The Perfect Kid

I don’t want to brag, but I have the perfect kid.

Well, I would if only I could take the best parts from both and ditch the rest. If I could take a little splice of that one and a little slice of the other and stitch them together with pink thread into some sort of Frankenstein creature type of thing, zap it all with Mom juice and presto change-o, perfect kid!

If only, if only, if only!

If only I could take the philosophical musings from one and pair them with the confidence of the other. If I could take the calm, slow to anger personality of that one and splice it with the self-awareness of the other one and bolt it all together at the neck….

I’d take a dash of the big one’s humor and tailor it with the younger one’s affinity for puns. I’d dig up the small one’s inner drive and pad through the dead of night to steal some chutzpah from my first-born. I’d secure a little motivation from here and a little natural charm from there. Grab my darning needle and voila!

Perfect child.

I’d take the genome that apparently dictates whether or not you remember to flush the toilet and mix it with the ability to make the bed without daily reminders. The bit that drives one to brush his teeth without threats glued to the other’s ability to remember which day of a nine-day cycle it is at the drop of a hat.

I’d lay out one’s happy go-lucky nature and combine it with the other one’s leadership qualities. One’s patience with the other’s determination.

Oh, what a kid I could make if I could pick all the best and get rid of the rest.

But of course, I can’t. And honestly, where would the fun in that be? And plus, who am I kidding. I don’t have a darning needle.

So I’ll keep harassing the thirteen year-old to brush his teeth because he also never gets angry and I’ll keep calmly explaining to the ten year-old why he can’t spend his life in disgusting pajamas because he also does his homework in Greek, just for the fun of it, and I’ll overlook the last-minuteness of the older one because he’s a stellar friend and pretend I don’t mind the way the younger one whines sometimes because his heart is so big.

No cut and paste stitch together, lightning bolt perfect kid over here.

I’ll take them just the way they are.

 

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We Should All Be Weeping

If I had a daughter, I would want her to be little like Emma Gonzalez.

Or perhaps a lot like her.

There are a hundred reasons. There is her buzz cut for starters. As a woman who used to shave her head I promise you, bringing a set of clippers to your scalp is a statement, bold as brass.

There is her voice, honest and loud and cracked through with emotion. She is passionate and raw and real and as ragged around the edges as the shredded jeans she sports.

But as I watched her stand in silence for the better part of six minutes, shutting her eyes against what must have been a groundswell of emotion from both within and without, what struck me — or more accurately smacked me around the head with a 2 x 4 — was the ferocity with which she embraces her tears.

Emma Gonzalez keeps allowing us a window into her heart, and by doing so, she is normalizing the act of crying. By refusing to hide her anger and rage and grief but instead allowing us a front row seat to those tears, she is telling us it is ok.

It is ok to cry.

Because really, we should all be weeping.

We teach our American boys to man up, be strong, grow a pair. We teach those sons to suppress and repress and deny. We teach them to show emotion is shameful and weak. We decry boys and men who do show emotion as pussies, as feminine, as damaged and less than.

Crying is for girls, our boys are told. Which has somehow unmistakably become synonymous with weakness.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez wipes away tears during a CNN town hall meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at the BB&T Center, in Sunrise, Fla. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

We teach our sons that boys don’t cry. We teach them that real men do not feel.

Except that boys do cry. And men do feel.

Why? Because they are human, and this is what humans do. We feel. That ability along with opposable thumbs, that’s all that’s really separating us from our red-assed, chest-thumping ancestors.

You can’t keep suppressing something as natural as emotion. You know what happens? All of those pent-up feelings explode outward. In a fist connecting with a cheekbone, or a crowbar to a window, or a spray of bullets.

It’s a fucked-up crazy upside-down world when we demonize tears and normalize rage.

Humans feel. We cry. Out of sadness or fear or pain or rage or frustration, of joy or happiness or pleasure. Crying is nothing if not a reboot for the soul.

We should all be weeping.

Yet we keep encouraging our boys not to. And by default, our girls. Because as women we know firsthand that a show of emotion will be held against us, used against us, a black mark against our souls when it is time to have our hearts weighed and measured.

And then here comes Emma Gonzalez and her tears.

Perhaps if we encouraged more crying things would be different. We might be sopping up tears, but perhaps we wouldn’t be cleaning up so much blood from classroom floors.

Maybe if we encouraged more weeping, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time figuring out why all that pent-up emotion with nowhere to go then explodes like an active volcano, taking the rest of us with it in its red-hot wake.

I spent a long time after the last US election in a pit of fiery rage. It took me a long time to understand that rage was a finger in the dike, holding my grief inside. I knew if I let that grief out, it would sweep me away. It would knock me under and drag me out in its undertow and spin me until I didn’t know which way was up and which down.

I was terrified of showing my vulnerability. I was terrified because I knew it would be held against me. It would be seen as a weakness, held over my head like a Damoclean sword.

It took me even longer to understand that vulnerability, far from being a weakness, is one of a woman’s most powerful strengths. Because it allows me to feel. And to grow and learn and manage and channel and adapt and change and live.

We should all be weeping. At the world we’re fucking up. At the blood stained floors and the hate-fueled mess we are creating. We should be weeping with the mothers and fathers who have lost their sons and daughters, over the children who are washing up dead on foreign beaches, with the brothers and sisters who are being shot and killed for nothing more than being black at the wrong time, with the people across a globe being bombed into oblivion.

We should all be weeping.

Yes, if I had a daughter, I would want her to be a little and a lot like Emma Gonzalez.

But I do not have a daughter. I have sons. But I have sons who will grow up unafraid to express emotion. Who will be encouraged to cry and fear and feel. Sons who will watch me cry and rage and feel. Because how else do we teach our children to embrace their feelings — all of them — sadness and anger and fear and joy — how do we teach them what to do with those emotions if they do not see us experiencing — and surviving them?

Emma Gonzalez’s tear streaked face is a symbol. Not of weakness, but of strength and determination. And yes, of vulnerability.

We should all take a page out of Gonzalez’s book. We should all be weeping.

This post first appeared on Medium. I’d be grateful if you’d give it some love over there.

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One Super Girl at a Time

The other day a friend stopped by with her two daughters in tow, all bright smiles and freckle-faced freshness. Her older girl, bordering on middle school, smiled and gave me a sticker which, I was told, she’d been keeping for me because she thought I’d like it.

Sweet, right?

Look, I scream and use a lot of four letter words. I rage and sometimes but not always fantasize about pulling lightening crackling down from the sky. Some days I put on my pointy witch hat and sweep away the bullshit. But when it comes to kids, I’m kind of a marshmallow, so of course I was touched.

I put it on my laptop, which is home to a selection of sticky slogans, and the more I thought about it, the sappier I got–and not just because I’m probably going to get one of those freak, out-of-nowhere periods that seem to happen when you’re in your late 40s.

I got a little misty because it’s working.

What I do, the way I live my life, the attention I pay to detail, what I speak about, how I talk to girls and boys, the screaming, the shouting, the listening, all of it. It’s working. Because here was this bordering on middle-school girl, half-way down the path to young woman, a girl who is going to, probably sooner rather than later, face the inevitable: comments about her body, catcalls from men who should know and act better, someone, somewhere dropping a comment about her being just a girl–or crying like one, throwing like one, acting like one–as if any of those are inherently bad. She is a girl, which means she’ll pick up on clues from folks who think she’s not worth as much as a boy. She’ll overhear a conversation between boys she knows talking smack about another girl’s body. She’ll overhear a conversation between girls she knows doing the same.

And along comes a sticker, and I thought that seed is planted. It’s buried now, deep down. And it will take root and it will blossom.

Because you see, now she knows she doesn’t need Superman. She doesn’t need Supergirl. Because she is her own super-girl.

I nearly whooped with joy.

My own boys know what I’m like and what’s important to me. But they’re mine. I’m the chief baker and molder of their environment cookie dough. I have been since they were cooing and ga-ga-ing in their Baby Einstein Exersaucer and every day since. But other people’s kids? It’s a pretty great feeling to know that a tweenage girl could see an image, an image evoking female strength and independence, and think of me.

Sweet, right? And I don’t mean in the sugar and spice sense there, I mean in the long drawn out sweeeeeetttt sense.

I think–and hope!– that through these pages, through my actions, my love and respect for my sons is evident. But there are times when I live vicariously through my friends’ daughters, not so much to fill a gap in my heart, but to get a pulse on today’s girls and what they are like. Once I had a conversation with two friends about the things I miss out on being the mother of  only sons.

“I’ll never get to share that first period moment!” I lamented.

They thought I was crazy, but I kind of meant it. Let’s face it, the first nocturnal emission just doesn’t seem to have the same rite of passage feel about it. And to be honest, it’s not something they’ll likely tell me, although if they do, perhaps we’ll share a ritual passing over of the tissue box, who knows.

So my friends message me when a daughter does something they think I will like or find amusing or just kick-ass.

C called out her tennis coach when the medal she got only featured a boy;
R does a fist pump and says “Smash the Patriarchy” when I see her;
E regularly tells boys they aren’t allowed to touch her without her permission;
Another R writes essays and challenges gender stereotypes in her high school hallways; and
S saw a sticker of Supergirl rescuing Superman and thought of me.

These girls are being raised by strong women. Whenever I get a text or a message–or a sticker–I think, if I had a daughter, I’d want her to be just like yours, or yours, or yours. All of them different, but strong in their own ways. All of them Super girls.

And I feel, just for a moment, just for a split second, like I got to play some tiny part in that, like I get to change the world just a little bit.

One super girl at a time.

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