To My Son, Who is Turning Thirteen

Here we are, on the verge of big, bad teenagerdom.

I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. Not all the time, and not even about the big, bad things, but nevertheless, she persisted worrying. Have I done enough? Have I reminded you to please and thank you enough? Taught you how to tell a joke or to always deal cards to the left? Have I given you the confidence to do the right thing, even when the right thing isn’t the easy thing?

Most of the time I worry because I feel like I’m running out of time.

There are days when it seems you’ve already got one foot out of the door. I have to remind myself you’ve always had one foot out of the door, from the moment you were born. You were never mine, not really. You’ve always been your own. The universe merely placed you in my care for this dance, to make sure when you’re ready, you step through with both feet, confident and secure.

But that door? It will always open to you.

When you were an infant, swaddled like a baby burrito, you’d look up at me and I felt a million things surge through my blood all at once, like wildfire raging through my veins. Thirteen years later your eyes are nearly level with my own, but my blood still sings that same fiery song.

Those times you think I’m staring at you, looking for something to criticize? I’m really looking to see if the angle of your jaw has sharpened between dinner and breakfast.

When you catch me standing outside your door, it’s not to simply to tell you to pick your clothes up off the floor, it’s also to hear if the timber of your voice has begun to deepen.

I’m terrified I’m going to miss something, afraid one day I’ll look at you and that tiny boy, the one we fought so hard to bring into the world, is going to be impossible to recognize in the face and body of the young man you’re becoming.

In case I don’t tell you enough, I am proud of you, the way you treat everyone with kindness, the ease with which you saunter through life, your even-temper. Do you remember the night we sat around the dinner table and asked, who is the least likely to lose their temper? Without hesitation, we all pointed to you.

Keep your even temper. It will be your greatest gift in life, the ability to take a situation and diffuse it, to find the funny, or the good, the silver lining.

You are so unbelievably fortunate. You have so much opportunity at times it’s almost embarrassing. Use it. Use it to speak out for those who have less. Don’t ever take it for granted or feel like the world owes you more than what you’ve already been bestowed, because those invisible gifts you’ve been born into–the color of your skin, your sex, the opportunities we’ve been able to give to you? Those things are not due to you. You do not deserve them more than someone else. So use them. Stand up for those who walk through life with less ease, with less opportunity, with less help. Be aware of your privileges and of how you can use them for good.

Find something you want to be great at. It doesn’t matter if you are great at it, but it’s important to have something to work at, to dream about. Don’t take the easy way out. Get better. Be better.

Take time to settle into your mold. You don’t have to know who you are or what you want to do with your life. You just need to live your best life. Not everyday, no one lives their best life everyday. If someone tells you that, ignore them. If you’re batting one for ten you’re doing ok. Some days life hurts. Some days it’s tough. Some days it sucks donkey balls. It will get better. Don’t think it won’t get better.

No matter how many eye-rolls or ‘whatever’s, how many door slams or a thousand other stereotypes I’m remembering from The Breakfast Club and my own teenage years, we will be here. Sometimes you’ll feel like you don’t need us. That’s good. That means we’ve done our job. We’ll be here anyway.

You’re going to think we’re dumb and out of touch. You’re going to think you know better. You’re going to think every sneaky trick you come up with to fool us hasn’t been tried before. You’re wrong on all counts.

You won’t believe me. I know. I didn’t either.

We’re going to argue. I’m going to be wrong. You’re going to be wrong. If it’s truly important, stand up for yourself. But choose your hills wisely. Make sure it’s a hill you’re willing to die on before you dig in.

I’m going to embarrass you. Mostly accidentally but sometimes on purpose.

You’ll want to do things we don’t think you’re ready for. Sometimes we’ll screw it up. Sometimes we’ll make shitty decisions. But even when we do, try to remember it’s coming from a place of love. You won’t believe that either, but it’s true.

The world is out there waiting. There’s a lot of shit going down, a lot of bad stuff. But so much good stuff too. Don’t let the scary stuff stop you from experiencing the good. Don’t let the good stuff stop you from trying to change the bad.

Don’t let anyone else define you. If someone tells you that you have to be or do something? If they want to change you or set conditions on their love for you? Run the other way. Fast.

Life is going to hurt. Life is going to sing. It’s going to flutter and fly and sink and sometimes you’ll feel like you are drowning in your own breath. That is life. All of it put together is what makes it worth living.

Most of all I want you to know it will never be you vs. the world. We are tied together, you and me. For nine months your heartbeat tangled with mine until it was hard to tell where one stopped and the other began. Yours dances to a different tempo now, but mine? Mine will always skip a beat here and there, making sure there is a space for yours to return to when you need it.

Love,
Mom

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Dear World, Don’t Sell My Sons Short

Dear World,

Do me a favor, will you?

Don’t sell my sons short.

Let me ‘splain. No, no time to ‘splain, let me sum up….

You, world, you sell them short each time you assume they’re going to act like Neanderthals  simply because they are in possession of testicles and a willy. You do it every time you insist they’ll be distracted by the first spaghetti strap that crosses their line of vision, or an extra inch of thigh skin. You do it every time you restrict someone else in response to an embarrassing pubescent erection, which, let’s be honest, is just as likely the result of the wind blowing the wrong way as it is to an object of affection walking by.

You keep selling them short. You presume that somewhere, embedded into the XY chromosomes my sons carry, is a short-circuit which prevents them from telling right from wrong, from conscious choice and decision making, from weighing the options and coming down firmly on the side of acceptable.

But the animal kingdom! You cry. But biology! Precedent! You cry, cry, cry me a river as if human beings and society has not been a constantly evolving game of hit or miss all along.

So please, don’t use elephants in the wild to assume that my sons won’t be able to appreciate the sexuality of a peer without losing their shit and flunking algebra.

They are boys, not single-celled organisms. They are eminently capable of reason and ability, in possession of a morality and a conscience. Don’t give them an easy out or a ready excuse by claiming, repeatedly, they can’t help it.

They are capable of so much more than that. Let them show you.

The US Marine Corps. is smack in the midst of a scandal at the moment. Photos of female Marines, many to them explicit, were hacked, uploaded, taken and shared among a group of 30,000 male Marines.

Cue the tried and trite excuses:

“Well, what do you expect?”
“This is what happens when you have men and women serving together.”
“Men are lusty/animals/biologically programmed”
“All men do stuff like this. It’s locker-room talk.”

Don’t.Do.That.

Men are not static creatures. My boys are not static. They are dynamic. Society changes, we progress. What do I expect, world?

I expect that as a whole, we have moved beyond “well, what do you expect?” and on to “I expect better.”

Don’t tell them not to cry. Don’t tell them to man up. Don’t tell them to grow a set. The need to cry, to empathize and emote–it is not shameful or womanly, it is human. They’ll be men by virtue of growing and maturing into larger, hairier versions of themselves. Don’t sell them short by handing over a definitive list of rules and regulations they need to meet in order to be men. Allow them the freedom to define themselves.

The majority of men don’t rape, don’t grope, don’t assault or assume. The majority of men understand consent. The vast majority of boys and men manage entire lives without uploading nude photos because they have been taught it is not right, or something inside them realizes it is not. If men truly were programmed to do those things, if that’s just what men ‘do’, does that mean all the men who don’t aren’t real men but imposters, traitors to their DNA?

Don’t sell my kids short just because they happen to be boys. Don’t assume they don’t know their way around a conscience.

Don’t give them the easy out of ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘men will be men’. Not only are you excusing behavior, you’re excusing me from my job of parenting them to know right from wrong.

And in case you need a list to put on your refrigerator, here’s a starter. Feel free to add to it as you go along.

 

It is not right to ask a girl to take, send, upload or share nude photos of herself or other females.

It is not right, if a compromising picture exists, to assume you have permission to share that picture. Its existence does not absolve you of wrongdoing.

It is not right to force yourself on a girl or woman who has not given her consent. And yes, that means if you’re unsure, you explicitly ask. And if you’re still unsure, you walk away. Even if it would have meant getting your rocks off.

It is not right to have sex with a girl or woman who is drunk, on drugs, or in any other way mentally incapable of giving informed consent. Having sex with an unconscious girl is rape. Even if she was flirting with you an hour before. Even if her skirt rode up. Even if she’s lying naked on your bed. Why? Because women who cannot speak can’t give consent. And consent should never be assumed.

It is not right to expect girls and women to manage the way they dress, or act, or speak or behave because it makes a man uncomfortable. Boys and men capable of managing their own emotions. Let them. If a girl walks by and her spaghetti strap distracts a boy or man? It’s up to the boy or man to change their behavior, not to force the girl to widen her straps. Every time you assume a boy or man can’t manage those feelings, you are not only taking something away from a girl or woman, you’re taking away something from a boy too. The ability to manage his own emotions and actions.

Don’t sell my boys short. I have taught them, I am teaching them, to tell right from wrong, that respect is not limited to sex or gender, that just because someone else does it it’s not ok, that if it makes them question the devil standing on one shoulder, it’s most likely wrong.

We all make mistakes. We all utilize poor judgment from time to time–girls, boys, men and women. But don’t sell my boys short by excusing that capacity for judgment in the first place.

I hold my sons to incredibly high standards. You should too. Not just my sons. All the sons.

Love,
Me

 

Tales From the ‘Hood

It’s always a good thing when you can look in the rearview mirror….and laugh at yourself.

Yesterday, I met up with a group of women (and one man–you held your own, lone man–you should know that we kept the labor and episiotomy stories on the back burner for your sake–) to pass one of the long, winter break days. While the kids threw themselves around in ball pits teeming with streptococci, we exchanged stories from the trenches. Tales from the ‘hood. And by hood, I mean, of course, motherhood. (And you, lone Dad).

These informal information sessions are one of my favorite parts of being a mother. They are, I’d argue, also one of the most important. You see, motherhood, much like writing, can be a lonely business and a lot more of it is done inside the confines of your own head than is good for you. But, just like I always feel better when I can get the ideas from the ping-pong ricochet in my head on to the page, I always feel better talking to other parents as well.

Sitting around and talking seems like a luxury, but really, it’s anything but. Aside from honing your multi-tasking skills (yesterday it was smearing some anti-bacterial cream and a band-aid on an injured knee while maintaining my conversation, drinking my coffee and fielding texts from the older child who locked himself out of the house), that village consciousness is absolutely necessary to healthy parental survival. Casual conversation among peers is an important aspect of checks and balances in the ‘hood. It’s a way to make sure you haven’t lost your ever-loving mind in the throes of infant sleep deprivation. It’s a way of finding your sense of humor again in stories of shit and vomit. Most importantly, it’s a way of connecting and feeling less alone during a time of life when, despite a child clinging to you at all times like a frightened koala, you often feel very much alone.

This time we were talking about the ridiculous things we did as first time mothers, when we were flushed with parenting righteousness and middle class, over-educated book knowledge. Many of us were determined to do it by the book, not realizing for years that kids don’t follow a book. You’ve got to figure it out as you go along. Nevertheless…when I think of some of the things I did, said, and believed those first few years, I cringe.

What a monumental ass I was.

Some people may shy away from that obnoxious ghost of motherhood past, let the over documenting, crazy mom of yore fade gently into the background.

But c’mon! Where’s the fun in that?

During my first two years of being a mother, I am guilty of the following (not a complete list, by any stretch.)milk

I was convinced my son might be suffering from Dwarfism because his head seemed too big in relation to his limbs; I also worried he was autistic because he didn’t respond to his name…at three months.

(I should also add I asked my OB/GYN if the baby was epileptic once. She calmly informed me it was hiccups)

Yelled at my mother not to make eye contact with the baby during the middle of the night “No Stimulation!” Actually, I probably hissed it more than shouted it.

Chased my son around the playground with a tofu hot dog to get him to eat. More than once.

Threw myself into the backseat of a moving car to feed the baby because “My God, you heartless fiend (his father)! You want him to wait fifteen minutes for his food?? He’s starving. Starving!”

Moved his bouncy chair every 20 minutes to give him something new to look at.

Kept a journal of how often he ate, pooped, slept.

Religiously clocked screen time allowance to meet American Pediatrician Guidelines, including commercials.

Yelled at my husband for using up all my hoarded ‘tv time’ on a Saturday morning.

Was in his face every minute of every day encouraging enriching behaviors like putting the square shape in the square hole.

Had panic attacks about his dislike of fruit, bread, bagels, pizza, eggs, etc. Incessantly worried he wasn’t getting enough vegetables. Hid vegetables in his food (though never stooped to making brownies with puree kale…even I had limits)

Requested (ok, maybe more like demanded…) sex neutral clothing and toys like school busses because busses know no gender…

Insisted, to my pediatrician, a trained professional, that a love of cars and wheels was the result of social conditioning and not innate preference.

Swore my child would never have soda, McDonald’s, high fructose corn syrup, video games, unsupervised screen time, toy guns.

Clapped like an idiot when he came down the slide.

Said things like ‘well done!’ for minor achievements like breathing and swallowing.

But perhaps worse than any of those forgivable moments of first mom neurosis, is that I know, on more than a hundred occasions, I was holier than thou about my own righteousness.

sad-girlSo, consider this little confession of smarm my bit of penance. A Hail Mary for my early motherhood sins of sanctimony.

Eventually you learn that your child doesn’t need to eat every fifteen minutes, that tofu dogs are gross, and most people grow into their head size.

What you also learn? That time spent trading stories from the ‘hood? It’s priceless.

An Open Letter to Mothers of Girls

Would you give me a lift to the glass ceiling, please?
Would you give me a lift to the glass ceiling, please?

Dear Moms of Girls,

I always figured I would have daughters. I won’t go so far as to say I envisioned myself holding bundles of pink and sparkle, but in the back of my head I looked forward to raising kick-ass girls who would rock and roll; girls who would build on the momentum of a righteously feminist mother and hopefully one day, leave me sputtering in the dust.

Then I went and had boys. And I’m here to tell you I am THAT mom of boys.

You know the one I mean, right? (Don’t lie. I can see you rolling your eyes from my couch.)

I’m the boring mother who insists that if they’re talking about a female over the age of eighteen, they use the word woman, the one that jumps on any chance to point out how we use words differently when we talk about boys and girls–and yeah, I stretch it a bit far sometimes to make a point. Usually it snaps back and hits me in the ass, but there you go.

I’m the one who lectures them until I’m sick of the sound of my own voice about listening when people say “I don’t like that” or “Stop touching me.” Even though my youngest is only 8 and has no interest in girls. Or boys. Or animals for that matter. But over and over. Look at me when I’m talking to you, this is important. When someone says not to touch them, you must.stop.touching.them.right.away.

I’m that boring-ass mother who’s constantly bringing up the achievements of girls and women. The one who’s teaching my sons to hold the door open for everyone, not just girls because it’s not about being a gentlemen, it’s about not being an asshole.

I’m the one who’s constantly harping on about how even though boys and girls are different, men and women are different, one is not better than another. The one always reminding them you can’t tell if someone is a boy or a girl by the length of their hair or the color of their shirt, what they like or don’t like, what they do or don’t do.

I’m the over-the-top mom, the one continuously pointing out stereotypes.

Great, thanks. Now let's talk about wage equality
Great, thanks. Now let’s talk about wage equality

I’m the one who doesn’t let my kids play video games that objectify women. The one who made sure they knows what a period is, what tampons are for, where babies come from, what boobs are for. The one who taught them the word vagina. The one who, when they’re ready, will be explaining that yes, women like sex because it feels good.

I’m the over-zealous mom who sat down with her 2nd grade son when he started going to school dances about how to respect girls, and what to do if a girl asked him to dance and he didn’t want to. That is wasn’t ok to laugh or make fun or disrespect, even if he wasn’t interested. Or in his case, terrified at the thought.

I’m the one who has told them if I ever find out they’re making fun of a way a girl looks I’ll take them down. If I ever find out they’re demeaning a girl, I’ll take them down. If I find out they’re using sexually charged insults I’ll be over them like white on rice. I’m the one that sounds like a whining drill that when I keep saying things like “cry like a girl” it is insulting, unfair and untrue.

I’m that annoying mom who doesn’t excuse aggression just because my kids are boys.

I’m the slight nut-case who has endless dinner table conversations about how women are under represented, how history only tells the story from one point, the one who quizzes them on  history facts about women and voting rights. (Yes. I really am that mom)

I’m the one that will sit their asses down and give them talk after talk about sex and consent and how if they are ever unsure, the answer is no.

I’m the one who is boring them to tears with conversations about the roles women have played in history.

I’m the one who is passionately ranting about how to make things equal. How it is important to value people for who they are and not assume they’re better just because they are a boy or a girl.

I’m the one who’s not worried so much about raising my sons to be gentlemen. Your daughters don’t need gentlemen. They deserve boys and men who view them as equals.

Math, science, computers. You?
Math, science, computers. You?

I’m the pain in the ass, you-are-sick-of-hearing mom who is continually pointing out that not only can girls do anything boys can do, but boys can do anything girls can do–well, except for the birth thing.

Yes, I’m THAT mom.

I’m a pain in the ass. I go on and on. I am a record stuck in a groove. I’m THAT mom.

The one who is raising boys to view your daughters as equals, as partners, as people.  The one who’s doing her damnedest to raise men who don’t worry as much about holding open doors as they do about making the world a more equal–and thereby better–place for us all.

I’m willing to take the fall, be the patsy, ignore the rolling eyes and huffing sighs…if it works.

I’m THAT mom.

Love,
Me