Searching for Grey in a Black and White World

“This is lovely writing but I’m afraid it’s a little too quiet for us.” The “us” was a popular and well-respected website. I was happy of course, to have a personal response from the busy editor but it still stung, as rejections do.

Yet, as is almost always the case, the editor was exactly right. It was a little too quiet amongst headlines that read (for example*), “My Father’s in Jail and I Put Him There,” “My Open Marriage is None of Your Business,” “I Refuse to Talk to the Other Moms at the Playground.”  My “lovely” essay about my son’s hair, was indeed quiet.

It’s an adjective all too familiar to me; one that I’ve been conditioned to bristle at. Quiet is not typically rewarded in our society. It’s seen as weak, lacking confidence, boring. The squeaky wheel, the loud, obnoxious candidate, the showboating athlete, the sensational headline, they dominate newsfeeds and are almost irresistible fodder for discussion. I get it. They are controversial and difficult to ignore.

I also belong to a Facebook group of expats living in Southeast Asia. Fairly frequently, there are posts linked to articles filled with gruesome photos about “What Really Happens When You Ride an Elephant” and easy answers to simply boycott these rides. These posts get many “likes” and are often widely shared.  

So, when I read, The Human Cost of Elephant Tourism, in The Atlantic, I felt compelled to also share.  Author Hilary Cadigan wrote an in-depth and well-balanced piece about a multitude of factors that contribute to atrocities in elephant tourism and how there are in fact, no simple answers. The article was lengthy, thoughtful and full of well-written text. It received a handful of likes and zero shares.

No one has time to read lengthy, thoughtful articles so we skim headlines, get 3 minute snippets on the news, read a funny meme and move on. But at what cost?

We live in a complex world and most of our biggest problems (social, political, environmental, economic) are highly nuanced. Yet, we also live in a world of sound bites and sensationalism. The combination of those two realities is the more dangerous weakness.

Whether it’s the policies of a madman running for President, a tragic accident at a zoo or the latest cure for our obesity epidemic, too often too many settle for easy answers. We quote pseudo-science as gospel. We jump to conclusions about the latest celebrity break up. We can’t resist driving trends as fast and as far into the ground as possible obliterating anything good that started it in the first place.

But the world is painted a quiet grey. We’re conditioned to believe that grey is boring. Grey is muted. Grey is filled with too much ambiguity. The clarity of black and white, right and wrong, this or that, is comforting. Our 5 minute news cycle, click-bait headlines and complex issues reduced to a couple of paragraphs of information force us to see black or white.

What would the headlines read if it was the child who had been killed and Harambe who had been saved?

How might we feel if we were forced to face our role in the elimination of natural habitats of endangered animals in the first place?

What if we turned our collective attention from Hollywood and towards our neighbours both near and far?  

What if we stopped labeling things and instead spent the time to really understand?

Quiet is not part of our American DNA. We are generations of adventures, entrepreneurs, and strong voices. We like things big, fast and loud. We push ourselves to extremes in order to be the best. We value our busyness.

But we are drowning in information and sifting through the misinformation is becoming increasingly difficult. The biggest and loudest voices are muffling all the rest. Compelling opinion pieces are easily trumped by controversial sound bites from morons. (See what I did there?) Thoughtful, intelligent, balanced articles get buried and we’re all suffering because of it.

We can blame it on Facebook algorithms. We can blame it on the media. We can blame on our lack of time to wade through the swampy waters of the internet. But in the words of one of the most thoughtful, quiet and yet powerful men among us, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

So for me, I will remain wary of the black and white on the screen and always, always head toward the grey.

* Don’t Google these, I made them up! But you get the idea…

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Words to Stop Using to Make America Great Again

It’s been a while since I’ve published an old-fashioned blog post. This one’s just for you, loyal reader, who is still here after my long silences. I will not shop it to another site. I will not try to make some universal point about love, kids, relationships, etc. I simply ask that you take a moment and reflect on your own word choices and to then choose wisely going forward.

There is alot of talk these days about making America great again. Two angry men and a disliked lady have their ideas. We sit back and complain about them all. We throw stones, blame the media and talk to our friends about how gloomy the future looks. We feel helpless.

Cheer up, tired Americans. There is something you can do! It may not get you out of debt, get you lower taxes (and also more services), or put food on your table. But we’ve got to start somewhere. By banning these words from social media, The Huffington Post and your everyday lexicon, I think we could start paving the way to a better America (like our very own publicly funded attempt to improve our crumbling infrastructure).

  1. Epic: It used to mean “heroic or grand in scale or character.” Now it means “don’t click on that headline. You will be disappointed.” What you’re about to read is not Jennifer Lawrence’s epic takedown of Donald Trump. It’s just an overhyped actress saying what everyone else is saying about a lunatic running for President.
  2. Foodie: Some people have a deep appreciation for food. Many people love to cook. And I get that food has become elevated to celebrity status. But the term foodie, I feel, connotes a false sense of status, or panache. If you are really a lover of food, really go for it and call yourself a gourmand. That is posh.
  3. Fierce: It’s a fine word that’s unfortunately tangoed too many times with Beyonce. (Similar to my issue with epic: overuse has rendered it somewhat fierce-less.)
  4. Awesomesauce: Most commonly associated with women wearing mom-jeans, driving a minivan, blasting Cyndi Lauper, but trying to talk to the kids about that Kanye (which she pronounces Kane). Don’t be that woman.
  5. Introvert: Maybe because I fancy myself a writer of essays, I read a disproportionate amount of them. But it seems I can’t get through a day without hearing about life as an introvert. (We’re not just shy. We need to recharge with alone time. We can succeed in an extroverts’ world.) But, as with all good and popular ideas, we Americans love to beat it and twist it and take it to the x-treme. “Sorry I didn’t call you back/get out to vote/issue you a common courtesy such as ‘thank you’. I’m an introvert.”
  6. Kiddo(s): Okay, this one is all me. It’s my own issue but this is my list so I’m keeping it. Is America really going to get better if I don’t have to hear about your kiddo’s epic meltdown? Probably not. (Because you’re still using epic!!!) I just don’t like the word kiddos. It feels like something people who abuse exclamation points would say. And that’s not you!  
  7. Sexy (say, when describing your company’s latest marketing campaign): Other people can be sexy. Lingerie can be sexy. I’ll even grant you something like a car (maybe). But that’s it. There is an abundance of better, more appropriate adjectives to describe everything else in the world.

Also: Stop writing “yeah” when you mean “yay.”

(Also, to my sister who I’m pretty sure often uses “kiddos”: it doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. But you were the cheerleader!!! Classic exclamation point abusers. Just sayin’.)

My first (and probably last) post ever on politics

I’ve never posted anything blatantly political before because, quite frankly, politics is depressing. It’s divisive. It’s complicated. And I usually don’t follow it closely enough to feel like I can form a truly educated opinion. But the US primaries are different. You can’t not read about it. You can’t watch and feel indifferent.

So, ignoring my usual inclination (and probably better judgement) to keep my beliefs to myself, I went ahead and wrote the following. It’s up on the Huffington Post though they’ve buried it in the bowels of their politics page (which is probably a good thing). I call it: The Trouble with Bernie Trump and Donald Sanders…

An old white guy, with crazy hair steps up to a podium. He starts by talking about what a dismal place the U.S. is. He’s angry. He moves on and makes some inaccurate statements about NATO and mentions (again) that he was against the Iraq war. He calls his opponents liars. He calls for a revolution. White people, especially those lower on the income scale and less educated, love him. People use words like dangerous and ridiculous to describe his policies. His supporters often say vile things.

He’s Bernie Sanders. No, wait, Donald Trump. No wait, Donald Sanders. Bernie Trump.

I’m not a pundit. I don’t hang around in the bully pulpit. I’m not actively involved in politics beyond watching the spectacle of this primary season from the sidelines. But as a casual political observer, there is a nagging feeling I just can’t shake: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, while maintaining very different political platforms, seem like oddly similar characters dancing on opposite ends of the same dance floor. (And by dancing I mean, yelling, fist pumping and fear-mongering.)

I agree with all the criticism hurled at Donald Trump (and all of the Republican candidates). I think his demeanor, his words and his actions are deplorable. I’m hanging onto to stories like this one which details how unpopular he actually is (despite his frontrunner status).

I also happen to reside outside of the United States and feel a sense of responsibility to voice alarm at his rise. Most non-Americans I speak to are incredulous. How is Donald Trump so popular? Do people really think like he does? I don’t but others clearly do. “And he is in the Republican party?” a British friend asked. Yes, but he has a Democratic character foil.

At the start of this political shitshow, while I liked Hillary Clinton and never felt the Bern, I thought I could get behind either candidate as a definitively better choice than any of the clowns the Republicans put up.

As the circus continues however, I find myself more and more unsettled by Bernie Sanders. I’m not entirely turned off by socialism. I agree we live in a country where too few have too much and the opportunities to become one of the few are becoming harder and harder to find. Many of his pie-in-the-sky ideas (like free college tuition, equal pay and breaking up the big banks) sound great. Even if I believed he had any clue how to effectively implement any of his plans, there is still something troubling: the eerie similarities between Sanders and Trump.

I know, I know. There are plenty of differences. But the angry, old, white man fighting on behalf of millions non-white, non-elderly, and non-males, routine is hard to miss. They both flip flop on issues. (Trump: everything he’s ever said about anything, he’s also held the opposite to be true. See hereherehere and Google. Sanders: liability of gun makers and health care.) They both seem to be pushing an agenda of radicalization (albeit of different shades). (Trump: a giant wall to keep out our neighbors, shunning an entire religious group, among others. Sanders: taking all the money out of Wall Street, a 90 percent tax rate among others) They’re both ill-informed about the international order. (Trump: his suggestion that Japan and South Korea should manufacture their own nuclear weapons and his dangerous comments about NATO. Sanders: “uh, well, what I do know” is that he gave some really un-informed answers during a recent Daily News interview. Read all about how frighteningly little he knows here. They have outdated, old-man views on women. (Trump: where to begin? Sanders: this quote (about women being “really loud” that recently made the rounds on Twitter.) And there seems to be an inherent hypocrisy I can’t believe they’re getting away with. Sanders is part of the establishment he so often condemns. As a career politician, how much more “establishment” can you get? Trump, a self-proclaimed billionaire, is positioning himself as a champion of the middle class. Even if he’s not as rich as he says, he’s never been “middle class.”

I also know, this is politics. All the candidates are unpopular. Hillary is not perfect and can be equally criticized. But the problems we face are complicated, nuanced and numerous. People are clearly angry and ready for change. People are tired of superfluous political correctness. But if you lead with grace and decency, people will follow with grace and decency. The old, angry, negative white guys both seem to be missing this.

Under Construction

Hello friends.

WordPress tells me it’s been 8 months since my last post. That feels like a long time.

In those 8 months I’ve done some soul searching, a lot of practical (yet sometimes dull) writing, and an embarrassing amount of nail biting. I’ve done some thinking, some re-thinking, some exploring and lots of reading.

I’ve finally come to the definitive conclusion that I still have no idea. I have no idea where I’ll be in 5 years; how to be a “professional writer”; how to make granola with big clusters.

I can tell you with certainty, that the blog is undergoing a transformation.

For those of you who happened upon me as a fellow expat, mommy blogger or average overprivileged white girl with a blog, I’ll still be all those things but I hope to move to a more polished platform. I’m not 100% sure what the final product will look like or what the exact desired end result is, but I hope you’ll stick around to see it!

For those of you looking for an experienced content creator with social media know-how and an understanding of SEO, I’m those things too!

You can find my most recent writing under the “published works” tab. But I hope to post here a bit more frequently too, even if only to say, “I’m still here!”

(There’s an awful lot of tumbleweed around here — to be expected after 8 months of silence — so this is mostly for my parents. Yes, I’ve changed the name. Yes, the picture and colors are different. And at some point, you may have to type in a different www address but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

Thanks for hanging around.

 

What I Learned About Life and Motherhood When I Went Back to Work

Hello friends. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here. I’ve had guests. I’ve been working and I’ve been doing some other writing that should be published soon (stay tuned!). If you’re interested, please check out The Finder. We’re an expat magazine in Singapore designed to help expats (and locals) find where to go, what to do, how to do it and general support. It’s brand new and we’re working on building a great site with lots of traffic! Tell your friends! As always, thanks for reading. Here is my latest:

I’ve gone back to work after almost 4 years at home with my kids. I got the job a while ago and have been anxiously waiting to start, unsure of how I’d feel. I’m not sure I’ve been at it long enough to make any grand declarations but I do feel like I’ve gained some clarity on some of the anxiety inducing feelings I had about this new transition. I’m relearning some important life lessons.

  • Kids really are resilient. My kids have been through some big changes before, but I forgot. We are still working on a new routine but they are adjusting. Of course, they test the waters with tears when they see me dressed and ready (in something other than running shorts) when they wake up. But by the time breakfast is served, they are all smiles. The hugs I get walking through the door at 5:15 are as big, and as fun as the hugs I got at 3, outside their classroom doors.
  • Whatever it is you’re thinking of trying, but hesitating, because [insert all your excuses here]…take the chance. Try it. Even if it’s not what you thought, you will learn something. I wasn’t really looking for a job but this opportunity presented itself. I could’ve said no because it’s difficult to find a babysitter. I could’ve said no because I’m almost 40 and have never done this before. I could’ve said no because I really enjoyed being physically around for my kids. But I said yes. If I stay for 3 more weeks or 3 more years, I’ll never wonder what might have happened if only I tried it. Always take the chance.
  • Over complicating your feelings only causing more stress. I think about my kids all day and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean taking the job was a bad decision. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom for leaving them. It doesn’t mean I should try to come up with a plan how to stop thinking about them. I think it just means I miss them. I’m not sure if this is the same as acknowledging a feeling so you can let it go but I think it’s on the same idea.
  • Today should always be the priority. While going back to work is certainly not as dramatic as someone dying or getting sick, it’s helped me remember to take life one day at a time. We’re always in a rush. To do more, be better, get to the next thing. I don’t know everything I need to know yet to do my job really well. I worry that tomorrow I’ll fall behind or that when my kids finish school next week, things will fall apart. That may happen. But today is here and therefore, most important.
  • I don’t think working will make me a better or worse mom. Parenting is a daily struggle no matter what. You always wonder if the grass is greener but I hope I can remember that how I mother makes me better — not, working or not working.
  • The quality of your character and how you treat people has so much more influence on how your kids (and others) see you than the tasks you complete. I’m not sure my kids understand “I write articles” any more than “I did the laundry.” Maybe when they are older they will. But for now, I’m not sure I’m teaching them any grand lesson about contribution or responsibility.  Stop putting so much pressure on yourself.
  • Let go of the guilt. The working mom guilt, the stay-at-home mom guilt, the I locked myself in the bathroom guilt, the I shouldn’t have yelled guilt, the I “cooked” cereal for dinner guilt. Its taken me nearly 40 years but I’m beginning to feel like guilt is just a twisted way for us to think we’ll feel better. We think if we punish ourselves for our mistakes, it will somehow make things better. It doesn’t. It’s useless. Will I feel guilty when I miss a school function because of work, absolutely. But feeling guilty will do nothing to make my kids feel like they are a priority. So let go of the guilt and try again.

Despite all this unsolicited wisdom, I don’t feel like I’ve made some cosmic shift from one kind of mom to another, the way I thought I would.

It’s helped me to see that the role of mother isn’t weighted differently depending on circumstances. Having 4 kids doesn’t make you more of a mother than having 1. Working at home doesn’t make you more of a mother than working in an office. Presence doesn’t always equal the amount of hours you are present.

We share the same fears and hopes. We love with the same fierceness. Our mothering is deeply personal but motherhood is reassuringly and earnestly universal.

The Truth About Lying

I did not read the “deflategate” report. I haven’t closely followed the story other than reading the headlines so I’m not about to guess whether Tom Brady is innocent or guilty. At this point, I’m not sure it matters. I heard that Kylie Jenner has finally admitted to having some lip work done by carefully choosing her words. I’m waiting to hear the fate of Brian Williams (though I think it’s pretty clear). Despite all the suspensions, alleged steroid use and subsequent admissions, Americans still love baseball. Bill Clinton is still a popular political figure. Martha Stewart recently appeared on Comedy Central’s Roast of Justin Beiber. With a few light hearted jokes about her prison time, by most accounts, she killed it. Lance Armstrong told the truth (was forced to tell?) and has been vilified.

For all our talk about honesty being the best policy and honesty being a virtue worthy of possessing, as a society, we rarely reward it.

Of all the virtues, honestly might be the trickiest. As a parent, I can understand the mentality of, “thanks for telling the truth…but you’re still in trouble for you bad behavior.” Just because someone is honest, it doesn’t excuse their bad behavior. But should it?

If my child hits his brother and admits it, he will get in trouble for hitting. If he hits his brother and can get away with fooling me, he will not get in trouble. If he hits his brother, lies and gets caught, he will still get in trouble. I’m afraid the lesson he learns is that you might as well try to cover it up.

If Tom Brady had come out and said, “yes, I knew the balls were going to be deflated,” do you think his suspension would remain at 4 games? Instead of copping to “misremembering,” if Brian Williams had said, “I lied, but now I want to tell the truth,” is there any chance he’d still be the face of Nightly News (even if the chance now is minimal at best)? If Bill Cosby announced today that what ALL those women claim, is in fact, true, will anyone think more of him because he finally told the truth? If Lance Armstrong admitted to using drugs the first time he was asked about it, would his legacy be significantly different from what it is today?

If you can cover up the truth, and get away with it, all you have to quiet is your own conscience. You can try to make up for it. You can spend your life trying to right the wrong and maintain a squeaky clean exterior. Covering up the truth, and not getting away with it, rarely makes things worse. Richard Nixon lied, tried to cover it up and eventually got caught. He was forced to resign. If Richard Nixon told the truth in the first place, he would’ve been forced to resign.

As soon as your actions are called into question, it’s much easier to rationalize lying rather than telling the truth. We make telling the truth REALLY hard. The truth may set you free, but our society will likely still crucify you for it.

We have short memories. If Tom Brady admitted to some wrong doing, he would be remembered as a cheater — not as an honest cheater — but a cheater. We all lie, and maybe that’s why it’s so easy for us to forgive and forget. Bill Clinton, as leader of the free world, went on national television and lied about having sexual relations with that girl. It’s a footnote to his legacy. If he admitted on national television that he had an affair in 1998, would he have escaped a trial?

Being honest about our transgressions, rarely trumps the actual transgression. Should it?

We want our kids to learn that the punishment for telling the truth will always be less than the punishment for lying and then getting caught. But is it? We spin stories and air brush photos. We try to hide our faults and call our imperfections, perfect. We tell those who are closest to us we want the truth, but sometimes, often times, we don’t really want the truth. We are a nation built on a false story about the honesty of a great American who admitted to cutting down a cherry tree.

The line between truth telling and lying has become so blurred we don’t know what or who to believe. Beyonce admitted to lip syncing the national anthem at Obama’s 2013 inauguration. Since then, several other of her live performances have been called into question. Even when she says she did not, she gets accused of lying (even though she told the truth about the Obama performance). All it takes is one lie to unravel the truth about one’s character.

Mea Culpa is Latin for “through my fault.” We all have faults. It’s time we start owning them instead of hiding them. It’s time we start forgiving instead of persecuting. It’s time we stop accepting the cover up and eventual admission as good enough. We can’t stop the lying until we start rewarding the truth.

Becoming a Working Mom

Remember that time I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something…I feel like it’s been happening again. This time it’s telling me to go back to work. At least I think that’s what it’s saying. I’ve been gifted a shot at a real, paying, full time writing job. And I’m going for it. And I’m excited about it! But I’m also getting nervous. I think it’s going to be great. But what if it’s not?

I know. I am lucky to have a choice to work outside the home or not. I know, I am lucky that someone has agreed to pay me to do what I love. I know, I am lucky that I can try this but don’t have to depend on it to feed and clothe my children. I don’t know if this will be great for me and my family or a disaster. I don’t know how we will handle the transition. I can’t help but have mixed feelings.

  • I’m excited for the opportunity to enter into a field where I don’t exactly have “professional” experience nor a degree directly related to the field.
  • I’m worried about actually not liking my job. Am I too old to be in an entry level position?
  • I’m worried I will like it and feel torn on where to focus my time and energy.
  • I’m happy to have something else to focus on besides my kids’ every wish and command.
  • I’m excited to gain the perspective that comes from stepping outside your normal routine and readjusting.
  • I’m worried I’ll lose some perspective on what’s important.
  • I’m worried my kids will miss me.
  • I’m worried my kids won’t miss me.
  • I’m excited to stretch myself and challenge myself in a way that I have not been for years.
  • I’m worried it will be too much for me to balance.
  • I’m worried about finding someone I trust with my most precious loves. I want to find someone they love but secretly hoping they don’t love her too much!
  • I’m excited for them to see me working hard and helping to provide for them in a different way.
  • I’m afraid they won’t understand why this is important.
  • My kids are too young for me to go back to work full time.
  • My kids are in school now, it’s time to go back to work.
  • I’m excited to have to dress up again!
  • I’m afraid I will look like I just stepped out of 2002. Are high waisted, flared pants really back now?
  • Heels!
  • Falling in heels!
  • I’m excited to have interesting answers to “what did you do all day?”
  • I’m worried I’ll still have boring answers to “what did you do all day?”
  • I’m excited to talk to adults about things that don’t involve bodily functions and fire trucks.
  • I’m afraid no one will be talking about “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” around the water cooler.
  • I’m excited to earn a little money for honest day’s work.
  • I’m afraid all my pay will go to the women I hope my kids love but not too much.

I’m starting to believe this is why parenting brings on gray hair. The push and pull is always there – whether it’s about going back to work, picking the right school, planning a meal – there’s always the mix of certainty and uncertainty. Am I doing the right thing? This is absolutely the right thing.

The real parenting wars aren’t fought on playgrounds (or the internet), they exist inside ourselves.

Vacationing with Little People

We were on vacation last week. My husband and I and our 3 and 4 year old. We spent the first part of the week in Ubud, Bali (which I will write about later). The last half of the week we spent at the beach in Nusa Dua, Bali. This is pretty much how it went.

1. Vacation is the best.

2. iPads are charged. Kids have window seats. Plane is only about half full. We’re taking off on time. Best vacation ever.

3. I know the pilot said we are landing but it’s still going to take a while to get to the ground. We’re really high up.

4. I know you counted down from 10 but it’s going to take longer than 10 seconds to land.

5. I promise, we are heading down.

6. Seriously.

7. See, we’re going through the clouds. Before we were above them.

8. It does take forever to land but we will be on the ground soon.

9. We made it. We’re on the ground.

10. No, you can’t unbuckle your seat belt. Now we have to find our parking spot. Then get our luggage, then take a car ride. Then we will be at the beach. In like 1,000 seconds. Start counting.

11. Fancy hotel! They’re just 3 and 4 year old kids, not rock stars. We’ll be fine.

12. Don’t touch anything.

13. Yes, child 1, you can have the sunscreen stick and child 2, you can have the sunscreen spray.

14. But I thought you wanted the stick? There’s no crying on vacation! You can have the spray. Whatever you want but my fair-skinned, red headed, darling, you must wear sunscreen.

15. It’s just like lotion, not like sandpaper. Relax. We’re on vacation.

16. What makes sunscreen work anyway? Are these chemicals preventing one kind of cancer but inviting another?

17. Stop thinking about cancer. Relax. You’re on vacation.

18. The beach. Everyone likes the beach this year! Win!

19. Yes, let’s build a sandcastle.

20. Yes, building sandcastles IS fun.

21. Don’t smash it!

22. Oh, I get it. We’re building them just to smash them.

23. Ok. This is fun too. Building and smashing.

24. Wait, why are you crying? I thought you wanted to smash them?

25. No crying on vacation!

26. Yes, we can have ice cream at 11 am.

27. No, you don’t have to take a nap yet.

28. Yes, let’s go to the pool.

29. My kids are so adaptable.

30. Taking a wet bathing suit off to pee is possibly one of the grossest things ever…except thinking about those who might not bother. Yes, we have to get out to pee.

31. It’s exactly like the toilet at home. All the same rules apply. You can do it.

32. This pool is amazing.

33. It’s just a little water in your eyes. Wipe it off.

34. Not with your arm! No! Wait…the sunscreen! Abort! Let me get a towel! Abort!

35. Too late. Why, no tear baby sunscreen, why do you lie? There is no crying on vacation.

36. Back on the beach. Cold cocktail in hand. I love vacation.

37. I could definitely live here full time.

38. People who live here must have the best lives ever.

39. You want to nap now? At 4 pm?

40. You’ve been sitting in the sand all day playing, getting it in every crack and crevice of your body but now that’s it’s time to walk home you can’t possibly take a step with the tiny grains stuck on your toes? Of course. Yes, that makes perfect sense.

41. My kids are so not adaptable.

42.  The pediatrician said a little dose of Benadryl would be ok in the case of an emergency. I know he was talking about during the flight but I think losing my afternoon beer buzz counts too.

43. Is vacationing with my parents worth the free babysitting?

44. Another beautiful day at the beach.

45. We are lucky.

46.  While vacationing with little people can feel like a roller coaster of emotions from laughter to tears and back to laughter, in less time than it takes to pee with a wet bathing suit, at the end of the day, there is something about looking out at the ocean, smelling the salty air, hear the crashing of waves, and holding onto those you love, that makes it’s easy to be grateful for the ride.

 

Also: If we’re Facebook friends, you’ve already seen this but if we’re not, I was featured on Mamalode last week with “The Space Between.” It’s about my 4 year old who is not a toddler but not yet a boy (and more generally it’s about anyone who feels “in between”). I’d be grateful for a click, like and/or share! Thanks!

 

It Takes a Village

Nothing gets the internet in an uproar quite like an article about stay at home moms or working moms.

In the past week, I’ve come across 3 different articles about stay-at-home mothers. I know better than to click on these but I couldn’t help it. I fell right for the “click-bait” (which I’m learning is a real word). In all three, I felt compelled to read to the end (and skim the comments which I also know better not to do). Maybe it’s because I’m teetering on the edge of working outside the home or maybe I’m just exactly the kind of sucker the internet gods love to torture.

The first one was “5 Things You Should Never Say to a SAHM.” The second was “Being a SAHM is not a ‘luxury’. The third was “Being a SAHM is not a job.” Many people took offense to at least a few points (or many points) in each of the articles and commented on the offensive points. Others defended the authors and reiterated the main points of the article.

My first reaction, was please, please, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, please stop writing these types of articles. We can’t handle it. They make otherwise sweet, rational adults spit venom at one another. They are the fuel for the “mommy wars” I try so hard to ignore/deny. They are unproductive. Despite the genuine or disingenuous belief that they are in fact, not judging, most of the time, these types of articles are perceived by most people as judgmental (hence the nasty comments).

But then I reconsidered. These articles get hundreds of comments. Clearly, they start conversation.  Conversation, discussion and debate are healthy. Maybe these types of articles are useful.

However, when detailing the decisions you and your families have made about how to run your houses and how to parent, you run a great risk in offending others who have not made the same choices or are have vastly different circumstances. In trying to sound supportive of all parents and the choices they may or may not have, these types of articles make parents in different situations feel unsupported.

Parenting is challenging and rewarding. As with many endeavors, but particularly parenting, we won’t really know the effect our choices and decisions on our children for years (if ever). This makes the majority of us worry, second guess and feel defensive when questioned about our choices.  Most of us want validation that we are doing the best thing because we can’t really get it, in any definitive way, from our kids (yet). Most of us worry if we’re doing it right. Most of us worry that we’re doing it wrong. Some of us worry that maybe we’re overconfident. Others are worried but refuse to acknowledge it.

Instead of talking about how we’re not sure if staying home with the kids is best or working outside the home is best — instead of discussing our insecurities — we sometimes dig in our heels and start listing all the reasons we made the choices we did. It often sounds as if we are trying to convince ourselves that we’ve made the right choice. This inherently puts those who have not made the same choices on the defensive. And the defending gets ugly.

There is no such thing as a parenting expert. Because the choices one family makes aren’t the best for another, one person or group can’t be deemed “the best.” There are far too many variables affecting each family for parenting to be a competition.

We don’t live in villages but we still need the support of the village. When we read one parent’s assertion that staying home with the children is better for their development and self-esteem, it’s the same as hearing that working parents are hindering their child’s development and their self-esteem will suffer. When read about the sacrifices parents make to stay home, it belittles the sacrifices working parents also make. The village breaks down, divides in two, some are left unsupported and everyone suffers.

This virtual village is far and wide – populated by parents all over the world, with all kinds of circumstances. We have the opportunity like never before to learn and share and adjust and improve…if only we could stop burning it down in pieces.

I Don’t Want to Raise Gentlemen

We were at a 3 year old’s birthday party a couple of weeks ago. There was a piñata. Although my 3 year old had never seen a piñata before, there still was a buzz of excitement when a colorful, decorated stuffed animal came into the room tied to a string. As one of the party entertainers hung up the piñata, the other showed the kids a long stick and a blindfold and began explaining what they were to do.  (There is nothing safer then spinning a toddler around and around, handing him a stick and telling him to start smashing while all his toddler friends scream and yell around him.)   Naturally, the kids were excited.

The birthday girl went first. My son ran over to make sure I understood what a fun game this was going to be. He watched another girl take a couple of swings. “Who’s next,” the Keeper of the Stick asked. The little crowd chanted, “me! me!” Another girl took a turn. After a few more girls went, my son was right at the foot of the Keeper, jumping up and down. He had been eagerly and patiently waiting his turn. “I want to go,” he said.  “Sorry, you need to wait until all the girls go first,” the Keeper replied. As only one of three boys there, he waited some more.

My son accepted this explanation without question, but it stuck with me.

I mentioned it to my husband who suggested that maybe they didn’t want the boys to break the piñata before the girls had a chance. But they are three. The physical differences between body mass and strength of boys and girls are nonexistent.  I’m sure the comment barely registered with my son, if at all. But over the course of his lifetime, there will be millions of these subtle instances of gender and cultural norms that will continue to shape his views about what boys should do and what girls should do.

This week social media was flooded with inspirational, funny, poignant message about women. March 8th is International Women’s Day. There are several hashtags trending right now related to IWD and most posts seem to be trying to raise awareness about violence towards women, equal pay and many, many sound bites generally promoting “gender equality.” As a woman, I support all of this. I see the importance of ensuring all women/girls feel safe, valued and empowered. Women deserve equal pay for equal work. Women deserve equal access to education and health care. But as a white, middle-class, American woman, I can’t say I’ve had much first hand experience with gender inequality. (Maybe if I had, I’d feel a little differently.)

I recognize my luck. I am grateful for being born where and when I was born. I am aware that many, many women are not so lucky. So I think that a day to raise awareness for women is worthwhile. I am in no way saying that there are not significant inequalities women still have to overcome. I get that we’re #notthereyet. The big issues I get. But the more subtle issues that would truly create gender equality, I’m less clear.

We talk a lot about raising strong girls, about challenging them to break stereotypes, about pushing them to do anything boys can do. But what about our boys? They are not encouraged to cross gender boundaries with the same enthusiasm. They are not encouraged to wear pink dresses and try out for the cheerleading team. A man’s sexuality or gender identification is immediately called into question if he, even for a momentary passing little boy phase, asks for Barbie dolls for his birthday. Boys are not encouraged to do things #likeagirl. Myself included. Truth be told, I’m not sure what I would say if my son came to me and said he wanted a princess backpack. I’d like to think I’d say “great” and head to the checkout line the same way I would if my daughter wanted a Spiderman backpack. But I’m guessing I’d hesitate and ask him if he was sure, really sure, he wanted the princess one (subtlety sending the message this isn’t gender typical.) My view of gender equality has been vertical – about women catching up – but now as the mother of two boys, I see this view is too narrow. Like Emma Watson famously proclaimed, we can’t have a shift in gender norms and expectations without including men in the shift. In our modern, first-world lives, we do a great job of helping our girls. We are starting to put programs in place to encourage them to study math and science. We are starting to see more and more women take high powered, executive roles at large corporations. We are helping our girls believe that can be and do anything they want. I just worry that the boys, my boys, also need to hear the same and will not.

I don’t know what gender equality really looks like but I know it’s not just about women. My hope is that as we continue to fight for the basic human rights of women all over the world, we remember the boys too. Instead of hearing that they need to let the girls go first, I hope my boys learn that we let our friends go first. I hope they open doors for anyone who happens to be behind them because it’s the kind and polite thing to do. I hope that they don’t grow up as “gentlemen” but as kind, courteous, polite humans. I hope they don’t see undue violence aimed at women or men. I hope they get paid and promoted fairly. I hope they, and everyone they love, feel safe, value and empowered.

I hope our kids learn that gender is not a card to be played, a label to abuse or a definition with limits.