The Sting of Mis-gendering

So… preferred pronouns. A few years ago, I did not understand them. I didn’t balk, necessarily, (like some) but I didn’t get it. After yesterday, though, yeah. I do. At least from my own cis-gendered mom to a sparkly son perspective.

Yesterday was a day of frequent mis-gendering. None of it was bigoted or intentional, but innocently misguided. Now, I understand that my 6-year-old sparkly son was self-styled in feminine flair fabulousness, but it didn’t make the well-intentioned mis-gendering any less frustrating.

The first time a lovely librarian helped my son find a unicorn book. He’d asked me to help him in his search but I was in the middle of settling a Lego squabble at the block table between my littlest and another pint-sized builder. So, I recommended that my 6-year-old ask the kind librarian who was shelving books for guidance. Fearless as ever, he brushed a flyaway hair off of his brow and sashayed over to the librarian. A few minutes later, he happily returned with a book.

“What great book!” I responded when he happily showed me his find. “Thank you,” I said to the librarian who had resumed shelving duties nearby. The librarian smiled and replied, “She asked me for a unicorn book but that’s not my specialty so I looked around for her and we found one! I hope she likes it!” Despite the librarian’s kindness and warm smile, every mis-gendering pronoun landed like a bee sting to my heart. I struggled to hide my agitation and maintain my smile despite knowing my son just witnessed this entire exchange.

We’re used to this by now and it was a fleeting interaction, so — given that my son didn’t do the telling shirt tug and wide-eyed glance up at me reaction — I knew it wasn’t worth correction. I exhaled and shuddered, trying to release the unintentional offense.

Not 10 minutes later, my sparkly son approached an assistance desk. A young librarian with stunning red hair and a tiny nose ring that twinkled in the iridescent overhead lighting greeted him. My son drove right into his request; he wanted to open a library card for his little brother. My son looked across the children’s section to me and I smiled knowing he’d likely baffled the librarian with his request. “I don’t have I.D., Mommy.” He said locking eyes with me as he shrugged his delicate shoulders. “What? You didn’t bring your driver’s license?” I teased, nudging him with my elbow as I fished my license from my purse. I explained his request to the librarian. She asked my sparkly son his name. “We have the same name!” the librarian said kindly, not realizing that his name was the identically pronounced male version of her own. Then the librarian noted how brave “she” (referencing my sparkly son) was in approaching the desk on “her” own. Two rounds of bee stings in such a short time, ow!

My son hadn’t heard any of this last mis-gendering — thankfully — as he was too focused on finding a ballet book in the shelves nearby. I, on the other hand, was chafed by the two closely timed social stumbles. As this was a fleeting and understandable mistake that hadn’t impacted my child, I didn’t correct the librarian.

Shortly before leaving, I had a brief interaction with another patron who saw my three children and, upon seeing my middle son’s attire, witnessing his interest in ballet and unicorns, and seeing his floral-hued ensemble, logically assumed he was a second daughter of mine. She had complimented my littlest’s kind playing habits and I thanked her. She noted that he seemed to enjoy the blocks. (He was roaring around the block table while holding a Lego creation at that precise moment.) I commented that he had stereotypically “masculine” interests — trucks, dinosaurs, anything that destroys stuff — and she said, “all boys do!” I cocked my head to the side, entirely releasing my attempt to conceal my inner workings, and said, “Hmmmm. Both of my boys and my daughter are different from one another.” I smiled then continued, “It’s amazing how three kids can come out so differently. Same gene pool. Same playroom. Same home. All different.” The patron smiled and nodded, then we, in friendliness, went our different ways.

Our library adventure was positive experience as a whole, with kind librarians helping us at every turn. It’s a shame that the sting of mis-gendering sullied the outing.

Do I blame the individuals for assuming incorrectly that my son was a girl? No. Am I offended in some quietly sexist way that my SON was thought to be a DAUGHTER? No, absolutely not. Am I angry at those who unintentionally mis-gendered? No.

But I’m fed up. I was sick of having to accept the stings with a smile. I was exhausted being mama Canada goose constantly on guard to protect my child.

I’m frustrated and annoyed and sometimes, at the end of a long day of verbal bee stings, I just feel like inappropriately yelling at people who are doing the stinging. But that wouldn’t help anything. It would only leave a bitter taste in their mouth that may unfortunately linger and sully their next interaction with a gender-bending individual. And I can’t be responsible for that.

Still, it gets tiresome. It’s lonely.

I know only one other mom of a young boy who truly allows her child to sparkle when, where, and how HE chooses. This loneliness gets heavy.

And, full-disclosure, in some typically less liberal, generally unaccepting locales, my sparkly son’s unisex name and ability to “pass” as a female has offered us a safety bubble from potentially unsavory feedback. Those erroneous assumptions allow my son to frolic freely in his mermaid-unicorn top, pastel shorts, and carefully French braided cropped hair. Onlookers simply and incorrectly assume he is a petite little girl with an edgy haircut. Meanwhile, my husband and I look on with the protective inclinations Canada geese, ready to run in to his or nip if needed.

With all of this exposure to the intricacies and frustrations of what some may deem “microaggressions”, I have developed a greater understanding of the need, value, and reasons for “preferred pronouns.” Just because an individual strikes us as obviously fitting in one gender category or the other, solely due to our antiquated and faulty societal conditioning, it doesn’t mean we should impose our assumptions on that individual. We certainly shouldn’t regard ourselves as some sort of gendering judge whose assessments should be wholeheartedly accepted. Or, worse yet, consider our convenience and ego of such great importance that we should be able to make these assumptions without correction.

Prior to developing a growing understanding of preferred pronouns, I had a certain ego-check awareness. As confusing as all of the possible terms — him, her, per, they… — were, I knew full well that my own inability to understand the concept and necessity of preferred pronouns was not indicative the topic’s validity but was more so a reflection of my own reasoning and comprehension shortcomings. But life, in its usual tongue-in-cheek way, took hold and granted me lessons by way of personal experience to truly clarify the matter. Thanks??

One day I hope more families allow their children to shine when, where, and how they want to without fear of judgment or safety. One day I hope it becomes commonplace for more gender-neutral terms to be used and the gender variances are accepted more widely. One day I hope we’ll be better humans.

We are but in the infancy of this movement towards bettering ourselves as a community. I have hope for one day.

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Easy Ways I Save Money and the Earth Every Day

Going green needn’t be expensive or complicated. One small effort at a time can add up to a significant impact. And saving the earth and your money can most certainly go hand-in-hand. Here are eight easy ways I save green while going green every day.

1. Washcloths instead of paper towels: Years ago, I ran across a Pinterest post of some fastidiously fashioned cloth “paper towel” roll made up of matching cloth rags that snapped together and formed a tidy roll. That creative idea was inspiring yet intimidating. With less than zero sewing talent, I knew that creating such a roll was beyond me. So, assuming that was the only way to swap out wasteful paper towels, I moved on. Then, an embarrassingly long amount of time later, it finally dawned on me: my substitute for paper towels didn’t have to look like paper towels, it just needed to be absorbent! And so a bin of washcloths came to live on my counter and the roll of paper towels was tucked beneath the countertop to discourage use and wean my paper-towel-loving husband from the preference. Trees saved. Money saved.

2. Cloth instead of paper napkins; One day as I wrote, “paper napkins” on my shopping list, I realized that I was literally throwing money away. I was buying a plastic-wrapped brick of disposable, single-use paper napkins when I could, instead, use cloth. At first, the idea of having something else to wash and fold made me hesitate, but now, it’s a non-issue. I just toss the cotton squares into the washer when they’re dirty. No special treatment. No ironing. No wasted money.

3. Reusable sandwich bags: I have a variety of reusable snack and sandwich bags. Some are cloth with tidy zippers, some are translucent silicone with a resealable top, some are more envelope-like and resemble cloth diapers — but swath sandwiches not baby bums — with hook-and-loop closures. I just toss the cloth bags in the clothes washer after use — with 3 kids and a husband who bikes or kayaks daily, there’s always laundry spinning in the machines — whereas the silicone bags simply require a quick hand wash and air dry. Easy, cheap, and plastic-free!

4. Silicone freezer bags: As a former breastmilk-pumping mom, I have a tried and true process for storing and freezing liquids. Soups, curries, sauces, stews… pour into a bag, squeeze out the air, seal, freeze it on its side, and — tada! — stackable frozen food bricks! The problem: wastefulness and expense. Freezer bags add up and they’re not free in their monetary or environmental impact. So, what do I do? I use silicone freezer bags. They’re a smidge smaller than the standard gallon size disposable variety, but just grab two and you’re golden. They’re easy to clean and last for countless reuses. They’re undeniably more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly than their plastic counterparts. They’re sturdy too… no more surprise leaks while thawing dinner!

5. Homemade veggie broth: As a gluten-free vegan mom of three who uses vegetable broth instead of oil to cook and eats raw most days until dinnertime, I use a significant amount of vegetables daily. I used to spend a small fortune on packaged vegetable broth every week, but now it’s practically free! Every time I haul out the cutting board, I grab my silicone freezer bag, and pop any produce scraps into the bag. I add to the frozen collection until a bag or two are full, then dump the frigid contents into my Instant Pot; cover the scraps with water; add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a bay leaf; then cover and cook on the “soup” setting. After the broth has cooled a bit, I pour the broth through a strainer into a large bowl, quickly mash the cooked scraps in the strainer to release any extra liquid, then pour the broth into jars to refrigerate and use all week. The mashed scraps go in the backyard for the wildlife and are generally gone by the end of the day. Veggie broth from scraps, easy!

6. Water bottles: I drink a lot of water. So much so that those little mini pod-style water bottles are but one sip for me. That said, carrying around my own refillable water bottle is key. My kids have one bottle for home, one for going out, and one for bed. This saves both money and the earth.

7. Cloth produce bags: grocery cashiers LOVE this one! I’ve received unexpected compliments from a handful of cashiers already on this easy habit. Instead of placing my produce into plastic bags, I grab my produce, weigh it, print a label, stick it to the side of my reusable cloth bag, then add the produce to the bag. Depending upon the size/weight of the item, I may have 3-4 types of produce — each with it’s own label stuck to the side of the bag for easy scanning at the register — in a single bag. It makes check-out and grocery unloading much easier. And no wasteful plastic bags!

8. Old t-shirts to produce bags: For my frozen and shelf-stable grocery purchases, I use sturdier reusable bags, but for my produce I use all kinds of assorted small bags. One type being, my hand-made bags that formerly lived as t-shirts. I simply take an old tank top or t-shirt, snip off any sleeves, then stitch up the bottom. Now, my sewing skills are so tragic that I’m not sure if my stitching can actually be categorized as “sewing”, but even I can do this. If you have a sewing machine or trusted seam glue, go for it! Easy peezy free produce bag!

As the candid low-waste, frugal, vegan, mom-of-three YouTuber, The Fairly Local Vegan, often states, it’s better to have a lot of people living a low-waste life imperfectly than to have a handful of people living it perfectly. I am far from perfect in my efforts to be environmentally conscious. Sometimes convenience just wins out, or sometimes I forget to bring a reusable bag, or my kid forgets his water bottle. But I just keep trying.

As you incorporate green efforts into your life, do what works for you given your present life, circumstances, and priorities. Forget about what everyone is (or claims to be) doing. Do what works for you, because that’s the only way it’ll be sustainable.

Bikini Body Revisited

I’m doing it again! Bikinis.

Yep, those scars are mine. My proof of life, of survival, of being beautifully human. And I refuse to hide them.

That’s right, no one-pieces for me. Not even when Endometriosis bloats my belly or when decades-old internal monologues pelt me with insults. But why?

Am I doing to to get attention? Am I doing it to show off my physique? Am I doing it to keep my diet in check? Nope. I’m doing it for my children.

I had four abdominal surgeries, three close-in-age children, breastfed my three offspring well beyond their first year, pumped breastmilk for donation that fed 30 other babies… this body has WORKED. This body has lived and struggled. This body has scars and strength, imperfections and curves, wrinkles and stories. This body deserves not to be hidden under sweaty layers of sandy lycra or regarded as “unworthy.” If it is a divine creation, it should be treated as such, with joyful celebration.

My children — my sons and my daughter — deserve to know that this is the body of a 36-year-old mom of three. That scars are not to be hidden but to be worn as badges of honor, because they mean I survived. That stretch marks are indicators of growth and life. That what makes us different makes us beautiful. That we shouldn’t hide ourselves out of fear of judgment and certainly never out of shame.

My children deserve to know that they should be proud of their own bodies and their own uniqueness. That they should accept others’ individual forms with loving appreciation. Because one day my children will have scars and stretch marks and individualities on their bodies. Because my children will encounter others with their own visible stories. Because one day they may love others whose bodies are different from their own, in one way or another. And I never want my children to regard those sacred memorials of life with anything other than love.

And as much as I’d love to communicate this message to my children from the flaw-hiding comfort of a perfectly ruched one-piece, how can I possibly effectively communicate this message of body acceptance if I am hiding my own frame? If I don’t demonstrate this, live this, and embody this, I cannot expect my children to love themselves and others without aesthetic prejudice. And, so, I must live it unabashedly myself. I must be an example. In a bikini.

When Memorial Day rolled around and Endometriosis had bloated my belly and winter stolen my tan, I truly wanted to reneg on my own self-imposed rule. Just for this summer. But I couldn’t. My children deserved better. I could do better. I had to be better.

So I put on my bikini and my smile. I ran and played and dug in the sun-warmed sand. And it was wonderful.

I wear a bikini because I want my children to see that THIS is a human body, a mother’s body, a real body. That THIS body, too, is beautiful. That THIS body is worthy of being shown and honored not in spite of, but because of, its imperfections.