The kids went to get their eyes checked for the first time ever, last week.
Since I was taking a two-year old who's been finally cutting her molars and is Miss CrankyPants-I-Will-Hit-You-Just-Because-I'm-In-Pain-And-You-Are-The-Closest-Thing and a four-year old who likes to disassemble everything she lays eyes on, I thought it best to bring along Babysitter J for back up. There are eyeglass frames laying out all over the store, many in perfect toddler reach.
So there we sat in the office, Nat up in the examining chair, J and I in the back, with Selina crawling between us. The doctor said to Nat in a schmarmy condescending voice, "do you know your ABCs, honey?" Nat didn't even seem to really understand what he was asking so I said "she knows them!" and the doctor proceeded to flash up the first eye chart.
The chart read "H R N"
"Hern," said Nat.
I then hastily explained to Nat that these weren't words and she should just read out the letters for the doctor. I stood up and pointed to each one as she read. Her eyes turned out to be fine.
Next was Selina's turn. The doctor flashed up a chart with silhouettes of a fish, a car, a tree, an airplane. Selina looked at the slightly curvy fish. "S?" she asked.
I pointed to the tree. "No sweetie, they aren't letters. What's this?"
"T?" she wondered.
I figured she thought we wanted her to identify letters as she'd just watched her sister do. I asked the doctor to use letters instead of pictures. So he put up a chart that read "E S N Z"
Selina grinned, raised her right hand in the air and signed "E" then "S." But she didn't make a peep with her voice.
"That's right! I said, "good job, smart girl!"
The doctor looked befuddled. "She can see them just fine," I explained.
But before Selina had her turn, the doctor was looking into Nat's eye with the light and he told her "Look over my shoulder at your mom and dad." Again, Nat didn't seem to get it.
Now neither J nor I really care if people mistake us for a hetero-nuclear family. But my mind was racing ahead to the fact that Nat will be starting at her school next month. She is going to be hearing a lot about her theoretical "dad" from people all the time. So I decided to let it be a teachable moment.
"Nat, darling," I asked her, "is J your dad?"
"No!" said Nat, like anyone who might think that must be crazy, "he's J!"
"Do you have a dad?" I asked her further.
"No--I have two moms!" she clarified.
"Oh! that's nice" said the doctor.
So now she knows that A) it's not a secret that her family is a little atypical B) a possible script for clearing up any confusion in that department and C) people won't be mad or freaked out or anything over it. (I knew the eye doctor wouldn't be--he's probably gay himself and the clinic is in Lesbianville, Chicago.)
Nat's school is technically queer-family-friendly. There are a couple of other same-sex-headed families there. Two children of lesbians are in her age group (3-6 year-olds), but neither are in her actual class. I have a feeling the default theoretical family teachers and other kids will imagine and refer to will be a mommy-daddy-kids family. Nat has already internalized that norm from watching her various videos. PBS kids may have some high quality educational shows, but they are no better than anyone else when it comes to family diversity.
And I have been anxious as heck about all this for a few weeks now.
Originally, we planned to homeschool at least until the kids were around 8 or 9 or even older, in large part to keep them from facing too much marginalization due to all their difference from the other kids--like the whole, interracial-queer-adoptive family thing, ya know? I figured I'd teach them until they were ready to kick serious butt (intellectually that is) if needed, to stand up for themselves and feel expressive and confident.
Then we moved, and I found a school that seemed like maybe it will be a good fit and the kids won't be all that different and the school values difference anyway and yadda yadda now I'm panicking.
It's not that I don't know Nat will manage just fine. It's just that she's only four and a half. I want her to feel strong and confident when she's facing that kid who insists a girl can't marry a girl (however innocently). And there have already been a couple of foreshadowy incidents on the public playground here, in which a boy about 5ish years old was judging her for her less-than-stellar performance on the jungle gym (Nat's gross motor skills are still very late, though not enough to truly be considered "delayed") and then later tried to pull her hat off to see her hair because he thought in this way he could determine her true gender, though upon being asked, she had already told him she was a girl.
(I took note recently that almost all of the girls' play clothes are from the "boys'" departments of the stores and almost all their dress up clothes are dresses. I just tend to not like play clothes for girls and I tend to LOVE the dresses I find for them.)
Cole intervened in this stuff with this particular boy and Nat is just too naive to feel bad about it anyway. She's all like "yeah I'm a girl, yeah, I have pretty braids, yeah I'm new to the monkey bars, wanna be best friends forever?"
And thus I see her as a lamb among, well, if not wolves, sort of overly rambunctious puppies, perhaps, who might inadvertently nip her too hard when she's least expecting it.
One thing I've been doing is teaching her language that she might hear so she can make it her own and/or correct people who use the wrong language. I've been teaching her that "when two girls love each other and get married and are two moms with kids, that's called 'lesbians.'" I'm also teaching her that the same re: boys is called "gay" and the same re: a boy and a girl is called "straight."
If someone says "your moms are lesbians!" I want her to know that everybody has a label of this type and if need be, she can say "your parents are straight!"
So bent am I on instilling this in her that we are going to make three collages and hang them on the bedroom wall. One will be called "Lesbians" and will feature pictures of female couples looking goo-goo at each other. The other two will be similar, and titled, "Gay" and "Straight."
If all of this sounds silly, well, guess what? One of the issues that I have often read about in books on the topic suggests that even kids whose parents are 100% out and have been since the kid was born may leap to the defensive and insist "no way!" if/when some other kid says "your dad is gay!" for example. It could be that there's never been a reason to introduce the term at home, since it is just the normative family style, just like most kids with a mom and a dad wouldn't "know" their parents are "straight."
Also, when the term "gay" inevitably gets thrown around as an insult, Nat can play Raffi to whatever Billy is up in her face.
I put some thoughts about Henry Louis Gates, President Obama, and raising Black children up over at Strollerderby. I am bracing myself for nastiness. I can't believe that Obama had to apologize and the white police officer refuses to do the same, insisting HE's the victim here.
Cry me a flippin' river.
P.S. to the news media:
Dr. Henry Louis Gates is not "Skip" to you anymore than Dr. Codoleeza Rice is "Condi" to you. Knock off the disrespect.
I blogged about this at Strollerderby and I mentioned it on Facebook, but I have more to say about it.
These lesbians and lesbian exes and ex-lesbians and what-have-you are getting me down today. The story is: Once upon a time two women fell in love and got together in Seattle. There they settled down, feathered a nest and each gave birth to a baby, each of whom was adopted, in turn by the nonbiological second mom. Happy-happy, joy-joy.
Then the family moved to Florida and all hell broke loose. Moms split up, agreeing to coparent amicably, until Mom A falls in love with a fundamentalist Christian man, gets engaged, repudiates her lesbo history and refuses to let Mom B have any more visitation with Mom A's bio child.
Mom B sues for custody (of her nonbio, but fully legally adopted child) and the court overturns the adoption (made in another state, mind you) on the grounds that Florida doesn't grant adoption to gay people. Mom B appeals and the appeals court rules in her favor, saying Florida, whether it grants gay adoptions or not, must recognize adoptions made in other states under the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Now, Mom A has appealed to the Florida Supreme Court (no word on whether they are taking the case yet).
Here are some points:
1. If Florida upholds its right to willy-nilly reverse adoptions made in other states, um, whoa, Bessie! What does that mean for any adoptive family, not just queer ones? You may think that you are safe because Florida doesn't ban you from adopting at the moment, but this kind of precedent sure opens a can of worms to allow Florida to decide it doesn't like you either and will dissolve your relationship to your child while on vacation at Disney. Florida, by all accounts is Crazy State. You never know what it's going to do next.
2. Mom A is a jerk, obviously. But not just because she is keeping her bio kid from its (don't know the genders here) second mom. She is, one must assume, also repudiating her own parenthood of Mom B's bio kid, in spite of having adopted the kid legally in Washington. Now that's major jerkness, right there.
3. We need federal laws governing this stuff, not state ones. I know that's a long shot, but if states are going to go ignoring the full faith and credit clause, and if the U.S. Congress is going to support them in that with laws like the DOMA, which allows marriages to be dissolved when crossing state lines (also in glaring contradiction to full faith and credit, among other things), then states need to simmer down and let the feds take over family law in these broad areas of marriage and adoption. You can't just dissolve legal familial bonds when a family arrives in your state. That is dangerous on a zillion levels. Certainly, most clearly in the case of a child whose parent can just renounce her responsibility to provide for and nurture that child as a parent who took on these responsibilities legally--and for life--in another state.
4. I have been reading all this adoption stuff (new books from conference) about the various ways that a loss as devastating as an entire family will mess with the developmental tasks at every stage of a child's life. Whether adopted at birth or after five years of foster care, kids still sustain a loss at the outset of adoption that adds challenges to growing up healthy, happy and whole. It can be done of course, I'm not suggesting otherwise. I'm simply saying that it adds challenges and makes life more difficult. Why any parent in her right mind would create this situation for a child by taking that child from a (perfectly healthy, non-abusive) second parent is beyond me. Why orchestrate a loss for your child when you could have prevented it?
I know, people are nutso when they break up. Ex-gay fundie converts even more so, I am sure. Much as I wish it were not true, lesbians are just normal human beings like everyone else and no better behaved in a breakup than straight, legally married people who might just as readily swipe the kids if it were so easily done, given no legal protection for the ex's relationship with them.
And because lesbians (and gay men and you know, everyone) are human, we need laws to protect our children when breakups happen. I know some people pull off voluntary coparenting with integrity. But some don't. And some really, really don't. So we need a blanket of second-parent adoption that covers all children and protects their connections to their parents.
In fact, I think de facto parents should have legal standing, whether adoptive or not. They should have automatic rights to visitation unless a court decides it is not in the child's best interest. Overall, I am tired of this stuff being put under the heading of "gay rights" because it is really about children's rights. Kids don't get to choose who their parents are. Like it or not, queers have been having children from time immemorial and will continue to do so. Protect those kids not by prohibiting them from having legal ties to their parents, but by mandating their parents support them and give them access to all other parents, whether they are born again or not.
Really, what kid would Jesus abandon?
Same-sex marriage would help--if the moms had married in this particular case--by providing same-sex divorce and thus putting the visitation and custody stuff in the hands of a court. But plenty of straight people don't bother/have their reasons not to marry the second parent of their child (biological and otherwise--look at Brangelina), so marriage really isn't the issue here. The issue is kids' rights to their parents--as defined by the kids. Children will develop connections to people whether the adults in their lives necessarily want them to or not. Step-parents, boyfriends, grandmothers who babysit every day--kids will define their primary caregivers in ways we might not. Those relationships deserve at least a glance by a court before being severed at the whim of one legal parent.
Meanwhile, this case is simple enough--the adoption was actually legal. Mom A needs to present her bio kid for visitation with Mom B and cut a check for her share of Mom B's bio kid's support. Case closed.
Now that I'm a farmer, I take an interest in something called "hardiness zones" which tell me how cold it can get where I am planting and what will and will not grow there. I never knew what zone I was in until recently. It seems I am in zone 6. But here's the thing: a couple of years ago I would have been in zone 5. In 2006, they changed the zones, because some places had warmed up so much. I found a nifty, but worrying animation of the shift in zones from 1990 to 2006 here. Check it out. It kinda gives me the willies.
Jody pointed out that my position seems pretty freighted with my experience as someone on the margins of mainstream parenting for a number of reasons (like being a lesbian transracial adopter, for instance) and the frustration that brings in terms of people's expectations about what makes for a family and what makes for beauty etc. Yes indeed.
Sara raised some scenarios of ethical conundrum in which aesthetics overlap with disease (sort of) or in which values conflict--like the value of being a different kind of person versus the value of being free of what mainstream society might consider a defect (Sara used little people versus typically statured people. Me, I always think of deaf people when this kind of question is raised.)
Anyway, I got to thinking that I should share my personal stakes in this discussion. So here are the ones that immediately come to mind:
1. I'm a member of a group that could well be severely reduced in numbers were we to find a gene for it. I know that you, gentle reader, would never select against a gay embryo, but that doesn't mean most people wouldn't. Most people probably would, given the choice, right now, today. (Mind you I'm not so sure I think there's a gay gene out there, but let's just say they were to find one. God forbid they ever do, and this is why.)
2. I am someone with very little personal feeling about being pregnant and passing my genes into the future. I realize either or both of those things are very important to some people. My interest in it doesn't go much further than idle curiosity. I am awed by human reproduction, but I don't have a burning desire to participate in it directly. Which is just to say I do know that the desire to be pregnant and/or pass on ones' (or one's partner's) genes is almost indescribably strong for some people, and I am sympathetic, but I am not empathetic in the sense that I just don't get how that feels.
3. My two best friends are directly impacted by ART. One went through IVF twice and she and I even had an egg donor talk once (didn't ever go through with it and she ended up with a surprise bio-baby in the happy end). My other best friend and her female partner are starting down the path to donor sperm selection, beginning with a friend. So it is not that I am untouched or unfamiliar with the details of various ART options, beyond just reading infertility blogs (which I've done a lot of too).
4. My family is composed of entirely un-biologically-related members. We don't look a thing alike either--no two of us. And that is a deep, special blessing with gifts that I think most people never consider. It is most often assumed to be a handicap. And it is a social oddity, to be sure, but I am not one to assume social oddities are necessarily handicaps.
So that's where I'm coming from. Now, Jody raised the problem of how you go about actually regulating these things. I don't know, and that's not my area of expertise. But here's what I think. I think people like me and like Jody can certainly sit in meetings with people whose expertise is actual regulation--and actual enforcement of regulation--and air our concerns and help to hammer it all out. Sara, on the other hand, seems worried in both her comments that the special needs of special cases and the special knowledge of the parents in question would somehow be overridden by regulations. But "regulation" doesn't mean parents have no voice in decisions. In fact, it can mean whatever we hammer out in a meeting with the regulation experts. It doesn't have to be all one way or another. And as for ethics boards consisting of all tall people (making decisions, in Sara's scenario for little people), why would that necessarily be the case? Hospitals already have ethics boards for trouble-shooting things that come up (which they do on a regular basis). I don't know how they get put together. But I strongly believe that any board overseeing these kinds of decisions should have representation from someone with strong disability rights credentials. Because the case of the little people forced to have tall children or a deaf parent forced to have a hearing child are good examples of how subjective these kinds of issues can be.
Calling for regulation or ethics boards or whatever is not saying "people should not be allowed to blah blah blah." It's saying "this needs to be mulled over much more thoughtfully than just to say 'is there a market for it?'" All the cautionary concerns raised by you all and others should be part of the mulling. It's all valid fodder. But I still maintain laissez-faire is not the way to go when it comes to medical ethics, especially medical ethics concerning entirely helpless, dependent beings, from embryos to babies. And although PGD may be quite rare today, it may be considerably less rare a generation from now, (as is the case with all kinds of ART that was in the wee developmental stages a generation ago and is all but routine today). That being the case, it is a good idea for us to establish--at the very least--a set of values upon which to base future uses of such technology. And even if there's loads of gray area (and there is likely to always be), I think the values that technologies like PGD be used for 1) legitimate medical reasons only and 2) without violating the rights of the child in question is a great place to start. After that, we can sit around tables and argue for and against various cases being legitimate/rights violations or not. But I think those values would put hair and eye color selection quite obviously beyond the pale. And I'm good with that.
To be fair, I thought I'd share a few books with you that are in the background of my thinking on this reproductive ethics stuff. I know there are piles of terrific books about these things, but mostly these three are lurking behind my recent writing on the issue (from my strollerderby Suleman posts to this recent one about PGD):
I love this book. Shanley shifts the bottom line from "best interest of the child" to the rights of the child. Sound like the same thing? Not remotely. Everybody should read this book. Right now. Immediately. Go on, click, buy, read.
This one is a less academic choice than the other two. It's a highly readable account of the Nobel Sperm Bank written by a Slate contributor. It gives a great overview of sperm banking (history of to current practices) and will demystify the notions they try to sell you at the big sperm bank websites.
I also read a fascinating, 85-page academic article about Indian surrogacy and its ethical tangles last week. You can download it too from Ethica.
When I was in high school and college I was subject to a gazillion courses in bioethics. At the time, IVF was newish, egg donation was mostly theoretical, right-to-die folks were just starting to get noisy, the human genome was only just beginning to be mapped, etc. I spent countless hours in discussions with far more conservative peers, arguing mostly for a great deal of freedom for the uses of new medical technologies and research (including research using human embryos).
So imagine my surprise when my recent post at Strollerderby about a new for-profit offering at a fertility clinic, allowing parents to use PGD to determine a child's hair and eye color, was met with a big shrug. Most commenters seemed to feel that hey, it's a free market. And of course, IVF being a massive undertaking--only done by the medically in need, at great pain and suffering and expense--this procedure isn't going to be sought by many and thus will have very little impact on society.
Well of course. This procedure. At this moment. But that doesn't mean we should just accept it and move on. The fact that huge expense goes into developing something so--frankly--stupid as hair and eye color selection and it is offered in a free market to medical consumers is a travesty in my opinion. No it won't impact the gene pool (which fact plenty of people don't seem to understand and is another problem with the lack of discussion) and no, banning it won't automatically cause money to spent elsewhere.
But unlike Barack Obama, I'm a socialist--at least about a great many things. And it seems more than obvious to me that a free market approach to medicine has failed miserably in the United States. It's time to pull in the reins on the race to the ethical bottom (octuplets, anyone?) and the excessive gap between rich and poor people's access to medicine. Taking a good look at high-cost fertility treatment that forces people to mortgage their homes for a 5% shot at having a baby seems reasonable to me, when we re-evaluate how our society allocates spending.
And I am not talking about banning fertility treatment. It seems like in some corners, if you say "regulate" and "fertility treatment" anywhere within 100 words of each other, people jump to assume they will no longer be allowed to do those high-end procedures. I am hardly suggesting that. In fact, I think that any public health coverage should include fertility treatment--including IVF, including PGD when medically called for--which is considerably more than most private insurance plans do for us now. But if we are going to provide fertility coverage to everyone, we are going to need to make the expenses reasonable. Why not include in any new health plan, caps on pricing for treatments and drugs like many countries have now? Why not put a maximum on the profit a doctor can make with this stuff? How could regulating that kind of thing not help infertile people who need the treatment?
Look, I'm not interested in ever getting pregnant myself. But I'm happy to pony up some percentage of my tax money so that you folks who are interested and need help with it can get that help even if you aren't rich, without going into monumental debt. But I'm not paying so some fool doctor in LA can line his pockets with cash from people who know no better than to think it's a good idea to custom order a baby by looks. And I'd like to see the incentives to a doctor to offer that sort of thing drastically reduced--by, for example, making it illegal to charge anything extra for that kind of service. That would also reduce the R&D incentives to go finding those genes in the first place. The market is not a force of nature. Plenty of people outside the United States know this. It is time U.S. Americans realized it and started taking some responsibility for where the market goes next.
Let's focus on curing cancer, not filling the prep schools of tomorrow with customized kids.