What My Typical Day Looks Like
By Gayle E. Pitman
Wake up at 6:00. Make breakfast. Make my daughter’s breakfast. Make my lunch. Make my daughter’s lunch. Remember to give my daughter her vitamin. Kiss my partner go0d-bye (she leaves by 6:45 to get to work). Empty the dishwasher (if Amy didn’t do it already). Make my bed. Make my daughter’s bed. Remind my daughter to feed the cats. Sweep up the massive number of crumbs she managed to drop on the floor (how DOES she do that every day?). Find clothes for my daughter to wear – and ten seconds later, renegotiate that outfit while she sputters in a fit of anger. Wash face, throw on some makeup, brush my teeth, figure out what I’m going to wear (sometimes resorting to going through yesterday’s laundry, convincing myself that it’s-not-THAT-dirty!). Nag my half-naked daughter to hurry up and get dressed. Comb her hair, trying not to yank too hard at what the Tangle Monster left during the night. Get my daughter to brush her teeth. Put our shoes and coats on, get my daughter’s lunch basket, my lunch bag, my work bag, my purse, inevitably forgetting SOMETHING, and get out the door.
All this, and it’s only 7:30 in the morning. I could go on, but you get the idea, and no, I’m not trying to sound like Erma Bombeck. In many ways, this is a typical day in the life of a working parent – overworked, underpaid, too much to do, too little time, blah blah blah.
But I’m not just your typical, garden-variety mom. I’m one of two moms in the family picture. And because of that, I deal with things that straight parents never have to deal with. In fact, I think I stress out about things that I bet straight parents never even give a passing thought about. Straight people, for example, don’t have to explain why their family is the way it is. Imagine if I had a dollar for each time a child asked me, “Why does she have TWO mommies – and NO daddy?” Seriously – I get asked this quite a lot, and I feel compelled to come up with an on-the-spot explanation for a situation that really shouldn’t need explaining.
To be honest, the example I just gave doesn’t really bother me so much. I get asked a lot of questions, especially from kids, and I don’t usually mind answering them. The things that take up major headspace involve what I don’t see – the quiet, implicit, subtle attitudes that may never rise to the surface in an obvious way. People might act friendly on the outside, but hold horribly negative attitudes about LGBTQ people on the inside, and I may never know it – unless they inadvertently leave little clues for me to find. Like the unanswered invitation to a play date at our house: Maybe they didn’t get the e-mail message, or they were too busy to respond. Or . . . maybe they don’t want their daughter to come to our house, because they think we might be a bad influence. Or, watching my daughter playing by herself on the monkey bars, I wonder, Is she playing by herself because she’s determined to master those bars? Or is it because the other kids don’t want to play with the girl with two mommies?
The fact that these situations could be read in more than one way points to the reality of microaggressions in the lives of marginalized people. Derald Wing Sue, author of Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, defines the phenomenon as “the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities, and denigrating messages” that members of marginalized groups receive from people who are usually well-intentioned – and who are typically unaware of the underlying messages that they’re communicating. Microaggressions happen when people’s unconscious biases leak out in unintended ways – sometimes through what they say or do, and sometimes through what they don’t say, or don’t do. What makes the experience of microaggressions more stressful than obvious forms of discrimination is the inherent self-doubt it creates – especially because, on the surface, they seem so innocent and harmless. Is this person being homophobic? Or am I reading into it too much, or being too sensitive? As several research studies have already indicated, that ongoing battle of self-doubt that microaggressions trigger is quite stressful, impacting both our physical and our mental health in a negative way.
Microaggressions show up periodically (I think) in all the various corners of my life. My radar is on the highest alert, however, in the school and parenting arena – with good reason, when you consider the research. A 2001 study, for example, found that one-third of students with gay or lesbian parents had been teased or bullied because of their parents’ sexuality – and that teacher intervention in these situations was either nonexistent or completely ineffective. A group of studies from the late 1990s and early 2000s indicate that teachers and student-teachers commonly held negative attitudes towards lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. (Transgender parents haven’t even made it onto the research radar screen in a significant way, although as an aside, Jennifer Finney Boylan’s book Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders is an excellent read.) And a recent study published in School Psychology Quarterly showed that, even when teachers or student-teachers had positive or neutral explicit attitudes towards lesbian and gay parents, their implicit attitudes (the precursor to microaggressions) towards same-sex couples – with or without children – tended to be negative. They say they’re okay with lesbian and gay parents, but their subtle actions might reveal otherwise – maybe, depending on how you read the situation. A scary reality, if you think about it, considering how much a child’s success in school hinges on the quality of the teacher-parent relationship.
I worry that my daughter will get bullied or teased – and that her teachers might not have her back. I worry that some kids might not want to be friends with her. I worry about building relationships with other parents, and wonder what they really think about us. I wonder if my daughter’s teachers are nice to us because they like us, or just because they have to be. And then I worry that I just worry too damn much.
All in a typical day of this working parent.