A Purposeful Family
I cleared a path while Wendy steered the double stroller expertly through the crowd. We were attending a holiday fair in downtown San Jose with our two two year olds. Stopping at a Christmas booth, we picked out a “family” bread dough ornament with four little bear faces and the year – 1992. I bent down to fill out the form to have the ornament personalized. “Father, Mother, Child, Child,” the form read. Well, that didn’t cover us. Our kids had two mothers, or better yet, two parents. I crossed out “Father” and “Mother” and entered Wendy’s name and mine, with our son and daughter’s names beneath.
As lesbians, we had struggled for a long time to get to that little ornament. We had tried all of the options open to lesbians to start a family. After years of heartbreak and tens of thousands of dollars, we had initiated an international adoption. And finally one morning, a woman knocked at my hotel room in Lima, Peru and put my tiny dark daughter in my arms. I stared at her deep rosebud mouth, her flinty knowing eyes and decided instantaneously to also adopt a boy. My son, enormous, with spiky rust hair and a big smile, came into my life and my hotel room a few days later.
I looked down at our children, square and solid in their stroller, with shiny thick hair. They looked a lot like miniature Berenstain Bears, I thought.
When we stopped back by the booth to pick up our ornament, the man behind the counter hesitated.
“It’s not ready,” he said.
“Okay, how much time do you need?” I asked him.
“Well, we didn’t do it,” he fumbled, the ornament in one hand and the order form in the other.
He looked back and forth between me and his wife and finally offered an explanation. “We couldn’t figure out who got the eyelashes,” he said.
THAT was it. This man was paralyzed with confusion because my family did not fit neatly into the lines on his order form – father, mother, child, child. Before starting our family, Wendy and I had thought carefully about the prejudice we might encounter. I remember Wendy saying, “We can’t base our decisions on what Uncle Al might think at Christmas dinner.” But frankly, a scenario like this one had never crossed my mind.
My voice shaking only a little, I told the boothkeeper, “In our family, we all get eyelashes.”
Today my son has grown into a proud, independent young man who exudes a gentle calmness. My daughter’s great concern for the wellbeing of our world is mixed with more than a little devilishness. They are both preparing to go away to college in the fall –good good kids.
Wendy and I did not marry when San Francisco gave us the option. We never felt the need; there was no question to us that we were a family in all senses of the word. Pre -election, my daughter made a 10 foot “Equality for All” sign for our balcony. My son quietly tracked Proposition 8 results in his room. Emerging finally, he said, “I don’t get it.”
Besides a thin film of sadness, and my children’s emerging awareness that many people do not think like we do, there is no difference in our household. We will, in a few weeks, put up our Christmas tree and hang that beat up ornament with smiling bear faces – all of them eyelashed. We will sit down together, exchange a few gifts, and enjoy the richness of each other. In this I believe – family is purposeful, not legislated. You make it out of a few big choices and thousands of little ones. We have made our choices, and they are wonderful. There is nothing more to say.