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.

Now, What Happened Again?

Sometime around 6th grade or so, I got ahold of The Diary of Anne Frank. And suddenly, my world was awash in both the goodness and insight of a 13 year old European Jewish girl from forty years ago and the abject horror that human nature can unleash.

Both. At the very same time.

I, a WASPy eleven year-old living in the Florida suburbs, was completely enchanted by Anne’s urbaneness (she was a German girl living in Amsterdam–I couldn’t fathom that I’d ever visit either place) and her energetic and observant nature. I desperately wanted to be her friend. Or to be like her. Eleven is a hard, confusing age and reading Anne’s diary let me feel close to someone–another kid–that I admired and looked up to.

And then they killed her.

I was bereft.

Of course I knew what would happen when I picked up the book. I knew, intellectually, about the Holocaust. We’d covered the facts and figures–the loss of life, the utter devastation, the depravity of human nature–which are simply staggering. But numbers don’t speak to me like they speak to some people.

I didn’t understand what happened until I picked up The Diary of Anne Frank. And once you know–on a deep, soul level–the beauty and horror that occupy this life side by side, you can’t unknow.

I was obsessed.

I read and read and read. Every time I went to the library, I grabbed a book about the Holocaust. My mother tittered about my obsession. But I had so many questions. How could this have happened? I felt such loss. I loved Anne. And that love for her pushed me to examine the very hardest truths about life.

Stories change everything.

Anne Frank has been the gateway for reaching and teaching children about hope, strength of character, the destruction wrought by hatred, and the horror of war since the late 1940s. She made me better because she made me curious.

Stories make my daughter, Jane, curious, too. Some stories I wish I didn’t have to tell her, though. Like the story of what happened to George Floyd.

She listened quietly. I think she thought I was making it up at first. Because who puts their knee on someone’s neck and leaves it there as they scream “I can’t breathe!”? In Jane’s consciousness as a 9 year old, that doesn’t seem possible. It seems so absurd. Why would he do that?! she asked. I’ve never seen that look on her face before. That disbelief.

Because George Floyd was black.

That’s the answer I gave my 9 year old for why George Floyd died. Because that’s the truth.

We live in Southeast Atlanta. Jane is constantly surrounded by black excellence, black joy, black friends, black teachers and leaders all the time. That is a gift we gave her by moving here. She hears and sees the stories of black kids all the time–living, dreaming, laughing, just being. So when we talk with her about racism, she has an emotional understanding that I couldn’t have fathomed at her age–because she has something to connect with.

She can extrapolate. She knows her friends’ stories. And she knows the story of George Floyd. And that look of utter disbelief I got from her–it was about knowing how quickly that could become the story of someone she knows, someone she loves. It was the horror of knowing that, in this country, we allow people to die with someone’s knee on their neck for nothing more that being black.

She asks about George Floyd’s story. And Ahmaud Arbery’s. And Breonna Taylor’s. Over and over again.

So I tell her. Again.

She’s trying to make sense of something utterly senseless. She’s a bit obsessed. She’s been confronted with the horror of the war against blackness in this country.

And now that she knows their stories, she can never unknow them. Because stories change everything.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

How Does She Manage This Stuff?

When I arrive back home from my daily sojourn to deliver books, Jane meets me in the kitchen to regale me with tales from her day. Or to stand there repeatedly asking what we’re having for dinner. Either way.

Earlier this week, she proudly announced that she’d struck a deal with her father wherein he was renting a twin mattress for the office from her.

If you don’t live in this family, I’m sure that could be confusing as hell, so I’ll break it down real quick: Simon snores. Like a chainsaw. We’ve tried various remedies and fixes. And still. Because I am not some sort of demigod, I cannot sleep through that blessed racket. We finally landed on a compromise in which we go to bed together and then, when it’s all Chainsaw City up in here, I wake him and he migrates to a lovely little set-up in the office.

It took me years to admit to myself that our marriage would not dissolve like Kool-aid powder in water if we slept in separate spaces. And that I have to have good sleep to function. And that the desire to smother him with a pillow would be a hell of a lot less if it didn’t sound like I was sleeping in a construction zone.

He ordered a new mattress for the office. He deserves optimal sleep, too. But shipping was going to take a few days, so he asked Jane if he could borrow the twin mattress on her loft (where she isn’t even sleeping right now). For a couple days until his nifty new hybrid spring/memory foam mattress arrived.

Earlier during this endless quarantine, Jane discovered the joy in rearranging her room on the daily. She also likes to ask if she can have pretty much anything her father or I could actually lay claim to in this house. What do I mean? Well. she asked me if she could have the master bedroom the other day. I kid you not.

A few weeks ago, she asked if she could move Couch Bed from the office into her room. Couch Bed is precisely what it sounds like: a squishy & utilitarian little Transformer that flips up to be a couch during the day & a bed at night. Nifty.

Obviously, we aren’t using it for guests right now (hello, pandemic), so sure. Why not?

Now Jane’s got her own pseudo-apartment in our house. A couch during the day. A loft with a desk for reading and “working.” A flipped down queen-size bed at night. She even has a waiting area, where she suggested I could sit on a bean bad, read a magazine, and wait to speak to her.

Good Lord.

Back to the mattress…

When Simon asked her to borrow it, she hemmed and hawed. I rolled my eyes so far back in my head they almost got stuck there. Because (FOR REAL, GIRL) share. But I let it be.

And I come home and now she’s a mattress landlord.

To be fair, Simon offered to pay her to borrow said mattress. And Jane is a shrewd money manager. She’s always saving to buy something. I don’t doubt that, if she’d had access to the stock market, she would’ve had an impressive portfolio to concern herself with when the pandemic hit. But, alas, she’s NINE, so her chief concern is how to squeeze her parents for more cash.

When Simon asked her what a fair price would be, she suggested $10 a day.

He countered with a much more reasonable $3 per day rate.

She deliberated for a while. Until he reminded her that, if she waited too long, Mommy would come home and just take the mattress and move it to the office. And she’d get nothing.

It’s so good to be really seen by your people, you know? Because hell yes, that’s what I would’ve done.

So, Jane’s relaying this tale rather nonchalantly, and she says, “So, I get 8 dollars for lending him the mattress until Friday. It was supposed to by $9.” Here she shrugs, wrinkles up her little nose, and says, “I don’t know what happened there.”

Oh, girl, I don’t know what happened there, either.

Ruin

Growing up, our family folklore contained a whole mess of cautionary tales against being ruined. The word got repeated so often, I can still hear its South Georgia pull in my head, feel the loss behind it.

Ruination focused on one thing: loss and the inability to move past it, to eventually be able to pull something new out of the ashes. It centered on change: the visceral fear that an unexpected, unforeseen act could happen–and then only utter devastation would remain.

To this day, my deepest fears involve ruining an event. Which is a bit ironic (or maybe just silly–since Alanis Morsette wrote a whole song using “ironic” completely wrong, I have my own fears about wrangling that word into my writing), since by virtue of being an alcoholic in recovery, I can tell you I have ruined plenty of events. Most memorably: the Thanksgiving I showed up at my grandmother’s still drunk(ish) and high(ish) from the night before and on the cusp of a hangover so bad that I could hardly lift my head to eat dinner. I feel like “ruined” works there.

But the stories repeated over and over in my childhood weren’t about events. They were about people. And that kind of thing gets lodged in your psyche: the fear that you might do something so awful it would cause someone to never be the same (a phrased used & understood to mean ruined).

Good Lord Almighty.

I’m all here for taking responsibility for my own actions. But I am not–cannot be–responsible for other folks’ reaction to life events.

More plainly put: I’ve stopped believing people can be ruined.

And, on an even more, practical day-to-day level, I am 100% giving up the fear that I’m gonna ruin anything. Because that fear of ruin… I can see it for what it always was: a desire on the part of the teller to control events, to manipulate outcomes, to force folks into predicability. I’m not even casting aspersions here. It’s human nature to want to whittle life down into the precise outcome we want. But it stifles other people, steals away their freedom of choice. Ruin forces a fear that prohibits folks from making honest-to-God simple mistakes–or making choices that honor the life they’re trying to create, even if other folks take umbrage with it.

Hell no.

Life is too big, too rich for that.

Every day brings new possibilities and new choices. Slowly, I’m letting go of the fear that making the choices that feed and protect my soul, that honor the deep work that I’m doing to be whole and healthy, will ruin anything.

That’s bullshit.

What will happen, in the natural course of things, is that I’ll make some choices that present difficult feelings for other people. That’s okay. What they do with those feelings is their work, not mine.

Everyone has their own work to do. I won’t ruin that for them.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Quarantine is…

new, punk-rock haircuts. Because, why not?

a whole lot of Little Debbies. (Literally. New day, new Debbie.)

worrying about folks who play like they’re oblivious to the pandemic.

walking the dog, running, and taking a bike ride. All in the same morning.

deep, real grief at the loss of physical connection.

watching our 9 year old entertain herself by “chickening.” (It’s real weird. Looks and sounds about like an asthmatic chicken in a tizzy. It’s a special time, y’all.)

getting angry when folks can’t seem to measure 6 feet properly (I’ve got zero spacial orientation, but I know if my arm can brush yours, you sure aren’t 6 feet from me).

wanting Zestos ice cream so bad I can imagine-taste it.

buying shirts from our favorite ATL places in the hopes that they’ll still be here when this is over.

wondering if this is endless. Like eternity. Or the television run of Law & Order.

laughing at the itty bitty bunch of grapes we got in our grocery delivery (If we were field mice, they might’ve been enough. But only if we were field mice that didn’t really care for grapes that much anyway.)

reading books just because I want to–no agenda, no timeline, just me & the book. (the best kind of bliss)

quitting washing my hair–because when else will I have the opportunity to see what happens?

a month in, wishing I’d never taken the opportunity to see what happens.

wondering why wearing a mask around your neck ever feels like the right thing to do?

having coffee each morning with my guy and knowing we don’t have anywhere to be. And being grateful (mostly).

listening to our kid lay out the backstory for her favorite cats in the Warrior Cats series. It’s kind of epic. And weird. And she knows a helluva lot about those damn cats.

finally embracing FaceTime. (But I’m still 10 kinds of awkward on a video call)

crying when our daughter cries about missing her friends.

crying because I miss my best friend.

crying because.

laughing. More often than I cry.

time to think, to examine, to unearth who I want to be.

meditation, and yoga, and deep breaths.

gratitude that I really like these 2 that I live with.

gratitude that I’m alive.

time.

and more Little Debbies.

Is There An “Easy” Setting for this Parenting Game?

My kid is easy to parent.

Mostly.

I guess what’s more accurate is that she’s kind of an old soul. And her emotional intelligence is spot on. So it doesn’t take a lot of explaining to get her to see someone else’s point of view or to get her to make an empathic leap.

But, let me tell you, when she digs in she can be just as stubborn, just as unlikely to admit she’s wrong as I am. And really, who needs their own personality flaws flailing about in front of them? Not me, that’s for sure.

But damn, isn’t just what I’m getting out of this kid lately.

She’s struggling with second grade ending. She adores her teacher and her new school. Goodbyes are hard. And Jane loves routines. And now all that’s coming to a screeching halt. Which makes her teary and clingy.

And if being her mom was the only gig I had going (like, I don’t know, if the world wasn’t spinning around me and she was the only person in my orbit), I might be able to remember 100% of the time how difficult this time of year is for her. But there are other things going on, and I forget she’s emotionally a bit scruffed. I fuss at her for being whiny or clingy. Or I can’t understand why a benign suggestion (like going to bed a little early since the allergy meds she took were literally making her nod off into her fried rice at Doc Chey’s) meets with a wailfest.

She’s usually so together.

And, to be honest, I kind of count on it.

But, as her mom, it’s my job to be her soft place to land. Because really, what 8 year old has it together all the time? (Hell, what full-grown has it together all the time?) So, I spent the tail end of my Mother’s Day with her laying across me sobbing because I wouldn’t put together a 1,000 piece puzzle with her right then.

I let her cry. And tell me how awful her weekend was. I rubbed her back and nuzzled her head. And, even though nothing had changed, she felt better in the end. Because I was there. With her. Just being.

I hope I can always be that for her. That she’ll turn to me just as easily at 38 as she does at 8. Because loving her is a privilege. And its the most sacred way I spend my time.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Hey, Kiddo.

True confession time: I’d never read a graphic novel before Hey, Kiddo.  

I know.  

But, of course, the first graphic novel I grab is a memoir that tackles super-heavy stuff like addiction, loss, and belonging. Because tights and capes are overrated. 

I picked Hey, Kiddo specifically because it addresses addiction. I often wonder about how to talk to my own kid about recovery (I’ve been sober for 10 years). And I was eager to see if a graphic novel could stand up to the challenge of representing the ugly, heartbreaking side of having an active addict as a parent.  

It did. And it was brutal. 

But it was often hopeful. And funny.  

I loved Jarrett’s emotional journey toward finding his peace with his family as-is. Because, addiction or not, we all have to reckon with the family we’ve been dealt. We can embrace their idiosyncrasies, forgive their faults, own our part in the whole giant mess, and love them anyway…or not. We can create our own families with friends we collect along the way. And, no matter who we are or how we grew up, we can break the cycle of abuse, addiction, neglect.  

My ultimate takeaway (a pretty powerful one for teenagers reading this book): Your family contributes to who you are. They do not define you. They are part of your story. The beginning. Only you can decide what happens from there.  

Hey, Kiddo is not always a happy story. But it’s a real story. I respect that.  

Cool Mom

I saw a mom the other day cruising through the Atlanta streets with her brood, all elementary age and younger. She had on a tank top that said “Cool Mom.”

Huh.

I am not, and have never aspired to be, a cool mom.

As my own mom liked to say, “I am your mother. Not your little friend. It’s not my job to be your buddy.” I hated it when she said that. Really. I mean, why didn’t she want to be my friend?! But now, I get it. She was something so much greater than my friend….she was my MOM. Larger than life. I loved that woman more than anyone else in my world–even when I swore I hated her (I thought it was my honor-bound duty as a 13 year old to hate her. So dumb.) But I never, not once, mistook her for my friend.

I am a lot of things to Jane. And I know it. Right now, I still get to be her confidante. She wants to dress like me. She laments that her hair isn’t a hot, unbrushed mess like mine. But, still, I’m not cool. For the same reasons my mom didn’t want to be my friend.

It’s not cool to be strict. Or to hold her accountable. Or to insist on respect. It’s decidedly uncool to demand that she say “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” when she addresses me. But that’s what I do. I call her out when she’s impolite or hurts people’s feelings. I love her, and comfort her, and celebrate every day of her existence.

But I’m not cool. My exuberance isn’t cool. My dancing really isn’t cool. My constant questions about her life, her thoughts, her friends might not be cool either. I don’t know. And really, I don’t give a shit.

Because I don’t need to be cool. I’m her mom.

I thought about getting a “Strict AF Mom” tank top, but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Cool Mom.” So I guess I’ll have to stick to wearing my “Feminist. Sober. Killjoy.” shirt. That about sums it up, I think.

Gay Isn’t an Insult.

Some kid at school “insulted” my baby by calling her “gay.” And I swear, it lit me up… like I wanted to march down to that school and give that damn kid (and every adult in the vicinity of his life) a tongue-lashing he wouldn’t likely forget.

But instead, I took a few deep breaths to calm myself (being an adult involves so much RESPONSIBILITY and a thousand measured responses, when all you really wanna do is call some kid an asshat–but I digress). And then Jane and I started talking.

First up on the agenda: gently reminding Jane that “gay” isn’t an insult. Oh, I don’t doubt for a minute that this kid called her gay to hurt her feelings and to get under her skin. But … hello…. we go to Pride every year, where we celebrate being an LGBTQ family. Some of her very, very favorite adults in the world are two women MARRIED TO EACH OTHER. I swear, I didn’t yell at Jane. I wasn’t mad at her. But I was enraged that, despite all our living into our true selves, all our conversations about being who you are and celebrating that person fully, society has somehow managed to convince her that “gay” can be an insult.

I was mad because my heart was broken.

Statistically, at least one kid in Jane’s class is likely to be gay (even if they don’t know it yet). And, lately, gay kids are killing themselves at alarming rates. I could barely hold back tears when I thought about that gay kid–whoever they might be–pondering coming out one day, then flashing back to second grade when “gay” was hurled around as an insult.

What does that kind of memory do to a kid in crisis?

But what shook me most of all is that in our little liberal alcove of Atlanta, in Jane’s school where diversity is really celebrated, a homophobic “insult” was tossed at our kid–our kid who watched her Bobby transition, who has never seen either of her parents shy away from claiming a queer identity, who loves so many people who are gay–and it cut her to the core.

Because if it impacted her that deeply, what happens to the kids who don’t have adults that tell them being gay is okay? That it’s MORE than okay. That it’s something to celebrate.

What happens to those kids?

Pura Vida, Y’all

Because my best friend is an epic vacation planner, my family & I spent Spring Break in Costa Rica this year with 20 of our closest friends. Literally.

Playa Langosta, Tamarindo, Costa Rica


I could go on and on about this vacation. But that’s kind of reminiscent of the 1970s slide shows that over-enthusiastic travelers would share with their bored to tears friends.

Not cool, man. Not cool.

But I will share what’s been playing over and over in my mind. It’s something our tour guide/transport driver extraordinaire said about the Costa Rican people: They work enough to earn a living. And that’s it. No need to accumulate things. Or buy a bigger house. Or work overtime to climb the corporate ladder. Enough is actually the goal. Not more.

Nature cruise on the Palo Verde River

I guess I feel convicted by that, because it won’t get out of my head. I’ll let you in on a little secret: 7 times out of 10, I’m in a complete tailspin about money. I never, ever feel like we have enough. That scarcity mode of thinking is so toxic. But it’s hard to shake. I grew up in it. And, although we have always gotten by, Simon & I have experienced some pretty lean times.

But we’ve always had enough.

Now, back in the States, I’m considering my own consumerism. What do I have that’s extra? What does having enough mean to me? Have I ever really NOT had enough? Where does my privilege come play with my perceptions?

Recognizing enough, being grateful for enough, not striving for extra, sharing what I have… I am 100% convinced that this is the key to happiness.

This is what it looks like when you know you have enough. It’s bliss.

I know these things, and still… I forget them all the time. So, I’m soul-searching for the stuff that really matters to me. The stuff that is enough. The stuff that is joy and goodness and contentment.

Pura vida.