At the beginning of this past school year my son was asked to bring in pictures of his family to hang in his cubby. This had happened before when he had started at a different daycare, and will inevitably happen again when he starts Kindergarten this coming September. Every time it happens, I go through the same process of questioning and doubt in my head. What do I want Inti to convey to his classmates? How much explaining do I want him to have to take on? Will I be helping him feel comfortable with his non-traditional family by putting it all out there for everyone to see or will I be making him more subject to unnecessary bullying by forcing him to constantly answer questions about his family?
Though he was born to a relatively “traditional” family, in terms of there being a father and mother, it was never really traditional by small town U.S. standards. A Bolivian father, a U.S.-born mother who frankly was more “Bolivia” than “U.S.”, two stepsisters, one who lived in Bolivia and one who lived in Chile. Several generations of parents and grandparents on both sides of the family who had been divorced, remarried, divorced again, remarried again, leading to a family tree of astronomical proportions (and a tremendous need for white-out).
Now, Inti has all that same crazy family history, but he also has a mama and a mapi, the name given to his father after “he” became a “she”. His parents are separated, and he has family in Bolivia and family in the U.S. He has two biological moms, two stepsisters, a mama’s boyfriend and a mapi’s girlfriend. Who can possibly understand all that?
Is that too much for a 4 year old to take on when trying to present his family to this sometimes open and accepting and sometimes closed-minded and bigoted world? With the constant reminders in the media of all the hate and anger towards the LGBTQ community, and hate crimes against transgender women of color in specific, I wonder if I am unnecessarily subjecting him to bullying by putting it all out there to people we don’t know well.
But on the flip side, I want him to know that it’s ok. I want him to feel proud of his family with all it’s multilingual multicultural non-traditional craziness, to understand that even if it doesn’t look like some of his friends’ families, it is his and it is real and it is full of love. I want him to be able to talk about it and explain it to his friends.
And he will. And he does, already. It is incredible for me to watch him as he starts to have a voice on some of these issues. When his friends used to ask me if he had a daddy (yes, toddlers ask those questions) I would look at his little inquisitive, confused face and sometimes break into tears. Now, when his peers ask if he has a dad he says, “nope”. Sometimes he just leaves it there, and sometimes he gets into it, “I have a mama and a mapi and a Rich and an Aunt Linda and a Mima, listing his extended family of caregivers. Sometimes when he draws a picture of his family it’s just me and him. And sometimes it’s everyone, and includes maps of the U.S. and Bolivia and pictures of airplanes going back and forth and hearts connecting them.
So I guess he is starting, already, to understand some of those moments, to make his own choices about when to explain and when to keep it quiet. And while I wish he didn’t necessarily have to make those decisions, while I wish it was just cut and dry, or that everyone was open-minded enough to understand, I know that is not the way it is, at least not yet. And maybe part of this whole motherhood journey is just realizing that we don’t have control over all those moments. Our kids start to get older and start to choose their battles and decide for themselves how much explaining to give. And I know that I have given him the confidence and the understanding to be able to do that, which I think is the best that I can do.