Two decades have come and gone since Heather, the little girl with two arms, two legs, two hands, two feet and two mommies popped out of my pen. And I am proud as any parent can be.
When I first conceived of the book in 1988, I had no idea that it would be so loved—and so hated. I had no idea it would appear on “most challenged” book lists alongside Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye. I had no idea it would become part of the congressional record and be debated on the Senate floor. I had no idea it would be defecated upon by a library patron in Ohio, stolen by a minister from a library in Texas and the cause of a New York City school superintendent's downfall. Not to mention being parodied on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show on a regular basis.
I have to confess that the idea for writing Heather Has Two Mommies wasn't mine. One day a woman approached me on Main Street in Northampton, Mass., and said, “We don't have any books to read to our daughter that shows a family like ours. Somebody should write one.” By “a family like ours,” she meant two moms and a daughter. By “somebody,” she meant me.
I had never written a children's book before, but I knew what this woman's child was going through. While I was not raised by lesbian parents, I was raised by Jewish parents. In the 1950s and '60s. Which means I never read a book about a little girl with curly brown hair eating matzo ball soup with her bubbe on Friday nights. Instead, I read about children who hunted for Easter eggs and got presents from Santa. And though I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, the message I received from books was stronger than my direct experience. Nancy Drew celebrated Christmas. Harriet the Spy celebrated Christmas. The Bobbsey Twins celebrated Christmas. Was my family the only family in the world that didn't have a tree in the living room during the month of December? How I would have loved a bedtime story like Five Little Gefiltes or Where Is Baby's Dreidel? when I was growing up.
Though it sounds hard to believe, I was completely taken by surprise in 1989 when my newly published book started raising the hackles of parents and politicians who did not think children with two moms deserved a picture book about a family like their own. I was baffled by how many people feared that reading Heather Has Two Mommies just once would cause their children to grow up gay. As I told them in lectures I delivered all over the country, reading hundreds of books that featured mom-and-dad families when I was young did not change my sexuality. And besides, I pointed out, if your child grows up to be gay, is that such a terrible thing? Don't you want your child—gay or not—to be happy?
Now it's the year 2009. And though there are still some people who believe gay families should not exist, there are many others who feel differently. I know many children who live in two-mom households and it isn't a big deal. Heather Has Two Mommies is sold in many bookstores and appears on the shelves of many libraries without a fuss. And the way children respond to the book shows how times have changed. “How come I only have one mom?” a disgruntled boy asked me. “That's not fair.” A little girl proudly informed me, “I have one mommy named Mommy and one parent named Sue.” Then there was the boy who couldn't care less about the adults in Heather's life. “I wish I could have a dog and a cat like Heather,” he said wistfully.
Though the 20-year anniversary edition of Heather Has Two Mommies has a new look—its black-and-white illustrations are now in full color—the book's message has not changed: “The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.” After 20 years, I am still waiting for someone to tell me what in the world is so controversial about that.