"Nooooo!" I heard my son, then four years old, wail. Reflexively, I turned around, my arms full of artwork from his preschool cubby. He was still sitting at the table with his friend, the bin of Barbie dolls, clothing, and accessories tipped over and strewn all over like the aftermath of some tragic explosion at a miniature Filene's basement.
"We need a PRINCE!" his friend was insisting, her cheeks flushed with anger. She was holding one of the dolls, nattily dressed in a swimsuit, fur stole, and mismatched heels, away from the Big Kahuna's flailing grasp. "You can't have a wedding without a PRINCE!"
"That's NOT FAIR." My boy stopped dead, glaring at her with an indignation I only see from him when I'm breaking the bad news that his million-plus toy horses cannot remain scattered overnight across the expansive ranch he's constructed on the living room carpet. "Two princesses can have a wedding if they want to."
I stood there, shuffling my feet, torn between intervening before bloodshed erupted and letting the thing take its natural course. I've never been a big believer in stepping in when kids have low-level conflict -- I'm more interested in seeing how (or if) they'll work it out between them. But in this case, I wondered, was there some responsibility on my part to try to smooth things over quickly, since my four-year-old had just managed to cross over into delicate and politically polarizing territory? (Such angst over Barbies, when just the day before, I would have said the most political thing about Barbie was the revulsion she inspired in my college Women's Studies course.)
Deep down, I was feeling both nervous and proud of the Kahuna. Loyal Husband and I have never talked about same-sex relationships with our boys, and I don't think either of them know the word "gay." The Kahuna's whole perspective on the concept of a wedding was shaped solely by his discovery of our wedding album, and his delighted realization that not only did Mommy get to wear a princess gown, but Grampa was wearing a SKIRT. (Ahem. Kilt.) When he asked what a wedding was, we simply explained that it was a big party to celebrate that two people who loved each other had decided to form a family. End of discussion, and end of the questions, though not the Kahuna's fascination with all things bridal.
But we didn't have to say anything, I realized as I stood by the cubbies watching the Great Barbie Wedding Planner Throwdown of 2011. Loyal Husband and I have some gay friends. Our church has a gay pastor. The Kahuna's Sunday School teacher is gay, many of our deacons are gay, and there are actually more kids in our small congregation who have two mommies than kids who have a traditional nuclear household. We never talked to the kids about same-sex relationships, and they never asked...because they didn't have to. Experience had already proven to the Big Kahuna that there is more than one way to make a family, and making a family -- by our own tutelage -- meant that you'd had a wedding. With a big party. And cake. And everybody, even Grampas, wearing skirts and dresses if they wanted to.
In the end, I did approach the Barbie table and gently remove the Kahuna, reminding him that there is no one right way to play and that sometimes we need to make compromises with our friends. I soothed his hurt feelings on the way home and reassured him that yes, he was right, there was no reason two princesses couldn't make a family together. And that was that -- no complicated conclusions, no big explanations, just my simple epiphany that if I wanted him to be able to take a stand for his beliefs, then I had to reinforce for him that his beliefs were valued. More importantly, that they were okay.
A few days later, he made a Valentine card, laboriously scribbled in pink and red, plastered with froofy stickers. "This is for our whole family," he said, including his little brother in his wide-armed gesture. "Because Valentines are for people you love, and my whole family is love. You're all my Valentines."
Oh, sweet boy. We are all your Valentines. And a family is love. No matter how many people in that family happen to be wearing skirts.
RRG Momma is a Shine! Parenting Guru. In addition to loving up her three favorite Valentines (the Big Kahuna, the Little Maniac, and Loyal Husband), she blogs about food and family at Red, Round, or Green.