So This is Christmas

kids

The kids open presents last night

My feelings around the holidays are complex. I grew up going to various family houses with my parents and my sister. My folks are the oldest in two large families, so the holidays were always a big party.  My birthday is thrown into the mix there, and I grew up learning to put that last due to everyone’s holiday tension and plans. As I got older and left home, I noticed that the delight in spending time around family rested almost exclusively with my extended family. My parents don’t really celebrate the holiday on their own, reminding me that they don’t exchange gifts when I have asked what they got each other. We don’t talk much about our feelings, so I’m not sure their reasons for not participating in christmas. We didn’t have a ton of money growing up, though my parents are comfortable (not well off, however) now. My mom has said that if they need anything, they will just get it and not wait for a holiday. They raised us, out of necessity, to challenge capitalism. “Do you really need that?” I can hear my mom whisper in the back of my mind while I’m browsing in a store. Some days I feel lucky for that resistance. But this year I was buying for a 5 year old and an 8 year old in my life.

Our queer holiday situation is new, and we don’t have the years of tradition and ritual behind us. We all gathered at my girlfriend’s home to open presents. Me, my girlfriend, her daughter, her Baby Ima, Baby Ima’s partner, and Baby Ima’s partner’s son. We slowly opened a few presents, the adults had a few beers, we ate some food, we opened a few more presents. Adults put batteries into gifts and the house turned into chaos. There were toys that made farting noises. Radio controlled toys that sped into the kitchen and rolled over people’s feet. Tons of books. Toys that were THE EXACT SAME so the kids wouldn’t fight over them [good call, Baby Ima and partner!]. The evening was messy, fun, loud, silly, chaotic, and happy. Friends came to visit amid the bedlam. During the night, everyone sang Happy Birthday to me, and I got to blow out candles.

I’ve always wondered why I have a different idea about what it means to be “family” than my family of origin. Why do I care so much that we are all together? Why do they seem to not care? My process around it is just that – a process. Hopefully, the kids in my life know that holidays mean spending time with people you love and care about, and maybe making them laugh with your fake farts for awhile. It’s not perfect and it may be messy at times, but at least we’re together. That’s all that matters to me.

The Non-Parent

e

When I sat down to think about what I wanted to say in this piece, I felt a rush of insecurities. How do I talk about the challenges of parenting when I’m not a parent? I bathe, feed, cuddle, and play with a small person, but I’m not her parent. I buckle them into a car seat, bring them to the library, withhold treats until the vegetables have been eaten, and

listen to their feelings, but I’m not their parent. She has an Ima and a Mama. When she introduces me to people, she’ll say “This is my Ethan!”, sometimes followed up with “He’s my mom’s boyfriend.” How do we name our families when there are no words?

There are many moments of caregiving, whether challenging or joyous, when I emotionally retreat a bit. It’s clear that the situation calls for a primary parent action. I readily acknowledge that I’m not (nor want to be) this person’s father, and the intensity of parenting that is needed is not within my ability. This is not a question of length of time as a caregiver; I’m simply never going to be this person’s father. The disconnect between parental-seeming duties while not being a parent is something that needs more reflection. I want words that say “This is who you are to me” without taking the place of “parent”*.

Not having a specific name in this kid’s life isn’t an issue in a day to day way. I am a constant presence. We have our disagreements and our cuddle times. She asks when I’m coming back; I tell her when I’ll see her next and that I’ll miss her until we see each other again. I get annoyed with her behavior and love her creativity at the same time. She is excited to share things she’s learned at school, and I genuinely enjoy hanging out with her. We know who we are to each other, even if there is no particular name for it.

 

*I’ve looked for books, communities, or support groups that are discussing ways that blended queer families are creating new identities. I have not found a lot of resources, so if you know of any, comment here!