If You Can’t Accept A Queer Child, Don’t Have Kids

There’s nothing quite like being a teenager with a big, scary secret. As a youth, I spent the vast majority of my high school years on a never-ending loop of pretending I was fine when I really wasn’t. There was some major wear-and-tear on my emotional and physical well being, but no one caught on to anything being seriously wrong because I was an expert at acting like my problems didn’t exist. 

But even experts break down under enough pressure. 

While my peers assumed I was just your average skinny girl with a penchant for high achievement, they had no idea that I was quietly battling an eating disorder, self-harm, an addiction to diet pills, and ongoing abuse at home. They also didn’t know that I was hiding an even bigger secret that felt much more painful to keep on lockdown than all of the rest. I’ve known that I am bisexual since middle school, and no one around me had a clue about it. 

For some reason, this single truth hurt more to push down than any others during my childhood. As a young person, I worked hard to control my behaviors, words, and even emotions as a way of avoiding violent outbursts from my mom at home or the loss of friends at school. I obsessively managed my appearance, constantly monitored my body size, punished myself when I incurred undeserved trauma, and did everything to seem as traditionally feminine as possible. But crushing on girls? That was out of my control. And it fucking terrified me.

It’s no surprise that I felt anxious and fearful as a queer youth. We live in a society that teaches our kids to avoid embracing authenticity, especially when it comes to their sexuality and identity. The heteronormative standards set in place send a dangerous message that existing outside of them makes a child unworthy and even somehow damaged, and this lie chips away at the mental health of our LGBTQ+ youth. Mine was certainly demolished for many years, and it’s taken a long time to experience true and lasting repair. 

It’s also not lost on me that my decision to finally come out was due to a bunch of privilege and support that many kids and adults live without. And no one has summed up this stark truth more powerfully than Matt Bernstein, otherwise known as mattxiv on Instagram

 

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god said enough

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This queer NYC-based makeup artist and photographer has created a game-changing platform filled with striking images and quotes that shed light on LGBTQ+ issues and struggles. The most memorable post for me was a photo last month that showcased a myriad of painted letters on the side of his face with words that read, “If you won’t accept a queer child, don’t have kids.” 

 

 

With that single statement, Bernstein managed to encapsulate the isolating experience of being a child exploring their sexuality in home environments that shame them for discovering that they live and love outside of hetero and cisgendered norms. No kid deserves to feel unsafe being themselves, and no parent should dictate the course of a child’s identity as it relates to their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. And yet, as Bernstein regularly communicates in his work, so many of our world’s queer youth struggle and suffer greatly for simply existing as they are. 

According to The Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ kids contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of hetero youth and are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide. For transgender adults, 40% have tried ending their life, and a whopping 92% of those are under the age of 25. These children and young people are struggling mentally primarily because they are living in atmospheres that not only don’t support them, but regularly remind them that their existence offends, upsets, and even hurts others. Instead of encountering encouragement, love, and acceptance during some of the most vulnerable moments in their young lives, our queer youth are being led to incorrectly believe that they’d be better off not taking up space in this world at all. 

 

 

“When you ask an LGBTQ+ person about their struggles with their identity, most will tell you not that they’ve always hated themselves, but that homophobic and transphobic pressure created by unsupportive environments, family, friends, and religious groups made loving and accepting themselves an impossible task,” Bernstein writes in a post on Instagram. “The issue is not who we are, but how we have been taught to feel about who we are.”

At nineteen years old, I became hopeful that coming out to my younger siblings would help me feel more comfortable with embracing my sexuality. During a trip back home from college, I revealed to them that I felt attracted to women in addition to men. They were understandably a bit taken aback but otherwise supportive, and if the day had ended with this interaction, I would have chalked it up to a queer-friendly win. But my mom heard us talking in the kitchen and stormed in to stop us in our tracks. According to her, affirming my bisexuality meant that I was a damaging, inappropriate influence on her younger children, and she made this abundantly clear as she ridiculed, yelled at, and threatened me. 

That same day, I moved out of my childhood home to go live with my father, a man from whom I had been emotionally disconnected for much of my childhood. It would take sixteen long years after that to finally muster up the courage to officially come out to the world as a bisexual woman. 

Now that I’m a mom to two kids under five and a stepmom to a teen, a lot has changed. I’ve put myself through years of therapy, am currently in the process of healing a recent complex PTSD diagnosis, and have created an environment of acceptance, unconditional love, and trust for my children. When it comes to their evolving identities, I’ve made a promise to them and to myself that I will keep for the rest of our lives together. I will never place unjust expectations on who my kids are or how they need to be. Being a parent does not give me any right to force a way of living onto my children. My job is to uplift them and allow them to discover who they were always meant to be.

The bottom line is, my children can love whoever they choose, express themselves in whatever ways feel good, and communicate their needs to me safely and openly. As I present them with a household that welcomes all sexualities and identities, I will also give them what I did not receive myself but so desperately needed as a child. I will be generous with my time, energy, and attention as they each grow into unique human beings in this world. And I will do all of this to honor teenage Lindsay, along with all of the LGBTQ+ youth who grow up in undue fear and shame. Because we all deserve to be here. 

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My Husband Was The SAHP While I Worked––Then COVID-19 Happened

I grew up in a big family. Four children, two parents, eight sets of aunts and uncles. I have four cousins on my mom’s side and even more on my dad’s.

My mom’s mom, our grandmother, was our matriarch and she earned it by being loud, welcoming, and wild. Her life motto was “Be a bother!” and she often joked that her first marriage was for procreation and her second marriage (which started well into her senior years), recreation. She was one of the first women in her community to go to college – at age 16. When her first husband passed away, she went to work as a secretary and then built herself a career in real estate so she could take care of her five children on her own; three of whom were still living at home.

Her only daughter, my mother, followed in her footsteps. For as long as I can remember, my mom was a managing partner in her own accounting firm. Both my parents worked, but it was clear that my mother brought home most of the family income in our house. My dad was the one whose career was a little more… “flexible.” His time was more geared towards field trips and dinner duty rather than long hours in the office for which my mom was known.

I was born in the 1980’s and this is how I formed my world view. Moms were kick ass. They got shit done. They worked hard.

Dads did, too, by the way. But, if there was volunteering to be done or dinner to be cooked. it was dad, not mom, who came to the rescue. Even so, with both parents working, summers were spent at babysitters’ houses or Girl Scout Camp until we were old enough to just look after each other at home. Parents were there for the big things, but it was rare to have a parent home all. Day. Long… on a random Tuesday, no less.

A Shout-Out To Stay-At-Home Parents Everywhere
Halfpoint Images/Getty

This all formed my attitude about what it meant to be a stay at home parent. I spent late summer nights as a pre-teen guffawing at the housewives I saw depicted on Nick at Nite reruns of the Dick Van Dyke Show.

“How could they!?” I’d wonder out loud. “That will never be me,” I vowed. I didn’t understand how someone could subject themselves to that fate.

Here’s the thing, though… I was wrong. So, so wrong.

In 2017, my mom sadly passed away. Our daughter was three at the time and my family had moved in with my mom six months earlier to help as her health quickly declined. My dad had passed away six years earlier. It all felt too much for me to bear.

My husband and I both took a year off from work following the death of my mom. We healed. We traveled. We connected for the first time in years – having normally been too busy taking care of our family, the everyday grind, or my mother to even think about ourselves too much.

After a whirlwind year, it was time to get back to real life. Our daughter was starting Kindergarten in the fall, and we needed to find our footing again. I eventually went back to work. But, my husband? My husband stayed at home.

Let me just say: the contribution of a stay at home parent is nothing short of earth angel status.

For two years, while my husband’s main responsibilities centered around managing the household, I had never felt more supported and more in synch as a family. His role allowed me to dive head first into mine. Promotions, new opportunities, travel, and professional development – all of this soared while our home was single-handedly well managed by my husband. We never scrambled for childcare for things as simple as school pick-up, the grocery shopping always got done, dinner was almost always home cooked, our house was a home, and I was able to be fully present in my professional life through it all. Hell, we even moved internationally for a new job opportunity of mine.

A Shout-Out To Stay-At-Home Parents Everywhere
MoMo Productions/Getty

I felt incredibly lucky to have the role of “breadwinner” in the family. Sure, work could be stressful. Of course, there are ways that working outside of the home can be challenging. But, in the meantime, I got to feel fulfilled in my own identity outside the home. I had a purpose and meaning beyond my title of “mom” or “wife.”

Instead of viewing my financial contribution as the important one, as I had been indoctrinated by society to believe was the only one that mattered, this set-up allowed me to see it as just one part of a winning combination. I immediately realized my husband’s role was just as important and key to our success as a family as mine, and I was baffled I could have ever looked down on such a sacred responsibility. I started reaching out to all my friends and family who were their own family’s stay at home partner or parent, and giving them unsolicited praise for the major contributions they provided their household.

Even so, my husband did so much, and so seemingly effortlessly, that it was eventually easy to overlook all of the effort that went into keeping things moving so seamlessly every day.

Then COVID hit.

We live in Italy which was the world’s first hotspot outside of China. I had just gotten major surgery right before they announced the country-wide lockdown. It was clear I wouldn’t be going back to work for a long, long time.

Like most, at first our family was at home together 24 hours a day. What became the norm was the “stay at home parent,” or the “work at home parent” for those fortunate to have kept their jobs. The only outings we were allowed were trips to the grocery store or pharmacy. Given my lowered immune system due to recent surgery, my husband managed all of those.

As we’ve finally crawled out of lockdown, our roles have now reversed. I’ve been furloughed, and it is uncertain if there is a job waiting for me on the other end of all this. My husband was able to find work outside the home and I now suddenly find myself in a role I never thought I’d have: I am a stay at home mom.

The cliché rings true: it is a very tough job, certainly not for the lazy or unmotivated. What I find particularly difficult is feeding my family. The decisions on what the menu will be, the act of buying the right ingredients, the fear my cooking skills aren’t up to par with my husbands (they aren’t) – all of this sends me into a tailspin before noon.

I am also not a very natural homemaker. Sure, I can keep a place tidy – but does our house look like a home? The jury is still out.

I absolutely love love love all the time I get to spend with my daughter. But some days, keeping her entertained is not so easy and my capacity to focus most of my attention on her can easily wane. This is especially true when I hear the words, “Mom! Watch!” seventy times a day, only to look over at her doing something that can only rationally be described as nothing, but since she clearly needs the attention and love, I oblige — trying to maintain enthusiasm. It can be exhausting.

So, this is my ode to the stay at home parent.

Whether the house is spotless, or filled with loving chaos… You are amazing.

Whether you are left standing at the end of the day, or regularly sink with the sun into a wine-happy bundle on the couch… You are unstoppable.

Whether you have chosen this role, or have been pushed into it by unforeseen circumstances… What you are providing your family is valuable beyond comprehension.

Whether society would look at you and pin you as the “breadwinner” or the “homemaker…” You are the perfect person for this job.

Whether your partner regularly says this or not… It is because of your dedication to this role that they can be fully realized in theirs.

I do look forward to going back to work one day and putting the stay at home parent status firmly behind me. But, for now I know it is the very best thing I can do for my family.

And it is an absolute honor. 

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I’m Done Apologizing For The Fact That I Want A Daughter

I’ll never know what it’s like to go through a pregnancy without having a sex preference. I wish I never cared from the start, but I did. Although I played sports competitively growing up and didn’t own a skirt until I was in 10th grade, I just didn’t picture myself as a boy mom. Yes, eventually I wanted babies of both sexes, but I had this fantasy in my mind of having a girl first, of her establishing a calm tone for the family and becoming my little helper and friend as she grew.

Before my husband and I had children, we optimistically wanted 4-5 children. Like so many naive pre-parent thoughts and expectations, actual parenthood would shift our desire.

There was never any consideration whether we would find out the sex of our children during pregnancy. The idea of “we want to be surprised” at birth never entered our minds. In fact, I like to say that discovering the sex of your baby is always a surprise, the only difference is when that surprise occurs. And as my friend used to say, “I find out during pregnancy so I’m not disappointed when the baby is born.” It’s better to take time to deal with that disappointment.

So when we found out our first was a boy, I bought myself (yes, myself) a cute pair of boy booties, decorated the nursery in Classic Pooh, and told myself it would be fine. (Of course he never even wore those booties as these things never fit newborns, and I probably lost them by then, and who has time and energy for multi-piece outfits. But that’s beside the point.) I told myself baby boy clothes can be cute too, and we have 3-4 chances left at a girl (remember I hadn’t experienced parenthood at that point).

And it was fine. I mean it was hard of course, as parenthood always is, especially with a newborn, and especially your first newborn. But I loved and love that little boy beyond words.

Then I was pregnant with my second baby and I was sure this time it would be a girl. But it wasn’t. And I told myself it was fine. They would be friends. I used to say, “I just wish that I could have a promise that the next one will be a girl.” But there are no promises.

The next pregnancy, at my 12 week ultrasound, the doctor told me, though it was just a guess at that point, she thought it was a girl, and the technician agreed with 90% certainty. So I held that hope for a glorious three hours, until my doctor’s office called to tell me the blood test results came in, and it was, indeed, another boy. I remember that call vividly. I remember I was driving my kids home from swim lessons, and I remember on which specific street I was. I remember how my doctor’s assistant first asked me what genders I have, and by her reaction to my answer, I knew what was coming.

It wasn’t until this third time that there were tears and depression at the news. It was a hard pregnancy for me, starting with finding out that I still wasn’t getting the girl I dreamt of. On top of that, I ended up getting the overwhelming news that I had gestational diabetes, which plunged me further into depression. Now I didn’t even have the option of eating my feelings.

And I had a lot of feelings and a lot of guilt about those feelings. I was sad and disappointed even though it felt wrong. I wondered if this pregnancy was worth it, especially having to poke a needle into my finger four times a day, having to be hyper-cautious about the foods I ate, and dealing with the anxiety of whether I would make it through the pregnancy without insulin. Then, one of my closest friends became pregnant with a girl during my pregnancy. It was hard not to be jealous no matter how hard I tried to tell myself not to compare, and to instead be grateful for what I have.

Of course I deeply love my three boys, now 6, 4, and 2. I love each of their individual personalities, even if I don’t always get their name right until the third try. I love sharing my Harry Potter obsession and my affinity to math with my eldest; I love the goofiness of my 4-year-old and watching him complete 12-year- old LEGO sets; I love the sweet, caring, cuddly, fun presence of my youngest. They are your stereotypical energetic boys who love ninjas and superheroes, building, sports, and, of course, fighting with one another. For each one present, the energy level grows exponentially.

Having three little boys is exactly as bonkers as you would expect. Parenting them isn’t what I thought it would be (definitely a lot more chaotic and louder), but I’m confident all parents would say the same. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t a parent, while somehow at the same time maintaining my certainty that I want to add a fourth child.

And, although I don’t have firsthand experience with girls, I imagine they truly aren’t always sweet and calm and having glittery flower decorated tea parties attended by unicorns. I imagine my fantasy of having a little friend and helper for life, like all things in parenthood, wouldn’t turn out like I expect. And I wish I could tell you (and myself) that I’m perfectly satisfied being a boy mom. But it’s time to be honest with myself. I still want that girl, and I’m done apologizing for it.

Of course I’m grateful to have each of my healthy children, especially having had a serious health problem in my childhood. I’m grateful I had no issues conceiving, carrying, and birthing them. I know there are many people who desire all these things, and I want every woman to have all of that too. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have my own feelings about what I haven’t gotten, how important it is to me, and what I’m willing to do to get it. I can love what I have, wish for the best for others, and still yearn for something more for myself all at the same time. And if I haven’t tried everything in my power to get it, I know I’ll always regret it.

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I Try So Hard Not To Be The Parents I Had

I am 41 years old. While not old, I feel like plenty of years should have passed between now and my childhood to still be dealing with shit that happened 20 and 30 years ago. But even through my frustration, I know this isn’t true. Self-awareness, education, and therapy have helped me understand the way my brain was formed and how every aspect of my existence has been impacted by years of abuse and severe sexual trauma.

I can’t think my way out of the chemical connections in my brain and the emotions that bubble up when an old wound is exposed. I can, however, understand them, adjust my words, and change my actions to take care of myself and form authentic relationships. I have done this with mixed results, but will continue to put in the effort to undo what was never supposed to be my life’s work. Putting distance between the present and my childhood means I have had to put distance between the people who raised me, too. Out of good conscience, a repulsion at the thought of being like my parents, and a desire to be better and different for myself and my kids, I have broken many toxic cycles. However, it hasn’t been without backlash and pain.

Doing what’s best for me has not been free of negative impact. Cutting off contact with my abusive parents who turned into toxic relationships should have made my life lighter and easier. The absence of complicit extended family members should have given me more freedom and confidence. Instead, removing abusers from my life who I depended on, who I loved and who said loved me, created a mind fuck. Why would someone who loves me hurt me? And if I was hurting, why did I go to them for support and comfort? And why can’t I shake this guilt as if I were the one who did something wrong? Because none of us seemed to know any better until I finally did.

I knew my ongoing hurt even after the physical and sexual abuse ended was a direct result of the abuse itself, but it was also in the interactions with people who seemed fine with our shared memories and removed from my pain. It was as if time really could heal all wounds—for them. Their ability to move on made me wonder if I was wrong. Having kids of my own helped me realize I wasn’t.

Cognitively, I know I did what I needed to do and am healthier for it, but I still feel pangs of guilt for walking away from people who wanted me to stay and to forgive all sins. They wanted relief from accountability and access to the growing joy created by the existence of my children. In my survivor’s guilt and the agony of knowing I hurt another person by ending contact, I misdirect that guilt onto what I think my own parental failings are on any given day. I wonder if I yelled too much. Did I work too many hours? Say no too often? Do my children feel loved? Do they feel seen? What if they don’t feel my love? What if I missed something?

When I snuggle with my kids at bedtime and they wrap their arms around me or wiggle away and ask for space, I know they are safe. The physical and emotional nets of safety I have provided for my kids are visible in their outbursts and laughter throughout the day and in their slow and soft breathing as they drift off to sleep beside me each night. It’s visible in their ability to push me away in their frustration when they push boundaries. The work I have done to be different and to provide a better environment for my kids than the one I knew is evident in our talks about consent, tricky people, and privacy. It’s there in heated moments when we yell, swear, and sometimes throw things. Because while we are angry with one another, we are not out to hurt each other. We express our feelings, but we don’t use them as weapons. We are allowed to express our feelings.

I still mourn the relationships I don’t have and the grandparents my kids don’t know. And when I feel that intense sadness, I imagine their pain of missing me. Is it better to be missed and know I am causing hurt or to be let go of completely? Those feelings shift to missing my own children before they have even grown and left the house. Will they let me go? Will my children come back? I question if I will ever welcome family members into my life again. These thoughts and fears are often right on the surface of my interactions with my own children, with the hope I am doing things differently.

I know I am, but will it be enough? Have I sufficiently healed to trust that I am the parent my kids need? On most days I think I have, but on the hard days, it’s easy to forget that I have already broken the cycle. Being the change still impacts my mental health and how I see myself as a parent. I am constantly holding several, often opposite, emotions at once because detoxing is necessary, even if it’s painful. I am far from a perfect parent, but I am a probably a better one than I give myself credit for. Someone once told me that the addition of these intentions and thoughtfulness has created space for me to develop healthy and long-lasting relationships with my children. That would be a more than ample reward for all of us.

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I Used To Write My Kids Little Notes — And I Miss It

I wish that young-mom me had listened more carefully to the wisdom of aunts, cousins, and grandmas. “You’ll miss this one day,” they said. “All of it. Even the things you didn’t realize were things.”

As my not-so-tiny-anymore kids age at what seems like lightning speed, I am starting to feel the absence of them in tiny flashes. No more LEGO injuries, fewer toys to put away, quieter mornings. All good things, but with that calm and quiet also comes an odd sense of loss.

Before I actually became a mother, I envisioned I would write letters to each of my kids once a month (or at the very least once a year) and that I would show them the letters when they were old enough. It would be such a special moment and forever treasure.

Somehow, though, in the midst of running through life, writing hundreds of resumes for clients in between carpools, doctors’ appointments, practices, games, and dance recitals, it just never really materialized.

During my pregnancies, I assumed that I would create beautiful baby books documenting all my kids’ milestones in books that they would treasure like I did the one my mom created for me. I picked out beautiful books and brought them to the hospital to get their newborn prints.

My daughter’s baby book was in great shape until about month 16, when my son joined the party. At that point, taking a shower became a small victory and leaving the house was a full-on miracle. Baby books were no longer even in the realm of possibilities. Spoiler alert: my son’s book has tiny finger and footprints and the rest of his milestones are saved in iPhone notes and on an old Blackberry I keep in my junk drawer.

Somehow, writing lunchbox notes became my thing. From the first day of preschool, before my kids could read, I started writing little notes on scrap paper with hearts, stars, and lots of XOXOs.

When my kids were really little, I wondered if they even noticed. Often, my notes, which typically read “I love you. Love, Mommy XOXO” came home wet, crumpled, or in the same pocket I had lovingly folded and placed them into that morning.

I Wish I'd Paid More Attention To The Tiny Moments of Childhood Before They Were Gone
Courtesy of Rebecca Henninger

One day, I came into my office (downstairs and laundry-room adjacent of course) to find a perfect post-it in my daughter’s chubby toddler writing: “I love Mommy love Alaina.”

Little love notes started popping up around the house and I kept writing mine to them, confident that my kids would always remember notes from mommy and would, as a result, write them for their kids. Notes started to build up in outside pockets, saved for weeks at a time and then moved to other special places.

My notes began to be little pep talks on days with big projects or exciting events, stand-ins for my presence on field trips when I wasn’t a class mom, or an invisible kiss on the cheek after a long morning of standardized testing.

Like most things in childhood, I wish I had been more aware of how finite it was. As moms, we move so quickly through the days and, just like that, things that we never contemplated having an end are over. Without notice, the opportunity to savor that very last one slips away.

Similar to the last time my son napped in my lap and the last time my daughter wanted me to lay with her at bedtime, I never thought about it being something I would miss. In fact, many mornings I cursed the note and was tempted to just reuse yesterdays, just like many days I would silently stress about the things I could get done if I didn’t have a sleeping baby on me.

On an otherwise uneventful Thursday, my daughter dropped the bomb. I could stop writing notes—if I wanted. Casually, she said, “Mommy, you don’t have to write notes to me anymore if you don’t want to.”

It wasn’t a big deal to her, but I could see (and hear) the meaning behind it. “Mommy, I’m a little too old (and way too cool) for notes in my lunchbox. My friends see them, and I feel embarrassed.”

Foreshadowing many more moments to come I’m sure, this was a window into a future of dropping at the corner, far enough away from the crowd of friends, and being way less fun, funny, or needed that I used to be.

I hope I can hold on to more of these lasts, that I can be slightly more present in the moment and more consciously grateful for the whispered “I love you,” the tiny forehead kisses, or those sweet, not-so-chubby-anymore fingers that almost imperceptibly slip into mine when no one is looking.

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Sorry, Boomers — Xennials Have Had It Way Worse

I was born in 1984 and grew up listening to the baby boomer generation laud themselves as having gone through so much in their lifetimes. For goodness sakes, they had to hide under desks during bomb drills in elementary school! They also walked uphill to school, both ways, in the snow, but that’s beside the point. In my short 35 years on this earth, I feel as though my cohort of contemporaries have been through more than our fair share of strife.

Let’s start in the mid ’90s, when AOL became popular. We all invented ridiculous screen names and logged on (or dialed up) to chat with one another. While it all began innocently enough, we were the first generation to endure cyberbullying. I can recall so many memories of classmates and friends inventing fake screen names and harassing others. Pretending to be a boy who liked a girl, only to laugh at her when she admitted she liked him, too. Calling someone out on a fault they had, setting them up to incriminate their friends; it was all just so mean. You could say anything to anyone with anonymity. Our parents didn’t even realize they should have been monitoring our internet usage – it was all so new!

Moving on, to 1999 — I was a freshman in high school and lived through Columbine. Words could never describe how terrifying it was to think about going into a high school after that happened, side-eyeing your classmates and wondering who might be the Eric or Dylan of your town. Sure, we went to school before safe corners and lockdown drills were prominent, but that may actually have made it even worse. As a public school administrator, it is very clear to me now that schools in the early 2000s had no idea how to prevent or how to respond to school shootings

Senior year of high school met with 9/11. Growing up in a New York City suburb, I can’t count how many classmates’, teammates’, and neighbors’ parents or relatives were killed during one fateful morning. Watching the towers be struck and then fall live on television, while knowing they were less than an hour away, has permanently scarred me. Imagine making your decision as to where you were going to college while the country literally fell apart – it all seemed so pointless. 9/11 was hard for the whole country, particularly in the areas surrounding New York City. Now add onto that the social-emotional functioning of a 17-year-old and imagine how well you could process it. To this day, I have trouble functioning on 9/11. A friend of mine had a bridal shower on that day many years after and I thought to myself, really … you couldn’t pick literally any other date in September to celebrate yourself? It just never felt right.

After college, we Xennials were met with the financial crisis of 2008. Picture trying to get a job for the first time in that economy… let alone trying to buy a home. Ah, the American dream. Not to mention that we are the generation that has been burdened with absurd amounts of student loans with lofty promises of high paying careers immediately upon graduation to pay them off. Luckily, I survived all of that, and even went on to earn a doctorate degree (and more loans) in 2012. I was able to buy a house for the first time the same year and began dreaming and planning for a family of my own.

Fast forward to 2020. I have two perfect children, a husband, and a great house in the suburbs of my own. But not only do we have a reality star as a president now, we have a country more divided than ever. So, of course, it makes sense to bring COVID-19 into the mix. Now, I have to decide whether or not to send my children to school in September. Do I risk their health or keep them home? Am I doing more harm than good not sending them to school? If I send them to school, am I contributing to the risk of educators’ health?

I know teachers are afraid to go back to school – I’m afraid, too. Never has a generation of parents had to make such important decisions about their children’s education and health with such limited information. I have to struggle with keeping my babies healthy, as well as not exposing my parents to the germs coming in from our schools and workplaces. The germs that could potentially kill that generation of vulnerable Americans.

I’ve read that kids are safe and the risk to them is minimal, but what about their teachers? I’ve read that we don’t really know the long-term effects of COVID-19 on children yet, and they may be terrifying. I’ve heard that masks will keep my kids safe in schools and not traumatize them. I’ve heard that kids are resilient enough to withstand this. I’ve heard that we will be socially and emotionally scarring our children if we send them into these schools that resemble war zone triage centers. Basically, I’ve heard it all.

All I know for sure is that no one could have imagined this kind of pressure, anxiety, or stress to hit an entire generation of parents all at once. So, I’m sorry Boomers, but this is just too much. You may have had to walk to school uphill, both ways, but at least you didn’t have to do it wearing a mask.

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Confession: I Like Life Better Now

It was last winter, before most people had heard the word coronavirus, that I had the realization: we were run ragged. Run ragged, with no end in sight. In fact, I had made myself accept the cold, hard truth that this was what life was going to look like for the foreseeable future. With three kids from preschool to middle school at three different schools, the next decade was going to be running. Running from the second we got up to get kids to school, running to accomplish a couple of tasks while my youngest was at preschool, running to fetch all the kids from all the schools, running to get homework done and to get to piano lessons or sports practices, running to make dinner, running to get the kids in bed at a reasonable time, running to get the house straightened up and prep for the next day. Summer was a short reprieve, then it all started again.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been perfection since the pandemic hit. There’ve been more than a few moments where I found a dark corner of the house and hid from my family. (Pro tip: if you tiptoe away while the kids are distracted, enter a dark bedroom leaving the door casually ajar, and park it in a corner of the room shielded from obvious sight, you can nab 10-15 minutes of peace and quiet.)

Since the March lockdown began, we’ve started eating dinner together at the dining room table every night. (The kids and I usually ate dinner together on kitchen barstools, but my husband was rarely home in time to join us during the week.) Sitting at an actual table across from one another is an entirely different experience. Like many, we’ve been walking and biking and riding scooters throughout the neighborhood to a degree we were never able to before. We play card games and board games and the hubs has Nerf battles and roughhouses with the kids … on weeknights!

I’m a stickler about bedtime but busy evenings and early mornings on schooldays led to a fairly constant, low-level exhaustion. Now I feel rested. Rested. More rested than I’ve felt in years. I’m a night owl so early mornings were always hard for me. Rolling out of bed at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. most mornings now, when the youngest requires me…it’s a revelation. The kids are more rested too, and I can see positive benefits in their behavior and mood. They even look healthier to me.

My husband and I have so much more time to talk—about the news, about the kids, about The Great British Baking Show. More often than not during the school year, we collapsed on the couch on weeknights after a cursory catch-up. I feel like we’ve rekindled a best friendship that was always there, but had faded a bit during the intensity of the childrearing years.

My teenager misses his friends, but the pandemic has provided a break from the harsh proving ground of middle school. He’s been acting like a kid again with his younger siblings. It seemed he had turned the corner on childhood this year, deciding it was no longer acceptable to be into Legos and making iMovie trailers and pretend play. Last week I overheard all three of my kids playing an elaborate game where my oldest was the sergeant guarding his preschool sister from attack by her villainous brother. My teenager has gotten a few more months of childhood, a stolen season.

We’re off the hamster wheel. We’re lucky to have access to a large, uncrowded pool for the summer, where my kids get some (arguably, relatively safe) interaction with other kids. And I see Fortnite and other team-play video games in a new light, now that it’s the primary vehicle for my sons to socialize with school friends.

Not a chance in hell I could homeschool my kids. I lack the right temperament, and my youngest and I have a rather “intense” mother-daughter bond. And I know the kids need to be back in regular school at some point. Middle school is a necessary hell, I suppose, part of the journey from childhood to early adulthood. But I wonder…is there a way to keep the good parts of this? Might schools consider hybrid virtual/in-person models going forward? Maybe a shorter school day or a shorter school week? Perhaps a fresh look at all aspects of education and extracurricular life for our kids, and work-life balance for parents? Dare we dream?

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Why I Gave Up On ‘Blessing Sandwiches’

Soon after our son was born, I developed a somewhat standard response to check-in questions: “Hard and best.” That’s how I described my transition into motherhood. Because it felt impossible to mention one without the other. The sleep deprivation without the joy, the loneliness without the fulfillment, the loss of one identity without the discovery of another.

Eventually, I graduated to the blessing sandwich.

You know, the “I’m grateful I get to stay home with him. Sure, sometimes it’s isolating. But I feel really fortunate to have this time together.” Or the, “He’s a really happy baby. Still not sleeping through the night. But all the smiles during the day make up for it.”

One good thing. One hard thing. One good thing again.

Just to prove that this journey is in fact better than it is difficult. That I love it more than I struggle through it. That for every moment I’m on the verge of impatient tears, there are two more that I’m grinning and grateful. That if motherhood was a contest, and you could love your way to a victory, I would win.

And then, somewhere in the midst of all the thanksgiving, with noticeable shame rising within me, I sheepishly admit the rest.

I share the way I struggle as my mom brain fails to produce a big words or deep thoughts. How I sometimes feel like I live in a continuous loop of “when’s the last time you pooped?” and mindless errands. That it’s tough to silence the comparisons, resentments, and insecurities of my mind. How I grapple with the question of where I measure, what I’m bringing to the table, and whether or not I’m doing enough.

When I see other women who appear to be seamlessly juggling their careers and their families, I find myself thinking, “I’m just a mom.” Or when my husband tells me about his day at work, and I report back that we read books, played with blocks on the floor, and took a walk around the neighborhood, I leave out the part about feeling lonely when I saw other women talking between their yards. Or when the cashier at Target asks me if I did anything exciting over the weekend and it suddenly seems a little lame to admit that shopping at Target was the cool thing we did.

At the end of the day, I let it be known that even in the midst of tough moments, I’d never trade the life I have. I carry on about how I can hardly remember my life without our son in it. I express all the joy, pride, and appreciation I feel. I speak aloud my gratitude for the family we’ve created, for the home we’ve settled into, for the experiences we’ve had that have led us to where we are.

But somewhere along the way, I discovered that what I need more than this curated blend and imagined balance of blessing sandwiches is grace.

Grace to stop conflating the way that I feel with the love that I have.

Grace to allow the complexity and contradiction of the messy and beautiful, empty and full, doubting and trusting, and hard and good of this season, without explanation.

Grace to get through the worst, to cherish the best, and to live within the ebb and flow of the two.

Grace to know that having bad days doesn’t make me a bad mom and that having the best days doesn’t mean I’ve perfected the gig. It simply grants me space to feel both, at once or neither.

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5 Ways to to Help Teens Before School Starts 

It’s been five months since the COVID-19 outbreak hit Americans hard. As we’ve gotten used to a lot of change, here are a few ways parents can help teenagers even more right now. Parenting Teens – 5 Ways to to Help NOW  Many parents have been agonizing over how to cope during the pandemic. It’s […]

The post 5 Ways to to Help Teens Before School Starts  appeared first on Living Locurto.

Let’s Normalize Not Asking Couples When They’re Going To Have Kids

Did you read that title? No? Shame on you — you always read the title first, you rebel. Now go read it. If you did read it, gold star! Now go back and read it again. Reread it. And keep reading it until you no longer ask couples when they’re going to have a child or subsequent children.

I don’t know why people feel like it’s appropriate to ask a couple when they’re going to have a baby, whether it’s their first, second, or fifth. It is inappropriate AF to pry into a couples’ personal life like that. Do you realize what you’re really asking? “Are y’all just having sex for pleasure? Or are you having sex with a purpose?” Does that not make you as uncomfortable as it does me? I’m no prude, but y’all… come on.

And guess what? Not every couple wants children. And that’s fine. Not every couple can have children. And that’s not fine. And asking about it brings up unspoken pain you know nothing about. Pain that is then at the forefront for this couple, who are now trying to decide how to delicately respond to you while also keeping themselves from falling apart and breaking a little bit more. Shame on you.

Questions or statements like:

“Oh, he/she’s a year now, so when are you going to have another?”

“Well, you don’t want them to be too far apart in age, so you really need to start thinking about that.”

“Are you trying? Or are you just not being careful and if it happens, it happens?” (Which is an actual question I was asked after offering up literally zero information. It was just assumed that we were spraying and not praying after I decided not to answer the initial “are you trying” question.)

Why are people so comfortable making a couple’s sex life and family planning any of their business? Like they are owed your next move. They want to know when you’ve done the deed, and if it was spontaneous, or done with the knowledge that you were maybe ovulating.

Listen up, Karens of the world. What happens between my husband and me in our bedroom and our family planning is actually none of your business. If anyone feels they want to make it their business, then please be prepared for me to pry as personally into yours as you just did mine.

And you know what’s shocking? I have been pretty outspoken about my most recent miscarriage, thinking that as an added bonus from that, it might somehow protect me from people putting themselves in my bedroom with my husband and me.

But somehow, people pry. And continue to pry, despite knowing about the devastating loss I will have to come to terms with for the rest of my life. It was like as soon as my daughter Addison hit a year old, all of a sudden, it was a normal, and common, topic of conversation for just about everyone.

And it actually hurts. It hurts when people ask me, especially because they know what I have been through. I should be celebrating milestones with what would have been my second child. But I lost that child. Despite the pleas and prayers and tears willing that baby to hold on, I lost. And every time you ask me when I am going to have another, I am reminded of that. I am reminded of the pain, and the blood, and the loss I didn’t want.

So, before you think about asking a couple when they’re going to have children or try for another, please just don’t. You don’t know what happens behind closed doors, nor should you, unless that information is offered up to you. You don’t know if that couple has decided that children are not for them and being constantly asked about it is annoying and frustrating. You don’t know if that couple is secretly pregnant and waiting to tell everyone until they’re ready. You don’t know if that couple has suffered loss after loss and desperately wants to have children, but it hasn’t happened for them. You don’t know if by asking them that question, you just reminded them of one of the most painful experiences they have been through as a couple. You. Just. Don’t. Know. And guess what? It’s none of your ever-loving business.

For the love, guys, quit asking. Find something else to talk about. Find something else to connect over. Find anything else, and never ever utter those words to another couple again.

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