We Are Not Getting a Cat

Among the 500 million reasons Drew and I are never getting a cat is the fact that our neighbor has, well, about 500 million cats.  They run through our yard, sleep on our car hoods, fight in our bushes… and delight our children, who love to watch them out the window.

You’d think that would be good enough, but nooooooooo.  They want their own cat.  I made the mistake of pulling up a bunch of cat pictures on a Google image search, and Sutton promptly selected the one she thinks should be our pet.  This one:

I’ll admit, if it stayed that cute forever, I might let her talk me into getting that kitten.

“Which one do you want, Bennett?” she had to know.  Bennett scanned the dozens of choices on screen and made his selection:

“OK,” I said.  “Let’s get that one.”

I’m hoping that cures Sutton of her cat fancy.

So You Want to Be My Babysitter… 5 Interview Tips You Should Know Without Me Telling You

You are SO not hired!

Hello!  Thank you for your interest in babysitting my kids.  It’s a fun job – and educational, too.  If you come work for us, you’ll learn the names of all the Thomas trains and how to distinguish them by their creepy mushed-up faces.  You’ll get to know the lyrics of every One Direction deep album cut, especially “Tell Me a Lie” and “I Wish”, which are my son’s and daughter’s “jams”, respectively.  Most of all, you’ll learn the one and only proper way to make a peanut butter sandwich to avoid making a little boy cry.

The job has its perks, too.  Once you’re on our payroll, your kisses are granted the power to heal minor injuries, you’re free to lounge in one of our two backyard (plastic princess) pools, and you can help yourself to all the Penguins of Madagascar fruit snacks you want.  (We’re trying to get rid of those.  They’re “too sticky”.)

I’ve interviewed a lot of people for this position, so before we go any further, allow me to offer you a few tips – just suggestions, really – to help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of our applicants and help you get on my good side.

1.  Show up on time.

What I’m looking for most in a babysitter is reliability, so if we schedule our interview for 4pm, try to arrive by, oh, say 3:59:59 at the latest.  Maybe you’re used to your econ class starting a few minutes past the hour or going to movies that have 15 minutes of previews before Kristen Stewart shows up on screen.  Here in the world of legitimate employment, we start on time, and if you’re not here when you said you would be, you’re likely to see my minivan backing out of the driveway and peeling off on its way to a playdate.

In that case, don’t bother rescheduling.

2.  Don’t look like a slut in your Care.com headshot.

I know your Facebook friends love that picture of you with a beer in one hand, your back arched to accentuate your barely-covered boobs, with that “I’m a naughty girl” expression on your face.  I have no doubt it’s gotten you tons of responses in the Craigslist personals, but you’re going for a different audience here, and they may not appreciate you mimicking the Lolita one-sheet… or the way their husband shouts out, “Whoa!  Hire her!” when he sees your picture.  We gay dads are unlikely to be impressed either.

When I see anything resembling a “Girls Gone Wild” audition still, I picture my daughter in a few years, and I start to weep.  If you insist on the trashy headshot, please include your parents’ phone number in your ad, because I’m going to want to give them a call and express my sympathies.

Surely there’s a photo somewhere of you playing minigolf with your special needs cousin.  Use that instead.

3.  Show the most conservative side of yourself.

I’m aware that I’m from a different generation than most of the young women who apply for babysitting jobs.  They have more liberal attitudes about what body parts they’ll pierce or what colors they might dye their hair.

I would never suggest anyone not be themselves, because I respect your individuality, and besides, I’m going to discover your freaky side eventually anyway.  Still, if you’re the lead singer of a death metal band, maybe you could tone it down a bit for our first meeting.  You must have something other than skull earrings.  Wear those.  Go with a tasteful tongue stud rather than that spike-tipped rod that I have to duck to avoid every time you open your mouth.  Swap the black lipstick out for a pale gray.

I gave big bonus points to the young woman who, during her interview, pointed out and explained each of her visible tattoos.  I would never disqualify someone for their body art — well, maybe Amy Winehouse wouldn’t have made the cut — but the fact that this applicant raised the topic showed a) self-confidence and b) a sensitivity to the squareness of parents like me.

4.  Know your kiddie lit.

This is our Great Gatsby.

I’m going to let you in on a secret.  I have a “gotcha” question.  It’s really tricky, too.  Ready?  Here it is…

“What are your favorite children’s books?”

Gets ‘em every time.  First, I’ll ask my interviewee what she likes doing with kids, just to see if “reading” makes the list.  It should.

If not, I’ll ask directly, “Do you like reading to kids?”

“Oh, yes.  I love it.  On my last job, I used to read to the kids all the time.  It was our favorite thing to do.”

“Really?  What were some of the books you read?”

Shrug.  “Nothing in particular.”

I’m stunned how often that question leaves babysitter applicants speechless.

Seriously, is it so hard just to say Dr. Seuss?  The Very Hungry CaterpillarGo Dog Go?  Even people who hate kids can name a couple of children’s books.  I’d trust someone who loathes Dr. Seuss more than someone who can’t quite remember his name.

Originally, I intended to screen out anyone who didn’t know Mo Willems, author of the Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie books.  He was my favorite children’s author before I even had kids, when I used to buy books for my nieces and my friends’ kids.  Yes, I had a favorite children’s author… is that too much to ask of a childcare provider?

I have yet to interview a babysitter candidate who’s even heard of Mo Willems.

What’s up?  Are the other kids you sit for just that lame?  Have you never been to the children’s section of Barnes & Noble?

Now I look at it differently.  You may not know Mo Willems – or Sandra Boynton, Bob Shea or any of our other favorites, but if I hire you, you’ll learn.  We’ll enrich your life with fine literature like Happy Hippo, Angry Duck and Time to Pee.  When your next potential employer asks about your favorite children’s books, you’ll hesitate to answer because you have too many to choose from.

Still, when you first meet me, at least try to prove you’re literate.

5.  Don’t completely ignore my children. 

You may have noticed a couple of other people sitting in on our interview.  They’re small and active, and they didn’t have a lot of questions for you, but you know what?  They were kind of important to the process.  The fact that you didn’t say hello to them when you came in, goodbye when you left or pretty much anything else in between, reflected a bit badly on your children-handling skills.

This is one interview where it might actually have been good to walk away from the boss and brush a Rapunzel doll’s hair for a few minutes.  Once you show up on time, you can drop the professional demeanor.  Silliness is a plus.

See, my kids may not be the ones who’ll pay you or drive you home, but they get a vote, too.  If, after you leave, my daughter confesses, “She was scary”, you’re probably not going to get the job.

So there you have it.  Five easy steps to winning that job babysitting for my kids.  Good luck!  Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to tell me how cute they are.

8 Surprising Facts About Egg Donors

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), typical ...

One of the more neglected purposes of this blog is to share information (and dispel myths) about makin’ gaybies.  I want to educate people about my family – and at the same time help prospective parents, gay or straight, who might be exploring their own fertility options.

A while back, I posted about some common misperceptions of surrogacy and why Drew and I chose that path, and now I want to share some information about the other part of the equation: the egg donor.

Admittedly, our situation is somewhat unique.  Our egg donor was my partner’s sister, Susie.  (Yes, I contributed the sperm.)  But before Susie made her offer, we were planning to use an anonymous egg donor, which is what most gay dads pursuing gestational surrogacy do – and understandably so.  Not everyone has as wonderful a sister-in-law as Susie, and for various reasons, not everyone wants to have such close ties to their egg donor (ahem, Modern Family characters).

If your fertility plans involve an egg donor or if you’re just curious about the process, here are a few facts I learned while Drew and I were exploring our options:

1. Egg donors are young.

The ideal donor is in her late teens to mid-20s.  Yes, late teens.  (OK, very late teens – I never saw anyone younger than 19.)  It came as a bit of a shock to me and Drew that our child could be getting half of his or her DNA from Gossip Girl.  When we saw their pictures, it reminded us just how young 19 actually is.  They had acne and awkward grins, wore baggy college sweatshirts and put their hair in pigtails.  Susie was 28 when she donated.  Compared to the women in the database, she was practically over the hill.

2. Your children will most likely never meet their egg donor.

If you’re adopting a child, you have the option of an “open” adoption, where the birth mother maintains some form of mutually agreed-upon contact with the child throughout his or her life.  Dan Savage recounts his open adoption wonderfully in his book The Kid, a must-read for all prospective gay dads or anyone considering adoption.

I loved the idea of open adoption.  There’s no shame, no secrecy and the kid never has to go through that pain of feeling like they don’t know where they really came from.  When we started to lean toward surrogacy, I was hoping we could do some kind of “open” surrogacy.

We learned pretty quickly that there’s no such thing.  When we asked our agency if we could stay in touch with the egg donor, they seemed startled.  It wasn’t something anyone – intended parents or egg donors – ever requested, and they were pretty sure no donor would agree to it.

These were young women, after all, most of whom wanted to have their own kids someday.  They didn’t want someone else’s kids tracking them down and calling them “Mommy”.  In fact, just to become egg donors they had to divorce themselves of any feeling of kinship with their eggs.  It was like donating blood.  You’re happy to know it went to good use, but you don’t need details from the people who received it.

3. Unlike sperm, eggs are only donated “on demand”.

Sperm donors make their deposits (and get paid) not knowing if anyone will ever use their sperm.  That’s because sperm is plentiful, easy to produce (fun, too!), and cheap to store.  Eggs are none of those things.  If you become an egg donor, you go through testing (both medical and psychological) to make sure you’re equipped to donate.  Then… you wait.  Your name, photo and vital info goes into a database, and someday, if someone picks you, you get a call that it’s go time.

You could sign up to donate eggs and never actually get picked by any prospective parents (which means you never get paid).  Anonymous egg donation is definitely not for anyone who’s afraid of rejection.

4. Egg donation is a big time commitment.

A sperm donor can start and finish his job in pretty much the amount of time it takes him to open a Victoria’s Secret catalogue or press “PLAY” on a DVD.  But egg donors don’t have dozens of eggs on hand at any given time that they can just drop off at a fertility clinic on a whim.  They need to prepare themselves physically. That means about six weeks of medication.

First, there’s birth control to synch her cycle up to the surrogate’s.  The only way a pregnancy can occur is if the surrogate’s body is prepared to take over right where the egg donor’s left off.

Next, the egg donor is required to take hormones to stimulate egg development.  These need to be self-injected.  To someone as squeamish as me, that sounds excruciating, but our fertility doctor assured us that he’d never had a donor drop out because of the medication.  The side effects are usually mild – bloating, moodiness, that sort of thing.

Then, there’s the actual procedure, which you do in a doctor’s office and which takes about 10-15 minutes.  It’s not anything too horrible, but it’s not like retrieving sperm, for sure.

5. There’s generally less anonymity for egg donors than sperm donors.  

Once eggs are donated, they’re fertilized immediately (extras are frozen for later attempts) and transferred to a surrogate 3-5 days later.  Most sperm donors never encounter their intended parents first-hand, but egg donors don’t have that luxury.  You’ll probably be bumping into each other at the fertility clinic anyway, so many agencies will let you meet and interview prospective egg donors before making your decision.

Even if you don’t meet them in person, the database tends to give you their first name, an extensive bio, pictures and a video of them talking, all of which you can later pass on to your kids if you choose.

6. The standard rate for egg donors is $8,000. 

Egg donors earn a lot more than sperm donors, because of all the extra trouble they have to go through.  Their standard rate is $8,000 per “harvest”.  (The cost to the intended parents is greater, because they’re also paying for all the medical fees and medication.)

Still, $8,000 isn’t a fortune, and unlike sperm donors, egg donors are limited in how often they can donate.  The whole process can take six months, which means you’d be lucky to donate twice a year.  People don’t donate eggs to get rich.  They usually do it to pay for a couple of credits at college and to help infertile couples in the process.

7. The world of egg donors is the Wild West of the fertility landscape.

Well, OK, maybe a few women are making big bucks on their eggs.  That’s because egg donation is not currently regulated by the government.  The $8,000 fee, although fairly standard, is only a suggested retail price.  Individual agencies and donors are free to mark up as they see fit.  One agency I found online advertised “premium” egg donors – ones with Ivy League degrees, high IQs, athletic awards, etc.  A couple of them had donated their eggs more than ten times.  They also charged premium rates – some as much as $30,000 per harvest.

This represents a very small minority of egg donors, but it happens.

8. The pool is limited. 

Anyone who thinks the process of egg donation is akin to genetic engineering or eugenics is vastly overestimating the amount of choice available.  It’s more like trying to find your future wife in a bar and having only the patrons of that particular bar at that time available to you.

Given the commitment required of donors, it’s no surprise that relatively few women volunteer.   Our agency’s database had about 40-70 donors at any given time.  Not a ton – and even worse if you’re looking for a certain race or ethnicity.  Our agency had 1-2 African-Americans, 1-2 Asians.  Sure, there are dozens of other agencies you can locate with a quick Google search, but once you find someone you like, you have to make sure she’s available.  She could be “on hold” for another couple or in the process of donating to someone else.  That could lock her up for six months or longer.

Meanwhile, your surrogate may not be very patient while you wait for your dream donor to appear.  In fact, Drew and I were turned down by a potential surrogate who was uncomfortable with how long it was taking us to find a donor.  (This was part of what ultimately led us to Susie, so it ended up being a good thing.)

If you’re interested in helping infertile couples and non-traditional families like mine, egg donation is a wonderful gift you can give someone.

You’ll need to be interested in more than just making money, though.  The cash you do make, you really have to earn.  It won’t be enough to change your life, because part of the reward is knowing how much you’ve changed someone else’s.

My Son Wore a Dress

This is a followup to my post “My Son Wants to Wear a Dress”, which can be found here.

As soon as I decided I was just going to let Bennett wear a dress, public reaction be damned, he stopped asking.  Little did I know he was just waiting to raise the stakes.

The next time he asked, we were on vacation in upstate New York, visiting Drew’s family.  This was the day we were going to the zoo.  We’d been talking it up to the kids all week.  Just as we were picking out clothes, Bennett made his intentions known.

“I want to wear a dress!” he chriped, his voice rising an octave on the key word.

As usual, Drew and I kind of stalled.  We’d been hoping we could blur the gender lines quietly at home – at least initially.  Letting him make his drag debut at the zoo might mean throwing him literally to the wolves.

His sister Sutton must have noticed my hesitation, because she stepped in to do the dirty work.  “No, Bennett,” she said.  “You can’t wear a dress.  It’s not OK!”

“Come on, Bennett,” I said.  “Let’s go pick one out.”  I couldn’t control how the rest of the world reacted to my son’s attire, but I wasn’t going to let his own family shame him for wanting to express himself.

As I stripped him of his boy clothes, Bennett couldn’t stop smiling.  “I’m going to wear a dress outside!” he cheered.  “I’m going to wear a dress outside!”

Maybe the kid was more aware than I realized.  So wearing the dress outside was the triumph?  Maybe he wanted to see how strangers reacted.  That’s awfully subversive for a not-quite-three-year-old.

We have a rule with Sutton.  Whenever she wears a dress, she has to wear shorts or leggings underneath.  Being the fuddy-duddy daddies we are, we refuse to contribute to the hoochie-fication of today’s toddlers.  Our little girl wasn’t going to be some primped-up preschool strumpet.

And neither was our little boy.  If he was going to wear a dress, he was going to put something on underneath it.

The problem was that none of Bennett’s shorts really went with the dress.  Neither did his very boyish navy blue sneakers.  He didn’t care.  The dress was all that mattered to him – but not to me.  I didn’t want people to think this was my idea of a flattering ensemble for my son.

Suddenly, I’d be the one getting judged.  “I can’t believe those dads put that poor little boy in a dress… and didn’t help him accessorize!”

He looked silly.  At least I thought so.  To be honest, I don’t think he even checked himself out.  All he wanted to do was dance.

“Twirl!  Twirl!  Twirl!” he shouted, as he spun around again and again, watching the dress float up around him.

Suddenly, I wondered if he got the idea to wear a dress from Beauty & The Beast.  The way Belle dances in the ballroom and the camera zooms in on her gown rising majestically around her — it was so magical.

For Bennett, the dress was a toy he could wear – part pants, part hula hoop.

It was nice to see him so happy, but there was one person who could derail that joy in an instant – and she was waiting for him at the bottom of the staircase.

It was, after all, a vacation.  We’d only packed two dresses.  Sutton was wearing one, and now her brother was wearing the other one.

Her favorite dress.

I was terrified what she would say.  I very cautiously brought Bennett to the top of the staircase.

“I’m wearing a dress!” he trilled, and his sister glanced up for a look.

All of us froze in that moment.  Once again, it was like Beauty & The Beast, right after Belle has been dolled up by the coat rack and miscellaneous flatware.  When the Beast sees her, he smiles, and you know everything is going to be OK.

“You look so pretty!” Sutton squealed.  “Now we’re both princesses!”

Whew!

Bennett scurried downstairs, and they danced together, twirling and twirling, until they both fell over, giggling.

Drew and I went to the zoo prepared to clock anyone who made a comment about Bennett’s dress, but nobody said a thing.  We were the only ones who were the least bit uptight about it.

On the way home, we stopped for lunch.  Our waitress leaned down to me and Drew.  “You have such beautiful girls,” she said.

I wasn’t sure what she meant at first.  Was she saying what she thought my son wanted to hear?  “Such beautiful girls” – wink!

It didn’t seem right.  He may have been wearing his sister’s clothes at the moment, but my son is very much a boy.  He plays with trains, builds Lego towers, splashes in mud puddles.  He even announced recently that when he grows up, he wants to marry a boy… just like both his dads.  What’s more boyish than that?

When the waitress returned with our food, she made another comment.  “You two fellas are so lucky to be here with such beautiful women!”  I realized she was being totally sincere.  She hadn’t noticed Bennett’s shorts or sneakers, hadn’t thought much about his short hair.  Because he was wearing a dress, she assumed he was a girl.

“Thank you,” I said, “but this guy’s a boy.  He just wanted to wear a dress today.”

Daddy Was So Mad

Me: “That was a good book.  What’s something that makes you mad?”

Bennett: “When we went to the McDonald’s and it didn’t have a Playplace.”

Me: “Yes, I’ve apologized for that many times.  Sutton, what makes you mad?”

Sutton: “When you hurt my ear.”

Me: “What?!  When did I hurt your ear?”

Sutton: “When you were singing.”