I’m wrestling with when and whether I will meet Damon for lunch at school. At first it was a no-brainer: I’d love that, and so would he! After all he visited me at work on a number of occasions. And we first went out into public—just the two of us before he was two weeks old (We went to Home Depot).
But then I remembered: kids can be cruel. And innocent, curious kindergarteners can be unintentionally hurtful.
When Timothy was in kindergarten, I ate lunch with him once after his persistent requests. I met his friends, and we had a great time. Damon has his Uncle Timothy’s take-it-or-leave-it confidence. But he also has his daddy’s desire to make sure everyone is getting along (“No-one should be left out!”). What would my presence in these early days do to a little boy who is trying to fit in and to make sure everyone else fits in? How would he handle their innocently curious questions? What would their questions tell him about what is “normal”?
I knew those questions would be inevitable for our kids. Before I asked Laura to marry me, we had been close friends for ten years and had dated for three years. I had a lot to think about before deciding that this was what I wanted to do. At the top of my foot-dragging list was the knowledge that the kids would have to explain to other kids something that they did not choose.
One day, after we had been married about five years, I was down in the basement sorting through stuff (I have a little bit of stuff). The kids, all teenagers except Timothy, were gone for the weekend. My mind started working; and when I would let it go like that, it usually focused on the kids. All of a sudden I was overcome with emotion. The thought that prompted the flood was the realization that I had never once asked the kids what happens when people at school learn that they have a black stepfather. I had not asked, and they had not told. I started thinking of all the possible reactions.
During the next week, I asked each of our children in private.
Kimberly said, “I go to Hume-Fogg (Academic Magnet School). There are a lot more unusual family situations than ours!”
Thomas said, “My friends think it’s cool, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”
Charlie said, “Nothing happens.” When I pressed him, it wasn’t clear if to me if the subject never came up, if he was ashamed, or if he was protecting me. Now that he’s a little older and a lot more mature, I might ask him again.
Timothy said, “They ask me ‘So are you mixed?’ and I say, ‘Do I LOOK mixed?’”
So I finally asked them, and I think their message to me was, “It’s not a big deal.” But in case you’re wondering, I wasn’t asking about how much they love me or anything like that. I think the kids and I have all come through that “Can I trust that you really love me? stage.”
Likewise I have no doubt about the bond between Damon and me. But love often comes with a cost, sometimes with a burden. Real love can bear the burden, especially once we reach a certain level of maturity. By the time I asked my kids that question, they were all veterans of school society and they had already borne some burdens.
Damon is new at this. I think the lunch visit can wait until he gets his classroom and schoolyard legs under him. Unless he persists.