By Amber Leventry
My daughter and I crossed the field behind our house to get to her elementary school, and I was suddenly aware that the most dangerous thing on our walk is the ice we can’t see under the snow. She is curious and always a step behind, exploring her world with confidence and a lack of urgency. I pleaded for her to hurry; we were late getting to a classroom where she can and will do everything her male peers will do. We were not running from danger, we were rushing toward opportunity, moving from one safe place to the next.
Over breakfast we had discussed Valentine’s Day, her birthday eve, and the reason why no less than fifty paper hearts flowed from the kitchen and into the office. She had taken two days to make her valentines, decorating them with stickers, drawings, and the names of her friends and teachers. I reminded her that Mama Amy, my partner, went into labor on Valentine’s Day. It was a day past her due date, and as I touched the belly she was growing in, kissed her mama, and left for work, I had a feeling I would be meeting my first baby soon.
The bell rang as we approached the school. Parents of all backgrounds said hellos and exchanged smiles. Some were quick, some were weary, and some lingered, but they were all genuine. A third grader held the door for us. A teacher comforted a tearful child. Another high-fived students as they pushed their way through the crowded, but peaceful halls. Girls held hands. Boys hugged. Love was given without fear. Without judgement or persecution. Love was given with reckless abandon, because love wasn’t taught with exceptions.
My daughter reminded me that she wanted a rainbow cake for her birthday. There was no need to remind me; we have been making the same cake for years. We found the recipe before we found Pinterest. The Coming Out Bundt, from the book Bundt Cake Bliss, is six layers of different colored batter, and was created by the author for a gay friend who came out at work. It’s a cake of celebration and acceptance. It’s excessive and awesome. It is also a reminder of how far we have come as a society, as a gay couple, and as parents to three kids. It’s also a reminder of how far we have to go.
As we entered my daughter’s classroom, the school’s motto was visible: Be safe, be kind, be your best. I helped her with her backpack, full of food, extra clothes, and clean water. I hugged her tight and kissed her nose. My heart ached because my baby is becoming less of a baby every day. My heart burst because of my pride for the empathetic girl in my arms. My heart hurt for the moms and dads who cling to their children for less fortunate reasons, who are using all of their energy and resources just to give them a chance to grow up.
The teacher asked if I would be at the school assembly, a school sing that happens every two months. Parents and grandparents sit on folding chairs in the gymnasium with nearly 200 kids sitting on mats spread out on the floor. The music room’s piano is rolled in and with a few cues from the music teacher, the room fills with joy and hope and love. The kids sing about peace and respect, for themselves and others; the naiveté of youth may get in the way of fully understanding the weight of their words, but the kids understand that kindness is right and singing makes them happy.
Yes. I will be there. My soul needs food. I will be there.
After giving my daughter a few daily affirmations and urging her to get a book from the library that doesn’t involve fairies, knowing that was the trick to getting her to remember to exchange her book and exactly the type she would bring home, I left. I left her in the hands of people I trust, who I respect and who respect me, even with our differences. I left her and thought of the millions of parents and children we are leaving behind because of our differences.
I walked home and felt full, yet frustrated, angry but focused. I made a few phone calls to people with more control than I will ever have over the situation, fulfilling my daily act of resistance, and sent prayers into the universe. I picked glue off of the counter, recycled discarded construction paper, and pulled out the cake recipe. I counted my blessings as I made a grocery list, and wanted more than anything for every child to have paper hearts and rainbow cakes.