Iowa teen paints a pretty picture of a modern family

My-Two-MomsA white house with a picket fence may sound trite, but if you believe sitcoms from the ‘50s, that’s the ideal: Father wears a hat every day and mom fills the house with the smell of baking cookies. But for Zach Wahls’ family, nothing was quite so traditional — and a picket has nothing to do with a fence.

In his new memoir My Two Moms, Wahls — the Iowa teen who became an Internet sensation a few months ago — explains how he was a member of an unusual family.

Mother Terry was an unmarried internal medicine physician at a Wisconsin hospital when she decided she was ready for children. It took some convincing — IVF doctors said they did not “do” illegitimate children.

A few years later, she repeated the procedure and gave her son a biological sister. It was icing on the cake when Terry met Jackie and they fell in love. For most of his early childhood, Zach didn’t think much about the fact that he had two moms. It was no big deal to other kids, so it was no big deal to him. When the family moved to Iowa to live closer to Terry’s mother, though, Wahls encountered teasing and bullying.

His mothers had raised him with values and character. They taught him that boys and girls are equal but different and that there is no “better” gender. They showed him that the world is rarely black and white. He learned that words can hurt, and so can being told that you have no rights.

From his “Short Mom,” he learned the meaning of commitment and loyalty; “Tall Mom” taught him cheerfulness. And when Zach was asked to testify in front of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, both moms’ lessons of bravery were evident.

Looking for a book that will warm your heart and make you proud of young men like this? My Two Moms will do the trick. Wahls (with Bruce Littlefield) bounces from thought to thought in this memoir, giving us half a story here, half there, and something completely different in between. That’s appealing, in an eager-puppy sort of way, but this literary spill makes a mess sometimes.

Still, Wahls’ main message boldly holds this book together and overcomes the chaos to shine through. Love is love is love, he shows his readers, and gender doesn’t make any difference. Gender is not what makes a family.

Wahls seems to be essentially asking, “What’s the big deal?” The answer lies in his story. It is — and yet, in its ordinariness, it is very, very important to acknowledge that not all families have picket fences. They don’t need them when there’s love.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 22, 2012.