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

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.