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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Behind the Scenes of a Stay at Home Parent

By now you’ve probably seen the video of Robert Kelly, the father whose children danced their way into viral stardom.…and his BBC interview. Children look for dad, mom tries to corral them out of the room, hilarity ensues. Well, for viewers anyway. I’m not sure if Professor Kelly’s wife Kim Jung A is a stay at home parent, but watching her on all fours trying to salvage her husband’s interview summed up what many stay at home parents do daily behind the scenes.

In this case, it just so happened that it took place in full view of a news camera.

Stay-at-home parents. Ridiculed, minimized, poo-poohed, satirized, parodied, endlessly mocked. A friend told me a story recently. An adult at her child’s school tried, unsuccessfully, to reach my friend on the phone. When she finally was able to take the call, she was asked, sarcastically, whether she’d been too busy at tennis or Pilates. The same was asked of her child. The answer was neither, but the anecdote illustrates the value many place on stay-at-home parents. That is, usually not much.

The truth is, the stay-at-home parents I know are running troops so that other people’s children can take part in Scouts. They are raising money for children in Syria, giving their time and skills to programs that help trafficked women. They are volunteering at school, heading up committees, ‘donating’ their professional skills in terms of expertise, experience, and time. Do some of them play tennis too? Sure thing. Pilates? Yup. But the idea of stay-at-home parents sucking on bottles of Proseco? Pfft.

That’s only on special occasions.

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You know the folks who wield the brooms in the odd sport of curling? The ones who move ahead, sweeping furiously, freeing the ice of debris and bumps so the stone can slide freely across the finish line?

Stay at home parents are those players, sweeping away all the crumbs and debris that life throws at you to help their family reach the finish line in as smooth a line as possible.

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It took me a long time to realize the value in what I do, to stop equating money in the bank with worth. Just because I’m not presented with a paycheck at the end of the month, I won’t minimize the way I am able to make my family’s life that much easier for them.

My husband wouldn’t have the job he has now unless we agreed to move overseas, which meant I gave up my job. My being a stay at home parent right now means he can travel when he needs to, stay late at work on a moment’s notice, not worry about the school calling him up when someone’s puking their lunch up, enroll in a Master’s course, and not worry about what to do with the kids during the 14 weeks a year when they don’t have school. Generally he is able to delegate most of the boring day-to-day stuff. To me. You know, the stuff everyone hates doing. The stuff which usually makes everyone’s lives immeasurably smoother.

Don’t get me wrong. I complain. Sometimes bitterly. I complain my college degree is wasted. That my kids are–right now–growing up without the role model of a mother who works outside the home (they don’t equate writing a novel or winning writing contests with work. Work to them means in an office, behind a desk). I complain about the huge portion of my day spent in the kitchen. But, my husband and I, we’re in this together. He couldn’t do what he does as smoothly if I was working outside the home. I couldn’t do what I do (right now that’s writing novel 2) if I was working. Despite the trade offs (and there are always trade offs), we make it work.

Do we miss the cushion of another salary at times? Absolutely. But just because it doesn’t result in a direct deposit into our joint account doesn’t mean my role in the family is worthless.

I am the sweeper. Rememberer of cards and buyer of birthday presents, scheduler of conferences and vaccination up-keeper. I am able to pick up the slack for those mothers I know who are earning outside the home, volunteering when they can’t, helping out on field trips and class events, things that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Stay-at-home parents are often the ones car pooling everyone else’s kids, standing in during emergencies, reading to another mother’s child at an open house because she couldn’t get the time off work. I’m not writing that to make working parents feel guilty. On the contrary, I am then able to point out that working mother as an example to my own children. Working parents have to figure out all of this stuff too, and it’s stressful. Our choice for me to stay home leads to less vacations, less dinners out, but it also leads to less stress for my husband and kids–and at times, more for me.

These are all the things going on behind the normally locked door while Mom or Dad is giving an interview to the BBC. Or going on in the house when Mum or Dad is in the office. Keeping the kids quiet, entertained, fed, healthy, play-dated, socialized, and out of the way so the working parent can do their job, do it well, do it with a little bit (or a lot) less stress.

I’m aware how lucky we are for me to stay home and be that sweeper. I know that for many, many families, they are playing all the roles at once. Sweeper, curler, coach, referee, stone, and hell, even the ice. I’m grateful for the opportunity, to stay at home, to volunteer, to write; grateful we’ve been afforded, quite literally, this chance.

But I also expect my family to be grateful for what I provide as well, both behind the scenes and out in front where everyone can see.

 

 

What It Feels Like For a Girl

PrintIf you’re a parent, if you have a daughter, go and look at her right now.

Go on, I’ll wait.

Maybe she is asleep, curled softly against your chest, a little bundle of pink and spice and everything nice. Maybe she’s digging in a sandbox or playing soccer, spinning in a tutu or blowing a trombone. Maybe she’s going out, a skateboard under her arm, or curling her eyelashes on her way to a date. Maybe you’re already poring over college catalogs together, talking about her dreams. Doesn’t matter. Just take a good, long look at her.

Now take her aside. Sit her down. Look her in the eye, and tell her she’s not as deserving as a boy.

Tell her she’s less important.

Tell her that no matter what she does in life, no matter what she is recognized for, what she accomplishes, it will always be diminished because she’s a girl.

Tell her she can’t be trusted to make choices about her own body. Tell her it’s best if she leaves the difficult and complex decisions about who or how or when to plan a family to other people, people who don’t know her or have any insight into her life or personal beliefs. People, who, most of the time, don’t even know what it is like to live in the body of a girl.

Tell her she doesn’t deserve the same attention or opportunity as boys. Tell her that deep down, girls are weaker, that when push comes to shove, they don’t really want to lead, they aren’t capable of commanding.

Tell her you’re always going to hold her to a different standard. Tell her she needs to be twice as good for half the reward.

Loudly explain to your daughter that if she does everything exactly right then maybe, just maybe, things will even out. (Then whisper in her ear that of course they won’t–because she’s always less than).

Tell her you don’t trust her to make decisions about sex. Call her a bitch. Tell her she’d better keep her legs shut or suffer the consequences. Then call her frigid.

Tell her that her life doesn’t matter as much as her brother’s.

Body is a battleground

List the thousand and one reasons someone might pummel the soft flesh of her body, every single one of which she bears the blame for.

Tell her if she’s raped or beaten, it’s probably because she did something wrong. Tell her she can’t drink too much or drink the wrong drink or wear the wrong clothes, talk to the wrong person, be in the wrong place, go to college, go for a jog, walk alone. Tell her she can’t flirt. Tell her she can’t lead someone on, can’t accept dinner and flowers and expect to simply go home.

Go on, tell her that no doesn’t always mean no, that deep down, she must really want it, she’s just afraid to say it.

Then call her a whore.

Tell her you hate her for no other reason than she’s a girl. Tell her it’s cruel to laugh at or reject someone who’s only trying to impress her. Tell her that a giggle or a refusal is more than enough justification for harm.

Tell her it’s her fault.

Tell her no one will believe her anyway.

Tell her she deserves less money, that she should pay more for goods and services just because they’re made for girls.

Tell her she’s being irrational when she tries to point out the absurdity of wanting to make decisions about her own body.

Tell her she’s being ungrateful when she points out it’s unfair she should earn less, pay more, be locked out.

Tell her it’s her own fault when she points out she shouldn’t have to worry about being raped simply because she had too much to drink or went for a run; that she shouldn’t need to worry about being killed because she fell for the wrong guy.

bodyTell her she’s wrong when she declares you are being unfair because that’s all in the past, there’s nothing to talk about.

Would you be comfortable sitting down with your daughters and saying this out loud to them?

Because this is what she hears all the time. This is what we are all shouting at our daughters with our laws and our double standards, our perceptions and expectations, our justice system, our actions.

This is what our girls hear every single day, regardless of whether we are saying it out loud. And unless we work to change it, unless we all start shouting even louder that it isn’t right, unless we start teaching our boys, unless we start changing laws, well….we may as well be saying it right to their faces.

 

 

 

 

No One Likes a Smart Ass, and Other Words of Wisdom for my Middle Schooler

class of 22My son graduated from 5th grade this week. Sayonara primary, hello middle school. There were speeches and a song, recollections and recommendations. Come August, they’ll be chucked into the murky waters of middle school to swim with the big fish.

That’s right, chickadees: in eight short weeks your macaroni art and phonetic spelling primary school days will be but a mere #nofilter memory. Not quite the big league, but the minors for sure.

I can’t top the ubiquitous Wear Sunscreen commencement address that resurfaces every year around this time. Frankly, I doubt a group of armpit farting rising sixth graders are ready for life advice. They’ve got to navigate the minefield of middle school and the perils of puberty first.

Still, the occasion calls for some words of wisdom, even if they’re not old enough for pearls. So son, while you dance your way through the tweenage wasteland that is middle school, here are a few tidbits to get you through.

Expand your vocabulary. Homer is epic. The Grand Canyon is awesome. Everything else? Not so much.

Always thank the person who holds the door open for you. Thank the lunch lady and the checkout clerk too.

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While we’re at it, always hold the door open for the person behind you.

Ask the girl out face to face. Break up with the boy in person. Conversation is a dying art. Cherish it.

Never start a sentence with “No offense, but.”

Don’t worry about your health education teacher asking for a show of hands to determine who has gotten their period or already has pubic hair.

The older you get, the more paperwork there is. Work on perfecting a killer signature.

Always start with something kind.

The pimple is not as noticeable as you think it is.

A best friend who makes you feel icky inside is not a best friend.

You will remember your locker combination.smoking

If you think your mother won’t approve of it, don’t do it.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you’re feeling isn’t real. It is. But whatever you’re feeling right now does not define who or what you are.

There’s a world of difference between being the best and doing your best.

You can have more than one group of friends.

In twenty years, people will remember the name of the kid who wasn’t afraid to wear two different color socks. Be that kid.

It’s ok to want to cuddle your Build-a-Bear one minute and want to Instagram a picture of it the next.

The quickest way to piss off an adult is to roll your eyes at them.

No one likes a smart ass.

Learn how to shake hands. Learn how to look people in the eye. Learn how to introduce yourself. They are the keys to opening doors.

Teacher and schoolboyIt’s ok not to have a passion. It’s ok if your favorite class is PE. It’s ok if the best part of school is seeing your friends. You learn a lot more than multiplication in school.

There are going to be teachers you hate on a Snape level.

There are going to be teachers who don’t like you on a Potter level.

Find a genre you love and read everything you can find in it.

The next few years are going to be a whirlwind of whiplash emotions. You will enter middle school like a lamb and come out like…if not a lion, then at least a slightly older, hopefully wiser lamb. Most likely with armpit hair.

I’m ready.

Are you?