Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Grown Up Choice

(this is an essay written a few years ago when Ben was much younger)

It finally happened. My oldest son was challenged at school about having two moms. The kid is only in preschool (a preschool daycare center we’ve gone to for years), but there are several new kids in the class who have confronted him and told him that it’s not okay to have two moms, no one has two moms. My son calmly replied the set response of his teachers, “It’s a grown up choice. I have two moms.” The teachers backed him up and then redirected the kids onto something else. The hardest part? Hearing it from his teachers, not him. My heart sank. I don’t want him holding the experience alone. Is he afraid to tell me?

We don’t spend time talking about discrimination, or how our family is different. We point out configurations of parents to our kids- look, 'David' has a mom, a dad and a step dad. "Jerry’s" grandmother always picks him up and takes care of him during the day. Your friends [I], [J], [A], [A] and little [S] all have two moms for parents. We focus on being parents, just like his friends who have a mom and a dad. They have parents. We are your parents. Common language to make our kids fit into the world around them. I realize my fear of being different is tucked into my choice of words. I don’t want him to be ostracized, left alone, separated. I remember being picked on, and picking on kids at a young age. The pecking order is brutal, and my maternal instinct is to save him, to protect him. After all, it’s because I am a lesbian. Because of me. My ‘grown up choice.’

Now, at barely five, I need to start talking about discrimination. I need to explain how his place in the world is like everyone else’s, and yet it isn’t. But how? What do I say? Do I explain the lump in my throat when, after having lived in our house for several months, a neighbor asked to meet my husband? (What are you blind or something?) Do I explain the difficulty of having a dental hygienist casually ask about whose watching the kids while I’m there? My struggle with the question, do I have to be out to everyone? Even the meat clerk at the grocery store? And that doesn’t even touch the big stuff- the real threat of violence, places which simply aren’t safe for us to go, the hate our ‘grown up choice’ inspires in some people.

I suppose I should be glad that we’ve been lucky enough not to face this any earlier. He has a strong foundation in his belief that his family is a normal, healthy one. His response, the teachers have commented, has been confident. We’ve made sure to surround our children with many other alternative families, making familiar the faces of his own parents. And only my oldest is struggling with this- his two younger siblings haven’t faced any playground taunts yet. But I’ve lost a sense of safety. The daycare was my one place where I felt known, and respected. I knew it was only a matter of time, but I thought I had more of it. Has he lost his sense of being ‘normal?’ Is the ground under him a little less than firm now?

My oldest son is no longer a cute little baby, gurgling in a stroller, gathering smiles and admiration from any and all. As the baby fat melts from his face, so with it goes the untouchable protection it provides. A new dialogue needs to happen between us, a difficult one. I need to explain why people might be mean to him without drawing on the bitterness and anger cultivated from my own experience. My own neighbor, the husband seeking one, recently found out my kids and his grandkids will be in the same elementary school. He is polite, a little nervous, and invites my kids to join his grandchildren for a soccer games in the street. The kids who told my son he can’t have two moms aren’t bad, they are his friends. I need to help him grow a toughness and remember my own vulnerability. The proud, beaming ease of pushing an infant’s stroller is over for me, too. It is a challenge for us all.


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