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.

Busy, busy, busy

I’m not a huge fan of being told what to do (that’s a tremendous understatement).

This is a for real problem.

The books we pick for book club at the bookstore that I own? I procrastinate reading them until the absolute last minute. Why? Because someone told me I had to read them.

Yep, even the ones I pick myself.

Told you it was a problem.

I mightily resist to-do lists. Calendars? Nope. Not gonna happen.

But my kid?

She loves a damn list. Grocery list. To-do list. School supply list.

All the lists all the time.

And she loves to be told what to do. Or–more accurately–she feels confident and secure when her entire day is scheduled out.

I would die, y’all.

But not Janiepants.

In fact, she flounders without a schedule. And it had been like hard-core, old-school summer vacation up in here since mid-April. Truth be told, even when she was still technically “in school” at the end of last school year, she’d get up, finish her homework by 6:30am, and have a whole day unfurling before her.

Which she always thinks she wants. But she doesn’t. Like, really, really doesn’t.

I mean, sure we had stuff that she was supposed to get done every day. It wasn’t total anarchy. She had an online checklist (I cringe at the thought). But somehow–magically–things would get checked off without actually getting done. Or she wouldn’t even bother to check them off–perhaps her dad & I weren’t super great at keeping track (we sucked at it).

But after months of lolling about aimlessly, this past weekend baby girl crossed a line.

I asked her to tidy, dust, and sweep her room.

And then the gates of hell opened.

There was screaming, and stomping, and throwing herself on her loft so hard it looked like the whole damn thing was going to fall down. It was such an epic fit that I kept getting the giggles. Because what the actual fuck, kid?!?

They are chores.

They will not hurt you.

She, obviously, felt otherwise.

Later, when her father and I were recounting the absolute burst of insanity that had unfolded in our otherwise relatively harmonious home, I had a stroke of brilliance: the kid needed to be busy. Like really, really busy. Zen monastery busy. Focused. Productive. Contributing to the greater good. And that need to work & have a purpose could be channeled into a much cleaner house.

Look, it’s not selfish. It’s just practical. Everyone’s a winner!

Now, literally every moment of Jane’s day from 8am to 5pm is scheduled out. She gets an hour and a half free time during the day. The remainder of the time is researching (we’re going to plant a garden), or playing guitar, learning Spanish, reading, doing yoga, creating a video for a Warrior Cats Club (it’s a thing), and–yep–cleaning.

Honestly, I was a little worried I had her over-scheduled. But yesterday, I came home at 5:30 to a happy kid, not that moody, aggravating, stompy human that had been holding us hostage with her increasingly simmering rage.

The kid just needed a purpose. Work that really meant something.

Don’t we all, really?

She’s just real, real lucky we live in the city. Otherwise, she would have found herself with a pet cow to milk every morning at 5am. It would’ve been the first thing on her list.

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.

Doing Hard Things

Somehow, I beguiled the 9 year old into taking a run with me yesterday.

Well, actually, it was more like a directive: Put on your running shoes. Do not lay on the floor and cry like last time. That will not work this time. Pull it together, Tina, and let’s go. (Yes, we totally call her Tina when she’s being obstinate. No, we don’t think it’ll take too much therapy for her to work through it.)

The thing is, Jane is a good runner–when she’s not flailing about and acting like she’s marching into Armageddon when I insist she tie on her shoes. And quarantine has forced us to work on a little concept over here we like to call you-are-nine-and-don’t-get-to-make-all-the-decisions-and-yes-I-AM-the-boss-of-you.

Catchy, right?

So, off we went. After I issued some threats (i.e. bedtime at 7pm if she started acting a fool on the run). Look, I’m not above threats. Especially on quarantine day one-million-seven-hundred-eighty-thousand. And I’ve wised up to her favorite strategy of resistance: doing what I say (technically), then making the whole damn experience so miserable that I wish I’d never made her do it in the first place.

Checkmate, Tina.

Atlanta is hilly. Which makes it beautiful. And makes running both harder and infinitely more interesting. We live at the bottom of a hill. So, runs don’t start out easy. But Jane made it up the hill loping like an antelope. She’s taken to running a bit like a muppet–maybe because her arms & legs have gotten really lanky? But it’s a little silly and incredibly endearing.

I’d strategically planned frequent stops on the run. And also, through subterfuge, trickery, and downright avoidance, managed not to tell her how far we were going (5K). Things went shockingly well for the first kilometer.

En route to kilometer #2 she may have yelled over her shoulder: “Mommy, STOP TALKING TO ME.”

YOWZA. Touchy, touchy.

But all was forgiven after we walked up a big hill versus running up it (see, I’m a benevolent dictator). And, blessedly, we’d hit a flat stretch and got to cruise along, chatting and just hanging out together for a bit.

It was uneventful and lovely… until we hit the two mile mark.

I don’t know when the last time you watched a small human begin to emotionally unravel was… but it’s not pretty.

Before we go any further, here’s a quick bit of background: Jane ran her first 5K with me when she was 7 years old. And we did a Girls on the Run 5K together last spring. Her PE coach at her first elementary school here in Atlanta pulled me aside specifically to talk about getting her into track because she’s a stellar runner. All that is only to say: I’d didn’t ask (wouldn’t ask) her to do something she wasn’t capable of. But running is HARD if you don’t do it frequently. And she’s dug her heels in recently and refused to run. So this was HARD.

I need to stop, she whined in my general direction.

Nope, you don’t. You’re okay. Let’s slow down. You can do this. Stay where your feet are and breathe.

I can’t.

You can.

And so it went for a while.

Then I look over and she’s starting to sniffle. Now, I’ll cop to the fact that (belatedly) at nine years old, the kid is honing her dramatic acting skills. And she’s learned that crying–when it seems genuine and not like a tantrum–can sometimes get her what she wants. So I was wary. But still… she broke my heart a little bit.

We pulled over to a shady little corner.

Buddy, what’s the matter? I pulled her close to me, she put her head on my shoulder and cried quietly.

It’s hard.

It is, I agreed. Because it really IS. But we can do hard things.

She nodded and continued to cry, leaning in for a minute. I waited a bit, kissed the top of her head, asked her if she was ready to finish. She nodded, and we were on our way.

But the whole way home I kept thinking that standing on a street corner deep in our neighborhood, sweaty and completely focused on the moment felt like an epiphany: Jane cried because something was hard. It was a pure expression of what she felt. She didn’t pry and twist that emotion until it came out sideways. It was honest. And transparent. And vulnerable. And I got to be there to experience that emotion with her–without trying to fix it, or reason with it, or in any way control it.

It was just the two of us together, in the moment, understanding that we CAN do hard things. But sometimes we need to cry about them, too.

She finished the 5K by the way. And she was wildly proud of herself. And she should be. Running is hard. Emotions are hard. Vulnerability is even harder.

But she’s a champ–one who can, in fact, do hard things.

I can see your pain, and it’s big. I also see your courage, and it’s bigger. You can do hard things.

Glennon Doyle

Spirit Guides & Spirit Warriors

When I was 26, deep in the throes of active addiction and hell-bent on my own destruction, I thought I was pregnant. It was more of a feeling than a thought. But, because I needed something to grab on to, something to stabilize my free-fall, I started daydreaming who this child would be.

Tellingly, I saw her as a four or five year old, not as an infant. Dark, inky black eyes, a mop of black hair, and skin the color of coffee with a dash of cream. In my visions, she was silent, knowing. Always calm, radiating an inner peace, an assurance that I’d never known.

In my mind, I created a being that resembled me–not at all. Not even a smidgen. Even down to the unlikeliness that my Irish looking self would produce a beautiful, South American looking child. I projected onto this “child” all the things I wanted for myself. Because I needed something to reach in an yank me from a fire that threatened to consume me. I obviously couldn’t be trusted to do that myself. After all, I was the one who’d set the fire.

Maybe my psyche had created a spirit guide. But it certainly hadn’t envisioned a flesh and blood child.

I received the blessing of one of those flesh-and-bloodchildren later on. When the Universe believed me to be ready. I had to wait a long time. And, let me tell you, that waiting was good for me. Because in that time, I got to get a foothold on the path to saving my own damn self.

When Jane arrived (after two years of trying to bring a child earthside), she looked just like me. That piercing moment of seeing myself reflected in a sweet, innocent babe disabused me of any notion that motherhood would save me. All the pain I’d experienced (self-inflicted and otherwise) came rushing forward. And I knew what was required of me: not to protect her from pain, but to teach her to navigate it with strength, assurance, and inner-knowing.

Which is a hell of a task. One that requires continual, deep psychic work–that I be whole and healthy. This mothering thing, apparently, wasn’t for the faint of heart.

Looking at my sweet newborn baby, I decided my first task was to make peace with my body. Most women probably cringe instinctively at the idea. Our society doesn’t exactly encourage a healthy dose of body-acceptance. But, the kid… she looks like me. If I don’t celebrate my own body… well, what am I saying about hers?

This process–which involved a lot of self-talk in front of a mirror and a pledge never to say anything negative about my body (which I’ve managed to adhere to for 9+ years)–was my first lesson that motherhood would not save me, but it sure as hell would hone me.

Our Jane showed up in this world with an off-the-charts emotional intelligence. She instinctively understands other people, can scope out what motivates them and intuit how to navigate their emotional landscape. None of this we taught her. But we do teach her, daily, how to use this skill with kindness and compassion, how to heal instead of hurt.

That spirit guide my bruised heart created when I was 26, I get to be that for my real, living child.

Sure, I totally fail sometimes. And since I like to do everything with flair–sometime I fail real big.

But I always return to teaching her compassion and love, for herself first and then for other people. I’m currently plotting ways to teach her about intuition (listening and caring for it) and lifecycles of emotion, relationships, and life itself.

Motherhood hasn’t been so much about protecting for me but about preparing. It’s about honesty, peeling back the veil of privilege, teaching her to approach the hard things head on–all the while knowing she’s strong enough, in touch enough with who she is to handle it (whatever it may be).

We all come equipped to be spirit warriors. But we need guides. I am grateful I get to be hers for now. It’s a both a blessing beyond measure and the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced.

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.

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?

Maybe My Words Get Lost In Space

Jane has developed a slight listening problem lately.

Don’t be alarmed. I’m sure it’s not permanent. Symptoms include not hearing me tell her to do something the first (second or third) time, an inability to cut that shit out when I tell her to, and a profound misunderstanding of what “put your stuff AWAY” means.

Actual footage of what’s going on in Jane’s mind while I’m talking to her.

As you can imagine, this new affliction she’s developed is trying for the whole family. For instance, “Jane put your boots & jean jacket away” might mean they they end up in the closet where they belong. OR they may move from the dining room to the center of her bedroom floor. Because obviously that’s where I wanted her to put them.

And if I tell her to, let’s say, make sure she wipes her face off before school–because she has ketchup from the day before smeared faintly across her cheek–she may or may not do it at all. Which I take kind of personally. Because now I’m that mom that sends her kid to school with day old food on her face that she’s apparently saving for later. In case there’s a run on ketchup in the cafeteria.

Oof.

But the one that is about to drive me bat shit is when I tell her to stop doing something–invariably something hella annoying that she KNOWS is annoying–and she does it just one more time before she stops.

The truth of it is that all this not listening bullshit, the doing whatever she wants whenever she wants, makes me feel disrespected. It makes me feel undervalued and under-appreciated. And it hurts my feelings.

Simon and I strategized a few times (as parents do) about how to deal with Jane’s Not-Listening-Itis. I, for instance, threatened to throw everything she leaves laying around the house into our front yard. She isn’t sure I’d do it (I would TOTALLY do it). I’ll keep you posted on how that one unfolds. Simon & I also outlined some effect-her-piggy-bank consequences for not tidying her room and bathroom before she leaves for school and before she goes to bed. (Money 100% talks for that kid)

But I went a little rogue yesterday on the way to school…and I just told her how all this not-listening business makes me feel. Honestly. Like she was a real person with capacity to feel empathy and to understand the nuances of a situation.

I copped to the fact that there are books ALL OVER THE HOUSE (apparently, that’s what happens when you hatch a scheme to open a used bookstore). But I also told her that I’m writing like I always do and prepping for the bookstore–which is a lot like having TWO jobs. I am trying the best I can–but I can’t always keep my (book) mess confined to one room.

And then I asked her if she was trying as hard as she could to be a helpful member of the family.

It took her less than a second to say no. Not guiltily. Not even sheepishly. Just straight up: No. And she told me she’d do better. Unprompted. Let’s be real: I both believe her and I don’t. Because she’s a kid. But I do believe she will try to do better.

And that’s enough. For now.