When my first daughter was born, a friend sent her a copy of Heather Has Two Mommies with an inscription from Lesléa Newman, the book’s author. “To a sweet baby and her mommies,” it said in looping script. “Love makes a family.” This was 2004, and Heather Has Two Mommies had been in print for fifteen years. During those fifteen years the book was banned, burned, stolen from libraries, and read into the Congressional Record. Heather Has Two Mommies was a thirty-five-page revolution.
And while my wife and I owed our lives—and our baby—to that revolution, we rolled our eyes when we flipped through the book, chuckling about asymmetrical haircuts and labrys necklaces. We critiqued from a position of newly minted privilege: the marriage equality ruling had just become law in our home state of Massachusetts and we were legally married. Both our names were on our daughter’s birth certificate.
By the time our daughter was three years old, she regularly asked me to read her Heather Has Two Mommies. I read it, but not willingly. A few essential pages of the book didn’t sit well with me. When Heather, on her first day of preschool, hears all the children talking about their daddy’s jobs, she bursts into tears. “Did everyone but her have a daddy?” Newman writes. “Heather feels sad and begins to cry.”
I didn’t want to read this scene to my daughter. Not because I was afraid she might also be sad, but because Heather’s tears didn’t make sense. Why—at age three—would you weep for a parent you didn’t have and had never known? The tears would make sense if Heather were being teased about her non-traditional family, or if another child asked her why she didn’t have a dad, leaving her on the defensive. But Heather’s sadness originates within herself, as though she had—at age three—internalized the heteronormative ideal of one mother and one father. And I didn’t buy it.
So I did a little editing. “I wish my Mommy was a veterinarian too!” I said when we got to the page with the tearful Heather. My daughter found this puzzling. “Why does Heather want her mom to be a veterinarian?” she asked.
“Maybe she just loves animals,” I suggested, quickly turning the page.
Last week the new edition of Heather Has Two Mommies arrived at our house. Our now ten-year-old daughter was at the movies, but I showed the book to her seven-year-old sister.
“It looks like you and Mom!” she said. In the new edition, one of Heather’s moms has short blonde hair, the other long brown hair and glasses, just like my wife and me.
I held up the book for my wife to see. She was at the sink, washing dishes.
“But I’m actually taller than you,” she said, turning to look at the book. My daughter and I both groaned. Still, it was a delight to quibble over such details.
I read the book aloud. The new illustrations are vibrant and endearingly messy. Heather’s dog is now a droopy hound instead of the wolfish mutt of the first edition. And her mothers, with rings on their left hands, are young and sporty, more Title Nine than Melissa Etheridge.
But there is another change, and it’s more significant than the aesthetic ones. When Heather listens to the children talk about their families, she doesn’t cry. She just looks around the circle, wondering: “Am I the only one here who doesn’t have a dad?” She requires no comforting from her teacher. On the next page Heather and the children are busy drawing pictures of their diverse families.
It has been twenty-five years since Heather Has Two Mommies was first published, and Heather isn’t crying anymore. In a country where more than two-thirds of all states recognize marriage equality and a quarter of all LGBT couples are raising children that are—study after study tells us—doing just fine, it makes sense that Heather isn’t crying.
When I finished reading to my daughter she said, “This book should have one of those silver medals on the cover. ”
Life is sweet for Heather, and for my daughters. It’s sweet because of tireless social and legal activism, because of high court rulings and presidential support. And it’s sweet because of this book, which first arrived at our house inscribed with a simple and once-incendiary notion: Love makes a family.