A Tale of Two Flower Girls

Bennett, in his favorite outfit

After two previous posts, I wasn’t planning on writing yet again about my son’s fondness for wearing dresses.  Most of the time, he’d rather wear his Thomas the Train t-shirt and jeans, but occasionally, he asks to wear something out of his sister’s closet.  None of us makes a big deal about it, except maybe his sister, who likes to gush about what a beautiful princess he makes.

But this was a very special dress… and a very special day.

Drew’s brother Peter was getting married.  Drew and his other brother were the Best Men, Sutton was a flower girl and Bennett was a ring bearer.

At least, that was the plan.

Naturally, we made a big deal about the flower girl dress, at the risk of causing Sutton to spontaneously combust with glee.  It had a sash, Aunt Ali had picked it out personally and it was so special it could only be worn on that one magical day.  It wasn’t white, as Sutton would remind us over and over.  It was “cream-colored.”

We looked at pictures of the dress online almost daily until it finally arrived, when Sutton began asking us every ten minutes if we would take it out so she could look at it.

As with most formal occasions, men’s fashion was an afterthought.  Bennett would wear a white shirt, dark pants and suspenders, which we could shop for and purchase at our convenience.

We shouldn’t have been surprised when Bennett announced that he was going to be a flower girl, too.  He never showed much interest in the dress itself, never stood at the closet door and gawked at it with his sister, but he insisted that on the wedding day, he was going to wear it.

His uncle and aunt-to-be assured us that they didn’t care what he wore or what he carried down the aisle, just as long as he was a part of their big day.

This was months ago, and Drew and I had to make the call.  The flower girl dress was expensive, and it needed to be ordered way ahead of time.  Would we have a ring bearer in the family… or two flower girls?

Those of you who have never been parents of a three-year-old need to know one thing:

You can’t plan for a kid’s desires five minutes in advance, let alone five months.

Trust me, I live with this kid.  One moment, he might ask very sweetly for me to play “Part of Me” by Katy Perry, but 22 seconds later, once I’ve found it on my iPod and hooked it up to the speakers, he’s furious that we’re not listening to Maroon 5.

Who knew what he would really want to do on the wedding day, when he saw the other ring bearers in their white shirts and suspenders?  Would he do a 180 on us and refuse to go down the aisle in the cream-colored gown?

OK, I’ll admit we also considered the fact that a little boy in a dress was going to steal some of the spotlight from the bride.  If our son identified as a girl and this were a matter of acknowledging his gender identity, that would’ve been different.  But it seemed like it was more the case of a little boy who was jealous of his sister.  We bought him the suspenders.

Occasionally over the next few months, the subject of the wedding would come up, and we’d mention that Bennett was going to be a ring bearer.  “Nope!” he’d say.  “I’m a flower girl!”  Then, we’d quickly change the subject.

This past weekend, we went to Philadelphia for the wedding.  The other kids in the wedding party weren’t at the rehearsal, and Bennett continued to insist that, during the ceremony, he would be spreading rose petals down the aisle.  We knew we had blown it.  Bad call.  The next day, we’d have one very hurt, angry little boy on our hands.

The morning of the wedding, we met up with one of the other ring bearers.  Bennett had actually had a play date with him a while back, during the bridal shower.  “You remember Little Pete?” I asked him.

“Yes,” Bennett said.  “I played with his trains.”

When it came time to put on his ring bearer outfit, Bennett didn’t put up much of a fight.  He thought Sutton looked pretty in her dress, and he beamed when we told him how handsome he was.

We breathed a sigh of relief.  We had made the right call.

Sutton did an amazing job as flower girl, and Bennett and Little Pete were top-notch ring bearers.

“I’m so proud of you,” I told Bennett after the ceremony.  “Did you like Little Pete?”

“Yes,” Bennett said.  “When I grow up, I’m going to marry him.”

I smiled at my kid and said, “Bennett, nothing would make me prouder.”

mommydearest

A Gay Dad Wonders… Do My Kids Deserve a Mom?

I almost wrote this post a few months ago when Bristol Palin said something annoying about gay parents.  Now, it’s Rupert Everett who said something annoying about gay parents.  Forgive me, but I’m having a harder time lately getting annoyed.

It’s the same argument every time: hey, moms are great.  Kids should have one.  (Ditto for dads, but I’m covered there — my kids have two!  Whew!)

OK, you win.  Moms are great.  I agree.  I have a mom.  My mom has a mom.  Abraham Lincoln had a mom.  (Turns out she died when he was 9.  Think how much more awesome he would’ve been if she’d lived a little longer.)

So sure, if you have a mom or two, count yourself lucky.  But don’t look down on my family just because we’re different.  You think my kids are better off with some smack-talking piece of trash like Bristol Palin than with me and my partner?  Or do you want to take her kid away, too, because she’s a single mom and a worthless idiot?  Either way, you’re wrong.  (See that, Bristol?  I’ve got your back.)

A model family

It’s almost too easy to make the counter-arguments to the people who insist that all kids should have exactly one mom and one dad.  Yes, there are those studies that say that kids raised with gay parents aren’t any more likely to knock over a liquor store someday than any other kids.  But all that science overlooks an even bigger argument — namely, what if your mom’s an asshole?

Ever heard of alcoholics?  Child abusers?  Dina Lohan?  Ever seen a little film called Mommy Dearest?  Trust me, plenty of gays have seen it, so it’s no wonder we think we can do the job better.

Come to think of it, I should take it easier on Bristol.  Her mom kind of sucks, too.

Lots of mothers are just plain horrible, and if you’re stuck with one of those train wrecks, you have my sympathies — and an open invitation to come hang out at our place sometime.  You’ll love it.  We don’t have any female role models, but we do have all three major video game consoles and a trampoline.  Sweet, huh?

Again, I’m not trying to badmouth moms, most of whom are loving, nurturing, patient, incredibly generous people.  I just think the anti-gay parents brigade are missing the point.  Since when do we expect every single family to fit some ideal of How Children Must Be Raised, and why is that ideal so often limited to gender roles?

Couldn’t you say kids are better off in smaller families, where they can get more attention from their one mom and one dad?  That they’re better off in affluence than in poverty?  With access to health care than without?  With a good education than in an underfunded public school?  With jetpacks and laser guns and a computer chip implanted in their head that helps them do long division?

You can’t just hold up some hypothetical ideal and tell everyone who can’t provide it that they shouldn’t be having kids at all.  Who would be left?  And what if someone in one of those ideal families dies or gets laid off or moves to Cancun with their secretary?  Families face all kinds of circumstances, positive and negative, and they persevere because they don’t have a choice.  That’s why we need families in the first place — to get through all the garbage life flings at us.

Besides, just having one mom and one dad is no guarantee that all the gender-related territory is covered.  Even with straight couples, some dads are girly and some moms are manly.  Just because a kid has a mom and a dad, it doesn’t mean he’s baking cookies with her and driving monster trucks with him.  It could be the reverse, or neither.  Tell me, Prince Charming from Shrek, how much micromanaging of familial gender roles is necessary to protect children?

Deep down, those of us in the trenches know the truth: families aren’t made by a mold.  They’re made by people who love each other, and they come in all different forms, some of which seem weird to outsiders.  Ours has no mom.  Maybe yours lives in a Winnebago or has a reality show on E!  Nobody’s perfect.  But even though we can’t all give our kids everything we’d like them to have, we do our best.

Before we had kids, my partner and I thought a lot about what they would be missing out on with no mommy.  I was satisfied we could still provide them a good home, but I realized I could never satisfy the people who don’t think two dads should be raising a family.  You think my kids deserve a mom?  Fine, maybe you’re right, but they’re not getting one.  I’m just not capable of loving a woman the way I love my partner, so if we’re going to do this, it’s him and me.

And like it or not, we’re doing it.  We have twin 3-year-olds who rely on their two dads to feed them, tickle them, wipe their butts and protect them from monsters — plus a few million other things we do because we love them to an unfathomable, sometimes ridiculous degree.

I know a hypothetical mom might add certain wonderful things to their lives.  I think about that constantly, because like all good parents, I want my kids to have it all.  I worry what’s going to happen when my daughter hits puberty and my partner and I have to Google menstruation to talk her though it.  It breaks my heart when I pick them up from school and overhear the teacher telling the class, “OK, let’s see if your mommies are here to get you!”  At three years old, they already know our family is different.  Someday, they’re bound to hear the hurtful things that Bristol Palin and Rupert Everett and so many other people say about us, and that bums me out big time.

But that’s the world my partner and I chose to bring kids into, and ours is the family we knew they would have.  And you know what?  I still think we made the right choice.  Our family may be a bit different than most, but our kids know that they’re loved and that their two daddies will always be there for them, possibly with a female friend along if we’re buying a training bra or something.

The good news is that, other than the rantings of a few homophobic celebrities (including at least one self-loathing gay man), gay families are getting some pretty good PR these days.  We have sitcoms like The New Normal and Modern Family that make us look (mostly) good, celebrity ambassadors like Ricky Martin, Elton John and Neil Patrick Harris, even the support of the President.  It’s not always going to be such smooth sailing, though.

Someday, maybe even soon, there’ll be a major news story about some horrible gay parents who kept their kids locked in a subterranean torture prison or made them work at an iPad factory or something horrific like that.  You know it’ll happen, because every sexual orientation, not to mention every gender, race, religion, ethnicity, disability status, blood type, Edward-or-Jacob affiliation and grouping of any kind has its share of douchebags.  And when the media circus springs up around Doug and Bob and the half dozen foster kids they used as drug mules, the Bristol Palins and Rupert Everetts will point at them and say, “See?  See???”  Kind of like what global warming deniers might say on a cool day in August.

You know what?  Doug and Bob are jerks.  But if you think that says anything about me and my partner, then so are you.

So I don’t have time to be outraged every time someone in the public eye says something negative about gay families.  It’s going to happen again… and again, and again.  Ultimately, though, it’s not what a few people say but what the rest of us do just by living our lives that speaks the loudest.

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My Son Wore a Dress

This is a followup to my post “My Son Wants to Wear a Dress”, which can be found here.

As soon as I decided I was just going to let Bennett wear a dress, public reaction be damned, he stopped asking.  Little did I know he was just waiting to raise the stakes.

The next time he asked, we were on vacation in upstate New York, visiting Drew’s family.  This was the day we were going to the zoo.  We’d been talking it up to the kids all week.  Just as we were picking out clothes, Bennett made his intentions known.

“I want to wear a dress!” he chriped, his voice rising an octave on the key word.

As usual, Drew and I kind of stalled.  We’d been hoping we could blur the gender lines quietly at home – at least initially.  Letting him make his drag debut at the zoo might mean throwing him literally to the wolves.

His sister Sutton must have noticed my hesitation, because she stepped in to do the dirty work.  “No, Bennett,” she said.  “You can’t wear a dress.  It’s not OK!”

“Come on, Bennett,” I said.  “Let’s go pick one out.”  I couldn’t control how the rest of the world reacted to my son’s attire, but I wasn’t going to let his own family shame him for wanting to express himself.

As I stripped him of his boy clothes, Bennett couldn’t stop smiling.  “I’m going to wear a dress outside!” he cheered.  “I’m going to wear a dress outside!”

Maybe the kid was more aware than I realized.  So wearing the dress outside was the triumph?  Maybe he wanted to see how strangers reacted.  That’s awfully subversive for a not-quite-three-year-old.

We have a rule with Sutton.  Whenever she wears a dress, she has to wear shorts or leggings underneath.  Being the fuddy-duddy daddies we are, we refuse to contribute to the hoochie-fication of today’s toddlers.  Our little girl wasn’t going to be some primped-up preschool strumpet.

And neither was our little boy.  If he was going to wear a dress, he was going to put something on underneath it.

The problem was that none of Bennett’s shorts really went with the dress.  Neither did his very boyish navy blue sneakers.  He didn’t care.  The dress was all that mattered to him – but not to me.  I didn’t want people to think this was my idea of a flattering ensemble for my son.

Suddenly, I’d be the one getting judged.  “I can’t believe those dads put that poor little boy in a dress… and didn’t help him accessorize!”

He looked silly.  At least I thought so.  To be honest, I don’t think he even checked himself out.  All he wanted to do was dance.

“Twirl!  Twirl!  Twirl!” he shouted, as he spun around again and again, watching the dress float up around him.

Suddenly, I wondered if he got the idea to wear a dress from Beauty & The Beast.  The way Belle dances in the ballroom and the camera zooms in on her gown rising majestically around her — it was so magical.

For Bennett, the dress was a toy he could wear – part pants, part hula hoop.

It was nice to see him so happy, but there was one person who could derail that joy in an instant – and she was waiting for him at the bottom of the staircase.

It was, after all, a vacation.  We’d only packed two dresses.  Sutton was wearing one, and now her brother was wearing the other one.

Her favorite dress.

I was terrified what she would say.  I very cautiously brought Bennett to the top of the staircase.

“I’m wearing a dress!” he trilled, and his sister glanced up for a look.

All of us froze in that moment.  Once again, it was like Beauty & The Beast, right after Belle has been dolled up by the coat rack and miscellaneous flatware.  When the Beast sees her, he smiles, and you know everything is going to be OK.

“You look so pretty!” Sutton squealed.  “Now we’re both princesses!”

Whew!

Bennett scurried downstairs, and they danced together, twirling and twirling, until they both fell over, giggling.

Drew and I went to the zoo prepared to clock anyone who made a comment about Bennett’s dress, but nobody said a thing.  We were the only ones who were the least bit uptight about it.

On the way home, we stopped for lunch.  Our waitress leaned down to me and Drew.  “You have such beautiful girls,” she said.

I wasn’t sure what she meant at first.  Was she saying what she thought my son wanted to hear?  “Such beautiful girls” – wink!

It didn’t seem right.  He may have been wearing his sister’s clothes at the moment, but my son is very much a boy.  He plays with trains, builds Lego towers, splashes in mud puddles.  He even announced recently that when he grows up, he wants to marry a boy… just like both his dads.  What’s more boyish than that?

When the waitress returned with our food, she made another comment.  “You two fellas are so lucky to be here with such beautiful women!”  I realized she was being totally sincere.  She hadn’t noticed Bennett’s shorts or sneakers, hadn’t thought much about his short hair.  Because he was wearing a dress, she assumed he was a girl.

“Thank you,” I said, “but this guy’s a boy.  He just wanted to wear a dress today.”

My Son Wants To Wear a Dress

If you’re wondering whether gay parents are more likely to raise gay kids, you should know that my 2 1/2 year-old daughter has already announced that she wants to marry a boy when she grows up.  No particular boy, not at this point, just “a boy”.

Where did she get this crazy idea that you can marry, you know, people of the opposite sex?  I blame Disney movies.  Ariel and Eric, Tiana and Naveen, Beauty and the Beast.  Daddy and Daddy just can’t compete with love stories like those, especially without any Menken-penned showtunes of our own for her to dance along to.

I’ve even reminded her that girls can marry girls, at least here in New York.  No thanks, she’s marrying a boy.  And her brother is going to marry a girl.

So she says.

Like most boys his age, Bennett hasn’t shown much interest yet in marrying anyone, of either gender.  But he does want to wear a dress.  Badly.  Lately, he’s been asking me every day.

I read absolutely nothing into this, of course.  It’s not like either of his dads was ever into the drag thing, but he certainly hears about dresses an awful lot.  His twin sister is obsessed with them and gets a lot of attention for them, so I don’t blame him for thinking something magical will happen if he puts one on.  He’d definitely get a lot of attention.

Of course, that’s my fear.  I don’t care if the kid wears a dress, whether or not it ends up being something he wants to do when he gets older.  But I know if he wears a dress to the playground or the zoo, some schmuck kid (or, perhaps more likely, grown-up) will feed him that nonsense that “boys don’t wear dresses”.

If that happens, it might not be a big deal.  He might go, “Oh, really?  They don’t?  Why didn’t you tell me that, Daddy?”  Then again, he might cry.  I’m just not ready for the world to teach my kid shame.  I grew up in the closet myself, albeit a slightly different one, and I don’t want that to happen to him.  For now, I don’t even want him to know there is a closet.

So when he asks me to wear a dress, I don’t say no.  I tell him he can do it “later” (as in when we’re not going outside for a while).

“Later” also means when he’s old enough to understand how other people might react.  And if he wants to wear dresses anyway, then I’ll have his back — plunging, ruffled or otherwise.

I’ll also remind him that he can marry whomever he wants, no matter what society – or his sister – might tell him.

You Gotta Have Heart Shirt

We were looking through old pictures, and when Sutton saw this one, she squealed, “Heart shirt!”

Two words that quickly changed our lives.

The last time she’d worn that shirt was months earlier, and it wasn’t a big deal.  Now, finding that shirt and putting it on was the most important thing in the world.

It barely fit her anymore, but she loved it.  She wore it all day and went back to the mirror over and over to admire it – or to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, and it was still there.  The next day, the first words out of her mouth were “Heart shirt!”  She wanted to wear it again.

Three weeks later, she was still wearing the damn heart shirt.  Drew washed it every night, because Sutton wouldn’t consider wearing anything else – and oh, we tried.

Finally, two days ago, I was tired of seeing it, and I was tired of seeing her diaper underneath it every time she raised her arms, because the heart shirt didn’t quite cover her back.

“Guys, let’s do something fun today,” I told them.  “Let’s go clothes shopping!”

They fell for it.

I told Sutton she could pick out any shirt she wanted, as long as it was long-sleeve and they had it in her size. I figured she might wear something else if she felt some ownership of it.  It was worth a shot.

She picked out five new shirts. Four of them were pink and the other one had a heart on it.  Actually, I picked the heart one out for her myself.  It was light blue, and she had no interest in it.  “That’s for Bennett!” she insisted.

Maybe it wasn’t the heart she was into after all.

She couldn’t wait to show Daddy her new clothes when he got home at night.  The next day, she didn’t even mention the heart shirt.  She wanted the “flower shirt”.  This one:

As soon as I had it on her, she asked if she could wear it during her nap, too.  She was already afraid I’d take the flower shirt away from her.

This morning, she asked for it again.

“What about all the other shirts we bought yesterday?  Let’s try one of those.”

“No!  I want my flower shirt!”

So here we go.  Day 2 of the flower shirt.  And counting.

Maybe I will put the blue heart shirt on Bennett.  At least we’ll get some use out of it.

Pigtails

If it were my kid, I’d buy him the damn sewing machine.

By now, virtually everyone has seen the storyline from this week’s Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry buys a screamingly gay kid (played by a hilarious Eddie Schweighardt) a gift he thinks a gay kid would enjoy, and the kid’s in-denial mom freaks out.  If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here:

This episode put me, and I’m guessing a lot of people, in a very awkward position – that of agreeing with Larry David for probably the first time ever.

Sure, the kid’s only 7 years old, so technically, he’s not anything-sexual yet, let alone homosexual.  But that’s not the point.  The kid wanted a sewing machine, so what kind of heartless parent would take it away from him?  I’m hoping in 2011, only a fictional mom would be so cold.  (The storyline did seem a little dated, at least when it comes to Manhattan moms.)

My kids are only 2, and I wouldn’t begin to speculate on who they’ll want to marry, date or live platonically with someday.  They’ll work out those issues for themselves during their painful adolescences, no doubt.  Good luck, kids!  Let me know if you have any questions!

In the meantime, they can play with whatever the hell they want.  We’re in kind of a unique position, having boy-girl twins.  We don’t have “girl toys” or “boy toys”, just toys.  Sometimes, Sutton likes to roll the trucks around, and sometimes, Bennett plays with the dolls.  I don’t mind, and I don’t read anything into it.

I know the world will tell them soon enough what it thinks boys and girls should and shouldn’t do, but our kids are not going to get any judgment from their dads.

Yes, their dads.  That’s the tricky part.  Our home is a mom-free zone, so if our little girl really wants to explore her feminine side, she’s kind of screwed.  It’s not that we wouldn’t support it.  It’s just that Drew and I are kind of clueless about that stuff.

For my money, there’s nothing cuter than a little girl in pigtails.  But you might as well ask me to splice an atom as to put them in.  I mean, I wouldn’t even know what equipment I’d need to start.  We’ve had a number of attempts at pigtails, but they always end up in screams, tears and, eventually, a pathetic asymmetry.  My daughter deserves better.

I’m not even sure where a barrette is supposed to go or why the hairbands always look so weird when they come down across her forehead, Olivia Newton-John style.  Isn’t that where they go?

One thing we can pretty much guarantee, though… if Sutton gets some fancy thing in her hair, Bennett’s going to want one, too.  And seriously, could you say no to this?

Thankfully, Drew got a tip from another gay dad he knows, a guy with twin daughters of his own who had no idea at first how to pretty them up.

“It’s all on YouTube,” he explained.  “Girls teach you how to do their hair.  That’s how we learned.”