No, Tomboys Are NOT Like My Gender-bending Son

My middle child loves rainbows and unicorns, princesses and fairies, purple and pink. And, no, he is NOT just like your tomboy.

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I recently went to a coffee shop and saw a birthday tea party underway. Grade school girls in pastel hued tulle giggled and sipped. Then I spotted her: the tomboy. She sported a button-up dress shirt with a suit vest and matching slacks, her hair pulled back into a ponytail beneath a fedora. She looked fierce! I wanted to find her parents and hug them. Then it happened. I realized my son would never be granted such leniency in social norms. A second grade girl in a suit is far different than her male classmate in a dress. And the jealousy overcame me in a full-on internal tantrum of, “It’s not fair!” “And why can she but not he?”

It wasn’t my prettiest moment. But, at least I kept it all inside.

I love that there’s a surge in pro-woman, strong-is-sexy, intelligence-glam, STEM-focused female empowerment. It’s long overdue! Women deserved flexibility to be, pursue, live, and dress as they are so inclined. But men deserve that as well.

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Girls t-shirts with “Smart and Powerful” as opposed to “Pretty Cute” slogans, Ninja Turtle tutu outfits and superhero gear in the girls section, dresses covered in dinosaurs and robots, primary colors instead of pink hues, boxy cut shirts and longer shorts (an aim for mobility over femininity)… fantastic! I love it. Blurring lines between the socially constructed gender lines should have been done decades ago.

However, the boys have not been granted the same flexibility. No Disney princess T’s or pink sparkle tennies. No “mermaids are for everyone” slogans or ballet themed pajamas. Girls are allowed — if not encouraged — to venture into the land of socially deemed “masculine interests” (hello, the entire plot of “Mulan”), but boys are not escorted into “female” territory.

A girl can play sports, refuse skirts, rock a pixie cut and be labeled as a “rebel”, a “badass”, a “tomboy.” A boy does ballet, wears a dress, and grows his hair long and he’s called into the counselor’s office. He’s labeled as “confused”, “wussy”, “different”, and many words I refuse to grant space on my blog. Yes, the girl may suffer bullying and social pressures to conform but, in all likelihood, it won’t touch what a gender-bending boy will experience. Not by a long shot.

The line of acceptability is moved much farther back for girls than it is for boys. The repercussions are swifter, bigger, more socially accepted, and far more dangerous for boys. And it’s not fair.

As a wise friend once said, and I paraphrase (because I cannot remember the names of people I see every day at carpool, no less a paragraph once spoken): It’s rooted in a sexist society, this notion that being female or feminine is lesser. It is through this lens that girls aiming to be more masculine is acceptable, whereas the inverse is unacceptable.

What a thought, right?! Do we devalue women and femininity so much so that we consider the desire to aspire to “femininity” immoral, wrong, treacherous? We consider the souls so inclined to be broken, wrong, or misguided because “Why would you ever want to be remotely feminine?” I hope not.

Women are strong. We have to be! We put up with endless limits, demands, expectations, and dangers that men never even consider. Why would a boy wanting to emulate what society deems feminine be anything but a compliment… a tribute to the ferocity of the feminine?

Often former tomboys or parents of tomboys attempt to parallel their lives with ours in order to empathize with our experience with my gender-bending son. Though I genuinely appreciate the emotional efforts, our experiences are not the same. I truly, genuinely wish they were. I ache for it to be so in my scared, proud, joyful, protective, worried mama heart, I do. But it’s not. Maybe one day it will be the same for all children.

Until then, I will continue loving, supporting, disciplining, preparing, enjoying, and fighting for my child. I will continue to survive and savor parenthood one day at a time.

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What I Ate: Gluten-Free Vegan Edition

“But what do you EAT?” People ask when they discover my dietary restrictions. I am a dairy-allergic, gluten-intolerant vegan with dairy- and peanut-allergic kids. Food restrictions are rampant here.

But, really, though. What do I eat? I start my day off simply with tea and easily digestible whole foods grazed upon in a specific order that allows for a comfortable belly and a well-fueled day. My biggest meal — lunch — is leftovers, as I purposefully make extras for our dinner to allow for easy heat-and-eat lunches. Next, I sip some tea, have a plant-based dinner, then snack while watching a show with The Hubs. Scroll on down and see products and recipes from a typical day of food.

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5:50AM- Green tea and a banana Plain and simple is the way I have found I need to start my day. Banana seems to be the easiest thing on my tummy in the morning. So this is how I fuel my morning yoga.

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6:20AM- Green tea and raw almonds The banana provides a soothing base layer to my belly, so a handful of almonds can land right on top as filling fuel.

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8:50AM- Homemade kombucha and a Clementine I used to drink my “bucha”, as my kids call it, in the afternoon, but I’ve found mornings to be an even better fit for this probiotic powerhouse. (This day, I foolishly let the kids see me sipping… they stole half of my kombucha and my clementine. Scavengers!)

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11:40AM- Leftovers for lunch (Morrocan-style split pea stew with rice) There’s no real recipe for this slow-cooking but flavorful plant-based dish, beyond a crap-ton of herbs and spices simmered with some food staples. I added chopped onion to a large pot greased with olive oil then tossed in 5 cloves of minced garlic. I let that cook, then stirred in 5 chopped carrots, a handful of white mushrooms (chopped), 1lb of soaked split peas, a hearty dose of coconut aminos, and — after a few minutes — a container of vegetable broth. Then came the seasonings: salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, coriander, chili powder, cumin, and a hefty helping of cinnamon. I let the mixture boil for 5 minutes, reduced it to a simmer, and let it cook until the split peas were tender. I served it over rice. (This would freeze beautifully and works great for meal prepping.)

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12:15PM- Green tea This is “rest time” in our house and, considering how active our days are, we ALL need it. The boys watch a show or play in their rooms while I sip my tea. It eventually descends into raucous, of course, but we keep trying!

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5:00PM- Lettuce wrapped taco with spiced corn Lentils + Beyond Meat Feisty Crumble make this gluten-free, plant-based taco filling. Lettuce cups serve as the shell for the taco filling, diced tomato, Go Veggie Vegan Shredded Cheddar cheez, and “sour cream” (Just Mayo mixed with apple cider vinegar.) For the side dish, I heated frozen corn with Earth Balance Soy-Free Buttery Spread, salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin. Then I heated a bag of frozen riced caulifower. I mixed the warm veggies with chilled pico de gallo and served.

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8:00PM- Plentil chips This is my indulgence time. I don’t  (and can’t) eat many packaged foods or treats, so after the kids are in bed, this is my treat. I often nosh on popcorn or gluten-free vegan chips while lounging on the sofa catching up on shows and chatting with The Hubs. It’s my reward at the end of the day.

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This is what I eat in a day. What do you eat?

Mommy, Why Can’t We Be Who We Want To Be?

“You can be anything you want to be!” We tell our children. We’re liars. And I just got called out on that lie… by my 5-year-old.

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Driving back from figure skating lessons, minivan smelling of stale snack crumbs and indescribable child funk, my 5-year old middle child sat in his car seat stroking the fluffy aqua mane on his rainbow unicorn bike helmet cradled in his spindly lap. He wished for this helmet, a replacement for his old toddler-size fireman-printed helmet, and happily sported it immediately after opening it on his birthday morning just the week before. Rainbows, unicorns, mermaids, princesses, fairies… those are his jam. Firemen, though cool, carry no spark for him.

“Do you want to keep doing figure skating?” I ask him, knowing the new class session sign-up starts soon. “Uh-huh.” He replied with that distant hint of unsaid words. “What’s up? Do you still like it?” I asked him. “No, I do,” he answered, “but I want to do ballet too.” “OK,” I respond, wondering how I’d fit yet another extracurricular into our packed schedule and tight budget, “that could actually help your ice skating, just like your sister’s yoga practice helps her Tae Kwon Do.” He smiled.

“I want to be in the ‘Nutcracker’!” He exclaimed. I tell him that one of the benefits of being a boy ballet dancer is that there are fewer boys than girls who do ballet, so there’s less competition for male parts. “When you try out,” I said, “you’re way more likely to get the part of the Nutcracker than a girl dancer would be to get the part of Clara.” He sighed like a deflating hot air balloon. I glanced in the rearview mirror. He. Was. Gutted.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. He looked up teary-eyed, “I don’t WANT to be the Nutcracker.” That’s when I realized the problem. He didn’t just want to do ballet, he wanted to wear the tutus and the pointe shoes and the pink. He wanted to be Clara, the Sugarplum Fairy, anyone but a dull, masculine Nutcracker. Crap.

“Well, when you try out for parts you dance in front of judges and they tell you what part you’ll play, if any. You don’t really have a say,” I told him, his wide blue eyes looking at my reflection in the rearview mirror. “They usually have the boys play boy parts and girls play girl parts,” I explained. He sighed.

Then, in exasperated disappointment, he unknowingly shot a verbal bullet: “But, Mommy, why can’t we be who we want to be?” Gut punch. Knife stab-and-turn right there. Ugh! I’m done. Can I tap out? Please? Can someone else handle this conversation, ’cause the only thing getting me through it is that we’re doing this in the car and not face-to-face.

Mama tears welled hot in my eyes and stung as I sniffed and shook them into submission. “I’m sorry,” I said, “it’s not fair. It’s just kind of how the world is right now. Maybe it’ll get better in time.” And that’s all I could promise him. A “maybe”, “in time.” How f’ing lame is that?!

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Can a mother’s love fix a broken heart? Can a father’s support mend a wounded spirit? Can a big sister’s protection shield from bullies? Can a little brother’s admiration eradicate the closet? Can family acceptance ward against self-loathing, self-harm… or worse? Can a few supportive friends enable you to except you as you?

I don’t know. But it’s all we’ve got in this world that won’t let us be who we want to be. Yet.

I See You, Mama

I see you, mama. The young woman struggling with unexplained infertility. The woman who’s suffered years of unwanted childlessness. The woman who for years prevented pregnancy but, now, cannot conceive. The woman who always dreamed of being a mother but whose dreams may never be. The woman whose friends and relatives are popping out babies, both planned and not. The woman who must hide her struggle from the world, undergo invasive and humiliating tests. The woman who is told, “Just stop caring about it and you’ll get pregnant.” The woman others ask, “When will you have a baby?” Or say, “You could just adopt.” The woman who feels broken and betrayed by her own body. The woman who must smile through it all and pretend everything is ok… even though it’s not. I see you.

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I see you, mama. The expectant first-time mom both giddy and terrified, overwhelmed with tsunamis of unsolicited advice and the crushing weight of all you don’t and can’t yet know. The pregnant woman whose body and life and needs and hormones are changing moment by moment and nothing feels like her own. The rounding mama would is exhausted and puffy, sick and unable to even look at toast, contracting and sleepless, leaking and flatulant. The woman who is told she cannot complain or grimace despite her daily discomforts, because she is fortunate to be pregnant. The woman who others openly judge for everything from drinking coffee to wearing high heels, dying her hair to sporting a bikini. The mother-to-be who looks ahead at the impending birth with determined eyes and a game plan, tearful worry and pure hope, rattling prayer beads and terror. I see you.

I see you, mama. The new mom who is more exhausted than she ever knew possible, leaking from places she didn’t know she could, losing herself to the 24-hour beautiful struggle of new motherhood. The woman who looks in the mirror — thinning hair tied up in a nest, dark wrinkling bags beneath vacant bloodshot eyes, breastmilk stains over each swollen breast, belly puffed in a postpartum paunch, baby spit-up speckling her shirt — and wonders where she went. The mother who cries as her baby wails, not knowing how to console her child, doubting her own abilities, wondering if she made a huge mistake. The woman who looks at her partner and feels distain, for hormones and exhaustion, and stress, and self-crticism, and loss of self have clouded her love. The mother who coos over her beautiful child, takes all the photos, fills the baby book, hoards memories and mental images in her mind’s eye. The woman who struggles to nurse, cannot nurse, will not nurse, who drowns in the pain of overproduction. The mother who is addicted to the hormone high of her baby asleep on her chest. The mother who wishes she could love but cannot. The mother who is counting the days until she can return to work. The woman who sobs with each passing week, clawing to slow down time. I see you.

I see you, mama. The woman who knows her child is facing a struggle perhaps unseen. Who feels in her bones that something is not right. The mother who spends more time in hospitals than her home, more time pumping than holding her child, more time worrying than living, more time battling with insurance than talking with her partner. The woman who sees others’ children happy and healthy, growing and developing, connecting and learning. The mother who looks ahead and cries. The mother who worries. The mother who savors the small accomplishments with the delight of world-changing victories. The mother who feels alone in her struggle and wonders, “Why me?” The woman who finds a strength and ferocity within herself that she never knew possible. The mother who discovers a love stronger and more overwhelming than she ever knew possible. The mother who must plan and apologize, fight and cheer, hide tears and fake smiles, overcome and crumble under more than anyone she knows. The woman who never saw this coming. I see you.

I see you, mama. The mother of multiple children struggling with it all. Balancing and savoring, struggling and laughing. The woman who must do and be it all, all day everyday for everyone. The woman who is expected to give everything but give herself a break. The woman who is expected to know what she’s doing but still feels like she knows nothing. The mother who looks back at old pre-children photos and cannot recognize the person in the picture. The woman who wouldn’t trade her life for anything in the world, but would give anything for a vacation… and a solo trip to the bathroom. The mother who can (and does) discuss poop over lunch, who can dislodge a nasal-dwelling Cheerio in a single nostril squeeze, who plans everyone else’s birthday but forgets her own, who counts down the minutes to an evening out then misses her children as soon as she sees empty car seats in her rearview mirror. The woman who struggles to feel sexy, who identifies more as “mom” than her own name, who wonders if she’s doing any of this right. I see you.

I see you mama. The mother who lost a child in-utero, infancy, childhood, adulthood. The woman who doesn’t know how to answer, “How many children do you have?” The mother who aches with a hollowness in her heart, who struggles to find happiness, who strives to be whole… herself again. The mother who wonders what might have been. The woman who wonders, “Why me?” The mother who counts her blessings and her losses, who pushes forward while glancing back, whose heart will forever be partially broken no matter how full life makes it. I see you.

I see you mama. The mother who is unwell. Suffering emotional or physical pain, trying to be the mother she so deeply wants to be. The woman with unending guilt for her inabilities, her shortcomings. The mother who pushes herself too hard and puts herself last. The woman who pretends it’s all ok. The mother who feels alone in her struggles, who feels frustrated by her children, who is burdened with guilt for not being the mother she thinks her children deserve. The woman who wants the world for her children but can barely pour them a bowl of cereal. The mother who struggles, who tries, who sometimes loses. The mother who loves but feels love is not enough. The mother who cannot see or feel her own worth. I see you.

I see you, mama. The shy mother who craves a village. The woman who feels isolated. Who wonders how others learned to make friends but she has no idea how. The mother who sees mom cliques on the playground and wishes she could join one. The woman whose belly jitters with anxiety and mind rattles with insecurity when approached by a fellow mom. The mother who has to gather her wits to arrange a playdate for her child, who wishes birthday parties were not a thing. The mother who wants just one good friend with whom she could truly be herself. Who hopes her child does not struggle as she has. The mother standing alone. I see you.

I see you, mama. The fit mom, the styled mom, the mom who everyone thinks is perfect. The one with the handsome husband, lovely home, beautiful children, and hoards of friends and followers. The mother whose family is always pristinely dressed. The one who pushes herself to do it all… lead the P.T.A., be classroom mom, make all of the Pinterest crafts, be Instagram perfection, look the part always, be her best. The woman who cringes at the thought of posting a non-smiling photo or sharing anything but the glory reel of life. The overachieving woman who never feels adequate. Who constantly feels exhausted but cannot let on, who hides life’s realities for fear of judgment (her own and others’), who creates a facade to tell herself she’s happy. The “perfect” woman who tries and gives and does but does not feel it is ever enough. I see you.

I see you, mama. The mom who pushes through every day giving and doing, comforting and disciplining, planning and playing. The woman who smiles wide, laughs hard, loves deep, and hugs warm. The mother who tucks her children into bed at night and lies awake exhausted, mentally replaying her day, battering herself with mom guilt. “Why did I yell so much?” “Why didn’t I do that with the kids?” “They had too much screen time.” “Am I consistent enough?” “Are they eating enough vegetables?” “Why didn’t I do better?” “Am I doing anything right?”  The mother who loves so much it hurts. The woman who gives until she breaks. The mother who will do it all again tomorrow. I see you.

I see you, mama. The career-driven mom, the reluctant working-mom, the stay-at-home mom, the mom who wants to work, the single mom, I see you. The breastfeeding mom, the formula-feeding mom, the donor milk recipient mom, the struggling mom, I see you. The lonely mom, the grateful mom, the aspiring mom, the passionate mom, the fun mom, the peaceful mom, the mom who’s trying, I see you. The tired mom, the energetic mom, the young mom, the “old” mom, the experienced mom, the first-time mom, the mom who knows all, the mom who wishes she knew, I see you.

I see you, mama. You’re not alone. My love to you.