Lifeline

Couple Love: Art Imitates Marriage

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For Allan Comport and Sally Wern, the married founders of design firm, Art at Large, success, excitement, and partnership balance out the scary uncertainty of the commercial illustration industry.

“Sally and I lived and breathed the world of illustration and commercial applied imagery, she as a successful illustrator, and me as an artists’ representative,” Allan explains. “Our business morphed many times over 25 plus years to experience success in editorial, advertising, institutional and publishing work.”

The two met while working at a summer camp in Ohio when Sally was in tenth grade, and Allan was a sophomore in college. Between her sophomore and junior years at Columbus College of Art and Design, they wed. Sally had worked in the illustration industry since before they met, and Allan became passionately interested in the field.

“The idea of using my knowledge of relationships and communications seemed a natural fit to begin handling the sales, marketing and account representative work of the studio,” he says.

Soon, the two started working together, Sally doing freelance, Allan taking care of the business side of things. Over some years, they expanded their studio to include several other illustrators and seven photographers and eventually merged their small company with Shannon Associates in New York, one of the premiere artist agencies in the world. Sally illustrated while Allan represented numerous artists.

In 2005, they split up–professionally, that is. Sally continues to design for and run Art at Large, doing large-scale environmental graphic design. As a full-time MICA prof, Allan is one of the favorites among the illustration seniors who turn to him with their paralyzing fears of jumping out of the nest and plummeting into the real world of illustration. (I just graduated from MICA, with a concentration in illustration.)

“It was great to work closely for many years. We are both still completely committed to art and commerce, and support each other’s creative initiatives every day,” says Sally. Allan says he is proud of the direction his wife’s work is moving in. Each truly has admiration for the other that is almost tangible. They have two children and live in Annapolis.

Your Comments

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Yes, we should be working, but it’s much more fun to read your comments. Some of our favorites from last week…

Our May 12 post asked for your worst prom stories as part of our contest. Mrs. Batworth replied:

“It was 1977 and my then-best friend had a boyfriend, so she was hell-bent on going to the prom, and wanted me to go with her. I couldn’t find a date, so she told her little brother he had to escort me. I was mortified. Then-best friend wore red, slinky satin; I wore a recycled, very prim Gunne Sax dress in pale green. She and her boyfriend spent the whole evening making out while I tried to make conversation with my 15 year-old date. We danced to “Fooled Around and Fell In Love.” He was a very nice kid and surprisingly gracious, and I’ve always had the sense that he grew up to be a great human being.” 

Our “On Culture” columnist Mikita Brottman wrote a short post May 12 about the desperate attempts of the BSO to gain audience, to which WhitherThouGoest replied: 

“I’m not sure I understand your point. Instead of trying to broaden its appeal with a more diverse range of programming, the BSO would be better off if it JUST DIDN’T EXIST ANYMORE? Perhaps the point isn’t to attract people who are already interested, but to inform people about music that is harder and harder connect with as the years pass and make it relevant for today. And in the case of the Decorators’ Show House, that is a major fundraiser for the BSO! So though it may have no appeal for you it clearly has appeal for many of the BSO’s patrons. But perhaps you’re right. Maybe the BSO should just quietly go about the business of classical music, dutifully kowtowing to the sticks-in-the-mud whose naysaying is probably responsible for the state of the genre today.”

And, our favorite, a funny reply from vascellaro to the May 11 post about bringing babies to bars:

“Madam, there’s no such thing as a tough child – if you parboil them first for seven hours, they always come out tender.~ W. C . Fields”

Thanks for writing.

Oh, The Rapture!

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Last year I received a flyer on my windshield that warned about the end of the world coming up very soon. Since my boyfriend’s birthday is May 22 and my own is May 25, last year we both decided to ignore our credit card bills, and go for a lavish four-day weekend in New York City over our birthdays. If that was going to be the last one ever, what a great way to spend it! This year, despite a busy schedule and that same pesky credit card balance, I agreed to the same trip. It seems like a win-win. If we get taken up, we’ll be so happy. And if we’re one of the Left Behind, we’ll have some great pizza and enjoy the Mets-Yankees game. I’m sure at least 18 of those guys will be left to play. Plus it’s only be a short train or bus ride home to see our friends who will no doubt still be in Baltimore ready to party like it’s 2011 (at least for the next 153 days).

Yelling is Her Calling

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This is as quiet as my house ever gets: the whir of traffic, often punctuated by the boom of bass; sirens and copters; yelping, yipping, barking dogs—from blocks away to the pair at my feet; wind chimes, lawnmowers, and the chirping of a dozen species of birds, including one who sounds like the laugh at the beginning of the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out.”

It’s only ever this quiet during the school day, when my husband and daughter leave me to my own devices.  Even then, I’m compelled to fill their sonic void with sounds—court TV shows, music, a random video shared on Facebook.  I screech Heart’s “Barracuda” in the shower, play guitar, shout at the dogs.  I’m shouting at them right now, as they have just knocked over the zero gravity recliner, where I sit.

When my family is home, it’s clear we are loud.  It’s partly because I am a yeller.  I come from a short line of yellers and loud talkers, a detail I was cautious about sharing with my infant, but you can’t hide noise in your diaper bag.  It’s hard to whisper “You ASSHOLE” to the pokey driver in front of you.  It’s tough to hide your parents’ arguments, telephone fights with your sister, a public loathing of litterbugs and Express Lane abusers, and general abrupt disgruntle when that’s the person you are, whether by nurture or nature.

Even though I yell, I don’t need anger management.  I need control.  I once wrote that I yell to get people—my family, mostly—to listen to me, to respond to my THIRD REQUEST, DAMN IT, since the two nice ones went unheeded. DINNER IS READY!  YOUR SHOES DON’T BELONG IN THE KITCHEN!  CLEAN YOUR ROOM!  I yell to insist I really did tell them the seder is Monday night.  I TOLD YOU LAST WEEK THAT THE SEDER IS MONDAY NIGHT! 

I yell at the dogs when they bang into me. WATCH IT, DOGS!  I yell at the TV news. THAT’S NOT NEWS, YOU IDIOT, IT’S A MCDONALD’S PRESS RELEASE!  I yell at Serena’s band when they are anywhere besides the basement or outside.  DOWNSTAIRS OR OUTSIDE!  I yell at my daughter’s friend to go home so I can yell at my daughter.  I yell to get my husband to stop interrupting me mid-sentence to nag me about why the spray paint is sitting quietly on the deck, to get my family to PUT MY CAPOS BACK ON MY GUITAR WHERE THEY BELONG, to get my puppy to SIT!

The baton, with attached foghorn and vuvuzela, has been passed.  Serena Joy (a garlic necklace of a name chosen to counter that of her mother, Neurotic Misery) yells, too—at her mom and dad, her friends, the dogs, her band.  And my husband, Marty?  Let’s call him a passionate discusser.  He comes from a long line of boisterous talkers, grumpy West Virginians—Hatfields, in fact (the real McCoy!)—people like his Uncle John, who drank beer at lunchtime in the diner and bragged loudly of his sexploits; people like his brother, the builder/rock climber/ballerina, whose answering machine messages are spoken as if we’ll be playing them back from a neighbor’s house. His mom, who has lost much of her hearing, can still hear us. 

Our family is overheard in restaurants.  Marty’s cheer of appreciation (YEA!) can be heard on every family’s School of Rock video.   But our volume is about more than our voices.  (Our hair might as well be an ad for volumizing products.)  At any given moment in the Miller household, in any room, you are likely to hear a movie, a song, saxophone, drums, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, drum machine—many of them at the same time, often one turned way up to hear over another.  Doors slam.  Dogs tussle.  The refrigerator groans like a ghoul.  Serena can’t calmly tell her dad that his timing is wrong on Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”; she has to shriek the correction.  I yell from the living room to the attic, hoping to be heard over the Wii; Serena yells her reply.  Our dog, Chance, yells at our new puppy, Jett .  And Marty passionately discusses the mess I’ve made in the house, the unwalked dogs, the spray paint can left on the deck.   He chews his food passionately, too.  I turn on the TV at dinner time to drown it out, and Serena turns the volume even higher. 

Shortly after I gave birth, I developed a sleep disorder and became so sensitive to the pesky sounds heard above the quietude that I had to muffle them with a white noise machine and foam earplugs.   The last straw, the thing that bled through my barriers to a soundless sleep and led to my isolation was Marty’s nocturnal inhalations and exhalations.  (Marty snore?  Never!)  I eventually moved to the guest room because the volume of his “nighttime breathing” was the only thing standing in the way of a good night’s sleep.  Serena, who already sleeps with her door closed, often gets out of bed in the middle of the night to close his door—because, as she puts it: “he [nighttime breathes] like a frickin’ tractor.”  If he didn’t, the four battery-operated clocks—one on the wall, one on the dresser, and two next to the bed, all set for a different time and a different alarm, all with a second hand—would have done me in.   I have a clock on the wall of the guest room, where I sleep, but its batteries are on the dresser.

These days, if I manage to sleep through the alarms, the excited morning dog whimpers, the banging screen door, the whistling coffee pot, and the social studies documentaries (who am I kidding? Social Studies documentaries? Zzzzzz.), then I am awakened at 6:30 a.m. by the siren of ended lesson planning: a rousing version of Muse’s “Hysteria” on electric bass or one of Billy Bragg’s anti-government ditties, sung with Cockney accent and passion, if not perfect pitch, accompanied by zealous guitar strumming in the echoic kitchen, a favorite playing place for its acoustics.

I suppose I should be embarrassed, especially that the clean clothes are in the closet, but our dirty laundry is often wafting out the window for three seasons.   That my overnight guest, visiting from Hawaii, was awakened by the loud charms jingling from Jett’s collar every time the dog moved and the 4:30 a.m. alarm that went off in the bedroom, despite my husband’s being out of town.  That when my daughter told me on Facebook that I should yell less, the next-door-neighbor’s daughter, away at college, “liked” it.

I sometimes worry about how loud we are (the neighbors always tell us they enjoy our harmonies; they neglect to mention the discord), but the truth is that I don’t know of any other way to live. I apologize for the sounds of us, but, at the same time, I can’t stifle them. I love our cacophony, our laughter, our play, and our music, even if it comes bundled with the yelling, snoring, and loud-chewing package.  I feel guilty that I’m entering Excedrin’s “What’s Your Headache” contest with a video of my daughter playing every instrument in the universe, with the volume up as high as it goes, because it’s a downright lie.  The music in my house never gives me anything but delight.  She is a thirteen-year-old girl who rocks.  So does her fifty-something dad.

The time has come to wholly embrace the loudness that is the Millers. Songs and movies should be rewritten about us: Turn it Up. Pump Up Our Volume. It WILL Get Loud…er. WHO LET THE DOGS IN? 

Yeah, that’s right. We are the Millers, and we go to eleven. (That’s one louder.)

Taffeta Terror: What Was Your Worst Prom Moment?

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Prom night has always packed pressure. These days, the bright white limo costs a bundle, and every young one piled inside competes to stand out. If you’re a girl, your historic dress has to be just right to please you, your modest mom and dad, who sprang for it, while still enough to stun your date. If you’re a perfectionist female, who attended prom in the 70s or 80s, when it was all supposed to match, your shoes ought to blend, and might have been dyed to echo the big-wave-like ruffles of your bright blue float, er, dress. (Remember having blue ankles for two weeks?) If you’re a guy, you’re likely striving to seem confident and debonair for the first time in your short life, as you greet your girl’s somber pop and accept hugs from her giddy mother, who scrubs a spot of dried blood from your freshly shaven cheek, only making it bleed more. What happens next in America usually involves too much cologne reapplication, too much dry ice…and is a DJ-pumping study in chaos theory. Baltimore, please tell us your worst or weirdest prom memory, for a chance to win dinner at a pre-prom-worthy eating establishment soon to be announced. Think of it this way: You’ll get to go on an adult date in style, in non-candy-colored duds, and achieve post-prom catharis at the same time.

Co-Ed Sleepovers for Teens: Yea or Nay?

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Last night I asked a friend with a daughter who is a junior in high school if she would talk to me about the co-ed sleepover phenomenon for the fishbowl. Here’s what I got in response:

So, prom is Saturday and my daughter has tried on her dress about 45 times–not sure the zipper is going to last!  “Plans” (we should really sit down and talk about what this word means) are still evolving for the post-post-prom, although we have said “no way in hell” to the co-ed sleepover.  I mean, really?  So, maybe “Zoe” is going to have a sleepover, but just girls.  (Again, really?  How dumb do I look?)  So hard to know the right thing to do here!  Many of those on the brave frontier who have gone before us have allowed their kids to attend/crash/hang at the post-post-prom co-ed sleepover.  Are we shriveled up dinosaurs who have forgotten how to have fun?  Or are we a few of the handful left who are willing to be unpopular with our kids??  We have actually sent an email, tonight, to the Maryland Department of Transportation to find out if a provisional license holder (such as most high school juniors and many seniors) can use the exception of “official school event” to get out of the driving curfew to come home after the post-post-prom party by him or herself at 4 in the morning… 

“Don’t you trust me?”  These words sting coming from my daughter’s sincere face.  “Of course we trust you.”  What else can we say?  We do.  And yet, there is something about the co-ed sleepover that just does not sit right.  When she pushes for an explanation, the best I can answer, in all sincerity, is that I think it is “inappropriate.”  Do I know that teenagers can have sex whenever they want, if they want?  Yes, I know that.  Do I know that teenagers can drink and get drunk whenever they want, if they want?  Yes, I know that.  Do I think these are the choices she is making?  No, I do not.  So what is different about the hours of 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. this Saturday night?  I don’t know.  But my instinct is that, at least for us, the answer is still no.  The best I can tell her is that parenting is just a chain of thousands of tiny decisions, all made with her best interest at heart, and this one is no exception. 

My husband says the co-ed sleepover is a playground for the devil, and that teenage boys and girls having a sleepover is an abdication of a basic parenting responsibility–to keep them safe, and protected.  If you are not going to say no to that what are you going to say no to?  Ignoring the obvious hyperbole, these comments and questions all resonate until I hear that my dear friend, so and so, whom I really like and respect, is HOSTING the co-ed sleepover!!  What??  Who is right and who is wrong?  Or like so many other things on this wild, fantastical journey, is there room for both of us to do it our own way, and be right?  That’s the space that feels comfortable for us, so that is where we land.  I don’t know what works for other families, but this year, this prom, my daughter will be coming home.

One-Night (Produce) Stand?

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Dear Sara,

A stranger asked me out, in the produce section of real life, and I
more or less ran away from him. My friend then made fun of me, but I
didn’t know what to do. I just feel more safe and comfortable meeting
new people online. Weird? Probably. I feel bad about it. He was kinda
cute too. I felt like I had to make a decision right then.

Dear In-Headlights,

One of the oft-overlooked little beauties of the internet is that in a
sense, it is a slow-life movement even as it speeds so much else up.
Yes, new social acronyms are born there every day and Urban Dictionary
dutifully keeps track. But it has also given us something back that
we’d culturally lost. It is a place of pen pals and waiting several
days to hear back from a thoughtfully composed email. The comfort
level you’re describing comes from the power of being able to think
about and compose a response on your own terms. Yes, few people
utilize this power when engaged in a heated political argument on
Facebook, but nevertheless, it is an option, and speaking as one who likes
to write, I prefer it to the feeling of being put on the spot that
happens often enough in real life.

What you really wanted was to experience your grocery store moment slowed-down, long enough to have a chance to think about how to respond. The internet is The Neutral Zone and you’re the captain of your personal spaceship. Not so in the real world, where apparently a cute guy who had the balls to talk to a strange girl in the first place, makes you feel like you’d have to marry him or something if you gave him your email address. Decide in advance what information you feel safest giving bold strangers and stick to it. For some, it’s a phone number. For others, it’s the email address they use for coupons but not the one tied to
their Facebook account. And remember that the internet feels safer in part because it’s full of so much fiction (where anonymous authors feel safer inventing new MLK quotes than they do owning up to their own words, for instance). Any safe “feeling” is very rarely grounded in anything real. I mean watching Robert Redford in Out of Africa makes me feel VERY safe. Real safety has nothing to do with a feeling or a fantasy. It comes from good choices and proper safety nets in place. You know, stuff like a really long password containing numbers and special characters. Now that you’ve had this experience, you’ll know what to do next time. In the meantime, this is why Craigslist has a Missed Connections section.

Couple Love: Changing the Locks

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When edgy Chop Shop stylist Shannon Bailey-Puller—she snips like a sculptor, and has studied with scissor wizard Nick Arrojo—met her husband Bill 10 years ago, he was starting barber school, and she wanted out of a marketing job. They bonded over hair chat—quickly, Shannon decided to go to cosmetology school, and move in with Bill.

At night, the two would trade details from their day’s hair lessons—all very romantic, until they decided to sit down in their kitchen and trade homemade cuts.

“Bill got so pissed because I wasn’t doing it the way he wanted; he shaved it off,” Shannon says. “When I asked him to do my highlights and color, because he wanted to learn, [he acknowledged] it’s hard. He realized he didn’t want to do women’s hair, and I didn’t want to do clipper cuts on a man!”

The cutters’ story gets cuter: Today, Shannon, 35, styles and colors at Chop Shop in Lauraville, while Bill trims men’s hair directly downstairs in his basement storefront, Blue Spark, named for a song by the punk band X. (His long-standing clientele consists of affluent business men, edgy rockers, and blue-collar guys.)

“Any guy can come, and Bill makes men look better,” Shannon says. “Bill’s personality is laidback and easy to talk to. He can talk your head off. He can debate you, too.”

Shannon says both she and Bill have strong people skills, equal to their skill with hair.

“Reading somebody verbally and reading their physical body language, it’s all part of the [haircutting] experience,” she says. “You have to ask the right questions. I always ask, ‘What do you do for a living? Do you wash and go? Do you spend time with your hair?’ You don’t want to give a high-maintenance cut to a person who doesn’t want to be high-maintenance stylist.”

Though the two remain enthusiastic about their careers, they try not to linger on shoptalk at home. Now and again, though, during the workday, Shannon does pop downstairs to say hello and survey her husband’s handy work.

“Bill is a master clipper cutter, and I’ll go sit and watch him work just because I still like to watch what he does, because he has a different skill than I do,” she says.

The next big step in coupledom for the two could be a joint shop for men’s and women’s hair, but if they decide to make this leap, Shannon votes for another upstairs/downstairs arrangement.

“I love my husband to death but if I had to work beside him I think I’d kill him!”

Chop Shop 4321 Harford Road (410) 426-2300
Blue Spark 4321 Harford Road (410) 444-1110

Barre None

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Most of us work out regularly hoping to change into a slender Black-Swan extra, not a muscle-bound field hockey hitter, yet regular cardio and weight-training often create thick, strong limbs, rather than lithe, lean lines. Since the early 20th century, body-conscious women with the workout skinny have sought the lengthening benefits of Pilates, a form of strenuous stretch-and-hold style exercise developed intuitively by Joseph Pilates, whose father was an Olympic gymnast, and mother a brilliant naturopath. The natural extension of Mr. Pilates’ challenging but effective practice, barre, a new fusion of ballet, Pilates, and yoga, helps us achieve a more svelte bod in as little as one month of dedicated class attendance, three to four times per week, with bouncy music in the background.

Can anyone attempt barre, even the clutziest, least-ballerina-like among us? Aimee Fulchino, who co-owns the only local studio for barre, aptly named simply Barre.–http://barreonline.com/ swears, “Yes, there are numerous modifications [the instructor can employ depending on the client].”

How does it transform us exactly? “Barre is a practice that focuses on each major muscle group in the body, burning it to fatigue and then stretching those muscles to achieve a leaner, longer and stronger body,” Fulchino explains. “Barre also has a meditation aspect. During class, you focus so strongly on the particular muscle group that you are working, you can lose yourself in the class. This is such a wonderful gift to the brain as well.”

Caution: It may take a few sessions before you mentally transcend the burning and muscle fatigue. What to expect, on a practical level: The hour-long class starts with a user-friendly warm-up series of knee-lifts and plies, followed by pushups and plank work, then a manageable arm weight session, moving on to a thigh series and seat-focused segment, followed by well deserved cool down. Repeat 12 times monthly, and carry your new kinder, gentler mantra: Now Natalie Portman has baby weight.

Barre. 2632 Quarry Lake Drive (410) 486-8480

Different Values

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This is the first in our series inviting writers to anonymously share family struggles. If you would like to submit your story, please contact [email protected]

What do you do when your values clash with those of your son and his wife?

Our son, Jim, and his wife, Cathy, are ultra-conservative Christians, while my husband and I are cafeteria Catholics.

Jim met Cathy at work. He’d never been interested in our Catholic faith, but a few weeks after their first date, Jim started going to Cathy’s church. He didn’t tell us he was going to church with her until after they’d been dating for a couple of months. Their wedding ceremony was performed by a minister Cathy had known since childhood.   Clearly, our son was committed to his new wife, his in-laws and his new religion. He never discussed any of this with us. Perhaps he thought we’d feel wounded or disappointed. We took consolation in the fact that he wanted to live a faith-filled life.

After Jim and Cathy had their first baby, my husband and I noticed we were not asked to babysit, and the baby was not brought to our home to visit. Though we had never dropped in on Jim and Cathy unexpectedly, we had been instructed by our son to call before coming over to see the baby. At the time, I thought it was a reasonable, understandable request, but when we found out that Cathy’s parents were doing all the babysitting and allowed to visit anytime with no call-ahead reservation necessary, we felt like outsiders and it hurt!  

At first I tried to convince myself that it was because we were the parents of the Dad, and maybe that’s how it goes: The parents of the dad have to wait until the mom (our daughter-in-law) is ready to allow us full access. I told myself I could live with that; it’s always been my goal to be a good mother-in-law. It seemed clear Jim felt closer to Cathy’s parents, but I consoled myself with the old fridge-magnet adage, “Your son is your son until he takes a wife, but your daughter’s your daughter all of her life.”

The first time we were asked to babysit, the baby was four months old. The other grandparents weren’t available. Last choice caregivers or not, we jumped at the chance to prove we could be the greatest of babysitters.  When we arrived we were given instructions about sleeping and feedings. We were also given specific instructions about what we could and could not say in front of the baby. No “Oh my God” or any taking of the Lord’s name in vain. No four-letter words.  I reminded our son that we don’t use that kind of language, and if we did, a four month old wouldn’t understand us anyway. He said the baby would pick up on our attitude. Really? Okay. 

I could see my husband’s face. The vertical vein in the middle of his forehead – the one that’s not noticeable when he’s content – was bright red and throbbing. But we said nothing; we were afraid if we raised a fuss, we’d not be asked to babysit again. So we smiled and assured our son we would follow his instructions.   

That’s how it goes most of the time. No screaming, no yelling, just subtle reminders that they have rejected our values and found something else. We fall in line because we don’t want to be any more excluded from their lives than we already are. 

I don’t try to lure them into religious debates. But if they say something I don’t agree with, I’ll tell them calmly without anger. One day they were telling me I should live by the bible, word for word. When I said I didn’t agree and thought the bible was a good guide for living one’s life, but not to be taken literally, my daughter-in-law said, “I’ll pray for you to change.” Boiling inside, I didn’t show my anger. Instead, I said that I completely respected their right to believe as they wish and to raise their children as they think best; that I would always respect their wishes regarding their children; that I don’t believe in trying to one-up them with religion and that I can see what may be right for me may not be right for them. A couple of hours after I left their home, Cathy called to apologize.

Recently, Jim said his daughters won’t be allowed to date – ever.  He and his wife believe that God will send the right man to marry them. Uh, good luck with that. People need the practice of dating and romantic relationships to make a good decision about whom to marry. When the opportunity arises, I will try to discuss this in a non-confrontational way. I’ll try! Due to the rules my son wants to impose, I’m concerned some of my grandchildren will rebel.  How will they handle it?  Will they reject them? I just don’t know.

Once in a while I’m encouraged.  The other day, Jim said to me, “Mom, it makes me angry to see Christians carrying signs putting down gay people. Don’t they know Jesus would invite gay people to dinner?” Hearing this made me happy and proud. He has a loving, accepting heart buried in his fundamentalist chest. 

I will not allow my family to be torn apart by religion.  There is too much of that in the world.  So I will continue to try to live and let live; to love my children for the virtues I see in them and to hope and pray that they’ll practice acceptance and tolerance too.

I felt rewarded by the Mother’s Day card Jim and Cathy gave me.  In it they wrote that I am a helpful gift to their family.  I hope they mean it because knowing that I am helpful to them would make my day, my year, and maybe, just maybe I might be a good mother-in-law after all, if not the absolute best.

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