He's a precocious boy. Still in diapers but, as the pediatricians say, "very verbal." When you ask Lennon Marley Gunter his age, he doesn't answer with his fingers.
"Two a' half," he says.
He's a happy kid too, all smiles and fun. "Come on, go outside. Come on, go outside." Lennon wants to play. He likes basketball. "High five!"
And he is affectionate and polite.
"Lennon!" his mother, Renee, gently scolds when he bumps you with his tricycle. "Sorry," Lennon says. Then he offers a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He can be polite without prompting, too, even if he sometimes gets "thank you" and "you're welcome" backward.
Today is Mother's Day--not that Lennon is old enough to understand. As someone who suffers chronic memory lapses around such holidays, I worry for this boy. If he's anything like the forgetful son that my parents brought into this world, he won't be disappointing just one mother, but two. Double the guilt, double the embarrassment. On the other hand, having two moms would make Mother's Day--or rather, Mothers' Day--that much easier to remember. So maybe Lennon is lucky that way.
Some people may have grave doubts whether Lennon is lucky at all. His two mothers are not a real mom and stepmom, not a biological mom and an adoptive mom, not a troubled mom and a foster mom. . . .
Nadja Judin and Renee Gunter are a lesbian couple who conceived Lennon in their Studio City home using a hypodermic syringe and some sperm donated by a gay friend named Jim. Nadja, a legal secretary, is Lennon's biological mother. Nadja and Renee say parental duties are shared equally, although Nadja, who breast-fed her son, suggests that Lennon senses a deeper "psychic connection" to her. And now Renee, a designer who manages a Gap Kids store in Tarzana, is trying to conceive, hoping to give Lennon a little brother or sister.
"We're ready for No. 2," she says.
My first encounter with the Judin-Gunter household came some time ago while I was doing research for a story about the "brave new world" of gay families. In greater Los Angeles, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of children who are being raised by openly gay men and women. This fact doesn't disturb just fire-and-brimstone fundamentalists. It also bothers many otherwise open-minded people who think that what consenting adults do behind closed doors is their own business--just so a kid isn't in the next room.
Think about "gay babies" in a purely political context. Crusty old Marines like my dad can complain about the dangers of allowing you-know-whats in the foxholes. The gay rights movement is way out of the closet, what with marches in Washington and chants like "We're here/ We're queer/ Get used to it."
And meanwhile, oh so quietly, they're infiltrating suburbia! Damn but if those wily homosexuals haven't found a loophole in the family-values code of conduct. It turns out that "homosexual parent" is not a contradiction in terms.
With a name like Lennon Marley Gunter, it's tempting to think this boy is a manifestation of political motives. Nadja, after all, says her son wasn't just named for John Lennon and Bob Marley because his mothers like their music, but because they were both "social revolutionaries."
Tempting but very wrong, his moms say. On the contrary, Lennon is a tribute to maternal desire, pure and simple. When Nadja and Renee met eight years ago, they say, both knew they wanted to become mothers. Being lesbians just made it more complicated.
Nadja's experience gives Renee hope. But at age 40, Renee feels the added pressure of the biological clock.
For them, parenthood has been an unusual emotional journey. The original plan was for two kids produced by two gay couples. Just as Nadja had conceived with Jim's help, Renee would conceive via Jim's longtime companion, Larry. The women would have primary custody, but the kids would spend plenty of time with their fathers.
For six months, Renee had tried to conceive by artificial insemination when Larry abruptly changed his mind about becoming a father. Renee says she felt devastated until another gay friend, also named Larry, told her of his desire to become a father. Now Larry Brandt and Renee Gunter are legally husband and wife--an arrangement that ensures their child will have good insurance benefits.
There have been other disappointments. Jim hasn't always been as attentive a weekend father as Nadja and Renee had hoped. But Nadja and Renee say they know they can rely on each other. Unlike the relationships of many lesbian, gay and heterosexual couples, theirs has hung tough.
Brave New World?
"We're pretty much Ozzie and Harriet," Renee says.
They even offer a lament common among fatigued straight couples with young children.
"There's no sex going on in this household," Renee says. "Not with a 2-year-old running around."
All the more reason to wish Renee and Nadja a Happy Mother's Day.
And Mom? That goes double for you.