Like many gay dads, my partner Brian and I were more than a little nervous when it came time to register Clark for Kindergarten. Sure, he had been in daycare, then pre-K, and all went without a hitch. He was made to feel welcome, and I can't recall ever being made to feel different because of our family structure. If anything, we felt like we got more attention and nurturing from the school and staff, probably because the predominantly female faculty took pity on the two boys trying to raise a baby all by themselves. Adorable! I just love being patronized, even if it does come from an understandable place. Kidding. I felt like they were going out of their way to make us feel "normal," and that we were just like everyone else. I can tell you, I didn't feel like everyone else. I often felt like a stranger in a strange land, trying to learn a new language and not look completely freaked out by all this "parent culture" around me.
When we met our son's Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. V, we were completely relieved. You see, Clark is a VERY active little boy. He is sweet, loving, loud, brash, a bit bossy, honest and is in constant motion, it seems. Thoughts of him sitting still long enough to learn, well... anything, was our primary concern. But, Mrs. V was all smiles and seemed comfortable in chaos. And, in addition to Clark, she had her hands full with the other 19 kids in her charge. As we looked around the room, all our fears seemed to evaporate. All the kids were active, laughing, not paying attention and none could keep their hands to themselves. They were all the same, happy, active five year olds.
One other concern was classroom diversity. Would Clark be the only Latino? The only adoptee? The only one with gay parents? Up until this point, the kids barely noticed differences between one another, but we knew it was only a matter of time before they started to catalogue who was different and how, only to use it on the playground later to exclude or tease one another. But, again, we couldn't have been in a better place. Not only were there other Latino kids in the class, but there were Asian and mixed-race kids. There was also a little girl adopted from China, children of divorced parents, a child with two moms, and a kid with a lesbian mom and dad who was trans. We actually felt kind of vanilla, truth be told.
Now, it may have been Mrs. V's typical practice, or maybe this class was so special that she felt she needed to prepare a new lesson, but we soon learned than she introduced the book, Families Are Different by Nina Pellegrini to the class.
If you haven't read this book, I would highly recommend it. It describes just about every form of family structure, except gay families, of course, having been published in 1991. Still, while not perfect, it is beautiful and honest, and best yet, we can say without a doubt it makes an impression on little kids, even those who might have a little trouble sitting still and paying attention. Proof came the following Thanksgiving.
We were at Brian's family's home in a suburb of Dallas a couple of months after school started to celebrate the holiday. The house was full and noisy with everyone catching up with one another. Brian has two sisters, and they have six kids between them, two pretty close to Clark's age. All the adults were in the dining room eating, and Clark and his two young cousins were in the kitchen, eating and just chatting up a storm. At one point, one of Clark's cousins asks him, clear as day, "Hey where's your mom?" Now, these guys have known one another their whole lives, and Brian and I have been together for over a decade, so this question stopped the adult conversation in the dining room in its tracks. I think we were all a little surprised by the sudden awareness that Clark didn't have a mom, but we were also really interested to see where this conversation was going and getting ready to jump in should things get uncomfortable.
I should have known better than to doubt my little man, because true to form, without missing a beat, he responded with an honest, "I don't have a mom. I have two dads." To which Clark's little cousin replied, "YOU HAVE TWO DADS?!" Clark, putting down his pickle, replied so casually I could hardly believe it, "Yeah, you know, some people have two dads. Some people have two moms. Some people have a mom and a dad, and some have just a mom or a dad. All families are different, but all families are held together with a special kind of glue called 'love.'"
Clark's cousin just looked at him as Clark put a potato chip in his mouth. Then replied, "Cool. Can I have some of your chips?"
We recently got ahold of a copy of Families Are Different, and I swear Clark recited that passage verbatim. I remain in awe of our son's ability to see differences, but not to judge one person being better than another. I sometimes wonder how long it will last. I know its human nature to find one thing superior to another, but I grieve that someday he'll lose the innocence and purity that he has now.
I can only hope to remain ready to teach at each opportunity as it's presented that differences are good. They should be celebrated, not ignored. I don't want him to feel he needs to blend or assimilate. I want him to celebrate who he is and who others are too. I don't want him to gloss over differences, and assume we are all the same because he might be uncomfortable with people or things that are foreign or unknown. We aren't all the same. We are different and our family is different. But, like all other families, ours too is held together with "love glue."