Family to the Rescue!

The day after New Year’s, our house came down with sickness. If you name the symptom, we had it. Someone was coughing, someone was barfing, someone could not stop singing Kidz Bop. Ok, that last one may not be related to sickness, but it’s definitely a symptom of some kind of ailment.

We had just started a stretch of the 5 day parenting schedule. My partner and I played a symptom game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and I lost. (In case you’re wondering, Vomit trumps Cough.) I ended up doing most of the parenting for the next 2 days, balancing a fever and chest congestion. My partner vacillated between the bed and the toilet. It was not good.

By day 3 we were allowing way more screen time than ever, and my partner was able to get back to parenting (even if that meant laying on the couch in a heap while the kid watched her 4th episode of Winx). Some dear friends with kids offered to come by and get the kid for a playdate. They kept her through lunch and dinner, returning her at the relaxing hour of bedtime. Yesterday, another friend with a kid offered to have an extended playdate as well. He took the kid roller skating and out to lunch. At the house, we managed to clean our bodies and weep quietly for the love of our friends.

We don’t often think of friends as family. We’re taught as Americans (and for this house, white Americans), that we are a closed family unit; that problems must be solved by the family. That we can DO IT ALONE, NO THANKS TO ANYONE ELSE. ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE, GRRR. Well after 4 days of the flu, I am happy to report that my family extends beyond the borders of my house. I’ve got kin down the street and across the country.

Thank you to each and every one of you that watched the kid this weekend (and those who offered!) and did so without question, in complete selflessness. Parenting while being sick is so hard, and my partner and I feel so loved and supported by this great extended chosen family!

a Punch to the Gut

Holiday in California

I wish this post was full of tales from my great vacation last week to California with my partner and the kid. I wish it was some sort of heartwarming story about a family conflict that we resolved over snuggle time before bed. Life isn’t always like that, and truth can hurt without a soft landing or a happy ending.

A few weeks ago, my partner, the kid, and I were getting ready to leave the house. This can be a long process, sometimes ending in Yelling Parent who cannot possibly say “Put your shoes on” for the 6th time. I said something like ‘Is this kid ready to go?’, which the kid heard as ‘Is my kid ready to go?‘. To be clear: I do not refer to the kid as “my kid”. She is clearly not the child I ‘created’, and I think that referring to another person as your property sounds a little creepy. Probably exasperated with the nagging adults trying to get out of the house, she said “Anyways, it’s not like I’m even your kid.” Ouch, man. Yeah, you’re not. But yeah, you sort of are.

If the kid is in the house, I’m an active parent. I plan time with friends around the kid’s schedule, making sure I am contributing in some way to caring for her whether it is helping with dinner, bathtime, bedtime, or playtime. I grocery shop with her likes and dislikes in mind. I notice when fun things happen in town and see if she’d like to go. I listen to her fears, her nightmares, her weird thoughts and creepy imagination. I’m there for her sicknesses, her triumphs, her tears, and her fun projects.

No, I didn’t plan her birth. I’m not a primary parent. I don’t have a say in where she goes to school, what state she lives in, and changes in her routine. I don’t choose her doctors and I don’t choose her haircuts. I’m glad she has a concrete understanding about who her parents are, and that neither myself nor her other parent’s partner are clouding that at all. But dang, that was a real sting of a sentence. She wasn’t upset, and we weren’t fighting about anything; I don’t even think she said it with ill will. She was just correcting what she thought she heard me say.

It was a nice reminder of what her teenage years may be like. Sometimes I think it could go both ways; she could find me a refuge from her folks and seek me out as an ally or she could take the stand of “You’re not my parent” and create that distance that teenagers need from the adults in their lives. Time will tell.

Summers We Remember

Summer is winding down. I never do as much as I think I’ll do during the summer; I didn’t get out and paddleboard and I went swimming just a handful of times. I did hang out with the kid every Friday to cut down on the childcare costs. It seemed daunting at the beginning of the summer. Every SINGLE Friday?! I’ve spent plenty of evenings and random daytime hours watching the kid alone, if her mom has plans with a friend, or wants to catch a yoga class. I had not spent an uninterrupted 8 solid hours of being solely responsible for her. It turns out that it’s not a big deal. You just roll with the punches, find time when you can to be alone, and make sure there are enough snacks to keep everyone’s blood sugar level nice and even. I’m not saying every Friday was a perfect parenting dream. On the Fridays when we had her for the weekend, it made for a long stretch of kid time where my patience ebbed away. Overall, I really liked spending our Fridays together and I’m a little sad that they’ve ended. She started school (1st grade!!), and the routine was needed by everyone, in both houses!

One thing that stood out to me over the summer of Fridays is how strong she is in defining her family. We had adventures all over the city on our Fridays, and we ended up interacting with different stranger adults and kids that would assume things about our family. The kid was swinging with a kid she just met at the park who wanted to invite E back to her house to play.

If it’s ok with your dad.
I don’t have a dad.
(Kid gestures to me) I mean, if your dad says it’s fine.
Yeah but I don’t have a dad. I have two moms. That’s Ethan.

We went to storytime at the library and the librarian was identifying everyone’s relationship in the room (I really don’t know why they did that. The stories were not about families or relationships. Seemed strange and without context to me..), she got to us and said “Oh, and this must be your Papa!”. E clung to my arm, buried her forehead in my side, and said nothing. Body language cue heard loud and clear, kiddo. I smiled and said “I’m more like her stepdad.” The librarian stammered a bit and made a vague statement about families and referred to me as “Papa” again. “Stepdad.” She hastily picked up a book to get started.

We have a different family that other people may not be used to. But we know who we are and don’t need others to define us for us.

Without further ado, here’s a photographic glimpse into our summer:

Science Museum colors

Six years old!

Hanging out with Dylan‘s kid

BONES

End of summer vacation (and haircut!)

* I do not post photos of the kid’s face or other kid’s faces. The internet is a vast place. To read more, check out this Salon article.

Guest Post: Holiday Edition

Kids aren’t always little angels who teach us the meaning of family and commitment. Sometimes they are just weird, disgusting people.
This post is a submission by a guest author. To submit your own guest post, click here.

Sometimes, our kids are brilliant and profound; they say things that really make us stop and think; things that make us beam with pride and joy.  However, more often than not, they say things that are absolutely ridiculous, cause us to (try to) stifle our laughter, and/or wonder what planet they actually hail from (because it sure as heck can’t be this one).

Living in house with a 5 year old and an 8 year old, I find myself often speechless, my mind completely at a loss, trying to understand what is happening right now.

The things these kids say, seriously. WTF:

“Remember in my bedroom at my old house, when we used to have sleepovers, and we’d pretend we were fish and cut each other up? Wanna play that?”

Well, now I don’t know that we should go to this Chinese buffet so much as maybe I should turn the car around and we should go to therapy… Pretending to be fish, that’s cool, I’m a Nemo fan myself, but fileting one another? Now that’s taken a macabre turn.  I’m grossly curious at the same time as to just how this game is played. Wait, I don’t want to know. Yes, I do. No, I don’t. Well, kinda… I don’t even know how to ask a follow-up question. Go, be fish, my children, for tomorrow we have sushi.

“I forgot to put underwear on this morning.  My butt’s been naked all day. Wanna see?”

*pulls down pants in front yard*

Well, now the neighbors have seen your alabaster kid-bum and probably are wondering what kind of circus I run over here…Oh, you know, my kid just mooning the neighborhood on a random Tuesday night. No big deal, right? Modesty, what’s that all about?  I hope they don’t call the cops. Maybe I should bring them brownies tomorrow and try to explain our kids are just weird… And, just how does one “forget” to put underwear on? The teenage years are going to be horrible. Oh shit, just thinking about it… Drink, please!

“If I give the dog a booger will she eat it? I mean, she eats her own poop. It has to taste better, right?”

Well, I mean, this is kind of profound, right? It’s most certainly it’s logical. She does eat her own poop, and I guess I’d venture anything tastes better than that, but, it still raises a few questions for me:  What’s the thought process here? How do you even arrive at this question? Do you have a booger right now?  (If you do, please don’t eat it.)  I don’t even know how to answer this question.  Why are kids so gross? Is this even normal?

“How about we were too pretty so the bad guys let us out?”

“Yeah! But first they cut off all of our hair!”

“OK! Don’t eat the sparkles!”

What. The. Crap. I have no idea what game this children are playing. Anti-reality, obviously.  Maybe I should have majored in child psychology.  Is my daughter going to think her looks get her out of troublesome situations?  I really hope they don’t actually have scissors… I’m completely at a loss here.  Why can’t we eat the sparkles? Sparkles are usually so tasty… Wait, maybe the sparkles are some dastardly drug and if we eat them… oh, wait I’m not playing this game.

And they wonder why parents are crazy? Have you heard the stuff children say? If you haven’t, you’re welcome to come spend a Saturday with these two…

For Boston

Seems close, but we still only have the one stoplight.

I’m from Boston. Ok, I’m not from Boston. But if you grew up west of Pennsylvania, it’s just easier to say Boston rather than: “Just outside of Boston. About 45 minutes west. Have you heard of Hopkinton, where the Marathon starts? What about Framingham? Ok, well it’s right next to Framingham. No, I don’t have the accent.”

It just so happens that I took a loosely planned road trip with a friend from Minneapolis to pick up hir furniture in New Jersey (where ze is from) last week. With room in the trailer, we headed up to Massachusetts to get my drum set out of my parents’ house. We drove through Hopkinton to get there, and though we didn’t drive over the starting line of the marathon, we were very close – close enough to read all the signs store owners had placed in their windows for the runners.

The marathon falls on a state-specific holiday every year. Officially called Patriots’ Day, most locals call it Marathon Monday. My father ran the marathon nearly every year since I was a child until his Achilles heel injury in 2005. We would find a spot on the route, coordinate with extended family members about the time and place, make signs of encouragement, and bring snacks. The night before, we’d have a large spaghetti dinner so that my dad could carbo-load.

I can’t imagine that anyone reading this has not heard of the Boston Marathon bombings that occurred exactly one week ago. Feels like a lifetime. My friend and I were able to spend some time with my family-of-origin as we packed up some of my things on the Saturday before the Monday bombings. Several (agonizing) days of driving later, and we were home. I was setting up my drums in my basement Monday after lunch, listening to NPR, as the word came through that someone had bombed the finish line of the marathon. Of course there’s confusion at first, and denial that it’s as bad as they say it is. I was thinking “I was just there. I asked Dad if he was ever going to run it again. I was in Hopkinton two days ago.” I was glued to media outlets for the rest of the day week. All my family is fine, by the way.

It made me start to think about conversations with kids. No one talked to E about the bombings; she’s too young to notice and we left NPR off for the week. I realized that I feel mostly reactionary with kids. If they ask a question, I will answer it – or at least I’ll think about it and get back to them. But how do I bring up things that may come up for them? How do you help kids deal with potential danger while allowing them to be be kids while they can? After an extended Captain Planet marathon the other day, E asked me: “Are there like really real bad guys out there?” and I didn’t know how to answer that. Yes, there are. But they won’t be putting a force field around an island to heat it up; they’ll probably try to touch your genitals. Reality is a hard thing for me to wrap my own brain around sometimes. I can’t imagine a world where I’m not hypervigilant about danger. Balancing the weight of the good and evil in the world and making the best choices you can make each day; that’s all I’ve got. But how to explain this to a kid?

“The word is beautiful and shitty, kid. Learn to enjoy booze and your friends and you’ll make it just fine.” I guess that’s not going to make it into a kid’s book any time soon. Any tips on bringing up conversations with older kids? Can’t Mr. Rogers just raise our children for us?

Stay safe out there. #bostonstrong

Lit Review: Be Who You Are

Hello! While E and Mama are away on a spring vacation, I thought I’d review a kid’s book I got in the mail last week. Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr, pictures by Ben Rumback.

This book is, overall, really amazing. It has age appropriate, clear language. I read it to the 5.5 year old kid a few nights ago. In the story, a kid assigned male at birth expresses feelings that they’ve always felt more like a girl inside. Their parents are unflinchingly supportive and have her talk with a therapist who understands.

I did wince a bit at the “born in the wrong body” language, because I really feel like that is an oversimplification on an experience. Yes, some trans* people feel like they were born in the “wrong body”, but this puts language in where there doesn’t need to be. To say that some bodies are wrong, that means that most bodies are right. Instead, I like to think that all bodies have value and self-determination should dictate what we get to do with and to, our bodies. We don’t need to classify them as “wrong” in order to change them.

A kid of color! A trans* kid of color! Awesome! It would have been a lot more important that the main character be a kid of color, in my opinion, because of the prevalence of whiteness in our world. Yet again, people of color stay in their supporting roles on the side. 

The ending was nice, without the pretense of perfection. It was pretty amazing that the parents in the story were so supportive, although if you are a kid receiving this book – I think your folks are already going to be supportive.

I posted my excitement of this book to my Facebook page last week. I got lots of people interested and excited about it, and even a few people who had heard it already! I did get many questions about where to purchase it, with the explanation that the person knew someone who had a kid that would benefit from reading it. At first I was happy that people were interested in purchasing the book for the trans* kids in their lives, but then I started to think more about that. I got this book to make sure that our house has a wide representation of people. The kid has books about families with two moms, families that are divorced, families that live in other countries; this is just another book about the different ways to be a person in the world and how your family supports you. The kid shows no sign of being trans*, but she’s also 5 and a half; I have sweatshirts older than her. She may turn out to be a poly queer homo trans person. She may turn out to be a fiscally conservative hippy straight cis woman. Having books, media, and people in her life to show her what sorts of choices she can make help her figure it all out. She has two supportive parents and plenty of adults in her life that remind her that she doesn’t need to grow up into what the patriarchy expects her to.

People who wanted to buy the book specifically for kids who may be trans* miss the fact that their kid still could be trans* and come out later in life. Or they may have a friend or family member who comes out as trans* someday. Or they may just grow up to be a decent human being and learning about people who may be different than themselves is actually a great thing for anyone. So buy this book for the kid in your life. All the kids, not just the trans* ones.

Guest Post: We Start and End with Family

This post is a submission by a guest author. To submit your own guest post, click here.

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.” – Anthony Brandt

Five and a half years ago when my daughter came into the world, she was born into a family that loved her; she had a mama and an Ima who couldn’t wait to watch her grow up.

Fast forward five and a half years; a lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same.  E’s mama and I are no longer together, though we are wickedly awesome at this co-parenting thing (at least I think). E has grown up and is now a headstrong kindergartener with more energy than all the grown-ups I know combined. E’s mama and I have stayed close and we both have amazing partners. I’m proud of us all for the way we work together to give E what’s best and truly care for one another; our family has expanded in ways I never knew were possible.

That doesn’t mean it’s always easy…

No matter how much we might wish otherwise, no parent can be there to witness and share in every moment of their child’s life.  A child grows up and goes off into the world with increasing independence; you expect to miss (and later hear about in great dramatic detail) a scraped knee or a bruised feeling that happened at school, this or that, here or there.  Any parent is (at least semi) prepared for that.

What you’re not prepared for is what happens when you read about your kid on someone else’s blog.  Or at least I wasn’t when I read about my daughter on this blog.  A simple recounting of 5-year old ridiculousness over some wet bed sheets by Ethan (Mama’s boyfriend).    My first thought was “oh yeah, I can totally see E doing that!” Followed quickly by, “As her Ima, I should have been the one to deal with that level of ridiculousness.”  Hello, Parental Guilt.

At times like this, as a parent, I feel bad. Am I missing out on parts of my daughter’s life? She has another whole part of her life that only includes me in the peripheral co-parenting sense and sometimes that’s a really strange feeling to have.  There’s this nagging sense of guilt that sneaks up every once in a while because I couldn’t give my daughter that poetic “normal” happy family; both parents happily together under one roof. And then I promptly remember that “normal” is overrated. Our new normal, it works for us.  E has a family that loves her; she has a mama and an Ethan, and an Ima and a Lisa (and a Nathan) who can’t wait to watch her grow up.

In the end, it’s a different life, and a different family for E than what we had intended when she was born, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wonderful all the same.