Emily Parnell — Teaching kindness requires conversation

04/16/2013 4:59 PM

05/20/2014 10:42 AM

“So, what else could we say about Glitters the Guinea Pig?” I asked the group. I was working with some kids on creative writing skills, and we were developing a character together. We already knew that Glitters could fly, pooped rainbows, was fat, had children, was in prison and was some sort of mental health professional.

Another kid volunteered.

“He’s gay,” the kid said, obviously proud of their idea. “He’s in

love

with another MAN!” He obviously didn’t mean it in a derogatory way. He was being creative — as prescribed by our creative writing workshop.

I said “OK,” and moved on to the next kid.

But the word, “gay,” set off bells, whistles and alarms in my head. It felt like something that required some sort of … something.

My guess, the family recently had “The Gay Talk.” The one where a heterosexual family explains the meaning of the word “gay” to their kids.

We had the gay talk a couple years ago. Our son was invited to a sleepover by a little boy who had two moms. I was discussing it with some of my mom friends, trying to figure out the best way to explain.

One of the women I was talking to said, “Aren’t you going to teach your kids that the Bible says it’s wrong?” I felt my face flush with annoyance. Justifying bigotry with Scripture drives me crazy.

“Actually,” I said, “I’m going to work on how the Bible says not to be judgmental. That’s a more prevalent theme.”

My husband sat our son down and explained, simply, “Your friend’s moms love each other and have decided to be a mom and a mom together, rather than a mom and a dad.”

Our son cocked his head to one side in thought, then said, “OK.” It was easy. See, it’s the adults who get squirrelly about the subject, not the kids.

The next day, we drove the same boy back to our house for a play date. He saw my husband’s tattoos, and commented, saying his dad had had a tattoo. I’d never heard anything about his father, so we asked about him.

“Oh,” he said, “My dad died. Then my mom met my other mom and they fell in love.”

Oh my gosh!” my son said, and I cringed, wondering what would follow. “That is so many

Mother’s Day cards!”

The boy laughed, then he said, with a certain amount of disdain to his tone, “What, did you think my mom was

divorced

?”

My son piped up, “

My

mom is divorced.” He was talking about me. In an unexpected turn of the table, I was the one under scrutiny.

We had the gay talk again when our daughter asked about some of our friends.

“Are they brothers?” She asked. We explained. She said, “Oh.”

And yet again, we talked about it when one of the kids said something was “gay,” meaning “lame” or “silly.” I listed our gay friends and their friends who have gay parents. It didn’t take much for my kids to understand that it wasn’t nice to use the word “gay” in that way, and we don’t want to hurt feelings.

I’m thankful that growing up, my family prioritized being kind to others. They encouraged getting to know and appreciate people for who they are. It takes setting an example, but it also takes communication. Shying away from that communication, I think, is the first sign to children that something’s fishy.

We probably won’t talk about Glitter the Guinea Pig’s gay boyfriend again, but if the topic recurs, I know how I’ll treat it. Exactly as I would if Glitter were straight and had a girlfriend.

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