- Every milestone is worth celebrating. It doesn’t matter how small.
- Perfect is not real.
- Sometimes, my self-care is THE most important thing.
- Take the long view. Big picture is everything.
- This, too, shall pass. It always does.
- Humor goes a long way.
- Be responsible for the energy I bring into a room.
- Be gentle.
- Notice what my face is doing.
- I get to be human. I get to be human. I get to be human.
- Forgive myself.
- Forgive my kid.
- Other kids and families might do things differently not better, not “normal” just different.
- Advocate for my kid with persistence, patience, and love.
- Saying no is really important.
- Saying yes is really important.
- Get on the floor and play.
- I’m not in control of, well…barely anything.
- People act out when they are afraid.
- I act out when I am afraid.
- People stare. Smile back.
- I am a superhero.
- My kid is working as hard as I am.
- Hold onto joy every time it shows up.
- Get help.
Before my daughter came into my life, I worked for a decade as a theater teaching artist. Children ages two to twenty-two of every race, gender, ability and learning style taught me to be a compassionate human. I got used to thinking on my feet, tuning into their particular needs, and speaking from my heart. All of this prepared me for parenting.
“That sign says Black Lives Matter, Mommy. What about me? Does my life matter, too?”
I remember the day my little girl asked me this question. She was almost seven and was learning to read more every day. She was in that exciting threshold between reading nothing and reading everything. Spacing out as we moved through the world and noticing every billboard, menu, and sign. This was a big opportunity for me, too. She was asking me, her White Mama, to unpack the Black Lives Matter movement while we waited in line at our favorite mac n cheese spot.
A big part of why my wife and I choose to stay in Oakland, CA after adopting our little girl was to make sure conversations like these were part of our everyday experience. We’re commitment to living on a street with folks of all races, sending her to a diverse school, and making sure she has teachers who look like her. My wife grew up as one of few Black people in an all-White suburb. This was hard on her. She wanted something different for her daughter.
- Join in. When you are part of a community, show up and help.
- Fridays are for take-out. Period.
- It’s okay to laugh so hard you cry. Or pee.
- Swim as much as you can.
- Ride horses in the summer even if you are scared.
- Pie is a great way to celebrate most things.
- Learn how to make chicken soup from scratch.
- If you fall in a lake, just laugh at yourself.
- Pray. It helps.
- Notice who needs help around you.
- Mothers are always there for their kids. Period.
- School is your job. Work hard.
- Find out which activities make you happy and do them.
- I will love you no matter what you do.
- Take charge of a group, even if you’re shy.
- Hold babies every chance you get.
- Blankets and scarves snuggle better if knitted by hand.
- Let people celebrate you, even if it’s hard.
- Singing makes things better.
- Make something and enter it into a contest.
- Read everything you can.
- Get excited about giving people presents.
- Decorate your house for every single holiday.
- Learn the names of trees.
- Let your kids be whoever they are and don’t judge them.
We are sitting at the dining room table for yet another teary session of math homework. She has used up all her focusing tools- chewing gum, lighting a peppermint candle, choosing which problem to start with…nothing is helping. Then I see the light in her eyes change. They grow dark and serious in that intense way I know so well. She is fighting for truth.
“Mom, why can the kids around me do math but I can’t? I learn it but I can’t remember it. The other kids remember. Why, mom? It doesn’t make any sense.” There is shame in these words. And desperation.
I’m not planning to have this conversation today. I didn’t wake up knowing that I would be called on to deliver this news in a way she can digest it. My wife and I are still digesting it ourselves.
We go through periods of intense grief and even anger about her special needs. Spending time with other people’s kids can trigger it. After a morning babysitting my dear friend’s toddler, I spend the afternoon sobbing. This three-year-old has social skills that are more advanced than my eight-year-old. We travel to Texas to visit cousins and breathe through frustration as my daughter’s anxiety and hypervigilance exhaust everyone in the house. We go to IEP meeting after meeting and are overwhelmed by how many professionals are engaged each week in supporting my kiddo’s learning. After weeks of her violent PTSD fits, we refocus on caring for ourselves so that my daughter’s needs don’t take over our entire lives.
But here she is, asking for the truth. So, I share with her what gets me through my moments of fear and grief and doubt and anger. I share with her the truth about her resilience.
“I’m telling you the truth. Are you listening? Do you remember how you were born very tiny and that you came out early? One thing that happens when babies are born early is that their brains don’t get enough time to develop. This is not the baby’s fault! This is nobody’s fault. It happens to many babies who are born early. It means your brain has worked extra hard to develop and grow ever since you were born. And guess what? Your brain is doing very well. Very very well. That’s because you have a powerful quality in you. You are FIERCE. That means you are somebody who doesn’t give up. Even as a teeny little baby, you were so fierce that you fought to live. You fought to grow. And now, you are fighting to learn math. It is harder for you. You are right about that. But working hard and not giving up are wonderful qualities to have. You also have mama’s who love you and teachers to help when things feel hard. You are not alone.”
I hadn’t researched what to say. I hadn’t prepared for this question. I just opened my heart up and felt around for what she needed to hear. Of course what really happened is that I said the words I needed to hear.
I think healing the dissonance between our fantasy of parenting and the truth of it will be a long road for my wife and I. But moments to ignite our empathy and focus on our daughter’s amazing gifts help. They help a lot.
This morning was
The refusal to get dressed
The loud NO!
The “I don’t want to go to school”
Even the need to pack up her toothbrush, her glasses, her breakfast
The curbside drop-off
As she kicked and hollered
Shoes in a bag
Because she refused my help for an hour
My wife’s frustration
As she sat in the back seat
Her own feet bare
As she secured the seat belt again and again
For our angry daughter
After we get-a-way
for 2 days of
Crashing against the headland cliffs
11 hours of sleep
Champagne picnic as the sun sets
So, it was expected
That today would be hard
It was Unexpected, though
When our daughter
Who had refused
for an hour
Choosing to derail
and come undone instead
When this wild-animal-powerful-girl
Was lifted, kissed and placed
Gently on the grass
In front of her school
It was Unexpected
To see the
4th grade Safety Monitor
Taking his duties
He did not bat an eye
As we drove off
And she screamed.
We paused, of course
On the corner
To watch her put on her shoes
And go into school
Whether she wanted to or not
The 4th grade safety monitor
Held his post
And helped my little girl
Find her glasses
Which she had thrown
In the Grass
How are you celebrating Pride with your family today? We’re keeping in simple- watching the SF parade on tv, dinner with fabulous gay friends and their kid, rainbow gear and THIS BOOK. Right now, Squirrel tells her friends “Pride is celebrating families with 2 moms or 2 dads.” Hoping to dig into this LGBTQ book list this month and round out her answer a little more.
Can’t help feeling like in the wake of such hate in the Orlando shooting, being ourselves as a queer family is a radical act. Here’s to being loud, proud and queer this June.
One more thing we did as part of Pride- donated to Equality Orlando. Love to hear what actions you are taking to heal your hearts, take care and offer hope…