This past summer, I took Miles to the public pool almost every day. I feel especially conspicuous there, among the teenagers and moms with kids, so I have to overcome some amount of internal resistance to go.
Once we got inside and laid out our towels on the concrete, the joy on Miles face made it completely worth it every time. His body trembled with excitement as he jumped into my arms from the side of the pool again and again and again and again. He was a two-and-a-half-year-old daredevil, unexpectedly attempting cartwheels and leaping as hard and far as he could into the water.
It’s a huge relief to find a place like that. A set activity that Miles loves, with few limitations, and constant opportunities to burn energy. I love being in the sun, and it’s an excellent reminder of the freedom that comes with being a stay-at-home parent. Just think of all the years when I was trapped inside an office all day, every day, my skin starving for the light!
Sitting side by side on our towels, popping watermelon chunks and blueberries into our mouths, I studied the other people. I was (and am) still getting to know this place. Who lives here? What are these people all about? Is there someone I haven’t met yet who could be a friend?
Late in the summer, I noticed two women sitting close together next to the toddler pool. They were both larger women, with a few tattoos and shorter hair. One of them had a baby on her lap and a pre-school-aged girl who looked remarkably like a child version of Kara Thrace from Battlestar Galactica.
One of the women read as gay most clearly to me. Maybe the other woman was her sister, not her partner? She had close-cropped hair and earrings that almost looked like plugs. A diamond shaped tattoo spread over her left calf.
I looked again at the tattoo—three, four, five colors? Were these the colors of the pride flag that I once hung in my college dorm room but have since felt is kind of embarrassing? No matter, it was suddenly of potential use again, a light flashing a code across a dark place.
But I couldn’t tell for sure if the kite-shaped tattoo was a gay symbol, so I surreptitiously stared at the two women, looking for more certain signs that they were intimate or that they were parenting the kids together.
It’s a rare thing for me to see anyone out in public in these parts who reads gay to me. It’s even more rare to observe what could be a gay couple with kids.
Before living here, I would have assumed that the women at the pool were gay without a second thought. But too many times I’ve been convinced I’m in the presence of an out lesbian here, say at the hardware store, only to watch her later climb into the passenger seat of a pick-up truck with a man.
There is a certain phenomenon—and I’m not the only one who has noticed it—of Midwestern moms who read as lesbian but aren’t. There should be a reading game for “Midwestern mom or lesbian?”, just like those old Blairmag.com games. Remember “Lesbian or German Lady?” and “Gay or Eurotrash?”
Back at the pool, I noticed the kids seemed to regard both women equally. Then I honed in on a backpack slumped next to their deck chair: full on pride flag pin, right there on the front. The evidence was mounting.
The lifeguard a few feet away blew her whistle. Thunder rumbled somewhere nearby, not yet accompanied by lightning. “Please exit the pool and stay off the concrete until further notice.”
I lifted Miles out of the water, and he headed directly to the women who were feeding a snack to mini-Kara.
“Would you like one?” one of the woman said as she smiled at Miles. Miles was soon chomping on a granola bar coated with some kind of frosting.
“Miles, please say thank you.”
I turned to them, still not sure what I’d say. I wanted to move things past small talk mediated by toddlers to adult talk.
I took the chance: “So are you all a family?” Possibly awkward, but probably more comfortable than “So. Are you gayz?”
“Yes. Well, we’re trying to be.”
“Cool, my partner and I adopted our little guy.”
Miles and Kara Thrace were leading us to a grassy area nearby to wait out the storm. Miles, with a full mouth, was eying the little girl’s Capri Sun. He got one of those too.
As we sat in the grassy area, penned in by metal fencing, waiting for the storm to blow over, I found out the women had lived in the area for five or six years. They both work at convenient stores in town and live out in the country. They were in the process of trying to adopt the two kids. They hadn’t been planning to form a family, but found themselves caring for them after their mother–a friend and neighbor–asked them to take them when child services took them away from her for drug abuse.
They talked about how hard it is for them to be out here, and they shared some stories about overt homophobia they’d encountered, especially where they work. I could tell they’d be good parents for those two kids. They seemed strong and self-aware, bravely choosing not to be in the closet.
As we talked that day, I noticed a few older kids staring at us and whispering, but I didn’t care. It felt good to be at this particular freak convention at the pool that day.