3 Ways Adults Ruin Everything

Being a kid is INTENSE. As adults, we have this bizarre tendency to reminisce over the simplicity of childhood. After two days of full immersion in elementary school culture (and three more days to go), I remember now–being a kid is hard as hell. And adults don’t always make it easier.

3 Ways Adults Ruin Everything

Adults act like things are common sense–when they don’t make sense at all. This week is the  Scholastic Buy One, Get One Free Book Fair. It’s AMAZING. Kids can spend $5 and leave with two spellbinding stories. Books on dragons? Got ’em. Books featuring ass-kicking princesses? Got ’em. Graphic novels, historical fiction, picture books, bestsellers… the book fair can magically coax excitement into even the most reluctant reader.

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But buy one, get one free? Yeah, kids don’t get it. Invariably, every hour or so, a kid wants to argue with me about why they should be able to buy a book that costs $2.50 and get the $25 Chrystal Making Kit free. Why would they want to pay for the more expensive one?  It’s buy ONE, get ONE free… no one ever said which one they had to buy (even though we did. Over & over, we painstakingly explained that the more expensive book is the one they’ll have to buy. But capitalism is NOT common sense, it seems. Maybe we should call it “Buy the most expensive book, get another maybe-kinda-interesting-but-not-exactly-your-dream-book free.” But that doesn’t have a very good ring to it, I suppose).

And while they’re dealing with the frustration of not getting what they want, adults continue to walk around smugly like this all makes good sense. Like just because they explained it, it is fair. Kid verdict: UNFAIR.

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Adults act like it’s no big deal when kids get their feelings hurt. I try to teach Jane how to shake things off, how to bounce back from hurt feelings and squabbles with her friends. But just watching the ebb and flow of kid relationships over the course of a day is exhausting–and these aren’t even my relationships. Now wonder Jane comes home completely worn out after school.

Today, I wandered out on the playground and bumped into a friend of Jane’s. He was sweaty from running around–and he looked completely dejected. I knelt down, eye-to-eye with him, to figure out what was up. Jane, it seems, had kissed someone else. Then she told him they couldn’t have a playdate anymore. Man.

I totally shelved the mommy reaction to “Jane was kissing someone else” and asked if he & Jane had an argument. (He hung his head & and shook it almost imperceptibly) I assured him that he & Jane would work things out (I was right. He was the last kid Jane hugged before she left for the day). But, whoa, Jane’s kissing treachery tore this little guy up. The idea of losing that playdate with Jane devastated him.

So much hangs on one word, one interaction.

While all this was going on, one of Jane’s friends approached me, close to tears, because her Principal’s Award medal had fallen apart, and she’d lost the medal. I felt the little twinge in my stomach I used to get when I was a kid and something was very, very wrong. I helped her and Jane look for it. Then I promptly marched my full-grown self to  the powers that be to inquire about a replacement. There’s a time and a place for lessons to be learned. But nobody is trying to learn lessons on the last week of school–over a medal they worked for all year. Nobody that I know, at least.

Adults act like they know everything. Adults, we’re busy people. We try to connect with kids over things that are important to us, not to them. We talk over them. We can be really shitty listeners. Sometimes, I’m guilty of this, too. But at the book fair, my whole job is to help kids find books that they will love. My secret goal is to make enthusiastic readers out of all of them. Every one. So, I listen a lot. I ask questions, about their hobbies, their families, their interests. Then I get to work bringing them books. I’m always looking for that magic spark, that book that makes them light up. It doesn’t happen every time. But the times it does… whoa. Amazing.

But no matter if I find them the perfect book or not, they remember me. At school, I’m either The Book Fair Lady or Jane’s mom. Kids run up to me and tell me exciting things happening to them (and sometimes sad things, too). They give me hugs. One girl who I’d seen in book fair but don’t really know came skidding across the linoleum floor to show my the two books she’d finally chosen at book fair (both Diary of a Wimpy Kid). She was beaming. And looking for me to share her joy. I love that connection.

Kids know a lot more than we give them credit for. They know how to connect without overthinking it. Kids may be snarky, silly, germy, chatty, snotty, and squirmy–but they crave connection & love. And they return love so much more freely than adults. It’s humbling (and maybe a little life-giving) to be in the presence of that kind of love.

I admire the professionals who work day in and day out with kids–loving them, teaching them, guiding them. That dedication and commitment kind of takes a special type of person. (That’s TOTALLY not me) But I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to exist in the kids’ world for a bit, to alter my perspective, and to remember the truths I’ve forgotten about childhood.

I’m a much better adult when I remember what it’s like to be a kid.

 

Photo Cred: Lufti Gaos, Kiana Bosman, Wang Xi, and Patricia Prudent on Unsplash

Just Do You. Brilliantly.

My kid loves to perform. Singing? Oh, the girl sings. It’s like living in a musical in our house. Acting? She recreates scenes from movies, shows, the play they performed at school—all the time. Playing the piano? She practices without being asked. She’s seven. WHO IS THIS CHILD?!?

Dance, though. Dance is one of those after school activities that I sort of threw her in so I’d have an extra day to work past 2:30 pm. You know, more like a normal person. She seemed to like it. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if Jane likes an activity or just likes hanging with her friends. I don’t begrudge her that. I like to hang with my friends, too. And if she’s hanging while she’s doing pirouettes or what-the-hell-ever, so much the better.

Yesterday, Jane had her big dance recital—in front of the whole school. Let me stop right here. I would have lost my shit if, at 7 years old, anyone had asked me to do anything in front of the entire school. Hell, I’m 42 years old, and the idea of standing up in front of almost 600 elementary aged kids makes me want to puke. But Jane, she was excited. So excited she thought she might EXPLODE, she informed me later.

I love and am fascinated by this child in equal measure.

Jane knew every single move to the tap dance. Of course. She knew every move, but something seemed off. She was doing it right. But she didn’t seem to be feeling it. The little girl next to her was living this dance.

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Jane, not so much. She was doing it right. But it looked like it was taking every bit of her concentration. She was not one with the dance.

My first instinct: “Well, we can cut this out of the rotation next year.” I mean, we can only do so many activities. Dancing isn’t her strongest showing, so I thought… eh, we’ll try something different next year.

On the way to the car, I ran into the owner of the dance company. We chatted about how much Jane enjoyed the class. Then I mentioned that Jane seemed to be struggling to connect the moves, that dancing didn’t seem to come easily to her. The woman’s expression softened: “How wonderful that she embraces something that pushes her out of her comfort zone. She keeps pushing, even though it’s hard for her.”

Oh.

Right here is why other loving, supportive adults are crucial in child-rearing. Because obviously having Jane do something she doesn’t excel at is a great idea. It teaches perseverance and empathy (not everyone can be good at everything, after all). And the experience itself far outweighs the importance of tap dancing like Shirley Temple.

I’d gotten schooled about my own kid. It was humbling.

But this lesson about experience over performance is one I’ve already had to learn. Jane’s experience in dance mirrors my experience in running. I am not a great runner. I will never qualify for Boston. I rarely place in my age group. I might place third in my age group—if only three people my age run the race. I have friends that I’d love to run with. But I can’t. I’m not fast enough. Can’t keep up.

Nevertheless, I love to run.

For a brief moment, I almost let the fact that I’m not very good at running push me out of the sport. I got real caught up in times and placing in races and PRs. And it stopped being fun. Because I was trying to be a runner that I’m not. That sucks.

So why should Jane be a dancer she’s not?

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I tell Jane all the time that exactly who she is is enough. It’s perfect, in fact. Whether she’s the best dancer on the stage matters not a whit. I want her to do what she loves–to do her best, soak up experiences, and just be herself.

I run.

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She dances.

And we’re both brilliant at enjoying the experience.

The Riddle of Motherhood

Mothering is sacred work. I pour every ounce of goodness and light I have into this child:

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And she deserves it all. Every bit of it.

But so do I.

Inside me, there are broken bits that still need a good deal of mothering. I am in recovery, after all—and I certainly didn’t end up in recovery because of my stellar coping skills or my superb choices. I ended up there because my spirit was crushed, and I was trying to hide that pain from the world, but mostly from myself.

I’ve committed a good deal of this past decade to mending my broken spirit, to making amends—to myself and to other people–and to moving past regret into whole-hearted living. And, for the most part, it’s been a brilliant success, this thing called living my life. I’ve been lifted out of that dark place into some dazzlingly sunshiney place makes me feel hella grateful every day.

But still.

Sometimes I am hit by a memory of something I did or said that lands like a gut-punch. And I’m engulfed in regret. Or sometimes I’ll make a mistake—an honest one, born of nothing but good intentions with maybe a mix of a little carelessness—and the questioning of my worth will commence. Sometimes I still brush up against the parts of me that remain fractured, that threaten to break under the strain of life, memory, hurt.

And I do the same thing with myself that I would do with Jane. I embark on the sacred task of mothering. It really is the only way out. I turn all that kindness, compassion, and love back onto myself. I’m gentle with myself when prodding the parts that hurt. I give myself the grace to make mistakes, because I am learning. I reassure myself that my worth isn’t born out of my deeds, but out of the sheer fact of my existence. I was created from the divine, remain a part of it, and am inherently worthy of love.

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I tell myself the very things I tell Jane.

I say them because they are true. True for her. True for me. True for everyone.

The sacred work of mothering doesn’t always have to do with birthing or raising children. It is about helping the world heal a little bit at a time, starting with yourself. It’s nurturing. And loving. It’s seeing in other people something beautiful, special, divine—and knowing the same magic exists in you. It’s giving love freely–and learning to finally, finally accept it in return.

 

 

Notes from Field Day

Yesterday was Field Day at Jane’s elementary School. Obviously, I found this wildly exciting:

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But come on… FIELD DAY! What could possibly be more fun?!?

When I was a kid, Field Day was my day of triumph. I got to shock people every year with the fact that I could RUN. I was fast. I guess I didn’t look particularly athletic. And, to be honest, my parents didn’t really push sports. And coming home dirty from school was frowned upon. So, yeah, rough & tumble wasn’t really my game. Which made it even more fun to kick ass every year in the field day race. (To be fair, I usually wasn’t first. I typically placed a solid second–which was just ass-kickey enough to suit my taste.)

Imagine my complete confusion yesterday when some kids didn’t want to participate in Field Day. WHAT?

Look, I know all kids are different. I know that some kids really don’t dig outdoor stuff. And there were definitely those kids. But I got the nagging feeling that, for some of the kids, something else was at play.

It didn’t come together for me until last night, when I attended a Social Emotional Learning training at Jane’s school. We were discussing the roll of community meetings in SEL–that’s when the kids get together each morning to greet each other and sometimes to share a bit about what’s going on in their worlds. Greeting each other by name is important, the instructor noted, because some children rarely hear their names associated with something positive.

Ooof.

Even a kid like Jane hears things all the time like “JANE! Pick up your clothes off the floor.” “JANE! Did you take the dog out?!” “JANE! We HAVE TO GO. Hurry UP.” And Jane comes from a non-financially-stressed, co-parenting household with one parent who doesn’t work full-time (and another who does). So, basically, on paper Jane’s got a good thing going over here and often her name is used to fuss/redirect/scold. What’s it like for other kids?

Flash back to field day: Jane’s teacher is hugging a little girl who doesn’t want to participate, while giving race instructions to the other kids. Once she finishes with the instructions and general corralling of children (which is like herding cats), she refocuses all of her attention on the crying kid. She uses the little girl’s name repeatedly, telling her how much fun she’ll have, how everyone will cheer her on, how she’ll be so proud of herself when she’s finished. Jane’s teacher can do this because she’s spent ALL YEAR building a relationship with her students, reinforcing a safe-space atmosphere where the kids encourage & cheer for each other. The teacher was being totally straight-up when she told the little girl that her classmates would cheer for her. That’s what they do for each other. That’s what she’s taught them, coached them, encouraged them to do.

The little girl ran the race. And she came back beaming. And sure enough, the kids cheered her on, yelling her name the whole time.

I don’t know the little girl’s story. Maybe she was just having an off day. Maybe she isn’t encouraged a lot to try new things. Maybe she was just afraid of failing (aren’t we all?). But I do know that having an adult who really SAW her helped her take a leap and do something she was unsure of. And she was GREAT the rest of the day.

Being around Jane’s school a lot has changed me in many ways. I’ve definitely pushed myself to be more empathetic, to connect with kids, and to always go with kind first. Every kid has a different story. If I’m patient and caring enough, they just might trust me with that story one day. And, to me, there’s no greater honor than a kid telling me what’s on their heart.

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Me & Jane at Field Day (Photo Credit: @jonsiemel on Instagram)

Oh, and it turns out that Jane might enjoy racing at Field Day just as much as I did when I was a kid:

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I’ll count that as a win.

Just Breathing Out Lovingkindness Over Here

This morning was a shit show.

There. I said it. It has now been said. Shit show.

It’s not really Jane’s fault. Not entirely.

I mean, she was glaring at me like she’d gone and lost all her good sense. My mistake? Offering to make her sandwich and put it in the green container.

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL. NOT THE GREEN CONTAINER.

Apparently, she preferred the pink container. Which she let me know by stomping on the floor. And glaring over her shoulder.

So I told her to make her own damn sandwich. (Note: I did not actually say damn out loud. But I said it real, real loud in my head. I think she could probably hear it) She huffed and puffed while she made her sandwich. I took my coffee and my English muffin to the other side of the kitchen, where her huffing was muted by the snorting of the dog. (She’s a boxer. Short snout. Sometimes breathing = snorting)

My kid’s stomping, glaring, and huffing. My dog is snorting and banging into me trying to chase her toy. Me? I’m serene. Breathing out lovingkindness.

Okay, really, I’m ignoring the hell out of everyone around me, focusing on my coffee, and trying my best not to lose my shit.

But here’s proof miracles happen: I did not yell. Not once.

Miracle before 8 a.m.? Check.

And now, annoyingly, I feel like I need to be thankful, because even though this morning was 60% sucky, by the time I dropped Jane at school we were laughing & singing “Armadillo by Morning.” (It’s not a typo… we really do sing “armadillo” instead of “Amarillo.” Whatever. we think it’s hysterical.)

Yesterday morning did not go nearly as well.

What the hell’s going on over here? Yeah. Simon flew the coop this week…something about a work trip, yada-yada-yada. What I heard: “I’ll be gone for almost a week. Good luck managing our kid who becomes a complete asshat when I leave town because she misses me so much. Huzzah!” That’s just a paraphrase, though.

Jane & I are managing. But I’m adding this to my ever-growing list of reasons I’m glad that Simon & I stuck out this marriage thing: He’s a kick-ass Bobby. And Jane loves him so much.

So do I. (But seriously, if I hear one inkling about a work trip any time soon…)

3 Things That Were

I was a drunk. Before I took the first swig of cheap whiskey, this was my truth. But its burning release convinced me that salvation resided at the bottom of a bottle. I was a drunk and so I tracked my ovulation obsessively, discussing pregnancy probabilities over happy hour drinks. I was a drunk and a lesbian, and so I borrowed some sperm off a friend’s husband, inserted it into my vagina—with a syringe. No turkey basters here—and then downed bourbons to celebrate my first step toward motherhood. My partner and I agreed to refer to the embryo-in-waiting as Tank. If it survived that level of inebriation, it’d surely be a rough and tumble little guy. I was a drunk and so I popped Clomid with cocktail chasers. I’d spend plenty of time—9 months of it—sober after I got knocked-up. No need to over-achieve. I was a drunk and so I planned on boozy playdates, if the damn kid would ever get here already. I was a drunk and so I went to inseminations hungover, the previous night’s indiscretions emanating from my freshly scrubbed skin. I was a drunk and so I believed I could wash off shame, hide it, hide me. I was a drunk and so one day I walked into a mish-mash of strangers, sat down, surrendered, and 12-stepped my way back into sanity. I was a drunk. And then I wasn’t.

I was pregnant. Blood draws, inseminations, peeing on sticks. Jockeying to order frozen specimens for perfectly timed delivery. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Ticking off days. Willing my way to two weeks. Then, trepidatiously peeing on a stick. Bargaining with God that if this time it would be different… I never finished that promise. What could I offer God, after all? I’d wait the requisite two minutes, add an extra 30 seconds on for good measure, and then look down. NOT PREGNANT. Such a bold proclamation. So impervious to my begging and pleading. Sometimes, instead of a NOT PREGNANT insult from a pee-soaked stick, I’d wake up a day or two before our interminable two week wait to a torrent of blood. Bright red. My own body mocking me. But one time, this one time the gods of the pee-stick gave in. PREGNANT. I waited. I pulled out another stick. Peed again. PREGNANT. I was pregnant and so the torrent of blood work started. HGC levels. Were they rising? Yes. Yes. I was pregnant and so check again. Check again. Poke. Prod. I was beatific. I was pregnant, and so we scheduled our first ultrasound. 5 weeks. Woosh. Woosh. Woosh. That heartbeat made me believe. Finally. I was pregnant and so, we scheduled the next ultrasound. 7 weeks. Woosh. Woosh. Woosh. But fainter. The sonogram tech called for the doctor. They measured the images. A little small, it seemed. The embryo seemed a little small. But there’s still a heartbeat, they cheered. The air left the room. I nodded when they asked me to come back in two weeks. They’d check again, they said. Maybe it would be okay. I was (still) pregnant, so I made an appointment. 9 weeks. Silence. I was pregnant. And then I wasn’t.

I was married to a woman. We fell in love over loss—I’d lost my way. She’d lost her brother. We sat in a bar, proding our wounds. “Will you always light my cigarette for me?” I asked. “If you’ll always look at me like that,” she responded, coy. We lost ourselves in each other—lustily, drunkenly. Then, like children reprimanded for impropriety, we agreed to set about playing house. The play was a farce. I was married to a (drunk) woman, and so 5 years later, we packed up our (emotional) baggage and shipped it off accompanied by all the whiskey in the house. We showed bits of ourselves timidly to each other. Sober felt stark, devoid of blurry edges. We, at long last, knit together enough hopes, dreams, Clomid, and donor sperm to make a baby. She came into this world, pulled out of my belly, fist high in the air. An indomitable spirit. Four years later, the woman I married said, “I am not who you think I am. I am not who I thought I was.” I was married to a woman, and so began a season of becoming—of transition—for us. I was married to a woman. And then I wasn’t.

Photo Credit: Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash

3 Lessons from Loss

I knew, when I lay back on the table, that they wouldn’t find a heartbeat. Even though I still felt sick all day, every day, I knew it was over.

I physically ache when I remember that moment, the silence that filled the room where the whoosh-whoosh of the heartbeat should have been. I don’t think about her often, this baby that would’ve been my second child. But sometimes the missing of her will sneak up, unexpectedly. Sometimes.

I wanted this baby. I’d planned for her ever since Jane was born. And when she was gone, this wanted, planned for, and (already) loved baby, I got smacked not only with overwhelming sorrow but also with the isolation that so often accompanies miscarriage.

And holy shit was I mad.

I was mad that other people seemed to get pregnant so easily. Unplanned pregnancies? Those really pissed me off. And God? Oh, he was in deep shit with me.

I gave myself permission to feel all these things. And, oh, I felt them.

Then, slowly, some other (less rage-y) things began to emerge:

  1. I understood my grandmother more deeply. She lost a child in 1955. A stillbirth. And she grieved that baby. Flowers made their way into my grandmother’s house every year on March 16th, Neva Jane’s birthday. She kept the only pictures of Neva Jane in a little box in her closet. She showed them to me one ordinary afternoon when I’d come to visit from college. In that exchange, I finally saw how much she loved that baby that she didn’t get to raise. It shocked me, the magnitude of her love. And it changed me. So much so that when my little girl was born, I named her Jane.IMG_6014
  2. I realized what a gift my sweet Jane is. It took us two years to get pregnant with Jane. In total, I’ve been pregnant 4 times. I believe Jane fought mightily to get here to be with us. She is my against-the-odds child. And I have been blessed by her and taught by her since our very first interaction (But good Lord, don’t tell her that… she’s bossy enough already). Instead of losing myself in anger about what could have been, Jane led me toward celebrating what IS. And what IS is amazing.14782989940_937a33caa9_o
  3. I saw how shitty our culture is at dealing with loss. I had one friend, who I’d been in daily contact with, ghost me when she found out I miscarried. Apparently, my loss was too painful for her to process. Also, platitudes? They suck. Things do NOT always happen for a reason. It was not God’s plan for me to lose a child. I think God’s plan was more like crisis management… like he was collecting guardian angels to try haul me through this loss. Not planning the death of my child. Because, uh, what kind of God does that? Not one I’m interested in. We can do better than ghosting and platitudes. But it takes opening ourselves up to sitting with people as they grieve, to holding space for their grief. It is emotional work. But it is balm for those who are suffering. The folks who did that for me gave me a place to start healing. And for that, I am very grateful.

When I went to my grandfather’s funeral in south Georgia this weekend, I went to see Neva Jane’s grave. I stood there for a minute, honoring her brief presence in this life. And thinking of my grandmother, who taught me that it’s possible grieve and live a beautiful life–at the exact same time.

Saying Goodbye to My Grandfather

Sometimes grief feels more like empty space. A vague longing for what used to be. It’s a nagging sort of sadness, one that I keep trying to reason away. But reason and grief have never been particularly compatible. So it goes.

My grandmother used to get up before the morning light got strong and bright to make my grandfather’s lunch. He worked at a paper mill, full of chemicals that would eventually make him sick. But back then, my Granddaddy was full of life. Boisterous. Hair combed back neatly. Brut aftershave lingering after he hugged me. I loved him. Very much. It always felt so complete, his love for me. Never lacking in anything. Completely devoid of expectation. Just love, the way love really ought to be.

When I was small, probably about 6 or 7, my grandmother would take my little sister and I to play on the playground just outside the paper mill. It felt special somehow, to be close to granddaddy’s work. Like we were doing our part to support him while he worked hard. Even if he didn’t know we were there. Or maybe he did. Maybe he could always be sure I was close by, loving him real strong. Maybe he could feel that love even inside that big paper mill.

It’s been a long time since I was a little girl. My relationship with my grandfather changed over the years, for complicated reasons. But when I found out he died, the first thing I thought of was that he’d returned again to love—to the man who went to the kitchen each morning to grab his lunch pail, kiss my grandmother goodbye, and tell me he’d see me just a little later on.

See you a little later on, Granddaddy.

 

*The photo is of my mother & my grandparents, who had the absolute best nicknames for each other: Butch & Snoot.