by Drew Zandonella-Stan
I have never had a driver’s license. I have always had two mothers. As opposed to dismissing my utter fear of driving, I like to believe that this attachment to public transit was born out of a deeper history. I began with a bus. Or rather, a fleet of them. My parents drove trolleys. It was a good way to meet girls and they got to wear uniforms while navigating the steep hills of Seattle.
Together they bought a house. They acquired various cats and two labs. They got hitched in the backyard wearing matching tuxedos in 1983. They joined a parenting group for lesbians looking to conceive. Those lesbians called themselves The Mothers’ Group. Thirty years later, kids grown, they still meet most Saturdays.
When I was born, only my biological mother could display her name on my birth certificate. Co-parent adoption did not exist. Twenty-nine years, one kid, three moves, and four dogs later, they still aren’t married in the state we call home, although come June that will be entirely their fault. In 1999, at the tender age of 15, I was issued a new birth certificate by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the state they were later married in. The two women who raised me are now both listed as my mother. We had a Polaroid taken with the judge, who asked if I liked “these people” enough to make it official. I did. I do. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I began with a bus. My father, Ron, rode the 16 everyday. He and my mother, Elyse, were friendly. They had once lived in the same apartment building with their respective partners, looking out over Lake Union. This was when my mother still rode a motorcycle and smoked cigarettes. They met again when he appeared on her line, riding home from downtown until he was the only one on board. Finally, she asked him. “Meredith and I want to have a baby. We’re looking for a donor. What do you think?” I prefer to imagine him pausing, hand in mid air, waiting to drop his change in the meter.
Everyone wants to know about the sperm. Ron’s donation was carried over the West Seattle bridge in an empty baby food jar. It once held pureed apricots. They tried twice, a success rate that haunted me later in my adult life as I ventured into the world of sporadically unprotected heterosexual sex. I knew what happens when a sperm meets an egg a full decade before I understood how they were typically placed in the proper location.
More than once, my father called me his “little republican,” betting that my thirst for pink plastics and processed foods in a house of Birkenstocks and bulk brewer’s yeast was a peek into my future life of voting for the other side. Ron took me to every Disney movie ever made, loved Connie Francis, bought me my first makeup kit, and was the first gay man I ever made friends with. He died of AIDS in 1998. The fact that my mothers nurtured my relationship with my father during the time he was alive is one of the best gifts they have given me. It has always been my mothers and me, plus the memory of this loud, charming man that I resemble, whose mean sense of humor I share.
When I was five, the Mothers’ Group gathered all of us products of donor insemination together, hung butcher paper on the wall of someone’s kitchen, and asked us to list everything that bothered us about having lesbian parents. There were the neighbors who no longer allowed their daughter to play at our home. The kids who wanted to know who my real mom was. The dashed hope that the show My Two Dads would have a much richer plot line. The same was true of Three Men and a Baby. I finally answered “having to explain to everyone.”
Later on, I would realize that if someone had to explain it might as well be me. If I wasn’t comfortable talking about lesbian mothers, gay dads, and baby food jars full of sperm, whole groups of people would go through life thinking that they had never met the functional product of same sex parents. Or that gay people reproduce through cloning. This is a true story. I once met a 22-year-old college student who explained this to me in great detail. She stands corrected.
Now, I ride the bus to their house and open the back gate, careful to not let the dog out. Next year will be their thirtieth anniversary. I will turn twenty-nine. Once you have been comforted by two mothers for the entirety of your childhood no one else can really compare. No one will ever advocate for you as fiercely. No one will ever make you feel as safe. I call both of them “mom” and wait to see who answers. You’d think that in our highly organized family unit we would have come up with something different by now, but it doesn’t really matter. They are both my mothers. They always have been.
Previously: What We Have Going for Us.
Drew Zandonella-Stannard speaks to her parents on the telephone at least twice a day. She recently taught them how to text.