I’ve had more time than I normally do with my Master C, who is four, over the past couple of Summer months. We have been to many playgrounds, movies and shopping centres, where he, being a very social creature, inevitably meets new ‘shriends’ (friends).
What I have found incredibly interesting is observing the manner in which these interactions take place. The interpersonal dynamics of pre-school aged kids, who are young enough for the most part to be immune to our myriad of complex social conventions, are fascinating.
Master C’s opening line of late has been the same upon meeting a new ‘shriend’:
‘Hi, I’m Caelan, and I have two mums’.
The tone of voice is matter-of-fact, just simply – this is who I am, and this is how my family rolls.
I nearly fell over when I heard him the first time.
Why is this the first thing he tells people?
Does he think it’s something bad?
Does he think it’s something good?
My parental anxiety went into overdrive this first time as I watched anxiously for how the other child reacted.
As I thought more about it, I realised that there was no tone of confession, or need for approval, or anything other than ‘Here’s an interesting fact’ in Master C’s tone. Yet for him to make this his introductory statement, he already, at his tender age, displays an awareness that this factor makes him different from other kids.
For some strange reason, this surprises me.
At what age did this happen? I thought it was during the early schooling years, but obviously, our little boy has cottoned on far more quickly than I thought he would. We have books with two Mums, we have same sex family and friends, and we are careful to ensure that we discuss many different types of families in our house.
I thought he had more time being blissfully unaware.
It unnerves me a little that he knows we are different already.
The handful of kids I’ve witnessed this interaction with over the past month have just looked at him, and either asked him a question about it, or just told him that they have a Mum and a Dad, or simply skirted over it and kept talking about themselves.
I am relieved to say that it has been, thus far, a complete non-event.
If only we could be more like four year olds in our interactions! Imagine how liberating it would feel to be able to assert our differences or ‘irregularities’ straight up upon meeting someone new, and have them be received in such a nonchalant, accepting manner.
Ten years ago, I’m certain Master Z was NOT as acutely aware.
I recall in 2008 when Master Z was in Prep and I was teaching at the school he attended. Halfway through the year my lovely class volunteered to be ‘Prep buddies’ with Master Z’s class, which meant that every Friday we visited the Prep class and the Year Seven students read books to them. I had some mischievous boys in that class, who were gorgeous kids – typical boys who enjoyed pushing boundaries and being class clowns. One of these, the ringleader, who I will call ‘K’, begged to be paired up with my son as his ‘Prep Buddy’. K was a doting big brother to his little sister so I knew that he genuinely would take the role seriously and be kind to Master Z.
Same sex families were not very common at all back then, and as my class all knew I had children, they assumed I had a ‘normal’ nuclear family. Master Z used to get very excited when I would bring my students to his class, and one day he came bounding up to me with K and the other boys from my class, and he very innocently remarked that he couldn’t wait to tell his ‘other Mum’ about something.
Immediately these boys all stared straight at me, watching for my reaction.
I think I smiled awkwardly.
Then, just as quickly, they moved on and continued playing with my boy.
Master Z was none the wiser at the nonverbal interaction that had taken place between my students and me.
These boys knew exactly what he meant, I was certain of it. I expected questions, and in that split second I hoped they wouldn’t ask me anything in front of Master Z, so he didn’t feel embarrassed in any way.
No questions were asked: nothing at all was said. Not one thing from any of them.
Nor did my rapport with them change in any way. I couldn’t believe it.
My relief was immeasurable.
I literally could have hugged them.
They knew there was a story there, but they also respected me, and my little boy, enough not to pry. Master Z was placid and funny, but also highly sensitive and I knew he would have worried that he had done something ‘wrong’ if the ‘Big boys’ had started firing questions at both of us.
I wonder how my Master C would have gone had he, with his confident, bold, charismatic personality been born ten years ago instead of Master Z. I wonder what would have happened, given how different life was then, if my Master C had walked in to Prep, and my classroom at school, and announced proudly to everyone that he has two Mums.
The mind boggles.