Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What is Family?

This week Thora Bea turned six months old. She still has no teeth but she has a brand new face that one friend calls "the scrunchy face" or "the rat face," which my mother very accurately dubbed "the little old lady with no teeth face." It's not her best look. Maybe it's because she's teething? (Kidding!) I hope it passes. See?

Speaking of looks, lately I have been catching new glimpses of myself in pictures looking like a mom. It's really weird to look at myself and see someone who looks like a mom. I don't even know what that means but I can tell you that in pictures of me before I got pregnant and even in pictures of me with a big giant belly full of baby, I definitely did not look like a mom. But now I do. I think the difference is in my face. Is it the love I feel, too big to stay on the inside only? I believe I now I wear on my face what I feel in my heart: the feeling that no one, nothing, nowhere in the whole world matters to me the way Thora does. She and Johnny are my life, my everything.

This got me thinking about what a mom supposedly looks like. Or a dad. And what a family looks like.

This past Friday I was off from work. Thora and I met a friend of mine and her tiny baby boy at mommy-baby yoga and we and another mother went for coffee after the class ended. Sitting there with them, talking, I thought about how one of them was a single mother by choice who tried to work it out with a roommate/friend but then ended up with an anonymous donor and how the other wasn't married to her partner. And then I left these lovely ladies and met another friend whose family is a two-mommy family. Her daughter, like the babies I'd seen earlier that day, was beautiful, sweet, and smart. On Sunday I hung out with another friend whose gorgeous baby boy is biracial and on my way home ran into our neighbors, two men with two adopted queer kids. I had to laugh when I realized that of these beautiful families, I had the most "conventional" family just because we are a legally married white man and white woman with a biological child. How funny - and how totally infuriating - that this actually matters to some people. Truthfully, under the cover of normal, we are very unconventional in so many ways. While my own family smells of textbook in most ways, the truth is that I was adopted as a baby and have parents, a birth mother, half siblings and more. I am a reformed wild child; a divorced, tattooed vegan. A once dater of women, PhD dropout, full-time club kid. At one point in my life I had pink hair and a tongue piercing. And who ever would have guessed that Johnny and I would have gotten our act together after so many years and so many false attempts and made our relationship work the way it works now? And yet, we are, in the eyes of some, more entitled to be a family than other people simply because we signed on the dotted line somewhere and because biology was on our side? Suddenly I am traditional? It's all so laughable. It only proves to me that I am every inch a chameleon and that right-wing politicians haven't a clue what they're talking about. Who are they to define what a family is, and who has the right to marry? It boggles my mind when I think that some people think they know what is best for all people. It also boggles my mind that all the colorful things about me are somehow swept under a rug and into the closet when I am pushing a baby stroller. Clearly we weirdos are capable of raising happy and healthy children. Can't we still stay weirdos in some ways? Or do I perpetuate this conformity in myself without realizing it? Have I bought into the "grownupness" of parenthood and in so doing, have I forsaken some of my individuality? Am I selling myself short? When did I turn into the late 30-something who likes to shop for housewares and furniture and who interrogates other mothers on the street about how they like their strollers or how their baby likes this toy as opposed to that one? And does that mean I can't dance around the apartment with my kid to Alien Sex Fiend or Mindless Self Indulgence or get a tattoo of Mjolnir, Thor's hammer, to symbolize my baby girl (I haven't yet)?

Don't get me wrong. We are good parents. I would even go so far as to say that we are great parents. We are individuals who want what is best for our child. Johnny is the most incredible father. I love to watch him with our daughter - it's like watching a talented dancer onstage. He is a natural. I learn from him, from his patience, his sense of humor, his way of handling her when she's happy and when she's in distress. And I think I'm doing a pretty okay job as well. We have a happy and healthy kid. But our success at being a family has everything to do with our level of commitment to ourselves and to our daughter, and nothing whatsoever to do with our gender, our marital status, or anything else so entirely irrelevant.

I am fortunate to have such rich diversity in my life, and so is Thora. I am lucky to have the interesting and beautiful friends and acquaintances that I do, to have the exciting job that I do, to live in the constantly changing area that I do. I love that I come into contact with people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all lifestyles, every single day. It makes me a better parent because looking around at the parents in my life, I know that love and hard work are what make a family, not blood or biology, who you love, or what they look like, and that in turn makes me a better human being.

Anyone can make a family. See what I mean?


  1. I love this song! Is there proposed legislation to allow gloworms to marry grasshoppers?

    What a great post, Aimee. Thanks for being so candid.

  2. When I saw the photos at the top, I saw that ball/rattle toy and was envious. I want it! Clementine played with another baby's toy at Baby and Me group and I've been looking for it ever since. Hahaha.

    And I look like a mom, too. I think, though, it's the wrinkles and dark circles under my eyes.

    But seriously, what a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Aimee, you and Johnny are awesome parentsm. It is important that people not be "perfect" parents. Really, there is no such thing, but pretending that it is achievable is extremely damaging, both to parents (who can't feel good about successes) and kids (who know that they make mistakes). If kids think that perfection is a realistic goal, they will always feel like failures knowing that they can never ,be perfect. I like to think that the mistakes are not so important as the way you make them right: if I overreact, I then apologize; if I misunderstand, I accept clarification; if I punish unjustly, I acknowledge my error and make the proper amends.

  4. She does look like a little old lady, but I could eat that face, it's adorable.

    Excellent post, I often wish we had more diversity in our lives.

  5. I love this movie! and so does my son.
    Yep a family is a circle of love. It can be anyone in that circle.


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