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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Molly's Whole Hand Birthday

Today, this beautiful girl is Five.


By the time Evan reached his just-before-kindergarten birthday, he was practically reading. It came as no surprise to me. We spent several times each day, and every bedtime, looking at books together...telling stories by the pictures, sounding out words, and me reading, reading, reading aloud whenever I had the chance.

When Max turned five, it was mostly the same. I had an older kiddo and a toddler at the time, so our reading time was limited mostly to bedtime, but still, we read a lot and, while we read, there was more than a little direct instruction in Reading Strategies and Skills.

Poor third kid, Molly. She's practically never without a pile of books within reach. She loves looking at picture books (and even some of the boys' old chapter books) but, sadly, there is no formal reading instruction happening in my house for her. Here she is, at her Whole Hand Birthday, counting down the months until she joins her big brothers in Elementary School, and I have neglected to prioritize this critical skill.

It wasn't on purpose. We're just busy. In the brief window of time together between when I pick her up from preschool and when we get the kids from school, we sometimes read or play a game but, more often than not she's off on her own in the playroom...decompressing from school while I try to check a few more things of my never-ending to-do list. I'd feel guilty if she wasn't so content to play on her own.

It hit me as I tucked her in the other night. I pulled her covers up tight and placed her stack of books beside her. Sam had already read to her (it's their nightly routine) but, for the life of me, I couldn't remember the last time I had. I sat down on her bed. "What are you reading, love?" She showed me the cover of her book...an anthology of stories I had grown up reading: The Best Nest, Put Me in a Zoo, Go Dog Go, and A Fly Went By.

"I'm reading the one about the Fly."

She turned back to her page and pointed to the first word: 

"So," she read.

And then she went on: "The fly ran away in fear of the frog, who ran from the cat, who ran from the dog...." She needed a little help with the word "fear" and the word "who," but once she heard them once, she mastered them within the repetitive text. She read then entire page to me, then looked up at me, at once proud and nonchalant.

"Molly," I began. "You just read! You're a READER!"

"I know," she said, with the confidence that flows through every bone in her tiny body. "I just look at the words and I just know what they say."


I had tears in my eyes...from pride, yes, but mostly from the fact that I felt like I missed it. I remember each stage of Evan's and Max's reading progression...from the very slow and deliberate identification of beginning sounds, to the stretching out of words and finding smaller chunks of known phonemes within larger words, to sight word awareness, and finally, to Reading. 

Molly is not some super-advanced reading savant. She's bright, yes. Very. But developmentally, she's doing exactly what she should be doing. It's not that she's mastered the skill before she should be ready to, it's that she's so much older and wiser than I ever give her credit for being. 

Poor third kid, Molly.

Try as she might to grow up, she'll always be my baby.

She says Big Kid things now like, "I forgot to mention...." and "So, the other day...."


A few nights ago, when I reminded her that she was perfectly capable of using the potty without me having to get out of bed to help her, she said, after sighing audibly, "I just feel like you're never nice." So, you know, we're even practicing for the teenage years already. 

But still, she's my baby.

By the time the boys were her age, there was another kid or two beneath them in the birth order. They were expected to be bigger than their ages should have required because, frankly, I needed the help. She sleeps in our bed (a nursing infant no longer needs the space) and I carry her back to the car from preschool (without a carseat to lug around or a baby strapped to my chest, I've got the extra hands). 

I probably shouldn't baby her so much. She's so big. She's so capable. She's so strong.

I just can't help it.
She's my baby.


This girl. With her big heart...



Her confidence and grace...


Her sense of self....and of style...



Her humor, her sass, her imagination, her kindness, her adventurous spirit, her bursting vocabulary, her willingness to try new things (not new foods--she's still as picky as ever--but new experiences), her ability to hang with the big kids, her tenderness...her spunk...


She's my favorite girl in the world. And this world? It's a better place because she's in it.

As we walked out of school after picking up her brothers the other day, she said, "You know what, Mommy? I'm a little bit nervous about being in Kindergarten." I assured her that everyone feels that way. "I was even nervous about my first day of Kindergarten when I was the teacher!" I said. I squeezed her hand a little and felt that pang in my chest. Before I know it, she'll be off on her own in this great big world of Elementary School. She's ready and so am I....but damn. What a day that will be when I kiss all three of my little ducklings goodbye and send them off together. There's the beauty in being the Baby, though....when she's off on her way, she'll have her two big brothers beside her.


And is there any better place to be? 
Little girl of ours, you are so loved.

Lesson Learned:
On this, your fifth birthday, I have just one request from the universe on your behalf: Come true, wishes! Every last one of them. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

there's a first time for everything

To be fair, it wasn't actually my first time. I had been once before. It was in college and I only went because I was the victim of peer pressure. I knew before I even donned the requisite form-fitting attire that it wouldn't really be my scene, but my roommates were going and I went along with the crowd. Baaaaa.

It was the most awkward 30 or so minutes of my life. I walked around aimlessly, trying not to make eye contact with the beautiful people around me. They belonged there, not me...and it showed.

Unable to shake the intimidation the actual equipment inspired, I finally got down on a mat. I did a few sit-ups. I stood back up and wandered around a bit more. Finally, realizing that no, this was definitely not my scene...and craving breadsticks from the dining hall, I left....thus ending my first ever trip to The Gym.

After that, I discovered yoga. The studio was my scene and I never thought to reenter the sweaty, bulky world of Exercise Equipment again. When the kids came along, I couldn't even find regular time and energy to go to a studio. I started doing yoga in my living room (with Yoga with Adriene on YouTube). I was content with my level of activity. My genetic-disposition to a thin build, a healthy metabolism, and very little family history of health issues, coupled with the fact that I am a busy mom of three, led me to believe that I was taking good care of my body.

And then, my littlest sister became a Personal Trainer.

She, very kindly, educated me on the facts of (a long, healthy, and active) life. It's not enough to be thin and, what I consider to be, "active." In order to protect my body and my bones and my joints and my organs, I need to incorporate core-strength development into my routine. I don't have to bench hundreds of pounds of weight, but resistance training is important for protecting the muscles I will depend on to remain as active as I want to be as I age. Yoga is great, she agrees, but she had a few ideas in mind (and a free personal training session) for me....if I could just meet her at The Gym.

I agreed. And not all that reluctantly, either! I agree with her that, even if the most active that I ever strive to be is to be able to hike with my family, to have the stamina to keep up with their busy lives, to work out in my garden, and to age well, I'll need to work to protect the body that, up until now, I've largely taken for granted.

There was just one problem...and I called my sister the night before our session to talk it over.

"Um, hi," I started.
"Uh-oh....what?" she asked, probably thinking I was about to bail on her.
"So...it turns out...don't laugh....I don't have any shoes."
[snicker] "Wait, what?"
"Yogis go barefoot! And I don't think my hiking shoes are gym-appropriate. So, can you bring an extra pair?"
[barely audible through the laughter] "Sure. Ohmygod." [laughter continues as we hang up]

So, with that one tiny little hurdle behind us, we met in the parking lot of the gym the next morning where we did a little shoe switcheroo.

"Are you nervous?" she asked, as we entered the gym.
"Not about the exercise. I know you'll go easy on me. But I'm just a little worried that I'll see people I know here. What if they look at me? What if they're all 'What are you doing here, Sarah?'"

She smiled, but I'm pretty sure there was a sisterly eye-roll thrown in there, too. "Okay, really? It's not like that. I promise. It's a safe space. Everyone's welcome."

She introduced me to the gym manager at the desk and, while we shook hands, I caught the eye of a friend of mine over her shoulder. We did a quick smile and wave and she went back to her machine.

"Ugh. SEE? I know people!" I whined.
"Ohmygod, stop worrying! It's totally fine."

We walked over to the lockers to stash our bags. I saw two more fit and confident women, whom I know from school and the neighborhood. Brief smiles were exchanged as I nervously wiggled my toes in my sister's shoes.

"Alright, let's start back here," my sister instructed, leading the way to a quiet corner of the gym. We sat down on a bench and she brought out her Personal Trainer paperwork to do an assessment of my fitness goals. She hadn't started with question one when a friend of mine on the stair stepper machine glanced over her shoulder and spotted me.

I waved and, rather than just ignoring me and going back to her machine, she REMOVED HER EARBUD.

"Sarah! I never thought I'd run into you here!" she said with a little laugh.

"Ugh, I know! She forced me!" I said, half-joking, as I introduced her to my sister.

"I think it's great!" my friend said, stepping the hell out of that machine, though you'd never know it by just talking to her. I would have been too winded to speak. "Hey, you're here for the first time...I'm trying yoga for the first time this year!"

I felt a bit better. She would probably feel just as fish-out-of-water walking into a yoga studio for the first time. I relaxed a bit...even though, my social fears confirmed, she was literally the fourth person, in as many minutes, that I knew there.

Annnnndddd...then another neighbor walked by and said hello.

So apparently the gym is a social scene.

Another one of my favorite things. Awesome.

*****

We were there for an hour and I'm so proud of my littlest sister. She did a great job with a less-than-ideal client. With her help, I identified my fitness goals:

  • to age healthily
  • to maintain an energy-level that enables me to keep up with my kids
  • to maintain heart health
  • and yes...to keep my tummy flat(ish) and my arms toned (gotta keep that bicep tattoo from sagging!)
She showed me how to use several of the machines safely and effectively, then instructed me on a floor circuit for core strength and free-weights circuit for strength and balance. My favorite of all of the activities were the ones using the Bosu (the half-exercise ball) and the wobble board. It felt like playing, but I could feel my body working. Just like yoga.

Did my session with a Personal Trainer change me? Yes and no. I'm going to be honest: I'm still not joining a gym. I told my sister that my issue was mostly motivation. If I knew that she would meet me at the gym several times a week to walk me through an exercise routine like the one we just did, I'd consider signing up (as long as I was able to get over the working-out-in-public self-consciousness). I just don't see myself making the most of my time there without someone telling me what to do next. She suggested group classes....but then there's the whole "other people" issue. Ugh. I'm the worst.

My sister did inspire me, though. She left me with a list of activities that, with minimal or no equipment, I can do at home. Maybe...just maybe...once I become more comfortable and confident with my practice at home, I'll give the gym another go. Third time's a charm?

Lesson Learned:
To my friends and neighbors, if you ever see me in the gym, let's just pretend we're strangers, 'kay? Thanks. Oh, and if you happen to be looking for a Personal Trainer, I happen to know a great one. Let me know if you want me to connect you!

Friday, December 30, 2016

a perfect day

We are dragging ourselves across the finish line of this godforsaken year by our fingernails. Instead of eagerly anticipating the dawn of a new, fresh start, I'm looking towards Sunday as the beginning of a four-year-long sentence in a torture chamber where the punishment is, at its best, the egregious lack of common sense and decency by the People In Charge. At its worst....well...I guess simply the end of the world as we know it.

Even if that sounds melodramatic, this truth is irrefutable: The negative impact of this incoming presidency threatens to last far longer than the president elect's time in office. We are going to need to pace ourselves and take care of ourselves (and each other) in order to withstand the approaching storm. We can do that by finding the positivity where it is to be found. Though the next four years will be rough, not every day of each year will be. Despite who the leader of the free world is and what he does with the power of his position, there will still be moments of peace and joy and growth and human connection and scientific advancement and love and kindness.

There will be because there has to be. We will make it be so.

I've circled my emotional wagons. I've deleted Facebook from my phone (though I still manage to check in daily because, damn, I can't quit you, baby) and have stopped reading every article that follows a sensational, blood-pressure-raising headline. While punctuating my days with calls to my representatives and donations made to the organizations that are going to end up being the ones to save us from this new reality, I'm focusing my mind and my heart more locally...hyper-locally, in fact. It's self-preservation through self-centeredness.  

Right now, all that really matters to me is my family.

****

We started 2016 with a resolution of strengthening our family bonds through Kid Dates...one-on-one time with just one parent and one kid, engaging in anything from breakfast out to archery practice to a visit to the library. Once, Evan and I spent our date in the basement, facing off in a Nerf Battle the likes of which I never thought I'd participate in. It was awesome. The last few months of the year became hectic, though, as they often do. Much of our time was spent together as a family, but we didn't prioritize our one-on-one dates. It's something I want to get back to in the new year.  

Selfishly, I want that time with each of my kids to distract me from the rest of the world. Less selfishly, I want that time to be a chance for each kid to feel like he or she is the center of my attention...what truly matters. Regardless of what these next four years turn this world into, my children will feel Special. Loved. Worthy. Capable. 

We don't need one-on-one time with our kids to teach them these things...but it's how I am choosing to send the message loudly and clearly: You Matter. Just You. All of You.

****

Molly and I fell into our date by chance this week. The boys wanted to go see Rogue One, which I knew wouldn't be right for Molly. Rather than try to find a movie showing at the same time that was more her speed, we decided to do our own thing. 

She picked Ice Skating. 

SK8R GRRL. Little badass on blades.

It was her third time to the rink and her first time standing (and walking) on her skates unassisted! She still held onto my hands for dear life once out on the ice, but she's starting to gain her confidence on the ice and I wouldn't be surprised if she ventures out on her own (though still on the wall) next time.

After about six laps around the rink (with breaks after each complete lap to watch the semi-pros twirling and jumping in center ice) she was ready to go.

Rather than heading straight home, we popped into some of the shops downtown that the boys never want to browse through. We looked at fancy jewelry, played with toys out on display, paged through holiday books on the clearance rack, and tried on hats.


We even found a wooden rhinoceros that we almost brought home with us. It was gorgeously carved out of a single piece of wood and Molly fell in love immediately. We were short on cash by about three grand, but otherwise, it would have been ours. 


Finally, we stopped by Uncle Mike's juice bar where Mom Mom was working and where we snagged one of the last Peppermint Bark nut milks of the season. 


When we got home, we took a nap on the couch. It was such a perfect day.

Lesson Learned:
I'm glad I spent it with You....

Monday, December 19, 2016

the evolution of Knowing

It's been the topic of many whispered conversations between me and my fellow parents-of-9-year-olds this year: How much does your kid Know? And yes, sometimes we're comparing our kids' notes on puberty, sex, and the biology of babies being born...but more often than not, we're talking Magic.

There's just something about 9-year-olds, I suppose. The schools have deemed them ready for "The Puberty Video," (which they showed at the end of the last day of school before Thanksgiving Break, leading to a number of interesting Thanksgiving Dinner conversations!) And, similarly, many of us parents-of-4th-graders have found ourselves, at some point over the past year, face-to-face with our not-so-little kids asking to be told The Truth about holiday magic.

Our Day of Truth happened last March, on St. Patrick's Day. At the time, I felt as though I handled the conversation well. Evan certainly didn't seem traumatized or disappointed with his new knowledge. And rather than mourning the loss of his innocence, I was actually really looking forward to this year...our first Post Knowing Christmas. I was excited to have his eager help with the elf and, to be honest, a Christmas morning "Thank You" directed at me and Sam rather than shouted toward the ceiling would be pretty awesome. (A mom can dream, right?) And so, right after Thanksgiving, when our elf, Bear Ticklish, arrived, I pulled Evan aside.

To his wide-eyed, solemn face, I whispered, "It's time, buddy! Time to help make the magic for Max and Molly! Are you ready?"

He nodded, slowly. Unsurely. I was a bit confused by his deer-in-headlights reaction. I dropped the issue until bedtime.

After we were sure the littlest were asleep, I went to retrieve Evan from his bed.

"Put your book down for a minute! It's time!"

We tiptoed downstairs to where Bear Ticklish sat on the shelf.

Evan stared at the elf. I looked down at my big boy.

He didn't move a muscle.

"Go ahead, buddy!" I urged.

"So.....what do you do?" Evan asked.

I furrowed my brow a bit and said, "Well, what do you mean? You make the magic!"

Nothing.

"You...move him." I said, as I started to sweat.

"I...move...him?"

"Um...yes." Wait. What?! I thought we were all clear here. Hadn't we discussed this? Hadn't we talked about how Daddy and I make the magic and that, now that you know the truth, YOU are going to help us make the magic, too?! 

"So. Like. With my hands?"

Oh my god.

"I. Like. TOUCH HIM?!"

What have I done?!

"Um, yeah, buddy. Remember? Remember what we talked about? Daddy and I and now YOU help make the magic for Max and Molly. Remember?"

Please tell me you remember. Please tell me I didn't just blow this for you.

"No, yeah! I know! I just...I can't believe I get to see what he feels like!"

Okay. Deep breath. We're good. He knew.

He moved the elf and has continued to do so most nights. He seems to enjoy it, and he plays it so cool in the mornings. "Man, guys," he'll say to Max and Molly as they all wander from room to room, looking. "I just can't seem to find him anywhere."

But, it occurred to me that we should tread very lightly with The Truth this year. His Knowing seems so blurry...so incomplete...like he's trying to put a puzzle together, but doesn't have all of the pieces yet. I want him to find the pieces on his own...I don't want to just hand them all over to him if he's not ready to see the whole picture yet.

I'm so glad we did.

Last week he came home from school, abuzz with information to share.

"MOM! You'll never guess what the guys in my class were talking about!"

True. A bunch of 9- and 10-year old boys? I didn't want to guess what kind of stories they were telling.

"So there was this team of explorers exploring around the Arctic and, all of a sudden, one of the explorers bumped into this invisible wall! Like a force field or something! And they were talking it over with the other explorers and they think it might be the secret entrance to the REAL North Pole! Now all they have to do is find the secret handle on the entrance and, voila!, we'll know all of Santa's secrets!"

I stared at him. "Wow," was all I could say. Was he putting on this act for the little kids? They were both staring at him, too, mouths agape. No. He's good, but he's not That good. "Can you imagine?" I responded, turning to look at their homework folders to hide my expression.

"Yeah!" he said as he skipped away to the play room. "Wouldn't it be awesome to really Know?"

Lesson Learned:
Baby steps toward knowing the truth, I suppose. I'm more than okay with that.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Are we going to spend the next four years perpetuating the stereotype of the Whiny, Entitled Liberal, complaining on Facebook about the state of the world, or are we going to put on our Big Girl Pants(uits) and get shit done?

That's what I thought.

If you're planning to march or protest or demonstrate, good for you (as long as you are peaceful and nonviolent and nondestructive...throwing bricks never helped anyone). If you're planning to put in your volunteer hours to accompany women to their appointments at Planned Parenthood or people of color in their daily commutes, fantastic. And thank you.

But if you're the primary caregiver of small children or the primary provider for your family, you may not feel as though you are willing or able to commit to these Large Efforts.

So write some checks (don't use PayPal--Thiel = ugh). It's not throwing money at a problem...it's handing money to people who are in a position to Do The Most Good, while you concentrate on the critical issue of Raising the Next Generation of Kind and Conscientious Voters and Citizens.

Maybe you'll donate to one of these organizations each month over the next four years. Maybe you'll donate each and every time a new piece of discriminatory or dangerous legislation is passed. Maybe you'll donate each time you witness or experience an act of Trump-legitimized hate.

Bookmark these links** and wear them out...over the next four years and beyond.

For the Environment
Donate in honor of Myron Ebell, who was chosen to lead Trump's EPA transition team and is a noted Climate Change Denier.

For Minorities and Immigrants
Donate in honor of David Clark, who equated BLM to ISIS or in honor of Jeff Sessions, who has been called Amnesty's Worst Enemy. Both men have been named as potential Cabinet picks of the Trump Administration.
Donate in honor of Mike Pence who, as the Governor of Indiana, signed into law a bill that made it legal for businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ customers. He also argued for public funding for conversion therapy for gay youth. Now he is our Vice President-Elect.
Donate in honor of Mr. Trump himself.

For Common Sense Gun Legislation
Donate in honor of Big Gun Lover (and Big Game murderer) Donald Trump Jr. or Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA.
Lesson Learned:
If I must accept him as our President, I will; but I will not accept the hateful words and actions on which he built his campaign. I will do what I can to help protect the people whom he has marginalized and vowed to strip of their rights. 



**This is not a complete list. I have tried to cross-reference these organizations on CharityWatch.org, Give.org, and Charity Navigator, but not all are listed. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Our New Reality

The unthinkable actually happened.

First North Carolina fell and then Florida. I burst into tears and ran to the room in which all three of my children slept. I stood in that room and sobbed silent, heaving sobs.

I went to bed, scared and shivering, but grasping desperately onto the last shred of hope I had left. This wasn't over.

I finally fell asleep after lying in bed for several hours, willing myself not to look at my phone, which I had uncharacteristically brought upstairs with me.

At four, I awoke with a jolt. I quietly reached over my four-year old, who had crawled into our bed while I slept, and found my phone on the bedside table. I opened, first, CNN. The headline took my breath away: President Trump.

I gasped, literally clutching my chest, and reached down to touch my daughter, sleeping beside me. We have failed you.

My tears made it hard for me to read, but I opened Facebook anyway. Status after status of my friends and neighbors: What happened? Is this an alternate universe? FUCK THIS. #imSTILLwithher

I added my own:

For my medically complex son, I weep.
For my gender nonconforming son, I weep.
For my daughter, I weep.

But my broken heart still chooses Love. Kindness. Respect. Decency. Freedom. Hope that our Future will do better. Be better.

Oh, America. What have you done?

***

I put away my phone, snuggled up to my daughter, and cried. There would be no more sleep.

By the time I arrived at my brother's juice bar for work that morning, I was wrecked.

I entered the restaurant and hugged my coworkers. My "What. The. Fuck." echoed through the emptiness. We cried. We shook our heads.

And then, we got to work.

We cleaned and stocked and prepped and readied and then, sure enough, the customers started to come. I was surprised, at first. "Who the hell wants a smoothie on a goddamn day like today?" But I understood as I watched them throughout the morning. As a hippie juice bar and raw foods kitchen on a blue island (surrounded by a red lake) in a newly-blue state, we were a haven. Customers came in all wearing the same wasted, broken look on their faces. They hugged each other. The mood was somber, as Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner played over the speakers.

But there was normalcy, too. Life, it seemed, would go on.

I was sorting bottles, my eyes, at last completely dry, when a regular came to where I was standing at the end of the bar. As he waited for his order, he looked at me. "How're you doing?"

I had stopped saying "fine" as my default response. "This is hard," I said instead.

"My daughter was sobbing this morning as I left..." he started. We all want to share our stories. Our "Where Were You When" moments. Those moments are seared in our brains...the apexes between the before and the after, the turning point after which life, as we had known it, would never be the same.

We talked for a few minutes about our fears...legitimized discrimination against religious and ethnic groups and the LGBT community...a repeal of the health care system that both of our families depend on...our environment...our national economy...international instability...the list went on....but it kept circling back to the word that defined his campaign: Hate.

Finally, he said, "I'm going to tell you the same thing I told my daughter. Now, I've lived on this earth longer than you. I'm not saying I've been through more than you have, because we all have our own stories, but I have aged more than you. I have watched people around me deal or not deal with changes as they have happened and there's one thing that will age you faster and more negatively than anything else."

"Worry?" I guessed. "Anxiety?" Because I certainly felt about ten years older and more tired than I had the day before.

"The inability to adapt to change."

I furrowed my brow. Adapt? To this CHANGE?! I will never ADAPT TO HATE.

He could see where my mind was going so he quickly added: "You don't have to agree with the change, but you need to adapt to it. Accept it. Work with it. USE it."

I think he's right. I'm never going to accept hate. I'm never going to respect the platform on which this president-elect won this election.

But nearly half of my country does.

So I will work with that.

I will work. I will fight.

I will adapt. To this "change."

I will not just sit and cry and hope for a better tomorrow...because that's not adapting, that's remaining stagnant while the world around me changes.

I have joined a group of women in my community who are ready to Work. We are meeting next week and I'm ready. I have never been an activist before, but I'm a fast learner and I'm highly motivated. My kids will see me stand up for what is Right: Freedom. Kindness. Compassion. Inclusion. Acceptance. Love.

I will accept that Donald Trump is my president, but I will not tolerate Hate.

Lesson Learned:

Change will be slow and difficult...but it will be worth it. Be Brave, New World. It's time to act.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Divided Up

"Hey, guys, look! It's the cross-country team!" I pointed out the window as we drove into our neighborhood. The high school team trains and competes on the running trails that weave throughout our neighborhood. As though they were in the presence of celebrity, my kids craned their necks to get a good view.

"Huh," Max noted. "They're all boys."

"Well, that's just because this is the Boys Cross-Country Team. There's a Girls' team, too."

A moment of silence as we watched the first runners of the group disappear into the woods.

"That would be hard for me," Max said.

"Running? You're a strong runner." I assured him.

"No. Dividing me up like that...If I'm still, you know, like this when I'm in high school."

And my heart. It shattered. I clenched my two hands tightly on the wheel. I willed myself to keep my eyes on the road even as they filled with tears.

Like this.

Like doesn't fit.

Like wrong.



Where have we failed him? Haven't we been so clear and convicted in raising him to express himself fully and completely and confidently? Doesn't he know that he's perfect just the way he is? Doesn't he know that he doesn't have to be "divided up?" Doesn't he know that he doesn't have to fit in one of the two neat little boxes that society has created for kids? Either/or?

I pulled into our driveway and put the car in park. The kids happily bounded inside the house, ready to begin the Pokemon game they had been planning during the drive home.

Sam was just coming up the driveway, too, so I stopped him and told him what Max had said.

"What did you say to him?" Sam asked, his Papa Bear in full effect.

"I just told him that no matter 'how' he is, he'll always be Max and we'll always love him just the way he is. That's all I could say before..." and my eyes once again filled and my voice got too shaky to continue.

"Should we talk to him about it? Should we say more?" Sam wondered.

"I don't know. Yes. I think so. I don't know. I need to take a shower."

Because sometimes you just need a good cry in the shower, you know?

So I did. I took a shower and cried for Max and for the world and for Evan, who's still not gaining weight, and for me, who has to shoulder this burden of not being able to just fix everything and make life smooth and easy for my kids.

And it helped. A little. At least I got to express all of the emotions I've been holding in since...I don't know. It's been awhile.

I toweled off and put on warm, fuzzy pajamas. Sam came upstairs and said that the other two kids were outside but that Max was in the kitchen. "It's a good time to talk to him if you want to say more."

And I did. And it had to be me. Sam hadn't been in the car with us and I didn't want Max to think that his statement was such a Big Bad Important Thing that we had to double team him.

So I sat next to him at the kitchen table where he was sorting his Pokemon cards in his binder.

"Baby, I want to talk to you about what you said in the car."

He looked up at me, for just the briefest moment, before looking back at his cards. "Yeah?"

"Listen. There are lots of different types of people in this world. Some of them feel totally like a boy. Some of them feel totally like a girl. And some of them feel somewhere in the middle...not totally boy or girl. And they're all perfect. There is nothing wrong with any of them. Right now, you feel somewhere in the middle. You may not always feel that way. But you might. Even when you're a grown-up, you may still feel like you're a little of both. And there's nothing wrong with that. You never have to pick one or the other because, no matter what, you're always going to be our Max. And you're perfect just like you are. You always will be."

I showed him an Instagram account of a beauty/make-up columnist that I follow: Tynan Buck. He's a gorgeous guy with short, candy-colored hair, scruffy facial hair, and the most fabulous nails and make-up I've ever seen. Max scrolled through his photos, commenting on which lipstick shades he liked and which metallic nail colors he wanted.

"I want you to know, baby, that you never have to be 'Divided Up.' You can be everything all at once. Let's say that when you get to High School, you want to run cross-country. And let's say that they still have two teams: a boys' team and a girls' team. And let's say that you don't feel like you fit in either of those teams. You know what you do?"

For the first time since I started talking, he looked up at me again.

"You join a Running Club that is open to boys and girls."

"Really?"

"Really. And if they don't have a boys and girls running club at your school, do you know what you do?"

"What?"

"You start one. And Daddy and I will help you. Don't change who you are to fit in, babe. Change your world to fit you."

A smile spread across his face. "So you're saying you want me to be a wrecking ball who crashes down buildings to make more room for my huge palace?" And then he went off on a tangent about Miley Cyrus.

The time for our serious conversation, it seemed, had passed.

"Yes, baby. That's exactly what I'm saying." I stood up and wrapped my arms around him as he put the last of his cards in their appropriate slots in the pages of his binder. He closed his binder and wriggled out of my hug, eager to join the neighborhood kids playing outside.

He looked back at me as he opened the door. "You look like you're going to cry, Mommy."

"Happy tears, babe. I just love you so much!"

"Love ya, mama."

Lesson Learned:
They weren't happy tears. They were the tears of an overwhelmed mama. But he doesn't need to know that.