Six lesbian mothers gasp as I unpack three cans of Enfamil. Today is the beginning of our nanny share-care system and I am exposed in the first 10 minutes as a deficient parent.
I apologize. "Carol, uh, forgot to bring home what she pumped at work and I forgot to put last night's milk in the refrigerator so it spoiled ..."
Rachel, Monica, Darcy, Thea, Ren and Corey stare at me with pity. They don't feed their babies formula like dizzy straights do. Milk accidents occur in my chaotic hetero home but never in their same-sex nurturing nests. Their lactose packets are labeled and dated and two of the birth moms, Darcy and Ren, spend their lunches nursing their infants.
"Your baby is so ... beautiful ..." Corey hesitantly compliments Tallulah, my 6-month-old daughter. "But why is her face so scratched up?"
"Because, uh, well, you know," I blush. "We need to trim her fingernails."
"I bite off Nathan's," says Rachel. "I enjoy it. I could chew off Tallulah's if you want me to."
"Gosh, really?" I abandon all pride.
"And I could give her some real milk," Monica volunteers, jiggling her breasts. "I've got at least 3 ounces in my upper ducts."
I demur and dive into my diaper bag. "Uh-oh," I cringe. "I brought bottles, of course, but I capped them and now I can't find any ..."
"Nipples?" guesses Thea. "You can use one of mine." She tosses an expensive beige sucker my way. Tallulah eyes the device thirstily before glancing at me with reproach.
Apprehensively, I empty the bag -- horrors! I forgot her pacifier! But Agnes has an extra that she'll lend us. I also forgot socks and extra pants in case Tallulah poops up the present pair, but that's OK too; Nathan's got triples of each. Diapers I did bring, but they're ...
"Disposables?!" the lesbians chorus. "We're not judgmental, but why?"
I babble excuses about how busy Carol and I are. Incredulity blooms on their maternal faces.
"Hank, can I ask you a personal question?" inquires Ren. "Was Tallulah an accident?"
My humiliation is complete.
Carol and I discussed children for more than 10 years. But yakking is not preparation. Preparation is having time, brains, heart, finances and homes set in advance to accommodate the needs of squalling offspring. Carol and I are ecstatic to be included in this affordable lesbian-conceived nursery network, but we aren't prepared.
Who is prepared? Today's lesbian.
Lesbians have the best nipples. Lesbians have the best nonviolent toys and non-gender-specific clothing. Lesbians have the best baby showers. Lesbians know every remedy for infant gas because they relentlessly e-mail sisters from Tucson, Ariz., to Cambridge, Mass. Lesbians have carpeted homes. Lesbians have cute diaper-changing areas with mobiles flying above. Lesbians love their babies madly, boundlessly, placing this love at the forefront of their existence.
And who are their closest rivals in this race? Gay men with kids.
In the four scant years since Newsweek magazine officially announced the "Gayby Boom," somewhere between 6 million and 12 million children have been blessed with gay parents, who, according to research, constitute an attentive and intimidating new species of parent.
It turns out that the jumbo skill gap reflected in our wee parenting circle isn't a freakish anomaly but a familiar tableau: Studies worldwide reveal that today's homosexual totally kicks straight butt when it comes to roosting and rearing -- in categories of competency and nurturing.
Gillian Dunne, senior research fellow at the Gender Institute of the London School of Economics, recently unveiled her study indicating that queer British dads are more compassionate toward their kids than their straight stiff-upper-lipped rivals. She found that gay men are "interested in extending their masculine identity to embrace nurturing qualities ... and they felt that one great gift they brought to the children was a sense of tolerance."
Gay papas also had "homes organized around commitment to children, with 25 percent of those surveyed working less than 30 hours a week." Dunne's evidence duplicates the findings of one study in 1989 and two in 1990 conducted in the United States that commended gay dads' abilities.
Dunne's discovery arrives five years after the American Psychological Association published -- upon review of extensive research evidence dating back 40 years -- a finding that there appears to be utterly no disadvantage rendered to children raised by gays and lesbians, and several distinctive enhancements. Despite bigoted fear of "butches," research indicates that lesbians are as maternal as heterosexual women, and, surprisingly enough, the children of lesbians exhibit more "psychological femininity" than kids with hetero moms.
Studies additionally assert that the sexual orientation of moms or dads has no impact on their kids' sexuality, gender identity or any other aspect of their psychological and emotional development. Children of gays and lesbians form friendship bonds with their peers as easily as kids of straights do, despite the harassment and teasing that the former group is subjected to. A 1994 study conducted by Charlotte Patterson of the University of Virginia also revealed that children of lesbians exhibited "a greater overall sense of well-being" than kids of heteros, perhaps because their moms forced fewer "sex-typed" preferences upon them.
Recent judicial decisions, like the ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court that lesbian couples can put both their names on their children's birth certificates, sanctify these findings and, at the same time, make it easier for gay parents to show the rest of us how it's done.
My wife and I are the token straights in this nursery network. We slipped in because I'm the sperm donor for Nathan, the lanky son of Monica and Rachel, who is just 19 days older than Tallulah. We want our half-siblings to play together so we recruited additional lesbian babies -- Agnes, who is 15 hours older than Tallulah, and Elizabeth, a precocious 4-month-old -- to fill in the gaps in our complex two-tots-per-hour, 45-hours-per-week schedule.
Chinese Agnes was catalyzed by top-quality "stranger semen" that her moms purchased from a sperm bank for $150 per 1 cubic centimeter (more than 25,000,000 spermatozoa guaranteed), while Elizabeth was begat with beat-off assistance from a het pal named Dan. (A spokeswoman at Pacific Reproductive Services, a sperm bank in San Francisco owned and operated by lesbians, estimates that half of all lesbian-conceived babies are test-tubers, with the remaining percentile evenly split between gay and straight wanking donor-buddies.)
The four babies will congregate each weekday at Thea and Darcy's house in the Castro District and be cared for by Consuelo, a nanny who, when told by the lesbians in the group that all their babies had "dos mamas, no papas," replied: "God blessed them." Carol and I are ecstatic to be included in this collective, but we're embarrassed that we appear to be so completely outclassed.
Ren, who happens to be the author of "The Lady Mechanic's Total Car Care for the Clueless," addresses my humiliation and the supernatural adroitness of lesbian moms.
"For us to become parents we really have to want kids because we have to find sperm, sign contracts and then justify our decisions 20 times to everyone we meet. It's never like, 'Whoops, we got sloppy with the turkey baster last night.' There is no such thing as an accidental child of a lesbian couple. If all children were as wanted as the children of lesbians, we'd live in a pretty fucking amazing world."
Gay male couples tend to have even tougher, more wallet-wrenching hurdles to clear if they want to be double daddies. The cost of hiring a surrogate mother to carry one's DNA for nine months is astronomical -- $61,975 for traditional, bargain-basement artificial insemination is the price tag listed by the Center for Surrogate Parenting Inc. If the guys want a borrowed ovum plopped in from a friend or relative, the subsequent Egg Donation/Gestational With In-Vitro package jumps to $75,425. If hetero dudes had to fork out that much dough the population explosion would instantly reverse.
I borrow a bib from Ren as we proceed to spoon-feed our rebellious tots. The other lesbians are in the den patiently translating their do's and don'ts into Spanish for Consuelo. I didn't have a list for her, and my wife, Carol, was entirely absent because she couldn't miss her company's important board meeting.
I brood defensively. Carol and I wanted Tallulah. And we love her immensely. Our main parenting problem, though, is that we work too hard at our careers. I feel emasculated if I don't log in 40 hours weekly, and my wife's a power feminist, so she feels obligated to grind in at least 55. Lesbians don't do this. I don't know how they survive -- "Beans and rice," smiles Darcy -- but none of our share-care dykes are working full time and they're all prepared to call in sick if their tot has a sniffle.
When I tell my buddy Rachel about this state of affairs she nods affirmatively. "You heteros have to resist all those traditional Barbie and Ken gender roles," she gloated. "We lesbians don't have that; we can just figure out freely how to make things work."
Judith Stacey, esteemed author, sociologist at the University of Southern California and a founder of the Council on Contemporary Families, confirms this observation in her research on lesbian parents. Coauthor with Timothy Biblarz, of "(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter," Stacey (a hetero mom) reports that "there's a very active ideology among lesbians that they should be sharing responsibilities equally. They're the best at sharing household work and when they have kids they're more willing to both reduce their work hours to be equally involved in child care." Stacey also discovered, like Dunne, that "gay male couples are more egalitarian typically than straights."
"Another advantage we have," adds Rachel, "is our extended family. There's this feeling that queer people's kids belong to the whole community. Our babies are loved by everybody with a rainbow flag. We get enormous support, free baby-sitting and our children feel very cared for by numerous adults."
Right again. Community -- a human necessity that gasps near extinction in America -- is another documented advantage enjoyed by homosexual parents and their kids. Lesbian moms and gay dads aren't isolated like their het counterparts, lonely housewives and ridiculed male mommies. They garner an abundance of comfort and companionship from other strong women and sensitive guys.
The Family Pride Coalition, in San Diego, lists 133 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual parenting groups in 33 states across the nation, with an additional 23 internationally from Saskatchewan to South Africa. The sum total of gay parents and gays who want to be parents in various support groups is 2,500 in New York City; 1,500 in Minnesota; 1,100 in Boston; and 400 in Chicago, says Jenifer Firestone in her essay "The State of the State of Queer Parenting at the Millennium," published in "Home Fronts" by Alyson Books.
Stricken after much research with a severe case of lesbian envy, I am suddenly fearful that my daughter will grow up with a ghastly disadvantage because she has been plagued with "one mom, one dad." There has to be something bad about having homosexual parents, right? Only a het would have to ask.
Homophobia is the answer.
Felicia Park-Rogers, the director of COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), a national nonprofit that provides community to kids with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual parents, is painfully aware of the impact of homophobia on the children of gay parents.
"Homophobia in the schools," says Park-Rogers grimly, "is huge, it's unchecked; many teachers turn a blind eye and it affects all kids no matter what their age. Recently we heard about a second-grader who did a show and tell about what her two mommies and she did on vacation. Her life became a living hell after that."
The Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which serves 130 student clubs in Northern California, provided me with scary stats on homophobic harassment. Recent (1999-2000) surveys conducted in four San Francisco Bay Area high schools (2,227 respondents) revealed that 53 percent of the students frequently hear homophobic comments at school (one to 10 times daily). Sixty-seven percent said that they make such comments themselves; 84 percent said they rarely or never hear staff members intervene when anti-gay comments are made; and 48 percent said that they do not think their campus is safe for queer students.
I thought about Nathan, who carries my chromosomes. If any classmate ever teases that boy about having Rachel and Monica for parents, well -- watch out! Pissed-off old Uncle Seed is going to windmill into the playground to bash up some brat heads plus their lazy-ass teacher. Gimme a piece of the principal, too!
Sweet little Agnes, who likes to teethe on my ears. Elizabeth, who plays with her upchuck. I hope the world changes quickly so they'll never be harassed. I watch them fling things about, sleep, defecate, cry and nurse on their gentle mamas. Agnes' nickname is "lovebug," Elizabeth's is "peanut," Nathan's is "that sexy young man." Tallulah's? My wife and I don't have a term of endearment for her yet. Maybe when I cut back my work hours -- I'm trimming them to 36 next week. My wife's also talking about quitting her demanding job; she used to sleep with women, so maybe she can actually do it.
"Our House," a documentary about kids with gay and lesbian parents directed by Meema Spadola, is presently circulating on PBS stations. The film depicts daughters and sons of gays and lesbians in five diverse families (Latino, African-American, Mormon, Jewish, rural, working class, etc.) frankly discussing their domestic situation. Maybe every homophobe will watch it and realize how "normal" their supposedly "different" adversaries are, and subsequently change their hurtful viewpoint. Maybe all the bigots will peruse Alternative Family Magazine's benign articles on summer sunburn dangers and children's Web sites, and tolerantly recognize how much they and their kids have in common with the rest of us.
Maybe they'll even perceive the stress-inducing foibles and stereotypes that exist in hetero parenting, and work at changing them to become better parents, like queers. That's what I'm trying to do.
"Hey, Hank," says bushy-haired Darcy. "You should come to Camp It Up! with us next summer. What a blast."
"Gosh. Isn't that exclusively for lesbian and gay families? It's like Lavender Hill and Rainbow Family Camp, right? Carol and Tallulah and I aren't allowed in, are we?"
"Pshaw!" Darcy snorts. "You're our friends. You're invited. We're all going to go next year!" The Momazons enthusiastically describe the idyllic lifestyle of the lesbian camp: free arts and crafts classes daily and "lots of doing ... nothing! It's wonderful! You have to come with us, puhleeze!" The giddy chattering of the moms excites all the babies. "YAEIAICK! YAIAIECK!" they shriek, watching us and clapping their pudgy pink hands together. We observe them happily. Nobody knows if the babies are gay or straight. Nobody cares. What's important is that they're all friends, like their parents.