I want my children’s Christmas experiences to be as positive as possible while hiding the problems in the background.

This year, I do not know what to expect.  As Christmas approaches this year, my heart and mind are strained.  My wife and I have come a long way in rebuilding our friendship and our overall relationship, but huge questions still loom over us.  Just this week, we had a discussion on the uncertainty that faces us.  On one hand, we need freedom and space from each other.  On the other, we are still family, and at least for me, there will always be love in my heart for her.  I told her I loved her in a birthday card I wrote for her this week.  Even if and when we go our separate ways, that is not a feeling I can just ignore.  She will always be a part of my heart, and she will always be family.  We continue treating this holiday like any other (except for the complication of Christmas falling on a Sunday this year).  We will continue the tradition of buying and decorating a tree together.  We will celebrate our daughter’s birthday ahead of and separate from Christmas.  We will exchange thoughtful gifts.  Sadly, crêpes probably won’t happen.  (I was sad when that tradition was broken.)

My Christmases past has been wildly uneven, but love and family continue to be central themes in my life, even in the face of uncertainty.  I do my best as a mother to provide a memorable Christmas for my children.  I do my best as a wife (as long as I am one) to celebrate as much as I my partner is emotionally accepting of my love.  For myself, I must remind myself that even though I have changed many things about my life, there are some things that remain the same.  I am still a loving person with a big heart.  I am still worthy of both giving and receiving love and warmth.  In good Christmases and bad, those have always been there.  As a child, my mom was a shining example of these traits, and even in trying times, she did her best.  She taught me well.  Even as my family situation becomes more fluid and my heart’s resolve is challenged, my core beliefs of the importance of love and family remain, and I will do my best to enjoy this Christmas season, even if I do cry every now and then.

Why I Am Afraid After the Election

On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 8, I picked up my son from school and we went to the grocery store. In addition to some things I were asked to pick up, I also bought four bottles of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider in anticipation of celebrating an historic win for the first female president.  On our way back to our minivan, I was asked by a woman sitting in her car if I had voted.  I responded that I had not yet but that I would before the polls closed.  My children (being the not shy social butterflies that they are) immediately for into a conversation with the woman.  She was enamored with them (she’s not the first), and she said that they were the reason why she votes.  Her comments were inspiring, honest, and authentic.  As a society and as parents, we want to leave the world a better place for our children than we received it.

I wore my white dress to the polls in solidarity.  While I vote in every election (not just presidential ones), this one was significant for me.  This was the first time as a legally recognized woman that I was voting for president–and I was voting for a woman.  Historic.

As I returned home and began to watch the election results stream in over the next few hours, my mood changed from nervous excitement to nervous tension to defeat to fear for the future.  What was I going to tell my children in the morning?  How was I going to explain that a bully—a man full of of hate, racism, and sexism (among other things)—was selected to be our next president.  And what was going to happen to my family and to myself?

Because my family is on the poorer side, the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)—and specifically, the expansion of Medicare—allowed us to insure ourselves and our children at zero cost to us.  This translated to a $500+/month savings and allowed our children to begin seeing a dentist and myself to start my transition. Medi-Cal is an essential tool in allowing me to access a therapist, hormones, and seek surgeries.  I cannot even imagine where I would be without the PPACA.  But now, in the wake of a shocking election result, I am now faced with a president-elect who seeks to “repeal and replace” my health care.

To my children’s credit, they handled the results fairly well.  I still don’t know what to truly expect on January 20.  However, I already feel fear for how they may have to defend me in the future.  The rhetoric of this election and its result have allowed fringe groups and radical opinions to be de facto accepted in some areas of our country.  When I transitioned, I gave up straight white male privilege to be a lesbian transgender woman.  By doing so, I have put myself in a position of minority and vulnerability.  Such a move comes with a large asterisk:  I do live in California and in the San Francisco Bay Area, which means I live in a bit of a protected bubble when it comes to transphobia and misogyny, but it still exists.  When I first started presenting as a woman at my son’s elementary school, he had to deal with questions from other kids about who I was and how I presented.  The 6-year-old was put in an awkward position, and I am proud to say we guided him through that difficult stage.  Now, it seems to a non-issue among the kids.  But with a fundamental shift in the politics of the nation and the “hidden Trump vote,” it is hard to say how much transphobia will read its head and how that will directly affect me and my children.

I have felt a small shift at work.  I have been full-time 10 months, and I was extremely nervous the first day I came to work as my authentic self.  While there was overwhelming support, there were guests (and their children) who would occasionally misgender me—sometimes intentionally.  The incidents were few and far between, and there really have been no incidents to my knowledge in the last 6 months.  However just after the election, I have begun to encounter more people misgendering me.  There was one particular weekend where I had three incidents, and since I am already highly dysphoric these days regarding my voice and face, they challenged me not to fall into a depressive state.  Luckily, I have team members who defend me when I am not around.  That helps.

Since the marriage equality decision came down from the Supreme Court, there has been a cultural shift to focus on transgender rights.  This mainly is a function of the fact the “T” is the redheaded stepchild of the LGBT acronym.  Why?  LGB are sexual orientations; T is an identity.  Even the Human Right Coalition (HRC) took heat for placing transgender rights on the back burner in order to push through marriage equality.  With trans people fighting for gender equality and the simple right to pee in peace in public accommodations, we now face a divided Supreme Court, a maniac in the White House, and Republican Congress.  There is great fear that transgender community wil not only see progress stalled but even rolled back.  The additional potential loss of the PPACA adds the additional fear that not only will the trans community not be granted equal protection but may also lose health care protections.  The trans community is being urged to update passports ahead of the transition of power, as rules may change making it more difficult to change name and gender on the most essential of identification documents.  I have a friend who moved up some of her transition consult dates because of the uncertainty ahead.

For me, I am in the awkward position of beginning the surgery consults and planning ahead for facial feminization surgery (FFS) and gender reassignment surgery (GRS).  These types of procedures have long wait lists and complicated red tape.  Any changes to health care could seriously impact my plans and heighten my dysphoria.  In short, my quality of life is directly affected by what happens in the next few months.  Living in uncertainty is scary.  I am grateful that I live in California.  I am grateful that I have support.  But even though I have all of these things going for me, I am still fearful that any of it can be taken away from me at anytime.  When I think of trans people in less protected areas than I, I am saddened.  In North Carolina, HB2 prevents trans people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with.  In “red” states, what there?  I can’t imagine living outside this state, let alone traveling.  What happens if I go to Walt Disney World, New York City, Washington DC?  What happens if I go to the Midwest?  I should not have to worry about traveling the country.  People should not have to live in fear.

Unlike some others, I do not challenge the results of the election.  I do not favor “faithless electors” or even necessarily those that cast a protest vote (although, those votes may have made a difference).  I am saddened that nearly 50% of those eligible to vote did not exercise that option.  Turnout was actually lower than the in the previous presidential election.  Americans have shown their ambivalence, and now we must live with the results.  With the new political landscape, I fear for a significant shift to the right, and that is not a shift that benefits me or my community.  Giving up my straight white male privilege means this shift will directly affect me and my family.  My wife is fearful for my safety.  We both worry about what negativity will be shared on the playground.  For now, we cannot assume what will happen; we can only move forward and hope for the best.  I only speak from the trans-perspective.  Other groups are fearful, too.  Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, women, refugees:  They all have reason to keep an eye on Washington and what happens next.

I try to remain optimistic.  I try to remain hopeful.  But for the first time following an election, I am fearful.  As the woman in the grocery store parking lot, my job as a mother is to protect my children from the hate and rhetoric.  My job as trans person is to advocate for my community.  My job for myself is to continue to reach for the dream of being and living as my authentic self.  I am doing the best I can in a changing political climate.  I resolve to continue being the best person I can be—full of love, dreams, and hope.

Amma vs. Mama: The Importance of a Parental Title

When I first came out to my children that I was transgender, it was one of the most significant and difficult conversations of my life.  How do you explain to a then 5-year-old and a 3-year-old that the person they have called Dada all their lives needs to be a woman?  As I explained in my post describing that experience, at the time I told my children, my wife and I were locked in a bitter debate over what they would call me once I told them and starting presenting as a woman.  I wanted to take on a maternal title; my wife was adamantly opposed.  After about two days of complicated and awkward grammar such as, “Dada told you to clean up.  She told you 5 minutes ago!”, a change needed to be made.  Dada was just not going to work for me.

Parental titles are used by children as a sign of respect and authority.  Rarely will one find a child that uses actual names when referring to their parents.  Parental titles are a reserved, special social construct, and the titles we use have great sentimental value and personal meanings to all that use them.  They are so significant, in fact, that even the religious frequently refer to God as the Father who art in heaven.  Not to be outdone, we lovingly call our most precious living resource Mother Earth.  There may be no greater title given by humans than that given to a parent.  Therefore, having children and having them call us by a parental title is significant and endearing.  However, parental titles are something that much of the world takes for granted:
Man with child = Father.
Woman with child = Mother

Simple.  Straightforward, right?  Not so much.

Same-gender couples with children go through the parental title debate.  A child with two moms or two dads is not uncommon, especially where I live.  However, what is the child of this “non-traditional” household supposed to call each of their parents?  Are they both Mama or Dad, and when called, do two parents respond simultaneously?  Or are they nuanced, one being Mama and the other one Mom.  Or do we use actual names or even initials?  There are many ways to solve the issue, and many same-gendered families solve it without issue.

Similar solutions exist for transgender parents.  In these cases, the transitioning partner may keep their old title or easily come to agreement with their co-parent about how to handle things.  Options exists.  For starters, the trans parent could simply retain their old title.  This would be a situation where, for example, a transwoman continues to be called Dad even after transition and presenting female.  Another way to go is for the trans parent to take a title which matches their new gender.  This would be a situation where, for example, a transwoman moves from Daddy to Mommy.  The third solution is for the trans parent to assume a new creative title.  For example, in the TV series Transparent, the lead character Maura takes on the title of Moppa, an amalgamation of Momma and Poppa.

In my home, no simple solution exists.

Why?  Well, pretty simple reason, really.  I was not always female.  Therefore, in my wife’s eyes, I am not qualified to be called a mother.  She acknowledges that having the children call me by a masculine parental title would be awkward for all—especially in a public atmosphere.  At the same time, she believes she is the one and only mother our children will ever have.  “You will never be their mother!” she has decried on multiple occasions.  For her, the title of Mama (and all its forms) are sacred, and she is nearly intractable in her position.  Her suggestion:  I should take on the creative title Amma, which was as close to Mama as she was going to allow.

I was never fully comfortable with Amma.  Yes, it rhymes.  Yes, it close.  But, no, it is not a traditional title that women with children in the world are called.  The random person on the street will refer to me as a mom.  What does Amma mean?  Still, after two days of confused speech after coming out to the kids, I needed something other than Dada, so I begrudgingly adopted the moniker Amma, and that is what the children have called me for the last 8+ months.

Trans people come in many forms, and not all of them fit the binary male-female roles to which much of the world is accustomed.  Gender non-conforming, gender fluid, androgynous, and others fit somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum.  These types of people may be more liberal when it comes to adopting or selecting a parental title, which eases the burden.  Unfortunately, I am not one those people.  While I love my GNC and queer trans friends, I do not personally identify that way.  I am a femme transwoman on the end of the gender spectrum.  In that sense, my identity aligns more with a stereotypical ciswoman’s gender role.  Along with that comes an even further extreme tie to the notion of specifics of womanhood, including maternal desires to carry and deliver a baby naturally from my own body, breastfeed it, and raise it like any other mother would.  I have mentioned this before, and it sets me apart from a majority of other transwomen I have met.  I will forever be scarred by the fact that medical science is not advanced enough to allow me to enjoy (or suffer) through those experiences.  However, it does not change how I feel about them or myself.  As a result of these feelings and unmet desires, I have a real need to be called a mother by my existing children, even though I did not actually push them from my body.

I presume ciswomen that adopt children due to infertility and non-biological lesbian mothers go through similar struggles.  However, in each of these cases, society and their partners happily accept and refer to these people as mothers in one form or another.  Why not me?  The simple answer seems to be that my wife does not want to associated as a lesbian.  To be fair, she is not.  While technically, she is now legally part of a same gender marriage (since I am legally female), her orientation did not change as a result.  She is a straight ciswoman.  She wants to be with a man.  She also has those strong ties to motherhood that cannot be ignored, nor should they be.  I never sought to co-opt or usurp her authority or title.  She will always be the mother of our children.  However, I feel I have the right to ask to share that title given my gender identity and the role I both feel and will be perceived by the world to have.  I deserve a maternal title like any other woman with a child.

The continued use of Amma also inadvertently puts the children in the middle of the debate between my wife and myself.  Our now 6-year-old son knows of both my desire to be called a mother and how upset my wife is by that.  Ultimately, I want him to have the choice what to call me.  On now two occasions, he has expressed—of his own volition—his desire to call me by a maternal title other than Amma.  Most recently (and why this topic is germane to my life right now), he intentionally called me Mom while sitting directly in front of my wife.  This happened just minutes before we were to take him to school on Monday, and neither of us corrected him or asked him why he chose to do that in the moment.  While walking to our minivan, I walked with our 3-year-old daughter, while she followed behind with our son.  Just moments out of the parking lot of our apartment complex, our son said that he wanted to call me Mom because it would make me feel better.  This moment of rare empathy was lost, however, when he also mentioned that my wife had told him on the walk to the minivan that it upset her when he called me Mom.  This caused an explosive reaction from my wife I have not seen in awhile, and she left the van and walked half a block home, while I continued to take our son to school.  When I returned home, she did not really want to talk to me, but in our brief conversation, she reiterated many of the things she had said on this topic before, most notably, that I will never be their mother.  For me, that stopped all conversation, as I took it as a personal attack and insult.  Later in the day, I received both a rare kiss and hug (separately), but they came without comment.  I do not know if they came as apology for the outburst and comments, or if they were simply because she needed a hug.  All I know is that I have been in an emotional funk for days now.

To be clear, I have never told my son that he should call me anything other than Amma.  However, we have had discussions about how others may perceive me in the world.  Very often, a stranger on the street will refer to me with a maternal parental title.  In the past, my son (and even daughter) have been quick to point out that I am not their mother. “That’s my Amma.  She’s transgender.”  We have talked about how uncomfortable that makes me feel, and that essentially outing me is not respectful.  I have told them that people in the world may call me their mother and that they do not have to correct that person, nor is it likely I will correct that person either.  The children and I have established that they now have two mothers, it’s just they call me Amma and my wife Mama.  It is only natural, though, that they would want to call me something else.  They don’t know any other Ammas in the world.  It sets me apart, and not necessarily in a good way.  The 6-year-old understands that and empathizes with my feelings.  That is actually quite sweet and endearing. I am not sure my wife sees it that way.

A reasonable discussion needs to be had with my wife on the topic, but I do not know really where to start that conversation.  I do not want to offend.  I do not want to anger her.  However, placing the children in the middle of this battle is not healthy, and we need to address it.  At the same time, I do not want to poke the bear.  This is a sensitive subject, and I need to be sure we have a level conversation about it.  This talk needs to happen soon.  I am not sure I can easily get through this episode without addressing what happened and how everyone is reacting to the situation.  This is not one to sweep under the rug like it did not happen, especially since it is likely to rear its head again in the future without warning.

Parental titles are incredibly important within families and our societies.  They help define us at our core.  If anyone ever wrote a story about me, along with my name, age, and location, they would also likely include that I was a mother of two beautiful children.  I would not be an Amma of two, right?  The reality of my life is that I not only identify as a mother, but I am one, even though my children did not come from my non-existent womb.  I want—no, need—to be recognized as such both by the world and my family.

There is great importance on how this turns out.  My life and my children’s lives will be forever shaped by how we resolve this debate, but until then, they are unfortunately caught in the middle.