Kids These Days…

After I dropped Jackson off at school this morning I stopped by Starbucks to grab some coffee (gift card on a double point Monday, cheah! Sorry, Dunkin, I love you tho). Anyway, on the way back home I passed the high school. I ended up being stuck at a red light right in front of the high school, and it had all the quintessential high school things happening. Cars pulling in and out to drop kids off, teens driving their own cars (their parents old 2005 Toyota Corollas) into the parking deck. It had kids crossing the busy intersection with the help of a crossing guard, and I assume one of the principals, as he was a tall man in a smart, black suit. There was laughing, and tugging at clothes, and fiddling with lunch boxes and backpacks. There were mom’s talking with their hands in cars, and dads, red-faced, yelling at the cars in front of them. It was, in my opinion, the most sincere sorta morning there could be at a high school, at any school. And then it occurred to me, maybe for the first time since I became a parent, that high schoolers aren’t all that scary. High schoolers are just big kids. And now, well, I am changed.

Listen, don’t get me wrong, I recognize that there are many differences between a kindergartner and a senior in high school, but also, there are a lot of similarities. While kindergartners are adorable, with their toothless grins and their round, big eyes (evolutionary trait for us to love them), teenagers lack those adorable quantities. Teenagers are starting to look like adults, and adults suck. We all know this. So it’s difficult to remember that teenagers are still kids. Especially when they do dumb stuff. It’s been a running joke in our house to make fun of teenagers, as of late. No offense to my teenagers (you know who you are, and we love you!) but when Jackson, for example, first learned that teenagers were vaping, or say, eating Tide Pods, or challenging each other to eat spoonfuls of cinnamon, he just shook his head and said, “Mommy, teenagers are dumb.” And yes, he is right, teenagers are dumb (most of them) but that is how it is supposed to be. And we’ve all been there, and I think this is where a little compassion goes a long way.

What is your damn point here, Missy? I think my point is that as children (especially kids that are not our own, or not from our family) grow up, we start, in my opinion somewhere around middle school, to not trust them. To think they are dumb, or weird, or mean, or bad, or not worthy of a hug, or a smile from a stranger, or help when they might need it. Some people even see teenagers as “the devil” (case in point, Greta the Climate Girl, or the kids who are standing up against gun violence versus Republicans). The thing is teenagers, specifically high schoolers, are a lot more awesome than we give them credit for. They are smart, and resilient. They are living in a time when they are nervous about going to school EVERY SINGLE DAY, because they don’t know if today will be the day someone brings a gun to school. Or a fight breaks out. Or the cops have to bring the dogs in to terrify them. Then they get on social media, they see someone like Greta who is out there making a difference, and they get inspired. Then as fast as they are inspired, they are broken down because they see how Greta and the kids like her are treated by grown, actual, adults. What the hell are we doing, y’all?

Listen, I know I am not making a lot of sense today. I am only half done with my free Starbucks Cold Brew, but I think what I am saying is, if you give high schoolers a chance, the majority of them will surprise you. They are, after all, still kids. Whether or not you believe that. A 17-year-old’s brain is still forming, still learning. He still needs to be loved like a kindergartner, and while he might not need to be supervised like one, he still needs to know that people, his parents, his teachers, his friends, his community, have his back. And no, he may not return the love in handmade cards or macaroni necklaces, but if you have raised him right, he might return the love in acts of service to you, in thoughtful gifts, in gratidude! Ahh, every high-school parents’ dream, a “Thanks, Mom, for giving me an awesome life!” accompanied by a hug.

So all I’m asking today is that you take a moment to realize that kids are good. Kids are smart. Kids are resilient. But also, kids need guidance. Kids need to be trusted. They need to know that they have support, even from strangers. And by kids I’m specifically talking about the bigger of them, because we often overlook them.

Much love to my teenage friends! Y’all are awesome. And I love you.

M.

On Becoming a Woman

One of my best friends did something really cool recently. Which really shouldn’t surprise you all that much because I have really cool friends, who do really cool things, but this one really knocked it out of the proverbial park. So my friend’s daughter was recently inducted into the Sisterhood. Yes, that Sisterhood, you know the one I mean, the one most little, middle school girls get inducted into eventually. It wasn’t that all shocking to my friend and her daughter that it happened, but still when it happens, it’s always a surprise. My friend had prepared her daughter, as one does I assume. Listen, I have a son, and I’m not going to even pretend to know how to handle something like that, but if I had a daughter I’d want to do what my friend did.

My friend sent an email to her closest friends (all women) and told them the news. Then she asked them for any advice they might have for her daughter. She wanted to inundate her daughter with goodness, and calm, and love. She wanted the sisterhood to share from its collective experiences. And I was amazed and awe-inspired by my friend and what she did. How cool of a mom she is to do something like that for her daughter. How lucky her daughter is. And if I’m being honest, I was super jealous.

Here’s what I got on the day before my 11th birthday when I woke up to stained sheets: “Oh no!” Yeah. That’s for sure what my mom, then my sisters, then my friends all said to me: “Oh no!” Or something like that. Then I got a very brief, very messy introduction to how maxi pads work (never tampons because my mom was convinced I’d die of I used them) and I was sent on about my day. That was it. Someone may have mumbled something about, “Becoming a woman” but certainly didn’t elaborate, which meant I spent years thinking that becoming a woman meant screaming at people once a month to “get the hell away from me I don’t want to talk to you!”

So that “Oh no!” followed me all through my life. Every. Single. Month. Oh no! I eventually taught myself how to use tampons, learned my own anatomy from a book, and asked enough of my friends what the signs of my period looked like, but still for the next 28 years of my life every month (save the months I was pregnant) I had a sinking Oh no! feeling. And I really wish that wasn’t the case.

So I started thinking, after being an honored recipient of this email from my friend, what sort of wisdom I could impart on her daughter. And I realized that I probably didn’t have any more wisdom than her obviously cool mom has, but that I did have a lot of feelings about this transition. Feelings that I have been hauling around with me for a long time. Things that I wish an adult woman would have shared with me when I was younger. So I decided to tell Little Missy all the stuff I wanted her to know. What follows might not be “wisdom” or even helpful, but it’s what I wish I had known way sooner than when I figured it out.

Dear Little Missy,

You are amazing! Like for actual real. Amazing. The limits to which your body will be pushed is astounding. Men could never handle what we go through. They just aren’t emotionally and mentally as strong as we are. Always remember that. Weaker sex? I don’t even know how that’s a thing. I mean sure their muscles might get bigger allowing them to lift heavy objects, but uh, lifting heavy objects isn’t gonna be as big a deal in your life as they say it will. It’s like stop, drop, and roll, or 9th grade algebra. Turns out you don’t need to worry all that much about it. I’m not bashing men here, just stating facts. And here are some more facts for you.

— It’s important to always have chocolate on hand. Like, always.

— Periods are erratic at first. It’s nothing you are doing wrong, it’s just your body trying to figure it out.

—Speaking of erratic, let’s talk about your mood. Girl, there are gonna be some rough days. Like, some days you may want to hide in your room all day, but chances are you won’t be able to because of school, or work, or practice, or family obligations, or because your gerbil died and you really need to get him out of that cage and buried in the backyard before he starts to smell. What the actual hell is wrong with you, Missy? How long has that gerbil been dead? Listen, the point is that you will have to push through. And you will push through. And this will be the beginning of a lot of bullshit you will have to “just push through” in your life. Welcome to being a woman!

— Middle school girls are weird. They sometimes have dead gerbils, okay. And sometimes they don’t like to shower. And sometimes they forget to brush their teeth or to put deodorant on. But you gotta try harder, Missy. You don’t want to be that “stinky” girl. Especially now, when once a month your underwear looks like a murder scene.

— So that’s another thing. You are trying to navigate this weird middle school world and this even weirder you are “becoming a woman” world and the two worlds are itchy and they don’t mash up well together. Please know that EVERY SINGLE OTHER MIDDLE SCHOOL GIRL is going through this EXACT same thing. You are not alone! Well, maybe you are alone with the dead gerbil thing, but the rest of the stuff you are not alone with. Some girls however, are like really good at pretending that they aren’t bothered by any of this. Some girls have mom’s who are actually, for real, models, or actresses, or just women who know how to contour their make-up. But even so, those girls are still going through exactly what you are going through. So be nice, but you know, take no shit.

— There are bound to be accidents. You will totally and completely bleed through your maxi pad in 6th grade science class on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Always keep a sweatshirt in your book bag for this very instance. There is no shame in tying that thing around your waist until you can get home and change your clothes. And shower. Remember, ahem, what we said about showering.

— I know, I know, you have no desire to have children. Today. But one day you might. So stop looking at this as a negative and start looking at it as a positive. This is the magic you were born with. This is what allows you to create an actual human being inside of you. You do that, girl! And trust me, joining the sisterhood may seem rough, but it is nothing compared to joining the ranks of motherhood. You are going through all this bullshit now to prepare you for the real shit later. Believe me, you will thank your body, over and over again. One day. Today though, it might be easier to lock yourself in your bathroom with a king size Twix bar and cry because you weren’t born a boy. But one day, one day you will be proud. It just takes time.

— Be kind to yourself. It’s so easy for you to be kind and nice to other people, especially other girls because you know they are going through the same thing, but you need to learn to be kind to yourself too. Some of those other girls will not reciprocate that kindness. Some of them will tease you because your belly is round, and your legs aren’t smooth, and you don’t know how to apply eye liner. But trust me, they don’t matter. The people who truly matter to you come when you are in the pits. When you are thumbing your way through your chemistry textbook for the fifth time and you still can’t figure any of it out, and you lock eyes with that cool, goth girl across the library and she gives you the, “What is this stuff even?” look and the next thing you know you are both under a table, eating Cheese-Its, talking about how much you don’t know. That’s when the real friendships form. In the meantime, you have to learn to like you. To treat yourself right. To love all your parts. Even the gross ones. The smelly armpits, and the bleeding vagina. The crooked toenails and the innie belly button. Just be nice to yourself, okay?

— Your body is not betraying you! Man, it feels like it doens’t it. It’s like the first time you run into your favorite park after school and suddenly you don’t fit into the little hole that starts the tunnel slide. You are dumbfounded. Didn’t your mom just bring you to this park like three months ago? Didn’t you used to run across that rope bridge without feeling unsteady on your feet? Oh your feet! They are huge now! And these boobs, what are they even?! Why did they have to pop up? I know this all feels so uncomfortable, but it won’t for much longer. You know when you are on a car trip, and it’s really long, and you keep checking your iPad to see if the hours are going by and the hours are just not going by and you honestly think you will burst if you don’t get to the dang beach already! It feels like that I know. This weird in-between space. But trust me. You’re gonna get to the beach one day. And you’re gonna rock a slimming, appropriate, one-piece swimsuit. 🙂

— Swimming. The beach. Pool parties and sleepovers. Vacations. Graduations. Your birthday. Special occasions. These days will all happen and the calendar Gods will not line up your special occasions with you being period-free. Those days suck. Did you remember that we started our period on our 11th birthday? Yeah, it started out rough. Don’t let a little blood dampen your spirits! Pun intended. Bring extra underwear. Always have a tampon or a maxi pad in your purse or book bag. It’s annoying, but it will save you in the future. However, just know that if you ever forget, or if Aunt Flo ever unexpectedly comes, it is totally normal and okay to ask any woman in the vicinity if they have anything. Someone always does, and no one ever judges you for it, cause we have all been there, sister.

— Google tampons and Maxi pads (know the chemical they use in them), Diva cups, that super, cool new underwear that you don’t even need to wear anything with! Learn about all of it, try them all. Try different brands and different “fits,” don’t get stuck with the same old mentality. Times changes, be willing to learn about your body and what works best for you. Don’t just use your mom’s same old brands. Branch out!

Okay, wow, I know I have said a lot here, and I have more to say. Many women do, if you just ask them. Never be ashamed or afraid to ask them! We will talk for hours about things. Not all women, but the really cool, nice ones will. And you never know unless you ask.

So I will leave you with this: There is no right way to be in your shoes. There is also bound to be uncomfortable days. They will happen. It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are. How many Google searches you’ve read. How many times you have planned or packed, or re-packed, you will have surprises and hiccups along the way. But as long as you keep to your own truth, as long as you always strive to be the kindest, most badass version of yourself you can be, as long as you remember that what other people think of you is none of your business, well then, girl, you will be better off than a lot of us.

Oh, and remember what I said about the chocolate.

Welcome to the sisterhood. We are happy to have you.

Sending hugs and love. ❤

M.

Postpartum

I watched that video of Meghan Markle today. You know that one where the reporter asks her if she is okay, and she basically says no, that she isn’t okay, that she hasn’t been okay, and then she thanks him for even asking her. Did you see it? If not, Google it. Because as soon as I saw it I wanted to cry. Not because I feel sorry for this very rich, very powerful member of the Royal Family (although, yeah I do), but because all I could think was, “I’ve been there, sister. And it sucks.” I’ve been there, when you feel like you’re at the bottom, and anyone, a relative stranger, asks if you are okay and you realize, shit, no. No, I’m not okay. And you realize it, and they realize it, and the whole thing just feels bad.

I was there, not with a reporter, but I was there. With my hair stuck up in a bun, dried breast milk on my shirt, jamming boxes of diapers and wipes onto the conveyer belt at Target. I was there, in my sweat pants, and my oversized shirts. In my sneakers. No make-up. I wasn’t in heels, thankfully I didn’t need to be. I wasn’t in a white dress three weeks after giving birth, thankfully, because the whole world wasn’t watching me. Thankfully. Thankfully the whole world didn’t criticize my clothing, or the way I held my son, or the way I looked “too emotional” one day, or “not emotional enough” the next. I can’t imagine, if I’m being honest, what that would have felt like. What that could feel like in those days after having a newborn. After becoming a mommy for the first time. I’m not sure I would have been strong enough to make it out the other side.

I’m just feeling sad today, y’all. Sad and a little angry that we do this to women like Meghan. That we do this to women. That we do this to each other. We all know. Every, single mother knows the pain, the guilt, the hormones, the emotions. Every mother knows. Every person who has loved a new mother knows. Every partner, or sister, or grandmother, or best friend has picked up on the feelings and the stress that comes with being a new mommy. So why do we continue to act like it isn’t a struggle everyday? Why do we judge each other so harshly? I’m just really tired of it, y’all. So very tired of it.

I’m not there anymore. I’m not hiding in my bathroom, listening to my son cry it out in his crib, while my dog paws at the door. I’m not counting down the hours until my husband comes home so I can pass off the baby for some sleep, or a shower, or a rerun of a funny show to take my mind away from where it had been. I’m not there anymore, but so many women are, and we just can’t forget that.

Be kind. I think that’s what I’m asking today. Be kind to the Meghan Markles of the world. Be kind to the Missys of the world. To all the mommies. The ones with newborns, the ones with toddlers, the ones with teens, the ones with 40-year-olds. Check on your friends and be kind. And for the love of all that is holy, leave Meghan Markle alone. She’s just trying to figure it all out.

M.

Stubborn Mules

The other day my family and I were out and about and we stopped in for lunch at a local fast food restaurant to grab burgers and shakes. It was a pretty busy day and there were a ton of people in the restaurant. It was loud and crowded and everything was running a bit behind, but we had no where to be so we sat down at our table and talked while we waited for our number to be called. A couple of minutes later a man and his young son sat down at the table next to us. The tables were pretty close and we could hear their discussion. The son was about Jackson’s age and was wearing a Minecraft shirt. The son was polite, and quiet, and he smiled at me when I looked over to him. I smiled back, thinking Jackson and him could probably be friends. Until I heard his dad started talking to him.

It wasn’t what he said, at first. At first it was his tone. The dad was a meek guy. He was a little small, sat hunched over a bit, and didn’t really give off a “My dad could beat up your dad” vibe. But his tone was biting. In fact, I started to eavesdrop when he was discussing their order and the dad was sort of berating the kid for what he ordered. The kid just sat there and listened to his dad. This wasn’t the first time he was made to feel bad for a decision he had made. It was rather odd, though. I didn’t know if the dad was putting on a show for us, because our tables were so close together and he was trying to assert himself as, I dunno, a tough guy? Berating your kid makes you tough, maybe? Or maybe he was just in a bad mood and he was taking it out on his kid. We all have bad days, I reminded myself, and maybe this was his. The poor kid just sat, his eyes on the table and listened to his dad bitch about everything he did. Then their number was called. The boy jumped up to go grab the tray and the dad yelled after him to get him a lid for his cup. Though the restaurant was pretty loud still, so I doubted the boy would hear him. I lost track of what was happening at that point, until the boy came back without a lid for his dad’s drink.

“Did you hear me?”

“Hello, I asked you to bring me back a damn lid? Did you not hear me?”

“Should I just go get my own lid?”

The boy, unsure of what to do and obviously upset about his dad’s behavior, was trying to put their trays down on the table, so he wasn’t making eye contact with his dad.

“I still need a damn lid, cause I guess you didn’t hear me.”

The boy put the trays down in a hurry and he ran back to get his dad a lid. By this point my husband and I had made eye contact with each other and wordlessly said, “This guy. What a dick.” I sort of lost track of their conversation then, as our food had arrived, but their body language told me that if the boy was a dog he would have his tail between his legs right now and the dad would be kicking and screaming at him while he was chained to a fence with nowhere to run.

And then it happened. I went to take my first bite of my cheeseburger when I heard:

“Dear Father…”

I looked over at their table and they had their heads bowed in prayer and the father was speaking.

“Thank you for this beautiful day. Thank you for this food we are about to consume. Thank you for our wonderful lives and all that we have. We are grateful for you love. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

I looked at my husband once more who didn’t look shocked at all. And why should he be? As a man who doesn’t want anything to do with organized religion. As a man who knows that he doesn’t need the fear of God to make him do what is right, as a man who would never treat his child in that sort of degrading way, in public or private, he just assumed this other man was a Bible-thumping Christian. Meanwhile, I had to pick my jaw up from the floor.

I didn’t make me happy. It didn’t make me feel better for this child. Or see this man in a different light. It infuriated me. Here is this man, obviously someone who is secure enough in his religious conviction and bold enough to intentionally show everyone what he believes, belittling his child, over and over again, then bowing his head like he did nothing wrong. And who knows. Maybe inside he was asking for forgiveness for being a dickheaded-dirtbag, but my money is on no.

My husband and I just looked at each other. He gave me one of those, “See, they’re hypocrites” kind of looks and I continued to sit dumbfounded. I don’t really have a point with this post, except maybe that parentings is tough, y’all. Like really tough. And we all have our own ways of doing things, but if you are not leading from a love-centered place, what are you actually doing? If you child walks around afraid of you, what are you doing? If you have to constantly pray to your God for forgiveness for the way you treat your child, what are you doing?

I’m not pretending to have all the answers, y’all. But I know that this man, regardless of how religious he is, should be reprimanded for the way he treated his child. And I constantly worry when I see people act like this in public. I worry, because what happens when they are in the privacy of their homes?

The incident did remind me of a book I came across once. I don’t remember where I was, or how I came to be thumbing through it, but it was called “To Train Up a Child”. It was billed a “Christian Parenting Book” and it put a lot of focus on whipping and beating and talking down to your child. People honestly believe that parenting this way is the best way. People honestly believe they are doing God’s will by raising their children like this. This isn’t leading from love, y’all. You simply can’t learn love from a book.

We have to do better as parents if we want things to change in our lives, our children’s lives, our communities, our country. It starts from home. I’m just asking you to be more aware, as a parent, be more aware and more loving. We aren’t raising stubborn mules, we are raising human beings with large hearts who only want to make you happy.

M.

See, I told you. Also, here is one article that makes claims that the harshness of this book and this type of parenting has lead to child abuse: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25268343

Hey, It’s Jackson!

Walking down the hall of my kid’s school with him, is like walking on stage with a rock star. Seriously. Since he was in kindergarten it has been this way. In kindergarten he was popular because he walked with an air of confidence. He was one of the few kids that went into school knowing how to read. He could read. He could write. He could color inside the lines. But above all else, my kid was confident. He didn’t cry on the first day like I did in kindergarten. He didn’t watch, misty-eyed as we walked out the door and left him behind with Ms. Gamble. Instead, he sat at attention. He helped the girl in front of him line up correctly. He volunteered to lead the line. He took Mrs. Turner’s hand and walked into the unknown with a smile on his face. And well, it is still the same today.

I was scared for a little while. When we moved him in the middle of third grade, I was terrified. We moved from a rural area in North Carolina into a school system that was very different than where we had been. He had been at a public school, an “A” public school, where 98% of the kids looked like him, and talked like him, and came from the upper ranks of the socioeconomic tiers. His new school was a STEM school. But it was also an urban charter school where he was a minority.

But by the end of third grade he had friends in every classroom. He knew all the teachers’ names. They all knew his. Fourth grade teachers already knew about him. Fifth grade teachers already knew about him. The Gifted teacher was eager to get her hands on him. In short, he did just fine with the transition. And then we moved in the middle of fourth grade.

We hadn’t planned on this, of course. Truth be told, we were hoping to stay in Charlotte until middle school at least. Hoping he would only know two elementary schools. Two I could deal with. But three? We scoped out his new elementary school the day we signed the papers on the new house. He wasn’t with us. Jerimiah and I came alone that day. We walked in not knowing what to expect. We hadn’t heard the best things about Atlanta’s schools, but then again, we were coming from Charlotte, so it kinda felt like home.

Turns out we made the right choice. His new school is a public school in DeKalb County. It isn’t an “A” school, but it doesn’t have to be, because it is an IB school. It is a STEM school. He isn’t a minority, but not all the kids look like him or speak like him. They have a Spanish immersion class. They have art, and music, and sports. It is a heck of a lot different than anything we have known, yet it’s exactly the same.

I walked Jackson to class yesterday to have a quick chat with is teacher. We are headed out of town tomorrow and he is going to miss a test. I wanted to make sure he would be allowed to make it up, and yes he will be. While we were walking down the halls of this fairly new school (this is his third week of classes) it all felt very familiar.

“Hey Jackson!” and “Jackson Goodnight!” and “Good morning, Jackson” rang out all around us. Teachers, administrators, second graders. They all know Jackson. The janitor gave him a high five. A kindergartener said, “Hey, it’s Jackson!” and pointed. To hear him tell the story, though, you’d think no one knows him, well until he digs in.

Jackson isn’t special just because he walks with an air of confidence, he’s special because he is friendly. He is kind. Turns out that kindergartner was wearing a shirt with a car on it one day, and Jackson walked up to him and said, “Wow, I like your shirt! I love cars too.” The kindergartner blushed and said, “Thanks.”

When Jackson meets the janitor in the hallways, he tells her “Thanks, you know, for picking up after us and keeping the bathrooms clean.”

When Jackson met the Assistant Principal he said, “I really like what you’ve done with the place.”

When Jackson met the STEM teacher he said, “I love STEM and am so excited about your class.”

When Jackson met the music teacher he said, “I’m not a very good singer, but one day I’ll probably have a record deal.” Well, he’s still a little confident.

The point is, Jackson notices people. He notices their hard work. Their dedication. Their cool style. And he says something, something nice. He gives a compliment. He doesn’t expect anything back. He just wants them to know he likes them, or he respects them, or they have crossed his mind. And that is what garners attention from people. From kids and adults. Kindness. Confidence. Vulnerability.

I guess today I am wishing to be a little more like my kid. A little more kind to everyone I meet. A little more confident. A little more vulnerable. To really put myself out there. I think maybe it would serve us all well to be this way from time to time. You never know, when you leave a room someone might just be saying your name in awe as well.

Here’s to being more like Jackson!

M.