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.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The One Thing All Parents Can Count On

Almost a year ago, my toddler twins went through a nudist phase. Every afternoon, we'd put them down for their nap, and once that bedroom door shut, the pants came off. Of course, it would have been fine if they stopped there, but no, they wanted to go Full Monty, which meant the diaper had to come off too. Watching from the baby monitor, I'd run in there yelling, "Diaper, on! Keep your diapers on!" I'd change them again and put their clothes back on. But, as soon as I left the room, the strip show continued.

This went on for months. I'm not kidding. Months! Everyone kept saying it was a phase and it would pass, but I always thought a phase lasted, I don't know, a couple of weeks. We tried reasoning with them. We tried bribing them. I yelled...a lot. One afternoon, I even ended up on the floor in tears after I ran in to find them peeing off the side of their cribs onto the carpet, their discarded poop diapers smeared on their sheets. Again, not kidding.

Ultimately, we discovered that nothing was really going to get through to our (then) 19-month-olds, so we resorted to duct tape. Yes, duct tape. We literally sealed their diapers on before naps and bedtime. We even turned their pajamas backwards so they couldn't unzip them. They tried, oh, they tried to Houdini their way out, but ultimately realized their arms weren't long enough...and that they were no match for industrial adhesive. Soon after, they just lost interest. Just like that--their nudist naptime antics had finally come to an end.

Or, at least, that brand of antics. A couple of months ago, out of nowhere, my boys climbed out of their cribs. They did it several times in a row until one boy wound up on the floor screaming, "My back, ouch, my back." I would have kept them in cribs until, say, college, but with a risk of bodily injury, clearly our days of containment were over. So, now we were dealing with a whole new kind of crazy at naptime. After ripping the baby monitors off the wall, breaking a lamp, pulling knobs off of their dresser, and knocking over their nightstand, we realized we basically had to strip that room down to nothing. Of course, they still seem to find ways to create mischief--somehow pulling clothes out of their child-locked dresser, scaling said-dresser, climbing on top of the couch to reach stuffed animals on a very high shelf. And since they trashed the baby monitor, I have no way of knowing exactly how they're making all of this happen. Unless they're magic babies. Maybe they're magic babies.

Anyway, I thought this would be yet another phase. Maybe it would take, oh, a few weeks for the novelty to die down. But no, not really. Now with damn near nothing in that room to hold their interest, they're making up games to play during naptime. They run from one end of the room to the other. They jump on the couch to hide from dragons. They lift up the shades and say hi to people walking by. For a period of time, they were ultimately falling asleep...it just took about forty-five minutes. I'd find them crashed out like drunken frat boys, one kid face down on a chair with his feet hanging off of the side, the other on the floor, his giant stuffed gorilla pulled on top of him. When I would get them up, I almost wanted to go in like some Mommy cop, shining a flashlight in their faces, nudging them with my toe, "Soooomeone had a rough afternoon, huh? Maybe if you'd gone to sleep when you were supposed to instead of running around like a coupla hooligans."

We were away for the holidays and between the time change, all of the excitement, and a new room to destroy like rock stars, their naps just completely disappeared. For two weeks, I tried to put them down. I went in there and scolded and threatened until I just gave up on their naps altogether. Were they done with naps for good? Was this the end of that two-hour afternoon break for both boys and me? Noooooooooo, I mentally screamed. Once we got home, things went back to normal for, hmmm, maybe a split second and then, just like that, went all screwy again. I'm afraid to admit it, but I think our days of naptime bliss may be coming to an end.

Way back when they were babies, I remember sitting in a Mommy and Me class, full of exhausted new moms consistently confused about sleep and eating and desperate to know, "What happened? What now? How do I get baby to eat more, sleep more, cry less? When can we have that secret code that'll help us figure out these damn infants? Because you know that we know that you know it, oh wise Mommy teacher." Week after week, we came at her with questions, wanting to know, exactly, exactly what to do.

Then, one day, she told us the secret code: The one thing you can count on with kids is that you can't count on anything. It all keeps changing and once you think you've figured it out, they throw everything out of whack again. Sometimes it goes back to normal, sometimes it's a new normal, but the changes will keep coming.

These last couple of months, I've tried to keep those wise words in mind, just as I did last year when I was buying duct tape and carpet cleaner in bulk. With toddlers, everything is a phase and we as parents are powerless to their continuous evolution. Their habits are always in flux--nothing is forever, good or bad. Either way, we have no choice but to just keep rolling with the punches, take some deep breaths and adapt. I have no idea what's next with my mischievous little angels, and I'm pretty sure I won't really be prepared. Sure, it would be nice to have all of the answers, but as any seasoned parent will probably tell you, "Hahahahahahahaha."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Why Are Women So Hard On Themselves?

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

For the most part, I’d say I’m pretty confident. I like who I am, I believe in myself and believe in the things I can do. I’m a good person, a nice person. I know that I’m smart, I know that I’m pretty, and I know that I’m a good mom.

Wow, did I just say all of that out loud? Yep, I did, and it feels really...uncomfortable.

As I was writing all of the above, I wanted to add the disclaimer. Sure, I believe in myself…when I’m not plagued with self-doubt. I’m a nice person…when I’m not gossiping like a petty bitch. I’m pretty…well, my face is, if you can ignore the rest of me. And I’ve got that mom thing down…until I lose my shit and scream, “No more Barney ever! Ever!”

I want to say that I’m awesome, and truly believe it, but my knee-jerk reaction, my go-to sentiment, is that I basically suck at life.

I spend some portion of every day wading around in my own insecurities and a sense that I’m doing something, maybe everything, all wrong. Sometimes I’m full-body submerged in it, and sometimes I’m only dipping my toe in for a few minutes. It’s a mean little voice that’s just always there, lurking. I hate being so damn hard on myself all of the time. I hate how the day is not complete until I’ve found some way to take myself down a peg.

And the worst part is, it’s generally just wallowing, a one-sided conversation in which I just berate myself for a little while and don’t really come up with any solutions. Some little thing happens—like I had an awkward conversation or I saw an unflattering picture of myself or I put too much salt on the pasta—and then decide everyone must hate me and I’m lumpy and a terrible cook.

Even if I’ve had a good day with good stuff, I find the charcoal lining. I could get some amazing career news, and yet, still feel like a failure because I’m not bringing in more of an income. My kids could do something impressive—like finish a multi-piece jigsaw puzzle—but I’ll go to bed worrying that I haven’t provided them with enough stimulating puzzle-completing opportunities. I lost two pounds? Hooray! Too bad I still have 20 to 30 pounds to go. No wonder I have trouble sleeping! Oh great, I’m bad at sleeping too. If it’s not one thing, it’s something else. Always. The low feelings don’t last and they’re pretty surface, but they’re consistent. It’s almost like an indulgence.
Actually, that’s exactly what it is: an emotional indulgence.

So why do I nitpick myself? I grew up with really positive female role models—confident women like my mom and my grandma who knew they were smart and charismatic and attractive and taught me to feel the same way. I could blame the media, assume I’ve been getting subliminal messages that I’m not pretty enough, thin enough, or good enough. I don’t think it’s that either though because, like I said, I had strong women in my life who convinced me not to buy the soul-crushing hype.

No, instead, I’m going to blame my friends. I blame other women. And I blame myself. Let’s blame each other, shall we? Because we’re all knocking ourselves on a daily basis and, I think, creating a vicious cycle.

In fact, I think it’s so insidious that we sometimes don’t even realize we’re doing it. We can’t even take a compliment, say “thank you,” and leave it at that. No, instead, it has to be like, “Oh God, this thing? I bought it at Old Navy for $5, like, forever ago.” Or, how about this: “Oh God, really? It must be this new BB cream because I swear the bags under my eyes are Costco-sized.” Or maybe, “Oh God, seriously? This place is such a mess right now and I want new throw pillows and maybe some pictures but, uch, I’m so bad at this stuff and just can never get it together.”

Come on, why the dialogue? We’re basically just making our complimenter tell us all over again how awesome we are. If you look at basic word efficiency, a simple “thank you” would be so much easier. Unfortunately though, the social niceties of dodging a compliment are ingrained in us. (There’s actually a funny Amy Schumer sketch where a group of women off themselves when one of their crew dares to accept a compliment.)

I’m no shrink, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the root of it all is the constant compara-thon between women. Sure, maybe there’s a little bit of jealousy and competition at play, but for the most part, I think it’s because we actually think our friends are freaking awesome. They’re a lot to live up to! And God forbid those women have insecurities of their own—well then we’re really screwed. When we hear a beautiful woman knock herself, we think, “If she thinks she looks like crap, I must look like super crap.” Or if your incredibly successful friend is complaining about not being very motivated these days, you really start to feel like a bum.

Here’s a little secret though: No one is perfect and no one’s life is perfect either. Every woman has her own crosses to bear.

While I wish I didn’t have to be so mean to myself sometimes, I’m starting to think that maybe a little bit of tough self-love isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it’s what pushes me and challenges me to do better and be better.

Still, I think this is one of those areas where we could learn something from men. They seem to own their accomplishments and brush off their perceived failures. They take the compliment and let it bolster them.

But old habits die hard. I don't think I’ll ever be able to stop nitpicking myself, no matter how accomplished, fit, or Pinterest-worthy I may be someday. And I’m actually comfortable with that because as harsh of a critic as I am, at the end of the day, I really do believe in myself. I really do like myself. And I bet that most women, in spite of all of their insecurities, feel the exact same way.