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Pas de deux

The beloved children’s classic The Velveteen Rabbit was made into an equally beloved holiday dance piece twenty-two years ago by ODC/Dance, one of our finest local dance companies. A week or so ago, I went to see it with the girlie, and the trips there and back were nearly as eventful as the show.

For all the time I spend caring for the little munchkins, it’s been rare that she and I have gone on a special Baba-daughter outing. Her craving for Mama is great, and perhaps would be so regardless of the fact that Mama works outside the house more hours than Baba does. So the arrangements we usually make for solo time with the kids tend to accommodate the lil’ monkey’s ever-unslaked Mama-thirst. This time around, though, the LGBT family-friendly performance was smack dab in the middle of Mama’s prime-time work hours. Grampy gladly watched the boy, and my girlie and I skipped footloose into the city to see what kind of fun we might have together.

2009familyday125x125Before we even make it the few blocks to the subway, I can tell by her mood that she is loving this every bit as much as I was. Singing, prancing, the outsize imagination vibrating and sizzling and shooting off in all directions. Since the beloved’s production of Fiddler is fading slowly into memory, I am less frequently conscripted into the role of Tevye (to her Tzeitel). The next theater production, Les Miserables, is months away, and the seasonal fave Amahl and the Night Visitors hasn’t yet encroached, so what’s filling the lil’ monkey’s mind has been the characters in our current reading: L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. We plowed through The Wonderful Wizard of, just polished off The Land of and are launching into the third, Ozma of, with reckless abandon (bringing her chapter book total — Alice and Pipi and Mary Poppins are also in her wake — way above that of the number of books Baba has read this year). Today, I am the Tin Woodman.

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Child of the Week

Happy Blogging for LGBT Families Day!

peapoddinLast 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’ monkey’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.

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A day in the life of LGBT families


Chums beaming at SF Pride, June 2005.

I know you have the little image over there in the sidebar to tell you, but I thought I’d plug something in here, too, to remind readers that Friday was Mombian’s Blogging for LGBT Families Day. At final count, over 140 posts were submitted, by people from all kinds of LGBT families as well as their friends, from the U.S. and abroad. It’ll take me a while to read through them all, and I will. Fortunately Dana will also be culling through the bunch to group them and pair them and such, for easier reading. Browse through the listing here, and marvel at how much love and perseverance abounds.

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Same/difference


At the Museum of Modern Art, NYC: A passerby, passing by Larry Sultan’s “Film Stills from the Sultan Family Home Movies 1943-72.”

Happy Blogging for LGBT Families Day, Dana Rudolph’s inspired jamboree of blogular LGBT family love and visibility! For those of us who are L or G or B or T, and whose writing online is occasioned by and peopled with our families, every day is Blogging for LGBT Families Day. It’s Blogging for LGBT Families Day when we write about the tempest-toss’d route from wannabe to actual parenthood (an epic journey, pretty much, for all of us). It is when we write about our queer families’ experiences of exclusion — or inclusion — at the childbirth education class at the hospital, or at the adoption agency, or at the preschool orientation, or in our kids’ schools’ educational materials. It’s Blogging for LGBT Families Day when we share our children’s brave and heartwarming statements of pride in their families, like Vikki has on her blog Up Popped a Fox.

But it’s also Blogging for LGBT Families Day when we write about the kinds of day-to-day conception or adoption or surrogacy woes that couples in straight families face. Because many of them face those woes too, and we can provide them compassion, and probably some fresh insight. After all, it’s not a matter of shame or embarassment or bodily challenge that we need help in forming our families: it’s how we do it, and we know a lot about how. It’s Blogging for LGBT Families Day when those of us who are LGBT single parents write about the challenges and rewards of that solo journey. For that matter, it’s Blogging for LGBT Families Day when any of us write of the joys and trials of parenthood that everyone shares. In these moments—and we all know, they constitute most moments of the day—we are being parents, the same as any other parents. Only different.

There’s an odd paradox about every civil rights struggle. The aggrieved group, in agitating to receive the civil rights to which others are entitled (e.g., access to the institution of marriage and its legal protections), is ultimately demanding not special treatment, but ordinary treatment. The absence of discrimination equals the presence of ordinariness.

So when we work to make LGBT families visible—such as through group participation in online events such as this one—we are ultimately working to make these families so evident that we eventually become ordinary. We’re working to make the unfamiliar familiar, so that it may eventually become part of the fabric of American family life, the way, over the past generation or so, “blended” families post-divorce and remarriage have, or interracial ones, or families headed by single mothers or fathers. We’re on our way to becoming nothing more nor less special than a new weave in that rich, multi-colored fabric. Of course until we are more fully integrated into dominant visions of family—until, in other words, the pernicious impact of homophobia/heterosexism diminishes, and our kids’ schools and doctors and peers and peers’ parents and books and cultural products include, as a matter of course, our families’ images and stories—we will be special. We will be exceptional.

But while being exceptional can feel like a pain or even a trial, it can also empower. It’s a well-documented social phenomenon that attacks from outside a group — attacks meant to isolate — catalyze a stronger sense of cohesion and identity from within it. Amazing bonds are formed as a direct result of the very duresses our families endure, familiar to anyone who has engaged in any civil rights battle. (LGBT historians would tell us, by the way, that gay people weren’t really a gay “people” until they began to be persecuted more and more fiercely.)

This chapter of the LGBT civil rights battle is different from previous ones, however. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s exceptional. Because we are now defending not just ourselves, but our children. And that, I would argue, explodes the numbers of us willing to speak out and act, and the passion with which we do so. Ask any parent of any stripe how powerful that feeling of protectiveness is. Is it any wonder that the classic illustration of people’s capacities for super-human strength (whether folk truth or real) is the scenario in which someone manages to hoist a car from on top of a kid trapped underneath it?

Queer families share that fierce sense of protectiveness with all other families, generally. Given how hard we worked to have our kids in the first place, you can’t imagine we don’t want them to grow up well, and we’ll do all the things other parents do to see to that. Good nutrition, good education, ample opportunities. The same old stuff. But with an added difference. Together with other queer families and our allies, we’re working to lift a heavy weight—the social impact of homophobia/heterosexism—off the bodies of our children. That bonds us, and the bond is palpable across all these posts on Blogging for LGBT Families Day.

Vikki’s son Miguel wrote and sang a song with the repeated refrain, “My family is different.” And he’s right. His family is different. It’s the same as any other assemblage of loving adults raising children. Only different.

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