Last week, I was on Capitol Hill, gathering stories from community-based doulas whose support for new families lowers c-section rates, reduces infant mortality, and improves parent-infant bonding in at least seventeen states. Each year at my agency’s conference, the energy, passion, and rigorous commitment to and among those who share this work is palpable.
My first morning home, I saw my daughter’s outfit for school lying on the floor of her bedroom – a pair of leggings and a t-shirt I haven’t seen in awhile. “I [heart] my moms,” it said boldly in purple on the front. I assumed she chose it because she missed me the three days I was gone. I was touched, but I wasn’t sure she was ready for the comments it might invite.
I debated silently how I might open a conversation that would show me whether or not she was prepared to wear this t-shirt all day. I considered waiting until we descended the stairs, so my partner could back me up. A cop-out? Yes, absolutely. I was, after all, still exhausted from my trip. But I gnawed on my options while putting on earrings, tying my shoes, turning off the closet light.
My daughter opened the conversation on her own. “I wish it didn’t have an ‘s’,” she said.
“Is that embarrassing?” I asked, grateful to begin.
“No,” she said, and picked up the shirt with her chin thrust forward, a smile in her eyes, lips twitching. Pride or defiance? I couldn’t be sure.
“Without the ‘s,’ it would have to say, ‘I heart my mom and I heart my other mom,’” I tried again.
She giggled a little. “No…”
I needed to know before she got the shirt over her head and we had to backtrack. How many years of “lesbian moms totally rock” would be undone if she had to take the shirt off her body before school? Time to get real.
“Anybody who sees your shirt will know you have two moms. Although most of them know anyway, don’t they?” I was, after all, one of six Brownie leaders for a troop comprised of half the second grade. Besides, everybody knew my daughter, even though she hardly spoke to anyone her first two years of school. She shrugged at my question, lifted the shirt to pull it over her head – and stopped.
She noticed the back of her shirt had words on it, too. “Fighting for our rights,” she read. “Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.” She seemed to ponder that a moment, and then come to a decision. “I can do that!” she exclaimed, throwing a couple mock karate kicks. “I can do karate, or guns.”
“This doesn’t require that kind of fighting.”
“What kind of fighting, then?” She seemed genuinely surprised, tilting her head as if to take in my full response, but before I could conjure an explanation, she answered herself. “Fighting with words.”
“That’s right!” I said. “We’ve got to fight for what’s right with our words.” She remembered aloud how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us to fight with our words and not guns or fists. Then she came back to the shirt, to the parallel fight, the one she was suddenly wearing in purple across her chest.
“Is that because people think gay is bad?” she asked.
“Yup. People sometimes think gay is bad when they don’t think they know any gay people. People have a lot of wrong ideas about things they don’t understand.” She nodded decisively and began brushing her teeth.
I was convinced she knew what she was doing. It’s all I needed to know. I decided she was either tough as nails (sometimes true) or confident she had the support she needed to pull it off. And if she changed her mind partway through the day – well, she was wearing a sweatshirt zipped over the t-shirt, so she could always leave the sweatshirt zipped all day instead of tossing it into her locker at lunchtime. But however things played out at school, I could see one thing clearly already – I’ve got her back and she’s got mine.
I knew without a doubt that each of us (her sister and Mama, too), together and on our own, would fight for what’s right, both inside and outside our home.
In the end, she reported only one negative comment, although I suppose there may have been others. “You can’t have two moms,” an older student apparently said. “Yes you can,” my daughter replied. “No, you can’t,” insisted the girl. My daughter stopped, looked at the girl and said, “Well I do.”
You tell it, kid. Tell your life as it is.