Corona Craziness

Spoiler alert: I’m not freaking out about the Coronavirus. I refuse to give into the hysteria that has led to hand sanitizer shortages and price gouging. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important to alert the public about the virus and to minimize its spread. That’s right, I said minimize its spread. I fully accept the Coronavirus will spread. I’m not going to panic though. 

Why not? Panicking ALWAYS makes things worse. Case in point…the stock market is crashing and just saw its greatest weekly loss since the 2008 financial crisis because people are envisioning Coronavirus doomsday scenarios. Coronavirus isn’t new, albeit the current strain of it is. I get it. Thousands of people have died and the virus has spread from China to countries on most continents. The Washington Post recently reported China just had its lowest monthly manufacturing numbers on record. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out Americans are going to have a harder time finding the products we usually buy and American companies with factories in China will see a drop in sales. That doesn’t fully explain the stock market plummeting though. People panicking does.    

When it comes to Coronavirus, this mama bear just needs to know that her kids will be okay. That’s the bottom line. If the reported Coronavirus numbers are accurate, there is a ridiculously good chance my kids are going to be fine even if they contract the Coronavirus. So will the rest of us. To date, the death rate that keeps being floated for COVID-19 (the disease Coronavirus causes) is about 2%. That’s not great, but it’s hardly horrible. Here’s the good news—that stat includes people with the most severe cases that died in the Hubei province of China. The New York Times reports the death rate of COVID-19 outside of the Hubei province is 0.4%, noting the death rate from the flu is 0.1%. So our chances of dying from COVID-19 aren’t much higher than our chances of dying from the flu?

And what public health advice have we received about Coronavirus? Wash our hands and stay home if we are sick. THAT’S IT? Aren’t we supposed to do that when we are sick anyway? Wait, who am I kidding? That’s not going to happen. In fact, that has been my parent pipedream since my kids started school years ago and regularly contracted the viruses of the kids that go to school snotty-nosed, constantly coughing, and fever-ridden. Shout out to all the parents who send their sick kids to school, by the way. SERIOUSLY, YOU ROCK! (I apologize for the unnecessary salty snark, but I happen to be writing this as I nurse my youngest son back to health from his second virus in three weeks.) If past behavior is a predictor of future behavior, people will continue to go to work sick and they will send their kids to school sick. If they have the Coronavirus, there is a good chance some of us are going to get it. We will likely have mild to moderate cases and most of us will be fine. Hopefully a vaccine will be developed at some point in the not-so-distant future.

 Can we all just calm down already?  

Full disclosure: I am not freaking out about Coronavirus, but I am prepared. My shelves are stocked with a two week supply of non-perishable foods (and toilet paper!) in case community isolation to contain the virus becomes prevalent in my area. I also bought extra Tylenol in case someone in my house gets sick and needs a fever reducer. Beyond that, I’m not investing in the Coronavirus craziness.

Wash our hands. Stay home when we’re sick. Buy some non-perishable foods. We can handle this.

Only Kid

You know how kids can ask really honest even painful questions when they meet you? “Why do you only have one child?” “It must be so easy to only have one child.” “Don’t you feel bad about only having only one kid?”  Just kidding, these are actually unsolicited questions offered by grown people – you know, adults.  Maybe trying to be helpful, maybe just curious, maybe just being wildly inappropriate in a failed to learn to mind your own damn business sort of way? 

Do not, do not, do not search online for the impacts of “only childhood.”  Everything from “it ruined me” to “it made me the amazing person I am today.”  The same quotes could apply to chocolate.

The truth is I could only HAVE one child.  My body said enough (I used to say it “broke” but try not to go there anymore.)  It was not how I thought it would shake down.  Maybe I should have planned better?  Maybe I should have paid more attention in health class? Maybe I should not have waited until I was 37?  (The maybes and the should haves are infinite.)  The truth is after one miscarriage and a needed-hormone bump the writing was on the uterine wall.  Later a male Cruella de Vil who posed as a fertility doc did not ask what my goals were and merely said “you have one barely viable egg and are not even a candidate for IVF.”  Then he swooped his puppy-skin coat around him and told me to check out with the receptionist.  The walls on the clinic bathroom I cried in were mauve, the tiles were speckled beige, one fluorescent light was out.  These are the things you remember with vivid ferocity when you feel like a part of you died.  Because that’s what many women faced with the “end of fertility” or “uncooperative fertility” feel like. Like they are broken, not whole, less than.  It gets better because I soon found out I was in premature menopause but that is (spoiler alert!) ANOTHER blog post (oh lady peeps have I got stories for you.)

The truth is having a 2nd child was something we were not entirely sure of, but as my partner and I are each the oldest of 4 kids (yes, that does make for interesting couple dynamics, ANOTHER blog post) we know the power of siblings.  And to be honest, I wanted that choice.  Then it was gone.  For all those who want a child and struggle with fertility and are not as fortunate as I am to be able to write about my “only” child, my heart hurts for you.

My son, now 10, is indeed awesome and the best thing I have ever made.  Though my Laura Ingalls Wilder diorama of Little House in the Big Woods in the 4th grade was killer.  He is smart and goofy and a blend of me and his dad and our families and our neuroses and our amazing-ness.  He has friends (though boys and friendships is ANOTHER blog post) and plays well with others (and yes, he can roll with groups of adults better than some peers). He can mash up songs that make me laugh out loud and can do complex math in his head.  Do I worry about him being Spoiled? Selfish? Helpless? Yep.  Last time I checked, one prereq of being a parent is knowing how to worry well.

He has too many Legos, and we should volunteer more, and we should schedule more playdates (ANOTHER blog post) and, and, and – the maybes and the shouldhaves are infinite. My goal now is to be happy with what I have, try not to ruin my child, and possibly even find peace with the journey. I am human.  Sometimes I still follow (with my eyes) people with babies around in public spaces – I recently almost got lost in a holiday light maze when following a dad and his baby and toddler.

I have a lot of future blog posts.

Becoming Fearless

One of my college roommates passed away the week before Christmas. So did my grandmother. And oh, in the middle of that week, I had to have a biopsy because of a “suspicious” mammogram. (Thankfully, the girls are fine. PSA: Get yours checked.)

Not my most favorite week ever.

Then again, the last few years haven’t been my most favorite. My marriage of two decades ended, and both my kids moved into dorms in other states. I had to quit a job that I loved. The career path at my other job changed, and I lost the title I’d worked so hard to earn. We had to sell the house we built eight years ago, because it made no financial or logistical sense to keep a 3000 square foot house where I lived alone 75% of the time. And my hairdresser stopped doing hair.

But I digress.

Although I managed to keep my completely inappropriate sense of humor during this time (because God is a pretty funny guy), I was slowly, almost imperceptibly, losing myself. An unwelcome sense of hesitation and fear had begun to permeate the edges of my life. I became way too comfortable being alone, not because I necessarily enjoyed hanging out with a hot mess who should have bought stock in Kleenex, but because it was easier than having actual face-to-face conversations. Social media and texting became my main means of communication, because it was a lot easier to live life behind a screen. Don’t get me wrong—I still went out; I still did things. But I was gradually losing the parts of me that took risks, tried new things, and truly enjoyed life and all its craziness. I spent more days than I liked in survival mode, worried about what the future held. 

And then one Saturday last December, Rebecca passed away. While it wasn’t unexpected—she’d been battling stage 4 metastatic breast cancer for several years—it was sudden; the weekend before she passed away, she’d been making Christmas break plans with one of our other roommates. Reb was a neuropsychologist, and she’d quit her practice when she was diagnosed. But she wasn’t one to just sit around and wait to die. She started The Cancer Couch Foundation to raise funds for MBC labs, and raised over $3 million in four years. She and her husband built their dream home. She traveled. She made her stand-up comedy debut. And she did all of these things while being one of the smartest, kindest, funniest people I’ve ever met. She packed more into four years battling a terminal diagnosis than most people do in a lifetime. As a friend of mine said when she read Reb’s obituary, “No one will ever say half those things about me. I have some work to do.”

Don’t we all. 

The last time I saw Reb was at the beginning of October at the annual benefit concert she organized for The Cancer Couch. I had to force myself to drive the six-hour round trip—I’d cycled 150 miles that weekend—but it had been a while since I’d seen her. She looked beautiful. As always, she was the consummate hostess—she gave me a hug, asked how my ride had gone (and told me she still thought I was crazy), and said how grateful she was that I’d come. One of our other roommates later told me how sick she’d been that night, but you’d never have known it by looking at her. 

Ten weeks later she was gone.

The line at Reb’s viewing was over two hours long, and somehow, what should have been one of the saddest experiences of my life was one of the most uplifting ones. We reminisced, shared stories, and laughed at her crazy antics over the years. You see, that was Rebecca’s essence. She made you feel loved. She made you laugh until you cried. She made you want to be a better person. She made you want to try new things. She made you want to LIVE each day. 

She was fearless.

And that reminder could not have come at a more perfect time.

To the Coach that made my kid cry…

Thank you.  Sounds crazy right?  Trust me; this is NOT how I felt in the moment, but it is so very true now.  As a parent it is probably one of the most difficult things to watch your child hurt in any way.  When you see them fall apart, the mama bear in me roars to fix it.  But there comes a time in their lives where they need to figure out how to receive unpleasant feedback-notice I did NOT say constructive criticism, push through, soothe themselves, advocate for their beliefs and decide how to pick themselves up.  After all, it’s not about the failure, it’s how you handle it and get back up again right!?

My kid is an introvert by nature and a practicing sarcastic extrovert by nurture.  Sarcasm, albeit one form of a coping mechanism, can also lend itself to making it difficult to read someone or comments that are often taken out of context when one doesn’t know them well enough to get the full impact of the humor.  It can also be taken too far when the sarcasm deliverer is not aware of their audience.  My child also happens to wear their heart on their sleeve and while they could give zero f*cks about what most people think of them, my kid holds to a very unrealistic set of standards and high expectations.  The result of this is when something does not pass muster; the letdown comes in the form of emotional fallout.  So in essence, whether it’s anger, resentment, disappointment, sadness or even joy and happiness, instead of reveling or getting fiery to fix it, for better or worse and taking after their mother, the tears start to roll.  All of the above creates is a kid who has a passion to work hard and play hard, a sense of fairness that is only appreciated by heightened rule followers, self directs and corrects most of the time, sarcasm that bleeds out of their being as a way to process things or balance the hard with the goofy, self-deprecation to the max when falling short of their own goals and sometimes has a harder time seeing the big picture.  Thus the bubble they live in.

Enter, playing a team sport.

My kid is serious when it comes to sports, err actually with EVERYTHING really.  Well with that hint of sarcasm right, in that they have a high set of standards and goals of what they wants out of the season. You can see the bubble right??  There is also love for the team, teammates and the camaraderie but the introvert doesn’t come out of the bubble readily so my child doesn’t always show this in the same manner as others.  Fast forward to game time.   Not playing well, many mistakes made, feeling like your letting your team down, and was disappointed and eager to correct.  However, coach sat my kid out.  With NO explanation.  Enter, the kid in the bubble of high standards, now feeling punished and saddened about not playing well, the waterworks ensued.  For coach, crying equated to no further play for the day.   After all, “there is no crying in baseball” right?

My heart was breaking watching this unfold.

After the game, the unpleasant, non-constructive feedback:  “wasn’t playing like a team player during the games”, SELFISH crying when benched “just because they were not in”.

Yep.  Insert mama bear going slightly BANANAS.  We, as parents, are instructed not to approach a coach about an issue until your child has already attempted to solution on their own directly with their coach.  I can respect that but it is F*CKING HARD.  I also knew there was a grain of truth along with being misunderstood in the coach’s words and I definitely was not impressed by the destructive method of delivery.  Knee-jerk reaction of child: I want to go home and quit. NOT happening. Not an option and we don’t quit just because something gets hard. This is never-ending in the game of life, you need to learn how to buckle down and push through.   We expect a lot of ourselves which in turn makes us expect a lot from others.  Being emotional does NOT mean you are selfish.  Communication, understanding and ownership need to be had.   A conversation had to happen if my child was going to move forward.

My kid spent time writing out thoughts and whittled it down to these pieces (remember the bubble here):

Owning the “selfish” behavior because they WERE disappointed they weren’t playing, they WERE emotional which unintentionally distracted teammates therefore being unable to fully support them in that moment.  Yes, mental toughness needed.

Advocating.  My athlete needed the examples of what coach saw that equated to “not playing like a team player”.  They needed coaching in the moment or immediately after the game to learn, especially if it was going to result in taking a beat.  This would have allowed time to process and potentially avoid the emotion.

Feeling misunderstood.

MY CHILD asked coach to talk.  MY CHILD needed to clear the air.  Suffice it to say, the talk did not go well. My kid felt unheard and was actually made to feel worse about the selfishness, their character, judged on body language and accused of not wanting to be there.  It took a lot to go and have that talk.  Owning the perceived selfishness and acknowledged needing to get mentally tough. That is big for young teenagers.  The rest of the destructive criticism we will choose to let go off.  But man, did I ever want to fix this, knew I could not and more importantly should not.  In the end, they need to figure it out for themselves.  We talked coping strategies, no expectations of play, truly only being there to support your teammates no matter what. But how?  My kid takes pride in being genuine and felt pretending to be anything other than the sum of their feelings would be disingenuous.  We talked about choosing your mindset and even if that meant pretending a bit, that the genuine feeling would follow.  Just grab a hold of the energy in the room.

In the moments that came after all of this, I was afforded the opportunity to see my kid in the most carefree state I think I have ever seen.  Burst the bubble and let go.  Rallying, smiling, cheering and encouraging.  Lighter in every way.  By the end of the day, we discerned that when you practice being happy, excited and grateful, eventually you BECOME happy, excited and grateful.  So this may not be a season of reaching personal physical improvement goals for my kid, but a season of life lesson mental toughness goals may just prove to be worth every penny.  I am so proud, always Rise.  And for that, I am ever so thankful.

fear

Stranger Danger?

By Allyson Wuerth

I can see it from my bay window, the black water of the pond. Leafless trees. The hawks funneling a dreary sky. I can see them too, my daughter and her friend. They’re just ten years old  and ensconced within this late December grey, two colorful blurs almost floating within the fog. 

Truth be told, I’m proud of myself for letting them go. I’m fiercely over-protective of my children, especially my daughter. And, of course, I blame my mother for all this. She was over-protective too, but in a 1980s sort of way—always warning me about “perverts.” She seemed to define that term broadly—perverts were strangers and strangers were men. They lied about who they were, why they’d come, where they were going. They could even disguise themselves to look like people in your family. Everything they wore had pockets. Why? Because they needed some place to hide all the things they would kill you with. She subjected me to constant lectures about how to handle myself in public places. They can be summed up by the following: 

  1. Don’t talk to strangers. (I became so paranoid, I hardly spoke to anyone.)
  2. Even if they tell you your parents are in the hospital, they’re lying. Don’t talk to them. (Wait. They could trick me like this?)
  3. There is never candy or kittens in the back of a grown man’s van. So don’t be dumb enough to look. (No candy. No kittens. No look. Got it.)
  4. You don’t want to end up like that Adam Walsh, do you? (I didn’t.)

But, like I said, it was the 80s, so for all this talk of strangers, perverts, and murderers, the incongruity of my freedom was just as true. Could she really have been that worried I’d be kidnapped? I can remember traipsing through the neighborhood alone from the time I was 4 or 5 years old, following the brook’s long trail to the reservoir off Great Hill, flipping off an el Camino full of teenagers, heading into a dark woods to find where the Mountain-laurel bloomed. 

Once, at the Milford Post Mall, I ran away from my mother in a store called Child World because she wouldn’t buy me a toy. I ran and ran, and when I finally stopped I saw nothing but unfamiliarities. A group of teen boys heckled me, and I burst into tears thinking for sure they’d murder me, put my body in a duffle bag, and roll my severed head into the Housatonic River. When my mother finally found me, she hugged me tight and said through gritted teeth, “I thought you were kidnapped. Don’t you ever do that to me again. Ever.” Then she slapped me hard across my face. If I really think about it, I can still feel the sting, like she had a palm made of bees. 

And, of course, I could never escape myself. At night, I agonized over the possibilities, believing that men carried around secret faces that looked like the faces of people I knew and trusted. That faces could be swapped like stickers or secrets.  I envisioned myself in the back of a van, peeking out that small bubble window, seeing everything I loved grow smaller, and smaller, and smaller. My blue house. My little brother. The cluster of oak trees I always climbed. My street. My bus stop. And all I could say was, don’t take me away from all this

For all her good intentions, my mother’s fears terrorized the bulk my childhood. Maybe she thought arming me with stories of murdered children was enough to keep me from harm? But you know what? All those stories of strangled and bagged children, they seeped through my already-thin-skin.  Instead of making me tougher, they huddled deep inside me like such dark clouds. Like all children, I was coated with the fierce belief in my own invincibility. I was able to semi-manage my kidnapper anxiety by believing this. But as I grew, my coating of invincibility faded, while the overwhelming fear basted within me. A decade later, my psychologist called it “panic disorder.” 

So, yeah, when my 10yr old asks to walk to the pond down the street from our house, my instinct is to say, “NO!  Absolutely NO!” 

    “No. What if there is a murderer hiding in the woods?” 

      “No. Do you even know how many episodes of My Favorite Murder mommy  has      listened to today?” (Four. The answer’s four.)

But I don’t say any of this. In fact, I let my girl and her friend walk to the pond without the baggage of this 80’s kid. Truthfully, I’ve only in passing mentioned the danger of strangers to my daughter. It just doesn’t seem worth. . .the risk. Anxiety is already in her blood. Does she really need one more thing to worry about? 

So, for now, she walks without the stories of vanished paperboys, girls last seen in a field of butterflies; she walks without squinting to find the hidden seams of a person’s face. I don’t think it’s fair to heap that burden, that whole terrible world, upon the consciousness of a child who, statistically speaking, will most likely never need to worry over it. Despite the panic I feel when my daughter walks 20 feet from our home, my head reminds me that stranger abductions are pretty damn rare. So maybe that’s a talk I can skip? I think, as parents, we try so hard to shield our own children from the mistakes and injustices we were exposed to—at least I do. And then I second guess myself, and wonder if I’m doing more harm than good. I suppose I’ll find out when my daughter writes her own blog post one day. 😉

Still, I could never allow my children the freedom I had in the 1980s. They don’t take long walks with their friends on summer nights (I tell myself it’s because we don’t have streetlights); they don’t walk to school-even if you can see it from my house (no sidewalks). So my eyes hover over these two little girls who have no idea how closely they are being observed. From my bay window, I watch them circle the pond over and over again. I wonder what it is that 10yr old girls talk about in the fog? One bends to pick up a twig and flings it into the water. The other plucks berries from a holly bush and holds out her palms. “Look here!” I imagine her saying as the other one pushes hair out of her eyes to see the pile of shiny husks. “Look what I found!” 

They are cupped in her palms, this handful of scarlet berries, the bright of them ephemeral as ladybugs or mysteries.

 

 

Finding My Piece

My family enjoys playing games.  We play board games, sporting games, card games, video games, and even some homemade games like Let’s See Who Can Hide in the Bathroom and Eat Chocolate Alone So the Kids Don’t Ask for Some.  Not to brag, but I actually think I’m getting pretty damn good at that one.

But it’s the truth, we love our games.  At least once a week, you’ll find my family sitting around the dining room table playing some kind of board game. My children are 6 and 8, prime board game ages, and whenever we play, we follow the rules. I’m not the kind of parent to let my kids win or to bend the rules to ease the blow of defeat. Sorry, kids. 

Above all though, my husband and I always take great pains to teach them that as long as you try your best, it’s okay to lose, but it’s never okay to cheat.  Sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you won’t. That’s life…

Usually I’m able to support their losses and wins, and do my best to model good sportsmanship whatever the results.  When we play Clue, I’ll throw out a “You paid careful attention to the evidence! Well done!”  When we play Jenga, I’ll hit them with the classic “That was a bold risk moving the corner block!”  When we play Skipbo, I’ll offer a “Smart use of your discard pile, kiddo!” When we play the Hide and Eat Chocolate game, I usually won’t say anything… save for an occasional cough to cover the sound of the wrapper.   

But there is one game that I sometimes just can’t seem to find the positivity for–the dreaded Game of Life.

A teacher making $100,000 right out of college?! Um, no. Collecting $20,000 from other players because it’s your pet’s birthday?! Who are we, the Hiltons? Inevitably, whenever we play Life, I morph from the mother able to find encouragement even in mistakes to the mother lecturing her children about how unrealistic each move we make is. 

Sure it would be great to retire with millions in the bank, as even the losers of Life seem to do, but as I’ve experienced it, life is a totally different kind of game. 

I want to see a card that says You put 2 children through daycare from infancy to preschool. Pay $150,000! Or You’re still paying off your own college loans, but it’s time to start saving for your children’s education. Move back 10 spaces! 

Please don’t misunderstand me. I love my life–and I’m willing to work hard for what our family has. I’m not waiting for the inheritance card to make some of my hardships disappear, and I don’t want my children to think that life works like that either. Yes, good fortune makes a difference, but more so than money, the true quality of one’s life comes from sources far less material. 

Therein lies my biggest problem with The Game of Life. It equates success purely with wealth, and that message–that money is king–is one we see far too often in our society.

While my children say that the objective of The Game of Life is silly because there are so many things that matter more than money in life, they still love to play it. Right now, at this stage of the parenting game, I’m satisfied knowing that my kids are able to see beyond the temptation of wealth, a temptation that I still wrestle with myself sometimes. 

It’s my hope that as my kids grow, they are able to remember some of the lessons we’ve learned through making our moves, accepting our losses, and celebrating our wins. And if they can get through the Game of Life with a smile on their face, I think that is a win in of itself.

A different kind of kid

I am someone who feels a lot of feelings. I am quick to cry, quick to laugh, quick to be honest about how I’m struggling or why I’m sad. My emotions are never guarded; I wouldn’t even know how to fake it if I tried.

So it came as quite a surprise nearly ten years ago when I gave birth to a human whom I lovingly say has a heart of stone, my fierce and fearless daughter Ella. While I am balling my eyes out watching Wonder at the town library, she is dying of embarrassment. While other kids are stressed about friends and school, she seems mostly oblivious to the anxieties of others. 

My younger daughter will tell me she loves me ten times a day and call out to me in the middle of the night just because she desperately needs a hug, but with Ella, we would probably go days without touching at all if I didn’t initiate it. When her little sister tries to hug her, she looks like a cat just waiting for the chance to scratch her captor and make a run for it. 

It has been a challenge to relate to a child so different from me, and I know that sometimes I push her too hard, forgetting that just because she doesn’t express her emotions as freely as I do doesn’t mean she doesn’t have them, and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me, or her dad, or her little sister. 

She just speaks a different love language. She won’t hug anyone in our house of her own volition, but she is quick to engage in a wrestling match with my husband. She rarely says I love you first but is quick to tell me I’m good at drawing or to compliment my hair. She, until recently, was afraid to take out her own earrings but trusted my hands to do it. She doesn’t want to snuggle, but every night she crawls into my bed and asks if we can listen to an audio book on my phone. 

And in some ways, I envy her emotional make up. While I wish she were more empathetic, like me, I see the benefit of what she lacks. While fear and insecurity imprisoned me for most of my childhood, Ella’s lack of either of those traits has enriched her life. At nine years old, she can snowboard down a black diamond one day and flip across the gymnastics mat the next. She wears fake glasses to school every day and makes her own clothes and couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks. She is completely herself all the time, and by the time I was in fourth grade, I’d already learned how to change myself in order to be liked. I am often critical of her lack of empathy, but I’m starting to realize that I have much to learn from her about not letting my emotions rule my life. There must be a balance between the two of us, a place where we can care for others but not spend our whole lives burdened by what others think. 

So much of parenting is an act of letting go of expectations, of accepting your children for who they are, not as reflections of you, but as their own unique expressions of humanity. Every day I am in awe of this athletic, creative, intelligent, strong girl that I made but who is not simply my creation, and I am learning to accept her for who she is, not who I imagined her to be. And as I do that, we grow closer together. 

And sometimes, when we’re lying in bed, listening to a wildly inappropriate YA dystopian novel that I know my tough girl isn’t too sensitive to handle, I reach my hand out to her in the dark, and she takes it. 

Free-Range Victorian Robot

As I write this, Brexit (and Megxit) are official, the US Senate is about to acquit a president charged with impeachment, and a strange new virus named after a beer is starting to swirl around the globe. My four year is oblivious to all of this, as my husband and I have a no-news policy for right now. But as I keep up with these times, I wonder how do we prepare her for the world she will one day too soon know about?

Over the past few years I have been directed to books on parenting than I care to count. I remember the first time I heard there were books to learn about something called attachment style parenting. My mouth dropped. Books? I don’t do attachment parenting; I am attachment parenting. If anything, I probably need books to help me be a little less attached:)

But over time, and conversations with her father, my then-therapist, and her pediatrician, different styles and expectations began to contradict, then clash, and finally, frustrate. Until one day I spoke back facetiously, “What would you like her to be, a Free-Range Victorian Robot???”

Let me break this down.

Free-Range. I have this image of her running through a field in the middle of Pennsylvania in a calico dress attending a one-room school house with no adults in sight. Something out of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Something in my dreams. We live in the suburbs of Connecticut, where believe it or not, strange things happen. Do I want her to be independent? Yes. Creative? You bet. Safe in the parameters in the backyard? That too. Somewhere the line of independent and creative got mixed up with free for all. She will need a sense of the free-range in her life; she will also need to know what a boundary is and how to negotiate one when she encounters it in the real world.

Victorian. One day it occurred to me that my husband, who had a green mohawk when we met in college, was actually a Victorian gentleman in disguise. When she was two, he decided that saying please and thank you were the greatest goals he could master as a parent. Yes, manners matter. But honey, relax. We got a few years. His biggest fear? Halloween. Would she say please and thank you at every door? I’m happy to say that the yearly ritual went off as well as can be expected and I did a rebellious dance of joy when she did not say it perfectly Every time, just some of the time. I also had no idea that he harbored a deep-seated fear of….glitter. The day it entered the house, he looked panicked stricken. “You are letting her have THAT?” Um, yes, With glue. And safety scissors. Apparently he is not the only parent with this abhorrence as demonstrated in the ubiquitous toddler show, Peppa Pig. In one episode, the playground teacher, Madame Gazelle, reveals that the one vial of glitter in the school house is safely locked behind a multi-layered vault, never to be touched. It’s glitter. That’s what brooms and vacuums are for. I understand the need for manners and cleanliness. What I don’t understand is depriving a child of a couple of years of imperfection, spills and fun.

Robot. From the beginning I have revolted against one word that consistently shows up everywhere in ParentLand – Routine. It is quite possibly because I hate routines myself, though I have also come to learn the value of having certain ones. But one blog I read actually said that a routine allows something like bedtime to function on, and I quote, “autopilot”. Haha, who are you and would you like to come to my house? And I suspect, many other houses as well? Autopilot??? I cannot think of a more soul-crushing word for a 3 or 4 year old. I understand the need to “get out the door” or to get to sleep before the alarm, but c’mon. Aren’t toddlers supposed to put the wrong shoes on their feet, put the sweater on inside out, or flat out refuse clothes? And teeth. I am happy to say that at 4 she now brushes and flosses. I am in shock that this happens. When she was 2-3, that was not quite the case. Someone well meaning suggested I give her a timeout in the morning – no playing until teeth were brushed. Um, do you not know me? So no, while she and I have established (some) routines that do help things along, there is little to no sense of going on autopilot here in this house. I am not Captain Von Trapp prior to meeting Maria.

So thank you to all the books and styles and methods, and advice. She is not, I am happy to say, a free-range Victorian robot. She knows how to critique a cartoon that is silly and she knows how to invent her own stories. She knows how to say please, thank you and you’re welcome, but we often move our food plate to another corner or chair in the house. She is happily covered in paint, glue, glitter more times a week than I care to count. And she knows how to keep it fun and real – from tiaras and wands to trucks and dinosaurs, she is already learning how to say yes, how to say no, how to ask if someone is feeling ok or is feeling better, and to solve problems on her own and to learn to ask for help. I believe these qualities will help her to better navigate the world she is going to inherit more so than any chart, schedule, or rigid rule ever will. Besides, don’t all dinosaurs love wearing tiaras while covered in glitter an hour past their bedtime?

Romance After Kids

Feeling nostalgic, I binge-watched some 80s and 90s movies the last few nights before my Hulu subscription expired. Okay, they weren’t just any 80s and 90s movies; they happened to be the movies I watched over and over and over again in my teenage years. I thought they depicted perfect love stories and I fantasized about having romances just like them. 

So as I watched the movies, one after another, I kept wondering what the hell was wrong with me back then. I thought I was a pretty level-headed teeanger. I was (and still am) a huge proponent of female empowerment. How on earth could I have ever believed these movies were romantic, let alone ideal depictions of love? They were vomit-worthy at best. They all had, while albeit handsome, romantic leading men that were self-absorbed and arrogant. For some reason these guys each felt the need to “prove” their love by punching out some other dude to come to the “rescue” of their leading lady. That’s not love. That’s chest puffing, appendage swinging male bravado sprinkled with anger management issues. You know, red flag/run for the hills kind of behavior? All of these guys displayed it. I can’t believe there was ever a time I bought into that crap. As for the female leading ladies? They had this facade of strength, but mostly they acted like brats with bad attitudes waiting for their men to save them and the day. Gag. Heave. Puke. Repeat.    

It got me thinking about the things I find romantic after a dozen years of marriage with kids. Here’s what I came up with (in no particular order):

My hubby doing household chores. It’s simple. He tries to lighten the workload and I don’t feel like the family servant. Making a home-cooked meal for our family on his day off? Nice. When I leave the house in the morning with a dishwasher full of clean dishes and return in the afternoon to find he emptied it? Hot. When he takes the garbage out (instead of piling more junk on top of the overflowing trash bin and pushing it down so it’s impossible to get the damn bag out without ripping it to shreds)? Steaming hot.

No reason flowers (or ice cream). Truth be told, my husband is very good about buying me flowers. Valentine’s Day, birthday, Mother’s Day…he’s got it covered and I appreciate that. It’s when he comes home with flowers for absolutely no reason–well, that’s just sweet. Sometimes, I open the freezer and find my favorite chocolate peanut butter (dairy-free!) ice cream waiting for me. So lovely!

Being told I’m beautiful when I’m pretty sure I look like crap. Picture the Sunday morning still in my old, tattered PJs, threw my hair in a lopsided ponytail without brushing it, make-up free, sipping a cup of tea look. Inevitably, that’s when my husband walks over, caresses my cheek, and tells me I’m beautiful. It’s awfully kind of him.

Holding hands. My husband still reaches for my hand and it still warms my heart.

Sticking with it when it’s hard. Marriage is beautifully exhilarating, exciting, and exasperating all at the same time. There is no way two people can always think and want the same things. Sometimes compromise is easy and sometimes it’s hard. My hubby lives with my flaws and I live with his. There are definitely moments when we’ve both said the wrong things. We keep trying though and we don’t give up. We are in this together. Warts and all.

That endurance part is what’s missing from most Hollywood love stories–and not just the 80s and 90s ones. Movies capture the pheromone/hormone-filled narrative of attraction, but they miss the real story of love…the one that also involves dirty dishes, paying bills, long work hours, poopy diapers, teenage angst, clogged toilets, and utter exhaustion. If romance persists despite all that, it must be true, right? My cruddy trip down 80s and 90s romcom memory lane reminded me of what true romance is really all about and you can sign me up for it any day.

Hairy Pronouns

I live in a house of long hairs.  Me, my partner and my son.  That is one female human and 2 male humans – all with medium to long hair.  This is particularly noteworthy as I have mild trichophobia (a persistent fear of hair, particularly seeing or touching loose hairs on the body, clothing, or elsewhere. – healthline.com).  I am constantly pulling hairs off of ME, the furniture, other people, even strangers: oh so sorry person in line in front of me at CVS, I just had to pull that stray hair off your sweater.  Of course my preferred attire is black clothing too.  I own stock in lint rollers.  Don’t get me started on the shower drain. The 2 male humans in the house with the long hair have different reasons for their long locks (and really, this is an appearance issue so who cares, right?)  My son of course sees his dad and his flowing tresses (think Fabio in disbelief over the not-butter … hee hee, I kid, I kid) and has some amazing male cousins who he adores who also have awesomely long hair.  He also had a bad haircut experience years ago (a very dramatic stylist who wanted some kind of cooperation not familiar to a 5 y/o) so the long hair has been an easier option.  The “boy bun” donned for soccer is always a challenge as I was never good with hair – mine included.  I wore a French braid once in my life, and my sister did it for me.  Truth be told, my son has great hair and from the sweatbands in many colors he had when growing it out, to the long swingy hair of today – I can’t imagine it any other way.

Now let’s talk about gender. My son is also a tall string bean of a child with fabulous eyelashes. My 10 y/o child identifies as male and whatever gender spectrum he chooses for his future is up to him.  What OTHER people identify him as is another story.  At the playground, at restaurants, when meeting new people – he is mis-gendered all.the.time. Sometimes I let it go (again, who cares, right?) … and sometimes I don’t. 

He is an avid soccer player and during a recent game with a new team, a parent commented – wow, look at that girl go and when I said my usual oh, that’s actually my son she said oh so sorry … I mean he’s pretty good (as if for a girl he was a star player, but for a boy just average … as a former soccer player, I say ugh.) 

I tell myself that by correcting the pronoun I am doing gender expectations a solid – boys can have long hair and girls can have short hair and doesn’t that make the planet more interesting? I literally said that to someone in a restaurant once – in a fun, playful, jocular way as preaching is not my jam.  Or is it?  Because as this happens more and more, I find myself using Loud Weird Words (LWWs) to fix the error.  Server: does she want ketchup with her fries?  Me: hey there DUDE (yuck), do you want ketchup with your fries?  Playground parent: Wow your daughter really likes to climb.  Me:  HE does, HE really does.  I cringe as I write this.  What in the world I am worried about?  What am I communicating to my child?

Recently, during another round of Pronoun Corrections with a member of the public, my son said you know you always do that, you say “he” or “him” in conversation to correct people. Ouch.  I have a feeling this is much more about me than him.  Why do I care?  I think about this (my caring) a lot. I have long been irked by all kinds of gender stereotypes and related expectations.  I tell myself I am simply trying to make sure the world knows gender comes in a broad and fluid spectrum – and appearance (like hair) is simply an appearance choice.  Then I think of all those kids who struggle with their true self and gender identity and for them, hair or lack of hair or color of hair may be a really significant and important choice with how they show up in the world and what story they are a part of.  Maybe I want us to stop assuming or projecting expectations on kids (and non kid-people) based on appearance. Maybe kids should get to tell their own stories.

Recently we were ordering pizza, and my son was mis-gendered again.  I was getting ready to assume the role of Pronoun Police when my son interrupted.  My son: Mom, you know this really only matters if I am getting into a long-term relationship.  Me: yep buddy, I mean kiddo, you are indeed right (and smarter than me.)

Here’s to understanding the power of words, and to being an ally while letting kids decide how they want to show up, and letting kids speak for themselves, and be who they want to be, and to change their minds about all of it as many times as they want.  I’ll be over here trying to find new ways to fight gender boundaries that are less embarrassing to my son.

I’m still keeping my lint roller.  There are loose hairs all over this house.

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