We were living in Minneapolis at the time our son, Benjamin, began kindergarten. We loved our elementary school and especially the kindergarten teacher, who was the perfect person for easing us into public school life as gay dads living in a “non-gay” neighborhood of the Twin Cities.
One afternoon, Benjamin brought home a “back pack” memo stating that it was his turn to be “Star of the Week” and what we could expect from the activity. Each week throughout the year a child was selected to be the “Star” allowing them to do special chores in the classroom (taking the daily attendance to the office, distributing recess toys, etc.), share their family trees, and other sweet activities. The goal was to help the kids make friends and develop some early public speaking and leadership skills.
The big activity in the “Star of the Week” program is the child has to make a presentation to the class and take questions from their classmates. They had permission to be creative–bring the family and pets, share some special artifacts or photos, etc. Of course, Benjamin wanted to take us (his dads), some artifacts from Russia (he was adopted from Russia), a globe to show the many places he has traveled, and a menorah (we are Jewish).
His very proactive teacher called us the night before the presentation to let us know she would be there to help navigate any “uncomfortable” questions from the kids or to assist Benjamin if he was feeling challenged by his classmates because of his different family structure. While we were not at all nervous about the event, we did appreciate her sensitivity to Benjamin (and us).
The next day, Michael and I found ourselves squished into the little kindergarten chairs at the front of the classroom with 25 kids sitting on the floor waiting eagerly to hear Benjamin tell his story. In one rapid breath Benjamin says “This is my dad Gary and I call him Daddy and this is my dad Michael and I call him Dad and we are Jewish and we used to live in Los Angeles and now we live in Minneapolis and I was born in Russia do you have any questions?” Silence ensued. Michael and I looked and smiled at one another and we had eye contact from across the room with the teacher (who was beaming). Our moment of parental pride was met with some mild nervousness. And then the children began to squirm, trying to formulate their questions. Whispering. Curious hands went up and were rapidly pulled down. We heard one child chide another with “No, you can’t ask that!” We were anticipating the questions: “Which one of you is the mom?” or “Where are Ben’s real parents?” or some inquiry into our “gay” family structure.
After what felt like eons, Benjamin called on a boy who raised his hand. “Yes, Evan, do you have a question?” After some hesitation and stumbles, little Evan finally says “so let me see if I got this right…two dads…Russia…but you don’t have Christmas?” Roars of laughter! What followed was 20 minutes of “Star” Benjamin fielding questions about Judaism and Russia and how cool it is to have two dads with whom to play ball and go snowboarding. It was the beginning of what–for the most part–has been a very easy, typical, respectful school experience for Benjamin and for us. And throughout those very early school years, Benjamin was known to be that very lucky kid with two dads but unlucky for not having Christmas.
Benjamin, Gary, & Michael Hammerschmidt-Groth
Benjamin will be attending Massachusetts Maritime Academy in the fall to pursue a degree in engineering. He still does not celebrate Christmas.