99 Problems

Published on August 23rd, 2013 | by Beth Mattson


BETH MATTSON Wonders: Am I Even Alternative?

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Sure, I’ve slept with plenty of women while identifying as one, both among the trees of outdoor festivals and among the leather slings of serious dungeons, but am I actually outside of normative parenting? I gave birth in hospitals, twice. I have the opposite genitalia of my spouse. I fed one of my kids name-brand Cheerios for breakfast this morning, because I had a coupon for them when I was at the store. I sound pretty average to me, which I shouldn’t be so disgusted by. Who am I to judge an average parent and use them as an insult? Not only is all parenting hard, but we have plenty in common, as it turns out.

Okay, maybe not a ton I common. I suspect a lot of the moms at the playground don’t  understand that I am flirting with them, and how close we could be to having a queer affair if we put our minions to bed early one night and opened a bottle of wine – but, we have enough in common that I should get my very bent nose out of the air. I despise when conservatives pretend that they have nothing in common with me, so perhaps I should extend them the same courtesy. I pointedly ‘Friend’ all of my right-wing relatives on Facebook, just to make sure that they know that the radical homo black sheep of the family really, really ‘Likes’ their recipe for whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. Ha HA! Take that! You can pretend that I am the devil, but you know that we both just posted pictures of our most recent sewing projects. Please, try to ignore that I commented thoughtfully on your article about baby weaning. Sucka! The damned witch has kids just as cute and loved as yours, all up in your News Feed.

Maybe ‘alternative’ is just another fun box that we all get to play with in the giant toy store of identity politics, even though we aren’t super different from standard parents. Using ‘alternative’ may just align me with others who also prefer that term, even if we end up parenting rather differently inside of that chosen clique. Of the parents in my queer parenting playgroup, I am often the most crass – not in ways that peg me just a dirty dyke, but as working class, a rural farm kid. I amp up my Midwestern accent, refuse to helicopter protectively over my sweet cherubs as they wander, and I don’t mind opining that Attachment Parenting often puts undo pressure on the primary parent. I use disposable diapers. I circumcised my son. When he was old enough, I let him cry in his crib for half an hour before he passed out all by himself. These factors tend to make me a base jerk in queer parenting circles, but they are things that I can converse about with virtually any average, straight, middle or right-of-center parent in the pediatrician’s waiting room in Minnesota, right before I allow a long needle into my peanut’s chubby thigh for a blessed immunization.

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I have been able to test my status as an “average” parent during my second paternity leave. I recently gave birth in the middle of my home state, Wisconsin, while living at my parents’ house in the center of nowhere. It takes half an hour to drive to the nearest town, which doesn’t have a movie theater but does have a stock car racing and collision track that opens at 7:00pm every Saturday. When my mother hosted a party where all of her teacher, nurse and gardener friends congregated around boxed mix brownies and berry wine coolers to thumb through catalogs of kitchen supplies and scented candles, I tossed myself right into the mix. Here is a group of primary caregivers; certainly I can blend in! Let’s talk lovingly about diapers and runny noses!

But I started to catch sidelong glances – first for audibly admiring the ‘butch attache’ that turned out to be a ‘pinstripe purse’ and then for cooing, “Oooh, that insulated cooler bag cold hold, like, a six pack and a half.” (How is my beer can different from their wine coolers?) Between sharing recipes for casseroles and discussing laundry detergent tips, they began to notice that I was single parenting, my partner nowhere in sight. They perhaps wondered if my short hair was just homely or maybe a little gay, and how it contrasted with my son’s hair, which was kind of long for a boy. And why was he calling me “Innie” instead of “Mommy?”

I enjoyed myself thoroughly and didn’t hold back any of my domestic side, but I think that they all definitely noticed that I was “a little different”. They might have even said “a little off.” Sure enough, as soon as we were ‘Friends’, I could see their daily bible quotes and they my rainbow propaganda. Not more than one of them has ‘Liked’ anything I have posted, quite probably because my responses to certain court rulings involved You Tube music videos by Le Tigre, and my other posts sometimes have the mentality of a twelve-year-old boy making boob jokes. Feminist boob jokes.

I guess that even when I don’t declare myself as an Alternative Parent, I end up being one anyway. It’s nice to occasionally not have to struggle to find common ground, to just relax into a meeting space designed for families that fall ever so slightly outside of the bell curve. I will have to let go of some of my notions of ‘alternative’ being a snobby title that bestow upon myself with my pinky in the air. Drinking tea with a pinky in the air is awesome, and ‘alternative’ is often just a lovely way of saying, “Hey, you wanna hang out? Those nice people over there think I am crazy, but it looks like your kids are eating homemade granola in mismatched socks, just like mine. Want to be loud together?”

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About the Author

Beth Mattson is a rabid queer and writer, toiling away in Oregon and Wisconsin, making her bi-coastal, if you count the Mississippi as a major body of water, which you should. She is the parent of two non-verbal tots, who can’t yet read the embarrassing things that she writes about them. They keep her guessing and standing on her head, but can’t stop her from facilitating writing workshops for under-served populations.

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