By Shannon Ralph
It can’t be easy being the son of hard-core lefty-leaning liberal lesbians. At least, this is the message that came through loud and clear from my soon-to-be ten-year-old son, Lucas, this weekend. He didn’t say it in so many words. But I got the distinct feeling that he was thinking it.
This weekend, my nephew had his 10th birthday party. The theme of the party was camouflage. All of the kids came dressed in camouflage. (All of the kids except mine, that is, because we discovered in preparing for the party that none of my children owns a single piece of camouflage clothing.) There were army men on top of the cupcakes. There were green balloons. There were camouflage plates and napkins. There were camouflage do-rags for all the kids to wear. It looked like Al Qaeda had set up a training camp in my sister’s living room. The kids all played “army” with guns and ammo and snipers and ambushes. Well, most of the kids anyway. Sophie, being the only girl at the party as usual, was completely unimpressed with the party theme and preferred to spend the afternoon attached to my hip. Nicholas spent most of the party playing on my sister’s iPad. He had little if any interest in the warfare going on around him. Lucas, however, was completely enthralled by the party. He waved toy guns around like a true rebel fighter. He did the G.I. Joe belly crawl down the hallway. He perfected the guttural war cry. He loved every minute of it.
My sister bought my nephew a real, live BB gun for his birthday. A Red Rider BB gun just like the one Ralphie begged for in “A Christmas Story”. I resisted the urge to tell him that he would shoot his eye out, but knowing my nephew, I secretly suspect that there is a real risk that he will eventually shoot someone’s eye out. Of course, he was beyond excited about his birthday present and all of the kids lined up to take a turn shooting his new gun (sans BB’s, of course).
I knew this party was going to be a tough one for me. Or a tough one for Lucas, I guess. Ruanita and I do not allow our kids to have toy guns. This is something we agreed to years ago before we even had children. I have no problem whatsoever with my sister buying a gun for her son and this blog is in no way meant to disparage her or her parenting or her son. Ruanita and I just have a different take on guns. A different opinion. An opinion that I tried to explain to Lucas in the car on the way home. The declarations of “unfairness” began the minute our butts touched the seats of the car. “Why can Jonah have a gun and I can’t?” “It’s not fair.” “They’re not real.” “Uncle Matt carries a gun.”
I explained to Lucas that guns hurt people. Every single day in this country, guns hurt people. They kill people. Guns are not toys. War is not a game. His uncle Matt carries a gun because he is a police officer sworn to protect people. Lucas, on the other hand, is just a boy who has no need for a weapon. I tried to explain that his aunt and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to toy guns. She is allowed to make decisions for her son. That is her job as his mom. Just like my job is to make decisions that I believe are correct for my children. Lucas is my priority, not his cousin Jonah. He is my responsibility and my child to raise and teach and mold. I explained that his mom and I do not believe in toy guns and that he will not be getting one. End of story. Needless to say, he was pretty upset and convinced that life just isn’t fair.
Here’s the thing though. I get it. Really. I do. I get that it may not be easy being the son of lefty liberal lesbians. As often as I say that gay and lesbian parents are just like every other parent out there, there is a hint of untruth in that statement. We are certainly like other parents in more ways than we are different. But there may just be a few ways in which we may not be exactly the same.
Ruanita and I refer to bodily parts by their actual names. Penises and vaginas instead of wee-wees and pee-pees. We sang our kids to sleep with Indigo Girls songs. We don’t allow our boys to become Boy Scouts like their friends. We struggle with explaining -to a couple of little boys who just want to go camping and learn to tie cool knots- about the injustice of an organization that doesn’t allow gay people to join. We don’t really watch football. Or baseball. We don’t play sports. We do watch college basketball and cheer excitedly for the Kentucky Wildcats, but we live in Minnesota. None of their friends cares about college basketball. We don’t hunt or fish. We aren’t exactly the “outdoorsy” type. We talk about feelings. A lot. We believe every conversation is a “teachable moment.” We buy our boys Legos so they can build something instead of guns so they can destroy something. We make Lucas go to choir rehearsal every single Saturday morning so he can grow to be a “well-rounded” man. We are smugly proud of ourselves when our son walks around Target singing the soprano section of ¡Cantar! louder than he realizes. We talk about politics. We explain the issues to our kids as best we can. We want them to be politically savvy. We stress in our house that girls can be scientists and mathematicians and doctors and lawyers. And boys can be caregivers. Boys can be gentle and loving. Boys can be kind and generous and sweet. Boys and girls can both be anything they want to be. There are no pre-conceived gender roles in our house.
Perhaps it is because every single child in a gay or lesbian family is meticulously planned. Desperately wanted. There are no accidents in a gay or lesbian family. Whether our families are created by artificial insemination or surrogacy or adoption, we go to great lengths (not to mention great expense) to bring our children into our families. As a result, we may be a bit hyper vigilant in our parenting practices. When something that is so very wanted for so very long finally materializes, we have a tendency to treat it with kid gloves. To over think this whole parenting thing. I admit at times to parenting in a more cerebral and less organic fashion. I should really think less and just “be” more.
Not only do gay and lesbian parents want to raise our children to be good people like all parents do, but we have the added burden of feeling that we must somehow “prove” that we can be good parents. To show the world that our children are just as smart. Just as kind. Just as moral. Just as “normal” as all the other children out there. It’s silly, really. Why do we have to prove anything to anyone? Who cares that we have spent out entire lives being told that the only real families—the only families who should be raising children—consist of one man and one woman? Why should we care when we know we are just as capable as straight people to raise children? Because the notion that we are not still exists. It’s still there. Whether I like to admit it or not, there is a desire deep down within me to prove my worth as a parent. And my children sometimes get caught in the crossfire of this internal struggle.
Will my son grow up to be a serial killer if I buy him a BB gun? No. Will my nephew grow up to kill innocent people just because he had a camouflage party for his 10th birthday? Certainly not. I am sure they will both grow up to be perfectly wonderful men. Boys will be boys, right? That’s what people say. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. It’s true that my son will find a way to fashion a gun out of sticks or toilet paper rolls or Legos. He will find a way to make a gun. It’s what boys do. As his mom, however, I do not have to arm him. I do not have to be a participant in his war-worshipping. I can show him another way. I think it is my responsibility to show him another way.
Whether he likes it or not.