My partner and I were shopping yesterday at Target in West Hollywood with our three-year-old son when something happen that could only happen to a LGBT family.
We were buying some decorations and favors for a Halloween party we are hosting for the kids in the neighborhood, and we were having a delightful time picking out multi-colored flashlights and jack-o-lantern treat buckets, but the shopping trip turned ugly when our son wanted every bag of candy in the Halloween aisle.
A smart boy, he learned long ago how to Houdini out of the safety straps on shopping carts, so it has become a regular challenge to keep him seated in the cart. After he stood up in the cart several times, and we firmly told him to sit back down, explained to him that it was dangerous, that the store manager would tell us to leave if he didn’t sit down, yadda, yadda, yadda, we finally warned him that if he stood up in the cart one more time, he would have to go with Mommy to the car and wait.
Always testing, as three year olds do, he stood up. That was it. I plucked him from the cart and plopped in on my hip. “Ok, now we’re going to the car.”
He turned to my partner and called to her to rescue him. “Momma, Momma. Take me. I need you. I want Momma!” In solidarity with me, she told him, “No, you have to go to the car with Mommy, because you didn’t sit in the cart.”
I carried him, kicking and screaming all the way to the elevator to the parking garage. The whole way he screamed, “Momma, Momma. I want Momma.”
The other people in the elevator starred as I tried to calm down the desparate child in my arms. I gently reinforced to him, ”Next time if you sit in the cart like a good boy, then we can stay.”
All the way to the car he threw a fit and wailed for “Momma.”‘ Slightly embarrassed, I grimaced at the people trapped in the elevator with me and this squirming, screaming child. As I crossed the parking lot two men were following me. I stopped beside my car and was fumbling to find my keys in my purse when one of the men approached me. In a quiet but demanding tone, “Can you tell me, where is his mother?”
I realized that he thought I was not this child’s mother, and that he thought I might be kidnapping him. I took a deep breath. “I am his mother. He has two moms. We raise him together. I am ‘Mommy,’ and she is ‘Momma.’ That’s why he was calling for ‘Momma.’ “
Still unconvinced, he stood watching me while my son screamed even louder because a threatening looking stranger was looming over his mom. The man was wearing (no lie) Bermuda shorts, socks and sandals. He definitely did not look like he was from our part of town. Possibly a tourist, maybe from the Midwest.
“I want to make sure nobody is taking him who shouldn’t be,” said the man, his friend stepping in closer.
“I appreciate that,” I said, “But I am his mother. I gave birth to him. I raise him together with his other mother.”
Here I was in a parking lot telling way too much information to a total stranger, and I was stunned at the idea that someone could think I was a kidnapper. After all, I was in West Hollywood, gay central. Surely this man had heard of two women, two moms, having a baby together.
I tried to sooth my son with, “It’s’ okay, it’s okay,” as I opened the rear door of my car to put him in the carseat. The man wasn’t budging. I supposed I could have asked my son to tell the man who I was, but the way my son was throwing a fit who knows what he might have said. What could I do? I had already told the man my life story in 20 seconds. I focused on loading my son into the car, but with two men staring down his mom — and by now my heart beat racing and me exuding shaky nerves — my son was completely rattled. He refused to go into the carseat.
I decided it best not to escalate the scene. “Come sit up front with Mommy until Momma comes, OK? You can honk the horn.” Finally, my son heard something he liked. Saved by the horn. He quit crying, and we went around to the driver’s side where I sat with him in my lap and shut the door.
“Just one time,” I told him. He tooted the horn. The men were still standing behind my car. Now, because of the horn, other people were looking at us. On the passenger seat floor I spied the bag of candy that we had just gotten at the Westside Families Halloween party at Plumber Park. Ironically we had just left a scene where two same-sex parents were the norm, and it was the odd heterosexual couple at the park who joined the festivities who felt a bit like the oddball. A Tootsie Roll sucker! Normally the one piece of sticky, sugary candy that he’s normally forbidden. I handed it to him for a guaranteed distraction. He quickly unwrapped it and stuck it in his mouth. Peace and quiet.
After about a minute, the men walked away.
I sat in the car with my son not sure what to think. Part of me was glad that strangers would step up to make sure a child was safe. it was a like an episode of that hidden-camera show, “What Would You Do?” where actors play out some sort of unfair or dangerous social situation to see if passersby will intervene. Then again, the incident was a reminder of the assumptions some people make and their ignorance about alternative family structures.
In the end, I decided I was glad that the men had approached me. If someone really had been abducting my son, then I’m glad someone risked their own comfort to approach a stranger to find out what was really happening. Also, the confrontation gave me the opportunity to educate the men about another family formation. So maybe next time they see two women with a child they will consider that the women might not be sisters, friends or co-workers but maybe they are, in fact, both the child’s moms.
All in all, a happy ending.