When reality hits home

I love planning. It sounds weird, but I make lists like it’s my job. I even go old-school with handwritten lists so I can have the satisfaction of writing that check next to each thing I’ve accomplished, which you don’t quite get when using a Word document. But unlike readying for a work presentation, a road trip or the holiday-shopping season, getting ready for parenthood is like making a planning list in another language — one you haven’t yet learned.

Welcoming a baby means months — in some cases, years — of planning, prepping and more planning, but it’s an odd sensation to be investing so much into a future that isn’t yet a reality. Talking about having a baby is one thing, and celebrating a pregnancy is another, but physically preparing for a being who for so long has only been an abstract concept — especially as first-time parents who don’t know a swaddler from a sling — is a mind-boggling experience, one that requires very frequent reality checks.

Baby 101

One of the most reality-inducing aspects of this process has been making our baby registries, I think because above all other steps, it most highlighted just how much we have to learn. We knew our families planning a shower and making a registry to aid in the gift-giving process would be an inevitability. We started by exploring advice in online forums about the best registry options, which, of course, had no universality. Some parents recommended Target for its accessibility, while others decried its lack of selection. Some recommended simply asking for money and gift cards, while others contended that approach lacks taste. Ultimately, we tried to consider the preferences of our family and friends and went with Amazon for the online shoppers and Buy Buy Baby (a last-minute switch after Babies ”R” Us announced it was closing) for the brick-and-mortar shoppers.
Before starting the lists, we decided to do as much research online first, exploring handy guides from parents about registry must-haves and unnecessary items (again, a wide diversity of opinions here) and tapped our own circles for advice.

One of the tips many parent friends repeated was to invest in a lightweight stroller that snaps into an infant car seat to make transportation a bit easier, and not to ask for too many bottles, as many parents have to try a few different brands to see which their baby will take to. Who knew?!

We made our own list of items and then looked into safety ratings and price before going into Buy Buy Baby armed with a registry gun. It was an overwhelming experience, though at times sorting through little onesies and booties — though everyone advised us not to register for a lot of clothes — actually bordered on enjoyable and helped make the process a bit more realistic. With thousands of products to choose from, registering in person can be a lengthy process, so buckle in (and schedule a lunch break!).
Thankfully, even if you register in a store, everything is tracked online, so you don’t have to be committed to every single item. We’ve made countless changes to try to balance the amount of items and price points between the two registries.

Cost was also one of the top factors we researched when exploring another important topic: daycare, largely because, at first, we had no clue what else we should be looking for. That question was answered on our first daycare visit, which we found to be integral to the decision-making process. Seeing the space for yourself opens up a host of factors to consider: how the building is locked, the child-to-teacher ratio and the quality of indoor and outdoor play areas. As has been a theme throughout this planning process, we learned the most by just doing it.

Vision and values

In one of the many late-winter snowstorms in March, I found myself sitting on the floor of Jackson’s future nursery, racing to paint the woodwork before it got dark. The storm had knocked out our power (and sent us both home from work early) but we were trying to get the room painted before the new rug came. Designing the nursery required us to really harness our imagination to envision a baby occupying the room — previously our catch-all room that functioned as office, library and storage area — in a few short months. We had long ago decided to theme his room around “Harry Potter” and had to consider how to parlay that into practicality and our vision for him: The room is tiny, but we knew we want to encourage him to love reading, and had to find a spot for books. We also wanted to pass on our family values, and decided to frame a cross-stich from the “Harry Potter” movie done by Ashlee’s aunt, and décor crafted by my sister. Pinterest became a source of inspiration, Etsy a treasure trove of digital files (downloaded and printed for half the cost of pre-printed décor!) and The Home Depot a twice-weekly trip for our home-improvement-challenged selves.

While crafting the nursery brought Jackson to life, we’ve also started to have some realistic conversations about his future. In the past, “family holidays” once we had kids just seemed like a nebulous thing, but we’ve had to give some serious thought to how we want our son to honor each of our family’s traditions and new ones we want to create. We grappled with ideas like whose family we would spend Christmas dinner with when our relationship started getting serious and, now that we’ve formed 11 years of traditions, we’re having to revisit them to account for our growing family.

Religion has never been a tradition either of us adheres to. Both raised Catholic, we considered ourselves distanced from the church, largely for its positions on LGBT and social-justice issues. When thinking realistically about our own relationship to religion, we both recognized that we valued the sense of belonging and guidance that a faith community can offer and decided it couldn’t hurt to expose Jackson to religion, solely if it is LGBT-affirming, and to let him form his own views as he grows. We did our homework and church-shopped for some time before settling on a local congregation that not only welcomes LGBT congregants, but centers on them. We’ll see how much of a role organized religion will play in our, and his, lives — but we realized that we wanted to be open to broadening our minds for the sake of our son.

Making it legal

Perhaps nothing has made this more real than the legal side of pre-parenting. From my work at PGN, I knew it would be important for us to go through a second-parent adoption, often used by LGBT couples to solidify the legal rights of the non-biological parent. Fees vary but most second-parent adoptions top off in the multiple thousands; however, the security it provides, I think, ultimately balances out that blow. In case of an emergency, I could prove that I had a legal right to make decisions for Jackson and, if Ashlee and I were to ever separate — which, every time we talk about this, we assure one another that will never happen! — both of our connections to our son will be protected.

We retained a lawyer and started the process in Ashlee’s second trimester with the requisite FBI fingerprinting and background clearances; it’s a weird experience getting fingerprinted to be a parent, but we took it in stride as just another of many, many weird experiences we’ve had in the past few months.

Another consideration has been Jackson’s last name. We both kept our names when we got married, with the agreement that we’d revisit the issue once we had kids. In addition to opposing the name-change tradition that signifies a husband’s ownership, neither of us wants to give up the surname that’s defined us for three-plus decades; something we’ve found is a common roadblock for LGBT couples. We started thinking creatively. Hyphenation? Well, we both have eight-letter Italian names, a lot for him to write on his kindergarten homework. How about creating a whole new name for all of us by meshing our two last names together? Sounded great in theory, but once our lawyer informed us that would involve a whole new host of legal costs, we abandoned that approach. We’ll get there by the time the birth-certificate process commences, but for now, we’re going back to thoughtful discussion about balancing what’s best for him and for us, a tightrope dance I expect to be walking for quite some time.