Tag Archives: Parenting

Parenting The Popular Crowd

It began in Kindergarten. 

Raising my three children into adulthood, I can trace the threads of the social hierarchy back to the earliest days of elementary school. At age 5, some kids mocked others, refused to play with them — and The Cool Crowd was born. Standing in a pack of parents, watching the playground from the sidelines, waiting for the opening bell, I was always struck by the way the children’s behavior was reflected in the parents. A clear social hierarchy existed among the moms and dads and unsurprisingly, the kid and adult hierarchies often mirrored each other. 

I remember a group of children loudly reliving a birthday party, making sure those who weren’t invited heard every enviable detail. One girl who was excluded began to cry. I waited for parents to step in, which they did, but not in the way I hoped. Instead, a posse of adults launched into a discussion of the same party, putting on a show for the excluded parents. As a mom with kids in different grades from the grand event, I watched the drama unfold from an emotional distance. Still, I was appalled. The cool crowd was alive and well, rejecting and mean, spanning generations.

An elevated seat on the social food chain makes people of all ages feel safer, stronger, less vulnerable. When rising up is based on pushing others down, the resulting sense of security rarely lasts. The shot of power is temporary, the vulnerability resurfaces, and the need surges to find a target again and again. 

Parenting the popular crowd was a challenge, no matter where my kids landed on the hierarchy. With parents endorsing Top-Of-The-Food-Chain behavior, The Cool Crowd was clearly here to stay. My job was to help my kids feel steady, to behave with decency, whether or not they were tagged as “cool” or “uncool.” Sometimes my task felt effortless; other times, it felt impossible. 

I carried my prototype of popular from personal experience. Nope — I wasn’t Cool-Crowd-Material (much too nerdy), but I met my role model for cool in high school, taking a ceramics class to fulfill an art requirement. The students were randomly assigned to tables of six, and I found myself seated with one of the school’s most popular girls. She was so beautiful that I could barely tear my eyes away from her to work with the clay. On the first day of class, she looked around our uncool table, and didn’t balk for an instant. She was kind, inclusive and she proved that being popular does not necessarily entail being mean. In a run-down classroom, bottom-of-the-line equipment, age 16 — she showed me that using popularity as an excuse to hurt others is just that: an excuse. There’s nothing wrong with being well-liked and respected, and there’s nothing wrong with being cool or popular. There’s everything wrong with using social status as a weapon. 

I’m sure that girl doesn’t remember me. I was the quiet one at our table. I watched, listened, barely spoke. I finished my art requirement, and barely gave the class a thought…unless I was thinking about her. She showed me the definition of popular that, decades later, I handed to my children.

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Filed under parenthood, parenting, The Cool Crowd, The Popular Crowd, Uncategorized

Raising Gender Equality

When my daughter was in second grade, the girls in her class became fascinated by the television show America’s Next Top Model (ANTM). Play-dates, sleepovers and birthday parties were scheduled around the show. Hallways were converted into faux runways, and party bags contained lipstick and eye-liner.

ANTM was created by Tyra Banks, a wildly successful supermodel who hosts a competition for aspiring models. When my daughter first told me about the show, I watched Top Model on my own, to check it out. I expected to hate it with 100% fervor, certain that every feminist fiber in my body would break out in hives. But as the episodes unfolded, my reaction was mixed.

Top Model contestants live together, in close quarters. As the competition progressed, personalities revealed themselves. Some stepped forward as fine people, but not all. A significant number reverted to school-yard bullying, shamelessly ganging up on each other. Some dropped homophobic and transphobic remarks. Several tossed out snarky comments about their competitors’ weight and appearance.

But Tyra Banks took me by surprise. She defended interesting, off-the-beaten-path features, including larger sized models. She encouraged viewers to broaden their definitions of beauty. She treated all racial heritages as equally attractive. She was outspoken, supporting the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Tyra Banks was articulate, lightning-intelligent, and a stunningly effective teacher when she coached her contestants in technique.

Although I respected Tyra Banks’ talent, I found many values of the modeling industry outright harmful. I have three children – two sons, and one daughter. As a mother of both male and female kids, I’ve experienced the cultural values regarding gender that continuously smack my kids in the face. It begins on Day One. When my boys were infants, strangers looked at my slumbering, 8-pound puppies, and pronounced them “strong and smart”; with my daughter, strangers called her “pretty”. Gender stereotypes are alive and well.

My husband and I talked through our choices, figuring out how to handle our ANTM dilemma.

Option #1: Our daughter could watch the show, with no guidance — which was the choice of many other parents, and which we rejected immediately.

Option #2: We could outlaw the show — but with the other girls entranced, we felt our daughter would become drawn to Top Model like forbidden fruit, sneaking behind our backs, and unable to turn to us for help with the values because she would have to blow her cover.

We decided on Option #3: Our daughter could watch ANTM, but one of us had to watch with her. As overt or covert messages emerged, we’d be there to offer alternative perspectives.

A few friends thought we were making a huge mistake, arguing that seven-years-old was too young, too impressionable. I agreed with the too-young-too-impressionable part, but not with the huge mistake part. Gender stereotypes crop up all over our culture. That’s the reality. Would I have preferred that my daughter didn’t encounter these values until much later (or not at all)? Of course. But that piece was out of my control. Her classroom was filled with ANTM acolytes, and we had to deal with it.

So we watched the show, as a family, with a running commentary. My sons and daughter learned to identify comments that reflected assumptions about females, about physical appearance, about bigotry. We talked about the pressure to be thin, a value already emerging in some second grade girls who worried about being “fat”. We discussed our culture’s hyper-emphasis on beauty. We also gave kudos to Tyra for her progressive approach to defining attractiveness, for her support of racial equality and LGBTQ+ rights, and for her “mad skills” (sic my oldest son) as a teacher.

Around her tenth birthday, my daughter lost interest in Top Model. But something had taken root in the course of watching that show: my daughter and her two older brothers — ages 10, 12 and 15 — all began calling themselves “feminists”. And they still do.

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Filed under gender equality, parenting, Uncategorized

Let Them React First

In the coming weeks, Early Action and Early Decision letters will arrive from colleges. Applicants will anxiously hover over mailboxes and recheck email. When the messages arrive, some will feel on top of the world, while others will feel crushed. For moms and dads, this is a Helicopter Parenting Moment, waiting to happen.

I’ve experienced both sides of the application process. In recent years, I’ve been the parent offering support to my three children as they filled out the Common App, wrote supplemental essays, gathered transcripts. I also vividly remember my own application process decades ago, when my first response was a resounding rejection — leaving me to wonder if any college, any place, any time, would ever want me.

When my children began the process of applying to college, I surprised myself. I found myself thinking not of SAT scores or teacher recommendations, not of my own application experience. Instead, my thoughts turned to the neighborhood park where my first child played. When he was born, I knew absolutely nothing about parenting. I had never babysat, never changed a diaper, never prepared a bottle. When he began to walk, I was terrified as he careened happily, delighted with his newfound autonomy. He walked constantly, and he fell constantly. Each time he crashed, my adrenaline spiked – until one day at the playground, a more experienced mom gave me a priceless piece of advice.

We sat on a wooden bench as her daughter navigated the swings, and my son trotted across a stretch of sand. Abruptly, he tripped over a grain and sprawled. I jumped up…but so did he. He hopped to his feet and continued forward, intent on his mission. I backed down, trying to steady my breathing, and this mother turned to me. We had never met before, but she smiled with a world of understanding and said four of the wisest words I’ve ever heard: “Let him react first.”

We love our children with a bond that defies measurement. Those feelings never lessen, even as our kids become adults. But clear emotional boundaries are a vital part of our connection. Their triumphs and victories belong to them, not to us. Their disappointments and failures belong to them as well. They need our support, but they also need our perspective.

As we enter the holiday season and the new year, many families face the next milestone: early action and early decision acceptances and rejections. A gigantic gravitational force called Helicopter Parenting is lurking, ready to suck moms and dads into the fray. If we don’t hold our ground, then our over-involvement can fill the space, pushing our children’s reactions into a corner. Our daughters and sons may feel triumphant, defeated, or possibly something entirely unexpected, something all their own. Whatever they feel, their rejections and acceptances belong to them, not to us.

Let them react first.

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Perfect Moms, Pebbles and Pinafores

During my first five years of parenthood, we lived in a lovely part of San Francisco, filled with perfect moms. Every Saturday morning, they arrived at the neighborhood park looking…well…perfect. Their hair was colored and styled; their outfits were runway-ready; their make-up was impeccable. Their dapper sons and coiffed daughters gummed their Zwieback Crackers in style, regal in their state-of-the-art strollers. Even their bottles sported bells and whistles beyond my wildest dreams. I watched one mom put down a blanket, push a button, and the blanket inflated for a spa-caliber diaper change.

I always showed up in my most comfy sweats, with my brown/gray hair au naturale, no make-up. Usually my one-year-old son pushed his own stroller, with his bag of clean diapers and snacks in the seat. This particular park was his favorite, because the ground was entirely sand, so he could run, fall and jump up unhurt. Best of all, mixed into the sand were thousands of pebbles. He spent hours happily digging for these precious stones, and sorting them into piles. He liked me to sit with him as he constructed each architectural wonder.

So there I sat, more scruffy by the minute, with my son parading pebbles for me to admire. I glanced at the other moms. They chatted, sipping water or coffee, legs crossed on the benches. I loved hanging out with my son; at the same time, I longed to meet other new parents. But that clearly wasn’t going to happen here. While I floundered with naps, sippy-cups and diaper rash, they remained perfect.

One foggy Saturday, a two-year-old girl approached shyly, clueless that she was about to change all of our lives. She wore a pink pinafore, white lace and patent leather shoes. She walked over slowly, and offered her fist to my son. He reached out and she dropped a pebble into his hand. They played for 2 hours.

Next time, the same girl scampered over. I glanced at her mother, who smiled coolly from the bench. Within an hour, three more kids joined the pebble brigade, while their mothers remained on the bench. The children all brought their pebbles for me to admire, then moved on to my son who supervised the sorting into proper piles. They played together beautifully, with the intense concentration of toddlers immersed in a project. I was pleased when my boy’s new friends turned to me for help — an untied shoe lace — a pinafore bow which needed to be retied – a boy’s Batman cape which somehow entangled in a girl’s ponytail and they were stuck together.

Finally, I got up, dusting myself off. My son ran to his stroller to claim his snack, and the pinafore girl jumped into my arms for a hug. At that point, the entire posse of perfect mothers approached. I hesitated, they hesitated, and suddenly it hit me: they didn’t know how to break into my circle any more than I knew how to break into theirs. I introduced myself, awkwardly shaking hands around the pink-bowed/white-laced/pig-tailed bundle in my arms. My son politely offered his pretzels and apple slices to his new friends, and then to their mothers as well. One girl gave him a home-baked oatmeal cookie while another boy offered a carrot. All at once, their snacks turned into a buffet. The picnic table overflowed with juice boxes, cheese sticks, crackers, banana slices. A stunning mom in 2-inch heels ordered pizza, and our buffet became a party.

The following Saturday, to my surprise, every perfect mom dropped down in the sand. Pizza-Mom asked where I had bought my athletic shoes, because her heels didn’t work well in the park. They asked how I played so comfortably with the kids, and I asked how they managed to look so bloody perfect. We all laughed, and our neighborhood community formed on the spot. Hairstyles and haute couture didn’t matter one whit. We were new parents, together, embarking on the most enriching, challenging, terrifying, uplifting journey of our lives.

We met every weekend morning for years. We broke into smaller groups of closer friends, but still remained a supportive community. Over time, we scattered and lost track of each other. I’ll always be thankful to those perfect moms, and to the neighborhood park where I learned that pebbles, pretzels and ponytails trump haute couture every time.

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Filed under community, motherhood, parenting

The First Failure

SPOILER ALERT: If vivid descriptions of breast-feeding bother you, then skip this post!

From the moment I became pregnant, I looked forward to breastfeeding. I read What To Expect When You’re Expecting forwards, backwards and sideways. I took prenatal vitamins, snacked on fruits and vegetables. As the due date approached, I bought all the necessities – diapers, stroller, crib. But I told my husband not to bother with formula. I knew with absolute certainty that I would be a Poster Mom for breastfeeding.

Within an hour of giving birth, my chest began to feel strange. An uncomfortable sensation of heat spread and I smiled, feeling a bone-deep connection to the tradition of mothers who have been breastfeeding their children through thousands of years. The heat in my chest intensified, followed by an odd “filling” sensation. I said something to my husband about the wonders of my post-partum body.

Then the pain hit. My breasts were unrecognizable – rock hard, gigantic, so painful that the weight of the hospital gown was agony. The tiniest movement, including breathing, hurt terribly. I had no nipples for a baby to latch onto, just a marble-smooth surface. I was alarmed, but the doctors and nurses reassured me that all was well. Yes, my breasts were “more engorged” than they had “ever seen”. But I shouldn’t worry. I’d be fine by the time my child grew hungry.

Two hours later, my son was screaming for a full meal. My boobs had morphed into bowling balls and worse, had missed the memo on timing. My baby was hungry, and my nectar-of-maternal-love-supply was non-existent. I hadn’t been a mother for 24 hours, and I was already a failure.

Enter the parade of specialists. Breast feeding experts, newborn specialists, La Leche League reps, post-partum nurses, parenting advisors, nutrition coaches. They scrutinized my every move as I tried (and failed) to feed my child. They examined every inch of my impressive chest, adjusted the way I held my baby. They checked my newborn’s mouth and tongue to make sure he could suckle effectively.

Most of these experts were sympathetic, but not all. Some grew frustrated, and one left the room yelling at me (a gut-shot for a mom brimming with post-partum hormones, holding a screaming infant, sporting a chest the size of a small planet). All acknowledged that my boobs were, to quote one specialist, “in a league of their own”.

The most creative expert was a nurse — kind, funny and determined to outsmart my uncooperative breasts. She rigged up a complicated system which included a test-tube of formula taped to my shoulder, with a thin straw to drain into a plastic nipple, which had a strategically placed hole. The theory: my baby would drink a mixture of colostrum (the prelude to mother’s milk) and formula. In a day or two, my boobs would become bored with being engorged, we would subtract out the formula, and my son would become entirely breast-fed.

I held my child to my breast, with my rigged up formula and my faux nipple. I barely breathed, hoping this would do the trick. Then my baby reached up with his little fist, and bonked the test tube smack off my shoulder, knocking the straw out of my plastic wonder-nipple. The formula in the straw dribbled down my belly, pooling in my navel. My firstborn then thoughtlessly batted his arm, and my plastic tit flew across the room. I tried to sort out the confusion, reach for a towel, cradle my son, but by then he was yelling in frustration, his food supply cut off. Hearing the wails, my husband rushed in to find his wife and first-born both in tears.

The next nine days were a haze of hot packs and cold packs, attempts and failures, formula in bottles always followed by feeling utterly defeated (me) and peaceful slumber (my son). Finally, on the dawning of Day Ten, I woke up and realized I was breathing without pain. In a few hours, my breasts reverted to normal.

I would have loved to breastfeed from the start, and maybe the next expert would have figured out the solution, but I wasn’t going to let my child suffer, hungry for 9 days. At the time, I had no perspective, no sense of humor. Although my son was thriving on bottle-fed formula, I still felt flattened, a failure. Breastfeeding was supposed to be a natural process. The conclusion was obvious: I wasn’t a “natural” mom.

Now I look back with the perspective of a mother whose three children range in age from 18 to 23. With each new baby, the same pattern followed: my boobs became bowling balls for nine days, and no specialist was able to figure out a way to jump the track. To my disappointment, all three grew attached to the bottle during those nine days, and only breastfed briefly. I tried to express milk, but my supply tapered off. I worried about long-term effects, but they all grew up healthy, productive members of society, and showed no signs of being morally compromised.

Since those first nine days, I’ve “failed” more times than I can count. I’ve struck out, missed the obvious, and just flat got it wrong. But there were also the times I got it so right I’m amazed. My perspective on parenthood has changed since those introductory days. I now understand that every stride, every step, every stumble — every failure, every success — are parts of the parenting process.

To all of you new moms and dads: I can guarantee that you’ll feel like a failure at times. Your boob may fly across the room. An “expert” may storm out screaming, “Something’s Wrong With You!” When you become a parent, failure is not an option; it’s a given.

And it’s okay.

Welcome to parenthood.


Filed under first child, mothers, parenting

Same-Sex Parents

Several years ago, a close friend asked if I thought he’d be a good father. I said of course. Laurents was (and still is) dedicated, loyal, playful, responsible, loving, funny, caring, bright, successful. But back then, he remained worried. Laurents worried he’d make mistakes. (As a mother of three, I assured him that yes, he’d certainly make mistakes, that the only “perfect parents” are the folks who have never raised children.) He worried that he was athletic, but not at all artistic, and what would he do if his daughter or son turned out to be a young Picasso? (I told him I was in his camp, except I was an abysmal athlete and a worse artist. We all have strengths and limitations.) He worried that he always forgot to get a haircut, that he’d bake inedible birthday cakes, that he never learned to waltz. He worried that he was a worrier.

Finally, I took him by the shoulders. “Laurents, what’s on your mind?” He looked at me with tears in his eyes: “I’m gay. My wife is a husband, except we can’t legally marry. Last night, we were at a dinner party and a mom asked why in the world Mark and I thought we could be good parents?”

We sat in my kitchen, with two gigantic cups of coffee. First, we vented our outrage. Next, we had a grand time coming up with responses to the Supreme Homophobe Party Animal, answers that slammed her, which she well-deserved. Finally, we settled down and began to think it through. This Leader Of The Heterosexual Parent Brigade was absolutely sincere – obnoxious for sure, but firm in her beliefs. So we began to brainstorm the questions same-sex parents are forced to field — the thoughtlessly cruel doubt, the homophobia disguised as concern, the pseudo-helpful suggestions stemming from the assumption that a gay parent is, by definition, less qualified than a straight parent. From that conversation so many years ago, these are the questions and answers I remember.

Should gay parents be more scared than straight parents?

I’m a straight mom, married to a straight dad, who is the father of my children. One of the most frightening moments in our lives was after the birth of our first child, a healthy baby boy. My doctor examined me, and a pediatrician examined our son. My doctor then smiled at us and said six of the most terrifying words I’ve ever heard: “You can take your baby home.” Suddenly, my husband and I were responsible for a tiny person, a human life. Our eyes locked as we skyrocketed past “worried”, soared beyond “scared”, and landed gracelessly on our butts in the Land of Petrified. Being scared isn’t about LGBTQ+/straight; it’s about parenthood.

Can LGBTQ+ parents “turn” their kid gay?

There are 2 issues here. First, nobody can “turn” anyone’s sexuality or gender identity in any direction. Your child’s sexuality and gender identity belong to your child, not to you, and you don’t get a vote. Second, there’s an underlying assumption that being straight/cisgender is best and superior. That attitude is hurtful, damaging, dangerous — and false.

How can two men talk to a girl about her period?

The same way they talk about anything else – with respect, care and love. Our culture has an odd attitude toward menstruation; often, the mere mention of a girl’s monthly cycle stops a guy in his tracks. But honestly, that seems rather silly. If a dad doesn’t know how to put in a tampon (and gay, bi or straight — why should he know?), then he can ask a woman for help. My husband and I have turned to our It-Takes-A-Village friends several times. For example: we don’t wear make-up, but our daughter does. She learned to apply it from another adult, since neither of her parents had ever so much as put on lipstick. She’s tolerant of our woeful ignorance, and more importantly, shows no signs of being scarred for life. The point here: No parent can be everything for her or his or their children. It’s not about being LGBTQ+/straight; it’s about being human.

With two moms or two dads, will the kid get confused about which parent is which?

Nope. Not an issue.

Will the child feel bad that he/she doesn’t have a mom/dad?

Maybe, as a phase, just like my kids have wished for a more athletic dad, or a mom who was a “cool firefighter” like a classmate’s mom. These wishes aren’t about LGBTQ+/straight; wishes are a part of healthy development, as children, over time, let go of the superhero view of their parents, and see them more realistically.

Will my kids get teased for having two moms/dads?

Possibly. Or possibly for being short, or tall, or good at math, or bad at math, or…. In other words, if you try to set up a situation where your kids get exempt status from ever being mistreated by another child…well, best of luck with that. Instead, how about helping kids learn how to stand up to bullies? It’s terribly unfair for any child to be forced to deal with homophobia. But it’s absolutely no reason for two fine people to disbar themselves from parenthood. Bigotry is a terrible fact of life. It’s not a LGBTQ+/straight/parent issue; it’s a cultural/social/playground issue.

How will other parents react at school?

If they’re decent, responsible parents who are hoping to meet other decent, responsible parents, then they’ll smile, put out their hands, and introduce themselves. If they don’t, then they’re probably not the ones you (or I) want in a friendship group.

Your child just fell and skinned his knee! Where’s his MOM??? A mom would never have let that happen!

Scientific Factoid: Only the children of gay parents skin their knees.

Final question: What happened to Laurents and Mark? Did they become parents?

Laurents and Mark adopted twin boys at birth, who are now in fourth grade. One plays baseball, and reads several books every  week. The other plays soccer, and has turned their garage into a science lab. They have two cats and two dogs. Their boys dream of Olympic gold medals. Laurents and Mark dream of a five-minute stretch with absolutely nothing to do. It’s not a dream about LGBTQ+/straight; it’s a dream about parenthood.

Laurents and Mark are now married. Their sons were their “Best Men.”


*All names and identifying information in this post have been changed.


Filed under gay parents, lesbian parents, LGBT, parenting, same-sex parents

If My Child Came Out As Trans

I wonder how I’d react if my child came out as Transgender.

I don’t have experience with this, either in my own family or with close friends, and I won’t pretend to be an expert. But the world has lost too many — trans children, adolescents and adults — who felt too unsupported, too misunderstood, too tormented to go forward. Yes, I feel judgmental toward their families and communities, for their lack of support. But it’s relatively easy to feel judgmental, and much harder to figure out how to help. I want to try to help. So I’m imagining one possible scenario, step by step. To avoid a confusing array of pronouns, I’ve chosen to write about a young person with an assigned male gender at birth, whose gender identity is female. However, I think the issues will hold true for a transgender boy or girl, any gender, and for his, her or their family.

I’m imagining the conversation:

“Mom, can we talk?”

“Sure.” (Uh oh. Torpedoed a test? Drugs or alcohol? Speeding ticket?)

“I don’t know how to say this.”

“Okay, whatever it is, I’ll help you through.”

“I know everyone thinks I’m a boy, but I feel like a girl.”

Thud of silence.

In that instant, we’d be launched on a new trajectory, a hairpin turn, a lightning-bolt surprise journey. I imagine my first reaction would be shock that my most basic assumption about my child was wrong, and always had been.

My boy is a girl?

In an instant, my confidence in my parenting would be shaken to the core.

What else have I missed?

The guilt would hit, with anger on its heels. I’d feel guilty that my child had carried this alone for so long, and at the same time angry that she had kept something so huge from me for so long. I’d feel guilty for missing something so fundamental, and furious at her for slamming me with this magnum-force news bulletin.

Breathe. Just breathe.

I’d try to steady myself, because even though something huge would have changed, much would not have changed at all. She would still be my child – the same values of decency, the same wicked sense of humor, the same love for chocolate, the same conviction that okra and garden snails and Vaseline are biologically related and equally unfit for human consumption. She’d complete physics assignments with the same ease, continue her struggle reading music, and remain strikingly unable to complete a sentence without saying “like” or “y’know”. My child would still be my child.

Then the doubts would hit again.

This can’t be happening.

I’d remember my son, actually my daughter, as a newborn. Our first relationship to our children is through their bodies. We hold them, feed them, change them. We feel their foreheads for fever, and rock them to sleep in our arms. We develop a powerful bond with the body of our child, a physical and emotional connection, bone-deep. The foundation of our entire relationship stems from our child’s body.

That foundation misled me, betrayed me.

Then I hope I’d put on the brakes. My daughter did not mislead or betray me, and neither did her body. My own assumptions about her body did. I’d remind myself not to take it out on my child, and in turn, I’d ask her not to blame me for giving her a body that doesn’t match her identity.

We can get through this.

I’d feel a moment of calm, a quiet confidence. Then my emotions would surge, and run rampant. I’d be mortified to find myself up to my eyeballs in “wrong” feelings — politically incorrect, insensitive, hurtful, bigoted.

Did I do something wrong, make a terrible mistake that caused this?

Feelings don’t always make sense, or follow the rules of rationality. I’d try to be patient with my own “wrong” reactions. Does that mean I’d accept these wrong feelings, welcome them? No. But I’d allow myself the time I needed to process this new situation, to blaze an emotional trail. And as I struggled, I’d be surprised to realize that in some ways, my world had become a lot easier.

So much makes sense that I didn’t understand before.

I imagine that part of my reaction would be relief. I’d remember things my son did and said, which puzzled me at the time. I’d now realize that was not my son, but actually my daughter acting and speaking, and her behavior and words would make sense. I’d feel guilty that I didn’t follow up at the time, and possibly save my daughter years of pain and confusion. I’d wonder if I could ever forgive myself.

I never thought I’d be dealing with this.

At that point, I hope I’d pause, and begin to regain perspective, because that sentiment is felt by every parent, many times, in raising children. Kids are full of surprises, and the one sure-bet for parents is the unexpected. I hope my sense of humor would kick back in, to steady me, and I’d be able to smile at my emotional clumsiness. I’d feel the beginnings of a stronger bond with my child, a bond of truth and authenticity.

I love her so much, but I need support, and so does she.

I’d reach out. I’d talk to friends. I’d also find a new community of people who shared my experience. I’d encourage my daughter to do the same. No secrets, no shame. I would certainly encounter ignorance and bigotry. Worse, my child would be hurt at times by misguided people who’d feel a push to lash out. I’d be unable to protect her from being hurt, but I’d make sure our home remained a safe haven.

I hope that if my child ever came out as Transgender, we’d stand side by side. If I needed to cry, that would be okay, as long as I left room for her tears. I would try to accept my full reaction, and support my daughter through her full reaction, not allowing my emotions to eclipse hers.

I’d mess up, sometimes badly. If needed, I’d apologize. I’d ask questions. I’d learn. I’d encourage my daughter to do the same. I’d fall so many times I’d leave skid marks. But whether on our feet or on our asses, even shaken to the core, we’d love each other. We’d go forward as a family, a newly configured family – with a daughter instead of a son. Sometimes we’d walk tall; sometimes we’d stumble. We’d hold out our hands, helping each other regain balance. We’d talk. We’d eat our favorite foods, and enjoy our favorite activities. We’d have fun. Like always. Because we’d still be the same people, only we’d understand each other with a new clarity.

We’d figure it out.




Filed under family, Leelah Alcorn, LGBT, parenting, Transgender

A Carleton Sunset

My oldest son just graduated from Carleton, a small liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota. When we left for our long weekend in the Midwest, I did expect to feel joy and pride, but I didn’t expect those four days to shift my world.

During his years at Carleton, Anschel taught swing dance. As we walked through campus, another student stopped to thank my son for bringing dance into his life. Obviously, Anschel had become a student in the Carleton community; but he also had become a valued teacher. Through the weekend, a key feature of this college revealed itself: students are encouraged to become active catalysts for education. This approach to learning is a Carleton tradition, as deeply engrained as The Alma Mater.

The graduation ceremony was stunning, and the program included two student speakers. One began with a quote from Dr. Seuss. She talked about Carleton’s commitment to experimenting and discovering, through allowing its students to fall and instilling the confidence needed to get back up.

The second speaker honored a classmate who died in a car accident during their freshman year. He described his classmate’s openness about living with Asperger’s Syndrome, and how his lost friend’s honesty had changed the lives of others.

Both speakers shared their thoughts with eloquence and humor, with warmth and intelligence, with an absolute lack of pretentiousness. At this small, shining college, the students learned to learn, learned to teach, learned to remain open to new ideas. As I listened to the words of these young minds, I kept thinking that Carleton’s president and professors must have been powerful role models to create such an enriched and enriching environment.

On our final evening, Anschel showed our family The Arboretum. A prairie sunset is like none other. From steely gray with darker gray designs like enormous birds’ wings, to cottony patches of orange, to a bronze glow so bright I shielded my eyes, to gentle pink streaked with not-quite-purple — the sky held the entire palette. I stopped and looked up, taking in the canopy of color that motivated pioneers to survive storms, illness, fires – to build towns, schools, houses of worship.

Anschel will always view Carleton as one of his homes. Going forward, he will carry his joy in bringing dance to others, the wisdom of a classmate lost before his time, the words of Dr. Seuss, and prairie sunsets.

Thanks to the generosity of spirit within this extraordinary community, I’ll carry those things with me as well.

Congratulations to my oldest son, and to the Carleton class of 2014.

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Speak Gay With Pride

“It’s so gay.”

Proper delivery mandates an exaggerated disdain, smirking recommended, condescension required.

The speaker is cool; the it is not; the gay most certainly is not.

As a mother of three – one middle teen, one older teen and one young adult – I’ve heard that expression more times than I care to count.  Not from my kids, but from their friends, all during high school.  These otherwise domesticated boys (I have never heard a girl speak those words) were invariably taken aback when I told them that phrase was banned from my home.

Reactions ran the gamut.

One young man was puzzled: “You mean you don’t allow the word gay?”

Another stared as my son explained that curse words didn’t bother his mother.  “You can say sh—“ he offered helpfully, “but not that phrase.”  “Why?” his friend was incredulous.  “Because it equates the word gay with a put-down.”  The boy looked genuinely confused. “Really? Are you sure?”

A third boy gaped as my son spelled out his mom’s language requirements.  His friend swallowed hard, and asked if he could stay while I helped my son with a project.  This boy sat still for the next two hours, staring at me, and looking quickly away whenever I met his eyes.  He accepted a glass of water, and thanked me so effusively that his gratitude clearly had nothing to do with his drink.

Another boy used that expression to mock a classmate.  When I stopped him, he told me he had never respected a parent more.  He refused all future invitations to visit, and I never saw him again.

A friend of my daughter’s was well aware of the house rules.  He periodically made a self-conscious show of using the forbidden phrase, and then apologizing profusely. When I told him I’d had enough, he thanked me.

But I first heard the most prevalent response from two tenth-graders.  One bravely challenged me, “Why do you care?  You’re not even gay.”  The other shot him a like-duh look, and turned to me, blushing deeply; “I’m really sorry; I didn’t know you were gay.”

In the 1940s, in the wake of World War II, terms of contempt targeted the Japanese  — in the ‘50s, in the Hollywood radical crowd, It’s so bourgeois — in the ’60s, It’s so square — in the ‘70s, It’s so retarded — in the ‘80s, It’s so lame. And in the ‘90s, He’s/She’s such a girl.

I wonder what’s next, the up-and-coming insult that will sweep the nation.

“It’s so gay.”

Those words pepper the speech of adolescents.  Some have no idea what they’re saying.  Some hope to be stopped and redirected.  Some are experimenting with the feel of the words.  Some are deliberately cruel. Some are testing the “it’s not my problem” approach to issues beyond their limited parameters.

Whoever these young men may be, whatever motivates them, we parents have a responsibility.  We correct our children when they forget to say “please” and “thank you.”  As they grow older, we correct them when they say “who” instead of “whom.”  We need to step up and step in.  Gay is an adjective, not an insult.

And what about empathy?  According to the unwritten rules, if I stand up for a targeted group, I must be a member.  If homophobia disturbs me, I must be gay.  And if I were, my stance would become more understandable, and more easily dismissed.

I am deeply gratified that my sons and daughter are comfortable bringing their friends to our home.  I enjoy talking to these vibrant young people, with ideas and perspectives that broaden my own.  I appreciate that they speak freely, while offering warmth and respect. However, we all know my place in their community: I’m the “Odd Mom.”   “Odd” is the parent who is comfortable with random curse words, but who will not allow put-downs regarding race, religion, gender, physical attributes, mental capacity, or sexuality.  An odd definition of odd.

I’ve accepted that I’m viewed as strange. If my brand of odd turns out to be the new up-and-coming insult, I’ll speak odd with pride.

Until then, let’s speak gay with pride.


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