The Real Reason My Biracial Son Has Long Hair

Not because I want to control him, but because it’s the one thing to which I’ve hitched the illusion that I can control the way people see him.

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When my son was born, he had a faint whisper of fine brown hair. “Have his curls come in yet?” my mother would ask each time we spoke. By the time he was two, they sat on his forehead in perfect spirals; a mop of coils that bounced about in every direction as his body did the same.

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“He’s got the good hair.” “Oh, I just want to touch it. Can I?” “What a beautiful little girl you have!”

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We couldn’t leave the house without someone strange or familiar commenting on the head of my child. If he was bothered by the attention, he never really expressed it. He didn’t necessarily thrive on it either, but rather came to accept it as something to navigate and traverse like cracks in the sidewalk.
When he was three, he quietly took a pair of kid scissors and hid in his room, hacking a chunk out of the back before being discovered by his dad. I arrived home to find my husband far more anxious about delivering the news than the would-be hairdresser himself.

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH IT?” I demanded.

“What? The hair? I threw it in the trash can. Why?”

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I scrambled to the kitchen to rescue what I could. The curls I had stroked as they lay splayed against the pillow as he slept. The curls I untangled each morning and marveled at from across the playground. I tucked them safely into an envelope and away in a drawer acutely aware for the first time that his body was not simply an extension of mine.
In preschool he came home from a sleepover at his grandparents house, his scalp tightly lined with cornrows. With his hair out of the way, it was so easy to appreciate the angular beauty of his maturing face. If he ever had baby fat, all traces of it had vanished, leaving behind chiseled features that hinted at the man he’ll become. I loved finding his eyes so easily; the eyes that always hold a soft skepticism, reluctant to give anything away before letting someone in.
He loved it, too. He said it made him faster. As he darted up the busy pedestrian mall in our tiny city, the same people who’d stop in their tracks to compliment or observe this wild and wonderful creature when the wind blew through his curls, now said nothing. I can’t make assumptions about their assessment of my son, but I know that as his mother, I sensed the world was receiving him differently. It weighed on me.
Not long after, we faced the childhood scourge of lice. Teeming with bugs that evolved simply to make people miserable, I could have shaved his head completely. Instead, I spent countless hours combing, picking, treating, and obsessing. As we sat, “Spongebob” on loop, I considered why I was so reluctant to simply cut it off. How much should a child be defined by their hairstyle? What was I teaching him?

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Little black boy at the beach with long hair
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I tried to envision him with a closely cropped cut – without the curls that echoed his sweet and silly free spirit. In my mind’s eye, he looked harder, more stand-offish and tough. As much as I had tried to convince myself otherwise, I considered what adding those qualities to his brown skin would mean.
There’s nothing I hate more than the fact that we live in a world where a child too young to cross the street alone can be seen as threatening. That police can pump bullets into the torso of a boy who closely resembled my son with only two seconds of gathering information. Black boys aren’t granted the benefit of the doubt. And it’s my duty to parent from a place of knowing that.

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He’s 10 now and with each passing year, his unruly mass of brown hair with copper streaks has grown longer and more deeply connected to how he defines himself. As far as he knows, it’s cool; a feature that makes him unmissable even in silhouette. He likes it just the way it is and for that, I am grateful.
But the day may come when he asks to cut it, and to be honest, I don’t know how easily I’ll give in. Not because I want to control him, but because it’s the one thing to which I’ve hitched the illusion that I can control the way people see him.

His body is not an extension of mine. My white, small-statured body bears the weight of mothering a boy in a world that sees him as less than.

The True Weight of 300 Pounds

More fit people look at me when we’re at the park with our kids and their glances to me feel like 1000 pounds of judgment.

I haven’t always been the size I am now. Currently, according to the the scale in my aunt’s and uncle’s bathroom,  I am EE, which I assume is an acronym for Extremely Eloquent. Nailed it!

I weigh 300 pounds – 304.1 to be completely accurate.

It’s important to note that I have been fighting the urge to write this post for weeks because of my own insecurities. It seems contradictory (read: painfully hypocritical) since I remind my high school students all the time how important it is to be proud of yourself at every stage and to own your insecurities. I explain how much my husband loves me and how powerful my body is for having brought two children into the world.

All of that is true. I believe every word. However, I had to accept the realization that hiding behind layers of clothes and not being my true, authentic self regardless of what the scale read wasn’t going to make me any less overweight. People need to put a face to obesity. We need to be responsible enough to educate ourselves and our children so they can understand and begin to be sensitive to people’s struggles. We teach this with racism, sexism, and even poverty-sensitivity, but somehow it’s still acceptable to gawk and stare at a person who is overweight eating at a restaurant like they are some circus sideshow. Maybe if my story can be heard, people can begin to see that we aren’t monsters.

This is 300.

It should be noted that, while I am using my number so that I can begin to own it, many who echo my feelings are much smaller. Every person’s prison looks different.

My weight gain started in about fourth grade but, back then – before the instant spread of information – it was much easier to be blissfully unaware of one’s shortcomings. I had no idea I looked any different from my friends until sixth grade when I found out a boy in my class was paid in a bet to ask me to be his girlfriend and then give me a pack of Slim Fast as a Valentine’s gift…in the hallway…in front of all of my friends. Yeah, not one of my finer moments. (Sorry if I never told you that, Mom.)

To be honest, it wasn’t really the end of the world for me. I’ve never been like most girls who fawned after boys and wanted to be trendy. While I totally rocked the curled forward/curled back and feathered bangs of the 90’s, Guess jeans (which were from Goodwill and I eventually tore the business end out of during gym class), and silk shirts (mine were from the men’s department), I didn’t do makeup and boyfriends, Barbies or dress up. I did goals and involvement, jobs and volunteering. (Seriously, how did I manage to have friends?!)

It occurred to me later in life that I must’ve had some kind of awareness that I wasn’t physically acceptable. In the fifth grade, I wrote a fan letter to my 90s heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas (don’t act like you didn’t buy his issue of TeenBeat) and I asked my beautiful, cheerleading best friend to send her picture as my own. I must’ve known that I had no chance to hear back from him with a picture of myself in the letter.

Fast forward through high school and college where I tried billions of diets, fad plans, all natural pills, drinks, meetings, calorie counting, and starvation (for those who know how next-level mean I get when I’m hungry, picture how that last one must’ve gone). None of it worked.

The crazy thing is that, like most of you, when I look back at the pictures from those formative years, I would pay good money to look like I did then. At the time, I wanted to crawl in a hole during most social settings because I felt like the biggest cow in the room. I put on a super-believable front of confidence and hilarity but it was painfully isolating to feel that way about myself. I hid behind books, jobs, sports, and layers of clothing, because obviously a tank top and three t-shirts convinced people that I was only wearing that fat suit from “The Nutty Professor” instead of it being my real body under there.

Somehow I got along by being the guys’ gal. I played football with the boys, was a soccer goalie in college, and was usually one of the first picked for intramural teams because I wasn’t afraid to get dirty, but I really just wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere. How could I fit in while simultaneously feeling like I was watching it all from the outside?

I killed it in the gym before getting married and walked down the aisle, slaying it (if I do say so myself) at a solid 175 pounds. Anyone who was there would have been shocked by that number, but guess what? American people are idiots. We are so insanely naive to what real numbers look like spread across bones and muscle that we all assume 175 is the size of a grown man. Not always, my friends. I rocked a bikini on our honeymoon at 175 and would do it again in a hot minute if I still looked like that!

I then packed on 50 pounds in our first year of marriage because, well, marriage. I gained 80 more pounds with my first pregnancy since, as a lifetime over-eater, this was a license to eat donuts for every breakfast and wear stretch-pants to work because no one could say anything to me. Herein lies my greatest regret in life. No kidding.

The bounce-back from my post-wedding weight gain and two near-death childbirths hasn’t been the rebuilding year(s) I thought they’d be. I mean, how long is it acceptable to wear maternity clothes after your baby is born, really? Like, will anybody really notice if I rock a nursing bra to my daughter’s graduation?

This is 300.

What most people fail to recognize is that when you’re overwieght, you have to think about things differently every single day. It isn’t only the obvious considerations like seat belt extenders on airplanes or choosing a van over a compact car. Please understand what we see when we look at the world.

When we were deciding to downsize our living arrangements and go tiny, I was nervous because of my size. Could I navigate a ladder if we had a loft bedroom? Would I have to turn sideways in the hallways because, giiiirrrlll, these hips don’t lie? Would I even fit inside the shower or on the toilet? Turns out, it’s perfectly fine and we make it work.

In a movie theatre, music venue, or restaurant, I have to consider how wide the arms of the chairs are because slamming my hips into them is like pouring Play-doh into one of those spaghetti-making factories, if they have plastic seats because those babies don’t stand a chance, or if they have tables instead of booths because those suckers were made for infants. I refuse to eat at buffets because, even though my large frame consumes small meals at a time, I feel like I’m on display. It’s as if I am loading my plate at a feeding trough and all of the average-sized patrons are watching and snickering to themselves about me getting seconds, failing to notice the first plate had only a small salad and vegetables.

This is 300.

At home, in our tiny bathroom, the teal rug is flecked with white. This is the remnants of baby powder to ensure that everything goes smoothly throughout the day because, without it, the chafing that can happen behind the scenes is horribly painful. My husband asked me the other night if I somehow had gotten deodorant on my pants. I lied and said yes, but it was baby powder.

More fit people look at me when we’re at the park with our kids and their glances to me feel like 1000 pounds of judgment. Why isn’t she jogging instead of walking? Why did she wear a tank top in public? Why is she pouring her dumps over that bike seat so we have to all look at it? While their stares may be innocent, I feel the shame of a guilty verdict.

To say that my body is a prison would be a gross understatement. The analogy does no justice to my daily life because prisoners, even those doing time for crimes they didn’t commit, have no freedoms and little idea of the world outside. I’m forced to watch it pass by while my mind tells me I should be able to run, go, play, but my aching joints, bad back, and post-baby belly flap suggest otherwise. If you haven’t lived this life-sentence, please accept that you cannot possibly understand what we are going through. Additionally, we wouldn’t want you to feel this. It is painful…all the time.

This is 300.

When weight loss success stories begin with rock bottom moments like when their kid told them their friends called their mommy fat, or when they were made fun of in public, or when the scale would no longer register their weight, I smile. Good for them! Inside I somehow accept that I can never accomplish what they have. On some level I wonder if I self-sabotage because I feel like I don’t deserve to be successful. I have gone through every one of those scenarios…most more than once, but here I am.

To those of us who need to loose 100 pounds or more, it seems unachievable. We’re told, “Set small attainable goals. Exercise. Take in less calories than you’re burning.”

“You don’t say! Well that is brand new information! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

If you’re fit, or even one of those blessed with freak-show metabolism that burns off your fourth Taco Bell meal so you still make it into your size nothing skinny jeans, I applaud you. But I don’t understand your life. I can smell your burrito and wake up four pounds heavier for it.

This is 300.

I hate shopping. No, seriously. It’s the worst. I’ve always hated it because 10 years ago, when I was 175, it was even less acceptable for females to be larger. My size range of 10 to 14 may as well have been special order Big-and-Tall catalogue items. Now I shop exclusively online and happily pay the fee to return my items instead of awkwardly finagling my way around a fitting room only to leave disappointed and feeling even worse about myself.

It kills me that stores have started changing their sizing from 14/16, 18/20, 22/24, and 26/28 to 1, 2, 3, and 4. While I appreciate your attempt at sensitivity, I know if there are any single digits on my clothing tags, they better be followed by an X. Get serious! Nobody believes this shirt is a size two! The day my pants are a size anything below a 16, that long, narrow sizing sticker is staying on this leg, honey! All. Day.

“Ma’am, did you know your tag is still on your pants?”

“Why yes, innocent bystander at Starbucks. What is that number? Read it out loud. Tell your friends!”

When you’re larger, it’s difficult to feel like you look good in anything. Many have been told their entire lives that they are different, gross, or wrong. So when a well-intentioned friend pays us a compliment, our sensitive minds distort it into some kind of back-handed joke or slight about our looks.

Just because we had a grandpa who made crass comments about our size or a boy in grade school who bought us Slim Fast as a prank doesn’t mean the world sees us that way. Some do, but that is our reality. They are obviously inept. We are people. We have feelings, and families, and hopes for the future.

Just as smaller people should learn to walk a mile (okay, like a block) in our Sketchers Shape-Ups, we need to learn to let it go. Laugh so you don’t cry, call it what you want, but loosen up! Odds are you won’t wake up miraculously killing it in a supermodel frame, so we need to embrace it and decide where to go from here. As we do, let’s at least agree to enjoy the journey, even the bumpy, cellulite-filled parts.

This is 300.

Unlike other addictions, we need food to survive. Our reality is that we know our bodies shouldn’t run on a steady stream of cream-filled coffee, donuts from the office, and the Taco Bell Happier Hour dollar burrito we bought on our way home from work and trashed the bag so our family members didn’t know we ate it. We have to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with anyone else.

“Oooh that girl is wearing one of those step counting watches! She’s probably on her way to eat kale and run at the park in some trendy yoga pants and one of those tank tops with the built-in bra!”

My Fitbit ain’t fooling anybody! I bought that burrito and ate it like a boss! What even is kale, other than the name of a kid who I imagine has friends with other pretentious names like Heath and Talon? I don’t even attempt Spanx, much less spandex yoga pants. Those shelf bras? HA! They hold up nothing and just spread over my back fat so I look like I am smuggling a pack of sausages.

It’s up to us to decide how we move forward from here. Some of us will continue to wallow in our self pity. Some may choose surgery, starvation, or a reality show in which you work out 12 hours a day. It’s a trick to make real people feel like it is attainable. (You know, those of us watching enviously as we devour an entire bag of chips and imagine what our life would be like if we lost our excess weight.) Many of us will continue to struggle. This is a lifetime sentence, even if you are successful.

I still don’t know my choice. I don’t want to just see my kids grow up, I want to be a part of that. I want to climb and race and do the crazy things I used to be able to do when I thought I looked like a monster.

The Obvious Question When Your Kids are 35 Years Apart

“No, they’re both my sons,” I answered as his eyes widened. It happens every time people begin to understand that I have kids whose ages are 35 years apart.

“I hate you!” our six-year-old Richard yelled because I wouldn’t let him throw a toy across the room.

“I love you, son,” I replied.

It’s not the dialog we had in mind when we decided to have a child later in life. I’m certain we each pictured some variation of our family walking down the street laughing and holding hands, not being shouted at by an angry child, disciplining him, or arguing with each other about should he or shouldn’t he bring a toy to the dinner table.

I’m a Baby Boomer, retired and collecting Social Security. I have two adult children from my first marriage and I write, work in my woodshop, enjoy our home, raise bees, and help raise our son, Richard. I don’t miss leaving for the office in the morning and I celebrate that by drinking three cups of coffee before breakfast and one cup after just to relax. What possessed me to want another child?

Simple. I love my wife and I want to make her happy, and I love kids and always wanted a big family. My wife, Mindy, was never married and never had children. We’re happy, we could afford it, and I knew she wanted to be a mom and I always enjoyed being a dad. I view our decision to have a child as a selfless act, although not everyone shares that point of view. I avoid those people because I want to stay positive. Our son has fulfilled both of us and made us happier, notwithstanding his childish bouts of “I hate you.”

I’ve heard from friends, “Shouldn’t you be able to relax and not argue with or about children?”

Other friends tell me, “You’re nuts and you always have been.”

I tell them all, “I am relaxed, and I have to argue about something, so why not kids?”

They are all satisfied with their first set of kids. I’m satisfied with all my kids. One of my best childhood friends was a guy named Lew who had four brothers in a huge house. There was a second house on their property and his grandparents lived there. It was an early example of a multi-generational living situation and I was secretly envious.

I also sought divorce from my ex-wife when our daughter was fifteen and our son thirteen. I missed some of their growth because of divorce dynamics.

I do have to admit that late parenthood also has issues.

When my older son, Greg, now 39, was up for a weekend, I took my two sons out for ice cream. As we approached the counter, the guy waiting to serve us looked at me, pointed at Richard and asked with feigned warmth, “Is that your grandson?”

“No, they’re both my sons,” I answered as his eyes widened. It happens every time people begin to understand that I have children whose ages are 35 years apart.

There are also potential health issues. Time published an article by Jeffrey Kluger in the April 11, 2013 edition, entitled, “Too Old to be a Dad.” He cites data that concludes kids of older dads have higher incidences of psychological and physical problems, specifically memory function. Then he goes on to name well-known older fathers from the entertainment world. That seems to contradict his point or else those older entertainers were his database and they had memory loss. He didn’t say.

So, I have to admit, there is risk in fathering a child in my sixties, but the biggest risk is that I’ll leave Mindy a widowed single parent. Am I playing family roulette, betting that I’ll live to a ripe old age? What happens if my roulette number doesn’t pay off? Perhaps my age won’t ripen after all.

To what age will I live if my number pays off?

My paternal great-grandfather lived to 100, and that was all before the invention of antibiotics, suggesting he had a very strong constitution. My maternal great-grandfather lived to 98. Did I inherit those genes? Doubtful. My Dad and his father both lived to 88. Sadly, Dad lost his mind a few years before he died. My wife tells me, “I think you’re losing yours.” I don’t answer because wives can also drive men out of their minds with needless worry, in addition to losing memory to the aging process. Maybe I have a little of both working. Uh-oh.

So, family longevity is in my favor and I guess secretly I’m betting that I’ll be around for a while. Maybe not a hundred years like my great-grandfather, but I certainly look forward to watching our son graduate college. I’ll be in my eighties, that is, as they say down south, “God willin’ and the creek don’t rise!”

What’s changed from raising my first two in my 30s? First of all, it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison because I’m not only married to a different woman, I also have the benefit of more than 30 years’ experience. Back then I worked 50 or 60 hours a week building a career and now I am home all day except for excursions to doctors, the gym, and a weekly writing workshop.

I took my older two to school in their early grades and now, our son takes the bus. My older two spent their childhoods in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and two houses in New Jersey. My younger son has lived in New York since he was born, although we moved from a smaller home in the boonies to a larger more suburban home. There’s some stability there. My older kids went to public schools, and we started Richard in private school and he’s now in third grade, still in private school.

There are similarities too. They’re all my children and, while that’s obvious, it’s also rhetorical. I’m proud of them, I love them and I see myself in their faces. They are part of my desire to leave a legacy. There are other similarities too. For example, kids are not naturally neat and I’m not sure that neatness can be taught. It’s inherent and none of my kids had it in their youth. Similarly, kid’s toys tend to be specific to the era. Our younger son loves Legos and his creations cover every horizontal surface. That toy didn’t click together into shapes when my older kids were his age. They had Cabbage Patch Dolls, Teddy Ruxpin, Transformers, and watched Sesame Street. Richard watches Netflix and plays Minecraft on his iPad.

They all seem to depend on me to one extent or another. Richard completely because of his age, but older son Greg too because he’s had trouble launching a career. I hired my executive trainer for him and paid for it. My oldest child is a physician who considers herself entirely independent right down to her BMW, but even she used to invite me to her home and add, “Please bring lunch and your tools.” Something always needed repair.

What do I conclude? Kids are great if you can afford them, play with them, be there for them, and instill good values. If one or more of those is impossible, then enjoy your grandchildren if you have any. There’s an advantage to them once you reach a certain age. That advantage is grandchildren go home eventually and their parents are responsible for them. Richard is home all the time, although fortunately we can still manage well.

The other night he hurt himself in the bathtub. He was crying and I was out for the evening at my writing workshop. My wife said it wasn’t a fun evening. She missed that TV show she likes and I missed the whole thing.

A Parent Primer on How to Deal With Bullies

It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

The moment your wrinkly, wailing baby enters this world, there’s one thing you’re sure of: you’re never going to let anyone hurt your precious child. If they try, they’ll first have to contend with mama bear.
By the time your child enters elementary school there’s one thing you’re sure of: you can’t possibly protect your child 24/7.
You have flashbacks of third grade when you were made fun of for the unlikeliest of things: your name, your lunch, your outfit, your glasses, you name it. While cyberbullying has taken the risks and repercussions to a whole new level, “traditional” bullying is still pervasive with one in three children reporting being bullied in school.
It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

1 | Watch for signs

Sometimes, bullying is not overt and children may not be able to put a label on it. When my son was in Kindergarten, for instance, his best friend would often force him to erase pictures he’d drawn or words he’d painstakingly written. When I asked my son about it, he matter-of-factly replied that his best bud had ordered him to erase his work, “or else he won’t be my friend.” It wasn’t a one time deal. My son couldn’t play with other kids or sit next to anyone else during circle time “or else.”
It wasn’t name calling or hitting but it was a power imbalance that amounted to bullying. Often times, we have to watch for the warning signs which could range from aggressive behavior at home to poor grades at school to something as innocuous as erased pictures. We need to take bullying seriously especially when it’s clearly a pattern of behavior that the aggressor exhibits.

2 |  Don’t confront the bully’s parents

As a parent, you instantly bristle with emotion when you know your child is a pawn in a bully’s hands. You want it to stop and you want it to stop now. But confronting the bully’s parents about their child’s behavior will likely elicit a defensive argument. Now is the time to use one of those “Keep Calm” slogans you see everywhere: Keep calm and talk to the teacher. Escalate the conversation to higher levels of authority like the elementary school coordinator, the school counselor, and the principal, if it’s not tackled at the teacher level. Bullying is not about a kid having a hard day. It’s a community problem and requires the community to come together.

3 | Empower your child

As important as it is to teach your child self-confidence, they also need a game plan for when a bully tries to engage them. Here are some strategies that experts suggest:

Teach them to report the situation

According to stopbullying.gov, only 20 to 30 percent of children report bullying to an adult. That’s a shockingly low percentage for such a pervasive problem. Teach your child to call bullying out, rather than excuse it, and encourage them to tell a parent, teacher, or coach about the problem.

Teach them to stay confident

Train your child to make eye contact and stand tall but never engage physically with the bully. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, it’s best not to encourage your child to fight back, as it could lead to more aggression.

Teach them to stay calm and be kind

This two-pronged approach is advocated by leading social skills communicator Brooks Gibbs. In a widely-viewed video outlining these two techniques, Gibbs teaches children strategies which are perhaps counter cultural.
The first rule – don’t get upset – teaches the child to play it cool. When the child (and this works best with tweens and upward) responds nonchalantly to the bully’s aggression, he or she communicates a simple message: what you’re saying doesn’t bother me one tiny bit. The fallout of this is that the bully gets bored. Once emotion is taken out of the picture, the bully has no ammo to continue his or her verbal tirade.
The second rule Gibbs advocates – treat them like a friend – goes one step further. It means showing kindness to the perceived enemy. And, yes, that’s as hard as it sounds. Gibbs’ theory is that if you respond to a bully’s verbal aggression with kindness that throws them completely off kilter. Bullying, Gibbs says, is an imbalance of power. Kindness unhinges that power struggle.
With a little bit of practice (okay, maybe lots), kids (and grownups) can get emotionally resilient and outsmart the bully. Bullying doesn’t have to be a rite of passage or an incontrovertible part of childhood. Let’s show our kids there are ways out.

5 Tips for Working From Home Without Childcare

If you’re considering working from home without putting your kids in childcare, these tips can help you feel and be more productive throughout the day.

When parents who work outside the home think of work life balance, they often imagine working from home as the gold standard. Parents with the work-from-home fantasy imagine keeping their babies out of daycare (and saving serious cash), loading the dishwasher between returning emails and fulfilling the roles and tasks of working parents and stay at home parents simultaneously.
While working from home does have some amazing benefits, most parents who do so understand that it can be incredibly challenging, particularly if choice or circumstance means that they have babies or young kids with them throughout their workday.
If you’re considering working from home without putting your kids in childcare, or are already doing so, check out the tips below to help you feel and be more productive throughout the day.

1 | Create a daily routine

When you work from home with your kids having a consistent routine is vital. By choosing intentionally when you’ll focus singularly on your child and when you’ll focus singularly on your work, you can avoid the pitfall of never being able to give 100 percent to either. Many working parents plan a busy, high energy morning with their young child in order to ensure a long nap and a peaceful afternoon. Many parents who work from home also report blocking a few evening hours, after their partner gets home of the kids go to bed to round out their eight hour workday.

2 | Time your tasks

It can be incredibly difficult to start a task that you know you won’t be able to finish in one sitting. When you work from home with your kids, it’s likely that your day will be filled with far more 15 minute chunks of time than 60-minute chucks of time. Start taking notes on just how long your regular tasks take so that you can maximize every five-, 10- or, 15-minute block of time you have.

3 | Create a physical workspace

When you have little ones at home, your workspace may be more mobile than a traditional office. While you might find yourself toting you laptop back and forth from the kitchen to the playroom all day long, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a space that is dedicated to your work. Consider creating an office where you can store your work materials and retreat during naptime for some serious concentration.

4 | Snag cheap childcare

If you’re working from home without childcare, having a major deadline or conference call coming up can be stressful. Before this happens, locate and lock down your affordable drop in child care location. Perhaps there’s a parent down the street who is interested in providing drop in care on select dates or a grandparent who never minds a visit from their grandchild. If you don’t have someone in mind who can provide care when you need it most, consider looking into drop-in childcare centers or gyms that have care you utilize while working from the lobby.

5 | Share your daily schedule with your boss

While you don’t have to share the details of your childcare arrangement with your boss, letting them in on a few key points throughout your day can alleviate some serious stress. If your boss or colleagues know that you’re always putting the baby down for their nap at 12:30 or picking up your big kid at 3:30, they’ll likely do their best to schedule meetings at different times.
Good luck to all the working-from-home parents this week!

Be a Guide, Not a Guard and Raise a Happy, Responsible Kid

As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished.

“Be a guide, not a guard” perfectly describes the kinds of parenting behaviors that create happy and responsible children. It’s a term I learned at a recent training session focused on reducing controlling parenting behaviors.
When I ask parents “what have you tried to help change your child’s behavior?” little breaks my heart more than hearing a long list of punishments. The story will go something like “the rule is that he is to clean up his room but he never does it so we took away his tablet, then banned watching TV, we smacked him, we put him in time out all day, cancelled his play dates with his friends and then grounded him for a month. It doesn’t matter what we do, he doesn’t care.”
This is parenting like a guard. It is inflexible, rules-based parenting that requires punishment when a child doesn’t behave. The punishments often escalate and may be harsh, cruel even. In the worst case scenario, a child raised in a controlling environment will comply due to a fear of being beaten but will not do anything other adults say if there is no risk of being hurt. The most anti-social children are often parented in this way. They don’t care about the meaning of the rules set; instead they decide whether to comply based on whether they will get hurt. Controlling parenting practices are also correlated to poor mental health in children and youth.
When we parent like a guard we are trying to stop behavior through control and dominance. In an attempt to get rid of the behaviors we don’t like, we use consequences. A guard expects trouble and treats people as such. A guard does not care whether you feel sad, confused or don’t feel like you belong. A guard only cares if you comply. As a guard we can’t be flexible and this means if a child doesn’t comply, regardless of the reason, our only option is to escalate the consequences until they do. Even if this means excluding them from the very systems we want them to belong to.
When we parent as a guide we work to encourage behaviors we want to see in our children. We help children belong in our world and all the systems that come with that. We use care and compassion in our parenting practices. When we see unwanted behavior that cannot work or is unacceptable in our systems, we look at what steps we can take to help that child learn to fit better in our world. We don’t use harsh consequences that will exclude the child from the system; instead we see their difficulty as a skill deficit. We don’t use escalating consequences; instead we look for ways for children to want to be part of the system and to want to please us.
As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished. We want our children to comply because they want to be part of our community, they want to help us and because they understand the value of their chosen behavior.

How to be a guide

See your child’s perspective

Being able to hold your child’s perspective is essential to being a guide. It helps parents understand how best to help their child. It helps us identify that difficult behaviors are often related to emotions or skills deficits. This doesn’t mean we accept all behaviors as ok, it means that we understand that there is a meaning to whatever behavior we are seeing.

Encourage behavior through praise and noticing

Children love receiving genuine praise and being noticed. If they feel you genuinely care about them rather than that you are trying to control their behavior, they are more motivated to work for you. Children are less receptive to praise that functions to control behavior such as “aren’t you a good boy for sitting up straight today?” A genuine “I can really see you are listening, and that makes me feel good” is more effective.

Promote values-based living

Show your child what matters through the way you live. If you want to raise a kind and responsible child, lead by modeling kind and responsible behavior. Notice when your child is kind and responsible and praise the behavior.

Be flexible where possible

Give your child opportunities to choose. Avoid controlling choices unless there is a good reason not to offer a choice such as safety or legality. Guides raise kids who choose to be responsible. Guards raise kids who conform to avoid a consequence.

Promote intrinsic goals over extrinsic goals

Encourage your child to do things for personal growth, for health, to create meaningful relationships and contribute to their community as opposed to doing things to achieve financial success, popularity, power or for their image. People with intrinsic goals are happier and engage in more pro-social behavior.
Next time you see your child doing something that you don’t like, whisper to yourself: “Be a guide, not a guard.”
Acknowledgement: Thanks and gratitude to Darin Cairns for introducing me to the helpful term “Be a guide, not a guard.”

My 4-foot, 11 inch Mother is the Biggest Person in Any Room

If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
Mothers. We come in various ages, shapes, sizes, and temperaments. We bring our love, our quirks, our fears, and sometimes a little bit of our crazy to the job of parenting.
My parents grew up in the Bronx, New York, as next door neighbors. Yes, my mom literally married “the boy next door.” They are 100 percent Italian and grew up in a neighborhood of other Italians.
I’m sure they thought that everybody woke up to the smell of “gravy” cooking on Sunday mornings in preparation for the 3 p.m. dinner with 19 other relatives. I’m sure it was normal for families to scream and yell and gesture wildly during meals and for mothers to chase people around the house with wooden spoons and other impromptu weapons of torture.
If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest. But my parents relocated us to Orange County, California, where it quickly became evident that my family was not the norm.
Let me rephrase that. More specifically, “one of these mothers is not like the others.” For anyone who has ever been driven crazy by their mother, I hope you can relate.
Here are a few things other moms definitely didn’t do:
Other moms did not make their child’s friends wash their underarms and feet when they came over to play after school. “You girls stink,” she would say. “You have B.O. and I don’t know if it’s your underarms or your feet, so go wash them both.”
Totally mortified, I would take my friends into the bathroom to wash up, and I would wonder if anyone would ever want to come over to my house again. Somehow, they always came back, probably because we had good snacks.
Other moms did not picket at school and start a petition when their youngest daughter was not named 8th grade valedictorian.
Other moms did not hire a stripper for their son’s family-friendly 18th birthday party in the backyard. Because what boy wouldn’t want his mother there when interacting with a stripper?
On a similar note, other moms did not also hire a stripper for their daughter’s 21st birthday dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas, with her boyfriend and all four grandparents present.

Finally, other moms definitely did not hire an older, unattractive man to come dressed as a pink monkey for their three-year-old grandson’s birthday party and then – surprise! – take off his monkey suit to double as a stripper for the 21st birthday of her youngest daughter, terrifying all children (and adults) in attendance.
Other moms did not write a letter to Rosie O’Donnell (who had one of hottest talk shows on TV at the time where their son has just been hired in the mail room) to brag about how talented he is and how he basically should be running her show. Italians calls this the “my son” syndrome.
Other moms did not somehow force the school district to re-route the entire bus schedule so that their children could be dropped off directly in front of their house rather than on the corner bus stop like all the other kids.
Other moms did not go against the wishes of their grown children and secretly baptize their grandchild in the laundry room sink. With “permission” from the local priest, of course.
Other moms did not fill their entire car with lemons and picket in front of the car dealership (standing up through the sunroof with a giant sign that said “Lemon by BMW”) when it had mechanical problems.

Other moms did not bring a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade to their 17-year-old daughter’s high school prom date’s house and give it to his mother to keep in the fridge because “Jami doesn’t like beer.”
Other moms did not tell their daughter’s new boyfriend, after knowing him for five minutes, that she wants another grandchild, then add that, at this point, she doesn’t care if they get married. She will even raise the child as long as they can just make one for her.
Other moms did not block traffic at the roundabout in front of the high school at pick-up time as they stuck themselves out of the sunroof waving a giant bouquet of balloons and honking their horn to wish their daughter a Happy Birthday.

Yes, my mom did a lot of things other moms didn’t do.
On second thought, perhaps other people didn’t have a home that was constantly filled with family, friends, food, and laughter, or a mom who let her kids’ friends live with them when they needed a place to stay.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who “adopted” the little old lady who sat alone in the back of the church every week and invite her to family dinner every Sunday.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who cooked dinner for her grown children and grandchildren every Tuesday night, year after year, making nine different dishes so everyone could have their favorites.
My mom stands only 4-foot, 11 inches, but I’ve never thought of her as small. To me, she was always the biggest person in the room (and by biggest, I mean loudest).
All kidding aside – from your eldest daughter who pours the milk before the cereal, to your only son who hasn’t touched a public door handle in 20 years, to your youngest daughter who will only eat ice cream with a fork – we may have turned out a little quirky, but all in all, I guess you did okay.
So thank you, my crazy Italian mother, for all those childhood memories, for being our fiercest protector, our strongest advocate, and our worst nightmare.

Like Water on Waves

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
Dear Daughters,
When I was 13, my step-father told me that victims of attacks – women – were attacked because they’d asked for it. If you ask her, almost every woman could recite to you a litany of personal micro-aggressions. Mine is not unique, and yours won’t be either.
Much later in my life, when I discovered I would give birth to you, my daughters, I felt my duty to raise you in a world that objectifies and dismisses you, become a task I was unqualified for. How could I teach you to withstand this onslaught against your body, when I was not able to do the same for myself? When I learned that you were girls, still safe in the haven of my body, a place where no one could touch you without permission, reduce you to the parts that make you girl, and imprint on you the idea that you are less, I wished to find the same safety for you in the physical world.
You are too young to begin recording a lifelong list of transgressions against your character. So I am speaking to you not as your mother, but as your sister, a woman who stands beside you and says, I’m listening; I hear you.
You told me once, “My friend said he was better than me because he’s a boy,” and you lowered your head in shame.
Does a drop of water on a wave know its forward momentum? Imagine, daughters, the potential of every single woman, like water on the wave, if she could gather forces from her sisters around her. Energy builds along a line, moving from droplet to droplet to disrupt a calm surface. If we, as women, push this energy forward, one moment at a time, we become the wave that crests and shatters back against the shoreline.
You said, “Today on the playground a boy kissed me three times even though I told him to stop.” Even though the boy was much younger, four or five and I tried to make excuses for him, –perhaps he is struggling to learn his boundaries, perhaps his mother saw and quickly reprimanded him – I was filled with a sense of dread.
My role as your mother is to live by example. I am determined to show you the good in the world – the men who will march beside you, and the women persisting in a roomful of male politicians – while simultaneously teaching you how to stand against the jagged outcrops in defiance.
In Kindergarten you said, “My friend showed me his private parts,” and I gripped the steering wheel of my car. My mind began to churn against the unconscious cultural rhetoric: children are exploring identity and relationships; no physical harm was done; boys will be boys. I caught a glimpse of you in the rear-view mirror. Your face was pale and your eyes were filled with shame.
You admit you wish you were a boy because they get the best jobs and live the best lives. If you become a woman you will eventually become a mother, and this terrifies you. I am despondent that I have not been able to provide you enough examples of women who persevered.
I am a body divided. I teach you practical things like how to tie your shoes and brush your teeth. At the breakfast table, over bowls of soggy cereal, or in the car on the way to the grocery store, I attempt to fortify your character. I tell you to be polite but firm, respectful but courageous. I say, use your voice, your vocabulary, articulate and command respect; be quiet, this is not a time for you to speak. I give you a model of contradictions to follow, and am terrified.
As your mother, I am sorry that I could not protect you from these instances that have lessened you. As a woman, I stand here to be a witness to your life, and remind you that you are heard. My job as your mother, as a woman, is more urgent now. I am here to protect and love you, to shape your character, raise strong independent thinkers who demand equality, who, when they hear the common voice croak the words meant to subdue and demean, have learned to shout louder, and be the crash of the wave as it breaks on the rock. Be like the water on the waves, my girls; push forward.
Love,
Mom

Women vs. Other Women and the Myth of the Zero-Sum Game

While she’s waiting, she begins to question the very worth of this victory: If she’s so triumphant why is she alone?

A woman’s primary nemesis is a scale – not the bathroom variety, though its adversarial powers are fierce – I am talking about a balance scale, the kind whose likeness is etched in bronze outside a courthouse. The kind of scale that compares the weight of one thing to another and registers the slightest sliver of inequity by dramatically tipping its arm. A woman imagines herself standing alone in the little gold dish on one side of the scale. She is weighted, grounded, secure. She wins if she is more, and she is more only if the other side is less. Like a zero-sum game, the outcome is distributive, never integrative, never shared. All or nothing, winner take all.
In the second gold dish, on the opposite side of the balance arm, stand other women. Women she knows, women she loves, women she has never met yet knows intimate details about. Women who hurt her feelings back in high school, women who pretend to be interested when she talks, yet can’t bring themselves to ask her about her life. Women who begrudge her success in whatever realm it may be: another pregnancy, weight loss, a promotion, a good manicure. Women who complain about her behind her back, or don’t invite her, or don’t bother to learn her name. Women she is “friends” with, but who won’t give her the satisfaction of “liking” the pictures she posts of her daughter’s first tooth, her 5k run, or her 10th anniversary.
These other women, they weigh against her, weaken her, upset her advantage. Standing alone in her little gold dish, she worries their gain will be her loss. She becomes suspicious, reading maltreatment into motives and assuming the worst. She grows wary and defensive and, by turns, isolated and disconnected. She has invested so much time and effort into this notion of measuring herself against another – surely, it means something. It has to mean something. Only one woman can be the best mom, the most organized, the fittest, can have the cleanest house or the smartest kids. Only one woman can tip the scale.
In the interest of self-preservation, she retaliates, scrutinizing her competition, always looking for a crack. She judges, she’s sarcastic, she’s critical, she arms herself with snark. She withholds compliments lest they detract from her own appearance and give the other side an edge. If there’s a finite amount of admiration or approval in the world, she’s not going to waste it on others. Classic strategy of a zero-sum game, remember?
She plays like she’s been taught, mimicking the catty, spiteful maneuvers of effective women everywhere. She grows a second face to wear, like her mother and her mother’s friends, and keeps it by the door in a skin-deep jar. Beauty, her most valuable asset, is the commodity she traffics. If she wants to win favor – men’s favor, in particular – this is how she must act. Girls compete for self-worth, right? That’s just what they do. That’s what the cosmetics industry, soap operas, “Real Housewives,” Miss Universe Pageants, Angelina vs. Jen, and every season of “The Bachelor” espouse: The only way to win is to make them lose.
She wants to win, and let’s say she does. She tips the scale, and finally, after all that fighting, she can rest on her laurels and receive her prize. She waits in her little gold dish, tired and depleted, thinking “What on earth could be worth all this conflict?” She waits, rehearsing a gracious acceptance speech, and she wishes she had someone to share her good news. She can hear the other women from across the long arm of the balance scale, laughing and talking as if nothing were lost. While she’s waiting, she begins to question the very worth of this victory: If she’s so triumphant why is she alone?
She wonders how winning at the other’s expense could be considered a victory at all.
Still no one comes, and she sears with the growing realization she’s been played. She has been duped by the myth that building someone else up must come at a cost to her, for it doesn’t. Life just isn’t a zero-sum game. There is not a limited supply of goodness and beauty, success or happiness.
The truth is the other women grew exponentially as they gave, their strength increasing with every share. Competing with them only kept her apart. This scale – this rudimentary, archaic device – this scale is her opponent, not the creatures on it. Rivaling did nothing but reinforce the status quo, a status quo that dictates aggressive self-promotion and pits the women against each other, a status quo that levies vulnerability and rewards isolation. Why does she invest in it?
Luckily, there is a way out. An easy, obvious, immediate way out.
She withdraws her fortune from the zero-sum bank, climbs out of the little gold dish, and joins the other women.

The Old Normal, and the Imperative of Self-Defense Training for Women

In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no.

I was “date raped” in college. I put that in quotes because I wasn’t on a date at all. We were merely friends, or so I thought, and he had offered to escort me home after a late-night party. He was an upperclassman, a leader in our social house, respected by all accounts and ostensibly charged with the task of getting me home safely.
Instead, he brought me to his room.
The feeling that sticks with me more than any other when I look back on that experience is the shame I feel for not having done a better job of preventing it.
I blame him, too, of course, for his calculated coercion tactics (“Let me walk you back to your dorm. It’s late.”) and his psychological maneuvering (“Here, we can just snuggle…” and not long after, “You know you want this, Jill.”).
A rugby player, he was significantly brawnier than me, and back then, I didn’t know my own strength or many tools for how to use it. When he didn’t appear to hear my protests, the following notion flickered at the edges of my jangled, buzzing mind: Resist and you could instigate him further … submit and, with luck, it’ll be over quickly.
So why do I still carry the bulk of the blame 20 years later? I’m not entirely sure, but I have a few theories….
First, I have reduced this person in my mind to the basest of characters, a coarse operative, if you will, a 20th century equivalent of the nefarious Shakespearean rogue who somehow plants himself at the right hand of the King. How can you require anything, let alone decent behavior on the most basic level, from someone so odious and depraved? He is a victim of his own awfulness. He must be sickening to himself, I tell myself. We can’t expect anything from people like this, so we expect everything from ourselves instead.
Here’s how this plays out in my mind: You see, I could have taken some right action along the way. I could have had one less drink. I could have been smarter. I could have predicted and therefore prevented the assault. How ridiculous and innocent I was! How stupid and naïve! How blind.
While those things could be true of every young, trusting undergrad, this misappropriation of guilt makes me feel less the victim somehow. It helps me take back some control. It helps me believe that I will be the one in control next time, should there be a next time. I know now that I wouldn’t give a second thought to acting “unpleasant” or “making a scene,” even though society constantly reminds us that it’s “unbecoming” for a woman to get angry.
Second, I believe that each person in any kind of relationship makes up half the equation. If you’re annoyed with your partner for being irritable, think on how your behavior exacerbates his impatience. You’re angry with a friend for not considering your feelings? When was the last time you considered hers? If your child is non-communicative, what could you do to help him feel he can talk to you? While it’s easy to heap blame on others, I do my best to own my role in every interaction, whether I’m the one who’s hurt or doing the hurting.
So how does this compute when the “hurt” is rape?
It doesn’t (I repeat over and over to myself). It is not your fault if someone abuses you. You didn’t “ask for it,” whatever you happened to be doing with your hips, like moving them when you walk, which is kinetically necessary as far as I’m concerned. You didn’t toss your head back in laughter to show him your bare neck. You did it because you thought something was funny.
And no, the abuse you’ve suffered has nothing to do with how carefully you considered your reputation – my girlhood warning to avoid emitting a sexual selfhood of any perceptible or desirable kind.
Which brings me to the third, and perhaps most difficult self-inflicted guilt-wad to deal with: the memory of my father’s reaction to the incident. I told my parents voluntarily because rape felt like less of a personal shortcoming if I could talk openly about it with the people who love me the most and had worked so hard to raise me well. I would feel like I had betrayed them less if I could tell them and have them understand and still accept me, regardless.
Of course, my father was deeply worried for me, as any normal father would be, and spitting mad at the upperclassman (I remember watching his knuckles whitening as his fists clenched and unclenched involuntarily). But in his state of shock and confusion, the words he managed to conjure up came in the form of a question: “How could you put yourself in this position?”
Oh god, how? I thought in a panic. I’ve failed them. I’ve failed at being a strong woman on my first go-round, my first chance at proving myself worthy of respect and dignity and real, untainted, caring love. I’ve ruined myself. It’s over.
I wanted to crawl inside a hole.
Despite all the shame, I talked candidly to the nurses at the college infirmary about my experience and made myself available to any other students who had suffered through abuse, on campus or in life. I figured that if we could sit together in the pain, at least we would not be alone. And while the option was presented to me, I decided not to press charges. That admired, affable upperclassman’s friends and family were, and are, none the wiser.
I am fine with that. Because I am wiser now.
In light of the countless high-profile assault charges recently meted – and to shine a light on a systemic cultural sickness that we all knew was there long before the avalanche of allegations came crashing down – I challenge us, individually, collectively, indivisibly, to say no. To scream no louder and louder and louder and louder until we are finally heard and the perpetrators back the fuck off.
We must dismiss anything that insults our own souls until our souls are fully restored. We must break the chain of sexual discrimination and violence against women and children and anyone perceived as lesser or different or weak – a chain that’s made up of centuries of generational links of learned hostility, social exclusion, androcentrism, patriarchal privilege, and sexual objectification.
We do this through sound parenting and education and programs that support socioeconomic equity. But we also do it by fighting back, by taking the attacker by surprise with a palm thrust to the nose and a knee to the groin, by shocking the playground bully with a scrappy uppercut to the jaw. We’ve been fighting for a long time, of course, and we will continue to fight until a woman no longer shoulders the blame for a man’s reprehensible behavior.
We clearly have a long way to go. Prominent elected officials and so-called “civil servants” commit and even brag about sexual assault and somehow manage to retain their positions. The Women’s Action Team in Brattleboro, Vermont, galvanized in the fall of 2016 “with the explicit purpose of advancing reproductive justice and combating rape culture and misogyny,” said filmmaker and photographer Willow O’Feral in an interview on Vermont Public Radio’s Morning Edition.
“(W)e are here to say, ‘we are not going to take this,’” she continued. “‘We are fighting back.’” O’Feral’s latest film, “Break The Silence”, features women talking about their reproductive and sexual health histories. Proceeds from the film will support a transportation fund that helps minors gain access to Planned Parenthood’s medical support and abortion services.
I recently worked with my sons’ taekwondo teacher to organize a women’s self-defense class. When I polled my online network to gauge interest, the response was enormous – astounding, really, for a loosely populated northeastern state known for its happiness index and high quality of life. Dozens and dozens of women responded, admitting they’d been searching for opportunities to build these skills, to feel safer, to know they would have what it takes in case … just in case.
Last weekend, nine women managed to carve four hours out of their Sunday to attend. One of them was my mother, who has been reeling from an unsettling encounter with one of the night watchmen at her continuing care facility. We each had our nervous tics, our hurdles, our fear-facing moments, our breakthroughs, but no one practiced those maneuvers with as much vigor as my mom.
I don’t think I will ever forget the sight of her, a 100-pound spitfire of a 76-year-old grandma, feet planted firmly on the floor, her small arms raised, palms front in the universal gesture of defense. “Back off! I don’t know you! Go away!!” she shouted. “Back off! Back off! Back off!! BACK!!! OFF!!!” Over and over in a voice so angry and adrenaline-tinged that I hardly recognized it as hers.
At last, the instructor (playing the advancing attacker), stopped and backed away.
When it was over, my mother stood there visibly shaking, her eyes ablaze with fight and fury. It was as though she was rooted to the spot, riveted by the specter of her own power. Slowly and very gently, the instructor came to her, kneeled in front of her, and took her hand.
“You won,” she said, with a tenderness that dredged a sob from the pit of my gut. “He left. He’s gone. You won.”