Thursday, September 22, 2016

Dear parent of Bizzy's classmate,

Dear parents of a child in my daughter’s class,

I don’t know much about you, so I feel a little unsure addressing you as “parents.”  Maybe you are a parent?  I don’t want to make too many assumptions here, because that is why I am writing to you – I feel that some assumptions have been made and I certainly don’t want to do right back to you what I fear you have done to me.  I mean, us.

Let me tell you how I know about you.
Last week (or so), my daughter came home from school with a project called something like “All about Me.”  You probably saw your child’s, as well.  It’s a grade school rite-of-passage; it seems like there is some version of it every year.  As you’re aware, I’m sure, it’s a chance to introduce themselves to the class and teacher as well as to contemplate their own identities.  It included birthday and location of birth, maybe a few things about appearance and pets (I really don’t remember too many specifics) but when we looked at one particular fact in our home, we stopped short.

The sentence starter was, “I live with ___.”

Easy enough, right?

My daughter answered, “my mom.”

But that’s not entirely true.  She lives with her Mommy and her Mama, two brothers (depending on the day) and a few pets.  But, whatever.  Regardless of the combination of who’s home on which day, there are always two (that’s TWO) moms.

In a state of suspended disbelief, my wife and I went through some rationalization in our own minds.  She must have run out of room, we thought.  Maybe she was being creatively succinct – “mom” representing just a shortcut for the two of us, rather than saying “my mom and my mom.”  But something didn’t sit right.  We each hesitated for a couple minutes, and then – very carefully – started probing.
“Why didn’t you say your moms?”  one of us asked.  She answered something like, she ran out of room. 

But you know when your child answers a question and you know their answer is not the *real* answer and you need to keep going?

So we did.  And we asked a few more questions.  Finally, one of us said it.

“Were you afraid to say you lived with two moms?”

Our daughter hung her head down, like she didn’t want to answer.  And of course we gently probed her, and encouraged her to share what she was thinking.

“____ told me I couldn’t have two moms.”

OH.  Well.  It happened.  We knew it would…we just didn’t know when.  I mean, no matter how much you think you’re ready for it, it kind of stings when it happens.  And all we could answer was, “Well, ___ is wrong.  Because you do, and it’s ok.”

If only it were that easy.

Now, I can imagine there could be some really terrible situations that may cause a child to feel shame about their parents.  If a parent had succumbed to the horrors of addiction or criminal activity, a child might feel shame.  History has always dictated some sort of shame to befall children: bastardry, divorce, what have you.  I know there are people who see same-sex parents as less than optimal, but I’ve never been quite ready for a seven-year-old to be the great informant on that one.

See, I know you read this.  I know, because my daughter has come home and told me that your child has repeatedly called her “Bizzy Mama!  Bizzy Mama!” to the point that other kids have joined in.  

So, for that, I’m grateful.  Because I can use this space to let you know a few things.

We’re a loving family.  My child comes home every day to a home full of animals, dust bunnies, clutter, and discussion.  We have thousands of books.  I’m not even exaggerating – we probably have tens of thousands of books.  Most of which we have actually read.  We understand there are as many perspectives as there are Americans (330,000,000) and we really, really love our country.  We devoted significant portions of our lives to learning and studying and teaching about our nation.  We’re idealistic; we believe in the good and the hope and the future.  We DON’T feel the need to make America great again (Dad?!?) because we know it already is great.  We’ve never worked for for-profit corporations because we have, instead, seen our calling as service to others.

We’re Christian.  –ish.  In that, we were raised to be culturally Christian and we belong to a church, but we don’t see ourselves as superior.  We hate to grasp onto one religious identity because we believe there are so many and who are we to say what is better?  But we believe in the unconditional love and forgiveness and acceptance that comes along with the Christian tradition, so that’s how we identify.  We see our religion as one where all are welcome – not one where some are shunned.

We swear.  Honestly, that’s probably as bad as we are.  Maybe a few snarky comments about Walmart shoppers (of which we can be included, so who knows how bad that can really be.)  We’ve spent nights awake crying about students who have attempted suicide; we watch cable news into the wee hours to see how unrest plays out; we’ve raced to donate blood when disaster occurs.  (Note: they’d rather have it on a regular basis than when disaster strikes.)  We feel guilty when we bring home a pad of post-it notes, despite the hundreds and hundreds of hours we’ve spent on “our” time grading papers and prepping lessons.

Why do you think we can’t exist?

Why do you feel the need to say this in front of your child – to the point that your child has the confidence to announce this to MY child?

Maybe your belief system tells you that a child should have a mother and a father.  Biologically?  Sure.  But for the day-to-day reality of my child’s life, she sees two parents who love each other.  And disagree.  And laugh.  And talk passionately about real-world events.  We correct grammar. We call each other on bullshit.  We cheer for the Red Sox.  I – personally – clear my calendar to watch the Housewives.  We read books, try to eat healthy foods, go to Dairy Queen, drink in sinus-curves of moderation, and talk about gas prices.

How different are we from you?

We own a home, pay shitloads of taxes, and support our teachers.  We vote in every election.  We donate at least as many toys to Toys for Tots as we have children.

We’re good parents.

And we would never.  NEVER.  NEVER EVER.  Make our child think that any other parents were any less than good parents.

And we would be ASHAMED if she ever made a child think they or their family were less than ideal.
If we EVER said something to our child that made her tell a peer that they weren’t every bit as important and valuable and loved as someone else…we would be mortified.  We would fall to our knees and beg you to forgive us – and live to our dying day ashamed of any pain we caused your child.  Or any reason we caused your child to believe they needed to hide who they were or who they came from.

Children don’t choose their families.

Adults DO choose what they say to their children.  And children like to repeat what they hear.

And unfortunately, YOUR child repeated something they heard (I can only assume from you) to MY kid.

I can handle it.  It causes me pain, but I expected it – because I know intolerance and hatred (yes, it’s hatred, and that’s a strong word, but it applies) exist.  I hate that it exists.  (There’s my hatred.  I hate intolerance and I hate hatred.) 

But here’s where we differ.  I WON’T tell my child what I think of your view of my family.  I know your child has caused my child pain.  I could say that out loud; I could teach my child to hate the haters, but that seems kind of simplistic and petty.

My job, however, is to teach my child how to think for herself.  It’s going to take her a long time to realize that she has to get past what others think and to think for herself.  We’ll do all the self-esteem building we can.  Ultimately she’ll feel good about herself; feel good about us.

The real proof?

The real proof will be what she tells her children about others.

And if not one child – not one child EVER – goes home and feels inferior because of something my grandchild says to them?

Then I’ll know I did the best I could.

Can you say the same?

Yours truly,

The Bizzy Mama

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