© 2010 Karen Van Fossan
When I was a little girl, but not so little anymore, I saved my parents thousands of dollars in childcare expenses. Being about five years older than my brother, I was, by force of destiny, the babysitter. Each day after school until 5:14 p.m. (or so), and then all day in the summers, I had two lives in my hands.
When the neighbor boys picked on Davy, I was on it. When Davy wanted to go see a friend, I gave the final OK. I did my best to make sure he was fed, loved, and sometimes entertained.
And it was tough to let this go. From 5:14 onward, not to mention weekends, I found myself suddenly kicked off duty. When my brother made a misstep, I sometimes forgot my parents were home, and I rushed to correct him. My mom developed a catch-phrase for these tricky situations. “Karen,” she would say, “he doesn't need two mommies.”
Being the substitute mommy got my goat. Couldn't I clean a skinned knee, or give sound counsel when my brother had to tell our dad he'd broken the kitchen light? I'm sure my mom wanted to give both David and me a reprieve; Mom could be his mom, and I didn't have to.
Even today, motherhood isn't so easy, especially when two mommies are involved. I was horrified to read these party platforms from the Texas GOP:
Homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases.
Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable 'alternative' lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should 'family' be redefined to include homosexual 'couples.'
We oppose the recognition of and granting of benefits to people who represent themselves as domestic partners without being legally married.
What's more, the Texas GOP has specifically declared that gays should not have custody of children. Luckily, I suppose, I don't live in Texas.
But here's what I've experienced in North Dakota:
When I first moved to the Peace Garden State, I was barred from being a foster parent simply by virtue of my relationship. When the rules finally changed, Kris and I contacted two foster care agencies. One hadn't heard of the rule change, but promised to call back – and never did. The other, after a grueling 7-month application process, needed more evidence that our 15-year relationship was stable.
In the meantime, I'm proud to say, we got adopted. Our unofficial, honorary, off-the-books daughter has claimed us as her own. This child has been through more hell in her short lifetime than a girl her age should be able to imagine. But what a blessing she is! She reminds me so much of my grandma, I sometimes have to wonder where this good-natured spitfire actually came from. Though she lives with us only on occasional weekends, she has a safe and secure place here, with her name on her bedroom door, two loving (honorary) parents, and a bevy of ornery creatures to adore her.
I am proud to say, after proving the stability of our commitment, Kris and I are now the first same-sex couple to be licensed as foster parents in this region.
I'm also proud to say that my mother taught me plenty about being a mom, how to listen, how to nurture, how take interest.
Today, she agrees – some kids do need two mommies.
Anyway, mine does.
Newsflash (and it's good news!):
The U.S. Department of Labor has just clarified the definition of 'son and daughter' under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This change ensures that any employee who parents a child has the right to receive family leave -- regardless of the legal or biological relationship. As Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor puts it, "No one who loves and nurtures a child day-in and day-out should be unable to care for that child when he or she falls ill...All families, including LGBT families, are [now] protected by the FMLA."
This is good news for moms, dads, grandparents, beloved aunts and uncles -- and especially our kids.