What To Do

One of my children came out to me with a cookie cake. Another one made a pronouncement while I was in the midst of berating his brother about incomplete homework. The last one continues to tell me important stuff via snapchat, cookie cake, and occasional dance shows.

Lately, an inordinate amount of controversy, mud-slinging, conversation, hatred, and general being an asshole has surrounded gay marriage, restroom use, and other various and sundry social topics.

I don’t know about everything, but I can tell you what to do when your child comes out to you. But first, a quick primer: coming out can mean any number of things. Your child may come out as gay, transgender, or other labels that we have to put on people to define them so we feel comfortable. Your child may come out as a football fan, a curling aficionado, a surfer, a pizza maker, or even . . . wait for it . . . a Chicago Cubs fan.

Whatever your child identifies as, you have ONE job as a parent: love your kid.

That’s it. Easy.

It was easy enough for you when the blob emerged from the cut-open uterus or slithered out of your partner’s vagina or cuddled up to you in the orphanage lounge or caught your heart through foster care.

Why is it hard when the person you would give your life for defines his/her/their personhood? Why is it hard when your child does what you have always taught him/her/them to do: think for themselves?

Love your kid.

Your child may grow up to be similar to you. He/She/They might not.

It does not matter.

He/She/They are a person. Love your kid.

I am continually stunned by the number of otherwise normally reasonable adults who believe their children should be mini-mes. Maybe – just maybe – that worked in another generation – maybe, but I doubt it. Regardless, your job is to love your kid.

You might not understand everything. Love your kid. You might have trouble with pronouns. Love your kid. You might have objections. Love your kid.

Seriously. That’s all there is to it: love your kid.

 

hearts

 

 

 

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Momming

“You won’t leave me; you can’t take care of two kids on your own. You can’t handle it.”

cartoon-airplane-89967That was what husband number one told me days before I left him, one and three year-olds in tow, in Riga, Latvia. We took flights to Sweden, New Jersey, Chicago, and finally Des Moines. From the time I left to the moment I fell asleep at the kitchen table at my parents’ house, I had been awake for 56 hours.

Since those first long strides away from dual-parenting, I have been a single parent. Sure, some would argue that my second marriage doesn’t count as being a single parent because I gave birth to another child – clearly not a single person undertaking – and, I did, very technically, have a husband for nine years before I moved out. Those who might argue that would need to have a peek inside that marriage to know that one can be married and still be a single parent.

It has not been easy. Making decisions – from where to live to which job to accept; giving advice – from dating to college acceptance; doing daily life – from mowing the lawn to buying a new water heater: all of these things are the things I couldn’t do, according to husband number one.

Now, I will be the first to say that between throwing the bread loaf across the kitchen in aopT56dpiB supper making frustration and dealing with first son’s post-high school rejection to coaching youngest son through the perils of two new schools in two years have not all been my finest moments. I certainly would do some things differently.

However, at the core of how I have and am parenting/guiding my sons is: imperfection.

They have taken turns over the years pointing out the abundance of my imperfections.

I have not done anything perfectly. In the early days of independent momming, I beat myself up for not meeting a set of mythical, invisible, unobtainable standards that seemed to flit around my conscious. Like the carpenter bees that dive bombed our front porch in Georgia, these standards came out of nowhere and served no real purpose other than to exacerbate the effects of the self-flagellation that every parent – single or no – goes through.

For years I fought this imperfection by trying to replicate the happy parts of my childhood. This proved impossible because even at his lowest salary, I’m pretty sure my dad made more money (relatively speaking) that I do now, at my highest salary. This proved impossible because even on the days when she had the least amount of time, I’m pretty sure my mom somehow had more time than I do on my most unfilled days.

The stress of trying to create a version of parenting perfection lead to things like the aforementioned bread loaf toss. This also lead to some resentment and sadness and stress for me and for the boys. But, gradually it occurred to me that I was, in fact, not only handling being a single mom, my imperfection had somehow helped us make a life where my sons were able to become creative and intelligent human beings despite my singleness and (hopefully) because of the environment we created together.

Somehow my sons have had some really great moments like when elder two sons had set up a war scene all over the living room with the little green plastic army men. Not being thrilled with war games, I asked what they were fighting for. Eldest son responded, “These guys are fighting so that girls can go to school in Afghanistan.” Parenting win number one.army_men_header Another time all three boys – trapped inside on a rainy day – got out stuffed animals and created a farm. But not just any farm: they created animal farm from which Farmer Jones was banished and on which all the animals were treated fairly – their own spin on how the novel should have gone. Parenting win number two. But really, there have been so many more: on the soccer field, directing musicals, on the dance stage, in classrooms, around the world, in the community, and on jobs.  We never really get to see the true achievements of our momming because they happen in our absence.

In considering everything, I realize that I wasn’t really single parenting; I had the love and support of three amazing young men. The teachers, friends, coaches, and family members that provided love and support throughout the years made single-parenting a contradiction in terms.

So, yes, husband number one: I can handle it. I did handle it. I am handling it.

The Gold Standard

“It’s your fault we have never had a father. Nothing about this is normal,” he yelled in tears, surrounded by boxes in the galley kitchen of the small apartment. It didn’t matter that roughly a quarter of American homes are mother-only homes. It didn’t matter that I was educated and well-employed with the support of extended family. Middle son was right. It was my fault.

The year was 2009, and events of a Sunday night had led me to contracting an apartment to be moved into on Friday afternoon. When I told my then-husband about the move that did not include him, he said, “That’s fine. I have boxes in the barn you can use.” Not that there wasn’t angst or anger or acrimony; I guess we had both seen this coming.

The thing that middle son really pointed out that evening was that the gold standard of family life still consists of mom, dad, siblings, and pet or two. The same house to grow up in, visit on holidays from college, and eventually hold the estate sale when mom and dad are gone. In his mind, that was what was supposed to happen. That was the vision. That’s what he never had, and it wasn’t easy.

goldTo this day, he can’t fully know why I abandoned the familial gold standard. When middle son was one, I divorced his father. He has no memories of ever living with his dad. When he was in middle school, I divorced his step-dad. Throughout those years, he, his brothers, and I struggled – separately and together – with what it meant to be “less than.” The church we attended had only back pews for families of divorce; the school they attended prized whole families showing up to every event; the friends they had did camping trips with dad and shopping trips with mom. That was not our family.

I sometimes wonder what would have been if I had been able to give up myself for the sake of either marriage; if I could have blended into the carpeting, allowing and even enjoying the tread marks.  Would that have been golden? We will never know because those were the options I had but could not accept. So, I created a life that required a couple of moves; a mom working more than she wanted; and children who shared rooms and clothes. It wasn’t bohemian by any means; there were no drugs or mental illness or other made-for-TV movie drama points; and, after divorce number two, I boarded up the men’s entrance. But I created a life where there wasn’t really a dad. No picket fence. And very few shopping trips. No, we did not match the gold standard of a traditional American family, and I think about the trade-off and I wonder.screws us up

I wonder if in making such choices, perhaps my sons know it’s okay to quit something that doesn’t work for you. I guess eldest son (now somewhere in Peru) embraced living life on his own terms. I wonder if they realize it’s required to not let yourself be walked all over. I want to believe that middle son knows that there is not a one-size-fits-all life jacket you get along with your college diploma. Life isn’t about matching your neighbors; it’s about creating your own bits of happiness and moments of contentment. Youngest son is certainly carving his own path – and in middle school no less – the time when conformity is at a premium. (I know this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was his recent huff, “Mom, my generation is filled with asshole narcissists.”)

Yes, it probably would have been easier for the boys if we could have lived in a predictably standard setting. But, I wonder if they would have developed into the opinionated, creative, beautiful souls that they are if they had lived among only gold bars rather than sparklings of silver, palladium, and ruthenium that made up the moments of our lives.

When middle son stood in that kitchen not so many years ago, I think he was scared. I know I was. But choices had to be made. Oh, children, I do hope that you have a plethora of things that come easy to you in life. I also hope that you are faced with hard decisions that chisel who you really are into your heart. And, I hope you define your own standards – gold or osmium –  and live by them.  You see, no gold standard exists – and that is both scary and liberating.

Join me.

 

On Being The Tree

Runaway Bunny

 

There was never any plan – not a scripted one – not the way some parents claim, “Oh, I always knew he would grow up to be a ___.” Fill in that blank with whatever college mascot or professional endeavor one’s social circle deems the best.

No, I had no visions of who or what my children would be; I still don’t. I really do want all three of them to pursue endeavors that will lead them to be able to create the kind of life they want to live. When youngest son says that he wants to be a drag queen, and then, “when my looks start to go, I’ll teach middle school,” I smile and think, “That’s not a bad plan.” In fact, I privately think of this as the mullet plan: business in the front, party in the back.

But last Tuesday I got a series of text messages from eldest son announcing that he is moving to Peru. Today. This day. February 16, 2016. He plans to hike and survive in Peru and perhaps beyond for as long as he wants to – on his own. Alone.

My imagination is one quarter made-for-TV movie, one quarter horrific documentary, and two quarters overthinking. I suppose all parents believe that they support what their children want to do; the thing about that is: sometimes our children want to do stuff we never thought of and we wish they hadn’t. So, I’m worried and scared and a little sad.

The last time he traveled internationally he was three and slept with his brother in the bulkhead of an SAS jet, cuddling a new teddy bear from Copenhagen. Hiking and camping in South America will be different than that. Of course, he has email; he says he’ll be in semi-regular touch.

There are all kinds of quotes that extol the importance and requirement of letting children go, allowing them seek their own paths, not trying to control, and allowing for followed passions. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I believe all of that shit, but when it means your son is moving far away to be in semi-regular contact – well, that’s the test, isn’t it? One thing to say you believe something, and it’s quite another to be forced to live that out.

Perhaps you are better at this than I am. You have always said what you believed, believed what you said, and lived it out. If so,  I have certainly tried to follow your example, but this one’s a little harder for me. Still, I have to believe he can do this and love it and learn from it. Right? It’s not about me; it’s about his finding his way to that life that he wants. Right? If we don’t have faith in our kids, then something’s gone wrong. Right?

So, join me.

No, seriously – join me. Come over, bring some wine and kleenex, and hold my hand. This one might take me a minute.

 

 

 

Game. Set. Match?

December 1

“Let’s put up the twinkly colory lights, Daddy!”

“Okay, pumpkin, just a sec, ok?”

“Um, Dale, I put out the red and white lights for the deck.”

“Well, Maddie wants the colored lights, Kels.”

white and red lights“Right. Well, I put some of those upstairs on the bannister and in her room. I have white on the tree and the front should be red and white – you know so that it looks like a candy cane.”

“C’mon, Daddy!”

“Just another sec, pumpkin. So, can we just do the colored lights, I mean, Jesus, Kelsey she’s only gonna be three once. If she wants colored lights – who gives a flying fuck?”

“Language! Honey, go play upstairs until Mommy and Daddy get the lights ready – then you can help Daddy, ok, sweetie?”

“Ok, Mommy.”

“Now, look Dale. It’ll look really great with the red and white in the front with all white on the tree. The whole theme is red and white downstairs and outside. I put the colored lights upstairs to make her happy, but she does not get to run the whole house. The whole holiday. It’s for me, too. And, I want the lights to – you know – coordinate. Is that too much to ask? I mean, we don’t want Maddie to turn into a bossy bitch, do we?”

“Right, Jesus, Kels, this just seems . . . Ok. Whatever. Fuck it.”

 

February 8

“Hi! Anyone home?”

“You’re late. Dale: the lights.”

“Dadddydaddydaddydaddydaddy! Our lights match the Valentime streamers at preschool! They are so valentimey!”

“Dale. They are Christmas lights for God’s sake. They need to come down.”

“You heard her, Kels. They are valentimey, right, pumpkin?”

“They need to come down today, Dale. The neighbors are judging us. Christ, they are candy cane colors not Valentine’s Day colors.”

“They are valentimes, Mommy, really they are. We have white and red and pink all over our room!”

“Kelsey, I don’t care what the goddam neighbors think. I put those lights up against my will, and now they will stay up through valentinesValentine’s Day – hell, through the end of the month – maybe till fucking St. Patrick’s Day.  This holiday is not just about you – it’s about Maddie, too. Anyway, Christ almighty, t’s not even seventeen fucking degrees out there, and I am not getting on a ladder in the snow. Valentimes lights, right Maddie?”

“Yay! Daddy! Valentimes lights”

“Right, Jesus, Dale, this just seems . . . Ok. Whatever. Fuck it.”

What’re You Gonna Do?

This weekend youngest son was belittled. Not just in a hormone-driven-middle-school-hallway-lashing-out-because-you’re-there kind of way. By adults. Purposefully.

I did not hop right up and go out there and dress them down. I didn’t knock on their door and demand reparations. Later, I thought of writing one of those open letters. The kind addressed to a certain category of person that the writer expects people to read and identify with, but that category of person never reads nor identifies. But, that’s not where I ended up. And, as a result, I have ended up here: I failed.

thistleThis is what happened: Sunday afternoon youngest son took the dog out. When he did so, evidently one of our neighbors (we have lots – we live in a condo) thought that the way that son was preventing dog from eating everything on the ground was too rough.  (It may have been; I wasn’t there. Dalmatians will eat everything they sniff if we aren’t careful, and then they poop it out in unexpected ways and places – in short, it’s not pretty, and as they say: an ounce of prevention.)

Well, these adult neighbors yelled at youngest son, called him “princess,” and “little shit” threatened to “take your dog away.” Not teenagers. Adults.

Son came inside. Reported this to me and my response was, “What did you do?” I do try to get as many sides to the story as possible. He told me he had forcefully pushed the dog away from eating dirt and pulled him into the house. I had him demonstrate. Okay. “What did you say back to them?” I asked.

At this point he broke down in tears. “Mom, you don’t get it. They were grown-ups. They were mean to me.” He wanted me to hurl invectives and threaten bodily harm should their eyes ever glance our direction again. He didn’t realize that adults can be real bastards even (sometimes especially) to kids. He needed me to don my boxing gloves and knock some heads. Kick some ass. “Mom, what’re you gonna do?” was his plaintive sob.

Indeed, what was I going to do? What was I going to do? I talked through the situation with him; I coached him on alternative responses he might use for future reference; I hugged him; I scolded the dog for being a bottom-dwelling scum sucker.

What I didn’t do was go seek an altercation with these neighbors. That’s what son wanted me to do. And, on one hand, I feel like maybe I should have. On the other hand, I feel like people spoiling for a fight don’t deserve to get what they want.

You see the world seems extra full of people who are looking for something to complain about – something to fight about – something to litigate about – something to bitch about. I don’t want to be one of those people; I don’t want my sons to be those kinds of people. Furthermore, I don’t want to encourage or indulge those people. I want them to be shut down because the world refuses to interact with them on that low level at which they operate.

That’s all well and good. As I re-read and revise this, I realize that I am right. I also realize that – by son’s standards – I failed him. He wanted me to stand up for him that afternoon by going toe-to-toe with these adult bullies.

The thing is, though, that in doing that, I would have modeled behavior I don’t believe in; and, sinking to the lowest common daisiesdenominator cannot be the answer (despite how certain political candidates act). So, I forced him to look for lessons he could learn from this situation. I encouraged him to consider his actions and reactions. We even talked about what he might have said to someone if he were the adult.

I can stand up to bullies. I will stand up to bullies, but I sincerely hope the people across the street were just having a bad day. I’m trying to cultivate daisies instead of thistles.

Join me.

The One With Lots of Moments

“I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.”

When my older two boys were young, Thursday nights were for pizza, Seinfeld and Friends, and Legos.  When middle son was home this past Christmas break, “I’ll Be There for You” played more than once. More than ten times, actually. Tonight I am sitting at home alone (youngest is at show choir rehearsal), and I have 3,439,656 things I need to do. What am I doing? Getting teary and watching “Friends” reruns.

calvin and hobbes.precious

Let me be clear: I am not going to tell anyone that the days when my boys were young were the best days of my life, but they were fun, messy, screamy, muddy, happy, sandy, wet, teary, wordy, joyful, sleepless, soccer-filled, sad, book-lined, Barneyful, and those days went by all too fast. Now, I am the mother of three young men.

Do I miss their little boy days? Not really. How about those awkward pre-teen years? Nope. The struggling middle school and high school years? Not at all.  All of those days define who they are now just as much they give shape to me. Perhaps now that our shared history centers around college breaks and text messages, I’m nostalgic.  Maybe I just now have had a minute to catch my breath and realize that certain parts of our lives are over. And maybe I’m a little sad about that.

Don’t misunderstand. I am interested in the unique projects that eldest son is working on. I am happy that middle son is in college, doing well, and is busy if not stressed in his endeavors. Youngest son is in middle school, and he is blessedly in show choir rather than baseball. These are all good things.

As I think about the close my first half-century,  I am forced to re-examine who I am and how I spend my time. Refusing invitations and staying home with the boys was easy for me. Clinging to every day of summer and winter and spring school breaks came naturally to all of us. Now, by and large, it’s just me, and I get to see whether or not I gave up the unessential or if I did, indeed, give up myself.

Having the time and freedom to be and develop myself  is problematic and intoxicating. I know there are women who transition from being a mom of kids at home to a mom of college kids to grandma quite fluently – albeit not necessarily easily. In reality, I’m alone a lot – probably a little too much. The chaos of three sons has fled, replaced by the complacency of a jaded 14 year-old. Frustration sets in when I remind myself that I have only a few minutes until that kid goes off to do his own thing, too. But still, I’m exhilarated because right now is kind of like being a teenager who can drink, has no curfew, and can join any clubs she wants.

Really, there’s just as much to balance and participate in now as there was when the boys were little; it’s just different. A couple friends of mine have mourned when they had hysterectomies. They had no intentions of having any more children – it was just a lock on a door – no going back. Another friend mourned the sale of her first house; her family needed the space, but she knew the sweetness of the days in that house would never come again. Moments come and go, and it isn’t until they’ve gone that we realize they aren’t coming back.

calvin and hobbes.changesWherever we are, we might want to have a look around, wrap ourselves in the present, realizing that as soon as we get comfortable life will change. Children will grow. Marriages will be proposed. Houses will sell. Opportunities will show up.

Join me.