We’re Staying Distanced, Thanks

On June 25, Teri Carter tweeted the that she and her family were staying distanced, thanks:

As for me and mine, we agreed. Our family remains agoraphobic recluses, thanks. As for “no gatherings more than 4 ppl total”? Is this woman insane? We’ve seen no one but our friend Joey from 12 feet away in our front yard since March, and my mom once in a while (until we figured out she was breaking quarantine, then we couldn’t see her anymore).

I have cut my kids’ hair. My husband cut his own hair. I never went in for pedicures or manicures. We have most groceries delivered, and when my husband must go out to the pharmacy or the grocery store or the pet store (can’t let my son’s frog collection go hungry), he goes masked, gloved, and distanced, and only to places that enforce mask rules and distancing. He leaves the house perhaps once a week. The rest of us rarely leave at all.

We’re Terrified to Stop Staying Distanced

We live in the South. Almost every day sees a new record high number of cases in my state. But that’s not all. We’re seeing record number of COVID-19 cases in the United States when the 5-day average is taken into account, according to Johns Hopkins University. This isn’t because of an increased number of tests, either — my state’s news source is careful to point this out. Our state health department says we had a 19.7% positive test rate the day of our record high. Johns Hopkins reports that the WHO, on May 12, said that before a country reopens, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive should be 5% or under for at least 14 days. Less than half of US states have met that goal for seven days.

My state has completely reopened everything from indoor dining to salons to churches to private Little League games to zoos. Some local municipalities have required masks in public; ours is not one of them.

We’ve Tried Opening Up A Little

We once drove an hour to what we knew would be a relatively unpopular state park. There were about ten people there. We thought staying distanced would be simple. We brought masks for ourselves and the kids. We knew the fresh air and sunshine were on our side. But a woman tried to tell me about an alligator. She began walking towards me— and my six-year-old. She kept coming. And coming. It was like one of those zombie movies where the zombies won’t stop. I finally yelled, “Don’t get any closer to me!”  She stopped about ten feet away, huffed, and mumbled something about how she was only trying to tell me about the alligator, god. So much for staying distanced.

I have not been out of the house since.

My husband has found a few ways to get the kids out while staying distanced. He takes them up to the empty parking lot to ride bikes. There’s a nearby stream where they can catch minnows, but only when it hasn’t rained (and in our state, there’s a summer thunderstorm every other day). When the water levels in the river are low enough, he sneaks out at dawn, takes a secret path down to the river, wades out to the middle of the goddamn thing, and fishes. It’s too deep to take the little ones, but my 10-year-old can manage it. They sneak back up before anyone can see them. It’s like a covert operation, and every time they go— especially when he takes my son— I’m anxious until he returns. “Did you see anyone?” I ask nervously when he comes in the door. “Was anyone there?”

For the First Time, We Ordered Food

A few nights ago, we ordered food from Door Dash. Since we’ve been so strict about staying distanced, it was the first time I have eaten a meal that we have not cooked since March 13th. We ordered our favorite fast food for a contactless delivery; my husband washed his hands after touching the packaging (every time) and plated the food.

It was a sense memory, a taken-for-granted memory, a thing forgotten and not missed until we had it again. We stared at each other. My husband said to me, “Do you remember our friend who grew up under the Iron Curtain telling the story of how they never had pears? And suddenly they had one, and it was this event, this glorious thing that she never forgot?”

I burst into tears.

Staying distanced has made me sort of nutty. And no, it doesn’t compare to growing up under the damn Iron Curtain and the privations thereof. God, they didn’t have Amazon Prime. But that sudden sense memory, of the food forgotten and the taste rediscovered: I felt it deeply. This was a food we picked up thoughtlessly, regularly, in between places, when the kids were hangry and needed a boost. Suddenly it had gone, and we hadn’t missed it while we were staying distanced, not really, not until it sat in front of us and we realized how much we missed it, how much we missed everything.

But we are still staying distanced.

We will stay distanced until there is a vaccine. We’re too worried about our children’s health to risk it. We will be here until after Christmas. We know that. We’ve accepted it in our brains, if not our bones. Unless my husband must go back to a full classroom and the point becomes moot, we will not leave.

How Will Staying Distanced Change Us?

A friend read one of my essays the other day. I said to that we would eventually come out the other end of it, but I didn’t know how we would come out the other end of staying distanced. I didn’t know how staying distanced, in other words, would change us. I don’t mean will we wash our hands obsessively, or will I always carry hand sanitizer, or will I shy away from keypads (the last is likely).

I need to wake up very early in the morning now to keep my sense of sanity. Will that continue?

How will I react to Target? Will we eat out less? Will we spend more or less time together as a family? What will matter to us? What will have changed? Will I keep cutting my kids’ hair (probably) and will my husband keep cutting his own (I hope so, he looks like f*cking Russell Crowe)? Will he keep working out the way he does now (again, I hope so, see previous parentheses)?

While everyone goes out, while everyone says no more, too much, I can’t stand staying home anymore, we’re in it for the long haul.

Staying distanced is hard.

But we’re not sick.

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Owning My Blackness, Hair and All

Black women and our hair, the act of getting it done, spending hours (typically the better part of an entire day, or say 5+ hours) at the salon, the waiting, the routine of it all, it is an activity that has in some ways, defined us. It has inevitably allowed us to create a kind of community among us, a haven of sorts where we can figuratively wash away the troubles around us.

As a child, going to the salon was a family affair. Every other Saturday morning, I’d drive with my maternal grandmother, aunts, and cousin and we’d sit for long periods. We would ping pong between the dryer and the hairstylist’s chair, waiting our turn to get our ‘do done. For myself and many other Black women, it was one of the ways we found a space to explore our own identity.

For so many years, more than I’d like to admit to, I fought against getting the hairstyle I have today, sisterlocks. In the ’80s I donned a Jheri curl. In the ’90s, it was a svelte cropped cut, which I’d sometimes swap out for long synthetic braids which were interlocked into my hair. Then in the ‘00s came the flat-iron.

By 2011, I’d had enough of my trips to the salon, enough of traveling the winding road to find another hairstylist because I’d moved to a new city. I was ready to embrace who I was, and root myself a little deeper into my Blackness, not to mention save money. I decided to do the big chop and wear the hair on my head exactly as it grew out of it: no alterations or any modifications of any kind.

As my hair grew out, so did my confidence. I had more money in my pocket, opting to take on the responsibility of my hair maintenance on my own. I also grew into my skin more. I began to own my Blackness in a way that I’d never done before. Not only did I have hair confidence, but confidence in my body too. My thighs, the same ones I thought were once too big and jiggly, I appreciated more for carrying me. And I chose to view my nose and my dark skin as badges of honor, finally appreciating them for the beauty. 

My wife, on one of our very first dates, asked me “Have you ever tried dreadlocks? I love them!” The disgusted look on my face and the explanation which followed turned her question into a yearly one, but one she would never let go of. After my twin daughters were born, I could not bear giving myself five minutes to even take a shower let alone commit two hours needed to twist my hair every other day and maintain it the way it needed. The idea of committing to something as permanent as sisterlocks became more of a reality with each passing day. So I spent twenty-seven hours in my new hairstylist’s chair, known as a loctician in the sisterlocks community — with a sore butt and all, kind of like what your ass feels like after your first spin class when it was all said and done. I then paid her close to $1,000 for her work and had 520 mini locs to show for it. I was all in; there was no turning back now. 

With my hair done and a slight fear that I would not like it tomorrow when I looked in the mirror, this ‘do was something I said I would never actually do. So why now, in 2020, did I decide to finally lock my hair? Why did I find myself losing countless hours on YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest searching up “sisterlocks” or “natural hair” or drooling at the sight of Naptural85’s loose luscious curls or Jess_inprogress_’s gorgeous locks? This hair community, albeit online, was now my community. I could “be” in the salon with thousands of other black women, with sisterlocks or natural hair, who for so many years, I would have given the side-eye to.

Now, I am one of them. Not only were they introducing me to different hairstyles or ways of life, but they were (without even knowing it) reintroducing me to myself, to who I am as a Black woman, hair and all. With each swipe left or right on Instagram, I felt empowered to live more confidently in my skin. I began to pack up the notion I’d told myself over the years, that dreadlocks and sisterlocks would make me “too Black.” If this was the story I told myself, then wearing my straightened ‘do meant that I was not Black enough, didn’t it?

What I truly know now, as a 38-year-old Black woman, is this: I am me. I am a work in progress. I am not searching any longer for something on the outside to make me whole on the inside. All I need is right here within my Black body, hair, and all.

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Highly Sensitive Empaths Are Really In Their Feelings Right Now

I am a big feeling person. By some definitions, I’m considered a highly sensitive person, or HSP. I’m thin-skinned or overly empathetic. I’m dramatic and emotional. I have big feelings — about everything.

I have feelings about my feelings. I have feelings about other people’s feelings. I have feelings about feelings about feelings. (Ooof, I’m emotionally exhausted just thinking about it).

I don’t just overthink things; I make a job out of turning things over in my mind and fretting about them. My specialty tends to be things outside of my control too, particularly all those regrets and mistakes from the past. I don’t just dwell on them; I build a freaking tent and take up residence there.

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Me.

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A few years ago, I was talking to a friend about the drama of parenting, the ups and downs of life, and the general clusterfuck of the daily news. After listening to my emotional rants and tearful woes, and comparing her own feelings, she said, “I think you might feel things more than most people.”

If this sounds exhausting, it is. Not just because all of ruminating and fretting can keep me up at night, but also because it’s emotionally draining.

But I am who I am, and I’ve made peace with it. For the most part anyway.

As an HSP, my emotional “feelers” have been in overdrive for the past few years. Since the night of November 8, 2016 if I’m being precise, but they’ve been kicked up even further in the past few months. The coronavirus pandemic has created a perfect storm for empath tendencies. Anxiety is at an all-time high. We’re worried about the health and safety of our family, of course, but we’re also practically sick with fear over the possibility of other’s getting sick. We cry over all the folks who have lost loved ones or jobs due to the pandemic.

Allostatic load makes us feel like we’ve run a marathon every day for the past 3+ months, even if all we’ve done is walk from our bed to the fridge to the couch. Decision fatigue is making us feel like we’re losing our minds. And then there’s all the second-guessing anytime you leave your house or try to safely move through the new reopening phases. Is this safe? How about that? What if I do everything “right” and still inadvertently spread the virus? Is it more harmful for my kids to stay shut off from their friends or are things like bike rides while wearing masks okay? Any way I look at it, I feel like I’m failing someone or doing something “wrong.”

Add to that the acute awareness that racial justice is an illusion in this country. As a white person, I feel immense shame just about every minute of every day. I feel anger at the rampant racism. But it’s not just anger — it’s like a blinding rage.

When you’re a highly empathetic person, you don’t just feel compassion and sympathy and joy for others; you feel these feelings as if they were your own. Empathy, by definition, extends beyond compassion, and means that you vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of others.

But here’s the real kicker… as an empath, you also see nuance. You sometimes feel conflicted because when you feel things in a big way and can feel the pain of others, there are fewer clear-cut answers. (Though, don’t get me wrong, when it comes to things like racism and listening to public health experts, there are right and wrong answers.) For some things, there are infinite shades of gray, which can create a lot of confusion. You feel the pain of working parents who desperately want schools to return to in-person learning in the fall; you also feel the immense fear of parents who are terrified of sending their kids out into the world. You feel the cautious optimism of folks who are trying to figure out a way to manage this “new normal” safely by going to an outdoor café; you also feel the loneliness of folks who due to an underlying medical condition or their own comfort level are still socially isolating.

Being an overly empathetic, big feeling, thin-skinned, highly sensitive person sometimes feels like a curse, but ultimately, I do think it’s a blessing. Your empathy creates understanding and connection; it helps you do what’s good for others, not just yourself or your family. Being a highly sensitive empath is the reason I’m so diligent about mask-wearing and social distancing. I’m not trying to protect myself or even my kids; I’m trying to protect you.

Fellow empaths, I don’t have a lot of advice, but I have found a few things that can help manage those big feelings. I sometimes take breaks from social media and significantly cut down on my news consumption. I’m careful about who I let into my “circle” — focusing on a small number of close friendships rather than a boatload of lukewarm friends. Therapy and medication also helps.

One of the biggest risks for empaths, however, is letting your big feelings trick you into thinking that you’ve actually done something. Let me be very clear here: emotions do not equal action. It isn’t enough to cry when you read about micro aggressions or lynchings; you need to actually protest, sign a petition to defund the police, or otherwise advocate for justice. Worrying about coronavirus isn’t enough to keep you from getting it; you need to also wear your masks, use that hand sanitizer, and stay six feet away.

Bottom line: big feelings aren’t enough. You need to actually do something too.

The good news is that doing something usually helps temper those out of control big feelings. At least I’ve found that to be true. So get out there and do something. Start small if you need to, but do something.

Whenever my big feelings start to feel too overwhelming, I try to remind myself of this quote by Iain Thomas (though it’s often credited to Kurt Vonnegut): “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”

So, stay soft, my empath friends. We may be overly empathetic, big feeling, thin-skinned, highly sensitive people. While it can seem like the world is going to hell in a handbasket some days (most days lately?), we stay soft. We fight the urge to become bitter. We take pride that, despite all evidence to the contrary, we still believe the world to be a beautiful place.

And then we can try to make it so.

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If You’re Wanting To Legally Free The Nipple, Here’s Where You Can (Literally) Hang Out

It’s getting hot out there, folks, and nothing signals sweaty times like a man casually doing all the things without a shirt while women change their bra for the third time of the day or give up and just walk around with paper towels under their boobs. And little more signals the hypocrisy of said man attached to his exposed man-boobs than his complaints about a woman not wearing a bra or trying to breastfeed her baby in public while clinging to the expectation that a woman should show him her tits whenever he demands it.

First of all, fuck off, Chad. Second of all, many women would love to walk around topless as freely as men do, on their terms, but it’s not universally legal. While the double standards run deep and wide in this country, specifically between genders, there are places that give equality to the nipple.

If you want to let it all hang out, 31 states in the U.S. have “top freedom.” But several factors prohibit women from walking around with breasts to the wind even if technically allowed to do so. Laws are often ambiguous and vary between cities within states. And topless women are arrested under the guise of disorderly conduct. According to the site Go Topless, if you want to know if you can free the teats, the suggestion is to Google the city name and its municipal code and key in the word “nudity.” To cover your bases, they further suggest that you “Do the same for the county where the city is located to be sure. Consult with an attorney.”

In 2019, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma became the newest states to eliminate a ban on women going topless after a federal court ruling. The case was won by women who are part of the #FreeTheNipple movement—which has gained public support from Chelsea Handler, Miley Cyrus, and Chrissy Teigen. However, Utah woman Tilli Buchanan recently took a plea deal and admitted to lewdness for being topless in her own home.

Three years ago, Tilli Buchanan was hanging drywall with her husband in their Utah garage. After getting hot and covered in the residue of their work, they took off their shirts. Buchanan’s step children, a 13-year-old boy, a 10-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy, walked in and saw their father and stepmother topless. The children’s mother filed criminal charges against Buchanan because Utah law stated that any exposure of the breast below the top of the areola is punishable with jail time and the need to register as a sex offender for 10 years. Buchanan fought the charges, but eventually took the plea deal earlier this year. Despite knowing she didn’t do anything wrong (her husband completely supported her too), the risk of being labeled a pedophile was too high.

And what it is it about the areola? What specifically about a “female” nipple makes lawmakers (men) declare them illegal? Oh right. Because people (men) sexualize breasts (women) to the point of blaming the breasts (women) for resulting behavior (harassment, assault, rape). So, instead of men getting their shit together and taking responsibility, they turn women’s bodies into their legal playground.

For clarity, I am writing this article as if gender is binary and body parts have a gender. It isn’t, and they don’t, but the laws are set up this way so I must bend a bit. However, as a nonbinary person who has had a double mastectomy with nipple grafts, I can’t help but wonder what gender my nipples are. Legally, my birth certificate and other documents indicate I am female because the state I was born in doesn’t recognize a third gender, but my chest is visually male. I no longer have breasts and my areolas and nipples have been resized and replaced to give me a masculine chest.

I could have chosen not to have my nipples put back on my body. Without nipples, do I have a gender? What about the transgender woman with breasts? Is a transgender woman rightfully considered a woman in this case? Or will the bigots still hold tight to misgendering her and let her waltz around town with her boobs and areolas hanging out?

We can speculate for days, but if you want to go topless and need some moral support, there are events and cities that celebrate the nips. Sadly, COVID-19 has cancelled or altered some of the most popular ones. The World Naked Bike Ride in Portland has been cancelled, but the Ride in New Orleans is still on — with some social distancing rules, of course. If riding while naked isn’t your thing, World Topless Day is scheduled to take place August 23, 2020. The event was started by the organization Go Topless after topless activist Phoenix Feeley was arrested in 2005, despite it being legal to be topless in New York City year-round. The yearly event coincides with Women’s Equality Day.

Besides NYC, some other cities that have been “topless tested” are Asheville, NC, Columbus, OH, Madison, WI, and Santa FE, NM. There’s always New Orleans and South Beach too.

Men can safely be shirtless and yet women are asked to cover up—even when they are allowed to free-boob it. Not surprisingly, plenty of clothing is made to accentuate breasts and cleavage as if the message to women is this: titillate us with what you have but don’t give it all away until we demand or expect it.

Women’s bodies are not for male consumption, control, or pleasure. Free yourself from the bullshit and free the nipples.

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Leash Your F*cking Dog, People

It seems like almost every time I go out for a jog lately, I come across an unleashed dog in some form or another. During one run a couple of weeks ago, I encountered three separate unleashed canines. Two were yappy little ankle biters charging at me full throttle from their lawns in code-red attack mode, ready to chew off my Achilles tendons.

Y’all, I really, really, really do not want to be put in a position to have to defend myself against someone’s dog. As much as I promise myself I would never, ever, under any circumstance harm a dog, what if I panicked and kicked out of reflex? This thought terrifies me. Thank goodness each of these tiny terrors chickened out once they got about two feet from me. But seriously, why can’t people just leash their damn dogs? Besides the fact that they terrorized me, they could get hit by a car.

The other off-leash dog I saw on that run was a large pitbull mix walking with its owner. I love pit bulls — I don’t subscribe to the notion that they’re vicious. However, pit bulls are large, muscular animals, known for loyalty to their masters. And this pit bull’s back was to me. I had no way to know if my jogging up on this owner would startle her dog and cause it to react in defense. As calm as it appeared to be, it’s still an animal, and animals sometimes react unexpectedly, sometimes with their teeth. I paused my running app, turned off my music, slowed to a walk, and shouted to the woman to ask if her dog was going to be okay with me passing by. We ended up having a nice exchange, and I even pet the dog — total love muffin — but I still came away from that situation annoyed.

This woman’s decision to walk her dog without a leash forced me to have to modify my behavior and take precautionary actions. No one should have to stop everything they’re doing and formulate a plan of action because someone else doesn’t feel like leashing their dog.

Just yesterday I was out for a run and suddenly heard a galloping/panting sound over my music. I panicked and spun around, and sure enough, a huge dog was charging me. It took me a second to realize it was only a dopey golden retriever with a giant grin on its face just wanting to be my very best friend, but it scared the everloving shit out of me. My heart rate was already up from running, so it went through the roof when I momentarily panicked that I was being attacked.

And yet I want to recognize that for all my complaining, I’m not afraid that I’ll end up dead if I complain to the wrong dog owner. Because I’m white.

Christian Cooper should never have had to say a damn thing to Amy Cooper when she was walking her dog off leash in Central Park. Her racism is obviously the most glaring problem in that interaction, but her entitlement about her dog was big issue too. In fact, her racism is intertwined with her assumption that rules don’t apply to her. In both cases, she believes — whether consciously or subconsciously — that she is superior.

Amy Cooper assumed no one would mind if she bent the rules a little, teehee, who’s gonna say anything? Mr. Cooper was right to ask her to leash her dog, but he shouldn’t have had to say anything in the first place. A crucial point that white people need to understand when they engage in entitled behavior that makes other people feel nervous is that we might not just be disrupting someone else’s day. We could very well endanger someone’s life.

We dog owners are so in love with our dogs that we can’t imagine anybody could ever look at our sweet little ball of fluff and think they could possibly be a danger. And I get that — I’m obsessed with my dog to a degree that probably merits a psychological evaluation. Literally, if you don’t like my dog, we can’t be friends because I’ll assume you’re a sociopath. It’s super gross how much I love this animal.

But I would never attempt to walk my dog off leash around strangers in an area that wasn’t specifically designated for that purpose. Because I’m not a fucking asshole and I realize that not everybody likes dogs. Not only that, but not everybody can read dog body language. For someone who can’t read dog expressions, the happiest dog running up to greet a stranger could be a terrifying, traumatic experience. And, yes, I am aware that in a yard situation, a barking dog very well may be contained behind one of those invisible electric fences — but passerby don’t know that, and your territorial pooch may be causing a heart attack for someone who’s out trying to take a walk. Why would anyone want to make another human being feel that way? Just because you think your precious pup is cute running around off leash? It’s not cute. It’s rude AF. Use the dog park or other designated off-leash areas. And if those areas are closed and you’re super bummed that Pooch can’t stretch his legs the way you think he needs to, walk faster.

People, it doesn’t matter how nice your dog is. Not everyone likes dogs, not everyone feels safe around dogs, especially when said dog is unleashed, and other people shouldn’t have to modify their behavior or have a conversation with you about your dog just because you don’t feel like using a leash. If you’re going to be a dog owner, the only way to do that is to be a responsible one. You have to commit to making sure you have the equipment that a dog requires to keep the dog and everyone around them safe. And that means getting, and using, a leash.

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Bodily Autonomy Includes People’s Hair, So Your Feedback Isn’t Needed

My son has always struggled with his hair. Before he hit puberty, he’d try and muster his locks into the Justin Bieber Side Swipe. It would fail every time and end in tears. His coarse, curly hair has a mind of its own. Not to mention that the cowlicks adorning his hairline make it impossible to have what he calls “a regular hairstyle.”

In elementary school, he wore a baseball cap whenever he could. Then he went through a stage where he tied a handkerchief around his head like a headband to tame his hair. Anything to hide the locks which always seemed to be the focus of his existence.

Around age eleven he was panicked every day because his hair started falling out. After a week of him crying over the sink each night after seeing his strands in the sink, I called his pediatrician. Turns out it’s a very normal part of growing up.

It didn’t look like he had any less hair, but it was noticeable that his hair was changing. It became even coarser, darker, and started growing up instead of down. 

That was the year I tried to flatten it for him with a straightener every morning per his request.

It didn’t work. He’d go to school every day upset. I spent a lot of money on hair products and took him to a few different salons. I wanted my son to like his hair, but more importantly, I wanted him to like himself.

My son’s hair is unique. It is his. And now as a teenager, he’s finally like, Fuck yeah this is my hair and I’m fine with it.

I didn’t know if we’d ever get here during those tough times when he did everything he could to change a part of him I loved. But holy mother, I’m glad we’re here.

He’s heard it all: “You have pubic hair as hair.” “Your hair is so tall.” It never ceases to amaze me the comments people make to others about what they look like.

First of all, my son knows what his hair is like — it’s his. It’s incredibly annoying how people, mostly Boomers, think it’s okay to talk to him in a way which insinuates they are the only ones who have noticed his hair and think it’s okay to reach out and touch it.

The other day he was flexing a man bun (which I did for him, and looked awesome BTW), and snapped a picture to post on his social media.

Leave it to idiots sitting behind their phones to take you out of 2020 and think their negative feedback is wanted. 

While my son is confident enough to still wear the man bun, he took the posts down after reading things like, “Buns are for girls,” and “Oh, how pretty, are you going to get your nails done?” And, “Dude, cut your hair.”

If someone wants your opinion about something on their person, they will ask for it. Why there are humans out there who feel the need to shame someone because their look doesn’t fit into some stupid container that they think it should is something I’ll never understand. 

It’s never okay to size up someone’s body. It’s never okay to question someone about what they are wearing. And it’s not okay to comment on someone’s hair and question their style. We have no idea about the journeys people go through. We don’t know the struggle, or the courage it took them to show up, whether it’s a picture on social media, or just going to a gathering.

Individual style belongs to the individual. It’s not for anyone else to judge and say they shouldn’t wear nail polish because they are born with a penis, or shave their head because they were born with a vagina. 

It only creates hard feelings for the person who’s being talked about. 

We can teach our kids (and try to teach ourselves) that other people’s opinions of us shouldn’t matter. But the truth is, words can hurt. 

I’m glad my son likes himself enough to disregard those comments, but that doesn’t mean his feelings weren’t hurt. They were.

So, to those who feel the need to comment on someone’s appearance: keep your opinions about hair, clothing, and bodies to yourself. Your comments make you look ignorant, and out of touch. You should know better.

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Millions Of Cicadas Expected To Emerge From The Ground This Summer

Of course 2020 — the year of a global pandemic and murder hornets — just so happens to be the year that millions of flying insects called cicadas will crawl out of the ground for their mating cycle, whilst chirping ever so loudly — and incessantly.

Every 13 or 17 years (depending on the species), as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre emerge to mate. This year, it’ll take place in southwestern Virginia, parts of North Carolina, and West Virginia. It’s incredibly obvious when they’re out and about, too, because, as part of the ritual, the male cicadas let out a noisy mating call.

According to Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, the number of cicadas traditionally start in May, peak in early June, with most gone by July. And don’t worry should you run into them; cicadas are not poisonous, and they don’t have a stinger.

“After 13 or 17 years below ground, mature nymphs construct a mud turret called a cicada hut and emerge from the soil and climb onto nearby vegetation or any vertical surface. They then molt to the winged adult stage,” according to VT and VSU. “Their shed outer skins or ‘exoskeletons’ are frequently found attached to tree trunks and twigs. The emergence is often tightly synchronized, with most adults appearing within a few nights.”

They go on to explain that male cicadas sing by vibrating membranes on the sides of the “first abdominal segment.” Females, on the other hand, are silent.

“Communities and farms with large numbers of cicadas emerging at once may have a substantial noise issue,” Eric Day, Virginia Cooperative Extension entomologist in Virginia Tech’s Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, tells Virginia Tech Daily. “Hopefully, any annoyance at the disturbance is tempered by just how infrequent — and amazing — this event is.”

This year, the aforementioned affected area can expect the brood IX cicada, which last made its appearance in 2003. And as for why cicadas emerge in such cycles, it’s theorized that cicadas have evolved to “avoid synching up with predator cycles by having a 13- or 17-year prime number emergence interval,” Virginia Tech Daily reports.

“This insect is really fascinating, and if you don’t have fruit trees or grapevines to protect, you can enjoy this phenomenon while it lasts,” said Doug Pfeiffer, a professor and extension specialist in the Department of Entomology.

The post Millions Of Cicadas Expected To Emerge From The Ground This Summer appeared first on Scary Mommy.

We Adopted A ‘Difficult’ Dog During Quarantine

In mid-March, as Los Angeles braced for the safer-at-home order we knew was coming, I turned off the news and told my husband we should get another dog. It was a conversation he had pitched and I had ditched many times in the past few years. With our one dog, two cats, two adults and two young kids in a house smaller than many would find tenable, we were fully saturated with responsibilities, a family sponge incapable of another ounce of absorption.

“I’d love another dog when we have more time,” I’d said before. Suddenly, we had time.

Rescue groups list their animals with captivating pictures and a full personality report. Great on a leash, loves salmon (lemon, no pepper), was thoroughly tickled by Tiger King, maintains a subtle bias against women with canes. An animal shelter has no time for small talk. You’ll never find more than two pictures. Usually the sex of the animal. Occasionally the weight. An example post might read: Here is a dog. It is a dog. Want the dog?

At the time of my change of heart, the shelters had closed to visits but were open for adoptions. You see a picture online, you pay upfront, and they hand you a dog through the back door. It was a glorious distraction from the horrors of the pandemic to pore through shelter sites and before long we had spotted an allegedly female, 28 pound, 1-year-old, mixed-breed (perhaps a Beagle mutt? It didn’t say) who was smiling from ear to ear because she looked tremendously happy and also because the picture appeared stretched. When I thought about bringing her home, I was breathless with excitement.

We Adopted A 'Difficult' Dog During Quarantine
Courtesy of Jennifer Nashorn Blankenship

Well. Excitement is sometimes the kid brother of Reckless.

We brought our backdoor dog home and named her Bernie. You know why, but this isn’t that story. We showed Bernie off to the neighbors from a safe distance and took pictures and tried to pretend to our kids that this was exactly how we’d pictured the arrival of our second dog. Like the dread of a horrible mistake wasn’t nipping at our heels and panting hot in our faces.

Because even on day one it was clear that Bernie wasn’t who we’d dreamed she’d be, was not the dog we’d imagined trotting out of that stretched photo and into our little house to snuggle up with our family. Bernie was no Beagle. She was more likely a Husky/German Shepard and a biting, jumping, frantic, biting dervish of a dog. On no planet with gravity did she weigh 28 pounds.

As we were easing into remote work and full-time childcare responsibilities, Bernie flung her 40+ pound self into our lives helter skelter and without a semblance of gratitude. Did she terrorize our unassuming lump of a dog with incessant pouncing and neck-nibble attacks? Yes. Were our cats now hunted in their own quiet spaces by a dog that proved impervious to even blood-drawing claw swipes? Also yes. Had my own three-year-old son become Bernie’s favorite chew toy? I mean, yeah. Though, he also seemed to like it.

I walked Bernie daily, fed her meals and treats, and was the target of near-constant play biting. Her bites did not always feel playful; however let’s go with play biting because the bites didn’t break the skin, and I don’t want you to think we let our new dog maul our toddler on the daily. She was biting when she wanted to play. She was also biting when she was hungry, and also when frustrated, corrected in any way, or assaulted with a moving human or animal body.

As the days went by, my husband and I chewed over our rash decision, found ourselves doggedly chanting, “What were we thinking?” except there were two extra words between what and were.

Really though, what the eff were we thinking? Because here’s where you decide I’m a martyr or a moron. When I tell you:

We Knew.

We Adopted A 'Difficult' Dog During Quarantine
Courtesy of Jennifer Nashorn Blankenship

When I first called the shelter, I learned Bernie had been previously returned. For biting. The last owner brought her back to the shelter after just eleven days, reporting that she lunged at faces, bit people, and was, in a word, “uncontrollable.”

We were so desperate to get our pandemic pup, so needy to balance quarantine with a canine consolation prize, that we had justified every last complaint. She sounds like a mouthy puppy; the shelter staff said she’s friendly; the previous owner was elderly and couldn’t handle her; she’s only 28 pounds, how bad could it be?

It was bad. Our lives were already strained taut with work and kids and worry over our older parents across the country. To a situation beyond control, we had added an uncontrollable dog.

A month later, Bernie is still part of our family. We have rerouted our childcare costs to virtual sessions with dog trainers and the many tools said trainers have recommended. We’ve installed 200% more baby gates than we did for our human babies, and carefully juggle the locations of our other dog and cats and kids to ensure everyone’s safety.

Bernie is biting about 40% less, which, to be honest, is still a lot of biting. But she is also loving and playful and clever and, sometimes it seems, willing herself to unlearn her bad habits, catching herself before she snaps, literally. I know a lot of people wouldn’t have kept this dog. I can’t even bring myself to open the “fun project!” emails from my kids’ schools, but I am obstinately snout-deep in my own capstone Pandemic Project — unearthing the great dog I know is buried in our Bernie. (She’s also a digger, by the way.)

I think, through Bernie, I’m learning how foolishly off-scale our expectations can be. I felt a little silly packing up my office on March 11th – did I really need my extra monitor for a month of remote work? Now, of course, I wish I’d taken my printer, too. And the whole candy bowl stash rather than a modest handful. In March, we were all preparing for a few weeks of inconvenience.

The other day, my therapist floated the idea that maybe Bernie wasn’t the right fit for our lives right now, maybe there was a choice I wasn’t facing. She was right; I made the choice. I stopped seeing that therapist.

I wish there was a voice from three years in the future to tell me this cautionary tail has a happy ending. That in a few years our animals are a veritable Peaceable Kingdom and we can shake our heads and sigh and smirk over how frenetic and frustrating Bernie was those first months. We are all straining our ears to hear that voice from the future. Tell us everything is okay now. Assure us our loved ones stop dying, alone, with this vile virus. Remind us that uncontrollable forces come into our lives and yet we find some path – nicked and bruised but not defeated — in the smarting darkness.

The post We Adopted A ‘Difficult’ Dog During Quarantine appeared first on Scary Mommy.

This Is TikTok For The Over-40 Crowd

My relationship with TikTok started as research about how a 16-year-old character in my next novel would spread information. I downloaded the app two days before the world went into lockdown.

I liked TikTok right away because a lot of TikTok is lip-synching. I went to elementary school in a small town in the 1980s. Airbands were a school wide past-time. We had regular competitions. In fourth grade, my twin sister and I placed third for our take on “Manic Monday” by The Bangles. This was a big deal.

I also liked how short TikToks are. I have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old so everything I do on my phone has to take less than ten seconds. TikToks take 15… but I manage.

If we had not begun the endless days of social distancing, my fascination with TikTok would probably have passed quickly. But the app came at the right time for me.

If I had to draw a pie chart of how I’ve been spending this time, it would be ninety-eight percent taking care of my children.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

My kids are with me 24 hours a day now. Though they are the most beautiful things I know, they go into regular seizures of anger. They feel so sad and so alone. They miss everything. So do I. This is all so hard.

I needed a new way to connect with people. I was lonely. Facebook was empty. Twitter made me feel terrible about myself. After weeks in isolation, my Instagram feed—which was usually a source of happiness— had become depressing. Instead of my kids, forests and mountains, I now take photos of sourdough.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

Right now, making bread and caring for my kids gives me pleasure but no joy. I am desperate for joy. I know I’m not alone in this.

My sister lives half a country away from me. She texted me two days ago: “I miss new”

TikTok is my new. I am 40 years old. This is my TikTok journey.

There are three types of TikToks that capture my attention. That is not to say that there are only three different types of TikToks. Like other social media, there is a rabbit hole for every rabbit. As I scroll and select, my feed becomes roughly composed into three categories which I call transformations, confessionals, and dance challenges.

Transformations are when people appear on camera looking one way then transform into something else. Confessionals involve lip-synching to spoken words like air-bands without the music. But it is the dance challenges which are the best part of TikTok. They start when someone posts choreography to a snippet of a song. Others copy the dance in their own TikToks. Some people post themselves watching the dances. Others contort themselves into strange shapes or weird costumes. The end result is a series of uniquely different and impossibly fun copies of the original routine. It’s like an Andy Warhol painting in action.

I decide that my first TikTok will be a dance challenge.

I choose a user name that seems cool, tentative and slightly meta, which takes some time.

I pick an easy routine for my first performance. If I’m honest with myself, the choreography I really want to do is a sexy little number called #savage by MeganTheeStallion but it’s racy as hell and overly ambitious for my first attempt. Instead, I choose a jazzy dance to #blindinglights that’s a lot like an aggressive aerobics class. It looks fun, simple, and I like The Weeknd.

On TikTok, one can record themselves alongside another video. It’s called a duet. I decide to make my first dance a duet with a father-and-sons trio of some acclaim. They have over 100,000 followers and their moves are sharp and cool.

In the morning, while I’m doing the dishes, I move my body in semblance of the choreography. This makes me feel like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance doing moves while working on the factory line. I am not Jennifer Beals but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters on TikTok. Everybody is there to have fun. It’s like a party in the summer.

It’s tricky to decide what to wear. My husband is a head brewer at a microbrewery which has been deemed an essential service. This means I am the sole childcare provider and we have a steady supply of amazing beer which is not a slimming combination. I settle for a pair of black leggings with a heel cuff and a loose fitting top because it makes me feel like an off duty ballerina. I throw on red flats because it feels like something a cool dancer would wear. And that’s what I am.

Backyard TikToks are fun and I desperately need to get the kids outside so I can set the camera up in the yard. I hope that when they see me being a cool dancer, they will want to join me. They laugh as I rehearse the same moves over and over. This suggests I am not a cool dancer, but I don’t care because I’m having so much fun.

Full disclosure: I suck at this. I have no formal dance training. My style can best be described as “goofy.” I chose this choreography because it seemed simple, but it turns out that it is not simple enough for me. The first move is a dab with an associated side leg step and everything is moving very fast. Dabs are not a move I am familiar with, but no matter. I throw myself into it. My daughter tells me it looks like I am just bouncing up and down. I delete TikTok after TikTok. I dab and dab and dab. I am ruthless in my pursuit of okay.

Then, it happens. I bounce into the frame, dab, step, hop, and swim. I do a move that closely resembles Irish Step Dancing, which is not part of the choreography but it is working. At the end of the dance, I kick at the camera with pure unbridled pleasure and something inside me shifts. I have done it. I have found my new.

TikTok For The Over-Forty
Courtesy of Amber Cowie

The last frame is the best one. There is a smile on my face I haven’t seen for a long time. Before I post it, I add the hashtag #over40. There are many of us on here now, and we are all here for the same reason. TikTok is joy in a time of isolation. We don’t have parties any more, and might not for a long time, but we can still dance.

Now, on to #savage.

The post This Is TikTok For The Over-40 Crowd appeared first on Scary Mommy.

5 Ways To Bring A Little ‘Hygge’ To Your Stay-At-Home Life

In the midst of a pandemic, looking to Denmark (consistently rated among the happiest countries on Earth) for tips on wellbeing seems like a no-brainer. Let’s face it – we could all use more happiness these days. Hygge, the Danish word for a feeling of cozy connectedness, has spawned a craze in the United States in recent years for its promise of greater happiness. But hygge is not a lifestyle or a philosophy so much as an emotion of belonging and comfort evoked by one’s surroundings and relationships. These emotions are common to all of us, and are possible (and so important) to cultivate in our current circumstances. Here are five ways to bring more “cozy connection” into your life – even in the midst of an isolating pandemic.

See your home as a refuge.

Five Ways To Bring A Little 'Hygge' To Your Stay-At-Home Life
Dan Gold/Unsplash

You may have gravitated toward the more hyggeligt (or cozy) things in life already, upon finding yourself housebound. Knit throw blankets, a favorite mug to hold your coffee or tea, and warm flannel sheets on the bed can make your home feel like the safe harbor you need in an uncertain time. Surround yourself with soft fabrics, green houseplants, and lots of natural light. Open the curtains and let in the sun, light your favorite candles or fireplace, or curl up with a good book under the warm glow of an accent lamp at night to bring literal and figurative warmth to your home. Going stir crazy? Give your house a deep clean so it feels like a place you want to be. Reorganizing your home often has the added benefit of changing your perspective on the space, as well as unearthing roughly a million half-finished projects to keep you busy. But above all, it reconnects you with the treasures of your past – in the form of belongings you love – that help you feel secure and centered, and remind you that you’re not stuck at home, you’re safe at home.

Gather your favorite things.

Now is the time to go through the boxes of pictures we all have and display your favorites. Buy frames online and start enjoying the photos now by putting them up on the refrigerator, or against the fireplace mantle, until the frames arrive. (Come on, Prime!) The point is to surround yourself with the people and things you love, even if you cannot physically embrace them at the moment. You don’t have to limit yourself to pictures, either. Serve dinner on the china you inherited from mom, even if it’s just mac and cheese – again. Curl up for another night of Netflix in the blanket your grandma knit you. It will make you feel that warm sense of connectedness to the people who matter most in your life. That’s the very definition of hygge.

Get outdoors.

Five Ways To Bring A Little 'Hygge' To Your Stay-At-Home Life
Lisa Fotios/Pexels

Feelings of hygge are closely related to our connection with the natural world. Depending on your area, it might not be safe to hike, go to the beach, or take advantage of the natural wonders around you right now. But even if your only current access to the great outdoors is your yard, patio, or balcony, make use of it. Drink your morning coffee or tea outside. Start a small vegetable garden. Soak up the sunshine on your skin. Yell greetings over the fence to a neighbor. Grill your dinner on the barbeque. Anything to spend a little time safely in contact with the world outside your four walls.

Let the outdoors in.

Much of the country is enjoying a beautiful spring at the moment, so if your allergies allow it, throw open those windows and let the warm breeze and sunshine cleanse your space. Wash your bed linens and hang them out to dry in the yard. Pick some flowers while you’re out there and arrange them in a pretty vase or a jam jar – whatever is handy – to decorate your bedside or kitchen table. Keep cuttings from vegetables and regrow them on your windowsill. All of these are ways to get yourself closer to nature and bring a little of that living energy into your space, even during a pandemic.

Stay connected.

Five Ways To Bring A Little 'Hygge' To Your Stay-At-Home Life
Mary N/Reshot

Bringing others into a sense of connection during this time of isolation is a surefire way to feel more hygge yourself. Get your friends or family together for a zoom date and have a virtual shared meal. Call the people you love regularly to hear their voices and assure them (and yourself) that we’re all in this together. Are you close to a neighbor? Bake cookies with the kids (a very hyggeligt activity) and leave them as a surprise on their doorstep with an encouraging note. Put bottles of water and a “thank you” sign out for the delivery drivers who are bringing all those wonderful picture frames to your door. Provide them with a moment of hygge connectedness in a busy, yet isolating, workday. Like any kindness, it affects the giver as much as the recipient.

Remember that connectedness doesn’t mean being constantly perusing social media. Studies have found that spending too much time looking at other people’s curated selves on social media leads to depression and feelings of isolation, which is the last thing any of us needs right now. Give yourself a little grace. You have permission to stop comparing yourself to Susan, who seamlessly adopted a Montessori-based curriculum for her kids the first day of quarantine. Seek out real screen-to-screen communication with your closest crew, but don’t make your home on Instagram or Twitter all day.

This enforced time at home is the perfect opportunity to slow down and learn to appreciate the moments and relationships that make our lives worth living. Our world right now is filled with anxieties and confusion. Cultivating moments of hygge in our day helps us to balance ourselves; to respond to life’s problems with the security and connectedness of the naturally happy Danish. What a gift to give ourselves in this time of uncertainty.

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