For much of the spring, I had one particular coming-out event lurking in the back of my mind as something that was important not only to me but also to my kids. Living out in the country as we do, it’s important for our children to have their nearby friends. Only a few hundred yards away is the lively household of Tomás and Blanca Rapido, our neighbors with 6 children (2 older girls, 2 boys the same ages as our boys, and 2 little girls). For the past couple of years, there has been a steady flow of kids from one house to the other, sometimes all of them over here in our swimming pool or jumping on our trampoline, sometimes everyone over at the Rapido house. It has been a wonderfully free situation.

When it came time to tell the neighbors about what was shortly to be completely evident (dress, makeup, and so on, things the Rapido children would no doubt notice), I wrote them a letter, enclosed a copy of She’s Not There, and put the package in their mailbox so as to give them time to think things over. The summer break had just begun and everyone was going here and there, but I learned from my children that Mrs. Rapido wanted Mr. Rapido to speak to me about this issue.

OK, thought I — it’s not a write-off, and it holds the promise of communication and understanding. While we were waiting for Tomás to come back from a business trip, Lane and Ezra called the Rapido’s a couple of times to invite them over to jump on the trampoline or to go swimming, but they always said they couldn’t. When Tomás got home, he came over and we spoke for a couple of hours, during which time he explained that they didn’t have any framework for understanding my situation, and that they didn’t want to expose their children to the harsh realities of the world. They had spoken to them about my situation, so it wasn’t that the fact of my situation was abhorrent, but rather the exposure to it was troubling. He said several times that they just didn’t know anything about this condition, but that they would try to learn, which is promising.

“I understand,” I explained. “You’ve got to do what’s best for your children, and I respect your choices that you make for your own children. What I’m worried about, however, is the subtle, unspoken message that my own children will receive, slowly, inexorably, as they visit your house freely, but realize that your children can’t visit our house because their father is a monster.”

He assured me that they were being very respectful of my situation and that they would never even suggest such a thing, which I believe completely, but the very visible fact of the matter is that the flow of children between neighboring houses has been altered, and my children know that it means something.

I’m in no position to dictate to other parents how they should raise their children or what they should think about me — I believe they have every right to find me monstrous or abhorrent and to curse my name under their breaths if they so choose. But because my children enjoy their company (and for the record, I have always enjoyed the Rapido children’s company, so playful and fun and respectful), I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I can’t demand acceptance and I can’t demand that their kids come over and play at our house unless I promise to hide or leave town. I don’t want to slink away because this is my house and my life and I’m proud of what I’ve done, but I don’t want to harm my children’s relationships with their friends.

So for the moment, the only workable situation is for me to watch my children daily run over to play at the Rapido household while I clean the pool for swimmers who no longer visit and pace the empty house wondering if I’ve lost my children to more wholesome people than I. Picture of Mister RogersThe veneer of reality is almost the same as it used to be — happy children running around in the country, carefree and playful — but the sadness and distress that lies just below that veneer bleeds through and creates big, ugly stains that I imagine growing to touch on all aspects of my children’s lives — especially their relationships with their friends (not only the Rapido’s, but all their other friends) in the coming school year.

Patience, I tell myself. Patience and prudence are much better than impulsiveness and rashness. Deep breaths and positive images of love and acceptance and a fruitful future.