In this entry to the Womanist/Feminist Parenting Primer, we see that sometimes the little moments and the big moments are the same thing.
When Susannah told me this story, of making her preschooler’s “family poster” and realizing it’ll be the first time he’ll really be vulnerable to homophobic bigotry — or “simple” ignorant schoolyard teasing — for having two moms, I asked her to share it with us for the Primer, because it so encapsulates the fear and the hope and the determination we so often feel when raising our children “different” in a kyriarchal world. She so touchingly makes the point that the best thing we can send our children off into the world with is love — and the knowledge that love matters most of all.
The Family Poster
Dearest little one,
Last Thursday when I dropped you off at school the parent helper handed me a blank white poster board. She said to fill it with pictures as a way to help you tell your classmates about your family. We took it home that day and talked about how big our family is – those people we were born to and those people we have chosen as our own. Our family is spread fairly wide – Nana and Grandpa Rollie in Los Angeles; Uncle Jay, Aunt Shekar, and baby Karolina in Pittsburgh. Closer to home are Grandma, Uncle Randy, Auntie Shane, Auntie Shae, Aunt Tori, Aunt Cyndi, Sarah, Tonya, Gram, and all of my aunts, uncles and cousins.
“Jerome? And Lucia?”
“Yes, baby. Jerome and Lucia are part of our family too. So are Julia, Sonja and Asher.”
“Yeah. (pause) Who else?”
“Grandpa Angelo. We should put a picture of him on the poster too, shouldn’t we?” You never met your grandpa as he died before you were born, but your grandma talks with you about him all of the time.
“Yes, mama too.”
When we got home we went about our merry way and forgot about the family poster that had sparked a half hour of discussion. I worked through the week to find a fun group of pictures that gives an idea of who your family is. Tonight after you fell asleep I gathered them all together to assemble on the poster board. It wasn’t until I started to lay down the pictures and saw all of the faces that it struck me – this is when the teasing could start for you. You, my love, are blessed with two moms.
I knew the day would come when we’d face this (and I hate our society for making it an “issue” needing to be faced) but I didn’t think it would happen so soon. You will be four years old next week and I am thinking of you sharing about your family with your preschool class. Will someone tell you that you can’t have two moms? What will your teacher say? How many kids will ask you where the picture is of your dad? What will your response be to that? We’ve talked about how there are kids who live with grandparents, aunts, uncles, a mom, a dad, the possibilities are endless. You know the story of how mama and I wanted a baby and Uncle Randy agreed to be our donor. Every so often you ask to hear the “Uncle Randy story” but at nearly four you will not have the words to explain this to your class. You may not even feel the need to explain it.
My belief is that if any questions do come up Teacher Amy will do a wonderful job of supporting you in saying that yes, you do have a mommy and a mama. You do not have a daddy. She will talk about how families look different but that what matters is love. You, Keagan, are SURROUNDED by love. You were born of a love so great that we could never have imagined today. You pushed your way into a world already filled with a family who loved you.
At the same time, you arrived into a society in which many people have strong ideas about who “should” and “should not” be defined as family, marry, love each other. These definitions leave our family out, acting as the proverbial circular peg trying to fit into a square box. Perhaps that act of trying to fit in is the problem. Sometimes it makes more sense to help send a message so big (Um, hello world, wake up and smell the fair-trade, shade-grown organic coffee. EMBRACE diversity! EMBRACE love!) that it would cause that little square box to implode and a new definition to blossom like a phoenix rising from steaming ash.
Love ties together a family – the people who you love, and the people who love you. Your family is made of those people who build you up rather than tear you down, support you at all times, these are the people with whom you feel safe. A blood connection may or may not exist. There is no room in this definition for placing boundaries on love through things like gender, sex, class, race, ethnicity, color, (dis)ability, religion. If you can walk away knowing that when someone questions your definition of family, then I’ve done something right. A family is love. Period. And you, Keagan, are my family, my heart.
I love you up to the moon and back,
Susannah lives in the American Pacific Northwest, where her just-turned-four-year-old is blessed with a large, loving family, including, yes, two mothers.