The Day My Son Asked to Wear a Dress to School

It had been a long day. Sunday late afternoon after a day of activity, I was putting away laundry in my 5-year-old middle son’s room while mentally reviewing my “new week preparation” to-do list when he asked the question. “Mommy,” he asked, poking his head up from underneath a mound of blankets on his doll-strewn bed, “can I wear a dress to school?”

I stopped arm in midair holding a handful of carefully folded princess nightgowns waiting to be stowed in his top drawer. My mind shuffled for an answer. “I don’t know, Bud. I’m not sure that’ll fly at your school.” I tucked the frilly pajamas into their home and closed the drawer. Grabbing a stack of mermaid printed t-shirts, I paused. I knew my answer was insufficient.

For 5 years this kid had known me and if he didn’t realize within that half a decade that antiquated policies were not going to stand as anything but fuel to my inner fire to tear down harmful, hurtful, double-standard walls so that all children can be better and have better and do better than we are and have and did, then he hardly knew me! But I wasn’t prepared to answer this. I was scared.

“Not that it’s right and not that it’s OK, but kids might say unkind things to you if you wear a dress.” I gently reminded him. “I know.” He said with a cool, unruffled calm I have never personally known. He asked again if he could wear the dress. I paused, trying to think as I sorted socks from skivvies. “I don’t know, Bud. Maybe you should ask your dad.”

Off he went. Ask he did. And he blindsided my husband entirely who, in his own surprise at the bold question, declined the request.

That night at story and circle time, my son brought his book selection to me: Who Are You? (a book about gender and identity.) And that solidified it. This wasn’t just about a dress. This wasn’t just some boundary testing. This was more. More than I knew how to handle.

All night and into the morning my mind spun. What did my mind say? What did my gut say? Why would I say “yes”? Why would I say “no”? I examined it all. And I realized that any inclination to deny the dress was rooted in fear. Fear for my son’s feelings. Fear for my son’s innocence. Fear for what children and adults may say or do. Fear for what this meant. Fear of the unknown.

But was my fear a good reason to deny my son’s request to wear a dress to school? Should my anxieties and insecurities, weaknesses and failings dictate my child’s path? Absolutely not.

Would I allow my daughter the freedom to fulfill such a request? Was I acting from bias? Yes. Shamefully, I noted my own double-standard. If my daughter asked to deny girly garb, would I deny her that? If she asked to cut her hair short, would I force her to keep her long locks? No. Sure, I would miss the dresses, the moments spent braiding her gorgeous golden mane, but this was her body, her life, her identity, her choice. My wants, fears, wishes, and insecurities should never trump her desires for her self. As long as she was not harming anyone and being thoughtfully safe in her choices, I would support her unwaveringly. And so I must do the same for my son.

I felt the anxious quiver of love-based worry fill my heart.

Speaking reason to my fear, I persisted in my internal questioning. Did I want to risk implying that my son should change, hide, or be ashamed of himself? Did I want to risk closeting him and all of the horrific statistics of self-harm that doing so entails? No!

I had supported him thus far, sewing him a mermaid tail costume — despite my complete lack of skill and genetic predisposition to be a horrid seamstress — when he asked to be a mermaid for Halloween. I had hunted for mermaid and unicorn t-shirts and swimsuits to suit his interests. I had pieced together a rainbow flying unicorn costume complete with a fabulous, flowing wig and pink feathered wings for this year’s costume. I’d found him ballet lessons at a wholly supportive dance studio. I’d signed him up for skating lessons when Johnny Weir’s sparkling performances made my son’s eyes widen with joy. My husband had fashioned him a portable hairstyling tray for his doll heads. I’d gone to bat for him, ensuring his school would be a safe, supportive environment in which he could learn, grow, develop, and thrive as an individual. We opened our hearts and home to his daily playroom drag performances. We had supported him wholeheartedly, fiercely, lovingly through it all. This was the next step.

So I realized that I had to say “yes”, whether or not I was ready. Whether or not people judged or balked or refused to understand. Whether or not I was brave enough to do so.

Because I simply had no solid ground, no formidable counter-reasoning to do anything else. Because I loved my son as I loved my daughter and wanted him to grow and thrive and love himself just as I wanted for my daughter. Because I’m a parent and sometimes being a parent means doing what’s right for our kids even if it scares every cell of our being. Because my son deserves to be who he is, whatever that may look like. Because my son deserves an unwavering ally in me. Because this is my child. Because I am his mother.

And this is our next step.

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My Major Parenting Struggle

I love my daughter but there is a certain aspect of her beautifully determined and bright personality that utterly torments me as her parent: her fierce competitive spirit.

“Being competitive is a great quality!” Some say. That’s true of most any personality trait, but the problem is me. A drive to compete with others is a mindset that clashes with so much of my own perspective that I’m constantly stumbling when determining how best to parent my daughter as an individual. How do you parent a child who has tendencies that oppose so mightily with your own? How do you support, and guide that child without attempting to change her?

I am a “gardener” parent. Meaning, I don’t impose my life goals on my children. I don’t try to change my children to suit my dreams for them. I don’t insist they participate in certain extracurriculars or feign specific interests. I don’t insist they fit a certain mold. Instead, I revel in their unique goals, skills, struggles, and hobbies while endeavoring to guide them towards a positive, healthy, responsible, kind, resilient life that leads to good decisions and a relatively clear conscience (I say, “relatively” because they’re human and we all make mistakes and make regrettable choices, but hopefully we learn from these pitfalls.) However, I struggle being a “gardener” when it comes to competition.

I am not competitive with others, though I am fiercely competitive with myself. My daughter is competitive with everyone including herself. Whereas I rarely perceive competition between myself and others, and if there is a competition I likely bow out, she views life as a competition and endeavors to win. Always. This means that to her everyone is a possible competitor for some unspoken victory (or defeat) and every situation has a competitive component, of which I am entirely unaware and incapable of truly grasping.

I can’t fathom finding joy in winning so that another may suffer a loss, especially since that individual would — in all likelihood — cherish the win more than I ever would. Conversely, my daughter craves the thrill of winning and laments even the smallest of losses. She comes to me for solace after losing a real or perceived competition and I struggle — I truly struggle — to empathize. I feel guilty for not knowing how to muster deep comfort for her in her competition-based upset. But I can’t. All I can think is, “STOP ALREADY WITH THE COMPETITION!” And then, in hearing my inner voice, I feel guilty.

Competition can certainly bring about good, but it can foster the opposite too. Kind, loving people can become selfish and brutish, trampling those they strive to overtake. Secure, happy people become self-conscious or judgmental towards others in some perceived ongoing worldwide competition. However competition can also drive people to do great things and accomplish astonishing goals. It can inspire and fuel. It can lead to discoveries and growth, in addition to turmoil and callousness. As with most anything, it is simultaneously positive and negative. A true gray area.

And so I can’t in good conscience dismantle or parent away my daughter’s competitive nature, just as I wouldn’t strive to erase my middle son’s sparkly flair for the creative or my youngest son’s fearless athleticism. I can try to help my daughter navigate the world healthfully given her competitive worldview. I can try to give her coping techniques for inevitable losses and graciousness for wins. I can encourage competition with self to balance competition with others and encourage a thoughtful awareness of others to stave off self-centeredness. I can build her self-esteem and self-worth so that the outcomes of her perpetual perceived competitions do not dictate her self-worth. But I cannot make her into what and who she is not. Nor should I.

So I’ll keep struggling and trying and failing and trying again. Because I’m a human parenting humans.

Wish me luck!

Doing Something Right

There are long days that ebb into heavy nights when I fall into bed feeling like a failure, when I crumble under the weight of guilt, when I am pelted by my own perceived inadequacies, when waves of worry drown my reason. Those are the nights that embed themselves into my memory, that mount themselves as sharp obstacles along my mental pathways, peppering the story I tell myself of my life, my parenting journey, and my self with doubt. Those are the nights I war against in my efforts towards positive thinking. But last night was not one of those nights.

Yesterday The Hubs played as a substitute on a teammate’s secondary softball team. So, after a morning playdate, the kids and I headed to the softball field.

Watching adult co-ed slow-pitch softball isn’t necessarily the most enthralling afternoon activity, so I was prepared with packed lunch and a bag of bubbles, balls, and sidewalk chalk to keep my 7-, 5-, and 3-year-olds entertained. Who knew how valuable those items would be?

When we arrived, there were three young children scampering about the metal bleachers. The 6-year-old boy introduced himself, as well as his 5- and 4-year-old sisters. In no time, I was happily herding the playful crew. All six kids interacted beautifully.

As they drew and blew bubbles and played catch, the previously unfamiliar caregiver of the newfound friends had an unexpectedly candid conversation with me. She relayed the challenges these children — who were temporarily in her custody due to their parents’ unfortunate life choices — had faced. She noted each child’s strengths and struggles. Then, she stopped. She marveled at how well her wards played with my children. Her three were previously accustomed to only interacting with one another as they — in their parents’ care — hopped from one dodgy hotel room to the next and, as a result, often struggled when attempting to socialize with other children.

For two hours the six played. They ended the unexpected playdate with warm hugs and wishes for more time together.

I drove home realizing how proud I was of my children. They welcomed those struggling kids into their hearts and games, navigating their limitations and strengths with ease. For two hours those children got to really play, to be kids, to be genuinely accepted without reservation.

Though I actively strive to help my children be kind, inclusive, genuine individuals, no amount of training or discussion can truly shape a person fully. There is a certain spark that must come from within to allow for such an open heart. It is either there or it is not. And yesterday I bore witness to that spark in each of my three children.

What honor, pride, and joy I felt seeing how beautiful my children are in their innermost selves. My heart bowed to the potential of their gorgeous gifts.

My children aren’t perfect. They tantrum and misbehave. They get rowdy and quarrelsome. They don’t always listen and some days I wonder if they have forgotten their names entirely. But still they are good in that inner truest sense beyond social mores and rule following, beyond the external that is so easily and often judged. They are good humans.

So often we parents tell ourselves all we have done wrong, all we have failed to do, all we should do and be. But rarely do we take note of all we do right, all we accomplish, all we are helping our children become. Rarely do we take note of who and what our children are in that innate, inner way.

Yesterday I did that. Yesterday I changed my inner narrative. Yesterday I realized that, though I am an innately flawed human parenting innately flawed humans, my three children are truly beautiful individuals. Yesterday I realized that I am somehow in some way doing something right.

3 Must-Read Books for a Sparkly Boy (or for caregivers seeking to teach children acceptance)

Whether you have a young boy in your life who is defying gender norms, you are striving to teach your child(ren) acceptance, or you are building a diverse library for children of various backgrounds, these are our top three must-read books.

1) Sparkle Boy

This is our absolute favorite book of all time. My 7-, 5-, and 3-year-old children reach for it time and again. It is the closest depiction of our own family experience we have encountered. It teaches resilience and acceptance all in a multicultural setting. After countless reads, this book still brings tears to this mama’s eyes.

2) My Princess Boy

The last page is a tearjerker but in the best possible way. This simple, easily relatable, positive book shows the “why” behind acceptance. It humanizes what may be a foreign concept to some. Simply worded and kindly written, it is a great conversation starter.

3) Julian is a Mermaid

You’ll want to do a standing ovation for Julian’s Abuela after reading this beautifully illustrated, interpretational, whimsical book. This story delicately nods to numerous family-related topics with a clear message of loving acceptance.

If you’re just beginning the conversation of gender norms or are fostering an ongoing discussion regarding identity, these are a few other helpful reads.

1) Pink is for Boys this quick, inoffensive, easy read is perfect for preschool through early elementary ages. It addresses the idea that colors are not engendered. This book would serve well as an opener for discussions of acceptance (not soley in terms of gender identity or nonconformity, but in general) and would allow for future gender-related talks if desired.

2) Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity This simply written book makes a complex topic easily digestible. It is a great addition to a LGBTQA-friendly/acceptance-oriented library. This book would be ideal for a continuing conversation regarding varying identities and LGBTQA acceptance.

3) Love is Love If you’re already discussing various LGBTQA topics or are broaching a related conversation, this is a useful tool. Clearly written, humanizing, and positive in nature, this is a great addition to a liberal library.

With all of these reads, I suggest closing the book with a thoughtful sigh or pause then asking the listener’s thoughts on the story. Tuck away any inhibitions and welcome any questions with an open heart and welcoming ease. Tear down those walls and make gender, identity, and acceptance an ongoing discussion in your home. This is only a dreaded discussion if we — the adults– make it so.

What are some children’s books within this genre that you have enjoyed and would recommend?

A Place Where He Can Sparkle

“Mommy, I want to do ballet,” my 5-year-old son requested, “in an all boys class.” The ballet request was not unconventional for my sparkly middle child, but I was surprised that he requested an all-boys class. He often played with girls and shared many of their common interests, so what would the gender of his classmates matter? Then I took him to his first class and I understood.

That first evening — after circling the parking lot three times trying to find the studio, vulturing for a parking space, then herding three kids across a busy parking lot — we arrived at dance class a bit discombobulated. My son’s excitement was untarnished by the bumbling entry. He skipped into class with the other graceful young boys and focused every ounce of his attention on the instructor. He twirled and jumped and leapt. His enthusiastic grace was unmistakable; he was safe to be wholly and entirely himself without reservation.

He knew what I had not. He was among his people.

This delicately proportioned, unicorn-loving, mermaid-adoring, hairdressing-enthralled, aspiring figure skater knew that in an all-boys dance class he would be among other boys just like him. The same sparkly attributes that set him in the fray in the outside world placed him firmly within the realm of acceptance here. What society condemned was celebrated here.

A month later my son came to me after class, “Mommy I want to do real ballet.” He’d noticed that his current class was more movement focused than ballet centric. He’d also realized that one of the boys had moved to the Ballet I class. “You’re welcome to talk to your teacher about that,” I said, “but if this is something you want, you need to do it.” He asked me to come with him. I obliged.

As we walked down the hall towards the studio, I looked down at him in amazement. There was NO WAY I would’ve had a wherewithal to do this as a child! Young me would have rather been heartbroken and miss out than approach an adult with such a request. My child astounded me.

His slight palm hugged mine with the gentle firmness of determination, not the sweaty, gripping anxiety I would’ve expressed. At the end of the hallway, he released my hand, walked through the glass door, and strolled directly to his teacher. Moments later the teacher and my son exited the classroom and made their way to the director. After a brief chat, it was settled: he was moving to Pre-Ballet. My son was a disco ball of glittering light.

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The next week we arrived at ballet not knowing if he’d be the only boy in class. He wasn’t. He was thrilled. He twirled. He pranced. He sparkled.

Not long after, it was the week of Halloween. All of the students wore their costumes to class. My son’s costume: rainbow flying unicorn, of course! Every time he wears one of his self-selected costumes we receive some sort of negative commentary, some sort of head tilt or side-eye, some sort of pushback of some degree. So I silently prepared myself for what we’ve been trained to see as the inevitable.

As I pinned the flowing rainbow wig in place, two older boys played in the lobby. “Cool wig!” one commented. A grandmother shuffled up the hallway lead by a pint-size “Elsa”. “I was told there’s a rainbow unicorn that I ‘just have to see.'” The grandmother said smiling. “He’s a rainbow flying unicorn, no less!” I replied, my chest gripping in preparatory fight-or-flight once I realized she might catch the gendered pronoun. “He’s lovely,” the grandmother cooed. And that was it. No cocked heads, no whispers, no stares, no judgment… his costume was finally just a costume!

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I felt a massive weight of protection lift from my chest. I had not realized until it was gone what a heavy, ingrained, bruising burden it was. I realized in that moment how my sparkly son must feel here too.

And so my son had lead me to exactly where he needed to be. To the people who would appreciate him exactly as he was without reservation. To a place where his quirks could twinkle and his gifts could shine. To a place where he could sparkle.

Two Years to Where I am

I’m not sure whether it’s age or yoga or a random boon of awesome people or what exactly, but I actually look forward to the afterschool playground ritual this year. And I feel completely comfortable being myself. I clearly had to come from where I was to appreciate where I am. Because, let me tell you, just two years ago this — all of this — was not the case.

Yesterday it was raining. Sitting in the minivan at carpool pick-up, I looked out the windshield and immediately felt a rush of disappointment. I wanted to chat with fellow moms on the playground after school, dammit! Two years ago I would’ve felt a wave of guilty relief, but not now. After realizing that shift I began to wonder, was I more excited about afterschool playground time than my kids were?

Probably not. Nevertheless, this mindset, this enthusiasm, this comfort and outgoing confidence was a clear sign of how much I and my life had changed over the last two years.

Two years ago when my eldest started kindergarten at her current school I felt like the new kid on the block. Except I was a new 33-year-old “kid” with a curly mom bun and yoga pants wrangling a Barbie-carrying 3-year-old boy and a bumbling troublesome toddler through the carefully manicured schoolyard shrubbery. It was not a proud year.

It was not just challenging in that I was constantly telling a child not to lick, eat, sit on, or walk off of something, but I was also trying to find connections in this new school. I stressed myself over including others while trying to get to know fellow moms yet also presenting myself well.

Now, I’m no Pinterest style diva so in terms of presentation it wasn’t as if I was fastidiously curating my physical appearance beyond avoiding post-nursing nip-slip or swaths of knee-height toddler snot stains. I was, however, trying to ensure I came across as a generally kind fellow mom of basically sound mind (I was a mom of a 1-, 3-, and 5-year-old and was at a catholic school… these fellow carpool moms had a reasonable expectation for maternal “sound mind” given my parental state. They had kids… often quite a few of them. They knew.) Still, I worried.

Most every day I left carpool pick-up feeling defeated. I missed 3/4 of every conversation. I rarely completed more than two sentences. I was — in my mind — failing. How could I be so close yet so far away? How could I not manage to do what everyone else seemed entirely capable of doing?

The playground after school was even worse. That’s where moms and kids convened to socialize, network, and bond. Instead I was running around scaling playground equipment after my newly walking 1-year-old who had a developmentally appropriate yet anxiety-inducing affinity for self-endangerment. His goal every day was to attempt to defy gravity, but generally he just tested my reflexes and bladder control.

As I bounded across chain-link bridges and under climbing poles, I saw blurs of moms chatting in groups. I so wanted to be them. I ran by moms seated on benches. I envied them. I heard moms laughing in unison. I yearned to join in. But that wasn’t my life stage. I wasn’t there yet.

Two years later, I am. Two years later I can simultaneously herd my wild brood — now aged 3, 5, and 7 — in afternoon sun while rehashing the day with fellow school moms. I can laugh. I can chat. I can’t yet sit down, but that’s ok. It’s still medicinal. It’s fun. It’s so far from where I used to be.

And as much as I loved baby snuggles and newborn nursing, young toddler hugs and slobbery chubby-cheeked kisses, I enjoy where I am now. Some moments I — in reflective sentimentality — miss the cuddly, sweet, wholly messy, sleep-deprived years, I appreciate how far I’ve come — how far we’ve all come — and treasure the now. I had to be where I was, be who I was, and experience what did to fully appreciate who and where I am now.

Now I can be exactly who I am without worrying how I’m being perceived. I can stress less. I can envy less. I no longer compare. I still wrangle and chase and have not-so-proud moments but it’s less intense. It’s lighter. It’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.

I survived and now I savor.

5 Taboo Symptoms of Endometriosis No One Talks About

Periods. No one talks about them, aside from kitschy tampon commercials featuring frolicking 20-somethings in white denim. Needless to say, if standard periods aren’t discussed, an ailment associated with monsoon-like menstruation is straight-up taboo. But Endometriosis (a condition that causes uterine tissue to grow outside of and beyond the uterus) is more than just vice-like cramps. More than just heavy bleeding. More than just irregular cycles and possible infertility. And I’m here to talk about it. Really talk about it in true raw, real, shameless form. So get ready. (WARNING: If you’re the skittish or woozy type, stop reading now.)

Endometriosis is an incurable, little-discussed yet life-changing medical condition shrouded in secrecy, entrenched in stigma, and plagued by inhumane, archaic, inaccurate — if not entirely harmful — medical “treatments.” Endometriosis’ reach spreads beyond the uterus and ovaries; it can affect the eyes, brain, heart, digestive tract, and more. The symptoms are so wide-ranging that many sufferers don’t connect their varying maladies to Endometriosis, because why would one think bouts of fainting, or extended postpartum bleeding, or inexplicable tachycardia could be tied to Endometriosis?

So how does my Endometriosis affect me? Like many sufferers, my cycles are irregular — though they are far more regular now that I’ve grown and birthed three children — and my flows are unbelievably heavy. No, seriously. I am in no way exaggerating when I say that by my fourth waking hour on my period I will have bled more than the average woman expels in three full days of menstruation. No wonder I am an exhausted shell of a human when I’m menstruating!

So what are some of my other odd symptoms?

1) Limited mobility: Ovulation is the worst. The pain can range from the distinct sensation of an irritating pebble in the lower abdomen, to the discomfort of a weighted golf ball embedded somewhere in the vicinity of my uterus, to a lead watermelon trying to press itself out of my body by way of my nether regions. During bad cycles, things are bad. As in every single step hurts, bad. Laughing hurts, bad. Sneezing hurts, bad. Sitting hurts, bad. Then, other months, it’s not so bad and I can manage with a mild limp or a couple of Advil and an epsom salt bath. Which is both good (because life — especially mom life — is not conducive to unexpected bouts of bedrest) and simutaneously challenging (because the inability to plan for the easy, not-so-bad, bad, or horrendous months is difficult.) Not only is any pain sudden in its onset (and, remember, my cycle is irregular so there’s no counting days to aid me in my planning), but it MUST be kept from public knowledge. Because we’re not yet at a point in social evolution when using red dye in a sanitary pad commercial is palatable, so the statement: “I’m sorry I can’t make it to our parent-teacher, conference; Endometriosis presently has a bowling ball trying to evict itself out through my perineum” isn’t socially acceptable. In fact, explaining or even addressing my Endometriosis pain at all isn’t socially acceptable, because “lady parts” are taboo and we must suffer in silence. We are to be ashamed of our affliction.

2) Sudden fatigue: Hormones are a B, and when hormones fluctuate drastically or menstruation is a deluge, energy levels plummet. Fast. It’s as if someone hacked into my body and drained my battery. One minute I’m at 90% and the next I’m at 10% battery life, and no coffee, nap, supplement, sunshine, or yoga is replenishing the drain. I’m a human zombie. It may last an afternoon or days. Who knows? But I’m a mom. I keep going, because that’s what I do.

3) Sexual dysfunction: Endometriosis isn’t just a literal and figurative pain in the butt (as the free-range, weed-like endometrial tissue often causes perineal and rectal pain in sufferers), it’s a pain in the vagina too. I am like many Endometriosis sufferers in that for at least one week per month, sex is unavoidably painful. Lube, foreplay, relaxation… nothing’s combating the painful internal inflammation. Widely, ovulation is the absolute worst time — in many ways — but other random days or weeks can be slotted for dysfunction too. Sometimes I can tell when things just aren’t going to work and sometimes I can’t. The unpredictable and personal nature of this symptom makes it the worst of all, in my book. It screws with your emotions, mind, self-esteem, and closest interpersonal relationships. But, again, it must NOT be discussed. Ever. If your significant other isn’t understanding of your excruciating physical and lingering emotional pain from this symptom, it could end a marriage if not throw the sufferer into a deep depression.

4) Digestive issues: Endometrial tissue easily spreads to the digestive tract. After all, it’s just a quick jaunt from an ovary to an intestine. So digestive woes, dietary restrictions, food sensitivities, and chronic bloating are common among sufferers. Many are put on special diets to reduce inflammation or ward off symptoms. For some, everything from the brain to the gallbladder to the heart to the rectum can be affected by the rogue tissue overgrowth. Just this year my Ob/Gyn had a patient with Endometriosis on her eye and brain. That said, if you can grow uterine tissue on your brain, you can grow it on your stomach. Though belly woes are almost expected with Endometriosis, few connect the symptomatic dots.

5) Blurred vision: The adrenal gland is taxed with Endometriosis so hormones are raging. And anyone who has been pregnant knows that wild hormones can mean more than just mood swings, but vision changes. With Endometriosis, no cycle is identical which means certain cycles can be worse or easier than others. Some months may present just some mild cramping but others may rack up a host of horrendous life-halting symptoms, blurred vision being one possible experience. Unexpectedly blurred vision can be bothersome if not worrisome, but when Endometriosis is to blame it becomes a hush-hush scenario.

My symptoms and my experience with Endometriosis are not universal. If you too have Endometriosis, reach out. Talk about it. Don’t let society win. You should be no more ashamed of your Endometriosis than a diabetic or an ulcer sufferer are ashamed of their ailments. There may not be a cure. There may not even be universally effective or accessible treatments, but there are ways to make life better. Reaching out, speaking out, and rejecting shame is one way to improve your life.

You didn’t choose Endometriosis, but you can choose to have hope. You’re not alone.

When I Realized I was Parenting Myself

If I had known as a kid that every bad behavior and poor decision I made would come back to haunt me in the form of my own offspring, I might’ve acted differently. (Maybe.) At least a little heads-up would’ve been nice.

Instead, I went about being a stubborn, verbally inclined, willful pain in the rear. And now — as fate would have it — my daughter is just like me. Joy!

As much as all of those qualities make me want to tear out my hair, they are undeniably phenomenal personal assets. And — as the now-adult version who shares these traits — I know it, which sort of adds to the parental frustration in a “what’s good for the world presently sucks for me” kind of way.

Stubbornness can be a beautiful thing because peer pressure and eschewing personal ethics for outside approval are non-issues. Verbal inclinations allow for vivid self-expression and aid in academic endeavors. Strong willpower is never to be underestimated in its value and is a fiery gift of endurance, resilience, and fortitude. However, sometimes these traits are a bit exhausting to harness and guide and just generally parent.

For example, toddler tantrums. A stubborn, highly verbal child with willpower like a steel-plated ox will tantrum for at least a solid half-hour without relenting. Why? Because that expression of discontent incorporates all of the child’s greatest assets. Whereas an easy-going, quiet, amenable child may only throw a fit for five maaaaybe ten minutes before getting bored. Same thing goes for potty-training, or learning to ride a bike, or doing undesirable chores, or… you name it.

However, despite all of the struggles of parenting a stubborn, highly verbal, willful child who is much like myself, there are moments that knock me backwards in awe. Moments that remind me how amazing this fearsome force of a child is. How much potential to grow and blossom and contribute and attain happiness and be truly and ethically herself the child has. And it’s all because of these innate gifts that drive me nuts. I had a such a moment recently.

I picked up my newly first grade daughter from school and asked about her day: if she made any new friends, who she played with on the playground, etc. She went on to tell me that she played with a couple of pals she’s had since kindergarten and a girl who has never been in her class before. Then my daughter said an old friend spotted her playing with this new-to-her girl and called my daughter over to talk. The old friend said that she didn’t like that new-to-her girl because the girl was bossy. Then the old friend disclosed that she didn’t want my daughter playing with the girl. That’s when my daughter did something I never expected her to do, and it both astounded and scared me.

“I want to be friends with everyone,” my daughter told the old friend. My daughter explained to the friend that the newer girl had not been bossy towards her so she had no reason not to be friends with her, but that she wanted to still be friends with the old friend too. Even when the old friend scoffed and tried to make my daughter choose and then refused to play with her, my daughter stood firm.

“I couldn’t choose, Mommy,” my daughter told me. “I want to be friends with everyone and I can’t be unfriendly to someone just because one of my friend doesn’t like them. That person didn’t do anything to me. That’s just not ok.” And that’s when I realized that I was parenting myself.

I’d never instructed my kids on how to handle this kind of scenario because I — foolishly — didn’t yet think it was necessary to do so. But she figured it out on her own.

This situation I’d painfully lived and relived countless times in my life, was only now just making an entrance into her young life. She had many more such tests of ethics ahead.

It’s such a challenging scenario to navigate because in order to be kind to one you often end up hurting another’s feelings, if not losing a friend entirely. Truly, it’d be much easier to just go with the social norm: kow-tow, prove loyalty, and forget personal ethics. But that’s not what I ever did and it seems that’s not what my daughter is doing either. Ethics above ego… it’s not a popular road.

As my daughter chattered on about her day, my mind spun on the drama and frustration that laid ahead for her. All of the friends (and “friends”) and sometimes family who’d tug at her to dismiss her ethics. I thought about how much easier it’d be to swim downstream instead of up. But I knew that easy road wasn’t within our morals. It wasn’t our path.

I recalled all of the upheaval it can cause having such an awareness of moral code, such a fervent stance against choosing sides. How some view it as a lack of loyalty. How some feel hurt if you don’t dislike the same people they do. How some draw comfort from a band of peers rallying behind them to be unkind to someone who somehow riled them. How sororities and cliques and organizational thinking and herd mentality don’t take well to this line of thought. How maintaining personal ethics can cause lost friendships and social woes, but it also enables you to look back at those same scenarios and know in your heart that you chose correctly. Even if no one else can see it.

Because someone else’s insecurity is not a reason to dash your morals. Because a true friend would never require you to abandon your ethics to simply prove fealty.

As proud as I was of my daughter, I mourned for her the easy path she’d miss. I fretted for her the heartbreak her morals would cause. I pined for the friendships she’d lose. I glowed with pride for her strength. I stood in awe of her youthful wisdom and fearlessness. I gave thanks for her fortitude.

That’s when I realized I was parenting myself. And I knew she’d be just fine.

The Beauty in Slowing Down

I am DC suburbs born and raised. I rush when I’m in no hurry. I feel a sense of urgency even when I have nowhere to be. And as much as having 3 kids in under 4 years has fostered that inner frenzy, it has also taught me the beauty of slowing down. It has reopened my eyes to everyday wonder.

Nothing teaches you how fast time goes quite like having kids. Child years are like dog years and somehow we parents get sucked into the timewarp. Seasons change with swift progression. Developmental leaps abound overnight. Inches are added in a day. Gray hairs arise in a blink. And yet amidst all of this hurry we are pulled down towards the ground to witness ants crawl across a pavement crack, slowed to hold hands at a stubby-legged stride, drawn to seek out passing trucks and flowers and colors.

We miss so much from our adult height and speed. Our children see what we no longer do. They remind us of the wonder around us. The magic in the everyday.

Yesterday my littlest and I went to the farmers market and walked home instead of driving. What would’ve taken us 5 minutes required 40, but that was the beauty of it. The luxury of slowing down. Of seeing. Feeling.

From our sidewalk perspective we saw what we so often blindly pass by. We stopped to examine flowers, watch bumblebees, wonder at historic homes, and truly feel the morning breeze. We experienced the coolness of the shade, the warmth of the sun, the hug of humidity on a not-quite-fall day.

We took the slow way home. And it was wonderful.

So often we need to hurry and plan and prepare and race. But sometimes all we really need is to slow down. To appreciate. To wonder.

I’m Sorry, Friends!

I want to take a moment and apologize to my friends. I’ve been pretty sucky lately. And, what’s worse, is I’ve known it and I haven’t done a thing about it. On purpose.

Do you ever have times when you can just feel the wave of stress, change, upheaval, mourning, or even just heavy life demands coming your way? It’s like that electric breeze that rattles the uppermost leaves on the trees just before a storm descends. You know something’s coming but you’re not quite sure what. Well, I felt that. So, I turned off, shut down, holed up, and placed focus on my little family.

I didn’t schedule playdates. I didn’t send check-in texts or arrange mom dates. I didn’t return messages or texts or phone calls. I felt that distinct inner need to go into self-preservation mode. To shield myself from outside woes. To prevent myself from taking on — from feeling — others’ anxieties and woes. Because I felt I needed to hoard every love-filled, fun family experience, save every ounce of strength and calm and positivity for the impending storm.

I’ve lived enough to know never to doubt one’s intuition. To always listen to that inner pull, that whisper from within that directs and guides. Because when we don’t, that’s when we falter the most.

And so, I’ve been a bad friend. It’s not because I don’t care or love or want deeply to help. The problem is that I DO. I care so much that your worries worry me. I love so much that I harbor your burdens in my heart. I want so deeply to help that I lose sleep over how to make your struggles just a bit easier. But right now I can’t do that. I can’t be the friend I want to be or should be. I’m sorry.

In short time, I’ll come back and text you those check-in messages or “thinking of you” snippets. I’ll hold you in my intuitive heart and feel inexplicably tense when you’re worried or sad when you’re suffering. I’ll be a good friend again.

We’ll schedule playdates or mom dates or walks or coffee. We’ll share our happiness and woes. We’ll laugh and vent and laugh some more. We’ll come together again.

I’m sorry, friends! I love you.