I love Abby Cadabby – a wide-eyed pink fairy-in-training in a shimmery blue dress, with electrified hair in shades of…pink and purple. She hasn’t yet got the hang of this magic thing, but if this lovely little make-believe person were to grow up and graduate from fairy school, she’d make one rocking fairy godmother. Now that’s something we all need. Someone who watches over us, and not always from afar like a guardian angel, lofty, ethereal, beautiful, perfect. No, someone who makes the occasional mistake (like turning her friends into pumpkins) but has the courage and fortitude to persevere and eventually get it right. I could appreciate a fairy godmother who has a few choice expletives in her vocabulary by the time she hits adulthood.
The reason I mention fairy godmothers is that I think the mayor of Toronto could really use one. I did not cast a culpable vote in the last election, and I’m not blaming anyone who did, although…I think Mr Rob Ford needs someone, perhaps in flashy shocking pink, to pop out of thin air and cast a little magic his way. A friend who’s not afraid to say to him “Robby, you gotta stop, right now!” Stop the lies, especially the giant, raw, oozing and infectious ones he seems to be telling himself; the ones that only his hardcore fans seem to lack immunity from. Stop the self-flagellation at the alter of ‘publicity’, in print, on radio and television, and no doubt through social media. Stop forgetting that you have kids at home, young kids! who need a mentally, physically and spiritually healthy father. And what about their mom, your partner….?
We all have skeletons that rattle and wheeze when we pass the closet and the floorboards squeak. Some we hold with compassion, tend, comfort and hopefully send on their way into our personal history, the repository of past mistakes and regrets. Some we keep hidden but close until we can lift our gaze and look them straight in the eye-socket. But most of us don’t take our skeletons out on the town, dancing them around the city, dipping and twirling for all to see, smiling for the cameras, spitting out nasty sound bytes that echo long after we’ve left the room. We hold our skeletons with respect and give a passing nod of kindness and understanding when we glimpse those clinging to family, friends, neighbours….
I’m as queer as they come and I left my most oppressive closet behind me so I’m not advocating that anyone spend time in one, but closets can serve a purpose. Picture it, Toronto 2013, the mayor has just uttered the ‘p’ word in a crowded room with cameras flashing, microphones jostling, sweat raining down on all present and — poof! — a charming pink fairy godmother appears in a dress so shimmery blue that reporters are driven back while the mayor falls to the ground covering his eyes. With much ceremony, Abby pronounces, ‘Robbie, I’m going to fly around your head and make time go backwards just like Superman! (giggles) Abrakadoodle!’ and before you know it time is rewinding, undoing, unsaying all the nasty bits of the last few months – the bits we-the-public have witnessed that is. Even a fairy godmother with kick-ass pink/purple hair and freckles, and streamers on the end of her magic wand, can’t undo all that is wrong in the world according to Rob Ford.
With a swish of her magic wand, Abby scoops up the lies, the boasting, the exaggerations, the outrageous insults, the finger jabbing accusations and plops them into a big pumpkin she keeps with her for just such an occasion. She can’t fix Rob Ford but maybe she could give him a little insight into his bad behaviour, the truth of his addiction(s), the familial debt he owes his kids and wife, his obligation as mayor to this city – perhaps she could convince him to take a step back, to gently take the hands of his skeletons and lead them back to their closets where he could tend them, comfort them, and with a great deal of professional treatment, perhaps send them on their way into his personal history. This entire city would be better for it.
And then Abby, with a cheery smile, a giggle, a curtsey, would take that bloated pumpkin, wave her magic wand and say as she blinked out of sight, ‘gotta poof!’
My partner and I have not travelled abroad in quite some time. Both of us have at one time or another wondered out loud why that is; why we didn’t spend as much time as possible travelling while we had only ourselves to manage. It’s not that we made any sort of decision to stay close to home. What leaves me scratching my head is that we didn’t have any sort of plan at all.
Before motherhood, we spent our vacations camping or cottaging in Algonquin Provincial Park, or further afield in Québec’s national parks, Mont-Tremblant or Saguenay; hiking as much as possible and loving every minute of it. Thing is, other than an amazing trip to Panama shortly after we got together, and a foray or two into the US for political events, Em and I have stayed relatively close to home – Ottawa, Montréal, Québec City, and any piece of wilderness we could rest our souls in. And for the most part, it was without incident – the overtly homophobic kind (well, except for Huntsville).
It’s all different now. Deciding where to go requires thought and planning, as well as anticipation of every need our children might have on the road, in the cottage, in the boonies. Kids need stuff, and moms need to know that they can provide safety and well-being along with food, shelter and fun. So, without any conscious effort, we’ve stayed close to home and have yet to test that particular boundary.
I have to admit, the idea of taking our kids across an international border makes me very nervous. It’s one thing to be mistaken for my kids’ grandmother or aunt or even nannie on this side of the border; I have their birth certificates and a heaping abundance of indignation to wield in any situation where it might be necessary, and I’ll have the law on my side. My name is written on those certificates and there isn’t a corner of this country we could find ourselves in that wouldn’t have an obligation to recognize that right of parenthood. Unfortunately, my rights seem to end where the border begins. I can choose to stay on this side of it and never experience the loss of those rights – a line, drawn in blood by a total stranger that would erase my motherhood in the blink of an eye.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission publishes articles about their work around the world and it’s a sobering read for LGBT folks of all stripes. So what is it like to be a queer in Russia or Uganda or Cameroon or Iran? What is it like to be a queer non-birth parent in any country that defines parenthood as a genetic right? A proposed bill in Russia could deny both non-birth and birth LGBT parents custody of their children by arguing that these relationships spread “homosexual propaganda” amongst minors. I can’t imagine the level of fear experienced within queer families who have to face this level of ignorance and hatred everyday. Children who are old enough to know that their happiness and sense of security within their families can be eradicated by the power of legalized bigotry and without any basis in fact, have to live with the possibility of this bill passing into law.
What was it like for queer families just a few short years ago, raising kids, dealing with schools and hospitals and…scouting clubs… right here in Canada? It’s easy to forget that as recently as 2006, just months before my Rosa was born, I would not have been recognized as her mum without jumping some very significant and expensive hurdles. It’s easy to forget, but I don’t. I may have the documents and legal right in hand, but life takes place outside the clean, neat lines of officialdom; there are teachers to deal with, fellow parents to convince, and no doubt down the road, there will be travel arrangements to make. The moms and dads who raised their kids in Canada pre 2006 must know first had what it feels like in a society that practices legalized homophobia. Em and the girls and I benefit every day from their struggles.
I know there are a multitude of good people in each of the countries that are currently attempting to, or have succeeded at demonizing their LGBT communities; good people fighting daily for the simplest of human rights. I know there are many straight individuals and families standing beside their queer neighbours in their struggles. I know that homophobia is often right there beside misogyny and xenophobia, and I have no illusions about Canada, where successive governments have targeted immigrants, refugees and youth as scapegoats for all that ails us. I know there are international organizations fighting to save lives and change closed minds, and I will support them in any way I can. But from afar.
In the mean time, if the opportunity arises to take our children abroad, I would much rather head to New Zealand where news of gay marriage passing into law was met with song. All the world is changing, slowly, and I hold much hope for my daughters’ future.
I think my elder child, with her bright smile, energetically skipping down the path to our home. Her greatest worry tonight was whether or not Em would arrive home from her committee meeting on time to tuck her in with a good night kiss. It’s a big worry for a young child and not one I treat lightly as she anxiously listens for sounds of movement down the hall. No worries, her hopes are realized as Em gently opens the door and peeps around the corner. Our girl sighs and wriggles deeper into the blanket as she holds on to me with one hand and reaches for Em with the other. Her snores gently beside her, both mommies are home, she has a full belly and a snuggly bed – all is right in her world.
And then I think of Meem, the 9-year old girl who works 12-hour shifts in a garment factory, hunched over for hours at a time, working her small hands at the same tedious, numbing task for what amounts to less than pennies a day. She’s featured in the Toronto Star series on sweatshops in Bangladesh, specifically the article, “I got hired at a Bangladesh sweatshop. Meet my 9-year old boss” by Raveena Aulakh.
Meem is a lovely child with a bright smile and the towering responsibilities of an adult. You may find yourself asking the same question that currently nags at me – how old was Meem when she started her back-breaking, upward climb to boss at the ripe old age of 9? Did she start her career at 6? 5? 4? I tug the back of my shirt until I can read the label – made in Cambodia – should I be relieved? Did small hands construct this shirt on my back? Or was this a sweat shop of a different kind?
When I think of my daughters and Meem, I think of their needs as children, their hopes and yearnings as human beings. The only true difference between them is an accident of birth. The location and economic status of that crucial event has led to an incredible divergence of expectations, from the simplest thing…hair clips (apparently Meem longs for new ones)… to education and the ability to discover and express their potential, as an individual and as a member of a community. What might Meem accomplish with a full belly and a snuggly bed to get her through the early years? She’s tenacious! She aspires to greater things, for her own sake and the sake of her family. And she’s one of many such children, exploited and brutalized, but looking up from their hunched work prison to steal a glance at the future where change might be. There are so many Meems…thousands, millions of Meems and Zakirs. And all they want is what every child, in Bangladesh or Canada, has a right to, education, food, shelter, clothing, opportunity and compassion.
I think my daughters would be intrigued by Meem – it seems to me all small children are in awe of older kids. That’s where they’ll be one day and they can’t help measuring up the future as it might apply to them. They would be shocked to know that some kids don’t get to read books after dinner, or that they don’t eat regularly, if at all, or go to school and learn to speak French. She’d want to know what grownups are doing to help those kids, to help Meem, and I’m not sure I have a believable answer for her. Kids are so logical, and my little one is also incredibly compassionate. She wouldn’t understand all the grownup crap that stands between impoverished kids and what they really need. She wouldn’t see the unnecessary enormity of the challenge, she’d just see Meem.
So, today I sat down and tapped away an email to the folks at Sesame Workshop, inquiring as to why there are no queer families in the ‘hood. One could counter that Ernie and Bert are the resident gay couple, but that would be conjecture as there’s been no definitive statement from the boys themselves.
Picture it, 1969, New York, a couple of struggling puppets face incredible odds as they perform in their first episode of Sesame Street. And then a miracle happens. They find themselves cast as improbable roommates and shoot to stardom before the first episode concludes, igniting whispered rumours as they say good night across the space between their single beds. Good night Bert. Good night Ernie.
Sesame Street has everything, monsters, aliens, fairies, vampires, wildlife, humans. So why can’t one or two of them be queer? A gay monster here, a trans fairy there…. Imagine our two heroes standing arm in arm on a corner in Manhattan, dazzled by the bright lights, a copy of the gay agenda peeping at a jaunty angle from Ernie’s backpack. [sigh]
Why can’t a creature of pure imagination, of contemporary mythic proportion, represent our queer families on the small screen. As LGBTQ individuals and families find their way deeper into the consciousness of mainstream societies, it becomes imperative that children see representations of themselves and their families in every aspect of their community, presented in a matter of fact way that underlines the very ordinariness of our queer lives. And by ordinary I mean we get up in the morning, eat breakfast, go to school or work, run around in the park, get sick, hopefully get better, have our hearts broken, have babies… I could go on endlessly but I think you get the picture.
I want my children to know that they are as special as and as normal as the kids that sit beside them at school; the ones with a mom and dad, who never have to advocate with the world to see their straight parents in books, on TV, in film, in music, in the coffee shop down the road. Of course, the image of mom and dad is so pervasive it’s invisible unless one stops to look. Lesbian, gay and trans families are invisible because so much of the world refuses to stop and look.
My children have a right to this recognition, and at a time in history when the tragedy of bullying has come to the foreground, institutions like Sesame Street have an obligation to fill the void. What better way to teach kids and grownups alike that queer kids and queer families are everywhere, and it’s cool. I’d settle for Bert and Ernie, but if Zoe or Abby or Cookie or Grover want to come out… I’ll be there to welcome them with Em, our kids, my rainbow flag and my big old lesbian grin.
My precious girls are incredibly articulate for people who have only been on this earth a little while. Sometimes it’s just a little frightening. They have that way that children do of placing ordinary ideas or events into startling relief. I remember a conversation that begin with, “mummy, your face is brown”, a statement of fact delivered calmly by 4-year-old Lileith, to which 6-year-old Rosa responded knowingly, “that’s because everybody’s different, isn’t it mummy?”
Yes, my face is brown, unlike Emi, Lileith and Rosa, and my girls have never seen me in a dress, or with long hair. Lileith was quite convinced for a while that she must have come from me as her complexion is slightly darker than her sister’s. I was honoured by her conclusion, and even though I would present her with the truth each time she repeated it, I was just a wee bit sad when she finally understood that I was not the mom who birthed her. Thankfully, that realization doesn’t seem to have changed a thing – I’m still just her mummy with the brown face; the one who makes her giggle and tells outlandish stories. We have many such conversations these days, about skin colour and gender and religion, and Emi and I find ourselves scrambling to keep up with our relentlessly inquisitive children.
My kids, they notice the differences, and the similarities between each other, their moms, our family and all the others around us. And right now, it’s all good. They share the playground by our home and the one at school with kids from brown families, and white families, and brown and white families, and they don’t seem to give it a second thought. It’s not the town I was raised in where my siblings and I were 1 of only 2 families of colour in our neighbourhood. I was so used to seeing white faces all around me that I would go for long periods without remembering how those eyes peering from those white faces would see me. Leaving small town behind and embracing the big city opened up the world to me, in all it’s many colours and scents and sounds. Rosa and Lileith were born to this magnificent complexity and see themselves as just one way of existing within it.
I both marvel at and find myself deeply relieved by the diversity of race, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, economic experience, and even religion, that surrounds us in every aspect of our lives – our neighbourhood, schools, work. I can see the influence this has on my daughters; their ready acceptance of new friends and the histories they bring with them; their delight in music from far away and a willingness to try foods and listen to stories that are beyond their experience.
For now, my ‘difference’ remains a non-issue, although they often talk of finding me the perfect dress. I’m not Emi, their other mom, with her beautiful European face surrounded by gorgeous long dark hair. Whatever creative licence they would like to take with my physical being, it’s all about making me ‘pretty’. For my girls, normal is … every possibility. How wonderful!
I can see the wheels turning. When my partner and I arrive with our two munchkins skipping along, they (cashiers, sales clerks, complete strangers on the street) watch us surreptitiously to see what exactly the connection is. It’s a far more common reaction in smaller towns like Huntsville or St Catharines, or even strange crossroads like Yonge and Eglinton. 🙂 We don’t notice it much downtown but every once in a while, bam! there it is, the “who exactly are you?” look that’s generally directed at me.
Until now, however the question was posed, we were able to ignore it and move on. After all, that’s not a question most people have to deal with. Imagine, walking up to the nearest heterosexual couple and their kids and saying, ‘so… exactly where do you fit into this picture?’ or perhaps ‘whose sperm did you use and how did you get it?’ Pick mom or dad, it’s all the same. You wouldn’t.
I was once asked by a work colleague whom I had never met before, “how did you have your kids?” This was in a busy, but definitely not big enough lunch room for several other co-workers to hear. My response was, ‘well how would you have kids?’
My point is that queer folk, particularly parents get asked incredibly personal questions in the most matter of fact way imaginable. We’re object d’art and the critics are busy measuring and deciphering and generally arriving at the wrong conclusion. And strangely enough, there’s not a hint of recognition or understanding on the part of the inquirer that anything is amiss. I try to take these moments in stride and chalk them up to ignorance of and curiosity about queer families. And sometimes I can even hope that they will lead to greater understanding of our lives and relationships.
Let me back up a bit. I am significantly older than my partner, my manner of dress is…not feminine, and I’m a woman of colour with no discernible accent to identify my country of birth or bloodline. My partner on the other hand, is tall with long beautiful dark hair – she’s a gorgeous mix of Italian and German. My ancestry? Well, just take every crayon in the mega box, toss in a bucket and voila! Our kids are beautiful, and even though we don’t share DNA, my girls seem to have a bit of me in them anyway.
So when I took my elder daughter to school a couple of days ago, I was surprised to hear her teacher say, “blablabla grand-mère?” She’s in French immersion and I usually only comprehend the simpler phrases, but even though I didn’t get the first part of his question, I know what grand-mère is.
Rosa didn’t want to interpret for me and she wouldn’t answer my partner when asked directly. So today I went around the question and admitted to Rosa that I just don’t understand everything that’s being said and could she help me by telling me what the words meant before grand-mère? And there the question was, ‘Did you come to school with your grandmother?’ Rosa didn’t answer him and he didn’t ask me. My dear little girl, who is way too young to educate her teacher on queer family dynamics, was standing face to face with the question — who exactly is she? meaning me. I had no idea he didn’t know, I mean, how couldn’t he?!
This is a question mommy or mummy will answer, that’s our responsibility and our privilege, to stand between our girls and the barrage of curiosity that will inevitably come their way. Hopefully, my Rosa’s teacher will be open to a little education, and for Rosa’s sake, please let him have an open mind. So far, public education hasn’t let this queer family down.
I have always insisted that I am not the daddy. The point of being a lesbian couple is that we’re 2 women. There’s no ‘man’ in our partnership, and no ‘father’ in our family. So when people ask ‘who’s the father’, we smile as politely as we can muster and say “our kids have 2 mommies” and move along, quickly, before the ‘well, but…’ can catch us and reel us in.
The subject of my last post was an article that says the presence of a baby triggers the desire centre in the female brain akin to the way one might salivate at the sight of a piece of chocolate or mug of chilled beer or … one’s beautiful not-so-new maroon Kona Dew. It suggests this might be a way of ensuring a mother’s attention and it goes on to say that fathers are unaffected by this phenomenon (straight men parenting with straight women that is – while the study may mention gay men and single dads, the article doesn’t).
Obviously, I am NOT a dad. I AM affected. And I can prove this because I exhibit the same exhausting sleep pattern as my partner. According to a co-sleeping study described in Bunchfamily.ca, straight fathers, unlike their female partners, are not impacted by the negative side of co-sleeping, which includes a profound lack of sleep and a mountain of stress. I’m a mum! (Yes, my partner is mom, I’m mum.)
All of this leads me to my observations on our first visit to our Lileith’s public elementary school. To help our little ones navigate the classroom with parent(s) in tow, the school had organized a scavenger hunt and provided a list of things to do, such as finding the child’s favourite play area, finding the cloak room. The first line surprised me, “Show Mom and Dad…”, until I read the second, third, fourth…. I think you get the idea. Bristling, I picked up a thick kid-grade pencil and scratched out ‘Dad’, replacing it instead with ‘Mom’. So now it read “Show Mom and Mom…” all the way down the page. It was quite satisfying, temporarily. My partner and I agreed that if we were going to raise the subject of Lileith’s 2 mommies, now was the time.
It’s a sticky subject in a multicultural environment with a high percentage of religious affiliations, but as I pointed out to Lileith’s teacher, it’s not sticky for our little girl. She knows who her mommies are and she needs to see her family in her school environment; in what she reads, when she plays, and from the most influential person in her class. Thankfully, our child’s teacher was quite apologetic and completely understood our concerns – he also pointed out that other kids in the class might be living with grandparents, foster families or in single parent families. By the next day, he had followed up with his colleagues and brought books into the classroom that introduced families of all sorts of stripes, including 2 moms or 2 dads. I’m impressed!
I’m not the daddy. I’ll take the lack of sleep and the challenges to come because being a mum to my 2 amazing kids … rocks!
Perhaps I didn’t birth my children, but I take exception to the idea that I’m not hardwired with as strong a desire to munch on my offspring as much as my beloved partner, the birth mother of our children. She gestated them, pushed them into the world for us, endured the pain, the incredible rawness of labour and childbirth. But I was there, when each of our children were no more than an idea, a hope, a precious longing in their mothers’ eyes.
According to an article on CBC.ca, “Science explains why women want to ‘eat’ babies“, a University of Montreal study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology pondered the “cute enough to eat” comments of heterosexual birth mothers, and women who have not given birth and are not mothers. Apparently non-birth-moms (queer and straight alike) were busy nibbling on their little ones that day as we are not mentioned in the article, although our existence might be acknowledged in the study – I haven’t read it so I can’t say.
I think my kids are absolutely delicious. I tell them so all the time, much to their delight, as I growl and fain chomping on their limbs, digits, noses…whatever easily presents itself, whatever is most ticklish and will harvest the loudest, belly-shaking laugh.
The smell of my kids has always delighted me; the fresh fruit and coconut scent of their baby heads, the sweaty toddler palms and stinky toes of preschoolers. It makes sense to me that we (my partner and I) would love the smell of our children as we are their primary defence, their strongest allies in a world that can be merciless and unforgiving. That new baby smell might have faded, but it lingers in my memory and I swear it draws closer every time they need me to stand between them and a sometimes harsh reality. I’m their champion and delighting in their scent is a precious gift as well as evolution’s call to duty.
My kids are scrumptious and I tell them so everyday. Thank you Mother Nature!