After the first day of elementary school Brian got home and a while later I heard him saying “Mommy mommy,” for the first time. He was playing in the kitchen and I went in and casually asked why he was saying that. I wondered if a teacher confronted him about not having a mom? A child, or a parent?
No, nothing like that. Turns out one traumatized classmate was crying for his mother after being left for the first day and Brian was just mimicking him. As any parent knows, unless you keep them locked home, kids will sponge up whatever their classmates bring to school. We’ve gained everything from Alan’s threat of “Why I otta,” to Brian's asking us last week what sticking up the middle finger means.
None of this should be surprising, and it isn’t to the gay parents I know. No gay or lesbian parent I know wants to keep their child from the concept of different families. On the contrary, we spend probably more time than most talking to our children about the different family types in which their friends are growing up. They have everything from friends with two moms to those adopted by a single dad, though most in mom-dad households.
In the face of differences, we try to teach our boys to be considerate and respectful. When they’ve expressed sadness for friends that have a dad but not a papa, we’ve told them that while their friend may not have a papa, by name, they do have other people from mothers to grandparents doing the parenting they’ve come to associate with “papas.” From personal experience I know if there’s anything more insulting than an insult, it’s biased pity and I don’t want our boys to harbor it. Just as our boys don't need different parents, neither do their friends. And they seem to understand now, that their friends are not lacking and the parenting they receive isn’t really different; it’s just the labels and surface appearances.
We also tell them that most men likely fall in love with women, and most people they’ll meet have a mom and a dad. Civility aside, we want them to be fully cognizant of families different from ours because they’ll likely create one themselves. My parents were not a gay couple, but they did show me that being a father and husband was an option for me with a man or a woman. They also gave me a great model on which any healthy family could be structured. I’m eternally grateful and hope to do at least as much for our boys.
This brings me to the issue of what has happened in California. A bill was passed and signed which forbade discrimination against gay children and the children of gays and lesbians in schools. Clearly, with this anti-gay bigotry-fuled murder of an 8th grader in California such a law aimed at changing anti-gay atmosphere in some schools is needed. Nevertheless, the bill upset many people, and they seemingly weren't slowed by that murder. They created a movement to repeal the law, and urged parents to take their children out of public school lest they become “indoctrinated” by the great communist plot to treat gay people and their children with civility and equality.
I’ve been following it for a while, but there was an editorial on the topic in today’s tribune, here, which brought it back to mind.
So what’s their big rallying cry? It’s that the gays are trying to take the words "mom" and "dad" out of the classroom. These people have so twisted it in their mind that to merely use those words is somehow to discriminate against gays or our children. How queerly hysterical is that? How deceptive? There is not a household headed by a gay or lesbian couple that doesn’t have a mom or dad in it, and they think we want to ban the words?
What we want is for our children to be as included in their school as other children, for them to be as protected from classmates as any other child is protected. We have nothing against talking about mothers or celebrating a mother’s day at school; we just expect to be allowed to have a family member there too. If each kid gets a day to talk about their family, we expect our kids to have the same time. If someone harasses our children, we certainly want action.
What we don’t want is to fall into the same trap that apparently has our opponents ensnared, that idea that it has to be hysterical, that we have to make a big deal of it if a different family is discussed and treated civilly in the classroom. We know we’re a minority and right now our boys think nothing more than “so what?” about it, and use the notion casually, almost too casually. We don’t want to be the ones to make a big deal of labels for them. And I hope we are not.
It’s funny, on this topic, one of our favorite books is The Runaway Bunny. When our boys are snuggled in my lap, they know that book is about a mother and her son. They can read. I've explained that I substitute Papa in there for Mother, and they love the book all the same (if not more for the idea of me in a girl’s circus outfit). But they don’t ultimately care about any of that. They care that I’ll search for them when they are hidden, that I’ll walk a tight rope or climb a mountain for them. They care that I’ll be the tree to which they may always come home, that I’ll be the wind to take them there, and that there I’ll be waiting for them with arms wide and welcoming, no matter where they go or what they do or who they are, or even if I’m not physically present anymore.
Why? Sometimes they ask why; I tell them “because you are my little bunny, and I am your papa and that’s what I do, that’s what I’m here for.”
Best stop. I’m getting weepy :-).
In short, if this bill really meant taking books such as the Runaway Bunny out of the schools, I’d be fighting it along side my opposition. We know the warmth of the ideas in such books easily eclipse the m or f on a birth certificate. But we also think another of our boy’s favorite books, And Tango Makes Three, should be shelved at their school too.