I grew up in the Deeeeeep South, in the State of Mississippi.  Progressive thinking people live there, you just don’t hear about them on the news.  And despite my good fortune of being raised by comparatively progressive parents, the population of my hometown was no more open-minded about homosexuals than anywhere else.

The world progresses slowly.  By the time I graduated college, I believed gays should be allowed to…well…be gay.  I knew too many gays to think otherwise.

But as the debate over the right to marry began to be vocalized in places where I could hear it, I thought, Pfft. That’s ridiculous. That’s just going a bit too far. I thought, Well, if they really want the same thing, they should find another word for it. And if they want all the rights that come between married couples, they should hire a lawyer and get it all in writing.

Feel free to take a break from this blog and go throw darts at my picture.

A couple of weeks ago Rep. Steve Simon (DFL), in opposition to an amendment to ban gay marriage in my current home state of Minnesota, called out the elephant in the room of religion-based argument favoring heterosexual unions over homosexual ones.  If you, for some strange reason, missed it, here you go:

I was so proud to live in this state that day.  And so sad a few days later when a majority seemed to favor the amendment.  That vote put it on the ballot for the citizens of Minnesota to voice their preference on Tuesday, November 6.  But my greatest sadness was when I posted this video on my Facebook page.  Someone commented as though Simon did not really understand the issue, as though his comments were ill-formed and ridiculous.  It kind of broke my heart.

I don’t really know this woman, but what little I know about her is that she loves her children just like I do.  Because of that commonality I’ll assume she wants her kids to live in a safe and supportive community, just like I do, want them to have a quality education.  Just like I do.

But I am certain if she and I sat down and defined safe and supportive community and good education, we would have strong similarities and strong differences.  I am also pretty sure I would see a former version of myself in her ideals.

The debate that ensued reminded me of why I don’t often post political pieces and that those who feel strongly on either side of this argument are not going to be changed by reason.  I felt helpless in the belief that nothing I could say would help at all.  My instinct is to call the other side hard-hearted.  In all fairness, my heart is concrete on this one, too, poured and hardened around the philosophy that Rep. Simon described of “justice, fairness, wholeness, openness and compassion.”

How did I come to change my mind?  Quite a few things.  I saw two lives ended and their families capsized over the consequences of hidden sexual orientation.  But those are not my stories to tell.  Which is unfortunate, because it is hard to have the necessary compassion to see this issue clearly if you have not seen the relevant suffering up close.

In 1997 we began trying to conceive a child.  It took years.  During that time we considered the options: not having children at all, adopting, infertility treatments.  We spent six years letting our lives revolve around something we could not have.  Those years were some of the worst times in my life, and I ended up conceiving a child, and later two more the old-fashioned way.  I ended up being so lucky.

During that time a close friend, who served on the board of an adoption agency, loaned me the book The Kid by Dan SavageThe Kid is the tale of how Savage and his partner chose to become parents and, eventually, adopt their son.  It is the story of heart-ache that all couples who struggle with infertility go through, except that the legal system and cultural biases were stacked against them, not to mention physiology.  It is the story of being rejected by birth-mothers and taking a chance on the one mother who chose them.  It is the universal tale of the uncertainty common as we enter parenthood, but with the added layers of judgment from flight attendants, the necessity of paying for quality legal services, and having one’s natural capacity to give and need love be degraded to immorality by large factions in our culture.

What do you know, these men are just as human as I am, with the same basic emotional, psychological and physical needs as I have.  I heard their story, and I never again lived under the ignorant assumption that heterosexuality was superior.

It is said that the mind is changed through the heart.  And the heart is only changed through empathy – through seeing the world from another’s point-of-view.  Dan Savage helped me see the issues that matter, and the ones that don’t.

At a quick glance of state legislative battles, change is very slow.  From the amazing duo’s fight in California being stalled to the Governor of Wisconsin attempting to enforce one of the cruelest manifestations of the bigotry and ignorance behind the opposition to gay marriage, denial of hospital visitation between same sex partners.

So I hope these stories of personal pain continue to get told.  It is through the telling of a personal struggle that we look at another person and see our own humanity reflected back.  One day I hope to live in a place where gays live openly and without judgment, without compulsion to be secretive and ashamed, free to fully participate in their communities.  This Pink Dot campaign is for Singapore, but I think it expresses my hope the best.

Mother’s Day always makes me squirm.  I enjoy it and am stunned by how much my kids enjoy treating me with an extra dose of specialness.  I plan to shamelessly milk that for as long as it lasts.  But my discomfort lingers.

The intention is good, show love for and celebrate someone who has done much for us, but I wonder if family members should get a day to honor the role we play.

We don’t have Child’s Day.  One might say every day is child’s day.  My children would rightfully take issue with that.

We chose to be mothers.

I have a friend who has had a tough time in life, mostly at the hand of a short-lived series of big mistakes with harsh consequences.  What is amazing about this friend is that she has picked up her life, faced those consequences, and worked very hard to make big changes in the way she lives her life and treats other people.  Today, she is strong and kind and responsible and generous.  Those who meet her today cannot MISS the confidence and clear-headed warmth she exudes.

You know what still plagues this person I admire so much?  She can’t bear to tell her mother the things that she has done, can’t bear to see her disappointment. can’t bear to “break her heart”.  She continues to live under the shame we feel when we hide a part of ourselves to avoid rejection or judgment.

When we go down that path of believing the people we adore are too special to tolerate the worst parts of us, that they need to be protected from our humanity, we rob them of knowing us and sacrifice our relationship in the process.  And if we as mothers become so confident in our work that we refuse to see the worst, or take it personally somehow, we sacrifice our relationships with our children, choosing blinders instead.

It is the relationships that need to be prized and nurtured, more than the individual players.  If everyone is appreciated and celebrated equally, then everybody gets to be equally human.  No one gets to hide in a glass castle.  No one gets to pretend she is perfect.  And no one has to suffer a burning at the stake.  Everyone has a right to complain at times.  Everyone needs to forgive at times.

I want my kids to know that they can bring their worst to me.  (It seems to come naturally to them for now.)  I won’t save them from natural consequences, but I will always work hard to make my first response one of compassion.  “Yes,” I want to tell them, “it sucks to mess up.”  But one of life’s greatest skills is learning to live through the bad stuff, even when – no, especially when – we have created it ourselves.  And if we can master THIS skill, and NOT hide in shame, we can live life fully, less afraid of messing up.  That lesson is what I most want to teach my children.  It is the example I want to set, the mother I want to be.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mother, all the mothers in my life who have been role models for me, and all the mothers who share this journey with me.  May you enjoy tomorrow and time with those you love.