Damn, it feels good to write again

I’ve been away for six months. In early 2020, I attended a retreat to vision the year ahead. I was struggling, just thinking about the simple tasks I wanted to complete. What were my values and how was I meeting them? I was forced to confront this. And it became so clear to me, the exhaustion. Of living every day for someone else. Almost never for me. So I decided I was going to “rest.” I stopped writing, and have not written until this post. I stopped participating in groups and events that did not immediately serve me. That did not bring me an overwhelming yes.

These six months have been little “rest,” but they have been filled with transformation. In some ways, the ask to stay home to avoid COVID has been a gift. A gift that has allowed me to find time to work on me, and also to spend time with my partner and kids.

But let’s be real, not much of 2020 so far has been much of a gift. Insight maybe. Change for sure. But no loss of life that could have been prevented by systemic intervention is a gift. This has been a time of unveiling. Pulling back the curtain on the society, systems we live in. And I believe it’s not done.

So the gift isn’t just the time I have spent. But also in that I have had my own unveiling. I have found no excuse not to pull back the curtain on how I have been living my life.

And I am here, eager to start again. Finding my way out from rest. In some ways, moving out of the cocoon into the stage of drying my wings. I have so much to share. And I’ll start with a few things.

I cut off most of my hair. It’s the shortest it has even been. And it feels so free. In contrast, my legs are covered in hair. I have realized that I don’t care to shave them. It is rooted in my oppression, so I have stopped.

I have gained weight, intentionally. To heal from disordered eating. I can now be called small fat, moving from a chubbier frame to one of fatness. I am working so hard to find my home here, to find power in this larger body. The irony I am reminding myself, is that the world wants me to shrink nearly everywhere I go. But where my heart resides, in resistance, the pursuit of justice and equity, space is essential. And the more you take up, the more impact you can have.

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I am healing, medicating, and finding balance, love and joy in this body and life I am in.

I now use the pronouns she or they. More to come on this. For now, I ask you to consider seeing me as without, seeing me for being a human who chooses to live in this world full of space, love, tenderness, and an unyielding desire to change this world.

Even if it’s just one piece of writing at a time.

A toy vacuum

I bought the baby a toy vacuum. They love it, as they are much in love with our robot vacuum. Always touching it, sneaking up to it while it cleans.

As I was putting it into the shopping cart, I had a flashback to when my daughter was a baby. There was no way I would have bought her a vacuum. Ever. There are too many gender roles wrapped up in that. I couldn’t bring myself to see her “play house” with toys that women were supposed to use to “keep home.”

You’d think that my work to eliminate the gender role stereotypes may have had impact. They have. And they have not. Even without a toy vacuum, she still sees me as the keeper of the house, the one who cooks, the one who serves her. She sometimes pushes back when I ask her to pick something up, or to clean up after herself. She asks me to do things for her all the time, like hand her the remote when it’s actually closer to her. Some days, I feel like I am someone’s assistant. Being asked to follow orders.

I see small moments where this has come to be. My partner asks her to do little things all of the time. Like hand him the remote. She models his behavior, but asks me instead of him. I asked him once why he made requests like that, asking her to get things for him when he didn’t need someone to. He said to teach her about helping out. I get the point of the message, but I also can’t help but to feel the interwoven sexism that comes in all of this. And so, she plays out the same routine with me. I’m the person who “helps out” for her.

In society, motherhood is seen as the all encompassing role. We must do and manage it all. I am the manager of this house. I set up the appointments, pay the bills, pay attention to the little things like the dog’s monthly medicine, due dates, car inspections, doctor’s appointments, etc. I am the person that the daycare calls, the school calls, for anything and everything. And, I didn’t even sign up for that. They just do it, their own system woven into today’s rampant sexism that is downplayed when they talk about how empowered women are to do it all.

In this moment, I do not do conventional work, but I do work. And it’s my work that is interrupted as a parent when the teacher emails about after-school activities, or the school calls about a sick kid. Plus, I mother 24/7. On paper, my partner also goes to work and parents 24/7. But when he’s at work, no one asks him to parent except me. This is no fault of his own, as we have not been explicit to ask for an alternative option in the system. But there is a realness in how his life functions differently than mine. How his mind focuses compared to my own.

He doesn’t see or remember things the same way I do. The world jokes and will say “oh, men!” But in reality, this is his upbringing in this society, what the world has handed to him, what was handed to his parents. He knows this. He sits in a world where his whole life he has seen how women manage their homes while men go to work and occasionally fix things. And he has seen over and over how we teach girls they can be anything they want to be, while we teach boys to just be.

He is working to break through this all of the time, and I’m grateful. But it’s a hard unlearning for him, and it’s taxing for me. Mostly because I have to help in this learning. I have to teach most of the time because there isn’t much around to teach him otherwise. I just googled “how to not be sexist in your own home.” Instead of finding something real, the first item is “5 seemingly harmless things that are actually sexist.” Only 5. Seemingly harmless. That have always been sexist.

Then, there are several articles on politics.  Plus one on how feminists are sexist. As you can see, he doesn’t have much help out there. Men aren’t out there writing about how to be better to their partners. And doing so by being specific – like don’t put your clothes on the floor and unconsciously assume that someone will just pick them up for you. And to then not say thank you, because you’ve done it so much that it’s not even a thing to notice anymore.

Socks are a thing for me, I even wrote a poem about them…

Point being, that trying to not teach stereotypical gender roles is really hard. What I can say is that I have a daughter who in no way role plays being a home keeper. Instead, she does play out oppression by treating me like one. Even when we play “house” or “family”, she makes me the mom. She never wants to be the mom and I don’t know what to do with that.

We’re working on this day by day. And my partner is a key to our success. He talks to her about it, and is paying attention to his own behaviors. He listens deeply when I tell him what comes up for me. I know it’s hard, to hear from the person that you love, that sometimes the way you act can hurt them. It’s hard not to feel blame. I blame myself for the way things play out sometimes. I blame myself for not being more explicit with my daughter about sexism. If I had just paid attention to the whole story instead of pushing her to live outside of the box, she’d understand the box more and see how others can be trapped inside. I’m worried that one day she’ll just step back in – to see how lonely it is out of the box sometimes. I’m also worried that instead she might keep others in the box to keep herself out.

So I bought the baby a vacuum.

Note: I feel compelled to acknowledge something very important, and not in spite of my feelings. I have a loving, willing partner working every day to be the best human I could ask to share this life with. One who has learned to pick up his socks. And everyone else’s.

A quick word on civil disobedience

I am reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and am on Chapter 9 this week. In this chapter, she states, “parents do act hurt when children rebel.” And this got me thinking…

Specifically, it made me think of a Facebook post I saw a while back that I want to share. It’s from a group called Wee the People based in Boston, MA. They work with young kids on anti-racism work. And, they do this using books and teachings. They also teach parents how to use books as a tool to teach justice. They are awesome, and you should follow their work! Here is their quote:

“Step 1: Read books that are explicitly about civil disobedience to your child
Step 2: Watch your child practice said civil disobedience with regards to chores
Step 3: Remember that said child is practicing and her social justice muscles are getting ripped!
Step 4: Repeat”

I forget this quote, this concept, most days. In an effort to block their disobedience, I often forget how important it is to this world, in making changes towards a future that they can thrive in.

So today, I am also remembering that my acts of civil disobedience do not go unnoticed and are moment of teaching. I am remembering that learning civil disobedience is a value I want to share. I am remembering that I want them to overturn the system, break barriers, push themselves to better this world. I am also remembering that being the person on the receiving end takes patience, commitment and gentle teaching.

And most importantly, I am remembering to not feel or act hurt by rebellion, but to feel pride.

To feel success.

To feel evolutionary change.

Be the lighthouse

I’ve been thinking a lot about pronouns these days….

I want to first admit that we haven’t been as gender neutral as I want for pronouns in our house. We’ve pretty much reached the point where we use gendered pronouns for our baby all the time. I am struggling my way through this. And, I am sharing all this because I want people to know that our egos are strong. They keep us swirling around our confusion. They make us doubt ourselves. I am swirling in that self-doubt. And this is all part of a normal day in parenting.

A few weeks ago, I even said this out loud:

“I struggle with the idea of having to explain they pronouns to strangers in public. I don’t want my kid to feel like they’re an experiment.”

But, I have been enlightened and reminded by the universe in several ways lately that this is kind of a bs excuse. Let me break that down for you. First off, I saw a tweet (click to listen) that reminded me that pretty much all parenting is experimentation. So why would I think gender pronouns are an experiment but the rest is not!? Here’s where it gets tough. I don’t actually want to correct people or teach them because I am uncomfortable. I don’t want people to think that I am experimenting. I am judging myself that I may make the wrong decision. So this is really all about me. But you already knew that right!?

I deeply believe that I can do nothing to change the gender of my kids. What I can do is create an environment that may or may not match this gender and could make things easier or harder for them. For example, I could create one that doesn’t openly allow them to explore and understand their own gender. I can do damage to their own view of their gender by living and promoting scripted gender stereotypes or gendered expressions. I can associate certain words with my oldest but not my youngest simply because they are born with different body parts…tough guy, sweet girl, strong men, nice women, rough and tumble, sugary and spice…

So, this is where I’m at – realization. Realization that I want to do this differently. I believe in a world where gender is non-binary, non-scripted, and fluid. I believe that we can live in a world where people don’t connect or associate things simply because of one’s gender. I believe in a world where we ask a person their pronouns before we assumingly pronoun them based on our observations.

This folks is the world I imagine. I am learning how to build this world in my home, for my kids, and for me. I have no answers, but am constantly inspired by others who are doing this in a way that I admire and look up to. I am seeing what I can take and incorporate into my life that starts us on this path towards liberation. (Click here to check out Tiffany Cook, one radical momma sharing her experiences raising a baby with they pronouns. She inspires me and I love her deeply, you will too).

Thankfully, we have many successes already. Thus, I am also trying to remind myself that pronouns are only one step towards freedom. I look at my little people and I feel confidence in my ability to remove gendered thinking, gendered actions in how I choose to live in front of them. We have gender neutral and mixed gender toys for both kids. They wear whatever color they want, whatever clothes they want. I tell them they are both beautiful, gorgeous, brave, smart, strong, kind, sweet, and perfect. I avoid using gender in compliments like “good boy” or “way to go girl.” We are explicit about pronouns, gender and gender oppression. They know family and friends that use non-binary pronouns and identify as non-binary or transgender.

I have not mastered living this value out loud in public. But I am taking steps. I am moving and making small steps that I can only hope sets the example for them that their lives, their gender is their business alone. In the grocery store (it’s always the grocery store) people pronoun my kids all the time. The baby has a different gender pronoun nearly every time we go. I even had one person correct themselves after seeing a pink line in one of their socks. In these moments, I do not correct. I feel comfortable in them hearing different options for pronouns, that I am not going to correct and make sure someone knows which body parts they actually do have. And I don’t use pronouns when they ask me about them. I’ll use their name or avoid pronouns all together. Sometimes, I see people looking for confirmation from me, that they got it right. In these moments, I leave the discomfort on the table. This is their exploration too, these kind people wanting to connect. They need to explore their discomfort, their need to know and what comes up for them in this exchange.

This all makes me realize that my journey in parenting gender justice doesn’t have to be a whole package. I don’t have to flip the entire script today, but I do want to be committed to flipping the script as the end goal. Today, I feel that we parent in our community, among our family and friends pretty close to what I envision for the world. Out loud, I am still finding my voice, my role in how to bring other people along.

So here’s where I am at, after self-correcting my own course. A friend, mentor, coach once said “be the lighthouse.” If I can be grounded in what I value, what I believe in this world, then it will shine from me for others to see and feel, even possibly provide guidance. I don’t have to move my core to have impact, but instead to dig deeper. And it’s not my job to create the light in others. Instead, it’s my job to be so immobile, to be so sure in my shining that it guides others to a similar notion, similar desire to ground themselves in their light that also guides others. This is what living out loud truly looks like.

So yes, is this an experiment? Perhaps if you consider parenting an experiment. But I’m not experimenting on my kids, gender is much too important to even be considered such a thing. To have access to a community, a life where you get to navigate yourself without burden, script, assumption – that’s no experiment. That’s an explosion of love. This explosion of love is just yet another step in rearing my own little lighthouses so they find their cliff, ground their values, and shine brightly. My oldest loves to shine it in your face, you will never miss her or her light. Sometimes, I think it’s just pure fire. The littlest is going to be the one that warms your soul with their light.

Be the lighthouse folks. And join me in letting go of gender as we know it. It can only serve us to take additional steps towards our own liberation.

(Note: This writing makes me feel that I am part of a community where I can live out loud. I commit to using “they” for my baby moving forward until they can speak out loud what they want me to use. For my oldest, I will use she/her/hers. She has expressed numerous times that this is what she wants me to use when I speak about her.)

Parenting astrology 101?

Back in the spring, I participated in a group on astrology called Astro Story Club. As part of the group, I learned more about birth charts and took a deep dive into my own. The awesome thing I learned about birth (or natal) charts is that they are not your future or fortune, and they aren’t set in stone; instead, they act like a story for your life, offering twists and turns, all while you choose your decisions and directions throughout.

My sun is in Cancer. And so is my moon. This means that I lead with emotion. I present to the world through my emotions, and it’s primarily my emotions that drive my way of being. This is my comfort zone – empathy, sympathy, care, deep love for others. And, this has been my approach to parenting. If I teach my daughter how it feels, to look for her own feelings, she’ll be able to be present in this world.

Needless to say, in my observation, this hasn’t always connected for her. I’ve been worrying over and over that I have not taught her empathy. What if she just never gets it? What if she actually doesn’t care much about others? What if she is a sociopath? Ok, I went from this to majorly that right? But the realness of what we worry about as parents is there. Daily, we worry and we do go to extremes, I am not the only one… In reality, do I think my kid is a sociopath, absolutely not. But she approaches life differently than me, and I admit that I am having trouble understanding that.

One day at Astro Story Club, I overheard the club leader talk about doing a reading for a friend as parents. They did a reading of their child in order to gain some deeper understanding of how to parent. Great idea, I thought. I will admit that I have not done an official in person reading, but I did one online. And it’s all starting to make sense.

She has her sun, moon, and three planets in Aries (Venus, Mars, and Uranus). Aries is the ram. Aries are known for being stubborn, self-willed, obstinate, tenacious. Here are the first couple lines of her reading:

“Aries is an active, energetic sign. People with Sun in Aries are direct, straightforward, and uncomplicated. They expect the same from others, and are baffled when they don’t always get it…their natural inclination is to use their bodies to get things done. They’re not given to long, drawn-out emotional moments; nor are they big on planning ahead. Instead, they live their lives simply. What is happening right now is most important to Aries.”

My kid is going to be a toddler forever…

And here is the parenting advice for parents of toddlers…give your kids a countdown, give them an idea of what’s to come so they know what to expect, set expectations in advance, teach them empathy and how to share feelings, show them how you feel when something happens, teach them how to use other outlets besides their bodies, etc….

This people is my life. I have a little person, who has no interest in making a decision until she has to. And so me, who likes to plan, feels off my game all the time. When she is acting out or not aligning with what values I hope she begins to build, telling her how I feel falls flat. I can’t connect with her because I don’t know how to. Emotions do not drive her in the same way that they do for me. Let me give you an example:

One afternoon, we were sitting out in the sun having lunch at a nearby restaurant and she was sharing how she is learning about the environment and how to take care of it. She tells us that we shouldn’t use plastic bags because sea turtles will think that they are jellyfish and eat them and die. She says that plastic straws are bad too because the wind picks them up and throws them in the ocean where fish will eat them and die. All so sweet right? Yes, and she said all this as she drank lemonade out of a plastic cup with a plastic straw…

That said, I have no doubt that if a sea turtle was actively about to inhale a plastic bag, or if there was a straw floating in the ocean, she’d rush to dive in to stop it.

And I know this because here’s the great part about readings – you also learn why you are awesome as you are. She is going to basically take on the world and do good by it. She is caring, strong, brave, loyal, honest, and the best friend you could ask for. Aries are the least jealous sign and they are one of the most devoted. They want to run the world but they want you too also. They share in and are thrilled by your success. There is little competition unless they aren’t winning too. And it’s never about you winning instead of them, but it’s about them needing to win too. They are brutally honest, but only take the time to be so because they love you deeply and want you to be your best self. Get yourself an Aries friend folks, if you don’t have one already.

I share all this, both in some humor, and also for the reality that we don’t get to shape our kids stories in life. They are born into a larger narrative that they then get to navigate. It is not my role to help her do it. Instead, I can only share my story in the hopes that she finds connection, advice, and community in shared experience. I will never get her to make a decision until in the moment. Even when I do, she changes her mind when the moment comes. But I can make decisions whenever I want to and respect that hers will likely come when she’s ready. I can know that her story takes a different path and both paths are meant to be. I can continue to share my emotions because she needs to learn that others communicate differently than her. I can share that using too much water is harmful to the polar bears and she can decide to use less because it matters to me, someone she loves. And, I can pay the, now, $109 fee to amazon prime every year in order to accommodate her Christmas list that comes on Dec. 22nd or 23rd only because we tell her it’s now or never, and prime shipping is keeping Santa alive in our house…

I will also confess that I looked at the natal chart for my baby. Don’t do it folks, wait until they have set the momentum for their life before you start to understand. Or you’ll know your hopes and dreams of an empty house in their early adulthood years will not happen, since your second child will be in debt due to their overwhelming love for humans who they give all of their money to. But, both charts say they have a great relationship with their mother. So I guess they were both worth the read.

Seriously though folks, I know I made jokes, but this has been super helpful. Try it out, but first read yours. We can’t possibly know how to be parents if we don’t know how we show up in the world. Our stories matter first as parents, and it’s these stories we must share with our kids. If we don’t live our values out loud, they won’t be believe in them, or us.

My first kid was born on the day of a new moon. My second was born the day after a new moon. The time of the new moon is a time for a fresh start, a time for rest to then step out into the world in the way you want to be. I’d say that this speaks pretty well to my children. Blank slates, setting their intentions when they took their first breath in this world. They’ve both been walking towards these intentions every day since, and I get to be the bystander watching them in complete awe.

If you want to know more about natal charts, one website that is pretty straight forward and offers a free natal chart reading is www.cafeastrology.com. I’m also grateful to know many who do readings, so please reach out and I’ll share contact info if you have interest.

“Well, that makes me feel sad.”

My kid had a friend over the other day. Their dynamics are so interesting to me. They fight, a lot. But, they don’t want to stop playing together. When they argue, I offer them a break or to play again later. They both always say no and then look at me with confusion.

This day, they were on the front porch and wanted to hang the toy bats from the Halloween toy spider. This spider is still hanging on our porch as our Halloween decorations have yet to be taken into storage…

They were both frustrated that they couldn’t reach, so they took out a stool and started to hang them. The friend put the first one on, then took another bat and started to play near the couch alone in the corner. In the meantime, my kid took three more bats and hung them up. When her friend noticed, this friend got upset and claimed that it was not fair as my kid got to put up three and them only one. In response, my kid kept doing what she was doing. Her friend got pretty upset, not feeling heard, and told my kid that they weren’t going to come over anymore because she didn’t play fair.

So, I waited and listened. I try not to intervene in these disagreements anymore. I did in the beginning and soon realized it was a losing situation for me and them. They quickly used me as an outlet and started tattling frequently. Yet, I was only getting part of the story, so my power was overtaking their ability to resolve conflict on their own.

I then heard my kid say, “Well, that makes me feel sad.”

The friend said, “Well, it makes me sad that you don’t play fair and that you got to do three and I got to do one.”

They got stuck in this moment, and repeated themselves a couple of times, and it went silent. They were at an impasse, so I decided to see if I could help. I asked if everything was okay and if they needed anything. They both came in and the friend said that they were upset that my kid got to do three and they got to do one. I asked them what could they do to fix it or to feel better.

My kid said, “We can play something else.”

The friend said, “We can do a re-do.”

So I said, “So it looks like you have two options, you can re-do…”

“We can re-do it,” my kid yelled and they both took off to the porch before I could finish.

This was such an awesome moment as a parent. I got to witness my kid use her words to express feelings in response to conflict as I have tried to model for her in teaching empathy. She could have easily responded to her friend with a similar response of “Well, I don’t want to play with you either” or “you’re mean”, etc., getting into a not so uncommon narrative of who is more right. But instead, she said that it made her feel sad. I am replaying this moment over and over because it was so beautiful. And also because it was a reminder, a lesson for myself, in how to be.

After her friend left that day, I told her I wanted to talk about her and her friend, that I had two things that I wanted her to know. The first is that when her friends come over sharing is important, so only play with what you’re willing to share. That it’s okay if you don’t want to share something, you are not required to share anything. But it’s not nice to play with something you aren’t willing to share when a friend is over. Secondly, I told her that I have her back. That sometimes friends or people will say things that feel unfair and that it’s my job as a parent to help assess the fairness. If I think a friend is wrong or could be a friend differently, I will help them just like I help her. That I won’t assume she’s being unfair just because someone tells me so.

I then told her that I heard their disagreement on the porch and I was so proud of her and how she tried to solve the problem on her own and that she told her friend how she was feeling when she felt sad. That saying how she was feeling was a great way to work to fix things when you don’t agree.

She walked away with a little smirk, and I knew that my words felt like something to her.

Many moments are tough, many are pure delight, and many I’m just so proud.

The real Santa lives in Rhode Island

My kid asked me this the other day…

“Does Santa really watch you all the time?”

I immediately said no. When we first started the idea of Santa, we decided he wouldn’t be the creepy version most of us are taught. This includes that Santa doesn’t watch you all the time. We tell her that he checks in occasionally to see how she’s doing, but that he relies on us as parents to help him.

I see her struggling with the idea of Santa so I’ve been thinking more on this and why we even have the Santa story in our house to begin with. I remember talking with my partner about it when our daughter was little. Would we just tell her the truth, or play the game? We decided on the game, but this was because we wanted to push her imagination. We also decided to try not to lie to her about it throughout her early years. For us, we wanted her to imagine a world where magical things could and do exist. But we have been struggling against the drive of capitalism. After all, Christmas is mostly a celebration of capitalism.

In our house, we do not celebrate it under Christianity, we celebrate it as a holiday of family and togetherness. That’s what Christmas is to us. We love on each other deeply, tell stories, have a big meal together, laugh, hangout and be with one another all while taking moments to remember those that walk among the ancestors.

But, this year, my daughter remembers how many gifts Santa gave her last year. When she said that she wanted more than one thing, I reminded her that Santa only brings one or two things. She quickly rebutted that she got four presents last year. When I asked her what they were, she could only remember two. I remembered three. I still don’t remember the fourth. I suppose I could look it up on Amazon to see what I shipped on Dec. 22nd to appease my indecisive, last second decision making kid. However the point that I don’t remember, is the message I am working with.

I expect this year will be harder because we are trying to hold our ground, to fight back. Santa will bring two presents to each of our kids and not everything they have asked for.

She is very to the point and very intellectual. She is so smart that we hide the wrapping paper from Santa as best as we can to keep her from guessing. But I expect this year, the questions will come. We had a simple one last year, which ended in a beautiful moment.

We took her for a ride on the Polar Express. When we stopped at the “north pole” and were waiting for Santa to come onto the train, she asked me, “Will this be the real Santa or a person dressed up like Santa?”

A little shocked, I simply told her that we’d have to see. I quickly deducted that she got to this question because of her fear of the Easter bunny. A couple years before, the Easter bunny was visiting her daycare and she was distraught because she was scared of him. She didn’t want to go to school that day. So I told her there was nothing to be afraid of. That it was simply a person dressed up as the Easter bunny so they could have fun, that it wasn’t the real bunny. She still didn’t touch him that day, but she went to school.

So cue this moment, my truth wielding daughter in her brilliance, as Santa stepped onto the train. I hear her whisper, “It’s him, he’s really real.” My heart flipped over and over. I had a moment where I thought, “yes, I have not ruined her forever.” Her belief in magic was still possible.

She is such a practical kid and deducts everything around her. And she’s impatient, so if something doesn’t make sense, she simply ignores it. That’s actually how I think she viewed Santa until that very moment on that train. Before that, he was a creepy idea and against all that we taught her.

(As an aside, he totally is and that is a post to write in itself…sit on this stranger’s lap even if you don’t want to or he won’t know what you want for Christmas…too young to say no? then go ahead and cry and we’ll take pictures and laugh about it…yes, this stranger breaks into your house one night in the only non-locked entry point…sure he watches you even when you’re sleeping…this strange man gets to decide if you’re bad or good… Not to mention the rampant inequity that lies in the gift receiving process.)

But I digress, back to magic. My kid has trouble connecting with things she can’t comprehend, but she has a deep connection to wonder. So that moment in seeing Santa, was a moment of wonder for her. She bursts with amazement when something blows her little intellectual mind. And that Santa did that. Dressed to perfection, jolly, real beard, real smile, careful, cautious demeanor, he was it. I believed in that moment too.

And here’s where it got so much better. This Santa did not hug kids without their consent. He waited for their actions before making a move. He didn’t get in their face or take forced pictures. He instead stayed back if the kid needed it and he listened. When he got to us, she immediately freaked out. He was huge and his realness was overwhelming. He asked her her name and she buried her head. He then crouched down, stayed back with distance, smiled and said, “I’ll be back at the train station, so I can see you again if you want.” I honestly don’t remember his words exactly, but it was close to that. He didn’t touch her, ask her for a hug, or keep talking to her. He respected her space and allowed her to decide what was next.

Back at the train station, she wanted to meet him and was excited to do so. I wasn’t sure what she’d do when she saw him, but she leaped up onto his sleigh and his lap and smiled for a picture. In line, I reminded her that she didn’t have to sit on his lap, that she could stand in front or next to him, but she was so excited. His demeanor again was gentle and guided by her. I felt so grateful and so thankful for this Santa.

The problem we face now is that we can never see another Santa again or it will all be blown to pieces. Luckily that Santa lives in Rhode Island and it’s too far to go and see him again now.

But I do want her to believe in this magic, this wonder. I want to unwrap the capitalism from this holiday so she can experience the rawness of what it’s meant to be. For me, I was so lucky to have parents who understood me and my deep belief in wonder and magic and I want the same for my kids.

When I was about 2 or 3, I noticed that Santa used the same wrapping paper as my parents and I quickly asked about it. My Dad simply replied that Santa ran out, woke him up, and borrowed some. I couldn’t believe he had met Santa. See my Dad has an incredible imagination. His belief in the wonders of this world runs deep. So that moment was profound for me. Why would he lie when I knew he so deeply believed in things like Santa? For years, I told that story. Used it as a rebuttal for the other kids who told me I was silly for still believing.

Finally, when I was about 8 or 9, I was sitting on the couch one Sunday morning. My parents were reading the paper, each with a section in hand on the blue loveseat in the family room.

“Mom, is Santa really real?” I asked aloud.

They were ready. My Mom got up and brought back a piece to read. It was the letter “Dear Virginia” and it was printed in the Washington Post magazine. I read it and I knew, and I also got why they did it. Why they let me believe, why they pushed me to believe. That moment was pivotal for me. It could have happened differently, putting my love for wonder, magic into question. But they knew me and thought about what I needed when that time came. So, they were careful. I learned in that moment what I already knew, that there was no weird man who came down our chimney. I knew that they had crafted our experiences to bring us joy, love, and laughter. I knew that they wanted me to believe, have faith in the act of showing love and giving to others. To know that family time, the fun, the wonder is what is was all about.

We are working towards that in our home. I expect this year will be tough. And, I expect my daughter will learn the truth early, as her smarts, her view of this world will quickly help her realize the facts. But, I want us to experience the wonder. I want us to break free from the capitalism, the greed, and the made up version of a Santa who doesn’t seem to value privacy or consent. As we live from far from our families, I want November to come and excitement to pour from her body because it means it’s the season where we spend deep loving time with our families, and we have fun gifting others because we want them to know we love them and that we have thought of them. I want this kid to experience all of the wonders of this world, even though sometimes it toes the line of what we’re working against.

Eating that piece of cake

Last spring, I wrote a piece called “Piece of Cake.” It was about our turmoil of what our kid ate and eats and the fact that she doesn’t eat. I introduced some ideas of how to handle it better and we gave it a try. Over 6 months, I have learned more about food, parenting, and my own relationship to my body that I could have imagined as a result. So here’s an update of where we’ve arrived so far.

We implemented the notion that she could have one treat a day, any time, treat of her choosing. She was excited about this and chose a treat for breakfast nearly every day for a week. Then it stopped. She instead had a treat around dinner for a few days. Then it stopped. She has gone back to this notion periodically but in general has lost interest. But what has changed is that when treats arise, at a birthday party, or get together, or a Sunday morning donut run, we just let her eat what she wants. I actually think she eats less treats today than she did then. They have lost their luster, and instead are just food. Which is what they are, just food.

We also asked her to consider leftovers. She has gotten much better about wasting food, and either finishes things or put the extras in the fridge for later. And she’ll eat them most of the time. Part of me wonders if taking away the battle of finishing her plate has made it so she actually pays attention to her hunger instead of the battle between she and I. Although, we are currently struggling in that she doesn’t eat enough and feels hungry at bedtime, so we’ve been trying to encourage her to pay closer attention at dinner.

As for the types of food she eats, I gave up on this. I offer her several foods, often in threes and she eats what she eats. I quickly learned that if I want to teach her anything, it’s that her body will tell her what she needs, likes, and wants. I told her this. So she follows it. And even uses it to her advantage on occasion…

The other night, I asked her if she could take the final bite of her grilled cheese and she said that she was full. I asked, “you sure?” She said, verbatim, “Mom, you said that my body will tell me what it needs and right now it says it’s full.”

Okay, point for the kid.

This also came up one morning when she wanted a push-up pop for breakfast. I reminded her that good energy doesn’t come from candy for breakfast. Again I got, “my body says it needs a push-up pop right now. You said that my body would tell me.”

I’m officially losing.

But let me be clear in that it’s not really a game. The only win that I want is that she sees food as nourishment and that she listens to her body when it tells her what she wants and needs. I feel that this has to a be a good first step in helping her maintain a positive and loving relationship with her body. And I think it’s working.

I have a few friends who have kids or niblings (gender neutral instead of niece and nephew), that have shared stories of the kids talking about their own bodies as being fat. Or the kids criticizing my friends or others for their size. And I’m talking about 4-6 year olds. So far, this has not been the conversation in our house…yet.

One day in the car, my daughter and I were talking and I mentioned something about someone being the skinnier person (I have been working on just using the words as what they mean). “What does skinny mean?” she asked, “Does it mean less fat?” All I could think was “yes, our conversations have been working.” I worked early on to teach her about fat. That it’s something we all have, that we need it for energy and that everyone has different amounts, and that all of that is okay. I’ve heard her describe people as having more fat that others. And innocently. This maybe sounds awful, but it’s not. She’s simply being descriptive, not harmful. I have never heard her tease about it, or say something negative about size.

The closest we came is that she told me I had a jiggly belly. I simply said, “Yes, it is. You and your brother were big babies so I had to make some extra fat to keep you safe and warm.” She brought it up again later around my partner, and she laughed a bit about it. He corrected her and said, “Yes jiggly is silly, but it’s not nice to talk about a person’s body in that way.” I invited her over and showed her something. That she grew on my right side and her brother on the left. That I get to remember that my body created them every time I see and touch my belly. She’s still obsessed with the jiggle. She just likes to touch it. But when she does, she points and says “I was there and brother was there.”

And, I think it’s important to add here that yes, I gave birth to two 10lb babies so my belly is stretched. But I love my belly and my body. I feed it what I want and what it says it needs and wants. It felt too complicated in this moment to tell her here that in some cases food can also make you have more fat, as she’s still early in her understanding of what this all means. But the truth is simply that, and we will talk about that one day. That loving yourself is accepting how nourishment shows up in your body.

I recently read two important pieces that I want to bring attention to. The first mentioned that we as adults are the first set of bullies about weight for kids. We pay attention to the kids who are heavier and feed them less treats, make comments about what they eat. We do this. We need to stop.

The second is this article. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s about being a better human and about where society has come to around weight.

Everything you know about obesity is wrong” by Michael Hobbes.

I have two kids, the first is built like a set of sticks. The second is cuddly and plump. They both have their own relationships with food. Hers is much more stringent, his is about exploration. Both things are good and right.

As I touch my own squishy belly, a belly I have been doing deep work to love with all I have, I know that this all matters. What I eat matters, how I talk to food, about food matters. How I talk about exercise, sugar, junk food, fast food, health, it all matters. I am working to teach her that some choices can better for our bodies than others depending on what we need. But we still make choices every time and we don’t get down on ourselves when we make the fast food choice, or have donuts on Sundays. We love food and I want us all to love our bodies. The article I just shared shows how weight is not the problem. Structures are. The food system is.

I will teach her the nonsense of the food system one day. And we’ll continue to make choices as they come.

I do this for myself every day, so I am also doing it for them. I know that if I can live in this body I was gifted, for me, not for anyone else, then I can set the stage for them. They’ll know it’s not their place to judge how people choose to live in their bodies, or what they do to take care of it. Their body is their only business. They should love on it, feed it great food, treat is with chocolate cake if they want. They should make time for things like mediation, baths, play, friendships, partnerships, sunbathing, stargazing, etc.

In the words of my daughter, “my body is telling me I need a push-up pop.” So do it baby. From the words of one of my most favorite people ever, Dennie, “your body has all the wisdom it needs.”

Update – Boys will be boys?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called “Boys will be boys?” that you can check out here. It was a story that my five year old daughter told me about how she was treated on the playground by an older boy. It sparked some serious concern by many friends and family. And even some criticism of how I handled it, or at least how I handled it according to the post.

Regardless, it was a real life incident that we faced as parents and a tough one. I thought it only right to share what happened next and what we did choose to do as parents.

When speaking with our daughter, it was apparent she knew that what happened was not okay. I wanted to be very careful in how I responded even though my insides were screaming and my skin was burning from anger. I worked to re-ground myself over and over as I knew this moment mattered. If I acted angry, she might see my response as extremely different than her own – her own navigation of right and wrong and her own lack of anger – and I could cause her to not tell me these stories again for fear of the anger. Anger can be confusing for kids as they do not understand why we feel so angry. For them, it’s simple – cause and effect. My extreme anger could have been translated as you told me this thing and now I’m upset that you told me.

For her, what happened was confusing, not angering. So I took a lot of deep breaths, and asked questions. It was what kept me from giving feeling, while instead gathering how she felt, what happened, and what she wanted to do next.

At bedtime, I told her that I thought it would be a good idea to tell her dad what happened. She didn’t really want to, but I said he would want to know. I gave her the option that I could tell him or she could. She chose to tell him.

My radical co-parent responded much in the same way I did. When he walked in to sit next to me, he looked at me and said something to the line of “I hate that kid.” Of course he did, like me, as an adult we understand the context. But with her, he asked questions and took a different route. He helped her plan what to do next time it happened. They spoke about her saying no very loudly so the other kid would definitely hear it, as would the nearby adults.

When I spoke with her, she didn’t want me to talk to the kid’s parents or to the school group.

That night, my partner and I talked and we decided that this was too great of a risk not to. Not necessarily a great risk to her right now, but of great risk to both kids involved for their futures. And of great risk to the after-school group.

I have shared in prior posts that I was a victim of abuse by classmates in elementary school. Teacher and adults never knew until we told them. It’s not their fault, they can’t have eyes everywhere. And as an adult, I think they could have handled it better. So this time, I knew I owed it to the school group to tell them and to ask for what I wanted.

This was guided from some help of a friend who does therapy work with families and youth. Our concerns were validated in that this had the potential to turn into something worse and that this was simply a case of boundaries. By setting the line for them now, and not allowing the Boys will be Boys narrative, we were preventing further negative interactions between the two, and providing important parenting to both kids.

So we ultimately decided to call the playgroup. I told our daughter that morning, and she was upset with me. She told me that she didn’t want me to do it. And I told her, that this is a time where as a parent I have to make some decisions that might be different. And that in this case, it was important that the playgroup knew to keep her safe and to teach the other kid how to play safe. She let it go pretty quickly and turned her focus to checking in on her friend whom she had been worried about being at the playgroup without her.

That morning I called and spoke to the playgroup director. I said what happened, my concerns and what I wanted to see happen. My asks were that the kid and his parents were told and that the group worked to keep an eye on boundaries during play. She took it very seriously, validated my concerns and said that would happen. I’ll never know if that follow through actually happened as I haven’t asked. But I believe it did and I believe that this group did it well.

Today, my daughter and this kid still play. See, this is where it was so confusing for her. She liked playing with him and couldn’t figure out why the played had turned into something she didn’t like. As a five year, she needed some back-up in helping him to see it was not ok. Remember, she told him no over and over. And she told the adults, twice. But it kept happening. Today, however, they play and she reports that he plays nicely and they have fun, every time. He hasn’t tried to kiss her again, or force others on her. They still play “dying” but no one kills anyone anymore.

I had not shared this before, but once she told me a kid was bothering her in school and I asked if she told someone. She said yes, and they didn’t do anything. She also once was at a birthday party and another kid was spitting on her. She told my partner and he asked them all to stop but the other kid didn’t. She has brought this up before, when prepped to tell an adult, and said that she has done that before and they didn’t help.

We cannot be the adults that don’t help. I had to get over my nerves of calling the school group, the potential of making another parent mad with an accusation, and just do it. We as adults can sort out our mess and misunderstandings, but our kids need to know we’re there. We need to do check-ins and then be there, make the tough choices while also following their guidance. These two kids moved past something harmful and are friends, they’ve learned and forgiven. If anything came of this, it’s my own ability to stay grounded, learn, and forgive. And a reminder of the resiliency in these growing bodies, a reminder to uplift my own as a parent.

A gift from the universe

I am reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It’s a gift to myself, to re-ground in my creativity, to explore what’s next for me. I am on chapter three, called “Recovering a Sense of Power.” It focuses on anger, synchronicity, and shame. I just finished reading how the universe will gives you gifts and then I reached this line, my gift this morning –

“Shame is a controlling device. Shaming someone is an attempt to prevent the person from behaving in a way that embarrasses us.”

This morning my daughter and I were in a little spat. I woke in agitation, not even realizing it until I was acting on it. She feeds off my imbalance, that or we both feed off imbalance in the energy of the earth. It’s easier to believe the former, but it’s much more likely the latter. This chapter also shared how it’s much easier to believe that there is no higher power than it is to accept that there is one which has any control over the energy of this earth.

But today she was grabby, even the baby was protesting. I asked for space, she followed me into my room. So I got angry, and she got sad. This is our routine with disagreements. And when I talk to her, I talk about how important it is to not hurt other people, they’ll feel upset or angry. Why do I do it this way? Because my belief is that it’s ineffective when I say I am hurt or angry based on how she’s responded in the past. So I instead use this version. I use shame. “If you keep doing it, others won’t like you.”

And, I use this tactic often. It stops the behavior. But, by full admittance, only for a short moment. As parents, sometimes we just need that moment. We live moment to moment. And then, I in turn, shame myself for how I parent in this moments. I carry the weight of all of these mistakes and use them against myself all too often.

She also loves to yell, holler, talk like no one is able to hear her. My partner and I are pretty quiet individuals. We don’t know where the need for such high octaves, such volume comes from. Our house is otherwise quiet. I tell her to be quiet or the neighbors will hear her, they might think something is wrong. I told her that her teacher told me she doesn’t use her inside voice at school.

Shame, shame, shame…

“Shame is a controlling device.” This is my gift from the universe this morning. I don’t know how I’ll help her to be less loud or to be less grabby in this very moment. But, I do know I commit to releasing shame as a tactic. It’s sneaky, mean, and quite frankly useless in parenting a 5 year old.

Chapter 3 is on how shame holds me back as an artist…be ashamed, shame, she’s shamed… wash, rinse, repeat.

I am accepting this gift from the universe today. From this moment, I release the shame I feel from using shame. And, I commit to releasing it from my parenting toolbox. You should too. I already feel lighter.

Update: I finished the chapter and received gift number two. “The antidote for shame is self-love and self-praise.” Today, I choose love and praise, both for me as a parent and for her.