On Wednesdays, I pick Waylon up from school at 2:45. I have fifteen minutes to walk him to the car, feed him a snack, hydrate him, and deliver him to his occupational therapy appointment a mile away. If all goes exactly according to plan, we can just make it.
Last Wednesday, Waylon was in the backseat, munching a bagel. I had my right turn signal on and was waiting for an opening in the late afternoon traffic.
“Sometimes,” he said, apropos of nothing, “I just wish I could kind of, you know, ditch you guys and live with some other family.”
My first reaction was guilt. It’s the clutter, I thought. We’ve finally driven him crazy with all of our books and papers. Now he wants to live in a family with tidy surfaces.
“Well,” I said, grasping for equanimity, “Mommy and I would certainly miss you if you went away.”
“I know,” he said. “It’s just, sometimes I really want to know how it feels to have a dad.”
A car paused to let me in. I waved my thanks and went straight into fix-it mode. “Well, that’s one reason why we wanted you to spend so much time with Adam and Flynn this summer. So you could know what it was like to be around a dad.”
“I want to know what it feels like to have a dad at night,” he insisted.
“You’ve had sleepovers,” I countered. I knew I was grasping at straws. I couldn’t stop myself.
“I just want to know how it feels to have a dad love me like a dad,” Waylon said.
“Oh,” I said. I was chastened by his persistence and clarity. “I can understand that.”
Still searching for solutions, I did a quick mental inventory of Waylon’s grandfathers: (1) 83-year-old retired coach who never leaves the bed. Great for watching football and collecting photos of Waylon on his bureau. (2) Younger, gay grandpa. Affectionate and sweet as long as he’s not distracted with booze and boys. Prone to disappearing on mysterious “business” trips for weeks at a time.
“Waylon,” I said, turning left at a green arrow. “I can really understand how you feel. I used to sometimes wish I had different parents too.”
“You did?” he sounded excited, enlivened.
“Yes,” I said. “I think every kid wants to know how it would feel to have different parents some times.”
“They do?” he was suddenly chipper. “Mom?”
“You know that part on Harry Potter Wii where Harry has to defeat the troll?”
We pulled into the parking lot of the occupational therapy center. Our journey was over, but I hoped that this conversation was not. I hoped I hadn’t silenced Waylon’s feelings with my knee-jerk problem solving. I wanted to do it all over, to ask Waylon what kind of dad he imagined, to let him know that his yearning was fine and wouldn’t hurt me.
Freud coined the term “family romance” to describe the childhood fantasy that your parents are not your real parents. He hypothesized that such stories are a normal way of dealing with separation and Oedipal jealousy. But a romance is also just a type of story. As a queer family, we’re making up our own story. I hope we can tell it in ways that make room for all kinds of feelings–even if it means we have to go back and tell it again and again.