Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why Can't Moms Be Sexy Too

(This essay originally appeared November 2014 on Role/Reboot.)

I’ve never been a very high-maintenance girl. I let my curly hair air-dry, I rarely wear makeup, and often choose comfort over style. Once my twin boys were born, my whole situation really hit the skids as I adopted the fall-back uniform of so many at-home moms like myself: yoga pants, T-shirts, maybe stretchy jeans if I was feeling fancy. Yes, I let myself go.

Overweight and overtired, I told myself that I had time to bounce back. That I should just worry about taking care of my babies. That I should give myself a break. But once “Mom” became my full-time job, my #1 identity, the rest of me just sort of shrunk away. It was inevitable. Oh sure, I tried to make my way back to my old self (some me-time, a little exercise, a little writing). But even while gaining ground on my slow-crawl back to my “before,” I’d think, “What’s the point?”
Even when I would get dressed up and go out without my kids, I felt like the dowdy stank lingered around me. I remember an attractive man giving me a flirty smile in a parking lot once and, rather than take it as a compliment, I looked around for the white-paneled van he might use to abduct me since, clearly, he must be one of those charming serial killers. You think I’m kidding. The idea that any man, outside of my husband, could find me attractive anymore seemed so out of the realm of possibility.

In the last year though, something shifted in me. Spurred by a driving desire to get healthy, feel better, and have more energy for my kids, I started working out regularly, and paying more attention to my diet. As I began to slim down and get stronger, I started to feel pretty again. Like I was reigniting whatever small spark of sex appeal was still lurking underneath my full-coverage bra and yogurt-smeared logo tee.

Like I said though, I’m low-maintenance. I don’t like to shop, except for my kids, and it’s usually online. Between part-time work and full-time parenting, I just don’t have the time. So, after hearing about this online personal shopping service that basically sends you clothes to choose from, I decided to try it. Basically, you fill out a questionnaire, rank certain fashions by preference, pinpoint your loves and dislikes, and tell them a little something about yourself. Based on all of this, they pull together some clothing pieces and accessories within your price range, and send them to you. Cool, right?

As I bopped along on their site, all “LOVE” to this boho thing and “LOVE” to that edgy thing and “BLECH” to the loafers and “BLECH” to the floral prints, I felt so good. I had this awareness that I finally had reclaimed my body, one I actually felt like dressing. Plus, I’ve spent the last several months upping my work game, regaining some of my career confidence. Finally, I feel like so much more than just a mom and, hell yeah, I want some fashionable threads to show it off.
Except, while filling out all of this style info, I apparently made one crucial mistake. I told them that I was a mom. On that part where it said to tell them about myself? I lead with it. In so many words, I think I said something like: I’m a work-at-home mom and don’t go into an office and I chase after toddlers and I’m always dressed casually and I’m sick of wearing yoga pants. I want to look more stylish, please.

When my box came, I was psyched to see what they had chosen for me. My own virtual stylist, yippee! As I pulled out the handful of items though, I started to feel angry. And as I tried things on, I became even angrier. Everything was body-concealing, boxy, and totally outdated. They had even sent me what was, essentially, stretch pants. Stretch pants! Where was the boho stuff? The edgy stuff? The stuff that was supposed to hug my curves and make me feel young and sexy again?
I wondered if I’d blacked-out and written on that comments section, “…and frumpy, please send frumpy!” I mean, really, if I wanted to dress like my mom, I could have just asked her to pick up a few things for me while at Chico’s.

I was offended. Really offended. Here I was trying to reclaim my sexy, but as soon as I said I was a mom, they shut it down. No, it’s not like I was hoping for hot pants and a studded bustier, but some actual style would have been nice. It’s like they had a “Mommy closet” they were pulling clothes from, assuming, “Well, this lady will just be happy to have anything that’s not yoga pants.” And, “Oh no, don’t send her the tight V-neck, because she probably has, like, mom boobs.” And, “I know she said she wanted trendier stuff, but, like, she goes to and from preschool pickup—like anyone’s looking at her?”

I know, it sounds like an overreaction, but it’s not like I was crumpled on the floor, wailing into the poly-blend top they’d sent. I just felt like after finally building up the confidence to want to dress well, I was being told I shouldn’t bother, which was kind of my fear all along. That, as a mom, this stuff isn’t supposed to matter. As a mom, you need to dress the part. As a mom, you shouldn’t be sexy.

A few days after receiving my box of fashion shame, I saw Kim Kardashian’s Paper spread. My first reaction was something like, “Ew, why? Ick. Is that body oil?” Later though, when critics slammed her with the familiar, “But you’re someone’s mother now,” I suddenly felt defensive for her. Kim K. looks better than ever post-baby, and she wanted to show it off, not in spite of being a mom, but because she is a mom. Obviously, there’s a whole slew of things wrong with that picture, and it’s not like I’m now all Team Kardashian and buying the T-shirt. But I do support a mother who is able to say, “Yeah, I’m a mom, and I feel sexy as hell!”

Maybe it makes everyone more comfortable to keep mothers in a safe, cozy, maternal box, their sole focus being their children, their homes, and maybe their book club. When a mother loses her sexuality though, which many of us do, we feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves, a part of our womanhood. And in so many ways, we have.

That’s why it feels so damn good—empowering and important—when we are able to reclaim our sexuality. When we can see ourselves as both “somebody’s Mommy” and attractive, desirable women. Because many of us still want to be cute and sexy. We still feel cute and sexy. Some are cuter and sexier than ever. We are absolutely allowed to be the hot mamas we want to be and no one—not the judgmental types or the conservative critics or even a narrowly-focused shopping website—can shut that down.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Am I Not Feminist Enough For You?

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot.)

Almost a year ago, I wrote a very personal piece about my struggle with being “just a Mommy.” I got a ton of positive feedback from other stay-at-home/work-at-home moms who felt equally as conflicted, defensive, and marginalized in their new role as a mother.

And as the piece made it’s way around the web, I also got brutally slammed by other women who made judgments about my choices, made assumptions about my financial situation, accused my husband of being a chauvinist, and accused me of being a spoiled brat. That was awesome.

Luckily, the voices of the real sisterhood drowned out the scattered boos from the angry mob. Still, it left me with a clear impression of some of the folks I’m dealing with here in the blogosphere. Judgmental types with an ax to grind, a narrow view of the world, and knee-jerk reactions to any stance that falls even slightly out of their bounds. For all of their self-proclaimed liberalism and progressiveness, they’re about as black-and-white in their perspective as the far right, conservative types.

When I was little, my liberal parents lauded my brains, my athletic skills, my writing, and made me believe I could be whoever I wanted to be. My mom would say things like, “I think you should be a Supreme Court judge one day,” and I’d think, “Ugh, law, boring,” but never, “Who me?”

They enrolled me in an all-girls school where we were encouraged to speak up, be heard, and reach high. Ultimately, the school became co-ed, but it never lost its feminist spirit. The teenage boys who sat right beside us were taught to embrace the same egalitarianism as well.

I mention this because I was truly raised a feminist. The idea that I could be anything and do anything and fight for the rights of other women was ingrained in me from a young age. I was the little girl in Ms. Magazine T-shirts, I was the pre-teen marching for women’s reproductive rights in Washington D.C., I was the 16-year-old volunteering for NARAL.

After graduating college, I wanted to be a journalist, and so I went after it and got a job at Cosmopolitan Magazine. Oh yes, you read that right. Cosmopolitan Magazine. The magazine we threw darts at in my women’s studies classes. The magazine we wrote letters too, attacking their sexist ads.

I’m not going to deny the fact that there was a focus on appearance and pleasing your man. But between the pages, there were also articles on sexual health, politics and, yes, pleasing yourself. Of course, most people never got that far. The audible gasps and passive-aggressive attacks from other women began seconds after I mentioned where I worked.

And I would sit there, listen to their snarky remarks, and then calmly explain my job because I was, shockingly, smart and confident enough to defend myself. I worked with some of the smartest women—and men—that I’ve ever known. These women were breadwinners and high-achievers and philanthropists and activists, not silly things, flipping their hair and bemoaning the scuffs in their fuchsia high heels. Our goal was to give the readers what they wanted, while also giving them information about their sexuality, their health, and their rights. Working there taught me that feminism is not a one-size-fits-all label.

Thank God, because now look at me: I’m a work-at-home mom, with two young kids, and my husband is the breadwinner. I do the cooking, I do the grocery shopping, I organize our lives. I made this choice for myself and for our family, and we are lucky it was an option for us.

But why should I have to explain myself? Who am I explaining myself to? Ultra-radical feminists who think a woman’s only value comes from working full-time? Who marginalize and belittle my life choices because they are different from their own?

Hey, I thought the whole point of the feminist movement was to encourage women to be whoever they wanted to be, to do whatever they wanted to do, and to not allow any man to stand in their way. Perhaps, I should have been looking out for the self-righteous, all-or-nothing, know-it-alls who throw shit all over my path.

I will still proudly call myself a feminist because I am one. I am one! Maybe I’m more of a mainstream feminist. Maybe my views aren’t perfectly aligned with the far left. Maybe I am able to, whoa, see both sides of an argument, and embrace other’s choices and politics. I don’t have to agree with them, but as long as they’re not spewing hate or intolerance, I can respect their views.
Even if I’m not exactly some kickass example of women’s rights in action, I am a feminist. And screw anyone who says otherwise.

It’s a tough thing, hanging out here in the middle, because the far left and the far right have gotten so loud and so angry, we’re afraid to speak up and tell our truth. We want to be heard, but we’re also terrified of the repercussions.

And we wonder why feminism has gotten such a bad rap. Maybe because a small radical contingent has gotten so rabid and intolerant. Maybe because as soon as anyone voices anything outside of a certain purview, the fired-up online activists leap onto the comments section, guns blazing, fists flying.

To those trolling the Internet looking for a fight, I’m just wondering, what are you trying to prove? If you’re so comfortable in your own politics and lifestyle, why do you have to shred apart everyone else’s, including those who are on your side? One wrong word, one moderate stance, one admittance of “well, I can see their point,” and you’re ready to go to battle.

Don’t you see how dangerous this is? Don’t you see how intolerant? As women, shouldn’t we be lifting each other up and respecting each others' choices, rather than ranting about how our way is the only way?

Because really, what happens in my little life has nothing to do with what happens in yours. It’s my story, my rights, and my feminist identity. So what do you gain by tearing it to shreds?

Is Shame A Woman’s Default Emotion?

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot.)

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day was earlier this month. I wouldn’t have known, if not for the fact that my Facebook newsfeed included several shares from friends and acquaintances who I never knew had lost pregnancies or babies. I had a miscarriage myself four years ago, before I became pregnant with my identical twin boys. We never saw a heartbeat and I was only nine weeks along, so some part of me thought it was indulgent to mourn the loss. But mourn I did.

For months, I couldn’t even look at babies. For months, I could barely face the day. Every morning, I’d wake up and wonder if I’d dreamed the miscarriage, if my baby was still in there. Sometimes, I’d wonder if I’d dreamed the pregnancy. It was real though, and that baby was gone. I often did have dreams though about a little girl, one with caramel-colored eyes and dark, curly hair, like mine. I’d think I saw her in butterflies that flew too close or hummingbirds that would linger outside the window. I couldn’t seem to make those dark clouds pass, so, ultimately, I went to see a spiritual healer, and asked her to help me clear away the darkness and let my baby go.

Even now, recounting that time, I’m embarrassed at how maudlin I was. The pain was so real, and yet, I felt like I wasn’t really allowed to be as sad as I was. I felt like I was supposed to be stronger, put on a brave face, and not mourn for a baby that never could have been. That was really just a cluster of screwed up cells, really.

For so many reasons, I couldn’t talk about it, except with a handful of people who had been there themselves. I didn’t really want to talk about it anyway. Besides, what was there to say? I either felt badly about being such a downer, or felt silly for making such a big deal about it. My pain—this very common, very real thing for many women—was shrouded in a thin layer of shame. Shame over my own honest, raw feelings.

Of course, as many women who’ve suffered pregnancy loss know, I also felt another kind of shame—guilt. Even though I knew better, I felt responsible for the loss. I remember frantically calling my doctor one day, over and over, trying to get him on the phone. When I finally reached him, I was tearful and panicked, begging him to tell me the truth, “Did my body do this? Did I do something wrong? Is it my fault this happened?”

No, it was nothing I had done.

As I read some of these women’s confessions on my Facebook newsfeed, or just “liked” their acknowledgement of the day, I noticed similar language being used over and over. This idea that those of us who had suffered pregnancy or infant loss should, in a sense, “come out of the shadows.” As though we were hiding this part of ourselves. As though there was something shameful in what had happened to us.

How sad is that? That even our tragedies make us feel embarrassed and ashamed.

As it is, we’re ashamed of our bodies, whether too big, too small, too voluptuous, too skinny. We’re ashamed of our sexuality, whether we flaunt it or conceal it. We’re ashamed when we’re too assertive, and ashamed when we’re too meek. We’re ashamed when we accept praise and ashamed to receive it. We’re ashamed that we’re not better mothers, and ashamed if that’s all we are. We’re ashamed for not wanting children, and ashamed if we physically can’t seem to have them. I could go on, but you get my point. It’s as though a woman’s default response is to bow her head down, curl inward and let the shame in.

It has to stop. We have to just stop. There has to be a more useful emotion to help us navigate through the highs and lows of our lives. Pride? Steely resolve? Acceptance? I know, I know, it’s all easier said than done, especially since the shame response seems to be ingrained in us.

I do have one idea though: That we women talk to each other more. Not about our job woes and partner troubles and shaky friendships—I think we’ve got that covered. No, I think we need to tell each other the tough stuff, share those stories that are hard to tell. When women reveal themselves to one another, honestly and openly, we realize we’re not alone. That whatever it is we are feeling is normal. That someone else has been there before.

Our stories are what unite us and when we share them, we free ourselves from whatever shame we’ve attached to them. When the women around us say, “Yes, yes, me too,” we suddenly feel justified in whatever it is we’ve thought or felt, we are able to take ownership of our own experiences. And just like that, we don’t feel quite so sad or angry or guilty. We realize that whatever we have been through, whatever trial or tragedy or test of will, we have nothing, nothing to be ashamed of.
 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Having a Life Outside Of Your Kids Does Not Make You A "Bad Mom"

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot.)

When I first read the attention-grabbing headline, “NYC’s first lady: I was a bad mom,” I just assumed it was a joke. These days, the title of “bad mom” is often used in a more tongue-in-cheek context, as mommy bloggers confess to imperfect parenting, and share their own get-through-the-day shortcuts.

Unfortunately though, this article, put out by the New York Post two weeks ago, wasn’t meant to be funny. Instead, the paper was trying to assert that Chirlane McCray, wife of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, had confessed to neglecting her children.

The thing is, McCray never said that she was a “bad mom.” The Post said that. She never said that she neglected her children. Again, that was the Post. In a lengthy New York Magazine profile, McCray did talk about life as a new mom, following the birth of her first child, Chiara. But here’s what she actually said:

“I was 40 years old. I had a life. Especially with Chiara—will we feel guilt forever more? Of course, yes. But the truth is, I could not spend every day with her. I didn’t want to do that. I looked for all kinds of reason not to do it. I love her. I have thousands of photos of her—every 1-month birthday, 2-month birthday. But I’ve been working since I was 14, and that part of me is me. It took a long time for me to get into ‘I’m taking care of kids,’ and what that means.”

If that makes her a bad mom, then I guess you better round up the rest of us tired, overwhelmed, self-doubting new mothers before we have the chance to royally screw up our poor kids. Twenty years from now, we wouldn’t want them telling their therapists, “My mom went back to a successful, fulfilling career she had spent years building! Sometimes she left me with a sitter so she could get a pedicure! I think she fed me formula and Cool Ranch Doritos and apples that weren’t organic—they’re a dirty dozen fruit!” For shame, you mothers, often spread too thin.

In an extensive, illuminating magazine profile that looked at her layered life as a writer, advocate, wife, and mother, McCray bravely admitted that becoming a mom at 40 was jarring to her. After working for so much of her life, and identifying with that work, she felt lost in this new role of “Mommy.” It’s a sentiment felt by many women, whether they’re working full-time or staying at home. Having a child changes you, and while you wouldn’t trade it for the world, you often wish for some of your old self back.

For the stay-at-home mom (SAHM) who has swapped work life for Mommy life, the change can be drastic. Of course, it’s a good gig if you want it, if you can swing it. That doesn’t mean you don’t sacrifice some part of yourself, an identity outside of motherhood. Despite the rewards, it can also be really challenging at times, and many women often feel trapped, resentful, isolated, even depressed.

I know because I am that mom. I had tried for years to get pregnant, and finally, I was blessed with healthy twin boys. Except, I didn’t feel how I thought I was supposed to feel. I felt disconnected, scared, and wondered when their Mommy was coming to pick them up. I loved my babies, and would have done anything for them, but I felt lost in the logistics of feeding and burping and caring for two newborns at the same time. This detachment lasted for a few months, and then just kind of faded away. Looking back, I think I must have had some kind of post-partum blues—very common, very real, and no reflection of my ability to be a good mother.

Do you think I told anyone though? No, no, I couldn’t possibly. Mothers aren’t supposed to feel this way. What would people think of me?

Even now, almost three years later, I still struggle with my decision to be a SAHM. I miss the challenge and brain-boost of a full-time career. I miss my freedom. What I really miss though is the woman I was before I had children, the one who would write and hike and travel and had plenty of things to talk about besides potty training and preschool. I guess that I miss me, and sometimes wonder if she’s still in there. Still, if someone called me tomorrow with a 9-to-5 job and a six-figure salary, I’d probably say, “Not right now, thanks.” As much as I question, I also know in my heart that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.

That being said, I have made it a priority to create a life outside of my kids. Our sitter comes two days a week so I can work and write and run errands. I also use that time to have lunch with a friend, workout, and maybe even get a pedicure. And you know what? It’s that time away from my boys, that time for myself, that actually makes me a better mom. It’s a break that allows me to push the refresh button. Even if I’m working, it still feels like “me time.” Then, when I come back to my kids, it’s with renewed energy and eagerness. I’m happier, and therefore have more to give to my boys.

There are plenty of moms who don’t need a break or time away or a chance to reconnect with themselves. Good for them, but not all moms are built that way, especially those who’ve had their kids later in life. I don’t believe that spending all of your time with your children makes you a better mom. I don’t believe that staying home to raise your kids makes you a better mom either. I think what most women need in order to be good moms is personal fulfillment, whether they find it through work, among friends, or painting pottery.

Look, it’s not like McCray left her daughter in some cardboard box at the firehouse so she could go shopping. She didn’t abandon her child or leave her home alone or give her to strangers. She was raising her daughter and loving her, and yes, struggling with the very common identity crisis that comes with new motherhood. It’s unfortunate that the Post butchered, twisted, and distorted McCray’s words, vilifying her in the process. This is a woman who bravely spoke her truth and said what so many moms are afraid to say. And she got attacked for it. Guess they showed us what happens when you’re too honest.

When McCray gave birth to her son, Dante, just a few years after she had Chiara, she was starting to become more comfortable in her role as a stay-at-home parent. She immersed herself in the lives of her kids and their community, only returning to work when Dante started elementary school. As she said, “The kids came first.” Does that sound like a bad mom to you?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Myth Of The Invincible Mom

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot and can also be found on The Huffington Post.)

When you were young and untethered, it was no big deal to take to your bed when you got hit with a cold or a stomach bug or a hangover. You probably called your mom and your friends to complain, posted "Waaaa, I'm sick" status updates, and guilt-tripped your partner into bringing you chicken soup or Gatorade or a meatball sub.

Once you become a mom, though, there's none of that. The minute they put that tiny newborn in your arms, you have this very scary, very raw realization that it's all on you. And from that moment on, you learn how to suck it up. You have to, because you're getting up three times a night to feed a newborn, pacing around in a half-dead, zombie stupor as you lull your wailing baby into calm. Somehow, you manage to bathe and clothe and feed this precious creature, even though you yourself smell like sewer water, and are subsisting on sporadic sleep and pretzel sticks.

In some broken-down moments, you may scream, "I can't do this!" Except you can, and you do, because you're a mom now. You wouldn't have it any other way. And when you emerge from the fog, maybe four months later, you've been broken in. You've toughened up, you're stronger, and you're armed with a fierce determination to protect your baby from all bad things.

We moms often feel like we should be invincible, that it's really the only fair thing. When your little one needs 150 percent, then damn straight you're going to give him that. Only it doesn't leave much room for weakness in you... at least, that's how it seems. I can't get sick, I just can't, you think to yourself, as though the mental pep talk is any match for the nasty germs your kids are bringing home from school. It's not just that being sick totally sucks, which it does. The hard part is that you still have to be able to take care of your kids, especially if they're the ones up all night with a bad cough or queasy stomach.

You also start to feel this heavy, heartbreaking weight to be immortal or, at least, be around for the next 100 years. Your kids need you. They need you when they're little especially, but won't they always need you? The thought of not being there for them is terrifying, in a way that keeps you up at night and reminds you to see your internist and get your moles checked. Of course, yes, you want to be around for graduations and marriages and grandkids, but you mostly just want to be around for them. You don't want bitter in any of your child's sweet moments, no pause wishing that Mom could have been there to see this.

There's also this sense that you now need to be a better person, a good example, a real grown-up who is on top of it and together and doesn't forget to buy milk at the grocery store. OK, stop crying. No yelling. Calm down. Where's your head at? You talk to yourself and rally yourself, with high expectations of how you should be. You should be better. You're a mother, for god's sake!
Thing is, moms are not invincible, even though life would be so much easier if we were. We get knock-down, drag-out fevers and stomach bugs that have us crying for our own mommies. Some mothers get really sick, fighting battles much bigger than runny noses and vomit. And we fall apart regularly -- often in front of our kids.

Still, as moms, we are stronger, we are tougher and we are pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. Even when we're sick, we get them to school and help with homework and make dinner. We probably put on a little more TV than usual, but hey, at least we're resourceful. We put smiles on our faces, pretend it's not so bad and try not to let them see us sweat. We keep it together, for their sake. Then, once they're out of the house or sound asleep or the sitter/Daddy has taken over, we crawl under a blanket and will ourselves to heal. Or we pour a big glass of wine and text a friend (because we're too tired to call) to talk about our crappy day. Or we just sit there and cry and feel sorry for ourselves, because sometimes we need that too. We are human.

To our children, though, we are invincible. We are superheroes. We are the make-it-all-better bad*sses of the universe. They look to us to protect them and help them feel safe. But, they also look to us for guidance on how to be. How will they learn that it's OK to get sick if we don't get sick and then get better? How will they learn it's OK to cry and get mad if they haven't seen us get upset, breathe and then get over it?

We wish our kids were invincible, but they're human, too, just like us. We can't give them superpowers or impenetrable hearts or eternal life. There are going to be boo-boos and tears and sickness. That's just real life. So maybe the best thing we can do is be resilient, and show our kids how to be resilient, too.

Monday, March 10, 2014

What Does It Mean To Be A "Good Mom"?

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot and can also be found on The Huffington Post.)

When you think about what it means to be a good mom, some may picture the attachment parent who’s baby-wearing and co-sleeping and making her own organic baby food. Others may think of the informed mom who has read every book, knows every child-rearing method, and draws on those techniques to thoughtfully talk to and nurture her little one. Maybe your version is the Pinterest-happy mom who’s creating her own sensory tables and art projects.

What you probably don’t picture is the mom who did some sleep-training with her kids, who plops them in front of the TV for an hour every afternoon, and who screams “Noooooooo,” in loud terror when her 2-year-old twins take off running down the sidewalk on a busy street.

Well, that’s me, and I’m a good mom.

I love my kids every bit as much as the earthy moms and permissive moms and the ones who have their kids in art and music and language classes. I want the very best for them, whatever that means, and I do my very best to try and make that happen.

I raise my kids my own way. It’s how I was raised. And it’s based on an ancient parenting practice that’s been working since, well, forever—following my own motherly instincts. When it comes to my kids, I go with what feels right, I go with my gut. And it’s usually right, even if it’s not always warm and fuzzy.

First of all, I let my kids do scary things. I was always a brave, independent child and I’m a brave, independent adult. Bravery is one of the qualities I want most for my boys, and admire most in them. Not in some chest-beating kind of way. I believe that the braver you are, the more curious you will be, and the more you will want to learn and see and explore the world.

Don’t get me wrong—as brave as I am, I’m a full-blown ‘fraidy cat when it comes to my kids. I get mild heart attacks every single time they climb a rock wall or swing too high, but I suck it up. I try not to let them see me sweat. Because I’m a good mom.

Kids who climb and run and try death-defying stunts, however, still need boundaries, for damn sure. We say, “yes” a lot, but we say “no” a lot too. We pick our battles, but our kids don’t rule our roost. There is routine and schedule in our house. They have usual mealtimes and naptime and bedtime. They sleep in their room, although they don’t always choose to sleep in their bed. And we ask them to say “please” and “thank you,” even if they don’t really understand what that means. I believe that having some structure and boundaries makes them feel more secure. We’re not running an army base camp over here, but it’s not a free-for-all either. Home is a safe, calm place for us. Because I’m a good mom.

I’m also a mom who yells at my kids. I do. I’m not proud of it, but sometimes it feels like a necessity. When they’re dangerously close to diving headfirst off the couch or they’re about to stand up in their highchairs, I scream quickly and loudly, startling them so that they freeze in place. I’m sure some would have a more peaceful approach, but by the time I calmly explained, “Hey, buddy, we don’t stand in our chairs. Can you please sit down?” they’d have already taken their tumble onto the hardwood. I know this because they’re my kids. We’ve been there, done that already. (It’s an unfortunate side effect of having brave kids.) Sometimes the only way to get their attention—and keep them from harm—is a quick, sharp bark. Keeping them safe is a prerequisite for this job. That’s what good moms do.

No, I’m not the most Zen Mom in the world. I get scared, I get frustrated, and I cry a lot (although usually not in front of them). I need breaks to recharge so I don’t totally crumble in an exhausted heap come bedtime. I have moments I’m not proud of and days where I feel like I’m failing—failing miserably at this mom thing.

Still, every choice I make as their mom is deliberate and thoughtful. I know my kids and I know myself and I’m doing what works best for all of us. It may not be everyone’s parenting model, but it’s ours. My little boys are sweet and funny, happy and healthy, so whatever we’re doing, I think it’s working. There is a lot of hugging and kissing and tickling and laughing in our house. I know that’s got to mean something.

Think about your own kids. Are they well-loved, cared for, and happy? When you look at them, do you feel heart-swelling pride? Well, then it doesn’t matter what parenting books you’ve read or what philosophies you follow or if you breastfed for two years or regularly feed them Cheetos. It doesn’t matter if you’re a SAHM or a WOHM or KTNCFSRM (OK, I made that last one up). Guess what? You’re a good mom too.

I love my little guys with my whole heart. Nothing in this world will ever be more important to me. All I want is for them to live their very best lives, to become the best versions of themselves, and to be happy. Just happy. And I’m here to help guide them along the way. I’m their mom, and I’m a good mom.

Why I'm Glad To Be Raising Kids Today

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot.)

A few weeks ago, following college football player Michael Sam’s announcement that he was gay, a Dallas news anchor, Dale Hansen, slammed many in the NFL for their ridiculous, homophobic response. On surface appearance alone, Hansen, with his white hair, crisp suit, and thick drawl, seemed an unlikely champion for gay rights. Still, he spoke eloquently and thoughtfully about how baffling it was that a homosexual player wouldn’t be welcome in a league—or a locker room—where rapists, drug addicts, and violent criminals are apparently acceptable.

 He went on to say, very honestly, “I’m not always comfortable when a man tells me he’s gay. I don’t understand his world. But I do understand that he’s part of mine.” Of course, we could say, “Well, what’s there to understand?” but that wasn’t his point.

His point was that another person’s sexuality or lifestyle doesn’t have to make sense to him—all he has to do is respect it. He quoted civil rights leader, Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” That right there, says it all.

I’m a privileged, white, heterosexual woman. I’ve never faced poverty or racism or homophobia. I’ve talked to friends about those struggles, I’ve read about those struggles, but can I really understand those struggles? How could I really? Sure, I can empathize, I can listen, I can be aware, and I can be sensitive. It’s not my experience though. It’s not my history. I’m a spectator, not a player.

Here’s what I do know: We all have our own stories, tied to the color of our skin, our religion, our sexual preferences, and our place in society. They’re tied to our cities, our families, our childhood friends, and our first loves. They’re tied to our homes, our jobs, our kids, and our pets. They’re tied to our tummy pooches and squooshy breasts, our runner’s legs and yoga arms, our freckled skin and frizzy hair. They’re tied to our grandmother’s tuna casserole or yellow curry or chilaquiles. They’re tied to our holidays, our traditions, and our dinner tables.

Our unique stories deserve to be recognized, accepted, and celebrated. Our differences make each of us who we are. Our differences keep things interesting. Our differences are colorful and rich and heartbreakingly beautiful. They are our memories and our path. And they are our humanity, available in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Although it’s our differences that define us, it’s our common ground that connects us.

I think a lot about the world that my children are growing up in. Yes, there are terrible things happening all the time—wars and disease and violence and starvation and oppression. A white man can still shoot an innocent black man dead and get off because he felt “threatened,” punished with little more than public scorn. Still, I look around at the kids in their school, in their playgroups, in their classes. They come from all walks of life, all races, all cultures, all religions. Some have two mommies, two daddies, or no daddy in the picture at all. Some little ones, adopted from Africa and China, look very different from their white parents.

It comforts me knowing that for my kids, it will all be normal…or there won’t really be a “normal.” What’s that anyway? Diversity will be a part of life for them, not an anomaly. I want them to see and appreciate that every person is different, that every family is different and, yeah, so what?

I want them to recognize, accept, and celebrate a friend’s beautiful brown skin or how another speaks to her mother in Thai or that another has a Daddy and a Papa. It should just be one of their friend’s many qualities, as simple as his love of baseball or her willingness to share snacks. A part of who he or she is, with no good or bad, right or wrong attached. My part is to raise loving, accepting children.

I have identical twin boys who look exactly alike, but they are not the same. They are more than just twins, although that is part of their identity. They are unique and separate little beings and I acknowledge those differences and encourage them. Those distinctions—big and small—help give them a sense of individual self, they give them place, and they make them feel one-of-a-kind.
It’s important to embrace what makes you unique when you look, well, identical. And it’s important to embrace what makes you unique when you look different as well.

I fully admit that I might be na├»ve, especially because I live in an incredibly liberal city, and am surrounded by like-minded people. Still, I’m optimistic about this new generation’s future. I believe that the times are changing. Brave athletes like Michael Sam and Jason Collins are stepping into the spotlight and saying, “So yeah, this is me.” Actresses like Ellen Page are doing the same. Outspoken newscasters look into the camera and ask the bigots of the world, in so many words, “Hey, what the hell is wrong with you?” Injustices are now more often front-page news, not tucked away in small print.

As more people are standing up and speaking out, it’s the racists and the homophobes and the everyday haters who retreat into the closet. At least in the public sphere, those who hate seem to arouse far more criticism than those who choose to marry—or not marry—the man or woman they love. These days, it’s embarrassing to be small-minded.

Today, the mainstream is becoming more colorful, bright, and vibrant than it’s ever been, embracing all of our cultures, lifestyles, and special needs. Maybe we’re just taking two steps forward and one step back, but I truly believe that we’re moving toward acceptance, even celebration, of our differences.