Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why I am Not a "Plan B" Parent

Totally OK with whatever path these guys choose,
even if they want to be birds.
I grew up in kind of a rich town, as kind of a poor kid. Not truly poor; I recognize that my family owned their own house and we had food to eat, but everything is relative.

When you grow up in a rich town but you can't afford a bicycle, you kind of feel poor.

When it was time for my friends and I to graduate high school, I felt the difference between the haves and have-nots once again. This time,  however, I was grateful. It was time to choose colleges and programs of study, and surprisingly time for some parents to exert control, as evidenced through the words of my friends, which sounded a lot like this:

"I want to be a rock star, but my parents and I compromised on sound editing."

"I can't major in theater because that is impractical, so I am going to major in hotel restaurant management."

"I know I would be a great teacher, but my parents said if I go into teaching, I have to attend a state school and not the one I really want. So, I am going to med school."

And there were many, many more disappointed friends and almost twice as many nervous parents.

This concept was foreign. "How can it be up to your parents?" I mind-screamed to myself (and at them, but they apparently didn’t hear my mind-scream). But there was an answer: the parents get to decide because they are paying. This can occur over and over with weddings and even places to live. Parents pay so they get to choose.

I paid my own way through college, and everything else for that matter - so the only thing I ever did was exactly what I wanted to do. Thank god.

With moderate poverty comes moderate freedom. Or maybe with fierce independence comes fierce freedom.

I was so thrilled because I could not wrap my head around the parental viewpoint in this scenario. Sooooo.... your kid has passion about something and you think they should not? Your kid has a talent and you are working hard to convince them to NOT exploit it? Your kid shares their big dream with you and outlines a path to pursue it, and you come back with "What about a plan B?"?!?!?!?!?!?!

Are you kidding me, head-up-your-ass-parents?
Do you know how many people live their whole lives and are never passionate about anything? Do you know how much amazingness has been tamped down by parents saying things like "Of course I believe in you, I want you to be an astronaut, I just ALSO want you to be an accountant. Just in case."

At least be honest and say it: "I believe in you…. but not really."

I get it. We love our kids. We want to make sure they’ll be able to support themselves. I want that too, but I want nothing more than for my kids to be happy in whatever life they choose. I don't know what that path will look like - but I do know this: I cannot choose it for them.

I want my kids to reach for every brass ring, pursue every far-off fantasy, and just be in a world where whatever place they have in it, I honor them.

And so I deliberately choose to honor them in their own Plan A awesomeness.

Currently, my 5-year-old wants to be a "fashion girl" and my 4-year-old wants to be a drummer/superhero.

Go for it, littles! No safety net, no Plan B. Just go for it and be a drummer/superhero/fashion person/thing. Throw yourself into it with your whole heart and know that your mom could not be more proud.

[Editor’s Note: Dad is proud too, and currently working on ways to augment the drum set so it’s better suited to fight crime…]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pumpkin Parenting

Bringing up Pumpkin 
Last November I tossed rotting Jack-o-lanterns into an unused garden bed and hoped for the best. I occasionally watered it, I occasionally put some compost in there with it, but I mostly left it alone.

This summer I was happy to see huge leaves emerging from the garden bed, and now there is at least one sweet little orange pumpkin adorning our front lawn.

I love this pumpkin.

With almost no help from me, it formed into just what it was meant to be. I just had to plant the seed, step back, and allow it the freedom to become the pumpkin it was meant to be.

I think of parenting as just that. As a parent, you can fuss over your pumpkin child, watering it all the time, picking off all the other leaves so that your pumpkin kid gets all the nutrients and grows bigger than the other pumpkins, you can pick off the grubs and scrub the leaves with baking soda - I would imagine with all the books about gardening and parenting, you could put all your time and energy into the care and feeding of your pumpkin, or your child.

Or, you could step back and watch it grow, and love it for exactly who it is. In my experience, this is a good way to get a really great pumpkin.

I was just at a back-to-school night where I encountered a bunch of gardener/parents who were a lot more energetic than I am. This was high school. I would imagine that by the time your pumpkin is in high school, your pumpkin takes care of business, more or less, on its own.

But, oh no. I would be wrong.

These parents wanted to know about every little thing their pumpkin was doing, who they were sitting next to, every single activity they did in class, and even their locker combination. There were a lot of expert gardeners in there.

The over-gardening I saw at back-to-school night worried me. Here is why: Today
my real life pumpkin had a problem. The big leaves that normally shade the little guy were covered with a white with a fungus and starting to die. I intervened. I cut off the infected leaves and I sprayed a solution to help contain the problem. I stepped in to "help", but I am not sure I really did.

Left on their own to find their way, pumpkins and children usually do just that. They figure it out and become stronger in the process. Now that I have stepped in, my poor little pumpkin sits in my yard unprotected by its huge fungus leaves, without the strength of having survived on its own. He seems so vulnerable and alone out there.

I wonder about all those back-to-school night pumpkins. With all the aggressive landscaping done on their behalf, how are ever going to be able to really grow, to learn how to overcome problems, and experience that feeling you get when you have worked through a difficult situation and come out on the other side, on your own?

So, sometimes pumpkins need help. Maybe pruning the plant and spraying the solution was the right thing to do. But, maybe it wasn't. But I do know I have robbed my little pumpkin of the joy of unadulterated growing up. From now on, I will simply love my little garden friend and hope for the best. I think it is strong enough to become a fine Jack-o-lantern someday.

And, as for my other little pumpkins, I realize I may need to prune on occasion - maybe even spray them with a baking soda solution every once in a while. But I do know that I will also continue to simply love them and know they are strong enough to handle adversity and become some seriously bad ass pumpkins because of it.

We actually have fewer pumpkin kids than pictured here

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Yes, I Go To Church

The four year old feeling a previous service.
Photo credit Sean Elliot
I was on a panel the other day and these words found their way out of my mouth:
"When I teach Sunday school – "
I was quickly interrupted.

"Wait, what!? YOU teach Sunday school?"

At first I was confused. Is that weird? Am I unqualified? Must I believe in a literal God first?
And then I realized, their shock had nothing to do with any of that. They were shocked because I swear like a truck driving gangster sailor, question everything that doesn't make sense to me, and because "traditional family values" mean nothing to me simply because they are traditional.

They were shocked because of their very narrow view of who goes to church. Church-going folk are brainwashed, non-questioning, non-progressive simpletons who would not know what to do or think without someone at the pulpit telling them.

I am not sure why church received such a bum-rap among intellectuals. Perhaps it can be linked to some of the loudest religious voices preaching intolerance and hate. Perhaps it has to do with the "believe without questioning" attitude in some churches, such as the one I grew up in. Perhaps it has to do with people dismissing it as "the opiate of the masses". Oh wait. Maybe that is YouTube.

But here is the thing: why is an opiate for the masses a bad thing? Couldn't this world, with all of its suffering and tragedy, use a pain reliever at least once a week?

Maybe we should rethink this opiate concept.

This past Sunday morning was rough. After a Saturday night roller derby bout, a sleepover with three 12-year-old girls, and an early morning dog grooming appointment, I was trying my best to wrangle the troops for a 10 o'clock church service.

It didn't go well.

I had to leave more than half my soldiers on the battlefield of the breakfast table and ended up dragging only two kids with me. The littlest one was particularly cranky and wanted no part of walking into the church building. He was whiney; he was squirmy; he was trying to run back to the car at every opportunity. I held him, I wrestled him, and I whispered in his ear "Just come in with me and we will cuddle." I won that battle. Sort of.

As I sat in the service, my sweet four-year-old boy resisted my cuddle, stiffened his body so I couldn't hold him, and managed to wriggle to the floor twice. I scooped him up again and hoped for the best.

Then it happened, a song about light from a beautiful trio of singers began and his little body softened. He turned to watch and I saw his face go from grumpy to calm. By the time the choir sang, he was smiling. Something had washed over him. And in that moment, that same peaceful something had washed over me.

I get it. That is why I go to church.

For me, there is community, there is mindfulness, and there are social justice projects. But above all, there is that feeling of the deepest inhale I can imagine taking, followed by an exhale that is nothing short of magic. That exhale lets go of the tension, releases the petty irritations, and puts into perspective my role in this very large and infinite universe. That exhale tells me everything will be ok. Or it won't. Either way, the world will keep turning and I will do my best to turn with it.

It doesn't always happen, to be honest. Not every Sunday is a home run. Some Sundays don't feel like opium at all.

But some do.

And for me and my four-year-old, this Sunday was just the deep breath we needed.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Genius Fish

So, you know that quote that says:

"Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish simply by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

Whoever said that was probably NOT a very good tree climber.

At any rate, I seem to have several fish trying to climb trees in my house.

ClimbingTreesIt is no surprise really.
We are always telling the kids that busywork (e.g., homework without any discernable purpose) is kind of bullshit and real learning takes place when they ask questions and challenge themselves.

As a result, they don't always do homework.

Actually, they only do homework when they, themselves feel compelled to do it.

My 12-year-old is getting a D in band even though she plays the Saxophone really well. On principle, she refuses to fill out and have me sign practice time sheets because she feels she should be judged only on her ability to play.

In theory, I am good with all of their choices. The trick is in being relaxed about the bad grades, grades that have no real reflection on the brilliant kid.

But, what if I am wrong? What if teaching my kids to think outside the box and question authority is going to leave them lonely and unhappy in life? What if grades really are the end all be all and they will be left with no real options in the world? Can they get by in life by just being clever and snarky?

Sure they can. I do.

We are on the path of recognizing our genius fish for exactly who they are and I think it is best to just keep on keeping on.

Us: "School is a tool for you to use. The teachers work for you. It’s not the other way around. You can get great grades and see what school has to offer then (Hint: a lot). Or you can learn as much as you can without being invested in grades - or you can drop out and become a rock star. Whatever you do, grab life by the balls! Or, at the very least cup the balls, tickle them a bit. Or, slap the balls. Do something with life’s balls. But whatever you do, do it on your terms."

Yes, we really say that. You do not want to go through life ignoring life’s balls.

Sometimes the wonderful things about kids don't show up on report cards or awards. Sometimes you have to pay careful attention to notice when your fish is doing something other than climbing a tree.

Spencer (now 16) is probably sneaking by with a C in his history class, but that doesn’t stop him from creating a study guide for his friends.

I include a few samples for anyone who wants to learn more about history:

Emmett Till. A 14-year-old African-American boy murdered in Mississippi for flirting with a white woman. They took the boy away to a barn, beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, shot him through the head, disposing his body in the Tallahatchie River. Three days later, Till's mom had an open-casket funeral which really grossed people out cause he was mad fucked-up and that got a lot of people really angry and BOOM! Civil Rights Motherfucker!

Malcolm X. Look at that sick ass name - like damn!

March On Washington. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom or "The Great March on Washington", was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history. Martin Luther King delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech, calling for an end to racism. Also you know that thing where the Titanic crashed because so many time travelers were on board trying to save it? Well I think the reason so many people marched on Washington is because all the time travelers wanted to see it. Further proof: Even our teacher Mr. Walter said if he could go back in time it would be to that day - so I'm just sayin'.

So, if we spend all of our time getting this guy to climb trees and do conventional homework and put his square peg of a brain into round holes, we never get to simply enjoy what happens when our little genius fish swim like crazy, all the way upstream:-)

Friday, May 30, 2014

It is NOT OK to Rape

Hopefully, this is a message we have already heard. However, there are four recent headlines that make me feel like this is a message that bears repeating.

Alleged gang rape, hanging of two girls in India
sparks global outrage

“If I Can’t Have Them, No One Will”
Man goes on killing spree when women reject him

Teenage girl forced to leave school prom after 'ogling' dads complained her dress and dancing would give their sons 'impure thoughts'

Utah High School Photoshops Female Yearbook Photos to Show Less Skin

Huh? Am I seriously comparing horrific acts of violence with a little photo shop hack job?

Yes, yes I am.

Let me expand on the title of this blog, maybe tack on a few extra rules, just for the outrage of it.

1. It is NOT OK to rape
2. t is NOT OK to think you are entitled to another person's body
3. It is NOT OK to make another person responsible for how you think of them
4. It is NOT OK to make arbitrary rules about another person's body

If you think these stories are disconnected, that they are not indicators of a dangerous attitude we have about women, then you are simply wrong.

Administrators in a Utah high school decided it would be okay to Photoshop yearbook pictures of young women (and only women) without their permission. They no doubt felt justified in this decision, because the unaltered images might be considered provocative. The sweet, fresh-faced girls may be driving the unwilling into sinful thoughts because un-Photoshopped, we can see that these girls are clearly humans. With arms.

Now, I could talk about how benign these pictures are - or I could focus on the bigger issue which is that people in authority are giving young women the message that they are not in control of their own bodies. That ownership and power over the way you look belongs to the beholders.

So if you make unapproved choices about what message you want to send to the world through your clothing - the world will just take your decision-making power away, as the high school administrators did to the women in the yearbook.

And this seems reasonable to many.

If a woman makes the unacceptable choice of not having sex with a man, he will take her decision making power away, as the madman did when he felt rejected.

And this seems reasonable to many. Or, if not reasonable, unavoidable.

When we make women responsible for how men may or may not react, it gives the message that men are not able to control themselves.

Do we really think so little of men?

Do we really think so little of women?

And don't give me this bullshit about "modesty" and "appropriateness" - I don't see anyone Photoshopping jeans on the guys who walk around with their pants lower than their crotch and their undies showing.

I don't see anyone Photoshopping ties on young men who are "not dressed up enough" for their high school yearbook.

I don't hear people talking about how men mowing the lawn without shirts on is, of course, going to incite attacks from frenzied fans.

This is about women.

This is about a terrifying attitude that women are rightfully at risk because of their provocative female nature. '

This is all connected

And it is bullshit.

And just to clarify for anyone who still needs it:

It is NOT OK to blame other people for your behavior.

It is NOT OK to rape.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Renewing You Marriage

Well, invitations are ordered and I am in the process of marrying the love of my life (again).

My husband/editor and I have decided to live and relationship mindfully - and so getting remarried every 5 years is part of the plan.

I explain it here:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

I Wear a Bikini because… Fuck You

Here are the top six reasons why I, as a 43-year-old, size 12, mother of four, woman with thunder thighs, feel totally justified in rocking a two piece.

1. I Don't Give a Shit
I actually do not exist for your viewing pleasure and your ideas about who should and should not be seen in a bikini are 0% my concern.

I have not always been married to the wonderful, supportive, man among men, husband/editor that I am now married to. I was once married to a man who said things like:

"They really should not make bikinis in any size over 8"

Now, I have not been a size 8 since I was about 8 years old - so this was kind of a dick move on his part. It also confirmed my suspicions that people who make "rules" about how other people should treat their bodies are best left alone - far away from any people who may inadvertently offend them.

I also have sisters who regularly say things like:

"She has no business being in a bikini"

Well, lucky for me I am not wearing a bikini to drum up business.

I was on the beach in Miami once when a 300lb grandma walked happily down the beach in a brightly colored two-piece. This was intensely disturbing to a group of vacationing, suburban women talking about yoga addiction, shame eating, and jeggings.There were gasps, there were sighs, and there was one Zanax-deprived woman, so distraught, crying out:

"That is just not right"

It is a bathing suit people. Perhaps we should all just relax.

2. I Have a Bikini Body
I know this because I put an actual bikini… on my body. If you are waiting to break out the bikini when your body is perfect, resign yourself to a one piece.

3. It is Closer to Being Naked
Swimming is best done naked. When laws of society make that awkward - we should at least be able to swim with the least amount of wet fabric against our bodies.

4. My Belly Has Earned It
If there is one part if my body that should be able to do whatever the fuck it wants. it is my mid-section. Four of the greatest people I know have lived there. Hard working = flauntable.

5. I Have Daughters
I want to show them a woman comfortable in her body, who is active right along side them. A woman who’s not sitting poolside under a big cover-up, because anything less might be considered inappropriate.

6. It is by Popular Request
Well, maybe not popular - but certainly frequent - requests come in for me to wear a bikini. Ok, it is only ever my husband/editor who asks - nay, pleads, for this particular ensemble. But, he is tenacious and I like to throw him a bone every once in a while. [Editor’s note: Thanks, honey, for the bone]