Who’s Raising Who? Fourteen Years Of Being A Mom

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 “And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”

-Elton John, Your Song

My brother died 10 days before my wedding. I was caught between suffocating despair and the happy prospect of marrying the man I love. But I didn’t think I’d ever feel pure joy again. I couldn’t imagine joy in a world without my brother.

Six months later we lost my Grandpa. My big strong Grandpa. The Purple Heart Marine with the big booming voice. I will always believe that he died of a broken heart after the loss of my brother. A few weeks after we lost my Grandpa I found out I was pregnant. The sun started to peek through the darkness, just a little.

Nine months later my beautiful baby boy was born. He came into the world wailing and thrashing. “Feisty” was the word that came to mind. I proudly proclaimed him my feisty strong willed boy. Barrel chested and dark hair. He was strong and vibrant and ready to take on life.

But I was scared out of my mind. I was experienced with babies. I had spent my high school years babysitting. But I felt like I didn’t know how to do this. This, the most important thing I would ever do. I felt inept and inadequate.

I was scared I wasn’t feeding him enough. I was scared that he would stop breathing in his sleep. I was scared that he was in a pain and I didn’t know it. I was scared that there was something wrong with him that I was missing. I was scared that I was screwing it all up. I was scared that he knew that I had no clue.

I was scared that he would get sick and die. The impossible such a real possibility to my family.

Fear dominated the first few months of my son’s life. Every doubt about myself magnified in the face of motherhood. Every fear I had after watching my brother suffer intensified as in imminent threat.

And I worried that he could sense my fear. I didn’t want to put that on him. I didn’t want him to grow up neurotic. I didn’t want my stuff to affect him, to change him. Another thing to worry about.

As the months went on, he proved me wrong. He defied all of my worries and fears. He was thriving. He was full of life and provided endless hours of entertainment for me and my husband. I would look at him in awe. He was a part of me. I couldn’t’ believe that something so beautiful and amazing came from me. I mentally attributed it all to my husband.

While I was floundering in fear and worry my husband took to parenting as if he’d been doing it his whole life. He took over when I couldn’t calm our son down. I would watch in wonder as he would play with him. I watched with growing love for my husband as he soothed our crying baby. And secretly, in a place that I’m not proud of, I felt jealous. He was better at this than I was. But at the same time I was so grateful. My husband was a soothing presence for my frayed nerves. I was grateful that the man I loved was a great dad. I banked on his strength and confidence to make up for what I was lacking as a parent.

Now my son is fourteen years old. I’m watching him grow into an amazing young man. He’s compassionate and smart and funny and good. He’s good. He seems unscathed by those early years when his mom was fighting anxiety and fear. He’s happy and confident.

I watch him play with his little sister and I see a glimpse of the father he will be. A loving, nurturing dad. Like my husband. I see him smile and laugh with his friends and I  see the natural charisma that his father carries. I watch him run, swim, play and I see the natural athlete that is my husband. I see him crack a joke, his dry subtle wit reminiscent of the humor that made me fall in love with my husband.

I listen to my son ask questions when we’re in the car. Questions about world events. I listen as he talks about Syria. And Egypt. And North Korea. Israel and Palestine. He wants to talk about Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He wants to watch the morning news and catch up on what’s going on in the world. I listen to him as he gets mad, I see his frustration and anger towards people that hate. He doesn’t understand. And I see a little bit of me.

I see the look he gives me when I’m fishing for a dollar for a man with a sign on the corner. He takes the ten dollar bill out of my wallet and hands it to me. His look says it all. He needs it more than you, mom. On another occasion I watch with overwhelming emotion and pride as he pulls a few dollars out of his own pocket when I am out of cash and a homeless veteran is standing at the stop light.

I watch as he insists on buying a small toy for his little sister. Even though I know he wants to save up for the latest video game, he’s willing to hold off a little longer to bring a smile to her face.

I watch all of this and I feel more joy than I ever thought possible. My son opened up my heart again fourteen years ago. He proved me wrong. The pain of losing my brother isn’t gone, but I’ve learned that the pain doesn’t eclipse the joy. The two can co-exist.

I watch all of this and I feel pride. My son’s a good kid. I think he’ll grow up to be an amazing person. One who works hard and who cares. Cares about those he loves and about those he doesn’t even know. I look at him and I know that I did some things right. I know that along with my husband we’re raising a good person. And I realize now that our raising him isn’t the remarkable thing. We’ve done pretty good, we’ve made some mistakes for sure. Fourteen years later I feel like the good outweighs the bad. Our son is living proof of that. But we can’t take all the credit.

I’ve grown in to motherhood. All on my son’s dime. He had to endure my learning curve. His burden similar to that of many first borns. His siblings owe him a debt of gratitude for him teaching me how to be a mother.

As I look back on the past fourteen years, I see how far my husband and I have come. How much we’ve gone through, how much we’ve navigated. As I look back I realize that the credit isn’t ours alone.

Thank you, my sweet beautiful boy. You’ve been patient and you’ve navigated this path with us.

Thank you for taking our lessons, for enduring our long lectures. For humoring us when we think we’re cool. Thank you for still letting me into your world. For sharing your thoughts with me. Thank you.

Thank you for allowing me to feel joy again.

Thank you for raising some pretty o.k. parents.

Thank you for being you.

Because who you are couldn’t make me any prouder.

 

 

 

We All Need A Little Mayhem!

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A little over a year ago I met Kelly of Are You Finished Yet. She was one of the first bloggers I started engaging with in my blogging infancy. She allowed me to sit at the “cool table” and made me feel included and not at all stupid or out of my league. Since then I’ve gotten to know Kelly much better. I’m a huge fan of her writing, but I’m an even bigger fan of her spirit which shines through her writing. But who knew that in addition to writing for her award-winning blog and raising her children that she was cooking up something else?

9780692311011.MAIN (1)That’s what. In all her ample spare time she’s been writing and illustrating a book! Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out how to change my blog header. Ahem, anyways, this book you guys. It’s awesome. It’s a story your kids will love. One you will love. And the pictures? I pause in the middle of reading it to my five year old just to study the pictures! There’s so much detail and character and life in these drawings.

So to celebrate this new it’s-awesome-and-should-be-on-your-kids’-shelves book, I got the opportunity to interview Kelly! It was almost like having a real life conversation with her, which is so cool. Especially since as I read her answers I was giggling and talking out loud. To myself. *evidence of my crazy will be in italics after Kelly’s answers*

Enjoy!

***

Is “mayhem” a term used often in your family? Should we assume that come Friday the Suellentrop household is one big party?

Absolutely. In fact, weekends at our house is where I got the title for the book. My husband started referring to that time as Absolute Mayhem, because it meant we were all home and weren’t as dictated by a schedule. Mostly it meant he had more time to have fun with the kids. To this day, when he gets home from work on Fridays, he opens the door and says “Absoluuuuuute… ” and the kids yell, “MAYHEM!”    

*Aw, your husband sound like such a fun dad! I want to be at your house on a Friday sometime to yell out “Mayhem!” I’ll even do a cheer or a cartwheel or somethin’, ok?*

What sparked the idea for this book?

Like I said, it all came from this little tradition my husband started. Now to be clear, the mayhem at our house  isn’t quite what it is for Lulu and Milo. Like, my kids get to have soda and we have movie nights or something. But I loved the idea of how even mundane things can feel special when you are able to break out of the routine of the week. Everyone looks forward to the weekend for one reason or another. And I wanted to capture that little feeling of anticipation and magic we can feel in our everyday lives, while still honoring the hard work and responsibilities that make us appreciate the times we get to have fun.

*I LOVE movie night! And I get what you mean, everything is more fun on the weekends! Except for laundry.*

I love the illustrations! How did you hone your drawing skills? Did you have any formal art education?

Drawing has always been one of my creative outlets, even as a kid. I used to spend hours in my bedroom listening to music and drawing people out of my teen magazines. I took art all throughout high school and some in college. I wanted to minor in art, but as an English major, I had a hard time keeping up with all the time-intensive art projects on top of the copious amounts of reading I had to do. So you could say my formal art education ended there. But I have never really put down my drawing tools, and I have spent  a lot of time over the last few years studying the work of other children’s book illustrators, as well as playing around with my own characters until I came up with Lulu and Milo.

*I was an English major too! That is so rare in the blogging world, right?*

Where and when and how do you write?

I keep myself on a schedule with my blog, Are You Finished Yet. I post every Tuesday, so that forces me to keep writing even when life gets busy. Now that both of my kids are in school all day, it is much easier to find the time. I have come to treat it like you would any other job. I drop my kids off at school, come home, get some breakfast and tea, and go to my office. (My husband and kids converted our extra bedroom into an office/art studio for me this past Mother’s Day, and that really helped me get into the mindset that I am now writing for a living.) I spend most of the day there working on things related to the book and writing upcoming blog posts until it’s time to get the kids. But you know, even though I have time during the day, I do find that I often get most inspired late at night. Sometimes I stay up late and run with it, and sometimes I will simply jot down notes and tackle it the next day.

*Schedule? Hmm… interesting concept… And what is it about writing in the wee hours? Is it the quiet or just our creative time? Whatever it is I blame it for my puffy eyes and my morning disposition.*

What advice or words of wisdom do you have as a bonafide published author?

That just sounds weird. Because I always thought of authors as eccentric, super-smart people who pounded on typewriters in front of sun-filled windows and hung out at coffee shops with other eccentric, super-smart people. And now I’m an author. But I write in between loads of laundry, hang out in carpool lines, forget what I went in to the kitchen for, and have trains of thought interrupted  when I realize I need to run to Walmart for toilet paper and spaghetti sauce. I mean, like, I’m just a person. But maybe that’s the wisdom here. We’re all just people. Like, Oprah’s just a person. And that means if you’re a person you can become a bonafide published author… or Oprah.

Oh, and patience, hard work and faith are probably good things to have as well.

*Ooh! Ooh! I want to be Oprah! Can I be Oprah? That sounds like fun! Plus, she’s a bonafide published author too! See, two birds… wait… sorry. Forgot to turn on the dryer… damn you laundry!*

Do you have more mayhem brewing? Will we get to see more of Lulu and Milo in the future?

Well, I live with two sources of constant inspiration: my kids. I wrote Aboslute Mayhem with the intention of it being the first in a series of Lulu and Milo stories, and I have the beginnings of about three more manuscripts floating around at the moment. The question right now is, which will become book #2.

*As long as we get to see more of Hippo too. He’s my favorite.*

***

Isn’t Kelly awesome? I know you’ll love her book. So will your kids and nieces and nephews and cousins… And one of you will get to win one right here! Just leave a comment or question and I will randomly choose the winner! Easy! And if you don’t win? No worries! You can go here: http://www.amazon.com/Absolute-Mayhem-Kelly-Suellentrop/dp/0692311017/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1415717713&sr=8-2&keywords=absolute+mayhem

and here: http://kellysuellentrop.com/

So, speak to me people! Do you think we should all show up at Kelly’s house on Friday? What do you look forward to on the weekends? Are you dying to know who Hippo is?

 

Are You Pissed? #Ferguson

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Unknown

“Pardon me while I burst in to flames…”

-Incubus, Pardon Me

I’m growing weary. As I sit here in the safety and comfort of privilege, I’m weary. It makes me sick. My stomach turns as I turn on the news. I feel the tears of anger well up as I watch events unfold. I feel my heart race as I hear the decision. I’m not surprised. Sadly, I’m not surprised. But I’m mad.

Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Jordan Davis. Darius Simmons. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. John Crawford. Kajieme Powell. These are just a handful of names of black boys and men killed in the past year. Not all of them. Not even close. These are the deaths that should have stopped the world. These are the losses that should have caused a giant intake of air as we all caught our breath in shock. But they didn’t. Some of these names you’ve probably never heard. Others you may have heard in passing but they likely became part of the white noise that makes up our everyday of information overload.

I sigh as I have to explain it to my children. Again. Yes. Another man has gotten away with killing a black boy. Yes, it’s crazy. Yes, it’s wrong. No, I don’t understand it either. No. You don’t have to worry about this happening to you. Because you’re white. But your friends? Some of them live in this reality. Those friends you meet at the park after school? The ones you eat lunch with every day? The ones you laugh with on the bus? Yes, honey, they have to worry about this kind of thing happening to them. 

Don’t pity me this conversation. While I wish I never had a reason to explain the injustice that is the reality for too many, my conversation is not the difficult one. No. That burden belongs to the parents of young black people in our country. You are a threat simply because of who you are. Your dark skin makes people look at you as a threat. You have to defer and submit. Not as an expression of respect so much as a life-saving tactic. You must do everything you can to not pose a threat. Keep your hands visible. Don’t linger on the street. Don’t… don’t… don’t get killed.

Which part of this pisses you off?

Is it the part where an unarmed boy was killed?

Is it the part where the twisted wheels of justice contorted to comply with a standard of permissibility and excusability?

Is it the part where an unarmed boy was killed?

Is it the part where a victim is vilified?

Is it the part where an unarmed boy was killed?

Is it the part where protestors took their anger and frustration too far?

Is is the part where yet another unarmed black boy was killed?

Which part pisses you off?

Which. Part.

While I sit here, wrapped in favor and entitlement, I’m pissed off. I’m pissed off at the denial that still sits heavily on our country’s conscious. I’m pissed at the ignorance that fills my news feed. I’m pissed off that the world still turns and the evening’s broadcast can’t take a fucking break from a B-list celebrity dance contest to cover a moment that everyone needs to see. I’m pissed that there are two realities in our country. And I’m pissed that too many people don’t even acknowledge or recognize or seem to be aware of those two realities and the disparities within.

As I sit here, bathed in immunity by means of my heritage, I’m tired. I’m tired of the same story with a different name. I’m tired of hearing the same arguments and excuses and justifications. I’m tired of the world going about it’s business like nothing happened.

I’m tired of waiting for our country grow up. I’m sick of waiting for my countrymen to stop acting like ignorant animals who only judge and assume and presume based on the most obvious of physical traits. I’m tired of wondering when we will start treating people as people. When we will recognize that our differences are completely superficial. When we will mature into rational intelligent beings who can differentiate between reality and perception. When we will stop acting like a petulant toddler who refuses to eat their dinner because their food is touching.

Our rationale is base.

Our reactions are primal.

Our mentality is antiquated.

As a whole our country is not mature enough to drive a car let alone carry destructive and deadly weapons.

And at the core of all of this? We refuse to even admit it’s a problem.

But we have grown men brandishing guns who still believe in the boogie man.

I wish I was exaggerating.

It’s not getting better. Sixty years after Emmett Till, it’s not getting better. The only thing that’s improved is the subtlety, the discretion. But it’s still the same story. Black boys are still being killed and white men are still getting away with it. Things look a little different, people speak of these things a little differently. A black man sits in the White House. But not much has changed. Because black men are still expendable.

I’m tired of waiting for people, for the masses, to wake the fuck up.

Here I am, safely tucked into my birthright. Secretly thanking the universe for granting me the immunity of paleness. Shamefully breathing easier that my son is not a threat by simply being in his own skin. As I sit here in comfort and security, I am pissed.

What about you? Which part pisses you off?

Which. Part.

 

 

OMG, Time Magazine- You’re So Cray Cray

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I can't believe...

“Done, done, on to the next one

Done I’m done and I’m on to the next one”

-Foo Fighers, All My Life

Oh, Time Mag. You’re like, literally, so smart. I read your annual word banishment poll yesterday and I can’t even…

I love your witty and oh so patronizing list you publish every year. You’re so hip and cutting edge. I wait with bated breath every year to hear what the bastion of cool-ness has to say about words that no respectable Chick Fil A manager would ever utter again. Like, ever.

‘Cept this year you kinda ‘effed up. This year you (spoiler alert) added FEMINIST to the list.

And every intelligent equality-loving non-hater was like “Whaaat???”

I mean, for seriously, WTF Time Magazine.

Lemme clue you in. Equality. Bam. ‘Nuff said.

Imma quote you here “Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade.” Aw, you’re using snarkiness. I do love me some snark. Except when it’s used as a tool for ignorant speak.

Quick history lesson: Susan B. Anthony was one bossy bitch. She was bad-ass. She didn’t shrink away from thoughts and ideas and labels that may have been considered unsavory by those who willingly trudged through the murk of ignorance and hate. She and countless other women fought for basic equal rights for women. Rights that we all apparently take for granted every time we eschew the Feminism label. Kind of important rights. Like the right to vote. The right for women to own land. The right to not be raped by their husbands. We’re talking 94 years ago this went down. Except for marital rape laws. Marital rape wasn’t considered a crime in all 50 states until 1993.

In the history of our country, we’re still in the adolescent years of women’s rights. Feminism isn’t fully grown yet. Feminism still has a lot of maturing to do. We still need equal pay. We still need to do something about the fact that women are objects for some men to use and abuse and objectify and discard and demean.

When will feminism be fully grown and not a “thing” anymore? When one in four college women aren’t raped or sexually assaulted. When 3 women don’t die each day at the vicious hands of domestic violence. When girls aren’t shamed for wearing leggings to school. When women in the gaming world don’t have to endure death threats and threats of rape. When women can go online without fear of being stalked and harassed to the point of having to flee their homes and the on-line world for safety. When nude photos of women aren’t gleefully shared and spread around like a copulating circle jerk.

When? When women around the world are no longer subjected to genital mutilation. When women aren’t victims of “honor killings.” When women don’t have to brandish baseball bats to go after abusers because police shrug off their reports of attacks. When girls aren’t punished or killed for trying to get an education.

When… when… when I can look at my daughters and know that they will have the same opportunities and rights and safe passage that my son will have. When I can tell my children that women and children around the world are treated as humans. When boys and men don’t have to subscribe to some ridiculous and oppressive notion of being “tough” and non-emotive and hyper-masculine.

So you see, Time Mag. We’ve got a long way to go. You may be annoyed that the Beyonce’s of the world are declaring their Feminist position. Maybe you don’t like all the Feminist women out there doing all the talking and tweeting and writing and stuff. I get it. Skeptical Baby memes are a lot more fun. They make you LOL. They don’t make you really think. ‘Cause, you know, all this Feminism stuff just makes you think about icky stuff instead of totes adorbs cat videos on YouTube.

But when you throw Feminist in this list along with trendy slang like bae and basic and obvi and YOLO you’re really showing your ass. Whether it’s a shameless attempt to garner page views or an authentic exasperation with all of the people out there who are claiming to support equality, it’s kinda pathetic.

Deep down, I think you know this. Deep down, you know that there’s still lots of work to do. Having fun with the “label” just isn’t cool, m’kay? That label has been Limbaughed and spun into a twisted meaning that was constructed to perpetuate over hyped and trumped up stereotypes.

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So hear this, and pay close attention. Every time you want to demean the word. Every time you suggest it’s non-relevance. Every time you play into this mindset you are reading from a script you didn’t even write. You are joining a chorus of ignorance and misogynistic oppression. Your inclusion of this word tells me that you have willfully and blindly gone the way of the sheep and bought into the misinformation and propaganda that has been slowly oozing it’s way through our culture over the last few decades. Like a bad smell, this has been wafting around enough that you don’t even notice it anymore or realize it’s noxious nature.

Feminism isn’t some foul thing that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

That would be the bitter taste of lies and obfuscation.

Feminism is the basic fight for equal rights for women.

Equal pay for equal work.

The right to vote.

The right to join the military and not be raped.

The right to not have your body exposed and recorded by some creep with a cell phone.

The right to go to college and not be sexually assaulted.

Basic human rights of decency.

Sorry, Time Mag. But you’ve just jumped the shark. You’ve taken a cheap shot. You’ve played a bad hand. You’ve just shown your ass.

#sorrynotsorry

I Hit Him

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unhappy-little-boy

“Hanging on, You’re all that’s left to hold on to.”

-U2, Red Hill Mining Town

I hit my son.

Something I never thought I would do. I had never been hit as a child. Not spanked. Not “popped.” Nothing. My mom was able to raise three kids without laying a hand on any of us.

But I hit my son. I did it out of frustration and helplessness. And yes, anger.

My oldest, my son, was strong-willed. Feisty. Spirited. All the positive spin-words we could think of to describe his behavior and temperament. He was also a beautiful, sweet boy who filled my heart with more love and joy than I ever thought possible.

But he was not an easy kid. He tried me every day. From the age of two until he was about five years old.

He would throw fits in restaurants and have me dragging him out the door before the food had even arrived.

He would wake up from naps and scream and cry for over an hour. It was more than a tantrum, he was unreachable, enraged. I would carefully step around his flailing body to carry books and toys out of his room so that he wouldn’t throw them or hurt himself with them. I would stand outside his door with tears burning my eyes, the contents of his room lined up in the hallway, waiting for it to pass. I even recorded these fits of rage in case I needed to show them do his Pediatrician.

One day when he was three years old, he flipped out after we left a play date. He screamed and kicked my seat continuously as I was driving. I tried calming him down. I tried turning up the radio to drown out his screams. At one point I pulled over and parked on a side street. I felt like I was going to lose it. He screamed and kicked while I leaned my forehead on the steering wheel and took deep breaths. I sat there for a few minutes until the person who lived in a nearby house came out on their front porch to see what was wrong. They had heard his screaming from inside their house and were understandably concerned. I gave a small wave to acknowledge them and slowly drove away. He screamed the whole way home.

Often, in order to leave a park or a play date, I would have to hoist him up like a giant sack of potatoes, one arm clamped over his arms with my other arm clamped over his legs. He would kick and scream and hit. I would wrestle him to the car, re-adjusting and trying to keep my grip, all while getting hit and kicked.  He was almost stronger than me. He was a big kid, at four he was the size of most six year olds.

Most days I felt beaten down and exhausted. I dreaded him waking up from his naps and the impending tantrum. I worried about what was wrong with him. I worried about the issues that may be lurking. Anger issues. Psychological problems. I worried about when he would be too big for me to wrestle into the car. What would I do then?

I cried on the phone to my mom on many afternoons. I asked her how to get him to respect me. I needed words of wisdom and some secret mommy tip that would help me, that would give me some control over my son. All she had were words of support. Encouragement that I was doing everything right. Assurances that if I kept doing everything right that he would respect me and that I wouldn’t always have to wrestle him into the car. I wanted to believe her, but I wasn’t sure.

Then one day I hit him. I “popped” him on the leg. He was bucking like a bronco refusing to let me strap him into his carseat. I spent the better part of 15 minutes trying to strap him in. Nothing was working. Exhausted and sweaty, I lost it and I hit his thigh and yelled at him in my ugliest voice. I’m sure my “pop” stung. I’m sure my words cut.

He paused briefly in shock and I watched his face change from defiance to sorrow. I saw his eyes speak of betrayal and shock. I knew I hadn’t physically harmed him. I knew the sting of my slap was momentary. But I had hurt him nonetheless. He started crying tears of sadness. I felt indescribably horrible.

I numbly climbed into the front seat to buckle in and drive. I felt sick to my stomach. I was appalled with myself. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I knew I did what many parents would have done. But it didn’t matter. The tears being shed in hurt and defeat from the backseat were all the incrimination I needed.

This isn’t what I had wanted. This is not how I wanted to parent. It didn’t matter what was “normal” or “acceptable.” It didn’t feel right to me. At all. I didn’t want my son to behave or listen because he feared he would get hit or “popped.” I wanted him to do it because it was right. Because I’m his mother and he needed to listen to me.

I don’t want to rule with an iron fist. I don’t want to control my kids. I don’t want them to fear me.

I don’t want them to ever feel shame.

No good has ever come from shame.

I want to guide my kids. Teach them. I want them to learn self-control. Not control at the hands of a parent.

My son is 13 years old now. He’s a good kid. No, he’s a great kid. He makes mistakes. But he studies hard. He works hard. He’s considerate and respectful. He has not once, in 11 years of schooling, had a behavior issue. I’ve had other parents tell me that they hope their young boys turn out like him. He has a happy, easy-going nature and tons of friends who love him.

I know I’m lucky.

I’ve forgotten how scary and trying those early years were. As I write this, I’m so grateful there wasn’t a bigger issue lurking behind those screams and tantrums. Now, all these years later, I have an idea of what was causing his behavior. He was diagnosed with pretty bad allergies. Allergies that kept him stuffy and miserable year round. He also had some speech delays early on a learning disability that was stymying his communication. Once we started him on allergy shots and speech therapy and specialized tutoring, his behavior problems disappeared. Dramatically.

Knowing what I know now, I would be riddled with guilt if corporal punishment had been  part of our parenting.

Knowing what I know now, I wonder if it would have changed him. Would he be different? Would he be the sweet boy with the easy smile? Would he be the boy who carries himself with confidence?

I don’t know. I will never know. But I am glad I didn’t risk who he was, who he is.

Knowing what I know now, I’m grateful. Parenting is hard. Every kid is different. Different challenges. Different issues. Who’s to say the right way to handle each situation. But knowing what I know now, I’m not glad that I hit my son. But I am glad that was only once.

Playing On Repeat: The Kooks

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Music On

“You say you want it

but you can’t get in,

You’ve got yourself a bad habit”

-The Kooks, Bad Habit

It’s time to bring music back to tha blog! For unexplained and unexamined reasons, I haven’t posted about one of my favorite things on the planet in a while. Anyways, let’s get to it!

The Brits have been putting out some good stuff these days. Arctic Monkeys had the best album of 2014. Royal Blood is currently exploding with their new album. Alt-J just released their sophomore album. Good stuff happening across the pond.

When I heard The Kooks new song Bad Habit, I was instantly hooked. A hand-clapping opening, vocals that crack slightly, a little dapple of a falsetto. It’s danceable rock. It’s fun. It will have you wanting to move…

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I spent a little quality time with The Kooks on YouTube watching videos and live performances. And now I’m a fan. Luke Pritchard has a -dare I say- Mick Jagger type of presence when performing. If they come anywhere near the southeastern U.S. I will be seeing them live for sure. Until then, I’ll crank up the music and enjoy. Hope you like it too. If you do, head on over to tha ‘Tube and check out Forgive & Forget, Down and  Around Town.

As always, listen to it loud…

Five Rules For The Jackholes Trying To Ruin Halloween

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“All I wanna do is have some fun, I gotta feeling I’m not the only one”

-Sheryl Crow, All I Wanna Do 

Can we not suck the fun out of Halloween?

Can we have one day? One day where it’s just about having fun and there are no guidelines or parameters or judgement or rules?

I’ve been hearing plenty of grumbling on both mainstream and social media. Things that annoy people about Halloween. “Rules” for trick or treating.

There’s been an abundance of people who seem to have a stick up their candy bowl.

They have been lamenting the kids who trample their grass, don’t ask politely for candy. The ones who take the candy and don’t say thank you. People who wonder at the wisdom of giving candy when more kids are overweight. Remember the lady who handed out fat shaming letters to trick or treaters? And there are people who think it’s their job to determine how old is too old for trick or treating.

As a public service and as a person who loves this holiday, I am going to share some thoughts.

Halloween is supposed to be the bad-ass holiday. It’s about being scary. It’s about being scared. It’s about running around in the dark. It’s about playing pranks, having fun. It’s supposed to be harmless mayhem. I don’t want to see Halloween morph into some nauseating Elf On the Shelf type of watered-down cuteness. I don’t want the pre-planned manufactured fun borne of Martha Stewart and Pinterest. Let’s not ruin Halloween.

On behalf of those who like this holiday and aren’t mean fun-sucking candy haters, I’d like to share a few of my “rules.”

1. Turn Off the Lights This one’s really simple, you don’t have to participate. You can turn off your porch light. In fact, if kids and their seeking of candy really bother you, I’m going to ask that you turn off your lights, close your blinds and go to bed because it sounds like you could really use a good night’s sleep.

2. This Ain’t No Disco. And It Ain’t No Country Club. And it’s not a dog and pony show. This is not an exhibition in which kids curtsy and look cute and act proper and display their good grooming and well-appointed manners. It’s not a test in ettiquete or in ANYTHING. Even the most well-disciplined well mannered kids will possibly- nay probably- forget a “Thank you” in their haste and excitement to run off to the next house. Don’t take it personally. Really, it’s not about you. They’re just excited, mkay?

3. You Can’t Guess No One’s Age So Don’t Even Try. Don’t be coy. You know what I’m talking about. The big kids. You know, the ones with a five o’clock shadow and awkward gangly limbs? They travel in packs. They mumble. They look at the ground when talking to you. They look like they might be too old for such childish antics. I’m going to try to appeal to your sympathies as someone who once went through this yourself. Please understand that the kid with the mustache might only be 13. The girl with the ample bosom may only be 12. Kids this age are impossible to identify by age. I dare you to go to any middle school or high school and try.

They are going through the most confusing and awkward period of adolescence. Their brains are sucked dry by the hormones that are running roughshod over their whole existence. They are uncomfortable in their own skin and they probably debated about even going trick or treating. They are at that stage where they still want to be a kid and have fun, but know it might not be cool. So don’t make them feel completely uncool by sneering or asking their age or refusing them candy. Even if they’re not dressed up. They may not have planned on going trick or treating. They may have had their friends knock on their door at the last minute pulling them out of the house. Let them have this. That kid that looks like he could be changing the oil on your car may be still watching Sponge Bob and cuddling on the couch with his parents. Don’t make him think he’s too old for any of it.

4. Kids From Other Neighborhoods ARE Allowed. I honestly can’t believe I have to even say this….

But we cannot segregate Halloween and trick or treating by class or by race or by neighborhood.

If you are bothered by “others” encroaching on your precious ‘hood, then I am going to politely point out that you might be an asshole.

And by this I mean that your head is so far up your McMansion that you may need to seek professional help.

I live in a neighborhood with sidewalks and houses close together. Around our ‘hood? It’s largely rural. We have carloads and vans that drop their kids off to trick or treat. From (gasp!) other neighborhoods. We have to buy insane amounts of candy to give out. I’ve heard grumbles from some. But those grumbles are drowned out by the rest of us. By most of us. You know, the ones having fun. The ones who don’t care where a kid is from. Those elitist whiners are muffled by the all of the houses that put on interactive displays in their front yards. By the neighbors that go to a lot of trouble and time and expense to put on haunted houses in their garages. By the parents that sit at the end of their driveway and chat with the adults passing by. Sometimes handing a cold one to a weary parent. By the people that want others to enjoy the holiday, no matter where they’re from. If all of this welcoming and camaraderie is disturbing to you, please see Rule # 1.

5. There Are No Rules. Yes. There are no rules. Other than the basic rules of conduct. Like no vandalism or stealing. Rules that don’t even need to be stated because they should be an intrinsic part of being a decent human being. Rules like don’t judge parents or kids based on where they’re from and if they belong on your doorstep. Rules like don’t be mean to a growing kid. Basic civility and decorum. Try it. Try having no expectations and just go with it. Have fun. Laugh with the kids. Laugh and chat with the adults. You may find yourself enjoying Halloween more than ever.

Me? I love Halloween. I’ll be painting my kids’ faces, helping them with their costumes. I’ll be managing a sleepover of 4 teen age boys who want to play video games and watch horror movies. And I’ll be scrambling to help them piece together last minute costumes when they decide to go out to “just a few houses.” I’ll be lecturing them about being respectful and letting the little ones go first. I’ll be holding my breath hoping that ALL of my kids, younger and older, listen to their Mama and do right.

I’ll be enjoying all of the adorable kids, younger and older, who end up on my doorstep. I’ll visit a few of the haunted houses in my ‘hood. At some point I’ll put a giant bowl of candy on my porch with a little sign asking the kids to take just two. And I’ll do this knowing that some kid’s going to dump the whole bowl in their bag. That’s ok. I’m not gonna sweat it.

I’ll be down at my neighbor’s. I heard they’re passing out cold ones.

All the Stuff… 5 (Costumes, Dress Codes and Love Stories)

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All The Stuff

So I’ve emerged from the fog of illness and stench that plagued our home for a week. Time to get crackin’ cause Halloween’s coming and we all know that it is THE most exciting holiday of the year! And by exciting, I mean candy and parties and dressing up. And the kids… they get to do some fun stuff too.

This year we’re dressing up, Joe and I. We haven’t done an adult Halloween in a few years and I’m super excited! We tried coming up with a group costume with some friends, but no one loved my ideas. Why they didn’t want to dress up as the other members of Fleetwood Mac are beyond me. I’m the obvious Stevie Nicks. Who doesn’t want to be Christine McVie? Pfffttt.

Wouldn't this be the coolest group costume???

Wouldn’t this be the coolest group costume???

So we decided just to do couple’s costumes. I won’t tell you ours. Not yet. After this weekend I’ll maybe share a picture – unless it turns out completely lame – then I’ll just lie and describe something cool and amazing. I have a feeling I’ll be “explaining” it all night. I mean, I think it’s an iconic pop culture reference everyone should get. But I realize I will likely get a good amount of “um… okay” type of looks.

So, the last few weeks of blogging were pretty exciting. I wrote a Feminist Friday post about Dress Codes. There was so much more I wanted to say, but, you know. Word count. The bane of my (blogging) existence. There was a great discussion in the comments and there were a few interesting things that happened as a result of my post.

These girls rock.

These girls rock.

I got a ping-back to another website, a news/opinion site for a large city. A writer was discussing school dress codes and quoted me.  I was all excited until I read it. It followed my words with the phrase “upside down logic.” Whatevs dude. He either didn’t read my whole post or he conveniently pretended not to have read it and used a snippet to make his point. I was going to respond and clarify my point of the whole damn post that he completely misrepresented, but it was one of those sites where you have to set up an account just to comment. Not worth the five minutes. So I decided that it was a benchmark type of moment. If my writing stirred someone up and angered them, that’s not a bad thing. I stand by what I wrote and knew it would be controversial and rile people up. Now I can check “piss someone off so much they must write about it” off my blogging bucket list.

Luther of Infinite Free Time is a teacher, blogger and author. He read my post, commented and then wrote a two- parter on Dress Codes. His makes sense. So much sense. He’s in the trenches every day with these kids. He boils it down and lays it all out here and here.

Then, I stumbled across this from The Salt Collective. Someone seriously needs to do something about all the guys in suits. A girl can’t get nothin’ done when guys are parading around in all their handsome debonair-ness. And if they have facial hair too? Are they trying to drive us to madness?

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And last. But so not least. Helena Hann-Basquiat. You may know her as Dilettante Supreme, as author of The Memoirs of Helena Hann Basquiat. As the writer behind Jessica B. Bell. As the quick witted and sharp tongued FaceBooker who cannot abide by bad music. Anyways, THE Helena made me go all fan-girly when she asked if I’d like to be included and host Part Two here on this little ‘ole blog. I responded that Why yes, I would be inclined to have you make an appearance at a pre-determined time. Ha! It was more like Me? OMG yes! Really, me? OMG, OMG!!!  (see I was even speaking in fan-girl).

So, here are all the links to her story. Her real life love story playing out as we speak… Part 1: Lizzi’s place. Part 2: Right here! Part 3: Samara’s place. Part 4: Mandi’s place Part 5: Hayley’s place Part 6: Beth’s place.

Go forth my dear friends. Read all the links. Write all the stuff. Do what you do. Because all of you make me think and make me laugh and inspire me.

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How To Survive An Outbreak: A Survivor’s Tale

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“You feelin’ alright

I’m not feelin’ too good myself”

-Joe Cocker, Feelin’ Alright

I don’t want to be an alarmist. And there’s already enough hysteria floating around like airborne microbes through a misting fan. But you guys- it was bad. Fever. Puking. Other stuff that polite southern women don’t talk about.

Four out of five Kelly’s were sick. No, it wasn’t Ebola. But I feel like I kind of understand it, from both ends. And no, I’m not being coy, I mean I was both patient and nurse. Because I’m a mom.

Patient # 1: It all started with the little one. So innocent and cute. She didn’t understand what was happening. She peppered me with questions in between yakking. She didn’t understand that correct protocol does not involve breathing directly into my face after emptying the contents of her stomach all over the bed.

Patient # 2: My son. Thirteen years old. Vibrant, strong boy. Which means that he gives new meaning to the word “projectile” as the contents of that night’s dinner make a second appearance. The victim: his bedroom rug. This is when things get really ugly. This is when you realize you failed at containing the virus. This is when it’s time to get serious. Luckily for you, I’ve been through it and I’ve come out on the other side to help you. Hopefully you won’t be affected or infected, but in case you are, take heed.

  • First, you must maintain composure. As you turn for help and see your husband’s retreating back, you realize you’re in this alone. You’ll want to panic. But you can’t. This is it. This is no time to lose your shizzm. The faster you act the better. Don’t allow time to think or smell. Paper towels and trash bags are your friend. Do the best you can with these tools. You will likely realize that you have held your breath and squealed and sympathy-vomited through this stage of cleanup only to realize you’ve barely scratched the barf covered surface. Time to improvise. Grab the oldest towels you can and cover that rank. If you can’t see it it’s not there. Truth.
  • Second, employ those killers of the environment, the plastic grocery bag. Yes, you feel guilty that you have an entire closet in your laundry room stuffed with them. You tried reusable grocery bags and you really liked them, but your husband “accidentally” threw them out and you’ve been too lazy to buy more. Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah. Dealing with children who’ve suddenly turned into Linda Blair from The Exorcist. So yeah, those pesky little bags you’ve been hoarding can now be “recycled.” Line the trash can that you put by your kid’s bed with a triple layer of these. Just like lining a roasting pan with foil. Clean up will be easy.

Except it’s not. Your methods are necessary but clean up will be treacherous at best. The worst part is the nausea you feel just from seeing and smelling things that can’t be unseen or un.. er… not smelled. But you must forge ahead. The rest of the family is counting on you to keep them safe. Especially your husband who’s snoring from the bedroom. It’s time to disinfect.

  • Before this step you must protect yourself. You have to keep yourself well or things will really fall apart. You know, take oxygen before you assist fellow passengers. I don’t make these things up. You’ll want a face mask. Surely you have these on hand for the impending pandemics that crop up yearly, right? Good. You’ll need rubber or latex gloves. And an old shirt – or your husband’s favorite t shirt – whatever’s handy. If wretching is still in progress (how much did those kids eat today?) you may want a hat or scarf to cover your hair.
  • Now you will need a bucket and bleach. You will need to coat all door handles, light switches, faucets, toilet handles. All of it. Don’t listen to that crap about 2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water. You want to show this virus who’s boss, right? We ain’t playin’ around. So you go halfsies. Your eyes will burn and your house will smell like  an indoor kiddie pool with poor ventilation, but that’s ok. The bonus here is that your nose will be incapable of smelling the foul smells that emanate from those towels on your son’s carpet.
  • The next step is laundry. While still suited up in your homemade hazmat suit, grab the comforter your son managed to soil as well as any washcloths and towels that may have been contaminated. But NOT the towels on the floor! DO NOT move those! You will want to shove as many of the offending linens into your washer as humanly possible. Put in extra soap. Lots of it. Wash on highest heat, sanitary setting. Side note: anything that needs rinsing before putting in the washer needs to be thrown out. I don’t care if it’s wasteful. There’s nothing that is so special that can’t be replaced. Seriously, I don’t care if your grandmother’s wedding dress got caught in the cross fire, there are limits to what one should be expected to do. Throw that shizzle away.
  • Sometimes your methods are met with a little hiccup. A little stumble if you will. In my case it was water seeping from under the washing machine. It’s ok. Freaking out about what curse has been placed upon your pure heart is not going to help. Take a deep breath. Backup plans are in place for such breaches. Take all remaining contaminated laundry that has not been stuffed into your washing machine like a Paula Deen pork chop and dump it on to the floor of your garage. It is out of the house, technically, which is the important thing. Until the washing machine gets fixed, your family can practice holding their breath as they dash through the garage to the car. This is a healthy exercise that will only save them from possible drowning one day.

Congratulate yourself on a sanitized and clean environment in which your family can safely ride out this harrowing ordeal. Rest easy as you drift off to sleep with the comfort that you’ve protected the people you love with your knowledge and fortitude in the face of utter grossness. Drift off to sleep with the last few precious hours left before daylight.

Except you can’t. Because you realize that the nausea you’d been feeling wasn’t imaginary. You’ve been infected. As you race to the bathroom to take your turn at the hurling olympics, grab a towel. That tile’s cold and you’ll be laying on it until this passes.

Eventually the fever wears off and the nausea calms to a quiet roar. You emerge from your oddly comforting enclave curled up next to the toilet, to realize that no one realized you were gone. As your son recovers from the worst of it upstairs, your five year old seems remarkably well and full of all kinds of fun energy. The family went about their business in the few hours since you cleaned and painstakingly disinfected. You try not to be irritated that it looks like John Belushi just hosted a toga party in your kitchen. Because look at them. Healthy. Blissfully unaware. This is why you do it. Then you see your husband. He’s looking a little green…

Just turn around and go back to bed. You’ve done your part. It’s every man and child for himself now.

Do stomach bugs freak you out? Have you been traumatized by cleaning up your kid’s puke? What are your tips for surviving an outbreak?

Is It Time For Dress Codes To Grow Up? A Feminist Friday Discussion

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Getty Images

School is fraught with all kinds of issues. Standardized tests to pass, social and behavioral issues to navigate. Bullying. And clothes. Don’t forget the clothes.

Apparently clothes are a big danger to our children. Specifically our boys. Well, not just clothes. But the girls who wear them. Their bodies and the clothes that they put on them are a distraction to our boys.

This is what the dress codes in many schools imply. It’s also what is frequently cited as justification for singling out girls in violation of dress codes.

Some girls are fighting back. A group of middle school girls from Evanston, Illinois protested when their school banned leggings. More than 500 people signed a petition and students showed up for class wearing leggings and yoga pants carrying signs that read “Are My Pants Lowering Your Test Scores?” Another group of middle school girls from New Jersey started a protest via social media with #Iammorethanadistraction.

Both stories have gone viral. And in doing so have opened up a discussion on the way that dress codes sexualize young girls…

They sexualize young girls.

The bulk of school dress codes are aimed at girls. No tank tops or spaghetti straps. No exposed shoulders. Skirts must pass the “finger tip test.” No cleavage. No tight fighting yoga pants or leggings.

Girls are being singled out at school. They are made to line up and pass the fingertip test  when wearing shorts and skirts. One administrator even asked some of the girls to bend over in their skirts to see if they were “immodest.” This particular “educator” also referred to girls dressed immodestly as “skanks.” One school dismissed all of the boys from an assembly and proceeded to play a scene from Pretty Woman and lecture the girls on dressing appropriately for school.

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Girls are being forced to wear “shame suits” in some schools. They are being kicked out of proms because chaperoning dads think a dress is too provocative. They are being told that walking around in their bodies is too much for boys to handle. They are being told that they will give boys impure thoughts. That they’re very existence, unless covered appropriately, is responsible for other student’s education and behavior.

These girls are being embarrassed.

Shamed.

Sexualized.

Objectified.

It’s a story as old as time. Women and girls bear the burden of covering up. Women are walking temptations. Victorian times had women covering their ankles. Some religions require women to swim in full length dresses. Some tout the phrase “Modest is hottest.” The irony in that phrase is worthy of 1000 words unto itself.

But girls are fighting back. These young girls are reminding everyone that they are more than their bodies. That their bodies serve real practical functions, amazing feats, power and strength. Their bodies are more than objects to be ogled.

And let’s not forget. These are young girls. These are girls just trying to understand their growing bodies. These are girls going through puberty much sooner than previous generations. These are girls just trying to dress comfortably or maybe fashionably.

Let’s try to remember that these are growing girls who’s bodies change overnight. The skirt that fit last week might be noticeably shorter this week. The shirt that wasn’t tight last month might show cleavage this month. Let’s remember how hard it is to go through these teen years with ever changing bodies and moods and temperaments. And let’s acknowledge that girls who are more physically developed than their peers are getting called out more often.

Let’s remember that these are girls.

They are not trying to seduce.

They are trying to learn.

They are not aiming to distract.

They are usually trying to fit in and fly under the radar.

They don’t view their bodies as sexual. They don’t think of their bodies as a means to produce “impure thoughts.” Not until you suggest it, imply it, or outright state it as you wave your sacred dress code in their confused faces.

Many of us rail against objectification of women in media. Many of us rant about the sexualization of women’s bodies and how that contributes to rape culture.

Yet, we’re letting it happen in our schools. To our young girls. By people we pay to educate them.

What effect is this having on our girls? Well, we’re teaching them young. We’re teaching them that society will view them as sexual even as they try to learn.

But what about the boys? Exactly. We’re not giving boys much credit. These policies tell them that they are easily distracted. They tell them that they have little or no self control. They imply that they shouldn’t even try to have self control. It’s also suggesting ideas that may not have been a part of their mindset to begin with. 

A bra strap is not going to send them into a dizzying flurry of hormones that will render them unable to be educated. Leggings or yoga pants or any tight pants are not going to cause such a distraction that they won’t be able to function. No. But do you know what does cause that kind of disruption and distraction? Singling the girls out.

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photo: so basicallylindsayjones.tumblr.com

We’re sending our kids off to school, entrusting teachers and administrators with educating them. We want our kids to learn to follow rules. To show respect. To respect the educators. To respect others. To respect themselves.

I’m not so sure that these dress codes are serving that purpose so well. Maybe it’s time for the school dress code policies to grow up.

We need to remind our schools. These girls are more than their physical appearance. They are more than temptations. They are more than distractions. By the looks of these protests, they are much more. They are a force to be reckoned with.

What do you think about dress codes?

Are they necessary?

Do you think they send the wrong message? Or is this much ado about nothing?

What is your personal experience with dress codes?

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