Absence of malice (is not enough)

2011familyday125x125In the nick of time, and I mean the nick, I post a lil’ something for Dana Rudolph’s gift to the queer family blogoverse, Blogging for LGBT Families Day. This post here of course means I’ll have to push forward to yet another day my in-the-queue explano-post, the one in which I outline just what day job it is that has sucked up nearly all available oxygen from my posting here. Don’t resent the job, though! It’s the parenting thing: Very. Hard. To be full-time. Worker. Plus all-time. Parent. If this were any other kind of blog than a parenting one, I suspect you’d have seen hide and hair of me, rather than neither.  Still, flying in the face of the past three month’s anemic posting, I have faith the blog’s oxygen supply will get squoze out of somewhere. I do.

Meanwhile! A few notes on the occasion of Dana’s 6th Blogging for LGBT Families Day! First, here are things I contributed to her 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th. & 5th.  We’ve both been at this a while. In fact, I still remember where I was (in the living room of the beloved’s and my first wee home, on a laptop) when I ran into Mombian.com for the first time, and shouted “Eureka!” What a revelation. I was  just a half-year into my parenthood at the time, and was already starved for what she had to offer, astounded that she was offering it up. For free. On the internet. (Nostalgic? Here’s her first post.)

I’d snagged my own domain name nearly a year before Dana’s first post at Mombian, but promptly sat on it, since a few weeks after I squatted LesbianDad-dot-everything, my nephew was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, and our world tilted on its axis.  A year after that I made a peep, and nearly a year after that I began to write into this thing.

Over the past six years, it feels like both my parenthood and the collective presence of LGBT families — not just for target practice on ballot initiatives, but in the news and in the culture around  us, on Emmy-Award-winning TV shows, bit by bit in many places — has grown enormously. Six years into this journey I am no longer in the least petrified about the things I was totally petrified about, way back when I had nary a clue about changing diapers (much less confidence in the fact that my kids would, indeed, lovingly rely upon me as their bona fide parent).

Plenty of things unnerve me and concern me as a parent, plenty of which are still tied to the LGBT-ness of my parenthood and therefore my kids’ family. But the insecurity I once had is by and large a sweet artifact of the very early days.  Like the sheet we taped on the wall of our bedroom, parenthood week two, noting our daughter’s nursing and elimination schedule. Kid you not. We had no clue it was all going to turn out okay.

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Well, I am here to tell you, it has all turned out okay.  Or at least, with a six-year-old about to graduate from first grade, plus a four-year-old utterly thriving in preschool: so far so good.

Last week, at the girlie’s school’s Open House, she was as thrilled as she was the year before, at her Kindergarten one. (Above, a rare moment in which she was not jumping up and down and grabbing at my wrist to show me something else.) While I was wracked with guilt that I’d spent so little time at the school since I got my big fat full-time job in late February, she was totally unperturbed. I used to volunteer in the school garden every ding-dong week, supporting the lessons and work and play there, not to mention doing ongoing maintenance. Used to pick up the girlie every afternoon but one (Grandma Day), talking to her teacher and the other parents, lingering around the classroom. This Open House, the class was far more unfamiliar to me, and for every pang that gave me it gave my girlie a frisson.

“It’s way better that you haven’t been here all that much, Baba! I have more stuff to show you now!”  Holy christ. Is all I can say. Kids. I will never, ever, be capable of aiming high enough to properly estimate them.

She grabbed my hand, pulled me to the colored rug on the floor, and proceeded to read me the entirety of Desert Giant: The World of the Seguaro Cactus (by Barbara Bash). She had dropped the beloved’s and my jaws one evening a few weeks back when she recited, from memory and in the bath, at least 30% of the book’s contents, down to minutia regarding the fauna, fowl, and insects that found food and shelter in the mighty seguaro.  The in-person reading was destined, and though the book was 28 pages, there was no question we were going to squeeze every droplet of enjoyment from the experience.

All the while, the little brother soaked it all in: colorful displays, educational posters, kid projects, book-lined bookshelves, puffer fish in the aquarium.

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He was utterly at home in his big sister’s classroom, the way all younger siblings are in the spaces their older siblings pioneer for them.  Imagining, imagining: one day, this will be mine.

During a moment when Mama was the object of the girlie’s attention, I was able to pour heartfelt thanks all over her teacher for what she’d done to ignite — or, really, just keep aflame, and fan and fan — our daughter’s love of learning over the past year.  She returned my thanks with a story.

At one point some weeks back, during a discussion of one thing or another (I forget the details now), the word “gay” came up in the classroom. One kid said, “That’s a bad word!” To which the teacher said, “Well, that depends.” And she took it as an opportunity to reflect on the double meaning of many words, given their context and the intent of the speaker.

The teacher told me that she began to explain the various meanings of the word, and then said that when she was in the middle of describing the factual (as vs. pejorative) usage of the term, all of a sudden my girlie burst out, “That’s me! That’s my family!”  She was filled with the enthusiasm you’d get when you all of a sudden looked down at your card and realized you got a BINGO.

The teacher was so heartwarmed by our girl’s mixture of discovery, excitement, and pride. But not so much as she was by her classmates’ enthusiastic chiming in: “Yeah, that’s right!” Like: wow, yay, you count in this discussion. Which of course is a very special thing.

You count in this discussion.

That’s where we need to be now. In a discussion, in the classroom, where our kids’ formative sense of community is built. Our kids, inclusive of the families they come from, need to be in this discussion. Of family. Of community. Of civil rights leaders (Harvey Milk Day, in California, is only beginning to be celebrated, and boy could we use Harvey to inspire us in the journey that will take to becoming an ordinary thing from school to school.)

My own kids are very, very fortunate to be in the first school district in the country to implement materials from the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools guide district wide, as part of its educational policy.  Beginning this fall, when the girlie enters second grade, each school will integrate grade-appropriate lessons designed to help students (and school communities) understand and embrace family diversity (in all its forms, including LGBT families), avoid gender stereotyping, and end bullying.

Those who have worked very hard on this — the Berkeley Unified School District Family Diversity Task Force, comprising parents and teachers and administrators, with the tireless support of Judy Appel and Our Family Coalition — don’t expect the curriculum to unfurl without a hitch. Not in the least. We know from first hand experience at our own school that when conversation in the school opens up these areas, kids feel more free to express themselves honestly. Which means all kids, the gender-nonconforming and the bullies alike. It will not be an easy door to open, but open it we must, with care and and courage, like our kids do when they go to school the first day.

I was asked by someone sometime recently how things were for us, being a lesbian-headed family in Berkeley.  And I recall saying something to the effect of, “You know, it feels about as good as it could, given our modest numbers.” There’s always the huge gap to make up between the gobs of us and our kind that we’re accustomed to seeing in the lesbo-centric social spaces of our courtin’ years.  Come parenthood, the spaces we move in are largely kid-centric ones (except for date nights!).  For most of us, our kids occasion a decided bump back out into our demographic truth, which is that there really still isn’t a ton of us out there (here’s your Williams Institute study link, in case you forgot it; operative synopsis: LGBT folk are comparable in percentage of US population more to Jews than to African Americans). Even here, in one of the most queer-friendly towns in the nation, we still constitute a puny percentage of the families in any given school. Puny.

Two years at school and our girlie has not  yet been in a class with any other kid with same sex parents; it’s only remotely possible she will: one other girl at school in her class has two moms; she has an older brother, and there’s one other girl in the fourth grade who has two moms. That’s it. For the whole school.

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I realized as I was describing our lot, which I consider phenomenally fortunate, that we have thusfar experienced no malice. Which I am glad to report, because I know that’s not a given. But absence of malice is not enough. What I followed that up with was also key: we have been, as yet, just marginally visible in the curriculum and close to completely invisible in the representative culture our kids know. Families like ours are totally invisible in the pop and commercial culture pitched to our kids, and so to counteract that, we’ve purchased nearly every single picture book we can (or at least the good ones; just got Donovan’s Big Day last week), plus the one Dottie’s Magic Pockets DVD and the one Buddy G, My Two Moms and Me DVD. Wore holes in ‘em.

It mattered that our girl’s Kindergarten teacher made it a point, when they were doing a unit about family, to bring in several great books, some of which were hers, some of which were mine on loan. It matters that when our girl’s first grade teacher matched up her students as pen pals with those of a teacher friend in Washington, she matched our girl up with a gal in a third grade class who also has two moms. It matters that in the hallway near our daughter’s classroom hangs a poster from Our Family Coalition, just like the one we have in our home. It matters that the preschool director and teachers our daughter has had thusfar have not only been understanding and supportive, but curious to learn more about how our kids see and need to see their families. Such gestures are more than vital. They’re godsends.

It’s only together with people like this — allies: each of these women has been a hetero ally — that we move past the absence of malice which should be a given for every loving family and into the presence of rich understanding of our families’ uniqueness, toward full-hearted celebration of it and what it’s giving our kids. Which is a lot, because of, not in spite of who we are.  So far, so good. Now let’s spread the good around, and do even better.

5 Responses to Absence of malice (is not enough)

  1. Bionic Brooklynite June 2, 2011 at #

    it’s funny to me to hear you talk about your relief at finding mombian, as my post (short! disjointed! much influenced by nap “schedule” of a 3-month-old!) was partly about how grateful i was to find your blog. circle of life, all that jazz.

    • Lesbian Dad June 2, 2011 at #

      Wow! And thank you for that. It’s all one big huge back scratching circle, isn’t it?

  2. perkl8 June 2, 2011 at #

    BeeYOOtiful!!! It is so very exciting to hear about what’s going on in Berkeley! So exciting to hear about our pioneers and allies!!!!!! Great post to launch us into June.

    • Lesbian Dad June 2, 2011 at #

      I am especially proud to be able to itemize the very specific, very much appreciated ways in which the teaching professionals in my kids’ lives have taken their jobs seriously, and understood that teaching to my kids entails understanding their family — and moving way past respect into self-education, creative deployment of opportunities (I mean really! a kid of lesbo parents as a pen pal! inspired! and what are the chances? but it was a friend of the teachers’ who was also a teacher in Seattle: both women knowing the kids in their classes and caring very much about their optimal development).

      Without writing any checks with my good intentions that my challenging time management predicament will foil my cashing, I do want to actually find my way to some “new normal” here, and Pride month (and Baba’s Day month!) is the best possible one to give it a whirl. Thanks for the encouragement. :)

  3. Carol Rood June 7, 2011 at #

    LOVED LOVED your post!! My kids are very fortunate that we have another two mom family in our neighborhood, and that they have a son whose age is smack dab between our two youngest sons.

    They lived in our neighborhood before us and “paved” the way for a same gender led family. The schoolteachers didn’t bat an eye when my partner and I showed up for Open House nights and we were both the parents of the young’un.

    When our kids joined the neighborhood swim team, again, not an eye was batted. We were met with “welcome”, and “so nice to meet you”. We have been active participants in the PTA and I sub at the local Elementary school.

    I think slowly, slowly, the world is changing. I want to tell you that when my partner and I blended our families 7 years ago I was petrified also. How would people treat my kids? Would they be ostracized?

    Now when they bring over their teenaged friends, they also are totally accepting, and don’t bat an eye. I see a bright future here!!!!

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