It happened a few weeks ago when we were all in the car. The kids sat in the back talking about Wario and how his farts could KO an opponent. (Yes, my children play way too much Nintendo Smash Bros. And no, I have no idea if Wario can actually KO with flatulence alone... and I'm not sure if I want to.) My husband and I were in the front listening to NPR. They were talking about the Duggar family, specifically Josh Duggar and his admission of guilt to the molestation charges against him. Everything about the made (makes) me furious: The focus on the perpetrator and not his victims; the fact that the perpetrator in question was the executive director of the FRC's lobbying group, the "Family" Research Council -- the organization that prides itself in perpetuating lies and hate about gay people. Gay people like my oldest son. The one, with his brothers, providing the snorting laughter soundtrack to the news and my fury.
"I hope none of those kids are gay," I said quietly, thinking of the 19 Duggar children.
My husband put his hand on my knee. "I know. Me too."
"Who do you hope isn't gay?" my oldest son asked.
If you don't have children, you might not know that selective hearing is a real thing. When I tell my children to pick up their socks and put them down the chute, I get no response. When I announce it's time for bed, nothing. When I tell them eating their vegetables is not optional, nada. But when I hit my funny bone on the counter in an empty kitchen and say "Fuck!" under my breath, instantly, a little boy voice from the other side of the house will holler, "Mom said a bad word! The really bad one!" The traitorous little monsters.
I sighed. Damned selective hearing. I didn't want to have this conversation. Not again. I've talked to my son a number of times about how there are people who don't like gay people. It's a matter of safety and security. No matter how much his own life is full of rainbow advocates, he needs to know about the real world. So, I fight against that maternal instinct that makes me want to wrap him in breathable bubble wrap and protect him from all the bad parts of the world, and I grit my teeth and tell him. And although he nods gravely in all the right places, I don't think he really believes me. It's just not his world.
"There is this family," I said, "and they have a whole lot of kids, but they believe in God and Jesus in way that makes them think being gay is bad and wrong. I don't want any of their kids to be gay because it would be really hard for them in that family."
"But that doesn't matter," he states in that my-mother-is-the-stupidest-person-in-the-world voice. "If they're gay, it doesn't matter what they think."
And I sigh again. Because he is right. I would love it if gay kids were only born to parents who love and celebrate them, but that's not what happens.
"Some parents get sad and angry when their kids are gay. They have a really hard time with it."
"Yeah," he said, "but why is it hard?"
I struggled. "Not all mommies love their babies the way I love you."
"Like your mom?" he asked.
And my heart stopped. I was thrown back to the last time I had heard myself say those words. We were in the car again, over five years ago. My son was in kindergarten and obsessed with the relationships of everyone in his life.
"Grandma and Grandpa are Daddy's mommy and daddy. Uncle Harold is your brother, and Papa is your daddy," he recited to me then paused. "And you don't have a mommy."
His words struck me. The cold hard truth of them chilled me. My mother is not part of our lives. It was a tough decision, but one I had to make for my children and myself. I no longer have a relationship with her, and neither do my kids.
"I do have a mommy, but we don't see her."
"Well," I started and stopped, not knowing how to explain mental illness to my 5-year-old. "Not all mommies love their babies the way I love you."
Back in the present day, I was silent for a few moments. "Yeah," I finally said, my voice thick, "kind of like that."
"Your mom hurt you," he said.
"Yeah, she did."
"She hurt your heart and made you cry."
I turned around to look at him, and in his eyes was a depth that went well beyond the short decade he's lived. I nodded. "Yes, she did." I then looked at my middle son and saw his huge hazel eyes swimming with tears. I took his little hand in mine and squeezed it. "I love you," I said looking straight into his watery gaze. I turned to our youngest, quiet in the back seat. "I love you," I said to him.
"I love you, too, Mama," he smiled back at me, not a care in the world.
And then I turned back to my oldest. "I love you."
He looked at me in silence for a minute. "I know." And for the first time, I could tell he understood.
Sometimes people ask me if it is hard having a gay kid. Having kids is hard. No matter the kids, no matter the parents, raising children is really, really hard. But my kid being gay isn't even on the top of the list of the things that worry me the most. I talk to teachers more about my middle son being bullied for being a nerd. I put more mental effort toward helping my oldest son with his learning disability. I spend more hours wondering if my youngest will ever regularly sleep through the night. I put more effort on all of those things than I do having a gay kid. My kid, all my kids, are awesome and beautiful and crazy and frustrating. They are my kids. That's the way it is supposed to be. I am their mother and I love them. That's the way it is supposed to be.
The toughest conversation I ever had with them was that one right there. In the car, what started with undirected anger at a stranger and religious hate and ended with explaining to my children that I know, really know, what it is like when something other than love guides mothering. And seeing that they understood. I don't want them to understand things like that. But that's not the world we live in.
People use all kinds of excuses to not love their children, not the way they deserve to be loved. And none of them are OK.