Tag Archives: parenting

Interview with the author of Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home

Happy Friday! I’ve got a special treat for you.

Lillibridge2 small crop

This is Lara Lillibridge. She likes Joan Jett and writing memoir and people who resist the binary.

Last year, I was at a creative nonfiction conference and met Lara Lillibridge, and we became instant BFFs. Well, we didn’t actually meet at the conference, but I did hear her read from her book, Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home. And immediately tweeted her about wanting to read her book.

Anyway, I suppose that’s how introverts interact at conferences. Writers, am I right?

The BFF thing is totally true though.

Here’s something else that’s true–Lara’s book totally rocks. Like Joan Jett, who we both adore. See, I told you we’re BFFs.

In a nutshell, Girlish is Lara’s memoir about growing up in a house with a lesbian mom and lesbian step-mom. It’s both hilarious and heartbreaking. Inventively told from the point of view of Girl, Girlish reads like a fairy tale that has gone horribly awry. You’ll find yourself rooting for Girl and a happily-ever-after ending. You’ll have to read the book to find out if she gets one.

Girlish_final coverGirlish confronts such timely topics as feminism, mental illness and gender roles and stereotypes. It’s a must read, not only for gay and lesbian parents and their children, but anyone who has ever struggled with finding their own place in this strange world.

You can pre-order Girlish here.

If you have questions or comments for Lara, please leave them below.

And now, The Flannel Files interview with Lara Lillibridge:

FF: Many Flannel Files followers are lesbian parents. From your personal experience, what was it like growing up with lesbian parents (a lesbian mom and lesbian step-mom)? Best part? Worst part?

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So much toast with sugar.

LL: I’m asked this a lot, and you’d think I’d have a good short answer prepared by now, but I don’t. The truth is, day-to-day life was mostly eating toast with sugar, going to school, eating toast with sugar, playing in the backyard, eating more toast with sugar. Our family only seemed different when we encountered other people.  Being bullied for having lesbian moms was definitely the worst part of it, though I wasn’t exactly a trend-setter fashion-wise anyway. I suspect I would have been bullied regardless, but there is something special about being bullied about your sexual orientation, or your parents’ sexual orientation.

I think as an adult one thing I appreciate is how I don’t have the same built-in stereotypes about queer people that many people—including many queer people—have. Sure, I got fed the same societal BS everyone is fed, but it was countered by my parents and our community of lesbian friends. So I don’t have any of that negative judgement ingrained in me that so many people fight against.

FF: You write about being raised to defy the norms of society. Was this a good or bad thing? How does how you were raised seep into who you are today?

LL: First of all I didn’t exactly choose to be different. I wasn’t necessarily being defiant as much as oblivious. I’d like to think of myself as bravely going against popular opinion, but it wasn’t the case. Left to my own devices, I don’t know how defiant I would have been. Yet, there was more good that came of it, I think. To this day, I have trouble understanding why people get all caught up in what other people think, particularly about sexuality and gender, outside of safety issues. I had a lot of repercussions for being different, but living through the experience gave me the certainty that I can take it and keep going.

FF: How have your experiences affected your own parenting style?

LL: I totally shelter my children as much as possible—pretty much the opposite of how I was raised. I suspect the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, but I’m not there yet.

FF: I’m curious about the title of your book, Girlish. You refer to yourself in the book as “Girl,” so why the title Girlish?

LL: The original title was Girl, and when I was working on the cover design I did a google search to see what books it would be listed near on Amazon. Much to my chagrin, there was another memoir titled Girl with a gorgeous cover similar to the original look I was going for. My critique partner suggested Girlish as a play on both being girly and not-quite a girl at the same time.

FF: What are you watching these days (TV or movies)? Who’s your Hollywood (or non-Hollywood) crush?

LL: I’m currently watching Jessica Jones, Sneaky Pete, Madam Secretary and Designated Survivor. I’m a binge watcher, so I tend to eat through online series as quickly as possible.

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Sara Ramirez as Kat with the shaved head on Madam Secretary

Crushes…I should give a disclaimer that personality colors how I see people, and since I don’t know these people IRL, they might be total shit balls and then I wouldn’t see them the same way anymore. But if we’re talking just a physical beauty kind of crush, I recently discovered this model named Tzef Montana who is gorgeous. I kind of have a thing for Sara Ramirez, but only as Kat with the shaved head on Madam Secretary—not as the long-haired Callie in Grey’s Anatomy. I like people who resist the binary.

FF: If you could make one law, what would it be?

LL: I meant to say something cute about all people being given kinkajous to carry around, but the school shootings and overall gun violence has so broken my heart that it has to be addressed. While I have some ideas, I’d really like to form a brain trust to attack the issue from multiple angles. It’s bigger than just one law.

FF: Who are the authors who have inspired and influenced you? Who are you reading these days?

LL: I’d like to have a retreat with Jeanette Winterson, Lidia Yuknavitch, Maggie Nelson, and Jenny Boully. I’d just sit at their feet and eat cookies and listen to them talk amongst themselves.

FF: I would be right there with you but with a bag of cheese curls.

LL: I’m currently reading an ARC of the novel THE ONES WE CHOOSE by Julie Clark that is scheduled for release May 8, 2018. It’s a great story about an intentionally single mother and is filled with all sorts of scientific stuff that makes me feel smart and fills me with wonder for the natural world. Check out this line, “…mtDNA does not combine with genes inherited from your other parent but is passed on, whole to you. It will live inside of you—the story of your mother, and her mother, and all the mothers who came before.” That gave me goosebumps.

I’m also reading MODERN GIRLS by Jennifer Brown with my mother. My mother and I have had a strained relationship as my memoir’s release date got closer, so she and I are doing this family book club thing where we are both reading this book simultaneously so we can talk about the characters instead of talking about our family.

FF: What’s your next project? 

LL: I have a zillion projects going on.

I’m about ready to shop my second memoir, Mama, Mama, Only Mama! It’s a humorous book about parenting after divorce, and encompasses my six years as a single mother and our transition into cohabitating with my SigO, who never had children.

I also have a series of children’s books I’m working on about my moms’ travel adventures. I think kids need books with queer characters that aren’t supposed to be life lessons in diversity, but rather are interesting books who just happen to have queer people in them.

I’m working on a draft of a novel that explores sexual mores and gender, but that’s sort of on the back burner at the moment while I figure out how to become better at writing fiction.

Lastly, I’m writing a story just for my family that I read to my kids every night at bedtime. They are interested in my career as a writer, but are too young to read Girlish, so I wanted them to have something they could be vested in—they are my first readers, and they like to give me advice about the plot and characters, though I don’t always take it. I still hate to be told what to do.

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A boy and a turtle

One reason that I get sad sometimes is because my son is 14.

Fourteen and too big and grown for a mother, or at least that’s what he tells me these days.

I see him once a week if I’m lucky.

“Mom, can we skip this week? I’m really busy,” he informs me.

I usually say it’s okay because I don’t want to ruffle his feathers anymore than they already are. These days he’s like a peacock having a really bad hair day.

I get him every other weekend, but that too is subject to the whims of a 14-year-old boy.

When he was 13, he went to live with his father. I agreed to this new arrangement, knowing that if I held onto him too hard I would lose him for good.

Turtle crossing roadHe came home this weekend. One of the highlights occurred when we spotted a turtle in the middle of the road.

“Mom, pull over!” he shouted. “I have to save him.”

It had been a long time since I had seen him this excited.

I pulled to the side of the road and put on my hazards.

“Be careful crossing the street,” I said, unable to silence my inner mother.

He was. He was 14 after all. He picked up the turtle by the shell, carried it back to the car and placed it inside an orange bucket.

I have been carrying this just-in-case bucket in the trunk of my car ever since he was a little boy. There have always been frogs and toads and turtles and other creatures that have unexpectantly come into his life. The bucket has come in handy more times than I can enumerate.

I believe in animal totems among other things and tried to explain to my son how the turtle carried a message for him, for us.

He looked at me like I was crazy.

“Mom, we’ve lost you,” he said in a sarcastic voice that only a 14-year-old can master.

I knew not to protest. Not to try to explain the turtle sighting anymore.

But I also knew in my heart that the turtle was my sign to proceed cautiously and slowly and to have faith that in the end both of us would get to where we need to go.

* * *

From my writer’s group session today. Prompt: One reason that I get sad sometimes is because ________________.

Me want woman

This week, I won’t have to shuttle any kids to or from camp.

But, I thought I would share a camp memory from last week.

Kid #3 was enrolled in a film class.  The drop-off instructions said to  enter through the front doors of the school on the first day of camp and meet the instructor in the lobby at 8:45.

So, on the first day of camp, we parked the car, entered the school through the main entrance and looked around for someone to help us.

A man in a suit greeted us.  “Can I help you?” he asked politely.

“We’re looking for the film class,” I said.

“Oh, I’ll escort you to the front office,” he replied.  “I apologize for all of the commotion.  We’re having a principals’ meeting today.”  He made a sweeping gesture with his hand.

As he spoke, I became aware of all of the principals walking through the front lobby and gathering in a large conference room.  The men were wearing collars.  The women, long, starched habits.

AnimalI suddenly became self-conscious of my clothing choice.  After rolling out of bed, I had chosen to wear a pair of camo cargo shorts and a Muppets T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of Animal and the words “Want Woman!”  Standard butch attire.  I folded my arms in front of me and tried to look casual and maternal.

I told W about my adventure later that night.

“You owe me big time,” I said.

“Did you not notice the words ‘Pope John Paul II’ in the name of the school?” she asked.

The lesbians and the land beaver

I thought I’d back up and explain that whole groundhog thing yesterday.

It all started last Friday.  I was walking down the steps to the basement when I saw him.  He was about as big as a football and walking in a nonchalant manner across the middle of the basement floor.

“Oh, hello,” I imagined him saying in a voice quite like Winnie the Pooh.  “Pleasant day, isn’t it?”

Holy shit.

I rounded up the kids to act as my human shield share in the adventure and learn something about animals and nature.  Further inspection revealed that the groundhog — also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig or land beaver — was living in a mass of insulation wedged under our oil heater.  We heard rustling in this “nest” but were unable to see the critter, even though the kids shined the  flashlights at the nest and then into each other’s eyes.

Translation: There’s a land beaver inside our house!

I called W at work.  When she didn’t answer, I texted three letters: OMG.  Because texting “there’s a land beaver in our basement” seemed too weird and where was the surprise in that?  I like to keep that woman on her toes.

I finally got in touch with W and told her about the groundhog.

She e-mailed contact information for a wild animal removal company.  After a quick phone call, I learned that it would cost $295 to have someone come out to the house and set a trap.  Each additional trip back to check the trap would cost $95.

When W got home, she made some additional calls.  Our options were:

1. Live with the groundhog (Yes, someone actually suggested this.  As if having a groundhog roommate was a sensible idea.  Really, he’s very polite and quiet, even though he might have rabies, eats a lot of salad and poops in a very random manner.)

2. Hire an exterminator.

3. Buy a humane trap.

We eventually decided on #3, although I was leaning toward #1.  I mean, it would make a great book and all — The Lesbians and the Land Beaver — and we already sleep with a bunch of cats in our bed.  Let me tell you, this little guy would have looked adorable in a striped nightcap.

W went out to buy a trap.

I should probably add here that I apparently told W to handle this.  I didn’t mean it in a I-take-care-of-everything-around-here kind of way so small, rabies-carrying mammals trapped inside the house are your purview.  I just had a full plate that day and was delegating household responsibilities.

W wondered out loud why her big, strong butch couldn’t handle one wayward land beaver.

Anyway, W bought a trap for $34.99.  It even came with a free trap for chipmunks and other small creatures.  Bonus.  I mean, who doesn’t love a good BOGO sale?

We baited the trap with apple slices and waited.  And waited.

The weekend came and went, and there was no sign of the groundhog.  Nothing on Monday or Tuesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was working at my desk when I heard scratching on the inside of the French doors that we use to close off our front room.  I had assumed that one of the cats was trapped inside.  As I walked toward the doors, I saw that it wasn’t a cat trapped in the room but the groundhog.

I called the youngest kid to go into the room with a broom, a bucket and a bed sheet help me trap the critter.  By this time, the groundhog had scurried under furniture in the room.

The child wanted to know why I was the only person to see the groundhog.

I started to wonder that myself.  Was there really a groundhog trapped inside our house?  Was I going crazy?  Or maybe I was the only person who could see this land beaver (sort of like the Sixth Sense only with groundhogs instead of dead people).  Maybe I was the land beaver whisperer.  It was all so strange and confusing.

I called W at work.  “I can’t come home now to take care of it,” she said, as if I had designated her  house groundhog wrangler for life.

“I know, I’ll take care of it,” I said.

I sent our youngest inside the room to place the trap.

“Don’t worry, I’ll close the door behind you and hold it closed so that the groundhog can’t get out,” I assured him.

After the trap was set, we barricaded the door.  Just in case the groundhog decided to go all Ninja on us.

And then we waited.  I went back to typing at my computer to maintain an air of normalcy.

In a bit, I heard some noise, and there was the groundhog trying to get the bait from the wrong end of the trap.  This little guy needed GPS.

I sent the youngest back in the room to leave a trail of lettuce and snow peas leading to the entrance of the trap.  I was hoping the the critter wasn’t familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel

“Don’t worry, I’ll close the door behind you and hold it closed so that the groundhog can’t get out,” I assured the child once again.

Again, he wanted to know why I was the only person to see the groundhog.

About 20 minutes later, I heard a loud snap.  There sat the groundhog inside the cage.  I had captured the elusive land beaver.  I was a hero.  A land beaver tamer.  I felt very brave and very butch.

The elusive land beaver

* * *

Lesson learned:

A land beaver in hand is worth two in the bush.

Trying to get the stars in my life to align

Whac-A-MoleI told W the other night that I feel like I can never get things right.

Like right now, things with W and I are going really well, but my relationship with my folks is on the rocks.  I can’t seem to maintain all of the important relationships in my life simultaneously.

It’s like a real-life game of Whac-A-Mole.  Once I get one relationship firing on all cylinders, a relationship in need of work pops up.  I don’t seem to have enough wooden mallets or enough arms to keep everything in place.

Stars in the shape of a heartWhen I’m not thinking of the relationships in my life in terms of unpredictable moles, I see them as stars in the night sky.  They shine against the darkened backdrop, their brightness varying.  When one of the stars is dimmed by conflict and confusion, it can’t link to the others and contribute to a bigger picture.  These days, I just can’t seem to connect all of the stars in my life so that they form some sort of grand constellation.

I’ve been in some sort of tiff with my mother for almost 10 years.

If she was here right now, she’d probably tell you that she can’t seem to do anything right when it comes to me.  She once told me that she often hangs up the phone after our conversations and tells my dad that she “blew it” once again.

This breaks my heart.  That my mother experiences pain because of me.  That our mother-daughter relationship is so mangled that neither one of us can get it right.

I could write about the million ways that my mother has wronged me over the years.  I keep that list in my head and at the ready.  I’m always quick to point a finger at her and often scroll down that mental list for justification.

Number 52: You wouldn’t let me go to Boston University for college.  I would be so much more hip and evolved if I had attended an urban school.

Number 103: You let Michael stay out later because he was a boy.  It was the 80’s — not the 50’s — for crying out loud.  This contributed to my skewed perception of gender roles and stereotypes.

But that’s too easy.  Fish.  Barrel.  Dynamite.  Kaboom!

Besides, I thought it might be more productive to focus on the positive things.

A few things that made my mother a great parent

  • Sometimes she would stick packs of cards — like Wacky Packs — in our packed school lunches.
  • She used to buy me the latest and the greatest sneakers.  Like my first pair of Nike Roadrunners (light blue with a navy blue stripe) in 1976.  I don’t think my dad knew how much they cost.
  • When it snowed, she would make peanut butter cookies with crisscrossing fork prints and hot chocolate.
  • She liked the Three Stooges.
  • She taught me how to drive because my dad lacked the patience and yelled too much.
  • She never embarrassed me in front of my friends.
  • She let us camp out on the couch when we were sick and made us jelly and butter sandwiches and brought us glasses of ginger ale.
  • One Valentine’s Day when Craig Magachy showed up at our door in a suit bearing a card and a heart-shaped box of candy, she discreetly hid the candy and promised to keep the whole thing on the down low so that my brother wouldn’t find out about my pint-size pursuer and tease me.
  • She chaperoned every one of my grade school field trips.
  • She always made sure that I had everything that I needed.

I hope that I can remember this list more often instead of that other one that runs as a continual news feed in my brain.

Who knows, maybe it will change things.  It certainly can’t hurt.

Maybe this is the one relationship that I need to get right and burning bright to get my relationship constellation.

Butt of the joke

Bart calls for Seymour Butz

We went to a concert in a local park last Sunday to meet up with some of W’s family.

The kids goofed around on the playground equipment.

“My butt hurts,” one of the kids blurted out.

“Then you should go to the butt hospital,” another retorted.

A woman walking by laughed out loud.

This is how I knew she doesn’t have children living at home.  Maybe she never had kids.  Or, maybe they’re grown and living on their own now with their own insult-slinging offspring.

With three boys ages 12, 13 and 14, we hear on average 123 butt retorts per week.

We are desensitized to the not-so nuanced humor of the butt joke, even the good ones.

In our house, something, anything — an iPod, a book, a laptop, a sweatshirt — is always lodged in someone’s butt, up someone’s butt or up someone’s butt and around the corner.

It never fails.

Child #1: I can’t find my shoes!

Child #2: Maybe they’re up your butt.

Child #1: Maybe they’re up your butt!

True fact: A child just walked behind me exclaiming “Ow, my butt.”

I think back to the lady in the park.  How she wasn’t jaded when it came to a decent one-liner with “butt” in the punch line.

Now that I think about it, I bet she never had kids.