When you have children, you must realize, if you hadn’t already, how conformist mainstream American culture can be, and the relentless blue and pink/truck and doll gender divide is only the most obvious example. Despite the fact that there are as many kinds of families as there are people, it seems that a stereotype is still many people’s default image of a family. Our family make-up is somewhat unconventional: Tim is 60, I am 35, and he has two wonderful daughters who are only a few years younger than me. Many of our friends, even those who have known us for a long time, stumble over what name to give the relationship between Tim’s children, often referring to his daughters as N.orris’s aunts; we call them what they are – N.’s sisters. And we assiduously cultivate their sororal relationship with him; he has deeply bonded with them. We are lucky that one lives only 80 miles away while unfortunately for us the other lives on the West Coast. They are both huge parts of our life. In late October, N. is going to be an uncle. “But I’m not a grown-up yet!” he said when we told him that his sister’s pregnancy means he’ll be an uncle. “That’s just the way it works in our family,” was our reply.
Tim and I have been married for 12 years, so we are used to new acquaintances’ poorly disguised looks of surprise when they meet us as well as their terribly discreet questions about how we met. But we have not yet gotten over getting irked when strangers assume that Tim is N.’s grandfather and don’t restrain themselves from unnecessary commentary. Tim came up with a great response to this: when someone asks N. if he’s having a fun day with grandpa, Tim says loudly and heartily, “We fooled them again, N.!” But he doesn’t always have the patience to respond this gracefully; people throwing your age in your face gets old! Today Tim and N. were at a doctor’s office and a nurse was making conversation with N. while she checked on Tim. I wasn’t there, but this is more or less how the conversation was reported to me.
“So, where do you go to school?”
“I go to homeschool!”
“Oh, so your mommy teaches you at home.”
“No! I teach myself! My mommy goes to [XY University] every day.”
Tim, perhaps wanting a little credit for all he does with N., says, “But N.orris, you’re not home alone, right?”
“Yes,” the nurse joins in, “your grandpa probably helps you learn things.”
Tim, irritated, says somewhat snippily, “Well, that would be tough, since one of his grandpas is dead and the other lives in Washington D.C.!”
“Oh,” replies the nurse, slightly nonplussed, “well, you must learn things with your… friend… here.”
“That’s my dad!” N. shouts incredulously.
He’ll have to get used to making this explanation, just as he’s gotten used to telling people he’s homeschooling.