Last week, my cousin’s only son headed off for his first year of university in a town seven hours away. His father’s car packed to the gills, off he went to study biology – and to experience his first taste of life away from home. “My ‘little’ boy just left for university,” my teary-eyed cousin posted on her Facebook page, “I want those 18 years back!”
Hard to believe how the time has flown by. I held my cousin’s son in my arms when he was just newly-hatched, that summer before I moved to the west coast. We giggled together over Sandra Boynton books when he was the same age as my son is now. We had uproarious water fights at the cottage when he was about seven or eight. Then there was that awkward phase in early adolescence, when he’d barely acknowledge me and wouldn’t let anyone photograph him at family gatherings. The last time I saw him, he’d shot up so tall that he towered over me and his mother, and when he spoke, out came the deep voice of a man.
Thankfully, we still have many years ahead of us before our own son hits college-age. Still, I can relate to my cousin’s lament. My son starts preschool in another week. As the day draws near, the enormity of this transition is hitting me surprisingly hard. Where did my baby go? Just the other afternoon, I watched him as he napped, all stretched out on his new big boy bed, wondering how he got to be so tall, so soon?
“Stop growing!” Amanda has taken to exclaim as she tickles his tummy, half-joking, half-not.
“But I gotta keep growing, Mama,” my son insists, every time.
It feels like just yesterday that we marvelled over the sound of his heartbeat in the midwives’ office, that I felt his first kick. A mere blink of an eye since we first welcomed him into the world that rainy October morning – since we delighted in his first smile, his first steps, his first words. The last three years have shot by in a sleep-deprived haze that’s only beginning to lift now, just in time to witness our growing boy cross the threshold from toddler to preschooler. His first, tentative step toward independence that will inevitably lead to the next, and the next, until the day comes when he too will pack his gear and leave our home, just like my cousin’s son.
As our son first ventures out to preschool on his own, Amanda and I share the same concerns as many parents: how will he handle the separation as he faces his first group situation without his moms or his regular babysitter? How will he cope with the toilet by himself? Will he play nicely with others? Will others play nicely with him?
As queer parents, though, we have an additional, niggling worry – how will our loving, trusting, sensitive boy fare out there in a world that doesn’t always smile kindly on queer families?
“We are same-sex parents,” we boldly declared in our ad for a caregiver when I first returned to work, in order to avoid any nasty surprises when we interviewed. “Applicant must be comfortable working in a household with two moms.” But we can only control the variables for so long. I dread the day my son first faces a homophobic taunt on the playground, or encounters an adult who casts aspersions on his family. I want to wrap him in cotton wool and keep him close (“Like a baby burrito,” my son says in his sweet, sing-song voice as I envelop him in a towel after his bath), that age-old motherly impulse to protect one’s child from the inevitable hurt that comes from being in the world. He didn’t choose to have two moms – those were the cards he was dealt, along with his blond hair, his sticky-out-ears, and the cutest dimples in the world.
I reassure myself by knowing we’ll do everything in our power to give him the tools to stand tall and protect himself in the face of bullies and homophobes, big and small. I remind myself that we’ve consciously chosen to live in a part of town long favoured by dykes, so that he isn’t the only child in the neighbourhood with two moms. And I’m heartened by the recent study that suggests children of lesbians may actually do better than their peers, in terms of social development and adjustment, in spite of the discrimination and prejudice they often experience as a result of their family situation. But still – I’m not ready for my little boy to face such intolerance on his own.
And hopefully, he won’t have to – not just yet. The preschool came highly recommended by a close friend, a fellow queer mom whose son attends the same school, who in turn was referred by another queer mom whose kids went through a few years ago… And sure enough, when we checked out the place last June, the teachers didn’t bat an eye when we introduced ourselves as our son’s two moms. Instead, they made us feel warmly welcome as our son tentatively scoped out the new surroundings before happily settling in, trying out the various activity stations. By the time we had to go home, he didn’t want to leave; he was having too much fun. I know he’s going to love it there – that he’s going to stretch and grow in ways I haven’t even begun to imagine. I also know that at the end of the day, he’s going to weather this transition just fine – and that it’s probably harder on me than on him.