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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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.

I Am Worthy: Bikini Body Vow

After having three kids in under four years, after turning 35, after having four abdominal surgeries, I thought bikinis were off limits. Then I realized I was being an idiot.

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When I see women and girls of all ages and sizes, shapes and forms baring it in a bikini, I appreciate them and their individual beauty. Scars, cellulite, wrinkles, stretch marks, rolls, rib bones, freckles, skin variations… it doesn’t matter what the wearer looks like, I think she’s fabulous. I have yet to see a bikini wearer and think she is unworthy of the ensemble. So why did I deem myself unworthy?

I told myself I was too scarred, too imperfect, too “Mom” for a bikini. I knew how physically comfortable bikinis were but how mentally challenging they could be (especially now that I didn’t constantly have a crying/sleeping/cuddling/nursing baby blocking my midsection from view.) Yet one-pieces didn’t feel right either, and were way too uncomfortable. I’d look at matronly maillots and moan, but see a two-piece and think: “I can’t wear that.” Until I asked myself: “Why not?”

Why was everyone else a reasonable bikini body candidate except for me? Why did I berate myself whenever I donned a two-piece? Why was I unworthy?

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Because I had scars? Because I was insecure? Because I was imperfect? Because I was a mom? But aren’t those the exact reasons I SHOULD wear a bikini?

Being scarred meant I’d survived. I’d lived. That my body had surpassed hurdles and won. Did I really want to hide that? Did I want my children to think that their own scars were ugly? That these signs of life should be hidden? Did I want my children to view themselves or others as lesser because of their external marks?

No.

Being imperfect was being human. Being imperfect was being unique. Individual. I told my children to take pride in their individuality. Should I not value my own? Could my children  truly honor their own uniqueness if their mother lamented and hid her own?

No!

Being insecure meant I should counter my desire to hide my perceived imperfections and, instead, love them if not simply accept them. Society tells us that surgical scars are grotesque, that stretch marks are unattractive, that an imperfect midsection is unworthy of exposure. Did I want to impart those demeaning messages onto my children?

NO!

Being a mom meant I needed the utilitarianism of a two-piece bathing suit (Hello, peeing in a public pool restroom with a toddler resting his fingers on the door lock!) It meant I likely required a different size top and bottom. It meant I’d earned every damn stretch mark and scar I had. It meant this body didn’t just do… it MADE. This body grew and birthed three lives, sustained those lives through breastmilk for a minimum of a year and a half each, and nourished 30 other babies through peer-to-peer milk donation. Was that achievement not to be celebrated? Did I want to show my children that the remnants of their creation, the souvenirs of their births, the signs of their nourishment were shameful? Should I indicate that the raw strength and soft beauty of a postpartum body are to be concealed? To be hidden in disgust?

NO!!

Realizing the idiocy of it all, I said: SCREW SOCIETY! Heck, screw myself for believing that slop and imposing it on myself! I made a vow to myself — for my children — that I would wear only bikini bathing suits (no one-pieces) all summer in order to show to them and myself that all bodies are beautiful, that scars are a sign of survival — of life lived –, that moms are beautiful too.

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At first I felt jittery with my midriff bared at the pool and then at the beach. I had to silence that internal voice telling me others were judging. I reminded myself: so what if they were! That’s their problem, not mine. Others’ thoughts — perceived or real — were none of my business and shouldn’t confine me.

Day after summery day, I became more comfortable. More confident. I was content in my own skin. I rocked my scars. I shrugged off any jiggle. I smiled at the stretch marks. I owned my physique. I was standing as an example for my children to accept themselves and others as beautiful individuals. I was happy.

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I don’t want my children feeling lesser because of their scars; I want them to rock them as badges of honor! I don’t want my children feeling ashamed of their bodies; I want them to cherish them as gorgeously unique vessels! I want my children to appreciate others’ uniqueness as well. Because we’re all different. And different is beautiful. Scars, sags, stretch marks, and all.

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I’m a 35-year-old mom with scars and, yes, I wear a bikini. Because I’m scarred. Because I’m imperfect. Because I’m a mom. Because I’m worthy.

What I do When Life Goes Sideways

As I tell my kids — especially my middle son who has a phenomenal gift for getting himself and things stuck in bizarre places — “If the way you’re doing something isn’t working, try doing it a different way.” Life is always going to throw curveballs — especially when there are kids involved — so what’s my hack?

1) Choose a different path.

2) Laugh.

It may seem simple but if you’re unaccustomed to the practice, it will take time and repetition to ingrain it as second nature. Let me use my own nutty life for example.

Yesterday was a sideways day, but instead of bemoaning it, I stayed flexible and laughed. When plan after plan for family activities went awry, when my endometriosis pain flared, I looked for a different path. Then I found a way to laugh.

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(In case you’re wondering, lunch was homemade broccoli slaw Beyond Meat vegan and gluten-free “sausage”, and grilled corn)

Today we rented a family paddle boat and ate a picnic lunch on the lake. All was going well until we were surrounded by a flock of fearsome feathered foe. You guessed it: Canada Geese. Ferocious beasts.

One brazenly stole a corn cob right from my 5-year-old’s hand! My 5-year-old sat slack jawed in shock. My 6-year-old screeched and crawled up the seat. My 3-year-old, husband, and I laughed. Needless to say what was “supposed to be” a peaceful paddle boat picnic turned into my husband and I laughing and feverishly pedaling the unresponsive Titanic of a dingy away from hungry geese while our 6-year-old hid her lunch and shrieked. The outing was a pure fail in its efforts to relax but it was an epic win for making a hilarious (well, for all except our 6-year-old) memory.

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The day continued on — geese left behind at the lake to harass other paddlers — when endometriosis pain flared again (this was day 2 of discomfort.) I knew I needed to take a beat. (Though I can only do this temporarily or else I feel worse. I am better when I am up and distracted. It’s like a mental game: if I act or look ill, I feel ill but if I act or look well, I feel (comparatively) well.) So I was a human car racing track for my toddler for a bit and then back to life: TO THE POOL!

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We arrived at the pool — suited, lotioned, and snacks ready — only to find it was closed due to thunder. So we devised another plan: SLIP-AND-SLIDE!

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I felt my endometriosis pain starting to rile my frustrations, so I knew I needed to change course. I dove in. Yep, 35-year-old me fully clothed sliding down a lubricated tarp in our yard. Classy? No. Medicinal? You bet! And that worked well until thunder rolled again and again making it clear indoors was the place to be. New plan: INDOOR PLAYGROUND!

We swiftly peeled off our wet swimsuits in favor of dry clothes then into the car we went. 20 minutes later, we arrived. The indoor play place was closed. I looked up the next indoor play option: also closed. Ugh! Right? No. Plan D: HAIRCUTS!

My middle son’s hair had transitioned from chic to shaggy and my littlest’s natural rat-tail was looking rather twangy. So, a trim was due. We drove just down the road to the hair salon: booked solid. I spotted another option across the shopping center. We scampered over. The hairdresser stopped me before I could even sign in warning me of the long wait. Well, Plan E it was. SMOOTHIES!

Our herd of five exited the air-conditioned store and were engulfed in the hot swampy breath of Mid-Atlantic summer. Then we notice it was raining. Seemed fitting. We laughed at the continuity of our misadventures. On we walked.

We arrived a tad soggy at the smoothie place, my curly hair now double its usual girth, but the store was open, there was no line, and it was serving beverages. Win!

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The Hubs doing a little smoothie stealing trickery

There we sat, kids slurping pureed fruit while perched on bar-height stools. And we laughed. It wasn’t the afternoon we had planned, but it was the one we had. And that’s all that mattered. That and the laughter.

If life doesn’t go your way find a new path and laugh. It’ll be worth it.

3 Things Every Parent Should Know About the Baby Stage

For 6 years I had a toddler or infant in the house. Now, nearing my 7th year as a parent — with a newly minted 3-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a nearly-7-year-old — I can reflect with greater clarity on that precious, wholly exhausting, messy, beautiful time. In doing so I’ve discovered 3 important things every parent should know about the baby stage.

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1. EVERYTHING IS TEMPORARY. If you haven’t yet learned that every single stage, phase, good time, rough patch, annoying habit, and terrifying challenge is temporary, you’re most certainly new to the parenting game. As soon as you gloat about your child’s brilliance at creating 3-word sentences well ahead of developmental norms, they’re licking the storefront window. As soon as you feel like your child will never poop in the potty, the digestive dilemma is no more. As soon as you wonder when you’ll ever get your body back, your child weans. As soon as you really begin enjoying the morning cuddle routine, it’s over and replaced with another habit. As soon as you begin to think you will never again not be a heap of saggy, leaking, oddly pillow-like human randomly crying into your 3-day-old breastmilk stained pajamas in a mixture of fear, deep sadness, exhaustion, and raging postpartum hormones, you exit the hole. As soon as you think, “Will these needy, week-long days ever end?” They’re over. All of it comes to an end; positive and challenging. And you may loathe reading this if you’re presently in the parenting trenches with no light peeking above your laundry piles of spit-up and diaper-blowout stained onesies, but it’s true: it goes fast — faster than you can ever imagine — these are the good, hard (incredibly hard), long, worthwhile days.

2. IT GETS WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER. Think of most any developmental leap, milestone, or change and you can pretty much guarantee that things took a nose dive before the ride got smoother. Potty-training: a regression is bound to happen before you’re in dry pants territory. Sleeping: you’re going to hit (multiple) regressions and blips before you get some semblance of solid sleep. Walking: they go from speedy independent all-fours (or some variant) mobility to a rickety, slow gait before a sturdy walk is established. The first high fever bug: that thermometer reading has to keep going up and up (along with your blood pressure) until it eventually inches down. And afterwards, all of that stress and worry and strain remains as nothing but a memory. So know that if you’re at a parenting point when you end each day exhausted in all ways, doubting yourself and your abilities, feeling frustrated and stressed beyond what you ever knew possible, and wondering:”Will this ever end?” Know it will. And trust that this is just the precursor to improvement.

3. IT’S SURVIVABLE AND SAVORABLE You will have days when you lower your personal performance bar to such a degree that you refuse to be witnessed by any outsiders… your goal is survival. That’s ok. Those days (or a week) are normal. Nope, you’re not a failure. Nope, you’re not doing anything or everything wrong. Yep, it happens to everyone — EVERYONE — just people don’t admit it. But amidst it all, you can find a way to savor it. Savor your child’s smile in between tantrums or the sweetness of your child’s finally sleeping face or your own strength for being there despite everything going sideways. You may read this in the thick of things and think I’m full of it, but just try it: savor it. I’m not saying relish the crappy moments. No, those can stay sucky. I’m saying ignore the big picture of awful and appreciate the snapshots of good. In those tiny hidden moments you’ll find something to savor. There’s always something, no matter how small. Just look for it. Squint if you need to.

In no time at all you’ll be looking back on where you’ve been and think, “Wow, that was a shitshow, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” This is your life, your child’s life; don’t wish it away for what it isn’t. Don’t ignore all the pitfalls and spin it into what it never was. Dig in and appreciate it for what it is.

Survive it. Savor it. One day at a time.

The Day I Failed

Have you ever had days when you failed? Times when you feel like a completely incapable parent who — despite trying moment after moment, day after long day — you can’t shake the fear that you’re failing your child? Well, I have.

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Yesterday was rough. It started out fine enough with the usual morning blips: “He took my toy!” “He’s sitting in my seat!” Standard sibling stuff. Then the day spun into afternoon and the brief firecracker bad decisions morphed into waves of whining and misbehavior, not listening and blatantly ignoring threatened consequences. It culminated in me hauling my 5-year-old offender out of the local family concert in a football hold (aka: “the carry of shame”) and to the minivan while my husband, 3-year-old, and 6-year-old stayed to dance and play in the sun.

My middle child squirmed and shrieked in protest against the car seat harness, his consequence. Meanwhile, I sat in the driver’s seat unable to fully focus on his lamentations as I was audience to an internal shaming of my own.

I replayed the entire day, focusing on each time I reprimanded, discussed, scolded, incentivized, redirected, threatened, complimented, and yelled at him. I couldn’t determine what to do differently. I felt helpless. I felt like a failure.

“Adults who make bad decisions are unhappy but adults who make good decisions are happy,” I tell my children, “and I want to help you learn how to make good decisions so that you can be happy adults.” “The world,” I remind them, “has consequences, and so Mommy does too. If you make good decisions, good things happen; if you make bad decisions, bad things happen.” I give them the power to choose their destiny, in a sense, through decision-making. Just like life does, but for now they’re learning in the relative safety of my cocoon.

My eldest knows this speech backwards and forwards. She often retells it to her younger brothers when they misbehave. My youngest prides himself in making “good a-cisions”, as his 3-year-old tongue pronounces it. My 5-year-old presently does not care.

I know my bright, creative, and kind 5-year-old is capable of making good choices and selecting reason over impulse. His teachers note how well-behaved he is in school. But right now he’s not.

“You’re a smart boy who can make good decisions,” I calmly remind my middle son multiple times daily, “make good decisions.” But he doesn’t! Rational me who has parented a 5-year-old before knows it’s the age. Reasonable me knows this is healthy and good… a sign of appropriate development. But mom me is sick of it. Emotional me feels like a failure whose setting her child up for a future of bad decisions, squandered opportunities, burnt relationships, and turmoil. Mom guilt is a bitch.

Then, during evening circle time it all changed. After completing her own circle time share, my eldest asked me to do my circle time after my middle and youngest children had retreated to a sudsy bath. In accordance with our circle time formula, I noted my three dislikes of the day, my three likes, and then I sighed and shared the one thing I would’ve done differently: I wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated with my middle child. “I don’t like yelling at you guys,” I told my daughter. And she smiled. She smiled in this knowing, kind way that stole my breath for a moment. “I know, Mommy. You’re trying your best and you are doing a good job. You NEED to do that so that he can learn to make good decisions.” It was as if all of my internal reason had gotten so frustrated being ignored in my own head that it spilled out through my 6-year-old’s mouth.

I hugged her and thanked her. I ended circle time with the last sharing point: what I was looking forward to tomorrow.

And told myself that tomorrow would be a better day.

10 Pros and Cons of Having Close-in-Age Kids

I had 3 kids in under 4 years. My three kids were so close in age that I didn’t have a single menstrual cycle for 5 years (win!!) Of course, I also didn’t have a full REM sleep cycle for about that long. As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to having closely spaced pregnancies.

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1) Pro: Shared interests. Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, Disney pricesses, kid concerts, indoor playgrounds… when your herd is close-in-age they share the same interests. Not only does this often make their bond stronger (at least in the young years), but this makes everything from playdates to day trips, birthday gifts to vacation planning a bit easier.

Con: Everyone’s a Spitfire. When your whole crew is in tantrum territory life is a minefield. Meals out are a gamble. Religious services are treacherous. Art museums are off limits. Grocery shopping is a three-ring circus. Travel is stressful. Needless to say, you quickly learn the law of 2/3: only 2/3 of your family will be happy at any given time. The extra fun part: the pleased vs. displeased campers can (and will) change without notice.

2) Pro: No Sleep. Once you get past the first indescribably torturous month of sheer sleepless exhaustion of your first baby, things get easier. You learn how to cope with less sleep than you ever imagined possible. (Seriously, you will laugh at how you could’ve ever claimed to feel “exhausted” pre-kids.) Once you get REM sleep it’s harder to live without it. This means it’s far easier to just be tired and stay tired than to taste the addictive drug of REM sleep only to have it ripped away from you. The sleeplessness of subsequent newborns isn’t nearly as painful as it was the first time around when you’re already running on empty.

Con: No Sleep. That’s right, it’s both a pro and a con! When all of your littles are little, so is your sleep accrual. Rising feeling well-rested is a thing of the past and (seemingly unforeseeable) distant future. You may go to bed early to make up for some of the lost Zs, but you have no control over your sleep pattern.

Pro: Diapers Days. When you’re already used to buying and changing diapers, adding another bundle’s bum to the mix isn’t a big deal. Same goes for scheduling around nap routines, carrying a hefty diaper bag, being accustomed to a easy-care-only wardrobe, having a baby-/toddler-proofed home, expecting tantrums, potty-training, and owning kid-safe dinnerware.  You’re already in that phase, so might as well keep it rolling.

Con: Diaper Debt. Diapers add up… and so do wipes. It gets pricey shielding the world (and your home) from multiple incontinent kiddos. Having multiple kids in the same helpless life stage can be challenging — buckling and unbuckling multiple car seats at every destination, putting on multiple tiny socks and shoes, putting on and taking off multiple coats, wiping multiple noses (and butts) all day every day, bringing EVERYONE into the public bathroom with you, bathing multiple kids, keeping multiple mini-humans safe in public — is exhausting and expensive. If you’re formula-feeding on top of all of this… OUCH! And if you’re shelling out for daycare… my deepest condolences to your wallet.

3) Pro: Gear Reuse. When you have your litter close together, the gear is easily reusable. And, if you do what we did and have your babies in just the right timeframe, you can even reuse the carseat and base for all of them before it expires. Win!

Con: Primary Color Pile-up. When all of your kids are young, the amount of toys and gear and primary colors overwhelms your home. Every corner houses kid items. Your bathroom is a bath toy menagerie. Your family room looks like a daycare center. To the minimalist, it’s unsettling at best, anxiety-inducing at worst. It’s a temporary phase but it’s a long one.

4) Pro: Nipples of Steel. Breastfeeding calluses the nipples. If you have your kids close in age, you can maintain that teat toughness much to your benefit. The more you pump and the longer you nurse, the easier it is adjusting to a subsequent newborn latch. Every nursing relationship is different and no matter how many kids you latch on, breastfeeding each baby has a learning curve. However, the soreness that you experienced with your first nursling is unlikely to happen if there’s little to no break between your weaned and breastfed babes.

Con: Milk Machine Malaise. After a while, you just want your body back. You want to be able to put on a shirt without considering boob accessibility.  You want to go out without considering nursing/pumping requirements or calculating engorgment. You want to sleep on your belly. You want to be able to take OTC medicine without worrying if it’s breastfeeding-compatible. Basically, as beautiful and beneficial and bonding as breastfeeding is, it gets old after a while (especially if you’ve been nursing a toddler.)

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5) Pro: Mom Identity. When you are in the trenches of motherhood, the role consumes you in the most rewarding, exhausting, fulfilling way. When you have raised baby after baby — one after the other — into toddlerhood and early childhood, you are unwaveringly secure in your maternal identity. Nothing else in your life — no other role, responsibility, title, or achievement — can come close to the one that demands every shred of you every waking and sleeping second of every day. When you have multiple wholly dependant offspring, your personal identity is: “Mom.”

Con: Lost in Mommyland. When you’ve been in the mommy trenches for years in a row, you forget who you were — who you are — beyond that role. Time simultaneously stands still and rushes by when you have baby after baby. You must focus moment-to-moment to survive but, once the babies all grow older and your focus can grow broader, you can feel lost.

6) Pro: Love Abounds. When you have multiple close-in-age kids, they often adore one another and you while they are young. Hugs, cuddles, kisses… every day is filled with genuine affection. Your arms, mind, washing machine, and life are full, but so is your heart.

Con: Marriage Bombardment. You and your children may share embraces and pledges of love daily, but you and your spouse will be permanently adrift if you don’t take heed. Each child demands attention. Each child deserves affection. Each child owns a piece of your heart. But your spouse does too. However, your significant other is further down the list than he/she used to be. Every additional child increases that distance between you in every conceivable way. Whereas it once was just the two of you bound to one another in love and fealty, now you’re bookends spaced further apart by each child you have together. If you are not careful to maintain your bond and make time, love, and space for each other, you won’t last. Children are a beautiful gift that can snuff out even the brightest marital flame, if you allow it.

7) Pro: Friend Finding. Mom friends for you, buddies for your babes… the (wholly necessary) search is an easier undertaking when your kids are closely spaced. It’s hard for moms with kids who are in vastly different age brackets to relate or spend time together. A 9-year-old doesn’t want to hang with a 6-month-old, so playdates are out. And no matter how exciting Baby’s first bite of solid food may be to the mom in the trenches, a middle school mom is going to have a hard time mustering passable enthusiasm when she’s eyeing tween social media melodrama and looming PSATs.

Con: Babies Steal Time. It wasn’t until I had my third child and had a brief moment of clarity that I realized babies don’t slow down or preserve time, they steal it. Your first baby seems to develop so slowly in comparison to your second and practically backwards in comparison to your third. Each subsequent child develops faster than the last but, what’s terrifying and sad: you lose 1-2 years of each pre-existing child’s childhood with each new baby. In other words, I “lost” 2-4 years of my first child’s toddlerhood and early childhood because of babies #2 and #3, and I lost 1-2 years of my middle child’s toddlerhood due to baby #3. Why? Because while you’re focusing on your newborn — as nature demands in order for the infant to survive — you lose sight of your older child(ren.) They seem automatically older and more capable to you in comparison to the newborn. As such, they require less of your mental attention. Not until the baby gains a bit of mobility are you able to return your focus to your other children. One day, you see your youngest at the same adorable age your older children once were and realize, with aching sadness, that you missed that stage… that those memories are faded in a hazy fog of newborn sleeplessness and rollercoaster hormones. That it was stolen time. Witnessing your youngest is your only window to what you missed.

8) Pro: On-trend Bump. If you have your kids close together, your maternity, postpartum, and nursing wardrobes won’t have a chance to go out of style. Sweet!

Con: Fashion Fatigue. By the time you pull that once-loved maternity top from the storage bin for the third time, it turns your stomach (not fun when you’re already fighting morning sickness.)

9) Pro: Pick-up Sync-up. When your kids are close-in-age, at some point their school schedules will sync beautifully. They’ll, for some time, attend the same school and have one another as a familiar in-school support too. Same pick-up and drop-off times = win!

Con: Sick Time Sinkhole. When your littles are all little at the same time, so are their immune systems. That means your paid-time-off pool is going to take a hit. Sharing is caring, and kids really like to share their germs (with one another and you.) If you and/or your significant other don’t have a rough plan for navigating repeated unexpected days off and midday pediatrician visits, get on it. Kids get sick and it’s generally at 2AM the night before a big meeting. It’s all about timing!

10) Pro: Rip off the Band-Aid. When you have your lot in a brief timeframe, you limit the pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, naptimes, and tantrums stage to a single block of time. You don’t exit the life season just to re-enter it again with one foot in two worlds; you are simply in it (really in those trenches) until you’re not.

Con: When It’s over, It’s Over. One day you’ll realize you’re exiting the deep infant-toddler trench. You’ll recognize the lessening stress and the availability of both of your arms. You can breathe! You’ll also realize that it’s almost over and there’s no going back. No more parent-and-me classes. No more middle-of-the-night cuddles. No more blissful sleeping baby on your shoulder. No more library story times. No more preschool parties. The door has closed, another has opened. What is ahead is beautiful but so was what is behind.

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This list of pros and cons could go on infinitely. But what really matters is what feels right to you, handling what life has handed you, and finding genuine happiness in your own life. Because, after all, we can really control very little in life, but seeking to find joy in whatever our circumstances is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and others.

Infertility Made Me a Better Mom

Infertility broke me. It pummeled me, my relationships, my perspective, my worldview, my sense of purpose and self-worth. But I am a better mother because of it.

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For a horrendous year we struggled to conceive our first child (full story here). Invasive and torturous tests, ineffective and horrible medications, and multiple doctors yet no one caught it. No one realized that I had endometriosis. That’s right, two fertility specialists and one seasoned OB/Gyn, yet not one even whispered the possibility of endometriosis. It wasn’t until 2018 — nearly a decade after my fertility battle — that I was finally diagnosed. But, let me tell you, the sad truth: my story is all but uncommon.

Women’s health is a brutal stomping ground of dismissed pain and excused symptoms, with “hormones” being the new “hysteria.” And so it is made possible for most endometriosis sufferers to go decades un- or misdiagnosed then prescribed horrendously invasive and entirely ineffective medical treatments. (Yes, treatments, as there is no cure. Nope, not even menopause.) But, that rant is for another time. Back to my tale.

By saying that I am a better mom because I experienced infertility am I implying that moms who never personally experience infertility aren’t good moms? Hell no! It just means that I am a better version of my former self because of what I endured and, thus, I am a better mom than I would’ve been without the life experience.

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Infertility — its unspeakable, wide-reaching pains and demands of secrecy — broke me. It shattered who I was. In order to go on, I was forced to glue myself back together. And I did. I pieced myself whole — shard by battered shard — in a better, stronger, more empathetic, more unwaveringly resilient form than I ever fathomed. It was because I had been broken that I could be so tolerant of pain, so appreciative of the children I was eventually granted (even on their worst days), so positively resilient, so set on cherishing every moment and gathering every possible memory with my children. Infertility was the shittiest of blessings that I would never wish on anyone, but for which I am now grateful.

The humiliating tests that were emotionally if not physically painful, the burden of hiding my fertility struggles and surging hormones from others (especially at work… because if a pregnant woman is viewed as a liability, a woman trying to conceive is just an empty cubicle waiting to happen), the effort to genuinely celebrate others’ pregnancies and births, the strength required to face others’ fertility-related commentary and questions in a non-murderous fashion, the strain on relationships, the distain for my own body betraying me, the sense of utter failure at what should be a natural and easy endeavor, the challenge of not allowing the descent into becoming that bitter infertile woman, the disconnect of being complimented or viewed sexually when my sexual organs were broken, the impossible battle of holding my shit together when my shit was so  shredded by hormones and emotions and physical pain and mental anguish and self-pittying and somehow — freakin’ somehow — lingering hope that it would all end well. It was brutal.

Infertility made me stronger, more appreciative. In its wake, I became a human clown-faced punching bag. In comparison to what I’d experienced during my bout with infertility, I could bounce back smiling after any blow. Life could not topple me. Trauma, physical pain, emotional damage, financial hardships, lost loved ones… I would rise. I would find happiness.

Infertility helped me discover what — and who — my priorities were and in what order they stood. Infertility lessened my limiting modesty (a must as a mom, especially a breastfeeding mom), increased my ability to self-advocate, and amplified my pain tolerance immeasurably. It made me acutely aware where I did and did not want to go in my life. It made my values clear and illuminated the rubbish. Even more, just as having a challenging child or difficult baby grants you greater humility, awareness, and accurate empathy, so does a bout with infertility.

Sure, prior to having faced infertility I was aware that such struggles were a hurdle, but I had no grasp on the life-altering, all-encompassing, ego-shattering, dream-endangering affects. As with parenthood, you just don’t know what you don’t know and you cannot possibly truly understand unless you, yourself, have lived it. And once you do live it, you look back at your former self and think, “I knew nothing.”

I certainly do not know it all. I have much left to learn and live, but I will do so as a better person because of where I’ve been. I will continue to survive and savor, laugh freely and find beauty in the mundane, hoard memories and cherish moments. I will continue to be better because I was broken. I will thrive.

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.

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.