This weekend we attended the wedding of two men who have known and loved each other for many years now, and who celebrated this love in front of family and friends. The kids have known these two men as a couple for some time now; when they say the name of one, the name of the other always follows. They can't really remember a time when the two weren't together. Weeks ago, when we were driving somewhere in the van, we told the kids we were going to Washington, D.C. to celebrate this wedding. L. asked, incredulously: "They're getting married on the same day?"
and then, immediately--
"who are they marrying?" (Who WERE these mystery women that the kids had most certainly never met?)
"They're marrying each other!" Scott said, simply.
There was silence from the back seat. T. giggled nervously.
"Isn't that strange?" L. asked. It was one of those make or break questions that kids ask. One of those questions where they are just waiting for the answer and so much depends on what you, the parent will say--how you will help them form, in their own minds, the rightness and wrongness or strangeness or normalcy of a thing.
"It might seem strange," we said. "But that's because it's different."
And then the conversation ended not long after that because L. often has no interest in lingering on conversations for too long when they don't have anything to do with oil drilling, or bedouin tents, or some interesting fact about a cat's skeletal structure.
But a few days before this past weekend, I was driving L. to school one morning when he asked about the trip to D.C.
"I still think it's strange that they're getting married," he said. There wasn't any judgment in his voice, but the very fact that he brought up the topic again showed me that he was still mulling it over, turning it around in his head now and again and coming up with some uncertainty he couldn't quite put his finger on.
"I wonder what kids at my school might think about it," he said, thoughtfully.
And I froze a little (well, A LOT) inside. Just as we pulled into the school's parking lot I blurted out, "'Oh well, it might not be a good idea to talk about the wedding at school," I said. After I had walked him to the door I froze a little again inside and realized I had made a Very Bad Parenting Move. You know, one of those moves you the well-meaning parent make when you say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing and you are filled with dread that what you said or did was irreversible and would, down the road cause damage you might not be able to ever undo. What I had done, effectively, was plant the seed in L.'s head that there WAS something strange and perhaps not right with the wedding and that it was something he shouldn't talk about at school because of this. All I had meant to do, as his mother, was spare him--this child of mine who already stands out and bears more than his fair share of teasing--from the responses of his peers. L. may have no judgment in him about the rightness or wrongness of two men marrying each other but there would be plenty of fifth graders, I just knew, who would.
All day long I waited for L. to get home from school so I could fix the blunder, dig up the seed I had so carelessly planted in his head. At dinner that night Scott and I talked with both kids about love, and marriage, and the different forms that a marriage can take. We talked about commitment, and about equality and inequality. We talked about the history of a lot of things related to marriage, and divorce in our country. The bottom line? "Everybody's different," we told the kids. "And everybody has different ideas about what's right or wrong in the world. The most important thing to remember forever is to be true to the things you yourself believe in your heart to be good and right."
Scott and I realized yet again, after we talked with the kids about all this, that children are truly amazing beings. They accept so much that grown-ups themselves have trouble accepting. They are born with the instinct to turn to matters of love and beauty, and they see only the good in all things. It's us grown up people who mess things up for them, who take the good things and turn them into bad, who take beauty and twist it around so it's no longer something beautiful but something dark and frightening and ugly. When I think about all this, I think about T.'s own response, weeks ago, in the van the day we first told the kids about the wedding.
"I'm still not sure WHY they're getting married," L. had said, honestly.
Before we could answer, T. shot her pointer finger up, in an a-ha! gesture of revelation.
"I know why they're getting married!" she said, almost shouting gleefully with excitement as her words tumbled out of her mouth. "They're getting married because they LOVE each other, and that's the WHOLE TRUTH!"
The whole and simple truth, beautiful and clean and honest, through and through.