Coming out is a continual process. Although my friends, family, colleagues and neighbors know I’m gay, I have to revisit the conversation each time my daughter picks a new playmate.
She attends a Montessori school offered by my company for the children of its employees. As a helicopter parent with major separation anxiety, this situation is ideal.
For years, my daughter and I have shared a commute, weekly lunches in the cafeteria and a roster of mommy-daughter friends, existing in a comfy bubble where no explanation about our family was ever warranted. But now that she’s older and exercising her right to choose friends outside of our social circle, the situation is starting to get serious.
My kid is scary-smart, and I’m not just saying that because I’m the world’s braggiest mom (a title confirmed by my Facebook friends). I have three highly scored Brigance screening tests -- one from every year of her life -- to prove it. Clearly noted on each, in her teacher’s perfect penmanship, is the comment “likely gifted and academically talented” so it must be true.
The Brigance screening is a tool used during early childhood to signal developmental advances or delays in children by measuring their performance on series of tasks such as saying their name, hopping on one foot, identifying body parts and pointing out shapes. My kid is a great foot hopper and she does know her own name, so I was not shocked by her high score. What did surprise me, however, is that roughly 50% of her classmates were also high-scorers, which seemingly makes my daughter academically average in a school full of geniuses.
The Montessori philosophy encourages observation, independence and creativity, which produces a myriad of outspoken smartypants. My daughter and her classmates are intelligent, curious children who are embolden with their own ideas and don’t think twice about calling bullshit when they feel something is amiss.
Case in point: during a recent drop-off at my daughter’s class, a mouthy three-year-old backed me into a corner peppering me with questions about why my kid didn’t have a dad. I had a late meeting the day before, leaving my partner on pickup duty, which kicked this child’s advanced observation skills into overdrive.
This little girl was not a member of my preselected pal list; rather she's a friend my daughter had chosen herself -- and adored. While I wanted to delve straight into the “Love makes a family” speech, I caught a glimpse of the teacher’s horrified face and started to question whether it was my responsibility to educate this child on a topic her parents might not want her to know about. I was taken off guard and embarrassed -- face flushed, heart racing. I was being gay-shamed by a preschooler.
I’m a people pleaser. In the past, if someone had an issue with my sexual orientation -- or anything about me for that matter -- I’d omit the truth to make the offender feel better. It’s a tried and true defense mechanism I picked up in my youth.
But having a baby liberated me. Honesty, truth and transparency are critical ingredients for raising a secure, grounded child. When I saw my daughter look up at me awaiting a response, my Mama Bear instincts kicked in. It only mattered to me that my little girl was reassured, so I did my best to calmly and rationally offer up an explanation muttering something not-so-clever along the lines of, “She has two moms, isn’t she lucky?”
In hives, I phoned the child’s mother to recap the scenario and let her know I only answered what was asked (people-pleasing again). She could not have been more gracious, and assured me she’d have an in-depth conversation with her daughter later that night. I felt like an idiot for making a big deal out of it, she was that cool.
I’ve since perfected my coming-out speech and intend to be better prepared the next time it’s required. I’ve also shared a book about different types of families with my daughter’s class and fostered an open dialog with her teachers to ensure those developing little minds get proper answers to their questions.
I know there will be times when the conversation won’t go my way, and I’m practicing that speech as well. But I hope my daughter’s friends-to-be -- and their parents -- will always see her light, because it’s there and it’s shining.
Like any mom, I wish my child a world free from prejudice, bigotry and hate. I want her to be judged on her own character, and not on mine. I want her to be kind, yet strong, and I intend to arm her with the confidence, fortitude and courage to stand her ground when those injustices come.
The way my daughter came into the world and her family is not the “norm.” My goal is to teach her to live life with originality and the freedom to know that anything she wants can be achieved by simply following her heart, and that THAT becomes her norm.
In the meantime, I continue to be surprised by the kindness of people and the way acceptance has progressed in the nearly 20 years since I’ve come out. Or maybe I’m the one who’s progressed. Either way, I’ve figured out that intelligent, curious children come from truthful, open-minded adults, and no test but humanity can ever measure that.