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Emma Tattenbaum-Fine Headshot

'I Wish You Were Dead So I Could Have a Daddy'

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Illustration by Leah Rubin-Cadrain (@leahaviva)

When I was 6 years old, I told my mother that I wished that she would die so that I could have a daddy. We were in a yellow NYC taxicab on the way to my sixth birthday party, an affair that, like my wildly successful fifth birthday party, would be held at a children's theater. A performance of Goldilocks and the Three Bears was to be held in my honor, followed by ice cream cake and a singalong. My other mother, the one I loved unreservedly, was already at the theater awaiting our arrival.

As soon as I said the words, I regretted them. I had tasted them before, like a recipe that you consider before making. In the same way that you wonder if ricotta cheese might be nice with pine nuts, I had thought, "What would it be like to put the words 'dead' and 'I wish you were' with the words 'so I could have a daddy'?"

I had found my non-biological mother's Achilles' heel and swung a golf club into it. And it felt like shit for both of us.

Because I was about to have a birthday party and because neither of us knew what to say, we said nothing.

By this point I had been in therapy for two years. I just wasn't getting along with R, and it was toxic to our family. I firmly believed that I was in therapy because of what I perceived to be a bat hidden in the overhead light of my bedroom. I would tell the therapist how I was afraid of the bat in the light in my bedroom. She would ask, I thought rather nonsensically, why I hated my mother. I would respond, for what seemed like the ninth time, "You do realize that there is a bat haunting the overhead light of my bedroom?" Then I would chug Perrier and help myself to a fistful of the therapist's amazing jelly-filled cookies. We didn't seem to be communicating. I was 4.

The therapist's name was Annie, and her office was the first place I ever experienced a cushioned toilet seat. I thought it was miraculous, because it was like peeing into a couch with a hole through it. I loved therapy. Then I would start to play with dolls, and Annie would watch. I thought it was a little dumb that she wasn't playing with me, but I didn't let it get in the way of my fun. I would just mumble softly between the dolls to give myself privacy and ignore the total weirdness of a giant adult peering into a dollhouse. I wrote her off as a very, very attentive babysitter with excellent taste in food and beverages and an exceptionally soft toilet. Then, suddenly, just as one doll would kiss another goodnight, she'd say, "Let's talk about Mommy R."

In case you are not in a sufficiently privileged position to know, there is nothing more jarring for a little kid than being interrogated midway through her play therapy.

Another therapist showed me Rorschachs: those ink blots that are supposed to reveal the depths of your spirit, depending on what you see in them. I saw black butterflies, black clowns, black horses, black clouds and then... more butterflies. Sometimes I saw boats, but I never saw any clarity on a) the bat that haunted the light fixture in my bedroom or b) my relationship with my my mother, Mommy R.

She would buy me presents, endless presents, on her business trips: dolls, headbands, watches, beautiful clothes. She gave me everything I wanted, but you can see in those childhood photos and footage of birthday parties that I was always angry at her. At my third birthday party, covered in frills and sporting blonde bangs, I push the knife into my birthday cake and scowl at R: a small, supervised, angry child with a knife.

R's enthusiasm and love for me was Herculean. She was fearful of losing me, anxious about her legally tenuous ties to me, anxious about the absence of a genetic tie to me.

She loves me with the force that perhaps only a non-biological mother can, a force that is less like the strength of blood and more like the strength of a Mack truck. In the absence of a genetic bond, our mother-daughter relationship has many dimensions: She is my confidante, my mentor, my coach, my guide, and the captain of my cheerleading team. Our connection has a greater sense of wild coincidence, like two spirits blown together in a powerful windstorm. Maybe it was just plain old-fashioned fate, but there was very likely some sort of windstorm involved.

Throughout this turbulent preschool/elementary school period, and indeed always, I told my friends and strangers I met a simple story: "I'm Emma, and I have two moms." As it must be for the Kardashians and any family with a public image to uphold, reality gets streamlined: "Yes, they are both my moms. Yes, I love them both the same way, with no differentiation between them."

The constant need to assert that both M and R are my moms in the very same capacity perhaps made me angry, though I was the one promulgating this idea most vocally. I don't know how much I actually wanted a dad. I think the last thing I needed was more parents. But the lack of a dad was the thing I could point to. I wanted for nothing else, so naturally that came to mind.

I think I told R that I wanted her to die "so I could have a daddy" because a) children are horrible, and b) I didn't know what our relationship was, and I was tired of pushing and pushing for there to be another identical mom spot when I already had one filled. Never in a million years would I have said this to a therapist as a 4-year-old, because a) I just figured it out when I wrote this, and b) when you're blazing a path for LGBTQ families, there is little time for troubles. Things simply must be good. They must be good, and they must be simple or you've lost your platform.

When I was 10 years old, R would take me and a sizable group of my closest friends out to the movies. We all held hands in the giant empty parking lot, forming one long snake of kids. She would jerk her supremely strong arm, and we would ripple and dance with her superhuman energy throughout the parking lot. In those moments, thrown around at the end of a chain of powerful love, I didn't feel angry at her. I just held on tight, laughed and shrieked, and let her force carry me.

Read more from Emma about growing up and being a grownup with two moms at two-and-a-half-women.tumblr.com.