Thursday, September 17, 2015

What I Should Have Said to the Other Mom at the Bus Stop

Be careful what you say to your kids. Be careful what you say around them or over their heads. Kids listen. Sure, they don’t hear when you scream their name from ten feet away while they’re playing in the park and they don’t listen when you ask them, for the fourth time, NOT to put makeup on the dog—but when you stub your toe and those four letter words pop out? Or when they wake up at midnight for a glass of water and hear the funny noises coming from Mom’s room? Yep, they’re listening. Any time you say something you’ll regret, those tiny ears zoom in like homing pigeons. 

I thought about this a lot yesterday morning when a kindergarten boy ran after my daughter at the bus stop, trying to kiss her and hoping she’d stop long enough to let him. Ever the romantic, my girl yelled, “Ew!” and sprinted away, laughing. The little boy’s mom shrugged and looked at me. I think she was hoping I wasn’t pissed that her kid was trying to kiss my six year-old. I wasn’t, but maybe the moment was a little awkward anyway because as this woman’s son came back and tucked himself under her arm, she laughed and said, "Well…kissing girls is better than him kissing boys, right?"

It was a joke, just a woman struggling to diffuse a little tension. She's nice. She’s never batted an eye at my two-mom family. We talk every morning. She talks with my wife every afternoon. She’s a conscientious, open-minded parent. From everything I know, anyway.  It was just one of those things you don’t think about before you spit it out, just a stupid joke. But the thing is…kids listen when you say stupid things. This child is five years old...his mother has no idea what his sexual orientation is. I mean, my daughter has a girlfriend at school and a boy on the bus she swears she’s going to marry, so if I went by her cues at this point, I could only assume she’s planning to have one super understanding spouse…or spouses, maybe? Except tomorrow there will be no girlfriend and no boy on the bus and she’ll grow up to be Superman instead.

But when you say to a child, “It’s better to kiss girls than boys,” they soak it in, whether you want them to or not, whether you mean it or not. It’s the first blow in a long string of subtle, subconscious cues that lead kids to believe that being gay isn’t okay…or at least it’s not as good as being straight. So what happens if your child IS gay, then? Do they grow up feeling like you'll be mad at them or like they’ll be disappointing you if they tell you the truth? Maybe. You can tell them a thousand times that you’ll love them no matter what, but if they hear you say things like this, it undermines everything you’re telling them. Or maybe your kid’s not gay at all. Maybe it’s another kid at school, and your little angel makes a stupid joke and starts the cycle over again with the next generation.

I should have said all this to you yesterday, Bus Stop Mom, but I didn’t. So I’m saying it now. We all love our kids unconditionally, so start thinking before you speak. Change your habits. Bite your tongue on the bad joke. If gay’s your go-to word for something stupid, find a new one, and stop trying to figure out who’s the man and who’s the woman in a same sex relationship. If we cut the stereotypes now, we can save our future LGBT kids a lot of pain. And hell, at the very least, we teach our kids—whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity—to be open-minded, conscientious human beings who aren’t prejudiced and who treat others with human dignity and respect. That'd be a pretty neat trick, wouldn't it?