Just Do You. Brilliantly.

I sort of threw Jane in dance so I’d have an extra day to work past 2:30 pm. She seemed to like it. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if Jane likes an activity or just likes hanging with her friends. I don’t begrudge her that. I like to hang with my friends, too. And if she’s hanging while she’s doing pirouettes or what-the-hell-ever, so much the better.

My kid loves to perform. Singing? Oh, the girl sings. It’s like living in a musical in our house. Acting? She recreates scenes from movies, shows, the play they performed at school—all the time. Playing the piano? She practices without being asked. She’s seven. WHO IS THIS CHILD?!?

Dance, though. Dance is one of those after school activities that I sort of threw her in so I’d have an extra day to work past 2:30 pm. You know, more like a normal person. She seemed to like it. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if Jane likes an activity or just likes hanging with her friends. I don’t begrudge her that. I like to hang with my friends, too. And if she’s hanging while she’s doing pirouettes or what-the-hell-ever, so much the better.

Yesterday, Jane had her big dance recital—in front of the whole school. Let me stop right here. I would have lost my shit if, at 7 years old, anyone had asked me to do anything in front of the entire school. Hell, I’m 42 years old, and the idea of standing up in front of almost 600 elementary aged kids makes me want to puke. But Jane, she was excited. So excited she thought she might EXPLODE, she informed me later.

I love and am fascinated by this child in equal measure.

Jane knew every single move to the tap dance. Of course. She knew every move, but something seemed off. She was doing it right. But she didn’t seem to be feeling it. The little girl next to her was living this dance.

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Jane, not so much. She was doing it right. But it looked like it was taking every bit of her concentration. She was not one with the dance.

My first instinct: “Well, we can cut this out of the rotation next year.” I mean, we can only do so many activities. Dancing isn’t her strongest showing, so I thought… eh, we’ll try something different next year.

On the way to the car, I ran into the owner of the dance company. We chatted about how much Jane enjoyed the class. Then I mentioned that Jane seemed to be struggling to connect the moves, that dancing didn’t seem to come easily to her. The woman’s expression softened: “How wonderful that she embraces something that pushes her out of her comfort zone. She keeps pushing, even though it’s hard for her.”

Oh.

Right here is why other loving, supportive adults are crucial in child-rearing. Because obviously having Jane do something she doesn’t excel at is a great idea. It teaches perseverance and empathy (not everyone can be good at everything, after all). And the experience itself far outweighs the importance of tap dancing like Shirley Temple.

I’d gotten schooled about my own kid. It was humbling.

But this lesson about experience over performance is one I’ve already had to learn. Jane’s experience in dance mirrors my experience in running. I am not a great runner. I will never qualify for Boston. I rarely place in my age group. I might place third in my age group—if only three people my age run the race. I have friends that I’d love to run with. But I can’t. I’m not fast enough. Can’t keep up.

Nevertheless, I love to run.

For a brief moment, I almost let the fact that I’m not very good at running push me out of the sport. I got real caught up in times and placing in races and PRs. And it stopped being fun. Because I was trying to be a runner that I’m not. That sucks.

So why should Jane be a dancer she’s not?

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I tell Jane all the time that exactly who she is is enough. It’s perfect, in fact. Whether she’s the best dancer on the stage matters not a whit. I want her to do what she loves–to do her best, soak up experiences, and just be herself.

I run.

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She dances.

And we’re both brilliant at enjoying the experience.

The Riddle of Motherhood

Mothering is sacred work. I pour every ounce of goodness & light I have into this child. But what about the broken parts of me that need mothering, too?

Mothering is sacred work. I pour every ounce of goodness and light I have into this child:

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And she deserves it all. Every bit of it.

But so do I.

Inside me, there are broken bits that still need a good deal of mothering. I am in recovery, after all—and I certainly didn’t end up in recovery because of my stellar coping skills or my superb choices. I ended up there because my spirit was crushed, and I was trying to hide that pain from the world, but mostly from myself.

I’ve committed a good deal of this past decade to mending my broken spirit, to making amends—to myself and to other people–and to moving past regret into whole-hearted living. And, for the most part, it’s been a brilliant success, this thing called living my life. I’ve been lifted out of that dark place into some dazzlingly sunshiney place makes me feel hella grateful every day.

But still.

Sometimes I am hit by a memory of something I did or said that lands like a gut-punch. And I’m engulfed in regret. Or sometimes I’ll make a mistake—an honest one, born of nothing but good intentions with maybe a mix of a little carelessness—and the questioning of my worth will commence. Sometimes I still brush up against the parts of me that remain fractured, that threaten to break under the strain of life, memory, hurt.

And I do the same thing with myself that I would do with Jane. I embark on the sacred task of mothering. It really is the only way out. I turn all that kindness, compassion, and love back onto myself. I’m gentle with myself when prodding the parts that hurt. I give myself the grace to make mistakes, because I am learning. I reassure myself that my worth isn’t born out of my deeds, but out of the sheer fact of my existence. I was created from the divine, remain a part of it, and am inherently worthy of love.

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I tell myself the very things I tell Jane.

I say them because they are true. True for her. True for me. True for everyone.

The sacred work of mothering doesn’t always have to do with birthing or raising children. It is about helping the world heal a little bit at a time, starting with yourself. It’s nurturing. And loving. It’s seeing in other people something beautiful, special, divine—and knowing the same magic exists in you. It’s giving love freely–and learning to finally, finally accept it in return.

 

 

Notes from Field Day

When I was a kid, Field Day was my day of triumph. I got to shock people every year with the fact that I could RUN. I was fast. I guess I didn’t look particularly athletic. And, to be honest, my parents didn’t really push sports. And coming home dirty from school was frowned upon. So, yeah, rough & tumble wasn’t really my game. Which made it even more fun to kick ass every year in the field day race.

Yesterday was Field Day at Jane’s elementary School. Obviously, I found this wildly exciting:

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But come on… FIELD DAY! What could possibly be more fun?!?

When I was a kid, Field Day was my day of triumph. I got to shock people every year with the fact that I could RUN. I was fast. I guess I didn’t look particularly athletic. And, to be honest, my parents didn’t really push sports. And coming home dirty from school was frowned upon. So, yeah, rough & tumble wasn’t really my game. Which made it even more fun to kick ass every year in the field day race. (To be fair, I usually wasn’t first. I typically placed a solid second–which was just ass-kickey enough to suit my taste.)

Imagine my complete confusion yesterday when some kids didn’t want to participate in Field Day. WHAT?

Look, I know all kids are different. I know that some kids really don’t dig outdoor stuff. And there were definitely those kids. But I got the nagging feeling that, for some of the kids, something else was at play.

It didn’t come together for me until last night, when I attended a Social Emotional Learning training at Jane’s school. We were discussing the roll of community meetings in SEL–that’s when the kids get together each morning to greet each other and sometimes to share a bit about what’s going on in their worlds. Greeting each other by name is important, the instructor noted, because some children rarely hear their names associated with something positive.

Ooof.

Even a kid like Jane hears things all the time like “JANE! Pick up your clothes off the floor.” “JANE! Did you take the dog out?!” “JANE! We HAVE TO GO. Hurry UP.” And Jane comes from a non-financially-stressed, co-parenting household with one parent who doesn’t work full-time (and another who does). So, basically, on paper Jane’s got a good thing going over here and often her name is used to fuss/redirect/scold. What’s it like for other kids?

Flash back to field day: Jane’s teacher is hugging a little girl who doesn’t want to participate, while giving race instructions to the other kids. Once she finishes with the instructions and general corralling of children (which is like herding cats), she refocuses all of her attention on the crying kid. She uses the little girl’s name repeatedly, telling her how much fun she’ll have, how everyone will cheer her on, how she’ll be so proud of herself when she’s finished. Jane’s teacher can do this because she’s spent ALL YEAR building a relationship with her students, reinforcing a safe-space atmosphere where the kids encourage & cheer for each other. The teacher was being totally straight-up when she told the little girl that her classmates would cheer for her. That’s what they do for each other. That’s what she’s taught them, coached them, encouraged them to do.

The little girl ran the race. And she came back beaming. And sure enough, the kids cheered her on, yelling her name the whole time.

I don’t know the little girl’s story. Maybe she was just having an off day. Maybe she isn’t encouraged a lot to try new things. Maybe she was just afraid of failing (aren’t we all?). But I do know that having an adult who really SAW her helped her take a leap and do something she was unsure of. And she was GREAT the rest of the day.

Being around Jane’s school a lot has changed me in many ways. I’ve definitely pushed myself to be more empathetic, to connect with kids, and to always go with kind first. Every kid has a different story. If I’m patient and caring enough, they just might trust me with that story one day. And, to me, there’s no greater honor than a kid telling me what’s on their heart.

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Me & Jane at Field Day (Photo Credit: @jonsiemel on Instagram)

Oh, and it turns out that Jane might enjoy racing at Field Day just as much as I did when I was a kid:

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I’ll count that as a win.

Just Breathing Out Lovingkindness Over Here

So I told her to make her own damn sandwich. (Note: I did not actually say damn out loud. But I said it real, real loud in my head. I think she could probably hear it) She huffed and puffed while she made her sandwich. I took my coffee and my English muffin to the other side of the kitchen, where her huffing was muted by the snorting of the dog.

This morning was a shit show.

There. I said it. It has now been said. Shit show.

It’s not really Jane’s fault. Not entirely.

I mean, she was glaring at me like she’d gone and lost all her good sense. My mistake? Offering to make her sandwich and put it in the green container.

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL. NOT THE GREEN CONTAINER.

Apparently, she preferred the pink container. Which she let me know by stomping on the floor. And glaring over her shoulder.

So I told her to make her own damn sandwich. (Note: I did not actually say damn out loud. But I said it real, real loud in my head. I think she could probably hear it) She huffed and puffed while she made her sandwich. I took my coffee and my English muffin to the other side of the kitchen, where her huffing was muted by the snorting of the dog. (She’s a boxer. Short snout. Sometimes breathing = snorting)

My kid’s stomping, glaring, and huffing. My dog is snorting and banging into me trying to chase her toy. Me? I’m serene. Breathing out lovingkindness.

Okay, really, I’m ignoring the hell out of everyone around me, focusing on my coffee, and trying my best not to lose my shit.

But here’s proof miracles happen: I did not yell. Not once.

Miracle before 8 a.m.? Check.

And now, annoyingly, I feel like I need to be thankful, because even though this morning was 60% sucky, by the time I dropped Jane at school we were laughing & singing “Armadillo by Morning.” (It’s not a typo… we really do sing “armadillo” instead of “Amarillo.” Whatever. we think it’s hysterical.)

Yesterday morning did not go nearly as well.

What the hell’s going on over here? Yeah. Simon flew the coop this week…something about a work trip, yada-yada-yada. What I heard: “I’ll be gone for almost a week. Good luck managing our kid who becomes a complete asshat when I leave town because she misses me so much. Huzzah!” That’s just a paraphrase, though.

Jane & I are managing. But I’m adding this to my ever-growing list of reasons I’m glad that Simon & I stuck out this marriage thing: He’s a kick-ass Bobby. And Jane loves him so much.

So do I. (But seriously, if I hear one inkling about a work trip any time soon…)

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.

What Do You Want to Be?

Adults always ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. What a weird question. It’s not like kids even have any idea about all the things they could be in the world. When adults pose this question, they’re invariably inquiring about career choice–as if a job or a career could possibly define a person. What if a kid wants to be brave? Or curious? But these answers would never do–adults would just chuckle and ask patronizingly–again—yes, but what do you want to be? 

Adults always ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. What a weird question. It’s not like kids even have any idea about all the things they could be in the world. When adults pose this question, they’re invariably inquiring about career choice–as if a job or a career could possibly define a person. What if a kid wants to be brave? Or curious? But these answers would never do–adults would just chuckle and ask patronizingly–again—yes, but what do you want to be?

At 8 years old, I announced–completely unbidden–I was going to be a writer when I grew up. This wasn’t some made up answer to entertain an adult audience. This was my truth. I was 8 years old. I loved reading above all else. And one day I wanted to make that magic with words. I wanted to write books that kids would fall in love with.

The adult privy to this revelation laughed. “Well, what are you planning to do to make money?

I was crushed. I was a super-sensitive kid. If an adult thought I couldn’t be a writer, well then they were probably right.

I never mentioned wanting to be a writer again. Even as I poured through the 1966 World Book Encyclopedia to pen my first book, “The Little Suitcase” based on–you guessed it–a suitcase who travels the world, I said not one word about writing to anyone.

Not when my essay won an award at the Broward County Fair.

Not when I aced AP Language and AP Literature.

Not when I got my degree in Literature (which I supplemented with a degree in Communications–you know, so I could make money).

In fact, my default joke became “I critique other people’s writing so I don’t have to do any of my own.” Which was bullshit. I wrote academic papers all the time. And, trust me, it is an art form to make that kind of writing accessible and engaging. I loved literature. And I lived for the rush of writing papers and putting something out into the world–something that I felt like made a difference.

I finished graduate school.

And I didn’t write again for 5 years.

The first thing I wrote after all that time was a blog. Only my friends knew it existed. But it rekindled something—a belief that I could DO this. That I could write pieces that people would connect with. That my writing could make people feel and experience things.

I started writing again in earnest in January 2015. I sat with my friends in front of a cozy fire on New Years Eve, and I told them that I wanted to be a writer. That admission felt huge to me–and so very vulnerable. But I put it out there–and I felt the weight of accountability for this intention I’d set for the upcoming year.

Writing was my salvation when Simon transitioned. It helped me make sense of him, me, us… Writing about Jane helps me process and appreciate what she’s learning, how she’s growing. Truth be told, if I don’t write about it, I kind of feel like it doesn’t exist.

Once I got comfortable putting myself out there, it came back to me: the desire to write a book. For kids. A book that would change a kid’s world. Right about that time, I stumbled on NaNoWriMo. I made it halfway through my first novel (a middle grades book about whether biology or love makes family), and I quit. A novel is a giant undertaking. I’d never written so much as a short story. I may have jumped in a bit over my head. (It’s kind of my way.)

In July 2017, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in July. And I wrote an entire novel–35,000 words–from start to finish. I loved every second that I spent writing those characters. I loved how they surprised me. I was enchanted by the way they evolved and discovered themselves… I was completely hooked.

But here’s the most surprising part (to me, at least): I have put myself out there time and time again for this book. I’ve opened myself to critique and rejection–both of which I am notoriously bad at–for the sake of getting this novel into the world. And I continue to surprise myself in this process.

I’m undertaking a major revision of my novel during this April’s Camp NaNoWriMo. Here’s why:

1) I got a rejection from an agent, which was really more of a “Not yet. Needs work. You started in the wrong place.” And I didn’t die. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that she even responded to me. And I took her suggestions as evidence of her belief that, with work, this would be a book worth publishing.

2) A friend/mentor of mine looked at the first 5 chapters of the novel. And she told me it needed work–like some pretty serious work. Again, totally didn’t die. I didn’t even crawl off to lick my wounds. I just started revising. Because that’s what writers do.

I wish someone had told me when I was 8 that I could be anything, do anything. But that isn’t my story. And life has become, for me, a matter of owning my own story–and the stories I want to put out into the world.

 

4 Reasons I Took My Kid to March For Our Lives Atlanta

At 7 years old, my daughter, has already attended seven civil rights marches (if you count the five Pride parades she’s attended—and I do. Oh, I do.). I don’t come from a long line of activists. In fact, my parents always seem (not so secretly) appalled that I let Jane march through the streets holding signs, chanting, and generally being a rabble-rouser. But here’s the thing: Jane was born into activism.

At 7 years old, my daughter, has already attended seven civil rights marches (if you count the five Pride parades she’s attended—and I do. Oh, I do.). I don’t come from a long line of activists. In fact, my parents always seem (not so secretly) appalled that I let Jane march through the streets holding signs, chanting, and generally being a rabble-rouser. But here’s the thing: Jane was born into activism.

Jane’s the pride & joy of two queer parents. She popped out of the womb—fist raised in the air (literally)—into a family different than the traditional, hetero-normative nuclear family. We took Jane to her first Pride when she was 6 months old. I mean, how could we go wrong? Rainbows. Glitter. Messages of acceptance and love. But even more than that, in a world way too often homophobic and unwelcoming, Pride is a place where we can make the radical statement that LGBTQ+ folks matter. Unequivocably. Pride is still a radical, political act—an act of defiance against those who try to marginalize and “other” us. And Jane took the whole thing in wearing a fabulous pink tutu that was all the rage with the gay men who cheered every time they saw her.

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Jane getting ALL the attention (and beads) at St Pete Pride

But our social consciousness can’t just be limited to LGBTQ issues. The Summer of 2016 drove that home for me. That summer was notable for two reasons: we’d just moved to Atlanta from suburban Tampa, Florida and two black men died at the hands of the police in less than a week. I did the only thing I could do. I marched through the streets of Atlanta, holding a sign that read “Black Lives Matter,” wondering how in 2016 that could be a controversial statement. When she found out I was going to march, Jane wanted to go with me. But I was afraid. The night before the march, officers had been gunned down in Dallas. I didn’t know if the protests would turn violent—not at the hands of the protesters but at the hands of folks insisting that black lives don’t matter. But then I got to the march. Entire African American families had turned out to march. Together. Little kids on shoulders. Moms chanting with their kids. Those kids were there because their lives were on the line. Who was I to choose to shield my child from a reality that children of color face every day? That march transformed me.

Now, when I march, Jane marches, too. Here are the 4 reasons that I took my 7 year old to March for Our Lives Atlanta:

Jane needs to witness both the beauty and pain in the world. Yes, even at 7 years old. Celebrating beauty with kids is easy: smiling faces in Instagram photos, impromptu dance parties, birthday cupcakes at school. Talking about suffering is more difficult to navigate. White Americans have created a mythology of childhood innocence, which is based in our own privilege–and that works against children of color. But, if we stay present our surroundings, we’re presented with countless opportunities to talk with kids–in an age-appropriate way–about the hard stuff. Heck, Disney gives us an opportunity to talk about death after the opening of almost every animated feature.

During the Summer of 2016, I did some serious mental gymnastics trying to explain to Jane how black men died at the hands of police. I didn’t want her to fear police officers. I understand that there are good police officers. But I needed her to know that, for people of color, the police aren’t always helpers. That reality has to drive Jane’s choices when she’s with her friends of color. That need to be real, the knowledge that I can’t put a child of color at risk because I need to keep my child’s innocence intact, won out. Since then, we’ve talked about the hard things. Even school shootings. Knowledge hasn’t broken her spirit. But she is more aware of injustice. And she’s even more prone to compassion. We march so Jane can bear witness to loss and fear alongside the deep sense of hope and power that comes from marching with 30,000+ likeminded souls.

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Protect Kids, Not Guns

Jane deserves to find her own voice. My generation created a world in which lockdown drills are the norm—like tornado drills, except school shootings are a disaster of our own making. Shortly after the MSD shooting, I sat in a meeting where my daughter’s Principal explained active shooter protocol. Here’s the wrenching truth: during a lockdown, the classroom doors are locked. Teachers are instructed not to open the doors until the all clear is given. If a child is out of the classroom—in the bathroom, in the library, walking down the hallway—they will not be able to get back in. Let that sink in for a minute. In a lockdown, Jane could be left alone. Totally alone to fend for herself.

I sat in stunned silence during this meeting, trying to hold it together. Then the dread crept in. Because I knew that I couldn’t put off it off any longer: I had to talk to my 7 year old about active shooter protocol. It doesn’t matter that, statistically, it’s unlikely to happen in her school. That statistic didn’t protect the kids at Sandy Hook or Marjory Stoneman Douglas. But even if the worst never happens (and I pray, like every parent, that it doesn’t), I didn’t want her to be completely unprepared for her first active shooter drill and be alone and afraid. Even during a practice drill, that thought was more than I could bear.

Jane and I talked about what lockdown meant. I told her what to do if she was away from her classroom. She cried, while I tried valiantly not to. No matter how age-appropriate the conversation, the idea of a stranger coming into Jane’s school is just plain terrifying to her. I held her while she cried. We talked about the unlikelihood of a shooting ever happening at her school. We’re just being prepared, I reminded her. I also took the opportunity to praise her ability to feel things and let them go. Nothing was helping.

Then, out of sheer desperation, I offered: “You know, these kids from Parkland, they’re planning a march.” She perked up a bit. I continued, “They want to tell people that they don’t want guns to be easy to get anymore.”

“Like gun control?” she responded. I forget the kid is always listening.

“Yes, like gun control. And they’re going to march and tell the world that being scared at school isn’t okay.”

She looked me dead in the eye. “I want to go to that march, too.”

And, so, we did. We marched to give Jane a voice about the violence that impacts her world. We marched so that she could say, loudly, “Not One More.”

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Jane being Jane–wearing rainbows & speaking out for gun control

Jane should see first-hand the power of the people. Kids sometimes feel powerless. The world is big. They are small. And the systems that oppress people feel monolithic. Our government officials seem to be bought and sold by the likes of the NRA. Our president calls people names and bullies anyone who stands up against him. Truthfully, sometimes I feel powerless against this huge mess we’ve created.

But people in action have power. Together, all of us—kids, too–can fight our way towards justice. When people unite, big things can happen. After yet another school shooting, the kids from Parkland refused to let this be our norm. They organized with other gun control activists (namely, people of color who’ve been doing this work for years and years) to say #NeverAgain and #NotOneMore. And hundreds of thousands of people turned up all over the country. Even though they’d like to, politicians can’t ignore these kids anymore.

Together we can do big things. I wish I’d know that when I was 7. And I’m thankful that my daughter gets to witness the power of the people now. The leadership of the kids from Parkland and the myriad of black activists that are—and have been–speaking out against gun violence in communities all across the nation are awe-inspiring. They remind me what our democracy can look like. And, as we chanted “Tell me what democracy looks like. THIS is what democracy looks like” while we marched, Jane learned how powerful a people, united, can be.

Jane needs to know how many people care. She’s 7. What she knows is complex yet breath-takingly simple: 17 people went to school one day and never came back. She knows that she is afraid. She hears murmurs from other kids. She imagines what it would be like for a stranger to be in her school. And then she stops. She doesn’t know what to imagine next. For that, I’m grateful. Jane needs to see that adults—the people who are supposed to look out for her—do care that she is frightened. And we plan to do something about it. We will march. We will vote. We will not let up until things change. But most of all, what I want her to know is that other kids care enough to make sure that this never, ever happens in her school. That is powerful. For her and for me.

Grumpitude & Grace

We’ve entered the season of snark with Jane. And, dear God, it is wearing me down.

The morning light hadn’t quite made its way into my daughter’s room yet. Instead, her green bug nightlight cast a soft glow across her pink fuzzy rug. I stepped carefully, to avoid being impaled by a stray Lego or a doll earring that had escaped her tidying up efforts. I crept closer to her loft and whispered up to her. “Jane.” Only soft snores in reply. She lay hidden somewhere underneath her unicorn dream tent and her fluffy comforter. “Jane!” I stage whispered, gently touching what was likely her foot. Could have been a stuffed bunny, though. These things become difficult to decipher from 2 feet below the edge of her bed.

Finally, she stirred. A little groan escaped from underneath the covers. “Good morning,” I chirped, and immediately regretted my overt chiperness. Nobody needs to be bowled down by cheer on a Monday morning before they’ve even opened their eyes. I toned it down and tried again. “Morning, bear. It’s 6:30. Want to get up and make your lunch?”

My uncannily self-sufficient seven year old makes her own lunch every day. I’ve ceased being amazed by this (although I didn’t make my own lunch until high school). It’s just who she is. She enjoys independence. And she’s proven herself responsible enough that I don’t need to hover over her. Sure, occasionally she’s headed off to school without a fruit or a vegetable gracing her lunchbox. But that’s not the norm. Typically, she at least attempts nutritional balance. Her hatred of the cafeteria’s food fuels her motivation. But, if she doesn’t get up early enough to make lunch, well it’s cafeteria mystery food for her.

When I didn’t hear a response from the top of the loft, I started backing slowly out of her room. Typically, Jane pops out of bed. She loves mornings. She’s one of those kids that wakes up at 6 a.m. even on the weekend. But not the past week or so. Twice last week, she ran into school just as the tardy bell rang. Being late makes her grumpy. In this way, and so many others if I’m honest, she’s just like me. This child is incapable of being rushed. Truly, the faster I try to coax her to move, the more I swear time begins to move backward. It was an effort to avoid this unpleasantness that drove me into her room at 6:30 in the morning in the first place. But when she didn’t exclaim, “Mommy! Good morning!” first thing, I knew my morning was about to go really wrong.

I made it back out to the dining room table, sat down with my book, and was sipping coffee before Captain Gloom appeared in the doorway. My face almost melted off from the heat of her scowl.

“Hey, buddy. What’s up?”

More scowling. “WHY did someone turn off my white noise?”

I looked at my kid, hair looking like something might still be nesting in it, eyes narrowed to slits in a combination of sleepiness and grumpiness, and I knew I needed to tread lightly. In my most neutral, yet comforting voice—well, the best one I could muster before I’d even finished my first cup of coffee—I tried reason, “I don’t think anyone turned it off love, I think…”

Apparently, thinking was a big mistake. Because my thinking made her stomp past me and into the kitchen. Now it was my turn to practice some deep breathing. I looked down at my book, willing myself to concentrate. But all the yelling that I wanted to do about her bad attitude was bouncing around in my head, crowding out the words on the page.

We’ve entered the season of snark with Jane. And, dear God, it is wearing me down.

Jane usually feels things intensely and lets them go. She can be happy, sad, then happy again in the time it takes me to finish a latte. But lately she’s been broodier. She rolls her eyes so hard that I feel sure they’re going to get stuck somewhere up in her head. She stomps off. And she holds on to these moods for a while, picking at her feelings, crying about things that are over and done—or at least they would’ve been over and done a few weeks ago. But now, we brood.

As I tried to maintain my composure in the dining room, I heard muffled sobs coming from the kitchen. I walked over, accompanied by the dog who looked confused, too. “Buddy, what is wrong?” Through tears, she shared her exquisite agony over awaking to the absence of white noise.

Seriously?

Look, I try to be understanding. And I’m sure that her tears were not actually about white noise. Maybe she felt disrespected because she thought we’d touched her things. Maybe she felt out-of-control because her morning didn’t start precisely the way she thought it would. Kids are super-complex little beings. I totally get that. But I get that a lot more once I’ve had enough caffeine to function.

“Jane, you’re going to have to let go of the white noise thing. Okay?”

“Can I have a hug?” she responded, her voice small and muffled through tears and all that hair that was still a wild mess atop her head.

I pulled her into a hug. I felt her relax a little. “Can you come in here with me while I make my lunch?” she asked.

I felt my heart catch a little. “No,” I said, quietly. “I got up early to take care of some things. I’m going to do those things now.”

Even as I was claiming my right to my own personhood, to be able to control the outcome of my morning even in the face of her meltdown, I felt guilty. Maybe I should drop everything to be there for whatever it was she was struggling through. But that isn’t really love. That’s servitude. There are times my world stops for her. But part of my job as her mother is to teach her what she can reasonably expect from people she loves. She can expect grace. We’ve been known to completely call a do-over on our morning and start again from scratch. She can expect understanding. Everyone has a bad day. Everyone gets grumpy. But she can’t expect people she loves to be her emotional punching bag. Being Jane’s mom uniquely qualifies me to be her safe space. But for that to work, like any relationship, we have to have boundaries. By not rearranging my morning for her grumpitude, I set my boundaries. Clearly.

And the world did not end. She dried her tears. She made her lunch, just like always. She even found time to snuggle with the dog (in the dog’s crate—but that’s another story for another day). By the time we left to walk to school, Jane was talking and laughing, anticipating her day ahead.

Parenting is about love, boundaries, messy hair, and redeemed mornings. And about a helluva lot of grace.

 

 

Chester and Mr. Pips

Chester grabbed Mr. Pips and headed toward the front door. He’d had just enough of Mommy’s sighing and the baby’s squawking. He wanted things to be like they used to be. He wanted someone to be interested in his stories again. His wonderful, magical stories full of fierce and beautiful creatures and brilliantly brave heroes (who, admittedly, always looked and acted a bit like Chester himself). Now Chester sighed. This new baby had ruined everything. Mr. Pips gazed at Chester sympathetically, and he gave the old, battered stuff bunny a squeeze. 

Chester grabbed Mr. Pips and headed toward the front door. He’d had just enough of Mommy’s sighing and the baby’s squawking. He wanted things to be like they used to be. He wanted someone to be interested in his stories again. His wonderful, magical stories full of fierce and beautiful creatures and brilliantly brave heroes (who, admittedly, always looked and acted a bit like Chester himself). Now Chester sighed. This new baby had ruined everything. Mr. Pips gazed at Chester sympathetically, and he gave the old, battered stuffed bunny a squeeze.

“Never you mind, Mr. Pips!” Chester said, forcing a bit of cheer into his voice. “We’ll go out and make our own great adventure.”

Chester drug Mr. Pips through the mud that spread out gooily beyond the front mat. Mr. Pips was always such a sport about getting dirty. Chester pushed his glasses up on his nose (they were always sliding down. Such a bother) and looked around for the most perfect place for imagination and magic. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be such a place in his front yard. Chester and Mr. Pips did, however, finally settle on place that lay between the shrubbery and the house. It was familiar and shady. Besides, Chester almost always closed his eyes when he was creating an epic adventure. It helped him see into his imagination better, like a telescope into his mind.

Chester lay down on the damp ground and propped Mr. Pips up on his chest. “Now, Mr. Pips,” he began, “did I ever tell you about the time I rode a Sparkle-Horned-Rainbow-Spotted-Cinder-Dragon through a storm of stars? That was an epic adventure, for sure…”

Raising a Kid Who Sees (and Celebrates) Color

Our daughter’s start in the world was less than traditional–conceived with donor sperm and born to lesbian parents. Then, when Jane was 4, her Bobby (Jane’s non-biological parent), transitioned from female to male. Que the crash course in gender, acceptance, and celebrating who we are—even if who we are makes us a little different. 

 

Our daughter’s start in the world was less than traditional–conceived with donor sperm and born to lesbian parents. Then, when Jane was 4, her Bobby (Jane’s non-biological parent), transitioned from female to male. Que the crash course in genderacceptance, and celebrating who we are—even if who we are makes us a little different.

Teaching Jane about diversity hasn’t been without challenges. Take, for instance, the day we were walking through our neighborhood, admiring the pride flags fluttering in the breeze. “Do we know anyone that’s gay?” she asked earnestly. Um…

So, we started back at square one about what being gay means, what being trans means, and what it means to identify as queer. Just a typical, everyday conversation with the 7 year old. As laborious as it can be to explain concepts like gender and sexual orientation to a very curious and analytical kid, I’m grateful that she asks questions (and asks, and asks, and asks…) until I offer up a nugget of truth that resonates with her. I want to help her understand and connect with the world whenever I can. Even if that means I’m stuck in a never-ending round of 21 Questions.

Moving into a Broader World-View

The open, frank way that we dealt with her Bobby’s transition has bled into the way our family discusses almost everything. No question is off limits. Which is good, because our move from suburban Tampa, Florida, to intown Atlanta during Jane’s fifth year of life led to A LOT of questions.

Moving from the suburbs to a markedly more urban area looks and feels different. We no longer have to take the car everywhere. Transit is an option. So is walking (which I do a lot more of than Jane would prefer). We can see the Atlanta skyline from our neighborhood. And, perhaps most notably, we left an almost entirely white suburb and moved to Atlanta, which has a rich Civil Rights history and a vibrant black population.

We live in Southeast Atlanta; it’s not uncommon for us to walk into a restaurant and be one of only a handful of white people. This is different—for us and for her. And we never hesitated to say so.

We also identified that feeling of “differentness” as something black people experience more often, as they navigate predominantly white spaces that insist on assimilation. I mean, that was the idea, but the actual wording was more like: “How would you feel if people looked at you funny because you looked different than they do?”

Her empathy radar went off. “Bad,” she said, looking puzzled and a bit put out.

“And what if they felt that way just because you had brown skin?”

Now she was mad: “That’s stupid,” she sputtered.

I saved the lecture about calling things stupid for another day. Because racism is stupid. Sometimes you just have to call it like you see it.

Living Life in Vivid Colorand Picking Your Battles

My generation often likes to claim “colorblindness.” But studies show that kids notice racial differences early on. They also quickly identify things we refuse to talk about or name as “bad.” When we wanted to avoid negative, shameful feelings around her Bobby’s transition, we gave Jane the language to discuss it. When we enrolled Jane in our local public school, which is both racially and economically diverse, we took a similar approach. We wanted her to celebrate the diversity of her school, not ignore it. So we never shied away from her copious observations about, well, everything.

For example, Jane’s always been quick to notice and admire different hairstyles, especially if they include braids, bright hair bows or beads that clickity-clack. She noticed and started talking about other kids’ hair long before she seemed to notice their skin color. In Kindergarten, she asked me to buy hair ties to go in the top and bottom of her two braids, like her black friends. While we picked out new hair ties with brightly colored, interlocking balls, she chattered on about who has super-cool braids and pretty beads.

Next came the most obvious request ever: she wanted braids like her friends at school. I felt panicked for a minute—because cultural appropriation. But I circumvented that whole conversation by reminding her that she becomes a teary mess in the time it takes me to pull her hair back into ONE ponytail. Which, incidentally, takes no longer than 120 seconds. Cool braids take intense fortitude and patience, I informed her. One day, she and I will talk about cultural appropriation and the problem with being white and “borrowing” bits of black culture while systemic racism and white supremacy run rampant. But, right now, she’s 7. Cultural appropriation is a bit nuanced. Instead, we celebrate the joyous noise hair beads make when they clickity-clack together—and how amazingly cool it is to enjoy that at school every day.

Confronting Racism Wherever It Crops Up

Raising a kid to think critically sometimes means even the easy things aren’t so easy anymore. Take, for example, reading Little House on the Prairie. I figured Jane and I would read the books together, then watch the television show –a nostalgic passing on of tradition between mother and daughter.

But these things so rarely go as planned.

Seems I’d forgotten a little bit of the story. Like when Laura and her family move to “Indian country.” When I ran across the reference to Indian country, I stopped, reminded Jane that while people used to refer to Native Americans as Indians, we know better and do better now. Because Jane’s a curious kid, I anticipated she’d have more questions.

She did not disappoint: “Why did they go into the country if it was Indian Country?”

Ah, yes. The perfect late afternoon conversation: manifest destiny. But, because we’d already talked about judging people on the color of their skin—and about some white people thinking they are better simply because they are white—it was relatively easy to explain that, white people thought they deserved the land the Indians were on.

“But why?”

I won’t lie—I wondered whether it wouldn’t just be easier to dismiss the book as racist and move on. But if I did that, wouldn’t that be teaching her to just ignore racism instead of confronting it?

I kept reading Jane Little House on the Prairie because I don’t want her to think that when she encounters ideas that run counter to her own, she should dismiss them without critical thought. Turns out, scholars support the need for critical inquiry (even in kids’ lit): “…racism exists in the world. Children are going to encounter it, and a safer way to learn how to encounter it is via fiction. If you’re reading a racist children’s book with a child, you can help them read it critically, you can help them learn that it’s okay to be angry at a book.”

Topics like white supremacy and manifest destiny are big topics. But the principles that underlie them are accessible to kids. They see injustice unfold around them. But they often don’t have the words to give voice to what they see. Talking about racism and injustice is hard work. But it’s work worth doing.

 

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash