"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Sunday, June 17, 2018

PRIDE: Find Your Flag

It began, I suppose, a year ago. Almost to the day.

We were at the library and spotted a display near the Teen section...an area of mystery and intrigue to my three not-yet-teens. The display read "Beyond the Binary...Our Community is Beautiful" and was a large circle, filled with small, differently colored circles.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that the poster was in honor of Pride Month and the colorful circles each corresponded to a different gender identity label. I called Max over and, together, we read through each of the identity descriptions until he lit up. "That's me!" he exclaimed after I read the description for the "gender fluid" label. "I'm gender fluid! That's who I am!" He excitedly reached for the striped circle that corresponded to that particular label and, as he taped it onto the display, he noticed something incredible....

"There are two other people in our neighborhood who are JUST. LIKE. ME." 

I don't want to say the moment was life-changing for Max, he's always been confidently "MAX," but it confirmed something in him...and it made something abundantly clear to me: Labels are Important. 

Sometimes labels can limit or force a box around a person....but sometimes, labels can validate who you are and the fact that you are, indeed, part of a community. Labels can give a name to something that is bigger than you...to prove that you're not alone. In hindsight, that moment in the library may have changed Max's life. He certainly walked out of that library with a certain swagger in his step that day...a swagger he's maintained ever since.

On more than a couple of occasions this year, he came home from school and told a story of how he described himself to his friends, using the term "gender fluid" to explain how he felt on the inside, which was reflected in how he presents himself on the outside. There was one friend in particular who was especially interested in his gender fluid identity. "How do you feel today, Max?" she'd ask on a regular basis. "Are you feeling more like a girl or more like a boy?" He'd tell me that he giggled at the question and explained to her that it wasn't something that turned off and on, rather a changing feeling all the time. Fluid.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who is a teacher at our school, gifted me a bracelet she had made. She has made jewelry for a long time but recently began creating Pride bracelets for her daughter and her daughter's friends to hand out at Pride events they attend. She had started making rainbow-patterned bracelets, reminiscent of the familiar rainbow Pride flag, then learned of the transgender flag, so began making bracelets in a light blue, white, and pink pattern.

The bracelet she handed to me in the school cafeteria a few weeks ago is pink, white, purple, black, and blue. The gender fluid flag. 

"Does Max know he has a flag?" she asked as she handed me the bracelet, excited to share the news. I replied that it was familiar, remembering the colorful circles from the Beyond the Binary display at the library. I didn't think of it as a flag before, though, and couldn't wait to share it with Max. 

Over the next few days, my friend made several more bracelets to match mine, though smaller in size. Max was over the moon. He recognized the colors and pattern at once as the flag representing people who identify as gender fluid. He wore two to school one day shortly after he received them. He came home with only one. "I hope Ms. G doesn't mind," he said apologetically, "but I gave one of my bracelets to my friend." I assured him that Ms. G wouldn't mind at all, in fact, that I was sure she would be thrilled.

"I gave it to her because she understands me the most. I told her that when she wears it she can think of me and the word gender fluid. She can think about what it's like to be like me."

And that's when I taught Max about Allies. 

Since then, my friend has given Max more bracelets to gift to his best friends, his Allies. 

I don't think any of them realize how important this is. I don't think a single one of these adorable, sweet little kiddos understands how huge it is to a kid like Max to have Allies. I don't think Max has any idea how crucial it is that, at eight, he already has a word and he already has a community of support that stretches beyond his family.

These kids today? They're changing this world.

Thank god.

We went to our library this week. I peeked over by the Teen section to see if there was another Pride display. Sure enough, there was. Unbelievably, it was about finding your flag. 

Max knew exactly how he wanted to design his...

Max's Flag, top right
Lesson Learned:
Find your flag. Wear it. Share it. Be proud of it.

Also...celebrate the flags of others. Wear them. Be proud of them. Stand up for them. Be an Ally.

Happy Pride Month!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

we DID go home again

When it looked pretty certain that our house was going to sell sooner than anticipated, we started looking for short-term rentals in our area that would bridge the three-month gap until our new house is complete. The pickings were slim and none in our immediate area allowed for Jake. We considered our options but ultimately decided that yes, he IS a good dog, and not yet ready for the proverbial Better Place Farm. I'm KIDDING! Of course we weren't considering getting rid of Jake! We love that dumb bed-eating, wasp-spray-licking doggo!

My parents had been offering their home for weeks but, to be honest, we hadn't actually considered taking them up on it. You don't just show up on your parents' doorstep with your three kids, your Weimaraner, and every Lego set your kids have ever assembled (that couldn't be put in storage for fear of damage) and expect to be welcome to stay for three months.

But we did! Of course we were welcome and, once they convinced us that we wouldn't be imposing and we wouldn't be cramping their new-found empty nest lifestyle, we packed our bags (and gave each and every Lego construction the White Glove treatment, transporting each by hand) and Moved Back In With My Parents.

It's been really funny to see the reactions we get when we tell people about our new living situation. Most of my friends have given me the raised-eyebrow, eyes wide open, fake smile and said in a voice just a touch too high-pitched, "Well, I'm sure it will be fine! It's only temporary!" Others have flat out rolled their eyes and said, "Better you than me!" A few have asked, "Oh my god. How does Sam feel about that?!"

I smile and agree that, yes, it WILL be fine...we have some travel planned during the next three months, as do my parents, so we'll give each other breaks. I comment that Sam was, of course, a pretty big part of the decision-making process (and he gets along so well with my family) so he feels great about it...and then I think about my friends who think we're taking a huge risk by moving back in with my parents...as if we're going to end up not speaking to each other by the end of the summer or something...and I realize how lucky I am.

My parents are really easy to live with. Maybe it's because they raised eight kids in a modest 1960s split level, so noise, activity, and Kid Stuff strewn around don't seem to bother them. Maybe it's because they're both still so busy...logging a full work week at my brother's restaurant even in their "retirement," in addition to tackling home improvement projects on their days off. Maybe it's the fact that, with their youngest kids not long out of college, they never really settled too deeply in the empty nest stage of their lives. Maybe it's that, as parents of eight and grandparents of ten, their Mental Load is so full, they can only look but so far over any one person's shoulder at any given time before their emotional energy is pulled in a different direction....I never feel as though they're watching me as I parent or as I "adult" with any judgment or criticism. I know not all of my friends feel that way about their own relationships with their parents.

It's only been a bit over a week, but we feel really good and settled here. In some ways, it feels like we've been here forever. The kids are enjoying the neighborhood playground right outside the front door, where friends congregate in the afternoons and where they can blow off some steam after dinner. I'm enjoying the fact that we are comfortably living in two (and a half) bedrooms and one (and a half) bathroom. Soooooo much less to clean. There has been a hiccup though....we all kind of feel like we're on vacation here, like we left our real life responsibilities behind with our old house....I'm needing to consciously remind myself to check school folders and we've been known to scramble to finish homework the morning it's due.... Maybe it's not due to the fact that we're living here, though. Maybe we're just in the spring slump of trying to drag ourselves across the finish line of this school year.....I don't know if I've ever been more ready for June than I am this year.

In addition to feeling like I'm on vacation, I'm enjoying spending real life time with my parents. Even though they've lived in our neighborhood for the past couple of years, we haven't spent tons of time together. We're all busy! Here, we catch up in the afternoons, eat dinner together, sit around and watch Shark Tank after Max and Molly go to bed...Max and my mom spent an hour reading on the porch yesterday...independently but together. Last week, I relied on my mom's Doctor Mom skills in addition to her expertise as a former pediatric nurse, to coach me through Molly's scary high fever. My dad is already up when my kids wake up....and quick with the Dad Jokes all the live long day. My mom helped Evan gather materials for a school project (all of our crafty stuff is in storage) and my dad taught him how to change the blade in a razor cutter so he could cut the necessary cardboard. My parents are a captive audience for every "Guess what happened in school today!" story and do a pretty good job of feigning interest in Fortnite recaps, too.

And...they cook for us.

They're pretty much the greatest.

Lesson Learned:
While I realize how fortunate I am to have the kind of relationship with my parents that I have, one that allows me to so easily and comfortably live with them for an extended amount of time...I do realize that the story I just told is one-sided. To my siblings: I'm pretty sure you all placed bets on when the honeymoon period would end...I can't wait to see who takes the pot when Mom and Dad confess to you how over this they are.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Evan Eleven

Since he opened his very first set of little green army men when he was five, Evan has held firmly to the belief that, when he grows up, he'll be in the military. He doesn't particularly like it when people in a position of authority tell him what to do or where to be or what to wear so I'm not really sure how military life would actually play out....but still, he insists. And so, until a few weeks ago, we supported his dream.

Then I learned that his Crohn's diagnosis is an automatic disqualification from service. 

He doesn't know yet...I'm a little worried it'll crush him...

...and this kid has already been through enough this year.

A year ago we didn't know. A year ago at this time we were knee-deep in Figuring It Out. Medical tests and invasive procedures, blood draws, hours in doctors' offices...it wasn't fun. It was worth it. We have an answer now...an answer to the slow growth and the anemia...maybe even an answer to some of the food intolerances. It's not the answer I was hoping for...especially in this precarious time for a public health insurance option...but it is what it is and we'll deal. 

So, we're not going to tell him that this disease that he'll have to live with for the rest of his life may also crush the biggest dream of his life. Not any time soon, anyway. Instead, when he states his future plans, we casually offer an alternative. Dreams can change, right?

Evan is a walking/talking encyclopedia when it comes to military and war-time history. In fact, his teacher shared with me that at a recent field trip to a history museum with his class, he impressed the docent, a visiting professor from a local university with his flawless history fact recall. Maybe he'll become a history professor.

Maybe he'll become a police officer...in Washington, D.C. like his Uncle Jack, where, as Evan says, "the action is." 

Maybe he'll rise through the ranks and become a detective. He was a pretty good mystery-decoder during our Escape Room adventure...

Maybe he'll play video games for a living. He's heard plenty of stories from his friends (all true, I'm sure) about 20-somethings earning millions of dollars a year to sit around and play Fortnite. 

Maybe he'll be a stay-at-home dad. He IS the resident Baby Whisperer, after all.

Maybe he'll be an entrepreneur...or pursue a career that hasn't been discovered yet...

He's got plenty of time to figure it out. He's still so young.... He still wants me to tickle his back when I tuck him in. He still climbs into our bed in the middle of the night on occasion. He still needs to be reminded to brush his teeth and eat vegetables. But he's creeping ever closer to independence and, every once in awhile, it catches my breath.

I attended a Middle School Transition meeting earlier this year for parents of rising 6th graders. As I sat in the middle school cafeteria and listened to the presentation by the Principal, I could suddenly picture Evan there...in middle school. I pictured him entering the busy, noisy cafeteria on the first day of school. Without the comfort of walking in a line of classmates, led by a teacher to an assigned table.....what will he do? How will he navigate lunch time? Will he find friends to sit with? Will he know what to do?

I almost started to cry, right there during the meeting, because Middle School?! Already?! I can't believe we're HERE. I do believe, though, that what I've heard from everyone I've talked to is true...that he'll be fine. Evan will, like every other sixth grader who came before him, figure it out. It's part of the process. Part of HIS process. It's time for me to stand back and let him lead the way.

It's hard, though...when you're a controlling, Type-A personality like me. 

Evan, you put us through hell with your stubbornness, your BIG emotions, and your need to have things your way or no way at all. (I wonder where he gets it?)

We wouldn't want you any other way.

With all of the hard stuff comes the Very Best of the best. You are determined and strong-willed. You are thoughtful and deliberate. You are reliable and trustworthy. You are bright and funny as hell.

You are INTERESTING. We never know what random fact or story or tidbit of information you'll deliver but I know I'll learn something new from you every single day. I'll also lose a minute or two of my life each day. You're in the habit now of scaring me...like, hide-in-the-shadows-jump-out-and-BOO! kind of scare...and you're Good. Too good. Scary Good. I've been know to curse and call you inappropriate names ("You turd!") as a result of your more successful scares. It's, maybe, your most favorite pastime of late....

You are sometimes impulsive...

But slow, gentle, and tender, too...

As the first-born child in our family, you have allowed me (forced me?) to practice Parenthood in a way that your brother and sister won't need to. Most of the Firsts that we encounter as parents, we encounter with you. We're figuring out how to negotiate curfews and screen time and burgeoning independence just as you figure out to want them. We don't have a playbook yet, and that makes you a bit of a guinea pig. I know that's not easy. As first time parents of an 11-year old, we make mistakes and we learn hard lessons and, sometimes, you get caught in the crossfire of us figuring things out as we go. 

But, I promise you, we'll figure it out...together. Thank you for being the one to help us learn how to do this Parenting gig, Evan...you're a damn fine, teacher.

Who needs the military?

Lesson Learned:
Watching this kid grow up has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I don't need to miss the baby days when this kid, and parenting this kid, just keeps getting better. Happy 11th birthday my love.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Tonight after dinner, as we feasted on the Girl Scout cookies that Mom Mom and Pop had delivered to us, Molly made an observation. "Mommy, some of the girls in my class are in Girl Scouts."

"They are!" I agreed. "In fact, your friend's mommy is the Girl Scout troop leader. Do you think you might want to join a troop when you're in first grade?"

She eyed her Thin Mint and the smile spread across her face, "Oh, YES! Yes, I DO!"

From the other side of the counter, another voice piped up. "And can I join, too? My friends are in Girl Scouts, too!"

Max's friends ARE Girl Scouts. A lot of them are, anyway. And, to be honest...we had tried to get him in a troop when he was in kindergarten. He didn't know that, though.

"We tried, buddy, I'm sorry. They don't make exceptions." I said, realizing that we had never shared the history with him.

"Wait, what? You're kidding, right?" he looked at me, incredulous as he processed what I was saying. "But I never asked you if I could join the Girl Scouts before. Are you joking?"

Time for full disclosure.

"Bud, when you were in kindergarten, your best friend's mom was starting a Girl Scout troop and, because we know that the Girl Scouts are a progressive and tolerant organization, she asked me if I wanted to be her co-leader. So, I emailed our district leader and explained our situation. I asked her if you could join the troop with me as the co-leader. She explained the Girl Scout policy to me and said that they don't make exceptions. She said they accepted transgender girls, but not boys who are gender fluid. It's a stupid policy and I'm sorry."

He got a little feisty..."Yeah! It IS stupid!" One hand on his hip, the other pointing...pointedly. Then, channeling his best Ariana Grande, "Dey don't even know what dey missin'! Uh-huh. You know it, Girl Scouts! You know you wanted me all up in yo' troop! And now you can't even have me!"

We kinda derailed a bit at that point...me bragging about what an amazing Girl Scout troop leader I would have been, him bragging about the general awesomeness he would have brought to the program....we ended up laughing about it.

Molly, however, quietly put down her Thin Mint. She furrowed her brow, crossed her arms across her chest and said, "If Max can't be in Girl Scouts, then I won't be in Girl Scouts."

Pure and honest #solidarity.

Sing it, sister. Stand up for your big bro. Stand up for ALL.

That's my girl.

Lesson Learned:
We still ate the cookies. And we always will. I just can't quit you, Samoas.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

sweet, silly, sassy, and six

This child.

I swear. She kills me on the daily.

Her spunk, her sass.

Her sweetness. Her wit.

Her style.
My God, her style.

I literally don't know where she gets it.

A friend asked me the other day, as we watched our kids practice for the school Variety Show, "Does Molly pick out her own clothes?" I looked up at Molly on stage. She had on a blue plaid flannel shirt, worn unbuttoned over a pink waffle-knit tee, navy blue and silver knee socks pulled up over leopard print leggings, and hot pink cowboy boots to complete the look.

"What gave it away?" I laughed.

Molly puts together outfits, not by coordinating colors or patterns, but by telling a story..."Leopards are animals and animals live outside and outside the sky is blue and at night time the stars come out and they're shiny like silver. Oh! And these boots sound like clip clop in the hallway like horses."

House Rule: as long as it's reasonably appropriate for the season, we don't pick fights over clothes. It's a mantra that goes back to Max's skirt-wearing days: In our house, we wear what we like.

And Molly knows exactly what she likes.

Especially when it comes to accessories.

She has a self-confidence and a sense of adventure that I'm not used to.
This kid will try anything.

Well...except new foods. Mealtime diversity is still a work in progress.
She recently told her class that she could eat 100 pieces of seaweed. 
Mmmkay, honey. I've literally watched her pick individual grains of rice out of her cucumber roll in order to avoid accidentally eating anything but the rice but, you go on and eat your 100 pieces of seaweed, babe.

I love her enthusiasm.

She is JOY-full.

And she is FIERCE. 
Don't mess with this one.

And if you couldn't already tell, she's also funny as hell.

Her signature joke: 
What do you call a pongomino?
A watermelon! 

At dinner one night, I was telling the kids the highlights of their pregnancy and birth stories. I was trying to describe the pure magic that was carrying them...I told them how I would lay on the couch at night, late in each pregnancy, and we would just stare at my belly, waiting for the nightly show to begin...we'd see a head bulge out one side of my belly, then a foot swoosh across the middle. We'd feel the pointy jab of a fist or knee then watch my whole belly roll like a wave as the baby somersaulted.

Evan made a face like, "Ew." Max gazed in wonder. Molly sighed happily and said, "When I'm a mommy, I'll be a mommy to my animals and I'll burn them all."

We all stared, shocked...confused, until Max, Molly's interpreter, helpfully translated: "OH! HAHAHAHAHA! She means she wants the animals to grow in her tummy instead of babies. Molly, you don't 'born' babies, you HAVE babies. And you can't have animals like babies. That's just...science."

She calls do-overs "re-overs." She still pronounces it "nuffing" instead of nothing and "free" instead of three. I find myself impersonating her voice all the time, it's so damn cute. She has this adorable way of over-pronouncing vowels and completely mixing up consonants that just kills me. The speech teacher and her kindergarten teacher assure me it's developmental...that she'll grown out of it. Is it wrong to hope that she doesn't? Seriously. Her voice is just that cute. Can just that part of her stay little forever?

The other day, I was lecturing the kids on gratitude and said, "We should all realize how lucky we are." Molly said, "Why are we lucky?" I kinda went a little nuts frantically naming all the things we have and should be thankful for until Molly again cut in: "Lucky? Like, gross?" Confused, I said, "Gross?" Max, once again, to the rescue: "No, Molly, LLLLucky, not YYYYucky!" "Oh!" Molly realized, "Lucky! Like good! Not Lucky like gross." Potayto, Potahto, I suppose.

She can't pronounce Ys....but it's been more than a week since she tiptoed into our room in the middle of the night. More than a week since she climbed up onto our bed, curled up against the curve of my back, twirled a strand of my hair around her finger, and breathed a sweet, sleepy exhale on the back of my neck.

More than a week, the longest stretch of her life, that she didn't need me to help her fall back to sleep.

Sometimes, these past few nights....I've missed her.

I knew it the moment she was born: Molly perfectly completes this trio.

At various times so similar to each of her brothers, who could not be more different, Molly embodies the widest personality range of our three kids. Headstrong, serious, and always lost in a book like Evan; imaginative, affectionate, and prone to dramatic outbursts like Max, she is the perfect blend of two perfect opposites.

She is the black and white seeds within the yin-yang of her brothers.
Equal parts Column A and Column B, creating her own, beautiful Column C.

She completes us.

Lesson Learned:
To my baby of babies...

As a parent, observing the effects of the passage of time on all of my children is bittersweet. Watching you grow, though, is the hardest of all. As I snuggled beside you at bedtime last night, I whispered to you, "This is the last time I'll snuggle with my 5-year old girl!" But it's more than that. Starting today, I'll never have a 5-year old child ever again. As you outgrow each stage, our whole family outgrows it with you. You are our bookend, our final chapter.

I love this stage you're in now, though. This sweet spot. This big enough to hang (reasonably well) through late bedtimes and long road trips. Old enough to run around outside with the neighborhood kids but young enough to still come and find me for a boo-boo kiss. You've discovered the magic of reading and you can tackle just about any craft project independently. You are gentle, you are brave. You are tenderness and light. You are humor, you are grace, you are persistent determination.

You are capable.
You are strong.
You are enough.

Beautiful girl.
Beautiful soul.

Happy birthday, my love.

Monday, February 19, 2018

A Winter Woodland Critters Birthday Party

Think she was excited about her big day?

You bet she was.

We Do Birthdays in this house. We spend months planning, weeks preparing, and one frenetic, frenzied, glorious day celebrating the Birthday Girl or Boy at a party of their dreams.

Truly, birthday parties in our house are works of our kids' imaginations, merely brought to life by their parents. When, just after Christmas, Molly suggested an animal-themed party for her upcoming birthday, I did the calendar math... throwing an elaborate at-home celebration in the midst of house showings and packing don't mix. So, we had our very first ever Destination Birthday Party.

A Winter Woodland Critters Birthday Party
at Wildrock

Wildrock is the Nature Play and Discovery Center where I run the early childhood field trip program. On 28 acres of land, including a 3-acre fully enclosed nature playground, Wildrock is an animal lover's birthday party dream-come-true destination.

The barn at Wildrock has nature play invitations on permanent display, including these nature-themed story stones...

a den-building area...

...a tent and campfire for pretend play...

...as well as sensory tables with natural materials, fairy houses, and woodland creature figures to play with, meaning that a birthday party here naturally plans itself.

Not knowing what the weather would be like on a day in mid-February, however, I created a few additional activities in case we needed to stay indoors for the bulk of the party.

We had a make-your-own bird feeder station...

and a giant mural of a snowy forest.

The kids were invited to stamp animal tracks through the snow.

But, because central Virginia weather is completely insane, it was a beautiful sunny day, nearly sixty degrees!

Naturally, the kids spent nearly the entire time outside on the playscape.
There was PLENTY to do!

Creating in the Art House

Fishing with magnetic fish and poles at the fishing pier

Trying on fox costumes and butterfly wings on the stage

Mixing up recipes at the Nature Kitchen

Exploring the stream

And climbing to the top of the giant salamander in our log obstacle course.

Party Dads on Patrol
Somehow, after about an hour, I was able to drag the gang inside. 

I think it was the promise of treats that swayed them...

The party fare included cheddar bunny crackers, popcorn, grapes, and pretzel logs that Evan helpfully stacked to look like firewood. We had hot cocoa and cider to drink and, for the special birthday treat, Molly requested sugar cookies.

This was the most fun I've ever had baking in my entire life. When Max opens his bakery, maybe I can convince him to hire me as the resident sugar cookie decorator. 

Because we didn't have globs of buttercream frosting to hold it in place, we had to get creative with the candle....

I don't think she minded too much.

The kids sat so nicely around the table enjoying their treats. I was struck by how grown up they all seem all of a sudden. Especially this girl of mine...

After treats, it was back to playing in the barn and on the playscape until the party's end. 

The goodie bags each had a mini notebook which I had labeled "My Nature Explorer Journal," a mini pen, a bouncy ball, and a laminated Take-a-Hike Scavenger Hunt card I made. The kids can take the cards and a dry-erase pen on hikes to have a reusable game to play to keep them engaged and occupied on the trail.

It was a wonderful winter woodland critter filled day and we loved celebrating this amazing SIX-year old!

Happy Birthday, Molly!