9

Parent-Teacher Abandonment Week

The week of parent-teacher conferences strikes fear in the heart of every…well, teacher and parent.

Teachers spend weeks preparing, evaluating, observing, and writing. Parents realize a few days before that the whole freaking week includes early release day.

And the precarious balance of pickup and dropoff and playdate and aftercare and work and meals and life are thrown off.

Wait, that’s just me? Um…of course I’m just kidding. Having to change my life to pick up my child 70 minutes early for five days straight is a joy that knows no bounds.

Blerg.

I hate parent-teacher conference week. Of course I appreciate all the effort our teachers pour into making the secret world of common core bare unto my family. It makes me a little weepy each time a teacher writes me a long editorial about how wonderful my son is to have in class, how kind he is to other children, and adorable and welcome are his personality quirks. Lovely. Makes me want to live at school so I can see more of that version, and less of the home-study (read: version.

But I digress. My boys’ schools overlap for exactly two hours, and when the eldest is out early, I have exactly one hour in which to do my eleventy billion tasks. This week is the first time I’ve emailed a client to say I’m going to miss a deadline.

But even better? I forgot to tell the carpool family today that it was an early release day. My friend called me at the preschool (where I was cheerfully pretending to be cheerful with preschoolers) at regular pick up time and asked where my son was.

Quick note: having a responsible adult tasked with my child’s well-being call and ask where my child is instantly liquified all my vital organs.

It took a beat or two to remember about early release days. I told her to check the office.

She called right back. He’s fine. He was in the office. Because of my intense failings as a human.
I asked her to put him on the phone.

Tiny little voice, that sounds more five than eight, greets me. “Hi, Mom.”

“Oh, bub, I’m so sorry. I completely forgot about the early day and I didn’t tell Shelly.”

“It’s okay.”

“Did you have something to do? A book to read?”

“No.” He sounds almost chipper. Regular voice, regular cadence, regular Peanut.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

He’s fine. He was fine and he is fine. I hung up and went outside to “get a broom to clean up,” by which I mean, “text Shelly my sorrow and cry painful, guilty tears.” I made it to three stores and placed two orders to arrange his soccer team’s end of the year party. I just didn’t bother with the whole “maintaining my child’s safety and sense of security” thing. Details.

Tonight during dinner, when we each talked about our favorite moment, and biggest challenge and solution, Peanut had a favorite and a challenge. Neither involved being abandoned for an hour.

Because I can let exactly nothing go until I’ve talked it to death, I asked him while we emptied the dishwasher whether he was worried in that hour in the office.

Nope. He said he knew early pickup was unusual, he knew it was Shelly’s day, and he knew she always remembers. And he knows that someone will always come.

He seems disappointingly unaffected by my massive parenting failure.

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I don’t know where to go from here. Do I just, you know, carry on with life as normal? (I mean, obviously with extra efforts spent informing all childcare providers of my child’s actual schedule.) Isn’t there some sort of penance for having forgotten my child, leaving him unexpectedly and horribly in the care of trusted professionals while he waits, seemingly endlessly, for a whole hour?

Hair shirt? Self flagellation? Strained relationship that lasts until he graduates from college?

Something

4

Craftsman

My eight-year-old son walked through the garage the other day, and stopped in front of the silver toolbox.

“Craftsman?” he asked. “Shouldn’t it be Craftsperson?”

I’m working to raise feminists. And that means, to me, getting them to see injustice and call it out. See labels that limit and call them out. Change them.

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So in some ways I smirked and thought, “Well, I’m done. I won at parenting.”

But feminism doesn’t end with noticing. The question isn’t much without some attempts at an answer.

So I asked him, “Why do you think?”

“Maybe it’s really old and it’s from when people thought women didn’t do things as well as men.”

“Some things,” I suggested.

“Some things,” he said.

“Maybe. Why else?”

He thought for a while and couldn’t come up with anything.

“The interesting thing,” I said, “is that it’s pretty new. It’s from right before you were born, so long after Americans decided that women hace the right to vote, read, have jobs outside the home, have jobs inside the home, and be the bosses of companies. That box is from after people all noticed that women are just as human as men.”

“Oh. [beat] So do they sell a Craftswoman box?”

“Nope. They sell Craftsman. And after all these years, their company name hasn’t changed. Either they don’t notice how women might feel about being excluded, or they don’t care.”

He didn’t say anything.

And I didn’t say anything.

The Craftsman name was registered in 1927. For a long time they had incentive to change the name, since Craftsman was associated with quality. But that reputation is in freefall. Craftsman is facing extinction, but also faces massive brand equity losses if they change the name.

So Craftsperson becomes a strategic talk I don’t need to have with an eight-year-old. (Didn’t keep me from having that discussion, though, later. Over dinner. Because I’m fun mom and brand-naming mom, all rolled into one.)

I’m glad my son can call out gender conservatism. I hope he will be able to call out cis- and hetero-normativity, too. And rail against them. And I’m glad we talked about it. But sometimes, it feels as though nothing is going to change. Not with just noticing and talking.

11

The boy who ruined Santa

Today at the playground, I overheard my son bickering with his friends. All I caught was the tail end, which threw me into damage control mode.

“He is, too. MOM! Is it true that Santa is still alive and lives in the North Pole?”

Oh, dear Venus, no. Please don’t be having this conversation. And not just because it’s four days after Halloween and at least one of you should be ashamed for joining the likes of the big box stores that are cramming holiday pressure as early as October.

actual holiday catalogs that arrived today and cats fighting over them.

actual holiday catalogs that arrived today and cats fighting over them.

A defiant Butterbean stood, hands on his hips, in the middle of the sand, holding court with his adorable, blindsided, angry friends. I rushed over, trying to make it seem like no big deal, and the other four-year-olds tried to listen as I talked. To my son I whispered, “Everyone gets to believe what they want, and we don’t tell them they’re wrong. The story of Santa is about giving and kindness and magic, and some people remember how kind Santa was and they want to give to those who need. But some families feel that magic more and say that Santa is still alive and lives in the North Pole. That’s okay for them to say. And our story is okay for us to say. Everyone gets to believe what they want. We are right for us and they are right for them.”

“No,” he said.

Succinct. Bold. I’ll give him that. Intrinsic sense of justice, firm grasp of the concept of black and white. He has a strong future ahead.

But, and I’m not just saying this because the preschool parents are going to absolutely murderize me for parenting the kid who doesn’t believe Santa is actively watching and list-making, Butter needs to learn the nuance of belief, and of respect of belief. He needs to be okay with people thinking something different from what he thinks.

Peanut, his older brother, took very well to the idea of shrugging, and telling friends, “okay.” He is, by nature, a watcher. He observes and takes it all in, but doesn’t always engage. When people tell him about Santa or God or the tooth fairy, he just says, “okay.” He certainly doesn’t correct people when they’re wrong. (He tells me long stories about how other people, who do correct others, are boorish. But I don’t think he uses the word boor. Yet. Give me time.) Peanut never told any of the kids at school that he thinks Santa is just a story. I’ll ask him this year what the third-grade conversations are like. I don’t feel too protective of nine-year-olds. They can read and a shocking number of them have their own iPads. They’ll know about Santa soon enough.

I don’t want my children to squash other kids’ hopes and dreams. Some families tell the Santa story to cultivate the magic of the season, and I want them to feel good about that. I also want to feel good about what I teach my kids, because I have every right to believe something, even if it doesn’t conform to dominant culture.

I do think it’s upsetting that generations of parents have tried to coerce certain behaviors from their children by threatening them with Santa. Blackmail isn’t a kind way to parent. And I do recall quite clearly, after learning Santa isn’t real, thinking that nothing in the world is stable if I couldn’t trust the stories my parents told. I know they wanted to share the magic of the myth, and they meant well. My mom still gives me a gift from Santa. It frustrates me for a moment, until I remember it’s her right to find magic wherever she wants to.

And that’s the point of what we teach our kids. Because Santa is tradition. And family traditions are important whether December is about Jesus or Santa or Macabes or Solstice. We have to respect each others’ right to believe. Believe in magic or God or triumph over the night. Or belief that your parents will tell the truth.

Belief is good.

And the magic of the Santa story is powerful, so I don’t want to take it away from anyone. The idea of someone who gives selflessly to everyone is lovely. The idea of someone who reifies quantum physics theory and is everywhere at once is even more lovely.

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In our family, we teach our kids that the idea of Santa is an old legend about a man who gave to those in need. Not everyone. He gave coats to those who were cold, coats. He gave food to the hungry. And in celebration of Santa’s giving, we bring food and toys to the animal shelter, and socks and toiletries to the homeless shelter. We give backpacks of goodies to the homeless around town.

I don’t, however, tell the kids to expect that a flying sled will bring us presents from an uninhabitable part of the globe. Because I believe in magic and theater and natural wonder, but I don’t believe in lying. If Santa wants to buy or make and wrap and deliver, he’s welcome to bring gifts on over. And he’ll get all the applause. Otherwise, I work for the money, I choose the gifts, I force the boys’ dad to wrap them, and I’m taking the credit.

I felt awful at the playground today. And I apologized to the other mothers. (Note: I’m not being assumptively gendered. The only parents there today were moms. No grandparents, no dads, no aunts or uncles or nannies. Praised be rejection of normativities. But they were actually moms.) I told them we’re working on respecting others’ beliefs and traditions.

And they told me some kid last already told the four-year-olds that Santa isn’t real. So my son isn’t so much ruining the story as planting additional seeds of doubt that will blossom in a few years when they really lose faith in what their parents tell them.

Knowing that someone beat my kid to the decimation of Santa feels a bit better. Not just because we didn’t kill Santa for friends’ kids. But because they respect our beliefs, too. And they teach their kids the same thing we do: “every family believes what they need to, and what we believe is just right for us.”

6

Measure D

Peanut cast his first ballot in a national election when he was 2.5 years old. He didn’t pull any levers, because that’s illegal. But he was sitting on my hip in a sling while I voted. And I’ve been taking both boys to vote, despite my preference for early voting, to every election since.

I want to teach them voting is important. And I focus on reading them ballot initiatives and discussing candidates’ positions so they understand why people vote different ways, and why every vote matters.

Express yo'self

Express yo’self

We’ve been seeing dozens of signs on front lawns, a handful of mailing supplements, and billboards aplenty. No on D. Yes on D. And Peanut wants to know what’s with all the hubbub, Bub.

I talked to him about the measure itself. Measure D is Berkeley’s Tax on Distributors of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages initiative. It’s been framed as Berkeley vs. Big Soda. And as local government sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong. The truth is somewhere in between, as is always the case with ballot measures.

I told Peanut that the basic idea is, if this measure passes, when you buy a soda, you have to pay more. A few cents. And that money accumulates and pays for the government’s costs for healthcare and services. That the people who wrote the bill want the cost of making a choice that hurts your body higher so they don’t have to pay so much later to help bodies that are hurt by soda.

It’s not that simple, of course. But he’s eight. Voting needs to be simplified a bit when you’re eight.

Since Measure D taxes sugar-sweetened beverages, it doesn’t tax artificially-sweetened beverages, which studies have suggested are actually worse for bodies than sugar-sweetened beverages are. And I told Peanut this, that the tax isn’t for all sodas, or all unhealthy drinks. Just sugar-added drinks.

He shrugged. “If it’s bad for you, and the tax is only a few cents, you should vote for it.”

“Maybe. But if the goal is public health, why not chemically-sweetened sodas? Why not juice? Why not tax sugar itself?”

“Because,” he said. “Sugar can be used a little or a lot, but in soda it’s a lot. And soda doesn’t have protein or fat, just sugar.”

Now we’re talking, buddy.

We’ve gotten too many mailers from the Beverage Industry, which whine that the measure doesn’t tax sugar-added coffee drinks. It does tax them if they’re in a bottle on a shelf, but not if you order one freshly made. But the goal is not taxing sugar; the goal is to tax sugar-sweetened processed beverages. Adding sugar to coffee later is optional, even with frothy $5 coffee drinks with syrups and whipped cream. You can order those without syrup or whipped cream. You can’t order a Coke or Pepsi without syrup, nor can you order a Starbucks bottled, shelf-stable thingamabob without sugar. Because those drinks are processed and packaged with the sugar already added, they are, in fact, different. Soda manufacturers don’t have to like that difference, but it is still a difference.

So what about the public health benefit of reduced consumption and increased tax revenue for health education?

There’s no way to determine that consumption will go down based on a tax. People still smoke, despite tobacco taxes. But they do smoke less. People still drive, despite heavily taxed gasoline. They drive a smidge less when gas is over $5 a gallon. But the increased revenue from Measure D’s penny-per-ounce tax pays for healthy-eating education, so ideally it will have an aggregate effect where each additional tax collected will further drive down consumption. It might wind up disproportionately taxing poor and less advantaged residents who will drink soda for a variety of reasons, including the low cost offered by federally-subsidized sugar priorities and lack of access to healthy alternatives at neighborhood markets.

I had Peanut read the mailers we keep getting. Clearly, the American Beverage Association seems terrified of this initiative, because they’re pouring enough money into mailings to pay for the education of all Berkeley students ($11 million at last count; I have no idea what that would pay for, but it’s a gobsmacking amount of money to preserve the low cost of soda and makes me mad enough to vote for D regardless of the nuances).

The marketing efforts focus on how residents must be confused about Measure D.

Confused? Marketer, Berkeley has one of the most educated populations in the country. Don’t you worry your sweet corporate head about our confusion. We’ll be okay. Across the Bay, San Francisco is deciding a similar measure. Don’t worry your CCM degree about them, either. They’re pretty smart, too.

my son trying to escape Berkeley for San Francisco

my son trying to escape Berkeley for San Francisco

What would make Measure D successful despite its limitations is if it cracks the door for governments to push food producers toward actual food rather than lab-facsimiles of food. Ideally, this will get us talking about federal subsidies for sugar and corn syrup. Hopefully, Measure D will spur a diet soda tax. Perhaps Measure D will get us talking about the artificial colors, banned in other countries and in U.S. cosmetics, but legal in our food. Maybe Measure D will get some effort behind the nutrition programs in Berkeley, where we’re teaching our kids to grow, prepare, and eat healthful foods but face smaller and smaller budgets.

If nothing else, Measure D has allowed some good talks in our house about legislation, about nutrition, and about why it’s important to vote.

Go vote! Unless you’re eight. In that case, wait ten years. Sorry.

0

Language Lessons

My preschooler loves his Spanish teacher. He sings the songs she teaches him and he tells the stories she shares.

Sometimes it's hard to be so super

Sometimes it’s hard to be so super

And he tells me the words he learns.

“Mom, did you know what mutara means? It’s Spanish for burrito.”

Um, no, it’s not.

“Honey, I’m pretty sure burrito is a Spanish word. It means little burro, or little donkey, and where I grew up, a burro was a HUGE burrito in a homemade tortilla.”

“Hugenormous?”

“Yes.”

“Well, did you know what fremata means? It’s Spanish for taco.”

I laughed. Because, again, nuh-uh.

in his world, every day is Halloween

in his world, every day is Halloween

Tonight he told me has some words to teach me. I waited, eagerly.

“I have a new word for sausage. Ready? That word is lentils.”

I started laughing, and he kept going.

“The word for lentils is strawberries. The word for strawberries is grapes. The word for banana is beer. The word for wine is stove. The word for counter is step stool. And that’s all. Mom, laugh about the counter word.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Once the wine became a stove I grew contemplative.”

“Know what my word for that is, Mom? It’s minkie.”

Sounds about right, buddy.

8

Love blogging? Look behind the curtain.

I attended and spoke at WordCamp San Francisco this year, and the experience, community, content, and implications blew my mind.

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Holy moly, did I ever.

I attended the technical sessions and understood, genuinely, 20% of what I heard in the weekend’s presentations. Okay, maybe 15%. I don’t know the acronyms, I don’t know the language. But I solved those small technicalities with a post-session questions to the friendly people around me. [I, in return, explained to them what recycled leather is. Misnomer. It’s upcycled leather scraps, not recycled anything. In fact, recycled leather is the plywood of fabrics. Or the Pringles of fabrics. Or…okay, that’s enough.)

More generally than not knowing the vernacular of development, though, I don’t know the thought processes behind building platforms and plugins. I’ve never thought about the structure on which my blogs reside.

Have you?

There’s the base structure of the web, of content management, of plugin modifications, of things I don’t have words for. I’ve simply never even thought about how the technology works. And I don’t think I’m alone.

What if you parked at your house every day, put your key in the door, and instantly it was the next morning? You’re refreshed from sleep and food, you’ve changed your clothes and cleaned up. But you have no idea how. You don’t know what the inside of a house looks like, you don’t know how plumbing and electricity work. You don’t know there a distinct structures for food, sleep, movement, entertainment. You don’t know about hot showers.

[Dude. Hot showers completely foreign and inaccessible? This metaphor is totally creeping me out.]

It would feel weird coming home and leaving again, right? With a black hole in which your living-slash-resting-slash-eating processes happen?

That’s now how I now feel about blogging. I feel as though I’m missing half of my blogging life by creating content and publishing it, without knowing the structures on which my blogs reside.

so many questions, even though I took this photo

And I want to learn the guts. I want to learn the language of coding, I want to teach that language to bloggers. Or, at least, I want to build/supplement/fortify a really awesome bridge from developers to bloggers, so we can consider the people behind the code-poetry on which our posts live. If we know that there are different rooms for different functions, if we actually choose the food instead of just fueling with whatever we’re given, if we learn the glory of a hot shower and know that we could, if we want, choose a bath instead, wouldn’t that bring more life to the ways in which we publish our writing, photography, and images?

You choose what type of paper you write on, right? You know what you do if you have to scribble on napkins and envelopes, then save them for later, right? You know how to translate your late night, sleep-drunk scribblings into posts? What about the digital napkins and envelopes and notebooks and Moleskins?

All through the conference—in Boone Gorges’s compelling call to contribute, volunteer, and consider pro bono code the same way we all volunteer in our communities; in Andrew Nacin’s talk about globalization and how to think about more than just language and access but to understand why those are important; through Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word address about developing the future and democratizing publishing; in Mickey May’s celebration of announcing you don’t know and learning from the community of developers; in Josepha Hayden’s talk on writing for two audiences (the one that reads posts and the one that crawls them for search engines); in Tracy Levesque’s presentation on how to effectively teach software use–genuinely smart and engaging people talked about making code useful. For users.

Users.

I’ve never been called a user before. In my world I’m a writer, an editor, a blogger, a creative. I know my role in the agency world, consultant world, and publishing world. I have literally no clue about my role in the blogging world, despite having been a blogger since 2008. At WordCamp I felt like an exotic animal sitting in on the zookeepers’ meeting. They certainly respected my role and wanted to honor it. But I never realized brilliant people were building and supporting my blog for me. I assumed the toys and plants and prey staged in my exhibit were just there, but smart and resourceful zookeepers placed them there. Zookeepers? Blogkeepers? My extended metaphor is tiring me.

I’m used to talking with bloggers about writing. I’m not used to thinking about how my blogging behaviors affect the platform on which I publish.

Have you?

Your developers have.

Take a bow, Crew, Stage Managers, Lighting, Sound, Production, Costume, Marketing. Take a bow, Developers. You really have revolutionized publishing, democratizing what used to be a highly privileged act, and made it free and public. You have a lot more work to do, I know. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Thank you WordCamp. You rocked my world, and I shall now do my best to bring that sense of wonder and engagement to bloggers.

14

Did I do something right?

If I were to categorize my blog posts, I’m guessing 10% are literature and bookishness, 70% are teeth-clenched comedy about how I barely made it through the day with my adorable and irrepressible children, 10% are raw and unfiltered posts in which I admit to being completely overwhelmed by life, death, and the days when those two coincide, and 10% are crowdsourcing pleas in which I seek solutions for managing to stay alive during one of my indomitable children’s…um…phases.

I don’t know yet that I’ve posted enough “I do believe I might have done something right” posts to actually register on any NaptimeWriting highlights reel. This Halloween might be different.

Berkeley upcycles its trash into art. Hard to feel like I'm #winning next to that.

Berkeley upcycles its trash into art. Hard to feel like I’m #winning next to that.

I woke this morning totally panicked about our Halloween policy. The first few years, with just Peanut, we adhered to a “have two pieces a day until it’s gone,” policy, and despite relieving the bag substantially in the evenings, Halloween wore on WAY too long into November. Once we had two children old enough to carry a treat bag, we offered the idea of trading candy for books or toys, but Peanut, the oldest, would have none of it. We settled on a friend’s approach: two days of unfettered access, then all the candy goes away.

This year the kids loved the plan. They knew unfettered access still meant they had to eat three meals a day, all veggies and protein. They knew this was non-negotiable.

But they were like crazed maniacs on Halloween night, sprinting from house to house to maximize their haul. The four-year-old dashed up stairs, knocked on doors, beamed his brightest “HappyHalloweenthankyouandhaveagoodnight” as he grabbed all he could hold. And at 7:00 November 1, both kids were leaping on my bed, hollering, “go make eggs so we can have protein and then eat all our candy!”

I freaked out a bit.

I texted my most awesomely conscientious mom friends to ask their policy. One allows a single piece a day, and sneaks out the egregiously colored stuff. Another negotiated a trade of all but four pieces in exchange for a book.

Mmmmmm. Homemade caramel.

Mmmmmm. Homemade caramel.

I mentioned those candy-management options to my kids, who laughed and, I’ll be honest, openly judged those parents aloud for being “too unfair.” (I talked to them about fairness and candy and starving children. My grandmother would be proud.) After wolfing down their eggs, my sugar-fiend cherubs agreed to take the most toxic of their stash and trade it for the brands I trust. I stocked up on candy made with natural ingredients, colored with fruit, sweetened with organic sugar, and made sustainably so I could give their dad the stuff that will color your liver for months. (What? It’s not rude to give your ex toxic candy, right? Not the stuff with razor blades; just partially hydrogenated oils.) So some of what the boys devoured at 7:35am was candy that they’d already selected from my Alternative Treat stash.

But the haul was still grotesque. Gorgeous to the candy-loving child/teen/adult in me. Disgusting to the parent I have been posing as for almost nine years.

While they ate we talked about red dye #3 and red #40, blue #2, yellows #5 and 6. Coal tar, guys. Those colors, in more than 30% of your candy, are made from coal tar. Some are banned in other countries and some are banned in the U.S. in cosmetics, but not in food.

“Don’t care,” they shrugged. “it’s two days of the year. We never buy this kind of candy, we always eat well, and we worked hard to get it.” My eight year old genuinely said these things.

They wore me down. Not because they’re right, but because I am easily pushed off the perch from which I fear going too far toward the self-righteous Berkeley I both celebrate and disdain. I’m also freaking exhausted from all the negotiations and battles and teachable moments about brushing teeth and not calling names and being kind and embracing difference and standing up for anyone who’s being pushed around and treasuring people over things and …I’m seriously just exhausted. I was willing to look the other way while my kids are coal tar artificial colors, child-slave-labor chocolate, and highly processed high fructose corn syrup.

So they got as much candy as they wanted between meals today.

For the record, they were miserable cretins all day: whining, annoying each other, throwing fits, and flitting around like hummingbirds. I kept telling them that their behavior told me next year should be the Halloween of Two Pieces Total.

And then tonight, the big one called me downstairs when I finished the four-year-old’s bath. He showed me more than 60% of his remaining candy in a pile. Candy he likes as well as candy he likely wouldn’t have eaten. all the duplicates and several brands he knows his dad likes. All lumped in a big pile to trade. “What would this get me?” he asked. It was such a significant gesture from a candy hoarder (he keeps a stash of candy that remains uneaten from random holidays stored in a clandestine backpack; and he asks once every few months if he can eat one of his bits of treasure), such an unbelievable change of heart, that I told him he could pick a book and a toy for his efforts.

The little one, apparently done freaking out about how his socks never quite line up across his toes correctly, stomped down the stairs and surveyed Candy Central. He saw what his brother was trading away, and he shoved his pile at me. “I’m done with this. I don’t even want to trade. I’m just done.” He kept one bag of organic, vegan gummy bears.

"Don't worry, mom. We don't need candy, we have kale. And we don't need toys, we have cardboard."

“Don’t worry, mom. We don’t need candy, we have kale. And we don’t need toys, we have cardboard.”

Both my kids had way too much candy today. They each likely had 30 pieces of candy.

But they’re done. Done. They don’t care any more. The novelty has worn off. They want LEGOs and books, instead.

I don’t want to say this too loudly, or anything, but I might have inadvertently done something right this Halloween.

6

Finding Your Blog Voice: A Preview

I got caught up in federal grant proposal season and didn’t tell you that I’m going to be speaking at WordCamp San Francisco this weekend!

I’ll post highlights from my talk either here or on my business site, but for now I want to offer a few tidbits and ask what you think about, or want to know about, blog voice.

photo credit: Scott Robinson via creative commons attribute license

photo credit: Scott Robinson via creative commons attribute license

I believe that voice, for writers, photographers, artists, and bloggers, simmers when you cook a topic in style and passion. When you choose what you want to communicate, form it in the way you, a human with experiences and opinions, want to convey it, and inform that communication with the reasons that drive you to write/photograph/draw/blog…that concoction is your voice. And it’s repeatable when you focus on the how and the why of what you choose to talk about, as long as that style is your genuine voice, your impetus is honest, and your style gets out of the way of your truth.

Wordy, I know. I have a couple of days to make that more clear. Luckily, between my slides and my tendency to present in monosyllabic caveperson grunts, my experience with and ideas about voice should be clearer in the talk.

I have really cool examples, too.

So what do you want to hear about blog voice? If I can, I’ll add it to the talk before I present and subsequently post.

Requests?

8

A good solid pout

Last week, Butterbean had a traumatic crash. We were running, despite his protests, to get me some energy for a long day of obligations. I was pushing his scooter when he hit a big bump and fell on his face. The big piece of meat fauceting blood off his chin threw me into an adrenaline-high that lasted the whole day. I was exhausted that night, sore from tensing everything, including my guilt muscles.

The next morning I got up early to run so I would be to the soccer game on time. A glorious 10 mile run at dawn. Too short, I pouted silently, but exactly right to prioritize my son.

I fell on a relatively uncomfortable asphalt hill trying to take a shortcut to Peanut’s game—braced my fall with my outstretched arm and likely tore something in my shoulder. I’ll see the doctor tomorrow, but decent amounts of pain and very limited mobility don’t bode well for a quick recovery. It’s a shoulder, nature’s most ludicrous of joints.

Rice University image via Creative Commons

Rice University image via Creative Commons

It’s been three days of looking on the bright side, caring for a stitched up preschooler, and trying to protect my injured arm, I’m officially worn out. I’m pouting.

Pain brings out my nastiest, grouchiest, most petulant side. I hate being injured. I have plans. I want to run and cook and write and chase my kids. I want to not regret having a stick shift and to wash three heads of hair without thinking about it. Guess how much you use your dominant arm for when you make your living on a computer and spend a good portion of your waking hours with children. I’ll help you on this one: a lot.

I’m a single parent trying to function with one arm. And that’s not a big deal, given that it’s temporary and I’ll be fine eventually. I’m lucky. Other people live with chronic pain, other people live with altered mobility…a few weeks isn’t going to be a big deal and I want to kick myself for whining.

I can make mac-n-cheese and scrambled eggs for several weeks if I have to. I can give up fencing for a few months or years. I will get back to running, maybe even in time for the race I’m already registered for. I can have the boys’ dad come over and change sheets like I did yesterday. And he can help with pumpkin carving.

But I’m not in the mood for this. Even with daily gratitude and warm bright smiles at everyone who needs one, I just can’t find the cheerful. Joyful, yes. Cheerful, no.

I have a big presentation this weekend, and I’m excited. I’m a demonstrative presenter and I like gesticulating. So I’m now rehearsing with one arm pinned against my side. I’ll be fine, it’ll be a good talk. But I’m still grouchy at my stupid decision. I gauged the slope of the hill and thought I could make it. I knew I probably couldn’t, but I live most days by the skin of my teeth, so I figured I could do this.

Idiot.

And I fell flat on my face rushing from on “should” to another. I got up, brushed myself off, shrugged off the blood dripping slowly from my knee, and went to the soccer game. I took more than 200 photos and chatted with several parents.

They’re delightful. We’re so lucky to have such kind people in our lives.

I’m just tired of all the DUTIES I must perform. I’m so exhausted from loading meals with vitamins and fiber and whole grains. I’m tired of driving people places. I’m tired of worrying about what comes next. I’m tired of deadlines and clients and having four minutes to myself a day. I’m tired. That’s not unusual. In fact, it’s rather droll of me to even say aloud, given how terribly sleep-deprived most of us are.

I fully acknowledge how ludicrous to write in a late-night blog post that I’m tired. But, I believe we’ve been over this: I’m so g*ddamned tired.

The man who drove us to the hospital to get Butter’s stitches lives several miles from us (we were on a run, remember, and too-far-too-drive-my-kid-to-the-hospital far from home when it happened). Our hero was so incredibly kind and selfless that I brought his family a thank you note and gift certificate. His favorite team is in the World Series tonight and I wanted to make their day easier with some Zachary’s. I handed the envelope to his wife, who told me I didn’t have to do this. We fell in front of the right house, she said. “This is what he does,” she insisted. And she pointed to my shoulder, in a sling, and said, “It’s time to slow down, you know.”

The idea is so foreign to me I can’t quite articulate why I found her insistence at once sweet and ridiculous.

How the heck can I do that?

I’m scrambling to get enough work to pay the bills, and I’m filling up every waking minute with obligations. I am not giving my kids enough, my creative work languishes in files untouched for months. There’s a long list of people I want to have over for brunch, which is genuinely the way I show love. I haven’t seen my favorite human on the planet, my grandma, in almost a month.

How exactly am I supposed to slow down?

Last night, in pain and unable to take any more sibling bickering, I lay down on the couch to take a break. I’d never actually sat on this couch. The old one got a big hole from two children pretending to be ninjas and launching themselves off it, so I scoured craigslist for a daybed. Our guest room has been rented out, and it’s nice to have a couch friends or family can actually sleep on. But we’ve had it for several weeks and I’d never sat on it.

I was lying supine, protecting my shoulder, for about a minute before I fell asleep. At 6:00 pm with my kids fighting 20 feet away about a frisbee, I just passed out.

I don’t know if my exhaustion is physical, emotional, or mental. Or all three. I cleared a huge deadline and went straight into two more, smaller deadlines. I helped my little guy get stitched up and then hours later screwed up my precarious sense of wholeness. The separation is still a logistical struggle and I’m overcommitted. All my runs, except the long run on my day without the kids, take place in the presence of a preschooler on a scooter, chasing him at top speed downhill and pushing his full 40 pounds uphill.

How dare I complain…but I can’t not type this: can’t anything be easy?

I’m worried about us. I’m worried that I don’t have enough to offer my kids or myself. I’m worried that I’m trying too hard to keep consulting rather than find a staff job.

I’m worried that if I slow down I’ll lose. Lose what, I’m not sure. But I know the feeling at Mrs. Hero’s suggestion about slowing down felt like panic.

Sheer, unadulterated, panic.

I hope, whatever the doctor says this morning, it involves the words, “do yourself a favor and play this track on the way home…”

8

My love letter to audiobooks

I’d gotten to the point in my midlife when I thought I wouldn’t fall in love again. I’ve had my turns with relationships, and learned something glorious from each. My love for my children teaches me about infinity and about dark human frailties. My love for my friends dances about like dandelion seeds, unpredictable and lovely.

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And until I found you I thought nothing could surprise me.

Friends told me about you. I wasn’t ready, so I didn’t really hear them. Blah blah podcasts, blah blah library downloads. “No, thanks,” I thought. Audiobooks are what my parents listen to when they drive cross country. Books on tape we call them. You can’t hope to get a good story going in the 20 minutes on the way to the increasingly-too-freaking-far-away preschool. I can’t hear a story…really hear…on the way to the grocery store or a meeting.

The kids and I checked out audio CDs for long day trips. King Arthur legend stuff and The Hobbit. Things I didn’t want to read aloud at night. Because that reading is precious. First the back and forth of “little guy chooses a book, then big guy reads from his Just-Right chapter book, then little guy gets another, then big guy reads again…” until we brush teeth. Then the big story after lights out. Well, lights out except for the sea turtle who throws stars on the ceiling, a gift from their uncle that keeps us company all Fall and Winter. Turtle time is big story time…Peanut and I deliberate in the library and in front of our bookcases full of kids’ books. Charlotte’s Web, Phantom Tollbooth, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter. I save those marvelous books for “real” reading: my voice, our mismatched-but-once-inextricably-linked bodies cuddled in the big chair, focused on the spotlighted page that becomes, in the book light’s insistence, a stage on which our nightly story plays out.

Audiobooks were for the stuff I didn’t want to read. That we could finish on a trip to the beach and back, or that took too much work.

Crawling back to the river is too hard. Can't an audiobook do this for me?

Crawling back to the river is too hard. Can’t an audiobook do this for me?

But then I got an email. Two free books to try it out. Any titles you want.

Um…can’t hurt to try? Blind date with an audiobook. I’m not ready for something new, and I don’t foresee love in my future, but I can try. Whatever. Free is good. Novelty is sometimes okay, even for the change-averse.

Oh, good heaven how you bowled me over.

Our first date was in the car, after a client kick-off meeting when I needed to relax a bit. We connected. I laughed. At once I knew we were going to be friends. And when I got home, you came in with me. You followed me around as I set up my desk for the new project, as I planned dinner. You walked with me when it was time to pick up my son at school, and it just felt right. I wasn’t ashamed. I was having a good time.

I knew our relationship would be challenging for my children, and I knew they had to come first, no matter how I was falling for you. I believe very firmly that they shouldn’t meet anyone new in my life right now. They need to know they’re the most important voices in my life. So I hit pause on our new…whatever this is, I don’t dare label it yet because you’re too new and I’m too caught up to be objective…and walked home with my son. And we played and talked and did our family things. Without you. We picked up my younger son and we all went to soccer. Without you. On the pitch we had dinner, the one I had prepared while you were reading to me. And I smiled a silly schoolgirl grin. Because eating now reminded me of great books. And walking reminded me of great books. And the car, that dreaded convenience that gets me to and from the 10,000 places a day we should be? It reminds me of you and how happy you make me.

Predictably, I’ve gotten a bit lax about keeping you and my family separate. Now when I make breakfast you’re with me, reading to me and filling our hectic morning with measured, adult speech where was there was only shrieking and teasing and laughter and whining. And when the kids want something or I have to help them, you steel me for the less-savory of my tasks with your gentle 30-second rewind and your reassuring pause button. “I’ll wait for you,” you seem to say. “Go ahead. Take care of your family. You love them and they love you and I’ll just wait.”

And you do. And when I return, hours or days later, you know just where we left off. You’ve wooed me with humor and impressed me with heart-wrenching moments. You keep me company while I clean, cook, and write invoices. You make carpooling and grocery shopping engaging.

You make me love mindless tasks, something I haven’t felt since I was young and child-free and trying to discern the origins of the Universe while I vacuumed. Though I value what I do for my family as much as I do the tasks I complete for clients, somehow I don’t feel the family-work is enough. Before you, dishes were a necessary waste of time, and they kept me from what I love. Grocery runs were just stupid burdens. Making lunch? A chore.

And now, with you, I love the grocery store. And dishes. Lunches have become intricate and engaging because I can justify seeding a pomegranate and shaping sandwiches. I have to do these tasks with or without you. But you make them interesting. And productive. I know I could try the rest of my life to fight the need to make every waking moment productive, but why? It’s who I am.

And you get that. You love that. You understand me, and, I am here to say loudly and in front of the whole Internet, I love that about you. What I’ve missed most about my old life, my life before kids, is reading. Frequent, barely-pausing-to-blink, all-engrossing engagement in books.

I’m not going to get into semantics. I don’t know if our relationship is reading or if it’s listening or if it’s entertainment. I won’t slow down long enough to care. I don’t do the high-brow/low-brow arguments that graduate school pretty well beats out of readers. And I don’t want to examine yet…oh, heavens, not while our love is still new…what you’re doing to my relationship with music.

Thank you for the three wonderful books you’ve read me over the past two weeks. I hope my intense love continues to grow. I adore you so much I’m willing to share you with others, which is something I could only ever say about my children. You’re welcome to be as compelling as you want and to draw as many people to yourself as you want.

The more the merrier, dear love. Bring ‘em on.

10

One chicken comes home to roost then snowballs and mixes all my metaphors

Well. I knew it would happen. I knew the anti-honeymoon would eventually happen.

I’ve been blogging a bit about how our family is settling into two households and how that has been better for everyone. I’ve made sure to caveat how sad and caveat how hard we’re working. And caveat anything tangential because caveats are my wont.

Not always, of course, but when necessary.

See? They’re like candy. So delicious and so hard to stop.

Anyway. The kids have handled the separation well and have been kinder to each other. Notice how I used the past tense. Because holy guacamole is the older one being mean lately.

He's moving closer and closer to prison, it seems.

He’s moving closer and closer to prison, it seems.

I could blame the separation. I could blame the new school year. I could blame anything, really, but it’s coming down to either he’s headed straight to prison or I’m doing everything wrong.

Those two options pretty much cover it, I think. No other choices.

He’s a wonderful child, full of imagination and scientific logic, generally kind and very funny. His greatest pleasure is making me laugh. So whatever bodysnatcher has a hold of his shell is having a great time, because this child is clearly possessed by an alien, ghoul, monster, or bank CEO.

At least once a day this week he’s yelled in my face that whatever we’re talking about is none of my business, or telling me to shut up. He’s grabbed my arm, hard, to make me understand that he wants me out of his personal space.

And all of this rage has gotten an, “Oh, NO. You can’t talk to me that way. I’ll listen to what you have to say if you take a breath and talk kindly.” He knows he has more power with his hands and his voice down, but he doesn’t care. He knows that he can take a breath or take some time apart from situations that make him mad, but he doesn’t care. He seems to want to make everyone miserable. He has been grabbing his four-year-old brother by the shoulders and squeezing hard, for even slight infractions of what he perceives, at eight years old, as the right way to do things. He’s enforcing the rules with an iron fist, and I don’t like it.

And I tell him “you’re important to this family and your opinion matters, but you may not police other people. Your body is your job, and you are not responsible for anyone else but you. If he makes you mad, walk away. Take a break.”

This usually gets an epithet barked at me. And then a privilege taken away.

Yesterday he bickered with a playdate as though they were siblings, calling each other names (I stopped that kindly) and criticizing each other’s homework habits (I stopped that kindly) and challenging each other on how to play games properly (I told them they could go to separate rooms if they wanted to fight, but that I welcomed them finding solutions together.) It was annoying. At soccer practice, Peanut criticized the same boy for something he did near the goal, and the boy lost it. He pushed Peanut, who pushed back. The coach talked to them and had them talk about what they needed and wanted. Peanut very impressively said, “I don’t like it when you push me, but that doesn’t give me the right to push you.” And then he went home and pushed his brother.

And this morning started the whole cycle again.

You're eight. Life is outrageously easy. Stop it with the assholery.

You’re eight. Life is outrageously easy. Stop it with the assholery.

He’s also having outsized tantrums in which he digs in his heels and simply won’t give up. He sat on the edge of the tub for 45 minutes the other night refusing to brush his teeth because I got too angry with his refusal to floss and gave myself a timeout. He refused to brush until I sat with him. I explained that my kindness had run dry and he was welcome to come in for a long hug when he was done brushing, but that I wasn’t going to sit with him. He finally brushed when I set a timer and told him he had five minutes to get in bed, else be excused from soccer the next day for lack of adequate rest.

I’m weary of this rage from a small boy. I asked him what he needs. I asked if he’s tired or needs a break from soccer or needs extra hugs. He told me needs a family without a brother. I said I hear his frustrations and helped him think of ideas for getting more time away from the little tyrant. He’s been saying for 3 years that he wants a family without a brother, ever since Butter learned to walk. I listen sympathetically, but, quite reasonably, don’t offer to find him a family without a brother. They don’t have a great relationship. Peanut is a rule follower and rule enforcer, and his brother writes his own rules. Peanut hates that little kids can’t do everything as well as he can and don’t heed his every request. He also has the insecure human’s need to make others feel small when he doesn’t feel strong enough. After an hour or so of puzzling out something impressive, he’s magnanimous and kind to his brother. Proud of himself from science class or engineering projects or video game design, he wants to teach and listen and generally beam with pride. But that feeling of pride is too rare to sustain their relationship.

Something is making my son retreat inward and create nothing but Dark Art magic with his considerable brain and usually kind heart.

The possible list of causes are:
All my fault
Mostly my fault
Personality glitch
Entirely due to the separation
Lack of downtime in busy weeks
Mostly due to the separation
Totally my fault.

On the walk to school today, we caught up with a neighbor mom and her kindergartener. Her older son is in Peanut’s class, and I assumed he was home sick. On the walk, though, she told me that he has been impossible lately, refusing to get ready, yelling at her, and expecting way more nannying than a third grader should. She said she was fed up, and when he talked nasty to her this morning, she left him home. His father agreed to stay home long enough for our friend to get the little one to school and back. Peanut’s friend had already missed soccer practice this week due to ragingly bad attitude.

I was so happy I could barely speak. Because her kid’s asshattery can’t be All My Fault. I barely know him. And odds that their mutual ridiculous behavior are collectively All Our Fault are slim. So the list of potential causes shifts to:
Full moon
Lunar eclipse
Early-onset puberty
Toxic chemicals in drinking water that only affects eight-year-olds
Totally my fault, so much so that my ill will affects several blocks in each direction.

Anyone else with a particularly rude eight year old lately? Wanna blame it on me? Or take some of the blame for my kid this week? We could swap responsibility until they’re 30 or so. Or we can all blame it on my failed marriage. That would do wonders for my need to poke that open wound a bit. Hey, we could blame your kid’s nastiness on my kid’s nastiness and vice versa! Come on! It’ll be fun!

2

Make it stop

“You have a new bill. The school carnival is coming up. Your library books are overdue. 50% off two great deals. A note to parents. Fly from $79 one way. Your photos are on their way. Listserv digest. JSTOR daily. School announcement. ICYM. Blog post. Confirm auto billpay. You have a new bill. Kickoff meeting. University Press new release. You’ve been added as a member to the share site. Eye appointment reminder. Reply to your post. Friend in need. You have a new bill. Picture day tomorrow. Half marathon coming soon. Public radio needs you. Congress needs you. Please give money. You have a new bill. Halloween party needs planners.” —one of three inboxes

We all have detritus cluttering our lives. Floating bits of to-do and should-do and hurry-and-do that drift around in our vision and settle as a thick layer of dust on our counters. And books and beloved objects.

But not on our computers. Oh, no. Those get plenty of use.

I’d like a day, as would every single person I know, without emails to return, without lunches to make, without bills and crap and nonsense. I’d really like, as I’m willing to bet most people would, to focus on being my best self, engaging with my family, working hard on the things that make me valuable to society. And I’d love to do that without the flotsam and jetsam of crap that litters my to-do list.

So I delete the unnecessary emails and I unsubscribe from lists I swear I never joined.

And that eats 20 minutes of my day.

I feed the humans and felines in my house and I tidy and I ask them to help and we get the tactical stuff done.

And that eats hours of my day.

I think about the ways in which I can be an advocate and an ally, and I weigh the time or money I would need to contribute.

And I guiltily cut saving the world to 30 minutes of my day.

And I work on client deadlines and dream of a day when I can write my own stuff. I want to work on my book so badly it’s making me itch. But it will be at least a week before I have the time. Because I work for people who will pay me now for my writing.

And to that I willingly give hours of my day.

Transporting small people and navigating their conflicts and helping them learn to talk to each other kindly and reading and playing and cooking…they take up hours of my day. Good use of time. But hours nonetheless.

I don’t know why I keep coming back to this space, but I do. I’ve wanted to commit blogicide so often it’s become normal to think, “well, clearly I’ll never write there again, so do I delete the whole thing or just never go back?”

A flair for the dramatic, but also, I’m beginning to see, a perfectly normal state of being for bloggers.

I’ve had several long-term bloggers tell me that killing your blog and reinventing it is a moral imperative.

So I feel guilty for not writing here, and now also guilty for writing here, my blog 1.0?

I only know that I’m functionally incapable of life without a journal. And for more than six years, this has been my place.

So maybe I should kill the blog or reinvent the blog or abandon the blog or reinvigorate the blog.

But for now, I dash of a quick complaint about my inbox whining at me that it needs more from me. That it wants to be heard. That it needs a glass of water.

Grow up, inbox. I have other things to handle, and you can do it yourself.

8

Mr. or Ms.?

My oldest son, Peanut, was reading to his dad while I read to the youngest. We were spread across my big bed, west to east: 44, 8, 41, 4. And Peanut was reading something mythical that involved Dukes and Duchesses. But he didn’t know what those titles meant. So his dad explained briefly about Prince and Princess versus Duke and Duchess in the way that only postcolonial, anti-feudal Americans can.

credit hotblack via morguefile

The gist of it was: peripheral royalty, different word for each gender.

“What would Jay be?” Peanut asked.

It’s been six months since Jay died. I’ve written about him often, including once since his death.

And in none of those posts did I mention that he was transgendered. Mostly because it’s none of my business. Part of being an ally means that friends who are different from me aren’t marked by what they are or how they self define, but by my relationship to them. I said as much to my son when he called someone at school gay.

Jay wasn’t just my friend who was born an adorable Mormon girl and lost family and Church and marriage as he found out who he was. He was my friend, a kind dad who was also a mom; a human who had great days and bad days but was always nice even to really dreadful people. And who he was—day to day—was more important to how I thought of our relationship than the long road that brought him into my life.

And Peanut knew Jay as kind and funny and awesome. And he also vaguely knew Jay used to be a woman, because it had come up in a conversation about being who you really are inside. So I told him casually about transgender people when it was pertinent to the discussion. I didn’t bring it up to shock or preach or titillate. I mentioned Jay being able to finally be who he really was, because it was part of what we were talking about that day.

And after a few questions entirely appropriate for a kindergartener (which he was, at the time), it was just another fact about another friend. No big deal. Never came up again, nor should it have.

But this week, six months after Jay died, six months after he left his new wife and their blended family of three kids to figure out how to live without him, Peanut asked if Jay would have been a Duke or a Duchess.

I choked back the sob of surprise and pain that catches all of us unaware just as we’ve learned to live with loss. And I tried my best to answer.

IMAG4142z

“Well, back in the time that book is talking about, a long time ago, people believed you are what you’re born. They didn’t talk about people wanting to be a different gender, or about wanting to marry someone from the same gender, or about women having jobs or anyone voting. So Jay would have been born a Duchess, and even if he wanted to, he couldn’t be a Duke. There were definitely people back then who didn’t feel right in their bodies, and some who wanted to be different than they were born. But it just didn’t happen. People didn’t like difference.”

He frowned. “But if everybody agreed that it’s okay to…if everybody agreed…if…” He couldn’t find the words he wanted. “If everybody agreed it was okay to be whoever you really are, then could Jay have…?” He paused and waited.

“Do you mean could he have changed his body? Did they know about hormones and the way bodies become men and women bodies?”

“Yeah.”

“No, they didn’t know about the science of bodies. And so even if everyone agreed that Duchess Jay could go ahead and be himself as Duke Jay like some people do now, he wouldn’t have been able to take the hormones that gave him a beard and a lower voice and things like that. They didn’t know about hormones, and they didn’t have the science to make them and give them to Jay.”

“Oh.”

“Hey, buddy?”

“What.”

“You don’t need everybody to agree for you to be who you are. You just need a few allies, people who believe in you and support you. Doesn’t matter everyone else thinks.”

And I kept reading to Butterbean, telling myself I could cry later.

Because even more painful than the fact that I’ll never see Jay again, can’t talk to him and can only see his kids in a new house without him, is the idea that for thousands of years of human existence, Jay would have had no idea he could be anyone else, would have had no way to become who he really needed to be. I can’t imagine living in a world like that, where Jay would have been and remained and felt wrong as Julie.

But I’ll bet in that world we would have been friends. Because Jay’s friendship wasn’t about gender, not when I met him and not when I found out about his transition. Or his pregnancy. Or his cancer.  Friendships aren’t usually about gender. Who Jay was for me is entirely defined by what kind of friend he was. And that wasn’t based on anatomy or hormone profile or what existed under his clothes. It was based on his heart.

I miss you, Jay.  And I don’t care whether you’re a Duke or a Duchess. I just really miss your kind heart.

 

 

8

Reasonable Question

“Mommy, you know how you don’t love Daddy anymore…I mean, not that you don’t love him or not that you don’t like him, but you know how he makes you sad when he yells at you? Well, do we have to have two camp sites when we go camping?”

blink blink blink

blink.

“Well, honey, some day we probably will have two camp sites. And that might be fun because Daddy will cook on his campfire and I will cook on my campfire, and you can choose which campfire dinner to eat. And you can even choose to eat both!”

“Yeah!”

“For now, we still share a campsite. And we’re a family, even if we live in two houses or have two campsites.”

“And even if we have two marshmallow fires, right?”

“Yeah, Butterbean. Even then. It sounds pretty good to me to have two marshmallow fires.”

“Me, too.”

IMG_2137

But it doesn’t sound good to me. It sounds like what we have to do, to be civil and keep the best of what we have to offer the kids, but I’m lying to my son when I say it sounds good to have two marshmallow fires. It sounds like a waste of wood and excessive pollution and too much work. Two campfires sounds to me like the acrid smell that won’t wash out of my hair for two days isn’t even my smell; it belongs, in part, to someone else and it follows me around for the better part of the week, surprising me with an acid taste in my mouth each time I move my head quickly.

Everyone all together was my hope for their childhoods and for my marriage. I don’t want to offer them two homes instead of one, and I don’t want to pay two rents  instead of one. But that’s our reality. Together, Spouse and I fight. Apart we are much kinder. And I’m not going to rehash here the time honored “but they’re happier now and you’re happier now and sometimes marriages just don’t work but you’re doing a great job of making them feel loved even though clearly you made bad choices and probably shouldn’t even be allowed to have children because you’re so bad at decision making” cycle of self loathing some divorced parents go through. Okay, that I go through.

I will say that it’s uncomfortably hard to tell my kids they can’t have the comfort of having everyone who loves them sleep in one house. Or that we can’t split the team and play man-to-man at book-reading time. Instead, there are really only groups of three, and they have to learn to get a lot less solo attention. They’re the center of a Venn diagram, and one of the adults is generally shut out.

What killed me about the campsite question is that he knows there aren’t easy words to put to the situation: it’s not a lack of love or a lack of like…it’s a dynamic between two people who bring out each other’s worst. And they saw it. We were two people treating each other like adversaries instead of partners. And my children felt it. They treat each other like adversaries, too. I feel the guilt of that hourly.

But now they see that two adults can choose to stop being a bad pair and become better people alone. That people can choose to examine their problems and find a solution. A kind solution. A gentle solution. An unwanted but necessary solution.

Later this month I’m giving a talk on finding your blog voice. And staying true to my own writing voice has meant being honest. I don’t blog so I can put on a mask and pretend. For that I have theater. But a blog voice also means permanence and not writing something I’ll regret and want to delete years later. A blog voice means addressing the pain but knowing that just beyond the empathetic friends and sympathetic readers is a future employer who might read this as part of a decision-making process. So being honest and being forever is challenging in transitions like a divorce. I have to talk about solutions but not really explain the problem. I’m not here to air my marriage and its failings. I’m not going to degrade my co-parent in a public forum. And I can’t be here in full therapy mode. That’s not me hiding the truth. But it’s not me being completely frank, either. I’m not comfortable here, right in between a rock and a brick wall.

This blog is where I tell my stories, and aching for my kids that their family seems incomplete, no matter how we configure it, is my story right now. I want to tell that story. Carefully.

Thankfully, my sons’ version of this story is a delightful revisionist world in which they get double marshmallows.

Maybe they’ll share with you.

 

photo credit: John Morgan via creative commons

photo credit: John Morgan via creative commons

 

12

Group storytelling

As our family dissolves its current form and grows again to a new structure, we’re developing dozens of lovely traditions.

And my absolute favorite is the family story.

We talk each day about our favorite parts of the day, and our biggest challenges; we talk about gratitude and feelings.

And now, when the kids seem bored, when we share time together, when we travel in the car, and especially when dim lighting and clean teeth spell the end of the day, we invent a story. Together. Sometimes as three people, and sometimes as four. Each person tells one sentence of a new story. Each subsequent person builds upon it. Until it’s done. And then we do it again.

Tonight:

There once was a tree with several leaves.
And nearby there was a tree with lots of leaves.
And those two trees began growing toward each other.
One day they touched together.
And they began dripping honey.
And they grew together some more.
And they spilled all the honey on the ground.
This made them fight.
A bear stopped by to say, “Don’t worry, there’s enough honey for everyone.”
So every animal in the forest came and took what they needed.
And the trees were happy.
And the animals were happy.
And full of honey.
The End.