“So how does the baby get INSIDE the tummy?”
“If a nuclear bomb went off right now in Denver would it hurt people in Texas?”
“But why did someone shoot Martin Luther King, Jr.?”
“What’s the deal with abortion, anyway?”
“If a girl marries a girl then how do they have babies?”
Always in traffic, always when the music is loud, always at the end of the day when I’m just trying to get everyone home in one piece so that we can grouse at each other from the comfortable confines of a kitchen filled with smoke from burning quiche.
Sometimes, the questions are so big and the answers so long that our car conversations overflow into dinner conversations, and so now dinnertime is known throughout the house as The Time To Stump Mom. The particularly tricky part is that, in the car, or at dinner, when all of the kids are present, my answers have to be modulated a bit. My kids range in age from 6 to almost 13, so answers to questions about sperm banks and nuclear holocaust have to be tempered. Not because the 6-year-old can’t know about sperm banks—he just doesn’t need as much detail. You know how that goes.
The other day we all piled out of the car and were bruising through the laundry room at the same time (or trying to, and failing) when my daughter, who is 8, asked me about the possibility of her marrying Katy Perry.
Because I am overly political and obnoxiously glib, I snorted, “Sure, baby, but you’ll have to go somewhere else to do it legally. Ooh, maybe you guys can go to Hawaii.” And I continued into the kitchen so that I could moan loudly at the lack of choices for dinner. When I looked back over my shoulder, my daughter was standing with a weird look on her face, her bookbag at her feet.
“It’s against the law for me to marry Katy Perry? We could go to jail for that?”
“Well, it’s not against the law. It’s just not legally recognized in Texas.” Then my brain did that thing it does when I’m trying to figure out how much information an 8-year-old needs on the topic. Do we talk about health insurance and wills and adoption? “Honey, if Katy Perry became a firefighter and she was killed on the job, you would have no legal right to her death benefits in a place like Texas.” I did not say that, but the struggle was real.
Instead, I cooked dinner, she sat at the kitchen table, and we discussed the right to marry the person you love, and how the Supreme Court is going to maybe fix all the laws about this, so she and Katy Perry can get married in any state they want.
At 8, my daughter’s grasp of sexuality is still developing, but it’s definitely there. I remember at her age I was trying to figure things out, too, but the debate over the right to marry wasn’t part of daily conversations. It didn’t affect anyone I knew. There are times when I want to take my girl in my arms, pat her overall-clad bottom, and tell her how lucky she is to be growing up right now. The world is far from perfect and there is still a lot of hate and ignorance, but there’s been a shift.
There is no way to answer a lot of the questions I get. There is only a hope that the world keeps opening up, that the questions get answered as my children grow older, and that they feel like they have the ability to affect the answers.
The famous women she adores are still pre-packaged by the media so the public can enjoy them in bright and shiny pre-digested bites, but there are also moments that are real. Adults can argue the lyrics and the intent of songs like “I Kissed a Girl,” we can wonder what is going on with Taylor Swift and that super hot model, but we also have TV shows featuring two moms, and gender and sexuality discussions in elementary school. Our family has dear friends in same-sex relationships and marriages. At my kids’ school no one thinks twice about the two-mom and two-dad families. It’s just part of daily life. A trans student came out in my son’s fifth grade class several years ago and the students’ response was “Your new name is AWESOME,” and then life carried on. (Sparking a car conversation that began with, “Mom! Did you know your gender is really inside of you instead of on your outside?!”)
I think of some of my role models when I was 8: Lily Tomlin, Louise Fitzhugh, Sally Ride. I think of the homogenous PTA meetings, the AIDS stories on the news. I don’t know how old I was before I realized it was even a thing for two people of the same sex to fall in love. I wonder, as the stereotypical tomboy, as the girl who crushed on Princess Leia to the point of obsession, as the dress-eschewing, football-loving, dirty-joke-telling, Jo-from-the-Facts-of-Life wannabe, how my formative years would have been different if I had Katy Perry and The Fosters, and Sally Ride had been able to talk about the support of her partner.
One of the more frustrating aspects of the car-to-dinner conversations is that we rarely ever come to a definite conclusion about anything. There are so many paths each conversation can take; the famous “Yes, but—” is always there. Some nights our marrying Katy Perry conversation can veer off into, “Yes, but not every kid can talk so openly about things like this with their parents, which means there is still a lot of change that needs to happen.” Our nuclear war scenarios are rife with, “Yes, but you can never discount diplomacy.” Our sperm bank chats become, “Yes, but there aren’t, like, ATM cards.”
There is no way to answer a lot of the questions I get. There is only a hope that the world keeps opening up, that the questions get answered as my children grow older, and that they feel like they have the ability to affect the answers. And as difficult as it is to discuss Hiroshima, multiverses, and sex reassignment surgery all while fielding homework on fractions and groans over taco night—again—I’m so glad we’re having these conversations, and I hope, as the kids get older, they never stop asking.