Raising a PG Kid in an R-Rated (Digital) World

 

 

Growing up in the age of technology and social media, the generation of kids we’re raising today has the world at its fingertips. Literally. They can pull up almost any location in the world on a computer screen, using Google Earth.

With the flick of a mouse and the return button on a keyboard, our kids can access anything. But is that what we want? Without parental involvement or guidance, finding the answer to what Native Americans used for shelter is as easy as finding out the latest trending YouTube challenge; which may or may not involve self-harm and suicide.

Think I’m overreacting? I’m not. I’ve worked with kids my entire life and have been privy to conversations in my classroom, at lunch tables, and now in my own home over dinner table discussions. I hear the information and misinformation exchanged after a few hours of uninterrupted screen time. Kids can’t always determine fact from fiction, and their hunger for the outrageous keeps them wanting more.

Sure, we had dirty jokes, our dad’s Playboys, and stashes of VCR tapes full of Jason and Freddy. The dance of childhood and tempting NSFW content is as old as time. But the ante has been upped exponentially with the internet, and the seemingly unlimited access some kids have to it.

One thing that hasn’t changed is a parent’s right to gauge what their children are ready for, and limit what they’re not. BOTH are equally important. As a kid, so much of what I learned about puberty, sex, and fear came from books. Even if my parents couldn’t keep up with my voracious appetite for reading, they had some idea of what the pages contained and could at least keep me from reading Pet Cemetery before I hit double digits.

My kid has not had that luxury. The images and content available to his generation are instantaneous and profuse. Over the years his friends have shared their own media or YouTube knowledge with him about violence, sex, or the eerie, child-killing lurker “The Slender Man.”

Here’s the thing, if you think your kid is ready for this content, that’s your choice. Maybe your child is the youngest of five and has seen it all, or their threshold for violence and horror is high. By all means, settle in for a night of Sausage Party, Scarface, and It. Determining your kid’s readiness for adult content is your call. BUT PLEASE, before you send them out the door to school the next day, or to a birthday party filled with peers who aren’t yet ready to hear about murderous clowns or innuendo-laden deli meat, talk to them about the privilege that comes with that knowledge — and the power.

Your right as a parent to decide what digital content your child sees is as important as mine. The problem is that when your kid is privy to content that mine isn’t ready for (and I don’t mean heavy petting or the F-bomb, but terrifying child stalking…and d*ck jokes), the moment they fill my child’s head up with it, your choice overpowers mine. Your choice to open the door to horror, or sex, or violence, or murder is now the only option available. All the families of the kids at the lunch tables, or the backseats of cars, or at the park, have no choice but to open that door too.

And if my child’s lack of exposure to slasher films and sex jokes elicits cries of “You’re raising a snowflake!” and “Good luck in the real world!”, you should know my kid is as mature as they come. He can grocery shop, cook, and calmly call 911. He’s concerned about issues like poverty and homelessness. He saves his allowance to help shelter-animals and has a pen-pal in Haiti. I’m confident my kid is going to make a kick-ass adult. But for now, he’s still a kid. I’m content to let him remain one until he’s worn out childhood like an old pair of shoes, soles unevenly trod down, toes poking through, laces unraveled; until it’s time, the right time for him, to move on to the next size.

Because just like children’s outsides grow at different paces, so do their insides.

You don’t realize it, but the things your kid knows about shapeshifting, bloodthirsty clowns will keep my kid awake at night, and in turn, me; which makes me more than a little bit frustrated and resentful. Because sleep.

As parents, let’s teach our kids that with knowledge comes responsibility. If kids are mature enough to watch Pennywise chase down children, they’re mature enough to know that it’s not lunchtime conversation.

Our kids will all outgrow childhood at their own pace. The door to this time of believing in magical wizards, and feeling safe under covers in rooms filled with music boxes, snow globes, and stuffed animals has been slowly closing from the moment we brought them into the world. Let’s not allow our children to be pushed into adulthood too soon by their unlimited access to information. Let’s let them linger here, in childhood, until they’re ready to walk through the door themselves.

This post originally appeared here.

Why I’ll Never Complain About Turning Another Year Older

 

 

I just had a birthday, and at this point in my life, the celebration is mostly for my kids. They gleefully plunge candles into frosting, and enthusiastically help me blow them out. (We don’t put the actual amount because that might be a fire hazard.)

The real truth is I don’t keep track of candles anymore. (Honest, just ask my friend who one year calculated my age as we drank wine on my couch, astutely pointing out that I was, in fact, one year younger than I thought!)

My lack of age awareness isn’t a sneaky way to avoid acknowledging that the years have continued to creep up. Mostly, it’s laziness. If I’m completely honest, my brain is so busy with calendar dates, vet visits, field trips, hot lunch orders, and the ever-present needs of my children, that keeping track of how old I am is not high on the list.

But the biggest reason I don’t keep track is that I’m unconcerned with the number of candles on my cake, as long as I get to keep adding more.

Growing up, I saw firsthand the fleeting nature of life. I lost several family members to cancer, including my mother. She turned 30 in the hospital after accepting a terminal diagnosis for which there was no treatment.

In my 20’s I was terrified I’d be dealt a similar fate due to genetics and superstitious foregone conclusions. So sure was I of my impending death, that for much of my life, I lived in fear of my 30th birthday, looming over me like the End of Days.

To my relief, I turned 30 without incident and am genuinely grateful for each year since. Over time I’ve seen friends face their mortality, lose parents to cancer, and struggle with the unimaginable ache of watching their children become chronically ill.

Months after having my first baby, I watched my husband nearly die in front of me. He was just 33 when he almost left this life for good, without ever knowing our newly born son.

Now, we are lucky to be raising two boys, who together have provided us with more than our fair share of trips to the ER, sometimes propelled by heart-thumping, gut-wrenching, please-let-my-kid-be-ok, fear.

At the risk of oversimplifying and sounding trite (which unavoidably, I do). I’ve come to realize that this life we are living is a gift.

Each time life has flaunted its impermanence in front of me, I’ve thrown out all my hopes into the universe and asked for more. More hugs, more laughter, more time, more years. I want as much time as possible with the ones I love, which inevitably means growing older.

We can look at aging as something that is happening to us, beyond our control. Or we can view it as a badge of honor, and the awesome privilege it is. Whether we focus on the destination or the journey is up to us.

The wear and tear of aging is evidence of all the living we’ve done; marking our bodies with keepsakes, reminding us of where we’ve been.

My scars are reminders of the times I tested personal limits, pushed boundaries, and learned about caution, risk, and judgment.

My freckles mark the carefree, sun-filled summers and mid-day hikes of my 20’s, tanning my skin and taking me to the tops of mountains and the shores of lakes when time stretched wide open, and there was nowhere I needed to be.

My once toned legs have been softened over the years by fewer gym visits and more giggling bodies piled onto my lap for bedtime stories, or late night starry-skied cuddles.

My tummy, at one time lean and flat, found its purpose as a safe-haven for two little humans to evolve from tiny bundles of cells into babies, my babies, ready to enter this world. Now squishy and round, it serves as a soft landing for tickle fights and frequently a pillow for my wildly-coiffed boys, while they watch clouds shift in the sky on lazy-park-Saturdays.

The lines on my face tell the story of my experience. Happiness, gratitude, sadness, fear — and everything in between — are the rivers of emotion that, over time, formed grooves around my eyes and mouth, leaving a map of how this life has shaped me.

It’s tempting to pine for a re-do of the years behind us. Given the chance, would we push pause? Preventing distance from forming between our youth and our inevitable end game— when we won’t have the luxury of lamenting another candle on our birthday cake.

I continue to welcome the candles and embrace the privilege of age. Each birthday is another year I get to be here, living this life, surrounded by friends who support me, a husband who accepts me unequivocally, and my children who have taught me more than I ever knew about unconditional love.

If I’m lucky, I’m somewhere near the middle of this journey.

So bring on the wrinkles, belly jiggles, and gray hair. Each has brought me wisdom, peace of mind, and the unmatched comfort I’ve found in my own skin, age spots and all.

When I blew out the candles this year (wedged between squealing children) my wish was the same as always — to take another trip around the sun and add more candles to my cake.

This post was featured on HuffPost 

My Son Reminded Me To See The Good, Even When It’s Hard

 

These days I sometimes forget to see the good, with my eyes full of terrifying news images, and my head full of worry for our country. In uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to notice kindness, to be kind, and to see the good – even when it’s hard.

I’m so grateful to be the mother of two curious, loving, kind kids who remind me daily how beautiful we are all capable of being to each other.

Love Trumps Hate; it just does.

 

With the lazy days of summer winding down, my almost-5th-grader and I went away overnight, checking off his last “Summer Bucket List” item: alone time with Mom.

During our 24-hours free from wi-fi, little brothers, and distractions, we covered some territory; and I don’t mean our long walks on the beach.

He asks a lot of questions. Some inspired by the world we live in, some inspired by being ten.

What happens when we die?

Will we go to war?

What are nuclear weapons?

Do you think animals speak different languages?

How fast does a rocket go?

Sometimes I have answers; sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I can offer reassurance; sometimes I can’t.

These days, more often than I want to be, I’m distracted and worried about the world in which he’s growing up. Like him, I’m full of questions. Some triggered by current events, some triggered by raising another human being into adulthood without a crystal ball or promise that it will all shake out OK.

What happens when I die?

Will we go to war?

What about nuclear weapons?

Will my kids be safe? With their bodies, their choices, other people’s feelings?

How fast will this next chapter of life go?

In our time together, I realized we’re both searching. For answers. Reassurance. And the next sure footing to place our weight on, and step forward.

He in his 10-year-old way. And me in my mother-wife-almost-middle-aged-woman way. Nevertheless, we’re both searching.

I took him to the beach. Because we both like open space, starry skies, and s’mores.

I drove us down streets where I learned to drive, playing songs I came of age to, drinking familiar coffee that sustained me. We entered neighborhoods I hadn’t driven through in years. Still, I knew where to go. Without cell phones, or Google Maps, or even conscious thought.

It’s muscle memory.

I took him to the coffee shop I used to frequent, in the days I had to scrape together coins to buy a coffee. Unlike so much else from then to now, it was exactly the same.

We walked in and noticed an old man sitting at an even older piano, playing choppy, drawn out notes, fumbling to find keys. Pencil marks overflowed from the margins of his sheet music. The song he played took every last bit of concentration he had. After three years of piano lessons, my son understood the effort being made to get through this one song. He looked at me and held my gaze to tell me so; eyes filled with kindness, not judgment.

We got our drinks and sat across from the piano, where I used to sit; when I was young and unsure about pretty much everything, except who I was inside.

Panning the room, I noticed that while the barista’s personal attention was top-notch, and the deep wooden benches begged for conversations to take place, hands to clasp under tables, and secrets to be whispered; every single person was staring at a screen.

No one was talking to each other.

I started to go down the rabbit hole of worrying about a future where we trade human connection for anxiety, insomnia, and depression. While my head was filling with dystopian imagery, the last shaky notes from the keys rang through the room, and my son started applauding. He hadn’t been looking around the room assessing the screen time of others. Or staring out the window wondering why I’d brought him to this old, rundown coffee shop. He’d been watching as an old man, hunched over keys, found the notes to a song, and played them for a room full of people, who weren’t even listening.

Except my son was.

The man turned around, surprised, and they shared a look. Filled with recognition, appreciation, and human connection.

He turned back to the keys in front of him and placed his sheet music on top of the piano, in a pile of other song books stacked next to his tip jar.

He closed his eyes as his fingers began to play the notes of the next song. It was like watching him find a memory he knew to be sure and true. The kind you don’t have to question, you just feel.

Complex and beautiful music filled the room as his weathered fingers danced across the keys – effortlessly.

Sitting with the ghost of a younger me, I watched my someday-grown-up-man embody the belief that everyone deserves to be acknowledged and seen. I watched him clap when no one else did, and lock eyes with a surprised old man who then found his way to a song he’d forgotten he knew.

Like muscle memory.

And for a minute, he reminded me of myself, sitting in the same place, not much older than he is now. Before time propelled me forward. Before people stared at screens instead of talking to each other. Before our country had a leader, who stomped on everything I believed in and made me doubt the greater good.

Some days it’s easy to see the worst in us all. Some days the ugliest of humanity is on full display all over the news.

Some days It feels like hate is winning.

So we must shine our light on the good. When my son applauded for the man at the piano, every person in the room looked up from their screens and joined in. In one simple act, smiles and clapping hands united us. Strangers.

An amazing thing happens when we close our eyes, toss out the sheet music, and embrace all that connects us. It’s not something you question; it’s something you feel.

As Nelson Mandela said, and President Obama reminded us of recently, “Love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

What if, like my 10-year-old, we followed our hearts and did what comes naturally?

Being A Mom Is Having Stuff Stuck In Your Hair

As many of you know from my FB posts, texts, or emails: last week pretty much sucked. Charlie was sick all week (there was vomit involved) and I had to miss Trevor Noah, which I was really looking forward to, which was also my Mother’s Day present (which is more than a little ironic). Because motherhood. On top of that, for a not-so-brief amount of time I had a fan stuck in my hair. As you might imagine, that stirred up some...feelings about motherhood. The result is this post (disguised as a rant, which is mostly a confessional, but really a love letter) about the highs, and lows, and truths of “Being a mom” –  as I see it.

I hope you enjoy 🙂 J


Being a mom is the entering of uncharted territory.

Being a mom is packing a hospital bag as one version of yourself and coming home as another, tethered to a new life, now forever in your charge.

Being a mom is signing agreements and waitlists, then crossing fingers, miles, and barriers to make a family with a child, where there wasn’t one before.

Being a mom is injecting hormones, counting calendars, and pouring hope and science into a bottle and throwing it out to sea; waiting for a gift from the universe.

Being a mom is learning on the job how to swaddle, bathe, soothe, bandage, feed, and care for an ever changing being in constant need of something, from the very small to the very large. Every. Single. Minute.

Being a mom is lonely.

Being a mom is wiping. Wiping snotty noses, dirty bottoms, muddy hands, and slates clean — over and over again.

Being a mom is packing. Packing lunches, and backpacks, and sleeping bags for camp. Childhood rooms into boxes, boxes into car trunks, cards into envelopes, and books from dorm rooms to apartments, offices, and new homes.

Being a mom is holding. Holding hands, bike seats, and the “Oh sh*t!” handles of 16-year-old’s cars. Holding arms down aisles of weddings, and grand-babies in laps, and more often than you’d like: your tongue.

Being a mom is never knowing if you’re doing it right.

Being a mom is more. More love, more hugs, more laughter, more silly, more fulfillment, more pride, and more contented-quiet-moments-of-awe-and-gratitude than you expected, hoped, prepared, or bargained for.

Being a mom is less. Less time, less sleep, less exercise, less romance, less friends, less books (that aren’t filled with pictures and made of cardboard), less room in the bed, less time in the day, less interests, less hobbies. Less of you — the person you were before becoming a mother.

Being a mom is full. Full of play dough, easel paint, science projects, gymnastics, playgroups, school drop-offs and pick-ups, music lessons, soccer matches, cooking, dishes, laundry, and the mess that is life with children.

Being a mom is carrying. Carrying groceries, art projects, unfinished juice boxes, half-chewed gum, sleepy bodies from carseats to cribs, and worry, and angst, and dreams, and wonder.

Being a mom is carrying too much at once.

Being a mom is “Look Mommy!” and “Watch this!” and “Come here!” All. The. Time.

Being a mom is fueled by caffeine, lists, calendar reminders, “I did its!”, “Thank you Mommys!” and “I love yous!”

Being a mom is trade-offs, and sacrifice, and compromise, and career diversions, and life detours.

Being a mom is considering another person’s well-being and interests before your own with every decision you make.

Being a mom is being less to others so you can be more to the ones who need you most.

Being a mom is canceled plans.

Being a mom is handmade cards, and clay hearts, and macaroni necklaces, and stick figure drawings of you hand-in-hand together. It’s nose-to-nose kisses, and round, soft faces looking into your eyes and saying they love you more than ice cream and candy ― and meaning it.

Being a mom is having someone see you as a better person than you actually are.

Being a mom is being someone’s person.

Being a mom is lying. Yes, that squeaky rendition of Twinkle Twinkle on the recorder is beautiful! Not much longer. We’re almost there! It doesn’t taste that bad. Plaid and stripes are a fantastic combo! Your blue hair really shows off your eyes.

Being a mom is telling the truth. I don’t know. It’s broken. It’s going to hurt for awhile. Time heals (but not everything can be fixed). Life isn’t fair.

Being a mom is saying “No” when it’s hard and “Yes” when it’s harder.

Being a mom is lemonade stands, sand castles, and snowmen.

Being a mom is fevers, thermometers, and sleepless nights.

Being a mom is always taking the smaller half of the cookie.

Being a mom is slobber running down your cheek from open mouth kisses, paint on your shirt from spontaneous mid-craft hugs, and half-eaten food in your pockets and purse at all times.

Being a mom is yelling when your child breaks a vase, squirts you with the hose, or spits gooey, pink medicine out all over the couch and carpet because (even though he’s sick) You. Have. Had. It. And sometimes you are your worst self.

Being a mom is having stuff stuck in your hair, like jelly, or vomit, or the plastic, handheld fan your 4-year-old tried to “cool you off with” that wound itself into your tresses and made a nest, which you will likely have to cut out later.

Being a mom is looking into the worried eyes of the kid who tangled up your hair (maybe not by accident) and laughing hysterically; choosing forgiveness over shame because sometimes you are your best self.

Being a mom is constant, and steady, and sure. It’s no-matter-what and for-always.

Being a mom is forgiveness, and apologies, and absolution. Every. Single. Day.

Being a mom is a noun, a verb, and an adjective at any given time, and all at once.

Being a mom is discouraging, and heart-wrenchingly draining, and rewarding, and soul-satisfyingly wonderful.

Being a mom is a craft to be honed, a work in progress, a circuitous route to an unknown destiny.

Being a mom is a leap of faith.

Being a mom stretches you to the ends of all that is reasonable, and is a full-time, round-the-clock, never-stopping endurance test.

Being a mom is something that once you’ve known it, you wouldn’t trade for anything in the world; even though sometimes, it would be nice to take a vacation.

This post was featured on HuffPost.

Hey Moms, We’re All On The Same Team

I was sitting on the grass the other day with some other moms while our older kids played baseball and our younger ones banded together in various modes of chasing, snacking, and mischief-making. We engaged in half-hearted conversation while each of us, in our own way, was preoccupied with our kids.

I kept one eye on my accident-prone 4-year-old, who was bound and determined to spill juice all over the nice, clean, pinstriped picnic blanket we had squeezed onto to steal some shade.

One mom was worried about her daughter playing at the nearby playground, away from her watchful eye. Another was calling over to her son every few minutes, reminding him not to roll around in the grass (which he was) because he’s allergic. And yet another was eying her older son at first base, who was distractedly worrying about sunscreen and water, instead of guarding the plate.

None of us were content to take our eyes and minds off our kids, and see how they fared without us.

We all do it. Look at our kids and see the potential failures and disasters, while hoping for the best. We want some control over their outcome because we see them as a reflection of us. Willing all the best parts of ourselves on them, we hope they’ll embody the fictitious one-day-children we imagined we’d have – before we were actually parents.

As they age, we realize our kids are both falling short of, and exceeding our expectations at any given moment; making them trickier to raise than the pretend versions we dreamed up.

We’re left wondering what to do with these make-believe children we’ve created. The ones with even-keeled emotions, laser-focused attention, and charismatic charm, who thought we were nothing short of amazing and longed to do everything we loved, right by our side, till forever and eternity. (Or at least until we aged into blissfully fulfilled, older versions of ourselves, dripping with grandchildren and satisfaction for a job well done.)

And what about the parent we thought we’d be ― before we lived knee-deep in the trenches of child rearing, trying not to step on landmines, and holding our breath?

What if we let them both go? The fantasy versions of our kids and ourselves. What if we kicked ‘em both to the curb with a “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” and accepted all of us for who we really are?

Raising children is like playing Craps. (Sometimes it’s like actual crap, and there’s a lot of literal crap involved.) But for metaphor’s sake, we’re tossing out a handful of genes, nurture, and luck into the world and hoping for a parenting “win.”

I, for one, am never quite sure how it’ll shake out. Like when my oldest comes undone over a missed free throw, putting his lack of resilience on full display for all the world to see. Or when my 4-year-old inevitably does spill his apple juice, and wipe his dirty hands all over another mom’s picnic blanket.

Part of me wants to skulk away and disappear because their behavior is a reflection of my inept parenting, or at least that’s how it feels.

But what if we didn’t feel that way?

What if we forgave each other our kids’ behavior? What if I stop worrying that you’ll take my kid’s lack of resilience to mean I haven’t tried like Hell to give him coping skills? And what if you stop worrying that your kid’s lack of focus makes me think you aren’t working just as hard to instill tenacity?

Let’s stop interpreting our kids’ behavior as our parental downfalls.

How about instead, we embrace the cracks in the system and agree to have each other’s back? We could all breathe a little easier knowing we’ve made an unspoken agreement to assume best intentions when our kids (and ourselves) fall short.

Aside from overtly violent, deliberately rude, or just plain mean behavior, aren’t we all (our kids included) trying to get it right most of the time?

Let’s operate under the assumption that while we don’t want to offend those around us, with tantrums, or sticky hands, or snotty noses, or lack of manners; it’s going to happen.

Despite our best efforts, parenting gets messy.

And when it does, we need to find a universal common ground: We’re all doing our best.

We hold out hope that our kids will pay attention, be mature, make smart choices, and exude grace. We hope the same for ourselves, but we’re hardwired to make mistakes ― because we are complicated, imperfect, emotional beings.

Our kids will break things; they will cause a scene, they will stare at some distraction on the ground instead of covering first base, they will wipe their greasy hands all over your linen pants, or drop the F-bomb in the middle of preschool circle time (OK…maybe that’s just mine). No matter how carefully we watch them, or coach them, or love them, they will fall and scrape their knees; they will spill the juice. Every. Last. Drop.

But what if we embraced the messy?

What if we exhaled and let go of judgment, and fear of being judged? What if leaned on each other, instead of retreating for fear our kids’ breaking points will deem us failures as parents?

Instead, when the child wrapped around our leg is a screaming ball of inconsolable gibberish, or interrupts with 57 Mommys! while we try to talk, or breaks down and cries on the pitching mound, or douses the adorable, once-clean, picnic blanket with apple juice, we say, “It’s OK.” And our eyes match our words, and we mean it. And digging into overflowing pockets and purses for half used napkins, we clean up the mess together.

Because we’re all on the same team. Team Mom. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

This post was featured on Huff Post and Red Tricycle.

A Time Capsule Of Us

 

The other night I woke in a panic, with that unmistakable feeling I’d forgotten something. My eyes darted around the dark, taking stock of familiar surroundings, while my mind raced to retrieve what it was that sent me reeling.

Then I remembered. You. The one who made me a mom, my first baby. You are going to be in 5th grade. Not today, or even next month, but next year. If this year’s any indication, it’ll be here in the blink of an eye.

We’d just visited Open House, admiring the fruits of your 4th-grade year, which you eagerly showed your dad, brother, and me; proudly touring us around your classroom. For some reason, this year, the one on the heels of the 5th year you’ll spend as an elementary school-er, caught me off guard.

While you showed off your hand-drawn map of California and glazed, clay Grizzly Bear, I realized we’re standing smack-dab in the middle of your childhood. You are over halfway to “adult” and equidistant between training wheels and a driver’s license.

I thought there was more time, to do more together, that I always meant to do.

Like, read you more books. I didn’t know the clock was counting down minutes to the exact one (somewhere between Where the Red Fern Grows and A Wrinkle In Time) when you declared yourself too old to be read to. No hard feelings, but could I pleeeaase just let you read…alone?!

Tonight underscored what I already knew—you’re a big kid. I felt nostalgic for our time used up, and regretful for the time I’d wasted making you “hold on a second” until seconds piled into months and years that I’ve spent doing a bunch of who-knows-what, instead of what I meant to do with you.

I sat in the dark, wanting to climb the stairs to your room, crawl into your bed, and wrap my arms around your now-up-to-my-chin body (obviously I didn’t because you love sleep and um…boundaries!) Instead, I fed my Judgy-Inadequate-Mom-Demons moments of us— the good stuff—to keep them quiet; and prevent me from nosediving into the deep end of the mommy-guilt pool I’d been circling.

I did impossible math in my head, adding up milestones and memories until they equaled 10 years old; validation I had actually poured into you as much as I had left out.

I saw you, tiny and pink, wrapped in blue, polka-dot muslin, asleep in my arms while we rocked in the worn, sage-green chair that is now in your brother’s room, but was then brand new, our safe haven for discovering nursing and the pitch-black stillness of 3AM together; when we were just beginning.

I saw your first, wobbly, barefoot, pudgy-toed steps toward me, in our old house with warm bamboo floors and sunlight streaming in, making your new-tooth smile look like a washed-out home movie.

I saw your boppity-bouncy toddler gait evolve into steady, even strides running alongside me through busy streets to catch trains that took us to museums, swimming lessons, and afternoon tea in rainstorms, where we discussed dragons and pirates, and you wondered all your what-ifs to me out loud.

I saw the first time I broke us, by yelling louder than I meant to; but then how we were fixed with hugs, and apologies, and Candyland.

I saw euphoria overtake your small body as the singsongy arrival of the ice cream truck sent you darting out the door, knowing I’d follow. Sitting in the sun, on the curb, creamy drips falling from sticks, we soaked in the sweet laziness of summertime, and made our own schedule — before school, homework, and baseball practice.

I saw us planting our first garden. To your delight, we actually grew a watermelon, which you named Jr., and checked on daily until you pronounced “him” full grown and planned a party in his honor, including balloons and cake, because you were a kid who believed in everything (even garden fruit) with your whole self.

I saw us at the cafe we’ve frequented since you were a tiny lump, and I, an exhausted new mom in search of caffeine and signs of adult existence. Look at us now; me with a cappuccino and you across from me with tea (instead of strapped into a stroller with a sippy-cup). We discussed your science project and the political climate in our country—because you’re big now. We played hangman and tic-tac-toe, and ordered chocolate crepes with whipped cream—because you are little, too.

I saw us passing through time, until at last, we caught up and I found what I needed.

Closure.

You’re not the extension of me you once were, needing me always, my hand to hold, my arms to hug, my lap to snuggle into for bedtime stories.

But you still need me, and I still see us, even if we’re changing.

Like when we watched “Toy Story 3” “for your brother” but he lost interest somewhere around the opening credits. You stayed, sinking into me on the couch, while we laughed at Buzz Lightyear’s “Spanish Mode” and exchanged knowing glances when Andy gave away his childhood toys.

You do actually let me read to you…sometimes…if you’re tired, and the plot is darker than you’d care to read alone; though you’d never admit it.

And while we’re both reading, or writing, it’s not long before I look up and realize you’ve quietly settled nearby; reassurance I’m still a moon in your orbit.

We’ve outgrown this side of childhood. But thanks to insomnia and mommy-guilt, I’ve gathered up memories for safe keeping, and made a time capsule of us. You may be over halfway to adult, but we’re just beginning to discover who you’re becoming as you grow up, as we grow up together, like we’ve been doing all this time.

This post was featured on HuffPost and Red Tricycle.

 

To The “Big Boy” At My Son’s Baseball Game: You Give Me Hope

 

I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by your kind all my life, as a nanny, teacher, and parent. Sadly, your numbers have dwindled over the years.

Newer, less engaged, increasingly self-focused and disconnected versions of you seem to be taking over; usually staring at some sort of screen and wishing they were anywhere but where they are.

Just when I thought your species might be on the brink of extinction, you turned up at my son’s Little League game.

My youngest son spotted you immediately; as we approached the play structure next to the field where my older son was playing baseball. He was laser focused on “befriending you” while I distractedly divided my gaze between him zooming ahead on his scooter, and his older brother’s turn at bat.

As far as I could tell there were no adults watching you, and seemingly no bribery involved. You were the very definition of integrity, doing the right thing when no one was looking; save for the small crew of tagalong siblings strewn around you on swings and climbing ropes, transfixed and unmoving, while you explained whatever fun activity was coming next.

Before I could catch up, my son abandoned his scooter and rushed through the playground gate still wearing his bulky, green helmet; a comical contrast to his lanky 4-year-old frame. He darted over, a can’t-miss neon green cake pop, and squeezed into your group. He was instantly captivated by your gentle manner—and willingness to play with him.

My son is a hugger, an “I love you”-sayer, and a wearer of hearts on sleeves. Above all else, he’s a worshipper of older boys, “Big Boys” like his brother, like you.

Frequently, he’s met with confusion or retreat, as I remove his dejected, often crying body from the personal bubbles he so readily invades. A visceral need to declare “Big Kid” status is a rite of passage, I get it. But each time he’s rejected, I wonder, Would it be so hard to humor him…just a little?

I’m used to un-peeling him from whatever leg or waist he’s tangled around, and explaining that not everyone wants a hug, or high-five; or to give a clingy, sticky-faced kid, one-third their age, the time of day.

But I didn’t have to do that today.

You didn’t cringe when my son joined in, tagging along like a lost puppy. Instead you smiled, laughed, and engaged with him. Not just him, but several pint-sized, younger siblings who were hanging around, just like you, while their brothers played baseball.

Looking up to you with wide-eyed admiration, a hodgepodge crew of younger siblings hung on every word as you explained where to run safely, and what areas were off limits; further establishing yourself as the holy grail of “Big Boys.”

You enthusiastically began a game of “Monster Chase”; which from what I gathered, is full of chasing, growling, and tagging…obviously The. Best. Game. Ever.

But I don’t need to tell you that; your kind knows these things.

What you don’t know, is that the little guy euphorically chasing you around in his big green helmet, is needy. Not in the draining, whiny way; but in an always asking questions or needing snacks kind of way. Also, in four years he’s had three concussions, skin glue, and several X-rays—so he requires my focus.

I often miss my older son’s special moments when, inevitably, I look away at the last second while his brother scales the bleachers, crashes into someone on his scooter, or spills his yogurt all over himself. By the time I turn around, my oldest is on a base I didn’t see him run to, after hitting a ball I never saw fly through the air, or tagging a runner out after a diving catch, that I never saw him make.

I miss most of it, even though I’m right there.

But not today.

Today while my littlest was squealing in delight as you pushed him on the swing, I inched away toward the bleachers behind home plate, where my oldest was at bat.

I watched him concentrate as he swung at strikes and stepped away from balls. He had my undivided attention, as he decisively took a swing at the last pitch and sent it flying into center field. I saw his face as he ran the bases smiling out loud; while his teammates’ cheers rang from the dugout. I saw him in his element, doing what he loves; the way we all want to be seen—and I would have missed it all, if not for you.

I bet you didn’t think twice about what you did today; playing with a bunch of kids less than half your age.

You weren’t distracted by texting, social demands, or #lookingcool. Maybe you had a game already and were tired, or hungry—stuck here waiting for your own brothers to finish up.

Instead of worrying about what else you could be doing, or where you’d rather be; you were present.

With patience, kindness, and inclusion, you showed a handful of future yous how to be the very best version of a “Big Kid” when their time comes.

There’s an age, and you’re teetering on the cusp of it, when it’s tempting to lose touch with all generations but your own. Don’t. You need us. And we need you.

We need more of you in our village.

We need more of what you did today. More willingness to ask what we can offer others, instead of what they can offer us. More connection with the world around us, free of distraction.

I worry about your generation, and my sons’ to follow. I wonder what you’ll lose in childhood, as we plunge deeper into technological disconnect. But not today.

Today childhood wins.

You may be a dying breed, but you’re still out there; and that gives me hope for us all.

 

This post was featured on The Huffington Post 

 

 

A Conversation (Out Loud) About Raising Feminist Boys

 

Recently, I was asked by Dr. Jennifer Todd to do an interview for her Women Transcend! podcast series; which takes a look at issues facing women and girls worldwide.  

She reached out to me after reading my HuffPo post, Raising My Boys To Resist The Patriarchy. As much as I feared being interviewed, and listening to my own voice (yikes!) I couldn’t refuse. Because feminism.

In the interview we discuss the Women’s March on Washington, raising boys who are aware of the patriarchal society we live in, and the obstacles faced by women because of it.

If you are interested in listening, you can find it here: Patriarchy,Parenting And Boys.

I fully realize our discussion is a small piece of a much larger landscape that includes women of color and the LBGTQ community. She wanted a mother’s perspective* on raising boys in a patriarchy and my take on why I think it’s important to raise boys with a feminist viewpoint. 

*I absolutely do not profess to be an expert on feminism (or anything else for that matter), but I am happy to be included in the conversation…and learn as I go…always 🙂

Dr. Todd’s site is empowering and highlights obstacles women face globally–and how Women Transcend!

 

This Cake Is Everything

 

I spent the better part of today making a cake for my 4-year-old’s birthday party. Not just a one pan and frosting kind of cake. Nope. A “rainbow cake” which, you guessed it—includes EVERY color of the rainbow.

I divided batter into six mixing bowls and carefully blended each into a colorful arch of the rainbow; with the enthusiastic help of a PJ-clad 4-year-old sous chef. (I’m not gonna lie, he isn’t the cleanest of assistants, so calling it “help” is a stretch.)

This project requires A LOT of bowls, and six layers means six pans. (Really, three pans twice… Because who has six round pans?) However you add it up, a lot of mess and clean up are involved in This. One. Cake.

In many ways it’s crazy-making considering how easily I could pick up some cupcakes or cookies; which would be so totally appropriate for a 4-year-old’s birthday…where, let’s face it, a bunch of keyed-up preschoolers will sit just long enough to shove maybe three bites of frosting into their mouths (getting most of it on their face and cute party outfits) before they start running around the room and bouncing off walls.

So why do it?

a) I crave praise.

b) I’m one of those “Pinterest Moms” and this is another notch in my crafty, gingham apron strings.

c) I’m a masochist (and a martyr) who takes on insurmountable obligations and projects in excess.

These theories aren’t completely baseless. At one point or another I’ve been one…or the other…or all three—at once.

But not today.

Today, I’m a mom who feels like so much is out of my control when it comes to the current task at hand: raising my kids.

Every day is unpredictable and I’m kept on my toes a lot. My balancing act leaves tons to be desired, and most days, I eek by with a C (on good days a solid B). I yell, lose my patience, and have even, on occasion…gasp!…resented my children.

I’ve wanted to run out the front door, leaving their always-in-need-of-something little bodies behind, while I assume the me of decades ago; hopping into my green convertible and driving off to get sangria and tapas with the man I was madly in love with (who, by the way is the same man I’m married to, even though sometimes, sadly, I forget).

But I really do love those needy little monsters; so I stay. (Occasionally seeking out closed-end-tasks for sanity’s sake.)

Like baking fancy birthday cakes.

Somewhere in this buttercream frosting and R-O-Y-G-B-I-V is another year of my kid’s life gone by, another year of me being a mom, and a million things that both did and didn’t go well.

Like the frosting on this cake, depending on where I stand, how the light hits, or the angle of my gaze—I can see it as perfect, or I can see all the flaws.

Just like parenting.

The amount of care taken in adding one more candle to the cake is overwhelming.

Fevers, ER visits, X-rays, tears shed, tantrums thrown, knees skinned, pets lost (OK, they were tiny frogs, but the amount of sadness expressed rivaled me watching “E.T.”, so our dogs better live at least another 65 years!) All of this…and So. Many. Band-Aids.

But it can be lovely…

Rainy-day-book-forts, nose kisses, lazy banana-pancake-mornings, bubble baths, bedtime cuddles, kites flown, puddles stomped, ice cream licked, fears conquered, the unbridled and euphoric laughter of childhood floating down hallways, and fresh pencil lines on doorjambs proclaiming a newer, taller version has replaced last year’s model.

So much life in a year.

The possibilities of how these little lives might shake out over time makes my head spin with equal parts hope and fear.

Bookmarked in my mind is an image of my older son, exuberant when we made his “rainbow cake” six years ago, before I’d met the indifference of 10…proof he’s in there somewhere (and that favoritecolorrainbow is genetic).

For a minute today we all overlapped, in front of the round pans and the pre-heated oven, like déjà vu.

In this frenetic life that so easily pulls me in a million different directions, I need to touch hands with these memories sometimes, as a reminder of the life I intended…before becoming so wildly distracted with the life I am actually living.

Parenting is hard. I don’t trust myself to keep it up as well as I want to, for as long as I need to. (If all goes as planned, there’s a long way to go.)

Maybe by making this cake, I can do other things I already did right once. If I keep that up, maybe we’ll somehow get through “growing up” intact; even when life is turned upside down, or we disagree and want to make a run for it.

If we allow ourselves to overlap with memories from time to time, maybe it will remind us that we are unconditional.

As a parent, it’s easy to remember the times we fall short. I need to remember the times I showed up, had patience, and dove in with my whole heart. When I read the extra bedtime story, hugged a little longer, and played Candyland 17 times in a row. I need to remember the days I was the best version of me: making magic out of cake mix. 

I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m a realist, so I’ll take stock of what is sure.

Another year is in the books, this memory is mine to keep come what may, and as we journey together toward one candle older, I will fold down the corner on this day to visit again.

A time when mixing birthday batter into rainbows, and the joyful face of a little boy who has his whole life ahead of him, is all I need.

And for reasons maybe only I understand…right now, this cake is everything.

This post was featured on The Huffington Post 

Things I Say to My Kids That Really Mean “I Love You”

Here is a picture of my kids 🙂

And a link to my latest post on Popsugar about all the sneaky ways I tell my kids I love them! 

Warning: Contains Sarcasm and Potty Humor