04/18/2013 03:29 pm ET Updated Jun 18, 2013

The Talk My Preschooler Wasn't Too Young To Have


We have an old farmhouse table in our kitchen. Nothing fancy, but its sturdy legs and pitted top give us a place to eat family meals, do homework, and create Play Doh sculptures. On any given day it is covered with mason jars of crayons, piles of magazines and drawings, crumbs from the last snack, a bowl of fruit, and a container of buttons, rubber bands and homeless paperclips. It is a perfect reflection of our slightly messy life. Sometimes Little Dude sits there to keep me company while I make dinner, narrating the scene outside the window or telling me about his school day. He brings an intense, but erratic, enthusiasm to things I barely notice. "Wook Mommy!!!! Robin red chest!!!" he might exclaim, before wandering off to play with the dog and returning to remind me that he has to wear a black T-shirt to school on Thursday. I never know what to expect.

Last week, he came home from school and informed me of his thwarted plans to marry one of his classmates.

"Mommy, I want to marry Victoria, but her brother Robert says I can't. Her friend Kyle says I can."

Oh, poor Robert, I thought. That boy is in for a rude awakening.

"I don't think Robert gets to decide who his sister marries. I think Victoria will choose who she wants to marry."

Victoria is a very nice little girl, so I'm not opposed to his plans, although I asked him if he could wait to get married until he was a little older. I'm still dealing with kindergarten registration -- I can't handle wedding invitations too.

His mouth full of crackers, Little Dude nodded.

"So, when I grow up I can marry who I want to and Victoria can marry who she wants to and Robert can marry who he wants to?"

"Yep. Victoria can marry whomever she wants. She can marry you, or she could marry Kyle if she wanted to."

Little Dude burst out laughing.

"Victoria can't marry Kyle mommy! Kyle is a girl. Girls have to marry boys and boys have to marry girls." He gave me an exasperated look.

And there we were. At the kitchen table eating a snack, staring the issue of gay marriage in the face.

Now, I know there are parents out there who have prepared themselves for this talk. I thought I was one of them. I realized in this moment, however, that there are parents who are truly ready to converse with their kids about gay marriage, sex, death, religion, divorce, adoption, and global warming and then there's me. I talk a good game, but I am more of a "fly by the seat of my pants" girl. Which is why I had about thirty seconds to figure out how I was going to respond.

My hesitation confused me. I am very clear about where I stand on gay marriage and the subject of homosexuality. I think we love whom we love. Period. I think we should be able to marry whomever we love. Full stop. I want my son to know that and believe it with all his heart. I don't want him to "accept" or "tolerate" gay marriage. I want him to advocate for it and believe that marriage should not be a privilege afforded only those whose have opposite sets of genitals. The only thing I'll teach him to "tolerate" are the people who stand in the way of that equality -- because even the incredibly wrong-headed can change their minds. I hope.

So with all that, why didn't I just plunge right in? I wondered if he was too young to talk about being gay? I considered distracting him and avoiding the subject entirely. I cursed Kyle's androgynous name. I asked myself if I was putting too much pressure on myself or on him if I launched into a serious talk. I prayed that a book would magically appear with a script for the whole damn thing. I had only a few seconds before things got awkward and I was stalling. This was not my best parenting moment.

I realized I was letting the social noise of other people's hang-ups change what I wanted to say to my son. I was channeling commentators and pundits and loud voices from people who have never met me, or my son, to determine what I wanted him to know about the world. I had forgotten that this is a boy who has been raised in love and that this issue isn't about anything but love. My 5-year-old is perfectly capable of handling a conversation about that. We can talk about politics and religion and social stigma when he's 6.

So I got a grip. I remembered what parenting is about. I reminded myself that this was my opportunity to raise a boy into a man who could treat himself and every other person he meets with respect. This was my first shot to teach him that families that our different from ours aren't anything special -- they're just families.

It suddenly got very, very easy.

"Well, it's true that a lot of times boys marry girls and girls marry boys. But sometimes girls fall in love with girls and boys fall in love with boys. If they do, they can get married too."

"They can?"

"They can."



"Ok. I still want to marry Victoria though."

"Fine by me."

And just like that, we were done.