Mrs. O’Donnell is my mother. Mrs. O’Donnell was my grandmother. I am not Mrs. O’Donnell.
It was an innocent mistake. A harmless assumption. An oversight. Earlier in the day I had emailed the principal at my son’s school. I had some concerns about the structure (or, lack thereof) of his classroom. I wrote a lengthy message detailing my concerns and in the body of the email I referenced my husband. I closed by signing my full name and then I hit send. A few hours later I received a response back from the principal, it began: “Dear MRS. O’Donnell…”
Oh no she didn’t, I thought.
At first I was angry and then I was amused and then I stopped laughing and I was angry again. I knew this gaffe had not been intentional and, based on the many spelling errors in the message, I knew her response had been written in haste.
So I assessed the situation. I recognized that we were a new kind of family. I understood that most of the families at my son’s school were probably of the “traditional” mom-and-dad variety and even though we had maintained an active presence at the school for the past two years I could accept that the reference to “my husband” might lead to certain assumptions and besides, wasn’t Sean also sometimes a girl’s name?
I was rationalizing. I was making excuses. I was apologizing for myself and my family.
I have no doubt that the principal had made an honest mistake and while I wasn’t willing to give her a complete pass, did I really feel the need to justify myself to myself?
It’s true that my family does not conform to the mold of a traditional family, but then what is a traditional family? Three years into this parenting gig and it’s a question I keep coming back to: what is a traditional family? It’s an idea that no longer exists. It’s an antiquated photo that hangs over the mantle in a house belonging to people who pretend to like each other. It’s a throwback. A term which I suspect brings comfort to many of the people who want to “make America white straight Christian great again”.
But here’s the thing: there is no traditional family. There is just family. And no matter how you choose to define that dynamic we really are just a group of people thrown together – many through biology, some by circumstance, others by fate.
As my ten year old so eloquently wrote, “Family means people who love you and take care of you.”
So call me Mrs. O’Donnell. Put me in a house dress and pearls. Make me the Life magazine housewife of your 1950’s wet dream. I can be the person you need me to be.
But the next time we meet, remember that I am not Mrs. O’Donnell. I am just some guy married to some other guy raising two kids in a changing world…and it’s time for you to catch up.