by Robin Matthews
I haven’t had to explain our family to anybody in a long time.
Our son has been in the same daycare/preschool for nearly five years and, outside of a passing comment, we rarely have to out ourselves anymore. But this year is kindergarten. New school, new teachers, new parents, new kids. It’s all new. And although we live in a fairly progressive town and I know we’re not the only same-sex-headed household, the sense of difference is more palpable than it has been in years.
I haven’t yet experienced any negativity; teachers, parents, and administrators alike seem to roll with it as soon as we disclose and, in fact, it has felt like it might even make us more desirable as friends to some families. But, despite the apparent acceptance, it’s clear that we are not the norm. I imagine it might be different in West Philly or Mt. Airy, but here in Delaware County, the families in the public elementary schools are definitely of the “One-Mom-One-Dad” variety.
I told myself that I would wait a few weeks to let my son settle in before I approached the district with my first concern: the back-to-school forms. On every one, I had to cross out “father” and write in “mother” and while I understand that it’s probably an antiquated state-issued document, there doesn’t seem to be any legitimate reason why it can’t be “parent.” I’m sure other similar things will arise as the year goes on and I will address those too. I am not looking to cause trouble or come barreling in with my big, gay mouth and stir things up, but I do see the need for some education and awareness. Our son has a lot of years ahead of him in this district.
Already, just in the first two weeks, I have outed our family to the parent of a classmate, my son’s kindergarten teacher, his before-school care director, and my co-homeroom mom. That’s four people — with many more undoubtedly to come. My son, while understanding that his family is not like all families, still introduces his parents without shame or anxiety. He has a Mama and a Mommy and figures it’s just as acceptable as any other pairing. At some point though, I expect he will be faced with some pushback when he outs his family to new friends and teachers. There will likely be, at least once, a kid whose expression is more disdain than confusion. An adult whose response is more scorn than curiosity.
As a parent, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think it’s important to be unapologetically authentic. But on the other hand, I want to protect his tender heart. My hope is that with each passing year, the world at large becomes more accepting, more understanding, and — above all — more intuitive. That the “Muffins with Moms” and “Donuts with Dads” events become “Snacks with Parents” That kids and adults alike ask about family structures instead of assuming. And, at the very least, that school forms become gender-neutral.