Lately my days (every single one of them) have been exhausting! Andrea Giuseppe joined our family seven months ago, and his arrival provoked a minor earthquake in our daily rhythms. But what a beautiful earthquake!
Like every working mom, I find it hard to honor all my commitments without feeling overwhelmed. I have a house and a garden to run, and I live there with my companion Raphaelle, our two kids and a dog. I make my living as a teacher (it's both my job and my passion) and run a national association too. Sometimes I wonder if I've taken on too much.
Raphaelle and I decided to take care of Andrea personally while he's an infant, just as we did with Lisa Marie 10 years ago. We asked for and received work schedules that don't overlap. (We're both language teachers, and we both work 14 hours a week at the University of Salerno.)
Every morning at 8:10 one of us leaves the house with Lisa while the other one stays home with Andrea.
Wednesday and Friday are my days off. I call them "days off," but they're the most difficult days of the week for me, the ones when I have to spend just about seven hours straight entertaining a little 7-month-old boy who's curious about everything and appears to run on Duracell batteries.
Lisa Marie takes a bus home from school, arriving at 1:40 p.m., and generally we're all at home then and have lunch together. My responsibilities at home include cooking, shopping, cleaning up the kitchen, washing dishes and preparing Andrea's meals. During summer months I do the gardening and tend our fruit trees, preparing food that we can freeze or making marmalade for the winter months. I don't know if I'll manage to get all that done this year! I'll have to run around after Andrea!
During lunch Lisa tells us about her day at school. Sometimes we get into arguments because she's nervous and tense or tired or doesn't like what I've cooked. Other times some specific lesson she's had becomes a point of departure for us to talk about important issues, like the time she studied Article 3 of the Italian Constitution. I had to explain to her that it's false, because not all Italian citizens are equal in the eyes of the law. Take us, for example: Raphaelle and I can't get married, but heterosexual citizens can.
Recently Lisa came home excited because her science class is studying DNA and genetic transmission. She has two mothers, one her natural mother, the other her mother of the heart or of love, and I think that this was the first time that she really realized that she doesn't have Raphaelle's DNA, even though we've been telling her the story of her birth since she was still in the womb. She was a bit sad, but she understood that we couldn't have done things any other way. She gave her little brother, who was conceived by Raphaelle, a giant hug and said, "Even though we don't have the same DNA, we'll be siblings forever, right?" I had to explain the laws to her once again: One day, when Raphaelle and I are finally allowed to get married (which will soon be possible for us in France, because we have dual citizenship, but when it comes to Italy, who knows?), we'll be able to adopt each other's children. Then we'll finally be a family. It's not DNA that makes a family but love and law, which are stronger than everything else.
After lunch Andrea takes a nap, so the rest of us have almost two hours to ourselves. Lisa relaxes, playing in her room, and I get on the computer. I'm president of Famiglie Arcobaleno ("Rainbow Families"), an Italian association for gay parents and aspiring parents. I go through my email and write a few dozen responses, print various things, sign paperwork, scan documents and respond to people on Facebook.
On Tuesdays Lisa stays up later than usual, and we watch a movie together, because she skips the first couple of hours of school on Wednesday mornings. That's when they teach Catholic religion classes. Even though Italy is a secular republic, the omnipresence of Catholicism, especially in the country's public schools (kindergarten through senior year of high school), taught by teachers selected by the bishop but paid by the Italian government, make this a tough country for non-Catholics. In small-town schools like the one Lisa attends, there's no valid alternative, and the kids who don't attend religion classes wind up sitting alone in the school hallway doing their homework while they wait for the next class to begin. Religion, any religion, has no place crossing the threshold of public schools in a secular state.
Even though our daily life is peaceful and happy, we never forget that we still have no protection whatsoever in Italy, neither as a couple nor as a family. Despite the fact that we've lived together for 30 years, if I were to die tomorrow, I would not be able to leave anything to Raphaelle without her being considered a perfect stranger, legally, and therefore forced to pay heavy inheritance taxes. Meanwhile, any straight couple that has been married for so much as a single day wouldn't have to deal with this problem.
Sometimes I wake up anxious and stressed, like I did last Sunday, when I woke up thinking about a dramatic situation that could happen but which I hadn't really focused on before. I turned to Raphaelle and said, "What would happen if you and I both died in a car accident? Who would take care of Andrea?"
Andrea doesn't have any blood relatives. Raphaelle is an only child, and her parents have passed away. I'm not worried about Lisa anymore: She's 10 now and wouldn't be a problem for my mother, even though she's more than 70 years old. But Andrea? He's so small! One needs fresh energy to raise a boy like that! And he doesn't have any of my DNA! Who would raise him?
As soon as it was late enough in the morning -- 9 o'clock -- I called my sister in France and asked her, "If Raphaelle and I were both to die together in an accident, will you promise me that you'll take Andrea along with Lisa, that you won't separate them, and that you'll tell them the whole story of their family?" She told me to rest easy, because Andrea is part of the family. I was so relieved -- at least until anxiety got the better of me again, which didn't take long. My sister is not Andrea's legal aunt, and as long as Raphaelle and I aren't married, what guarantees do I have that a judge would trust her with the child? We need to fill out yet another form and add it to all the others until somebody decides to finally take our very real parental needs seriously.
And that's not all. Next month Andrea has to have a minor operation. I haven't forgotten that to the Italian government and the hospital's administration I'm nobody in relation to my son, and if I'm allowed into the section reserved for parents, it will only be because the doctor has personally recognized me as his mother, although he'll continue to address Raphaelle alone when he needs to ask something. That's how it is: We're family and yet not family, and we stagger back and forth from one emotional state to the other, from joy to anxiety.
I'm the last one to go to bed, hours after everyone else. Down in the kitchen I prepare cups and coffee for the next day's breakfast. Before going upstairs I turn off the computer and all the lights. I stop in Lisa's room first and give her a kiss, then Andrea's room, where he's asleep. I look down at him with a mix of admiration and pride. It still seems to be such an extraordinary thing that Raphaelle and I have two kids together.
Translated from the original Italian.
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