PBS's 'This Emotional Life': On Being Different

There is a great saying that goes, "If you worry, why pray, and if you pray, why worry." I love the idea of that, and try in my own way to live by that philosophy, but it goes right out the window when it comes to my children. When it comes to them, I pull out every micromanaging
skill I have been blessed with and turn into an anxious control freak that will stop at no end to making sure my kids get what I think they need. Recently, this lovely character trait escalated to colossal proportions when my five year old started kindergarten.

There are a couple things at play here: The first is the normal
feelings of separation that occur during this time, which are very real
and signify a rite of passage, for both parent and child. It is a
confusing transition, one that is at once exciting and at the same
time, kind of sad.

Compounding these emotion was another factor, specific to our family.
My significant other is a woman, as am I, and we conceived our daughter
by using an anonymous sperm donor. This means that she has two mothers
and no father, which, living in the liberal city of Los Angeles, is not
that uncommon, or at least, so we thought. Up until now, through her
infancy playgroups and progressive pre-school, there were always other
families around like ours, and this made it so much easier for our
child to know that although she was not from a traditional family, that
was okay. In other words, yes, you are different, but there is nothing
wrong with that. So, I was surprised when I learned that our daughter
was going to be the only child from a same sex couple in her new public
elementary school. Wait a second, is that possible, I thought to
myself. Where were all the "gaybies"?. I learned that pretty much all
children from same sex unions in our economic bracket send their
children to private school, where they are guaranteed "diversity", a
little slice of heaven, where different kinds of people happily
co-exist. "Why," a friend of ours asked us, "are you going public when
the privates are seeking our kind out?" A good question. I didn't have
an answer except my partner and I loved the idea we could walk our
child to school, and we just didn't want her to be stuck in the car two
hours a day when she could be at a friend's house in the neighborhood,
or hanging out at home. Have I made a big mistake? The Fear Committee
in my head was working overtime. It's responsibility to protect my
daughter...was I throwing her to the wolves?

It was the third week of school when one of the boys in her class was
perplexed when my daughter told him that she had two mommies. The boy
told her it was not possible to have two mommies -- that you had to
have a mommy and a daddy. My daughter came home that day a little
annoyed. She was wondering how someone could think there was only one
kind of family. She knows single mothers, has friends with two daddies,
friends with four parents, and that's not to mention garden variety
adopted children and kids who have divorced parents. Without getting
into the nuts and bolts of it (or, dare I say, the sperm and egg of
it). I asked her if it bothered her that he questioned what kind of
family we had, and she shrugged it off indifferently. She was through
with the conversation, and happily went on to play with her dolls.

I think I started to have faith at that point that my daughter was
going to be okay. What makes her okay is that we're okay, it's that
simple. We do not demonstrate to her that she will be anything other
than fine when we drop her off every day, and with that confidence, she
navigates through the chaotic playground and into the stuffy
construction bungalow doubling for a classroom. She actually likes the
bungalow, too...aren't kids amazing?

This past week, we had our first parent teacher conference. I had no
idea what to expect, because anyone with kids will tell you they keep
their school days secret. I'm happy to report that my daughter is doing
well in all the required areas, but there was something the teacher
really couldn't wait to tell us. As it is coming up to Thanksgiving,
she had the kids go around a circle and name one thing that they were
thankful for. Many of the kids, she reported, hadn't yet grasped what
the concept of thankful was, so they would say things like, "I'm
thankful for my sneakers, or I'm thankful for candy..." When she got to
my daughter, the teacher told me that she said "I'm thankful that my
family is different." I was speechless for a good minute.

It turns out the very thing that had me staying up at night, is the
very thing my daughter is most grateful for. I get now, better than
ever, that your children really are your teachers. She has shown me
that fear and love have no place under the same roof. In that little
bungalow, she has chosen to demonstrate love, not fear, and by that I
mean reflect the love that has been given to her for her whole life.
It's the security she feels about herself that's protected me this time...

Thanks, kid, I owe you one.

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