Lesbian and Gay Parenting book coverIn a Family Way

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

My How Big You’ve Grown

Posted By on July 1, 2009

My How Big You’ve Grown
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev
I’ve been at this parenting thing for nearly thirteen years now. I am writing this to the sound of pitter-patter of six feet running up and down the stairs — two feet belong to the younger child, and four belong to the (new) dog. They run up and down, and up and down, because that is how they are being quiet so I can write this column. My son yells, "I’m just letting the dog blow off some steam," as I try to contain the steam from blowing out of my ears.

We just got back from another Family Week in Provincetown. For over a decade now, we pack up half of our house and drive to this bucolic seaside resort, nestled between the bay on one side, and the ocean on the other. Stretching out before us are rolling sand dunes and hundreds of queer families: interracial families, gay leather men, old lesbian couples with their grandchildren. Where else can you find so many men who shave their legs, and women who don’t? Between delicious and expensive seafood dinners, and long hikes out to the ocean, we manage our growing children’s growing and complex social and recreational needs – because for them Ptown and Family Week is their summer retreat, their village on the ocean, their summer camp where being a kid in a queer is just "no big deal."

My children are now old enough that both are members of COLAGE, The Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, and they spend most of the days engaged with other kids talking about how to make schools safe for kids of queers, and doing scavenger hunts that include collecting flyers for cross-dressing cabaret shows. Show-and-Tell includes pictures and discussions of queer families ("I think that kid has four moms and one dad, can we get a dad too, please?") and skits about how to confront transphobia in sports. We got to watch a wonderful new movie called Tru Loved,the story of a young heterosexual girl being raised by her two moms and two dads, who moves from San Francisco to a more suburban community. She becomes best friends with a closeted gay boy and deals with dating, homophobia, and the complex intersections of racial identity, sexual orientation, and parental curfews – this was not the kind of movies I watched in summer camp.

We took our younger son to a lesbian comedy show that promised to be "clean," but methinks the comic doesn’t realize just how funny lesbian sex, gay male "bears," and boob jokes are when repeated endlessly by an 8-year old to his friends whose parents, let’s just say, do not routinely expose their kids to the vagaries of queer humor.

The most interesting thing for this queer parent though, was witnessing the adolescent explorations of our near 13-year old. It truly does only feel like yesterday that all these children were playing happily with pails on the beach, but this year my older son was more intent on figuring out which clothes he would wear which night, and how to fit all his electronic technology into the small pockets of his shorts.

His cell phone beeps incessantly (and well past the midnight hour). Hundreds of text messages move back and forth at the speed of light (although sometimes the kid he’s texting is standing in front of him), and they have important things to do and places to go. For the first time ever, he is "free." As long as we can reach him by phone (or texting), he can hang out with his friends, walking up and down Commercial Street, eating endless pizza and drinking way too much caffeinated soda. During the course of a 24 hour period, I watch his best friends change and social circles shift in undulating waves ("I never said R. was my best friend; I hate him because he hangs out with L., and S. has always been my best friend, since I met her yesterday. Sheesh mom, you don’t understand ANYTHING!!"). There are small romances, difficult social struggles, and no doubt, some serious conversations about everything from dating, to sex, to drugs, and of course, about "ugh, parents."

It’s a challenging age: on one hand they insist on freedom ("You want me to go to bed at 11 PM??!!"), and on the other hand they need lots of reassurance and cuddles at the end of the day. This gaggle of children, a kind of roving band of self-identified "queerspawn," claim the mean streets of Ptown as their own, experiencing a freedom to explore their young teen lives, that us old queens and dykes could never have even imagined.