“OK, we’ll be the mommies, and you’ll be the daddies,” the girl said. This was seven years ago, and they were playing the game “family,” at our preschool. The freckled girl pointed to where the boys were supposed to stand. The 3-year-old boys dutifully moved to their respective places, and my daughter, Aviva, walked over to the girl.
Everyone at our preschool knew that Aviva had two mommies. To the other kids, our family was just like anyone else’s. Walking in on this game at pick-up time helped me breathe one of many sighs of relief.
Same-sex parenting, like all parenting, is hard. It is wonderful. And exhausting. My wife and I have two girls, aged 10 and 7, whom I gave birth to and my wife legally adopted. Even as they grew in my belly, I worried about their future. In addition to the typical concerns about health and safety, I worried that it would be hard for them to have gay parents.
When the kids started asking how babies were made, it was a bit complicated. We wanted to be accurate, but didn’t want to just start with, “you get a petri dish…”
The kids knew body parts by their correct, anatomical names. So my wife and I talked with them about eggs and sperm adding that, “We had to ask for help in getting sperm since we didn’t have a daddy handy.”
We told them that you mix sperm and eggs together to make a baby, that the doctor put them in Mommy’s belly and then, “you two grew and grew and grew, and then mommy pushed you out. Those were the two best days of our lives.” We hoped that was enough for the moment.
A few weekends later, though, when I was vigorously mixing eggs in a bowl to make breakfast, my daughters stared at me. They were so excited because they thought the egg-mixing meant that they were getting a sibling. Clearly we had more explaining to do.
The school-age years have brought new challenges related to life as two moms. We found that only one mom can volunteer in class events and parties until our kids feel comfortable with letting all the kids know that she has two moms. I try to remember that every child has something in her family that she is embarrassed by, but it still stings.
There are other heteronormative issues that my children encounter—like the tradition of making crafts for Father’s Day in class. Last year, Aviva made a keychain instead for the principal, Mr. Alter, and he proudly displays it to her, to his own family, and to others.
There are daddy/daughter dances that they miss out on—“It’s OK, mommy,” Maya said, trying to comfort me more than her, “I don’t like to dance anyway.”
My wife and I shook our heads as we flipped through the beginning reader book “I Love My Daddy” in Maya’s Kindergarten orientation. The lines on the book placed in front of us included, “I love when my daddy reads a book to me…He helps me climb a tree,” etc.
My children want a daddy. They want us as well, but they want the daddy in the idealized world in which they yearn to belong. And, in the sense of wanting to them to be included and have fewer hardships, I want them to have that daddy too. But they’re stuck with us to read to them and help them to climb the trees in life.
The book choice was not the teacher’s fault; these were standard books given to her. It demonstrated the challenges that our children would face. Fortunately, the girls had teachers who counteracted challenges through love and excellent teaching.
I used to wonder if other parents would allow their children to have playdates and sleepovers at our house, but we now have had many of those, usually without incident. There are other families like ours at the school. My kids’ good friends don’t care about their having two moms and new kids they meet generally say, “You have two moms–how does that work?”
Recently, though, each kid had a friend over for five hours when my wife was away at a conference—what was I thinking? I was doing a craft activity with the 7-year-olds downstairs, and the tweens were upstairs. It became quiet up there. Too quiet. I went upstairs to check on them. I knocked on Aviva’s bedroom door.
“Don’t come in,” said Aviva, in a slightly panicked tone. I heard them shuffling about. Oh shit. They were up to no good.
I told her I was coming in. I flung open the door dramatically. They weren’t there. Then I saw four bare feet under the curtain that closed off her closet area. I asked them what they were doing behind the curtain.
“Um…” Aviva said, “We’re just experimenting.”
Oh shit. Oh shit. Were they checking out each other’s parts? My mind started racing. OHMYGOD, NO ONE’S EVER GOING TO LET THEIR CHILD COME OVER TO THE LESBIANS’ HOUSE AGAIN.
I whipped open the curtain, only to find…that they were fully clothed and holding a bowl containing some strange mixture. It was shaving cream, cornstarch, food coloring, and some other ingredients. It was all over the carpet. And the walls. And the girls. Oh THAT kind of experimenting! I was so happy not to have walked into the land of sexual discoveries that I exclaimed, “Good!” and closed the curtain.
The other girl whispered to my daughter, “I thought you said your mom would be mad?”
So, just like all other families—we’re unique and we’re the same. We’re just muddling through, trying to balance work, parenting, and life. And at 1 a.m., when I’m holding my little one’s hair back for the sixth round of vomiting, my family composition does not matter. It only matters that I’m exhausted, that this is hard, and that I’d do it all again.