Janice Packwood – Parenting

“I have been a mom all of my life.”

[One of my sons and his spouse went to counseling at Elijah House. That’s when they] said to us, “We do not agree with your lifestyle,” which was fine at that point. We still functioned and did things as a family. They had a right not to agree with it. But then they started trying to turn [others] on us. At that point there was a letter that came from Ann and I, sent out to all of the [extended] families, saying that we had tried for years to make sure that they were never compromised in some way because of who we were. We didn’t want to harm them in any way—our kids or our grandkids. See, I had five kids, we have 13 grandkids, and six great-grandkids.

There are no pictures, no nothing [from this son]. For a while, we exchanged Christmas cards, when we were still back in Minnesota. We sent Christmas gifts. [Then he called.] When I got off the phone I said “I must just be insane.” But I was just elated because he told me I was so important to him, no matter what, because we went through some really hard times and I always was there. He told me, “I don’t believe the things that you believe in any more. I don’t.” You know, it’s so sad but it’s okay that he doesn’t. Then he said, “I don’t want you a part of my life. I don’t want anything from you. You are not allowed to send us a card. You are not allowed to send us a gift. We want nothing from you.” I listened to him and I said, “It’s okay. I’m not here to argue with you. I think it’s great that you have that thought.” But he just kept coming, and coming. Finally he just hung up on me. I got off the phone and I looked at Ann. I told her what had happened and she was crying. All of a sudden, I was sitting there, and this calm just came all over me. I went, “He’s out there now. He needs to find [himself]. He needs to do that.”

You know, I’m not angry. He had a right to choose this. He has a right to do what he’s doing. Do I miss him? Yeah, I haven’t seen him in five years. And their youngest daughter [is] now eleven. We took care of her since the day she was born practically, until she was five years old. And they just took [her]. They didn’t explain. They just pulled her totally away. Then they sat their kids down with the Bible, told them what the Bible said, and that we were bad.

It took a while—a lot of pain [was] endured. I read a lot of neat books [when we were] back in Minnesota. I got through the pain part and put names to it. I also made scrapbooks for the [grand]kids that were graduating at that time and it helped me. It was painful, but it helped me work through the pain. I got to see that we were a happy family. We did have a lot of good times. All of it wasn’t bad. I had been grateful. I got a book on mothers and daughters and learning to let go. I bought it and read it, but you could apply it to male children too. I went, “Wow! This is what’s happening. Oh my God.” Thank God I read this book. [The family strife] was so awful, so painful for a mom, that you wanted to die. I mean, you love these kids.

I started at 17; by the time I was 24 I had five kids. I have been a mom all of my life. I wasn’t a controlling mom even. As a mom, I provided a place that was safe for their friends and them to come to. I knew when I came back [to Spokane that] it was still going to be painful, even though I knew what was going on. I knew that each of my children had to establish their own family, their own traditions, and everything they needed to do. Everything had always happened at our house, but they were older now. I never called them “children,” they were “adult children.” When I said “adult children” it clicked in my head not to treat them as children, but as adults. We’re finally starting to get more comfortable.

[Our kids] know that we work at Odyssey. They hear about this and that. It’s been good for them. [One son and] I had a really good talk. He said to me, “You know, mom, it’s not that I was angry with you that I’ve stayed away or anything like that. All of my life you and Ann Marie have been there for me with the girls, being a single parent raising them. I needed to do this on my own.” And I said, “I understood that. That’s why I stayed away.” He said, “I’m not mad at you, but I can do this on my own.” He’s proven to himself that he can. So each of my five kids have done that. [My other son], I don’t know if he’ll ever come back. I really don’t know. If it does come to that point and he comes back, it’ll be because they learned whatever they needed to learn, and [we’ve learned] whatever we’ve needed to learn. I don’t have any grudges or anger about anything. If he ever comes knocking at my door, what I need to say to him and his wife is, “Hey, thanks for challenging me to be everything I could be.”

Our grandkids are fine with us being gay. See, our grandkids know that we love then no matter what. They knew that when they came to our house that’s when you were who you really were and we just talked and had a good time. [One of our granddaughters], who is a senior at Gonzaga Prep, just did a paper in which she was to interview married couples. She went to her teacher and said, “I have two grandmothers that I would really like to do one of my papers on. Would you allow it?” The year before, she had asked, it was a priest, to do a controversial paper on gay marriage, and [he] wouldn’t let her. This last year, this last guy said to her, “I think it’d be great. Go ahead.” She said, “Grandma, it only had to be a page-and-a-half, but I did three-and-a-half.” We ended up sitting there crying through a lot of it too, talking about it.

We’re around so many more people now that accept everyone. Then, when we get put back into sometimes family settings, all of a sudden I have to come to [a screeching halt]. I have to think, “Oh no. You’re just so comfortable now. This is not going to fly here. You’re going to just kind of have to watch.”


Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson on 13 December 2006, held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.