Our Family in London

12 Apr

London ZooNot that long ago, when we were expats in London, everyone I met tried to guess the relationship between my daughter and me – at the park, the store, the library, on the bus back home:

“Is her dad… dark?”

“Is she yours?”

“Your husband must be South American.”

“Are you the babysitter?”

When our family was all together, no one asked. We fit their expat framework, I guess, despite the absence of a man in our home. There was my partner, the breadwinner (corporate HR), our 14-year-old, clearly her mother’s daughter, and the baby – usually in my arms. I was obviously the nanny. No one questioned this. They simply assumed. If anyone had asked, I would have set things right – but no one did.

Then there was coffee one morning after Gymboree. It was our second month in town and I was desperate to make friends.

On the way out of the mall where Gymboree class was held was a coffee shop, with small tables spilling into the more public walkway, not far from the most giant fish tank you’ve ever seen, where all the Gymboree toddlers would meander and oooo and ahhhh and hide and giggle and point and squeal before and after class.  Usually, I packed a snack for my girl and we’d stroll peacefully out after class with a banana or some tasty crackers, sometimes making idle chit chat with another mom or a nanny along the way. No one else walked home, though – so once we hit the big glass doors, we were on our own – and those afternoons were starting to feel really, really, really long.

So one morning after class, one of the moms who often chit chatted with me briefly and lightly on the way out invited me to join her and some friends for coffee. Of course, I said yes.

Nearly the entire class was there, each kid with a mom or a nanny. Some kids had brownies – others carrots – some were trying to stick straws up their noses. Mine sat quietly in her stroller, nibbling on the same cracker the entire time we were there.

We each ordered (at the counter, thankfully), chose a seat, sat down. Somebody sang their kid a song. Somebody else told a story about dinner with the family the night before. And somehow, I don’t even know how it started, pictures were out and being passed around. “This is her brother John,” someone explained, “and this is my husband George.” Family after family came out of back pockets and books and wallets, and popped up on the screens of small phones.

My daughter nodded off in the stroller, her cracker now a small nub in her hand. It was naptime, after all. Should I take her home?

I didn’t want to. Not yet.

I cooed and gasped and exclaimed over each family as they were displayed. Then it was my turn. There was a family photo in my daughter’s bag. It would have been easy enough to shrug it off, say I had nothing – no harm, no foul, no questions asked – but I decided to give it a try. I pulled out the photo. “This is Miss E,” I stated the obvious, with a quick nod in her direction.

“Ohhhhh,” a few of the women answered, finally putting the name with the kid. “Ohhhh,” they said.

“And this is her sister Grace.”

“Beautiful,” they all said.

“And this is me, of course.”

“You’re her mom, right?” (Mom of Miss E. I understood.)

“Right,” I agreed, relieved we’d come this far. “And this is her other mom, my partner. Kelly.”

“What?!?”

“This is my partner, Kelly, Miss E’s other mom,” I repeated, hoping to let it sink in. I couldn’t be the first lesbian for everyone here. Right? Right?

“Oh,” one woman said, visibly shutting down.

“I see,” said another.

“No,” replied one.

“Yes,” I said, laughing just a little now. “She has two moms.”Again I nodded towards my daughter. “My partner, Kelly, and me.”

“She’s your mom?” the woman asked – the same one who said ‘No,’ a nanny from Eastern Europe. English was not her first language. She seemed sure she didn’t understand. Was it unkind for me to press on? Should I try to explain?

“No, my partner and I are – it’s like – we’re married.”

“No,” she said again, shaking her head. “Where’s her dad?” No one else said a thing.

“We’re a family. Miss E has two moms. We’re both her moms.”

“No,” she said, one final time.

The group moved on to another photo, another family.

But I had managed to come out. After two months, starting from scratch, I had managed at last to come out. It almost didn’t matter how it had gone. Almost. My daughter was sleeping and I could let this last one go. Everyone else there knew what I meant. Some of them still met my eye.

I kissed my daughter on the head and we stayed a few more minutes – looking at photos, sipping coffee, telling stories.  It was good. It was social.  It was a way to pass the time.

Eventually, I made friends at a playgroup across town. They met my family. I met theirs. We went to the zoo. We picnicked in the park. We swam. It was good. It wasn’t awkward. We had carrots. And crackers. Sometimes coffee.

And sometimes wine.

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8 Responses to “Our Family in London”

  1. scott April 12, 2013 at 7:32 am #

    i have loved reading about your family and getting to know them through your words. i feel like i could chop things in the kitchen with kelly while we all laugh and reminisce on our childhood together. i gasped, shocked with sadness, when this story explained the reason behind your blog’s name. it all became clear … the name, what you share, the life you have created and written about. i wanted to reach out and thottle that unnamed, unfaced person. then, my head’s dark cloud cleared as this fantastic story unfolded with a tale of eloquently confronting what we, as gay men and lesbian women, have to while living in a straight person’s world. coming out once is hard enough … to friends, family, co-workers, perfect strangers. i’ve heard many times from co-workers (usually women), “when i first met you, i didn’t know you were gay!” and they giggle about this, as if i should have been wearing a caftan and marabou kitten heels. it irks me to no end. i admire your strength and honesty. and i admire that you didn’t throttle that eastern european … i may not have been able to muster that grace.

    • rrp69 April 12, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

      Your descriptions, Scott! LOVE them. Love YOU. Yes, I have no doubt you and KellySue would get on famously. Chopping in the kitchen, indeed. Just that you said that is proof enough 😉

      Funny thing about the blog title – I landed that title because for years, it was a pretty common question. Not so much now that Miss E has gotten older — she’s pretty direct with the people in her life about who we all are to each other now — but we still run into it from time to time when she’s at a new class or a new camp and the kids around her meet one of us for the first time. Happily, I haven’t had that question from an adult for awhile – on the other hand, I may have learned to be pre-emptive.

      x’s and o’s

  2. Susanne Fairfax April 12, 2013 at 7:46 am #

    Nice! Love the humor – that slightly dark, uncomfortable humor with excellent pacing. Nicely executed messing with people’s expectations – in this post and back in London. Kudos!

    I love that I went to that class with you and can picture the fish tank, cafe, streets you walked home.

    Btw, I didn’t see this on your Facebook page.

    Xo

    Susanne Fairfax Sent from my phone. Apologies for any typos or autocorrect shenanigans.

    • rrp69 April 12, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

      Thank you, my friend! I love that you were there, too, not only at Gymboree – but in Hampstead Heath. Man, do I miss that place.

      And yes, my FB post was later than usual this morning – You’d be amazed how many housekeeping and feeding-her-family things Kelly does around the house when she’s not sick. My love and admiration to single parents everywhere who handle their homes and selves and children on their own every day.

  3. Molly April 12, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    I feel like it’s so tiresome, sometimes–the constant coming out. My company is going through a crazy growth spurt, and I finally got so sick of new people asking about my husband (because of my wedding ring) that I put a big 8 x 10 of our wedding picture so that it’s practically the first thing you see when you walk in my office. Or even if you walk toward my office.

    • rrp69 April 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      Okay, so I really did laugh out loud when I read your comment. You are my hero today. Thank you!

  4. debweeks April 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Great story!

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