Chapter Book Club

Vesper will jump off a diving board without hesitation. She’ll climb a tree to it’s highest branches before considering how she will safely get down. She will approach a stranger without any self-consciousness and make easy conversation. She’s not fearless, of course, but she’s brave. She’s bold. She knows enough to want adventure but not enough to avoid risk.

But when the story her homeschool group was reading in Chapter Book Club took a turn, she hesitated. The story, meant for elementary aged children and recommended by a trusted librarian, became a little scary in parts and a bit violent at times and the chance of real sadness and loss lurked on the next page. So she withdrew from the group.

The group, I should mention, is comprised of the eldest 5 children of three families plus my 4-year-old Ondine (who is approximately 84 years old in adjusted terms). While these kids huddle together around a beloved parent and listen to the story and draw what they imagine, their 5 younger siblings run around nearby with the other parents. The group isn’t formal or compulsory. It’s people she knows and trusts who support her and understand her.

When she told me she didn’t want to participate anymore because of the plot of the story being read, we had some conversations about real versus imaginary and fiction and non-fiction. We talked about all feelings being acceptable feelings and about challenges being the catalyst for exciting changes. All good conversations, but nothing that could change her mind.

Her friends and the grownup facilitator and her baby sister tried gently and lovingly to cajoles her to rejoin them, but her mind was made up. The same spirit that moves her to climb, jump and run gives her resolve when she decides something isn’t working for her. She wasn’t going to change her mind.

“I know things are sad sometimes in real life,” she said. “But why should I feel sad during my spare time?”

I, her mother and caregiver, have never in my life related to her more. I, the consumer of real-life current events and reader of fictional movie spoilers, understood this sentiment so deeply.

We sat in the dirt while the club met, smelling spring, listening to birds, and talking about things that make us happy.

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Quiet Repeated Day of Work

“The best moment of our lives was one quiet repeated day of work in our house. – Donald Hall

I spent my day busy with the mundane. Awaken and take out and feed the dogs, make breakfast for the girls, check my email, boil water for tea, pay a bill. Drive to the grocery store, haircuts, then back home to work at the dining table with the sounds of small girls whirling around me as they spread markers, dinosaurs, and paper around the house.

There is lunch and snacks and reading books and tending to hurt feelings. Then attempts to clean or do laundry. We have dinner and a bath and read more books and I lay in the dark listening to their breathing deepen as they drift off and I struggle to stay awake and make a mental a list of all the things I should get done after they are asleep.

And I’m happy.

At my mother’s house, I read the newspaper. I checked the obituaries as I tend to do, finding comfort when the entire section is full of octogenarians or better.

I want my obituary to be a photo of me at 30 years old next to a description of 100 years of life lived while quietly shrinking to the size of a bird and loudly loving on people around me.

Fred Achatz died at age 90. His obituary read: Poet Donald Hall wrote, “The best moment of our lives was one quiet repeated day of work in our house.” Fred D. Achatz, a man of repeated, quiet work, passed away on Thursday, February 8, 2018.

It went on to list his loved ones and his works and his contributions to our community. But I was stopped by this quote and this line. Nothing in text has ever so encompassed the way I want to feel about my life when I reach it’s very end. I want to spend it in places I love with people I love doing ordinary, necessary, wonderful things that make life possible and prodigious. Beyond that, what even is there.

In between the measured chaos of our daily routine, my seven-year-old learns to read. I watch her eyes move slowly over signs and through books, watch her lips slowly sound out letters and words. I listen to my four-year-old whisper to her figurines, laughing at her own jokes. They help fold laundry, they fight over stuffed animals, we lose track of time and end up in our pajamas until noon. Or so.

I find time to run a small business, in my pajamas, to support women and work that feels important to me. To provide income to our family and exercise for my mind. I won’t cure cancer or win a Pulitzer prize, I will pay the mortgage and connect to people who inspire me.

I spend hours in conversations with Dave, my mom, my sister, and Jess about parenting and music and ice cream flavors. I stay awake late on endless text chains with Raquel and Bernadette shaking emoji fists and the proverbial sky and grieving with one-word sentences and celebrating with GIFs.

The quiet repeated day of work in my life is learning and cleaning and planning and connecting. The quiet repeated work of my life is paid work and house chores and helping our neighbors and preparing meals.

And I’m happy.image1

The Cavity

We went to the dentist because Vesper has a cavity. This incredibly banal and normal situation ended up being a lot more emotionally charged than one might expect a dentist appointment to be.

I was feeling shame and guilt about my child having a rather severe cavity and the neglectful parenting that may have led to that. For added drama, the dentist is a high school classmate of mine [hello small town!] and for some reason, it’s worse to imagine the damning judgment of a dental professional who also danced sweatily with you at Prom in 1998. It’s like she’s thinking ‘I grew up and became a dentist! You grew up and became a person who can’t even floss her children’s teeth properly!’ She wasn’t thinking that, though. OR WAS SHE!?

My daughter was feeling the fear that I assume is a natural evolutionary reaction to being in the dentist with that light on you and those metal stabbing scraping tools lined up on a tray next to your face. She had the anxiety of someone who has never experienced a filling before and imagines it to be like some kind of drill into the center of your very being that passes through all of your nerves first. At least that’s what I imagine she was imagining.

After the exam, the dentist explained that the cavity was quite serious and that the tooth was somewhat cracked. She instructed us to brush [we know!] and floss [we try!] and schedule another appointment to get it fixed as soon as possible.

As my mind began to do internal calculations of the cost of uninsured dental care and the stress of this impending appointment and the possibility of it being worse than we thought, my child rudely interrupted my anxiety spiral with her own.

‘WELP.’ she exclaimed. ‘I guess that’s it for me. No more candy. Never again. Might as well not even go to the Fourth of July parade because what would even be the point without the candy. And I can’t go Trick or Treating, that’s for sure. As for candy canes at Christmas, those will just be a decoration on the tree from now on.’

It’s hard to say which factor made me so dumbfounded in that moment. Was it the fact that this entire string of illogical logic came to my child so quickly in the 15 seconds since the dentist explained the situation? Was it the somewhat embarrassing fact that she launched into this tirade before the dentist was out of the room, exposing our obsessive love of candy to this tooth expert who once did geometry next to me? Or was it the fact that she had an undeniably sarcastic tone combined with her sheer panic, and her ability to convey derision made me actually somewhat proud?

We may never know. But what happened next is the dentist left the room. I could feel my anger rising. Internally, I felt justified in my ire because she was being so ILLOGICAL. What does this candy rant actually accomplish? And I lost my cool.

All of my own stress and exhaustion and worry left my body in one breath, and I yelled at my child in the dentist.

I mean, I didn’t yell. Because everyone would have heard that. I did that kind of yelling you become capable of once you have children, where you are screaming while also whispering.

I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I’m reasonably sure it included some version of the phrase ‘pull yourself together’ which is quite rich coming from a full grown adult woman yelling at a nervous child in public.

Within a nanosecond, I felt that crushing regret I also never knew until becoming a mother, the regret of losing your cool on the person you love more than your own life. The person you’d kill and die for. The person who you truly believe deserves nothing but love and joy and peace and you’ve just shown them your ugliest insides. That regret is my least favorite kind.

I apologized. She took her free toothbrush. We left.

We went to my parent’s house from the dentist so they could watch the girls while I ran some errands and worked. When my dad greeted us at the door, I was feeling the full weight of my stress plus the pain of my aforementioned regret, and I started crying.

Crying in front of my dad isn’t the best choice. He feels for you, but he also finds it illogical. ILLOGICAL. What does the crying actually accomplish?

I wonder where I get it.

He asked Vesper how the dentist was, she said ‘great.’ I couldn’t hear sarcasm that time, but maybe she just hasn’t practiced enough.

I left my parents house and planned to pull my life together and move on with my day. But I couldn’t. Because I had yelled at my child. And she has a cavity so I dropped the ball on that, but what about the rest of it? What about the unnatural obsession with logic I’m imposing on her and the affinity for sarcasm she’s adopted at age 7 and the general list of missteps I’ve made as a parent?

I parked at the grocery store and called a friend. And I cried. I cried because of the dentist yelling thing, sure, but also because of ALL of it. And everything. And how hard it is. And how fast it’s going. And how long that takes.

My friend listened to the hiccup sobbing for a while and then patiently heard my dentist story which I ended with ‘how crazy is that candy rant!?’ to which they said ‘that sounds exactly like something you would say.’

So. There’s that.

A few days later, separated from the emotion of the day and with the weight of the yelling-regret lifted, I told this story to some other friends. We laughed. They related. It’s hard. And funny. This story, and parenting in general.

Later my friend texted that Vesper actually reminds her of Anne of Green Gables with the drama and the moods and the lofty dialogue.

I love Anne of Green Gables. I wanted to be like her and to BE her but didn’t have the guts. But someone I gave birth to has the guts. That has to be the next best thing.

Tomorrow we are going back to the dentist to have the tooth fixed. She’s nervous that will hurt, but assured me she won’t freak out.

I’m nervous that it will hurt her, but I told her I wouldn’t freak out either.


a simple, complicated thing

DSC_0703The heart of my seven-year-old is a simple, complicated thing.

She loves pink and unicorns and twirling in circles and playing detective and dogs.

She’s afraid of the dark, though. And tornadoes. She worries about accidentally walking through a spider web.

She wants to be a grown up and have an iPhone and say ‘teenager words’ and walk all the way to the park by herself.

She doesn’t want to grow up, actually. She is afraid she won’t live here with us anymore and that things will change and be harder and she’ll have to make her own breakfast.

The heart of a seven-year-old loves knows that family comes first and friends are everything and s’mores give life.

The heart of a seven-year-old knows that people and dogs grow old and then older and, eventually, die.

Her invincible, warrior heart gives out love and warmth into the world indiscriminately, believing that all her affections are both wanted and deserved.

She receives even minor rejections and disappointment with an utter devastation that pierces her tiny, fragile heart.

The heart of my seven-year-old is a simple, complicated thing.


F&*k Your Mommy Wars

At some point after conception, you probably became aware of the term Mommy Wars. Pop culture tells us that the Mommy Wars are some sort of mythical war waged between formerly sensible, professional, loving and complex women who devolve to the point of trying to destroy each other over breastfeeding or vaccinating or homeschooling or or or.

Magazines tell you about this. Blogs warn you, your Facebook feed becomes a battlefield, your friends tell you war stories.

But these are lies. This battle does not exist. The Mommy Wars are not real.

* lemme take a quick sec to stop you if your instinct is to say ‘but I HAVE experienced mommy wars.’ you (and everyone else) have experienced someone being a dick to you. maybe you, yourself, feeling particularly vulnerable when tired and anxious and full of self-doubt, have acted like a dick in how you treated someone else. let’s be honest, you definitely have, and so have I. the things is, when you are a mother, and that dickishness comes from another mother it can feel especially painful, because this shit is HARD and you want, seek and deserve SUPPORT. especially from your sisters in motherhood. but what you experienced does not need or warrant a label so vast and so dismissive as ‘mommy wars.’ the person who hurt, shunned or shamed you is probably hurting, and while it is not your job to heal them I do encourage you to move right along until you find someone who has their shit together enough to treat you with respect. to recap: people can be dicks, motherhood is exhausting, don’t be a dick, ignore the other dicks. 

The myth of the catty woman is taught to us early and used to divide us since youth. Girls are told that we are each other’s competition. A competition in thinness, in charm, in blondness and breast size. In cuteness and sexiness and the right balance between the two. In having just the right number of opinions about only the right kinds of topics.

All of this competition is in pursuit of one goal: validation from men. To be the thinnest, cutest, smartest-but-not-too-smart is to be the most desirable. Desirable under the gaze of the rules of the western patriarchy. These traits are not, I’m happy to tell you, in any way the objective truth about what makes women valuable. These are the archetype that has emerged after eons of cultural conditioning defined by the parties in power: straight, white, cis men.

Let me say this one more time to be clear (and to remind myself): the domestic goddess Barbie Instagram woman that has been forced into your mind’s eye to represent the ideal of beauty and worth is a lie. She is not a real woman; she is created by institutions of men who know they can gain both power and profit by causing us to hate ourselves and each other for their benefit.

To be fat or angry or queer or awkward or smarter than they are is an affront to their desires. And though very few of us are the perfect Barbie, we are given access to their desire if we tick some of the boxes. In this way, you can be thin but not cute and feminine but not thin and still find room to shame other women who don’t come as close to the Barbie ideal. By giving us hair pats for meeting some of their desires they aim to give us the motivation to try even harder to please them and meet their standards.

The trick is that we have been taught that THEIR desires are the currency we need to get through life, and therefore we are willing to sell out other women to get that coin. We are willing to harm ourselves and each other to collect that check. This is the greatest con they’ve pulled.

If you spend an endless amount of time, money and emotional energy trying to ‘fix’ yourself, you’re given some latitude. If you WANT to be the domestic goddess Barbie Instagram woman and are willing to SHOW how hard you will TRY by purchasing the right things and disavowing the wrong people, you will be allowed into the room.

If you love yourself as you are, you are a threat and will be treated as such.

If you reject their standards of beauty and feminity, you aren’t even a real woman to them and they will remind you of this.

For those in the back:

This manufactured competition to reach arbitrary female standards (which will never, by the way, be enough) has accomplished the goal of disempowering sisterhood.

The patriarchy uses race, class, body size, and sexual orientation separate women into classes of worthiness. When we accept this as the ‘way it is,’ we end of treating other women poorly in order to secure our own seat at the table (or seat slightly closer to the table). Ask the white suffragettes who sold out the black women who fought alongside them. Ask thin women who mock fat women to get a laugh out of men. Ask rich women who claim superiority over poor women.

When we experience and participate girl-on-girl bullying in middle school, we are doing the bidding of the patriarchy. When we blame women for their own sexual assaults because they were drunk or wearing a short skirt, we are doing their work for them. When we don’t believe the accounts of women who experience workplace harassment, we chip away at the strength of our bond.

Even when you know this and accept this and analyze this truth, it’s hard to break free of our conditioning. But we have to try.

Lane, you ask me if you are actually still reading, what does this have to do with Mommy Wars?

When we accept the term Mommy Wars, we serve them another win. We let them co-opt our most unique experience as women, motherhood, and make it into another popularity contest and a standardized test that finds out how good of a BettyCrocker-JuneCleaver-virtuous-but-still-sexual-mommy you are. When legitimate disagreements between adult women living through the transitions of motherhood are reduced to pejorative cat-fights between bitchy girls, we lose.

Not only do men not carry children or give birth, they also still (hello, 2017!) do not do a proportionate share of the housework, childrearing tasks, or emotional labor despite the changes in recent decades to work roles and breadwinners. Read about it. Read more. Some more. Never stop reading about it. There is always more evidence of this. This is not fair to women and does not let men live up to their potential.

Time spent wasted on the concept of Mommy Wars distracts from the fact that it is generally not women who are benefitting from the unpaid, unseen and unattributed work of mothers.

Spoiler alert: it’s men. They’re benefitting.

The very premise of the Mommy Wars is created by the patriarchy as just one more way that approval from men can give us the illusion of access to power. The premise is that women are out to get other women and mothers specifically have an interest in berating each other. It suggests you can ‘win’ at motherhood and live up to the standards they have created. When we accept that very false premise we see each other as competition instead of support. We see motherhood as another performative act that requires approval.

When we engage in this thinking, we take energy away from the fight for our own equality, we lose the chance to validate each other’s experiences, we do the work of the patriarchy by sowing seeds of doubt and fear in our ability to be the ‘right’ kind of woman and the ‘good’ kind of mother.

FUCK your Mommy Wars.

Instead of Mommy Wars, I’ll judge women based on the validity of their positions. On the sum of their experiences. On their treatment of me and my children.

To resist the patriarchy, I will question the conditioning that asks me to compete with other women for the uncompensated rewards of meeting the patriarchal standards.

To destroy the patriarchy, I will question my emotional responses to heated dialogues with women. I will provide support to those who support me, particularly those who fall outside the parameters of western patriarchal standards.

To defy the patriarchy, I will trust women and mothers to follow their intuition. I will believe women and mothers when they share their experiences. I will give that same grace to myself.

When we stop seeing the approval of men as the currency, suddenly women are not your competition.

We don’t need them to approve of how we look, of what we say, of how we approach motherhood and parenting.

We can seek their partnership but not for the price of living up to their standards.

If we begin to dismantle a lifetime of thinking we stop needing and wanting to become the imaginary, idealized woman and begin to see that other real, flawed women are our allies.

Fuck their Mommy Wars.

Me, Too

Today my Facebook and Twitter and Instagram feeds were full of women that I know and women that I don’t know and women that I love saying ‘me, too.’ They, too, have been sexually harassed or assaulted And let’s be honest, in most cases, they’ve been sexually harassed and assaulted.  Most of the violence, both physical and emotional, perpetrated against these women was done by men.This is a fact.

I had a message from a friend who had posted on her page stating she was a victim of assault and shared an article that articulated rage regarding Weinstein and men in general and our rape culture. Rage born of pain and fear and anguish. And men she knows showed up in her comments to tell her how dismissive that was and to teach her how to be less angry and #notallmen her until they felt satisfied. Maybe we’d want to help you more if you were less angry, they said.

I’m in a private group of women living overseas, aside from that we share no one common thread and have known each other for the better part of 10 years. A post about ‘me, too’ began in that group and quickly filled with women sharing their stories of assault, harassment, and stalking. Stories of being harassed by strangers and assaulted by loved ones and intimidated by bosses. Women who have never told their partners or any other man for fear of being blamed. Women who weren’t sure if being groped or catcalled was ‘bad’ enough to count as harassment. Women who have posted their ‘me, too’ and waited for men to show up to support them but know they will continue to wait.

The only thing more distressing that the sheer volume of women posting ‘me, too’ was the number of conversations I had with women who have also been assaulted and harassed but didn’t feel they could post ‘me, too’ themselves. They felt ashamed of other people knowing they were victims. They felt afraid of their predator reacting to being called out. They felt insecure that they might be overreacting to their experience. They felt too numb to take this in and take this on. They felt anger because when they did report their assault in real life, no one believed them. In this sea of solidarity and ‘me, too’ our women-blaming culture was still enough to keep them silent. I don’t blame them, though. I completely understand. I hear them, too.

For every ‘me, too’ you’ve seen there are five or five million more unsaid, unposted. For every ‘me, too’ there is someone who was harassed, assaulted, or raped but doesn’t even consider what happened to them to fit in those categories because that’s how powerfully we’ve been conditioned to blame ourselves and accept this violence. For every ‘me, too’ you saw there is a man (and sometimes a woman doing the bidding of the rape culture that embodies the patriarchy) making a dismissive comment or sending an abusive private message.

I sat staring at the blinking cursor myself, thinking about whether or not to write ‘me, too.’ Not because I doubt myself, I know all the ways I’ve been attacked, I’ve chronicled the aggression and filed it away neatly in the back of my mind so that I can continue my daily life. But because I don’t want to answer questions. Open myself up to their eyes. Their eye-rolling. Their dismissiveness that is in itself violence.

I hesitated because what does it DO. Who is helped? What can be gained? All of us who sat there and took that moment and then decided to post ‘me, too’ anyway, we all just opened ourselves up to a world full of men who as a cohort have, up until today, done pitifully little to stop this. To stop each other. To stop. Stop all of this. Isn’t this just screaming into the void?

And I decided, yes. It is. But what choice do I have? Scream into the void with all those who also couldn’t keep the words in any longer, scream our ‘me, too’ into the black, or be devoured by it.

Me. Too.


When Your Socks Don’t Fit Right

It seems easy enough. To get dressed. Put on underwear, then pants, a shirt, some socks. Put the clothes on and we can go outside. Put them on and we can find something new. We can get a chocolate muffin, we can find a new park, we can hike a trail covered in acorns, we can hold hands and laugh at inside jokes.

Just pull on the pants. And pull the shirt over your head. It seems easy enough. Except when there is a tag in your t-shirt that itches. It itches in a way that offends your very being. You’ve worn this t-shirt 157 times and called it your favorite but today that tag bent just so and it’s killing your soul. But we want to go out. And feel some sun on our faces. So I’ll cut out that tag. Is that better? ‘Mostly’ is your answer but you’re still crying, rubbing the invisible injury caused by the aggressive tag.

Get dressed and we’re ready. I don’t care what you wear. I don’t care if it matches or if it’s silly or if there are holes in all your knees. I want to take you places, I want to show you things. So pick anything. Always a skirt. Often the same one. It’s easy enough. Except when your sock feels weird. You say there’s something poking your toe, positively STABBING your second toe in an excruciating way. So I turn the sock inside out and rub it and inspect it and I don’t see anything but I know that won’t please you. I pretend I saw the stabby object and removed it. But when you put the sock back on it’s still not right. Less stabby, sure, but still wrong. All wrong. So you cry, genuinely exasperated.

I truly want to help, but I also want to scream. Because there is nothing wrong with your fucking sock. And I’m tired. And parenting is hard. And in my heart, I know that this has very little to do with your sock. You don’t understand projection yet, but that’s what you’re doing now.

The sock is a metaphor. For whatever is bothering you. For what you are afraid of. For things that confuse you. For loneliness you might feel. And this makes you angry. And frustrated. I can see this. But to you that tag or this sock is all that is wrong with the world and all that is keeping you from being happy. You scream and cry about the sock but the sock has nothing to do with this. And that’s what breaks my heart.

Part of me wants to try to explain this to you. But I don’t because not only will you not understand, I don’t want you to understand. I want you to live a little longer in a world where finding a better sock could solve all your problems. I don’t want you to know that the older you get, the more things you see, the more you feel, the more likely it is that you will never feel comfortable in a sock again. An entire lifetime of ill-fitting socks and heartbreak and frustration and pain and itchy tags. I don’t tell you any of that today.

Instead, I just dig around for another sock and mutter ‘goddamit’ under my breath but not as under my breath as I should have.

After what seems like hours of hostage negotiation but was probably 15 minutes of tag-cutting and sock-fitting between sobs, we are finally outside. Sockless and in an inside-out t-shirt, everything as it should be.

In Dark Rooms 

In the days when I had infants, I spent long hours in dark rooms with a nursing baby fantasizing about the concept of space.

Physical space, where my body wasn’t constantly touched and needed.

Emotional space, to feel and tend to only my own needs.

Intellectual space, to tend to work and passions and personal projects.

As I enter a new phase of parenting, where my children begin to spread their wings, I can still so vividly remember the very suffocating feeling of being so desperate for space. For air. For room to move. For freedom from the needs of others.

As I enter a new phase of parenting, where my children begin to spread their wings, I poignantly long for the simplicity of that very complicated but exceedingly simple time. Where the exhausting and humbling fact that my children needed so much of me was the exact reason that we had such intimacy.

My children push away, want to do it themselves, go it alone, more and more often. They are growing and developing and they want their own world, not just our world. Every day that passes, every month since their last birthday, every year gone by this need they have to have a life outside of me will grow.

This is the natural order of things…is what I tell myself when I cry in the shower. And I am right. And that’s why it’s sad. Because this is the cost of the space I dreamed of.

Now instead of fantasizing about more space around my body, more space in my mind, more space for my personal pursuits, I fantasize about freezing time right now. Freezing us right here, where my body largely belongs to me but their hearts are still in my hands. Where I can leave if I want to, but I don’t really want to.

I write this from another dark room. No one is nursing. No one is sleeping precariously perched on my chest. I’m free to leave, but I stay. I have space. Empty rooms all over this house. But here I am.

My children are sleeping, with their legs draped over mine. They asked me to stay with them until they slept, a request that would have brought a wave of panic in earlier years during a time that their needs seemed endless and my self seemed invisible.

More recently a request like this brings me relief, that they still need the closeness as much as I do. That I made it through a hard part and can enjoy a sweet spot.

Which means I can make it through another hard part and to the next sweet spot.


Bikinis and Bodily Autonomy


A few months ago, my daughter said she wanted to get her ears pierced. She mentioned it very casually, in the same way you might say ‘my favorite color is blue.’ This is, I assume, a normal and age appropriate request for a 6-year-old.

I responded with a series of stuttering sounds after a few seconds of stunned silence. And then I said ‘no.’ And she said ‘why?’ And I said ‘you’re not old enough’ and changed the subject. This is, I assume, a normal and age appropriate reply for a 36-year-old.

On the first beach day of the summer, she eyed her peers closely and upon inspection of the general trends announced to me that she wants a bikini. She didn’t even bother to ask. She seemed to feel it was a foregone conclusion.

And I said no. And she said why. And I said we can talk about it later. And she said, well YOU wear one. And I pretended to be enthralled by a seagull flying overhead. She knows I hate seagulls.

On the second beach day of the summer, I wore a one-piece instead of a bikini. And when she again declared her desire for a new suit, I said no.

And she said why. And I said because it’s not practical what with the sand and sunscreen and such. And she said well YOU wear one. And I said…DO I THOUGH?! and I did a Vanna White gesture over my bathing suit. And then pretended to be enthralled by a seagull flying overhead.

Like everyone, even those who won’t admit it, I am bumbling blindly through parenting. I am doing my best, with a lot of help from Dave and from my sisterhood and from my critical thinking skills, but I always feel like I’m one freak-out away from my kids needing intensive therapy for the rest of their lives. I live for and live in the gray area. The moderation zone.

In all that gray moderating, though, I’ve taken a hard line on bodily autonomy.

My children do not have to hug anyone if they don’t want to. Not me, not my mother, certainly not a stranger or distant relative. They don’t have to give a kiss to appease the egos of adults.

I don’t choose my children’s clothes. Beyond what is weather appropriate, it’s up to them.  They choose things that don’t match and aren’t cute and that I don’t actually like. It’s not about me.

My children don’t have to eat ‘two more bites’ if they say they are full. They can have a snack right after lunch if they say they are hungry. They determine what their body needs.

I don’t teach my children that they have to mind the words of adults. They have to respect adults, and kids and the elderly and dogs. But being an adult in and of itself is not something to be deferred to. Obedience with out discernment teaches them to distrust their instincts.

I want my girls to feel empowered and entrusted and unencumbered. I want to be the first in line to tell them that I trust them to make their own choices about their body and the way they present themselves to the world.

Except…the earrings. And the bikini. In other words, my stance on their bodily autonomy is grayer than I had thought. Less clear than I had hoped. As I said, bumbling blindly.

As I said, bumbling blindly.

To a 6-year-old girl, a bikini is just a fun, new kind of bathing suit. With different straps and belly button freedom and a grown up feeling.

To a 6-year-old girl, earrings are an adventure, a rite of passage. They are sparkly and decorative and feminine.

To her 36-year-old mother, the earrings and the bikini are examples of the way our culture sexualizes girls and asks them to grow up fast while somehow remaining young forever and positions them under the male gaze before they could ever understand the consequences of what that means.

And the problem is that neither one of us is wrong. Some things are fun and pretty and whimsical and exciting. And the same things can be complex and damaging and nefarious.

I lay in bed at night with ghost of her as an infant sleeping on my chest, weighing the virtues of fully relinquishing my perspective on her choices and surrendering to trust while simultaneously contemplating the dark external forces that influence her preferences and mold her impressions in a world that isn’t set up to let women live in peace and safety.

On a related note, I don’t sleep much.

On Amazon they sell sheets of stick-on earrings like we used to wear in the 80’s. They’re sparkly and come in heart shapes and star shapes. You can choose the one that matches your mood or your outfit and enjoy them until they inevitably get caught up in your hair and fall out, which usually happens right around the same time you forgot you were wearing them.

As it turns out, a tankini gives some of the same satisfaction of a bikini. The two pieces, the fun straps, the more grown up feeling. But it’s child like and covers places you don’t want a sunburn, so there’s that.

She lays in bed at night thinking about the games she played that day, laying in a nest she made of stuffed animals, wondering if she can convince me to buy Lucky Charms, with her knobby knees and bruised shins curling up under her.

She sleeps just fine.

To A Mother Who Trusted Me

This is a thank you note, of sorts. It’s a note I could only have written with the beautiful gift of hindsight and the wonderful humility of parenthood. A note to a woman who trusted me with her children.

When we lived in Oslo I was without a job, without children, and with so much time. With the get-up and go of an unemployed overachiever and some very random ‘babysitting’ experience, I took a chance and answered an ad for a family looking for an English-speaking au pair.

I met S for the interview and was immediately impressed: she was smart, chic, friendly and clearly had her shit together. Or as together as a successful career-driven woman with two children ages 1.5 and 2.5 can be. She was just enough older than me to seem much smarter and fancier and more interesting, but she was close enough to my age that I could picture us having a glass of wine together.

The test meeting with her beautiful children went really well, which I was thrilled about because this was essentially a performance review conducted by two toddlers who could not understand a word I was saying. I distinctly remember fretting over my hair before I arrived at their home, which I now realize is only a concern of a woman who doesn’t understand toddlers (yet). I was hired, much to my relief, and I now realize, much to S’s as well.

At the time I obviously knew that finding a carer for your children was not a task taken lightly. I knew any parent would be choosy and have standards for any person they would leave with their most prized possessions. But I also thought I’d be the kind of person any parent would be happy to have found for the job. I am well-educated, experienced with kids, outgoing, not a criminal, young enough to seem energetic but old enough to seem sensible. I like early bedtimes and having basic cooking skills. I am the opposite of a risk taker. Who wouldn’t choose me?!

Now, of course, I realize it was not that easy. Everything in the above paragraph is true. And the reason S hired me can probably be found in some combination of those described traits and plus the strength of her gut feeling combined with the pressure she was under to hire help quickly. At the end of the day, she still had to take a leap. A huge, terrifying, leap of faith to meet a total stranger and turn her, virtually overnight, into someone who comes into your home and cares for your precious babies. She’s a hero.

I genuinely enjoyed working with the children. They were happy and had active imaginations and good appetites and they seemed to like my singing. I learned some Swedish words for snack foods and some French words for cuddling and sleeping. I learned about toddlers, about their incredible openness and their insane volatility. I learned about their picky eating and their fear of showers. I knew so much about S’s children, E and N, and I grew to love them. I knew which items N couldn’t sleep without, I knew which rhyme could distract E enough for me to wash her hair. I knew which toy train would cause them to fight, I knew which hat E thought was too tight.

S never seemed terribly stressed to me. She seemed busy, but together. She seemed to really enjoy her career, the travel she did for her job, the parties she attended with coworkers. But she was also incredibly devoted to her children. They lit up around her. She lit even more brightly around them.

At the time being part of their world for 8 months seemed like such a nice snapshot into the life of a loving family (and it was), but now I can also see it was one of the most intimate things a woman could have ever shared with me. And I’m so grateful for that.

I tended to her children when they were feverish and she was stuck in the airport returning from work.  I know now, from personal experience, how hard that moment must have been for her.

I took them to nursery school and coaxed them from tears when they didn’t want to stay.

I took them to the park on the first warm day of spring. I did things that she surely did with them 1 million times over, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some part of her wishing she could have done them every single time herself.

Even on her best day at the office or on a lovely evening out, I know now from my own experience, part of her heart was always back at the house with N and E. Part of her heart was always outside her body, and she that part of her heart to me and trusted me to care for it.

When I think of that now I am truly struck. What a privilege.

The time I spent with them taught me so much. About siblings in an age that I can’t myself remember. About the way kids can be flexible when moving between countries and languages. About the choices families make every day to balance financial responsibility and emotional stability and personal fulfillment.

We face those choices now with our own family. And it’s hard.

I want to be with my children and share in their day, but I also want to grow my business and experience external gratification. I want to manage my household and fulfill their desires and make the world keep spinning, and sometimes I need some help to do that.

Finding that help is difficult, because I’m asking a young woman, often much younger than myself, to take on the weight of my most precious cargo for a few hours at a time.

I’m asking a woman, who doesn’t have children and certainly should not be expected to understand what it is like if you do, to see my children the way I do, as awe-inspiring maniacs who deserve love and safety every minute of every day.

I’m trusting someone who isn’t me, and anyone who isn’t me is somewhat suspect. FACT.

I’m saying yes to the idea of having it all by not being it all.

I’m saying yes to the village, to the benefit of new faces and different hands, to the joy of someone who sings songs I don’t know and fixes boo-boos in another way and who has a laugh different than mine.

I’m opening, just a crack, the steel bars I keep around my children, around my heart, and letting a teenager come in for a while. It’s terrifying. And liberating.

Thank you, S, for trusting me then and teaching me now.