By RoiAnn Phillips
As a white lesbian adoptive mom and stepmom in a family with two young Latinas, Iâ€™ve been asked this question more than a few times â€“ at the park, during social events, after the high school dance. Where we are and how much it matters â€“ to me or to the girls â€“ determines how I respond. Early in stepfamily life, Grace let a middle school friend believe for a whole year that I was her babysitter, and I simply looked after her while her mom was on business trips. What her friend thought I was doing in the house all those other times remains a mystery to me.
Another time, our youngest was three. For weeks, I had dropped her off and picked her up from preschool, and once - just once - Kelly had come to pick her up. The next morning, I dropped her off again and one of her girlfriends, probably five years old, ran to meet us at the door. Eagerly, she helped my daughter Eva squeeze her lunch bag onto the shelf, and then looked at me as if for the first time. â€śAre you the babysitter?â€ť she asked. I said, â€śNo. Iâ€™m her mom.â€ť
She stroked Evaâ€™s silky jet-black hair and looked at me strangely, impressed yet unconvinced. â€śBut you donâ€™t look alike,â€ť she said to me, looking from one of us to the other and back again. My hair is strawberry blonde, long, less silky than my daughterâ€™s. My skin is pale and freckled. My daughterâ€™s whole body is bronze.
â€śWe have lots of colors in our family, donâ€™t we?â€ť I asked Eva, who was now sitting quietly on a small chair next to us, gazing at me evenly. All morning, sheâ€™d been distracted and slow. She hadnâ€™t said a word since we arrived and was clearly content to let me handle this conversation on my own. She wanted to be at home with our dogs, and probably the television, and shelves of art supplies. I knew she would hold this conversation herself someday.
Many times. What I said next mattered.
â€śWhy do you always drop her off?â€ť another friend chimed in, bouncing lightly on her feet as she spoke. My little girl looked at her.
â€śBecause I love her, and I want to see where she spends her day,â€ť I replied.
â€śNo,â€ť the girl explained. â€śWhy doesnâ€™t her dad come?â€ť
â€śOhhh.â€ť I understood. â€śShe doesnâ€™t have a dad. She has two moms,â€ť I told them, with excited emphasis on the two moms.
â€śHey â€“ thatâ€™s like Nicholas,â€ť the first girl told the second.
I smiled. â€śCool,â€ť I said to the girls, as I unfolded myself from the crouched position Iâ€™d been holding just inside the classroom door. â€śI gotta go, Love.â€ť
I gave Eva a kiss on the top of her head. She stood, but lingered at the door a moment. Quickly, her new friends pulled her inside, she smiled just a bit, and they disappeared together into the classroom.
In this moment, I understood what Iâ€™d heard so many times from political activists and moms, alike: THIS is why we share about our family. So a five year-old can say simply, â€śThatâ€™s like Nicholas!â€ť when I explain the two-mom thing, and affirm the multiracial make-up of our family. And our children can go about the business of stringing beads and squashing clay with their friends.
In Oak Park, Illinois and in the Bay Area, this is often possible. And in other places, too, I know. But sometimes it takes more courage, and more support, and sometimes still it is nearly impossible.
But wherever we are, as we send our kids back into the classroom this fall, some of us will schedule meetings with each new teacher, and maybe weâ€™ll share resource materials and fact sheets on LGBT parents prepared by the GLSEN or COLAGE. Some of us will offer to read Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles to a first grade class, and answer questions about international adoption. Some of us will carefully choose our pronouns when talking about the veggie burgers our domestic partners threw on the grill last weekend. Some of us will quietly hope â€śNicholasâ€ť has already been here. And some of us, because we can, will simply tell it like it is.
- Write to Kelly Fondow and RoiAnn Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org.