Lisa Muñoz and Erin Lawder are exploring the new world of parenthood, raising their two sons, 5-year-old Luca and 9-month-old Rhodes. Despite Muñoz’s busy schedule as a successful real estate agent and Lawder’s demanding role as a stay-at-home mom, they still find balance and cohesion in their family life.
It was the first days of their study-abroad orientation when the two women met in Salamanca, Spain. It wasn’t long before the two felt a connection and spent the summer of 1998 having adventures together in Europe.
“We would go to the train station and say, ‘Let’s go here, and let’s get some baguettes and cheese and a bottle of wine and stick it in our backpacks and take a night train to this place.’ Now, not so much,” Muñoz said with a laugh.
Muñoz returned to the U.S. after only a month in Spain, while Lawder stayed for the remainder of the semester. But 5,000 miles couldn’t keep them apart. They wrote each other love letters, predating Skype and Facebook.
“I do think that there is something that we have, a thing called chemistry, that works for us,” Lawder said about her connection with Muñoz. “I think we’re just a good fit. We make sense to each other.”
Today, the couple still has a penchant for travel and adventure, but now it’s with two little boys in tow. At press time, the family was gearing up for a trip to the beaches and jungles of Belize.
Muñoz and Lawder had polar opposite coming-out experiences.
Muñoz, a native of Houston, was only in 7th grade when her best friend became her first girlfriend. During her adolescence, she desperately wanted a friend who was “like” her. She ended up finding Hatch Youth, an organization offering a safe environment for LGBT youth to feel empowered.
“It was just a total saving grace,” she said about Hatch. “It made me feel like there were other people going through this.” As a result of being in the youth group, she witnessed the hardships of the LGBT homeless youth who were kicked out of their homes. Unfortunately, it turned into her reality as well.
Throughout middle school and high school, her secret hiding spot for love notes was behind a bookcase. One day when Muñoz was 16, her mom found detailed love notes from her high school girlfriend, which prompted a call to the girl’s mom. After that, “it blew up,” Muñoz said. Her parents kicked her out of their home, forcing her to seek shelter elsewhere. She found a temporary home with two older friends who had an apartment downtown.
Muñoz didn’t stay out of the home for long, since she was still in high school and needed parental consent to enroll in school. “I think they recognized that me being out there was a big struggle,” she said. Now her parents accept her new family and they visit each other often.“I don’t think until I went away to college did they [my parents] stop being so angry about it [being gay]…. But it’s totally different now. They love our family and they’re proud of us and they love the kids,” Muñoz said.
Lawder, on the other hand, had a very close relationship with her lesbian mom. Her parents divorced when she was a toddler. “Something in my marriage wasn’t right, and once I had other experiences, it was like it all made sense,” Lawder’s mother, Ann Jinkins, said. “It was like finding a pair of shoes that fit.” Jinkins and her partner of 23 years, Staci Hubbard, have two college-aged children together.
Lawder had never dated women before Muñoz, but she knew she wasn’t confined to being straight. She came out to her mom over the phone while she was in Spain. “I told my mom I met somebody, that she was a girl, and my mom basically said, ‘Oh shit, your dad’s going to kill me.’ I think being raised by a lesbian, everyone else in the family just assumed [that I was gay]. Up until that point, my mom had not been raising a gay person.”
Jinkins admitted that she had a moment of sadness when Lawder came out to her. “As a parent, you always want things to be easy for your kids, and the path of an LGBT person is not always easy,” she said, adding that today things are vastly changing for LGBT people.
While Lawder was still abroad, her family joined her for a winter vacation. She invited Muñoz to join her family in an RV road trip through Germany. The first time Muñoz met Jinkins was at the Dusseldorf airport. “We all got to know each other real fast in our RV,” Jinkins said with a laugh.
She went on to say that she could foreshadow her daughter’s long-term relationship with Muñoz. “Erin never came out so clearly with a statement—that this was someone special—so I fully expected Lisa to be around.” Now, Jinkins enjoys spoiling her grandchildren and taking care of them when Lawder and Muñoz need a night off.
In retrospect, it seems that Muñoz and Lawder decided to have a family right after meeting each other. Muñoz recently found her travel journal in which she wrote that Lawder wanted to stay at home with the kids. “I don’t even remember having this conversation,” Muñoz said. “It’s so weird because that was 15 years ago.”
Lawder is no stranger to nurturing children. A former special education teacher, she now cares for her own kids as a full-time mom. With their big eyes, blonde hair, and even similar facial expressions, baby Rhodes and preschooler Luca unmistakably resemble Lawder. She carried both boys and used the same anonymous sperm donor.
“Once you have a kid, you can’t really get away from them, and I totally respect all working moms, but I think it would break my heart to have to not be with them,” she said.
The couple agrees that their strong connection early on in their relationship provided a sturdy foundation for their family. But now their kids have allowed them to discover a whole new side to each other. Lawder said, “I love to see Lisa in that capacity as a mom and her relationship with the boys. It gives you something new to know about your partner.”
Luca’s personality is the best blend of his mothers’ personalities. He is chatty and sociable like Muñoz. He tells anyone who listens that he has “two mommies and zero dads,” and he plans having a pirate birthday party complete with rum (because “that’s what pirates drink”). His facial expressions are nothing short of animated, making him an entertaining storyteller. On the other hand, Luca also likes to quiet down and curl up with a good book from his bookcase, just like Lawder.
As Luca gets older and more curious, Muñoz and Lawder encounter more questions that are difficult to answer. Once he brought home a book that was titled along the lines of Mommy is Having a Baby! According to Lawder, it was definitely a “mommy and daddy story.” She added, “As I was reading it along with him, you have to ad-lib, and it would be helpful to have someone help you out with that instead of having to make it up on your own, which is kind of what we do at this point.”
Muñoz uses the term “parents” when referring to stories that include a mom and a dad, which looks different from Luca’s family. She said it’s still important to talk about “dads.” As she explained, “Luca’s going to be a dad one day, or at least he seems happy about that, so I have to remind myself that, oh, yeah, I have to continue to elevate this position of dad. I try to balance out validating the mommies but keeping the dad in play.”
Rhodes’ smile can light up a room, as he grins from ear to ear. He’s a curious and easygoing baby and is always more interested in what his brother is playing with. It took a few months but Luca has finally adjusted to having a little brother. “Luca’s relationship with Rhodes is definitely brotherly. Sometimes he loves him, and sometimes he wants him out of his business,” Lawder said.
With 150 people moving to Austin every day, Muñoz’s client list keeps growing and growing. She found her passion as a real estate agent 13 years ago after graduating from UT with a cultural anthropology degree. Many of the first homes she sold were to artists and musicians in East Austin, which wasn’t the hip mecca that it is now.
“I’d see them buy that first house at $30,000, and they’d get married or meet someone and they’d have kids or get a promotion and move to a new home, so just to be a part of that with people is really pretty cool,” Muñoz said of her first clients. Now she is one of the city’s top realtors.
Muñoz attributes her success to growing up with limited resources. “We didn’t have a lot of money—my parents would clean houses and cut grass. I was the first person in my family to go to college. Part of what’s made me so successful in business is having that challenge and desire to get out of (that),” she said.
Muñoz acknowledged that she now has a different quality of life, which she, as a parent, recognizes as an obstacle in teaching her children. “You love your kids so much that you want everything to be easy for them, and then you realize that making things easy for them sets them up for not being able to handle the world,” she said.
Muñoz and Lawder have come a long way since they first met each other on the cobblestone streets of Salamanca. Their journey now takes them to the construction of a new home in Tarrytown, where the boys will have more room to grow up. With Luca starting kindergarten this fall, picking a home with an outstanding school system was important to the couple. They want to give the most to their kids.
“I just want my kids to be happy and feel good about what they’re doing in the world,” Lawder said. “I want them to be fearless.”