We Were On “The Today Show”

I never planned to put my kids on camera.  I mean, my cameras, sure.  I have about 10 bajillion hours of video of them doing completely mundane things like drooling or singing that new Taylor Swift song, which in my son’s interpretation, goes like this:

“We are never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, NEVER EVER EVER, NEVER EVER EVER… WE ARE NEVER EVER EVER…”

That’s it, over and over.  It never ends.  Never ever ever.

You can see why I keep these things to myself.

On the other hand, I feel a kind of parental duty to educate people about my family, to make the world a better, more understanding place for my kids, and of course, other kids in nontraditional families.

So when my friend Robin Sindler, who’s smart and talented and amazing and just happens to be a producer for The Today Show, came to me and asked if she could shoot a segment on our family, I thought about it for a bit and then said yes.

Then Drew said no.

Then, Robin said she would fly Susie down for an interview, meaning we’d get to spend a few days with her and her daughter, Grace.

We talked about it a lot, and eventually Drew agreed that if we were ever going to do something like this, we’d want to do it with someone we trust, on a show we respect, so our lives don’t get Jerry Springer-ized or used as a jumping-off point for some loudmouthed debate.

The Susie visit was a bonus, and of course, no story about my family would be complete unless it adequately praised Susie for her gift to us.

A few days later, Robin arrived with a small (and terrific) crew, and Drew and I slogged through what was probably our worst day of parenting ever.  We said things like, “Careful with Daddy’s mic pack!”  “Stay on the swing and keep smiling!”  And, “If you can just make it through one more bit of b-roll, we’ll have McDonald’s for lunch.”  We made the kids sit in the basement watching Beauty & The Beast while we shot our interview.  When Grace started crying, we asked Susie to take her for a walk so it wouldn’t ruin our audio.

We filmed at our swim class.  Usually, Drew’s at work for swim class, and I’m forced to sit with the other parents in a galley area so I don’t distract the kids.  For the camera crew, they let us sit at the edge of the pool, with our feet in the water.  The kids got to swim up to us and show us their moves, while a camera pushed in on their dripping wet faces.  They felt like movie stars.

It reminded me of all the reasons I never wanted our kids to be child actors.  “This is just for one day,” I kept reminding Drew.

I knew it had made an impression a couple of weeks later when we were reading one of my kids’ books.  (I think it was a Curious George book, but I can’t seem to find it now.)  There was a picture of a camera crew, including a woman who was standing in the back, taking notes on a small pad.  Sutton pointed at her and said, “That’s the producer!”

We had no idea how the piece would turn out or how many months would elapse before it would air.  It turned out it was only about three weeks.

I was terrified to watch it.  I didn’t want the kids to see it.  Drew had it on in his office, and he promised to call me afterward with his assessment.

“Go turn it on now,” he demanded.  “Sit and watch it with the kids.  It’s beautiful.”

So we did.  I backed up my Tivo and sat with the kids on the couch.

They were most excited to see their cousin Grace.  “Oh, she’s so cute!” they squealed.  I think they’re so used to seeing videos of themselves that they didn’t see this as anything special.  When it was over, Sutton asked, “Now can we watch another show about us?”

I’ve heard from lots of people since this piece aired — friends who loved hearing the story for what was probably the millionth time, strangers who enjoyed hearing it for the first time.  Now that we’ve seen it, we have no regrets.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy it, too.  It may be the last time you see us on TV for a while.

Until I can figure out how to embed, you can click here to watch the segment.

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Modern Family Thinks My Family is “Creepy”

I guess there’s one episode of “Modern Family” I won’t be showing my kids after all.

In this week’s episode, Mitchell, Cam, Phil and Claire all got really drunk, and Claire came up with a crazy proposition.  What if she donated an egg, Cam fertilized it and a surrogate carried the baby?  Then her gay brother and his partner could have a child who was related to both of them.  It sounded so beautiful.

It was all very familiar to me, because my partner Drew and I had the exact same idea a few years ago.  We debated it and dismissed it, but then Drew’s sister Susie came to us independently with the same suggestion.  What if she gave us her eggs?  Hmm… what if?

On “Modern Family”, the notion didn’t seem so perfect once everyone had sobered up.  They decided not to go through with it.

As for Drew and me, our twins will be two and a half years old this Friday.  They were conceived using Susie’s eggs and my sperm and were carried by a surrogate.

I always knew the decision Drew and I made (not to mention Susie) wouldn’t be right for everyone.  So why, when it wasn’t right for a group of fake people on a TV show, did it feel like such a punch in the gut?

As the episode, titled “Aunt Mommy”, unfolded, the characters used words like “creepy”, “inbred” and “freak show”.  I turned to Drew and said, “They’re talking about us.”

It’s hard to accept that anyone might judge our family because of the way we created it.  Harder still to see that judgment coming from such a progressive, gay-positive TV show.

And it hurt.

We never get reactions like that when we tell people our story.  It doesn’t matter if they’re close friends or complete strangers.  They always remark about how wonderful it is, how moved they are by Susie’s gift and how lucky they think our kids are.  That’s what they say to our faces, at least.  Who knows how they really feel?

I will say that there was nothing that came up on “Modern Family” that we didn’t ponder ourselves before we decided to have kids in our nontraditional way.  And, given more than 22 minutes to ponder the topic, our soul-searching ran a lot deeper.  We went through all the same emotions and fears – Was this creepy?  Was it fair to Susie?  To Drew?  To the kids?  Drew’s own brother told us that having a baby with Susie’s eggs would be “effed up”.  That alone almost made us reconsider.

We kept talking about it, though.  We wrote Susie a heartfelt letter laying all our feelings bare.  We flew her out to LA to have therapy with us.  We obsessively dissected every angle of the scenario we were creating:

Would Drew feel like less of a dad because we used my sperm and not his?

Would Susie have trouble watching us raise a child she was biologically bonded to?

Would the kids feel that Susie was their mom and Drew their uncle, because that’s what biology seemed to suggest?

How would the world see us?  Would people be uncomfortable with our story or, worse, with our kids?

I wish I could say that talking everything through brought us complete clarity, and that’s why we decided to go ahead and make our babies together.  But that’s not true.  We knew that making a baby this way would be messy, that we were venturing into uncharted territory.  We feared we were doing the wrong thing.

We also thought there would be something very special about our family.  We liked knowing that we could someday tell our kids the unique, incredible story of how they were born.  We imagined how special they’d feel knowing what Aunt Susie had done for them, how wonderful it would be to create life out of such a pure gift of love.

Drew’s brother came around eventually.  Susie convinced us that she was emotionally prepared for what lay ahead.  And in the end, with our families’ support, I guess we rolled the dice.

As a result, there are two tiny human beings who live in my house.  They fight and cry.  They sing songs from their dads’ 80s mixes and songs they’ve made up in their heads.  They pour yogurt in their hair.  They make us laugh.  They cost a fortune.  They’d eat cupcakes 24 hours a day if we let them.  They hug and kiss and say, “I love you.”  They’re ours.

And they wouldn’t be here if not for my love for Drew, and Susie’s love for her brother.

That doesn’t make the doubts go away.  In some ways, it makes them worse.

Every day, I feel guilty that Susie doesn’t get to be our kids’ mommy.  I see bits of her in our children – their features and their personalities – and I feel like she deserves more than our arrangement provides her.  I struggle wondering about the pain she must feel when she says goodbye to them, when Drew and I make different parenting choices than she would and about the tiny sting she must feel when the kids call her “Aunt”.

I feel bad for Drew, too, like I got something that he didn’t get, a bond he might not feel quite as strongly as I do.  I worry that the kids will treat us differently when they’re old enough to understand how they came into the world.  I fear that they’ll view Drew as less of a dad.

I fear for my kids, too.  Have we doomed them to being outsiders, anomalies of nature the world will never fully appreciate or understand?

These aren’t issues we addressed and resolved.  They aren’t emotions that will ever go away.  They’ll be with us forever.  It’s the path we chose, and a bit of ambiguity was part of the deal.

I don’t know how my family will evolve over the next 5 or 10 years or how my kids will feel as they grow up.  But I know they’ll always be loved.  If there’s one thing I can do, it’s to make sure they know that.

… and also, to do my best to educate everyone else.  As long as anyone out there thinks we’re “creepy” or a “freak show”, I need to keep sharing our story.  (Say what you will, but we’re not inbred.  Susie isn’t even my sister-in-law, let alone my sister.  Drew and I aren’t legally married.  Thanks, Prop 8.)

My family may not seem normal to everyone else, but it’s our normal, and if it wasn’t how we were, we wouldn’t be us.  I never have a moment of regret for how our kids came into the world.  I’m grateful for it every day.  We’re not perfect, and at times things still get a little messy, but we’re a family.

I guess, in the end, a post-Modern one.

Travel Tips for Families With Two Kids Or Less (Or More)

Nothing brings out the best in strangers like witnessing men try to take care of children.  They tend to think you need help – and even more, that you deserve it.  Like a dude with a baby is automatically in over his head and crying out for a lifeline.  You can take it as an insult, or, if you’re me, you can take the help, because hey, it’s free help, right?

Never does this mentality come in handy more than when you’re traveling.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire airport terminal to get that child to Grandma’s for the holidays.  Soak it up, fellow gay dads, because this is where the new BFFs come out of the woodwork to assist you.  Not that you need them, of course.

Drew and I have made the LA to New York journey with the kids four times now.  That may not qualify me as an expert, but we haven’t lost a kid yet, so I’d say I’m good enough.

With the holidays coming up, I thought I’d share a few of my secrets.

Make a packing list.  It’s easier than it sounds.  Just write down everything you use in a 24-hour period.  Burp cloths, bibs, formula, your “Daddy’s not messin’ around” voice.  Figure out how many of each you’ll need during your flight and how many you’ll use for the rest of the trip.  Use this as your checklist before you leave – and again before you return home.  Next time you travel, it gets easier, because you can use your previous list as a jumping off point.  As your kids get older, you’ll need less stuff with every vacation.  And if this sounds too anal for you, hold on, because it’s about to get way more anal.

Ship, borrow and sacrifice.  Getting your kids through an airport is tough enough.  Don’t take the entire haul from your baby shower with you.  Ship diapers and food to your destination.  Borrow a pack-n-play from a relative or neighbor wherever you’re headed.  Do without the bottle warmers while you’re gone.  Do everything possible to minimize your haul.

Number your key items.  A key item is anything that’s not attached to your body that needs to arrive safely at your destination.  Why do you need to number them?  Because you’d be surprised how fast they add up.  Here’s our key item list from our first trip with the kids:

Carry-on items:

1. Bennett

2. Sutton

3. Bennett’s car seat

4. Sutton’s car seat

5. Drew’s carry-on bag

6. My carry-on bag

7. Diaper bag

Gate checked item:

8. Snap-n-go stroller

Checked items:

9. Drew’s checked bag

10. My checked bag

11. Babies’ checked bag

12. Bennett’s car seat base

13. Sutton’s car seat base

Start with the items you’ll be carrying on the plane, then gate checked items, then checked items.  Any time you make a transition, do a count off to make sure you have everything you should.

From the condo to the car and the car to the airport, we counted up to 13.

From the check-in desk through security, to the waiting area, to the gate, we counted up to 8.

Once on the plane, we counted up to 7.

Keep a list of what the numbers correspond to in case you can’t locate something.  And if you lose track of #1 or #2, it’s time to get on the airport intercom.

Pack food you can serve easily.  You know how hard it is to do something as simple as crossing your legs in a cramped airplane seat?  Well, don’t even think about slicing up strawberries and swirling them into little Joey’s oatmeal.  Keep things as simple as possible.  Chewy cereal bars.  Snacks in no-spill cups.  Those wonderful little squeezey pouch fruit purees.

And splurge on the pre-made formula in cans.  It’s much easier than mixing your own from the powder.  Don’t worry.  The TSA won’t make you taste it.  Just tell them you’re carrying it, and they’ll run it through the X-ray machine.

Get a greeter if you can.  Did you know that, for a couple hundred dollars, you can hire someone to meet you at the airport and help you all the way from the curb until you get on the plane?  These wonderful human beings will deal with skycaps, whisk you to the front of the security line, gain you access to the first-class lounge and come get you when it’s time to board.  They’ll push your bags on a luggage cart, help you gate-check your stroller and even sweet talk the gate agents into letting you pre-board.  Yes, traveling with your kids is already costing you a fortune, but why not make this your Christmas present to yourself?  I assure you, it’s worth it.

Let the kid watch TV.  Your day-to-day job as a parent is to raise a healthy, well-adjusted, intellectually curious child.  For many of us, that means keeping SpongeBob to a minimum.  But when you’re on a plane, your job is to get to your destination without you or the kid melting down.  So go ahead and rot their brain if it helps.

For space reasons, try to avoid bringing a laptop or portable DVD player.  Instead, load your iPhone with Yo Gabba Gabbas and bring your power cord so you can keep it charged.

And finally, the most important rule of all…

Don’t feel guilty if your kid cries.  There’s a crying baby on every plane.  There’s also a jerk who glares at the kid’s parents or sighs audibly to register their annoyance.  Admit it: You’ve been the jerk plenty of times.  Now you get to be the parent.  It’s the circle of life.

But look around.  While your baby is crying, you’re also getting lots of supportive looks from parents like you who’ve been there.  And from this point on, that’s who you’ll be.  When you’re getting off the plane, strangers will approach you to tell you how good your baby was (even if he wasn’t), because that’s what parents do for each other.

It’s really a beautiful thing – sniff, sniff.

Have any secret tips of your own?  Help a Daddy out, and leave me a comment!