Leigh started kindergarten this fall. She’s doing great and we are slowly adjusting to being parents of a “school-age” kid.
Our district is extremely supportive of GLBT-headed families. They have a family-liason specifically for GLBT issues, who is a resource for teachers, students and families. We’ve always been certain that the school and the district will have our back should difficulties arise.
It’s nice not to worry about the big stuff, but we all still have to find ways to navigate the day-to-day interactions. We’re the first two-mom (or two-dad) family that Leigh’s teacher has had in class, so we can tell there are some things she’s unsure about, not in that our presence makes her uncomfortable, but in that she wants to do and say the right things. To the extent we can, between back-to-school night and drop-off/pick-up we’ve let her know we’re available for any questions, and more than that, we’ve tried to be forthcoming with information, including at some point in there I told her that Gail gave birth to Leigh. We’ve also tried to both be present at drop-off and pick-up and school events.
At Leigh’s first parent-teacher-conference, we were reminded again how glad we were to have picked the parental “titles” we did. At the end of the conference we checked in with the teacher to make sure both she and Leigh were doing OK with the two-mom explanations, and let her know a few more details about how Leigh came to be (i.e. conceived via banked donor sperm, and we do not know the donor. This might seem like overkill, but since Leigh can explain it all, and probably will at some point, we want the teacher to know the brief adult version). At this point, looking at me, the teacher said, “Now, you gave birth to her right?”
“No, it’s the other way, Gail gave birth to Leigh.” (remember, we’d already told her this)
“Oh, but she calls you (Lyn) ‘Mama’ right? and you (Gail) ‘Ima’?”
We clarified our titles, let her know that “Ima” is hebrew for “Mom.” She also asked how careful she should be to always say “Ima” and we answered that she really doesn’t have to be, that Leigh goes back and for between “Mom” (for both of us) and our individual “titles” with ease, but that it is nice if she sometimes uses the right titles. I also said that we were both “pretty interchangeable.” What I was trying to say with that last comment was that we are both really in there, both “primary” parents, that she can communicate with either of us and the message will get through, that there’s a reason she hasn’t figured out who is “more” the mom so she’s not going crazy. I don’t think I pulled it off gracefully, but I do think she got the intent. (I don’t like how the way I said it, that we’re “interchangeable”, implies we are actually “the same” — but hey, I can’t always be perfectly deep and balanced on the fly.)
We were glad the teacher felt like she could ask us these questions, and inwardly, I know both of us were doing a private “high five” about our selection of “titles.” We’ve written about how our somewhat inadvertent title selection (with the more identifiable “mom” name going to the less socially recognized (non-bio) mom) helped solidify our family early on. Five years later, it still makes us happy that Leigh’s use of our titles (likely combined with both of our presence in the school) overcame both a strong resemblance in looks and being previously told who carried Leigh, such that for a little while, the teacher perceived me as the mom who had given birth, and more to the point, helped the teacher see both of us as integral in her life. It’s another reminder that the parental titles our kids use day-to-day are powerful tools to shape how other people perceive our families, and that if you want to be perceived as a mom, particularly if you won’t be giving birth, taking a title that easily identifies you as a “mom” can go a long way.