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

Friday, October 11, 2019

Ten Fabulous Years

When I was pregnant with Max, I lost 80% of the hair on the sides and back of my head. I had bald spots that I attempted to conceal with strategic ponytails and headbands. The doctors shrugged their shoulders and attributed it to hormones...but, in hindsight, I think it was something more...it was my body's way of preparing me for the kid we were about to bring into this world. I was self-conscious and full of anxiety over whether or not my hair would grow back, but there was literally nothing I could do about it. My pregnancy with Max taught me to let go... of preconceived notions (I certainly didn't have that gorgeous pregnancy glow I had imagined...) and my need for control. Instead, I had to just be present...to enjoy the fabulous ride that was having (through a scary whirlwind of a labor and delivery), and is now raising, this kid...a kid who, since the very beginning, has figured out how to live in this world on precisely his own terms.

*****

His selfie game is strong.

Of a million different admirable traits, my favorite thing about Max is his unapologetic individuality. He knows who he is, he knows what he likes, he knows how he feels, and he shares it all with us without censoring or holding back.

He is open and honest and quick to put his inner world into words so he can let those of us around him in. He unleashes a nearly endless running commentary from the moment he wakes up until he leaves for school, which he picks right up again the moment he gets in the car.

The other day there was a heaviness about him as he settled into his seat and buckled his seatbelt. "I think I need to make some pretty major changes," he began with a sigh. I glanced at him in the rearview mirror as we pulled out of the school parking lot. "It's just that....well....I just think I'd be a really great teacher." Before I could agree, he continued: "But I can still find time to bake! Like in the afternoons or on weekends! I can be both!" I agreed with him, but reminded him that he has plenty of time to figure things out. Decisions about future career paths in teaching and/or baking don't need to be made right this minute. He exhaled a deep breath. "I just need to figure a few things out." I have no doubt he'll keep us posted as he considers his options.

(He can't even hide how he's feeling when he's reading...)


Change can be hard for Max. The transition to fourth grade was a difficult one, not because of anything specific about the new grade (his teacher and classmates are wonderful), but because he is old enough now to grasp the loss that comes with change. He blinked back tears and his voice was shaky as I tucked him into bed one night in the second or third week of school. "It's not that I don't like fourth grade, but I know that third grade will never happen ever again. It's over and, once it's over, you can't go back."

As he grows and is more aware of the larger world around him, there's anxiety in the Unknown as well as the New. Max is constantly checking in to gauge my reactions to things. If I mention a news story or even an innocuous change in our schedule, for example, Max will pipe up, "But is it bad?" "Is that bad?" "Is that okay?" I'm constantly reassuring him that "no, it's not bad, we're okay, it's alright," which often feels like a lie because, let's face it, this world is pretty F'ed up right now.

We're all kind of living in a moment in time in which we're wondering where and when we'll find the bottom, aren't we?

We point out the good. We celebrate the change-makers and the truth-tellers and the trail-blazers of our time and remind him that you need to experience darkness to appreciate the light... We remind him that the hardest thing is to be a kid right now...mostly powerless in effecting real change...but that being a kid is also the best thing to be right now: Learn from the mistakes of the grown-ups in charge. When it's your turn, do better. BE better. I have no doubt that his generation will be. (And already is...)

Growing up is hard, but it can be excruciating for LGBTQ kids. We're doing our best to shield Max from that trauma, or at least to provide for him the tools he'll need to be resilient. We work diligently to ensure that his little bubble is a safe one, but we can't control the conversations happening at a societal level (the fact that SCOTUS is even having the conversation they currently are over whether or not it is discrimination to fire someone for being gay or trans is bad, but the lack of attention being paid to the massacre of trans women of color is truly unconscionable). We keep from him what we can, though, and we focus on the good. We celebrate LGBTQ identity as a family. There will be bumps in this road, to be sure, but I think we're doing a pretty good job so far... His school had spirit week and kids were encouraged to wear a shirt or jersey of their favorite team. Max wore his Pride shirt: "Pride is my team and I am here for it, grrrl, YAASSS, Queen!" Hair toss, hand on hip, strutting across the kitchen in his 5" heels...

...which leads me to another one of my most favorite things about this kid: his sense of style and self-expression.



I feel terrible that Max has a mom like me who thinks fashion is "my nicer jeans" and whose wardrobe staples come from Target. I don't even know where to start in supplementing his wardrobe. Does anyone reading this have a fashion-forward kid who can recommend a great place to shop? Luckily, Max is creative with accessories and can transform a scarf and belt into something runway-ready when he's feeling the need to strut. Also luckily, we have an amazing neighbor who has gifted Max her collection of heels.

Legs for days.

Max has always been a musical kid but now that he has an iPod to create his own Apple Music playlists, he's rarely without headphones and he constantly provides his own personal soundtrack to his life. He's a quick study of lyrics and can sing along to the chorus by the end of hearing a song for the first time. From the sunny sweet pop of Taylor Swift's Lover album to the bad bitch soul of Lizzo's "Cuz I Love You," this kid has the chops and the range. He knows every word to Lizzo's "Juice," "Good as Hell," "Truth Hurts," and "Fitness," too, which, even when we're listening to the clean versions, are providing quite an education in vocabulary and confidence (and I secretly love every second of it). After a summer with K-pop queens BlackPink on repeat, he sings in Korean now, too. Can't stop, won't stop...


He has refined tastes.


He says that, when he's a dad, he'll raid his secret stash of gourmet Belgian chocolates as soon as he sends his kids off to school. "When I'm a dad, I can do that, right?" he asked, after revealing his grand plans....I told him that yes, he can...because I do the very same thing. His big, blue eyes got wider than I've ever seen them...

When he "swears," he says "Oh my goddess."

He is thoughtful and empathetic. He is a peacemaker among friends and a sometimes rabble-rouser among siblings.


He is a writer and a game inventor and a math wizard.

He collects words in a vocabulary binder and hair styles in a style folder.

He loves a good sugar rush...



He is brave.



He is affectionate and loving...


He is confident and capable...


He is the perfectly sweet middle in my favorite Oreo cookie....


And I'm so damn proud that he's ours.

Lesson Learned:

On your tenth birthday, Max, I want you to know how much I love watching you grow. I love witnessing your self-discovery and am so honored that you trust us to share in your journey.

Know that, as you grow, you will continue to change and that change is good. There are no rules that you could set for yourself now that you will be unable to break as you get older....life is about learning as you go. Know that you can continue to rewrite your story as what you discover about yourself shapes who you want to become.

Know that, until this world has fully woken up, I will continue to fight for your right to exist wholly and affirmatively and gorgeously in it....and know, truly know, in your heart of hearts, that ours is a better world because of the sparkle you add to it each and every day.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Culture Quest

I've written about our lack of religion before. It's come up over the years...the "Who's that guy?" as my 10-year old pointed to a painting of Jesus is among my favorites...but there have been other instances in which our unChristianity has been a topic of conversation around our dinner table. It's never been a source of confusion or negativity for my kids, though. Some of our friends go to church or pray, but we don't. Simple as that.

A few weeks ago, Evan referenced Noah's Ark in a casual conversation about the state of the world over lunch. Molly wasn't sure what he was talking about, so he and Max filled her in: "It's when Noah made a giant boat to save all the animals when God sent the flood to punish everyone," Evan started.

"There were two of each animal so they could reproduce and repopulate the Earth when the flood dried up," Max said.

"And it REALLY happened?!" Molly asked, alarmed.

The boys laughed. "Of course not," Max said. "That's impossible."

"It's just a story that people tell their kids so they'll be good and God won't have to punish them with another flood," Evan said before adding, "but everyone knows that all the floods and fires lately are due to global warming," a bit smugly.

"Don't laugh at it, though," I cautioned. "It's true that a lot of people read parts of the Bible as allegory, or 'just a story.' But some people believe in the Bible as the literal truth. It's not for us to laugh at, even if we think it's impossible. We can just choose to believe in it...or not."

"Do we believe in it?" Molly asked.

"I don't," I answered, "and that's why I'm not Christian."

"Am I?"

"That's for you to figure out."

"I'm not!" said Evan, emphatically.

"Me neither," said Max.

Molly plunked her grilled cheese down on her plate. "Well, I don't know what I am!" she lamented.

"You don't have to know now," I assured her. "Or ever! It's completely up to you."

"I think I'm Buddhist," Max said. "Is that what you are, Mommy?"

"I think there's a lot to admire about how Buddhists live their lives. I think their belief system is fascinating and I do believe in an after-life similar to reincarnation where your life energy remains constant. But no, I'm not Buddhist."

"Oh," he puzzled. "Never mind. Me neither."

Molly returned to her grilled cheese, content with not being forced to answer the question no one had asked her, and Evan sat comfortably in his belief that science and reason are the ways of the universe.

"So, if you're not a Buddhist and you're not a Christian," Max continued, "then what ARE you?"

"I'm nothing. Not part of an organized religion, anyway. You know that I was raised Catholic, which is a Christian religion. I stopped receiving Communion when I was 16 though, because that's when I realized that I didn't believe a lot of what the Catholic priests were teaching us. I started to really wonder what I believed in when I was in college, so I took a bunch of religion classes. I also read a lot of books about religion. I found a lot that I liked but a lot that I didn't. In the end, I decided that I didn't need a religion in order to be a good person."

He wasn't satisfied: "But what do you believe in? WHAT are you?!" He's a label guy, after all.

"Buddy, Compassion is my religion and the Golden Rule is my way of life. If you consider every decision through the lens of kindness and compassion, and if you always treat others as you would want them to treat you, then you'll always make the right choice."

"Compassion?! But that's not like a religion or a belief. THAT'S NOT CULTURE! That's just like....living. We need to find our culture, Mom! We need to go to the library."

So, we went.

He checked out a bunch of the religion books our library had in the kids' non-fiction section...


...and a book about traditional foods from around the world for good measure.

The next night, I was tucking him into bed when I saw the World Religions book on his bedside table.

"Have you started reading this one?" I probed.

"Yeah, a little."

"What do you think? Is it interesting? Are you learning a lot?"

"Yeah..."

"Have you, ya know, picked a new culture yet?" I teased, poking him in the ribs.

He rolled his eyes and answered, "Ugh. Mom, no. It's like, I can't just like pick one. None of them feel like me yet."

"Well, you don't have to decide right now. You also don't need to just 'pick one.' You could do what we do and create your own culture based on family traditions."

"Our culture?" he began, with more than a hint of sass. Then he sighed dramatically as he continued, "If by 'our culture' you mean store-bought cinnamon rolls on Christmas and Easter, then I think we could do better."

Oh, man. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. It's true, we pop a can of Annie's on those "special event" mornings, but they're fresh(ish)ly baked, right? Clearly, he's been holding on to that dig for awhile.

He went on: "Like, where are our parties? Our festivals?!"
"We have a huge family! Every get together is practically a festival!" I countered.
"But it's not like we have special traditional costumes. We don't EVEN have A DANCE!"

So, I did what any good mom of the Fortnite generation would do and, with a hearty, "Oh, yeah? Well what do you call THIS?" I started flossing. Expertly.

He was not amused. I handed him his book, kissed him good night, and wished him luck on his Culture Quest.

It's been about a week and, in the meantime, he's moved on to other summer priorities besides "choosing a culture." He's still reading the books though, so I'll be interested to hear if anything he reads jumps out at him. A friend of mine asked me if I'd take him to Church, if he expressed an interest. The answer is yes. I don't think that's where we're headed...he seems adamant in his belief that Jesus was a teacher, not a savior, but if I'm going to claim to be open-minded, I'll need to practice what I preach.

Lesson Learned:

From what he's saying, it sounds like Max is more interested in choosing new customs rather than beliefs in this Culture Quest.

He's looking for good food, fabulous outfits, and lively dances. In a word, he just wants a party. I don't think he's having a spirituality crisis, he wishes we had a more interesting cultural family background than the generic Anglo-Irish, suburban American thing we have going on. On that count, I couldn't agree with him more. Time to start joining in the local cultural celebrations, I suppose, so we can learn about and enjoy the diverse foods and entertainment that our neighbors have to offer. I think this kid may be my future world traveler. Hope he takes me with him...

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Thing About Hate

I forget, sometimes, how far we still need to go.

*****

In nearly all areas of his life, Max has it pretty damn good. School and relationships come easily to him. He has a lot of interests and the willingness to pursue them. He is growing up in a safe and friendly environment. He has a large family, all of whom love him fiercely.

He has the language to understand his identity and the confidence to express it.

He is proud. And we couldn't be prouder.

We didn't think twice about stopping by a Pride festival on the way home from vacation last weekend. Our own hometown has a Pride festival in September. It's nice...but we were looking forward to attending an event during Pride Month. Something bigger. Something a bit more flashy. We wanted to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community Out Loud. The Hampton Roads Pride Fest was exactly what we we were looking for....Rainbows and flags, glitter and make-up, drag queens and quirky slogans on t-shirts.


The Boat Parade was an unexpected bonus. (And the "Naughty Boys" on that one boat were an unexpectedly aMAZing bonus!)

Also unexpected (because I live in a bubble of my own curation most of the time), were the protestors. We first saw them as we were circling the block in search of a parking space. It was a group of about eight people, kids and adults. They were what you might expect when you picture Pride protestors....angry people wearing shirts that spewed hateful "Christian" messages about sinners, heavy boots and wallets on chains....carrying large signs printed with bible verses and homophobic slurs.

Max didn't see them.

Sam gave me a look...Do we talk about it first? 
I answered him with a shrug...Cross our fingers and hope we don't run into them?

But, no. Max would see them. He sees everything. Obnoxiously observant and always with one ear open to the conversations around him, he would see them. We wanted him to know that we saw them first. We saw them and we had a plan.

But we didn't. Who has a plan for Hate?

We parked and I turned around in my seat to face the kids. "Listen," I started, "We're here to celebrate Pride. We're here for a fun family day and that's all I want you guys to focus on. There are a LOT of people here to celebrate Pride, to express themselves, and to have so much fun. It's just a big party!"

Three sets of eyes staring back at their unusually babbly mother.

"So, um, there are also people here who are just here to be jerks. Not a lot of them! They're protesting Pride and that's mean and unnecessary. We're not going to worry about them, but I wanted to let you know that, if you see them, just ignore them."

Max's eyes had grown wide and his bottom lip had started to tremble.

"But..." and the tears began to well up "Are they dangerous?"

Maybe? Hopefully not? They certainly could be. It's 2019 in the United States of America. We're an open carry state. Nazis with ARs came to our city less than two years ago. 100 people die every day from gun violence and mass murders in public spaces are becoming To Be Expected and our lawmakers are doing nothing to stop it.

"Absolutely not," I lied straight to his face.

"We're safe and here to have a great time with the hundreds of other people who are here to celebrate. We're not going to worry about a couple of mean jerks, okay?"

We parked and walked uneventfully to the waterfront. We had time to kill before the festival was to begin so we did the tourist bit...we wandered around the docks looking at the rainbow-bedecked boats preparing for the parade, we wandered through various shops, then we were off to find a good spot for lunch before heading into Pride.

That's when he saw them. Standing outside on the sidewalk, facing into the building we were about to leave, was a whole damn gaggle of protestors. They were waving their signs and chanting their chants and spewing their hate all over that poor sidewalk.

Sam did a quick pivot to steer us toward the side exit, but the damage was done. Max burst into tears. "I just want to leave!" he cried. "Let's just go home!"

It was one of those parenting moments that felt Important and that we needed to get Just Right. Take my baby and go? Honor his wishes? Whisk him out of a situation that seemed scary or unsafe? Teach him to trust his gut?

Or stay...just to make a point?

Well, we had spent the better part of the previous week with Taylor Swift's You Need to Calm Down on repeat and we were NOT going to let those haters step on our gowns, thankyouverymuch.

I got down low and in his face: "We're not leaving, baby. We're staying. We are here for a fun family day and we are NOT going to let mean people ruin our fun. You're completely safe. We're going to stay far away from them and ignore them, but we're going to Pride. We need to be here for everyone else who will see those guys and feel uncomfortable. We're here to make sure there's so many more of us than there are of them."

He wasn't convinced. Neither was I, but in those big Important parenting moments, am I ever?

"Alright listen: If we get to Pride and you don't feel safe, we'll leave. But right now, we're going out to lunch, okay? One step at a time."

Diversion By Food.

By the time we got to Pride, our bellies were full and we were all feeling a bit more relaxed. Sam sidled up to a cop while we were waiting in the bag check line and, after asking the important questions ("Do you have a plan for Hate?" "Will our kids be safe here?") learned that there was a designated area for protestors. Contained Hate. They were allowed to be there (freedom of speech) but they weren't allowed to rain on our parade. We could avoid the area altogether and enjoy the day. Knowing that helped Max. He did ask, though, what the police officer's "tone" was when he told Sam about the protestors being allowed there... "But did he sound mad or upset that they are allowed to be here or happy that they're here?" Kid doesn't miss a thing, I tell you.

We entered Pride and it was, I'm dead serious, glitter and rainbows.

It was pronoun pins and temporary tattoos, it was rainbow butterfly men on stilts...


...and voter registration tables with the LGBTQ Dems of Virginia, it was live music and drag shows, it was families and teens and adults and love and community and Pride.

AND a boat parade.




We passed by, at a distance, the Designated Area of Hate. We couldn't see it all, just a glimpse from in between tents. Max looked. I told him not to. "Don't even let them see you notice them." He saw enough, though, to see that he wasn't the only one bothered by them. There was a crowd of about a dozen or so Pride-goers facing the wall of (several dozen) protestors. The Pride contingent was answering the chants and responding to the signs with colorful language and hand gestures.

For the most part, though, Pride Party People ignored the Hate. Just didn't even give it a second glance. This is what I pointed out to Max.

Shade never made anybody less gay... so just be you. We're having way more fun than they are anyway, right kiddo? Here's a Kona Ice!

My heart broke, for a moment, for every LGBTQIA+ person at Hampton Roads Pride Fest who had to see and hear the Hate. My heart broke, for a moment, for Future Max. (We have a lot of work to do as a society before I let him off on his own in this world.)

...in the meantime...

My heart broke...but was instantly mended by the love I saw and felt at Pride. I saw moms and dads giving hugs to "kids" who were not their own but who needed a Mom Hug. I saw true, uncensored self-expression. I saw confidence. I saw celebration. I saw Family. We'll be back.

Lesson Learned:

The thing about Hate is....I'm just so over it. Aren't they? It's exhausting! Let's be done with the close-minded judgey rage, okay? Go home, jerks. Your signs aren't working.

Inhale. Exhale.
Spray, delay, walk away.
Or, you know, whatever Jonathan Van Ness would say in this situation.

When we got home, I asked Max if he had a good time at Pride. "Are you glad we went?"

"OMG! Like, so glad we went!" he answered as he flipped his hair and pushed play...


Thursday, April 25, 2019

My Letter to The Washington Post

I read an opinion piece in The Washington Post a few weeks ago and my broken-hearted, angry-as-hell rebuttal to it came spilling out into an email as soon as I kissed the kids goodbye and sent them off to school. What I wrote in that email was not an official Letter to the Editor and I was not looking for it to be published, but I was hoping to get some sort of a response to it. To be honest, even just an acknowledgement that I had taken the time to respond to the WP editors about an essay I had read in the print edition of the newspaper that I subscribe to in a day and age where print journalism needs all the paying subscribers they can get. Anyway.

I didn't get a response. Because my head and my heart are full of ALL of the thoughts and feelings about this topic right now...I'm copying my email into this space. I need my head clear of these words and to do that, I need acknowledgement that these words, these feelings, are out in the universe. I need people to see this issue from our point of view and to just open their minds and their hearts....and shut their hateful mouths.

[Note: The original opinion piece can be read by clicking the link in the opening paragraph of my letter. The online title has been changed from the print edition I referenced.]

*** 

My heart broke this morning as I read an opinion piece in the Sunday, April 7, 2019 edition of The Washington Post. The transphobic language printed in the essay 'Parents Should Lead on Teaching Children About Gender' touched a nerve because it's exactly what we fear our 9-year old, who identifies as gender-fluid, will encounter as he grows up in this still shockingly close-minded world.

The assertion that exposure to a children's book [I am Jazz] will lead cisgender students to suddenly question their gender identity is naive and suggests that the writer has never spent significant time around a gender-nonconforming child. In our case, which is echoed by every other parent of gender-nonconforming, gender-fluid, or transgender children I've spoken with, our son's gender-fluidity was apparent from the moment he could express an interest in toys, activities, and clothing. He was younger than three years old and certainly not influenced by his environment or caregivers to express a gender-fluid identity. On the contrary, his world, like the worlds of so many American children today, was strictly gendered, though through no intentional design by us, his parents. His preferences surprised us but we were open to his choices and, as he got older, his self-expression and declaration of his gender identity.

The statement that "the working draft of the policy implementation procedure seeks to expose kids at a young age to transgender-themed materials...and risk convincing healthy, normally developing boys and girls that their bodies are wrong and must be altered with hormones and be vandalized by surgical instruments" is downright hateful. First of all, my child's body is developing perfectly normally. So is his gender identity. Obviously, no one--no doctor or therapist or parent--would recommend hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for a person of any age without careful, thoughtful deliberation on the individual's gender identity. For a child to be considered transgender, he or she must be consistent, insistent, and persistent about their transgender identity for a sustained amount of time. Even then, the first transition that will happen will be strictly social (clothing, pronoun preference, etc.). Most hormone therapy doesn't begin until puberty, and surgical procedures do not occur until after the age of 18. This persistence and insistence of truly transgender children will not come from exposure to a picture book, attending an assembly where a "transgender activist" is speaking, or by allowing other transgender students the right to use the bathroom that matches his or her gender identity.

There is no evidence to suggest that allowing individuals to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity puts women and children at risk of being assaulted. You can read more about that here but the issue has been put to rest so many times during debates over so-called "bathroom bills" that it really isn't new information. There is no evidence that cisgender boys claim to be transgender in order to gain access to the girls' locker room. It just doesn't happen. Boys do not claim to be transgender in order to play on girls' sports teams and to steal girls' scholarships. (And maybe if you were counting on an athletic scholarship for your daughter you should start working on a Plan B anyway, because nothing is guaranteed. What if your daughter sustains an athletic career-ending injury?)

I really can't believe I read this essay in The Washington Post. I know it was just an opinion piece, but it just sickens and saddens me that with all of the real issues and serious concerns facing this country, someone would spend their time picking on our kids by writing (and printing!) this misinformation and hateful rhetoric. Our kids just want to have the right to a public school education where they are free to be themselves, valued by their teachers and communities, and seen for who they are wholly and completely. We're so lucky to raising these beautiful, strong, and resilient children...I just wish the close-minded adults in our community would let them be.

Lesson Learned:
As soon as I hit Publish, my mind and heart will be clear, knowing that these words are out in the universe. Until the next time I read an ignorant opinion piece, anyway...

(But seriously, have you ever heard a more ridiculous argument against transgender students than fear over girls losing sports scholarships to boys posing as transgender girls?! What a world. What a freaking ridiculous world.)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

twelve

He didn't speak until he was two and a half. When he eventually did, it was in full, grammatically complete sentences.

He didn't ride his bike until he was nine. On one of his first rides, he rode down our street, out of our neighborhood, through town, and all the way to the local ice cream parlor.

He didn't try a team sport (willingly) until he was 11. Then, he played three consecutive seasons of three different sports (we're just entering season three, and as far as he's concerned, we're only just beginning his sports career...).


When he's interested in a subject, he becomes an expert on it.

When he reads, he consumes an entire series in a week.

When he's made up his mind about something, there's no changing it.

Evan is a boy of cautious, deliberate planning and then fierce, stubborn determination.

And now, this boy is 12.

Damn, he's good lookin.
It's been a big year:

He finished elementary school, receiving a very prestigious award in the process...

The History Kid Award!
(Probably not the official name...)
 ...kicked a Milk Allergy's butt in an in-office dairy challenge,

Headed to his first ever REAL ICE CREAM celebratory treat!

...endured more tests, procedures, and blood draws than I have in my whole life...


...had braces taken off and put on again...

...invented the Smookie TM (a cup-shaped chocolate chip cookie that is then filled with chocolate chips and topped with a melted, browned marshmallow)...

...and transformed into a bonafide Middle School Boy right in front of our eyes (with all of the wit, wisdom, sarcasm, rolling of the eyes, lack of self-control, grown-up conversations, lingering potty humor, and occasional full-grown man stink, that comes with this brave new world). 


This sometimes goofball is often serious--curled up neatly in his internal world. I've wanted, since he was a tiny kiddo who watched the world instead of sharing his thoughts, a peek inside that brain. He doesn't reveal much, but I can see the wheels turning and the message sinking in as he sits quietly through our increasingly regular conversations about drugs (WHOSE IDEA WAS IT TO INVENT JUULS ANYWAY?), internet safety, school performance, growing up, and consent.


He watches 60 Minutes, intently, with us on a weekly basis. Last week they aired a segment about the Battle of Attu, WWII's forgotten battle. As the correspondent introduced the segment, he said "We have all heard about Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Iwo Jima, but who among us learned about Attu?" Evan said, "I have!" and proceeded to give us the Cliffs' Notes version of the 15 minute segment we were about to watch. In addition to giving him a chance to show off his smarts, the show has also given us a lot of material to talk about with him and is one of the few "big kid" indulgences he enjoys apart from his younger siblings. These three tend to move as a pack.

...they seek each other out, then spend their quality time together bickering.
Ahhh, siblings. 

Evan approached me the other day with a proposal. For his birthday, he wanted to download a new game for his Xbox. He had researched the cost to download, how the in-game purchases work, and the rating. He presented his proposal to me with this information, along with his wishes (to download the game for free), and the restrictions he would impose upon himself (to refrain from purchasing the add-on "coins" until he determined whether or not the game was worth it).

I was impressed by the calm, measured approach to this ask. Just a year ago, he would have likely come to us begging, saying that "everyone else has it! It's not fair!" before we even had a chance to consider the request. I let him download the game and suggested that money for the "coins" could come from us as part of his birthday gift. He invited me to watch him play his first round...so I could make sure the game, "Rated T for Teen," was "appropriate."

I think I can relax a little about this kid's ability to make good choices.


How can I not worry, though? Middle school is tough. Especially when you, like me, feel like you don't really know what's going on in your kid's life because he, like Evan, keeps so much to himself...

Are the kids nice to him?
Is he nice to them?
What is he being exposed to? Can he handle it?
Will he tell me if there's a problem he can't solve on his own?

Does he know -- like reeeeeeealllly know -- that, no matter what, we'll always have his back?


Because we will.


I've said it before in this space: I want a tiny, temporary glimpse into the crystal ball. I'm not wishing this time away and I don't need to know everything...I just want a peek. Where does he end up? Is he okay? Fulfilled? Inspired? If I were convinced by my glimpse that he winds up in the right place, whatever that place might be, then could I relax and enjoy this ride? Or am I destined to worry my way through parenting this child because of who I am...and who he is?

He's our pancake kid. The one we'll burn a little or undercook slightly before we get the heat setting just right for the next one. He's the one teaching us how to be parents (even though the other two are teaching us how to be parents to them in their own right). He's the one we make mistakes on and the one we learn from. He's the one that, hopefully, will understand why we made the decisions we did when he has his own first born.


That's one thing he knows for certain: he'll definitely be a dad.

He might be in the military or a police officer or (the one I'm holding out for) a history professor, but he'll definitely have kids. Eight, according to him, if he's a billionaire. In that case, he'll have a party bus to drive them all around in. If he's not exorbitantly wealthy, then three or four kids. And a toy poodle.


He's headstrong and opinionated and full of fire.

He's a baby whisperer and a dog snuggler and every toddler's favorite Big Kid. 

He likes cuddles on the couch at night and back tickles at bedtime. 

He's grumpy in the mornings and has the most infectious laugh when he starts giggling.

He can be Max and Molly's biggest nemesis and most favorite companion.

He is everything and anything....and he'll be just fine.

It's time to stop looking for the crystal ball and to start looking straight at this kid. 


He's a keeper.

Lesson Learned:

In lieu of a party this year, Evan has elected to do an Escape Room with his aunts and uncles. After that, dinner and an arcade with the whole family. And for dessert, Smookies, of course.

This growing up thing has its perks! But I still can't believe my baby is 12.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Control Yourself

Have you ever come to a realization about yourself that is so obvious and so mind-blowing at the same time?

It happened to me a few weeks ago, during a Health Coaching session I had with my little sister.

Let me start at the very beginning...

My youngest sister, Emily, graduated from college a few years ago and immediately started working as a fitness instructor while she pursued her certification as a Personal Trainer. You may remember that she offered me a personal training session during this time. It was, um, awesome.

She loves personal training and excels at it, but she was ready to take her career a step further. She's currently enrolled in a post-graduate Health Coaching program through Emory University. She asked if she could conduct a practice session with me as part of her training.

"Will this involve, like, burpees and tennis shoes?" I texted back when she sent me a message to schedule the session.

"LOL" she wrote back. "Just talking! And you'll do 95% of it!"

An hour of listening to myself talk? And not having to see any tween eye-rolling in response?! Sign me up!

I put it on my calendar...more out of a kindness to my sister than in hope of any deep and powerful revelations it might yield. I already feel as though I'm pretty in touch with my own feelings and emotions. I had no expectation that it would turn out to be a conversation that will stick with me forever. And yet...

Emily started the conversation by  explaining to me a bit about what a Health Coaching session is: A chance for me to identify any obstacles (whether emotional, physical, behavioral, or social) that stand in the way of me reaching my goals (whatever they may be) and to find a way through them. She also told me what it isn't: A conversation that will result in an answer she will provide. She was very clear: "I don't have a solution to your obstacles, you do."

She started by asking me what area of my life I think I could be feeling better about. Some of her clients come to her with frustration about not being able to reach their health and fitness goals but, for me, who has no health or fitness goals, it's more emotional.

I'm not as happy as I think I should be. Particularly as a mom.

It's weird, seeing those words...almost as weird and sad as it was to speak them out loud. I think most people assume I'm a pretty happy and content person. I can be fun and funny and engaging. I can turn on the charm. And I think it's pretty apparent that I love my kids and view myself, first and foremost, as a Mother. I don't feel depressed but, looking at my life objectively: great marriage, great kids, great job, great everything, I shouldn't feel as short-fused, impatient, and stressed as I do...particularly in my relationships with my kids.

As I talked to my sister, I heard myself say things that I've long known to be true, but that I haven't fully admitted ownership of:

I feel as though the water is bubbling at the rim of the proverbial pot and the tiniest of my kids' infractions -- dawdling at bedtime, or a snappy response to my instructions, for example -- causes me to boil over immediately.

Because I have such high expectations of them, I can be demanding of my children.

I love my children and want nothing more to be with them...but when I am with them, I am not the happy, silly, Fun Time Mom. I'm the Schedule Keeper, Task Master, Clean Up This House I Can't Even THINK With All Of These Piles Everywhere mom.

Give me a board game or a pile of Legos and I'll sit with you all day but ohmygod no, I can't play Puppy Sisters with you even for a minute.

And worst of all:

I often use a different voice to speak to my kids than I use with other people's children, and it's not a pleasant one.

But then I revealed to my sister what I consider to be my greatest strength as a mother: I am so deeply and emotionally connected to my children that I view them and feel them to be direct extensions of myself.

[Insert a pat on my own back here.]

At that point, Emily gently steered the conversation to me, the person, beyond my role as a mom. She asked me about what made me feel the most happy, the behaviors I was engaged in when I felt the most contentment. I talked about my need for organization and control and how, when I feel organized and in control, I feel peace. I feel the most stress when the individual silos of my life (Mom Sarah, Wife Sarah, Work Sarah, Volunteer Sarah, friend/daughter/etc. Sarah) merge. When I'm working while the kids are home from school and I feel guilty for not being able to give 100% of my attention to either, for example, or when I'm too spent at the end of a day to even have a conversation with Sam, or when I feel like there is So Much that is Broken in this world and that I should be doing more to Fix It...but, like, I'm tired and I just want to sit.

What makes me happy is when everything is Perfect and under total and complete control and my silos are neatly ordered and I'm doing an above-average job in all of my roles and people are demonstrably appreciative of my efforts.

Is that too much to ask?

At some point during this part of the conversation, I said that I am a perfectionist and I have extraordinarily high expectations of myself. (This was not a revelation to either of us.) I give myself very little grace when I make a mistake. I gave the example of spilling something: Instead of laughing and thinking/saying "Whoopsy!" I'm immediately pissed. I'm angry at myself, ridiculing my negligence or loss of attention or control.

"What I'm hearing," Health Coach Emily reflected, "is that you're not speaking very kindly to yourself and that, at the same time, you view your children as direct extensions of yourself."

"Yes," I agreed, proudly reveling in that positive note she ended on, before the negative correlation between these two facts sunk in.

Ummmmm. Damn.

If these are both true, which they are for me, this means that the demanding and harsh tone I use with myself is the same voice I use with my kids because I see them as such an extension of myself. And that, when all is said and done, is the habit I'm truly trying to change.

We went on to talk about a few other things, including how I can practice merging my silos productively and responding to my feelings, whatever they are, with acceptance rather than disapproval, but it was that one big connection that I couldn't get out of my head for the next few days.

I thought it was a good thing that I see my kids as a direct extension of myself. I realize now, though, that what I saw as a deep emotional connection, was my need for control over, not just my life, but OUR lives. The bubbling stress I'm feeling is the realization that what control I thought I had over them was just an illusion. When they were babies and I thought I was in total control of our collective lives, it was really just that I was effectively managing their schedules. I never gave them enough credit for having their own control over Self. The smoke is clearing, though, as they get older and it's becoming increasingly apparent that these three progeny of mine are, in fact, their own individual people, capable of exerting their own control over their own corners of this world...which directly impact mine. Why is this so mind-blowing to me? It's so OBVIOUS...

I'M NOT ACTUALLY IN CONTROL OF ANYTHING.

Earth. Shattering.

So how do I let my need for control go so that I can truly appreciate them as their own, fully actualized individuals? How do I respect their own senses of Self and still find peace, in the absence of having control? I don't know yet, but I'm trying to figure it out. I'm trying to look at them with fresh eyes...to recognize WHO they are, not just observe the behaviors that they are displaying.

But it's hard. My need for order and control runs deep. I can't let that go entirely. Having a shared organizational system seems to be helping. We recently introduced a daily schedule to help with the morning rush and a daily/weekly chore chart to help me not feel like this house's Dobby.


This gives them the autonomy to manage their own schedules within the system, while giving me a feeling of control (I created the system).

A visual representation I recently learned from a friend who is a therapist also helps: We each have a gear. They are all different sizes. My small perfectionist introvert gear sometimes has trouble fitting with Max's big expressive extrovert gear. Max's gear is spinning big and all over the place forcing my gear to grind to a halt because it can't just spin in quiet, methodical peace. When we need our gears to work together, I can make mine way bigger to fit his (which I can sometimes manage because I'm an adult who prides herself on Complete Control of Her Gear) or he can make his way smaller to fit mine (which is reeeeeealllly hard for him to do...like trying to fit a foam mattress back in the box it came in) OR we can both adjust our gears slightly until they fit. I can be a bit more flexible, allowing his morning song and dance routine, while still maintaining the expectation that he is in the car, ready for school, when it's time to leave.

Also, this time is short. I know it in my heart and I'm trying to repeat it to myself often. They're growing up so fast and this, right here and now, is my chance to get to know my kids in the unformed clay stage, their true natures, before they head out into this world to be shaped by what comes next. This, right here, is the sweet spot. And, in my quest for compliance, calm, and order, I'm missing the messy beauty that is my kids' self discovery.

That was an incredibly powerful hour of Health Coaching.

Lesson Learned:

In the days since my conversation with Emily, I've been actively trying to reframe my relationship with my kids. I am trying to speak to them in a voice that honors their own individualism, disassociating them from being merely The Children of Sarah.

Let me be honest: I'm not like this new Zen, infinitely patient and accepting, version of myself. Change takes time. But it starts with awareness and, now that I know better, I can do better.

****

Edited to add:

After I wrote this, I happened to tune into the latest episode of Oprah's Super Soul Conversation podcast. (It must have been the Universe intervening on my behalf...I've been on a Getting Curious kick and haven't listened to Super Soul in a few months.) On it, she featured the best-selling author of The Awakened Family, Shefali Tsabary. It echoed exactly the feelings I've been having since my Health Coaching session. It is a MUST listen to for all parents. Listen here (Search by release date 3/17/19).

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Jesus Painting

About a month ago, Evan's Language Arts teacher assigned a research paper. He was to choose an artist to research and become an expert on, then convey what he had learned in what ended up being a 9-page single-spaced paper. It was a Big. Deal. He selected Leonardo DaVinci and he did a great job on it.

Then, as a culminating project, he had to recreate one of the Master's Masterpieces. This was going to be difficult. Evan, by his own admission, is not an artist. He doesn't like the subjectivity or the mess.

I assumed he would sculpt DaVinci's horse, the one that was, famously, never completed because it was destroyed in a war. How apropos for my military history loving kid, I thought. Plus, a horse sculpture seems pretty simple to recreate. I mean, just get the basic shape down, the teacher doesn't expect  DaVinci level perfection, right? Instead, he decided to paint The Last Supper. 

Yes. This one:

The Last Supper - by Leonardo Da Vinci

"Wow, bud," I said, trying to mask my surprise. "That's pretty ambitious."

"She said if the painting has a lot of people in it, we only need to do a part of it," he clarified, easing some of the concern I had for him being able to complete the project.

"And I'm going to make mine a Jesus painting."

I couldn't help but smile.

"You know why that's kind of ironic?" I asked, remembering a story from a few years ago....

"Because I'm an atheist?"

Hmmm...yes. That, too. But I was thinking of this...

We were invited over to the home of a family who had recently moved into our neighborhood for a playdate. As the kids bounded down from the playroom, headed to the backyard, Evan noticed a painting hanging in their hallway.

"Who's that guy?" Evan asked the mom, pointing.

She looked at the painting, then at Evan, then at me.

"Well, Evan," she said, with the faint hint of judgement in her voice, "that's Jesus."

"Oh!" he responded. "I thought maybe it was somebody's uncle or something."

I stifled my laugh.

*****

We're not Christian, and that's unusual where we live. I think most people assume that we just haven't "found our church" yet or that we're "Christmas and Easter Christians." When I come out and say it, though, that We're Not Christian, people are often taken aback. Our kids have heard about Jesus, of course, but we talk about him as a historical figure...a good guy...a great leader. Evan thinks of himself as an atheist, Max doesn't think that there's a puppet-master God who has our whole lives already planned out for us, but hasn't labeled himself yet.

I'm not surprised that Evan has, though.

His skepticism began when he was three, attending a church-run preschool program two mornings a week. He came home from school one day and announced that his class had learned a new song. He went on to sing "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," before demanding some further information. Who has the whole world in his hands? And why is he holding it? And, you know what, Mommy? That's not actually possible.

He's a fact and figures kind of guy. Evidence-based proof. Historical data. He'll believe it if he can see it.

And, he comes from skepticism. I renounced my own Catholicism when I was 16. I had had some unsettling questions and doubts about Christianity for years but hadn't wanted to admit them. (I was, and still am, such a Pleaser. I didn't want to upset anyone with my lack of faith.) As I got older, though, and started to learn of the politics, scandal, and hypocrisy rife within the Catholic Church, I couldn't keep quiet and I could no longer accept Communion.

I took a smattering of World Religion courses through college. Nearly enough to have minored in it, actually. I was seeking. I didn't feel like an atheist...I felt as though there was something "out there" that was bigger than all of us and giving all of purpose...but I never found that one Truth that spoke louder than the others. 

There's a lot to admire in all of the world religions I studied, but in the end I settled on the "religion" of Science and Nature. We're all part of this one vast organism that is the universe; we are all connected and depend on one another and should, therefore, do right by each other.

As for an "afterlife," well, I believe in the scientific principle that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. My life energy will exist in some form once my body dies, but I'm not really concerned about the particulars of where or how. Reincarnation? Maybe. It makes sense to me from an energy constancy standpoint. I don't know if it's as highly structured and based on the economy of karma as the Buddhist worldview posits. I do know that I carry the life energy of my grandparents and people with whom I was close who have died. I can feel it. I can feel them.

What more could I want?

Lesson Learned:

Evan says he is an atheist. He probably is. I think he sees this world in black and white; truth and justice, action and consequence. It doesn't bother him that there is nothing "after" this life. This life is enough. Maybe he'll change his mind some day and seek an alternate Truth that feels right for him. Maybe not.

He also says he'll never paint again. I'm not sure there's much truth to that, especially given the fact that he has been assigned to an Art elective next quarter. But, in this case, I hope he's wrong. I loved watching him struggle through this project...not for the frustration...but for the perseverance. He hated every minute of this project, but he nailed it. And I'm so proud of him.


I think he's pretty proud of himself, too.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Dragon Lady is Seven

She was born in the Year of the Dragon, under the water sign.

A gentle dragon.
Nothing could be more fitting for my Baby of babies.

She is fiercely independent. Strong-willed and determined. 

She can tame the wildest of beasts!

She speaks her mind, ferociously at times...


 but always with a generous heart. Her compassionate streak runs deep. She is expressive and creative, yet quiet and introspective. She goes with the flow, yet she knows exactly who she is.

My Water Dragon Lady.



She is at once ahead of her time--slamming doors and telling me that I'm "never nice" like the teenager she will become--and taking her time--still fitting comfortably on my lap and wrapping her arms around me to tell me she loves me "too tight."


Sugar and spice.


Beauty and brains.


Strength and tenderness.

Adventure and comfort.

She is everything.

So are her lashes. My god.
She'll be a veterinarian when she grows up. And a Mommy. The Daddy in her family will stay home with the kids so she doesn't have to take care of the animals AND the babies. Priorities, you know?


She's still a vegetarian--for ethical reasons, only occasionally allowing herself to forget that bacon is meat.
She cares deeply about this world and has a wise-beyond-her-years awareness of our current political, social, and environmental climate. Partly, this is my fault. I don't shelter her from my feelings about our president and his disastrous failings. But it's also just who she is. 

It was her idea, after all, to decide not to join Girl Scouts when she learned that Max wasn't allowed to join a troop. She didn't think it was fair. Social justice is in her blood.

Without provocation, she announced that when she's old enough, she'll only vote for people who are going to save the environment. There are too many animals who need these trees that people keep cutting down...

It's a strong one, that moral compass of hers.

(One...
...two little baby teeth down.)
Her favorite movie is Black Panther. She saw it in the theatre with her Mom Mom and Pop. Her brothers opted out on account of scariness, but not Molly. "How'd she do?" I asked when it was over. "She loved it!" my dad reported. "She didn't cover her eyes once!"

Her favorite letter is lowercase "g" because it's so fun to write, followed by "M" because, well, obviously.

Her favorite foods are white: Bread and cheese. Carrots, red peppers, waffles, strawberries, peanut butter, and nuts round out the entirety of her diet. But she's starting to venture out. She'll eat spinach now (leaf by leaf, each dipped in ranch, leaving a tiny pile of spinach stems on her salad plate), and key lime coconut milk yogurt....so that's a start.

She still can't say "pearl" ("puhh") and she still says /y/ when she means /l/.

She still likes to be carried.
And I do because she's my Baby of babies. (And she's a peanut.)  


She makes us laugh...both unintentionally, with her adorably tiny voice, and intentionally, with her invented stories and characters that have us rolling (...like the one about the super heroes "Dice Jeffrey" and "Wonder Woman's Clone" and "Wonder Woman's Clone's Clone")...

and her clever jokes:

What do spies like to put in their pies?

SPY-ses!


She is a kind friend, an excellent student, an eager helper, and my favorite Sunday morning newspaper buddy.


She makes us whole.

Give this child a modeling contract. I'll buy anything she's selling.

Lesson Learned:


One of my favorite things in life is watching you experience this world. You are joyful and curious, a seeker. You are kind and affectionate and thoughtful. You take risks and are not afraid to be the first one to reach out. You can be bashful, but you are brave. I am inspired by your confidence.

You are stronger than you know, and more capable than you can imagine. I can't wait to see how you change this world, just by being a part of it...

Happy Birthday, Molly Bolly. You are so loved.