Monday, January 17, 2005

Who's Your Daddy?

Travel tip of the day: everyone will be much happier in the car if you teach your kid to ask "Where are we?" instead of "Are we there yet?" Since "where are we?" is a question that can actually be answered ("We're in Mount Vernon...we're near the border...we're stuck in traffic..") and the only answer to "Are we there yet?" is "No! No! NOOOOO! If we were there, would we still be driving???"

It's one adventure after another around here these days. We zipped up to Vancouver yesterday and back this evening, and we're all beat. Mermaid Girl got to see her (second) cousin B., who gleefully showed her all his new cars and trucks and lego creations, and also her beloved Uncle Skaterboy, who always makes her completely giddy. For him, she pulls out all the stops, getting cuter and cuter and goofier and goofier until she collapses from sheer exhaustion.

Uncle Skaterboy is no relation to Cousin B. Actually, he's not even Mermaid Girl's uncle-- he's her bio-dad, and one of the Renaissance Woman's oldest friends. I've noticed most people use the term "donor," but we started with "bio-dad" when MG was a wee thing; it seems to describe their relationship better. And Mermaid Girl likes it; we've overheard her, when some other kid comments that MG doesn't have a dad, retorting, "I have a bio-dad." It seems to work for her.

In the beginning, the very very beginning, when Mermaid Girl was but a fetus, we refused to answer That Question. And people asked! You'd be surprised how many people we didn't even know that well asked, or hinted. Or maybe you wouldn't. We came up with stock answers. My favorite was, "Well, it's not David Crosby." Renaissance Woman preferred to counter the query "Where'd you get that baby?" with a wide-eyed, "Heaven."

The second-parent adoption went through when Mermaid Girl was six weeks old, and after that we started to relax a little. Not that we'd ever worried that he, or his parents, would rush in with a custody claim, but somehow being legally declared a family took some of the pressure off. After a few months we told Skaterboy he could tell his parents. And were they ever thrilled. They have a few grandchildren, but they never thought they'd get one out of Skaterboy (Actually, back when he and RW were in high school, his mom used to worry that Skaterboy was going to get RW knocked up...I guess she was right after all).

We also told our parents, who had all guessed already, not being complete idiots. But we still had the foolish idea that we weren't going to tell Mermaid Girl until she was older, three or so. I think we had this vision of sitting her down and having A Little Talk with her, wherein we would unveil the secrets of her genetic heritage, and she would gape in silent amazement, never having thought to wonder about it before.

Hah! Is all I can say. What on earth did we think we were going to do until then? Punt? Because Mermaid Girl has always been hyper-aware of family and social structures, including but not limited to her own family. And as she used to say proudly about herself, "No miss trick."

And the resemblances between Skaterboy and Mermaid Girl were obvious right from the start. For one thing? The guy never sleeps. He's the only person I know who's a morning person and a night person. When Mermaid Girl was a tiny baby, it became apparent that the truism about newborns dropping off anywhere they need to was just not true for her: the girl hated to miss a party, and would force herself to stay up if there was a chance of anything exciting going on, even at the cost of terrible meltdowns later. After a few weeks of this, RW called Skaterboy and said "This is all your fault!" We'd talked about his health history but had forgotten about his sleep history. Also, he's a dancer, and Mermaid Girl showed early gymnastic ability, which she certainly didn't get from RW or from any environmental factors, both of us being complete slugs.

So one day when Mermaid Girl was about a year old and not really talking yet, she and RW were hanging out, nursing, and Mermaid Girl was flailing her legs around and hooking her feet over her shoulders and doing all this baby-gymnast stuff that she was wont to do. RW was used to talking to Mermaid Girl as if she couldn't really understand anything (a mistake, as will soon be apparent), and murmured something like, "Well, it's a good thing you got your athletic ability from your daddy and not from me."

Mermaid Girl stopped nursing, stared at RW, and said, "Dada?!?!"

"Uhhhh, yes," said RW, totally busted. "Uncle Skaterboy is your daddy. Sort of. Yup. Uh-huh."

We filled in the details a little later, after she could talk more and after we got a book from the library about all kinds of families (with pages about the nuclear family, the big extended farm family, the single-mom family, the single-dad family, the family where the dad's in jail, the adoptive family, etc. etc.).

We talked about how there are the parents you are born from, and the parents who take care of you, and sometimes those are different people, and they're special to their kid in different ways. And how even though Uncle Skaterboy didn't want to be a parent who took care of a kid all the time, he helped Mama to make Mermaid Girl, because she and I wanted to have a child together, and then after she was born I adopted her and now she had a mommy and a mama. "So, Uncle Skaterboy used to be my dad, but now he isn't?" she asked, at two or so; not sad, just working it out.

Sort of, we said.

Once, before library story time, I was telling the friendly librarian that Mermaid Girl had a mommy and a mama. "And an Uncle Skaterboy!" she chimed in proudly. The librarian twinkled at the cuteness of the child with the favorite uncle, and I silently gave thanks for the innocuous title "Uncle." Around here it's not unheard-of for a kid to have two moms, but two parents--not three, or two-and-a-half-- is still the norm, and anything else takes more explaining than I had the energy for that day.

She went through a period for a while where she used to ask RW to draw pictures of herself, RW, and Uncle Skaterboy and say that was her family. Sometimes, when pressed, she would put me (and Uncle Skaterboy's partner) in the corners. Once she told us the sad story about how she and Mama would go live with Uncle Skaterboy, and I would be alone in the house, calling "Everyone come have dinner now!" and no one would come, I'd just be alone with the food.

I just couldn't take it personally, because it had nothing to do with our actual daily life, with brushing teeth and picking up toys and reading stories and walking to the park. It was her working out the structure of things. And I knew that while Uncle Skaterboy loved (and loves) Mermaid Girl, loves having her picture on his fridge and showing her off to his friends in the West End and buying her clothes and teaching her to skate, he doesn't want to be a full-time or even a part-time parent. And I do.

These days, Mermaid Girl can reel off the whole story, for us or anyone else she feels like telling: the speck Uncle Skaterboy gave Mama; the adoption; etc. etc. She loves to go up to Vancouver to see him, partly because he's so glamorous and energetic and kid-friendly, and partly because she knows he's so special to her. And while she sometimes seems a little sad that Uncle Skaterboy isn't her "real" day-to-day dad, we've heard much more flack about our stubborn refusal to provide her with a little sibling (which is a story for another time).

Still, even though I've regained center-stage in her family pictures, Uncle Skaterboy has a unique place in her life. And I'm grateful to him, not only for making her existence possible, but for making that special place for her, too. They are lucky to have each other; I've seen how happy she makes him, and as she gets older, he's going to be able to help her in ways that RW and I can't. Her heart is big enough, and our family is big enough, to fit all of us.


Blogger Kim Voynar said...

Els, what a lovely post.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Udge said...

Great post, very touching. Good for (all of) you!

8:46 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

That was a wonderful post. Thank you.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Nominally Challenged said...

Wow, what a beautiful post. It's amazing how children manage to deal so well with things that so many adults have such difficulty with. And I'm jealous! I want a bio-daddy too! It sounds so much like a revved up version of an ordinary daddy - who wouldn't be proud to retort that she or he had one? It sounds like all of you are very fortunate to have each other - a very beautiful family :-)

5:26 AM  
Blogger Nominally Challenged said...

It has been pointed out to me, by an anonymous reader, that my pevious comment was not entirely clear. So the following is by way of clarification:
I did not mean to suggest that I don't have a dad. I do. He is even, technically, a bio-dad, since he is, ostensibly, my biological dad. I just don't call him that - and *that* is what I meant when I said I want one. I mean, it's such a cool name, and it trumps an ordinary dad - namewise at the very least.
Having said that, I do concede, as aforesaid anonymous reader aptly put it, that what I probably really want is a Skaterboy :-) (and no, I don't have one of those ... yet ...)

6:12 AM  

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