More sparks of joy

My baby is turning one, that alone is throwing off my week. There is an unexpected set of emotions I am experiencing as their born day creeps closer. This is my last baby, at least I am 99% sure. As a result, the need to capture every second of every moment is very present for me. “They will no longer be a baby this weekend,” is what I keep telling myself. As if their body is going to change overnight into something I am unfamiliar with. As if their daily playing, feedings, sleep will shift into adulthood.

I am also experiencing an immense amount of joy as well. I am celebrating that we have managed to parent two children for nearly a year. All have survived and we have evolved as parents. Who we are today is vastly different than who we were last year, or even yesterday. We celebrate the birthdays of our children intensely focused on them, and often forget to celebrate ourselves, our success in raising little humans in this world. So this week, we are celebrating our parenting and also this little person finishing their first revolution around the sun. The amount of growth we have had as parents is striking. The amount of living, processing, existing that is happening for them is remarkable, it’s amazing, it’s a miracle.

To celebrate this miracle, we have invited a few family and friends over in celebration. Nothing fancy, just a gathering of people we love. Whomever can make the trip, and doesn’t mind the cold. In order to remove the pressure of a first birthday party with the bells and whistles…oh I love the bells and whistles…we are approaching this calmly and over time. And specifically, I mean prepping the house for guests.

We moved about 6 months ago, and are still unpacking. Also, last month, we took on the KonMari method and are still working our way through it. I have felt nothing but accomplished in how well we are tackling the project of tidying. Not only do things feel more manageable and predictable for me in simple tasks, but it’s starting to make this home into mine. The entire process of sorting through my things, our things, has made it so I can appreciate each one. It’s no longer about putting it out of sight so that people (including me) believe that we are tidy people, but instead we are asking, “How does this fit into my life? How do I want to appreciate it?”

It’s a long process to tidy your house, not just in actually finding the time to do it, but also in the emotional piece. I have had to walk away a few times as I couldn’t make a decision when the emotion, sentiment became too hard to work through. But so far, we’ve done clothes, most books, our kitchen, the toy room, the bathroom, and the kids’ stuff. The kids are completely done.

My daughter even worked through the process with me. It started off a little rough, mostly because I was figuring out how to handle it and not make it too overwhelming and upsetting for her. When I first mentioned we were going to do it, I wanted to start with her room. This includes all of her stuffed animals. When I said that we were going to sort through them, I could see her little body tense up in defense, and she quickly named that she was keeping them all. So, I instead went to something easier. We went to the toy room and worked through categories based on what she picked. Then, this past weekend, she asked me if we could do her stuffed animals. She let go of more than 20. Overall, she let go of so many items, and I am so proud of her. Not just because she did it, but because she did it so thoughtfully. She did it based on her own attachments, love for her things and with reasoning that worked for her.

And I let go – I didn’t interrupt, provide feedback or show emotion. Even when she said goodbye to items that I had attachment to. I quickly was able to see how many things she still had because of me, not her.

I was able to see how we are working towards a different relationship with her things, one based on love and joy rather than want and need. And I am so grateful for that. We’re still working on the feeling of joy in tidying though. The other night at the table, when I reminded her of the upcoming gathering for her sibling, she said, “We can’t have a party, the house is a mess! Where will people sit? Right now, people can only sit on the couch and blue chair, not even the orange one!” And she said this with hand emotions, heightened voice, and persistence. I literally heard myself speaking through her body.

That moment was tough. For so many reasons.

First, I have spent so many of my days hating my way through cleaning. I mean angry cleaning. I usually huff, puff, grunt, growl my way through things. I pick up with emphatic frustration, grumble my way through it all and usually complain about everyone’s else’s messiness all while ignoring my own. My favorite things to say are “This house is so gross,” “Why are we like this?,” “I hate cleaning,” “I am just going to throw everything away,” “This house is a mess.”

So her statement made me realize a few things. First, when she said it, I quickly thought that the “mess” she mentioned was not really a mess and we’re fine. And I also thought, “wow I wish I hadn’t taught her to say that.” What I am so proud of myself for not immediately saying…which would have been my first thought every time before the last few weeks…was “If you and your dad would just be cleaner, then this house wouldn’t be a mess.”

So yes, I am so proud of myself for not going there. Such a simple bit of growth, but also so momentous. And, I didn’t even realize I hadn’t gone there until hours later when I thought again about that moment, which also feels like a success because I didn’t even to think to not say it.

But, what I am thinking is that I can turn this around. If I can no longer see a “mess” as a fault of people, but instead a manageable collection of things yet to be assessed, it feels different. In that moment with her, I knew that the house would be tidied up for folks. She was right, we need places to sit. And what I also noticed was that the task felt much less overwhelming because so much is already in order and cleaned up. My kitchen drawers are organized, my clothes are folded, the toys have a home. I can manage cleaning up old papers and craft items off of the bar because I have been able to release so many feelings already.

And here’s the key for me, it’s not just about knowing things have a place, but it’s about knowing that there are places in this house only filled with things we like, want, or need. It’s about knowing that the sense of clutter, which is really my sense of having too much, is released from my body. So the actual clutter, by definition, is simply something to be picked up. And it’s not urgent. Important yes, but not urgent as it has always felt in the past.

The next step is to help her see that the cleanliness of the house is not attached to my duty as the mom, first and foremost…in case you missed her subtle learning of sexism in all of this…but instead attached to celebration and joy. Marie Kondo emphasizes that everything has a place in your life, and the idea that something should bring you joy is a key piece to recognizing something’s place. It’s not about whether or not you will or won’t need it, it’s about whether or not it fits into who you are right now. It’s also not about who you want to be. I have learned this as I let go of things like fancy cooking tools, exercise equipment, pants that are much too small. Instead, it’s about what makes me happy in this moment.

So of course we will tidy as we prepare for this celebration. And this time, I will not angry clean. In fact, this is a great opportunity to merrily clean the house with excitement about the party. And to say things out loud like “Where should we put the cake? This will be the perfect place. Let me just move all of these craft items so we have space.”

Already so much better than my typical, “What am I going to do with all of this crap?” cleaning mentality.

So what is all of this about, what am I learning? Besides the fact that I can live life with so many less things, I am learning that this attachment and change in mentality is only my own. She will be as tidy as she wants to be. She will treat things as she wishes to based on her attachment to them. In minimizing her things, I hope she starts to see her value in them. Too often, I have asked her to stop playing so rough because something cost a lot of money. I wrote it off as I am teaching her the value of money and things. But in reality, I already valued that item enough to pay for it. Otherwise, I would not have bought it. The talk about money is my own regret and feelings about capitalism, not hers.

In reality, if she breaks something expensive, yes I would be mad. But I also wouldn’t replace it. And also in reality, she places no more value on an Ipad than she does a hatchimal because she has no concept of the difference in how you get them. She’s too little for that. Instead, I can only hope that she is starting to be surrounded by items she loves and in turn will treat them with love. And, she will learn what happens when she doesn’t. I also hope that because she has less and only what she’s chosen, that if she mistreats it, she’ll have a feeling around that. Not the feeling of “Oh well, I have 100 more,” but instead maybe “Ugh, I liked that, maybe next time I won’t throw it on the floor.”

Marie Kondo, I am grateful for you. I am grateful for the way you approach your things, your life, the way you have shown how your way of living, your embodiment of your culture, your people, your religion, speaks so loudly as something so full of love, that I have not been able to ignore it.

My house is not only more tidy, but my heart is more calm, my stress of being perfect is releasing, and the notion that I am the keeper of the house is fading away.

Today I have a house that is still in process, I have kids who are learning to see cleaning and housekeeping in a different way, and I have folded clothes. They even feel softer. And I find many sparks of joy in that.

Note: I wrote this before the party, and now after the party I want to admit it was still so hard. I didn’t live all of these things as I had hoped, but I still gave it what I had. I am grateful to have had the help of my partner, my kid who was excited to help out, and my own patience and resilience for getting through it. This house was not perfect, but it was a reflection of us and I am proud of that. And the party was a success. 

Valentine’s day and my high school newspaper

It has been many years since I have been able to get on board with Valentine’s Day. I just haven’t been able to connect, mostly due to the capitalistic side of it. Like many other things, I did some research on Valentine’s Day in my younger years. I did this while I worked on my high school newspaper, a place that continuously inspired me to find truth. My junior year, I wrote an article on the history of the holiday, exposing the continuous changes that included both oppression and religious agenda. Newspaper was a place where I could document and expose the myths we were living. For four years, I wrote story after story, sharing the history or hidden truth of whatever was next on my list. Some stories got me in the principal’s office, like my first story on sex and birth control, which was ironically part of this same Valentine’s Day spread. Others, just got some laughs or new insight for myself and my peers.

When I think about it, my time on the newspaper staff was my first real exposure to activism, to voice, and to pushing back on the system. The piece that brought me to the principal’s office was a story on what resources existed for people who were having or were thinking about having sex. I interviewed the school nurse and cited abstinence, it was and is still a good piece. The Vice Principals at that time, were reviewing the newspaper before print, after a fall piece where someone snuck in a headline that caught their attention. “Master Debators Head to State Finals,” I believe it was. We were on thin ice, as this came shortly after “Golf Team Whacks Off Towards Regionals,” or again something like this. All I know is that they reviewed every article and they pulled my piece the day before print. In protest, we chose to run a blank spot instead of replacing it with something else. There wasn’t enough time to argue its removal before print, so I quickly scheduled an appointment with the principal the next day, ready to argue my way back into the paper.

I sat down in his office, brought the piece with me, and stated that I wanted it printed. It was not obscene as the Vice Principals had cited, or even inappropriate. It was informative and comprehensive. He read it while I waited patiently. He looked up, said it seemed like a great and fine article to him and gave permission to run it in the next paper. I was elated, and also felt my first taste of victory.

Yes, it was entirely out of place in the next paper where the theme was no longer relevant. But knowing that the Vice Principals would then review the next month’s paper before print and would again see the article, this time with instructions to not touch it, it was worth it. This was one of many battles we experienced as journalists in this school, such as drawing attention to the nepotism that permeated the music performance the school was known for, or writing about the named structural racism in our homecoming system, or even witnessing abusive power dynamics by certain teachers with more tenure. I experienced overt sexism when I wrote a piece on the wrestling regional tournament and it wasn’t printed because they instead wanted to report on a baseball game. I was told, it was “pretty good” after I had begged to write it because no girl had ever written about wrestling before, let alone had it printed. I remember the seething feeling in my body when he said “pretty good,” and how much I wanted to spew back, Yet, I held it together because he was older and an editor and I knew I wanted to change things for the long run.

I even tried to be the sports editor the following year, just despite him. I lost out on that, because I was told I was needed elsewhere. It did suit my journalism, I was just bummed at the notion that I couldn’t change the system that easily.

But that piece on sex and Valentine’s Day still sits with me. See, what I uncovered about Valentine’s Day is that it used to be a celebration of sex and pleasure. With the overhaul of Europe by the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, the event was quickly put to bed, pun intended. Saint Valentine was chosen to represent the day instead. He was known for sending love letters from jail to his love, a unrequited love at that.

And so today, like many other tales, we follow what has been scripted for us. Celebrating love is not a bad way to do it, but what I struggle with is the money put into it all and the marketing of what Valentine’s Day should be. We buy expensive cards that share words we haven’t written. We buy flowers, cheap but pricey chocolates, bottles of wine, and splurge on a Valentine’s meal and sitter if you can find one. Today is targeted at those that are coupled, primarily heterosexual couples, and is marketed as a celebration of romantic love and partnership. Thus, it can be a hard day if you are unpartnered  – a day to avoid everyone who is coupled and all of the red and pink. I remember so vividly what it was like in college and high school to be unpartnered. In college, I even baked a vulva shaped pizza to empower myself in womanhood and to declare my love for myself and my body one February 14th.

With all of this swirling in my head, today I am thinking deeply about my kids. What do I want them to take from Valentine’s Day? What do I want them to see it as, how can I show them how to live it? Today, we have a few gifts for them. And my partner and I often give one another something small. I get my partner hostess cherry pies because he loves them. Her gets me some type of chocolate that I never treat myself to. My oldest just likes the fun of it, giving out valentines and making them. This year she is making them for us, and they are awesome. She made us a big valentine in art class with many gifts in a basket. They are strips of cut paper and she keeps giving them to me. I love them because I know that she puts high value on tiny things like this. So, yes it’s trash, scraps, but to her they’re important. So they are to me too.

I want to teach that Valentine’s Day can be less about the script. That it can be simply an excuse to love out loud. We move so fast sometimes, that we forget to tell people we love them. And to teach that today is not just about people who we romantically love, but about all of the people we love. Can we just simply tell everyone we love them? Can we see today as a practice day, as we step into tomorrow and remember to tell people we love them again and again? To hug a little longer, kiss people in greeting and goodbye, hold hands, and to see people in all of their being in all of the ways that we love them? To decide that intimacy is how we define it, not how the marketers tell us it should be?

Valentine’s Day is this for us. Our kids won’t witness the dinners, babysitters, or big presents. They likely won’t see flowers or chocolate hearts or even red and pink. Instead, they will see that today we love them, and today we are doing it up extra special because today is a reminder to share love out loud. To tell the world, our people, this earth, our ancestors, that our core being is rooted deeply in our ability to love one another. And just as importantly, to love ourselves. Because this folks has been my lesson. My activism is to love despite what society teaches us. To seek intimacy in all sorts of relationships, to explore how to love more fluidly and loudly. And to tell people how you feel all the time. This is the lesson I want my kids to see, that activism is love. That loving out loud is resistance. That loving all people in all ways is a key piece to how we change this world.

I should have written an article on that.

Footloose

Today, I feel compelled to write about play. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. There are so many moments that my kid asks me to play and I think of some excuse not to. I tell myself it’s because I have too much to do. Or that her idea of play is confusing, which really just means I don’t like it. She likes to replicate what is already happening during the day – like shopping, going to school, playing family, or horse camp. And, I laugh as I type this, because usually I have to do all of the play while she sits and watches. So not only do I have to re-do my day, but I have to do it alone!

For example, last time we played horse camp, she was the director and I was one of the campers. The director tells the campers what to do and then they do it. So, I did all of the work while she disappeared in “the house.” Or with school, she’s the music teacher and I’m her teacher and all of the kids. So, she hangs out until music class starts while I run the rest of the day. Or my favorite is where we play family and I’m the mom and she’s the kid. Last time, she was the baby and I was the Mom who had to set up all of the play while the baby took a nap.

This kid is hysterical. Simply, she loves to relive moments. And clearly I am struggling with this.

I do have a good time with her, a bit. And I cannot figure out why I can not just surrender to the play. To be in the moment. To make it not about me, or what I have to do later, or how I don’t want to play this way.

When as adults, did we learn that play is no longer acceptable? That it’s something we weren’t allowed to do, or didn’t have time for? Or even that it’s something that made us so self conscious of what others might think if we actually played in public that we simply gave it up? It happened sometime, and I am stuck in this narrative. I can’t initiate play and I am having so much trouble engaging in it.

A few weeks ago, I attended a friend’s adult play group. She is inspired by play and makes it a regular practice. She is now inviting others to join her once a month.

When I arrived, I took a giant bubble wand and made bubbles before entering the building. We then danced to further open the play date – movement with no direction or specifics. We listened to the bouncy sounds of Footloose and did whatever our body told us to do. This was my favorite part. I think I maybe have never danced like that, certainly not that I can remember. Afterwards, my body was light, exhausted, exhilarated. Next, we finger painted and played with play-doh. I primarily played with the play-doh, making my own little pizza, drinks, silverware, salad and pizza cutter. I would have done that as a kid. I Ioved to make things likes that. We ended with a bedtime story about how to look at life differently. It was called How To by Julie Morstad.

I simply remember the one page saying “how to clean your socks” and the picture was kids jumping in puddles with their socks on. A parent’s worst nightmare right? I mean think about it. If your kid jumps in a puddle outside in the rain in their socks, how would you feel? I know I’d feel annoyed, worried that the socks were ruined, irritated at the mess of it all. Now, imagine as your kid jumped in the puddle, there was deep, boisterous laughter. Then, how do you feel? I know I would still respond the same. If the laughter continued, I’d be more likely to let go and see the fun. Would you join in? I very much doubt that I would. Or if I could be convinced, there is no way I’d do it in my socks.

Why am I like this? As a kid, a light rain storm was an immediate cause for bathing suits and water toys. The cool icy water on a hot summer’s day was one of the best playgrounds. I can still remember the smell of the rain on the sun burnt grass desperately soaking up the rain in thirst. I can still feel the pebbles that gathered at the end of my driveway in the street gutter where the biggest puddles lay. I can still remember the feel of the change in the breeze when the rain turned to thunder. I can still see the bright colors of the water balloons and supersoakers that were only played with during this time.

I want to find my way back to socks in the puddle. As an adult, how do I do that? Part of me feels that my survival, my adulthood depends on this.

Over the last several months, I read The Artist’s Way. A key component is a weekly artist date, taking your artist out for something it enjoys. Julia Cameron writes that your artist is your inner child, so you must take this inner child out to play. I have had a heck of a time trying to figure out what to do each week. I have done a lot, some I would call play, others I would call likes. Last night, I chose to stay in and read a book, in a quiet room all by myself. This was close, believe it or not. I did some deep thinking on what I did as a kid. And knowing that I only had time at night this week and that we’re in the deep throes of winter, I worked to remember what I did when I was eight during these times. I remembered lying on my bed, reading, getting so enraptured by stories that I wouldn’t come out for hours. So, I did that last night. A small step, but also a giant one.

I want to want to play. I want to play with my kid and release the burden of being an adult in those moments. I want to jump at the chance to be the teacher, the horse camp director, or the even the mom. I want to look at this sweet child of mine and see her tiny little body so ecstatic by her play. So deep in the fun that she’ll never forget that feeling.

Today I am thinking that even though I have lost my sense of play, I can still find it. I need to do it for me. And I need to do it for my kids. I need her to know that you can hold onto this desire, to let go of who you are, to be someone else (or really a different version of yourself). I need her to know that when the world comes at you one day and tells you to “act like an adult,” she will also know that acting like an adult means you get to decide the moments that make up your day. And that play should be at the top of your list.

*Jessica Taubner is a friend who is inspiring play in all of us. She hosts a monthly play-date in Boston called It’s Okay to Play and if you are nearby, you should go, more info here. Or at the very least, take a moment all by yourself today, and pick your “Footloose” and dance the hell out of it.

Some honest parenting

I am doing some deep work on myself these days. This includes looking at my parenting and how I am choosing to parent in single moments. To date, I’ve mostly looked at my overall parenting, my collection of moments – simply meaning looking at what values I want to uplift and teach, what decisions I want to make, and what relationship I want with my kids. These are important of course, they set the trajectory for how I parent. But what I am realizing is that every moment is a decision as a parent. Every moment, I can change the trajectory based on what is in front of me. I can always choose. And, I have found it to be overwhelming when I forget this fact.

Many messages from the universe are reminding me of this today and I feel compelled to share some honest parenting talk in the hopes that it might resonate with others. To let folks know that you’re not alone in this. And to share that sometimes some honesty between parents can be healing.

Yesterday, I committed to an experiment to see if changing when I write might open up my thoughts more freely. My experiment was to wake up at five am today in order to get some quiet time to write. I usually write during the day when the baby naps, but this is when I am also distracted by the throes of life. Instead of writing, I find myself buying dog food, researching gymnastics programs, cleaning the bathroom, etc. And my gut was guiding me towards the early morning, telling me that this was a place of peace that might create an opening for more focused writing time.

So, I did it. I got up at five am. Three minutes later, the dog got up too and then proceeded to stand in front of the baby’s crib, shake her ears, and startle the baby awake.

At five am.

In our house, five am is the morning hour of no return. This means, if the baby wakes up at five am or later, it’s a rare occurrence that they go back to sleep. This morning was one of them.

My sleep training manual has told me that they should sleep at least 11 hours. That would be 5:45 am. And for context, our room is attached to the nursery. You have to walk through the nursery to enter the rest of the house. So, fingers crossed, I sat on my bed in the dark, clutching my clothes and hoping that they would go back to sleep. They didn’t. So, I listened to them fuss for nearly 45 minutes before I got up, got them, and started my day…much earlier than usual.

I was so frustrated in those 45 minutes. Mad at the dog. At myself for thinking I could get up and not wake them. For not bringing my writing stuff into the bedroom as back-up. For not just sleeping to six when they normally wake.

For 45 minutes I judged myself, told myself I was dumb, stupid, a terrible parent…what was I thinking?

All because my dog flapped her ears.

Today is day one of this change in routine and I already want to make changes to accommodate…really to feed and quiet these judgments of myself. (Picture me in bed with a headlamp, writing, at five am, holding in the pee, thirsty, hungry…all so I can not wake the baby but write).

I am so incredibly grateful that I am working with a coach who is helping me see the way through these types of moments in my life. She doesn’t intentionally coach me on parenting, but boy does she. So, I am sorting through these moments and I have so many things that have come up for me.

I wanted to jump into this morning with a new routine. Brand new. It was going to suit me, suit my family, and it was going to solve my writing needs. It was going to be grand. Parenting is grand, but it’s also messy. And this morning was one giant mess.

But I hear my coach’s voice reminding me to “just notice” instead of solving, placing blame, or tying emotion to these moments. Here is some of what I noticed –

  • I immediately felt mad that I lost the time that was for me. It was all about what I lost, a scarcity mindset, when in fact my day had just shifted.
  • I believed it was my dog’s fault. I was even considering how I was going to keep the dog quiet moving forward. This included carrying her out, or wrapping her in a blanket so she couldn’t shake until we were clear of the nursery…because this is the best decision I could make for my dog at five am…
  • It’s my fault I didn’t bring the writing materials into the room as a back-up. I should do this moving forward, just in case. Because writing while a baby screams is the peace I am so seeking.
  • All I wanted was to get up and have a cup of tea and I told myself my chance was gone. (I had tea at 6:45am instead).

The point of noticing, as recommended by my coach, is to just observe. It’s to try to see without judgment, emotion, failure or success. It’s to take stock of the evidence and put it in your pile for the experiment to review when it’s done. Noticing was like shedding for me. It was like taking each moment alone and allowing it to exist as just a moment. It was removing the shame and guilt and releasing the anger. It took me 45 minutes to see my way through this, and today I am grateful for the time I was given to sort through them. If I had not had those 45 valuable minutes, I might still be brewing. Instead, we got up, had breakfast including my tea, and I wrote during first nap. I wrote this post.

Here’s what I learned from my noticing:

  • I learned that peace is a state of mind, not a set time in my day.
  • I learned that spontaneity does not result in scarcity.
  • I learned that only I can make the spontaneity feel so personal.
  • I learned that it is untrue that I have no time to myself, and that maybe the time I spend dwelling on this makes me miss the moments that I do have.
  • I learned that my gut is full of wisdom in addition to risk. Sleep training (a book) said let them cry. My gut said if I got up, nursed them, and put them back in the crib they would have slept to 6:45.

Every moment is just a moment. When I place emotion on that moment, it becomes something else. That moment then drifts away with whatever emotion I have tagged it with. Life is also not to be “solved.” In moments where I desire a solution, perhaps it means I should just take a deep breath and listen to my gut. Parenting is a journey. And every journey is made up of a series of moments. If I focus on the moments rather than the end result, failure is not part of the discussion. For whatever reason, to me, it feels impossible to fail at a moment, because it’s just a moment.

Today I am noticing that I want to try again tomorrow, and that I am inherently more wise and in tune with my needs and my family’s needs than I give myself credit for.

Sparks of Joy

Last night, while figuring out what to do, I saw a post from a friend on facebook to check out the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. First, let me recommend this friend, Kendra Hicks who has a rad blog and is working on the most amazing project in Boston. Check out her website and The Estuary Projects here and here.

Now, I’d like to recommend this show. I watched the first episode that followed the Friend family. And, it was like looking at my life. They had two young kids, mom was at home most days, dad worked long hours, and everything was a mess, undone…mostly due to the exhaustion of parenting and living life in chaotic moments. The chaos in their home that had become overwhelming, distracting, disruptive, relationship altering is my very existence. I write at a desk that is behind a bar covered in literally in a million things and I can’t tell you why they are up there. But they have been, for months. I put “clean off bar” on my to do list most weeks and I have yet to complete it. The problem is that I don’t know where to put anything. And that’s a similar response from my partner. He tidies by stacking things. When I ask him to put them away, he asks, “where?” and I usually have no idea.

Her method is simple, keep what you love and/or want to bring into the future, and get rid of what no longer serves you. I do this a lot here or there, already so I feel like I have a good first step. But what’s also important about her method is that she makes you pile it all up. Like all of your clothes, every last piece, in one gigantic pile. I feel that this might be the key to my success. Right now, I do some of this. I purge stuff all the time. Toss things that don’t make sense. But when I find something I want to keep, surrounded by things I have no idea what to do with, I do not touch them. I become completely numb and avoidant. Yet, if I make a big pile in the center of my space, it will force me to deal with it. And it will show the overwhelming amount of things that I love versus what no longer makes sense in my home.

I don’t want to give away too much more, because if this inspires you, you should watch. Or read her book. But, here is what I took away as a parent…

My head did this the entire episode…

“My kid finds joy in everything, she will toss nothing…she keeps scraps of paper and rocks because she likes them…she never tidies anything, how will I get her to do it…her room is filled with so much stuff…the thought of organizing toys is overwhelming…where am I going to put all of their stuff…now I have to fold the laundry?…I can’t wait for my partner to see the sheer size of his pile of stuff…”

I am working through these thoughts, because here is the key point I am building into a mantra for myself…”she learns from me, she learns everything.” If I hate cleaning or yell about tidying, she’ll want nothing to do with it. Who would? But if it becomes routine and I involve her, maybe it will at least become neutral or even joyful to keep her space organized so she can find what she wants. All this time, I kept thinking, “if only she’d be more respectful of her things, of me, why do I do it all?” Well I hate all of these things because this space is such a mess. I do not live this value out loud. I do not model the lesson I am trying to teach, so no wonder her confusion and disconnect. She has learned to hate it too.

So…time to learn to love to tidy up the space so she can love it too.

What’s my motivation? Play, love, joy. Right now, I am writing this while my kid plays downstairs with my partner. I am writing this because I just did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen instead of choosing to play. And for a moment, I was resentful. “Why does he get to be the fun one and I get to the one who does the work?” Simple answers…he doesn’t clean and make a big deal of it like I do. I choose the cleaning over the play. I choose the misery over the play.

Well Marie Kondo, I’m in. I choose tidying, I choose play, I choose sparks of joy. Here’s to tidying up over the next few weeks. I’ll share more on how it goes…wish me luck!

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.