Homework was always a challenge with Nicolas. In the last five years of being a babysitter and tutor, I've seen him struggle through multiplication tables, battle to understand the scientific method, and break down over the structure of an essay. I've also been quite lucky to have seen him go from a rambunctious 7-year-old to a now-blossoming 12-year-old, and along the way I've seen him make some pretty remarkable and beautiful realizations. I've even made a few myself.
My first day of working with Nicky was in 2009, and at that point the work load was still quite easy. We sat at his family's dining-room table, working on an assignment to help him learn how to read the time by matching up an analog clock with a digital one. I showed him how to do it by first pointing to an analog clock and explaining that you can look at the small hand first, and that when the small hand is between two numbers, that means it's going to be within the hour of the smaller number. I then made an example by pointing to an analog clock that read "5:30" and showing Nicky that the small hand was halfway between 5 and 6, but before I could say any more, he shouted out, "Five-thirty!" and quickly drew a line to its matching digital equivalent. I was impressed. I pointed to another analog clock that read "4:15" and asked him to do it again. He was able to look at the small hand and, within seconds, shouted out the correct answer and drew a line to its matching digital clock. Smart kid.
After about two or three more correct answers, I caught on to just how smart he was. The same hour was never represented more than once in the list of potential digital answers. There was only one 5 o'clock hour and only one 4 o'clock hour, so if he looked to the small hand of an analog clock and saw that it was within the 3 o'clock hour, he would find "3:45" on the list as the only 3 o'clock option and -- bam! -- he'd have the correct answer. The kid had figured out how to do the worksheet before learning how to actually do what the worksheet was teaching him. Very smart kid. It wasn't until I covered up the digital answers that his answers started to become less confident. "Two-fifteen?" he'd ask, awkwardly. It was then that he continued to learn with me and figure out the purpose of the big hand on the clock.
Nicky has always been that kid who wants to know how the bigger picture works. All the details and finer points? Well, those were just little things that get in the way.
Later in the week Nicky was in the middle of a math worksheet when he noticed the ring on my left ring finger. He looked at my ring and looked up at me and asked if I was married. I was engaged at the time and explained that to him, saying that I would be married soon. He squinted his eyes and said, "So you have a girlfriend." I froze. Was I about to come out to a 7-year-old?
"No," I said cautiously. "I have a boyfriend." There was a slight pause at the table as Nicky cocked his head to one side as this news was processing. "You have a boyfriend?" I said yes. "And you guys are going to get married?" Again I said yes. The confusion was mounting, and I could hear in his voice the desire to figure out what was going on here. "You mean you're guys are going to be gay?" I took in this response for a moment and did all I could to contain the joy and love that was quickly developing for this child. I smiled and said as calmly as I could, "Well, Nicky, we already are gay."
What happened next will stay with me for the rest of my life. We sat at the table, staring at each other, until he let out a slight "Oh." After a brief pause his eyes lit up as bright as I had ever seen them, and he let out an even bigger "Oh!" as what was going on here finally sunk in. Smart kid. He smiled at me and said "OK" and went right back to his work.
I sat there at the table in complete silence. What just happened? I didn't know if his parents had talked to him about any of this. I felt as if I had just told the kid where babies came from. Well, gay babies, anyway.
After I left for the day, I called his mother and informed her about the conversation I'd just had with her 7-year-old, terrified that I had overstepped my boundaries. His mother laughed and said, "Well, there we go!" She went on to tell me that he knew that a man and a woman could be together, that two women could be together, and that two men could be together, but that he most likely didn't know what the words were for those situations. She also warned me that now that he knew this about me, I shouldn't be surprised if he shared it with the world. I didn't know exactly what that meant. The next day on the playground I found out.
Being a babysitter in New York was interesting in that there weren't too many 20-something gay men doing it, at least not on my playground. The community of nannies on the Lower East Side of Manhattan consisted mostly of middle-aged women from Jamaica or Haiti or some other faraway land. When my first day on the playground rolled around, Nicky made sure he introduced me.
"Hey, everyone! This is my babysitter Michael! And he's gay!" My heart dropped. I was staring at a bench full of nannies starring back at me with their jaws in their laps. After a moment's pause one of them yelled in a thick Jamaican accent, "Oh, is he now?!" Again we all stood staring at each other, with Nicky still beaming with pride and me unable to move. It was then that the bench erupted with laughter, which I was more than happy to join in. These women loved these children as much as I did, and it was likely that all of them had been in a similar situation before. I had been lovingly and unknowingly thrown under the bus by a child and was now officially one of the gals. From that day on I always had a place on the playground bench.
Kids really do say the darnedest things, and that is what makes them so wonderful and their joy so infectious.
To Nicolas, being gay was no different from having blue eyes or being from Japan. It was just something that made someone unique -- not different but unique. To this child there was not a single negative connotation associated with the word "gay," and it became clear to me that to him, living where he lived and being able to meet and interact with people like me, there may never be. When people on the news or other public outlets speak of children and what the mainstreaming of homosexuality is doing to them, I wish I could invite every single one of them to meet Nicolas. What mainstreaming is doing is allowing our children yet another opportunity to teach us something about the way the world should work.
To Nicky the details of my life and how my relationships worked didn't matter at all. All those details just got in the way. To him the only thing that mattered was the big picture.
You're a nice and funny man who is marrying another man. Cool. Let's play baseball now.