Last Thursday, at 10:30 at night, the beloved and I were propped in front of several pounds of organic English peas, shelling pod after pod. We were preparing the lunch we would be bringing in for all the kids at the lil’ monkey’s preschool the next day, and the mother of my children was trying to talk some sense into me. It’s not too late, she implored, staring wistfully at the yet-to-be-shelled pile, to opt for the perfectly serviceable bags of frozen peas sitting patiently in the freezer.
But I would hear no reason. See, our child was Child of the Week last week. It would be fair to say that I took on the campaign with a zeal of presidential proportions. What happens when you’re Child of the Week, you ask? Well! When you’re Child of the Week, you get to bring in a favorite toy or book to share at Circle Time. Your parents interview you about your likes and dislikes (favorite color? favorite vegetable? thing you love to do?), and the results are shared. They are encouraged to make little poster boards with pictures on them, indicating a bit about your life outside the preschool. Some parents come in and do demonstrations of various sorts, or lead the kids in a crafty activity. And at the end of the week, parents often bring in their kids’ favorite lunch to serve up to their little mates.
You can imagine how much wiggle room all this leaves an over-enthusiastic, worry-wart Baba.
For the meal at the end of the week, our girlie wanted us to bring in bowtie pasta with parmesan cheese, peas with butter, and strawberries. All of which, I should say, was a welcome alternative to what I was braced for: a series of empty plates. One of her favorite statements around the house, upon being asked whether she’s hungry for lunch yet, is “I eat the air.” She emits a little giggle after that. And then returns to her fast. When her Child of the Week week approached I wondered: she wouldn’t actually starve her little mates along with her, would she? The empty plates would have been an insoluble riddle, divinable only to her. The sound of one hand eating. What have you. There’d be little sniffles from all around the table. And a glaring preschool director.
But it was pasta ‘n peas this Friday, and goddess love me I was going to make them good, if it took me and the beloved all night.
“They’re only three and four-year olds,” said the beloved, well into the dozenth pod. “It’s not like they’re going to notice if the peas are fresh or frozen.”
“But what if one kid doesn’t like peas, and these are so fresh and sweet-tasting, they tempt him on board? And then he’s a pea-lover, thanks to us! What a coup! That kid’s parents would love us for at least a week.”
Really, what it is I’m looking for is for the kid’s parents to love us for the duration of our daughter’s enrollment in preschool. Better yet, I’m hoping that their kids will love our daughter. You can’t will that kind of stuff to happen, though, as much as I’d like to. What parent doesn’t want that for their child?
And for sure, what queer parent doesn’t?
I could stuff my pockets with worries about my kids — I do, in fact; they’re overflowing; I leave a trail of them behind me, like crumbs from Hansel, wherever I go. I wouldn’t have to dig far before I happened upon this big one: that we, by virtue of our being an unusual parental duo (bound by left-handed love in a right-handed world), will be anything but a boon to their fullest flowering, their unbridled happiness in the world.
Before her Child of the Week week began, I sent a note out to the other parents, letting them know about the lunch on Friday. Then I added a wee little extra ditty. Like, a 500-word essay about our alternative family, and some pointers, should they like any, about how they might explain it to their kids. Should their kids ask. Which most, if not all, probably won’t.
When I worried aloud to a friend that I might be insulting those for whom my Queer Family Primer would be review material, she noted that such folks would by nature be understanding. Another, when I said I might be preaching to the choir, said “You never know who’s not in the choir.” Fair enough. Plus, aren’t the sermons part of what brings the choristers back, week after week? Some very kindly notes came back my way, some right away, some over the course of the next few days, helping blunt my worries about the week.
What worries? Oh, nothing specific. The worry is abstract. It’s that there’s something house of cards-like about our children’s family structure. It’s not simply that it’s a minority structure, it’s that about half the voters in our home state believe my partner’s and my relationship is wrong enough to deserve to be excluded from a thousand-plus state protections and benefits. Does the condemnation extend to the families we make? You betcha. We’re supposedly making families not as a natural expression of our emotional development, our connectedness to the “familiness” from which we came, but to prove a point, somehow. Our kids are used by us as tools, goes this reasoning. Kids in heterosexually-headed families: not political footballs. Ours: political footballs.
My abstract worry, and the one shared by probably 98% of LGBT-headed families, is that the very real vulnerability of our family will be exploited one day, somehow, to the detriment of our kids. Ridicule. Cruelty. Derision. Worse. Aimed at us and witnessed by our kids, or even aimed directly at our kids. Adults would take aim at us, kids at them. Schoolyard harassment and bullying statistics certainly bear out my worries. Never mind that the people who seek to hurt our kids will be, by definition, not our kids’ friends. Never mind, even, that the family we have made is phenomenally strong, riddled with love, of nearly every ilk, across generations and blood lines and counties and more. Worry doesn’t listen to reason.
At the beginning of Child of the Week week, I had burned the midnight oil putting the finishing touches on the “poster boards.” Not one but two, and not simply a window on her life, but a national conference-worthy explication of how it is that she is a Happy and Well-Adjusted Child, with a Copious and Loving Extended Family. Here: look!
I exaggerate, but only just a bit. I mean, I did actually render a whole family tree in water color, with pasted-in photographs of the various extended family faces looming out of it like so many frighteningly large apples. It might have seemed over-compensatory, but I like a good art project. And also, it made sense. I put the same kind of loving attention into the rendering of that family tree that my partner and I have put into the growing of it. A lot of its strength derives from the families from which we come. But whole branches of it are of our own design, the work we’ve made together with friends. It is a thing of pride.
The last day of our Child of the Week week, we came in to do our parent participation stuff. Of course, the beloved sang a little opera, warmed up the kids’ voices and led them in a rousing round of “My Favorite Things.” She was a hit. For my part, I had been stewing ever since, at the beginning of the school year, I heard that a firefighter dad came in. I mean, how am I going to measure up to a firefighter? I could lie and say I was an astronaut. Come in with a big scary suit, goldfish bowl on my head, breathing in and out with a Darth Vader kind of sound. But I’d crumble with the first innocent engineering question. Hell, I’d fall apart if some kid had the impetuousness to ask me why the sky was blue, or how cold it was in space.
But it’s not like I was going to come in and do a demonstration of how to un-dangle a modifier.
In the end, I read a book. Not any of the ones in which alternative- and lesbian-headed families are visible, but the lil’ monkeyâ€™s current favorite, by request. Because this journey into the world is hers, and our family’s ethos is that we strike a balance between our worries and her need to experience. Between our knowledge about what makes her unique, and her curiosities as an ordinary kid. I brought The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, and, per the lil’ monkey’s request, read it as written, no freestyling, like we often do at home. The ninety some-odd men wore suits, the dozen or so women wore dresses.
I did add a fancy detail, though: I brought it in my mother’s violin case. I sat down in the little kid-sized chair in front of the half-circle of kneeling kids, and carefully removed her violin and bow, placing them on the bookcase next to me for the children to ponder as I read. A little show and tell. A way to rest my mother’s hand on my shoulder, as I find my own way as a parent.