Sometimes it’s the small stuff.
This past week our son brought home yet another school form for us to complete with the same information we’ve provided too many times before. [Why not request this information digitally, password protect it, and then update on an as-needed basis… different discussion for another time]. I have lined out “mother” every time before with varying degrees of frustration.
This time I got angry. This time was different. After all, we do live in California, we expect better. But it’s also because despite recent strides in marriage equality, we are witnessing just how quickly progress can be rolled-back and countered.
This time IT was not “just a little thing”, or a “meaningless detail”. IT is part of the same continuum on which both North Carolina’s and Mississippi’s recent discriminatory and bigoted legislative maneuvers sit. While a very great distance separates this form’s lazy and parochial typeset from these new state laws, a gateway to learned hate and discriminatory behavior is right there on the page, and I could not ignore it this time.
Not long after I snapped a picture of the form, our son noticed the image sitting on my screen and asked me why it was there. I was both glad for the opportunity and bothered by the need to have something to explain. When I had finished, he seemed satisfied, and said, “hmmm, why doesn’t it just say parent or guardian”? That is a good question. Or why does it assume there are two parents? Why doesn’t it just simply ask for emergency contacts and let me define their relationship via another blank?
This form has no doubt been pulled out and photocopied many many times, and given the perpetually overworked public school staff, I continue to feel a need to limit my concerns and objections. But learning does not happen only inside the classroom. Waiting silently to be treated differently is unacceptable.
For LGBTQ families, being treated with fairness and simple dignity are issues that show-up in big and small ways every day. It was our experience planning our wedding that prompted David and me to open Taylor Street Favors. Much like our son’s form, signing up for wedding sites or shopping online usually required one of us to be listed as “the bride”. Same-sex couple selections were buried in drop-drowns — if at all — and were limited in selection or accented with rainbows.
We are so not about rainbows for our wedding.
We knew we could do better – and we are. Taylor Street is a site where no one is excluded. We welcome and support those who treat others with respect, regardless of gender, race, sexual-orientation, or religious affiliation. Discriminating on the basis of who we love is wrong. Excluding a family because there are two moms or two dads is wrong.
I’m sending a note along with a copy of the form to the school’s principal and asking her to look into what can be done to have the district revise its forms. As Ellen Degeneres said earlier this week, this is not politics, this is human rights.
We deserve better.
November is National Adoption Awareness Month — let’s celebrate! David and I opened Taylor Street to promote diversity and inclusiveness; to inspire modern couples and non-traditional families to celebrate with their friends and family. For us and many others – gay and straight – adoption is how our family started. But you don’t have to be part of an adopted family to have reason to celebrate this month.
Celebrations also are a way of connecting with another human being — with friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, maybe even with strangers (crazy, huh!) — and connecting increases the possibility that people will take action. There is a lot to do.
- On any one day there are over 100,000 children in the U.S. foster care system waiting to be adopted
- The average time these children wait to be adopted is 4 years, and
- Each year over 20,000 children “age out” of foster care with no family placement and a much more limited support system.
Question: At what age are children forced out of foster care in most states?
Answer: It is 18. Were you ready to be on your own at 18?
This year’s adoption month theme, “We Never Outgrow the Need for Family”, specifically calls attention to the older youth in the foster care system. A disproportionate number of these youth are LGBTQ, and these youth are statistically more likely to have suffered emotional and physical abuse and often take much longer to be placed. As the city of Houston’s recent rejection of its “HERO” equal rights ordinance highlights, there remains a tremendous amount of misinformation, fear and discrimination.
Since November also signals the beginning of the holiday season — a time of celebrating, honoring and strengthening family connections — it’s an awesome time of year to create a tradition or two that your family can look forward to while also supporting children and youth in the foster care system.
The www.nationaladoptionday.org site has many great suggestions on ways you can participate. Here are three:
1. Organize a holiday toy drive for children waiting for permanent families. Involve your co-workers, your children’s school or your place of worship.
2. Harness the power of 10. Give a minimum of $10 to an organization that supports foster care and adoption programs and ask 10 friends and family members to do the same. Here’s a recommendation, www.comfortcases.org , founded by Rob Scheer to provide backpacks filled with basic supplies and a stuffed animal for foster kids. Rob and his husband, Reese, have four adopted children and know first hand how critical the need is in the foster care system.
3. Shop! Shop retailers that give back to children’s charities. Need a list, go to: www.adoptivefamilies.com .
We will be adding a gift donation tradition this year, helping our son select a gift to donate to an organization that supports adoptions. We also are going to write a thank you note to the people who helped make his adoption possible, adding one of our nearly-famous “three-in-a-row” selfie family pictures to mark our 10th year as a family.
What will you do?
If you want to learn more about adopting or becoming a foster care family, here are resources to get you started: www.adoptivefamilies.com, www.adoptionhelp.org, www.extraordinaryfamilies.org, & www.adoptuskids.org .
How we got to this point is straightforward enough, Leo was here first. I met David when Leo was already home and they had been a family for about a year. I was to be the new addition, not Leo. Given our relationship was just beginning, it was premature to have Leo begin referring to me in a parenting role, but rather just as a person — Derek. A person that seemed like a good fit for the family, but one that might not go the distance. We dated for about a year and then moved in together and never looked back. Now 9 years have passed and this topic has not been up for discussion or debate since. Time flies.
Why, then, rock this boat now? The why is me. The why is because here we are with months to go before I am officially, legally, most sincerely his ‘dad,’ and I care. Leo has not brought this up, and given I have an adult son from a previous marriage, my reasoning doesn’t include any particular need to check-off a “be someone’s dad” bucket-list wish list item. No, my reasons are as follows:
Parent, not BFF
As we sprint toward the tween years, the parenting boundary-setting role becomes more important. We, like many parents, face challenges setting and enforcing limits with Leo and any additional leverage may help. I do not want to become our family’s version of the appeals court and have Leo view David as the parenting supreme court. Yes, success in this regard requires more than changing how Leo refers to me. David and I must continue to communicate in a single and consistent voice and enforce consequences without regard to blow-back. One’s children can be amazing teachers when it comes to parenting shortfalls and Leo has helped identify a variety of ‘areas needing improvement’ that we are addressing.
We’ve got a great big event coming up that provides a unique opportunity to make a change. We can use our wedding to teach about commitment, about family, and about all of the many issues that were tossed about by social conservatives during the recent same-sex marriage debate — like so much red meat. We are proud of our family and want Leo to be as proud of his family as any kid. I want him to have the vocabulary to do that with, in any setting, and under any circumstance.
It’s important to me
Early on in our relationship it did not feel appropriate. Now it does. Not being called dad makes me feel a little less visible sometimes, and I admit to being bothered by it. I have to say, I’ve not ever overheard Leo stumble in explaining his family make-up to anyone. In fact, he made this poster in kindergarten that is about as clear and authentic as one could ask him to be.
Unpalatable parent naming options
Our time in Portland exposed us to a wide array of arrangements and terminology ranging from first names only to “Dad and Father” to “Daddy and Papa.”
Other options: Dad & Daddy, Pop & Papa, Daddy & Poppy, Dad & Pa (ugh!)
I feel he’s too old for some of the options, and I’m too old for most of the others. Of these, I guess I like “Dad and Pop,” but given “Dad” is already taken that leaves me with the balloon exploding sound. There aren’t many other combinations from which to choose, and he’s old enough to be included in the decision making, so we will see. My preference is to be Dad. You know – one of two. There are not that many situations when this would be confusing, and when Leo might need to introduce us it could be more along the lines of, “these are my dads,” or “these are my parents.”
Ultimately, it is the person behind the name that truly matters. Most importantly, I want Leo to know that I am proud to have him call me dad; and that his dads are glad to call him our son.