When Leigh was a baby, I loved going out with her by myself. I’d take her to new parent groups or to run errands as the only mom in evidence. I loved the freedom and confidence I felt. I soaked up every last compliment about my fabulous baby, and every assumption that I was a mom just like any other, no questions asked. I could choose whether or not to out myself when the inevitable questions came, but I often waited to do so until later in the conversation, or sometimes not at all.
Last week Gail mentioned that she felt bad not outing herself when, at our neighborhood park with Ira, another parent asked her “Where did he get that beautiful hair?” (he has long loose golden curls). She breezed past the question, agreeing to the beauty, briefly describing our reluctance to cut his hair (ever), but remained mum on the probable source (my family is full of towheads and our donor has produced at least one other). She wondered later if maybe she should have explained more, effectively outing herself both as queer and his non-bio-mom. Not necessarily a big deal, and these days we usually err on the side of more information, not less, but for whatever reason, in that moment, she decided to pass.
When she brought it up later, I told her that I actually think it might be important to pass sometimes, to get those moments when you don’t have to explain, those times when, especially as a non-bio-mom, you can just blend in.
I’ve given advice along these lines to my fellow non-bio-moms many times — “Get out alone, build your confidence,” but I’ve always thought of it as most important during baby and toddlerhood. But last weekend, Leigh and I traveled alone to New York City. I’d been anticipating that it would feel nice to have time just with her, outside our regular life, reconnecting in a way that is hard in the day to day shuffle (even more so now that she’s in kindergarten every day), and it definitely did feel nice in exactly that way. But it was also nice to be out with her, on a grand adventure, being seen by people who don’t know us at all (the grumpy subway worker, the restaurant wait staff, the smiling lady on the sidewalk…) as what we are, mother and daughter, with no explanation needed.
After I noticed this feeling, I wondered if it felt good in the same way as going to Family Week last year, when I felt a surprising relief and joy at being just one queer family among so many. But at family week I found myself watching the other families, craving an understanding of what made them tick: How did they structure things? How did their kids come to them? Was their family like ours? It’s possible that it was just me scrutinizing (I love understanding people and relationships), but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one, who when suddenly awash in a whole sea of families like ours, was soaking up as much information as I could.
But this weekend was exactly the opposite. There wasn’t any scrutinizing at all. Neither Leigh nor I had another mom to explain, or make sure was included. I got to shut off my perpetual radar that picks up when we are (and are not) read as a family in new situations. It wasn’t a huge shift, but enough that I noticed that it was nice to get a weekend “off” of explaining, and a weekend “on” with Leigh, just the two of us (well, the two of us, plus all the fabulous friends we got to see). And while I’ve framed this here to some extent as a non-bio-mom thing, largely because we bear a higher burden of explaining (e.g. comments on Ira’s curls at the park don’t give me pause, but they do for Gail), but I think it applies more broadly, and after feeling how nice it was, I also realized that a weekend “off” of explaining was a privilege. There are plenty of families that have a lot less time off, if any at all, (I’m thinking here specifically interracial families, or perhaps families in which either a kid or a parent has a visible disability), and it probably gets really tiring.
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