Our son is fiercely competitive and when the final whistle blew, I saw his expression change quickly from determined to angry. The game had been rough with dirty tackles and thrown elbows. So I knew the loss was only part of it. We watched as he stalked towards the sidelines for his water bottle and noticed the stern expression on his face as he shook hands with the opposing team and the referees. Then he grabbed his bag and marched towards a player from the other team. We called out for him and I know he heard us. But he kept marching until he was at this other kid's shoulder and they exchanged words that were most definitely not "Good game."
My partner got to him first and pulled him away and said, "You can't behave this way. Win or lose, you have to show good sportsmanship." He turned and started to cry, "This isn't about losing. That kid called my teammate a faggot."
My partner and I strive to teach our children to respect others even in moments of conflict. And in that situation, our son had the right intentions but went about it the wrong way. I could see all of him in that moment — his good heart, his loyalty, his sense of right and wrong and his impulsivity and temper. But I knew that the other parents staring from the sideline couldn't see all that. They likely saw an angry kid and a poor loser.
And I also wondered if they saw us.
My partner and I can't pass as straight. We fit the lesbian stereotype — short hair, cargo shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes. We know we can't pass because, in our 14 years of parenting, we've had strangers point and whisper and stare. We are and have always been visible as lesbian parents and with that comes a certain vigilance. Like many parents, we sometimes see our kids' behavior as a reflection on us. As lesbians, we feel that to an even greater extent, afraid that our kids' mistakes will lead to generalizations and judgment of our family.
Standing in the middle of the field that day, I fought back tears because the word "faggot" felt so personal and our son was hurt and angry. But I was also disappointed that he had lashed out and wouldn't calm down. We went through every rational option — reporting the incident to his coach and the league, speaking with the coach of the opposing team, and confronting the other kid in a respectful way. But he was insistent that nothing would happen to the kid and nothing would change and that was unacceptable to him.
At some point, I reached the end of my patience and compassion and I snapped, "Everyone here sees you acting out. Everyone is judging your behavior and they are judging us! Right now, it looks like we are the lesbians who can't control their kid!"
He took a breath and stared at us, quiet at last, and then said, "I want to talk to his mom. Can I do that?" My partner and I looked at each other and back at him before asking in unison, "Can you be respectful?" He nodded and we let him go.
He approached a woman on the sideline and we stood nearby and listened as he asked if she was the parent of #2. She said that she was and he said, "I wanted to let you know that your son called my teammate a faggot and it was hurtful and disrespectful." She stood absolutely still as he continued, "Would you please talk to him about his language?" She nodded and said she would and he thanked her and headed to the parking lot with us following close behind.
If I could go back to that day and handle it differently I would. The pressure we sometimes feel as lesbian parents is not his burden to bear. It is ours and ours alone. But I am not a perfect parent, gay or otherwise, and I make mistakes. As much progress as we have made in our fight for equality, we do not yet live in a time when my partner and I are seen as mothers without that additional qualifier that denotes who we are to each other more than who we are to our children. Someday it won't matter. Until then, the scrutiny can feel like sunlight through a magnifying glass.
PHOTO CREDIT: VIKK REICH