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Archive for March, 2010

Co-Sleeping Confessions

Okay, I admit it.  We sleep with our baby.  All three of us sleep at night in one Queen-sized bed.  Usually, our cat sleeps with us too.  Shake your heads if you will, but we’re not ashamed! Okay, it’s more like we were ashamed but now we’ve come to terms with it.  Sure, we’re considering fibbing about it to our pediatrician … and we usually don’t mention it when people ask if he’s sleeping well …  But it’s time to pull back the curtains and shed some light on this time-honored but much-maligned parenting tradition.

Asleep in Momma's arms at the hospital.

Here are all the things you wanted to know about co-sleeping but were afraid (or too horrified) to ask, in a handy question-and-answer format.

Q: Ewwwww.  That’s gross.  Only weird, smelly hippies do that.

A: Um, that’s not a question, but okay.  We have an answer!  Sleeping with your baby (also known as co-sleeping, bed-sharing, sharing sleep, and the family bed) is not as unusual as you might think.  Off the top of my head, I can think of three couples we know who co-sleep with their baby either full time or part time.  And they’re all highly educated professionals who bathe regularly, honest!

Many parenting books, including those written by medical professionals, discuss co-sleeping as a reasonable option and even argue that it has some benefits.  In “The Baby Book,” pediatrician Dr. William Sears writes, “In a survey of 186 traditional societies throughout the world, mother and baby shared a bed in most cultures…”  I’m not suggesting that these other societies are superior to us, just that this isn’t such a totally weird idea.  In “The Nursing Mother’s Companion,” author Kathleen Huggins writes, “Anthropological and developmental studies suggest that mothers and infants are biologically and psychologically designed to sleep next to each other.”  In simpler language, our bodies and minds are made for this.  She lists these benefits of co-sleeping: babies cry less overall, proximity improves the mother’s milk production, and the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome drops.  I don’t know if that’s all true — you could probably find a book that claims the opposite — but it sounds good to us.

Q: Aren’t you afraid you’ll roll over on top of your baby and smother him? A: No way.  Most people are aware of their body placement even when they’re asleep.  Think of it this way.  Are you afraid you’ll roll out of bed and fall on the floor in the middle of the night?  Probably not.  (Unless you’re like a friend of ours who said that she comes close to falling out of her bed all the time.  If you move around a lot or even throw kicks and punches in your sleep, keep that baby in the crib.) When your baby is in bed with you, you are very, very aware of his presence.  For the first few weeks, you are aware of his every breath. At first I kept waking constantly, and I slept with a soft light on so I could always check to see that Miles was not being smothered.  “Is he still alive?” I would whisper, shaking Robin awake.  But hey, at least I didn’t have to get out of bed to check.

After you get used to your baby’s presence, you develop an amazing ability to monitor his whereabouts without being fully conscious.  Now I just sort of know where he is in a weird sixth-sense kind of way. A friend of mine once sat up in bed from a dead sleep and nabbed her son as he crawled out into thin air at the foot of the bed.  Pretty impressive.

 

 

Morning cuddles.

Q: Don’t you feel like parenting failures because your baby refused to sleep in a crib?  He totally manipulated you to get his way.  That’s it — your parental authority is shot.

 

A: No, we don’t feel like failures.  We feel like flexible, responsive parents who are doing what’s working for our family right now.  (Did you hear the preachy co-sleeping propaganda narration there?  Because it can be a little sickening.)  It’s true that co-sleeping was not our plan.  We both assumed Miles would start in a cradle and then move to a crib.  Then when Miles came home, he put the kibosh on that plan.  From the very first day, Miles was a cuddler.  (Translation: he screamed bloody murder when we tried to put him down.)  In those early newborn days, our pediatrician urged us to do anything we could to get some sleep.  So Miles slept most nights the first few weeks on Robin’s chest as she lay propped on a mountain of sofa pillows.  It wasn’t pretty, but it worked at the time.

We still thought we wanted to get him in his crib or cradle as soon as possible.  Sleeping with your baby was kind of weird, I thought.  After all, we weren’t smelly hippies.  But after awhile, I started to notice that having him there in bed with me made life easier.  I could feed him more quickly and easily in the night without even fully waking up.  And cuddling his innocent, sleeping self was kind of nice.  I felt connected to him; I always knew how he’d slept and, if he woke up a lot, I usually knew what was bothering him.  I admitted to Robin that I kind of liked sleeping with Miles at least part time.  Could we possibly become okay with being those people?

Q: Wouldn’t everyone sleep better if Miles were in his own crib?

Heavenly sleep.

A: Not necessarily.  Every baby is different, and Miles seems to prefer sleeping with us.  Now that we’re used to him, we sleep pretty well most nights too.  When we put him in a crib in a separate room, he wakes more and cries more.  When we tried to force it for several nights despite his protests, he lost his appetite and hardly ate for several days.  Was he manipulating us?  Were we caving in?  I don’t think so.  Where’s the line between manipulation and being really gosh-darn clear about a need?  I guess it depends on whether you think Miles is “securely attached” to us or “spoiled.”

According to Dr. Sears, when mothers and babies sleep together, they both sleep better.  I’ve actually found that to be true for us, though I don’t think it’s true for everyone.  When Miles wakes up in the night to eat, it’s easy to respond immediately, roll over, feed him and fall back asleep.  I hardly have to wake up.  When we’ve tried him in a crib and cradle, I usually don’t hear him until he’s wide awake and screaming.  Then feeding and getting back to sleep take a lot longer.  However, Kathleen Huggins argues that co-sleeping babies and mothers do wake more often and that this is a good thing (????!!!) because it lessens the risk of SIDS.  She also writes, “Even though bed-sharing mothers and babies wake more frequently, they go back to sleep sooner and so get more sleep overall than mothers and babies who sleep separately.”

This is not true for everyone.  I have a friend who tried co-sleeping and abandoned it because she couldn’t relax and because her daughter was so excited by her presence that she would wake up lots and want to play.  Plus, my friend missed cuddling with her husband.  Which brings us to the next question…

Q: Doesn’t co-sleeping interfere with your “special adult time”?

A: Ewwwwwww.  That’s exactly the kind of stuff we don’t talk about on a blog our parents read!  But if you have questions about that aspect of bed-sharing, read up on Dr. Sears.  He addresses this question somewhat delicately in his book.

 

 

Right where I wanna be.

Q: Isn’t he overly dependent on you?  Like, can he even sleep by himself?  Isn’t he going to turn into some kind of clingy mama’s boy?

 

A: Naw, we’re not worried about that.  Miles takes his daytime naps alone in his crib.  And he goes down to sleep alone at 7 p.m., long before we retire for the night.  He knows how to sleep alone, he just feels better and safer with us.  As for his being dependent on us in general, duh, he’s a baby.  It comes back to that question of what it means to be spoiled.  Recently, an acquaintance was holding Miles and he was crying.  As I walked toward them, he looked at me and stopped crying.  “Look how spoiled he is!” she exclaimed, “He stops crying when mom is near.”  Uh, I thought that was called a mother-child bond?  Again, it depends on your parenting philosophy and your attitude about kids.

Plus, Kathleen Huggins writes that “researchers have suggested that babies who sleep with their mothers develop into children who are independent, sociable, confident, and well able to handle stress.”  Hey, it may be total BS, but it helps us feel better about our choice.

I’ve found that the more parenting books you read, the more you realize that no one really knows.  No one really knows the right way to be a parent, and they can’t tell you how your child will turn out.  Two books written by two different doctors, both claiming to be based on “research” will directly contradict each other.

So you know what?  All the books, even the ones that validate us, can go jump off a cliff.  I’m going to go cuddle my baby and fall asleep to the sound of his soft sighs.

Sweet spot.

First night home -- sleeping on Mommy.

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What Baby Wants, Baby Gets

One of the perks of staying home with Miles is that I get extensive photo-documentation of all of his firsts.  (I either need to stay home with the second kid or hire a staff photographer, or he/she will have a major second-child complex!) This first was terrifying and awesome. 

It seems like not so long ago that Miles was content to just stare at the world, influencing his surroundings only through his cries and tiny sounds.  If he wanted something, he had to signal me or his Momma and hope we were paying attention.  Then he learned to touch and grab things we put within his reach.  Now, with each passing day, he gains more mastery of his body and his surroundings. 

On Friday, to test his mobility and determination, I put a toy on the floor out of his reach.  This was his reaction.

Oooh, I want that!

 

Hey, I can move my body! Almost there...

Got it!

Time for a closer look.

Dude, did I just grab that myself?

Being mobile is going to be fun!

Guess we better start thinking about childproofing…

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Southern Exposure

Cousin Cash says hello.

We took Miles on his first long vacation — flying to Atlanta, then driving to Tennessee for a few days, then driving back to Atlanta, then flying home.  It was kind of insane, and it meant long days, long drives, sleeping in new places and no nap schedule to speak of.  I could go on and on about the details.  How he was incredible on the plane but cried nearly every time we got in a car.  How he slept shockingly well at my dad’s house — better than he ever has at home.  I could list the foods he tasted and spin a yarn about how he didn’t poop for five days straight. 

Evan speaks Miles' language.

But I’d rather remark on the abundance of love.

On this trip, Miles met his Tennesee Nana and Pa (my stepmom and my dad).  He met four of his six cousins.  He met his sole great-grandparent.  He met uncles and aunts, plus a whole slew of honorary uncles and aunts.  And everywhere he went, he was surrounded by and enfolded with love. 

In some parenting thing I read once — maybe one of Catherine Newman’s blogs or books? — the author talks about how someone reassured her when she was expecting a second child.  She was concerned that there couldn’t possibly be enough love to go around because she already loved her first child so much.  And someone told her that love is not a pie.  Meaning that it’s not made up of a finite number of pieces to be sliced up and passed around. 

Evan, Nana, Miles and Pa on our last day in Tennessee.

Now, I love pie.  When I read that analogy, I was like, “It’s fine if love is a pie — pie is good!”  But I was wrong. 

Chatting with Uncle George in Atlanta.

On this trip, love was absolutely not a pie.  It was a whole mad, prolific bakery where delicious confections kept magically appearing one after another.  As soon as I thought we had gobbled up all the love, more love appeared, meltingly sweet.  It was nonstop love gluttony, and I couldn’t get enough. 

In my 20s, I spent a lot of time with people who honed their cynicism carefully.  All forms of cuteness were suspect.  This is not a criticism of them — they were smart, funny, wise, wonderful people.  But they tended to view babies and those who have them with horror.    Actually, a handful of these sad, smart friends got into the habit of  lifting their glasses (or beers) and toasting, “No babies!” before they drank.  Getting married was okay as long as it was somehow ironic, but having babies was like swallowing cyanide or buying all your clothes at The Gap.

With Nanny, his great-grandmother.

(I was fairly cynical, in certain ways, myself.  I know everyone thinks I’m a fluffy bunny of sentimentality and sweetness, but trust me here.  When I met Robin, my credo was “Nothing lasts, so just enjoy it before it falls apart.” I had to revise this credo when Robin proposed to me and I found I wanted to say yes.  I have never regretted abandoning my habitual sadness.)

As a reformed cynic, I’ve been surprised and overjoyed to find that babies are like tiny generators of love.  From the moment I was visibly pregnant, my belly brought joy to people everywhere.  The office ladies at work recounted their own stories of labor and childbirth with wistful smiles, then started doing me small, furtive favors.  People on subways became gallant — one woman (also standing) even ordered a teenage boy to give me a seat.  Strangers smiled at me wherever I went.

Meeting Uncle Bill at the Allentown fire station.

And now that Miles is here, he makes everyone smile.  He magnifies and multiplies the love everywhere he goes, simply by existing.  I think it’s because when people who have kids see pregnant ladies or babies, it evokes for them all their own love for their children and their longing for the past.  (The amazing thing is that we all had this power once because we were all babies.  Isn’t that insane and beautiful?  Why didn’t I ever know this before?)

Morning time with Uncle Skip.

I know some of you are probably gagging and choking with disgust, like Oh Lord, is Melissa being sappy again?  If any of my old cynical cronies are reading this, they may be wondering just what happened to me.  Aren’t people supposed to get edgier when they move to New York?  But I’m telling the truth.  Miles makes people happy.  He evokes a startling generosity from friends, strangers, neighbors — and now family.

Seeing other people love your child instantly and without limits is an experience beyond words.  I won’t try to describe what it means to me or explain how it binds you closer to those people.  I hope the photos convey some small part of how astonishingly happy we were to be Miles’ moms and how stuffed we were with the deliciousness of family.

Coming next: a California trip.  Get those hugging arms ready, ’cause here we come.

Quality time with Aunt Skye.

Caroline and Uncle Junior.

 

Nana and Payton make a Miles sandwich.

 

Papa's got ya!

 

Lovin' on cousin Jordan.

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On a Roll

Can you believe I'm changing so fast?

I should be blogging about 742 times a day, because Miles is changing just that much.  Instead, we’ve been on vacation, then recovering from vacation.  But the changes!  The changes!

First of all, Miles has a rolling problem. A few days ago, our last day in Georgia, he finally mastered the elusive back-to-tummy roll.  He did it in the very house where his Momma grew up, where she too learned to roll.  The secret, apparently, was that he needed to lift his head and use its momentum.  At the moment of revelation, a look of wonder passed over his face, followed by stern concentration.  He lifted, he wobbled, he tipped, and he plopped belly down.  We laughed and cheered; his Georgia Nana caught it on camera.  I rued my days of being able to just set him down anywhere.  I figured that was my biggest concern.  I was wrong.

I'm on my belly -- did I do that?

Miles has been a haunted man (er, baby) ever since that day.  He has a rolling problem the way some people have drinking problems or gambling problems or shopping problems.  It’s all he can do, all he can think about.  Lay him down on the floor: he’ll roll onto his tummy.  Lay him in his crib: tummy.  Lay him on the bed: tummy.  He can’t sleep at night because he wakes up — I’m not joking here — once or twice an hour trying to roll over.  Daytime is no better. In the middle of eating, he stops abruptly, throws his arm up wildly, and tries to roll over on my lap. 

“Miles,” I say, as reasonably as possible, “in order to breastfeed, you need to be facing the breast.”

When I change his diaper, he grunts and hurls himself toward the edge of the changing table.  If I try to carry him around in the Moby wrap or set him in his bouncy chair or, God forbid, in the Bumbo seat, he tosses his shoulder and arches his back desperately.  WOMAN, he seems to be saying, WHAT IS THIS?  I NEED TO BE ROLLING!

His habit brings him both pleasure and agony.  The funny part is, he doesn’t really want to be on his tummy.  Once he gets there, he’s stuck because that tummy-to-back roll still eludes him most of the time.   Trapped on his belly with his head stuck up like a turtle’s, his pride quickly turns to indignance.   He pouts, then wails until I turn him back over.  And when I turn him, he fights me all the way, NOOOOO, WHY ARE YOU UNDOING MY HARD WORK?!?!?

Feet are fun.

But rolling is just one thing.  There’s so much else.  Like his recent fascination with his feet.  (He grasps them and stares at them lovingly.)  Or his ability to pivot in a circle from the tummy-down position, and even scooch forward a little, to get to a wayward toy.  Or the teeth we can see just below the surface of his gums, ready to bust out.  Or the fact that he can sit upright, briefly, resting his weight on his hands.  What happened to that baby I blogged about who couldn’t even grab onto anything?  These changes come so fast, and even as I cheer them I realize they’re irreversible.  Parenthood makes all the cliches suddenly, profoundly true — most notably, they grow so fast.  I always just smiled and nodded when people said that, but now I feel the truth of it like a fist to the sternum.  Where is my baby?  He’s practically driving.

Ready for breakfast.

But here’s the big one.  Solid food!  Yesterday he graduated from tasting to gobbling.  We mashed up some bananas with a little breastmilk and cautiously fed it to him with a baby spoon, watching to see if he was ready.  He lunged enthusiastically at the spoon, chomping joyfully.  Chewing and swallowing?  Not a problem.  The food disappeared with alacrity.  We repeated the experiment today, and he ate even more. 

Um, I think he’s telling us he’s ready.

Bananas are yummy, but where's the steak?

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Chick-fil-A, Oh Yeah!

Miles’ adventures in eating have continued since his four-month doctor visit (at which point his pediatrician told us to start letting him taste our food). Although his taking to an earlier bedtime means that he rarely gets to taste our dinner, Miles has still had plenty of opportunities to test his palate. He disliked the balsamic vinegar at Ruby Tuesday’s but loved it at our local bakery where the owner reduces it himself (the kid has good taste, folks). He LOVED blood oranges and has enjoyed ice cream, olive oil, lemonade, ginger beer (nonalcoholic) and honey mustard. He’s not been such a fan of ranch dressing or orange-flavored popsicles (grape and strawberry are OK by him), and he seems to like most sweets. His interest in food has also grown. Now, if Miles is sitting in my lap when I eat, he leans toward my bites with his mouth open. If I don’t give him a taste, he starts to pull my plate toward him. The kid is interested in food. 

My excitement over our trip to Georgia had nearly as much to do with the Southern foods he’d get to try as anything. I can’t wait to dip my finger in Aunt Martha Ann’s mac-n-cheese and sweet potatoes (and, yes, I do plan to share it with Miles). He’ll certainly taste his Nana’s chocolate cake. And probably some Southern barbecue and sweet tea before the trip is done. 

But when we arrived in Atlanta and my parents picked us up for lunch, the first stop was: Chick-fil-A. 

Chick-fil-A is often the first stop between the airport and my parents’ house — I get it whenever I can. There’s rumored to be a Chick-fil-A at NYU. But you need a student ID to get in there, and I have yet to confirm the existence of this mirage with my own eyes (and stomach). Trips home — or anywhere with Chick-fil-A — always involve at least one stop. I once quickly steered the Jeep across four lanes of I-95 traffic because I saw a sign for one. In the world of fast food, this is Mecca. 

So, as soon as we sat down in a booth with our meal, I shared the honey mustard with Miles: It was a hit. Then, I put a nugget up to his lips. He sucked vigorously, looking at me in disbelief when I finally took it away so that I could eat some. We tried another one, and Mojo snapped the picture below. I quickly sent a text to my sister, brother and friend Cornelius — all people who would understand the significance. Miles is the newest Chick-fil-A devotee, and his good taste in food may extend to his Momma’s favorite Southern foods as well. 

That tastes good!

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Five Months

Octopus shirt.

Miles is 5 months old today.  For some reason this feels  hugely significant.  I have this acute sense that we can never go back, that we’re hurtling forward with cells splitting, multiplying, disintegrating.  The four-month milestone I took in stride.  But this one?  This one makes me want to plant my feet and command the Earth, Hold still while I stand here awestruck and completely FREAK out.

The very first moment I saw Miles, the doctor held him upside down, purply and rumpled, and I looked at his face. Something shifted seismically and locked into place inside of me, displacing half of my innards.  (Or maybe that was the sensation of my organs being out on the operating table, I don’t know.)  It wasn’t recognition, exactly.  It was more like a premonition, but even that word is useless.  I knew I would love that face forever.  I knew that he would be a part of me, that he would gut my life.  

A few days shy of 5 months.

And — maybe it was the 18 hours of labor or the drugs they gave me for the caesarean or just me being me — I started sobbing viciously.

“After all these years!” I wailed, ridiculously, like an old woman,  “After all these years of waiting for you, I finally see your face!”  (I’ve wanted a baby for a long time.  When we were preparing to move to New York from California more than five years ago, friends bought me the book “New York City With Kids.”  I was getting Babycenter magazine years before I was pregnant.) Robin laughed at me, through her own new-parent tears, and I sobbed some more.  After a few moments, the doctor’s voice floated over the surgical curtain.

“Ahem.  Melissa, I need you to stop crying so hard. So I can sew you up.  You’re moving around an awful lot.” 

So I stopped crying, and they put my organs back.  And I got to know this most beloved stranger.

Five months ago today.  Wow.

We meet at last.

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Who’s the Mom?

Miles, 2 days old, with his moms.

Recently, Robin and I were early arrivals at a child’s birthday party. (By early, I mean we were on time.  Apparently being on time is not the norm; it’s just another weird thing my parents taught me.)  We were the second to arrive, so we settled down on the living room floor and started chatting with the one other guest and admiring her baby.  The next guest arrived and sat on the floor with us. Robin and I were introduced as a unit: “That’s Robin, Melissa, and Miles.” 

Mommy and Miles, almost 5 months old.

The new woman got settled, looked around brightly, and said, “I guess none of the husbands came today.”

Robin and I exchanged quick how-do-you-want-to-handle-this glances.  I’m happy to report that after ten years together, attending parties and dancing at straight weddings, I no longer suffer from anxiety about whether we will be the only gays and whether it will be uncomfortable.  In fact, after a decade of this being my normal, I usually forget that some people do a double take when they see two women together.  But apparently, adding a baby to the equation brings in a whole new set of potentially awkward encounters.

“Well,” Robin said, gesturing to include herself, Miles, and me, “we’re a package deal.  So there’s no husband.”

Sunny park day. Momma wears Miles in the Moby.

The woman looked at us a little blankly, so, just to erase any ambiguity, I added, “Miles has two mommies.” 

The conversation went on, and I thought we were all on the same page.  Until the topic of baby sleep came up, and both of us chimed in about Miles’ sleep.  The woman did a double take.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “who’s the mom?”

Robin gritted her teeth and said politely, “We both are.”  I thought that there was no way this woman didn’t yet get that we were gay, that she must be asking who is the biological mom.  After all, we live in New York city, a place where people are supposed to be used to running into different kinds of people. So at the exact same time, I said, “I’m the one who had him.”  The woman smiled, then looked away with an odd expression.  I didn’t know, and still don’t, if she got it. 

A friend to whom I recounted this story a few days later was shocked. “Where is this woman from?  Like, does she live in a city in the year 2010 or not?”  A part of me was shocked along with her.  After all, they’re allowing us gays on television these days!  There are gay characters and gay families on sit coms and even soap operas.  Gay marriage has been a huge issue on a national level for at least seven or eight years.  Surely every adult in this country is at least aware of the concept of gay families.  And, okay, maybe where we are from — Allentown, GA, and Elk Grove, CA — people might be expected to have less exposure to actual, live gay people.  But at a party in Manhattan, that den of sin — I mean, diversity–  you’d expect everyone to be at least with-it enough to recognize us for what we are, even if they don’t approve.

A life-altering love.

But that’s not reality.  In reality, a significant number of people, even in NYC, can not conceive that they will ever meet a gay family.  We’re about as real to them as unicorns.  I can’t tell you how many times and in how many situations Robin and I as a couple have had to either explicitly out ourselves or else just accept a certain level of invisibility.  I understand that’s how the world is.  I’m not here trying to complain about that, exactly, although it is getting tiresome.  I’m not saying that woman at the party made me feel  horrendously hurt or oppressed.  She didn’t have any power over me, so her ignorance was mostly a nuisance. 

Shhhhhhh.

I guess I’m here grappling with the fact that now that Miles is here, the option of remaining invisible is not just uncomfortable but unacceptable.  People look at us and wonder, who’s the mom?  Strangers talk to us a lot when we walk around with him.  They ask questions about his age, compliment his appearance.  I can see them glancing back and forth, wondering to whom they should address their praise.  Am I comfortable with them assuming that, because he looks a lot like me, I’m the mom and Robin is just a friend or relative?  Am I comfortable with them assuming that Robin, who usually carries him in the Moby when we’re in public together, is the mom?  Absolutely not. 

What options do we have?  We can dress Miles in a lot of onesies that say “I love my two moms.”  I can run out and get a butch haircut so people read me as gay.  We can stay within the confines of Park Slope, where lesbian moms are more common.  Other than that, all I can do is prepare myself to answer, every time someone asks who’s the mom, “We both are.” 

It’s going to be awkward and weird sometimes.  And at some point, Miles will be old enough to notice it’s awkward and weird.  I hate to imagine the moment I have to explain to him that the world contains people who are afraid of what’s different.  It’s full of people who find us, his family, strange or distasteful or sinful or disgusting.  Here he is, this person I waited for for years, who grew in my body and whom I love in a way that makes me crazy sometimes, and I have to hand him a world not perfect enough to receive him. 

I hate to imagine the moment when he realizes he has been signed up, without his permission, to be a sort of freedom fighter.  Because why should he feel, ever, that he’s not good enough?  The thought makes me sick.  It makes me want to tip the balance of kindness in the world before then, to show everyone that families like ours are real, joyful, and loving.   It makes me want to prove, through the force of my love, that having two moms can be purely awesome.   I have a few years before he starts asking questions.  I’m on a mission to make the world a better place before then. Who’s with me?

Actually, we're both the mom.

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