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
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 did...how does...um, 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.