LIVING OUT: Protecting the Innocent

"Ladies and Jemmamen," Jodie stretches out her arms to their full four-year-old span. "Now preee-zenting, theeeee amazing, Jodie Na Aliya Martin-Schindler!" E. and I love being the aunties who encourage Jodie's theatrical inclinations. We drove 300 miles to be here for her birthday party, to meet the new baby and visit our old friends. At the moment, while her new little sister naps and her moms are out in the garage secretly gift wrapping her new purple birthday bike, she has us all to herself.

We ooh and aah when Jodie makes her sequined entrance from behind the guest room door. With heart-clutching dramatics and an occasional twirl, this show, not unlike the five just preceding it, ends with her loud "Ta Da!" and a deep bow, our cue to cheer and applaud some more. Then she shushes us to introduce her next performance. "Ladies and Jemmamen . . . "

It's been over three years since Faith and Darlene brought her home from China, and seven months since they came back with little Sadie. Even though Chinese orphanages are overflowing with unwanted baby girls, our friends still had to pretend they were two single women, not lesbians, so they could adopt. They managed to pass themselves off as friends, although I'm sure no bigger, prouder, more non-straight looking dykes ever strolled the streets of Beijing. Lesbian invisibility: a worldwide phenomenon.

On the other hand, lesbians and gay men usually have to endure bizarre and sometimes life-long stints in the closet to adopt or keep custody of their kids. It's sad and silly that Faith and Darlene couldn't let the pre-adoption inspectors see their real home, with two parents ready to embrace and nurture these rescued babies. The only way they could qualify for each child was for the non-adopting mom to move out of the house, hide the family photos, and pull all the lesbian titles from their book shelves, literally "straighten up the house." Even the framed cross-stitched samplers, one with each of their initials entwined with ivy and flowers, had to be taken down and stashed in the bottom drawer.

These two women had been wanting to be parents for so long they were willing to do anything, even sign the affidavits swearing they weren't lesbians. It is always painful to renounce your identify, but they did what they had to. Now they finally have the family they've always wanted.

I am exhausted just watching them do all the nose-blowing, changing, wiping, picking up, explaining and consoling that is parenthood. I know I'm not mommie material. I can barely remember to refill the dog food bowl. If the cat cries, I throw her outside. We aren't cut out for parenthood, but we love our friends' kids. Faith and Darlene have patience way beyond any I can imagine.

The children are eventually bathed, snapped into their jammies, rocked and read to and tucked into bed. Now the grown ups can settle down for some mature conversation Which hot lesbian topic will we catch up on first? Our friends have a one track mind, "Let's go look at the kids!" We willingly follow the proud moms into the bedroom to see how sweet their girls look asleep. In the amber glow of the Pooh night light we can also see how happy, even though tired, Faith and Darlene are.

At last we grownups settle back and, with hushed voices, talk long into the night.

Our gabfest is interrupted by what I at first think is a screeching tea kettle, but turns out to be Jodie's plaintive wail from the kids' room. Both parents kick into action. Something she ate, maybe the fresh strawberries, has caused her to break out in hives and spike a fever. Faith runs a bath while Darlene calls the naturopath. Miserable and sleepy, Jodie hangs limp while Faith lifts her into the soothing oatmeal soak. Darlene doses her with the remedy from the child-proofed medicine cabinet. It's stunning to see these two moms work their magic.

By morning all is well and we hear the kids' giggles spilling out of the kitchen. Jodie is smearing bright blue finger paint all over her art paper, Sadie's high chair tray, and Sadie. While the kids are happily occupied, Faith does the breakfast dishes and Darlene folds laundry.

You might think our legislators would be launching a full force recruiting blitz to find loving homes like this for all the unwanted, abandoned and orphaned little children of the world. No such luck. So far three U.S. states -- Florida, Utah, and most recently Mississippi -- have passed laws banning same sex couples from adopting. They call it protecting the innocent.

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