My three-year old was splashing in the tub, playing with his new “Sea & Learn” bath shapes, gleefully counting all the good things that come in twos. He’d started with the bath toys, pairs of letters and numbers and sea creatures, and then moved on to his body, which I was busy soaping with a washcloth – two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet…
He was now revving up to the important stuff:
“I’ve got TWO moms!” he proclaimed. “And TWO pugs! And TWO TEACHERS!!!”
“Yes, you do,” I smiled.
“And one daddy,” he quickly added.
Make no mistake: our son was conceived with the help of an anonymous sperm donor, something he won’t know about until he’s a little older.
“One daddy,” I reflected back, curious to know more. “And who’s your daddy?”
“Mama Manda!” he announced.
I couldn’t help but smile. But of course: Amanda, the dyke daddy.
They’d recently done a unit on the family at preschool. My son had proudly made a collage depicting his parents, two women cut out of a clothing catalogue and pasted together, creating the consummate dyke couple on green construction paper. “Les Mamans,” one of his teachers had titled it in red marker, which translates literally as “The Moms.” We were incredibly touched when he brought it home, although we had to laugh – the same femmy model is featured in both images, looking a lot like me (times two) and not at all like Amanda.
“We look alike, we dress alike, we act alike,” Amanda laughed in a sing-song voice after our son had gone to bed. “Textbook case of lesbian merging.”
There was also a Bristol board poster prominently displayed in my son’s classroom, with family photos of each of the kids in the class. The photo we’d sent to school – the three of us in our matchy-matchy Canadian Olympic hoodies, waving flags on the Drive after Canada’s gold medal hockey win – was featured front and centre. The kids poured over the poster at circle time, as the teachers led a discussion about each child’s unique family make-up. It was wonderfully heart-warming and validating. After all my initial fears about sending my son out into the big, straight world on his own for the first time, our family unit was being accepted and included by his school as a matter of course. Having heard countless stories over the years about other queer parents tirelessly educating their kids’ teachers and daycare workers, we realized yet again how fortunate we are a) to live in a large, urban centre in 2011, with a sizeable, visible queer community, and b) to have found a progressive preschool where diversity is recognized and celebrated.
Interestingly, it was thanks to these preschool discussions about family that my son first became obsessed with the notion of dads. After months of substituting “Mama” for the father figures in his picture books (see “Papa Bear”), he was now spotting daddies everywhere: “That’s Henry’s daddy,” he’d now announce whenever we re-visited The Potty Book for Boys (still a favourite, even though he’d been toilet-trained for months). “That’s Trixie’s Daddy,” he’d remind me as we worked our way through the Knuffle Bunny trilogy. “That’s Christopher’s daddy,” he clarified as we laughed through Robert Munsch. “That’s Jillian’s daddy,” he’d point out at preschool drop-off. “And Rose’s daddy.” On one occasion, adding: “I want a daddy, too.”
Here we go, I thought. His first sense of being other. I imagined my mother cringing, her words from years earlier coming back to haunt me: “Children need both a mother and father figure,” she’d opined, long before she knew she was going to be a grandmother to a boy with dyke mommies. This, from a liberal-minded, United Church-going woman – the same message we get ad nauseam from the Family Values crowd.
As I crossed the school parking lot clutching my son’s little hand, his simple yet oh-so-complicated want still ringing in my ears, I could picture the entire Christian Right wagging their righteous fingers at Amanda and me, proclaiming: “We told you so!” I momentarily kicked myself. We’d had the best intentions to surround my son with positive, male role models, pseudo-Daddy figures, but had been sorely falling short. We’re a bunch of dykes, after all – there are not a lot of men in our close, inner circle. My son’s grandfather and uncles live so far away, and we’ve fallen hopelessly out of touch with our closest gay friends, all of whom are childless. Then I quickly got a grip: my son’s got two loving parents and a supportive, nurturing home. He’s growing up just fine.
That said, the daddy issue was bound to come up sooner or later – and in our case, much sooner than we’d anticipated. When I was a kid, I’d often felt “other” because my parents are both immigrants and a good ten years older than the parents of most of my peers. I went through a period in elementary school where I longed for parents who were “normal” – i.e., younger and more “Canadian.” But my son’s only three, and he’s already starting to figure out that his family is not like the others. And he’s already identified the key difference: the daddy factor.
“There’s a huge gap between seeing your family accepted and included by the school, and seeing your family reflected back at school as the norm,” Amanda reminds me as we talk about it later. She points out that other than that one-off daddy comment, my son seems perfectly happy with his family just the way it is. Likely, he’s just trying to figure out how we fit into the images of family that he’s seen at school, images that he’s bombarded with, in fact, everywhere, every single day – pictures that don’t quite match his reality. Just like his mommies, who will religiously watch the latest dyke flick or devour the latest lesbo-novel even if it got panned by the critics, our son, too, is starved for queer content that reflects his experience of the world back at him. He can see for himself that he’s the only one in his class who made a collage with two moms, and that most of the other kids have a mom and a dad at home.
That day in the school parking lot, I gently reminded him yet again that there are all kinds of families. That he has two moms, just like his buddies Hannah and Charles have two moms, and Isaac has two moms (plus one step-mom)…
“But I want a daddy.”
And now, he’s claimed Mama Manda as his daddy. Having grown up a tomboy, one who always snagged the role of “dad” in childhood games of “mums and dads,” Amanda is secretly thrilled. She recognizes that this new designation is more about the role she plays in our family as the butchy “other mother” (as opposed to me, the femmy “tummy mummy”) than about our son wishing she were an actual man and bona fide dad (although that may well come later).
A few weeks after counting twos in the bath, my son was in his bedroom, playing trains. As he loaded imaginary passengers into the cars, he nattered away about his two moms and his daddy, all in the same breath.
“So Mama Manda’s one of your two moms,” I asked, still struggling to clarify, “and a daddy?”
“Yes,” he retorted, as though it were obvious. “A Mama Daddy.”