A handful

I have written about #metoo a couple times now but have failed to press publish. I just can’t bring myself to share all the stories in a public forum just yet. But over the last few weeks, these stories have been ever so present in my mind watching person after person share their story, their words in response to the abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar.

In the past, when I have thought about myself, all I’ve wanted to do is publish names. Much like #metoo, I want the people in my life who have been violent to be called out. But I am starting to shift my response and I feel in conflict.

This man was given 175 years in prison. I have been exploring why that feels so satisfying, yet so wrong at the same time.

The United States houses nearly 25% of the world’s imprisoned population yet less than 5% of the world’s population. This country believes in punitive justice, it’s seeped into our blood. But is it meant to be there? In moments of true actualization, of true clarity, do we actually believe that people should be stripped of their humanity because they hurt someone else?

In my moments of clarity, I find this answer to be no. And it’s simply because in my true self, in my inherent humaness, I acknowledge that the system we live in is the problem. We as people simply display the symptoms of a dysfunctional society. Individuals themselves are not the true cause, but instead it’s the explicit and implicit oppressive systems built by people that are.

It’s all about power and I believe we’ve been duped. If we can take a wrongdoing and punish that person, put them in a prison with no basic humanity or rights, we no longer see the problem. It’s “taken care of.”

But day after day, police officers kill black people, trans women of color are murdered, young boys shoot their classmates, people kill others in the name of religion, we argue over who has the right to what even when it rarely impacts us directly.

It’s always about power. And punitive justice is not working.

How the heck do I teach all this to my kids?

Right now, I’m starting with teaching them about humanity. That we are all unique individuals with unique needs and no single system can serve us all. And especially not any system built by people with power and privilege. And most importantly that punishment in the form we know best in this country does not serve us. We must push back against systems that set us up for failure.

Recently my daughter shared some language by a friend that reminded me how important it is to start small in these conversations. She told me a friend referred to one of her other friends as a “handful.” I could tell she didn’t like this comment but needed help talking through it.

“Do you think they are a handful?” I asked.

“No, they are my friend,” she replied simply.

“Did you tell your friend that you don’t agree?” I asked.

“No.”

“Maybe tomorrow you can if you want to. Why do you think they said that about your friend?” I asked.

“Because they have time out alot and don’t listen.”

“Do you always like how school does things? Or do you sometimes like to do it differently?” I asked.

“I like it different sometimes,” she replied.

I offered to her that schools often have rules or ways to do things that don’t fit for everyone. Some of us like to learn differently or to try things in other ways. And that it can be really hard when you need or want that, but school doesn’t fit perfectly.

I also offered that it can be hard to be away from your family and that this can be harder on some days than others. I offered how work can be hard for me when I want to do something differently and/or when I miss her alot.

“But it’s not because of your teachers or the school, ” I made sure to emphasize, “it’s how school works in general. It can make things hard for teachers too.”

The next day, she did confront her friend and told them that she didn’t believe that their friend was a handful.

“What did they say?” I asked.

“That I was wrong.”

I reminded her that her heart is saying a good thing and that just because one person believed she was wrong didn’t mean that she was. I also reminded her that people will tell her her whole life that she is wrong and never to believe it. To always believe her heart.

Still today she plays with this “handful” friend. She even gets in trouble with them. We always talk through listening and how to be kinder to her teachers and classmates. But I’d be lying if it didn’t feel good that she bucks the system every once and a while. It’s her way of practicing justice. We’re just working on doing that with love and kindness, rather than at the expense of others.

This may seem like a far jump to prison abolition. But it isn’t when you consider the system of schools in this country. We set up students, in particular kids of color, to head to prison one day. And there, we then strip them of their humanity. The school to prison pipeline is a highly effective, well oiled structural racism machine in our country. It’s laced with inequitable treatment, punishment and dismissal of “handful” kids. I can’t allow her to believe this notion, no matter where it comes from.

So what does this have to do with Larry Nassar? I’m not saying we don’t deal with the symptoms or the harm. Or that we have to forget. In fact, to remember means that we learn from the mistakes in order to build beyond the boundaries that created them. I’m holding tight that deeper work on a system level may result in a different society. It’s hard to fully imagine, but I believe that a world can exist without punishment as the sole solution and thus the erasure of people as participants in our society. Instead, I imagine a world where the system promotes rehabilitation, one that recognizes that just putting people in prison doesn’t solve the larger problem of violence, one where we hold compassion for people even in their and our darkest moments.

A world where Larry Nassar maybe would have sought help early in his life without judgment, that our sicknesses as people would cease to exist when we live in a healthier system. That maybe there would be no Larry Nassar in the first place because we as people have healed.

A world where kids aren’t seen as “handfuls” or problems. That kids are just kids and we don’t “prep” them for the real world through adult lessons. And that perhaps instead we change the adult world to better suit our kids, because our kids have so much wisdom to offer.

A world grounded in forgiveness. Where it’s normal to not wish harm on others, to not wish others to suffer, and certainly not to put the problem out of sight when it’s one small piece to a persistent and failing way of being.

This is all I know right now, I’m figuring the out the rest as I go.

A quest to de-gender

We have been on a quest to remove gendering from our kids lives, and it’s been a journey. For this pregnancy, we found out the sex of the baby. We did this last time too. It was too tempting not to, a symptom of our own socialization of gender. But we keep it mostly to ourselves in an attempt to not make so much of a deal of it. Mostly, we want to avoid the gender stereotypes being placed on our baby before they are even born. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how hard it is, not just because of our own unpacking of our gendered socialization, but because the world is situated by gender in most areas…colors, names, clothes, toys, bathrooms, etc.

Throughout this pregnancy, we’ve wanted to share as much of the experience as we can with our daughter, so we brought her to the ultrasound appointment with us. She was insistent that she was having a baby sister and we were worried about how it might feel if she learned otherwise. We wanted her to be excited no matter the body parts and to understand that we can’t possibly know their gender until they tell us. But she was confused when she found out that the baby indeed had male parts. She really wanted a sister. I worked to ask her questions as to why, assuming it might be because most of her school friends had little sisters. But she soon revealed her confusion, which was simply that she did not know how to take care of a baby with boy parts. When I explained that babies are exactly the same no matter their body parts, and that they just might need wiped differently, it was a relief to her. It turned out to be simple once I unpacked her worry.

But her ability to keep the surprise of the baby’s body parts from others was not so easy for her. She quickly shared with many that she was going to have a brother. We don’t stifle her, but simply remind her that we don’t know the gender just yet. With so many folks knowing, this has resulted in many offers about how boys are so different than girls and/or how much fun they are, etc. The other day someone told me they hoped it was a boy because two girls fight too much. I’ve heard that boys are exhausting, have more energy, all of the expected stereotypes. I simply smile and say thank you. We all have our own experiences and I know that people want to connect and to share. I figure I can then share my own when this baby comes, perhaps offering alternatives to the common narrative.

We are also navigating which pronouns to use this time. When our daughter was little, we assigned her the “she” series of pronouns (she/her/hers). When she was about a year and a half old, she was starting to identify boys and girls in books and in people. I quickly worked to talk about alternatives and asked her about her own gender. Some days she was a girl, some days a boy. She started to assign gender to her dolls including transgender and genderqueer. But what I tried really hard to do was to let her know that just because people assign her the gender of a girl doesn’t mean that she is one. I remember the day (and relief) when I asked her, “Do you know why we think you might be a girl?” She replied, “Because I have girl parts.” I reminded her regularly (and still do) that gender is an open conversation and that at any point she can correct us and we’ll change.

As for this baby’s pronouns, we say “they” most of the time and use “he” as well. Our plan is to use both for this baby. We talked about this a lot, unsure of what to do. As much as we want to offer “they” as the sole choice, the realization of what it will take for this kid to exist in our current society and community under this single pronoun feels overwhelming. As much as we feel good about educating others, we don’t want this kid’s experience to repeatedly be about this education. They would have to hear corrections and/or explanations all the time, and our purpose in this is that gender shouldn’t be such a focus in a baby’s life, but instead without definition until they can self identify.

I know some folks that are choosing “they” as their baby’s pronouns all the time and I commend them. I am so hopeful that their experience is positive and that their communities jump on board. I also hope they too will share their lessons and experiences with others.

As you can probably read within my words, I feel I still have so much to learn on this topic in parenting. I am holding on tightly to the fact that I believe that the more explicit we can be around the push and pull around gender and pronouns and why we choose to resist conventional stereotypes, that we can set the stage for the socialization of our kids. This notion is rooted in my belief that kids should have every right to establish their own identity whenever they choose and as often as they choose. I also know that my family is only one small impact of socialization on their lives and that by promoting anti-oppression values and gender justice, we increase the opportunity for their self empowerment.

The truth is that we offer gender to kids from the second we learn their body parts and then we build their script for their early life. In reality, kids don’t know their own gender until about 3 or 4 years of age, and their assigned script is defined by today’s version of socialization. I see this over and over with my daughter who I see experiencing conflict when some item or characteristic is attached to one specific gender. It’s confusing to her when she has to figure why this is a “girl toy” or “girl clothes,” etc. I can see so profoundly how colors have quickly obtained gendering because it’s a obvious categorization. But colors too have changed over time. It wasn’t too long ago that the color pink was associated with baby boys.

Most folks know now that this baby I am carrying has male parts and I am ok with that. This baby will know that we think he might be a boy because he has male parts. We’ll work to dispel gendering and socialization to the best we can. It’s a battle, but I know we can set the tone that they can always talk to us and that gender is always their ownership no matter what the rest of us say. I feel grateful for those in our family, our friends, my colleagues who are just following our lead. I yearn for the day when we no longer live in a dichotomy. This humanity we live in yields so much variety, diversity, beauty. Gender is simply a story we’ve created to define the masses. Imagine the beauty if we let that script go. It would be spectacular, it would be a relief, it might even shift power. Who would you be if you were stripped of socialization? What would you look like? Still absolutely beautiful no doubt.

I’m turning towards the sun in 2018

This time of year, we’re surrounded by New Year’s resolutions, challenges, contests, etc. all with the aim to improve ourselves. This year I reject that notion. I am not here to change me, but instead to be me for once. I reject what the world expects of me in regards to my body, my personality, my presence, my silence. Instead, I choose to embrace the love, the community, the joy that surrounds me. I am doing this all for me, but keeping in mind how my daughter will see this. Watching tv with commercials, I cringe wondering what she’s internalizing watching diet commercials, work out jokes, and ads for “healthy eating.”

So this year, I reject resolutions and instead I am stepping towards the world I want to be in. I must admit that I am inspired in this direction from several places. First and foremost, my kid shows me every day how to prioritize joy and laughter. When she can be her whole self, in an environment where she can be filled with reckless joy, persistent independence, and space to stretch, her laughter fills the room. Her smile fills my heart. Her joy shifts the energy in my body and in those around her.

Secondly, I want to acknowledge the people in my shared community of Evolutionary Leadership. In a time where the world continuously disappoints us, I watch them maintain a steady focus. Certainly, I see pain, anger, but I also see resolve. I see transformation. I see steps towards justice which include love, joy, and dancing. They go dancing all the time. I regret that I am not able to attend in this stage of my pregnancy, so instead I dance whenever I can. Gibrán Rivera reminded me last June that dancing is a religion. It’s a connection to your spirit, to our ancestors; it’s connection to the power and energy of the space and our bodies. So even though I don’t dance with them most Saturdays, I dance with them in other ways, ensuring that I am sharing love in all the ways I can from a distance.

I also must name inspiration by adrienne maree brown. I was blessed to meet her when I was part of a group of people who hosted a series of workshops by her back in November. She is a pleasure activist, writer, facilitator, doula, and general badass who speaks the language of our hearts. If you have not read her blog, or her book “Emergent Strategy,” do it. Right now. She has taught me so many things, but most importantly that the world in front of me has all the answers that I need and that if we pay close enough attention, we will learn how to be, how to love, how to co-exist. One of my most favorite quotes from her book is:

“My favorite life forms right now are dandelions and mushrooms—the resilience in these structures, which we think of as weeds and fungi, the incomprehensible scale, the clarity of identity, excites me. I love to see the way mushrooms can take substances we think of as toxic, and process them as food, or that dandelions spread not only themselves but their community structure, manifesting their essential qualities (which include healing and detoxifying the human body) to proliferate and thrive in a new environment. The resilience of these life forms is that they evolve while maintaining core practices that ensure their survival.

A mushroom is a toxin-transformer, a dandelion is a community of healers waiting to spread… What are we as humans, what is our function in the universe?”

— adrienne maree brown, “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds.”

I read this to my partner over the summer and we committed ourselves to dandelions. We committed ourselves to allowing them to grow, to be prolific, and to love each and every one. I know that this likely frustrates my neighbor as he maintains a beautiful lawn, but we are committed. By allowing them to thrive, we are also acting in resistance, in resistance to the capitalism of a well maintained lawn. If we let our yards grow without intervention, imagine what they would be…wild…but organized, strategic, in co-existence.

adrienne also recently shared her plans for 2018 and they included turning towards joy and acting only in transformative justice. She starts by saying, “What you pay attention to grows.” From this, I heard her tell me that this year I need to turn towards the sun. I am turning towards what warms my heart, what fills me, and what opens me. I will not forget the pain, the trauma, the terror of this world we live in. It’s not about ignoring it, it’s simply about an approach that allows me to see the light. To acknowledge that feeling angry about things I cannot control is of no use to me. Instead, I choose to take that anger and turn it towards more than just resistance, but instead towards transformative justice. adrienne spoke about transformative justice and helped me understand the following:

  • Punitive justice is the world we live in. We punish people for mistakes and then throw them away. Our prison system houses more than 2.3 million people. 1 in 5 people are there for a drug offense. And I’d be remiss not to mention that Black folks make up 13% of the general population but 40% of the prison population. (source: Prison Policy Initiative)
  • Restorative justice is what many believe is what we need. In this case, it’s about apologies, getting along, promising to never do it again, giving folks a break for first offenses, etc. This is our interpersonal approach – I believe you’re a good human so I am going to forgive you and give you another chance.
  • Transformative justice works towards making the system better so there is not a need for either above. Think of this example – If someone stole something from me, 1) punitive justice would be punishing that person, 2) restorative justice would be them apologizing to me and me forgiving them, but 3) transformative justice would be changing the system that made the person steal in the first place. Do they not have a job? Do they need to feed their family? Do they live in housing that doesn’t meet the basic standards of humanity? Do they experience racism and oppression that daily impacts their lives, their bodies?

See transformative justice is working towards erasure of all of the pain, anger, and trauma in today’s society. It means that our president would never have been crafted into the person he currently is. It also means that government wouldn’t be run by white rich men, that we wouldn’t debate right and wrong based on religion or opinion, but instead we’d live in co-existence based on our natural driven love and humanity. This is the sun I choose to turn to.

So you’re probably wondering, how does this fit into my parenting? Why put this on this blog? Well it has everything to do with my parenting. Since I have chosen transformative justice, since I have chosen to uplift love and joy, the relationship I have with my family is dramatically different. One small and simple example is my experience at the grocery store. At one of the stores, they have little carts for kids to push. I have heard all sorts of parenting groans about this and I was one of them. I used to try to talk her out of them before we got there, offering whatever I could think of. I hated those things. I especially hated how she regularly rammed them into my feet and that they are perfectly aligned to hit my ankle bone, re-issuing a weekly bruise. When I instead thought about how important it is to have kids in our everyday experience, that our energy needed it, that our lives depended on it, my experience changed. I now watch her skip down the aisle, pick out food based on her likes, she helps more, she is learning how to say excuse me and practice awareness of others. And she participates because it’s fun. Even more importantly, I enjoy her boundless energy and I have fun. I no longer have bruises and it’s not because she’s gotten better control of the cart. I have gotten better control of me. My once negative energy is no longer attracting her to ram into me. Life was literally ramming me, asking me to pay attention to a different way to be and instead I just groaned, rubbed my ankle and cursed under my breath.

Turning towards the sun means turning towards the inherent joy in my child, the inherent joy in me. It means that yes there are times to be still, but in general life is about dancing, loving, and using this power to make change towards the world we want to share with others. When is the last time you can remember laughing fully? Dancing with zero awareness of your body? Walking outside and smelling the scent of life in the air? This year, I am turning towards the sun.

Good Night Stories for Kinder, More Loving, Consent Obtaining Boys

This holiday I gave my daughter the newest version of “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.” We also gave the same book to two of her cousins who also identify as cisgender girls. Both of these cousins can read the stories themselves and I watched one spend two days reading page after page. This inspired my daughter, who would take hers out and flip through the pages as if she was reading too.

It’s beautiful to see young girls feel empowerment – to see them learn stories of resistance, activism, power. In recent years, this has become more and more mainstream and the resources are becoming endless. I never run out of material to share with my kid when it comes to uplifting the power of women and girls, finding untold stories of women in history, and teaching her resistance.

But what I noticed more profoundly this holiday was the lack of resources for my nephew. He’s almost a teenager, is brilliant, caring, kind, and funny. This is because his parents are much the same and they require a lot of him as a young person – to be a great person, to take care when it comes to others, and to be intentional in how he walks through life. He is doing so well because his parents are making sure of it, putting in the time to build a life where he can choose to be all of his humanity. But there is no book for him (at least none I have found), no good night stories that share tales of men leading transformative justice, breaking down sexism, fighting for equitable rights, or even changing how toxic masculinity has become in our society.

I find this to be incredibly unfair – no book to teach him kindness, strength in emotions, consent, love for others, and how to use his power and privilege in this world to change it. Some might argue that his power and privilege result in automatic fairness. I am not totally in disagreement. But as I grow a tiny human in my womb with boy parts, I feel overwhelmed knowing that the teaching is strongly on me and my partner to craft a socialization that allows them to thrive in their own humanity.

I wrote a piece about 13 weeks ago about how overwhelmed I feel in combatting toxic masculinity. This has not gone away. I think about it often and have felt stuck in our approach. It’s moments like sharing space with my nephew, or watching my partner interact in the world that I realize how grateful I am that this baby is going to have good teachers.

But where are the rest of the teachers? Where is his book? Why as society are we not also giving this type of attention to young men? Instead we are uplifting stories of tearing down men, or abuses of power by men, or men as “leaders”. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe men need to be called in on the abuse, the violence, the lack of commitment to shared humanity. But transformative justice means we also have to fix or replace the root cause. We can’t just uplift young girls and tear down men. Otherwise my nephew just sees who not to be, instead of who to strive to be. We have to teach young men how to be better. We have to change socialization so that they can be their whole selves – that they can be kind, loving, affectionate, emotional, all while still being powerful humans.

Perhaps this is a call out to any of the cisgender men in our lives. Where are you? Why aren’t you writing? Teaching? What are you doing to shift how both you and our future exist in this world? One of my mentors is leading a project called the Better Men Project to not only call in other cisgender men, but to inspire conversation on how to do better. Sign up and join the conversation.

Many cisgender and transgender women, as well as femmes, are working hard to break through injustice, inequity, power. We need you too. My nephew needs you, my baby needs you, our shared humanity needs you.

“Baby, it’s cold outside”…so I’m going to wear a hat

As Christmas music fills my life this month, I am regularly running into the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It’s catchy, easy to sing, and has the music sounds and sway of the season. I’ll admit, in the past I loved to sing along. But a couple of years ago, I heard myself, what I was saying, what I was modeling, and this song became nothing like what I wanted the holiday season to be. The song is centered on a man talking a woman into staying over even though she says no, over and over again. He doesn’t give up and we’re supposed to find this endearing. This message reinforces rape culture, carrying the message that a no is not a no, and that if men just coaxed us enough, then we’d give in. I am always baffled by how much air play it gets, but even more profoundly now in the heart of the #metoo movement.

This year, my little one is starting to embrace Christmas music. I hear her singing it to herself and am impressed with how many songs she knows. But she never sings this one. Not because she’s aware of the message, but simply because I won’t allow her to hear it. I switch the radio station every time it comes on, or skip it on Pandora. I am not willing to expose her to this message, and I won’t listen to it either. I know that I can’t avoid it all together, and one day I plan to let her hear it and talk about it. But explaining the potential harm to her body simply because she presents as a cisgender girl is not so easy at this age. I’ve already tried and she just ended up concerned and confused. So instead, my partner and I read through the advice of many and have implemented some strategies to lay the groundwork for understanding consent.

At this stage in her life, she still demands things of others and sits in a world of egocentrism. It’s accurate for her age and we just need to embrace it. So one tactic we have tried is teaching her the concept of privacy.  We have taught her that we can request privacy with no explanation and she has to respect that. We’re also teaching her that we can say no to being touched. Last night when she was having a minor meltdown, she grabbed my partner’s leg and wouldn’t let go. I could hear him say, “This is my body and I am asking you to let go.” Mind you it’s hard to achieve this during a tantrum, but we hold this message in consistency as often as we can.

We also ask for the same permission from her. If she is having a tantrum, I do not hug her or pick her up, I wait for her to calm a bit and make it an offer. Sometimes she takes it and many times not. I’ll admit that when she was a baby, it was so easy just to kiss her all the time and cuddle. But once she started to establish boundaries, we have worked hard to respect them. I ask for hugs and kisses now. If she says no, it’s just a no. I don’t act sad or upset. It’s just what it is. I want her to know that bodily contact can be linked to love but that love doesn’t automatically mean assumed bodily contact.

We also do the same with tickles. If she says stop, we stop. Even if we think she’s playing. We let her say, “just kidding keep tickling me.” And we acknowledge that “no” is a sentence in itself. She doesn’t have to explain her no, it just is. If I ask her to put on her coat and she says no, them she doesn’t wear it. I will offer that it’s cold and I’m afraid she’ll be too cold without it. She often then agrees or we compromise by not zipping it up. But just the other day, she insisted on a no and I let it go. Two minutes into the walk to the store she asked for her coat because it was cold. As much as I felt “I told you so,” I instead held that she needs to explore what her body needs too. She gets to say no, she gets to say yes, and she always can change her mind.

Finally, we make her do the same with other kids. She asks other kids if she can hug them before going in for the embrace. When others ask her for a hug and she says no, we offer alternatives. A high five, a fist bump or a wave. I’ll admit that this gets hard with family and friends who don’t see her often. I do my best to act like it’s no big deal, but I can’t miss the hurt on their faces sometimes. It strikes me so profoundly how we associate connection and love with physical closeness. A refused hug from a 4 year old is never a slight to someone they love, but simply a way to maintain control. We should embrace that and encourage it.

There are so many rich resources on how to do this as a parent and I feel so thankful for all of them that have taught us how to navigate some of this. I will admit that I see her as literally my single most perfect creation. But I am working to remind myself that my body made hers and I am a guide to her growth, but I do not own her. Since the start, she’s been in charge of who she is, her making as a person. I am simply a coach, hopefully a trusted one, to offer options along the way. I inherently believe in her ability to be an incredible person, full of love, kindness, strength, passion, drive, beauty.

So my hope is that maybe when she does hear that song one day, she feel compelled to change the words…”Baby it’s cold outside,” so I’m going to wear a hat.

Keeping our connection to humanity

These days, it is an overwhelming experience to be in public. At 30 weeks pregnant, I am hard to miss. Yet, I am so easily missed. I am never in-between. Many folks have transformed me into a vessel – simply a body carrying a baby. So I am cooed at, told how cute I am. People also have lost their sense of boundaries. Many say “You are so big!”, “Are you about to pop?”, “Are you sure there aren’t two in there?”, “You are certainly ready!”

But the most common question I get is ” How are you feeling?” I am asked this nearly ten, twenty times a day. I struggle with this question, because it’s not presented to want to hear the joys happening in my body, but it’s always asked with implied concern. This question assumes that I am feeling something other than joy. People want to know what ails me, as people often find connection by commiserating experiences. But, pregnancy is an experience I choose to embrace as a miracle, a gift to and from my body, a connection to our larger whole as people. I think it’s beautiful and most of the time I feel supernatural, miraculous, living my destiny. The best part of my day is when others see this in me. When someone simply says “You look gorgeous” or “How beautiful.” My partner once said to me, “You are exactly what you should be right now, you are perfect.”

This need to connect over negative shared experiences feels so unnatural. And I feel pressure to share my woes in order to have connection. Isn’t that how we do that these days? Listening to our discontent, unhappiness, what ails us? When you stand in line at the grocery store, the person in front of you or behind you wants to chat, but only about the person in line taking too long, or the slowness of the cashier. I admit that I too participate sometimes, because life has moments of frustration. But I want to be better, I want to be the person who when someone asks me “How are you feeling?”, I answer with “I’m experiencing pure joy and love. I feel blessed to grow this human who I know is going to be incredible, full of light and hope, and who will step into this world to make it better.”

For now I simply answer “I feel pregnant,” because it has no attached emotion. I am working to find confidence in my narrative, but also am trying to ignore the need for negative interactions. I want my child to see this. That you can avoid a negative narrative, that you can stay in your humanity no matter the feelings of others around you. This is an important skill that I fear we have let go. And for those of us that want to avoid negative, instead of engaging in the positive, we avoid people all together.

Which brings me to the second part of my everyday experience – that most of the world ignores me. I am round, hard to miss, yet I am bumped into, pushed, doors slammed in my face, you name it.  And let me first say, that this is a typical experience of being in the world for me and for many. When I was younger, and smaller in size, my body was sexualized, ogled at, treated as a commodity. Now as an adult, I have simply blurred into the larger mass of people, completely invisible to most. But being pregnant I am hyperaware of my needs, of protecting this growing being in my body –  I am becoming more cognizant and baffled by humanity when it comes to being in public.

In my two pregnancies, I have ridden public transportation a couple of times. Once was two days ago. That morning, I rode into town with my partner who aided in shuffling me on the train and blocking a seat so I could sit down. Coming home, I was on my own. I told myself, this is an experiment in humanity. Who will choose to see me? And when I say “see me”, I simply meant who will look at another person for all of their being rather than choosing to ignore their presence.

Walking down the steps to the train, one person ran up the stairs next to me and hit me pretty hard with their bag. They didn’t stop, nor did anyone say anything. This is not the first time I have been bumped while pregnant, I saw it coming and at least blocked my belly. Standing waiting for the train, I thought, “let me relieve people of the burden of having to consider giving up their seat and instead get on first so I can just get a seat.” When the train pulled up, a woman older than me cut in front of me and pushed her way onto the train. The people she pushed through then did not move for me. I had to ask them to move twice but ended up bumping them with my belly anyhow because they failed to notice that I needed the extra space.

When I got on , there were no seats. So I stood and wondered if anyone was going to look up from their phones. I was surrounded by people of all different ages, genders, race, and no one looked up. After about thirty seconds, a young girl looked up from her phone and gave me her seat. She couldn’t have been more than 16 years old. The people to the left and right of me didn’t move so I could sit in-between. So I sat awkwardly with my belly on my lap, shoulders hunched forward. When I looked across from me, there she was – the woman who pushed in front of me to get on the train. She was in a seat. She never looked at another person and certainly not me the entire train ride. I was just so struck by this. Being surrounded by so many humans and no human interaction.

Towards the end of the ride, two young girls were talking about the tv show Empire and what had happened on the episode that week. Even though it was all spoilers, I spent the rest of the ride listening to them. They were replaying the drama, the humor, the story. They were engaging and I wished I was sitting next to them to engage too.

The irony is that these young people are often considered a burden to adults. They are seen as a nuisance when they talk out loud on the train, or goodness if they’re even laughing. They don’t show their exuberance to be irritating, but perhaps it’s just their inherent joy. And we silence it, tell them to be quiet or not to be so loud. Of all of the times I have been on a public train while pregnant, two people have offered me a seat, both young people – both noticing me and my needs before any adult. We blame them for a society consumed by technology. But what I saw this day and most days, is that these young people are holding tight to their humanity while navigating this world, and doing it much better than we adults.

When did we lose this? At what age do we give up? It’s like we’re resigned to unhappiness, choosing to not see the world, to ignore others, to dismiss humanity.

We have to stop asking our young people to do the same. We have to show our kids that our inherent humanity is key to changing this world for the better.

I recently joked about how my daughter stares at people when we go out to eat. She gets so engulfed in other people that I have to regularly remind her to eat. I try to not ask her “not to stare”. In fact, I never say that anymore. I want her to take in the world around her, to see people for all of who they are. I want her to ask questions, to smile at others if she so chooses, and to laugh if she overhears a funny joke. If I teach her to stop looking, to stop seeing, she’ll never see the world for what it is. She’ll exist in her own bubble, one of advantage, whiteness, comfort. She’ll fail to connect with other people, find laughter, love, kindness.

We recently met up at a friend’s house and she played with another child a little older than her. This child was filled with energy. I’d be lying if I didn’t have a moment of feeling concern for my fellow parent. But I quickly snapped myself out of it to see this child having the time of her life – exploring, laughing, playing, connecting, finding happiness. She exuded an abundance of joy. When we were leaving, my daughter said, “I love her, she is so funny and so crazy.” I responded with, “Yes, she was so full of happiness.” My daughter then responded “Yes, Mommy, and she made me full of happiness.”

Joy. As caregivers, we see it in our kids. We even experience it. We need to hold onto it, or rediscover it. We need to do this for ourselves. Our humanity depends on it.

Thanksgiving?

Every year I struggle. Not just with the words, but how to explain to my daughter the intense truthful history of colonization. Thanksgiving feels like such a hoax and I am working to embrace it from a different direction. So far, our approach is to consider it as a way to come together in family, love, and light. To celebrate our togetherness. I feel lucky that I sit at a table with family where I experience solidarity. We all acknowledge the harm in the world and each have worked in various ways to make change and be different.

Two years ago, my kid really liked bedtime stories and around Thanksgiving I shared the true story of Thanksgiving. She was made aware that the colonizers came to this country and took land from indigenous people. That they celebrated their first “Thanksgiving” after the massive slaughter of the Pequot people in Connecticut. It was one of her most requested stories. I learned pretty early on the importance of repetition in her life. She likes to replay a lot, hear the same stories over and over. Sometimes, I think she is carefully studying, learning, piecing it all together in her ever forming brain.

Last year, we went out to dinner the day after Thanksgiving with our family and on the drive home, she asked, “do you know about the Wompanoags?” My first reaction was “where did that come from?” After realizing we had just driven past Wompatuck State Park, and calming myself from her obvious brilliant early reading skills, I said yes and asked her what she knew. She shared that she had been learning about them in school. This I knew, as the Director of the school had been kind enough to share what they teach the kids. I knew they focused on local indigenous people and their stories. A few minutes later, she said “Wompanoags kind of look like trolls.”

I quickly realized her vision of these people was centered on the stereotypical version of Native Americans with mohawks. This image is everywhere and even though it holds incredible cultural meaning to Native American people, I knew that I wanted her to see them as more than just how they looked. I told her that Native American people had many different types of clothes and symbols they wore on their bodies that meant a lot of different things, but that they were also people and wore clothes like us sometimes too. I reminded her that her Great Grandma was Native American and that meant that she was a little bit too. She asked, “can I wear those clothes?” I told her no and found myself trying to explain cultural appropriation to a three year old. But she quickly understood that as white people, we don’t wear the cultures of other people, but we can look at them and appreciate them.

This year, I bought her a book called “The People Shall Continue” by Simon J. Ortiz. We read it the day it came and I have to admit it was hard for me to read. It’s intense as it speaks to colonization, mass genocide, and the continued oppression of not only Native Americans but also people of color, LGBTQ folks and others. She set this book aside from her others. She hasn’t asked to read it again, but she is keeping it carefully. It’s amazing how I can see her see my intensity and truth. She wants to always hold this carefully, even if she doesn’t fully feel it or understand it. But she feels me, which I feel grateful for.

Instead of eating dinner on Thursday this year, we watched a live stream of the Day of Mourning in Plymouth. It opened with speakers addressing colonization and the repeated harm that has since been done and introduced into our lives. They named that we brought sexism, racism, xenophobia, etc. They spoke to solidarity to those also experiencing repeated oppression in this country, and the pain and mourning that Thanksgiving Day means for indigenous people. My kid watched some, played and listened at the same time. I had no expectation for her to take in such intensity, especially after seeing how she was with the book. But I wanted to set the example that we are going to uplift this message year after year. We are choosing to continue to have meals with our loved ones because it brings us together. But we are thoughtful about the food we eat, where it comes from and we are committing to some type of action every year. Last year it was donations to Standing Rock, this year to United American Indians of New England (UAINE). We also read a blessing before dinner that acknowledged the current state of our existence, the harm to our people and our county, and our commitment towards change.

I still don’t know that this is enough and I feel conflict on the approach. I do feel thankful that there are friends in my life who also provide some guidance. I only know about the Day of Mourning because of a friend 4 years ago. I wrote my own blessing because I was inspired by a friend who has shared hers every year. I choose the food we eat depending on the relationship to the environment, again due to the inspiration of others. We are surrounded by love and solidarity. I know this is not the case for all families, but I hope our commitment, our story shows that we can make new traditions. Ones that are built on honest history, understanding, and intention to step into this world differently. I also acknowledge that there is still so much left to learn, so much left to teach. But I feel grateful that many of us get to fill our bellies with nourishment from these foods, and many are also aiming to fill their hearts through action and love.

In the words of a brilliant, beautiful indigenous friend – Happy “Non Celebration of Native American Genocide” Day. Here’s to continuing the holiday tradition of breaking down the lies and uplifting justice.

NationalDayofMourning

Gendered toys

The other day, my partner took our daughter for some fast food. At the drive-thru window, the cashier asked if he wanted the girl toy or the boy toy. From the back, she answered “girl toy.”

This is what showed up in her meal.

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When she opened it, she said “thank goodness I got the girl toy.”

This was a good laugh for us, and so much proof about the lie of what is associated with gender. In preschool, she knows she is one of the girls and she regularly works to separate the class by gender. This is actually one of my greatest struggles in teaching her, breaking the outside view of gender. It is everywhere.

I once learned in a child development class that young kids build boxes of information. When they experience something new, and it doesn’t obviously fit into a box, without the guidance to create a new box, they instead fit it into the one’s they’ve already designed. I have found this with her. We have people in our lives who identify as transgender, gender-queer, non-binary. She has created a box for each of these individuals, but so far these boxes sit separately from her boxes on gender. She is unintentionally “othering” these folks because she has no other way to do it. I regularly talk with her about gender and when she mentions “boys and girls”, I offer additional options. But I see her really struggling, as not many others around her offer alternatives because we are all socialized to see the world split in two.

We were once in an airport and she had to go to the bathroom. She wanted my partner to take her, but I explained that I had to. There was no family restroom and she is getting too big to go into the men’s room. She kept asking why, and I explained to her that there are bathrooms in many places that are meant for boys and girls and that since she and I are both cisgender girls, we had to go together. Sitting on the toilet, she looked at me and asked about one of our gender-queer friends. “Which bathroom do they use?” she asked me. I told her what a great question that was and that when there are only two choices, people have to pick. Even though both of the options are not their choice.

Bathrooms, toys, television, clothes, friends, schools, shoes, even fast food meal toys. It’s all one or the other, no in-between. It’s nearly impossible to fight this. I am trying and I won’t stop trying. And I admit that I too am far from perfect.

A few days back, I gave a gendered pronoun to our soon to be second kid. In the middle of playing, without looking at me, I heard her say “Mommy, we don’t know if it’s a boy yet. It just has boy parts.”

Message received.

Batgirl Ariel

Halloween is on its way, which means I have to figure out what to dress my child as. I always ask her and she never knows. This year I tried to get her to pick from a book she has on rebel girls. I thought for sure she’d pick Misty Copeland or Joan Jett. But no such luck, she was too overwhelmed by the many choices to choose just one. Plus she’s only four, her idols are still developing.

When she was born, I had it in my head that I’d dress her as something radical every year. This worked year one when she couldn’t choose for herself. I chose Jane Fonda, and dressed her in jazzercise apparel. Jane Fonda does some pretty rad work in teen pregnancy, not to mention the rest of her activism and resistance, so it seemed to fit. Year two, I chose Lilo from “Lilo and Stitch”, her favorite movie. Lilo is a little badass, fighting for what she wants, sticking up for herself, and making friends with someone no one else would ever pick.

Year three, I let her pick. In full honesty, I had a big workload and didn’t have time to make the costume. She chose Sully from “Monsters Inc.” Not too bad – a monster who realizes that laughter is stronger than fear, that love and laughter fuels his world, literally. Last year, she wanted to be a water bottle. Out of utter confusion, we just took her to a store where we knew she’s pick the Doc Mcstuffins costume and be done with it. She was a darn cute Doc look alike.

This year, she wants to be Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.” Sigh, I’m losing this year apparently. She says Ariel is her favorite, but in my opinion it’s really only because her best bud at school also loves her. She’s only even seen the movie once. In our house, she seems more enamored with Merida from Brave, a stronger choice if you ask me. But less popular among her friends, and little kids love to obsess over the same things. See I think Ariel is a terrible choice when picking a princess to admire. Sure she can sing, she’s pretty, she’s a mermaid. But she literally gives up her essence, her singing, to potentially fall in love with a stranger. I just can’t get on board with that.

I find the pressure of society on little girls to love princesses as confusing. Many of the characters are far from role models, even making decisions solely for the interest of men. When she tells me she’s a princess, I always tell her that then I’m the queen because a queen is a princess but with power. But I’m up against a world of movies where the queen is often irrelevant. Many times she is killed off, is evil, or is even ignored completely. Instead little girls are asked to find alignment with the princess – who either needs to be rescued by a man, is tricked into a spell, or who is uplifted mostly for her beauty. It wasn’t until recently that these characters got a new script. Merida bucks the norms of gender, Mulan tricks the men, Elsa rules a kingdom with overwhelming power, Rapunzel sees beyond the “beauty” of Flynn. These feel better to me, but I still don’t know how to respond when she tells me she wants to be a princess when she grows up.

So this Halloween she chose Ariel despite my feelings. But, I don’t see my parenting job as one to talk her out of things, so we looked at some Ariel costumes. She didn’t like any of them. It became clear to me that her enamor with this character was strongly linked to her friends, not her actual admiration. So we looked at a few other things and then she saw a purple Batgirl costume and she was sold. She just loves all things Batman and all things purple.

Once we were at my partner’s work for Halloween. Every year, each floor is given a budget to decorate in whatever theme they choose. It’s also a competition, so they are often quite amazing. One of the floors was Batman themed and she was in love. She met all of the characters, except we couldn’t find Batman (the colleague dressed as him anyway). As we walked away, her little face saddened. Then, I suddenly heard her tiny voice whisper “Batman…” and she took off after him into the dark. We found her in the “batcave” just staring at him.

So, the purple batgirl costume came in the mail, but I could see she still felt conflict as it wasn’t perfect. “I have an idea,” she always says. “I can be Batgirl Ariel,” she announced. To make this compromise, we decided on the purple Batgirl costume with red hair and a shell necklace that sings “Part of Your World.” Green Ariel heels came as a late addition when we walked by them in the Halloween store.

I feel so proud of her. I see her struggling with the image of a princess, what society is asking her to buy into anyhow, and how she then connects to that image. She is torn between what she imagines a princess to be, and the actual reality of what they’re not, all while desperately wanting to kick the world’s butt. This year she’s choosing both, she’s going to be Batgirl Ariel. Why not? After all, you can run the world with flowy long red hair.

Watch out world, here she comes.

“9, 10, a big fat hen”

My kid loves to sing, any and all songs. The other day I heard “1, 2, buckle my shoe” and I thought this could be an opportunity. The version she knows from school ends with “9, 10, a big fat hen.” This time when she sang it, she laughed and said “fat is a funny word.” I asked her if we could talk about the word fat and she agreed. I asked her if she knew what fat was and she said no.

I decided a while ago that I was going to explain fat to her using the biological basis. So I explained that fat is a substance in our body that is important to all of us. It protects our bones, our organs, and our insides. I also explained that we all have different amounts of it, but we all have it and need it. I told her that having fat is important and in some cases not having enough can make a person a little sick. I also said, having too much can also sometimes make a person a little sick.

We pulled out the computer and looked at some pictures, studying the yellow bumpy goo called adipose tissue. She thought it looked yucky and I told her that it’s ok to think that. Not everyone likes to see what’s inside the body.

I then explained that even though fat is something in our body, some people use it as a way to describe people and can use it in a mean way. I said that calling someone fat is not a nice thing to say to people, because people have said it so much in not a nice way, that this is how it feels now when people hear it. Even if that is not how we mean it. She asked me if she could still sing the song. I said, yes, it’s ok to use fat to talk about animals. That a big, fat, hen is a way to describe a hen that looks yummy to eat.

Later than evening, we were watching one of her favorite baking shows. She has a favorite person on the show because she thinks he is “cute.” (It starts young!). With no prompting, at one point she said “I just love his big, fat belly!”

I immediately turned to her and said, “Hey, remember what we talked about? We don’t use that word to describe people as it’s not nice.”

Her face was crushed, and she jumped into my arms very upset. To see her little body so upset with herself is so overwhelming as a parent. I should have gone at this softer, she is still learning. I told her as such.

The word fat is so nuanced that I am finding it hard to explain. I have been challenged on presenting it to her this way because many are trying to reclaim the word. But how do you teach nuance to a 4 year old? It feels nearly impossible. Right now, it feels best to let her know that the word is not okay to use when describing people and to keep talking about it. I have promised myself to go back to this conversation when it makes sense to do so. I want her to know that the key piece is that fat is not meant to be a funny word. It can be a word used to describe something, but we need to be careful because the word is often hurtful. I also know that it’s only a matter of time before she hears her classmates, family, or other adults use the word to describe themselves in a negative way.

All of these details feel entirely impossible as I try to teach her that her body is hers, it’s perfect no matter what size or what it looks like, and that others have no right to make judgments about it. I also want her to know that hearing people make judgments about themselves is also not kind and we should be kind to ourselves.

If there is any consolation, we were talking before bedtime last night all about her friendships and the people in her class. She likes to share when people go into time out, so I push her to think about why time out can be ok, that we all do it, and that some kids have other things going on. One is always in time out, so I coach her to say that he has a hard time probably because it can be hard to be away from family and sometimes kids want to play what they want instead of what school has for them to do. I want her to feel like she can rebel, that rules aren’t the end all be all, and that there is so much more to kids “misbehaving” than adults make them believe.

She looked at me and said “Mommy, I love you because you always tell me what not to do.”

Even though that’s not the point. I know what she means. It was validation that helping her understand the confusing parts of life is something she values. Thank goodness. Every day is a fight against the messages of society and her trust gives me great relief and a push to keep going.