Just The Three Of Us; Post Nuclear In The Single Family Home

Hello, I am an idealist. I love dreaming of what a better world might be. I love pushing myself and my loved ones to get closer to attaining it. The thing about being an idealist though, is that it is literally impossible to live up to one’s own ideals all the time. There is failure. There is the unexpected. There is reassessment.

Like ideally, the baby would wear cloth diapers 90% of the time. In the real world though? My wife and I are notorious for getting behind on laundry, and the kid really actually prefers disposables. A little part of me dies when I think of the tiny consumerist I’m raising, and even more so when I take the bus to the big box store to buy the cheap diapers that won’t give him a rash. But I do it. He’s wearing cloth diapers today, and I could lie to you, I could say it’s because my idealism has won out and I want to be a Better Person.

But no bullshit? It’s because we just payed rent and we’re out of money.

***

Back in September, the housing collective we were a part of broke up.

It’s a complicated story that isn’t all mine to tell, but suffice to say, it wasn’t really working for anyone anymore, not the way it should have. There were more reasons to go than to stay, and so we did the math, and we went.

We went, with the intention of finding an inexpensive rental, but we kept getting turned down.

So we ended up stay at another, older, more established, housing collective for a month or so. Some things about that experience were amazing and life affirming. Some things about it reminded me of why chosen family is so important to me and why I love community and what I want my kid to grow up around. And some things about it were hard as hell.

And now, today, we are on our own. Me, my wife, our child, and our cats, we have a tiny apartment that I am falling in love with. It’s just the three of us (or just the six of us, really) and we are settling into our new place and putting things just how we like them. It’s predictable. It’s comfortable. I’m an idealist. I believe in collectivism. But if I’m going to be really really brutally honest with you, (yes I am,) my family probably won’t live collectively again for a very long time, if ever. And I’m mostly happy and relieved about that fact.

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The nuclear family was invented with the rise of wage labor and capitalism as we know it today. The modern nuclear family (sometimes called “the traditional family” in politics, mostly by people who think it’s the bestest) follows a very specific format and is a means to a specific ends. It is monogamous. Two parents who are legally married to one and other and coparent their biological offspring. It is romantic. Two parents who are supposed to be in love, and stay in love. It is heterosexual and cisnormative. One masculine, male bodied parent, and one feminine, female bodied parent. It is patriarchal. The husband and father is the head of the household, and the wife and children must ultimately defer to him. It is capitalistic. The husband and father works for wages outside of the home to provide a livelihood for the family, he derives his self-worth from this work, and ultimately his status over his wife is reinforced by his ability to bring in an income to be exchanged for goods and services.

Basically, it’s the 1950s.

These days, I see a lot of people tweaking this recipe for familial bliss just a tiny bit, while never criticizing it’s core. Ok, so maybe sometimes the wife works outside of the home a little, but for less money than her husband! Ok, maybe one parent has children from a previous marriage, but we’ll blend it as well as we can (a la Brady Bunch) to make it look normal!

And, ok, maybe every once in awhile the two parents are actually of the same gender. But we’re just like you we swear it! All we want is the single family home, the white picket fence, the dog, the 2.5 kids. Never mind the fact we’re both wearing dresses. We’re exactly like you!

***

So as you may have gathered, the name for this blog came from my reaction to, and rejection of, those ridiculous standards. If you are in a heterosexual married couple raising children with a patriarchal power structure, I may like you a great deal, but with respect, I’m actually nothing like you. I hate being lumped in with that stuff, and I strive, daily, to question those norms within myself, and to make my rejection of them apparent on the outside.

And when I started this blog, part of that, part of trying to live my ideals, was choosing to live collectively with chosen family. And now, at least for the time being, that part of my life is over.

***

So how do you live and demonstrate the post nuclear lifestyle while living in a single family home with your partner and child? No seriously, I’m asking you. I have some ideas. I’m working on it. But I don’t have all the answers. I still feel confused about it, and I’m nervous about writing about an issue I still have mixed feelings about, but I’m doing it anyways because I think it’s important. Here are some of the ways I think my family is doing a good job of resisting the pull towards nuclear normalcy:

  1. Despite the fact that our family only contains two people capable of speech and taking an active role in decision making, we are making our decisions by consensus. We have Family Meetings, where we bring up family needs, assign responsibilities, and what have you. This is important because it stops us from defaulting to one person making all the decisions, and it keeps us checking in about our roles and how comfortable we are with them, rather than assuming. When our child is older, he will be able to take part in some of our decision making (as is age appropriate) rather than being treated like a piece of property with no agency.
  2. We are not actually monogamous y’all, and we never have been.
  3. We live in capitalism because we have to, but we work our asses off not to bring it into our relationship. That means that my wife is not a more valuable member of our family because she works outside of the home more than I do and brings in more income. Our finances are communal, they are not controlled by the person who exchanged labor for them.
  4. We’re not an independent unit, and we don’t seek to be. This is something I used to really struggle with, I had inherited this pride in independence, and that made it really hard (nearly impossible) to ask for help when I needed it. Even a year ago, I would have preferred to take care of all problems within the family unit and not involve “outsiders.” But that’s stupid. These days I am not afraid lean on my friends, family, chosen family, and community, and I hope they can feel the same way about me. When we need help we speak up. We live interdependently with the people we love.

But it’s still a struggle, and there are just as many ways that I feel like we’re failing. We don’t see our chosen family nearly enough now that we live on our own, and our child views adults other than his two parents as suspiciously “other.” It’s hard. We were raised in nuclear style families, our extended families are constellations of nuclear families, and it is so easy to fall into those familiar patterns. It’s easy to skip meetings. It’s easy to talk about “my money” and “her money.” It’s easy to imagine that either of us is an authority figure.

***

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The only answer I have today, is to live as deep as I can within that struggle. I try to think about the ideals I seek to emulate, and the ideals I reject, and to mix that with my day to day life and physical needs. I stop myself from saying “well it’s my money, I earned it!” I remind myself why meetings are important. I call up a friend. I put my kid in cloth diapers, some days.

And that’s all I can manage right now.

It’s not anti nuclear, after all. It’s post nuclear.

Which Anniversary?

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. My in-laws come over to mind the bae, and my lovely handsome wife and I went out for a sushi dinner that we could not actually afford and then saw Straight Outta Compton in a nearly empty theater. It was approximately the best night ever.

I haven’t written much here about my feelings about marriage, gay marriage, and “marriage equality,” but I find myself reflecting on all of that right now.

Two years ago I married Chelsea. We made a decision to get married, even though at the time there was no legal recognition of benefit to us for doing so. Simply put, we felt that we weren’t marrying the state, we were marrying each other, so we didn’t give a fuck if the state didn’t want to be involved.

And that is exactly how we viewed it. It wasn’t that we weren’t “allowed” to get married. No cops showed up at the church to stop us. Hell, no cops showed up at our reception, and that was at an anarchist collective that’s been illegally searched more than once. But the state wasn’t involved. We didn’t sign any legally binding contracts. What we did do is make some promises to each other in front of nearly 200 of our closest family and friends, have our hands ceremoniously tied together, and then dance the night away. It was one of the most magical days of my life.

***

Marriage, as an institution both cultural and legal, is historically intensely problematic. There are many different forms of marriage throughout the world, but the one that has been handed down to us from western Europe is, well, pretty icky. Women have historically been treated as pieces of property, to be transferred from one man to another, and whether or not a marriage made the two married people happy was often an afterthought. In the modern, industrialized world, people are expected to marry for love and marriages have become more egalitarian. But echoes of the old form remain. I have attended weddings of liberal-minded, secular people, where the bride was dramatically given away by her father, and the couple was then announced as “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.” And in the subsequent marriages that happen after these weddings, so-called “traditional” gender roles, though they may be gradually shifting, are far from dead. I notice this the most in parenting, though that is certainly not the only area of life these gendered assumptions crop up in. Phrases like:
“Kids just prefer their moms, it’s the way it is.”
“They’re dad is babysitting them tonight so I can go out with my girlfriends!”
“Is being a stay at home father emasculating?”
all point to a basic level of inequality, a built in set of roles that are hard to escape from, even when people want to.

But even in the most egalitarian of marriages, the hypothetical perfect marriage where no one is pushed into a shitty role, legal marriage is still problematic in that it is about privileging some kinds of relationships over others. We give a special set of rights and privileges (I like to picture it as a gift basket!) in the case of relationships that are romantic, lifelong, apparently monogamous, limited to two people, and until very recently, heterosexual. Given all of that, it isn’t surprising that there are plenty of people who are in relationships that would otherwise fit the bill and qualify for the gift basket, who choose not to pursue legal marriage.

My wife and I could have been two more of those people. But as it turns out, we are not. We had a second wedding, a wedding that started out as merely a formality for legal purposes but turned into a beautiful reminder of our continuing commitment to each other, in July. There are many advantages to signing the paperwork and getting the gift basket, but there was one reason for us that really tipped the scales.

That reason is currently refusing to nap.

Ultimately, securing his legal right to have two legal parents was more important to us than everything else. And we are not there yet. Getting legally married only makes it possible, we still have to go through the potentially lengthy adoption process. Still though, it was the first step. When he is older, he will not remember a time when his Ma didn’t have the same legal rights as I do, and he will have pictures of two weddings (one of which he was part of!) to look at when he daydreams about the past he does not remember.

***

“Now you get to have two anniversaries!”

***

I loved our second wedding. I was more relaxed than I was at the first one, having already made the lifelong commitment. It was at a beautiful buddhist temple. We didn’t know everyone there, but everyone seemed happy to be part of a special day. Our kid spent part of the ceremony in my arms and part of the ceremony napping on a meditation cushion. We all (me, Chelsea, the bae) wore newsboy hats. I teared up a little. It was more special than I could have imagined.

But it was not the day that changed my life forever.

***

Right now, there are plenty of conservatives who are angry that people like me “can get married” now, even though they could never have stopped us. Meanwhile, liberals celebrate the triumph of “equality” and sometimes they want to use my recent legal marriage to celebrate that. But my marriage certificate is not a triumph of equality. Marriage remains a complicated, fraught, and deeply problematic, thing. Unmarried people remain at a disadvantage in a myriad of ways. Polyamorous, polyfidelitous, and polygamous, families remain left out. In most states, married name changes remain easy and standard only for women who are marrying men who wish to take their husbands’ last names. You cannot create true equality by simply widening a narrowly privileged group a fraction of an inch.

I am happy to have the legal paperwork. I’m looking forward to doing our taxes together (because I’m weird). I’m looking forward to having the adoption process out of the way. And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the second wedding. It was so lovely.

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But it was not the day that our marriage began. That day was two years ago yesterday, and that is the day we will continue to celebrate for the rest of our shared time together.

Possibly with movies about gangster rap. (Oh my gosh you guys I have so many feels about that movie but NOW IS NOT THE TIME.)

OTHER STUFF

  1. Post Nuclear Era is on the twitter! @postnuc_mama. JOIN ME.
  2. Post Nuclear Era is on the facebooks! JOIN ME ALSO THERE.
  3. I’m currently working on a post (or maybe a serious of posts) based on reader questions. Have a question about this blog? About the name? About queer families? About my queer family? Leave it in the comments or send it through one of the social media tubes.
  4. Amazing photo by Rob Ritzenhein at robritz.com.