We’re failing our children and we don’t even see it

We are failing our children, and we’re doing a spectacular job at it.

It is Saturday morning, and after one piping hot cup of coffee, which I sipped while scrolling through social media feeds, I am now sitting at my keyboard, my insides awash with incredulity, my mind scrambling to pluck words that will present themselves as composed and constrained. Because I want to scream at all of us.

Does this look like anger? Disappointment? Fear? Bafflement?

AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO’S NOTICING WHAT’S HAPPENING??? (How about that?)

What I am about to write is not a post on politics, so please don’t come at me with vitriolic comments. What I am about to write is how we, as adults and parents, are behaving in this election cycle and how that (mis)behavior is seeping into the lives of our children, all while we turn a blind eye. Or maybe not.

Maybe some of us witness our middle schooler provoking a peer who innocently announces he supports Ted Cruz because his parents support Ted Cruz and we pat ourselves on the back because: Good job, honey. You’ve been listening. She’s sure to follow in our liberal footsteps. Or maybe our  fourth grader comes home after school and between bites of a chocolate chip cookie and slurps of cold milk he confides as an aside that he told one of his classmates (a girl) that Hillary Clinton doesn’t stand a chance because “girls can’t be president”. Or maybe we boast on social media that we (an adult) see a teenager in Target wearing a Trump t-shirt and take that opportunity to “harass” him.

According to my social media feeds, all of these things actually happened. All of the aforementioned children who had the audacity to stand up for a candidate of their choosing (even if their opinion was based solely on their parents’ choices) were shut down because of us. They have learned that opinions matter unless it’s the wrong opinion because of us. They have listened to us preach about inclusion, courtesy, and humanity only to watch us turn away and spew hateful comments about those who harbor different opinions and beliefs than our own. And they are echoing those hateful comments because of us. So go ahead, look in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re #winning at #adulting today. Are you #killingit? Because from my point of view, we have thrown the golden rule of parenting out the window: teach our children the art and duty of kindness. Of tolerance. Of acceptance.

If there is one theme that pulses through our generation of parenting it is that, through the far-reaching magic of social media, we are really working to break down the falsely constructed idea of what it means to be “normal”. We are raising awareness of disabilities, we are tearing down stigmas and stereotypes, we are fighting back against racism and sexism. We are teaching our children that #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter, and we are #changingthefaceofbeauty, and we are flipping the phrase #likeagirl on its head. But not when it comes to politics. When it comes to politics all bets are off; it’s a dog-eat-dog world (and I’m not talking about Washington).

I get it. I get that tensions are high and emotions are wrought with fear and deep-seated beliefs. And it is our constitutional right as American citizens to express our opinions, but it is also our charge as parents to present our opinions and beliefs through mindful discussions, goodwill, and grace so that someday our children will do the same. And we are failing.

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28 Days of Play

Play and the Generation Gap

What I remember about my mother is this: she was there. She was there for band-aids and kisses and snacks. She would help us build tents in the backyard where we would hoard stacks of books, and she would pull down the trunk of old baby clothes from a high shelf so I could dress my dolls. She would unstick zippers and tie scarves in my hair and search for a beaded necklace to add to my dress-up ensemble. She made sure to foster an environment where play was encouraged, and when I needed her, she was there, but I don’t remember ever playing Barbie or baby doll with her.

I’m honored to be featured at You Plus 2 Parenting as part of Rachel Cedar’s 28 Days of Play series, and you can read the rest of this essay here. I’d love to hear your thoughts over there and keep the dialogue going on why it is we sometimes struggle with engaging in play with our children.

28 Days of Play

To feel the dash and dance of the thing

Surely I’m not the only one. Surely you’ve felt it too? The weight of another life? A path not chosen?

When I was in 7th or 8th grade I read a memoir of a girl who grew up outside of New York City, always looking in on the bustling streets and bright lights. This girl grew up to be an editor at a publishing house, and the book followed her years in the city, commuting home, life as she made her way up the corporate publishing ladder.

This book wasn’t particularly glamorous in its portrayal of either the city or the publishing industry. Still, from the time I closed the paperback cover, my eyes lingering over The End for a breathless moment, I knew. I had never been to New York before, and I didn’t really have a clue as to the job specifications of an editor or agent or any other position in publishing for that matter, but I wanted that city, that job. This desire, this image, never left me. It shaped the path on which I tried to steer my life.

One year after Zach and I were married (four years after a summer internship in New York), I surprised him.

Guess what? I asked.

He was probably marinating chicken breasts or plucking parsley from our balcony garden, or sharpening his paring knife, or doing whatever it is cooks do.

I got a job. In New York. We have to be there in two weeks.

That last part of my sentence trailed off as I probably ducked behind the counter to avoid a slip of the paring knife. This wasn’t exactly a thoughtful surprise to spring on him, being that he already had a job. In Indiana. Where we lived.

He said Okay. He went on basting the chicken, stirring the spaghetti sauce. He never questioned it, not once.

And he never questioned me when I was pregnant with Mia and confessed that I wanted to move back to Indiana to be near our families as we started our own family.

When I told my boss at the time, a fellow Midwesterner, she said, “I feel like if I moved back I would know exactly what my life would be like, and I think I’d rather not know, you know?”

I did, and I didn’t. To me, embarking on this new journey of motherhood was an adventure. I had no idea what I was getting into and yet I already viscerally felt the tug-and-pull of this new role in both its urgency and tediousness. The task of securing a new apartment (our 450 square-foot one bedroom wouldn’t cut it) and navigating the childcare system in the city, I had decided, was just too much to conquer.

I remember the exact moment I made this decision. I was at my doctor’s office in a building off Central Park West, standing at the front desk to schedule my next appointment, when a cockroach ran across the receptionist’s calendar. I must have squealed because she looked up from her phone call and when I gestured to the cockroach that scurried into a dark corner of the desk, she just rolled her eyes and went back to her conversation. That, combined with the numerous mothers I saw laboriously struggling to schlep a stroller, diaper bag, and baby up the subway steps while grasping fiercely to the hand of a toddler, was enough to scare me away from raising a family in the city. I had been removed from the suburbs long enough to covet backyards, room to breathe, and wide open spaces to roam.

The thing is, my boss’s words haunt me sometimes as I drive familiar streets, pointing out my high school to Mia, the house where we lived until I was in fifth grade, and I swallow the acid taste of a memory that’s always, always just under the surface. If one thought shaped my middle school and high school years it was this: I’m going to get out of this landlocked, cornfield hell someday. (So very teen angst of me, yes?) I can still access that teenager who so badly wanted another world to call her own. I still feel her below my skin. Some days she floats so close to the surface that our fibers and marrows fuse, and I can no longer tell the difference.

I should tell you that this isn’t just about place. It isn’t just that I chose to leave a city I love to make my home in a city I spent a good part of my life wanting to leave. That job that I accepted when we moved to New York? I loved that job. I have a passion for the industry and I had the privilege of calling one of the best in the business my mentor. I would have been a damn good literary agent.

Shortly after Mia was born, I swaddled her in blankets and we set off for a walk around our new neighborhood, the slight chill of early spring at my back. The neighborhood we now lived in was built for families with a pool, tennis courts, a day care, a running path, and soccer fields, yet we were alone on our walk. Not one person crossed our path. Maybe it was postpartum hormones but it all seemed so desolate and sad, and my body, my everything, ached for the dash and dance of the city I abandoned, for the work I loved, for the person I was only a short time ago.

Mia was fast asleep when we returned home. I sat on our big front porch in the silence of midmorning suburbia and wondered, What had I done? Why did I think that to mother my child I had to surrender all the other parts of me? Mia awoke with the bleating, angry cry of a newborn just as tears slipped down my cheeks. Suddenly, I wasn’t at all sure that could do this, and there we sat, both of us new and nothing right.

When I think back to my first few months as a new mother, aside from the moment my daughter was born, this is the memory that takes center stage. It is still so palpable that I can go back to that place without effort. In a wink, I am on that porch again, questioning everything.

“I would know exactly what my life would be like, and I think I’d rather not know…”

A couple of weeks ago, I told Zach that I felt the pressing of this path not chosen. I felt stifled by it. Do you think we could do it again? Move back to New York? He entertained my idea, as he always does, and his willingness to play along set my mind in overdrive and suddenly I was planning out the logistics of such a move.

Zach has a saying about our relationship: I keep his head in the clouds and he keeps my feet on the ground.

chiidhood

So here I am, feet planted in the place I call home now. I know deep down that uprooting our family isn’t in everyone’s best interest, that it would be a purely selfish move, but I also know that something’s shifting. The teenage version of myself who set a plan in motion and the new wife who didn’t hesitate when that plan materialized are still part of me. I still believe in growth and movement, in stretching and exploring, in stepping out of the comfort zone every now and then to feel the dash and dance of the thing that quickens your pulse.

The kid’s on his own (see also: poop in the bathtub)

I was giving the kids a bath the other night when a splashing contest ensued, and amid all the laughing and shrieking and water spraying, Wyatt slipped under water mid-splash, mouth open. As I dove to retrieve him, I slammed my knee into the side of the tub. I pulled him up and out of the tub by his arm. He gasped for air, then cried and looked at me as if he wasn’t sure whether I was his steadfast savior or the root of his calamitous suffering. I woke up the next morning to find a an angry bruise blossoming on my kneecap and thought of eggplants. Actually, I spent more time than I care to admit considering the spectrum of nightshade vegetables and which one my kneecap most resembled.

Rewind a few weeks prior to the above incident: Same bathtub. Same kids. I noticed Wyatt being very still and quiet in the corner of the tub. I asked if he was doing what I thought he was doing, but he shook his head no in that sweet and innocent way of a two year old. And then he waved at me and said, “Hi, mama,” which should have tipped me off because that’s Wyatt’s dead giveaway that he’s doing something he knows he shouldn’t be doing. Not one minute later, guess what floated into view?

Moral of the story: I’m not bathing Wyatt anymore. The kid’s on his own.

Wyatt Joy, Lovely Joy

the cuteness slays me

Totally unrelated but worth mentioning: Mia is watching TV in the next room, and this is what I hear:

Zach: “Is that Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle?”

Mia: “Yeah”

Zach: “Yessss.” (Imagine a fist pump.) “I know them.”

Happy Friday, friends.

Kokoshnik

Dear Mia,

I don’t know what time you woke up this morning. I do know that as my eyes fluttered open at 6:30 to the sounds of your brothers’ voices coming through the monitor, you were sitting next to me in bed, reading a book. Have I told you lately how much I adore you?

Reading picture books

Not too long ago you held a paperback book in your hands. “Mommy, I love this sound,” you said, bending the pages so they crackled, making them speak.

We decided recently that one of our favorite words is kokoshnik. We talked about the way the front end pops (ko-ko) and the back end sizzles (shhh…nik). Sometimes you will recite a word or a sentence over and over just to hear the way it knocks against the roof of your mouth or rolls to the front of your tongue. You count syllables and compare rhyming words. Yesterday — for fun and just because — you made a list of “H brother” words, separated into different categories: ch, th, wh, sh, etc. You wouldn’t let me help you, wanting to come up with the words all on your own. You were going to turn those words into a book, you said, and I have no doubt you will. My files are already filling with your books.

When your dad was a little boy, he would ball his hands into fists and smell them. It’s still a quirk of his, this movement so repetitive and quick that it’s become subconscious. You? You smell books. You smell a lot of other things too (you two share this keen olfactory sense that’s so foreign to me), but always you crack the spine of a book and bury your nose in those pages.

There’s something about the beauty of a book, isn’t there, in its tangibility and also in its inventiveness and its truths among fairy tales? In its subjectivity according to the perspective of its reader. The way lives and worlds are born in the space of words. The way we can come to the same book and take from it different interpretations. There’s something about the way letters connect to form words that string together sentences to build paragraphs that construct a story. And within that story, characters and places both real and make-believe that have the power to transport us. Reading is an escape but also a way to connect to something within us that we can’t necessarily name.

But I don’t have to tell you this, Mia. You already know.

If you’re on Instagram you know about Throwback Thursday (#tbt). Consider this my #tbt video: a 3-year-old Mia “reading”. (One of the books we read so much that she memorized it.) Also, she’s totally speaking Turkish.