Sunday, March 17, 2002

Court to rule

How much love is too much?

        The young couple looks tired. Their six kids — ages 2 through 9 — have just finished a completely thorough round of the flu. “Fever, vomiting, the whole nine yards,” says their mom. Up late. Worrying. Lots of laundry. Warm foreheads. Tears. Most of us parents remember every single yard of those nine yards.

        The worst part is the worrying, which seems nearly constant once you have a child. Not all parents care, of course. We have elaborate bureaucracies to chase deadbeat dads and moms. And a half million American children have been abandoned or so badly abused or neglected that authorities have rescued them from their own parents. But these are other children.

The chocolate hazard

        The six who belong to Teri Bonfield and Shelly Zachritz are clearly beloved, emphatically claimed and, just now, robustly healthy. Flu symptoms gone, they swarm like scrubbed, pajama-clad bees. One boy, 3, presented me with a foil-wrapped egg.

        “It's chocolate,” he said helpfully. Well, I don't think children should have too much chocolate, so I ate it. His sister slipped me another egg. Nice kids. Still, their mothers worry about them.

        Three years ago, Teri and Shelly asked to be legally recognized as co-parents. “I thought it would be simple,” Teri says. “We weren't asking the court to define our relationship. And we don't have a "gay agenda.' Our whole agenda is to protect the children.”

        If something happened to Teri, who is the legal parent of five of the children, “I wouldn't want someone else to be able to come in and take the kids,” Shelly says.

        The women, who have been together as a couple for 16 years, share a spacious house in Harrison. Teri sold her home health care business, and Shelly quit her job as a nurse. Right now, they're comfortably fixed enough to be stay-at home moms, although Teri wants to go back to work when the kids are older.

A family matter

        Teri adopted the two oldest children, then both women subsequently were artificially inseminated by the same anonymous donor. Teri gave birth to three children. And Shelly to one.

        “There may come a time when they wish they had a dad,” Teri says. “Unfortunately, I think that happens to a lot of kids born to straight couples. There are several men in our kids' lives.” Teri's brother is a Boy Scout leader, and both women volunteer at school activities.

        “We've never made it a big deal, but we've always been open about our relationship,” Teri says. “And we feel welcome and comfortable at their school.”

        They have been surprised, they say, to find themselves in the news. “We thought it would be just a family matter.” The case went to the Ohio Supreme court last week after a magistrate ruled against them and a state appeals court upheld the decision.

        Teri and Shelly are not acquainted with the people who have come forward to protest their petition — people such as David Miller, vice president of Citizens for Community Values. Mr. Miller told The Enquirer's Dan Horn that if Teri and Shelly really love the children “they would not allow them to be exposed to a hazardous lifestyle.”

        I stepped over a hazardous plastic dinosaur on my way out. And — just for safety's sake — I ate two more chocolate eggs. But I really think Mr. Miller might be worrying about the wrong children.

        E-mail or call 768-8393.


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