“Is he yours?”

I've just read the Crib Sheet for LGBT parents of newborns by Dana of Mombian. As always, she provides spot-on advice and tips for LGBTQ+ families (and their allies). It's funny: now that I have “big kids” (ages eight and five), so much of what we do as queer parents just seems old hat. Our friends know us; our neighbours know us; the school knows us; the pharmacists and the waitresses at our local diner and the soccer coaches and even the bank tellers know us. So it’s rare that we have to explain ourselves to our larger world. But I remember a time when it felt like we were constantly explaining and how tiring and often frustrating that was.

Read and print out Mombian's Crib Sheet for being the LGBT parent of a newborn now.

Mombian makes a great point on her Crib Sheet about handling parenting conversations with other adults: "A little preparation can help you sound comfortable with yourself." I agree. My best advice (I hope) to aspiring or new queer parents is this: Think through your responses to questions in advance, so that you can be smoother than I was. And remember that sometimes even the insensitive questions are meant kindly.

* * *

When my sons were babies, we used to spend most Saturday mornings at the local farmers market. It was a godsend for parents of little kids: open early (a bonus, since we tended to be awake by 6 AM most days and were desperate to be out of the house by eight); warm and dry even during the coldest winter months; and full of friendly people who didn’t bat an eye when our toddler, Rowan, monopolized the free samples of chorizo or locally made Gouda. Plus, they served coffee and a great breakfast.

During one such morning, my partner and I had snagged one of the coveted breakfast tables and were waiting for our food. Despite my four-months-pregnant belly, there was still room on my lap for Rowan, and he climbed onto it. A woman we knew in passing asked if she could join us, and we said, "Yes, of course," because that's the etiquette of the farmers market: You make room. You share. We made a bit of small talk, and then she turned to me and gestured toward Rowan, who was plowing his way through a pile of cheese curds.

“Is he yours?” she asked. 

I wasn’t ready for the question. The sheer wrongness of it spiraled in so many different directions that I felt scattered, unable to even begin to answer her. I mean, it’s not the kind of thing that straight women sitting next to their male partners get asked about the toddlers in their laps: “Is he yours?”


Of course, Rowan was mine; to the extent that any adult could lay claim to a child, this child belonged to me. But he also belonged equally and passionately to Rachel, his other mother, the woman who had, with me, planned for him and cared about and for him since his conception, who loved him fiercely and protectively, and to whom he was equally passionately attached. And that question, those three words, negated the value of all of that.

Of course, what the woman at our table had actually meant was, “Did you give birth to him?”


But again, wording it like that would scarcely have made a difference. You may find that people will randomly, casually, ask you which -- if either -- of you gave birth to your own children. Often, "Who gave birth?" is code for "Who’s the real mother (and, by process of elimination, the illegitimate one)?" or "I’m uncomfortable with how your family works and need to understand it according to my own terms." Decide beforehand how much of that information you want to share and when you want to share it.

Of course, one question often leads to another, and we also received questions about the "father." Be prepared. "Do you know the father?" or "Is the father involved?" or "Does he have a dad?"

Be prepared to be asked about your kids’ father, even when they have two mothers, sitting right there. Clearly, we must have done a certain amount of important work to have got to the place we were at right then: at the farmers market with our toddler on a cold Saturday morning. Clearly, we had put a lot of effort into this situation, to have figured out how to procure a real live tiny human in a relationship where ovaries tend to dominate. It was frustrating, then, when we'd been up every morning at 6 AM for the past year and a half and our kid only started sleeping through the night three months earlier, and we spent our days cutting grapes in half and following babies up and down flights of stairs so that they wouldn't bash their skulls in, to have people just so interested in the “father.”

For some lesbian moms, that “father” is a scant teaspoonful of genetic material, no name or face attached. For some families, that genetic material came from someone they know: a friend or relative or acquaintance who donated said material, and who in the grand scheme of things has very little to do with the ensuing children. In these cases, the correct word is usually “donor” -- not “father” or “dad.”

In some cases, like my family’s, our donor, Rob, started out as a donor and has, over the years, morphed into a dad. His “dadness” is specific to our family, though: he lives in a different city, visits a few times a year, has started staying with the kids while Rachel and I take a much-needed annual vacation as well as some shorter getaways. He plays games with the kids (now eight and five years old) over the computer. He is a cherished and important member of our extended family, and we love him dearly. But Rachel and I are the ones who live with the kids and do 99% of the actual parenting. And we’d like to take most of the credit for that, thanks.

But without thinking through my answer beforehand, when that woman asked me, “Is he yours?” I blew it.

I panicked, and instead of taking a deep breath and pausing and thinking about just how I might respond, I stammered out, “Um, yeah.”

I felt flustered, and like a jerk, and Rachel felt doubly wounded -- at the question in the first place and then at my response to it. It took us some time to regain our equilibrium that day. We managed to do it, to work our way through the guilt and the hurt and the defensiveness and the pain, by coming to a mutual understanding that our first responsibility as queer parents and partners was to our family. We needed to plan in advance for the intrusive questions of strangers and acquaintances and come up with responses that we both felt comfortable with and that respected our unique family -- not someone else’s preconceived notion of what families look like, or ought to.

Sometimes, that means that we have to remind ourselves that we don’t have to accommodate other people’s questions just because they ask. A simple, “I’m sorry, but that’s private information” is well within our rights as parents. And sometimes it means that we have to do the work of acting as ambassadors for our family, of seeing the openness and the genuine support behind what might be misguided questions and gently redirecting them, even if it means moving slightly beyond our comfort zones. Because that is how you build community and make it more diverse.

If I could go back in time to that morning at the farmer’s market, I would have taken a deep breath and reached for Rachel’s hand. And then I would have looked that woman in the eye and smiled and said, “He’s ours.”

But then I would have added, “Why do you ask?” And I would have made an effort to have a real conversation, move the dialogue forward. Because, in my opinion, that’s the etiquette of these kinds of things: wherever possible, try to make room. Try to share.

* * *

What were your thoughts on the crib sheet? Any pearls of wisdom or tips for queer parents looking to navigate the world with their rainbow sippy cups in tow? How do you handle questions that feel intrusive? How do you balance wanting to expand knowledge about your family while maintaining your privacy?

This post is part of the BlogHer Absolute Beginners editorial series. Our advertisers do not produce or review editorial content. This post is made possible by Pampers and BlogHer.

Your basic soccer moms

Oh, yeah: I have a blog. It’s just that I have been submerged at the bottom of a sea of deadlines. And so I have been Writing Things for Other People (all lovely people, by the way). And when I am not doing that, I am Shuttling Children to Summer Activities. In particular, I am shuttling Rowan to soccer-related activities. Thus far, his summer seems to consist of soccer, with a side of soccer, with a wee soccer chaser and the occasional soccer nightcap. All washed down with some great big thirsty guzzling gulps of swimming pool. I’m working on a longer post about how weird it is to have a sporty kid when one is avowedly not sporty. But for now, I just wanted to note that all this shuttling of my son to and from soccer has left me seeing an awful lot of this kind of thing on various minivans around town:


And, at the risk of alienating any of you perfectly lovely folks who have such stickers on your minivans, they make me barf a bit in my mouth.

It must be something to do with their reeking of heteronormativity, practically an advertisement for Mom+Dad+boy+girl+dog+cat. Or the fact that they reduce “family” to a set of mix-and-match stickers, all of whom seemed to be Caucasian and happy. Or that anyone should care so much about just exactly who’s riding in your minivan, or that you’re so damn proud of it that you need to put it on your car window for everyone to see.

Or maybe it pisses me off that some kind of families can put those kinds of stickers on their cars and not worry about getting rear-ended.

As someone who drove a series of my parents’ dying cars for the majority of my driving life, maybe I’m just averse to the idea that your car should be a reflection of your personality or, say, your lifestyle choices (ask me about this later when I acquire my red MG, but for now let’s live in the present moment, shall we?). Maybe driving a 2000 Buick Regal for the past six years, and an aging Chrysler before that, and before that a Cadillac Sedan de Ville that cost me $60 a week to fill well before gas prices got crazy (but, now, there was a smooth ride) made me happy to dissociate my car from my personality. Or maybe it just was a raging advertisement for my own frugality (or my parents’ taste for big cars) — who knows? When we finally sucked it up and bought our own new vehicle, it was with some reservation that I finally stuck a Pride decal to our rear window. What if someone keys us? I thought. What if someone smashes the window, or gives me the finger as I drive? What if, what if… For those reasons alone, I decided to bite the bullet and affix the rainbow sticker, if only to prove myself wrong. If only because I have perhaps internalized the corporate messaging from LuluLemon that you should do things that scare you just a little bit.

And, of course, absolutely nothing has happened.

They do, for the record, have decals of little boys playing soccer. Or maybe they're little girl with short hair? Or maybe the long-haired figures on the site are actually boys with long hair, which is what I hear happens to boys when you don't cut their hair for a year and a half. I haven’t checked to see whether they have decals of little boys dressed in tutus, which is what Isaac wore to preschool this morning, along with a pair of Rachel’s heels. And, true, there’s nothing stopping me from ordering of decals of two mom figures and slapping them on the rear window of our car because I’m just so damn excited about our family. Apparently, you can get Star Wars decals as well: I could possibly see my way to having two Princess Leias wielding light sabers up there, along with two little R2-D2 droid figures, one in a tutu and one with a soccer ball (any takers?): it would be a way to sum up just about everything that my children have brought into my life, in all its complicated glory. Maybe if I still had the Caddy…

But really, I overshare about my family plenty already, right here on the Internet — do I really need to boil them down to an uncomplicated set of bland conformity on my vehicle? I’ve already got a basic-model car, no heated seats or six-CD changer here: but my household? Anything but.


Blankety blank blank blank

We had Blankiegate here last night and I’m blaming the kids. I mean, it’s not my blanket: I don’t carry it around the house and leave it in random places like behind the living room chairs or (once, memorably) stuffed inside the cardboard dollhouse I made with my babysitter.

I’m not the one who spreads out my blankie on the kitchen floor at 6:45 AM and then lies down on it, sucking my thumb, while I wait for my oatmeal to be ready. Is what I’m saying. By which I mean it’s not my fault if Isaac’s blanket goes missing, especially when I didn’t run gleefully and naked around the bedrooms yesterday evening with my brother (now there’s a picture), leaping from bed to bed and jostling pillows and comforters out of their normal spots before coming downstairs to eat my ritual bowl full of oatmeal for bedtime snack (I swear, if oatmeal wasn’t invented Isaac would starve to death). Only to go upstairs and insist on wearing stripy fleece pajamas in this freakish mid-March heat and to discover that my security blanket is gone (“discovered missing” – that always seemed like an oxymoron to me, but I digress).

And yet, that is not how being a parent works, of course. I mean, it’s not as though they asked to be born, I suppose, or that they ever consented to live in this house with these parents with these rules. Which I am sure seem as arbitrary to them as does to me the fact that Isaac in fact has three blankets, rectangles of fuzzy white cloth each half the size of a yoga mat and indistinguishable from each other except for the width of their satin borders. There is “the blankie I like,” with its half-inch of satin, and then there are the meh blankies that will do in a pinch, their vastly inferior inch-and-a-half satin borders rendering them much less, well, secure. Which is why neither of the “blankies-I-don’t-like” was available to pinch-hit last night, given that both currently reside with various caregivers in the event that Isaac naps while in their care.

So. Bedtime. I’d had a decent enough evening with the two of them, but at this point I was really just so happy that this time of the night had arrived and there would be cuddles and stories and quiet. And then Isaac fell into the bottomless void of anguish created by the blankie-I-like’s absence, and I pretty much fell into it right along with him. And then I grabbed Rowan’s arm and pulled him in as well. Just so everyone could share in the fun, except for Rachel, of course, who had the good sense to be out.

My first mistake was trying to rationalize with the irrational, even though I KNOW THAT NEVER ENDS WELL. I know it. And perhaps I was not entirely rational myself. Because no rational person would actually believe that a distraught four-and-a-half-year-old would stop sobbing and say, “You know, Mom, you’re right: I am responsible for my own stuff and should pay better attention to where I randomly fling the rags to which I am so passionately attached. I’ll just chill out and hunker down with this substitute afghan from the couch and everything will be just fine.”

To be honest, at first I — desperately and sneakily — offered him his brother’s yellow blanket, virtually indistinguishable — or so I tried to suggest — from his own, aside from colour and, well, the width of its satin borders. It was a cheap trick, and it was a stupid move on my part, too, because then of course Rowan had to get involved, which meant that I now had two kids with blankie issues on my hands, coupled with fast-disappearing patience. Which, combined with the tick-tick-tick-tick-tick of each passing second did not for a good combination make.

So I did what any self-respecting parent would do in the situation: I proposed cutting the yellow blankie in half so that they could each have part of it, with the idea that the child who deserved it more would protest and let the other one have it, at which point I would bestow it upon its true owner.

Okay, I didn’t do that. I yelled at them.

OOOOHHH a mommy blogger who admits online that she yelled. So edgy. Maybe now I will cop to every cliché ever derided on Salon.com and admit to occasionally being ambivalent about this entire project (parenting, not blogging, that is; oh wait…) and confess to doubts about my abilities to do this job adequately (ditto) and that I occasionally lose it and then feel bad about it. I yelled, and there were tears, and even as I yelled I knew I was yelling and shouldn’t be and so I stopped, but not before I let myself yell a little longer. OMG.

(I’m going to tell you something here that my sons are going to read in five or 10 or 20 years and be floored by, a closely guarded secret that we have kept from them: Isaac’s blankie — in fact, all three of Isaac’s blankies — actually originally belonged to Rowan. When Rowan was born, someone sent us one of the meh blankies as a baby gift, and he became attached enough to it that I panicked at the thought of ever losing it and ordered two near-replicas on eBay. And then Isaac was born, and someone sent him the yellow blankie. And then somewhere along the way, the switch occurred, and neither of them was the wiser. Until now. LUKE I AM YOUR FATHER.)

(Wait till I tell Isaac that, in fact, the store HASN’T IN ACTUALITY RUN OUT OF BROWN SUGAR.)

Hi! Blankies!

Okay, so, the rest of the evening kind of lurched and stumbled along after that, and I said sorry for yelling and everyone got some cuddles and their fingernails trimmed and eventually went to sleep, one child in particular looking very glum as he cuddled up with an extra-meh purple chenille blanket. And when he woke up, in tears, at midnight, I remained calm and I took him back into his bed and then I had a sudden flash of inspiration and reached down, down, down, into the dark space between the head of his bed and the wall and it was like I had pulled unicorns and rainbows out of my ass when I handed Isaac the blankie he likes. “Thanks, Mommy,” he said, and patted my hand before popping his thumb in his mouth and cuddling up.

As though I’d known it was there all along.