goals · parenting

Please Don’t Assume My Toddler Is Straight

I was chatting with two other mothers, a few months after my first son was born, and the conversation shifted to a topic I’ve always found strange.

“Thomas is already engaged to Elizabeth,” one of the mothers joked. Her son, Thomas, was three, and the other woman’s daughter, Elizabeth, was just a few months younger.  “They’ve been betrothed since birth.” They laughed together and I smiled awkwardly, the way I do when I’m feeling uncomfortable but don’t want to cause unnecessary conflict.

I have always found this habit – joking about babies or young children dating or flirting or marrying – weird and awkward. I’ve gotten a lot more uncomfortable with it since becoming a parent myself. It might have to do with not wanting to adultify children when they’re little, which I (unfortunately) see happening all over the place. Like when a mom at the library saw her toddler son smiling at me and asked him teasingly, “Are you flirting, Jacob?”

What is the follow up to this comment?  I smiled awkwardly (yet again), and then I started thinking about my other concern, other than adultifying little kids. My other concern is about the assumptions we make about the sexual preferences of our kids from a very young age. I wondered if the Library Mom would have teased her son about flirting if I was a man. I don’t know this woman at all, so it’s impossible to guess. But my experience has been that people make these kinds of flirting jokes only in a male/female interaction, and to me that’s a sign that our society (or at least my neighborhood) is still a pretty heteronormative place. I don’t hear a lot of jokes about boy babies being betrothed to other boy babies, or about girl toddlers flirting with other girl toddlers.

There are so many assumptions that we make about the people our kids will grow up to be. We make assumptions about the things they’ll like and the things they’ll do. And when I say the assumptions WE make – I am including all the woke progressive people in the world as well.

Let’s take Thomas, for example, who is (jokingly) betrothed to Elizabeth. Let’s fast forward fifteen years to Thomas dating.

Why have we already decided that Thomas will be dating a female?

It’s 2019, and the world is more accepting of the LGBT community. The two mothers I mentioned in my opening story are both straight, and they have been welcoming and supportive of my same sex marriage and our adoption of two children. They are open-minded, welcoming, progressive, and loving.

But they are assuming that their children will be straight. And there’s a thirteen-year-old gay girl, ashamed and scared, inside of me that wants to cry when she realizes this.

One of the things that made being gay and coming out painful for me was that the world assumed I was straight. There was a default sexual preference, and it was straight; to be anything other than straight required me to “come out” of a closet, even if I hadn’t realized I was in a closet at all. Having to come out implies that there is a “norm” sexual preference and that you have to identify yourself as other if you don’t share that preference.

When I think about my two sons and their potential romantic lives, what I want is for them to never have to worry about “coming out.” They could be presumed straight, and then come out of the closet in adolescence or young adulthood, like I and many others did. But – should they have to? Why, in 2019, would we still be making assumptions about our children’s sexual preferences?

I don’t want to make any assumptions about my sons, but it’s a natural thing that we do. It’s human. We have to be extremely conscious and intentional if we want to not make assumptions about others. I catch myself caught up in it all the time when I meet an adult my age who is great with kids who doesn’t have any children of their own. I start wondering if they want kids, or if they’re hoping to grow their family.  It takes intention and effort for me to remind myself that wanting to be a parent (a feeling that is intensely strong for me) is not something that every adult in the world feels.

It takes effort. It takes intention. It takes change.

We’re all learning and growing, as individuals, as families, as societies. During my experiences as an LGBT young adult, the world learned to accept, and to respect. The federal law for same sex marriage came into effect four months after our wedding day. The next step, in my opinion, is for us to move from accepting to not assuming.

Now, rewind back to my awkward smile after Thomas’s mother and Elizabeth’s mother were laughing about their children getting married someday. Remember how I often just smile awkwardly at these moments?

Well, that day, I sort of didn’t.

“What if your kids are gay?” I blurted out gracelessly.

I wish I could say that this conversation evolved into a courageous talk with me expressing my thoughts and feelings eloquently and the moms hearing it. But it didn’t. They kind of laughed and nodded, agreeing with me that this was possible. I didn’t say much else to follow up.

But I asked the question, and I asked it out loud. That’s big for an introvert and overthinker like me.

The main point of this post is that my sons, Edgar and Jonas, are not yet available for betrothal. They’re too young, and too unwilling to bathe, for any marriage arrangements to be made. They also haven’t decided yet if they want to get married, or who they’d like to be boyfriends or girlfriends with someday, if anyone. And my hope is that, rather than a big, significant coming out talk, what they experience is an ongoing, accepting, and loving conversation with their parents and their community about who and what they love, with nothing assumed and everything on the table.

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com
parenting

Get Your Coffee First

Toddlers.

They’re adorable and lovable. They’re also irrational, illogical, and exhausting.

Our older son, Edgar, is two years old, and I truly love this age. He is cuddly and sweet. He loves to learn and to be independent. But MAN – when he gets thrown off by something, whether it’s hunger, needing to poop, or the fact that his favorite bulldozer shirt is in the laundry, it takes an enormous amount of patience to help him through it.

The tone for our day is set during the first moments of the morning, and on weekdays, our day starts early. Edgar has to wake up by 6 a.m. at the latest if we’re going to get him to school and get me to work on time. Usually, I am downstairs, getting dressed and gathering my things for work, and I hear Edgar start to toss and turn on the baby monitor. Sometimes he’s still sound asleep at 6 a.m. and I have to wake him up. No matter what the situation is, I can expect some resistance on his part. It might be just some mild wrestling with his pajama shirt because he doesn’t want to take it off, or (worst case scenario) every single step of the getting ready process is a struggle – Edgar struggling against every task that needs to get done, and me struggling to keep myself calm and composed. 

I have found a trick for helping our mornings to go smoothly, and I think it’s a metaphor for one of my overall parenting strategies. It also has almost nothing to do with actual parenting.

The trick is: Get your coffee first.

Brewing the coffee is one of our morning tasks, and either Tamara or I usually get it going soon after we wake up. But, even if Edgar has been rolling around and calling out “Time to wake up?” to me for a little while, I make sure that I have a steaming hot cup of coffee, turned brown paper bag color with half-and-half, in my hand when I climb the stairs to get Edgar’s morning going.

I found out by accident that this was something I needed. I noticed that my voice was calmer and I felt less rushed to get him moving if I had already just done this tiny thing for myself. I think that sometimes, as a mom with young kids, there are times when we can only realistically engage in tiny moments of self-care.

That’s why there are days when I hear Edgar starting to fuss and roll and wake up, and I ignore the mommy instinct to go cuddle him immediately, and I wait until the coffee is ready. I pour it into my favorite mug, I add half and half, and I climb the stairs to Edgar feeling like I can take my time and enjoy our first few moments together. I can enjoy them – and I am the best at enjoying them when I get my coffee FIRST.

My big picture parenting strategy is: you have to give yourself oxygen first. You can’t take care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. You also can’t teach your kids to live a calm and happy life if you’re not living that way yourself.

So get your coffee first – whatever that means for you. Then you’ll be able to exude the endless amounts of patience, silliness, and wit it takes to navigate life with kids. Or at least, you’ll give it a pretty good shot.

six white ceramic mugs
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

family · parenting

Happy Birthday Dad

Today, on what would have been my dad’s 71st birthday, Edgar played ‘organized’ soccer (laughing out loud at calling any toddler activity ‘organized’) for the first time.

This was ordinary, and it was extraordinary. I got emotional last weekend when I first realized this coincidence – Edgar starting out with soccer on Dad’s birthday. I felt a little in awe of the universe at the timing of things, and a little bit like laughing hysterically. (“Seriously, Universe?  I needed a reason to get MORE EMOTIONAL on Dad’s birthday?”) I cried for a while, and then, while Edgar wandered around the farm kicking a soccer ball, I followed him and I thought about my dad.

The inscription on my dad’s grave reads: HUSBAND, DAD, & COACH. Because that is who he was. From the moment when my mom signed my dad up (without asking him) to coach at Holy Child Soccer in Staten Island, NY, he coached. He coached my sister, my brother, and me on various teams, and he coached hundreds of other kids. He ended up running Holy Child Soccer, and then serving as president of the Staten Island Soccer League. I did not ever know my dad not as a soccer coach.

Every parent involved in Staten Island soccer when I was in grade school called my house at some point. I know this because I was my dad’s unofficial secretary. His responsibilities as a leader in youth soccer in Staten Island are the reason why, to this day, I have an EXCEPTIONALLY friendly and polite phone voice.  The coaches would call about fields, referees, schedules, uniforms, and I’d take their message and promise that my dad would call them back. When my dad eventually talked with them, I’d hear him laugh and say, “yup, that was my youngest on the phone,” and I’d beam with pride. When I was a kid, I didn’t realize just how much my dad did for youth soccer in Staten Island – and he did all of it after a long day or week of full-time work. We don’t realize how much our parents are doing for us, I think, until we grow up and are exhausted adults or parents ourselves.

I have countless memories of my dad as a coach – from him leading my team at practices and games to the thousands of quiet moments he had with me and my siblings, helping us to learn life lessons on the field and off. This year, there are two stories I can’t get out of my head. They both involved my dad as coach of my grade school soccer team, the Holy Child Crosskickers.

We had a heartbreaker of a game one season, when we came in second place in the league after a 1-0 loss to the Notre Dame Academy Sweethearts. The other team’s goal was the result of a long ball that hit a weird bump and bounced awkwardly over the head of our flustered goalkeeper. A fair loss, to be sure – but a real bummer after a hard-played game and season.

A week or so after this game, my dad showed up to a team gathering with a large cardboard box. He explained that a stranger had left this box of T-shirts on our front porch; they were red and white (our team colors), and the text read: “CROSSKICKERS – SIMPLY THE BEST – ONLY ONE SWEETHEART OF A BOUNCE CAN BEAT US.” We all smiled and laughed and put on our shirts and questioned nothing.  It was YEARS later when I realized that my dad (who made T-shirts for our entire extended family every summer, so it’s not like there weren’t clues, Kerriann) had ordered the shirts himself because he knew that it’s important to acknowledge our defeats, laugh if we can, and move forward with determination and a smile.

The other story I can’t get out of my head is about my dad selecting the team all-stars from the Crosskickers for the end-of-season league all-star game. That year, we were allowed to pick two players to represent our team in the game.

There were a lot of strong athletes on our team, and I was certainly one of them; my sister, my brother, and I all played soccer well, with passion, hard work,and talent. However, it never once occurred to me that my dad would choose me as an all-star for the game; he was not the type of guy to engage in nepotism, even at the level of a youth soccer game. He was harder on me, at times, and he was diligent about coaching our team in a fair and supportive way.

I remember asking my dad about who he would pick for the all-star game, and he sat down with me and explained that he really wanted to reward the players on our team who had worked especially hard and performed exceptionally well that season. I instantly understood that he wasn’t going to pick one of the three or four other “stars” on my team; he was going to reward players who had shown exceptional spirit and effort even if they weren’t the top goal scorers. We talked together, and he asked me to guess who his picks were; I thought and I talked through our season, and I guessed two players who had improved tremendously that season, moving from being average players to essential starters as the season progressed. I remember my dad beaming at me when he told me I’d guessed correctly – maybe because he was happy I understood his logic, or because he learned that we thought in similar ways.

That was my dad – he wanted to acknowledge when he saw young athletes working hard and improving. He knew that youth sports was about cultivating talent while also teaching important lessons about effort, disappointment, teamwork, and grace.

There is no pressure on Edgar to play soccer. Yes, he owns six soccer balls and only two of any other kind of ball, and yes, I’ll be thrilled if I get to coach his teams the way my dad coached mine. But really, truly, he doesn’t need to play, and I don’t need to coach. However, watching him run and kick today – watching him listen to his oh-so-patient coach talk to him about respect and fun and how to dribble – watching him run to me with a huge smile, telling me how much fun he had at “soccer school” –

Those were pretty good gifts.

Happy birthday to my dad. Keep the lessons coming, Coach.

balance · parenting

Afternoons

My afternoons have been delightful lately.

I started a new job last summer as a public school social worker. Overall, when it comes to lifestyle, this is one of the best work situations I’ve ever had. My day starts early; I have to be in the building  by 7:15 a.m., which would be difficult for some people but is no problem at all for a morning person like me. During the summers, I’ll be off from school and home with my boys, which will be such a gift. And my work day ends at 2:30 p.m., at which point I am free to go home and enjoy several hours of daytime play with my family before the sun sets at five o’clock.

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These afternoons have become really precious to me. If it’s not too cold outside, Edgar and I bundle up and wander around the farm and down on the NCR trail. We crunch through the snow and Edgar learns to ride the balance bike he got for Christmas. Sometimes Tamara takes Edgar out to play, and I entertain J.J. and veg out the best a mom can, watching old episodes of America’s Next Top Model while J.J. drinks a bottle.

It’s all delightful. The afternoons have always been a tricky time of day for me. When I was drinking, that was my will-she-won’t-she time, the time when I got anxious and stressed and found myself driving to the liquor store to pick up a six pack (clearly I really mean a twelve pack) of beer.

Now, I just feel so grateful that the afternoons are a space in the day when I can have special time with one or both of my boys. I’m especially grateful in the winter, when the days are so short, to have daylight hours in the afternoon to be outside and playing.

 

books + reading · parenting

Edgar’s Faves (Best Books For Two-Year-Olds)

Sometimes, I’ll be sitting on the couch, and Edgar will pick up a book and bring it over to me. “Read,” he’ll say.

So I open the book and wait for him to climb on the couch to snuggle beside me. But then, he walks back over to his bookshelf, and he selects another book. Then he sits down, opens that book, and begins to look through it.  Because the first book he brought me – that was for ME to read.

Does he want me to practice reading Go Dog Go so my articulation improves?  Does he want me to work on my animal sounds for Mr. Brown Can Moo Can You? I have no idea. I like to think that Edgar has internalized a family trait: In our family, our books are comforts, coping strategies, stress relievers, and pure joy providers.

Here are some of the books that have been giving two-year-old Edgar comfort and joy

Recommended reading from two-year-old Edgar:

Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead. Just a sweet and silky book about a little girl traveling to visit her great-aunt Josephine to bring her an elephant.

The Napping House by Audrey Wood. This book has a repetitive text that builds as the story progresses. It’s one of the first longer stories Edgar liked.

All Eyes On The Pond by Michael J. Rosen. Love this book. Each page focuses on a different creature in the pond, showing the world from their viewpoint and then zooming out to see the big picture. Very sweet and nature-y.

Trucks Go by Steve Light. I mean – basically a bunch of drawings of trucks with awesome sound effects. Amazing.

Sheep In A Shop by Nancy Shaw. We’re still loving Nancy Shaw’s sheep series! This one Edgar loves mostly because there’s a train in the shop. And then the sheep get all goofy, and the caboose falls over. It’s pretty awesome if you’re a two-year-old.

I Love You Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt. This book is so stinking cute. A mom putting her child to bed, and the kid asking lots of “what if” questions – like, what if I were a one-eyed monster, would you still love me then? (Spoiler alert – she will. Mom always will.)

 

 

balance · goals · parenting

Tired + Tired

It’s mid-January, and I have never failed at my new year’s resolutions so quickly before.

However, this time – TOTALLY not my fault. It’s not about procrastination or laziness or motivation, not at all!  It’s all about my kids.

Baby J.J. isn’t sleeping through the night yet. He’s 4 months old and it’s to be expected. BUT NOW. My Edgar – my two-year-old precious A plus amazing sleeper – has started having sleep struggles.

WTF.

That means Tamara and I just shifted from getting a solid 4 to 5 hours of sleep per night, while the other dealt with Baby J.J. – to now NO ONE IN THE HOUSE GETTING ANY SLEEP EVER.

I am still so so happy and grateful for my little family. The big picture is beautiful and blessed.

The little picture, though? The little picture is a tiny thumbnail photo of a family of four, totally exhausted and cranky and struggling. (With the exception of Baby J.J., who is developmentally appropriately able to function on his consistent diet of 2.5 hour naps throughout the day.)

Prior to the new year, I decided that I couldn’t wait until J.J. was sleeping through the night to start maintaining my focus on exercise, meditation, recovery, and writing. I recommitted to prioritizing my self-care and my goals despite my current life circumstances.

And yes – this still needs to be true. If my word of the year is NOW, then I have to do this stuff NOW and not later.

When I get overwhelmed, I think about this: If I can write now, I can write anytime. When I think about my goals for the year, my writing is one of my main priorities. And, while things could definitely get harder, I am pretty tired and have limited time – so really, if I can blog regularly and get some fiction writing done right now, even if it’s the bare minimum, then just imagine what I can get done when I start to actually have time and energy!  For me, the most important thing right now is ROUTINE – rhythm and routine. If I can get some kind of routine happening now, with two kids under three, a full-time job, and no sleep – well, it’d be a miracle. The kind of miracle you get when you work your butt off.  

balance · parenting

Happy + Tired

This is my current status, today and for two months before today and probably for several months after today: happy and tired.

That’s what New Mom Life is like.

I’ve been holding off on a lot of things recently, making lots of resolutions that start with As soon as J.J. starts sleeping through the night, I’ll – and I am realizing that I can’t wait until that far-off day arrives. I need exercise and writing and meditation, and I need them now.  

This morning is a good start. I woke up at 4, cuddled with J.J. for a little bit, got him back to sleep, and then came downstairs to do – stuff.  I wish it was just writing on my agenda when I wake up! But, I fed and walked the dog, got dressed, ignored the dishes in the sink, made coffee, picked out an outfit for Edgar – and intermittently, I sat on the couch and I wrote. It’s not much – but it’s what I can do at the moment.

This week, I’m allowing myself to begin to daydream about a longer piece of writing – a short story or a novel. I always have a million ideas in my head, but in this moment, it feels like I need something BIG to work on – something that I can revisit every day. I have several projects in the works, so I might pick one of those, or decide to focus on something brand-new – we’ll see.

Sometimes I still can’t believe that J.J. is here – that Our Baby is home with us, and that we’re a family of four. We are busy and stressed and joyful and delighted. We are oh-so-happy and oh-so tired.