My Aunt and Uncle have their 50th wedding anniversary in the clubhouse of a golf course in Huntington Beach, California. My daughters, Keegan and Piper, are on the dance floor, getting down with the DJ. Keegan spins on her butt on the floor with her cousins, all doing fake break dance moves, while Piper twirls in a circle, shouting “La! La! La!”
Her barrel-like belly never has given her diaper much purchase and it drops around her ankles. She forcefully stomps out of it and continues her dance, while the party photographer works to get a good shot.
Pam, my oldest cousin, rushes up with her younger sister Polly. Growing up I adored these cousins, they were all older and infinitely cooler than me.
“I’ve got ling lings,” Pam announces excitedly.
I have no idea what she’s talking about. She pulls a small zippered silk bag out of her purse and hands it to me. Inside is a freshwater pearl bracelet.
“All the mothers get ling lings.” Pam and Polly put out their arms to show their matching bracelets.
I smile as I put mine on…and then stop. There’s not another bag. There’s not one for Colleen, my partner. Keegan and Piper’s other mother. Maybe only blood relatives…I hope for a moment, but glancing over quickly to the buffet table I can see, the boys’ wives all have ling lings. Maybe it’s better she had to start the new job in DC early, and couldn’t make it to this party.
Smiling, Pam and Polly begin to gossip happily. They don’t even realize what they’ve done.
I’ve discovered over the years that even well meaning people seem to blunder about our family roles. The word “mom” seems definitively singular. If they have not personally navigated this new paradigm, they overlook things that appear obvious to us. We are both female, we are both parents, thus both their mothers. If ling lings are for mothers, then Colleen gets a ling ling. But I have learned it is best not to be overly sensitive as a gay parent.
And this was the blessing of living in San Francisco. In my day to day interactions, at the PTA, the pediatricians office, the play ground, there was almost never any cause to be offended. Lesbian mothers were as thick on the ground as lattes and Birkenstocks, and given about as much notice. When I interviewed endless preschools, at the end of each discussion about teacher turnover rates and educational philosophies, I would carefully bring up the subject of Keegan or Piper having gay parents. I was met every time with steady gazes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, gay parents, who doesn’t have gay parents, after all this is San Francisco.” No second looks, no confused questions, no playdate ever turned down. My children would never have to be the vanguard, they were riding behind the crest of the Bay Area gayby boom. I knew we’d never leave, not even to our home town in Southern California, where my own family couldn’t even figure out who our children’s mothers were.
And then we began to experience the same problems that so many parents, of every persuasion, in the Bay Area do. We couldn’t afford it. We worked full time, putting both our kids in day care when they were three moths old. We rushed around every night like mad women trying to pick up kids, getting them fed, washed, stories read, tucked in. We had only two to three hours a day we got to spend with them during the week. And we still never had a spare dime. Our debt just grew and grew. While we were both recognized as mothers, we had precious little time to do the mothering we wanted to do.
And so here I am attending this party, a de facto bon voyage, before leaving for our new home in Washington DC. Although the pressures of being a mom in the San Francisco Bay Area have made me feel like Sisyphus in Hades, I feel now that I’m being cast out.
Years ago, when I first told Polly I was planning on becoming pregnant, she had looked down and shook her head. Glancing back she said. “Damn, Karen. Kids have to so much to deal with. Burdening them with that…being gay… doesn’t seem right.” Then I was mad, and knew she was wrong. Now as I stand in a huddle with Polly and the other mother’s of this family I wonder about it for the first time. Was she right? Are my kids about to feel the consequence of my selfish desires, to be an out lesbian mom and to stay home with my kids more? Am I about to banish my kids to a world that hordes all the ling lings for the “real” moms, asks my kids stupid questions, or worse just grinds on never realizing they’ve negated our family, left us behind underneath the wheels.
Lisa, one of my cousins-in-law, walks over and joins Pam, Polly and me. Pearl bracelet wrapped around her manicured hand.
“Where are you going to live?” she asks me.
“In Maryland, right on the border of the district.”
“But how’s it going to be for the kids? I mean, I worry for your family, leaving San Francisco.”
Suddenly they are all quiet, nodding their heads in unison, slight frowns upon their lips.
I realize this is something they’ve all been thinking of, that they’ve discussed even before this party. I am touched, and feel a glimmer of hope. They got it, they have worried just like me. And I feel a moment of hope. Maybe there will be life after leaving Mecca.