Back-to-school time can be chaotic and stressful; and families with same-sex parents have even more issues to anticipate. Kids with two moms or dads may face situations with potential to both alienate or confuse them, whether it’s a child’s first time attending school or just the next grade up,
To supplement my own (limited) wisdom and experience, I enlisted the help of 10 teachers. While not all have taught kids of same-sex parents, they were all generous and thoughtful in their responses. Here are 5 of the issues same-sex parented families often encounter, along with input from my awesome panel of educators.
1. FAMILY MATTERS: Talking About Parents in Class
In many schools, the younger grades have discussions and activities related to family. Students are often asked to create a family tree or a collage showing the members of their family. For many kids of same-sex parents, this is when their family’s differences become most apparent. If not handled sensitively, it can amplify feelings of “otherness” and isolation, potentially affecting a child’s social development and ability to learn.
Early in the year, inform the teacher of any family details that fall outside the mother-father-bio child “norm.” In addition to having two moms or two dads, this could include adoption and birth parents, foster experiences, surrogates, siblings, multiracial/multiethnic families, etc. Particularly if it’s something you’ve already discussed with your child. If your kid knows about it, it’s likely to come up.
It all began the Monday before Mother’s Day.
My son’s kindergarten teacher sent me an email to inform me that over the last few days, Jon’s behavior had been “like spring fever on steroids.” How clever.
While that subject could fill more than a few paragraphs, this is about the seemingly secondary purpose of the note. It continued,
“We will be doing some Mother’s Day activities this week. Jon asked if he could do them for his Grandma – of course!! Just wanted to check with you on this.”
I replied to both topics; for this one: “Yes, he’s done things for his Grandma (or Nonna, Nick’s mom) in the past, so that’s totally fine.”
And this was true. Both at preschool and in Sunday school at my parents’ church, my son was encouraged to make something for his Grandma or Nonna on Mother’s Day — which he always did, without issue.
The holiday came and went. We called Nonna in Italy and Grandma in Virginia. We also spent a good deal of time consoling/entertaining our pouty 6-year-old who was frustrated none of his friends could come over to play. They of course all had plans with their mothers.
Come Monday morning, once husband and son were packed up and off to work and school, I finally got around to weeding through the stack of activity sheets, flyers, and crafts that get brought home from school each week.
Amongst the pile, I found a homework assignment, an activity sheet, a craft, and a card — all about or directed toward “Mom.”
I was initially surprised, then confused; this soon morphed into concern and irritation.
In the summer of 1984 I turned 16. I had a year of high school behind me and was living on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific. My dad was a military chaplain, and we’d moved to Okinawa, Japan the previous summer. For several months we lived in a house in Okinawa City, and the top floor consisted only of my bedroom and a wraparound balcony with a view of the ocean. Aside from the occasional gecko scurrying across the ceiling, it was a sanctuary of solitude for this eldest of four boys.
I had a pretty good first year of high school, as years of high school go. My grades were good, I made the tennis team, and had a solid group of friends. I’d even been voted “Cutest Couple” with a girl who I happened to be dating when the votes were cast, though soon after reverting to friend status.
By the summer of this story, we’d moved onto Kadena Air Force Base. Military housing is typically bland, but here was accented with island flavor: a clay tile roof, palm trees growing from the patio, poinsettia bushes along the side of the house. I hadn’t yet attained high school party-attendee status, so weekend nights were spent walking to the movies or bowling alley, days at one of the beaches scattered around the island.
At the end of that June, I bought Purple Rain at the BX. Over the course of the summer and into my sophomore year, Prince’s magnum opus was the soundtrack of our collective youth. Blasting from cars and boom boxes, on every Walkman, every track (and some B-sides) played nonstop at school dances.
Like Thriller the year before, Purple Rain crossed lines of gender, race, and genre. But it went even further, delving into and mixing sex and spirituality. This was exemplified most in the album’s two biggest hits. “When Doves Cry” dripped with sensuality, while “Let’s Go Crazy” sang of the afterlife with raucous, unpious fervor. The latter was a revelation for this preacher’s kid struggling not only with faith, but also with my sexuality… and what that meant for my own afterlife.
2015 was quite a year for me, for my family, and for several communities to which I belong. A flurry of sticky-note success; a milestone in equality; venturing into kindergarten; the return to a galaxy far, far away; the tragic loss of a friend — all of these contributed to one of the most eventful 12 months in my recent history. And it’s been exciting, fun, cathartic, intimidating, and inspiring for me to chronicle it all here (and a couple of other places) in word and doodle.
So if you’re a new reader curious to know what this site is all about, or a familiar friend sharing some moments of reflection, welcome. These are my 15 favorite blog posts of 2015.
STAR WARS WEEK IS FINALLY HERE!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens will finally debut this Friday in the U.S., and our family is as giddy as a Gungan! And I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to eat lunch! And of course BUY SOME OF MY NEW STAR WARS SUPERLUNCHNOTES….
I polled the awesomest poeple in the galaxy (my readers!) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, then created brand new notes based on the top requests. All characters appear in The Force Awakens, except Yoda. He’s was my son’s special request and that trumps everything. In addition to the Jedi Master, you also voted to see new characters BB-8, Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma and Rey, as well as everyone’s favorite sidekick, Chewbacca.
So kick it into hyperdrive and head over to my Etsy shop, where you can buy the whole batch of six, or purchase individual pages of each.
Last night I sat and watched as my son played out an allegory for his life at this moment in time. Having eaten his dinner, my five-and-three-quarters-year-old requested ice cream. I got one of his “baby bowls” from the cabinet, after a second or two of consideration as I skimmed through the options in my well-oiled (though oft -addled) dad-brain:
“Though he does fine with the plates, his clumsiness rules out a ceramic bowl. The plastic ones Papa and I use for ice cream are rather deep — he’s still a bit short to reach inside… Plus a smaller bowl would do better for a smaller portion. Baby bowl it is.”
I placed the ice cream in front of him at the table, then ever-so-carefully scattered out sprinkles until he’d declared there were enough. He then jumped up, scrambled to the cutlery drawer, and came back wielding a large, red-handled spoon. He explained he needed a grown-up spoon because “my mouth is so big.” Truer words.
As I finished my salad, we talked about school and who his new friends were and the song about elephants he learned in music class that day. And he ate his ice cream. Vanilla with rainbow sprinkles, in a too-small baby bowl, with a spoon too big for his talkative mouth. He would pick off the tiniest of bites with his giant spoon, careful to get a couple of sprinkles in each nibble, placing some atop the ice cream if the spoon failed to snatch some. Perhaps his micro-bites were an attempt to avoid brain freeze or him wanting it to last longer or trying to avoid catapulting the entire scoop out of his bowl.
Whatever the reason, I continued to soak in the image of my newly-minted kindergartner with his tiny bowl and huge spoon, reflecting on recent weeks and the growing pains it had brought us. His final morning with preschool classmates and teachers closely preceding the afternoon he met his kindergarten teacher; his first day of class a mere two days later. I worried it was too quick; too abrupt a transition, but he took it in stride. No tears, only excitement tinged with nervousness.
On that transition day, after seeing his classroom and chatting with his Mrs. Kelly, we roamed the halls of the new school as a family, dodging teachers and parents, kids of various sizes and speeds, exploring the cafeteria, the library, the gym. As we maneuvered these large, crowded, foreign halls, my in-between boy would absentmindedly reach up for my hand, feel it was there, then drop his back to his side. Never looking up, never taking hold, always moving forward. My hope, that it was with the knowledge I was by his side, had his back, and was ready to take hold when he needed it. And to let go when he needed that, too.
It was a bittersweet moment, and a portend of the weeks ahead, between then and the ice cream. Weeks that have seen a straining to grow more, to catch up, to chase after the big kids, to be his own person. And the fall-out from falling short or trying to go too far, too soon. Meltdowns and tantrums. Defiance and anger. But with moments of joy and triumph, laughter and maturity in-between.
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Okay, yeah. I went ahead and did one of these annoyingly cheesy, Pinterest-y “First Day of School” photos. But with that face, how could I not? Don’t worry, I took plenty of sweet (i.e., non-goofy) ones to send Grandma and Nonna. But my kid is a Grade A Ham, and I intend to exploit share that with the world.
So how’d it go? Jon mentioned during his bath last night that he was a little nervous. When pressed further, he was concerned about having so much fun.
This morning he was eager, but not maniacally so. After we took our photos in the backyard, I told him we had to go inside so I could put the camera away. He said he wanted to meet us out front, so I watched as he struggled a bit to remount his backpack, grab his lunchbox, and walk ’round the house where he sat patiently on the steps until Papa and I made our way out.
Ever since I started making superhero notes for my son’s lunch, one of the most common questions I’ve gotten — just behind “When do you find the time?” — is “Where can I buy some?”
The answer to the first question is “There’s always time to doodle superheroes!” The answer to the second is “My new Etsy shop!”
On the eve of my son’s birthday, this is the final installment of “When I’m Five Years Old…” I had a half dozen others I could have used, illustrating things as lofty and disparate as picking up furniture, eating tacos, befriending giant trees, racing bullets and jumping on one foot up to the ceiling. Yet I believe this doodle encompasses all his goals of things to do/be/have when he turns five rather nicely. It gives voice to his greatest desire and my greatest dread — to be grown up as quickly as is humanly possible. Or faster.
When Jon was well into toddlerhood, I started longing for the days of his infancy. Of cuddles and cooing and discovery — and perhaps most importantly, immobility. He’s well on his way to becoming too fast for me, and long ago surpassed me on overall levels of energy.
However, as my 5-year-old lunges toward the future with each uninhibited step sprint, I realize how much of this phase of his life I will miss: the forming of opinions and independent thoughts, while still clinging close to the things Daddy and Papa likes best; trying on words and phrases — sometimes clever, other times defiant, occasionally profane; and beginnings and new adventures — school, friendships, sports, sleepovers, movies, reading — all of the things he’ll never do or experience again for the first time.
I avoid pondering how old I’ll be when my son (40 years my junior) is 8, 9, 10, in high school, college, married, a father. As one who is prone to worry, this does no one any good. I want to enjoy today for today and this age for this age. Not looking ahead in angst, not reminiscing with regret, but being present and learning how to hold and lead and guide while slowly letting go, so Jon can learn to hold and lead and guide himself.
I’m in no hurry for you to grow up, son. I hold these past five years in my heart, but hold my gaze on your path — repeatedly amazed that I get to watch every step and stumble and sprint that you take.
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It had been just under a week since we returned from a cross-country trip to visit our son’s birth parents. It had been just two days since our four-and-a-half year old started in his new preschool class. Papa was out of town, so Jon and I were chatting over dinner about this-and-that: who he knew in his class, how awesome his new cubby was, how he’s decided — after a two year break — to take up napping again, because apparently that’s what one does in Room 3.
I was also thinking ahead to the logistics of letting him have some iPad time, a bath and a story all before bed, while still leaving me a pocket of waking minutes to write.
Seemingly out-of-the-blue, my son asks, “When I gonna get new parents?”