(Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images)
(Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images)

Sometimes, when my phone rings or I get a text during the school day, my heart stops for a minute.

***

At my first high school football game, four people were shot. My parents were horrified and scared. They tried to find a way for me to switch schools. I didn’t want to. I loved my school and I was proud of it, in spite of it’s tarnished reputation. My senior year, a former student was shot and killed at the entrance to our school.

My parents put our house up for sale soon after that.

You see, my school was in a rough neighborhood. The kind of neighborhood that saw violence and crime on a daily basis. As soon as they could afford it, my parents moved so my younger brother could go to a school without the threat of gun fire. They found a smaller town with less crime and a safe place to live.

That was in 1991.

Now, no one’s safe.

No neighborhood or town is immune to stray bullets or bullets aiming to kill.

Guns are in angry, itchy hands. Guns are stockpiled and guns are wielded over the slightest offense. And sometimes guns are in the hands of well meaning people who make mistakes.

Now, school shootings are common place.

As a parent, I’m not sure how to process that. Sometimes I’m scared to send my kids to school. I have fleeting thoughts as I’m saying good bye to them in the morning. This is a day just like any other day. I bet that’s what the parents at Sandy Hook thought. What are the odds that it would happen here, in our town? I bet that’s what the parents thought when their kids went to class at Umpqua Community College. 

I received a text last week. I was mindlessly doing something else and didn’t rush to check the message. But then I had a thought… what if it’s my daughter crouched in a hiding spot, texting me to tell me about a shooter? 

These thoughts pop into my head every now and then. How could they not? Since 2013 there have been more than 149 school shootings in America. My kids come home and tell me about Active Shooter Drills. My daughter tells me about trying to find the best hiding spot because it’s the one she’s supposed to use in the case of a real threat.

We are teaching our kids how to hide from an armed intruder in school. We refuse to take action, to have the hard conversations. We go about our days, sipping our lattes and shopping at Target. But we are ok with our kids practicing scenarios of death and carnage. We don’t demand that law makers finally do something, meanwhile a sick version of doomsday prepping has become a mainstay in our schools.

The method by which we safe guard ourselves and our children against the inevitable when guns are considered a right instead of a privilege? It’s no more than crossing our fingers, wishing on a star and pinky promises.

We are hoping that people will be responsible with their guns.

We are hoping they won’t pull out a gun in a fit of road rage.

We are hoping that they won’t fire on a shop-lifter in a crowded parking lot.

We are hoping that they will not leave them loaded and within arms reach of young children. Or anyone.

We are hoping that guns won’t end up in the hands of people with violent pasts and violent tendencies. We are living on a wing and a prayer that the people with guns actually know how to use them and when to use them.

We are basically using voodoo hocus pocus to keep our kids safe. To keep our country safe.

And it’s not working so well.

When I get the robo-call that my son’s school is on lockdown because a hunter wandered onto school grounds, I don’t feel safe. I feel terrified. Even after the police determine it was an honest mistake and not a threat, I’m still scared. What about the next hunter? Will he be careful? Will he make sure that when he aims his gun it’s not pointed in the direction of the school? I cross my fingers and hope.

When the people that own the land behind me target practice or hunt or walk right by our property line with big guns strapped to their back, I’m scared. Are they sane? Are they responsible? Are they making sure they aren’t aiming in the direction of my back yard? Is anyone who lives in their home suffering from delusions or severe anger? Are their guns kept under lock and key or fingerprint scanner? I have no way of knowing. When I hear gun shots ring out in rapid fire, I call my kids inside. And I say a little prayer.

When a neighbor gets held up at gun point down the street? My heart seizes up. My son and his friends had been on that very street within minutes of the robbery. They had been walking home to play video games. Should I not allow my high school age son to walk the streets of my neighborhood? Should I keep all my kids home out of fear and not let them ride their bikes or play in the woods behind my house? Should I try to wish away the problem?

No. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Common sense laws. Ones that require safety courses and universal background checks and close loopholes. These are some of the things that will help. Why is this so hard to swallow? Our kids hiding under a desk in fear is easier to consider? Kids being killed accidentally by siblings or in road rage incidents is preferable to legislation and enforcement?

We are not safe in our trigger happy country.

We have not created a safe environment. As parents and citizens, that’s our job. And we have failed. When you fail, you are supposed to change and adapt. You are supposed to fight your way back to a place that is beyond surviving. You are supposed to act, not cower with helplessness. You are supposed to do something beyond hoping and crossing your fingers or knocking on wood.

Our kids shouldn’t have to practice hiding from gunfire.

We shouldn’t be nervous when we send them to school. Or send them down the street. Or to a movie theatre or mall or anywhere.

We shouldn’t be complacent or repeat tired phrases and mantras that have been fed to us by wealthy men with big agendas that include making them money and have nothing to do with our best interests.

We shouldn’t be ok with the fact that death by gunfire has become common place.

When I send my kids off to school, or anywhere, I shouldn’t have to be afraid they’ll be next.

 

For more information on common sense gun laws and initiatives: http://everytownresearch.org

 

 

 

 

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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 beer 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 is 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 beers.

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Ahhhh, that new school smell. It’s the smell of fresh starts, new beginnings and a few precious hours a day without someone needing something from us.

Don’t get me wrong. I love summer and having my three kids home with me. But in some ways I feel like I’ve been on a three month bender and now I’ve sobered up. My house looks like Miley Cyrus and Lindsey Lohan invited John Belushi over to party. My head feels foggy and I feel a little disoriented. I’m ready to shake off the fog and get back to a routine, back to being productive.

Hahahahaha. That’s funny isn’t it? The idea that school starts and we have all this time to do… whatever it is we all need to/want to/have to do. We fool ourselves every summer into thinking that life will feel normal again once school starts.

It’s funny/not funny because we forget that school can be a demanding and manipulative time suck.

School’s going to start emailing you. And robo-calling you. And sending letters home with your kids. They will ask you for things. Request your presence. They will teach your kids how to lay a guilt trip on you that would make a Catholic school nun blush. They will be relentless. School’s going to start looking like that college boyfriend that needed a restraining order.

I think it’s time to have a little talk with school. I think we can resolve this peacefully. We just need to clear a few things up and come to some kind of understanding. There are a few things that can be tweaked to make all of our lives a little bit easier…

The School Supply Lists

The list. How can I say this nicely… the school supply list has become an uptight, entitled snob who suffers from O.C.D. Damn. I don’t think I did that right. OK. Let’s try this again. The list is an asshole.

It gets a little worse each year. From specific colors of folders to name brand pencils and erasers. Did you know that there are brand name erasers? Yeah, me neither. Hey school, if you’re that anal retentive about erasers, you may want to get some help for that. *gives elementary school the side eye*

The Fund Raisers

I get it. Budgets being cut and all. Schools need more funds. I’m totally down with that. I’ll write a check. But the fundraisers? Some of them really crawl under my skin.

Our school outsources fundraising to a corporation. Under the guise of “character development” and “health and fitness” this company sends teams of annoyingly perky “athletes” to your school to conduct pep rallies and “classes.” Part of the character education apparently involves pressuring kids with the lure of classroom ice cream parties and bribing them with cheap plastic toys. Meanwhile, the parents are supposed to let the kids hit up Grandma’s pension fund so that almost half of her donation can feed the pockets of this corporation. Nuh-uh. Not happening. When I tell my kids that no, we aren’t soliciting our loved ones, they look at me in horror. You would think I had just told them that Santa killed the Easter Bunny and ate his liver with a nice Chianti.

I’ll write a check. But it won’t be to the jackhole who tried to turn my kid into a multilevel marketer.

My Attendance Is Not Required

Why is it necessary to request my presence at least once a month for some “event.” I’m with my kids all the time. They don’t need me to come to school to cheerlead for them every time they do something not extraordinary. In fact, they’d be a lot better off if they didn’t see mommy popping up at school, waving and beaming from the crowd. They aren’t Beyonce and JayZ at the Grammy’s. They are kids. In school. It’s pretty ordinary. So let’s chill on the obligatory parent fan club, ok?

My mom never had to come up to school during the day. There was no “Helicopter Parenting.” We managed to eat lunch, even on our birthdays, without our parents showing up. We can celebrate birthdays at home and the kids can tell us about their day over the dinner table. I don’t have to actually see and witness every thing they do. There’s a reason we took a blunt nosed scissor to the umbilical chord.

The Neverending Requests

There’s so much stuff. There’s always little items to send in for events and parties and theme weeks. The calendar the teachers send home reads more like an errand list. What to wear, what to bring in. Is all this “stuff”really necessary for learning? I’m all for making a lesson fun. I just don’t think you need “stuff” in order to do that. And let’s chill on all the celebrations. Hey, school, maybe if we didn’t have a party every month you could bring back music class?

All of this is kind of a pain in the ass for all the parents. But do you want to know why it really gets me worked up?

All of this smacks of privilege.

This is beyond a first world problem. This is a problem of privilege.

These things aren’t an issue at schools in poor neighborhoods. Teachers at Title I schools aren’t holding parties and asking parents for “stuff.” They have to worry about tired kids falling asleep during class because their belly is empty or their home life is too stressful for a good night’s sleep. Requests for 100 pretzels for the 100th day? Sounds a little ridiculous doesn’t it?

And what about the kids that go to school in an affluent neighborhood but are on free or reduced lunch? How do you think they feel watching their classmates get applauded for raising money and rewarded because they have people in their lives who can donate? They have to sit through the sales pitches and the promises of rewards knowing that they can’t contribute. It makes me sick.

What about the parents who are busting their ass at work and can’t make it to the mid-day craft event in their kid’s classroom? Why should they have to try to juggle work and parenting in the middle of the school day?

Let’s Just Stop With All the Extras

For the teachers who just want to teach.

For the parents who have too much already on their plates.

For the kids who are always left feeling different because their parent can’t come to the event or their family can’t afford to buy extra items.

For the kids who are privileged. We aren’t doing them any favors by showing up and cheering them on for every little thing or by teaching them that a trip to the store is essential to learning. We aren’t helping any of the kids when the entitled continue to be coddled and applauded while the kids who have less continue to feel less than.

Let’s cut out all the B.S. and focus on the important things.

Let’s put the fundraising on the districts and the whole community, not the kids.

Let’s show the kids that they can be independent and thrive with their peers and their teachers. Show them that they don’t need mommy or daddy to make school a warm and nurturing environment.

I’ll send my kids to school ready to learn. You teach them. Simple as that.

 

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I used to be a good friend. I was the friend you could call if you needed to vent. I was the friend who would drive for hours in the car smoking cigarettes and listening to music while you mended your broken heart. I was the friend who would stay up all night laughing and talking about nothing and everything.

I was the friend who knew the ins and outs of your life and knew when you needed to talk even before you knew you needed it. I was in tune and in touch. Available.

That friend is gone. And I am so, so sorry. She didn’t leave because she values your friendship any less. She didn’t disappear because she couldn’t be bothered.

She’s gone because I refuse to be busy.

I needed to step back from the chaos that took over my life. She was busy. No busier than you. But busy. Frantically, perpetually busy.

I’m no longer busy.

I was exhausted and burned out and I decided that something had to give.

I found myself on the hamster wheel and it was all my doing. I was giving it all away and watching life happen all around me. I was running a house, raising three kids, being a wife and a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a friend. I was volunteering for a charity I am passionate about. I was working out and planning holidays and hosting dinners. I was squeezing in everything in a mad dash to get it all done and to make a beautiful and meaningful life. And it was glorious. I am not complaining about any of it.

And I started to write again. And I found myself wanting to write more. And more. The flood gates opened and my only problem was trying to squeeze writing into my already crazy life.

But there’s only so long you can juggle while running at full speed when all the things that you are juggling are too precious to drop. I knew I couldn’t sustain. I was multitasking my life away. I started thinking about what this would look like in hindsight. Would I remember the moments? Or would I remember the phone in my ear while I cooked dinner and helped my kid with her homework while texting about the swim carpool, all while cleaning up the dog pee? I was a traffic cop at rush hour in the middle of a four way stop. The frenzy and the crazy became the norm and I saw myself not absorbing and not focusing and not fully engaging any where.

So I made the decision to refuse to be busy.

I stepped back from some commitments. I set up a loose schedule for my writing. I vowed to spend certain hours of a few days a week focusing on my writing. I have things I want to do that will never happen if I don’t protect the time it takes to do them.

It’s not that I don’t care about connecting with my friends. I really care. I miss my friends. I miss long conversations on the phone. I miss the serious talks and the laughs and the support and the whole connection in a way that let me be a very current part of their lives.

I miss it but I’m not willing to be busy for it.

We are all busy. Our culture glorifies busy. We are all running in frantic directions every day just trying to keep up. It doesn’t matter whether I work or stay home. It doesn’t matter that I have more kids than the next person or less kids than the next. There’s always someone with more to juggle and someone with less on their plate. It’s all relative and I refuse to beat myself up because I should be able to make it work when the Bento Box Pinterest Mom has more kids and a full time job and a spotless house and 3 dogs and 2 cats and a high maintenance guinea pig.

It doesn’t matter. I refuse to be busy. I am trying desperately to simplify my days. To stop multi tasking my life away. I’m trying to dial down the frenzy. I don’t want my life to be a blur of stuff and obligations and squeezing ins. I want it to be savoring and relishing and languishing and satisfying.

But this all means something’s gotta give, so my friendships are taking the heat. And that breaks my heart but I don’t know how to do it any other way.

I love my friends. I love them fiercely and I will drop whatever I’m doing the second any one of them needs me. I will drive to see them, fly to see them, go out for dinner or drinks. I will hug them when I see them and I will tell them I love them. I will laugh at their stories and cry with them when the hurt they are feeling seeps into me. I will fight for them, go to battle against their enemies or be their biggest cheerleader when they accomplish amazing things. The women I consider friends are some of my real life heroes.

I will do anything for them.

But I won’t answer my phone if I’m cuddling on the couch with my daughter. I won’t answer the phone if my son just got home from school and is telling me about his day. I won’t pick up if I’m helping one of the kids with homework or eating dinner or driving with the kids in the car or enjoying some quality time with my husband. And I won’t answer my phone if I’m writing.

Unless you need me. In which case, you’ll need to send and SOS or a 911 or a simple “I need to talk.” Then I will tell my kids they will have to wait or I will get up from the dinner table or shut my laptop. I will stop whatever it is that I’m doing if you need me.

I haven’t perfected my life of not busy. I’m still figuring out how to balance it all and how to still try to be a better friend. And I’m still available for casual conversations and catching ups. Just not as frequently as before. Some of my friends and I have started meeting once a month for lunch. Some of us have planned weekend trips together. Some of us keep up in group text chats. Some of us connect in private FaceBook groups.

What I’ve discovered is that most of my friends feel the same way I do. Most of us have transitioned into the third phase of parenting. Older kids, different kind of busy. Our lives have become the lives of uber drivers for the tween set and new careers and busier activity/sport schedules that come with older kids. Most of them are feeling the same hamster wheel juggling act that is impossible to do unless you’re a Cirque de Solei acrobat. And most of them don’t have time for me either.

I’m sorry that that friend is gone, the one who used to make you mixed tapes to help pump you up after a broken heart or a lost job. She loved curling up on the couch on Sunday morning to hear about every minute detail of your date the night before. She loved talking on the phone with you for hours as our babies slept and hearing every moment and milestone you and your baby reached together. She loved the hours standing in the driveway talking while our kids ran around and wore themselves out before dinner time. She misses that.

I miss all that.

But now is good too.

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Today I watched you grow up a little bit more. That’s how it seems to happen. Not in gradual ways that seem to slowly evolve, but in quick and sudden bursts. Shocking me each time you enter a room and seem completely different from the boy who walked out of the room moments earlier.

Today I watched you walk across a stage and say good bye to Middle School. They said your entire name with emphasis on each word. Giving me a little shiver as I thought of your uncle Todd who is your namesake. I watched you accept your certificate with a firm handshake, the handshake of a confident man. And you sauntered back to your seat with a quiet and easy smile on your face. Your gold tassle honor roll chord draped around your neck. My heart was full of pride and my eyes were full of tears as I swallowed nervously and tried to keep my emotions in check.

In the past year I’ve watched you grow roughly five inches in height and miles in maturity. I’ve seen you develop close friendships with some really nice kids. I’ve watched you shrug off the trappings of popularity in exchange for real friends. I’ve seen you offer to help around the house and help take care of your little sister. I’ve watched you take responsibility and ownership of your school work. The honor roll tassle you wore on graduation day was earned all on your own.

I’ve seen glimpses of the man you’ll be.

And he’s amazing and beautiful and good.

I’ve watched you get angry at the injustices that flash across the evening news. I’ve seen you question things that are happening in the world. I’ve seen you take an interest in things well beyond the little bubble you’ve been so fortunate to inhabit all these years. I’ve answered your thoughtful questions about these things. Questions that speak to your depth of understanding and your concerns. I’ve seen you care about things and people you’ve never met and who are different and far removed from your world.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

But I’m also scared. In a few short months you will be taking a huge step to more independence and autonomy. You will be walking through the halls of high school for the first time. You will getting your driver’s permit. You will be starting to plan for college and life beyond that.

And you will be coming up against some pretty big road blocks. Temptations. Peer pressures. Stress of tests that carry more weight than ever before. Girls. Love. Heartbreak. All of these will be distractions from everything you’re working towards. Some of them are worthwhile distractions. You should have fun with your friends. You should start to flirt a little with romance and love. You should push the boundaries a little. Just a little.

As you start to move a little more away from your dad and me, as you start to become a more independent person making decisions big and small, I’d like to share a few things with you. Before you shut out my advice and my words, please listen to a mother’s desperate attempt to squeeze all the wisdom and love and fear and happiness she is overwhelmed with, into a few words.

Remember what matters. You are the only one who can decide what matters to you. And once you do, don’t let anything get it the way of that.

Listen to your gut. It will never lead you astray. If you can tune in to what it’s trying to tell you, even in the noise of life and temptations and pressures, you will find a built in compass that you can rely on for the rest of your life.

Know when to make your voice heard. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind or stand up for what you believe. But also learn when it’s a waste of energy and time.

Always open doors for others and give up your seat for others. 

Don’t be afraid to feel. Life will hurt sometimes. But don’t let that be a reason to go numb or shut down. That never works and it will come back to you sideways and cause more pain. Feel all the stuff and let it happen and move on lighter and happier for it.

Being vulnerable is ok. In fact, it’s good. But only when it’s with the people you trust. Sharing your thoughts and your pain and your fears with the people who love you will ease your burden and allow people to be closer to you. It will be the greatest gift of intimacy you will someday give the person you spend your life with.

Work hard. But work smart. Quantity of time working doesn’t always equal quality. Figure out what methods work for you and employ them. This will serve you well in life and work.

Be a good friend.

Let go of perfection. Perfection is boring. Mistakes will happen. Twisting and turning in an attempt to avoid mistakes is futile. Do your best and accept the mistakes as lessons and grow from them.

Don’t be afraid to fall in love. It’s the most beautiful thing you’ll experience. It will sometimes bring incredible pain but you will get through that. It is worth it and life without it will be less rich.

Be patient with a mom who struggles with the emotions of watching her little boy grow into a man.

Find your passion. It may be your career. It may be a hobby or another enterprise. But find it and find a way to nurture it.

Work for money and for joy. Find a job you love. Find something that doesn’t make you dread Monday. But also find something that gives you some comfort and stability in life. Find the balance of the two and live there. Money doesn’t buy happiness but a life of poverty and hardship is not an easy road.

Don’t text and drive.

Know that confidence will come and go. It will sometimes be out of your grasp. This is normal. No one feels confident and self assured all the time. Some of us are just good at faking it. 

Be aware of toxic people and learn how to spot them. Don’t let them infiltrate your life and corrupt you or suck out all the life and joy. Darkness is a hungry beast and toxic people will try to bring you into their disfunction. Don’t let them.

Remember that you have an army of people who are rooting for you to win, who are here for you, who love you. Your dad and me, your siblings, your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. You will have this core group of people in your corner for life. That is a gift and a blessing and it will never fail you.

Give your mom a hug once in a while.

Treat the women you will one day let into your life with respect and honor. Don’t ever minimize their feelings or their voice. 

Remember that your dad and me will be here for you for anything and everything. There’s nothing you can’t tell us and there’s nothing that will ever make us turn our back on you. There’s nothing that will ever take away our love. Ever.

Enjoy the ride. The ups will be amazing and the downs will be hard but it’s a beautiful and glorious ride.

I’m so proud of you. I know you will do right. I know you will do good.

And if you remember nothing else, remember this…

Take care of yourself. And have fun.

 

 

 

 

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Last year I went to a Parent-Teacher conference with my daughter’s G.T. (Gifted and Talented) teacher. She sang my daughter’s praises. I basked in her glowing words and swelled with pride. Until she said this:

“She’s really good in math. Probably one of my best math students. Even better than the boys in the class.” – said by a real, live teacher. One that teaches kids.

Cue record screech. I immediately snapped to. I wish I could tell you that I questioned this teacher’s perceptions. I wish I could tell you that I pointed out to her that the very statement she meant as a huge compliment was in itself sexist. But I didn’t. I muttered something along the lines of “She’s always been a natural at math,” and something about “number sense.”

My daughter doesn’t think she’s good at math. She thinks it’s her worst subject.

We’ve tried to remedy this. We’ve tried to give her confidence in all areas and avoid the trap of focusing primarily on her beauty. We try to shine a light on her strengths as much as we can.

But I worry it’s not enough.

I worry it’s not enough because in spite of what we might say or the encouragement we might offer, she’s receiving a message from all around her that is much larger. She’s absorbing the myth.

The myth that boys are better at math and science. The myth that her brain is not built for science or technology or engineering or math (STEM).

It’s an idea that has been around for centuries. That nature (gender) determines a person’s cognitive strengths or weaknesses. That girls are better at reading and writing. Boys are naturally better at math and science.

Wrong.

Researchers are speaking up and coming out against these misguided ideas. Scientists have refuted what they are referring to as junk science or the  psuedeo-science of neuro-sexism.

There is no difference between the brains of girls and boys. There is only individual differences. These are not based on gender. Or race. Or social class.

Signs are pointing to nurture playing a bigger role in girls’ attitudes towards STEM.

Girls often start off liking math and science. In elementary school 66% of girls say they are good in math. By high school that number drops to 18%. Girls are not showing up in STEM in high school and college.

And that is a problem.

According to recent studies, confidence is key when it comes to girls pursuing math and science.

Some factors that affect girls’ confidence in these subjects:

The soft-sexism of low expectations: The attitudes and assumptions of parents. Of teachers. Without even realizing it we are perpetuating the false notion of girls’ weakness in these subjects. It’s in the things we say to girls (as evidenced by my daughter’s well-meaning teacher). It’s pervasive.

In studies, teachers have shown a bias in how they grade students in math based on gender. When asked to indicate their gender on tests, girls are shown to score 20% lower. Teachers have been shown to discourage girls from pursuing higher levels of math and science while encouraging boys. When girls’ grades are lower they conclude that they are not smart. And what people think, especially people that girls look up to, influences the way girls perceive themselves.

STEMStereotypes

 

(My daughter’s school inexplicably took Science out of the GT program and replaced it with Language Arts. Baffling considering that STEM job growth is outpacing the rest of the economy by 300%).

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The Politeness Trap. Girls are taught first and foremost to be good. To be polite. And yes, boys are often taught these lessons. But there is a premium on politeness in girls and being sweet and “lady-like” that teaches them to lower their voice, to not interrupt, to defer when someone else is talking. “Boys will be boys” is often cited as an excuse for behavior that would not be excused so easily for girls. Boys are taught to be bold, assertive, independent. If at times they are loud and interrupt, so be it. The result is girls being silenced or not heard. In the classroom especially.

Perfectionism. Girls in our society are raised to be pleasers. Our society has always looked to the women to be the nurturers. They will be the caretakers. Then there’s the pressure to look a certain way. How you dress matters. Looking cute matters. There is infinitely more pressure on girls in this area than boys. Boys don’t have to sit still to have their hair braided. Boys don’t have to worry about dirtying their cute outfit or losing their hair bow. This is so much a part of our culture that we don’t even realize that these things are being absorbed and registered by girls at a very young age. It is imprinting on their brains. It is affecting their sense of self.

Perfect has no place in math and science. Hand writing can be perfect. Speech and reading can be perfect. But math and science rely on failure. Trial and error. If a child is under pressure in so many other areas it is logical that the idea of “freedom to fail” is contradictory to everything else they learn. The “error” portion of trial and error or developing a hypothesis that may be proven wrong are antithetical to so many things that girls are taught.

(This video powerfully illustrates how we are doing a disservice to our girls every day.)

All of these things add up to girls hearing the message loud and clear. Science and math are not their “natural” habitat. All of these things should make you angry. We have been boxing our daughters into a corner of limited options by our willingness to buy into these prejudices. By our ignorance and obliviousness to all of the things we say and do, all of the things they see and hear, all around them, from the day they are born. This makes me angry. Angry at myself for not realizing it sooner. Angry that I have been unknowingly guilty of buying into an ignorant and outdated mindset. Angry that our society still operates under archaic assumptions.

It’s time to un-learn what we’ve been told. It’s time to pay attention to the messages we’re sending. We need to take the pressure off of girls to be “perfect” and “polite” and “nice.” We have to stop quibbling over whether “bossy” is a bad word and simply allow girls to express themselves loudly and boldly and without apology.

Attempts are being made to bring more girls to STEM. There are initiatives and campaigns directed at motivating girls and encouraging them. But I worry that this will be a whisper under the roar of long held ideas about gender and socialization. Confidence is key. The question is how do we unlock it? 

What obstacles do you think stand in the way of girls pursuing STEM subjects and careers? What are your personal experiences with science and math? What do you think can be done to change this trend?

 

Who Me???

That’s what I thought when the incredibly talented Hasty Words asked me to do a guest post. Hasty is a poet, an artist and writer who’s words always leave me a little breathless and I am honored to be a guest over at her blog today.

Click on the link and read all about why I want my kids to be rebels…

“Your Rebel Heart”

(Comments will be closed, but head over to HastyWord to tell me what you think!)