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.

Anxiety & Parenting (What a Fun Mix!)

I get real quippy about my anxiety sometimes. Because it’s easier to be glib and light-hearted about anxiety than to admit that sometimes it threatens to suck all the air (and joy) out of my world.

And, also…

I’m fortunate that, over the years, people (qualified, professional people) have given me tools to cope with my anxiety, to reign it in, to flourish in spite of it. Sometimes, it’s relegated to the dark recesses of my mind. And, sometimes, my anxiety lives much closer to the surface. Close enough to remind me what it felt like to exist under it’s really shitty, tyrannical rule.

Because, let’s face it: anxiety is an asshole.

And anxiety really likes to harp on one particular topic: Jane. Which is some unmitigated bullshit.

Parenting is hard enough as it is, without anxiety getting all irrational. But that’s what it does–plays on your darkest fears, destroys your peace of mind, robs you of your joy.

Unless you say, unequivocally, unwaveringly, NO.

When I was pregnant with Jane, I coexisted–decidedly unpeacefully–with the fear of stillbirth. I’d miscarried once. And it had taken us TWO years to conceive Jane (doctors visits, shots, blood draws, inseminations). And now I was absolutely terrified of losing her. My therapist knew these things. But she also believed something I didn’t–that I deserved joy. And that Jane deserved a mother who was ruled by love, not fear. She gave me this brilliant piece of advice that I’ve carried with me since:

“You are afraid of stillbirth. Then she’ll be born, and you’ll be afraid of SIDS, cancer, accidents… When will it stop? How are you ever going to feel the joy of being a parent, if you live in constant fear?”

And in that moment, it became clear as day to me: fear is the death of joy.

But she wasn’t finished yet: “Our children aren’t really ours. They are on their own journey, entrusted into our care. Our job is simply to help them grow toward who they were meant to be. The job of a parent is to start letting go the minute they are born. Because they are only loaned to us for a short time.”

Every time my anxiety tries to keep Jane locked down, without enough freedom, too close to me for her own independent nature, I remember that she isn’t mine. It would be tragic for my fears to impede her journey. Wildly unfair. And I won’t let it happen.

I’m letting Jane go on an adventure with one of her friends this coming weekend. And I’m hella anxious about it. Like my brain keeps screaming, “HOLY SHIT! I CAN’T LET HER DO THAT.” But I can. And I will. Because she deserves great adventures and joy. And so do I.

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” 

― Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Bad things happen every day in this world. I am not naive. But I also know that fearing pain and loss don’t keep them at bay. Instead, they take the joy out of the NOW. Which is all we really have, isn’t it?

So, I’m gonna suck-it-up-buttercup & let Jane have a big adventure with her buddy. I’ll feel the way I feel. And I’ll let that shit go. I’ll keep my anxiety in its own lane, and let Jane navigate the world free from its fetters.

She’s so very worth it.

Why do they call it “The Birds & Bees” talk? Way to make it even WEIRDER.

I want to control the narrative that my kid receives about sex. And I CERTAINLY don’t want her friends explaining it to her…

My (almost) 8 year old knows more about the female reproductive system and how babies are made than I knew when I started middle school. Let me tell you, NOT knowing about sex puts you at a distinct disadvantage in recess conversations. Because if your parents don’t tell you about sex, some kid is going to. And, most likely, they’ll get some pretty big parts of the equation completely wrong.

I want my daughter to understand her own body. I want her to know sex is not shameful. I want to give her knowledge.

And I have. Kind of.

In a theoretical sense, she knows how babies are made. Or, more accurately, she knows how SHE was made. She knows that making a baby requires a girl part (the egg) and a boy part (the sperm)–and that’s true no matter who is making the baby. But, she was conceived in a doctor’s office. While I looked up at star garland that had been placed along the ceiling for just such an occasion. But what she DOESN’T know is how the vast majority of babies are conceived.

And, you have to admit, compared to her conception story–where a doctor is strategically placing the sperm it has the very best chance of connecting with and fertilizing the egg–sex is just WEIRD.

I mean… come ON. A penis goes WHERE??? Can you imagine receiving this information as an 8 year old?

I can’t. Because no one ever talked to me plainly about any of this sex stuff. In fact, like so many other girls my age, my mother just handed me a book about sex, and the body, and puberty and told me I should report back with any questions. I grew up conservative Presbyterian. You can imagine that the Focus on the Family book she gave me wasn’t exactly sex-positive. It was homophobic, masturbation-shaming, abstinence preaching bullshit. But it shamed me into ever talking about or fully exploring my desires as a teenager. So, I guess mission accomplished?

I want something different for Jane. And that involves arming her with facts. Before the other kids try to “educate” her.

I think she’s gonna be pretty mad if I don’t explain the whole penis/vagina thing before someone else does. It’s a pretty big piece of the puzzle to leave out. But, wow, is that an odd conversation to instigate.

The other stuff has come so naturally. We want Jane to know her conception story. It’s an important part of who we are as a family–in part because we’re an LGBTQ family and in part because I just think people should fully understand their own story. So, telling her about the egg/sperm connection was easy. And, since she’s my constant sidekick and nothing gets by her, she asked about tampons at an early age & I told her what they were for. No one in this house is period-shaming. It’s just a thing that happens. No shame. No stigma.

But, you know, sometimes it takes more than one conversation for all the relevant info to sink in. The other day, I got my period and needed a fresh pair of underwear. So I shouted for Jane (who was standing right outside the bathroom door—because motherhood). She got me a pair… then she asked if I was okay (she was probably pondering why her perfectly capable mother seemed incapable of getting her own damn underwear. At least, that’s what I would have been thinking). I said all off-hand like, “Yeah, I’m just bleeding. NBD.”

Her eyes opened wide.

“It’s okay. I’m not hurt.”

She was still staring at me. “You are bleeding? From your VAGINA? Mommy, I’m not sure your vagina is supposed to do that.”

I laughed. Explained periods again. And we moved on. She’s still skeptical about the bleeding part. I mean, again, it IS kind of weird. In the way that the WHOLE human reproduction thing is weird. You should have seen her face when I explained how babies come OUT…

So, yeah, it’s time to explain all the weirdness of sex without making it, well, weird. Fingers crossed that the S-E-X conversation isn’t the first thing she brings up in therapy years from now…

Shhhh… (Rise and Shine)

I’ve got to get up before the sun to get some peace & quiet… and to enjoy a cup of coffee before the litany of questions begin.

My hair’s kind of all over the place lately. It’s growing out from a pixie cut. Which basically translates into chaos atop my head. But it’s managed chaos. And I kind of like it.

Unless I have to blow-dry it.

My hair is wavy. Unless I break out the blowdryer. Then it’s flat as a pancake. No… flatter. A crepe. It’s as flat as a crepe. And then I hate it and want to shave it off.

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So, obviously, I’ve got motivation to let it air dry. The GI Jane look is so 1997, you know?

Anyway, I asked my buddy, who has much curlier hair that is actually styled by a professional (my last haircut was almost a year ago), if she let’s her hair air dry even in the winter. She sure does. I think she saw my perplexed look–because it’s about 30 degrees in Atlanta in the mornings.

“Well,” she said slowly… “I wash my hair an hour before I leave the house. So it’s dry before I go to work.”

Ah, yes. Of course. Got it.

But I can’t do that.

Not because I am not up an hour before I leave the house. I am. In fact, I’m up TWO hours before we leave the house.

But…

I purposely get up before the sun so I can start my day the way I want to. I get up and read and meditate and prepare for the day before any of my people (even the dog) have stirred from their slumber. Well, at least that’s the plan. Sometimes, I swear Jane can smell me wake up. And then she’s up, too. But the very hope of having a moment to start my day, of having a cup of coffee without a soul asking me questions, that hope’s enough to drive me out of bed at 5:30 a.m.

And then, by 6, the circus has begun. And it’s a lovely circus. These are, in fact, my monkeys and my circus.

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But they’re distracting. And before I realize it, it’s 7:10. And my hair cannot handle another round of dry shampoo. Well, maybe it could, but we don’t really want to test that, do we?

But here’s the thing, no one can follow me into the shower. I mean, they could technically. But they won’t because they’ve got relatively good boundaries. And while Jane won’t follow me into the shower, the very sight of me with a book in hand makes her remember the 145,000 things she forgot to tell me. Even though she just saw me a moment ago and her only concern then was whether or not I remembered to buy her a Lunchable.

That’s one of a million things they don’t tell you about being a mom: You will not be able to get a minute to yourself. Not for the first 8 years at least. But, while I’m jockeying for just one moment alone, I’m also very conscious of the fact that, one day, I’ll long for this time when she both wanted and needed me. One day, I’ll have all the time alone I could ever want.

Which makes getting up at 5:30 a.m. just to get some peace & quiet seem not so bad.

 

 

Starting Over (Second Grade Edition)

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

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

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

Shit.

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

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

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

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

So, things were looking up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Convo Fail

Let’s just say that, after our Thanksgiving convo mishap this morning, I am VERY thankful that successful parenting doesn’t hinge on ONE conversation. Especially if it takes place in carline before I’ve had enough coffee.

Jane & I talk a lot. I mean that in the sense that we’re both superbly loquacious AND that we have lots of pretty cool conversations.

This morning, on the way to school, we were chatting about Dress for Success Day. She’s dressed as a teacher, although her first choice was scientist. Her Bobby & I failed her on that one–her lab coat and goggles are still languishing somewhere in storage. (We’re like 85% moved in, but both Simon & I are avoiding the storage unit like the plague. I’ve suggested just burning it to the ground instead of trying to weed through all that random/extraneous stuff, but Simon seemed to think that was a little extreme. Whatevs.) So, Jane opted to be a teacher, complete with a bun, glasses, an apple, and a name tag. Super cute.

Mornings are Jane’s best time of day. She’s optimistic, energetic, loving, and kind. Definitely a morning person (x 1billion). She had just finished listing things she was excited about (they are numerous), when I decided to jump in with, “Let’s chat about Thanksgiving for a sec.”

Now, by the time she’d paused for a breath and I got around to this topic, we’d just pulled into the morning carline. I rushed on, “You know, that stuff about the pilgrims and the Native Americans… it’s not really true. They weren’t friends.”

Puzzled silence. 

At this point, I’m not sure if she doesn’t remember this conversation from last year. Or if she doesn’t want a lecture about human rights first thing in the morning. Or if she just wonders why they lie about pilgrims at school. But something is amiss. Because she’s just kind of looking at me (I’ve turned my head around to have this conversation, because carline in a weird time warp in which time actually stands still).

Instead of realizing this is not the right time, or that I’m running up against disinterest, or any of the other things I could’ve realized, I pressed on. (It was early, y’all. I’d only had one cup of coffee)

“White settlers weren’t friends of the Native Americans. They wanted to take their land and send them away, not live in peace with them.”

Then… Wait for it….

“It would’ve been better if instead of helping the settlers, the Native Americans had just let them die.”

What the FUCK?!? Who says that???? Me, apparently. Me, first thing in the morning in carline.

Good Lord.

But, problems with my hasty/half-ass narrative aside, her response was perfect. She looked at me, sighed, and said, “Mommy, I’m going to get out of the car now, okay?”

How she kept from rolling her eyes all the way back into her head at me, I’ll never know. But she did. And, fortunately for me, talks about social. issues, race, and representation are ongoing in our house. And usually my timing isn’t completely sucktastic. So, I’ll get another stab at this in which I don’t suggest letting anyone die.

I’d always wondered, though, if I’d know if she was completely uninterested in what I was sharing with her. Turns out, yes. She knows how to be crystal clear.

Good on her.

 

Here’s a New York Times piece on the myth vs. reality of Thanksgiving. I’ll probably read this & a few other resources before embarking on this conversation again. And I’ll have another cup of coffee. Couldn’t hurt. Might help.