It had been just under a week since we returned from a cross-country trip to visit our son's birth parents. It had been just two days since our 4-and-a-half-year-old started in his new preschool class. Papa was out of town, so my son and I were chatting over dinner about this-and-that: who he knew in his class, how awesome his new cubby was, how he's decided -- after a two year break -- to take up napping again, because apparently that's what one does in Room 3.
I was also thinking ahead to the logistics of letting him have some iPad time, a bath and a story all before bed, while still leaving me a pocket of waking minutes to write.
Seemingly out-of-the-blue, my son asks, "When I gonna get new parents?"
I wasn't quite sure what I'd heard, so I asked him to repeat himself. "When am I get my new parents?"
This was our first calm dinner in well over a week -- the effects of being off-schedule and away from home finally beginning to fade. So I'm cautious to show alarm on my face and disturb the relative peace, but I dig a little deeper.
"What do you mean?"
"When can I get a mommy?" Gulp.
"Why do you want a mommy?"
"Because you and Papa are not nice sometimes."
"Well, you're not nice sometimes, too. We're all not nice sometimes."
"Yeah, like when you say bad words..."
"...like when you said 'shut up.'"
Okay, GOT IT. "That's right. But even though we're all naughty sometimes, we all love each other very much."
Blank stare. Chews mac and cheese.
I'm not sure he's giving me the real answer. I head back in to take another pass. "Do you want a mommy because all the other kids in your class have a mommy?"
I almost ask if that makes him feel left out, but I don't want to put words in his mouth. I could tell he was a little hesitant to bring this up, perhaps fearing it will make me sad or that it's wrong for him to think it. "How does that make you feel?" I ask instead.
"Bad," he says softly, but matter-of-factly.
"I'm so sorry, buddy. You know Daddy and Papa love you very much, right?"
He nods again.
"And you remember that you have other friends with two daddies, right?"
He looks thoughtful for a moment. "Yeah! Anthony's sister is at my school!"
I inform him she just started kindergarten at a different school. He hangs his head and lets out a frustrated "Awww..."
"But do you remember on Sunday when you played with all the kids at the big house with the swimming pool and the goats and chickens?" His eyes light up with the memory of the dozen or so kids at the cookout we attended. "EVERY SINGLE ONE of those kids has two dads."
"Oh yeah!" He smiles, and I continue.
"That's why we like to spend time with them -- so you can have friends that also have two dads. But you also have a lot of great friends at school. And even though they have different parents than you, you can still be their friend and have fun together."
Blank stare. Fiddles with fork. I tousle his hair.
"Are you okay? Do you understand?"
"Can I play with your iPad now?"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And like that, he'd moved on.
But I knew we weren't finished with this conversation. With each passing year, with each trip across the country, each new class, new friend with a mom and a dad, this conversation will continue. If not always between me and my son, then certainly in his head.
As two gay men adopting a child -- as "different" parents raising a "different" family -- this is, in fact, what we signed up for. Yet no amount of preparation or groundwork or open-mindedness keeps me from being surprised by these not-really-out-of-the-blue questions.
But surprise isn't bad. Surprise keeps me on my toes and keeps me listening and watching. Surprise shows me my son is thinking and feeling; becoming a thoughtful, feeling little boy. Big boy. Young man.
No questions, no dialogue, no obstacles -- that would be bad. That's when isolation, speculation and resentment fill the void created by a lack of sometimes difficult, sometimes painful conversations.
So I will keep on looking into my son's bright, blue eyes (even when they stare blankly at me), searching for and drawing out the questions that invariably lead to still more questions. And I pray he never grows tired of hearing me answer, "Daddy and Papa love you very much."
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