When Grace was a toddler, Chris and I were asked to be part of a panel discussion about gay marriage at a local college. We were one of several couples, although once it became evident to the audience that we were the only couple with children we became the only couple who mattered. People began to ask us all manner of curious questions about sperm donors and fathers and baby making. I don’t remember many of my answers to people’s questions, although I do remember espousing something about our shared and absolute commitment to sending our children to progressive and, most likely, private schools where they would not be the only children with two mothers.
Fast forward three years: Grace is in her last week of kindergarten at a rural public school where she is the only child with two mothers.
When I think about how to explain this change of heart and mind and politics, I feel compelled to shape some sort of narrative about our gradual awakening to the charms of our small local school, the strength of our community, the resilience of our daughter. And this narrative, which I have begun to write many, many times, is a fairly accurate one. It begins with desire: we wanted Grace to really live in these hills we call home. We wanted her to know her neighbors. We wanted to join with the people in our community to build a great school for all our children. The story continues with what we found at our school: dedicated and creative teachers; small classes; responsive leadership. And then all sorts of examples of the goodness there: a garden, a farm/school partnership, and a fledgling arts initiative. Active parents, engaged children. And then, thrown in for balance, a bit about what worries us: standards and testing and budget cuts and the hot lunch. I end with the big one: in this school, our daughter is a minority of one.
And this is where my narrative gets stuck. Who chooses that daily reality for their child? What kind of parents voluntarily subject their child to this kind of isolation? Because we did volunteer, we did choose. We could have sent Grace to a private school in town where there are other children with two mothers, a school where the kindergarten’s “all about our families” curriculum doesn’t require a rewrite for the sake of our kid. We could have eased Grace’s way, and we chose not to. And so I start this narrative always, always on the defensive. I talk about the importance of community and the loveliness of the school and the five-minute drive as though these blessings can outweigh the risk of potential discrimination and outsider status.
What I can’t explain is that when it comes to raising children who are different from their peers sometimes — most of the time — you have to stop trying to weigh things. You have to throw away the scale and tune out the advocates and the experts and tune into your child. You have to tune into yourself.
When Grace was a baby, she loved to be held and to feel our skin on hers. And so we held her and we stretched the necks of our t-shirts so that the skin of her cheek could find the skin of our chests. She asked first with tears, then with gestures and squeals, with signs, with words. As she grew she reached instead for our faces, for the smooth insides of our arms, for our hands. She still asks, and we still oblige.
Grace didn’t ask to go to the private school. She didn’t flinch the first or second or third time a child asked about her Dad; she didn’t back down in an on-going debate about the legitimacy of two girls being married during dramatic play time. She is capable and confident; she is expressive and perceptive. I know that she thrives in school. I also know that she experiences moments of loneliness and struggle that are hers alone. I want to say this fact feels like more than I can bear, but the truth is I do bear it. And so far, so does she.
There was goodness waiting for Grace at her school, and she has found it. There is also sorrow, and she has found that too, even though both her teachers and we have done our best to prevent it. The narrative I always want to write ends with a few sentences about the bittersweet satisfaction I feel about making this school decision for Grace, and knowing finally that it was the right one. But there are no right decisions to be made about this. There is only Grace and her mothers, who are stepping back and watching closely and always, always hoping for the best.