Coming out is constant

This is not news to anyone who defines themselves with an invisible identity – be it sexual orientation, disability, or a life experience like loss or trauma. You’re going to encounter people on almost a daily basis who make an assumption about you that you feel the need to correct. Or maybe you just want to feel authentic and share who you are and what’s important to you, totally unprovoked. Both of those scenarios are familiar to me.

Today I had my hair cut at a new place. I was priced out of my old salon – just couldn’t afford it anymore as my stylist became a master stylist, and inflation increased salon fees. A new hair stylist is stereotypically someone you’re going to open up to. You’re stuck with them for an hour, and awkward silence is sometimes worse than awkward small talk. So I made small talk with my new potential stylist.

I wanted to share that I had a toddler. Pretty soon that led to a discussion of her genetics – the stylist wanted to know where my daughter got her curls from. I explained that my daughter had two moms, and our sperm donor has his own kids who have super curly hair. I figure her hair comes from his genetics. I say this with confidence, because I’m asked all the time.

The stylist replied, after a moment of pondering, “so your boyfriend or husband… Wait, can you explain that?”

“I have a wife. My kid has two moms. We used a sperm donor to have our kid.”

“Ooh, I see. I was like, ‘how does she have two moms?’ You just assume that a woman is with a man, you know?”

And there it is. I’m totally OK with people making the assumption that I have a male partner. I get it. We’re socialized to make that assumption. What I don’t like is when it’s used as an excuse, rather than as an awareness building exercise… When someone uses the “I just assumed…” line on me as an excuse (it happens a lot), it comes out as almost an accusation on me for being confusing. For having a confusing family arrangement. I’d love it if one day someone said “oh I’m sorry, I assumed…” and then continue with a recognition that they didn’t have to make that assumption, and don’t have to in the future. That it’s ok to use the term “partner” until someone discloses the gender of their partner.

Anyway, I shrugged it off. But then she continued to dig herself into a hole. She asked if I was married (after I referred to my wife multiple times). She said “it must be nice to be able to get married now, right? You can do a lot of things now, actually.”

Ummm, yup, I guess I’m pretty lucky to have almost equal rights here in Canada. Not sure how to respond. And without a response from me, she continued…

“I mean, I can see why people didn’t want you to get married, too, but I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

Oh god. This woman needs so much guidance and information.

To put icing on the cake of subtle prejudice and ignorance, she ended with this comment, as she was holding up the mirror to show me the finished hair cut: “your wife must be really happy that she found you!”

I stared blankly, trying to figure out what reason she had in mind, as someone who has known me for 30 minutes and has never met my wife.

She responded to my blank stare with, “because you’re really pretty! It must be really hard to find someone who looks like you, you know, in the gay scene.”

And there it was. She slapped me with possibly the most offensive lesbian stereotype in existence – the stereotype that all lesbians are butch and/or unattractive by Western beauty ideals. That butch = unattractive. That femmes don’t exist, or are some rare exotic gem that all the butch lesbians must be clamouring over.

Anyway, despite this yucky social experience, I liked the hair cut. And you know what? I think I’ll go back to her, because I’m paying for the haircut, not the conversation, and I think she needs to spend more time talking with me.

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Children’s Books about Family Diversity

After watching my daughter’s daycare provider fumble and brush off a child’s question about my daughter’s “dad” – and coming to terms with my own lack of having just the right thing to say in the moment – I wanted to get more acquainted with children’s books that broach the subject of diverse families. Reading enough books about others’ lived experiences can solve all the world’s problems. I truly believe that.

So I headed to my local library and found some real gems.

This post contains affiliate links. I could really use your help to secure my place in Amazon’s affiliate program. I still need two more books to be purchase by following one of these links in my blog (on this page or this one) in order to be accepted. Driving amazon sales through my blog won’t bring home the bacon for me, but it will help to offset some of the costs of having this blog.

After my previous post about baby books for raising socially conscious kids, my friend Speck of Awesome recommended this one.

This book is written in a celebratory tone: All families are special. It also paints diversity as the norm, rather than telling a tale about one special family that is “different”. Another thing I like about this book is it’s international applicability. I believe the families represented in the book reflect far more than the typical Western, Colonial family structures we are familiar with. This is more than a book about same-sex parents, adoption, and mixed race families (although those discussions alone would be enough to make me happy at this point); it’s more inclusive than that.

One thing to warn about in this book is that it mentions “all families are sad when they lose someone they love.” I believe this is a great piece to include in a book about families, but I’m also not ready to talk about death with my toddler. I don’t really want to provoke those questions about loss and permanence of loss. The book also seems to leave out polyamorous families (leaves it at, “some families have one parent instead of two”). Otherwise, top notch reading material for kids and their caregivers.

This book is about a child first realizing that her family looks different from other families in her school. She not only learns that all families actually look a little different from each other, but she also learns to celebrate her family and define them for herself. The book addresses how a mother’s day project at school might impact a child with two dads, but it’s relatable for any kind of family. I really have no qualms with this book. It’s a cute story and it has earned a permanent place on our bookshelf!

This is a really sweet book about families created through adoption, and in typical Todd Parr style, the families represented in its pages are diverse. The “races” of the family members are ambiguous because Parr uses all colours of the rainbow as skin colours – but, he still mixes the colours within the families because, of course, not all members of a family need to share the same skin colour. Some of the family types represented include a single mom, a single dad, elderly (i.e., grey haired) parents, mixed race parents, two moms, and two dads. The message is sweet and genuine: “We belong together because you needed someone to help you grow up healthy and strong, and I had help to give. Now we can grow up together.”

This is kind of a counting book, but it does more to represent different types of families than to teach counting. Each page showcases a different family structure. Page one is one person reading to her cat. Page two is a parent or caregiver and one child. Page three is – you guessed it – two parents and a child. The families grow in size and also diversity, some with multiple generations, some with three caregiver-type figures, and of course two moms and two dads are included. What I really like about this book is that the family members are a bit ambiguous, to the point where pretty much anybody could see themselves in one of these families, even though there are only 10 families in the book. I went so far as to imagine that one family was two dads, their baby, their surrogate, their surrogate’s partner and two children, and one grandparent. My wife interpreted this family completely differently. That’s how this book can be so all-encompassing of family types in only 10 pages. And while it doesn’t overtly teach about family diversity in terms of the text, the pictures are inclusive, and most importantly, anyone can see their own family reflected in the pages of this book.

This was on my previous book list about socially conscious baby books. It’s so incredibly relevant to today’s topic, though, that it’s worth including again. What Makes a Baby COULD NOT POSSIBLY be more inclusive. It talks about the three components you need to make a baby: an egg, sperm, and a uterus. It talks about the egg and sperm sharing stories with each other about the body they came from, which I think is a pure genius way to describe to young kids the role of DNA. All family structures, from adoptive to two dads to single mom, will all feel included by this book. And, just as important, kids reading this book will be free from imposed assumptions about family structure. This book opens the mind to the possibilities. And it does so without ever mentioning SEX – so parents who are concerned about discussions of family diversity equalling discussions about sexual activity and sexual preference, fear not. This book is colourful and eye catching with fun graphics and a narrative so clean and simple that I’m pretty sure my <2 year old can understand. Could not recommend this book more.

***Bonus Book***

This book was a random selection at my local library that I didn’t realize was anything special until my second time reading it. It’s a simple, sweet bedtime book with simple verses that you could read to a newborn or a toddler. Although it doesn’t highlight diverse family types, it does represent a very underrepresented type of parent in children’s books – the DAD (or masculine-presenting parent). Literally all of our children’s books have at least one mom (mommy, mama, etc.). That may be partially due to the fact that we are a dad-less family and we are drawn to books without dads, but I’m quite certain that books highlighting a father’s parenting role are few and far between. Hush a Bye, Baby shows dads of different races solo-parenting their babies at bedtime. Refreshing.

Glimpses of a passion for more than motherhood

When I became a mother – literally, the second my daughter was born and placed on my chest – I lost all interest and passion for anything else in my life. My evaporated passion for research, psychology, and career was worrisome for my wife and others in my life because they feared I’d never return to school to finish my doctorate. My wife, particularly, had lost a part of me that she’d always found attractive – one of the things that drew her to me as a partner was my passion and drive toward my dream career.

In the time since I became a mother I’ve found the patience and determination within me to continue working on my doctorate, but the passion hadn’t returned. Very recently, however, I met with someone I used to volunteer with and we got talking about teaching, teaching theory, and adult learning. That was always one of my passions and a part of the dream career I used to envision for myself, but it, too, had fizzled out. But as we talked, I felt a tiny spark ignite in my brain (or in my soul, maybe), and I started to feel passion for teaching again. I started to feel excited to get back in the classroom. I started to yammer on and on about adult learning theory. When the conversation ended, my excitement diminished again over the course of the day. But it’s almost as if a pilot light had been re-lit. Now it takes less to trigger me into excitement over the research and theory I used to be passionate about.

Today I was randomly wondering why women are expected to make so much noise during sex, and men aren’t. I Google Scholar’ed it and started reading feminist research on sexuality and I felt hungry for it, like I couldn’t ingest enough of it. I started to crave a good conversation on the topic and wanted to call up a peer who specializes in this area and go for a coffee.

This kind of passion for knowledge, for reading academic articles, for critiquing theory and methods, had been gone for so long. But I’m catching more and more glimpses of that old side of me. I’m hopeful now that I might actually return to wanting something more for myself than motherhood alone. I’m hopeful for this because I don’t want to deny myself of the career I’d always dreamed of because of the way I feel about motherhood RIGHT NOW. I don’t want to wake up one day feeling less completely consumed by motherhood and realize that I’m discouragingly far away from that dream career that I had been so close to before motherhood.

Avery doesn’t have a dad

We love our day-care provider. And when we interviewed her we asked how she would handle it if other kids asked about Avery having two moms, and she gave a satisfactory answer. But today, when she was talking about how tall Avery is, she blurted out, “how tall is her dad?”

I was surprised because I haven’t heard anyone use that language around us in a long time. We tried to clarify our preferred language (“donor”) to everyone in our lives before Avery was even born.

Our daycare provider quickly changed her wording and said, “I mean, her donor.” All was fine. But it wasn’t fine, because her 6 year old daughter overheard and then said “I didn’t know Avery had a dad…”. Their whole family has met both my wife and I. They all know Avery has two moms. It’s no wonder she was confused.

Unfortunately, I’m not happy with how our provider handled the situation. She told her daughter, “yes, but it’s complicated,” and kind of brushed it off like it was going to be too much of a hassle to explain it.

I’m not going to tell a parent how or when to explain how babies are made, but I feel like she could have made more of an effort. I don’t want Avery to be witness to that kind of conversation (although I’m not naive enough to think I can shelter her from it forever). How would it make Avery feel to hear for the first time that she has a “dad” and that “it’s complicated”? I mean, that’s how she did hear it for the first time. I’m only assuming she isn’t quite old enough to grasp the nuances of what was said in front of her.

How and when can my wife and I start talking to her about her donor, about the fact that some people will assume she has a dad, and about how some people will get uncomfortable with discussing it and freeze up, or worse – say something hurtful?

Currently we try to read her books that have different family structures (dads are not excluded from our repertoire, although they play a smaller role than families that resemble ours in Avery’s library). We also have Cory Silverburg’s book, What Makes a Baby, which is an awesome book about sperm, eggs, and uteruses that is completely non-graphic, non-gross, and kid-friendly by anyone’s standards.

I’m totally open to tips and ideas, here. It’s something I thought we were prepared for, but now that it’s happening and Avery’s listening I’m feeling significantly underprepared. I also need to grow a backbone, because the thought of bringing this up with our provider at a later date is making me nauseous.

30 Days of Blogging, Day 7

The word of the day is Freedom.

The freedom I’m talking about today isn’t anything extraordinary for an able bodied person – it is the freedom to move about my own home how and when I please. Freedom to take the garbage out, go to the bathroom, shower, move from one room to the next at my leisure. But I have a toddler, and thus, I don’t have this freedom.

Does anyone else have a toddler who clings to your legs and tries to climb you, red faced and screaming, when you do something so bold as to try walking into another room without them? When I’m holding my toddler and I say any of the following phrases, she clings to me like a spider monkey with a death grip:

I just have to go and…

I’m going to put you down for a second…

Can I just…

I’ll be right back…

I have to heat up the car before we leave for daycare in the mornings, and when I peel her off of me and walk out the front door she sounds like she is experiencing the worst heartache of her young life. Every time.

Doing the dishes and cooking dinner is a constant battle to keep her happy on the floor. I just can’t do these tasks while holding a 30 pound kid anymore.

I deal with this separation anxiety as the internet has told me to – with calmness, briefness, and always keeping my promise about coming back. But I think the only real solution is time. I know she’s securely attached, because she is completely happy to be left with people she trusts (her Mo, grandma, daycare provider), and her reaction to me when I return is a healthy amount of happiness (“You’re back! Let me tell you in baby gibberish about all the fun I had while you were gone!“) The problem is  not about me leaving her with other people, it’s about the anticipation of separating from me. 

If you can relate to how oppressive this can feel as a parent, please vent with me in the comments! It’s always nice to feel less alone.

 

30 Days of Blogging, Day 5

I’m 99% sure that our recent sleep issues are due to the 18 month sleep regression. I know Avery’s only 16 (and a half) months, but she’s exhibiting all the signs. Her language is on the cusp of exploding, she’s got separation anxiety, and she just seems to be maturing into her terrible two’s right before our eyes  😛. 

As for the language boom, she says dozens of half words, like ca(t), mou(se), be(d) and ba(th). She’s also starting to sound out head, shoulders, knees, toes, eyes, ears, mouth, and nose (and elbow, belly button, and hair), while pointing to all of them (on herself, on us, on the cats, on dolls…). She has blurted out a few full words without the pressure of being put on the spot and questioned (like toys, elbow, and water). She does sound effects for dogs, cows, trucks, and squirrels (squeak!).  She has even tried to make the elephant noise.

All that learning has to be hard work on the brain, and it’s bound to leave her mind buzzing at night.

I’ll leave you with a random picture of her pulling my socks off today. She HATES wearing socks, and has recently started hating it when other people wear socks, too. 

Being a WAHM, PhD Mom

There are parents out there who have multiple kids in their care full time, run a business from home, and seem to get cooking/cleaning/workouts/blogging and everything else done to boot. At least I think these parents exist… Maybe social media lies. Anyway, I don’t know how those superwomen (and super-parents of other genders) do it, even if they don’t look as polished and happy doing it when the camera is off and the Instagram is logged out.

I’m struggling with full time care of my almost 6-month old while balancing one measly distance education teaching assistantship. We have started eating more Kraft Dinner and delivery pizza than healthy home cooked meals. My house is a disaster. I kid you not -and this is something I wish I was kidding about – there has been a barfed-up cat hairball on the landing of my stairs for 5 days now. 

I’m staying on top of my paid work, but I’ve resorted to plopping Avery in the bumbo in front of some YouTube kids channel for half an hour while I marked papers. I mean, I have no problem with kids watching TV (I used to love it when the TV babysat me as a kid), but I can’t help feeling bad about it. She’s not even 6 months old. 

So here I am feeling bad about myself already, and then comes the pressure to get my PhD done. I’m on a 2-semester leave of absence from dissertation work. Everyone in my life knows this, and yet people can’t seem to stop reminding me that I need to get back to it. When my baby was 1 month old my dad started asking “so how’s the PhD coming along?” My mom always asks when I’m going to be able to start working on it again with a concerned look in her eye because apparently taking a leave is a sign that I’m not serious about it anymore and might quit after all I’ve poured into it so far. My wife talks about how she can’t wait for me to start making a steady income. This is fair – being the sole wage-earner in the family would be stressful… but so is trying to balance full-time childcare with finishing this damn PhD everyone keeps reminding me about!

I’m going back to “full time” studies in the summer. I don’t want to / can’t afford to put Avery in childcare this summer when she is only 7 months old (yes, we’re spoiled in Canada, getting accustomed to a 12 month parental leave – even though that doesn’t apply to students like myself). My wife luckily works much closer to home now and has been able to be home by 5 and help with bedtime, but in the evenings I’m too haggared to do a bunch of academic reading and writing. 

While I feel shitty about myself and wonder how others manage to balance work and family, the reality is that I’m doing it. And this summer I can plop Avery in the grass to watch the birds in the garden instead of the TV and I’m sure I’ll feel better about ignoring her then. It feels like I’m failing sometimes, but the important things are getting done. That hairball can biodegrade on my floor for all I care.