Life Lessons, Parenting, politics, Social Media, Uncategorized

About That Letter. A Follow Up.

Well. Wow.

Hi.

I’m Vanessa. Welcome to my tiny space on the internet.

One week ago, I wrote an open letter to teachers that went viral. It had an organic reach of over 500,000 views in 4 days, which is giant for this little blog. (For reference, 2000 views per post is average for me.) Love What Matters also picked it up and was able to reach even more for me, to get my message to educators. And it’s still racking up the views as I type.

I’ve never had a post go “viral” from my blog. Many of my most popular writings were republished on online journal outlets, such as Scary Mommy, BLUNT Moms, etc., but never have I written anything that reached the masses from this space. I am one small whisper in the loud, vast chatter of the blogging world.

I was shocked that this specific post resonated with so many people. I didn’t feel like it was so wonderfully written or anything special. And this isn’t me just being humble. This is me saying that it wasn’t that unique but the reason why it touched so many is simple:

Teachers do not get the recognition and accolades and appreciation that they deserve. Ever. And they were just grateful to have someone say “thank you”.

I’ve been sitting with that all week.

It’s incredibly heartbreaking to me that we forget about the most important people in our world. The special humans that chose to make their life’s work about bettering our entire society: teachers, first responders, and social workers are the first that come to mind for me. Of course, our military, too. We forget to thank them and we forget to respect them. And none of these professions make nearly enough money to do what they do. They do it for the greater good. They do it for their passion.

And the comments I received, the messages, the emails, from teachers on that post were sobering. I need to share a few to drive this home for everyone. (I want to share all 200 of them but I chose the ones that hit me the hardest.):

~~~~~~

*I absolutely would protect my students if that’s what it came to because that’s my job when their parents aren’t there. I just hope my own family will forgive me and understand my love for my students didn’t outweigh my love for them if something would ever happen to me in the line of duty.

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*Thank you for this. I retired at the end of last year after 33 years. I chose to work in high poverty areas. These areas are also rife with abuses of all sorts. I can remember having to have a discussion with my fourth graders after a shooting. They were scared. As their teacher, I didn’t know what to say. They knew I would die defending them if I needed to. I loved my job, but I realized the stress was getting to my health and it was time for me to go. I visit 2 of my old schools and just hate that we have to buzz people in because we can’t be sure about anyone. It is a sad day and most teachers I know around where I live do not want to be armed. They want to do their jobs without fear. My heart breaks reading some of the ignorant comments from people who think the job is soooo easy. I asked a person once to come sit and watch what I do after they criticized teachers in general. Their reply was something I can’t put in my print.

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*Thank you for this. I had a shooting at my school more than 22 years ago – it was a parent to a staff member (no one was injured) but the students saw this and a shotgun slug shot was fired into an empty classroom. I have been a teacher for more than 30 years and every time these events happens, I look over my shoulder or out my classroom windows twice just to make sure I am aware of my surroundings. More and more teachers are leaving because people with feelings opposite of yours are pounding teachers efficacy into the ground. The general public hasn’t a clue what teachers actually do and due to confidentiality, we cannot share the most serious and detailed parts of our jobs. We need more people like you sharing these thoughts and feelings with the world and with those who make education policies. Thank you again for this, it will be shared with fellow teachers.

~~~~~~~

*I love teaching and wouldn’t change anything about my career path. But as a teacher I feel society’s loathing of us every day. We are disrespected and hated. Society does not want their tax increases to go toward our salaries, school supplies, buildings, etc. Unfortunately, society only cares about teachers when they are shielding students from bullets.

~~~~~~

*I received this immediately after leaving a memorial service for one of the children killed in Parkland. I sat in my car, and cried thanking The Holy One that someone could put into words what lay so heavy on my heart. I immediately shared this with the teachers at my grandsons’ school. I pray that it will bring them comfort.

~~~~~~

Wow.

Just. Wow.

I am crying rereading these.

I cannot imagine feeling so under appreciated and ridiculed in a profession that very few are willing or able to do.

What this experience did for me was gave me even more appreciation to those that are molding our future generations. It made want to shower them with praise. It made me recoil on my annoyance of homework and projects and realize they are absolutely just doing their job. It gave me even more compassion for these special souls that get up everyday to meet our children and care for them almost as much as I do.

So, hey, everyone with a child in school: please, please say “thank you” to their teachers. Somehow. Words, letters, emails, coffee, gifts, chocolate, whatever. Just please, say thank you.

And thanks to all of you that read my letter and reacted with such love and positivity. I’m honored to have made it to so many of you.

Oh, and, lastly, to those that accused me of fear mongering or made this into a gun debate, let me be clear that my sole intention was to thank teachers for all they do. I don’t care which side of the gun debate fence they’re on, I don’t care which side of the political fence they’re on, I simply wanted to say thank you.

With or without the threat of gun violence, they are amazing humans that deserved to be recognized. Full stop.

Life Lessons, Parenting

Dear Teachers,

I’ve been trying to write this for two days. I keep writing and erasing, writing and erasing.

Because the truth is, I can’t find enough words of gratitude for what it is you do for all of us on a daily basis.

I started to think back to my own years of schooling and all of the amazing educators I was fortunate enough to have. Every single one of you were brilliant, even those that I didn’t care for, especially the ones I didn’t care for because I probably learned the most from you.

Your patience, your dedication, your passion. It all resonated with me. I remember your names, your faces, your messages, your encouragement, your wisdom, your individual skill sets, your special qualities that made you unique, your ability to remember our names 20 years later, your ability to show up for us.

You set me up for success to brave this world. You paved the way for me and all of your students, because that’s what you signed up to do.

You chose your career on sheer selflessness. You chose it on passion. You chose it based on the love for children. The love to educate our youth and to make them better. We are all keenly aware that you didn’t choose this path based on the financial reward.

You spend your own money on supplies, you have very little free time in the evenings and on weekends. You spend those hours grading papers, answering parents’ emails and texts, planning, conferencing, organizing, thinking, crafting.

Now I have a school aged child of my own. In the most violent time in history, I’m raising a child. And you, dear teachers, are raising my child right along with me, carrying burdens that I cannot fathom.

You spend more time with our children on a daily basis than we do during the course of the week. You know them better than we do in some aspects. You have tasks so large that we as parents can not reconcile in our minds how you manage not only the personalities of 15-60 students, but of their parents too.

You are an educator, a babysitter, a therapist, a nurse, a referee, a judge, a mediator, an analyst, a friend, a confidant, a mentor, and a coach all rolled into one. There’s no other profession like yours where you have to wear so many hats.

You have to bear the brunt of how much each and everyone of us suck at parenting in a million different ways.

And here, in 2018, you now have to enter your school on a daily basis faced with a fear so large, so insurmountable, that my heart aches for you. In addition to all of the responsibilities you already have, you now have to worry, and even prepare, to take a bullet for our kids. You have to have that additional nagging stress of “what if today is the day it’s our school?”.

I just can’t sit with that comfortably. It rocks me to my core that this is what it’s come to.

And as I scroll through social media today, I see some offering up your services to arm you with guns, train you to also be policemen and women of our schools to combat the evilness that has penetrated our schools over and over. Some want you to bear that load of being the one to pull the trigger in the face of danger, of delineating and diffusing a violent situation, basically taking on second profession, wear yet another hat.

I see these people, most whom are not teachers, offering this as a solution without even asking you how you feel about it, without even considering the tremendous responsibilities you already carry without having to also worry about carrying a concealed weapon.

And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry so much has fallen on you. It’s unfair. All of it.

So much stress, so much worry, so much anxiety, so much thought process that already goes into your daily grind. I cannot imagine how this all feels to you right now.

As a parent, I have felt sick to my stomach this week when I’ve dropped my child off to school. I should never have to have the thought in my mind that this might be the last time I see her when she’s simply going to school, a place that should obviously be a safe haven.

I cannot imagine how you feel inside these buildings in these times of uncertainly, with the amount of tragic events happening weekly within schools’ walls. It’s too heavy.

And I want you to know I’m fighting for change.

I am one fed up mama. I’m fed up for our children and I’m fed up for you, our educators. And I’m pledging to fight until we see more and more years pass before the next tragedy, not just days.

I will fight until there’s a time when this is all a distant memory and we can look back and say, “man, that was a scary time but look how far we’ve come”. I will fight for schools to be a safer place and fight for a day when you feel like you don’t have to have your guard up. I promise, I’m fighting.

I know we can do this and we will but in the meantime, teachers…thank you.

Thank you for showing up.

I will never have enough words of gratitude and thankfulness.

You are true heroes. My words will never fill that statement with enough power.

Life Lessons, Parenting, Ranting, Social Media

The Bullies Have Arrived. And I’m Ready To Use My Words.

My daughter was bullied for the first time two weeks ago.

Unfortunately , I’m not surprised. But that doesn’t mean it hurts any less as a mom.

When you’re a little girl that appears to be a boy, when you don’t fit into a perfect little societal norm box in this hateful world, bullies will find you.

She was on a play date in a different neighborhood. Her and her friends went to the community’s playground and met two boys around the ages of 10-12.

All started out well and fine, they all played together, until they didn’t.

The two boys began picking on my daughter, before even knowing she was a girl, making fun of her clothes, her shoes, her hair. When she corrected one of them for calling her an “ugly boy”, telling them she was a girl, they then called her a “tranny”, a freak, a fag, and gay. None of such terms were even understood by my child. Because she’s 8 and ignorant to such slurs and hatred.

She handled it well enough. She talked it out with me when I picked her up. She asked a lot of questions about the words they used and just seemed overall confused, but not overly sad.

She is the type to stuff emotions a little bit so I’m not sure the validity to her dismissive attitude but I was proud of her strength. We keep open communication about the incident and I made sure to tell her that these boys were just mean because they didn’t understand her and that they must have felt bad and ugly inside to do that to someone else, to which she responded well.

As for me? I didn’t handle it quite as gracefully.

I was so sad. I am so sad.

This is a tough pill to swallow for a parent. This bullying epidemic is some scary shit, especially when you bring the notion of social media into the conversation. It’s fucking terrifying.

I analyzed the incident for days. And by analyzed , I mean obsessed over it. And by obsessed over it, I mean I lost sleep, I cried and I thought about running away with my child somewhere it feels safer than this. Anywhere that posed promise for more open mindedness.

Because I know this won’t be the last bullying incident. I knew this was coming and it was the day I dreaded for years.

When my daughter’s gender identity adventures began at a very young age, of course I was hoping it was a phase. Of course I was.

Who would want their child to have a more difficult life? Who would want their child to be different, to stand out, to struggle? No one. Absolutely not one parent on the face of the earth.

But alas, she continued to express herself in the same patterns: “boy” toys, “boy” clothes, “boy” haircut, all with a bit of a masculine nuance to her mannerisms since age 4.

I’ve never labeled her transgender, as I’ve written and talked about publicly. Let me be clear here and interject- I would label her transgender, and let her socially transition, if she asserted herself that way, if she affirmed that in her heart she feels like a boy, if she ever went into depression or anxiety over it, or if she attempted suicide over it as many young children do when they’re trans. Because I now know that being trans a science based fact, because I’ve done my research, because I know families that have had a suicidal 7 year old because their brain doesn’t match their genitalia.

But thus far, that hasn’t been the case. We keep an open dialogue and yes, she sees someone that specializes in gender issues. Because it’s confusing as fuck, for her and more so for me. This is not a made up thing.

So, for now, she’s a girl with a very feminine name who looks like a boy and confuses so many strangers.

Which is where the bullies will continue to dive in. Because they’re afraid. Because whether you’re a child, a teen, a young adult, or full grown, fear breeds ignorance and ignorance breeds terrible behavior, as we have all been privileged to witnessing.

People are afraid of things and issues and other people that they don’t understand. They’re afraid and they react out of that fear. And the bullies aren’t taught to filter that out by their parents. Ignorance is perpetuated in their homes, it’s learned behavior. And that behavior translates into hatefulness. Just look around social media. Adults are the absolute worst offenders.

People ask me all of the time. “why do you write about this? Why do you put this information out to the universe to get scrutinized?”.

And all of this analysis of this first bullying incident solidified my answer- to preach the word of kindness. To maybe, just maybe, educate one person on what it is that makes my child different. To advocate for all differences.

I posted a little blurb about this incident on my personal Facebook page, trying to spread a message of kindness and teaching children to not say anything if they don’t have anything nice to say.

I received a private message from a person I knew from high school who stated that I set my child up for this bullying, that this is my fault, because I “let her dress like a boy”. To which I replied, I simply will not shove my child’s wants and needs aside, force her into a box, for the comfort of everyone else. No way. That would certainly make it better for everyone else wouldn’t it? But that is not allowing my child room to be who she is. That is not setting her up on a solid foundation.

She is who she is.

And that’s why I write.

For her.

To create a better world for her the only way I know how.

And to those that believe writing about this topic is over exposing her- that’s a fair concern but listen, she will grow up knowing her mother is a fighter for equality. And I hope that makes her proud. I will absolutely stop writing about this the moment she asks me to.

But in the meantime, I will fight for a better place for her to exist just how she is. Her authentic self. I will use my writing as a super power of education and plea for kindness.

And hope for a day where acceptance is commonplace and bullies have no place in the world.

A mama can hope. A mama will fight.

Parenting, Ranting, relationships, Uncategorized

FYI: You’re Not A Single Mom If You’re Married

I read yet another blog piece about how difficult it is to be a “married-but-single-mom”.

You know the ones.

The ones crying about how difficult their life is because they signed up to be a stay at home mom and now their husband’s work 60 hours a week…so they can be a stay at home mom… and the husbands don’t feel like changing diapers, or they don’t clean up their own dirty underwear, or perhaps the husbands literally don’t lift a finger in the house. The moms that complain that their lives are so painfully lonely because they got everything they ever wanted and now realize how hard it is to be a mom and a caregiver to all of the humans in the house and they think they’re living the same life as a single mom…

Listen. Just stop with this.

Ladies, (and yes, I’m singling out the moms here since that’s who I see debating this subject time and again), if you are married you cannot be a single mom. It is virtually impossible.

Simply put, “single” and “married” are antonyms. They have opposite meanings. You cannot be married and single at the same time.

When can you call yourself a single-mom? When you’re single and unmarried, raising children. Full stop.

Husband gone 5 out of 7 nights a week for work? Not a single mom.
Husband works nights and you work days? Not a single mom.
Husband doesn’t lift a finger around the house to cook, clean, or care for the kids? Not a single mom.
Husband is included in any of your vernacular when describing your relationship status? Not.a.single.mom.

I understand that your husband might put in long work weeks and expect dinner on the table and the laundry to be done and that yes, you are the primary caregiver for everyone in your household. I get that. I get that is nothing short of the most incredibly difficult job on the face of the planet. Because it is. Parenthood is hard. And yes, husbands are like having an additional child. Absolutely.

But you know what you have that single-moms don’t, in case it isn’t obvious? A partner. Of some sort.

If you’re a stay at home mom, you have a person providing financial means. Emotional support. An adult human that lives with you at least some of the time, even if he works long hours or even if he travels for work. Someone to talk to about something other than MineCraft and 3rd grade math. You have a person.

And I’m not willing to give those a pass, who do not actually know this struggle, to share a title with any single mom. Just…no.

Call me an asshole. Call me bitter, (because a divorce that I didn’t want has made me both of those things), but that title isn’t suited for you as a stay at home mom who has a partner. Sorry.

I’m not saying your situation isn’t difficult. I’m sure that when you’re comparing yourselves to other married moms whose husbands come home at 5pm and immediately chip in with the kids, help with dinner, bathe the kids or whatever, I’m certain you have it more difficult. But you’re still married. Maybe it looks different than the fantasy you created in your mind about how it would be, but you’re married.

When I was married, I worked a typical 8-4 job and my husband worked nights as a restaurant manager. When my daughter was a baby and a toddler, six nights a week after 4pm- the caregiving and on weekends? All me. And I do remember making comments to friends like, “Man, sometimes I feel like a single parent!”, because I had no clue what that actually meant.

Now I do.

I am divorced. I have my daughter 5 nights every week, including every weekend. I run two businesses, so I put in about 50-55 hours of work a week, and I provide about 90% of my child’s financial well being.

I certainly could have it more difficult. Obviously, there are moms (and dads) who have their children 100% of the time without any help, some working more than one job. The real single parents. The toughest of the tough shit. I’m sure some reading might be in this category and believe that even I shouldn’t be using the term single mom, and I can respect that to some degree. I will happily accept an alternative title of “bitter asshole, divorced mom”.

But what we both don’t have is a person.

That person that promised me for better or for worse, the one that said “I do” in that thing called marriage? He’s no longer here with me because life had other plans. No more confidant, no more equal contributor to finances, no one to fight over the remote with, no more 30 minute timeouts so I can walk the dogs if I’ve had enough of being a mom in a given moment on a weekend. Because I am single. And a mom. And I’m on my own.

I know we all live in our reality. And all of our realities are hard. That’s the truth. I don’t think any of us as parents believe our lives to be easy. We can all find solidarity in the struggles of raising small humans. This shit is difficult no matter how perfect it looks on paper. All of it is hard. Marriage certainly isn’t a romance novel and raising children isn’t puppies and rainbows like we dreamed these things to be before we had them.

We know mom life is hard. We know.

But, please. Please reserve the title of “Single Mom” to those who actually live it.

Life Lessons, Parenting, Ranting, Social Media, Uncategorized

On the Keaton Jones’ Bully Video. It Needs to Go Away.

The Keaton Jones’ video. It all needs to go away.

If you’ve been on social media within the last week, you’ve seen him floating around, by no choice of his own. He found himself in inta-fame world, brought to you by the almighty power of the “viral video”.

Everyone felt terrible for this poor, hysterical boy who was pleading with the world to end bullying.

Very sweet. And innocent.

And the mom should have never posted the video. Because the internet is a terrible place that ruins everything that is good in the world.

That video wasn’t out for 24 hours and suddenly all of the ugly came out: mom is a suspected racist, dad is an imprisoned racist, and mom allegedly is doing all of this for money.

Listen. I want to believe otherwise, at least about the latter. I’m a little off-put by the mom prodding the child but I want to believe she had pure intentions.

The racism piece…meh. That’s looking like its unfortunately true, but that doesn’t take away Keaton’s overall message. Because he’s a child who innocently and wholeheartedly wants people to be kind to one another. Hopefully mom doesn’t teach him to hate people of color, especially now that she’s feeling the heat of all of this fallout. Maybe she’s learned more than one lesson, but the boy’s original message shouldn’t be muted because his mom is potentially an asshole.

Yet, here we are, hearing about how much of an asshole his mom is every.single.day. And that won’t go away. That trumps Keaton’s innocence.

And that’s hurting Keaton.

This 15 minutes of fame is going to continue to hurt Keaton more than it helps. Now he is going to stand out even more so than he did before with his peers. And all kids want to do is blend in. They don’t need the spotlight, they just need to feel like they belong. This isn’t helping him. This isn’t blending in.

I feel for Keaton, and I even feel for his mom. She misstepped on this one. And she needs to stop doing media to backpedal out of it. And we need to stop sharing his video on social media. It’s all bad and terrible for him. All of it. Even the celebrities that have shown their compassion for him. All bad.

And this is coming from someone who pours her soul out for the trolls of the interwebs to read and has learned some tough lessons, on a much lesser scale than that of the Jones’.

Which is why I believe Keaton’s video rubbed me the wrong way from the moment I saw it. I saw too much of my own story in theirs.

I get it, Ms. Jones, I do. Maybe you thought you were helping, like I had thought. I, too, have been accused of having my own agenda in “exposing” my child. I see you. I understand what you’re feeling.

My journey took me off course in social media land, too.

I got divorced. And writing gripped me. It was my savior.

And I wrote a post about being in the throes of divorce. In The Trenches. And someone noticed it and said it was great. And it ended up being published on BonBonBreak.

This is when it really hit me.

Words matter.
Words speak to people in ways that penetrate their soul.
People connect through words.
The power of the internet is amazing.
People are identifying with my words.
People want to read my words and connect with me.
I needed these people. They understood me. They empathized. They connected.

This felt amazing.

I felt like I was making a difference, helping people, healing people even. Every reaction and comment gave me energy and a bit of a high. I mattered. I was touching people.

When I began writing about my daughter’s gender identity, the slope started to become a bit slippery.

Scary Mommy wanted to publish my first article on the subject and millions read it.

Whew. This felt big for me.

I will interject here that I have never made one dime off of my writing or any media I’ve done. Not.one.dime. That is important to know.

Because I wrote about a controversial topic, somewhat opposed to the topic of divorce, now I was in a new ballgame.

Negative feedback abounded. Internet trolls came out in force. And personal friends began expressing concerns for how this might affect my daughter in the future.

But I wanted to fight the good fight. I wanted to be a champion, an activist of sorts. I wanted to speak loudly on the subject and really make this all about accepting differences in everyone, accepting our kids for who they are.

This felt important to me because for every negative comment, I was also getting a mom messaging me about her struggles with a child similar to mine. It felt right. I needed this connection. I needed someone, or a bunch of someones, to understand me.

And then media outlets started to reach out to me and wanted my story. And that felt a bit exciting, but also…weird. It felt like now I was possibly teetering on that fine line of overexposing my child.

None the less, I ended up doing one video interview for a British media company called Barcroft. I thought I was still fighting the good fight. You can read here how that went. I’ll sum it up in Cliff Notes and save you the click: it didn’t go well and I regret the day I signed on the dotted line to do it. I should have listened to my gut and not gone forward with any media. It just wasn’t what I was ready for and now that video exists in the bowels of internet hell forever.

And it will affect my child somehow, I’m sure, most likely in a negative way.

So, Keaton and Ms. Jones, I feel you. I get it. But make it stop for yourselves now, as best as you can. Disappear. Stop talking. Silence is the best message now. Be still. 

The lesson to all of us is that, instant gratification and that feeling that we are gaining popularity always is a momentary ego stroke, especially if we feel that we are sending a powerful message with our words.

But good intensions can have horrific fallout in social media land. It’s a place we all hate to love.  Someone’s sad story told today will be torn to shreds tomorrow in this day and age.

What happened to Keaton is the best explanation of 2017’s landscape to ever have existed.

 

Parenting, Uncategorized

When Are We Going to Hold Fathers to Higher Standards?

You know that Clorox commercial that shows the mom coming home from the grocery store or the gym, walking into a chaotic scene, with the dad unable to handle the simple task of watching his own son while mom is simply out for what appears to be a short amount of time? The one where the dad has managed to completely fail, with the kitchen disheveled and the baby is sitting bare-assed on the counter, while the dad proclaims, “everything is fine!”, when everything clearly isn’t? Where mom has to come in and clean up?

After seeing that commercial dozens of times, today, it struck a nerve.

Just curious, why is the father portrayed as entirely incompetent of watching his own child?

Why is this a thing in 2017?

I know I’m picking apart fiction here but it truly annoys me that we don’t hold fathers to higher standards. Still.

Before I dive in here, I will admit- I’m guilty of holding far lower standards for fathers than I do for mothers.

It’s true.

I see a dad alone in Panera with his well behaved children, eating their mac&cheese and talking about the grocery shopping they’re about to do and my nonexistent ovaries jump while my brain simultaneously goes into some ridiculous narrative of, “Awwww. What a good dad he must be!”.

Whaaaaattt? Why does this happen?

He’s eating lunch and going food shopping with the children that he actively agreed to raise into decent humans. There’s no big fucking deal, no bravery, nothing terribly challenging, there’s literally nothing to see here.

When I see a mom with her children in the same scenario, my brain registers very little emotion, except perhaps a little empathy.

Both examples are that of parenting. Both are capable. Both are competent. But perhaps because one birthed the children and carries a label of “nurturing by nature” more than the other, the scene plays differently in my head? I’m not sure.

So many of us do this. Why are our standards so different for each parental role?

And this literally starts happening in pregnancy.

A father accompanies his wife or girlfriend to prenatal doctor appointments and he’s praised as if he’s done some magnificent thing. When the truth is, he is just sitting there, scrolling Instagram and texting his buddies about how awesome it must be to be elbow deep in vag all day long as a gynecologist. Meanwhile, mama has a fist in her birth canal, checking to see if he cervix has started opening yet so she can push a watermelon out of the opening of a straw. You know, the actual work that goes into birthing a human.

But he’s the one everyone oooohs and ahhhs over. She’s just…the mom. The expectations are just beginning for her.

When the baby is new and everything is so fresh, forget it. The second the father does something we as mom’s do on an daily basis, the red carpet is rolled out.

He straps the kid into the car seat, heads to the mall for some new onesies and every passer-by is commenting about how “you just don’t see that often!”. And some women even look on in envy that someone else’s husband is so involved.

Meanwhile, mom is probably home doing one of the 50 loads of laundry that has piled up, trying desperately to get the shit stains out of the few onesies that have survived the body fluid explosion, or perhaps she’s actually taking her first shower in three days.

Is that really a break? And even if it is, doesn’t she deserve it?

When my (now ex) husband and I had our daughter, I cannot tell you how many people praised her dad. Because he fed her in the middle of the night. Because he took her to the grocery store. Because he changed her diaper. Oh, how he was held in such a high regard.

Well. Yeah. That’s kind of what he signed up for, isn’t it? We kind of both expected to raise this child. I sure as hell didn’t sign up to do it all alone.

Why do men get free passes in parenting, held to little expectation of actually participating in everyday tasks and responsibilities? Why does the double standard still exist?

Women have been equal financial contributors to many households for decades. We aren’t in Leave it to Beaver land anymore, yet, women are still expected to carry all of the weight.

I get it, some families have traditional roles, and that’s fantastic if that’s the agreement and that’s the expectation within the family, but as a whole, why are we still so shocked when that isn’t the case?

As a mom who traveled for work when my daughter was an infant and a toddler, I was time and again questioned, and almost ridiculed, for being away from my child while on business trips.

“How can you possibly stand that?!”, was said more times than I can count.

And now, as a single mom, when I get into a conversation with someone who asks if “the father is involved”, and I respond with “yes, he has her two nights a week”, I am met with, “oh, that’s great! At least he sees her!”

Um. Well. Yes? I suppose that’s great that he is a parent…some of the time?

But let’s switch that up for a moment. What if that was me that saw her two nights a week and her dad had her for five? Would that be acceptable? I am quite certain that I would be side-eyed and deemed a questionable mother. I’m sure people would speculate that I must be unfit.

Not to mention, single moms are often viewed as having “baggage” or deemed “complicated, while single dads are “such a good catch!”.

Why?

Just the other day, I was listening to this talk radio show with two male hosts and one was planning a Disney World trip with just him and his two children. The second host was losing his mind over this, praising him, telling him how lucky his wife is and how single moms will be hitting on him, swooning over him left and right. Like, literally making a hero out of him for taking his own children away for a 3 day getaway.

Why? Why is this hero status?

I’m full of questions about all of this.

Men put in mediocre effort into fatherhood and that’s sufficient. Women attempt to self care and we are guilted, mostly by our own conscience, into thinking this isn’t ok.

We have to work to change this narrative. We have to make it equal in our brains.

When we continually praise fathers for putting in equal, or often times less than, towards parenthood, we are suggesting that women should, and will, do it all.

And listen: we can’t do it all. Nor should we be expected to when there are two capable parents.

Perhaps some of you already have the proper equality in mind, and if so, kudos. But for the rest of us, let’s practice the thoughts in our minds that yes, dads are just as capable and competent in parenthood as moms. They are equal. They are able.

And, Clorox, please make a commercial reversing the roles because guess what? Parenthood can be difficult for moms, too. I know we appear to be superheroes, as we often are, but sometimes our kitchen is disheveled with our bare-assed kids on the counter and ain’t no one coming in to clean up after us!

Let’s continue to work towards changing the narrative and perception of what expectations we should put on fathers. Let’s reprogram our brains.

If moms can do it, so can dads.

Life Lessons, Parenting, Ranting, Uncategorized

Thickening of the Skin, Strengthening of the Spine

I had the first real heartbreaking conversation with my 8 year old daughter. The kind where she was sad and confused. The kind that began her story with friendships, fitting in, and feeling left out. The kind that makes me want to take her away to some island where her and I can just be together and safe and happy and free of hurt.

I knew it wouldn’t be long. I’ve predicted this conversation for at least 3 years. Most parents have to have these conversations in some variation, of course, but I knew ours would come a bit prematurely because my child doesn’t fit those traditional molds specific to her gender.

She does well with the one-on-one play. She has school friends, she has her neighborhood friends, but activities like recess and any type of party scenario, she tends to be a bit…awkward. Kids aren’t mean to her, they’re not bullying, and I certainly hope it stays that way, but, she struggles, internally.

A few nights ago, our community had their fall block party. There were probably 30 children there and I noticed that my child had been adopted by an older girl, an 11 year old, that just so happens to be on the autism spectrum. Their friendship seemed to happen quick and easy, despite their age difference. I observed them and it seemed to just make sense to both of them that they’re natural friends. I couldn’t help but feel and think that this was the coming together of two unique spirits, of sorts.

After this sweet girl left, my daughter wanted to leave, too. But I wasn’t quite ready, since I only socialize twice a year, and so I said to her, “why don’t you go play with one of the 30 other kids here? I’m sure you can find something to do with one or a few of them”.

She reluctantly took my advice and I continued to observe, noticing it wasn’t going so well. The boys tossed the football to her a couple times but then quickly divert to boys that could sustain more of an aggressive game. One thing my child is not is physically aggressive in sports. She’s not a tomboy.

The girls really don’t have anything in common with my daughter, being that they were in a group doing gymnastics and braiding one another’s hair, nothing my child would have any interest in, so that just left…my daughter.

As I put her to bed that evening, she said, “Mom, I wanted to leave the party tonight because I don’t fit in with anyone. The same reason why I hardly ever play with anyone at recess. No one is like me. I feel different than everyone”.

Ouch. Stab.

Open, gaping wound.

Blood spilled out of my heart.

Now. I don’t believe my child is immune to being dramatic, and she’s certainly bossy at times so I recognize that some of this falls on her because she wants to play what she wants to play, when she wants to play it. And I realize that many children feel like they don’t fit in for many reasons. But. That doesn’t negate the feelings of being different, feeling left out,…because she is, indeed, different.

It’s an awful feeling, at any age, to feel like you don’t belong. I’ve struggled with it more in my adult life than I did in my school years. We all just want to feel accepted and loved.

I could certainly go into the amazing wisdom I feel like I imparted on my child, how I told her that’s she’s incredible and unique and that because of that, she’s going to have to work a little bit harder to find her tribe. I could go on about how I told her that when someone dares to be different, and someone dares to live outside of “normalcy”, you should never compromise and your people will find you, like the sweet 11 year old found her. I could rehash how I stressed the importance of having that one really good soul that “gets” you rather than 25 fake friends that don’t really get you at all, won’t be there for you in the long run and highlighted all of the amazing friends she does have.

But here’s where I want to swing this into a selfish story:

Yes. I cheer-leaded for her last night. The first time of many, I’m assuming. I told her all of those amazing things about herself and how it makes her who she is, etc. but after I shut her door behind me, after our good, long talk, I cried. A lot.

Because this shit is hard.

We can say all day long that every child struggles, every child goes through the proverbial growing pains, and that’s very true, but I cannot ignore, for my daughter, that this is about her gender identity struggles.

30% of kids that struggle with gender identity attempt suicide and 42% engage in self harm and the stats for depression and anxiety are even more staggering. And between 5-10% of all LBGTQ youth attempt suicide. This is scary. Like, fucking terrifying, knowing this is the reason why she’s different. It is and there’s no reason to sugarcoat that fact.

She’s realizing she’s different, she’s realizing she’s not like anyone else. It’s getting harder for her. The confusion is just beginning.

And this shit is hard as a parent.

I feel it, as a mom. I feel the struggle. My friendships have changed since it’s been apparent who my child is and especially since I have written about this topic. Not all friendships, but some. I feel the distance. I feel the chatter behind my back. It’s palpable. Its like a thick cloud sometimes. It’s tangible.

I don’t have many local friends anymore, in this small, conservative area. I notice the lack of Facebook friend engagements. I notice the lack of invites to social events. It’s not in my head. It’s real. The distance is there.

People think this is my doing, that this my choice. That I want this for my child. That being out of the ordinary is my thing and I thrive on it. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: no one wants their child to struggle, ever. For any reason. Being deemed “normal” or more “mainstreamed” would be much easier, yes? A parent would not choose this.

And even if these people know that this is who my child is, they want my silence. They don’t want me to make a deal out of this. They don’t want me to talk about it. They say it’s because they worry how my daughter will feel about these writings someday when she’s older, but I call bullshit. It makes them uncomfortable. They don’t say these things to my face, but they don’t have to.

And sometimes it’s painful. I’m slowing giving away my fucks, little by little, one by one. But sometimes it stings.

Then, little things happen. Just a nudge to remind me that my voice matters.

Just yesterday, my daughter and her dad went to get her hair cut. One of my friends from high school, whose son goes to my daughter’s school was there, too. I received this text from my friend:

Hi there. Just wanted to let you know that my son and I were waiting to get his hair cut here at the Great Clips. Your daughter was getting her haircut. First of all I have to tell you, she is the most beautiful little girl or handsome boy- whichever she prefers. Well, when she and her dad left, the older gentleman next to me said to the stylist- ‘was that a girl or a boy, I sure hope with that haircut it wasn’t a little girl!’ The stylist QUICKLY said. ‘Her name is in our system as a female name and she is a just a kid being who she wants to and obviously has supportive parents’. He just looked like he’d been hit in the face with a bag of bricks. I just looked over and said, ‘yes, she is my friend’s daughter and likes to associate as a boy, but I don’t believe that makes or breaks who she is as a child’. He just gave me a blank look. It was very eye opening to see what you and Lily have to deal with first hand probably on a day to day basis. It really opened my eyes to how cruel some people can be and especially regarding a child! So I truly admire you and all that you do for your daughter!”

Validation. It exists.

This text validated that, yes, people do spew their unsolicited, hateful opinions behind my back, whether they’re strangers, friends, or even family, but more importantly, someone else was able to see how hard this can be. And also? How incredible was that stylist that shut that man right up?

I was so thankful for this text, for this moment. I cried happy tears that people can open their minds if they so choose.

We see the pendulum swinging a bit in terms of LBGTQ acceptance, for sure. Just yesterday, the first openly trans political officials were elected (way to go, Virginia and Minnesota!!). And amazing as that is, the absolute HATE I read spewing online today because of those election results was so fucking depressing and made me realize how much work we still have to put in.

We’re are headed in the right direction, but it’s just awful to see so much hate, so much division over this topic, still. All because people want to live within their ignorance. They want to deny the science behind this discussion, they want to pretend it isn’t real…because it makes them uncomfortable. It’s much easier to call people “freaks” than to open their minds to other possibilities.

The take away here is: there is far more hope right now than hate.

And at the end of the day, my spine is stronger, my skin is thicker, because of raising this child of mine, thereby allowing me to teach her that she is a badass.

My child will only know how to stand tall and take no shit, letting no one talk her out of who she is. She will rise above the hate, she will look down on the ignorance. She will only know self confidence and never apologize for who she is. Her skin will be so thick that she will feel sorry for the idiots that believe that her lifestyle is a choice, whatever that ends up to be. She will be firmly planted in her truth and have no problem telling someone to “fuck off”.

We’re getting somewhere, one political office, one high school friend, and one hair stylist at a time. So, my child and I stand tall, and sometimes we will stand alone, and that’s totally ok by me. I’m more than up to the challenge and, more so, the privilege of being her mom.

Life Lessons, Parenting, Ranting, Uncategorized

The Great Bathroom Debate is Bullshit. Here’s Proof.

A few weeks ago, my non-gender conforming daughter (who is 8), and I were in a public restroom. As we were washing our hands, an older lady standing next to me looked at my daughter, (who was out of earshot at the hand dryer at the moment), then turned to me and said, “So, what’s the rule these days? When do parents allow their kids to go to the correct bathroom without a parent?”.

I fell silent for a second, completely confused as to what she was asking me. She took notice of my confusion and filled the silence with “You know what I mean. When will you allow him to go to the boy’s bathroom alone?”.

It took my brain a second to process that she was certain that my daughter was a boy and she was judging me, inferring he should be in his gender assigned bathroom.

“Oh, um. She’s a girl. She’s in the correct bathroom.”

The look on this lady’s face was somewhat indescribable. She could not have been more shocked, stammering and befuddled in that moment. I then saw the look of confusion take over her face, trying to make sense of my child’s gender and what I was saying.

She tried to backpedal and muddled something along the lines of, “Oh, well, well, I, um, just meant that she looks older and, um, I didn’t know…”.

My emotions were somewhere between annoyed, angry, and still confused by the whole conversation. The only thing I could choke out was, “Can’t judge a book by it’s cover, right?”, and she couldn’t manage any words.

First and foremost, stop judging parents, period, lady. Because that’s where she wanted to go with it, I’m certain. She wanted to get on her pedestal about how her generation allowed children to go to the bathroom alone at the age of 2 or whatever higher horse conversation she was encroaching on. I could hear it coming.

But secondly? This is exactly why the transgender bathroom debate makes no sense at all and is utter bullshit. Here it is. A prime example.

Here’s a person that assumed my child was a boy by mere esthetics. Boy clothes, plus boy hair, plus boy mannerisms must equal boy. She certainly could not see her genitalia. And because we were all in the bathroom to do what people do in the bathroom, take a piss, we were not bothering anyone. Why this woman felt the need to say anything at all is beyond me but by doing so, she proved a much larger point.

She proved that had my daughter been in the men’s bathroom, no one would have questioned her at all because she looks like a boy. If my daughter was/is trans, she’s visually acceptable and it would go without notice that she is in the stall next to another little boy. No one would know that she actually has a vagina.

The fact of the matter is, you have taken a squat in the very next stall to a trans person. You absolutely have. You just don’t know it. Because, as my daughter proved to this woman, looks can be very, very deceiving. Guys look like girls, girls look like guys, and trans people look like who they are. But more so- who cares?

Straight, gay, trans, bi- when we go into a bathroom, we all just need to go to the bathroom. That’s it. Pee, or take a shit, wash our hands, and move on. Why everyone is so goddamned concerned with our genitalia is bizarre. There are plenty of hard facts documenting that straight men are usually the perpetrators in any kind of bathroom assault or perversion so what’s with this preoccupation with transgender people or gender in general?

Since this whole bathroom debate began a couple of years ago, it caused me so much confusion about what it is everyone is so afraid of. I know the big bathroom debate is tired. I know it’s been written, it’s been discussed ad-nauseam. So, this is me half venting, half {hopefully} educating in a spill of emotion.

The truth seems to be, people just don’t want to be wrong about this marginalized community and this is why this is even still a topic of discussion. They don’t want to try to understand the biology and how it’s different from their own, or even if it’s different at all. They don’t want to realize that they’re just like everyone else.

Regardless of what your bible might tell you or what “morals and ethics” you hold true, or if you’re just one of those that believe those that challenge gender norms are “freaks”, try to put that all aside for one second. They’re people. Just living. That’s it. They’re just human beings. That’s it. Normal, breathing, thriving humans that need to go to the bathroom. If you don’t want to try to understand anything else about gender issues, fine. But just recognize the simple fact that they need to go to the fucking bathroom, just like you.

It hurts so many people when we move backwards, back towards exclusivity, opposed to inclusiveness. The us-versus-them mentality. The you’re-different-so-you-must-be-wrong mentality. And we are, indeed, slipping backward.

I hope we can do better as a whole with this entire topic. I’m not overly optimistic lately.

But also? Don’t give unsolicited parenting advice. Ever.

And, Stop judging books by their covers. Let my daughter pee and mind your own business.

 

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Life Lessons, relationships, Uncategorized

A Lesson Learned From Walking In The Rain

I walked to the gym tonight to do some yoga. It’s about .5 mile each way.

I’d been in a funk and I needed to breathe. I realized once I got there that I only had about 20 minutes because of a cardio class that was coming in. That frustrated me but I carried on with my practice, feeling rushed. Not quite what I had imagined.

While I was there, though, a giant rainstorm rolled in, quickly, as they do in Florida. It was so rhythmic and calming that the storm actually brightened my mood. It made me slow down my practice. It made me breathe deeper and longer. It made me more mindful somehow.

There’s just something about a good, evening rainstorm sometimes.

As I finished up my practice, it was raining so hard that I couldn’t walk home. Only, no. It wasn’t that I couldn’t. It was that I didn’t want to. There was no lightening, so, no danger. It was simply that I didn’t want to be uncomfortable. I didn’t want to get wet and soggy and cold and uncomfortable.

So, I sat there. 10, 15, 20, 25 minutes went by.

I started to wonder when the storm would pass. I grew impatient because I was getting hungry. A gentleman sitting next to me, also waiting out the storm, looked at me and said, “I just looked at the radar and this storm isn’t going anywhere. Might as well make peace with it”.

What wise wording. Make peace with it. Make peace with the discomfort, essentially.

His comment sent my brain down a metaphorical highway and got me thinking…

Our species isn’t very good at making peace with discomfort- physical or emotional. We are beings that will do almost anything to avoid discomfort. We’ll pop a pill at the slightest amount of pain. We’ll write off friendships or relationships when things get complicated. We’ll guzzle alcohol at when life gets stressful.

We don’t want to sit with the lesson. We don’t want to learn what’s being taught. We just want to make things easier on ourselves and take the path of least resistance.

A very wise friend once said it so eloquently, though, “Nothing truly goes away before it teaches you what you need to learn”. And she’s so right.

Whether it’s a reoccurring bad dream about someone you’ve wronged, a romantic partner you can’t let go of, a friendship that you can’t seem to reconcile, a job that you know isn’t right for you but you stay…the lesson hasn’t been taught yet. Or more likely, the lesson hasn’t been learned yet. We must listen carefully.

And you have to be willing to be uncomfortable to work through it all.

That storm wasn’t passing tonight. So I took off my flip-flops, yanked up my yoga mat and walked through it.

It was simultaneously exhilarating and fun to walk through the rain. I felt like a kid walking barefoot through puddles. I was wet and soggy and cold when I got home. But the discomfort? It was momentary. It was fleeting. That feeling of freedom and airiness while I was walking in the rain far surpassed my discomfort. I felt really good when I got home. I felt lighter.

I needed that release of walking in the rain. That was my lesson. Right in front of me, yet hidden in my reluctance to be uncomfortable.

But. You just can’t get to the lesson without testing your comfort zone boundaries. Lessons are never easy. They’re never uncomplicated. There doesn’t seem to be much of an education in things that come easy.

It stopped raining five minutes after I got home. That storm wouldn’t pass until it taught me the lesson. I just needed to listen.

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Life Lessons, Parenting, Summer, Uncategorized

Dear Neighbors, Thank You For Being A Part of My Village

I live in the retirement capitol of the world. Literally.

The median age of my town is 67. It’s been referred to as “Heaven’s Waiting Room” and all of the other “near death” jokes you can think of. Bunko, golf, and pickle ball are the focus of most conversations and no one eats dinner after 5:30pm, (which, I’ve somehow comfortably melded into this). The speed limit here is 45 but you must drive at least 15mph under that in the left lane. And, if you’re looking for any establishment to be open after 8pm, you’re out of luck. Our Walmart is open 24 hours, though. That was giant news when it opened.

I have been here the majority of my life and it wasn’t always the most exciting place for children. When I was school-aged, most communities were strictly 55 and over (and still are), meaning, yes, that they discriminate against anyone younger living in them. That said, young families were just dispersed throughout our town since there was not one community that was geared towards that demographic. We were lucky to have one or two kids within a 3 mile radius.

I now have an 8 year old who happens to be an only child. And truth be told, I am one of those moms that hates playing with their kids. Sorry, but it’s true. I am not that kind of fun mom. I will do dance parties, watch movies, go on hikes, go to the beach, go to the pool, but if the play involves my child telling me what to say during imaginary play….nope. Sorry. I suck at it. So, she does rely on her friends, as I believe she should.

About 4-5 years ago, a home builder of those cookie-cutter type housing communities acknowledged the need for a community that appealed to younger families, noticing that this population is growing here.

Low and behold, he was building a monster community where he put in a….water slide.

:::Cue opening gates of heaven music::::

A water slide. Fucking genius. Build it and they will come.

And so all of us young families marched in like zombies to purchase a new home and asked, “Where do we sign?”, declaring, “Take my money!!”. I don’t even think any of us cared what the house necessarily looked like, what the quality was like, or how much it even cost.

There was a water slide. And playgrounds. And walking trails. And kayaks. And even promotional pictures posted of….children playing. It was a Christmas miracle.

So, I’ve painted the picture. My neighborhood houses approximately 75% of the young families of our town here. Slight exaggeration but not really.

The amazing result here is that my child now has built in friends. A plethora of young kids her age. So many that I cannot count. She’s so fortunate to have this. I’m actually envious of her childhood, at the risk of patting myself on the back.

But she’s not the only fortunate one. I am, too.

My neighbors are a huge part of my village. The village it takes to raise a kid. And I’m so thankful.

I’m able to have her put on her handy little GPS watch-phone thing and off she goes, sometimes for hours. Maybe playing video games, maybe playing and outside game of kickball, maybe playing Legos somewhere.

So, yes, my kid is the one that’s always at your house.

But it works both ways.

As I type, I’m listening to fort building and nerf gun wars upstairs after a sleepover, that was complete with popcorn, donuts, and massive amounts of YouTube viewing. Sometimes I have as many as 7 children playing at my house, recording videos, destroying my daughter’s room. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I hope I’m able to give other moms and dads the same breaks, breaks that they certainly deserve, that they give to me.

It might not always be an even amount of time spent between houses. I don’t keep score. My guess is that no, it isn’t. My child probably spends far more time at others’ houses than they spend here because it’s always more fun at someone else’s house.

And if that’s an issue, I would hope someone would speak up and tell me, but I’m assuming we are all in this together. We’re all here for one another, watching our kids grow up together, helping raise them together. (I do expect you to say no to her, as I’ve had to say to your kids, and I expect you to discipline her as you would your own. Again, in this together.)

I love the independence that this neighborhood gives my daughter. I love the freedom it affords her. I’m a huge advocate of breeding healthy independence and freedom because if it can’t start in early childhood, when does it start? When do we stop hovering? When they’re teens and then they go insane with their new freedoms, not knowing exactly how to channel it? I know these are controversial questions, so I’ll answer that for myself…

I’ve realized that having wonderful neighbors allows me to feel safe about letting my child experience things on her own. It has allowed her to make some of her own choices, which aren’t always going to be the right ones, and that’s ok. I trust her. And no, I don’t trust everyone else. Yes, strangers can be dangerous, and I hope I’m doing a decent job of teaching her that. I feel comfortable allowing her to find her way, within reason, because I’m surrounded by a great support system.

I understand that my style of parenting isn’t everyone’s style. We establish that day in and day out with one another, based on the online parenting wars. But I do understand that not everyone agrees with giving their children as much freedom as I give mine. And I definitely respect that. No two parenting styles are alike, which makes the world go round, and ultimately will help my child become more well-rounded, having been exposed to so many different families.

Having all of these amazing people surrounding us, allowing my child to come in and out of their homes, eating their food, playing with their children, even sleeping over at times? I can’t say it enough: I’m so thankful. It’s an amazing advantage and it’s so comforting to know you’re all here. (And special kudos to those parents that imaginary play with my kid. You’re fucking rockstars.)

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being a part of my village. I’m forever thankful. And I hope you feel the same.

 

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