Saturday, July 28, 2007

Not about Vancouver, per se. But maybe sort of.

Mermaid Girl's three-year-old cousin Little Bear is big on "Why." Why do some people eat meat and others not? Why do we have to leave the park? The other day she asked MG, "Why do you have two moms?"

"Because that's the way my family is," MG replied, with the patient, faintly weary air of someone who gets that question a lot. "You have a mom and a dad, because that's the way your family is, and I have two moms because that's how my family is."

That did it just fine for Little Bear, but among Mermaid Girl's contemporaries the discussion isn't always so simple. MG reports that when she tells kids she has two moms, they usually think she means she has a mom and a stepmom, and she has to explain that, no, both her moms live together, and one gave birth to her and one adopted her, and she has a bio-dad but he doesn't take care of her.

Which is a lot of explaining for a first acquaintanceship to carry, especially one between six-year-olds. When she mentioned all that--not in a big-deal way, but in the same "this is just the way it is" manner in which she lays out the lunchbox-monitor system at school--I felt a momentary qualm, and another moment of gratitude that MG is as socially savvy as she is, that she's not the kind of nerdy kid we thought we'd have but is this poised and chatty creature who can wing off an unconventional family and then move on to more important things, like who can do more flips on the bar.

On the other hand, if she were less social she might care less. And she does care, I know.

Lesbians have kids all the time, and, frankly, most of the time the issue doesn't seem to even surface among the kids themselves. But sometimes it does. I guess I'm opening myself up for comments from any right-wing trolls who might happen upon this post, but I'll just say it anyway: there are social snags for my kid that I hadn't anticipated.

I'd figured there might be kids who thought it was weird, or who teased MG because her moms were gay, or whose parents disapproved, but none of those worst-case scenarios (as far as I know) has come to pass. What she does run into--and at this point in her life she's the one doing the most of the front-lines explaining--is simple, honest curiosity, from kids who are old enough to know that there's some kind of puzzle to a baby with two moms, and who may or may not know exactly what that puzzle is, but who are in any case generally way too young to pretend they're not dying to know how it all works.

I should mention here that the Mermaid Girl herself was only recently enlightened as to how it all works. That is to say, she knew how she got started--Uncle Skaterboy gave Mama a speck, which, together with a speck from inside Mama, started Tiny Baby Mermaid Girl. Which is all very well, but dodged the whole discussion that tends to make parents (including us) uncomfortable: the question of how the specks usually get together.

For a long time, MG--possibly because she didn't care, or possibly because she could sense that it made us jumpy--didn't ask, and we didn't tell. The topic came up a couple of months ago, while the Renaissance Woman was supervising her bath (bathtime! A treasure trove of educational opportunity!), so now MG is up on the facts of conception, non-artificial-insemination style. It doesn't seem to have rocked her world much; she continues to insist that she is never going to have a boyfriend (or a girlfriend) and never going to get married, but she said that before, too.

Anyway. Back to those pesky other kids. Here's the thing: back in preschool, the response to MG's family situation was generally, "Two moms! Cool!" And I anticipate that in a few years, it'll be back to the same (with an occasional "Two moms! eeew!" thrown in to make things interesting). But for now, the response among MG's peers tends to be: "But if you have two moms, how, how...." followed by an awkward silence.

This hasn't been an issue much in Seattle, where MG has three best friends she's known since birth, who don't even think to ask. But here, it opens her (and us) up to the problem of trying to size up how much these brand-new potential friends already know, how much they want to know, and--crucially--how much their parents want them to know, and really how far into the mechanics of conception (MG's and in general) we really want to get, sometimes within an hour or two of meeting them for the first time.

It's come up twice just in the past week. A few days ago MG ran into a girl at a playground who turned out to be just a week older than her, and they played for an hour or two with the ease of lifelong friends. I struck up a conversation with the playground girl's parents, in hopes that maybe here was another Vancouver friendship that might stick. No such luck; they were only in town briefly, from Australia, on their way to an Alaska cruise. Still, we exchanged e-mail addresses, just in case.

As we were saying our goodbyes and wishing each other luck and expressing the hope that our girls might be pen pals, Playground Girl asked, with a gimlet glance at dark-haired me and light blond MG, "Is she your daughter?"

I allowed as how that was in fact the case.

Playground Girl's look remained doubtful. "Where's your husband?" she demanded.

"I don't have a husband, I have a spouse."

"What's a spouse?"

"It's, um, like a husband, sort of, but she's a woman," I stammered, with much less aplomb than I ever imagine having in these situations.

"I have two moms!" MG put in helpfully.

"You mean you have a mom and a stepmom?" asked Playground Girl, right on cue.

"No," said MG, not quite sighing. "They're both my moms. I live with both of them. They live together."

"But, if you have two moms, how did..." she looked embarrassed and puzzled and also slightly thrilled. Her parents laughed awkwardly, probably as nonplussed as I was.

With an adult, I'd be fine letting them know--diplomatically or snarkily, depending--that this was a pretty personal question. But for some reason I don't feel comfortable fobbing off a kid like that. "Um, we had a friend. Who helped us." I continued dorkily.

"My bio-dad!" MG chirruped.

"Yes!" I said, talking half to Playground Girl and half to her parents. "MG's bio-dad! He lives in Vancouver, actually. We'll see him more now that we're here!" I stopped myself before I'd nattered out our whole life story and week's itinerary.

Then their bus came, and they ran for it, waving, and I was left with an unprecedented appreciation for the diplomacy MG has developed, and with the nagging sense that I'd given both too much and too little information, and that I could have handled that one much, much better.


Blogger Pamelamama said...

cut yourself some slack mama, it's tricky even in traditional situations! it's hard to gauge what other families are comfortable sharing with their kids about conception and all the fascinating details. it seem slike you did great. sometimes when I am in a tricky situation where other people's kids (of all ages) are asking me questions and I am not sure how deep my answers should go, I throw the questions back at them, or provide general answers. "There are lots of ways that families are made" or "How do you think that might have happened?" can buy you some time and give you some insight into their current level of understanding. I remember that joke about the little boy who asked his parents where he came from so they got out the diagrams and and the books and went into this long detailed explanation. After which the boy responded, "Huh, wow, well Billy's from Ohio."


11:45 AM  
Blogger PPB said...

having no children in the traditional or non-traditional ways, I can say two things;

a) i think you're fine. I mean, it's not a lot different from kids asking any number of other personal questions--how much does your dad make? why does your mom have one leg? why aren't you christian? Answering it is just so confounded by the fact that they are children, and not yours....

b) some of the kids at camp are also faced with a number of questions about their illnesses, or , more likely, about their symptoms (baldness, missing limbs, swelling, etc.) They say that lots of their classmates ask them things like "are you going to die" or "how do you go to the bathroom." It's tiring, to always have to explain one's self. One of the parents of my little ones worked out a thing where she'd just say, "can your mom call my mom to talk about it? I think that's a grown-up talk." And apparently she does it a lot, and some of the moms call, and some of the moms don't. Because this little girl is going to die soon, and her mom doesn't want her to lie, but also doesn't know what other kids know about death, what their parents want them to know, etc. etc. So it just totally deflects the conversation, and they can do the important see who can do how many flips.

12:15 PM  
Blogger nyjlm said...

I think MG sounds like an amazing kid- and she is because you and RW and clearly doing a great job with her!
Funny how we can learn things from watching and listening to them- things which we aren't necessarily good or comfortable at, isn't it?

2:52 PM  
Blogger S. said...

Wow, ppb's solution is so elegant--and the situation so poignant, it sure puts this one in perspective?

In the same way that moving to a new community brings a fresh slate, it also brings up all sorts of ways we need to explain ourselves. It does sound like MG is doing okay!

One reason we never want to leave our neighborhood is because of how many lesbian families there are around here. Z.'s day care is full of them, and one of the teachers is a gay dad whose daughter is at the school, so I feel like we can dodge this one for a long while b/c we just aren't unusual.

But it's kind of a coccoon, too.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Arwen said...

As a child of a whole basket of weird, I think there is at least one silver lining to the 'splaining. The one good thing to the annoyance (as long as it isn't harassment) is that MG is learning over and over, how to clearly state her truth without shame in the face of people who don't quite get it. That's an awesome thing and can be hard to learn; she's getting lots of practise.

She is also doing the world a favour. It's shitty that it's foisted, though.

9:56 PM  
Anonymous mcewen said...

Well I for one think you did great, and the Mermaid is a star. Her compass is true in no small part due to both her loving parents.
Best wishes

2:30 PM  
Blogger LilySea said...

What stands out to me in this post is the ease with which kids handle the concept of step-parents these days. That wasn't always true, right? A generation ago, step-parents would have been as awkward. I'm not usually a big believer in linear progress, but perhaps in the linear increase of cynicism... In short, maybe the kids will start getting it a little easier soon, eh? Especially in a place where you can HAVE a "spouse."

9:38 PM  
Blogger The Overgrown Hobbit said...

How about:

Basic biology:
"Our daughter has a bio-mom (me*) and a bio-dad. Just like everyone has (well, until the gengineers develop parthogenesis)."

Plus modern social experimentation:
But her bio-dad doesn't live with our daughter. She lives with me and my wife, who adopted her."

The most about your personal situation that anyone has any business poking their nose into.

If you're really lucky you can get into a discussion of the Exiting World of Insect Parthogenesis; because biology is, au fond, pretty cool.

(*vary depending on which "me" of the two moms is speaking, of course)

10:35 PM  

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