Author Jacqueline Woodson and illustrator Rafael López have merged their talents to create their new picture book, The Day You Begin. This book, no doubt, will become or should become, a staple read-aloud book in classrooms around the country. For within its pages, we learn that “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one is quite like you until the day you begin to share your stories.” It is when we share our stories that we are able to connect human to human. Our stories are important to tell because they show us how we are alike and remind us that we are also uniquely ourselves. This is a post about one of the days I began to share my story…
I married my husband in the summer of 2016, and that fall I would be returning to school to teach the same class that I had taught the year prior. I had established a very strong bond with this particular class which led me to follow them on their journey as their fourth-grade teacher. The weeks prior to returning, I felt that I wanted to email the parents to share the news of my nuptials. In my email, I let them know that students would likely notice my wedding band and perhaps have questions. I let parents know that I intended to be honest with my students when they inquired about my marriage. If they asked who I married, they would know I had married a man. The email was also to allow parents the opportunity to talk to their kids about same-sex marriage in a way that made the most sense to them and their family. I had not only established a strong bond with my students but many of the parents as well. Ultimately, they threw me a celebration at one of their homes after school one late summer evening with all of the kids and parents attending. That was the day I began. The day I began to realize that there was no need for me to have to email them and give them advanced notice about my marriage so they could explain it to their kids, any more so than if I had married a woman. According to parents, most kids’ inquiries included why my last name hadn’t changed or why they hadn’t been invited to the wedding. Their minds aren’t wired to believe that my marriage is unusual or wrong until they are told so by adults who believe that it is. From that moment on, I decided that I would live in my truth. I would share about my family just as any heterosexual teacher would share about his or her family… without fear. That led me to a very special moment last Friday when I had a brief conversation with a kindergarten student that went something like this…
Student: Do you have children?
Me: No, I don’t have any children.
Student: Did you get married? Did you ever get married?
Me: Yes, I’m married.
Student: You are?! Did you marry a girl or a boy?
Me: I married a boy.
Student: (Gasp) Like my two dads!
This little girl has two fathers who are married to one another. Her face and eyes lit up when she realized that I was like them. It validated her family structure; that it exists beyond her own family. It’s not seen in many picture books – although, thankfully, that is changing – and for her, sharing about her family may seem different and even difficult when most students share stories about families with both moms and dads even if they may be divorced. At that moment, I told a little girl the truth about my family, she connected with that truth, and life carried on. A small moment with a big impact.
Being your authentic self – be it your religion, your race, your gender, your sexuality – isn’t always going to be easy, and this book reminds us of that. Fortunately, I live and work in a big city for a school system led by a superintendent that supports LGBTQ teachers and students. My school is in a neighborhood filled with many open-minded, accepting people. Headlines remind me that this isn’t the reality for everyone, and I know that hate is closer than it may appear. Perhaps my journey as a gay man who is a teacher has been far easier than many who face discrimination on a daily basis. But hopefully, the more we begin to share our stories – about our families, our culture, our language, our home country, our food, our clothing, our home, our way of life, the more we can connect, relate, and empathize.
For a free bookmark companion to the book, The Day You Begin, you can download and print by clicking here.