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

Thursday, August 4, 2016

In Honor of National Trail Mix Day...

Ten years ago, if you had told me how much of my mental and physical activity would be devoted to thinking about, planning for, shopping for, preparing, serving, cleaning up after, and worrying about food, I wouldn't have believed you. But ten years and three kids later, food is a huge part of my daily life and not because I'm some foodie who is always on the hunt for some fabulous new recipe.

Nope. Not even close. Around here, we eat to live rather than live to eat, and I consider the day a success if I've managed to get a decent amount of nutrients and protein into my kids. I like food, really I do (particularly when it's prepared by someone other than I), but between food allergies, picky-eaters, bottom-of-the-growth-curve-huggers, oral sensory issues, and my 4-year-old's vegetarianism-by-choice, food is stressful.

I do have one secret, though, for taking some of the stress out of mealtimes: Snacks. If I can pack enough healthy goodness into snack time, I can relax a bit if Picky McPickerson doesn't touch his dinner. We have a couple of easy, healthy go-to snack ideas, but I'm always looking for new ideas to shake up our snack rotation.

I was recently invited by Nuts.com to create a trail mix recipe to enter into their contest in honor of National Trail Mix Day (August 31). I was excited to get involved because I like a good challenge, but also, with the start of school right around the corner, I'm thrilled to have a few new lunch-box ideas.

Here are my two entries (one nutty, one nut-free). Try mine or head on over to Nuts.com, browse their amazing selection of nuts, seeds, sweets, and dried fruits, and come up with your own favorite mix.

Goji-Nut High Five


  • goji berries: In addition to being called an anti-aging Superfood, Goji berries are a good source of vegetarian protein. They are rich in Vitamins A and C, a good source of 18 amino acids (including all 8 essential amino acids), and contain selenium, a trace element which has been shown to fight bacterial and viral infections. A little sweet and chewy like a raisin, Goji berries are a perfect addition to trail mixes.
  • pistachios (Roasted, no salt, no shell): Pistachios are an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, thiamin, phosphorus, and copper. A good source of protein, these little nuts also have as much potassium as half of a banana!
  • cashews (Roasted, no salt): Cashews are an excellent source of protein and fiber. They also contain copper, zinc, magnesium, and biotin.
  • chocolate covered sunflower seeds (Natural colors from vegetable juices, no synthetic food dyes): Sunflower seeds are rich in protien, calcium, and iron but, let's be honest, these chocolate-covered goodies are to add a little sweetness to this savory blend! 
  • pretzels: for a salty crunch!

I usually don't measure out our trail mix ingredients. I just add a little of this and that until we have a pretty blend of salty, sweet, crunchy, and chewy. Our Goji-Nut High Five fits the bill perfectly. This one will definitely going into Max and Molly's snack rotation.


Most of the trail mixes we make in our home are nut-free, not to exclude our nut-allergic kiddo. For him, we came up with the Rainbow Pop trail mix. Although this mix does not contain any nuts, please be aware that when ordering from Nuts.com, all products are manufactured in a facility that does process nuts.

Rainbow Pop Trail Mix



  • pepitas (When ordering from Nuts.com, please note that roasted pepitas contain peanut oil): Pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, are a powerhouse seed rich in protein, iron, and phosphorus. They are also a great source of healthy fat and dietary fiber.
  • chocolate covered sunflower seeds (Natural colors from vegetable juices, no synthetic food dyes): Sunflower seeds are rich in protien, calcium, and iron
  • dried cherries: a little sweet, a little tart, these dried cherries are the perfect addition to this trail mix. Cherries are rich in potassium and Vitamins C and B. They also contain specific antioxidants thought to aid in the prevention of heart disease and cancer, while also promoting pain relief and healthy sleep.
  • popcorn: We pop ours on the stove in a little bit of coconut oil and add a sprinkle of pink Himalayan salt (chosen by Max, at Costco, for it's color...who could blame him?).

I love a good old, traditional, nutty trail mix. This light, nut-free alternative is an excellent combination of flavors and textures. It's visually appealing to selective eaters and, maybe best of all, it's School Safe!




Lesson Learned:

Thanks, Nuts.com for inviting me to participate! If you have never visited the site, head on over to Nuts.com. Their products are of the highest quality and their customer service is outstanding. The website is pretty incredible, too. Looking for something high in protein? Antioxidant-rich? Something sweet but packed with nutrients? You can find out tons of nutrition information on each product page, not to mention tons of recipes and snack ideas. That has to be my favorite part of Nuts.com.

Well, the recipes and the chocolate covered sunflower seeds. Mmmmmmmm!!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

the last skirt he ever wore

The call came moments after we had tucked the kids into bed on a busy school night last spring. It was Max's kindergarten teacher and she was calling to let us know of an "incident" that had occurred in the moments before school began that morning.

The kindergartners who had been dropped off at the car drop-off loop were lined up against the cafeteria wall, as they were every morning at that time. As usual, the little ones talked and giggled together as more friends joined the line, their busy little bodies kept in check by the watchful eyes of a few Assistant Teachers who monitored the growing crowd. The children only stood here for a few minutes each day, filling the gap of time between being let out of their cars and into their classrooms. But a few minutes each day, for several days in a row, can be all it takes for a child to break.

On this morning last spring, Max finally broke.

The Assistant Teacher's attention was brought to the situation by Max's loud, angry voice saying to the little boy beside him, "I'm DONE! I'm not TALKING about this anymore."

Max is often loud. He sings loudly, he enters a room full of company loudly proclaiming, "Hey, people! Get a load of MEEEEE!" He bangles his bracelets together loudly when we're trying to watch a movie. He laughs loudly, too, often falling to the floor in overly-dramatic hysterics.

But he is rarely angry.

As the Assistant Teacher approached the boys to find out what was going on, Max turned away from her, hiding his face as he blinked back the tears. "I don't want to talk about it," he told her. "It's fine."

But she knew it wasn't fine and wasn't going to let it go until she had gotten to the bottom of what had happened. It took time for the story to unfold. Max talked to his teacher about it, but didn't start opening up to me about the specifics of what was said to him until weeks later.

What had happened had actually been happening repeatedly over the past few days. This little boy, new to the school and in a different classroom than Max, just could not wrap his brain around the fact that Max is a boy. I get it. Max is probably the first skirt-wearing boy he has encountered in his five-and-a-half short years on this planet. But apparently, Max had spent the past few mornings repeating his stock responses trying to convince the boy of this truth:

"I'm a boy who likes to wear skirts."
"Clothes are for anyone."
"I'm a boy who likes girl things."

To which, he was repeatedly questioned:

"Are you telling me the truth?"
"Are you sure you're really a boy?"
"How can you be a boy if you're wearing a skirt?"

And ultimately, the final straw:

"I don't believe you. I think you're lying."

Harsh words from a five-year old to a kid with a moral compass as strong as Max's.

The Assistant Teacher, Max's teacher, and the other boy's teacher handled the situation in exactly the right manner, in my opinion. They were careful to protect Max's feelings and right to self-expression, while at the same time using this as a Teachable Moment for the other little boy.

But I couldn't help but cry a little as I heard the story relayed to me over the phone.

I didn't cry just because of what Max had been through. He might encounter more kids (and grown-ups) like that throughout his life and I feel like we've helped prepare him for those encounters both in helping him to form his stock answers and by being a constant source of safety and acceptance for him. No matter how dark the world is, our home will be light.

I cried because, just 30 minutes before the phone call, I had been helping Max pick out his clothes for school the following day. He selected a tee shirt and a pair of leggings but, when I held up a choice of two coordinating skirts, he chose neither. "No skirt tomorrow?" I had asked him.

"No," he replied nonchalantly. "Not tomorrow. I think I'll save my skirts for weekends, now."

I hadn't questioned it at the time, but after hearing what had been going on in the kindergarten line, it sure seemed like some jerky kid had influenced Max's opinion of what was Acceptable To Wear. So I cried.

I cried because I felt like some of the innocence had been lost.

*****

In the months since this happened, Max has worn a skirt two, or maybe three times. All but one of those times has been on a day when we didn't leave the house. We don't talk about it much. The skirts are still in his closet and he has complete freedom to choose his outfit each day.

At Target this morning, we browsed the new Cat & Jack kids' clothing line. He picked out a couple of tees and a few pairs of leggings for his "back-to-school clothes." As we passed the rack of skirts, I stopped. "How about any of these?"

"No. I'm kinda off skirts these days."

"Why is that, babe?"

"I don't know," he said, flipping his hair, cocking his hip, and holding up a pair of sparkly leggings "These are just so much more ME. Ya know?"

He tossed the leggings into the cart and went over to check out the accessories.

He's still got it.

Lesson Learned:

I'm learning that Max's self-discovery is going to be a journey for me, too. I'm going to have to be flexible and adapt to the changes that will inevitably come as he decides how he wants to present himself. It might not always be the same presentation of self from one situation to another...and not all changes will be negative ones. Max may have adopted this new no-skirts policy regardless of the kid in the kindergarten line. Who knows?

Just like we all had our "going out" clothes in college that we wouldn't have worn to class, Max's wardrobe will reflect who he feels comfortable being in that particular time and place. Bracelets up his arm and a beaded head band at home, black capris and a pink tee at school. It's all about comfort. And it's all okay.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

from the mouths of babes

Hey, strangers! Guess who doesn't have time to write anymore now that the kids are home for summer! All these words swirling around my head, hoping to come out, and I just can't find the time. Sound familiar? The kids are in the basement at the moment and I thought I'd take a minute to pass along a conversation I had with Max the other day.

This is a great conversation to read if you're feeling guilty about your parenting for whatever reason. Maybe you're not being the Summertime Fun-time Mom you wanted to be. Maybe you're raising your voice more than you want to. Maybe you're not-so-silently cursing under your breath every time you lather up to go outside because putting sunscreen on small children is Just The Worst.

After you read this, you'll feel better about yourself. You'll think, "Well, at least my kid doesn't think I'm a criminal."

Ready?

Here we go.

***

[Scene: The living room. Max and Mom are snuggling on the couch. Everyone is calm. Everyone is happy. Nothing is happening that might predict what is about to be said.]

Max: Hey, Mommy, guess what I always think about.

Mom: I don't know, bud, what do you always think about?

Max: I always think about how what if you're not really my real Mommy.

Mom: Wait...what?

Max: I always think that maybe you're not my real Mommy and that maybe a long time ago you captured my real mom and dad and now you and Daddy are just pretending to be my parents.

Mom: Wait. Max. You're just being silly, right? You didn't really think that, right?

Max: Haha! I know it's silly! Haha! But what if you did? And you captured my mom and dad and you kidnapped me and you're just pretending now.

Mom: Max, baby, you know that I'm your real Mommy. You were in my tummy and Daddy and I went to the hospital and I had you. You've been with me for forever and I've loved you since the second I knew you were in my tummy. You know that, right?

Max: Yeah, but what if all of that was just pretend? What if you and Daddy are, like, really good at pretending to be my parents?

Mom: .....

Max: ...and this whole time I've been thinking that you're my real parents and I have no idea that my REAL real parents are somewhere else because you captured them! Isn't that funny? That's so weird.

Mom: Yup. That's pretty weird. But Max, I'm your real Mommy and I would never do something terrible like capture someone and kidnap their kid and pretend to be that kid's mom. Okay?

Max: I know, Mommy.

[Max and Mommy hug.]

Max: ....but what if you're just pretending to mean that?!

***

Lesson Learned:

What the hell?

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Answer was Molly

At bedtime a few weeks ago, we reached Level: Desperation. Max's pre-bedtime anxiety had hit a breaking point and so had I. For days leading up to that particular bedtime, there had been tears. Painful, sobbing tears over something that hadn't even happened yet, but that he knew was coming. His tears, leading up to the final kiss goodnight, and mine once I left his room. But really, the trouble had been brewing for weeks.

Max had been having nightmares nearly every night. At some point between midnight and 5am, he'd come running (literally, running) into my bed, curl up tight against me, his chest heaving, his cheeks wet with tears. Our night disrupted, sometimes for an hour or more as he resettled into sleep, we'd both wake groggy and cranky. In anticipation of the nightmare to come, bedtimes had become the worst parts of our days. His tears were starting earlier and earlier before tuck-in.

We had tried everything we could think of: we left his light on, piled his buddies all around him, shut his door tightly (at his request), talked about his worries while snuggling, validated his concerns while tickling his back, etc. Still, his tears started creeping back closer and closer to dinnertime, threatening to ruin our attempt at calm and pleasant Family Evenings.

Finally, we reached the bedtime of Desperation. I posted this photo and appealed for help from my Instagram family:

A photo posted by sarah harris (@sarah.livelaughlearn) on

My people came through and I received lots of great suggestions--guided meditation, a protective ring of amulets and/or buddies around his room, more exercise during the day, "No More Monster Spray," Guatemalan Worry Dolls, extra night lights, a Good Dreams Fairy, etc. I was anxious to try everything at once...they all seemed like such promising ideas. I needed to take it slowly, though...one thing at a time.

The very next day, we made dreamcatchers.



We talked about how it would catch his bad dreams before they got to him. In the morning, we would shake it out and send the bad dreams away for good. He asked if it was "real." "Does it really catch them? Do dreams fly through the room before they get into my head?" I told him it was a symbol. Dreams don't fly through the room, but before bed each night, if you look at your dreamcatcher, it will remind you that you're in charge. Put the bad dreams in there so you have room in your head for the good dreams.

We talk a lot about having a Not My Problem Zone in our heads, too. When you hear something that has nothing to do with you and isn't in your power to solve, you can put it in your Not My Problem Zone, leaving room in your head for solving problems that are in your power to solve. For the kids, we use it keep them focused on their own business and not wrapped up with what their brother or sister or friend is doing. For me, it's helpful in letting me keep on living and raising my babies in this world that seems so terrible at times. ISIS? Not My Problem Zone. There are other brave people working on that one. Teacher Appreciation Week? Okay, cool. I'm on it.

We hung his dreamcatcher next to his bed (and one in Molly's room, too) and it seemed to help...for a night or two, then the tears started to creep back in. We tried a few of the other suggestions but nothing really seemed to stick...until Max came up with a solution on his own.

He asked Molly to move in.



For the past three weeks, Molly has been sleeping in a sleeping bag on Max's floor. One or both of them still winds up in our bed at some point in the middle of the night, but since that very first night of cohabitation, there have been No More Tears. None. Not one.

It was working so well, in fact, that we decided to make the move a permanent one.


Lesson Learned:
And from this day henceforth, I shall curse the damned top bunk on Sheets Changing Day. 

But the sweetness that is our new tear-free bedtime makes it all worth it.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mommin' it up at Widespread Panic


I'm not what you would call "fun."

I mean, I can be funny. I can have fun. But when people think of me, "fun" isn't usually the word they think of. It's more like "punctual" or "always prepared" or "that one who likes to curl up on her couch with Netflix and then go to bed early."

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'm the person you call if you've forgotten what time the Kindergarten Musical starts. If we're meeting for coffee, I'll be on time because I'll actually be early. Do you need baked goods for a PTO function? I'm on it. I'd love to join you for a Mom's Night Out...can we be home by 10? If your kid falls and scrapes his knee while on a class field trip, I've got the band-aid. And yes, I'm the chaperone.

I'm just not your Wild and Spontaneous, Up-for-Anything, Party Girl.

Well, not usually.



***

My friend, Ahna, texted me last week.

"Do you like Widespread Panic?"

I cringed and wrote back: "Don't hate me...what do they sing?"

She sent a smiley emoji, then my phone rang.

"I've got two tickets to the Widespread Panic show tonight," she said. "Wanna go?"

I looked at the sprawl of destruction in front of me. Homework to be completed, dinner to be cooked, an entire house full of toys to be put away. It was 4:45.

"What time would we be leaving?"

"I don't know...around 6?"

I couldn't just not help the kids with their homework. I couldn't just not cook dinner. I couldn't just walk out the door and leave my house looking like a complete wreck.

Thunder rolled and a bolt of lightning lit up the room.

Plus, it was raining. I couldn't just go to a concert in the rain. And I was already in my pajamas.

"Um...well..." I started.

Ahna finished my thought. "No pressure," she said, "I'm not a huge fan or anything. I have the tickets, though, so I thought I'd ask."

I looked out the window as the rain started to pick up. The kids were calling me from the basement to come look at their fort. I had no idea what I was going to make for dinner.

"Ahna," I said, full of a feeling I don't normally feel...I think it was courage. "We should go. Fun people say Yes. We should say Yes. We can be fun!"

"Well, they are box seats..."

"I have no idea what that even means. I think we should do it."

"We totally should."

"Okay, we're doing it."

"I'll pick you up at 6:15."

"Ok. Yes. You will. We're really doing this."

"Yup! It'll be great. See you in a bit."

I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, and, like such a mom, I googled "Widespread Panic."

I called Sam, shocked the hell out of him with my plans for the evening, ran down to the basement to see the kids' fort, then went upstairs to put some actual clothes on. I decided on skinny jeans...you know, so I could wear my rain boots.


Maybe it's not super cool to wear rain boots to see Widespread Panic, but the venue was an outdoor pavilion and we'd have to walk a few blocks from parking to get there. It was going to be wet and I was going to be grumpy if my feet got soaked. Plus, I was wearing my L.L. Bean rain coat so I didn't have to worry about my boots giving my Mom Status away. No way was I going to blend in with a Widespread crowd.

After entering the gates and getting our drink tickets, we followed the smell of weed to the stage. Our tickets came with these super exclusive orange wristbands, which let us in the box seating area. 


Boxes didn't seem to be prime real estate at a Widespread Panic show, though, as we were the only ones sitting in the whole section. Everyone was up at the front, passing joints and getting up close and personal with the music.

"Let's go up front!" Ahna suggested. (For the music, not the joints.) Ahna is way more fun than I am.

"Um, maybe in a bit." I said, not quite ready to dive into the crowd. So we sat drinking our beers, talking PTO. As moms do.

Our friend Shannon and her husband (who actually ARE fun and who actually WERE there for the music and not just because they had free tickets and were trying to prove a point) met up with us a bit later. By then, we'd finished our beers, and I realized that I actually DID like the music. They remind me a lot of Phish, with a little funk, a little Led Zeppelin, and a touch of southern rock thrown in. They're a jam band. They're the kind of band I listened to when I WAS fun and went to shows and... you know...did the fun stuff that fun people do at fun shows.

I was ready. "Ahna. Let's go up front."

She led the way. She's little and sweet and everyone loves her, so she had no trouble "Excuse Me"ing her way through the crowd.



We were IN the crowd. We were surrounded by hippies and college kids and everyone was dancing and happy and loving life and so were we. It was pouring rain and I was wearing a raincoat from freaking L.L. Bean and I am such a mom and I was dancing and I was having so much fun. 

People at Widespread Panic shows are Good People. They were kind and courteous...one guy turned around and saw little, sweet Ahna, who only came up to the small of his back, standing behind all 6'4 of him. "You should stand in front of me," he said, "I don't want to block your view." They are generous...not only were they sharing their joints and bowls with each other (not us), one guy even offered me his french fries. It was really very sweet. I just wasn't very hungry at that moment.

We ducked back through the crowd to get another drink and use the restroom. It was crazy: for the first time in the history of the world, there was a line, 50-men deep, for the men's room, while we just walked right in to the women's room. (Lines at one bathroom while there's another bathroom with no one waiting is another reason why gendered bathrooms are stupid.)

By the time we returned to our box with our drinks, it was intermission. We sat reveling in our fun-ness and talking about our kids...as moms do.

Then, the band came back out and so did we. This time, Ahna led us all the way to the front. Almost. We were only three people back from the stage. And it. Was. Awesome.



Lesson Learned:
If someone calls, and offers you tickets to a show, you say Yes! You'll be glad you did. And you'll be glad you have a fun friend like Ahna, who lets you pretend to be fun, too.

And wear your rain boots. Even if it's not rainy, the floors are gross. You can hose those babies off tomorrow.


Actually, you can hose them off the day after because, if you're really going to Mom it up at Widespread, you'll be chaperoning a kindergarten field trip to a farm the next morning. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Gender-Nonconformity: It's about Identity

I want to send out a thank you to the Universe. Well, at least to the media, who seem obsessed with the topic of gender and gender identity lately.

You can't listen to the news or click on your social media feeds without being bombarded by images and stories relating to gender, gender identity, the LGBT community, or little boys wearing princess gowns.

Thank you, Universe, for shining a light on this issue, one that is near and dear to my heart. Max is growing up in a world that isn't perfect (North Carolina's HB2 and other so-called "Bathroom Bills" are proof of the fact that we still have a long way to go). The fact that we are even having this conversation, though, is progress.

These stories and images and memes are providing us with a necessary vocabulary. Three years ago, despite having been so my entire life, I didn't know what the word cisgender meant. Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity matches the "gender" they were assigned at birth. In actuality, it is a person's sex that is determined at birth (or via ultrasound), not gender. Sex is anatomical, gender lives in the brain. (Sidenote: I think "gender reveal" parties are pretty ridiculous for a number of reasons but, in recent years, it's become clear to me that, if you must throw one, you should at least call it a "sex reveal" party or a "gender assigned at birth reveal" party. Kinda loses something in translation, doesn't it?)

Just last week, Merriam-Webster added the terms genderqueer and gender-fluid to the dictionary (and then brilliantly tweeted: "People keep 1) saying they don't know what 'genderqueer' means then 2) asking why we added it to the dictionary"). This conversation is giving the T portion of the LGBT community the visibility and acknowledgement they deserve. Finally, we all know the words to use so individuals at all points along the gender spectrum no longer need to remain silent.

At the same time, I feel as though all of these HuffPost Parents articles, all of these images-turned-memes, all of this buzz, is creating an issue where there doesn't need to be one. It's creating a bandwagon on which, in the spirit of acceptance and understanding, people who don't need to are trying to jump. In particular, people whose cisgender child likes to play with toys typically associated with the other gender. Toy preference does not indicate gender-nonconformity.

Here's the thing: Kids like fun toys. What constitutes a "fun" toy varies from kid to kid. Toys do not have genders.

Let me just be really clear here: Toys Do Not Have Genders. Neither do clothes nor TV shows nor hobbies.

If your little boy likes to dress up in his sister's princess gown, he's not necessarily gender-nonconforming. He may be, so be sure to support his right to wear that gown so he always feels comfortable in presenting his true self. But he may also just be playing copycat to his big sister. Or he's into shiny, sparkly things. Or his favorite color is pink. Or he loves Elsa because, let's face it, who doesn't?

Maybe you have a little girl who wants to be Batman, not Bat Girl, for Halloween. Let her. Wanting to be Batman for Halloween, though, doesn't make your little girl gender-nonconforming. It just means that she likes the idea of dressing up like a super hero. Super heroes are cool. (And we can all agree that Batman costumes are way cooler than any Bat Girl costume you've seen.) Halloween is a great time for a gender-nonconforming kid to fully and safely express him or herself...it's also a great time for all kids to try on a new persona...so don't read too much into it.

The thing I want you to know about having a gender-nonconforming kid is that there's more to our story than what you can see from the outside. It's not about the clothes he wears or the games he plays. Gender-nonconformity is not about preference, it's about identity. It's not about what a child likes, it's about who a child IS.

Please know that, in our family, we're fielding hard questions and facing hard situations that families of cisgender kids aren't facing...even if your little boy loves tiaras or your little girl loves Star Wars.

Forgive me if I bristle a bit when you tell me about your daughter's Bob the Builder Halloween costume. It isn't that I don't appreciate your attempt to relate to me, I honestly do, it's just that dressing up for Halloween doesn't necessarily have anything to do with one's gender identity. Let me say it again: Max is not playing dress-up. Max is expressing who he is through his wardrobe.

He's expressing his identity. He is coming up with words like "goy" and "birl" to label himself because he knows he doesn't fit into the tiny little box that society has deemed to mean "Boy" (and he knows that the tiny little "Girl" box doesn't fit him either).

We're dealing with questions of inclusion and exclusion. Your little boy, even if he knows every single word to every single song from Frozen, probably isn't wondering why he wasn't invited to his (girl) friend's birthday party even though all of the girls in the class were (even the ones who aren't as close of friends with the birthday girl as he is).

He probably doesn't think twice about the fact that he's not allowed to join the Girl Scouts with the rest of the girls whom he considers his peers. (Transgender girls can, for the record, join the Girl Scouts. Gender-nonconforming boys can't, apparently. Therein lies the difference...therein lies the importance of this new Gender Spectrum Conversation.)

My gender-nonconforming kid is wondering those things. He calls himself a boy. He wants his friends to know he's a boy...but he fits in with the girls just as easily as the boys. Sometimes more so. He's wondering where he fits when, so often, groups are divided along gender lines.

Gender-nonconformity isn't about Preference. It's not about Choice. It's different. Plain and simple. But some people in this world don't see this difference. They think that sex = gender and you're either a boy or a girl, determined forever and always at birth, and that's what's right and that's what's legal and that's the end of the story. So that's why I'm writing this. I'm writing this because of North Carolina's HB2. I'm writing this to explain why sometimes I find myself awake at 3 o'clock in the morning wondering if Max will someday have to learn that people don't understand him or call him names or want to hurt him because he likes to wear twirly skirts. I'm writing this to explain why I cry. It's not for Max. It's for this world that, for some reason, just still doesn't get it.

If that sounds melodramatic, it's because I am. I can't help it. I feel things deeply. My emotions run strong.

But, if you're reading this, I'm confident that you DO understand. You are what's right in this world. You can be the change. You can help us pave the way for a safe and accepting world for my little boy to grow up in. You're probably doing all of these things already, actually.

Please, keep posting photos of your little boy looking adorably fabulous in his big sister's princess gown or your little girl driving her 4-wheeler like a badass. Go ahead and hashtag those photos #likeaboy or #likeagirl to help change the collective image of what those labels can look like.

Keep buying your daughter that Batman or Bob the Builder or the Red (not Pink) Power Ranger Halloween costume and then parade her around the neighborhood the same way you would if she was dressed as Elsa, which is to say, like it's no big deal. Because it's not.

While toys and dress-up choices don't mean that your child's path is the same as my child's, it does normalize the fact that kids are kids, and toys are toys, and costumes are costumes, and clothes are clothes, and play is play. (And love is love, and acceptance is acceptance, and kindness is kindness, which, as we all know, always wins.)

The more we see these images and the more we talk about de-gendering inanimate objects, the less kids like mine stick out. It will become even more normal to see a boy in a dress on Halloween...and on any given Tuesday. By the time our kids are grown, "Bathroom Bills" like HB2 are going to seem even more archaic and ridiculous (not to mention damaging and discriminatory) than they do today.

Lesson Learned:

Thank you to those of you who let your kids be kids. (And to kids like Max, who is just being who he is.) Thank you for loving us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

a changing conversation of Love

Jim and Peggie Louise met on a blind date. Set up by mutual friends only because Jim was the one guy in town taller than Peggie, no one expected the relationship to last. Jim fell in love with Peggie, his "long-stemmed rose," though and over time and despite Jim's deployment during World War II, Peggie fell for him, too.

In August of 1947, when Jim and Peggie were 23- and 21-years-old, respectively, they eloped. They had no choice but to wed in secret because, in that time and place, it was unheard of for a Protestant like Peggie to marry an Irish Catholic like Jim. It simply wasn't done.

Peggie and Jim were never ones to play strictly by the rules, though, and they had no reservations about choosing to spend the rest of their lives together. They did, however, fear telling their parents what they had done. After their private ceremony, they each returned to live, separately, at their parents' houses. For three weeks, they maintained their charade. Finally one night when Jim arrived at Peggie's parents' house to pick her up for a date, he could hold it in no longer. He asked Peggie's parents to join them in the sitting room.

As the story goes, once the news was broken, a tense silence filled the room. Without a word, Peggie's father rose from his seat and left the room. He returned a moment later with a bottle of champagne and four glasses. "To the happy couple!" he beamed, and poured his congratulations for his daughter and new son in a toast to Love. That's it. Forget the church, forget the naysayers and the pearl-clutchers. In that moment, all that mattered was Love. And it was celebrated.


Twenty-seven years later, Peggie and Jim received a letter from their daughter Sherry, who was a junior in college. Sherry was due to come home for Thanksgiving and she was bringing her boyfriend, Cliff. Although they were young, they had dated for a couple of years already and knew they wanted to spend their lives together.

Sherry knew, though, that her parents were more practical than romantic when it came to matters of their children (and their children's education). Before her visit, she wrote to her parents a very rational and unemotional letter detailing the logical reasons why it made more sense for her to marry Cliff the following summer rather than waiting until after she graduated. She knew her parents would be apprehensive and, this time, it had nothing to do with the fact that Cliff was Irish Catholic. It was 1974. Interfaith marriages were commonplace by that time.

It's not like Sherry was marrying someone of a different race, after all.

Still, Sherry was nervous heading home for Thanksgiving. She hadn't received a response to her letter and knew her parents would prefer that she earn her nursing degree before getting married. As she and Cliff approached the house, she prepared her rebuttal: She would still finish school on time. She would still pursue a career in nursing. Getting married early wouldn't change any of her goals or derail any of her plans. She took a deep breath and opened the door to her parents' house.

As the story goes, Jim and Peggie met Sherry and Cliff at the door, holding a bottle of champagne and four glasses. "To the happy couple!" Jim beamed and there were hugs and happy tears all around. In that moment, all that mattered was Love. Graduation and a career in nursing aside, what Jim and Peggie wanted most for their daughter was love and happiness. She found it with Cliff, so all that was left to do was celebrate. (To celebrate and, to Peggie's sheer delight, to plan the wedding she never got to plan for herself.)

Time marched on and, with it, a changing conversation about love and marriage and religion and race. Cliff and Sherry's oldest daughter, Katie, married an Asian-American man. No one thought twice about the fact that she was marrying someone of a different race. It was the year 2000 and the Gen-Xers were open-minded, far more so than their Puritanical parents had been. Plus, Katie and her husband had both finished college and had found great jobs. Love, happiness, and financial security? What more could parents want for their grown children?

Interracial marriages had been legal across all 50 states for 33 years by the end of the millennium. Those who opposed it, for whatever racist and backwards reasons they may have had, were in the clear minority. Marry whom you love, it doesn't matter where your parents come from or what house of worship you attend (or don't) or the color of your skin. Religion and Race don't matter when it comes to Love.

It's not like Katie was gay, after all.

The cultural conversation about Love was like a snowball racing down an incline, gaining size and strength and speed as it descended. If it doesn't matter that you're of a different faith than your spouse, and it doesn't matter if you're of a different race or ethnicity than your spouse, what does matter? Does sex?

As it turned out, the same conversation that had previously taken a generation to change, this time evolved much faster.

Almost exactly 15 years after Katie married a man of another race (to precisely zero naysaying or pearl-clutching), the United States Supreme Court voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Anyone in the United States could now, truly, marry his or her true love. On June 26, 2015, all that mattered was Love.

***

It hasn't even been a year and that Love, it seems, has already been forgotten...

The snowball of Love that had been barreling down the mountain of Acceptance for the past three generations recently hit a Bathroom Bill Blockade that smashed that snowball of Love to smithereens.

As far as we have come in Loving our neighbors of different faiths, races, and sexuality, we must not forget to embrace our transgender, genderqueer, gender-variant, and gender non-binary friends, neighbors, and family members as well.

America, we are so much better than this.

I know this country isn't perfect. I know that, in terms of Racial Bias and Inequality Between the Sexes, we still have a long road ahead of us. I know that systemic racism and sexism are real and present and affect millions of people on a daily basis. I know that there will always be people who Hate. I don't like it and I don't understand it, but I know it.

The generations of people who came before us were forced to have Hard Conversations about Religion and Race and Sex. Things are far from perfect, but progress has been made. The progress (however limited) we've made as a people should have paved the way for us to have this Hard Conversation about Gender. We should know, by now, after everything we've been through, to rely on Compassion, Acceptance, and Love in our interactions with each other. We should strive for understanding.

It shouldn't, after so much time and so many tears and so many broken families, still be this hard. When will we learn our lesson?

***

Sherry and Cliff celebrated their daughter as she married a man (who happens to be of another race). They welcomed into the family, with open and loving arms, their son's partner (who happens to also be a man). They toasted (with beer, unfortunately, as no champagne was on hand) when another son announced that he and his girlfriend had eloped in a private wedding ceremony (an homage to his grandparents' eternal and forever love, perhaps?).

Most importantly, to me anyway, Cliff and Sherry haven't hesitated for a single second to love and accept my gender-nonconforming son, their grandson, just the way he is. (Thanks, Mom and Dad. But also, you're welcome. We can all agree that he's a pretty awesome addition to this family.)

I know I'm lucky to be a part of a family like mine. I know that it's not the norm to be surrounded by so many generations of people who, truly, are All For Love and Love For All.

Why the hell isn't it?

Lesson Learned:

It seems ridiculous, doesn't it, that fear of admitting their interfaith love prompted my grandparents to elope? I mean, they lived in the same town. Their parents knew each other. Their families weren't even devout; Jim's family were what they called "Christmas and Easter Catholics."

Can you believe that it was less than 50 years ago that Loving v. Virginia legalized interracial marriage in this country?

Imagine how our children are going to look back on this time. What will they think of us? At least I can say for certain that mine will always know that they are, have been, and will always be loved exactly as they are and for exactly who (not what) they are. They will also know that anyone they choose to bring home is welcome in our family (so long as they treat my babies with love, respect, and kindness).

Like my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents before me, I'll have a bottle of champagne ready. We'll toast to Love.