Becoming a Parent

I knew that having a second child would change things. I knew instinctively that no two children are alike. But I’d never fully understood what it would mean to parent siblings until having Annie (funny how that works…).

As I’ve mentioned before, Annie’s pregnancy was not planned. To say that I was less than thrilled when we got the news is a significant understatement. Although I eventually grew excited for her arrival (it took 8 months, but I got there), it was a distinct kind of excitement because this wasn’t my first rodeo.

I’d given birth before. I’d held a freshly born baby on my chest. I’d cared for a newborn. I’d raised a baby into toddlerhood, the whole shebang: sleepless nights, leaky boobs, dirty diaper testing via bum-sniff, teething, sleep training, making bizarrely chipper noises while “zooming” lovingly pureed sweet potatoes into my cherub’s mouth (and then scraping at least half of it off her sweet potato-spackled cheeks). I’d oohed over head control and sitting up and pulling up and crawling and walking and talking.

I had this mothering sh*t down.
(HAHAHAHAHAHA. I know. I KNOW.)

Perhaps the first clue that Annie, and my relationship with her, would be different from Ella was when she became stuck in the birth canal and I gave birth via emergency c-section. Instead of holding my freshly born baby on my chest, I stared at her from across the operating room as Nick stood beside her and declared that she was definitely an Annie (not a Katie, our other contender). It took hours for me to finally have my baby in my arms and once I did, I didn’t want to relinquish her (in part out of new birth haze and in part because lifting her up out of the bassinet hurt my stitches).
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The next clue came immediately; I’d been expecting it, but it hit me hard nevertheless. As I cozied up with baby Annabelle at the hospital, Nick returned home to nearly two year-old Ella. When she came to visit the next day, I remember being so overwhelmed, I could hardly stand it (yes, a lot of that was probably hormones, but whatever). Because of my surgery, I couldn’t pick Ella up; it devastated me. Seeing how much I wanted to hold her, Nick (or one of her grandmothers) lifted her onto the hospital bed beside Annie and me. I had prepared for this – for loving two children with the very same heart that, a day ago, had only loved one – but it felt so unfamiliar. Not bad; not hard; just uncharted territory. Despite my emotional pep-talks, I was unprepared.

As the oldest of our siblings, Nick and I have only experienced what it’s like to be a firstborn. We both share that stereotypical firstborn trait of Doing Things The Right Way, of Following The Chosen Path. We play by the rules and we expect others to do the same. Growing up, I was always a bit mystified by my friends with older siblings. They were constantly playing catch-up; someone else went to middle school first, got braces first, drove first, left for college first. Like nearly all eldest siblings, I was the leader and the guinea pig, all in one. I knew nothing else.

Ella is, in many ways, a stereotypical firstborn. She, too, likes to Do Things The Right Way (and finds it irritating when other people don’t). I absolutely relate to this. The sign says No Parking, so don’t park – yes, we’re talking to you (except not really ’cause we hate confrontation). The rules say that your knees must bend naturally at the edge of the seat in order to be safe, otherwise you still need a booster; OMG SO MANY PEOPLE ARE UNSAFE. This is not so hard, you guys!! Ella and I are so in sync on this.

Whether due to birth order or personality, or simply because I’d already had (nearly) two years to get to know her, I knew I’d be empathetic toward Ella once her baby sister arrived. I’d grown up with a younger brother; I understood the challenges of sharing, of having someone pester you when your friends came over, of a little sibling continuing to make faces in the car after Mom had told us we weren’t even allowed to look at one another anymore. And so, when Ella was confused and jealous after Annie was born, I was ready for the pang of recognition and empathy.

I didn’t expect to feel that way about Annie.
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Birthday breakfast.

Yet I did. If Ella wanted my attention while Annie was being put down for a nap, I made sure to finish up with Annie first – not out of obligation, but because I genuinely felt a tug on my heart. As they grew a little older and Annie began reaching for Ella’s toys, I empathized with Ella’s frustration that her little sister was all in her business… while simultaneously empathizing with Annie’s desire to enjoy the same fun stuff as her big sis. When Ella needs space but Annie wants to play, I can almost physically feel my Mama heart encompass Ella’s desire for alone time and Annie’s desire to be with her sister.

Although I hadn’t planned to, like, give Annie the shaft after she arrived, I simply assumed that I’d instinctively understand Ella more.
It hasn’t worked out that way at all.

From the moment Annie was born, I’ve been just as fiercely empathetic toward both of them. It’s been a fascinating and unfamiliar experience, putting myself in the shoes of the younger sister. The seeming injustices that were endured as an older sibling are now seen through both the big sibling’s eyes and the little one’s, and I find myself growing maybe a little wiser (and needing more wine) every time.

Ella made me a mother. Annie made me a parent.

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Annie’s birthday was yesterday, and she could not wait to be ten. Double digits! The big time! I’d worried that her hitting this milestone might make me wistful or even sad; can my youngest daughter really ben TEN?! Instead, I just felt happy that she was so excited. Perhaps that’s because, in many ways, she acts older than her years. She makes dinner, she does her homework without being asked, and I’m pretty sure she could pick a lock if she needed to (or, heck, if she were bored). But also it’s just been a really fantastic experience being her Mama, so rather than being upset that she’s hit a new decade, I’m thrilled to see what her coming decades will bring.

This isn’t to say it hasn’t gone by in the blink of an eye. Last night, we watched the video I made for her first birthday and I cried more than once – some for the people we’ve lost, but some for just how viscerally I remembered the way she used to watch Dora; when she crawled for the first time; how she fit in my arms. It’s so, so fast, this growing up business.
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But if the next ten years of Annie are even half as marvelous as the first, it’s going to be worth it, no matter how fast it goes.

Happy 10th Birthday, Nini. We adore you so.

She got this light-up skirt for her birthday. Pretty rad.

 

 

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Why I Brought You To Susan B. Anthony’s Grave

My dearest girlies,

I know you weren’t thrilled to go with me to the cemetery on Tuesday. You were hungry (we really should’ve stopped at Tim Horton’s before rather than after; sorry about that). You were frustrated that you were missing certain classes at school. You were annoyed by the long wait.
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In any case, I know this wasn’t how you wanted to be spending the morning, and I really appreciate you tagging along. I know you don’t understand the historical significance of being able to vote. I’m not sure that I really understand, to be honest. Even though I know it isn’t a right for everyone in the world and that I should be grateful, there are times when – admittedly – I forget. So I understand why going to that gravestone wasn’t high on your list.

But someday, I think it will mean more to you.
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We brought all the girls for this historic day… including Jitter

As you grow older and travel, meet more people, and learn new things, you’ll come to live the lessons you only heard about in school. You’ll see how people of color are treated differently than people who are white; heck, given that you are biracial, you’ll probably experience it personally. You’ll see how gay folks are mistreated and disrespected – even though, to you, doing so makes absolutely no sense. You’ll see differently-abled persons mocked and vilified and entire regions maligned even though our faith teaches us acceptance and love for all. You’ll see, while we have more than enough, exactly how hungry and disadvantaged people can be; inequities and injustices of the world will blow your mind and break your heart.

I know that you do not – cannot possibly – fully understand these yet, which is why your dad and I are doing our best to help give you even the smallest bit of perspective. It is why we volunteer at homeless  sheltersmarch in the Pride parade, assist women and children in need, openly discuss race in our home, attended the rally in our little town after the white supremacist flyers were delivered to neighbors’ driveways, and why we put a sign in our yard says, “Our Differences Make Us Strong”.

I didn’t have any understanding of these things, of the world beyond my own, until I was much older. I think I turned out pretty well (shout out to Grama and Papa!), but I’m hoping to give you a different start – a chance to see the problems beyond our cul-de-sac… but also how we’re all connected and how, by reaching out, working hard, being kind and generous, remembering that we belong to one another, and being willing to truly listen to those who disagree, we can make a change. Our differences really do make us stronger.

Maybe you’ll look back on all this stuff and groan with annoyance (okay, who’re we kidding, this is so totally happening). But I also hope that maybe you look back on it with, if not nostalgia or fondness, at least an indulgent understanding of why it meant so much to me, and what I hoped to accomplish.
As for why I took you with me to vote and then had us stand in line to see Susan B. Anthony’s gravestone on election day?

You moaned with annoyance but I did it anyway. ‘Cause here’s the thing: I have no doubt that you will experience difficulties, setbacks, and roadblocks simply because you are women. You will, as every woman I have known, be harassed, demeaned, or – at the absolute minimum – significantly underestimated simply because you are female.

When that happens, I want you to be able to look back at moments like Tuesday. I want you to remember how you asked if you could wear a pantsuit in honor of Hillary Clinton, our nation’s first major party woman candidate for President, and were so keen to don the blazers I found at Goodwill (it seems pantsuits are difficult to come by for the 12-and-under set). I want you to remember how eagerly you got out of bed today, so excited over the mere thought of a woman having the ability to become President.

I want you to remember how it felt when we exchanged smiles with the other women in their pantsuits at the polling place, members of a not-so-secret club. I want you to remember the woman who ran by every one of us in the more than hour-long line at Mount Hope Cemetery, hand aloft, gleefully calling out, “High fives, everyone, high fives!” and how we all laughed and held our hands toward her. I want you to remember the beautiful fall day, the red leaves of the trees, and the feeling of electricity in the air. (I know you’ll remember the name Mary Smyles Butts on one of the tombstones; I’ll admit, it made me chuckle, too.) 

I want you to remember how we allowed the woman using the walker to bypass us, even though we had all waited in line, too, because her companion asked if we could let them through. And we did, every last one of us: because that is what we women do for one another – lift each other up, support, cheer. I want you to remember the woman ahead of us who stood for 60-plus minutes with the full bouquet of white flowers… But when she arrived at Susan’s headstone, she had only three blooms remaining – because she had given away the rest to those standing around her, including you and me.

I want you to remember how we practically skipped back down the cobblestone pathway, saying aloud in hushed tones, “Do you really think she can do it??” (For the record: remember, also, that we do not want Secretary Clinton to become President solely because she is a woman; we had many other reasons. But the woman thing is exciting as hell.) That it is  even a possibility for a woman to come this far is because of the efforts of women like Susan B. Anthony and we owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for our hope and optimism.

(Given how we make it a point in our family to discuss difficult things, this seems like a good time to point out that Ms. Anthony, while absolutely doing transformative things for women’s rights, was not, herself, supportive of people of color. This is complicated and messy, as all history is. We will keep discussing it. I still felt it important to visit.)

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The simple answer is I brought you to the cemetery on Tuesday so you could pay respects to the women who came before you. I brought you so that you can have a better understanding of our past – which, I hope, will give you a better understanding of our future.

More immediately, I brought you so that you would believe. Not necessarily in a Hillary Clinton presidency, but in yourself as women. I brought you on Tuesday so that, when you doubt yourself because you’re a girl, when you’re told that you can’t because of your chromosomes, when you’re disrespected for being female – maybe even by our President-elect – you will remember the line of people stretching for ages, sharing high-fives and flowers and letting those who were struggling cut ahead, to honor a woman who risked everything simply so we could have a say – a say! You will remember a world beyond your own, and that we are all connected.

Although Hillary did not end up becoming our President, that she made it this far, that this actually happened, is absolutely, astonishingly wonderful. Because if a woman was able to come this close to President of United States, then you, my dears, can truly do whatever you set your hearts on. And that is something worth celebrating and waiting in line for, regardless of the election result. (Take note: we’ll definitely be making this pilgrimage again; you can start groaning now.)

Yes, Hillary lost. I’m devastated and, quite frankly, terrified for our country (but that’s another post). I’m heartbroken that you, my courageous, loving, kind, intelligent, wise daughters still do not live in a world where a woman has become President. But we’ve seen it on election day and every day: women are brave. Women are strong. Women help one another. Susan and Hillary didn’t give up and neither will we. If not this year, another. We’ll fight together to make it so.

I brought you to the cemetery so you will remember that it only takes one woman to change the world. Her name is Susan. Her name is Hillary.

And her name is yours, too.

Love, Mama

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Making Allowances

Long before October rolled around, Ella knew what she wanted to be for Halloween: Eliza Hamilton (from, um, Hamilton the musical). After scouring the internet for the perfect dress, she fell for a beautiful replica in an Etsy shop.

It was expertly made, exactly like the one worn in the musical – and, therefore, cost more than double what we would normally spend on Halloween costumes. Seeing how an 18th century gown isn’t exactly something one wears to school or while running errands, we told Ella that spending so much on a costume to be worn once was simply out of the question.

Enter: her allowance.
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Ella inquired how much we’d be willing to spend on a costume. Then she inquired as to whether, if she chipped in more from her allowance, she could get the dress. We agreed. As soon we placed the order, Ella forked over the cash and waited impatiently eagerly for the package’s arrival. When it finally came, she was in heaven – and more than a little pleased with herself for deciding it was worth the money.

This, really, was the point of her allowance: to give her the opportunity to learn how money works, and more specifically, how it works for her. What does she want to procure? Does she want it enough to spend her own money on it? What is a fair price? Is she willing to wait for a bargain or does she want something immediately, so she’ll willingly pay more? When is something worth saving for? Does it feel better to blow through money to buy things that make her happy or to let her stash accumulate?

Every family handles money differently. Some folks give kids an allowance on a case by case basis when it’s earned for chores (or something similar). Others give a set allowance that is contingent on children doing certain tasks. Others base it on grades.

When the girls were little, Nick and I decided we wanted their allowance to mean something else. We wanted Annie and Ella to learn the value of a dollar, to learn how to spend and save money, and to have an understanding of how economics work. We both know kids who, upon graduating college, hadn’t ever had a chance to figure out how to save or spend money, and the results weren’t pretty; we didn’t want that for our girls.

An allowance was also a way of giving the girls a little autonomy. I remember how frustrating it felt being completely dependent on my parents for absolutely every purchase, from a pack of gum to the latest fashion trend (Benetton shirt, anyone?). Nick and I wanted to give the girls the ability to purchase things they wanted, when they wanted to, without relying on us.

I hadn’t expected that ability to garner so much ownership and pride.

Sometimes, of course, we say “no” even if they spend their own money; there are just things we don’t allow. But more often than not, if the girls want it and can afford it, it’s theirs, whether it’s a tin of Pokemon cards or sugar-laden gum or an Eliza Hamilton dress.

This is not, in any way, to say that Annie and Ella are not expected to do chores; they are. But Nick and I decided ages ago that we didn’t want to tie together chores and money. For one thing, we didn’t want to make it an option to just skip chores if the girls decided they didn’t feel like earning their allowance that week.

Even more importantly, we wanted to instill in them the idea that being part of a family means helping one another out, pitching in, and making things work together. That means everyone is expected to do their age-appropriate share; it’s simply what we do as a family, period, and no one gets paid for it.

If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know I love me a good chart or whiteboard, and we’ve used a lot of different chore-type charts over the years. This seems to be the earliest…

chore-chart-extrasThese are circa 2009, when they were 2.5 and 4.5 years old; we start ’em early ’round here!

A couple years later, a chart and red stamp were used. Teeth brushed? Stamp. Bedcovers pulled up? Stamp. Trashcan carried to the hall the eve of trash day? Stamp. Within a couple of months, the girls were incorporating the tasks into their daily routine and no official chart was needed, so it and the stamp were retired.

(To be fair, Ella also got ahold of the stamp one day during rest time and stamped her wall and stuffed animals and bedsheets and clothes and I was so upset about the sea of red I encountered when I went into her room that I had made her shower fully clothed to prove the point that everything was so ink-stained, the only solution was to soak it. Not over-the-top at all. Good parenting times.)

Sometimes, the charts were very specific, with points to be awarded for checking items off the list and “prizes” to be redeemed after accumulating enough points.

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-2-10-06-pmI believe these are circa 2013.

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More recently, we’ve employed a system  where they earn points for being kind, helpful, etc. (putting away groceries without being asked, feeding the dogs without complaint, offering a favorite chocolate to a sister…) and can then “spend” those points on things that hold meaning for them. It’s far from perfect, but it does a good job of encouraging them to not act like schmucks.
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As for their “regular” chores, like doing their laundry, clearing their dishes, making their lunches, and the like? They still have to do those – but there’s no tangible reward, unless Not Making Mom Irritable counts. It’s just part of being a family. There are no salary negotiations on these matters nor can anyone decide to skip the labor and forego a paycheck.

Their allowance is still doled out every week, regardless of how cheerfully they followed through on tidying the bathroom or how many points they earned. Because the point of the allowance is to teach fiscal responsibility and give them some autonomy, not to offer them an incentive to pitch in.

I’ve heard it said before that the reason allowances and chores are tied together is to give kids a realistic sense of how life functions. People get paid to do their jobs; if they work, they earn money and if they don’t work, there’s no money. I absolutely appreciate that for adults; money doesn’t just fall from the sky. Neither does it for my kids.

But see, that’s the beauty of the auto-allowance: it takes me, the Mommy ATM, out of the equation. If Annie and Ella desperately want Target dollar section Halloween socks, the money for that will not rain down upon them from mama’s purse so they can wear pumpkins on their toes. Even “just a dollar” adds up, both monetarily and otherwise. No; they’ve received their allowance. If they choose to spend it on jack-o-lantern fuzzier, so be it, but I’m not involved.

We do think it’s important to (try to) instill in them a healthy work ethic, to make them aware of the connection between doing a job and getting paid for it. Hence, the girls frequently have the opportunity to earn additional money to pad their allowance – by helping out with things around the house that are usually outside of their responsibility. Mowing the lawn, weeding, mopping, etc. are all “extras” that are rewarded monetarily. When they’ve got their hearts set on particular items they can’t afford, the Jobs For Hire are completed daily. Other times, the jobs go undone for weeks and the money just lingers, but that’s okay because these were just bonuses; the mandatory family chores have already been completed (for free).
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I have no illusion that this is a foolproof system, but it does seem to be accomplishing what we’d hoped – which is to say, Annie and Ella have a pretty decent understanding of how money works, what’s important to them monetarily, and how/when to save vs. how/when to spend. Considering I barely learned these until I was a young adult, I think we’re off to a reasonable start.

I think the chore thing is doing what we hoped, too: creating a sense of ownership and pride in our family, and helping foster the idea that we’re in this together. Because the girls have been learning basic household tasks for so long, they’re also fairly competent and capable at most of them, so fingers crossed that when they, like, head to college, we won’t have any last-minute Oh My Gosh You’ve Never Done A Load Of Laundry panicking. Or not as much, anyway…

Last night was the school book fair. I happily bought the girls a couple of novels, but when it came to the crap trinkets near the checkout, I drew the line. Receiving that news, Annie calmly opened her purse and handed over the cash – her own cash. She walked out feeling mighty fine that she’d been able to get exactly what she wanted… and I walked out feeling mighty fine that I hadn’t shelled out for a periodic table bookmark.

Win-win.

 

We Really (really) Had It All

To borrow from Lin-Manual Miranda, it was a bit of a weekend*.

Ten long months ago (looooong months ago), I’d been among the throngs of people hovered over their laptops and Ticketmaster apps to press the “Search for Tickets” button at exactly 10:00 on a Thursday morning in December with the hopes of getting to see Adele in concert. Amazingly, I got through and was able to secure tickets for the four of us to attend her final show in Toronto.

Thus began the waiting. And the secrecy. Nick and I knew ten months would be an eternity for the girls, so we deliberately kept knowledge of the concert from them until an unexpected Adele radio moment last month where we caved and told Ella and Annie that what they thought was merely a weekend getaway to Toronto was more than just seeing the sights.

(Cue ebullient mayhem.)

Ana so, at long, long last, after wondering if after all these (months) we’d be like to meet…
Hello.
img_7319Giddy outside the Air Canada Centre.

This was the Ella and Annie’s first concert (okay, first real concert; they did see the Laurie Berkener Band when they were about 1.5 and 3.5) and, after having watched 738 YouTube videos of other Adele performances, we knew it would be one helluva show, an experience that would be hard to top.

We never dreamed it would become a once-in-a-lifetime event.

We arrived at the Air Canada Centre with plenty of time to settle in. Knowing the kiddos would be uber-tired by the end of the night (and that we wouldn’t want to leave mid-show to shop), I took the girls to check out the souvenirs before the show. When we made it to the front of the line, Ella and I quickly chose t-shirts. Annie hemmed and hawed, saying that she wanted the black notebook tucked in the glass case and “a pencil.” Because pencils were only available by the $25 package and the notebook cost $40, I told her she would have to choose one or the other (even with the exchange rate, $65 for pencils and some paper wasn’t happening).

She chose the notebook.

As the woman who was helping us brought the book out of the case, the employee standing next to her leaned over and beckoned me close so I could hear him. In a whisper, he told me, “You’ve selected a unique and special item. Open the first page.”

My stomach immediately jolted. Why would he have us check the page if nothing was there? Holy shit. WHAT WAS THERE??? There was no way – NO WAY – that Adele had anything to do with that page… Omg…

My hands actually began to shake as I handed the notebook to Annie. “Open it!” I barked, startling her (apparently, my “filled with excitement and anticipation” voice sounds a lot like my, “you’re in deep doodoo” voice). She did… revealing what looked to be a signature.

Adele’s signature.

“Oh my God, Annie. Oh my God. OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD.” (We typically ask the girls to say “Oh my gosh” and try to do the same ourselves, but in this case, all bets were off.)

As she stared reverently at her autographed notebook, I handed over my credit card, half expecting the employees to tell us that our “unique and special item” cost $400, not $40… but no. They rang the transaction up as if nothing had happened. Growing skeptical, I asked the woman who was bagging up our shirts, “Is this for real??”

Again, the man beside her answered. “It is. She signed five of them after the VIP event this afternoon and we’re selling them randomly around the arena. See? They even have today’s date. Your daughter made a lucky choice.”

OH.
MY.
GOD.
img_7321Posing before the show with the world’s luckiest notebook.

I’m not sure that the girls fully appreciated the incredibleness of this (although my near-hyperventilating probably clued them in), but it certainly caused us all to be in a state of wonder as the concert began.

And the concert itself? Adele, live and in person and singing and talking and laughing that marvelous cackle?
Breathtaking. Hilarious. Astounding. Powerful. Triumphant. Joyful.

Amazing. Just… amazing.
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We had floor seats and assumed the rest of the floor-goers would remain seated for most of the concert. HAHAHA. For a few songs, Adele actually instructed us to park our tushes and sit, but for the rest? FULL ON STANDING for the entire show… which meant that Ella and Annie could see nothing but the shoulders of the people in front of us for the entire show.

We attempted to stand the girls on their folding chairs, making sure they weren’t taller than the folks behind us… but, since we were on the end of the row and, thus, easily accessible, the security guards put the kibosh on that quickly (By contrast, the family in the middle of the row ahead of us stood their children on chairs the whole time.) “Our” security guard (Richard) couldn’t have been nicer, explaining he felt terrible our kids couldn’t see; it was just a safety issue. It was frustrating to have the rules enforced only for those within reach, but we understood and readily complied.

Making the best of things, we watched Adele on the overhead screens and held the girls whenever possible. Midway through the show, as Adele made her way to the small, closer, middle-of-the-floor-seats stage from which she’d emerged at the beginning, Richard tapped my shoulder. “Would your girls like to come with me to a spot where they can see a little better?”

Um. YES?!?

Annie and Ella would later tell us they were brought to a clearing closer to the small stage, offering an unobstructed view. At the time, we had no idea where they were, only that Richard was in charge. Every so often, he’d catch our eye and give us the thumbs-up that all was well; we trusted that it was. Several songs later, the girls returned to us, all smiles.

Ninety-or-so minutes after she began, Adele disappeared from the small stage. Richard confirmed that she wasn’t quite finished, silently holding up two fingers and mouthing, “Two more!”

We were enjoying the penultimate number (“When We Were Young”) when yet another security guard tapped me on the shoulder. “Would your children like to see the last song from the front of the stage?”

The girls were actually hesitant – the stage was pretty far away – but when you’re offered the chance to see Adele from the freakin’ best spot in the arena, you do not turn it down. That said, I had no idea how we’d find them in the mad crush when the concert ended so I, too, became hesitant. Sensing my uncertainty, the guard leaned in again. “Mom, you’d be coming, too!”

Oh. In that case? LET’S GO!!

I took a moment to confirm with the guard that Nick was also welcome (yes), and then, t-shirts and notebook and bags in hand, we began following her down the outer aisle of the floor, past row after row… after row… after row. I kept saying aloud to the girls, “I can hardly breathe. Oh my God, oh my God. I can’t believe it! I can hardly breathe.” They probably thought I was insane.

When, finally, we reached a temporary barrier approximately ten rows from the front, we stopped… but were beckoned on by the security guard, who adroitly pushed the gate aside and continued to make her way ahead. When we reached the seeming end of the aisle several feet from the barriers in front of the stage and, again, it seemed we could go no further, the guard asked other people to move out of the way and told us to keep going.

And when we reached the metal barriers immediately in front of the stage and, again, it seemed we could go no further, the guards physically moved the people who were already standing there, instructing, “Let these little girls in!”

What alternate reality is this???

Thus it was that we found as close as humanly possible to Adele (without being on the stage) as she sang “Rolling in the Deep” for her final encore. Nick kept back a few yards, not wanting to crowd the space, while I remained near enough to the girls so when all hell broke loose at the show’s conclusion, I could easily locate them… which meant when Adele walked by and waved, she looked all three of us directly in the eye and smiled.

We made eye contact with Adele and she SMILED AT US.

So basically, we were privately serenaded by Adele.

SWEET. FANCY. MOSES.

img_7353Ella with her iPod to record this mind-boggling turn of events.

img_7355Annie waving madly to Adele – WHO FREAKIN’ WAVED BACK.

img_7357AND THEN ADELE WAVED AT ME. And I died and went to heaven right then and there.

No, for real – see?!

img_7363House lights on: final goodbye before the confetti cannons exploded.

On our way out, we made sure to pass Richard and thank him for – well, for making it the best concert imaginable. I have no idea what prompted him to do everything in his power to give us such an unbelievable night, but I am ridiculously grateful and awed that he did.

Although the girls managed to fall asleep almost as soon as their heads hit their pillows, I was up for at least three more hours, running on adrenaline and shock and kettle corn. Had that really happened? The notebook? Finally hearing Adele in person? Being escorted to the front? It seemed impossible… and yet, there it was. Videos and photos on my phone, confetti in my purse, smile plastered to my face.

The girls’ concert bar has now been set so high, they’ll likely never even glimpse it again. But that’s okay. For one night, we really had it all.

* this was actually two weekends ago, but life got in the way and so… here we are

From That – To This

It feels a little as though things have been turned upside down. (Not a Hamilton reference, believe it or not – although the sentiment is the same…) Since the white supremacist flyers were distributed in our town’s neighborhoods, all of the fears and anger and hatred that were happening Somewhere Else, that had seemed almost hypothetical, were suddenly impossible to ignore. It was one of my most difficult parenting moments – my daughters and husband being targeted for their race, knowing others’ privacy had been violated, wondering if we would be next. I began having difficulty sleeping; I awoke every morning anxious to see if our driveway had been hit, if, on the way to school, our girls would find strips of paper disavowing their existence.

Turns out, I was far from the only person feeling this way. Within 48 hours of the initial intimidation campaign, a meeting was scheduled for local residents to discuss a counter-response. Over 50 people showed up on a Sunday afternoon, including Nick and me; we strategized, imagined, and shared ideas on how to organize a visible anti-racist, inclusive message – both in the immediate aftermath and well beyond. A group was formed: Pittsforward. I left the meeting feeling wary but energized, so grateful that others were willing to be brave enough to come together and say, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” rather than silently condemning from the safety of our houses.

We agreed that, among other things, a march or walk of some kind was in order. Exactly one week later, all of the details were in place and we gathered for our Unity Walk.

(I always have said I’m not the kind of person who marches for stuff; it’s just not my thing. Turns out, when you literally bring hate to our neighborhoods and driveways, I have a different reaction. Funny, that.)

It wasn’t just the 50 of us, however; hundreds upon hundreds of people showed up to stroll peacefully en masse through our little town, joyfully and resolutely declaring that racism will not be accepted here, that we stand united, that we celebrate our differences, and that everyone is welcome here.

That so many residents in my community wanted to stand with one another and say, NO, NOT HERE! was deeply heartening. That they did so in a steady rain kind of blew my mind. img_7253img_7255

Neither of our girls was particularly looking forward to the walk. Part of this was our waiting until the last minute to tell them about it, and part of this was their relative lack of perspective on why something like this was worthwhile. Often, when Ella or Annie strongly object to participating in a “family” outing, either Nick or I will step in to say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t so important; let’s allow her to skip it.” (Like, I might say this regarding a hockey game and Nick might say it regarding a dance performance. YOU KNOW, JUST AS HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLES.)

On this, however, we were in agreement: our family would walk, period. It was important. It was necessary. We were going, driving rain or sunshine. (Side note: we would have preferred the latter.)
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So, this is a totally crappy photo… It’s actually a screen shot – from my phone – of a video that was shown by one of our local television stations.
Still, it’s the only photo (such as it is) of us at the walk, so… yeah.

After almost 41 years of tearing up at Budweiser commercials and getting misty over inspirational memes on Pinterest,  you’d think, by now, that I would expect to be emotional at things like this. Apparently I still surprise myself, because I was not prepared to become so choked up at the sight of everyone in their raincoats and umbrellas, coming together to support one another.
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Low bridge, everybody down… (Get it?)

There were families with kids – from babies in strollers to high schoolers. Some were biracial families, like ours. Others had adopted children of mixed race. Others were all people of color. And, alongside them, hundreds of white folks – who, despite being “included” in the “acceptable” list provided in the supremacist flyers, found their rhetoric anything but acceptable.

There were older couples without any children (accompanying them). There were college students. There were groups of adults with signs and placards. There were women in headscarves. There were priests in collared shirts. We passed our local Chabad House, where members were preparing for the start of Rosh Hashanah; despite their preparations, they stepped outside to wave and join our chorus.

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A couple of the many signs from the walk…

We walked behind our local Flower City Pride Band, their 60s and 70s rock songs providing us a cheerful soundtrack. Police had cordoned off portions of our little town to make it safe for the marchers to go by; they were on hand, directing the traffic that inevitably backed up. As we passed them, we leaned into their patrol cars to thank them for being there. And, at the end, we gathered – alongside many of our locally elected officials and members of the school board – in a town park. The display of love in the face of hate, of support in the face of threats, was so incredibly powerful.

We can do this. Together, we can do this. Just look at all the people willing to say so.

I will fully admit it: I cried. More than once.
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Because our little town is, indeed, little, the entire affair lasted only twenty minutes or so… but that was enough. We said what we needed to say. We were where we needed to be. And, whether they understand or not – whether they like it or not – we showed our girls what it means to stand up for diversity, acceptance, and love.

There is a time for deliberate indifference, for willful ignoring. I absolutely believe that, sometimes, the best way to handle an ignorant bully is to not even acknowledge their existence – to not give them the attention they’re seeking. I also believe that, sometimes, when a bully pushes too hard, when they threaten you by coming to your turf rather than spouting their message from afar, a strong, direct, vocal opposition is exactly what’s needed.

The time had passed for quietly shaking our heads in disapproval. We needed to take a stand, to make it clear that not only would we not tolerate this kind of hate and propaganda being delivered to our homes, but we also celebrate our differences and our diversity. Perhaps most of all: we are not alone. 

I’m a silver lining kind of girl (see: yes, the basement flooded, but at least the floor is clean!). The flyers were certainly The Bad. But there is The Good, too: people are no longer content to be complacent. We are making connections, having conversations, coming together. We are recognizing that our neighborhoods are more than just where we live; they’re also the people who live there. If nothing else, the flyers’ aftermath has caused me to want to get to know my neighbors better, because it’s much more difficult to hate and fear someone you’ve talked with face to face.

This isn’t going to change overnight. Yes, the walk was tremendous and important.But there is so much more to do to make our community truly inclusive, safe, and open to other viewpoints. Together, we can make a difference in our community. I have to believe it’s so, because the alternative is just not okay.

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Oh Hell No

The unthinkable happened – or so I thought*.

(* see what I did there?)

As is well-documented, I love where we live. We moved to our cozy, tight-knit, western New York community because it is exactly where we want to be, and especially where we want to raise our girls. No, it’s not as diverse as I’d like, but we take as many steps as possible to help Ella and Annie understand that there is a world beyond what they know. Life feels good here – safe, supportive, inclusive.

Yesterday, in our cozy, tight-knit, safe, supportive, inclusive community, a man was seen handing out flyers in a residential neighborhood. The flyers were titled, “Make (Rochester) Great Again” and contained the link to a website that is being used as a recruitment tool for white supremacist groups.

According to one of our local news outlets, the website advertises a “network (of) like-minded Whites for the furtherance of the European white races… (It) promotes that European whites should not feel constrained in recognizing their ethnic and racial identities and in promoting its interest. It is thus taken as legitimate for whites to challenge attempts to turn whites into a minority. (The group) is an incipient initiative that aims to Make (Rochester) Great Again, by making Rochester Whiter.”

Um. Hell no. Fuck no.

I shared the story with Ella to get her opinion – she’s usually pretty good at framing things for me from a kid’s perspective (which is almost always better than whatever we adults are thinking) – but I could barely read the words aloud. I am of the European white race. My daughters and husband are not. Looking at my child and saying that my race should be furthered, but not hers… That I should take pains to recognize and promote my ethnic and racial identities above hers… That anyone attempting to promote equality and equity for non-white races (like, say, the Black Lives Matter movement) should be seen as a threat to me…

… was literally stomach-turning. I felt like I was going to throw up.

These are my children that this website is targeting. MY CHILDREN. In MY CUTE LITTLE TOWN. This is not happening in some big city or some podunk nowhere. It is happening in my own backyard. I knew, of course, that there was racism and hatred everywhere, even in my community, but to see it happening exactly here, exactly now, was absolutely chilling.

 

Thankfully, Ella found the article more amusing than alarming – she was so shocked that anyone in 2016 believes such drivel, she was basically speechless. But it still woke me up to the reality of what we in 2016 America are dealing with (I thought I understood; until tonight, I didn’t) and made me vow anew to make absolutely certain that our children are able to do better than we are.
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Our community; soccer game.

In fairness, it’s something I’ve been working at for my whole life.

In elementary school, my first Cabbage Patch doll was black. Her name was Guinevere Camilla and she smelled like baby powder and I adored her from the moment I saw her. I gave not one shit that she wasn’t white.

In middle school, I accompanied a Jewish friend in requesting that a menorah be included alongside the Christmas tree in the school office. The principal called my mother to ask if I was considering converting. The very idea that I, a Christian student, would be supporting this “cause” just because I was, you know, a friend who happened to believe in the radical idea of equality was absolutely beyond his backward brain. Even at age 12, though, I knew.

In 10th grade, a friend asked if I believed gay people were going to hell, which puzzled me. I don’t even think I knew anyone who was openly gay, but I’d never heard or even considered such a possibility before and I was completely flummoxed as to what she talking about. She attempted to explain to me that her religion taught her that homosexuality was against God’s will. I told her gay people were born gay and God loves everyone, so no, they’re not going to hell, good grief.

When I was in college and finally saw, for the first time, racial profiling up close and personal, it rocked me so hard to my core, I never forgot it.

Basically, I think I’m hardwired to believe that we all are deserving of respect and love and kindness, regardless of race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, age, religion, dis/ability, or favorite sports team (although obviously the Yankees > Red Sox). I believe this so strongly, I talk about it – a lot – because one of the ways I think we’re going to combat and ultimately end the horrible cycle we’ve found ourselves in is to feel comfortable talking about this stuff.

Our girls have heard me talk about these things – a lot. They knew what it meant to be gay before they knew their uncles were gay; they never thought it was weird or taboo because they were familiar with it. Ditto gender identity and religion and, absolutely, race.

‘Cause my girls aren’t white. When strangers look at them, they don’t see white kids – even though they’re half-me. They see Asian. (And, if they’ve got eyes, they see awesome, but that’s neither here nor there.) And, apparently, some people in my own little town see my children as Other. As, What Is Stopping Rochester From Being Great. As something to be opposed.

My girls don’t see that. They think that’s insane – and I’m sure most of their friends do, too. But we need to do everything in our power to ensure that none of our children grows up thinking that these thoughts are even possibilities.

So? Have the damned discussions. No, for real. Actually talk about race relations, about what’s happening in America – today, 2016. These flyers aren’t from 1956; they’re from now, for fuck’s sake. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Don’t pat yourself on the back for being bummed that the Academy Awards didn’t honor any people of color this year while still shouting “All Lives Matter!” Don’t assume that your community’s goodwill is going to somehow override centuries of overt and covert racist programming.

Don’t be afraid of talking about people’s race. Use terms like white/Caucasian, black/African American, Asian, hispanic/Latino, Native American (“brown” is also widely used and accepted for people of color) to identify people – as you’d describe height or hair color –  not cutesy terms like “people with a tan” (seriously, wtf) or “darker-skinned people.”

Somehow, those of us in our sweet, affluent, mostly-white-but-genuinely-trying-to-do-the-right-thing communities seem to think that it’s, I don’t know, accepting? Supportive? Inclusive? to simply not refer to skin color, period. In fact, we’re doing way more harm than good when we teach our kids that discussing race is shameful. Skin color should not be whispered like cancer. It is not bad or wrong or offensive, and it’s certainly not racist, for the love, to refer to the color of someone’s skin –  any more than it’s wrong or racist to refer to the color of someone’s eyes.
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Our community: summer sunset

I know many people are sick of discussing race; others think it’s still not an issue. To that, I would say, Ask yourself – and really be honest here – how you’d feel if you were pulled over. If you’re white, like me, I imagine that you’d be a bit nervous, a bit pissed that you were caught, the tiniest bit contrite (’cause you recognize that you must’ve done something wrong even if you don’t want to admit it). You might be considering what you could do to talk your way out of the ticket.

If you’re white, like me, there is almost no way that you’d be concerned even a little bit that your pull-over might result in your being shot by the police officer who stopped you. You could yell at the officer. You could swear. You could dance. You could tell them that you’re secretly rooting for ISIS and maybe even Donald Trump. Hell, you could show them the handgun that’s sitting in your lap… and you know damned well that you’d still come out of it alive.

And deep down, you know the same would not be true if you were black. You know equally damned well that people of color, and especially black men, are not afforded this luxury. You’d be scared to death because you know in your heart that these black lives are not treated the same as yours.

We need to talk about these things openly and honestly and without shame. We need to acknowledge the problems that exist – and not be so defensive. Yes, these flyers are repugnant; instead of ignoring them or wishing them away, we need to confront them head on. We need to say FUCK NO and come together and show people who believe that diversity is the problem that it is actually the freaking answer.

Turns out, I wasn’t wrong; Ella did have some words of wisdom after hearing the content of the article (which I had to explain to her, because the very concepts were so foreign). She asked, for the millionth time, why people don’t get it — that WE – all of us, every last black, brown, white, gay, straight, bi, male, female, transgender, able-bodied, disabled, neurotypical, differently-abled, old, young, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, Yankees-loving, Red Sox-loving, sports-hating one of us… ALL of us – are what makes America great.

We, in our diversity, ARE America’s greatness. We, in ourselves, are our greatest strength.
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The Handy Truth

Periodically, we have people come out to the house to work on things. Over the years, we’ve seen our fair share of plumbers, electricians, tree trimmers, HVAC specialists, chimney sweeps, cable/internet/phone installers, and handymen.

Since Nick works full-time and I work part-time, I’m the one who is home for 99% of these appointments. Whenever the folks who come out to Do The Fixing are able to complete everything themselves, they hand me a copy of the bill, pack up, and go. Occasionally, however, there are things that they can’t do (time constraints, part not in stock, outside of their realm of expertise, costs as much as a mortgage payment) and the project remains unfinished.

If the work is of the DIY variety (i.e. no electrical or major plumbing), they’ll usually give me a brief rundown on how to get started. And every time (as in every single one of these instances), before they give me their spiel, they’ll ask: “Is your husband handy?”

Um.
Excuse me?

First off, for the record – no. No, Nick is not “handy.” He is many awesome things – funny, intelligent, supportive, well-read, creative, a hockey fanatic – but handy isn’t really among them. This isn’t to say that he can’t do the DIY stuff, but he can’t usually do it off the top of his head (aka without Google or YouTube), so I don’t think of him as handy.

Secondly, why the everloving eff does it matter?? What difference does it make if my husband is handy or not? (I could also kvetch about the automatic assumption that I have a husband, but I don’t want this entry to get too War and Peace-y.) I mean, if he IS handy, then sure – I suppose that’s swell because he can easily wield the hammers and read the tape measures and twist the screwdrivers and grout the heck out of the tile. Yay for not having to call in another professional; handy husband to the rescue!

But if he’s not handy… Then what? Then we’re doomed? Gonna need to take out a home equity loan? Might as well move?

‘Cause, thirdly: Guess what, serviceperson? I can handle it. Yep, me. ME – the woman. The wife. The mom. The lady with the double X chromosomes. I’ve got this.

SHOCKING, I KNOW.
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Washing machine: undone.

Would I describe myself as handy? Oh hell no. I can break things just by looking at them (and not in a cool, Matilda telekinesis kind of way) and couldn’t begin to repair something just off the top of my head. But what I can do is read directions <insert stereotypical joke about men and directions> (Nick often reads directions, btdubs). I can watch YouTube. My Googling skills are second to none; I could probably have helped find El Chapo just through a couple of expert online searches.

It doesn’t hurt that I’m pretty damned strong (not to brag). But mostly? I have the determination to get shit done. If it’s possible for one regular, non-bodybuilder layperson to accomplish a job, I am hellbent on giving it a try. (Also I’m cheap frugal and don’t like spending money where I don’t need to.)

I mean, I pushed one baby out of my hoohah and labored for several hours without an epidural, 10 centimeters dilated, with the other before she was taken from my stomach via emergency c-section. DO YOU NOT THINK I CAN HANDLE A LEAKY FAUCET ON MY OWN?

All by myself, I have: installed our dishwasher; taken the kitchen plumbing apart, found/removed the blockage, and put the pipes back together; diagnosed running toilets and replaced their inner mechanism thingies; torn up and gotten rid of carpeting; moved loveseats and recliners up and down several flights of stairs; detached, cleaned, and reattached the dryer vent; and built furniture. I’ve caulked, grouted, drywalled, sanded, painted, and drilled. Numerous broken, small appliances have been rescued from a trashcan fate because I cozied up with Google and un-broke them.

AND THAT’S JUST WHAT I COULD THINK OF OFF THE TOP OF MY PRETTY LITTLE, NON-HANDY HEAD.

Most recently, I replaced a part in our washing machine, thereby allowing it to function properly again. True, the leaky washer contributed to an unexpected panic attack, so I can’t say that I necessarily take the discovery of faulty stuff in stride. But once it comes time to either buckle down and get ‘er done or fork over cash to have someone else do the work, I tend to roll up my sleeves a la Rosie the Riveter, flex some (legit) muscle, grab my computer (to look stuff up and to listen to my Pandora stations; I cannot do silent reparations), and get moving.

Taking apart the washing machine was easy (and kind of fun). Actually installing the bellow required some pretty intense manual labor that was a lot less exciting – and nearly pulled the skin out from under my thumbnails (ouch ouch ouch) – but once I completed it, I felt like a total badass. (As for the lawn mower? The Internet and I diagnosed that problem, too; a replacement cord is on the way, to be installed by moi next week. Stay tuned.)

Most importantly: the washer no longer leaks! And it didn’t cost us anything in labor (I paid myself in Starbucks and wine).

My husband? Not even home. He did, however, offer up a helluva lot of support via text.

I’m not necessarily good at any of this. I’m more of a Measure Once, Cut Twice kind of girl, so sometimes things wind up a little askew… but they work. And I can do them all by myself. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a division of labor that has the man doing most of the physical work, I’m damned proud that my girls know that women don’t need men to do tough stuff.

Sure, sometimes Nick does house projects on his own. Sometimes, we do them together. Other times, we call in the pros. But most often, I’m the one doing the fixing. I was a little tongue tied today when the guy from the mold company asked if my husband was handy –  “Actually, I’m handier than he is” – but next time, I’ll try to have a better retort.

Or I could just use Ella’s. When I told her about today’s exchange, her eyes widened with scorn. “Doesn’t he have a wife? I mean, who else does everything around his house?”

BOOYAH.
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