Patrick, Schmatrick

  Sure, you can celebrate today drinking green beer and singing “Danny Boy” and eating soda bread. IF YOU’RE LAME. But the cool kids spent the morning learning about ancient Egypt from a bunch of fairly adorable first graders. Best parts: 

  • The use of plastic garbage bags for linen tunics
  • Ninja grave robbers in King Tut’s tomb (no, really)
  • The poor kid squashed into a cardboard box to be the Sphinx
  • The incredibly awesome ancient Egyptian version of “Uptown Funk” that ended the performance (sample lyric: “E-gypt. Is so hot. Egypt is so hot.”)
  • Sylvia being inducted into the 100 book club

I fucking treasure elementary school showcases, I tell you what. And bless those teachers for finding the wherewithal to guide seething hordes of 6 and 7 year olds in such a creative endeavor. God knows I couldn’t do it. 

Lost: One Pair Perspectacles, Slightly Used

FullSizeRenderDo you all read Glennon Doyle Melton, the woman behind Momastery? I bet a lot of you do. She’s pretty awesome, not least for being almost the only self-proclaimed christian writer I’ve read who has never, ever, I mean not once, come across as sanctimonious or preachy. That takes some skill, especially for readers like me who have an over-sensitive sancti-meter. Anyway, Glennon (we’re on a first name basis, in my mind) coined the term “perspectacles” to talk about the importance of being able to see your life with new eyes sometimes, to remember all that you have to be grateful for and not feel coerced into keeping up with any crazy external standard for your life or your body. This post explains it well. It’s a handy concept to invoke when I’m feeling pissy for no good reason (or, more often, when my kids are revealing their sense of entitlement to their horrified leftist mama). As a tryna-be Buddhist, perspectacles fit well into the precept of looking for the best in people and situations, and practicing gratitude. Good things to practice, for sure.

This month, however, I seem to have misplaced my perspectacles. I feel all oscar-the-grouchy about everything. Granted, there has been some shit happening the last two weeks that is worth grumping about, including but not limited to: the flu, the other kind of flu, Chad’s grandma almost dying, my kid getting sexually harrassed at school, and a dear friend getting diagnosed with breast cancer. I mean, no one in their right MIND would be grateful for any of that stuff. But the point of perspectacles isn’t to cover up or gloss over the shit; it’s to put it in PERSPECTIVE, as in: I no longer have any kind of flu, Chad’s grandma didn’t die, my kid handled herself like a rockstar, and my friend caught it early and will, we hope, have a good prognosis. And I can WRITE all that, and SAY it to myself, but it just isn’t working. Like, my brain is all, “But HEY: you got into GRAD SCHOOL!! With FUNDING!! In the SOUTH!!! Holy validation!!” and my heart is like, “Fuck you. David Bowie is STILL DEAD. FOR ALWAYS,” and my brain goes, “But you’re getting to go to the UK this summer!! For two weeks! Without your kids!! Don’t be a brat!” and my heart says, “I KNOW I’M A BRAT SHUT UP. Everyone is yelling all the time and I’m sick of this election season and I’m worried about money and I’m not getting to my to-do list and I won’t be ready for the move aaaaaahhhhh,” and my brain gets fed up and is like, “FINE. God, you’re such a Debbie Downer. Go read some Y.A. fiction or something, if you’re going to act like a twelve-year-old all the time,” and my heart yells, “DON’T YOU DISS Y.A. FICTION IT’S SOME OF THE BEST WRITING HAPPENING RIGHT NOW AND ANYWAY GENRES ARE AN ARTIFICIAL CONSTRUCT,” and then my brain and heart storm off into opposite corners in a huff and I immerse myself in a John Green novel which is lovely but I’m still grumpy.

I dunno. Probably I need to meditate or something, but also probably sometimes you just need to be grumpy for no good reason and let that happen. I’ve always hated it when I’m having a public meltdown (Facebook counts as public, right?) and some well-intentioned soul reminds me that things could be worse and there are starving children in China or something. I mean, has that ever helped ANYONE? Like, I still feel crabby but now I also feel SUPER GUILTY about it. Good job! So I’m trying to be kind to myself, while also looking like hell for those perspectacles because I do not wish to be an entitled, blind-to-my-own-privilege asshole. BALANCE.

In summation, I am grumpy, for no good reason. But I wanted to end this post on a more positive note, and I remembered a thing I’d posted on Facebook earlier this year that I’d been meaning to blog for posterity, but I couldn’t remember when I’d posted it so I just searched Facebook for “Elise Robinson peanuts sex.” Which is maybe the most awesome string of search terms I’ve ever personally used. Also, and I’m not sure how I feel about this, the search came up with two results, and only one of them was mine. I haven’t even looked at the other one because I don’t know if I can handle it right now. Anyway, here’s the post, from September 2015:

Oh, lawsy, I wish I had a video recording of the conversation I just had with the girls in the car. Highlights include:

– Eleanor advising Sylvia to get married to a boy instead of a girl if she wants to have babies, because if she marries a girl she’ll have to “get shots” to have a baby

– Sylvie asking me how you have babies with a boy and thinking I said”peanuts” instead of “penis”

– me uttering the phrase “NEVER PUT PEANUTS IN YOUR VAGINA”

– Ellie wondering how you have sex and guessing that you “just walk up to someone and ask them”

– Sylvie deciding she just wants to adopt

Never put peanuts in your vagina, y’all. You can take that to the bank.

The Next Time

Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from the social worker at the girls’ school. This didn’t set off any alarm bells; when you have a kid with an IEP (which we do, for Eleanor and her language disorder), sometimes you get calls from the social worker to schedule or follow up on meetings. I assumed this was one of those calls.

It was not. I don't need to be saved. I can do that myself!

“I’m calling to let you know that Eleanor and another female student experienced some behavior from some boys that was making them uncomfortable,” the social worker said.

“Oh?” I said, small red-alert lights flashing in my mental peripheral vision.

“Yes, Eleanor was uncomfortable talking about it. She was embarrassed, but she was able to write it down in enough detail that we could question the boys, and they admitted the behavior.”

“What … what exactly happened?”

“It sounds like the boys were whispering things in the girls ears and making thrusting motions at the girls.”

“Oh, no.” Sinking feeling. “That’s not good.”

“Well, Eleanor was very helpful and we have encouraged her to tell an adult right away the next time something like this happens.”

“Um, how many times has this BEEN happening?!”

“There was apparently one incident last week in music class, and then again this week. We have called all the parents involved. Eleanor was very helpful.”

I got off the phone in a daze, sent off a text titled “MOTHERFUCKER” to Chad, who was out of town on business, and promptly burst into tears. Because she’s NINE. And they are already talking about  THE NEXT TIME. And of course they are, because of course there will be a next time. Of course there will be a next time that she is made uncomfortable, or worse, just by virtue of her precious, beautiful, female body.

You know it’s coming, as the mother of a daughter. I mean, as a parent of any kid, you know the time will come when your kid encounters prejudice or bias or just plain-old assholery from the world, and you won’t be there to kick the assholes back to where they came from. But especially as a mother of daughters, you know that some – maybe even most – of that ugliness will be related somehow to her femaleness, and to the seriously fucked up sexual attitudes we’ve developed in this culture. Maybe I should have been ready for it earlier, only you can’t ever be ready for it. You cannot be ready for the punch to the gut that reminds you that no, you can’t protect your daughters from it. They’re going to have to run the gauntlet themselves, just like you did.

So I managed to calm down before I went to pick the girls up from their after school program, wondering if Eleanor would want to talk about it or if she would be too embarrassed, running through all the various worst-case scenarios that my anxiety-driven demons could come up with. (Would she be permanently scarred? Unable to make eye contact? Wearing a huge scarlet A on her chest?)(Note: anxiety-driven demons are usually way, way off base. Also apparently they read too much Nathaniel Hawthorne.)

Eleanor was her usual buoyant self, chattering with her friends, forgetting her shoes, excited to see me. Anxiety levels decreasing. As we’re getting in the car, I say “I hear you had kind of a tough day today.”

“Oh, the social worker called you?”

“Yeah,” I say, like it was totally no big deal and we’re discussing the weather or something. “What happened with those boys?”

“Oh, mom, they were being totally inappropriate and saying REALLY inappropriate things and it was making me super uncomfortable. They were doing it to all the girls. Like sex stuff and penises and what boys do and making noises (she made uh-uh groans and thrusting motions while a piece of my soul slowly died), and it was gross.”

“Yuck. That sounds SUPER gross. That is not ok for those boys to do that. So who spoke up about it?”

Eleanor gave a little half grin. “I did.”

I high-fived her and told her I was so proud of her, and that she did exactly what she was supposed to do. And we talked about how sexual harassment feeds on silence and that lots of girls don’t tell people about it because they feel embarrassed and like they did something wrong or they might get in trouble, but how it’s NEVER your fault if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, and it’s not tattling to tell grown-ups about that stuff. And she said it was really weird to be in a room with three grownups (the principal, the vice-principal and the social worker) and just one kid (her) and how they kept telling her it was a “safe space” but it was totally embarrassing to talk about so finally she just wrote it down. And I told her again that the social worker had said how helpful it was that Eleanor was able to do that, and again how proud I was of her and that she did exactly the right thing.

And we went to get dinner and talk about other things, like the upcoming caucus, and weekend plans, and normal life stuff. And I came out of the evening an odd mixture of sad, angry, proud and hopeful. But like, 45% sad, 60% angry, 75% proud, and 32% hopeful. 212% feelings. THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE IN HERE, PEOPLE.

Hug your babies. Raise your boys to respect. Raise your girls to speak up. Hope for a better tomorrow. Cry for the hard today. Love wins.

(This post was written with Eleanor’s permission.)

The Internet is Magic + Valentines

Well. Clearly you guys possess some kind of magical powers, or somehow WordPress and Facebook are functioning as spiritual modulation amplifiers or SOMETHING, because the very morning after I posted the heartbreaking saga of how I was ruining my tween child’s every dream and hope of happiness, the very next morning I tell you, she walked up to me and said, “Mama? I have decided something. I will be ok with moving to Georgia, if – IF – you will set me up so I can Skype with Addie and Maya.” (You may recall that this was something I had already offered her as a sweetener. Several times. To no avail.) “Well, of COURSE we can do that, honey,” I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop. A smartphone? A pony? A magical flying rainbow unicorn? She must want more than this!!! “OK, then,” she said. “We can move.” And just like that, it would seem, we’re ok. 

I can now make references to the move without conjuring tears. Tonight we looked at houses and schools online to get a sense for what it might be like to live there. Eleanor reminds Sylvia that we’re moving whenever she thinks Sylvia has forgotten. We go outside and she says, “I sure will be glad when we don’t have SNOW anymore!” Be honest: did one of you switch my daughter with an amazingly lifelike replica? No? (Good, because if you’re going to switch her out I want the house-cleaning, non-smartass model, with available bartender/barista option.)

I can only attribute her change of heart to 1) pure tween cussedness, and 2) the incredible outpouring of love and support my post generated, here and on Facebook.  Social media can suck sometimes, making us feel inadequate or like we aren’t keeping up with the shiny happy lives we imagine our friends are living. But it can also be a real lifeline when you’re going through shitty times in your life, as I have personally witnessed on more than one occasion. If you’re reading this, know that you are part of my village, part of my family’s village, and you are for realz keeping us afloat. And that is a blessing, because my swimming skills are for shit.

OK, enough sappy stuff. Wanna see the AWESOME card Eleanor made me for Valentine’s Day? She really outdid herself this year. First, she drew this picture:

EllieValentine1That’s me in the lounge chair/swing, with Chad behind me either giving me the world’s worst back rub or possibly about to push my chair over? My two friends Greta and Amy are happily clinking wine glasses in the background, while my friend Jessy is kindly watching over all the collected children. (This is inaccurate. In real life, all the adults except Greta would be clinking wine glasses and Greta would be engaging the children in a lovingly handmade educational craft activity. Everyone should have a Greta in their lives.) A happy little scene, n’est ce pas? On the other side of the page, she wrote this glorious little note:

EllieValentine2It says (and I imagine this performed in a sort of school-girl public speaking singsong, for best effect) (all wonky punctuation and spelling reproduced from the original):

“Happy Valentine’s Mommy. I hope you have a great day today. I love you so much, and that’s what valentine’s are for. On the other side of this page, I Have drew a picture of all my freinds and all of your freinds. For I have loved you forever and nothing can break that bond between us. xxxxoooo love, your very speciel dauther, Eleanor R.”

I mean, come on. That’s a straight up kick-ass valentine. And it’s ALSO basically how I feel about you guys. Nothing can break that bond between us. Love, your very speciel freind, Elise R.

Nobody said this was gonna be easy

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” —Elizabeth Stone

messyheart

I have often said that my main experience of motherhood is one of having my heart cracked open, over and over again. In the main, this is a good thing; open-heartedness is better than the alternative, and I can state with absolute conviction that motherhood has made me a more patient, compassionate, and forgiving person. I know many functioning adults who evolve these qualities all on their own; apparently I had to spawn to get them.

But sometimes having a cracked-open heart hurts. And last night was one of those times.

Eleanor, my oldest kid, is not happy about us moving south. This didn’t exactly come as a surprise; she’s almost 10, and she’s at that weird tween crossroads where your friends and school life are starting to become more important than your family. My youngest, Sylvia (almost 7) is sad to be leaving Minnesota and her friends, but she’s also excited to get a new house, and be closer to Gramma and Grampa, and try new things. But for Eleanor, there is only sadness. The first thing she did when we told them about the move was cover her face with her hands and burst into tears. And declare that she wasn’t moving.

Continue reading

Unanswerable questions my youngest daughter has recently asked me

  1. “Why are there so many places to go?”
  2. “Why do all the people have names?”
  3. “Why is Santa old all the time?”
  4. “Why are there squirrels?”

My attempts at responses to said questions:

  1. Because … there are a lot of people … and they have to be somewhere … so they make places?
  2. So we have something to call them?
  3. Because he’s been around for a long time? (Sylvia: But was he EVER not old?) Er … Because he’s magic?
  4. Because … evolution … Because they grew … THERE JUST ARE.

They Say You Can’t Go Home Again …

onmymindSo here’s the deal: As many of you know, my academic career kind of stalled out right around the time I had my first kid. I was one of those silly, silly people who  went straight through from my BA program (in MN) to my MA program (in OH) to my PhD program (in CA) with nary a pause for rest or reflection. I’ve always known what I wanted to do (theatre), and I’ve always been good at school (nerd), so it seemed like … uh … the thing to do, you know?

And don’t get me wrong – I loved my grad programs. Loved the people, loved the classes, loved the late-night last-minute research-paper cramming sessions, loved living in new places, loved learning new things, LOVED. IT.

But it’s funny how when you’re in your early twenties and not super self-aware (I know; redundant) you can convince yourself that doing a dissertation is totes no big deal, and you can fer sher take that full-time teaching job in another state while completing your thesis, and, heck, you don’t even really need a lot of contact with your committee! You are a self-motivated power-house of academic fortitude! Sure, you suffer from medicate-able levels of anxiety and depression and wrote 90% of your term papers the night before they were due and possibly your chosen topic is a little broad but WHAT POSSIBLE EFFECT COULD THAT HAVE? No, YOU shut up.

Man, my twenty-something self was dumb. Continue reading