I saw a video today of a gay couple, two men, singing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" to their daughter as they were trying to tuck her in. The headline in the article was "Best Advertisement for Gay Marriage: the Leffew Family." Of course, it made me think of you at age two, when your Mom and I got together.
As you know, I hadn't planned on being a parent. I've never been ga-ga for kids, especially babies. I mean, I think babies are cool, just . . . I wasn't all "googly-googly" with them. When your Mom and I got together, I knew you were part of the package, and I was okay with that - I was already in love with her, and I thought I could take care of you pretty well.
Then I met you, only two years old on the front porch swing wearing just a diaper - I looked into those blue-blue eyes with the endless lashes - and, well, I fell for you too. I didn't know if your Mom and I were going the distance yet, but damned if I wasn't double-bitten by the love bug. I have never looked back.
I was worried about a few things, though. One of the first things my parents said when I told them I was a lesbian was, "What about the baby Giant? He needs two parents!" I reassured them that I would be a good parent - after all, I'd already parented two brothers and a sister, sort of, and done a huge diaperload of babysitting.
They said, "if you're there, it could repel the baby Giant's Dad - the baby Giant's Dad needs to be involved!" I said I would do everything in my power to make sure that your Dad was welcome in your life. I didn't want you to miss out on having a Dad, if ever he was willing to be one.
So far so good. Then they said, "there is a world full of people who will not be able to support your relationship, and they may take it out on the baby Giant. What will happen when he goes to school? How dare you put a child in that situation?" I said, as bravely as I could, that we would deal with it the way parents always have. People can always find a reason to make fun of you - teacher's kid, stuck up, wrong side of the tracks, ugly, fat, too pretty, too smart, your mother wears army boots - whatever.
But that one shook me up. I knew I couldn't protect you completely from the world. I also knew that I would die trying, if need be.
See, when your Mom and I got together, and we realized that we had a chance at a life together, she said two life-altering things to me.
One was this: "Get in the boat or get out of the boat. I have a son, and if we stay together, then you have a son too. It is up to me to make sure that the baby Giant does not have second-class commitment. If you are not up for it, or ready for it, as much as I love you, you will have to go." She already had her answer in my actions - but she wanted to hear it out loud from me. I didn't hesitate. I was in.
The next was this: "You need to find a name for yourself which is between the baby Giant and you. I'm already Mom, but you need a name which is special between you and him." The name came from another language: Tia. In Spanish, it means aunt. Easy to say. And you could say it, and I would know to turn around, and it would not cause confusion to others who knew your Mom as the Giant's Mom.
"Tia" was the perfect cover. Anywhere in the world, I could be your godmother, and you could be my godson, and you could call me Tia, and it would be a code because we knew that really, really, I was your parent. Just thinking about it makes me smile, still.
When you turned four, we moved from the very large city to the small town where I'd gone to college - a liberal arts school with a long history of progressive thought. We knew that we couldn't afford private school, and we didn't feel good about the public schools in the city. We knew that the overall education level was significantly higher than most small towns. We felt hopeful that you, and we, would have allies. And we did. And it wasn't enough.
As soon as we knew who your teacher was going to be, we asked for a conference. We assumed that honesty was the best policy, and introduced ourselves as your parents. We gave our best middle-class "we're all in this together" presentation. The teacher seemed pretty okay with it. And you got through kindergarten with very little problem, as far as we could see. So we didn't see the clouds looming over first grade.
I've gone over it a hundred times in my mind. There were so many factors that could have played into what they called "behavior problems." You were a perfectionist, and couldn't stand to make mistakes, preferring to get an "F" or "incomplete." You made declarations in class that made no sense to the teacher (remember "the sock, the bloody sock!"?) - we knew that it was part of your theatrical nature, and weren't worried. We talked to the teacher, and compared notes, and tried different approaches.
You kicked a kid in the lunch line (who kicked you first, we know - but the one who kicks last always gets caught). You threatened to beat a kid up at recess (and got suspended, because apparently if you just do it, the punishment is less than if you threaten). You were accused of stealing a valuable ring from the backpack of the little girl who lived in the white house on the corner 3 blocks from ours; her parents called, irate.
We asked you about it - and you knew nothing about the ring, except that the little girl, and her little friends, had been pretty mean to you for quite awhile. Weeks passed. Her parents called some more. Then we got the call to meet with the counselors and the social worker at the school.
Apparently, you were getting harrassed a lot about us - other kids who were just repeating what they'd heard at home. The professionals reassured us that really, it wasn't any different than what any other kid experiences in terms of teasing. It wasn't any particular kid doing it. They weren't surprised that we were hearing about it for the first time - kids often try to protect their parents that way. They announced their verdict - either bi-polar, or attachment disorder, or both.
We were crushed. We grieved, and tried to hide it. We worried about what this would mean for you, if it was true. We secretly wondered if it was our fault somehow. And we decided that we would home-school you for second grade. Remember the missing ring? It had been found a few days after it had been "misplaced." The principal told your Mom when she went in to let the school know that you wouldn't be returning the following year.
A lot of shit went down after that, just life stuff. Your Mom worked nights and I worked days so that we could do the home-schooling thing. Your Dad showed up for awhile, then disappeared from your life for awhile - which is pretty much what he's done every few years. I lost a job, and eventually found another one, but not before losing the house. For awhile, your Mom was virtually disabled with something like narcolepsy, which gradually left when you were about 8 or 9. We moved to a new town.
And then, suddenly, it seemed like school was a better option for you. Your Mom and I talked about it, and she got you enrolled. We were so proud when you tested at or above grade-level. We also decided that it might be better if I stayed in the background. Of the 3 schools you have entered since then, including the one you're in now, I have entered one - because you were sick and needed to be picked up.
In effect, I went back into the closet - as a parent, this time.
There are some who will say that I'm letting "them" win - "them" being the folks who can't stand that your Mom and I want to have rights and relationships and families. Some of "those people" are well-intentioned, if misinformed. Sometimes they're just mean-spirited, or just defensive. Sometimes they get under my skin, and sometimes I want to get as snarky and shitty and loud as they are; sometimes I let myself.
"They" might be pleased to think that they have intimidated me, or shamed me into submission, or silence. "They" are wrong.
Instead, I am doing what every parent should do - I am choosing what I believe to be the best course of action for the safety and security and well-being of my kid. Life is hard enough, without the complications . . .
So is that the right thing to do? When I've asked you, you say that it doesn't matter - that you love me and support me whatever I decide to do. I know that you mean it. You say that you are old enough to take care of yourself, and that you can handle people, even the shitheads. I know that you believe that. But here's what I see:
I see you moving among adults with charm and ease, able to speak your mind articulately, and with well-mannered grace.
I hear you on the phone with friends from school, laughing like the little boy I once knew, striding from room to room like a limber colossus, tossing the hair out of your eyes as you throw your head back to laugh even harder.
I read your report card, and see that you are capable of making a mistake now, and correcting it through effort.
You are poised on the brink of manhood, and I am so proud of you.
So is it the right thing for me to do? To stand down for a bit?
My Giant - I love you.
For you I would fight to the moon and back. Or stand down for a bit.
Perhaps, in a few years, we will work together on making a better world.
Perhaps, by our very existence and love and committment, we already are.
With All My Heart,