Waiting One More Day (on DOMA)

I think the experience is universal among parents. You deeply want your child to believe “x” about the world. But you realize that lots of things are beyond your control and you’re going to have to teach them “y” is actually the case. Here’s one version of “x”: “Everyone who meets you is always going to find you as unbelievably intelligent, funny and engaging as I do!”

Wouldn’t that be great?

But we adults all know some version of the “y.” Like: “I’m so sorry that kid at school made fun of you and said you were no fun to play with.” (And one more, tiny crack opens in the parental heart.)

Some versions of “y” are more painful than others and threaten our children’s sense of place in their communities—their experience of belonging—more deeply than others, however. I found myself touching this wounded place this morning as I tried to explain to my four-year-old why we had had our computer open at the breakfast table.

“Well,” I said, “this group called the Supreme Court (who lives where President Obama lives) has the job of deciding whether certain laws are fair or not. Right now they’re deciding whether or not a law that affects our family is fair. So mommy and I are really paying attention.”

When she didn’t follow up with a question, I left it at that. In other words, I punted.

The thing is I won’t be quite sure what to say to my daughter about the Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA or Proposition 8, whichever way they go. She’s only four after all. But meanwhile, I know I have to say something. Unlike her younger sister, she’s old enough to know something’s up. She knew it was weird we were staring at the computer over breakfast and that I made her be quiet so I could listen to radio news on our way to swim lessons (usually the kids pick the radio fare).

Yes, the legal implications on these rulings are very significant. I suspect this is felt most strongly in California by couples who had momentary equal access only to have it taken away. Yes, however the decisions go, we still have vexing moral issues about the common good to address. For example, why does marital status have anything to do with whether or not one has access to health care?

But as I wait through the next 24 to 48 hours for the Supreme Court’s decisions, I wait mostly as a parent. In this moment, I am most in touch with the power of symbols and the impact of publicly conferring (or withholding) dignity, recognition, and inclusion on those who live our/their lives in the many different margins that constitute our civic body.

Our children take in messages about who they are at ages so young it’s terrifying. It’s almost like it happens through osmosis. My daughters have already learned about gender in ways beyond my control that I would never sanction. The same is true about race—even when I can’t completely understand what they perceive or how it comes. And I have no doubt that my older one senses, even if the concepts and language aren’t quite there for it yet, that her family is a little different than most of her peers.

So what will she learn this week about who she is as a child born of two moms, an involved dad (whose role the law can’t recognize) and his deeply supportive partner? What material will the Court provide her other mom and I out of which to continue building for her a sense of belonging, acceptance and embrace in her experience of world?

Our job as moms is to figure out how to build that place for her regardless of what the Court says.

But how amazing would it be to have the highest court in the land hand us some of the materials with which to do so? How amazing would it be to be able to say to her that not only do we know that she (and we) are fit, worthy and legitimate members of this collective we call the United States, but that whatever she may occasionally hear at school or encounter in other peoples’ assumptions about family, the formal word is this: “you are part of ‘we’”?

All of us who parent make daily choices about how we teach our young to interpret and respond to the messages they get about actual equality when it comes to race, gender, disabilities, economic status, primary language, and all of the other social categories we use to publicly debate who is and is not part of this “we” who belongs. This life long task, in some ways, changes not at all however the Supreme Court rules. If we who live in Iowa get federal recognition of marriage tomorrow, we still have work to do. Racial diversity and policies that increase access to higher education and employment protections are lgbt values every bit as dear as equal access to marriage—values that arguably impact lgbt people of color more deeply and directly than marriage. (So let none of us forget the Court did issue another impactful ruling today.)

A robust, inclusive, diverse “we” is something we have to constantly create and create again in embrace of, resistance to and/or ambivalence about the many things our public officials say and do.

And I’m up for that. I knew I was taking that on when I decided to become a parent.

But I would be lying if I downplayed at all what it would feel like to this mom, to be able to look her young children directly in the face tomorrow, and say “you belong.” That simple: “You belong.”

“And not only do I know it. But the Supreme Court knows it too.”

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