Yesterday was my birthday. A few nights ago I went out for a beer and a burger to celebrate with a friend. We sat on the familiar concrete patio, supported by wobbly metal chairs – the kind that leave imprints like fishnets on the backs of your thighs – enjoying our conversation and trying to keep Joseph from climbing out of his high chair and onto the table in pursuit of home-fries.
While we sat, the patio slowly filled around us, the cicadas began their screaming song, trains passed on on the tracks two blocks away. Well into the evening, I left Joseph with my friend and went to the bathroom.
As I was walking out, a woman who had been sitting a few tables away on the patio passed me in the doorway. With the assumed intimacy that often characterizes the conversations that take place in the women’s restroom, she put her hand on my arm and with her face lighting up all over the place she said You all are just the most beautiful family, really!
I just laughed. Oh, well thanks.
Sometimes it’s just easier not to make the correction, and her assumption was clearly bringing her a lot of joy.
I rushed out, stifling my giggles, to tell my friend. We both had a good laugh about it before the woman came back, stopping at our table as she passed. Seriously, she said you all give me hope for humanity!
[Hope for humanity? Really?]
I laughed again. Well, that’s an awful lot of pressure. She seemed to think we were up to it.
It’s not hard to understand why she thought what she did. My friend and I, on reflection, do look pretty good together, and wouldn’t make an unlikely couple. Add a charming baby like Joseph, and you get the most beautiful family, really!
I found it hilarious that she so drastically misinterpreted our relationship. This particular friend and I are actively not-partners, and while there has been a romantic intrigue and maybe even a kiss or two, on review our history doesn’t present a picture of happy-settled-young-radical-family-hope for humanity that this woman saw in us.
My next thought was God Dammit, I wish I was actually part of a family that someone would say this to and it’d be true.
It’s no secret that our culture doesn’t exactly love single mothers, and not once in the last almost year of Joseph’s life has a stranger come up to me and said the way you are mothering that baby on your own gives me hope for humanity. Hearing these words of affirmation and praise for my friend and I, even though misguided, felt so wonderful, and I wished that I had more opportunity to feel so bubbly and proud and admired.
Affirmation and praise for couples with babies is implicit everywhere. Advertisements for – you name it, toothpaste, home insurance, house paint, Nyquil – feature well groomed, attractive, smiling young couples with their chubby and perfectly dressed babies. Even the socially conscious and women-centered birthing center where I had my prenatal care, every question and pamphlet and book and class almost completely ignored the possibility that someone might have a baby without a partner.
The message I get is that monogamous married couples are doing it right, and the fact that I don’t have a partner means I have a gaping hole in my family that I should probably not let too many people know about and patch it up quick as I can.
That night at home, after I got Joseph bathed and dry and finally asleep in bed, I told Rose my story and how I’m so far from being hope for humanity.
But we are a beautiful family, Lauren! was Rose’s reply.
It’s a testament to the power of what is considered normal and right that it hadn’t occurred to me to look at it that way until Rose said it.
Of course. The fact that I have not had a partner through the crazy tumult that has been the last year-or-so has forced me full throttle into community life. I was in a position of need that required me to ask for help, and this dynamic of asking and reliance created bonds that are real and strong and intimate and not going anywhere soon.
Had I been a part of a nuclear family, these bonds would not have been possible. While I would still have my loved-ones around me, we would not have had the opportunity to build the structural interreliance that we have, and which continues to build day by day by day.
Yesterday evening was Joseph and I’s joint first and 26th birthday party. I invited everybody, because there are so many people that I love, and to my happy surprise everybody actually came. We worked all day at the house, cooking food and sewing bunting and filling washbasins with water and toys. By six o’clock the living room was full of toddlers sharing Joseph’s toys, the kitchen was full of adults returning again and again to counters heaped with offerings of food. Outside my little brother had made friends with another boy and they took turns soaking each other with water toys. As the sun sank we gathered on the wooden platform, as my dear friend, who has been a steady presence since I was six years old, performed the most beautiful silk marionette puppet show.
If ever there was a gathering to show me just how beautiful our family really is, this was it. What I have is not a gaping hole, what I have is a happy family made up of some of the most wonderful people I could hope for, a family that is wide and deep and generous and committed. Hope for humanity is still a tall order but nonetheless, I can’t help but feel like we’re on to something good.