I have a Buddhist friend, Lia, also a seasoned mom of three boys, who has this kind but irritating habit of sliding books through my mail slot whenever she thinks I’m getting too controlling in my parenting. Last week she dropped off the latest tome, Momma Zen, after I called her in a panic about my latest fear: Alexi’s lack of a father figure and how this might play out as he grows up. The book deals with motherhood through the eyes of Zen and how a meditation practice can help parents during those difficult early years.
The day the book appeared I started reading. When I was halfway through a paragraph about how difficult the author, and most new parents, found it to stay grounded in the present rather than be driven by imagined future events, I suddenly realized: there are only 86 shopping days...until Alexi’s first birthday, that is. So, I did what any goal-setting, organization-loving problem-solving New York Jewish woman would do.
I started shopping.
Please understand that I’m not just another 21st century success-obsessed new mother with her eye on every brain-enhancing toy or convenience-promising baby gadget. No, for Alexi’s first birthday, I’m not shopping for a bright orange plastic training potty, a color-crazed Baby Einstein play mat, a Mozart for children CD or a toddler-sized grinning stuffed giraffe.
For Alexi’s first birthday, I’m shopping for male role models.
Admittedly, this search began long before my boy was even conceived. Like many lesbian moms, I had dreamed up the perfect scenario by which my partner and I would orchestrate our family-making. We would find a gay male couple who liked kids but weren’t committed enough to become parents and use the most virile (and handsome) partner’s sperm to create our family. The child would have full access to both biological parents plus our partners, providing him or her with the added bonus of four role models with at least two different genders. So, with images of sharing PTA meetings and Thanksgiving turkeys in fall, sledding and snowpeople in winter, piano recitals and softball games in fall, and sandcastle making and marshmallow roasting in summer, I approached our number one choice for this fertility adventure: the best looking, warmest and most successful gay couple in our lives, who also happened to be, er, the only gay couple in our lives.
It never occurred to me that both men would politely decline our fabulous invitation, especially since one had even given this incredible gift to another lesbian couple thirteen years previously. In fact, this gentleman had such a bad experience as a donor that he now sits on panels advising lesbian couples considering known donors against going that route.
Only mildly miffed, we dusted ourselves off and next approached one of Lucie’s relatives, somebody we knew was not planning to have any children of his own. How perfect-our child would be a blend of Lucie’s genetics and mine! Unfortunately it was another no, this time simply because he did not want to help bring any more children into an already overpopulated world. Of course this dedication to environmental issues just made us even more certain that he would have been perfect.
Stunned, disappointed and just a bit hurt, we realized that we had run out of options. This was disheartening not only because the bizarrely anonymous sperm bank was our sole option, but also because we hadn’t realized how few men we were close to in our lives.
So, last week, instead of finishing Momma Zen, I started to scour the globe, or at least my little postage stamp-sized piece of it, in search of males to befriend for Lexi’s sake. This may appear to be a tad contrived. OK, it’s completely contrived. The fact of the matter is, I am a lesbian and I love women. Not just romantically, but in all ways. And while I enjoy interacting with men and even feel they are part of me, that magical spark necessary for a close friendship tends not to exist in those connections. But there’s this little boy, and I want him to have a man to look up to, most importantly, because the mainstream heroes out there are sorely lacking in my reconstructively postmodern feminist humanist mind. Wouldn’t I be a terrible mother if I didn’t provide him with that?
While I was living in Vermont, a straight white couple I knew adopted two black boys. The woman told me she was going to events where she thought there might be African-American adults because she wanted to make some friends who were black so her sons would have adults that looked like them in their lives. At the time I found this racist and objectifying. Now that I’m in a similar situation, only with gender, I’m not so sure.
I thought perhaps if I got very specific about what I wanted and why, it would help. I even created a chart with the various qualities, values, skills and physical attributes that I was looking for as well as the reasons for each. You would think I was Yenta the Matchmaker trying to find a husband for my boy rather than a surrogate father.
Another friend suggested I look around at the men on the periphery of our life now, like the men in our families, and make more of an effort to get to know a few.
Unfortunately, none met the criteria on the chart. For example, one of them tells great fart jokes, a huge plus with the under 10 set, but owns a burnt orange-colored SUV. I mean, come on, if you’re going to poison the planet, at least have a modicum of taste. Another volunteers for UNICEF but eats Chicken McNuggets for dinner every Sunday. One has terrible onion breath and another has this nails-on-the-chalkboard laugh. Sigh.
Last night I gave up and after Alexi went to sleep, I finished Momma Zen. The thought suddenly occurred to me that men who are right for the job might just appear when the time is right, especially if Lucie and I get involved in the community as we are doing, through the gay and lesbian parenting association, the UU church and even through work. Maybe just setting the intention is enough for now. After all, the last thing on my boy’s mind at this moment is his gender and finding those like him around whom to construct himself. He’s much more interested in chewing on the new bug-eyed squeaky fish in his bath and practicing shaking his head “no,” which he learned last week. Frankly, hanging out where he is is much more fun than shopping. Today I tore up my chart and ordered my own copy of Momma Zen to read over again as needed. I’ll have to call Lia when I get a minute.
But I did decide it couldn’t hurt to visit every mall within a 20 mile radius this December and talk to the Santa Clauses with lines of little kids waiting to sit on their laps. After shopping season ends, they’ll be out of a job and maybe they’ll miss the kids. Now if there was only a way to check the sleighs to see if they’re gas efficient...