Puppy Love & Couple Skates

My first boyfriend’s name was Jon Robinson. We were 8 years old.

He was cute, best I remember. And pretty nice. Nice enough to inform me that no, you couldn’t get pregnant just from kissing. Apparently, I’d snuck too many episodes of Days of Our Lives, where the timeline between lots of kissing and having a baby was fuzzy at best.

And it was me that asked to kiss him, for the record.

My clearest memories of him, though, are at the skating rink.

I’ve never been a particularly skilled skater. But what I lack in finesse, I make up for in enthusiasm. The thrill of getting going fast enough to feel a breeze on my face always eclipsed the very real fact that I wasn’t great at stopping. By the time I was 8, I’d (mostly) stopped slamming myself into that little carpeted wall by the DJ booth to come to a stop. But I wasn’t above coasting up to it and casually bumping into it.

I’m sure I looked super suave.

But the thing about flashing lights and loud music is that you can kind of escape yourself out there in the swirl & twirl of it all.

Eight was a liminal age for me. We’d just moved to South Florida, and I felt (relatively) popular because I was the new kid. People found me interesting. I swear 80% of my school hailed from New York originally, and I’d moved to South Florida from Gainesville. Florida. Where there were cows.

I didn’t fit in. But I had no idea how much I didn’t fit in yet.

I was blissfully unaware.

So, I skated with John Robinson. And we’d laugh and wave at each other. We were at the skating rink on a school field trip, so the place was packed with 3rd graders feeling really grown with money to buy junk from the snack bar.

Third grade was the year before I felt self-conscious all the time. So I just got to be. And to enjoy skating (even if I wasn’t that good at it). And to wave at a cute boy and giggle when I saw him fly around the rink with his friends.

I remember him being both adorable and particularly good at skating–but who knows? I’ve learned, as I’ve gotten older, that memories lie.

2 things happened on that skating trip that I remember as if they happened just yesterday:

I got to couple skate with John Robinson while “The Inspiration” by Chicago blared in the background. If whipping around the rink solo is fun, it’s doubly fun when you’re attached to someone else by a sweaty palm, going faster than you’d imagined possible. It’s terrifying and exhilarating. And if I close my eyes and focus really hard, I can conjure it all back up.

Then, right after that legendary couple-skate, John Robinson pulled me aside, over by the lockers where everyone stashed their stinky ‘Roos. I thought maybe he was going to kiss me (why I was so obsessed with kissing at 8 years old is a topic for another time). But, instead he took my hand and looked at me extra-sincere like.

I know you’re thinking that we’re about to get to the really cute, puppy-love part of the story where he tells me how much he likes me. Or whatever 8 year olds do.

And it started out well: he told me how pretty I was (feminist or no, I am a sucker for being told I’m pretty. Always have been). And then he looked even more sincere.

I remember my heart pounding against my chest.

“You’re really pretty, but why do you dress like that?”

Huh?

I looked down. I was wearing my favorite quarter length sleeve sweater, with dark purple trim and rainbow colored stripes running through an off-white background. I loved that sweater.

“You’d probably be popular, if you just dressed more like everyone else.”

I mean, sure, I was still wearing homemade dresses on occasion. And I had to fight my mom about culottes all the time (which she though in some way were “pretty,” a mix between a utilitarians short and an impractical-for-school skirt. Let’s be clear: they were ugly AF), and sometimes she won.

But, here I was in my favorite sweater… and it was, well, wrong. Apparently.

I think I told him I’d try to do better. I’m not sure. It gets a little hazy after that. But I do know that I never felt quite the same about Jon Robinson. There’d been a subtle power shift. The feeling like itty bitty electrical currents when I was close to him was replaced with the subtle knowledge that he was doing me a favor by being my friend. That I was in some way jeopardizing his status as a “cool kid” with my presence, and I owed him gratitude.

I wish I walk up into that skating rink and hug my 8 year old self. And tell her she’s enough, as-is. That being cool isn’t everything. That she still won’t be cool at 45, but it won’t matter to her one iota. But I’d sure tell her to fight her mama harder on those culottes.

And, if I could, I’d couple skate with her. But we’d skate to Whitney Houston. I think y’all know which song.

Ground Control…

In the evolution of parenting, we’ve recently entered the tween zone.

It’s a strange land, filled with Caboodles, lip gloss, ill-applied blush, and an obsession with all things unicorn and glitter.

It’s a liminal stage. For us and our 9 (and a half) year old.

There are things to be celebrated, for sure: a newfound love of organization, a stab at cleanliness, and an intrigue with the persona she’s carefully formulating.

And then there are things that break my heart a bit: worry that playing with her best friends (both boys, both a tiny bit younger) doesn’t jibe with who she’s trying to be; a letting go of the most obvious vestiges of her childhood: her beloved doll clothes (those dolls were everything for several years. They even had their own bathroom set-up–with a toilet that made flushing noises!); a studied pain-in-the-assness that she believes is a hallmark of the preteen years.

It’s a little confusing for all of us.

But it’s a stage.

The persona she adopts right now is just as apt to change as the socks she put on this morning. It’s a performance. She’s trying to settle on what feels good. And right. For her.

Now, I can tell her what feels right for me. But that’s not going to do her any good. So, I just circle about her orbit, doing my thing: yoga & meditation & truth-telling & book-selling. I am so much a part of her world. But at the same time, vastly separate… something to be observed.

Until she wants to cuddle. Then she wants me to absorb her completely. She cannot get close enough. There is no beginning and end to us. I can feel us breathe together. And it’s never been any other way.

And then I realize that I can’t breathe, because the kid is almost as big as I am (at 9! … okay… I’m not a very big human. But still!), and she’s crushing the breath right out of me.

It’s a push and pull of nostalgia and realism. It’s creating and re-creating. Starting again. Pressing forward.

The thing that bothers me most isn’t Jane’s efforts at self discovery (even if they do mean she constantly tries to filch my mascara). It’s other people’s reactions to it. And those, well, they piss me off.

I can hear the flinch in people’s voices when I tell them I have a tweenish girl.

“That must be so hard,” they murmur. “Girls can be so mean,” they say outright. Or my favorite: the “Oh” laden with what I think I’m supposed to understand as sympathy for my plight.

It’s bullshit.

Girls are humans. They have joys and fears. They try things out. They can be mean. They can be kind. But you know who decides that? Them. Each one of them.

It’s my job to guide this sweet, insightful 9.5 year old toward an adolescence and adulthood filled with meaning and purpose–and hopefully lots of joy. That can, in fact, be done wearing lip gloss and sparkly nail polish. Or she might decide to ditch all that and shave her head and wear Doc Martens.

Cool.

Her form of self expression is just that: hers.

As the ad-hoc navigator of this journey, I get to serve as her touchstone. I remind her that she can be grown (see: lip gloss & blush) and still have fun (see: playing with light sabers in her besties’ backyard). I tell her about what I missed out on because I tried so hard to be someone I wasn’t & took myself way too seriously. I laugh with her when she tries something that she ultimately decides is ridiculous. And, sometimes, I buy her unicorn tank tops just because (so she knows I really see her). When all else fails, I call in my glamorous, childhood-beauty-pageant-winning friend to teach Jane how to apply blush correctly. Because God knows I have no idea.

I want Jane to know that she is loved and accepted, always. I value her for who she is. And she is worthy just as she is. Worthy of love. And acceptance. And all the glitter her heart desires.

Dance, I Said

If I were to run smack into my sixth grade self right now, my first thought would be, “Oh, honey.” And then I’d get straight to work helping me be slightly less of a dork.

The problem was that I just had no clue. Other kids were a little like aliens to me. I didn’t understand how they knew what was cool. I definitely didn’t know how to be cool. And that cluelessness led me to walk into the sixth grade dance believing I was actually there to have fun.

My sixth grade misconception is difficult to square with my beliefs as a parent. Because the parent in me believes things should be fun. That you should do whatever you want & be proud of who you are. That you should 100% let your freak flag fly.

But the realist in me knows that you have to understand the rules to break the rules.

I did not.

And that you have to be hella confident to break from the deeply entrenched social norms of middle school.

I was not.

So, basically, I had no chance of making it out of that dance unscathed.

I feel pretty confident I had on a jean skirt (too long, wrong denim wash). And some shirt that likely looked either too grade school or too much like I’d reached a tragically early middle age (likely my mom would have said it was “pretty.” Which was apparently code for: you are moving at warp speed from anything that resembles popularity). And I had barrettes pulling back the bangs I was growing out. To be clear: I parted said bangs down the middle and pulled them back with barrettes. Tiny barrettes. Very close to the part, because my bangs weren’t any longer than regular bangs. But I was growing them out. So, of course they couldn’t just hang down, or swoop over, or get moodily in my eyes.

Nope.

Barrettes.

So, there I am, in this fashion travesty. And I start dancing.

Like, I’m totally dancing like no one is watching. Except it’s middle school, and EVERYONE is watching. And I’m dancing like one of the nerds at the end of a John Hughes movie, who finally gets accepted for who they are… and all is right with the world.

Which is so lovely. But not particularly realistic.

And so…

I’m dancing (badly). With wild abandon. And this girl approaches me.

I can’t remember exactly what she said. I think it was something to the effect of “What the hell is that you are doing?” I remember her looking at me like she hated me. Really hated me. And I was confused. And scared. Because she shoved me like she wanted to fight.

When I think about it, I can still feel the adrenaline shoot through me. I was shaking. And I remember telling her that I wasn’t going to fight her. Because I had more respect than that for myself & her. Because I was a Christian. (I like that I could throw in self-righteousness even in the face of a beat down. Because let me tell you, that “I am a Christian” business wasn’t about mercy or empathy. It was me telling her that I was better than she was.)

I don’t remember how the whole mess of a situation got diffused. I think I threatened to tell on her.

No one said I excelled in sticking up for myself.

What I do remember is feeling a deep sense of shame that someone hated me that much, thought I was that gross that they’d want to fight me just for being myself. It was one of many messages I got in sixth grade that who I was was, in fact, nothing.

On the ride home (and for weeks afterward) I tried to combat that shame with that tried-and-true parental adage that she was just jealous of me.

I knew it was bullshit then. And it certainly did nothing to ease my shame.

I think about that often: how I internalized that shame, how I believed there was something deeply wrong with me, how I so quickly believed I was nothing.

And I wonder how to do better by Jane.

Fortunately, we’ve got a lot going for us: Jane was born with more fashion sense than I’ll ever have. And she’s developed a self confidence at 9 (and a half) that I sincerely admire.

And, on my end, well I just try to be honest with her. About people. About life (which is both pain & joy). And about working through her own response to other people’s shit.

Here are some things we live by in this house: When people are mean, it’s about them. Not you. It’s not that they’re jealous (because EW. That makes it sound like you believe you are better than they are). It’s that they are in pain. And if you can find compassion for that pain, you can release yourself from their judgement. Because, again, it isn’t about you.

But you also have to give yourself space to work though your own pain, when people spew their internal garbage on you. And to make a choice about how you respond. Because you can’t control what other people do, you can only control your response to it.

And we work on really knowing who we are. So that we can be proud of that. And so we can be people who put more good than bad into the world. And to try to love folks as they come.

Also noteworthy: Jane flips out if I dance in public. So maybe my dancing really IS that bad. Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I don’t do it anyway.

Love Doesn’t Need That Mess

I sat cross-legged on the floor, near enough to the other kids to look like part of the group. But, while they fidgeted and whispered, my attention remained rapt. Other kids felt mysterious to me; I never really got what they wanted me to say or do. Like maybe other kids had some sort of instruction manual, but mine–even though it should only have taken 4-6 weeks for delivery–was lost forever & now I was just going to wing it.

So far, it wasn’t going particularly well.

But adults: I knew how to be in their presence, knew what the expected responses were. In short: adults were easier. So I paid more attention to them.

So, now I sat dutifully on the tightly woven carpet of a Sunday school classroom, staring up at our teacher. It was just kind of in my nature to be bizarrely well behaved (and also, my mother’d put the fear of God in me about misbehaving in church). But also, even though I was only 7 or so, the kind of church we attended had already started drilling down on the “getting saved” bit.

Fires of hell? No, thank you. I was sure gonna pay attention to how to avoid all that mess.

But now, suddenly, the teacher started talking about dreams and waking up in the middle of the night. My ears pricked forward. Because I couldn’t ever remember a time I didn’t wake up with my heart frozen in terror, my feet pounding the floor to my parents’ bedroom before I even registered my first real, waking thought.

Maybe I’d get some solid advice on how to not be scared. Because adults know things, right? Or at least at that point I thought they did. (Now I know better.) Adults always seemed to have some secret key to universal knowledge that would magically unlock all the answers and make the world make sense. I could not wait to be one of them. An adult with answers. That was my aspirational goal. At 7.

Although I can’t remember this part super clearly, I’m pretty sure the teacher opened this whole conversation with the “Satan is tricky” motif. Fair enough. A universal antagonist.

But in these stories, Satan was always trying to get in. Actively. Not in a dual nature, we all have good-and-evil inside, choose wisely sort of way. Like in a monster who breathes sulfur, who can morph and change and trick you, so you always have to be on guard to fight as a warrior for Christ sort of way.

Let’s just be clear: that’s some scary shit.

But this man is going to tell me how to keep Satan at bay. At least I hope so. Because now I’m really scared.

“If you ever wake up in the middle of the night,” he continues on (and this should sound like a ghost story, but for all the world it doesn’t. It sounds more like practical advice, like how to escape your house in the case of fire), “and you see a loved one who has died standing in your room (here I thought of my great-grandmother, because she was literally the only person I knew who’d died at that point) and that loved one calls to you, do not go to them. It may actually be a demon calling you to them. Satan will try to get at you whatever way he can. He’ll even use the memory of people you love who have died.”

What. the. actual. fuck?!?

For years afterward–years–I was afraid I’d wake up in the middle of the night to see the visage of my great-grandmother bathed in moonlight beckoning me to her. And what if I wasn’t strong enough to resist? What if I was lured to her and spent eternity with the fires of hell raging around me because I’d made a mistake?

That’s a damn big ‘what if’ for a kid to carry around.

Not until I was an adult did I see clearly that fear is simply a way to rule over and control people. Love, real love, has nothing to do with fear. Love doesn’t need that mess. Not at all.

I wish I could go back and tell that 7 year old that the Universe is full of love for her. That she can find all the peace she needs right inside her own heart. And that one day, she’ll have no idea what God is–not at all. And that not-knowing will feel like such a gift, full of possibility and light.

But I’ll settle for telling a little bit of her story. Because that’s healing in its own right, too.

Starting Over (Second Grade Edition)

What’s a kid to do when her parents move her from one neighborhood to another–which means starting a new school?!? Watch as our intrepid second grade hero navigates these treacherous waters.

In mid-September, we moved from one neighborhood in Atlanta to another. The move has proven to be the right decision a million times over. We already have friends and a connection to this community that we revel in. It feels amazing, truly, to not only live in a city we love but to have found a neighborhood that we belong in.

The only obstacle to this move–and it was a big one–was that Jane would have to change schools.

Shit.

We put it off for a semester. I wooed her by explaining that, if she started school in January, everyone would want to be her friend. New kids are still cool in the second grade.

But, truth be told, I was sweating this transition. She loved every minute she was at her old school. She makes friends easily. And she loves people deeply. So much so that, at the end of long school breaks, she’d often be moody and/or teary simply because she missed her friends and couldn’t wait to be with them again.

That thought hung over me for the whole Christmas break. She was ready to go back to school. But it wouldn’t be the same. Her friends wouldn’t be there. And it was all my fault. (Yeah, yeah. I know it wasn’t really. And I know it was the right choice. But STILL. All my fault)

But she was excited. She told me over and over again that she couldn’t wait to start her new school. She mentioned her new teacher’s name no less than a hundred TRILLION times during the semester break, even though she’d never even met her.

So, things were looking up.

And then, four days before the start of this semester, Jane admitted that she wasn’t just excited–she was nervous. Oh, shit.

I know being nervous is normal. I also know it’s a great opportunity to introduce her to coping skills (something I had to sit through years of AA meetings to obtain). But, the God’s honest truth is that I’ve never wanted to fix something for my child more than I wanted to fix this. My drive to make it all better was so strong my heart actually ached. Cue more “It’s all my fault” melodrama. All in my head, of course. Okay… and a little of it spilled out to Simon–he’s a good and compassionate listener. But mostly I kept it under wraps because a) there was no way to fix it, and b) I pride myself on teaching Jane to deal with hard things, not run from them.

So, yeah, I managed to pull my shit together enough give her a pep talk about making it through hard things (like a first day at school, a big test, something scary) by remembering that it’s only going to last for a finite period of time. And soon, it’ll be over and will be part of the past. I told her that in two weeks, she’d look back and laugh and say, “Remember when I was SO nervous to start my new school.”

She thought for a minute. “Yeah,” she said, nodding, “it is only 24 hours after all.”

Really, she has a better understanding of life at 7 than I did at 27.

Today, her very first day at her new school, she woke up at 5:45 a.m. She picked out some leggings she loves, chose her sparkliest shoes, and stuck a crazy-ass green bow in her hair. And she was ready to go. No tears. She chattered all the way to school. But she did hold my hand.

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Simon and I walked her to her new classroom. Her teacher came in, introduced herself to Jane, and then gave Jane a hug. I felt tears spring to my eyes (I cry over every damn thing lately, I swear), because I knew right then that she’d be fine.

When we picked her up today, she declared it an AWESOME first day. And she proudly announced that EVERYONE wanted to sit next to her. Oh, and her teacher said some lovely things about her that made me tear up again.

So yeah, we’re all going to be okay. I just be over here dabbing my eyes, if you need me.

Tetherball & Sprinklers…And a Black Eye

Percy’s mom was real cool—I mean, other than the fact that she’d given him the name Percy. That was a pretty big goof up. He was always getting into fights over it. But otherwise, she was a real nice mom. She didn’t even get mad when we came skidding into the house, all sweaty, and dropped our stuff by the front door. And she always had popsicles in the freezer. The red ones were my favorite. Which was great because Perc liked purple (yuck.) but hated red. So, there were always plenty of reds left when I came over.

Whap! The ball flew up at a 45-degree angle, then caught at the end of the tether before it came whizzing back around at me. I was ready. I’d perfected my tetherball stance this summer.

Whack! I smacked it hard. With my face.

“Oooff!” I yelled, covering my eye. Lights zipped back and forth underneath my eyelid like fireworks.

Percy came running over. I could tell right away he was trying not to laugh. Which really got me steamed.

“What the heck, Perc?” I shouted at him. I knew he didn’t mean it. But, gah, I hate to be laughed at.

“I… didn’t… mean… it… Stella,” it took him forever to get it out already between all his laughing.

“Whatever,” I said, still mad. “Let’s just finish playing. I’m gonna smoke you.”

“That black eye you’re gonna have is gonna have your mom smokin’ mad for sure,” Perc said, looking maybe a little more sorry than before.

“Oh for real?!?” I said, quietly, gently touching my eye. My mom was always on and on about me acting more like a girl. Trying to explain to her that there are all kinds of girls that act all kinds of ways had gotten me nowhere quick. Now I was going to have to explain a black eye? At least I hadn’t gotten it fighting. Whew. She’da really lost it them. I’d probably have to wear a dress and bows for the rest of the summer if that had happened.

“Maybe my mom’s got a steak we could put on it,” Percy said, grabbing his canteen and knapsack off the ground. “And I know she’s got popsicles, either way.” Percy looked real hopeful, but probably more about the popsicles than fixing my busted eye.

“Okay…” I said slowly, throwing him off the scent of my next move. “Race you there!” I took off running. Poor Perc was never gonna catch up. I was faster than him, even when I didn’t get a good head start.

Percy’s mom was real cool—I mean, other than the fact that she’d given him the name Percy. That was a pretty big goof up. He was always getting into fights over it. But otherwise, she was a real nice mom. She didn’t even get mad when we came skidding into the house, all sweaty, and dropped our stuff by the front door. And she always had popsicles in the freezer. The red ones were my favorite. Which was great because Perc liked purple (yuck.) but hated red. So, there were always plenty of reds left when I came over.

We ate our popsicles in a hurry. It was hot. And we wanted to go play in the sprinklers, which Percy’s mom always let us do. My mom woulda had a conniption, not so much because of the sprinklers but because I just stripped down to my underwear & ran around like that. I mean, I don’t carry around a bathing suit everywhere I go. And besides, people wanna make a big deal of stuff, but it’s not like I have boobs or anything like that. I’m 9, for the Pete’s sake. Besides, if boys don’t have to wear shirts, girls shouldn’t either. What’s fair’s fair.

Percy and I chased each other round and round until I finally called Uncle because I couldn’t catch my breath. I flopped down on the wet grass, with the sprinklers still going, and closed my eyes. The thing about being with Percy was that I could just be. If I wanted to close my eyes, I did. Just like that. He never asked what I was doing or why. I like that in a person. People should just let other people be sometimes.

After I’d caught my breath, I sat up and took in my surroundings. Judging by the sun, it was already late afternoon. I might as well go home and face the music about this stupid black eye. With any luck, Mom would be over being mad by dusk, when I was supposed to meet Perc at the hidden hammock to catch fireflies. If she was still mad, I’d have to climb out my bedroom window and shimmy down the tree outside my window. I mean, I’m all up for tree climbing adventures, but sometimes it’s just easier to walk out the front door, you know?

Perc & I went inside so I could dry off. I put back on my clothes (minus my underwear, cuz it was wet from the sprinklers) and towel dried my hair. Percy’s mom helped me squeeze out the ends real good so I wouldn’t be dripping all over the floor when I walked into my house. My mom’s real particular about that kind of stuff.

When I got home, I took a little pause on the front porch before heading inside. I took a deep breath and pushed open the front door real slow. I really wanted to make it upstairs without Mom seeing my black eye. I tiptoed up the stairs. Just when I thought the coast was clear, I heard Mom call out, “Stella Louise? Is that you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said as cheerful as I could muster, still hoping to avoid the Black Eye Talk.

“Well, come on in here. I want to hear about your day.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I mumbled. Mom hated it when I mumbled, but she was gonna hate this black eye even more.

It took her all of two seconds to let loose. “Stella Louise! What happened to your eye?!” I knew enough to know she didn’t really want an answer, so I let her keep going. “How many times have I told you that you need to get some decorum, young lady? I mean, Lord have mercy. How many times can you get a black eye? Or get stitches? I mean, when I was your age, I was playing hopscotch every afternoon, neat and clean as can be. But you? You’re all a mess! And what happened to your hair?”

“Hopscotch?” I said hopefully.

“Get on out of here, young lady! You go upstairs, take a bath, and run a comb through your hair. I want you to look presentable by the time your father comes home for dinner. And don’t ask me about going back out tonight. No, ma’am. Don’t you dare.”

I sighed and trudged up the stairs. Looked like I’d be shimmying down that tree after all. No matter, though. Percy’d be happy to see me, even if I’d likely show up wearing some stupid dress.

Photo by Piotr Chrobot on Unsplash

3 Ways Adults Ruin Everything

Being a kid is INTENSE. As adults, we have this bizarre tendency to reminisce over the simplicity of childhood. After two days of full immersion in elementary school culture (and three more days to go), I remember now–being a kid is hard as hell. And adults don’t always make it easier. 

Being a kid is INTENSE. As adults, we have this bizarre tendency to reminisce over the simplicity of childhood. After two days of full immersion in elementary school culture (and three more days to go), I remember now–being a kid is hard as hell. And adults don’t always make it easier.

3 Ways Adults Ruin Everything

Adults act like things are common sense–when they don’t make sense at all. This week is the  Scholastic Buy One, Get One Free Book Fair. It’s AMAZING. Kids can spend $5 and leave with two spellbinding stories. Books on dragons? Got ’em. Books featuring ass-kicking princesses? Got ’em. Graphic novels, historical fiction, picture books, bestsellers… the book fair can magically coax excitement into even the most reluctant reader.

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But buy one, get one free? Yeah, kids don’t get it. Invariably, every hour or so, a kid wants to argue with me about why they should be able to buy a book that costs $2.50 and get the $25 Chrystal Making Kit free. Why would they want to pay for the more expensive one?  It’s buy ONE, get ONE free… no one ever said which one they had to buy (even though we did. Over & over, we painstakingly explained that the more expensive book is the one they’ll have to buy. But capitalism is NOT common sense, it seems. Maybe we should call it “Buy the most expensive book, get another maybe-kinda-interesting-but-not-exactly-your-dream-book free.” But that doesn’t have a very good ring to it, I suppose).

And while they’re dealing with the frustration of not getting what they want, adults continue to walk around smugly like this all makes good sense. Like just because they explained it, it is fair. Kid verdict: UNFAIR.

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Adults act like it’s no big deal when kids get their feelings hurt. I try to teach Jane how to shake things off, how to bounce back from hurt feelings and squabbles with her friends. But just watching the ebb and flow of kid relationships over the course of a day is exhausting–and these aren’t even my relationships. Now wonder Jane comes home completely worn out after school.

Today, I wandered out on the playground and bumped into a friend of Jane’s. He was sweaty from running around–and he looked completely dejected. I knelt down, eye-to-eye with him, to figure out what was up. Jane, it seems, had kissed someone else. Then she told him they couldn’t have a playdate anymore. Man.

I totally shelved the mommy reaction to “Jane was kissing someone else” and asked if he & Jane had an argument. (He hung his head & and shook it almost imperceptibly) I assured him that he & Jane would work things out (I was right. He was the last kid Jane hugged before she left for the day). But, whoa, Jane’s kissing treachery tore this little guy up. The idea of losing that playdate with Jane devastated him.

So much hangs on one word, one interaction.

While all this was going on, one of Jane’s friends approached me, close to tears, because her Principal’s Award medal had fallen apart, and she’d lost the medal. I felt the little twinge in my stomach I used to get when I was a kid and something was very, very wrong. I helped her and Jane look for it. Then I promptly marched my full-grown self to  the powers that be to inquire about a replacement. There’s a time and a place for lessons to be learned. But nobody is trying to learn lessons on the last week of school–over a medal they worked for all year. Nobody that I know, at least.

Adults act like they know everything. Adults, we’re busy people. We try to connect with kids over things that are important to us, not to them. We talk over them. We can be really shitty listeners. Sometimes, I’m guilty of this, too. But at the book fair, my whole job is to help kids find books that they will love. My secret goal is to make enthusiastic readers out of all of them. Every one. So, I listen a lot. I ask questions, about their hobbies, their families, their interests. Then I get to work bringing them books. I’m always looking for that magic spark, that book that makes them light up. It doesn’t happen every time. But the times it does… whoa. Amazing.

But no matter if I find them the perfect book or not, they remember me. At school, I’m either The Book Fair Lady or Jane’s mom. Kids run up to me and tell me exciting things happening to them (and sometimes sad things, too). They give me hugs. One girl who I’d seen in book fair but don’t really know came skidding across the linoleum floor to show my the two books she’d finally chosen at book fair (both Diary of a Wimpy Kid). She was beaming. And looking for me to share her joy. I love that connection.

Kids know a lot more than we give them credit for. They know how to connect without overthinking it. Kids may be snarky, silly, germy, chatty, snotty, and squirmy–but they crave connection & love. And they return love so much more freely than adults. It’s humbling (and maybe a little life-giving) to be in the presence of that kind of love.

I admire the professionals who work day in and day out with kids–loving them, teaching them, guiding them. That dedication and commitment kind of takes a special type of person. (That’s TOTALLY not me) But I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to exist in the kids’ world for a bit, to alter my perspective, and to remember the truths I’ve forgotten about childhood.

I’m a much better adult when I remember what it’s like to be a kid.

 

Photo Cred: Lufti Gaos, Kiana Bosman, Wang Xi, and Patricia Prudent on Unsplash

7 Reasons to Love Seven

When I found out I was (finally) pregnant, I fundamentally misunderstood what was about to happen. I mean, I wanted a KID. What I got was, well, a baby. Turns out, babies aren’t really my thing.

When I found out I was (finally) pregnant, I fundamentally misunderstood what was about to happen. I mean, I wanted a KID. What I got was, well, a baby. Turns out, babies aren’t really my thing.

Let’s be clear: I loved MY baby (don’t ask me to hold yours). She was perfect, very loved, and she made stellar faces.

 

What more could I have asked for?

I took that baby everywhere with me. I ate taco off her head once (the scenario involved a sleeping Jane, a baby Bjorn, and a very hungry me). We did mommy & me swim lessons, storytime at the library, a crafting event here and there… I tried to find something new and fun to do with her every day—even though most days we wound up at Publix for the free cookies (SPRINKLES!).

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Simon swears Jane’s got such a kick-ass vocabulary because I talked to her incessantly for the 3 years I stayed home with her. I don’t know about all that. Her first contextual phrase was “Dude. Seriously?!?” when a guy cut me off in traffic. But, it’s true that from the minute I saw her, I wanted to connect with her, to understand what she saw in the world. I wanted to really know this tiny human—but tiny humans are SO MUCH WORK.

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The other day, as I watched 7 year-old Jane playing with her friends, I realized that this is it! This is the age I daydreamed about when I thought about having kids. Seven is spectacular!

7 Reasons I Love Seven:

    1. Seven tells stories. So many stories. About a kid at school eating his shoe or someone falling down (on purpose, of course) or dancing in class (dancing is VERY amusing). She tells serious stories, too—about kids who had bad days or made bad choices, or kids moving way or having trouble at home … It’s these moments when I can see her compassion at work that I realize what a whole, fascinating little person she’s become.
    2. Seven loves to laugh. Everything is funny. I stumble over a word I’m trying to say. Hysterical. Simon spills water on his shirt. Riotously funny. Sometimes she laughs so hard when she’s telling a story that I can’t understand half of what she’s saying. But I end up laughing right along with her. Because kid giggles = irresistible.28059042_10156099009572889_3214456958509982927_n
    3. Seven’s got playground insults. Yep, we’re full on into “I know you are but what am I?” Also, “Cheater, cheater, lemon-eater” is real big right now. (I thought it was pumpkin-eater, but what do I know?) Also, anything that involves butt or poop is not only a great insult but VERY funny. I kinda think it’s funny, too. But then again, my response to just about everything is “Your mom.” Apple, tree, and all that.
    4. Seven reads books. Jane started reading independently this school year. She reads chapter books now. And each time she opens a book, I know she’s opening an entirely new world… it’s magical. For me and for her. (And, yes, we still read to her. Right now, she and Simon are working their way through the second Harry Potter book).
    5. Seven thinks deep thoughts. Jane and I talk about real world stuff all the time. No topic is off limits: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, bullying… When we’re in the middle of these conversations, I never know how they’re going. There’s no real litmus test for am I saying something that will inadvertently land my kid in therapy in 10 years, you know? But Jane ponders some of these conversations after the fact and comes back with really good, critical thinking questions that make me so hopeful about how she will navigate her way through the world.29683507_10156191825082889_4802467397519797248_n
    6. Seven embraces being a nerd. Jane loves to learn. She sits in her room and does math problems for fun. She writes books on the side (mostly non-fiction about our boxer, Delilah). She adores her pink glasses. And she freely admits that she’s excited about nerd camp this summer (a camp run by the school district for brainiacs. No, it’s not ACTUALLY called nerd camp. But in this house, we like to call it like we see it).
    7. Seven is incredibly self-confident. Jane feels good about herself. She knows that she’s capable, strong, and kind. She loves to run. She says she’s an expert bike rider (even though she’s been riding for about 3 weeks). She believes that everyone wants to be friends with her. And she embraces the world whole-heartedly.

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I look at this miraculous person, this seven year-old, and I think—oh my Lord. She is so much like me. And so very different. She’s a person. A small complex human, who both needs me and doesn’t.

She’s seven. And seven is magic.

Finding Balance

She waits for her turn on the balance beam. My heart clenches. She’s only four years old; the beam stands as tall as her head, and she is afraid of heights. In fact, she asked to quit gymnastics because of this very beam. 

She waits for her turn on the balance beam. My heart clenches. She’s only four years old; the beam stands as tall as her head, and she is afraid of heights. In fact, she asked to quit gymnastics because of this very beam. 

As I watch my daughter standing in line, waiting her turn, I realize that I spend a lot of time hoping that she isn’t like me.

Maybe I should amend that to read: I spend a lot of time hoping my daughter isn’t like original me.

When people find out I am in recovery, they often start poking around in my childhood trying to figure out what drove me to look for my solutions at the bottom of a Miller Lite can. Truth is, there isn’t a lot to find. What they really want to know is what my parents DID to make me this way. While their investigations used to be a sort of morbid curiosity about my sordid descent, now there is a desperation to the questioning… because now most of my friends have kids. They want to know how to spare their kids from the complete demoralization of addiction… and who can blame them? Addiction destroys. And they want their kids to live fully. I get it.

But here’s the rub: my parents didn’t DO anything to send me running to hide in the buzzy bliss of a drink. They loved me, provided for me, encouraged me, and cared for me. They were not abusive, neglectful or cruel. But I did somehow manage to grow up devoid of any coping mechanisms. I never really grew out of the egocentric stage—not in that I thought that everything should be mine, but I believed the world was always thinking about me, always laughing at me, always rejecting me on some level. I was constantly on stage, naked and ashamed, a dream I could never quite shake. These thoughts consumed me to the point that I could not find room for compassion, empathy, and big, radical love for the world. Instead, my love was always a tight, clenching love that craved constant approval, approbation, attention. This constant striving and reaching created original me: an overly sensitive kid, prone to anxiety and hopelessness. It created the perfect internal environment to brew an alcoholic.

So, yeah, I kinda don’t want my kid to be like that. Before she arrived in this world, I had these intense hopes that she’d be born with an adventurous spirit, kind but not too sensitive, with a deep desire to simply be her own person. In short, I wanted her to be exactly the kid I was not. But, either way, I knew my partner and I held a secret parenting weapon: we could teach our daughter to practice the principles of AA without ever having to learn them in a meeting. This is a perk no one tells you about when you walk into the rooms; but it has incredible value in the topsy-turvy world of parenting.

We talk to our daughter often about trying her best. In the preschool world of always wanting to run the fastest, to be first in line, to win the game, we try to remind her that her best is all she can give. That she isn’t defined by her successes or failures. That kindness and bravery count more than a perfect soccer kick. Just trying is sometimes the biggest win.

She climbs up on the beam. She teeters a bit. I can see her arms shake as she holds them out from her sides to balance. Then she takes one step. And another. And unlike last session, she doesn’t freeze and wait for an adult to help her. She talks halting steps … all the way across the beam.

She breaks into a huge grin, waving like a maniac at me. Her mother. Who did nothing more than encourage her to let go of her fear and to really live.

And she owned that beam.