Gender, Family and Love in the Pioneer Valley

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 11, Openness About Gender, Family & Love

(Photo credit: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser)

Although Northampton Pride is a ways away, there’s an admirable flexibility about how we think of families and love and gender and identity in these parts that I can’t take for granted. Every single time my preschooler is playing family and says something like, “I’ll be the mom. And you can be the mom,” I know I should be counting lucky stars.

Overheard: one friend’s preschooler asked, “When am I getting another mom?”

Another friend’s child was preparing to study Billie Holiday for a school project. Child asked whether Billie Holiday is a man or a woman. Parent replied, “She was a woman.” Child followed up, “So, she used to be a man?”

Having created a family tradition of attending Northampton’s Pride event each May, in the elementary school years, each of my boys has asked some version of this question: “Why is there a march about this anyway?” The sense that standing up for LGBT rights is necessary didn’t even register. Acceptance is a beautiful thing, even if, in truth in terms of LGBT rights, we still have quite a ways to go.

❥ But here we do have dads staying home while moms work (and vice versa and other combinations, as well). We fill a book with images of families formed at least in part by adoption (and then some; it could be books, plural). Family Diversity Projects began in this part of the world and spreads the simple truth that love makes a family way beyond this charmed spot. We have a whole community supporting families with kids who have lived in foster care. We have an organization supporting children with different needs to participate in activities, which their families thought might remain beyond reach. We come together in the thousands to run and walk on behalf of a women’s shelter (in December, no less).

That is not to paint an idyllic picture and say there’s nothing more to be done, not at all. It is a pretty amazing foundation, though, what’s going on here—and how much more committed we seem to be to the notion of love and family getting to be love and family than many other places. My fondest hope for my kids—and yours, too—is that they carry these beliefs with them and spread this celebration of love and this dedication to supporting families to enjoy that—love—above all else.


Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

One Comment on “Gender, Family and Love in the Pioneer Valley

  1. Again, you make Northampton sound like a place I’d love to live! Thanks Sarah for this insightful piece!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: