The other night I was reading to the downstairs cousins and the lil’ monkey together. We live upstairs from the beloved’s brother and his family, and we each swap childcare an afternoon and a night a week. The nearby Granny and the GrandBaba take on an afternoon of kids themselves. Basically, it takes a village of family labor to give us all time for work and dates.
So there I am on our kid night, poised to read the book chosen by my nephew — eldest son, I might add, of a white, Christian (insofar as no one’s Jewish), currently able-bodied family of ample means. Did I mention he is blond, blue-eyed, tall, and smart? Well he is! And guess what book is his current favorite, for night-time all-cousin reading (since he reads his own baseball stories in bed)? Todd Parr’s The Family Book !
Many of you with kids know Todd Parr’s work; he’s done It’s Okay to be Different, another LGBT family favorite. For those who don’t already know it, The Family Book celebrates family diversity, illustrated in Parr’s Keith Haring-esque, primary colored, graphically bold style.
We’re all hunkered down together on the couch, cuddled up close. Page after page, the big thrill for one and all, led by Apple Pie Boy, let’s call him, is to quickly identify which ways our family — which to him is always already an extended family — fit the condition named on the page. It’s usually a disappointment in the rare cases where we don’t.
“Some families are big,” I read.
“That’s us!” they call out triumphantly, since they begin with both up and downstairs families plus the grannies, and then start counting.
“Some families are the same color.”
“That’s us!” they chime in a chorus. For some of us.
“Some families are different colors.”
“That’s us!” For some of us. Three different races and counting.
“Some families live near each other.”
“That’s us!” Depending on how you slice it, that could be us all on the couch together, or us including the grannies across town. Then for our kiddles there’s the Special Aunt, Uncle, and Cousins up the hill, and a DadDad a half an hour away.
“Some families live far from each other.”
“That’s us!” Between the three cousins on the couch they have family in five different states, plus three more branches overseas.*
“Some families have a stepmom or stepdad and stepsisters and stepbrothers.”
“That’s us!” All the downstairs cousins’ aunts are step-siblings to their dad. Technically speaking. Though the qualifier “step” rarely crosses anyone’s lips.
“Some families adopt children.”
“That’s us!” Then they eagerly name their cousins and their auntie. Though the qualifier “adpoted” rarely crosses anyone’s lips.
“Some families like to be noisy.”
“That’s us!” they practically yell. I correct them, in a soft voice: “That would be some of us, children.”
“Some families like to be quiet.”
“That’s not us!” they call out joyously.
“Well, children,” I say in a pompous, instructorial tone, “some of us in the family like to be quiet. Like for example me. But I think since so many of us are noisy,” I say, drawing the word out to like five syllables, “it’s hard to tell, isn’t it? That there I am, quietly in the corner, with my fingers plugged in my ears.” They all look at me with puzzled faces for a moment, and then eagerly turn the next page.
“Some families have two moms or two dads.”
“That’s us!” The enthusiasm was unbridled. Score again!
“Some families live in a house by themselves.”
“That’s not us!” they say, but with not a jot of disappointment.
“Some families share a house with other families.”
“Yay, that’s us!” The younger set pretty much doesn’t even call out “Knock knock!” when they stride into the various households. Our daughter spends more time in her cousins’ room than her own.
“All families are sad when they lose someone they love.” The first time I saw that page I felt socked in the solar plexus.
“That’s us,” they erupt, with pretty much the same enthusiasm they’d been exhibiting all along. Then they name the family members who are gone. Both downstairs cousins’ grandfathers. The boy that was and always will be my children’s oldest cousin.
The lil’ monkey looks at me and chirps, “And your mama!”
I nod. “You’re right honey. But look. There she is, hovering right there above your shoulder as we read. She loved-loved-loved to read, and she would have loved-loved-loved you.”
The lil’ monkey looks at me for a moment, looks up above her shoulder. Then she eagerly turns the page.
“All families can help each other be STRONG!”
“Yay!” sings out the chorus of cousins.
* As of this writing. Ed. note later: blessed be, one overseas branch moved back (Auntie, Uncle, and nephew), so now they’re just a half hour away. Like they should be.