My tiny but mighty family is beautiful—even if it doesn’t look like the others.
A while back my son decided that he wanted to play soccer with a local parks and rec group. We packed his backpack with matching knee socks and the most adorable little shin guards I had ever seen. I stuck Rivi, 3, into her car seat and away we went.
I am the third daughter born to a hippy musician and a hippy artist. Both parents quit smoking pot when they found Christ and joined the “House My People Project,” a housing experiment (i.e. commune) in the middle of nowhere Washington in the 1970s. Hippy artist (Mom) is a prepper and a lover of classic muscle cars. Hippy musician (Dad) obsessively watches Hoarders, raises goats, and shoots B movies involving under-caffeinated zombies in his spare time. My life sounds like an alt-reality fanfic. It’s true, though; some things are too weird to make up.
Adolescence was not kind to me. I stopped growing at the ripe old age of 11 when I hit six feet tall. I grew so quickly that I was forever tripping over myself. To this day I still haven’t fully acclimated to my frame. Case in point—tonight while driving home I accidentally punched myself in the face while singing to Bryan Adams with my 3-year-old. She thought it was hilarious. My face still hurts.
Middle school brought more than just a growth spurt. Hormones hit me hard. To top it off, I realized that I was attracted to boys and girls. Puberty is confusing enough as it is. I was in the middle of the land of cows and fundamentalist churches with exactly zero queer role models. As far as I knew, queers were lurking in bushes waiting to seduce me to the dark side with Liza Minelli and rainbow cookies. I was scared and ashamed. I hated my body and wanted to melt into the background.
I married and divorced twice in my 20s. Although the relationships lacked longevity, I am grateful for each of the men who helped me bring two epic tiny humans into the world. Motherhood changed my ability to give a damn about clinging to things that didn’t fit—especially within myself. Now in my 30s, I’m the proud mother of children aged 8 and 3. I embrace my love of tattoos, slouchy beanies, flannel, and a good crew cut. Teaching my kiddos how to love themselves left its mark on me, too.
I pulled into the parking lot and was immediately struck by the number of luxury SUVs and high-end sedans. I parked my 10-year-old Ford (paid for—booyah!) to the side and hustled the kids toward the door. A row of ridiculously expensive and color-coordinated strollers were lined up outside the gym under a sign proclaiming that they were not allowed inside on the newly waxed floor. My son danced in place while waiting in line with the other kids. I scooped up my daughter and made my way to the bleachers to watch the practice.
My daughter promptly passed out in my arms, which gave me an opportunity to study the people around me. As I scanned the room, it became abundantly clear that we were not in Kansas anymore. I was in some weird version of the heteronormative competition for a chance at the American dream. The women were pressed and dressed from tip to toe in expensive athletic wear. Hair and makeup on point. French manicures clicked as the women texted on iPhones that coordinated with their outfits. Dads in all flavors of Caucasian lounged in their Tommy Bahama and Cutter and Buck golf shirts. Infants and toddlers dressed impeccably sat on their parents’ laps.
I looked down at Rivi asleep in my arms. Her hair was tangled in the back from sleep. She was wearing her favorite giant squid T-shirt and a pair of robot leggings. I was rocking my favorite gray beanie, a flannel button-up, cargo shorts, and Chucks. My pasty white tattooed legs were propped on the bench below me. It occurred to me: What if I am the only queer here? There has to somebody else, at least one, right? Some closeted dad, perhaps? I scanned the room for clues, something, anything as a sign of solidarity. Where were my compatriots in flannel? Where were my indi-lesbo rock T-shirts? Where were my rainbow marriage-equality pins on diaper bags? No Queers for Fears references?
I started to panic. What if the other parents know? They can tell that I am not straight. They are going to treat my kids like outsiders tainted with my liberal leanings. They will worry that I will make their kids queer with my KD Lang and Melissa Etheridge mixtapes. How will I explain to D that he can’t play with the other kids because his mom kissed a girl and she liked it?
I looked up in time to see my son whizz past his own goalie and accidentally score for the wrong scrimmage team. I whispered, “I feel like that, too, dude. You and me both.”
It is strange how simple things can take you straight back to memories you thought you jammed the lid on years ago. I was back in seventh grade. I was sitting on the sidelines watching my best friend, and big-time crush, dance with someone else. They swayed, stiff-armed and awkwardly, to the dulcet tones of Natalie Imbruglia. In that moment I was deeply and starkly alone.
My reverie ended when Rivi woke and started to squirm in my arms. D sat in a huddle in the middle of the room with the other kids. He listened intently to his coach’s pep talk. A mom next to me leaned over to tell me that my daughter was beautiful. “Thanks,” I replied, “I think I’ll keep her.” Rivi giggled and bounced on my knee. She was anxious to get free to roam around the gym with the big kids. She pointed at a little boy down the way who had a giant squid on his shirt, too. A dad argued quietly with a young son to put his handheld device away because the practice was ending soon. Tiny kids were restless and moms started pulling snacks out of bags and picking up coats and other belongings.
Time buzzed and practice was over. D bolted over to me for a big high five. “You did great, little man, good work.” He looked up at me, “I was worried at first because I didn’t know anyone. Now I think we are going to be friends.”
I scanned the room again with fresh eyes. Sure, the outside trappings of these families were largely different from mine. But in truth, we were all just people who loved their kids enough to haul our butts out of bed early on a Saturday morning so they could play rec soccer. I reminded myself that it is likely folks were too busy surfing the internet and telling their kids to stop sticking fingers up their noses to be worried about the Butch Mom toward the back of the gym with a toddler sprawled across her khaki cargos.
I bundled the kids back into their coats and joined the other parents swarming for the gym exit. D started humming a few bars of “I want to hold your hand.” Rivi joined in and they sang the chorus on repeat as we shuffled toward the cold outdoors.
Outside, we paused to watch the throngs of people scurry around cars, adjusting car seats and stuffing duffle bags into luxury SUVs. I looked down at the three of us, squid shirt, flannel and all. We belong together. My tiny but mighty family is beautiful—even if it doesn’t look like the others.
“You know, Mom, I’m excited about next week. Soccer was fun.”
“I’m glad. I am stoked that you like it.”
“Mom, can I ask you a question?”
“Can we listen to Bon Jovi on the way home? I seriously need to rock out.”
I kissed his sweaty cheeks and replied, “No problemo, dude. Let’s go rock out.”
Jerusha Gray is insatiably curious. This curiosity, coupled with a brain that never shuts up, drives her to paint and draw, read prodigiously, make music, write, and sing in grocery stores. Find her on Instagram @palegrayink and at www.facebook.com/palegrayink.