Our morning starts with what our 5-year-old calls the “babble alarm.” Our 6-month-old starts babbling about 20 minutes before the alarm goes off. She gets louder and louder as the minutes tick by. It is difficult not to wake up with a smile when your alarm is a cacophony of adorable syllables strewn together to form the cutest sound in the world.
We all then pile into one bed to giggle and cuddle until we hear the electronic buzzing that signals the end of our morning joy. My wife starts her grooming ritual first while I get the troops moving. Then we shift into full gear: diaper changing, breakfast making, sock matching, and hair doing, and it doesn’t end until bedtime. Our life seems pretty average. We love recitals. We have an overwhelming number of pictures of our girls, and our grocery bill is off the charts.
There is one difference, which we just recently came to terms with: We come out about two times each day. That is a lot of coming out or, as our brilliant friend Darnell Moore says, “inviting in.” We have to state the obvious on a regular basis.
It starts with the quick glance, first at the girls, then at us. People are usually trying to match phenotypes in order to avoid the uncomfortable questions. That usually doesn’t work because the girls look alike, and the observers are not quite sure how to match them to their mothers. Our 5-year-old calls us Mama and Mommy, so clearly we are the parents, but they do not want to commit to assuming we are a couple. Please just make the assumption already! No, they are so stuck within their heterosexual limitations that keep them from making the obvious leap — that we are a family. I can no longer stand it. So before they ask, “Are you the mom?” and “Are you the nanny?” which is a question usually aimed at my wife, as her skin is darker than mine, I intercede with “We are both the moms.”
No, I am not more of a mother to the child who shares my genetic information. Yes, I am as connected to the child I did not birth. When our children are sick, we both feel the pain. When they are crying, we both run to them. When they need a hug, we both hug them with all the love in our hearts. The continuous “coming out” becomes tiresome, but we do it with grace and pride. We want to model that for our girls. We want them to know we are proud of being their parents and proud of our family. We want them to internalize that pride because some day they too will have to “come out” frequently as they explain the composition of our family. Hopefully not as often as we do, but when they do, it will be just a matter of fact.
We have decided to spend the year counting how many times we come out on a daily basis. We wonder how many times most families spend making their lives make sense to others. It is important that people understand how their assumptions make some families invisible. I am the daughter of Puerto Ricans and was brought up in New Jersey, and my wife is the daughter of Mexicans, raised in Los Angeles. We both grew up with few visible role models. We are committed to making our family as visible as possible to support young people as they imagine their futures.
Parenting is much more than the parceling out of genes. Actually, that piece of the equation in our lives is the least important. Parenting is about love, commitment, and being the best person you can be for your children. We are blessed to have two spectacular girls who bring love and joy into our lives every day.
LILLIAN RIVERA is a writer and a Latina lesbian activist. She and her wife Elsa Vasquez are raising two beautiful girls in Jersey City.