Some years back, I went to fetch my son, Gabriel, from his school for a doctor’s appointment. Now let me explain – Gabriel is adopted. He is black. I am white. The school he went to then was almost completely black, barring most of the teachers.
So, I arrived. My younger son, Joshua the extrovert (at the same school, also black, also adopted and, I suspect closely related to Osama bin Laden) rushed up to greet me. Gabriel is much more reserved. He was not unpleased to see me, but concerned, I think, to look in control of the situation. He sauntered up to me, case in hand, and as we left, I heard one of the children shout “Joshua and Gabriel’s daddie is white!”
Now that, I suppose, is a fairly big issue, in an almost all black school. The good thing about them going there is that they consider us (my white partner and I) to be the strange ones. They, on the other hand, are very comfortable in their skin. On the question of my partner and I both being male, we had some nervousness initially, about the school, when one of the kids came home one day saying that they had been talking about families at school. We phoned the school first thing the next morning. We wanted to know whether there might be any difficulty with our situation. “Oh no!” Said the principal, “The class was talking about who had a daddy and who had a mommy and things like that. And Gabriel was pleased as punch, because he had two daddies and most people in his class had none!”
We have sometimes wondered how we should handle the matter, should it come up, with the kids. The other day it did. Joshua at dinner, one evening, suddenly started talking about his mommy. We all turned to him, wondering what he was going on about. On he went – his mommy this and his mommy that. His brother had been quietly considering him for some while. Suddenly he shouted at him “You don’t have a mommy! You have two daddies!” Joshua shut up and that, in a nutshell, was that!
I was interested to read, some time ago, about books which are now being introduced in UK schools, introducing children from as young as 4, to gay and lesbian issues – the so-called “No-outsiders” project, which ended in March 2009. Naturally, conservative religious groups and people are huffing and puffing. “It is tantamount to child abuse!” said one. “It is propaganda designed to warp children’s minds”, said another.
Now our connection with the project is, I admit, slight. But it was enough to make me read the article with some interest. My partner has been very concerned, from the beginning, that our children should grow up seeing themselves (and us) as normal - as indeed, we are! Our family is as “normal” and “ordinary” as you can get. The kids get up every morning, have their breakfast and go to school. When we get home from work, there is the usual stuff that happens in every home with children. Joshua "bin Laden" gets shouted at because he is breaking something; there is a fight over eating healthy things on their plates and bribes with ice-cream to follow if they do; there are demands for cooldrinks after the magic hour of 5pm, indeed there is extreme resistance to going to bed at 8.00pm - and so it goes and so it goes. Just because one of us doesn’t wear a dress as parents, doesn’t make the slightest difference to the sheer normality of the situation.
And there is the bed-time story. My partner scoured the internet and found several storybooks which we read to them, along with Cinderella and Jack-and-the-beanstalk and all the other usuals. One is called “And Tango makes three”, which is a sweet (apparently true) story about two male penguins in the New York zoo. The zookeeper notices that they don’t seem to like the girl penguins very much and instead seem to prefer each other. They set up a nest together. Together, they try to hatch an egg shaped rock unsuccessfully. The kindly zookeeper takes pity on them and puts a real egg in the nest which they made for themselves – which they successfully hatch this time and raise a healthy chick called Tango – because it takes two to tango.
Another is called “King and King”. An elderly Queen decides she has had enough with ruling and that her only son should take over. She arranged for all the likely Princesses in the land to process before him, so that he can choose a suitable Queen for himself. No-one seems to catch his fancy. Would-be Queen after would-be Queen comes and goes. The son and heir is bored to distraction. But one day, a young hopeful just happens to bring her brother with her for support, and it is love at first sight! They get married and everyone lives happily ever after. And everyone called them King and King!
The last one is called “The Sissy Duck” and it is about a male duckling who likes cooking, cleaning and art. Now, as I say, we read these to the children periodically, mixed in with all the other favourites. I can’t say that they leaped up and down with enthusiasm when we read these particular stories, but they each had their own favourites and prefered those to all others.
And the point of it all? Well, just that what we are doing, and the life we are living - feels terribly ordinary. Because that is what it is! And it is both a pity, and I would say ridiculous, that there isn’t a range of literature and other support mechanisms, which would help to support that ordinariness.
My partner recorded bits and pieces on the TV about the Ellen Generis marriage. We encouraged the children to watch - giving no comment. His point was that they need to see that who we are is not something odd or entirely unusual. There are other people in the world who are also engaged in the same kind of relationship that their parents are.
I had a discussion with the Gabriel, the oldest child, not so long ago. I asked him whether his friends at school ever ask him where his mother is? he said some did. I asked him what he answered them. he said "I tell them I don't know where she is". Isn't that brilliant?! Because he doesn't, and neither do we!
And that is why I think the UK Education department seems to have managed to get things right. I have no doubt we will get there in the long run, but it is a real pity that it seems to be taking so long. Because same-sex child rearing is hardly new – but it is going to become much more evident, now that marriage (or civil union) is legally permitted. That is just a very plain, simple, fact of life.
And the fears that people have of corrupting children through educating them to different lifestyles, is just plain irrational. What I fear, deeply and not irrationally, is the consequences of not educating children – because what happens then is bullying, hatred, teasing and hurt. All because they don’t know any better.
I am just waiting for the same-sex fairy story, which has children of a different race from their parents in it, to feel really covered!