How Parents Unwittingly Nurture Patriarchy

Since Harvey Weinstein – and countless other prominent men – have been outed as sexual predators (at worst) and clueless misogynists (at best), adults are more frequently giving our daughters empowering talks and broaching subjects like consent, patriarchy, and basic human decency with our daughters and sons.
When it comes to truly supporting the next generation to move beyond the patriarchy and #MeToo, however, we often expend more effort talking the talk than we put into walking the walk. In fact, there are three specific ways that many moms and dads unwittingly nurture patriarchy and shape our children to fit perfectly into their predetermined male/female roles in this dominator/dominated culture.

It starts when we dehumanize our children through emotional stratification

From early toddlerhood, parents unconsciously strip both genders of their rights to their full range of human emotion.
Our culture has classified emotions as belonging more naturally to men or women, but this is a false dichotomy. Emotions belong to both genders. “Feminine” and “masculine” emotions are merely constructs of the enculturated human mind. While parents generally treat emotional displays with relative acceptance when children are infants, we commonly change how we react to the emotional expression of our daughters and sons as they grow out of infancy. We start to teach our children that boys feel one way and girls another way, and the belief that there are “feminine” and “masculine” emotions begins to take root.

The problem worsens as we reward girls for submissiveness and boys for dominance

When girls “act out” or behave in ways that are deemed “aggressive,” they are admonished. WE tell them “be nice,” “nice girls don’t talk that way,” and “we don’t hit.” Consistently girls get the message that being loud, physical, or otherwise confrontational isn’t how they’re supposed to behave. They’re supposed to be smaller, quieter, more reserved, more accepting even if others are taking their toys, pulling their hair, or touching them without permission.
When our daughters do speak up for themselves (albeit clumsily or caustically at times), we may call them “selfish,” “sassy,” or “smart-mouthed” without realizing how our criticism and shame often leads them to mask or internalize “negative” emotions and choose to silence their strong voice in order to remain in our good graces.
While parents send some of the same “be nice” and “don’t hit” messages to boys, it happens less often and will decrease as boys continue to grow because we adults believe “boys will be boys.” This belief perpetuates the myth that boys are aggressive by nature and there’s only so much “taming” that parents can do. We tell boys not to let others “push them around” and congratulate them when they show their toughness and mettle in sports. We raise them up as conquering heroes and expect them to “never quit” or give in. Thus, male children, from a very young age, are expected to be more dominant and female children more submissive.
Deviations from these “norms” get called out by adults, and soon by children themselves as they inevitably absorb the beliefs about how boys and girls should be. The seeds of #MeToo are planted early on even if boys are allowed to wear pink and girls can play with trucks, because the overriding messages children get based on their behavior is that it’s “normal” is for males to dominate and females to be dominated.

Many common parenting and discipline techniques further normalize non-consensual, coercive relationships

Multiple times a day, well-meaning parents who don’t spank their children still unwittingly prime their children to accept force and coercion as normal. Some do it when they manhandle their toddler into the car seat. Others do it when they use time-outs to “make” a child behave. Some parents remove privileges unless their children “clean their plate” or insist that their children let grandma hug them.
All of these forms of manipulation normalize force and coercion and may resign children to tolerating it, not just from parents, but in their other intimate relationships as well. While there are noble intentions behind some of the aforementioned parental behaviors, the more often we take advantage of our authority, superior strength and size, position, or access to resources, the more our children will come to believe that it’s natural for the people who love you to hurt you (or for you to hurt the people you love).
Because boys and girls have already learned who the top dog is and who isn’t, this acceptance of force in relationships plays out differently for both genders. Boys learn that as the dominators it’s their job to apply the force. Girls in similar but converse fashion realize that it’s their role to accept the subservient position.

We cannot bring about change until we own our own complicity in propping up the existing system

This article is not meant to cast blame on parents or anyone else. It’s critical, however, that parents understand the powerful precedents we set by our choices. I wrote this piece to inspire moms and dads everywhere to become agents of radical culture change and transform our parenting so that it stops perpetuating toxic beliefs and harmful behaviors.
If you’d like to do one concrete thing today to help dismantle the dominant cultural worldview and more fully empower your children, download “Seven Ways You Can Victim-Proof Your Daughter” from the Conscious Moms’ Circle, an international community of conscious parents on Facebook.

Yep, This Nagging Feeling I Have Toward My Kids’ Grandparents Is Jealousy

I’m jealous my mother’s default child-watching emotion is joy. It sure as hell isn’t my mine.

“Perfect, hon. They were absolutely perfect.”
That’s my mom’s response when I ask her how the kids had been. Of course, I’m skeptical. On the other hand, based on the evidence in front of me, she seems to be telling the truth. Emma’s sitting quietly at the kitchen table and eating her dinner, a stark contrast to how she takes her meals when I’m in charge. Under my watch, I can no more convince my strong-willed toddler to sit down to eat than I can get her to wear pants. So, more often than not, Emma’s “meals” consist of a diaper-clad little creature running around the house while clutching a piece of raisin toast and screaming things like “I’m fru-trated.”
Then, there’s Jake. Dinnertime is normal the witching hour for the baby. But here he is, sucking down that 5:00 p.m. bottle my wife and I always have trouble with.
“Thank you so much,” I say.
“Oh hon,” my mom responds. “I should be thanking you. I get such joy out of spending time with my grandchildren.”
At this last statement, I feel an old, familiar feeling bubbling up to the surface. Initially, I had trouble identifying the feeling. But I now know it’s the green-eyed monster – jealousy. I’m actually jealous my mom is so happy to be around my kids. I’m jealous her default child-watching emotion is joy. It sure as hell isn’t my mine.
(Note: it’s not just jealousy I feel. There’s a ton of love and gratitude I feel toward my mom every single time I see her with my kids, but I don’t know how to write about those feelings in a way that’s either funny or profound – so let’s just stick with the jealousy, okay?)
For me, parenting is a cocktail of anxiety, profound love, exasperation, dread and, in very small increments, joy. Look, I love my kids as much as the next rapidly graying/balding, dad-bod-growing dad, but those little gremlins are exhausting.
The most remarkable thing I’ve discovered about parenting is this: Even if you have the shittiest, most soul-crushing job on the planet, if you have the privilege of coming home on Friday and spending the entire weekend with your children, by Sunday night you’re like, “I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow!”
But the grandparent experience seems to be something else altogether. From everyone I’ve talked to, it’s a pretty cush gig.
I used to work with a woman who would tell her own daughter – on a regular basis and in all sincerity – that being a grandmother was so much more enjoyable and rewarding than being a mother.
Of course it’s more enjoyable; it’s by far the better job. And when you have the better gig, you don’t go around rubbing it in to the person in your organization with the shittier job. It’s just common courtesy for grandparents not to brag to parents – the ones in the trenches – about how great they have it. That’s like a doctor telling their nurses how amazing it is to be a doctor.
“Hey nurse, I gotta tell you. Being a doctor is the BEST. You would not believe how great my job is. I just waltz into the patient’s room, spend a few minutes making the sicky feel really important and then leave you guys to do all the hard stuff. Speaking of which, this one smells like he needs a fresh change, nurse. Now if you’ll excuse me, I don’t want to be late for my tee time.”
Now my mom is far from the type of grandparent who hands back the baby every time it makes a peep. She’s as hands-on as they come. And I owe her a lot. Every week, she spends her one day off watching my kids. If that isn’t enough, the house is always spotless by the time my wife or I return.
And yet there’s still the jealousy.
I can’t help it. My mom is up at the top of the mountain, enjoying the breathtaking view of what she just scaled and looking down at the fruits of her labor – a couple of children who made it safely into adulthood and a pair of healthy grandkids. Even if she is on the back nine of her life, the top of that mountain looks pretty good to somebody in my spot.
I’m stuck here in the valley, staring up at a mountain that looks as insurmountable as Everest. I haven’t even gotten through the toddler stage, and my beard is nearly half white already. I still have the tweens, the dreaded teenage years, and that indeterminate stage where you wait anxiously to find out if your kid will become a functioning member of society or a basement-dwelling, live-at-home-til-their-late-30s, golden-year-cock-blocking slacker.
This parenting gig is stressful enough under even the most ideal conditions (ideal conditions being a team of nannies and enough money to be impacted by the recent changes to the Estate tax). But when you factor in all the terrifying possibilities beyond your control at each of these stages, it’s no wonder my default is more worry than joy.
If I’m lucky enough to make it to where my mom is right now, you can bet your sweet ass I won’t be showing my kids any common courtesy – I’ll be rubbing it right in their faces how much better I have it as a grandparent.

Posted on Categories _Connections

My Son Put a Sheep’s Eye in His Lunchbox

There are moments in motherhood we simply never forget: the first time our child smiles, the first time he takes a step, her very first day of school, the first time he brings home a sheep’s eye in his lunchbox. Oh, wait, did that only happen to me? Yes, I am the lucky winner of that fun parenting moment.

My son was in sixth grade and, though he loves science, he wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming dissection lesson. He tends to get easily grossed out by things of that sort (as does his mother). Driving home from school that particular day, I asked him how it went.

“It was actually really cool,” he replied. “We dissected a sheep’s eye. It was so cool that I asked my teacher if I could keep a piece. And he let me.”

“What do you mean keep a piece? Of the sheep’s eye? Like to take home?”

“Yup.”

“So you have it right now?”

“Yup.”

Remember when I told you his mother is easily grossed out? In my trying-not-to-freak-out voice I asked, “Where is it?”

“In my lunchbox.” His tone was casual.

“In your lunchbox?!”

“Yeah, why?”

“How could you put a sheep’s eye in your lunchbox? That is so gross! Is it in a baggie? Is it wrapped up?”

“No. And it’s not the whole eye, anyway,” he clarified. “It’s just the lens.”

“So you’re telling me the lens of a sheep’s eye is just rolling around your lunchbox? Next to, like, your pretzels.”

My son genuinely did not see anything wrong with this scenario. Furthermore, he also could not locate the piece of the eye when I asked him to take it out so I could sterilize his lunchbox.

So there I was, a seemingly normal 40-year-old woman frantically looking through a lunchbox and backpack, hoping to come across the lens of a sheep’s eye.

You know what’s worse than your son bringing home the lens of a sheep’s eye in his lunchbox? A missing sheep’s eye lens that you now have to worry about stumbling across at some unsuspecting moment in your life.

I remember thinking to myself, “This is one of those moments of motherhood where you realize what a completely wild and crazy ride this is.”

I mean, how many jobs does one mom even have? We are, at various times: chefs, housekeepers, chauffeurs, counselors, nutritionists, event planners, cheerleaders, rule makers, and, always, teachers.

Sometimes, I guess, we’re also sheep’s eye-seekers. Who could ask for anything more?

Posted on Categories _Writer Contest

Kid Made Recipe: Simple Noodle Soup

Delicious, wholesome, and we swear it’ll cure a winter cold. Ok, maybe not, but it is comfort food at it’s best. You need this warm and cozy recipe in your back pocket for winter.

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You need this warm and cozy recipe in your back pocket for winter. Simmer any small pasta
shape, (we used shells) and any veggies you like, (we like carrots) in chicken broth. Add butter, parmesan, black pepper, and scallions. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. Delicious, wholesome, and we swear it’ll cure a winter cold. Ok, maybe not, but it is comfort food at it’s best.

Simple Noodle Soup

Serves: 4-6
Total time: about 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chicken broth (homemade is great but boxed works just fine)
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 cups pasta (small shapes like ditallini, orzo, or mini shells work well)
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced veggies (we used carrots)
  • 3 Tbsp grated parmesan plus more for topping
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp thinly sliced scallions plus more for topping
  • Black pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Heat the chicken broth and water in a large shallow saucepan over medium high heat until it just starts to boil.
  2. Reduce heat to low, add pasta and veggies, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, checking the pasta for doneness.
  3. As soon as the pasta is cooked to your liking, remove pan from the heat and stir in the butter and then the parmesan.
  4. Add the scallions and stir.
  5. Use a slotted spoon to put some pasta in each bowl, then ladle over as much broth as you like.
  6. Top with lots of fresh grated parmesan, some pepper, and a few more scallions if you like.

Recipe Notes:

If you want to make this a more substantial dinner, add about a cup of shredded cooked chicken once the pasta is cooked!

What We're Listening To: Ear Hustle Podcast

I don’t say this lightly: Ear Hustle is the best podcast of 2017. It’s funny. It’s sad. It’s warm. It’s sincere. It’s gripping. It’s nuanced. It horrifying.

I don’t say this lightly: Ear Hustle is the best podcast of 2017. It’s funny. It’s sad. It’s warm. It’s sincere. It’s gripping. It’s nuanced. It horrifying. It is storytelling at its absolute best. And it’s all told by prisoners at San Quentin State Prison in California.

I am categorically calling this the best podcast of 2017 despite being someone who veers heavily toward the lighthearted in my podcast feed. I’m generally of the camp that I have enough crap (literal and figurative) in my life as a mother of three in this climate that I really don’t need to add self-imposed difficulties to my life. That’s why I was hesitant to download Ear Hustle at first. But I’m so glad I did. And you will be too.

What it’s about

Ear Hustle, from PRX’s Radiotopia, is prison slang for “eavesdropping.” And the show feels very much like that. You get a line into prison life that many of us, fortunately, otherwise would never get. The show itself is made inside of San Quentin’s media lab by two prisoners – Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, along with local artist and volunteer Nigel Poor. Earlonne and Nigel co-host the show.

Each episode tackles a different aspect of prison life. Sometimes the episodes focus on one individual and what got them into prison. For instance, episode two focuses heavily on one inmate and his journey that led him to where he is now. More often, the episodes deal with realities of prison life, from the light-hearted (The Boom-Boom Room) to the more serious, like getting old and dying in prison.

Why we love it

Some background on myself: I’ve spent nearly the last decade working for a legal nonprofit that supports and advances victims’ rights. While this doesn’t mean I’m anti-prisoner or anti-defendant, I do definitely veer toward being biased toward the victim. This show gave me a much-needed perspective into the humanity of those who are incarcerated.

Most of the people who we hear from are so heart-wrenchingly human. They are intelligent and funny, and often able to own up to the mistakes they made. One example comes at the end of episode three, Looking Out, where co-host Earlonne asks inmates in the yard what animal they would be and why.

Answers include “Dog, because I know someone would adopt me,” and “Marmot, because they’re misunderstood. Everybody thinks they’re weasels and they’re not, they’re marmots,” and “A jellyfish because it has no natural enemies.” I’ll stop there, but this exchange captures everything that is wonderful about the show. It is honest and smart and funny and surprising and, at its heart, deeply sad.

The inside glimpse into prison life is also incredibly interesting. The episode on solitary confinement, including interviews with prisoners who spent 20-plus years in solitary, will have you rethinking the justice system from top to bottom. Same thing for the episode on California’s three-strikes law. The show tackles smaller issues too, like the process of finding a cellmate or keeping pets in prison or, yes, getting intimate.

Start with this episode

If you like the personal background stories, start with episode two, Misguided Loyalty. It tracks the story of Tommy Shakur Ross, the son of a preacher, who ended up joining a gang, committing murder, and having his family murdered in retaliation. It also tells the story of his gradual transformation in prison.

If you are more interested in big social justice issues, listen to episode four, The Shu. If you watch “Orange is the New Black,” you’re familiar with the Shu, slang for solitary confinement. The look inside what solitary confinement is like, and what it does to those who manage to escape it, is a must-listen.

For just a peek into the life, listen to episode one, Cellies. It explains what cell-life is like, including the incredibly important issue of who you’re sharing your 4.5-by-10-foot cell with.

If you like this podcast, you might also like:

Try Death, Sex and Money by WNYC. The show offers a similar deep dive into difficult subjects. Rating: Listen with teens or wear earbuds due to explicit language and adult themes

Subscribe to Ear Hustle (seriously, do it) on iTunes and find more podcast recommendations here.

What We Can Learn When We Stop Making Fun of the Raw Water Trend

We’re used to seeing words like “natural” and “organic” used to sell us more expensive food. The latest trend in food purity campaigns? Raw water.

We’re used to seeing words like “natural” and “organic” used to sell us more expensive produce, nuts, and sugar. The latest trend in food purity campaigns? Raw water.
New companies are now selling customers unfiltered, untreated, and extremely expensive water. The movement, according to a December 2017 article in the New York Times, has grown in part from skepticism about water treatment practices in the United States, whether that’s concern over fluoride supplementation or lead pipes.
The Twitter response to the Times’ coverage flowed like your colon is apt to do after drinking unfiltered water:


Live Water, one of the companies profiled in the New York Times’ coverage, acknowledged the resulting “media controversy” and recently defended the safety of its product. Live Water describes its water source as “an ancient aquifer that we have extensively tested and has shown no harmful contamination what so ever [sic]. Water is collected from the covered spring head, so there is no chance for surface bacterias [sic] to enter the water.”
The terminology appears scientific. A “covered spring head” sounds like a safety device, but a “spring head” is simply the part of a spring that comes out of the ground. A “covered spring head” could mean a plastic cover on top of the spring, or even just a rock enclosure. There’s no reason to assume that harmful bacteria couldn’t enter that water source, because covered spring head or no, animals choose to defecate wherever they please. Furthermore, even “ancient” aquifers, while acting as nature’s coffee filters, do not filter out all kinds of bacteria.
The grammar errors in Live Water’s hastily-written response to the Times’ negative publicity should suggest that Live Water’s claims have not undergone thorough peer review. Those looking to read more about those claims should read fact-checking site Snopes’ analysis of Live Water’s scientific claims about raw water. There’s no strong evidence that “raw” water provides any health benefits over filtered, treated water. There is plenty of evidence that treated water has changed the world for the better.
Obviously, our country’s drinking water is not without problems. It’s unconscionable that it was just last week, nearly four years from the start of its water crisis, that Flint, Michigan’s water quality was declared restored. But raw spring water is not the answer to these problems. Just ask the citizens of Puerto Rico (many of whom are still in the dark, by the way), who still don’t have reliably safe drinking water. Clean drinking water is perhaps the greatest human invention since fire (which allowed for the boiling and subsequent sanitation of water). In fact, it’s hard to overstate the importance of learning that diseases can be conveyed by water.
In “The Ghost Map” author Steven Johnson explains how physician Jon Snow ended a medical crisis and essentially founded the field of epidemiology when he started marking deaths from cholera cases on a map. Snow’s map allowed him to identify the source of water common to all of the cases. The end to the cholera epidemic was astoundingly simple: authorities removed the handle from the Broad Street Pump and people stopped getting sick. (Sidebar: I haven’t confirmed this with George R. R. Martin, but it’s hard not to see the similarities between his Jon Snow in “Game of Thrones” and the historical counterpart. Both are men who recognized evidence of a sweeping plague before everyone around them took notice. Maybe in the next season Jon Snow should check the water sources north of The Wall.)
Many critics of raw water consumers are comparing the pseudo-scientific arguments for raw water to those made by anti-vaccination activists. Refuse to get vaccinated? You might get whooping cough. Refuse to drink treated water? You might get cholera. Some anti-anti-vaxxers crow about measles outbreaks affecting those who choose to go unvaccinated. It wouldn’t be surprising to see tweets celebrating the first confirmed cases of Giardia among raw water adherents.
The problem with this line of argument is that, in both cases, those on the pro-science side fail to see why the arguments against vaccination and for untreated water are so powerful. It’s easier to believe that a medical industrial complex is after your money, that the invisible regulations that have kept our water (mostly) safe are actually poisoning us, than to accept that the health conditions like autism or chronic pain or cancer have no cures. Viewed in this way, the raw water movement and others that have preceded it take root wherever there is uncertainty and doubt. In our uncertain time, is it surprising that people are willing to pay almost $15 a gallon for water that makes the future feel a little more fixed?
(Actually, make that almost $25 per gallon. The 2.5-gallon jugs of Live Water previously sold at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery for $36.99 are now going for $60.99.)
https://twitter.com/NellieBowles/status/948525485151092736

Could Acetaminophen Use Contribute to Delayed Speech Among Girls?

New research suggests that pregnant women who take Tylenol “or its equivalent) may have daughters with delayed speech.

Pregnant women acquire all different types of fun ailments, leaving them with little choices on the medications they’re allowed to take. When I was pregnant with my first, I endured immense pain surrounding the tissues around my ribs, but there was nothing I could do. I knew I had to trudge through it until my rib cage finally bellowed enough to make room for my growing baby boy. Sometimes women will take an over-the-counter acetaminophen when they have a similar pain or feel sick. But new research suggests that pregnant women who take Tylenol “or its equivalent) may have daughters with delayed speech.
It seems like a strange connection, but according to the study, daughters of women who took acetaminophen while pregnant were more likely to have delayed onset of speech. The study, found in the journal European Psychiatry, surveyed 754 pregnant Swedish women between weeks eight and 13. The questionnaire asked how often the pregnant women took acetaminophen, and the participants were also asked to include urine samples throughout the weeks to detect the acetaminophen concentration.
The children from these pregnant women were then studied. All children in Sweden were given a developmental screening at 30 months. Those who did not say 30 words at this time were categorized as having a speech and language delay. About 10 percent of children in the study had delayed speech at 30 months, with boys being the more likely gender. Boys are often much more common to have a language delay compared to their counterparts. According to the study “girls born to mothers in the high-acetaminophen group were nearly six times more likely to have language delays than girls whose mothers had used none.” The more Tylenol or its equivalent that women took and the higher the levels found in their urine, the more evidence of  language delays in the daughters. Interestingly enough, boys of mothers who took acetaminophen were not more likely to have a speech delay.
The researchers theorized that “girls around 30 months tend to have higher vocabularies than boys – a well-recognized female advantage in early-childhood language development.” So, the study found that the intake of acetaminophen reduced this advantage. Digesting acetaminophen during the early stages of pregnancy may also be linked to ADHD. Yet it is commonplace for doctors and midwives alike to tell their patients that it is okay to take the over-the-counter drug while pregnant.
Although I didn’t take acetaminophen when I was pregnant with my son, he still ended up having a speech delay. And the second time around, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I didn’t take anything, either – yet her speech soared. And now I wonder, if I had taken the over-the-counter drug, would my daughter have been a late-talker like those in the study? It’s an interesting connection, that’s for sure.
So, remember to check with your obstetrician or midwife before taking anything that you question while pregnant. Take the time to do some research on your own, too. And if you’re having a reoccurring pain or other ailment, bring up this study to your care provider. It may not be a bad idea.

Finding Yourself Through Mom Friends

My only chance at surviving these childhood years would come in the form of a cross-body-bag-wearing, sleep deprived, carrier of small humans: another mom.

Palms sweating. Fingers tightly wrapped around my tray containing the daily special: broccoli and cheese dippers, a carton of slightly souring milk, a fruit cup, and my English notebook. The knot in my stomach tightening as I enter the cafeteria. Will there be a spot at an empty table? Will I strike up a conversation and sit with someone today?
High school. Freshman year. Life sucked.
Pimples. Puberty. Hormones. As a teen girl, I was a mess. I wasn’t overly good at sports. I was tall, so I was picked for teams, but easily fell over my own two feet which made it hard to hang with the jocks. I was book smart and made good grades, but not enough to be cool among the geeks. I was afraid of authority, I didn’t take many risks, and doing anything illegal upset me more than I cared to admit, so I didn’t fit into the alternative crowd. I slowly compiled a small group of friends, whom I grew to love dearly, as they loved me for who I was, whoever that was.
As I aged my group of friends grew slightly, but I learned that I always seemed better at keeping mainly to myself. My introverted nature thrived and I found myself most at ease when working on building my family. My relationship with my now-husband strengthened as we grew together, and the stress of maintaining outside relationships dwindled my group of girlfriends significantly. I was a working woman with a large family life to juggle – some great friends I made regular visits with, and the acquaintances I often caught up with for drinks, began to fade. Some friends were having children, which I found hard to relate to. Others, waiting like me, became more involved in their careers. We all became busy, and our friendships slowly became  less intense. In my late 20s I admittedly became the most introverted in my life – and I was happy.
Then I had my first child. (Holy hell, how do people do this alone?! I give some serious props to you single parents out there.) Somehow, in the blur that had then become reality, I added a second babe, as if that was what I was supposed to do. Two kids in 17 months lead to a lot of staring in the mirror wondering what had become of me. Having my husband along for the ride kept me floating above water, but I was in desperate need of those friends I had let slip away.
The problem was, once you get your life to where you want it to be – totally comfortable in your reclusive reality of home life with your career on hold to raise your babes – there was just quiet. A deafening silence, only interrupted by the milk-driven screams of your new best friends.
Gone were the girls’ nights, the collective complaining as the wine poured. I needed someone with milk (hopefully) on their shirt, toys in their pockets, and bags under their eyes who would understand why I put my cold coffee in the microwave three times before ultimately forgetting where I put it. Where was the person in my life that could sing the Paw Patrol theme song and who knew Rubble and Rocky were not terrain terms? Why could no one else understand the bargaining power of some Goldfish crackers?
One thing became abundantly clear: my introverted lifestyle needed to be seriously made over, and my only chance at surviving these childhood years would come in the form of a cross-body-bag-wearing, sleep deprived, carrier of small humans: another mom.
Making new friends is not easy. It’s flashbacks of high school. It’s bringing your lunch to the table and hoping someone is willing to chat with you. A positive note is that most moms will chat to any adult that comes within earshot. However, commonalities often end after the small talk. You usually discuss kids, feeding styles, and sleep patterns … maybe toss in a question about the hubster or two, and then it’s the silence that sneaks back in. You struggle to remember the part of you that isn’t a mom or a wife, and you forget that there is more to you to discuss.
The attempts are difficult at first. Connecting with a woman like you is nearly impossible, especially since you aren’t sure who you is anymore. Does she wear yoga pants in public? Does she raise her voice too often, and feed her guilty feelings with candy bars? Will there be a woman at story-time today who also stepped on a Lego while getting her toddler wrangled and lost her mind waiting for him to dress himself for the fifth time … or will you see a gal with makeup on and her hair done and long to know how she does it? Could she be the one to help you find the you hiding inside?
The park days become auditions where you try to size up the other ladies to see who just might be a good fit. At play dates you overdress and pretend to have your shit together to see if she might be the one. As if struggling with your tiny humans wasn’t enough, now you need to slut yourself out to find the gal who’s going to make it somehow all seem okay.
You keep looking though. She’s out there. Just like that one true friend you had in high school. Just like a unicorn riding on a rainbow. That elusive four-leaf clover. If you kiss enough frogs you will be rewarded. And when it happens, it’s like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Time stops and a theme song begins to play in the background of your life. That’s when the wooing begins.
Ultimately, with a little pushing and a little convincing yourself that it’s worth it – that you are worth it – you will find that lady who will welcome you in and your whole life will be different. You won’t worry so much about the makeup you didn’t put on, or the beds that aren’t made, or the snot you can’t seem to keep off the sleeve of their shirts. No longer will you sit and cry in the bathroom quietly (well, maybe you still will when someone eats your last hidden cookie), but you’ll have a gal to call, and she’ll drown your mommy woes in a box of wine.
You’ll have a gaggle that will be knee-deep in crap with you, and if they aren’t suffering as you are at that moment in time, they have been or will be, and they know it. She will be an ear to listen, and a heart to heal. If for nothing else a true mom friend will tell you when to take the sweats off and paint the town red with your hubster – she’ll even throw in babysitting so you can.
It’s simple to get lost in the person you were and the dreams you had. To watch the worlds of others and wish you could just get yourself together. You can easily feel hostage to the tiny manipulators that slowly suck away parts of you. As a mom, I was forgetting that I was a wife, a sister, a friend. As a mom, I was at a loss to be anything else. And, that’s why a mom friend is critical. She is the woman who reminds you that there is someone inside that frazzled exterior who is so much more than what she sees.
If I am honest, I still prefer my nights quietly sitting on the couch, binge-watching TV or nose deep in a good fiction. Putting pants that button on to go out, even for a glass of wine with my friends, sometimes feels like too much. Ignoring invites and staying in our jammies is optimal. But then I remember how much better I feel as soon as I see her.
In High School, when I stood with my tray in hand scanning the cafeteria, there was always a feeling of comfort that would settle in when I spied my group of closest friends. The ones I didn’t need to pretend to feel a part of. The ones who loved me and encouraged me to be me – and when I wasn’t, they would remind me of who that was.
Although the road back to this same feeling can be long and bumpy, there is no greater comfort than that found in a mom friend. Making friends in any facet of life is a trialing experience. Putting yourself out there is  terrifying. But for the sake of my sanity and for the pure enjoyment of learning that the woman in the mirror is more than what she has become, it is essential.
You can do it.

Posted on Categories _Adulthood

Being Direct With Your Kids May Be Their Path to Avoid Unhealthy Eating

It turns out, if you want your children to avoid the consumption of junk food, being more direct may be the way to go.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I would sprint through the door after school and head straight to the kitchen. Starving, we’d run to the cupboard to choose our snacks. Doritos, Oreos, or our mother’s homemade chocolate chip cookies were almost always in plain view.
My mother, who naturally has a healthy BMI, never lectured us on our eating habits. Instead, she taught us through her actions by cooking us healthy dinners. Now that we’re adults, I wonder if we would have a different relationship with food if she had talked to us more directly when we were children.
Although there is no conclusive research yet about how mothers should talk to their children about food, a new study does suggest that obese mothers speak more directly to their children. In addition, obese mothers were just as cognizant about their child’s junk food intake compared to mothers with a healthy BMI.
Further, their children did indeed listen to their mothers. It turns out, if you want your children to avoid the consumption of junk food, being more direct may be the way to go.
The study was conducted by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and was summarized by Science Daily. Two hundred and thirty-seven women were studied as they were placed in a room with their child. The room had various foods, including chocolate cupcakes. The mothers’ communication toward their children was studied and found that obese women spoke directly to their children.
For example, they said things like, “Only eat one,” instead of a more indirect statement like, “You haven’t eaten dinner yet.” The children of the obese mothers tended to listen to their mothers fairly easily, too. Yet, expert opinion is still mixed on how parents should talk to their children regarding food intake.
There is some conflicting advice on the best approach. “On one hand,” Megan Pesch, M.D. said, “overly restricting food could backfire and actually lead to overeating. But parents also want to encourage healthy habits.”
She went on to explain that direct communication is typically easier for children to understand and follow, but there’s always that sensitivity factor when it comes to eating and weight.
The study also contested a nasty stereotype. There is often a bad perception of obese mothers and how they parent their children surrounding the topic of food. The stereotypical assumption is that they simply let their children eat whatever they want, whenever they want. The study, however, debunked this myth.
Pesch said, “The mothers we observed were on it. They were attentive and actively trying to get their children to eat less junk food.”
Judging a book by its cover in all areas of life, especially motherhood, should not be practiced. Regardless of the size of our bodies, we all want the best for our children and to see them choose a healthy lifestyle.
Whether you exercise direct or indirect communication toward your children and the food they eat, continue to have that open dialogue. Because a healthy life, without Doritos, will leave your children feeling satisfied.

Navigating Autism: Keep Looking Up

He deserves the chance to grow, thicken his skin, show others how wrong they are about him. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it.

I had one of those days yesterday, the kind that left me with a kink in my neck that prevents me from looking up from my beat-up Uggs. The kind of day that prevents me from looking up at all. Yesterday, I cried on the playground of my son’s preschool. It’s been a decade or two since I let it all out in the midst of flying balls and staring children, but let me tell you, it is still just as embarrassing.

It was only for a second. I reeled it back in as quickly as it escaped, but it lasted just long enough for me to reveal my ugly-cry face to my son’s preschool teacher. She was probably having a hard enough time already as she was coming to me to talk about my autistic son’s behaviors in a general education class.

Why is my autistic son in a general education classroom? Well, I could argue it’s for inclusion or exposure, but the truth is that I fought to keep him in the general education system because it just felt right to me, as his mom, at the time.

When Henry was not talking at all at two years old, our pediatrician suggested preschool. Get him around some other kids and the words will come, the doctor advised. Give it three months.

That’s what we did. I was so nervous putting him in preschool before he could ask for water, or even for me, but he needed something. So did I: I needed a break.

Three months came and went and, while Henry adjusted to nap-time and separation anxiety in a “typical” way, the words did not come. Instead of lessening my fears, preschool exposed new ones I had yet to discover. Still no words came. When I came to pick Henry up each day, he was always playing happily and he was also always playing alone. Maybe he was playing in close proximity to other children, but he was never playing with them.

It was like a seam in the universe was stitched between my boy and this world. While I was made aware of Henry’s solitary nature, I was always comforted by the teachers and preschool director, who patiently reminded me that some children take longer to adjust than others. We waited, and a year went by.

Within that year, we got our answer: autism. It all added up. It was a hard pill to swallow, but it also made sense. In a way, the diagnosis was preferable to the potential diagnosis. Either way, I’d be worrying, but at least now I knew why.

We did speech therapy and child development class and requested an IEP meeting with the school district. They offered us a special ed preschool program where Henry would receive speech and occupational therapy weekly and be amongst his “peers.” The school within our residence district happened to be the best program in the county. With high hopes, my mom and I went to take a tour.

We walked into each classroom with smiles on our faces, eager to hear about the different activities, but I couldn’t help notice all the self-directed children engaged in self-directed play right next to one another. When the tour came to an end, we thanked the teachers and walked to the car in silence. Opening the car door, I plopped myself into my mom’s passenger seat and began to cry.

“I don’t think I can send him here, Mom.”

She looked at me and said, “Oh honey, I’m so glad to hear you say that.”

It was my gut, my heart, and my disregard for pragmatics that led me to keep Henry at his general education preschool. At that time, the child advocate who represented us told me straight up, “I think you’re making a mistake.” I respected his honesty, but I told him that my child needs the world. He needs the world to stay with him. He needs the world to continue playing around him, circling him, while he pauses for a moment.

The world needs to be there when he wakes up. If it’s not, he may think that he’s alone and go back inside his mind to hibernate for another year. Another valuable year. I told our advocate that my son may be bullied in the general education system, but that may be better than being ignored, isolated, segregated, separated, numb, disenfranchised. I didn’t want him to be a bystander.

Maybe pain is a part of real life, and he deserves to live a real life and learn from it, as we all must. He deserves the chance to grow, thicken his skin, show others how wrong they are about him. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it. My heart knew what felt right to me as a mom. So we kept him in general education and his amazing private preschool was happy to have him stay, no questions asked.

The director of the program even shared with me that she has family members with autism and that, in her experience, social progress is the key that unlocks the doors to both speech and sensory issues. I agreed that in order for Henry to learn to speak, he needed to be spoken to, constantly, by everyone around him. That’s exactly what general education could give him that special education could not.

My child advocate strongly disagreed. “It’s not better to be bullied as a child, ever.” It was hard and painful logic to refute. I did not refute it, I just followed my heart. It’s all that I’ve done since I started on this path, and I’ve tripped and fallen plenty of times along the way, and that’s okay. However, I cannot afford to take my child down with me when I hit the pavement.

I tripped yesterday, like a child on a playground. This time, I wasn’t a child. I was a mother. A broken-hearted mother overcome with a hundred different emotions in one moment. As I listened to my son’s teacher gently break down for me that he’s struggling and that she’s struggling with him, so many feelings showed up. Initially, it was good-ol’-fashioned embarrassment. I know I don’t need to (nor should I) feel embarrassed over my son’s disability, but sometimes, I just do.

I was sad that this day had come, the one I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge as it lingered off ahead somewhere on the distant horizon of the future. This was the day my child advocate was trying to protect us from. While Henry wasn’t being kicked out of his general education preschool (he wasn’t even in trouble) this day now stood as a pillar along the rocky road I’ve been walking. It was a marker in time, a reminder, a reality check.

My son’s teacher wanted to know if there was anything she could do to help calm Henry down when he gets upset. She is the kindest soul and loves my son, and she just wants to help him, but I could see that she’s tired. I recognized that look of defeat. It’s the one you get where you’ve tried everything and it makes no difference at all. It was like looking in the mirror. She merely asked what I do at home when Henry gets upset and the ugly-cry face unleashed itself.

Her intentions were pure, and I’m so grateful that she came to me. I knew as soon as she began to speak that this conversation was different than the ones she has with other parents, because my son is different. There it is: cue the face. As if this returned realization was not enough to sufficiently and publicly upset me, there was still another layer of reality that I had to confront.

I didn’t have the answer to her question. I froze as if I’d just been called on in geography class while passing notes. Was this a trick question? Why couldn’t I answer it? It was a very straightforward inquiry. Yet I stared back at her with a vacuous expression and, like my son, I struggled to find the words I needed in that moment.

I couldn’t find them because they weren’t there. I don’t know how to calm my son down when he “melts down.” I try to comfort, love, and support him. I try to reprimand, discipline, and explain to him. I try to ignore, detach, and disengage. I try everything. To no avail.

I fail. I get pushed and kicked. I tear up, hold in, let go, and still, my son remains end-of-the-world level upset. It is defeating. It’s exhausting. It makes you want to give up.

What I didn’t have the composure to say to her in that moment is that I’ve spent the last three months of my life fighting tooth and nail to get my son behavioral therapy. I was too proud to tell her that we’d lost our health insurance over the summer. I was too emotional to explain that as certain behaviors have escalated, my family’s resources have dissipated like sand running through a child’s fingers. Instead, I just said, “It’s been hard,” and she understood.

I am left now with an emotional string tied around my index finger. It’s a conscious reminder of the changing tide, and of the knowledge that not a single one of us can predict or control it. No one can tell me what is right or what is best for my son. No one can tell me if it’s fair to his teacher or the other children to keep him there and for how long. At least not yet. Only time will tell.

It took Henry one year of general education preschool to begin speaking. It took him one year to make a friend. Not just a child who plays near him or alongside him, but a friend. An adorable little girl who is always by his side when I arrive to pick him up. His first friend, his first words, what are they worth? Are they worth risking potential bullying? Are they worth extra stress on his teachers? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Yesterday, I cried on the playground. Today my neck is frozen in a downward position. Even though it hurts, I must keep looking up. Life is marked with pain, regardless of the road you take. It’s a patient beacon that waits for us like rest stops along the highway of life, summoning us to pause for a moment to recall that we’re all lost travelers being led by unreliable navigation systems that are constantly rerouting.

While I have more work to do, more tears in store, and (God-forbid) more ugly cry faces waiting to be unleashed, there is no right or wrong answer. There is only my heart and his to navigate daily, until and if the time arrives to nudge our hearts in a new direction.

Yesterday was a hard day, but it’s not the end of the road. I know that I must continue on and that as long as I am looking up, I will see the signs that time will mark for me along this journey. While it may hurt at times, the pain is worth every detour, rest stop, and pothole. It’s worth every tear on the playground. It’s life, and it’ll be waiting patiently, next to me, when my son pauses to look up.