“No one can have two moms,” her little friend told her. They were sitting side by side on 3-year-old sized toilets at preschool, overheard by their teacher in the next room.
“No,” said Hot Shot, certain as a statistician. “That’s just a stereotype.”
Her teacher was surprised, but we weren’t. My partner and I had been schooling her in such things for years. Deconstructing her picture books with feminist, anti-racist critical analysis. If pressed she probably could have given a brief overview of the three major phases of the civil rights movement, a short lecture on the use of Mitzrayim rather than Egypt at the Passover table, and a comparative critique of her five favorite authors.
She was, after all, our first child.
Now is it me, or does the parenting get a little more lax on children two and three? Our second, Moon Boy, now 3-and-a-half, is exactly the age Hot Shot was when she made her toilet-seat stereotype remark, and I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve taught him anything. Seriously: he doesn’t even know his shapes.
There’s just so much more to do. So many more potty-times to oversee. Conflicts to negotiate. Spills to wipe up. I mean, how’s a mom supposed to get in a decent geometry lesson when she has to bear witness to all these tantrums. But I try. When I can. I cut out shapes occasionally and scare up a couple of Q-tips for them to dab on the glue with. I read them lots of books, Moon Boy on one knee and 2-year-old Ankle Biter on the other. And I always include the author and illustrator after the title. Hoping it might sink in.
“Dog and Bear,” I read, “By Laura Vaccaro Seeger.”
“Why Vaccawo Seegoo?” Moon Boy asks.
“Because that’s who wrote the story and drew the pictures,” I answer every time. I continue reading and remember back to how 3-year-old Hot Shot used to suggest, “let’s go to the library and look for something by Molly Bang.”
And then I remind myself that, in fact, a 3 year old doesn’t need to give lectures on comparative literature, systematic oppression, or Reconstructionist Judaism. He doesn’t even need to recognize a trapezoid or the letter “G.” And look what he does do: he dances a mean hip hop, he knows the difference between a tuba and a trombone, and he lights the candles every third Shabbat with a proud face and a perfectly pitched blessing. He’s a pretty neat little guy. I’m a reasonably capable mom. And the rest will follow. Right?
So a few weeks ago Hot Shot (now 7) unearthed a roll of posters, still unpacked from our move to Columbus last summer. She pulled out a few that had been in her room back in Portland, Maine and hung them excitedly (if crooked) above her bed. Then she called the boys over for a family meeting and showed them their choices.
Hot Shot: Do you want Martin Luther King or Barack O-Momma? (Moon Boy’s nickname for the Commander in Chief.)
Moon Boy: I want the Queen.
Hot Shot: There is no queen.
Moon Boy: Okay. Then I want the king.
Hot Shot: (Gives him the MLK poster and announces … ) This is Martin Luther King Junior.
Moon Boy: (turns to me) Is he the one who wrote the story and drew the pictures?
It was a perfect moment for redemption. For checking a few things off the everything-I-haven’t-taught-you-which-is-everything list. But Hot Shot was taking the lead so beautifully. And Moon Boy looked so proud with his King in hand. So I took a breath and let it go.
“Well,” I said. “He did like to tell stories.”