The Discomfort of Other People

“Oh, excuse me, you’re with them?” a 60-something year old, salt-and-pepper haired woman said to me as I approached my wife, in-laws, and twin daughters in the hotel lobby. “Yes, these are my daughters,” I replied, my tone a bit more aggressive than I’d intended. Her husband turned around from fawning over our babies to say congratulations. I thanked him and supposed this seemingly meaningless interaction was about to end.

After a morning of shuffling our dog to daycare; scrambling around our house to pack final items to the tune of two screaming six-week-old infants; and driving three and a half hours through tortoise-like traffic in torrential downpours, I was ready to get settled and collect myself before the rehearsal dinner later that evening. My in-laws had met us in the parking lot and helped to get Ari and Sage out of the car. I’d gotten momentarily separated from them when I doubled-back to collect a backpack that had fallen off of the dolly as it crossed the entryway threshold.

“Well,” the woman adds, “two babies and you look great! You can hardly tell they were in there!”

I stared at her with a look that was a combination of puzzlement, hurt, and indignation. I finally replied, “No, actually my wife carried,” while gesturing towards Rebecca.

By the look she gave me in return, one might have supposed I’d just informed her that her childhood role model was found DOA in a crackhouse with a sex worker who just so happened to have been her mother. She quickly recovered with a nervous smile, though we both knew what she had just revealed about her internal beliefs regarding my and my family’s humanity.

The cramped lobby we were standing in was the destination of our first family road trip to my cousin-in-law’s wedding in Pennsylvania. This was our first real trip with our twins. It was also much more than that. We were heading to a wedding at a country club in an 86% White, upper middle class town. Our queer, biracial family was sure to stand out in the context of it all.

I struggled to admit to myself that I was feeling anxious. Having a lack of knowledge about the kind of social and emotional environment we’d be walking into brought me to levels of self-consciousness I hadn’t encountered since I came out nearly a decade ago. Throughout my 20s, I’d worked hard to develop the confident relationship with my sexuality that I now have. But at this time I was in the early days of forming my identity as a mother.

Being a masculine-of-center lesbian in an interracial relationship adds layers of vulnerability and ambiguity to the motherhood cake. The popular image of motherhood in our society, like the popular image of womanhood, is uncomfortably circumscribed. There are a great deal of social standards set about how women become and behave as mothers.

In turn, mothers encounter a great deal of assumptions about not only their external experience but also what is experienced internally. I find that very often, rather than self-cultivating their individual identity as mothers, too often women knead their souls into soft dough; placing themselves into the rigid cookie cutter of society’s expectations to toss away the excess–or rather, their true individual essence. Is it any wonder why Wine Mom Culture is a thing? But I digress…

In the moment following the hurt, confusion, and indignation that washed over me in that lobby, I realized: I could choose to hate myself and change myself entirely on a superficial level to make my identity of motherhood more “easy on the eyes” for the sake of the status quo. I could divorce myself from my true essence and submit myself to that cookie cutter for the comfort of other people.

I could have laughed that woman’s assumption off or smiled and nodded, leaving her uncorrected for the sake of her comfort and likely that of her husband, my in-laws, and anyone else within earshot. But that is a choice I’ll never be willing to make, nor is it the example I intend to set for my daughters.

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