“After Miranda was done saving her own life, she called someone who could commiserate…”

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I was at the movies this weekend and it was crowded, so crowded I had to sit in one row with my first-born while my husband sat a few rows up with our second child. It was a funny movie and I found myself glancing behind me and up, trying to catch my husband’s eye—searching, I guess, for a shared moment.
 
Afterward, he said, “didn’t you love the Isaac reference?” We had seen Despicable Me 2 and it was loaded with in-jokes for the parents. Brilliant, really. “I did,” I said. I didn’t tell him that I had tried to get his attention and not just because of the Love Boat thing, but others, too. I didn’t tell him this, because what a luxurious life I lead. And I don’t mean physical luxury like a house and car and a being able to afford to take our children to the movies on a Saturday night.
 
The luxury for me, is having a partner in these things. Someone who will continue with the math lesson when I have to leave and throw something against a wall, someone who will figure out if we should re-finance our house, someone who will run to my child when they fall off a swingset because I am too chicken to look. Someone who will find ways to keep me writing and thinking when I can’t see the story through all the backpack flyers and dishes to do. Someone who will call 911 if I can’t get to a phone.
 
There is a scene in an old Sex and the City episode where Miranda almost chokes to death by herself in her apartment, triggering a big worry over whether or not anyone would have known. My mother always references this when she tries to explain what it feels like to live her home life all alone. We laugh at this because it’s funny in an absurd way.  It could happen to any of us when we are home alone—it doesn’t really mean anything except to the person who is actually alone. The person who has to do most things by themselves.
 
We tell a funny story in my family about the time my mom took my brother and me to see Scarface in a movie theater when we shouldn’t have been allowed past the ticket counter. She loves Al Pacino, my mother—then and now. What I think is that she did not have a sitter, did not have a date either, and decided to take us along for the ride. A ride that ended not so far into the movie with my mom yanking us out of the theater all at once, and coping with the new middle of the night concerns of her children. Concerns like how to get blood off of a shower curtain.
 
And by and large this is how we lived, with one parent trying to do the emotional and physical work of two. One parent, trying to make it to carpool pickup on time in the wake of starting her own business, finding some semblance of a social life, and also knitting herself into the fabric of a community that was built on the backs of couples and families with long legacies, and not single mothers.
 
She has never had another person with whom to exchange knowing glances, to talk about what’s going on at work, what’s going on with the kids. She has had people, but not one person and it’s different. And lately I’ve been thinking more about this. Every night, when the lights are off and the kids are asleep and the dishwasher is running (having fought about who should load it, run it, unload it again in the morning) my husband and I talk in the dark, sometimes very late into the night—what starts out as a grocery list might turn into a list of where we want to go on vacation, where we want to go in life. It’s all a big gossip really, but when we fall asleep, him deeply, me less so–angsty about mysterious noises and potentially waking children–what luxury to have him to call on, just in case.
 
You are not alone, I always tell my mom. Because you carpooled us and took us places and showed us new things (the plantations of the South! the Freedom Trail! Andre Agassi! Gary Hart! Israel! Bloomingdales! Scarface!), and picked us up when we were belly-flopped on beds (me, sobbing through most of my teenage years) and found ways to build us up without someone else to help with the heavy lifting–to consult with, fight with, laugh with, sit on a sofa and breathe with. Because of all that, you have us.
 
I seek you out every day, and today especially because it is my birthday and because every ounce of who I am has to do with the things you did and the things you still do on my behalf. Sadly, I have to do more than glance a couple of rows back—I have to dial my phone, or find a facetime opportunity, or book a flight, but when I do and when our minds meet, or our eyes meet, I know that because of the balls life threw in your direction—the ones you caught and the ones you missed—in many ways we have always been partners, always will be–always finding ways to sort it out all together when the movie ends.
 
Luxury indeed.
 

Is it more interesting to be gay or a Kardashian?

A friend recently asked me how she should go about writing a children’s book that Imagerepresents her family’s life.  I admit that on any given day, I might find this question aggravating. While some of the people who solicit writing advice are indeed writers, many of the people interested in writing books for kids are not. And sometimes that matters to me and sometimes it doesn’t. On this day, it didn’t aggravate me one bit–it got me thinking.

The person who asked me this particular question on this particular day is not a writer. She is a mother and a teacher and a lesbian, and she and her partner have several children together along with a golden retriever. This part is not that interesting to me—they are a regular family, dodging a lot of shoes and toys on their way to do a lot of homework. And they are schlepping kids, one parent throwing car keys across the kitchen at the other in haste when she realizes she is late for the next activity, or has forgotten about it entirely.  And there are dishes in the sink and kids in need of dinner and mothers in need of some wine and a deep breath.

So to me, their household looks a whole lot like my household. But to my children, it does not. My children, who have two grandfathers the very same way Heather Has Two Mommies, had a harder time processing this family picture than their own, extended family picture. “How are two women married?” my son asked. I honestly couldn’t believe my ears given that he has never asked this about my father, not once. “The same way Papa is married  to a man, (well not yet, but when they do it will be fierce)” I say.  My daughter, always involved with herself first and foremost responded, “They are not married. I would know, I would have been in the pictures!” She’s not wrong about that.

Forget that my own upbringing was fraught with all kinds of fallout from this very information. Forget that when I was the age my children are now I did not yet know any of this was coming or that it was even possible. Forget that over the years I have watched as Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and loads of activists and other brave souls (some of them even politicians!) somehow helped pushed through an agenda that makes my family’s story (which I have tried endlessly to novelize) read like historical fiction—a very special episode of Little House on the Prairie. (Trust me, I have to re-write it again. It’s just not that shocking anymore. I’m thinking of maybe throwing in a vampire or a Kardashian.)

But forget all that. This is now. This is a time when my friend’s family ought be represented well, and not by a didactic book explaining how all those children found their way into one mother or the other’s uterus and how they now ended up wrestling each other and the dog on the living room floor of their colonial-style house. The story has to be about their lives as they are and not so much how they got here. This is what I told my friend. Write it! Write a whole series about a family like yours, but don’t make a point of writing the what and the how and the why. Just write a story that hangs on your life like a shirt—so, your children have two (wonderful) mothers and a biological father and they have cousins, too, and friends with whom they swing on monkey bars and build forts—just like other children’s book characters.

And this isn’t to say that there shouldn’t or won’t always be stories of how and what and why—the stories that explain what it feels like to be something else, to be the other thing. I need for those stories to exist and lots of them as much as anyone else. And I want them to be told over and over so that all kinds of kids and teenagers and adults, frankly, can find themselves inside of someone else’s story when they really need to. But that is not what this friend was asking me. She wasn’t asking me how to tell her story. She was asking me how to do her family experience justice.

And I say If there’s always room for novels or chapter books or picture books with vibrant and interesting characters who have a little something going on or a little something to say, then she ought to find a way to build that kind of story around her kind of family. Maybe it’s time for a book about kids who get into all kinds of trouble in their daily lives, or who travel to magical places via unicorn, or who have a secret spy lair in the attic, but when they get home at the end of the day, having been sent to the principal’s office, or to another planet and back, back from where the wild things were, it is their mothers–two of them–who wash up their faces, feed them a snack, tuck them in, and make them feel safe. But the mothers aren’t the story, the story is the story.

Is that interesting enough?
She asked me. I don’t know what to say. Maybe it is maybe it isn’t. Like any other book it will have to be a combination of things—well written and compelling, it will have to resonate and connect and have a good marketing strategy to boot. Maybe she’ll write it and no one will buy it, or maybe she’ll sell the manuscript and she’ll get lukewarm reviews and it will end up on a remainders table somewhere on the Lower East Side. This could happen to her the same way it could happen to me or anyone. That’s the point, I realize.

I look at my friends—two women, partners in everything they do, working hard and raising children in a small town filled mostly with people who are rooting for them and likely with some who are not.

“Even if it isn’t,” I say, “at least we will have gotten somewhere.”

Until such a series exists, we have these! (Please share your faves in comments!)
Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle by Pija Lindenbaum (translated by Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard)
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen
Jack And Jim by Kitty Crowther
Heather Has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman
Papa, Daddy, and Me by Leslea Newman
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco
A Tale of Two Daddies by Vanita Oelschlager
A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager