I'm one of those people who will talk to almost anybody. It's a habit that will embarrass the living hell out of my kids as they get older. So, when I met Gil, I started up a conversation.
"Tell me your life story," I said with a laugh.
"Oh, no. I'm boring," he insisted, then paused for a second and went on, "but my family is awesome."
Gil's family's story starts out the way a lot do these days. Gil's mother Jane got married to his biological father and had four children. Their marriage was not a good or healthy one, and they eventually divorced.
After the divorce Jane met Robert. And while their relationship was never perfect, no one's is. Robert loved Jane's kids, who loved him right back. It wasn't long before they were referring to him as "Dad." A few years later Jane and Robert discovered they were pregnant. They were thrilled about the baby, but their relationship was in a rocky place.
And this is where things get interesting...
Gil's family lived in a very small town without any hospitals nearby. On Christmas Eve Jane's labor came on hard and fast. Robert called an ambulance: it was their only shot at getting to the hospital on time. Well, Gil's little sister had other plans. Halfway to the hospital the ambulance had to pull over, because the baby wasn't waiting any longer.
"And the paramedic, the woman who delivered my little sister," Gil went on, "is my mother."
"Huh?" I can be smart and articulate sometimes, but this wasn't one of those moments. "What?"
Gil must have gotten this reaction before, because he was patient with me. "The paramedic, Kay, who delivered my sister, is now my mother, too. She and my other mother have been together for 19 years now."
Within months of the birth, Jane and the kids moved in with Kay. Robert was understandably hurt, but he wasn't willing to give up his family or any of the five kids. So after taking a few months to be angry and sad, he started coming over to Kay and Jane's house every day after work. He'd have dinner with the family, spend time with the kids, and just generally be the dad. Robert, Jane, and Kay built a friendship a together, as well.
As the years passed the family grew and changed. Two more daughters were adopted. A 12-year-old and a newborn (when they were adopted) came from different drug-addicted families who couldn't take care of them. In time grandchildren arrived into the mix. And Robert still comes over after work every day.
Things are not always easy. Being a lesbian couple in a small town nearly 20 years ago had a multitude of challenges and still does to this day. But the family works through them the best they know how.
Whenever any of the parents is asked how many children they have, each gives the same answer: seven. Jane only gave birth to five of them. Only one is Robert's biological child. Kay isn't genetically connected to a single one. But they all know they have seven children.
Because they are a family. They might not look like everyone else, but they love and support one another, have their own holiday traditions, and even vacation together.
The conservative right in this country likes to talk a lot about family values. And when they say it, a family equals one dad married to one mom and their kids. Well, family is more complicated than that. Gil's family has amazing family values. They are focused on love, their kids, and building a life together. And it's beautiful.
When I called Jane to get confirmation of Gil's story (and hear her side of things), she was just like any other proud mother. I heard all about how she cooks the Thanksgiving dinner while Kay watches football and Robert puts up the Christmas lights on the roof of the house with the boys. I heard embarrassing stories about Gil putting the Christmas deer decorations for the front yard in precarious positions, and about her grandkids, and old remembered stories of grandparents. All stories of love and laughter.
Gil will always remember the story of that Christmas Eve so many years ago with the ambulance on the side of the road. "It was the best Christmas ever. I got a new sister and my mom." And he wouldn't want it any other way.