WFPP Guest Post: The Family Poster

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.
“And mama?”
“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,

Mommy

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.

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13 Responses to WFPP Guest Post: The Family Poster

  1. Thank you for this.

  2. What a beautiful post.

    My husband grew up speaking French and German at home. His mom is French and his dad is German. It was normal for him for children to speak both languages. Then he went off to Kindergarten in Germany and tried to speak French with the other children. They laughed at him. He was devastated and it was years before he spoke another word of French.

    Kids can be cruel, but I think mostly kids (especially at that age) are curious. Our kids grew up bilingual (English and German at home), but go to a French school. We made sure our son understood before he left for school that not all of the kids would speak the same language as him. We hoped that way he wouldn’t be as shell shocked as my husband was and he would be able to find a way to celebrate their differences rather than to be embarrassed or made fun of for them.

    All that to say that I think if your child is prepared for the fact that he may be seen as different and if the teacher is prepared, then hopefully they can together address it in a way that will educate and open the eyes of the other children in the class, rather than in a way that leave him exposed to homophobic bigotry. I hope (but can’t expect…sadly) that many of the other parents are teaching their children that everyone is different and that those differences are worth celebrating, so they will see your child’s differences in a good light and not a bad light.

  3. All right, this made me tear up. Thank you for sharing your letter to your child. I do hope he found and will continue to find acceptance and love. By writing things like this, you make a change in the world’s narrow mindset possible.

  4. Thank you – this is a lovely post. It is so true that family is love, no matter what ‘family’ looks like. A child needs and responds to love.

  5. I’m tearing up too! All children should be so lucky, to have so much love.
    It’s different, but when I started school I was the only kid with divorced parents, and on top of that I lived with my dad and not my mum. Single fathers were such a novelty then that it rarely passed without comment. I got a lot of cruel jibes at school. I like to think (hope) that things are changing though and difference more readily embraced.

  6. Beautiful post. Our family is so lucky to live in a bubble where the voices who would say “You can’t have two mummys” are in the minority. Writing like this helps make more and bigger bubbles.

    I’m wishing peace and happiness for your family.

  7. By the time I’m finally permanently in my stepson’s life, he will be about the same age as Keagan. One of my concerns is that he will get teased for having a mummy, a daddy, and a mommy (me), especially since Mommy will be living with Mummy not Daddy. But, while his Mummy, Mommy, and Daddy may not all love each other, we do all love him. That’s what’s most important. Thanks for an eloquent reminder, Susannah.

  8. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing this.

  9. I cannot thank you enough for sharing this letter with us.

    Some nights, I lie awake and wonder what I’m going to tell my son when he’s older. How am I going to explain that he used to have two mommies, but now he only has me? How am I going to explain that his daddy is a number? I look at him sometimes and wonder I’m going to make him understand that while things may not have turned out the way I planned, we are still okay?

    I have written several letters to him, but none have said the things I want to express the way Susanna has here.

    Thanks for reminding me that in the end, all that matters is love.

  10. Thanks, everyone!

  11. We did this last year in my daughter’s preschool class and I was surprised by how nonchalant all the kids were about the little girl who had two mommies on her family board. Granted we live in CA and they already knew both mommies. But 4 year old’s are so oblivious to “norms” that this stuff doesn’t faze them as much as it will later.
    I think that few kids TV shows even feature “traditional” nuclear families now, so that “norm” isn’t being shoved in their faces all that often.

    Now, the twins whose board showed pictures of their mommy who had died the year before? That sparked QUITE a lot of conversation. (And tears on the behalf of the parents!)

    Oh! And the best book for showing how different families can be is Todd Parr’s “The Family Book.” Love it!

  12. Like Jessica, above, I live in California – but we can’t generalize people by the states they live in. Our kids look to us (and their teachers, and later, their peeps) to learn what they can view as acceptable behavior. I agree with Annie that children are naturally curious…so by answering their questions in a nonjudgemental manner, we teach them to not be afraid to ask anything.

  13. Pingback: Linksplosion! Personal stories edition « Zero at the Bone

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