Explaining privilege to my white son

Here is the blog post where you decide I’m too political for you to follow me anymore. Before you go, I just wanted to say, it’s been real, y’all.

Oh wait, you’re still here? Then read on, brave souls, about how a white civil rights lawyer explains about privilege to her white son.

On the second night of the Ferguson protests, I sat down to watch the news with The Boy. Before I turned the TV on, I said to him, “Remember how we talked about how there was a young man killed by a police officer last summer? And people were really upset about it, because the young man didn’t have a gun or anything, but the policeman shot him anyway?” And he said, “Yeah, the kid wearing the hoodie?” And I said, “No, that was a different kid, and the man who shot him wasn’t a policeman. This one was a little older than the other kid.” And he said, “Oh,” in a sad voice.

Which is basically how I felt saying that sentence to him. Very, very sad that this keeps happening so much that my 7 year old is aware of multiple cases of unarmed black men being shot and killed.

And then I said, “Well, there was a jury that decided today that the police officer who shot this young man didn’t do anything wrong, so he isn’t going to have to go to court or anything. Or jail.” And The Boy got mad. He said, “That’s not right! That makes me so mad! That jury is stupid!” (Stupid is a pretty strong word for a 7 year old.)

Which is basically how I felt upon hearing the verdict too. Pretty mad, although, less surprised than The Boy. I’ve seen a lot of racist shit while practicing civil rights law, so it takes a lot to shock me now. But the absence of shock doesn’t mean the absence of anger. Injustice still makes me see red. Just like the people in Ferguson.

Then we talked about the community’s response to the verdict. I explained that there were a lot of people who thought it was unfair and stupid, and that many of those people had gone out to protest the verdict by walking in the streets, carrying signs, and using their voices. I also told him that there were some people, not most people, but a few, who were doing violent things because they were so mad, like burning cars or smashing windows.

The Boy said, “That’s stupid too. Smashing stuff doesn’t make things better.” I told him that’s right, it sure doesn’t.

At that moment, Michael Brown’s mom came on the TV, and I said, “That’s the young man’s mom.” And The Boy looked at her anguished face, and said, “If my sister died, I’d be really sad.” And I said, “Of course–families are sad when someone dies, because we love each other.”

Then I said this to him: “What makes me most upset about this is that I think this young man died because a lot of white people are scared of black people. And so they act out of fear, and think that black people are dangerous, even though they’re not. Even policemen get scared sometimes. It makes me sad that that mom had to lose her son, and other moms have to be scared for their sons, because they’re black. It’s not fair that I don’t have to worry about you, but they have to worry about their sons.”

And The Boy said, “Because I’m white.”

And I said, “Yep, because we’re white.”

And he said, “Yeah, it’s not right. I don’t like that feeling.”

And I said, “Me neither.”

That night before bed, The Boy asked me to tell him a story. I often tell him a story about when I was a kid and went on a vacation, or a story about my grandparents, or about the time he pooped on our cat. But it seemed wrong that night to be talking about our own stories, and so I told him about Harriet Tubman instead. After I finished, he asked me to tell the one about the woman on the bus, but I told him it was bedtime and we’d have to talk about Rosa Parks tomorrow.

I feel like this: the best way I can fight for a world where black mothers don’t have to live in fear for their sons, where they can feel as secure as I do when I send my son out in the world, is for me to make sure my white son understands what he has, and what others don’t have. I have to teach him not just that Michael Brown’s family is just like ours, but how unfair it is that a family that is just like ours can’t have the same peace of mind that we do. That it’s wrong for things to be this way, and we need to be that family’s ally in making change happen.

You may think this is too heavy of a topic for a 7 year old to understand. I disagree. I think it’s so fucking obvious, even a 7 year old can get it, if only we’d try to teach them.

The Prickly Kid

Last year, The Boy made friends with a kid whose mom described him to me as “a bit prickly.” Let’s call him Prickly Kid. The Boy is pretty good at making friends–he is a good talker, and a pleaser. He gets shy sometimes, and once in a while he has a conflict with another kid, but mostly he gets along with everyone. And for that, I am grateful. The Girl already has a frenemy, so I know things are going to be a bit rougher for her when she starts school.

But back to Prickly Kid. Sometime in the late fall, Prickly Kid’s mom, who is not even remotely prickly herself, sent me a very sweet email saying she was so grateful for The Boy being a good friend to Prickly Kid because he can be, well, a prickly kid, and would we like to get together for a play date. And of course I said yes, because how sweet of her to like The Boy! When she suggested we go to an indoor play space that has a restaurant/bar attached to it, I knew she was one of us.

And of course, we had a delightful time and drank wine while the kids ran wild in the indoor play area. It was awesome. Here I had a new friend to drink wine with, and Prickly Kid, who had trouble making friends, had The Boy, and The Boy had Prickly Kid, and everyone was happy.

Every classroom has a Prickly Kid. The Boy told me just this morning that there is a new kid to the school who is a Prickly Kid, who is in his class this year. I asked The Boy if he would be willing to hang out with New Prickly Kid, and help him settle in, and he said he would think about it.

The thing is, you don’t have to be a Prickly Kid to have trouble making friends when you are new to a school. Shy Kids have the same trouble, as do Frightened By Change Kids, Sensitive Kids, Kids With Autism, Kids With Unusual Names, Fat Kids, Skinny Kids, Kids Who Climb On Rocks…you get where I am going with this. It is hard being the new kid, period.

And it isn’t easy for the non-new kids to integrate a new kid into an existing social circle. The Boy was worried about how his existing friends would react to him inviting New Prickly Kid to sit with them at lunch. The Boy is awesome, but he isn’t some superhero who can overcome all peer pressure and say “fuck it, I choose kindness over fear” every time.

But the stakes are much lower for me as a parent. For me to email another kid’s parent and say “Hey, play date sometime?” is waaaaaay less scary than it is for The Boy to ask a kid to sit with him at lunch. Which is why I will be emailing New Prickly Kid’s mom to see if they would want to do a play date with us. Because, that is what I hope someone would do for me if my kid was the new kid in school.

I don’t often ask you, dear readers, to take any action, but I hope this post will encourage you to reach out to the new kid’s family to see about a play date. Because welcoming newcomers to our community is the right thing to do. And besides, maybe New Prickly Kid’s mom likes wine too.

Goodbye, Hooker Wagon

I briefly had a blog several years ago about my experiences riding the bus to and from work. As I have shared before, I live in a neighborhood directly adjacent to a major road that has a lot of no-tell motels, and thus a lot of seriously sketchy individuals. This means the bus that runs down that road, which goes to downtown Seattle and to my (former) office, has a lot of sketchy individuals riding it. I’ve learned valuable lessons on that bus, such as “Don’t get kicked out of rehab in winter, if you’re living on the street, your heroin could freeze.” And it’s provided a shitload of free entertainment over the years. I often referred to that bus as The Hooker Wagon.

Perhaps the most memorable of my rides, though, came on my last day of work. I went in for a half day of paperwork and I took The Boy with me–first, because school hadn’t started up yet, and second, because it was his last chance to come to work with Mom before she “retired.” So, on the way home, we were riding the bus during midday, rather than during typical commuting hours. This meant that the ratio of commuters to hookers/drug addicts heavily favored the hookers/drug addicts.

The Boy selected a pair of seats for us near the back of the bus. Now, if you have ever ridden a bus with a high ratio of hookers/drug addicts on it, you know that the back is probably an extremely poor choice of seats, unless you want to learn where to score some meth. But, to be fair, that was the only spot on the bus with two open seats together. And, the seats he picked were directly in front of another family, with two kids, so at least he wouldn’t be the only kid learning where to score some meth? So, to the back we went. I immediately pulled out his earphones–the kind that cancel out some noise, thankfully–and an iPad, and plugged him into his electronics for the long ride home.

In the very back, a few seats away from us, sat a woman who was high. Or, I hope she was high, and not just totally inappropriate–she was certainly loud, and used a lot of profanity. At least, she did at first. Then a few stops later, she realized there were kids on the bus, and then she very loudly apologized for using profanity. I smiled at her as if to say “Dude, he has me for a mom, he knows the swears, it’s cool. Also, noise-canceling headphones.”

The next stop, a couple of methadone clinic patrons got on the bus. I know they were methadone clinic patrons because they were discussing their methadone clinic. Now, High Woman was SHOCKED! SHOCKED! that they would discuss drug use in front of The Children, so she did her version of Mrs. Lovejoy and yelled “Hey fuckwads, stop talking about drugs, don’t you fuckers see there are kids on this bus, show some fucking respect!” The Methadone Man and his friend were like “Dude, chill out, we’re just talking about methadone” and High Woman was all “Everybody knows you talkin’ ’bout drugs, show some fucking respect!” She kept using that word “respect.” I don’t think it means what she thinks it means.

Luckily, before keeping it real could go wrong, she got off the bus, and at that same stop, a friend of Methadone Man got on the bus. He seemed like he might have been mildly stoned? (It’s legal here!) He was happy to see Methadone Man and his friend, and the three of them chatted about football for a while–the Seahawks were playing Green Bay the next day, so they were disagreeing in a friendly way about who was going to win. Mildly Stoned Guy turned to me and said, “You know anything about football?” And I said, “Just a little” and he said, “You know what happened with Green Bay last year, right? With that bad call? I think they gonna be hungry.” And I said, “Like we were after that call for the Steelers in the Super Bowl, it made us want it more the next year.” And he turns to his friends and says, “SEE?!?! She gets it! That’s what I’ve been saying this whole bus ride!” And we all laughed.

They talked football a bit more and then Mildly Stoned Guy says, “Hey, are you a prosecutor or a defense lawyer?” And I thought “Wow, do I really look that much like a lawyer? Just as I’m quitting, I finally nailed the look.” And I said, “Neither, actually, I’m an education lawyer. Or I was, today was my last day, I quit.” And he said, “Can I ask why?” And I said, “Yeah, I have cancer.” And they all said how sorry they were, and Methadone Man said, “Hey, I had cancer, in my liver. They found it in the joint. I’ve been well for 10 years now.” I told him that was great, and asked if they gave him good medical care inside, and he said, “Yeah, it was great, actually!”

We chatted some more until it was our stop, and Methadone Man asked me my name, and said he’d be praying for me. I thanked him, and when we got off the bus, The Boy said, “Why did he ask you your name?” And I said, “Because he wanted to pray for me, isn’t that nice?” And The Boy said, “What was his name?” And I said, “How rude of me, I forgot to ask him! Next time we see him, we’ll ask him.”

But, I won’t be riding the Hooker Wagon much anymore, let alone riding it with The Boy. So, Methadone Man, if you’re reading this, I am sorry I forgot to ask you your name, and I hope your cancer stays in remission. Also, I was wrong about Green Bay, they must not have been hungry after all.

Why I love family vacations

I am on a vacation with my family right now. It’s afternoon nap time for The Girl as I write this, and The Hubs is off doing something fun with The Boy, so I have a few quiet minutes to do laundry and think about why I like to take vacations with my two small children. This may be the last big, plane-trip-taking, more-than-a-week vacation we can realistically afford for a while, since I will be taking a pay cut as part of my disability retirement, but assuming I am well enough, I plan on making sure we still take some vacations, because I think they are good for us.

I have heard lots of arguments against family vacations. Some people say “They’re too small to remember the trip, why even bother taking them?” Well, they’re too small to remember a trip to the park or the zoo either, so should I just lock us up in our house and never leave it? Seriously, that is the dumbest argument I have ever heard. People who make this argument: try again.

Some people say that it’s too expensive to take vacations for a family. And I say, that depends on the vacation you take. A camping trip costs practically nothing–you need a couple of blue tarps, some rope, a few sleeping bags, and a cast iron skillet. Bam! Instant vacation. A trip to Europe can be extremely pricey, especially if you live on the west coast like I do. Every family can afford different things, and every family prioritizes their money differently.

Some people say it’s too much work traveling with kids and not enough fun. I think these are people who compare traveling without kids to traveling with kids, and yeah, it IS a lot more work traveling with kids. But everything is more work when you have kids, not just travel. You have to be mindful that the small people in your life have needs just like the big people do, is all. And you have to do that at home as well as on the road.

I loved to travel before I had kids for reasons that don’t go away just because there are kids along for the ride. I like the change of pace that travel brings, and I like doing things I wouldn’t normally do in my everyday life. And I love watching my kids have new experiences too, and learn what they can do if I only let them try. Who knew The Boy wouldn’t be even remotely afraid of that zip line? Who knew The Girl was so good at walking up and down stairs on her own?

Beyond that, there are the memories The Hubs and I will carry, even if The Kids don’t. Especially The Hubs. I have a feeling he’ll be glad we took this trip in 10 years, even if though we are both sick of listening to The Boy complain about having to try new foods, and even if we are tired from carrying The Girl back to our hotel while fighting off a cold. Nothing in life is perfect, not even family vacations, but that doesn’t mean they’re not great.

What will do you with your time when you aren’t working?

When I decided to take a disability retirement from my job so I could focus on killing cancer, I had a lot of people ask me what I would do with all my free time, or ask me if I was going to be bored without a job. I think that’s because people don’t realize how time-consuming it is to be a cancer patient. It took 4 weeks to recover from surgery, then the following week when I was supposed to just be back at work, I had 3 doctor appointments, each lasting over an hour. Also, I’m not just a cancer patient, I’m also a mom, so, you know, all that “why is my house a disaster area, there is so much to clean up” stuff that goes along with having small children? I got all that to do to. I’m really going from 3 jobs (mom, lawyer, cancer patient) down to two. Which is plenty, thankyouverymuch.

But then I realized I wasn’t thinking outside the box enough, and I should come up with a list of things I was going to do with all that imaginary free time, so when people ask me, this is what I will say.

1. Become a professional internet troll. You know that asshole who posts incendiary comments on your local newspaper’s website, the ones that get everyone all riled up and arguing? That’s gonna be me. I’m currently researching racist and sexist things to say, such as “That black kid was asking to be shot by wearing baggy pants” and “How will that woman juggle a CEO job and kids?”

2. Pinterest. Seriously, all of it, I’m going to make all that shit, every single pin. Especially this. And these.

3. Take over the PTSA. ALL THE POWER WILL BE MINE. You may think that sounds like a hard and mostly thankless job, and you would be right, but hear me out. The Boy goes to school in a really affluent neighborhood (that I don’t live in) and they raise a lot of money. That could buy me a lot of trips to Tahiti, oops, I mean, a lot of wonderful things for the kids.

4. Become a connoisseur of Jerry Springer. I briefly experimented with this during the government shutdown last year, but I literally could only take 10 minutes of it before I had to turn it off. It’s going to take a serious training regimen to be able to watch a whole episode, but now I’ll have the time to do it.

5. Organic gardening. HAHAHAHA, that was a joke, have you seen my yard?

6. Learn to play the autoharp. I was inspired by watching Walk the Line–if it’s good enough for June Carter Cash, it’s good enough for me! And now The Hubs knows what to get me for Christmas.

7. Try out all the insane cancer cures that people have shared with me since I got diagnosed, and blog about them. I think I’ll start with “smelling farts will cure your cancer.”

I’m out of ideas, but someone’s gotta help me fill up all that free time when I’m not in a doctor’s office or unconscious from chemo fatigue–so share your ideas in the comments!

Picky Eating

When I was a kid, I was a very picky eater. I became less so when I went off to college and wanted to impress my friends, who didn’t think it was cool to be a picky eater, but I’m still not a fan of certain foods, like pot pie. I feel like pot pie is where you take perfectly lovely meat and/or vegetables and you coat them in goo made of who knows what and then top the whole thing with a pie crust, which also isn’t my favorite food to eat. (Although, it’s one of my favorite foods to make–rolling out a pie crust is so soothing to me. I know, I’m odd.) One time when I was little, my mom made pot pie, and as usual I refused to eat it, so my parents told me I had to sit in front of that pot pie until I ate it. I sat there for probably 2 hours, until it was bedtime, at which point they sent me to bed without offering any other food. I didn’t care if I was hungry, that didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me was that I was not going to eat that pot pie. And I didn’t.

After that, my mom didn’t serve pot pie very often, because she knew I wasn’t going to eat it. She’d try to get me to eat foods I didn’t like, but if I refused, she’d just make sure there was something on the plate I’d eat. In short, she adapted her meal choices in part to suit her picky eater. Nowadays, that’s frowned upon by the Parent Education Industrial Complex. They say to just keep offering that food over and over again because eventually that kid will eat it. Apparently the Parent Education Industrial Complex doesn’t know what stubborn looks like. If my mom had offered me pot pie 1000 times I still would have said no to it. In hindsight, I think my mom made the wise choice to feed me things I would eat, so that I could grow, rather than watching me not eat every night. I was literally that stubborn. I needed to come to the idea of eating outside my comfort zone in my own time and in my own way. And, I’ve never struggled with obesity or eating disorders, so, I’m pretty sure she made the right choice for me.

The Boy is a picky eater too. I think he may even be pickier than I was, because he won’t eat chicken nuggets anymore. He wasn’t always a picky eater–when he was 2, he’d eat Indian food and jambalaya and all kinds of stuff. Now, it’s easier to tell people what he will eat instead of what he won’t because it’s a shorter list. I tend to do what my mom did and offer foods not on his “I will eat that” list, but when he refuses, I provide something we know he’ll eat. Especially now that he’s on ADHD meds that can affect his appetite and slow his growth.

I feel like I’m going to be judged for that, because it’s not what the experts recommend, and I’m sure people will say “He’s never going to learn to like other foods if you only feed him stuff he likes.” In fact, I have friends who brag about the foods their kids will eat that I know The Boy would adamantly refuse to try. But then I remember, parenting isn’t a competition. And I also remember what it felt like to be that kid who didn’t want to eat the pot pie with the weird goo in it (Mom, I’m sorry I keep calling it goo as though you’re a bad chef–I’m sure it was a lovely gravy to anyone who isn’t so picky!), and wishing I could just have food that didn’t weird me out, and being excited to eat when my mom made foods I did like. I guess I just feel like maybe there isn’t one right way to approach the complex relationship that kids have with food in our society. Because every kid is different, and some kids, like me, are never going to eat pot pie, and that’s OK.

How We Talk To The Boy About His ADHD

I’ve never been the kind of parent to tiptoe around a subject with my kids. Like, when The Boy asked me in the car one day (Mother’s Day, actually, he was just about to turn 6) how a baby gets into a mom’s tummy in the first place, I said, “This is probably going to sound weird, but it’s the truth: grown ups do something called sex, and what that is, is, a man sticks his penis inside a woman’s vagina, and then some stuff squirts out of the penis, and it mixes with an egg inside the woman. But the egg is tiny, not like a chicken egg, it’s just a little speck, and then it grows slowly over time into a baby. Sex is something grown-ups do, not kids, and it’s also a topic that can make parents feel uncomfortable, so it’s a good idea not to talk to your friends at school about it. Let their parents tell them, OK?” And The Boy was like, “Huh. OK.” The Hubs helpfully pointed out that the stuff that comes out of the penis is called semen and it’s little tiny things in the semen called sperm that do the mixing with the egg. And I was like, “Oh, good point, The Hubs.”

Did I feel mildly weird about it? Sure, I mean, I don’t talk about semen and vaginas every day, and certainly not to a kid, so it did feel a little outside my comfort zone. But it would have felt weirder to be like “We’ll tell you when you’re older” or “That’s private” or “There’s a magical stork that does it.” I just find that the best way to handle a situation with my kids is to tell them the truth, in as straight-forward a way as I can, instead of tiptoeing around it. It’s like ripping off the bandaid, there’s some minor discomfort for a second but I feel a lot better in the long run.

So, we’ve done the same with The Boy’s ADHD. The day he got diagnosed, we sat him down and I said, “So, remember when we talked to your doctor about how you have trouble focusing in class? Well, he suggested that we talk to one of the people who works in his office to see if they think you have something different about your brain that’s making it harder for you to concentrate—it’s called ADHD. And the person DOES think you have it, and thinks that maybe there’s a medicine you can take that’ll make it easier for you to focus. So, we’re going to try out the medicine starting tomorrow, and see if it helps.” And he was like, “What’s the thing called again? That they think I might have?” And I said, “It’s ADHD, which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s basically a fancy way of saying your brain works a little differently and that makes it hard to concentrate.” And he was like “Huh. OK.”

The next day, we checked in with him quite a bit about how he was feeling on the meds—we’re obviously a little worried about side effects, and we wanted to make sure it was working. At one point, The Boy and I were sitting at a table while he ate lunch and I said, “So, how does your brain feel today?” and he said, “I can focus better.” And I said, “That’s great!” And he said, “I like learning about how my brain works. Like Rudy did.” And I said, “Sure, Rudy learned about his dyslexia and that made it easier for him to learn, huh?” And he said, “Yeah, I like that.” YES! We always talk about Rudy and his dyslexia when we watch that movie, and how he had to learn about how his brain works differently, and how much easier it was for him to learn after he knew how his brain worked. It made me so happy to see him make that connection to his own brain, because Rudy really is one of his heroes.

Last week, The Boy asked me if we knew anyone else who has ADHD. And I told him about one of our adult friends who has it. I said, “In fact, she told me she takes the same medicine as you. Would you want to maybe talk to her about it sometime?” And he said, “Yeah!” And I said, “She told me when she started taking the medicine, she felt like everything was buzzing. Like, everything around her. Did you feel like that?” And he said, “No. That’s awkward.” (That’s one of his favorite words now.) And I said, “Well, I’m glad you didn’t feel that way. You know, maybe we could do a play date with her and her kids, and you could chat with her about ADHD.” And he was like, “Yeah, that sounds great!”

The other night, after The Boy’s meds had worn off for the day, I sat down with him for reading time, and man, it was brutal. He was resistant to even trying to read a book he’d picked out at the book store that weekend (it was a Star Wars Angry Birds book, so, definitely one I knew he’d like). So I said, “Sweetie, is it hard for you to focus now that the meds have worn off for the day?” And he said, “Yeah, it is.” And then IMMEDIATELY calmed down, and was ready to try to read. It was like the frustration just melted away. We got a couple pages in and it was clear he was really struggling to focus—his eyes were darting all over the page instead of looking at the words, and the book was already one that was pushing the boundaries of his reading ability. So then I said, “How about we try this other book that you’ve read already, since it’s hard for you to focus right now? Would that be better?” And he said, “Yeah, that would be better.” And he was able to pull it together to read the other book to me.

What I took away from that experience was this: when The Boy struggles with focus, it can make him feel VERY frustrated. But he’s not yet at a point where he realizes that his ADHD symptoms are why he’s frustrated. So, if we talk about it, name it, openly and without shame, then he isn’t so down on himself. He can say, “Oh, this is because my brain is working differently” and then the layer of frustration with himself that goes on top of the layer of inattention is peeled away. When he understands why he’s struggling, he doesn’t feel so shitty about struggling—he knows there’s a reason why it’s happening, and that it’ll be better the next day when he’s taken his meds again. Just like I feel better now that I know what’s going on with him, because I know it’s not some fault in my parenting that’s making him struggle, and I know how to help him struggle less.

I also learned that reading a brand new difficult-for-him book after his meds have worn off is probably a really dumb idea that I won’t be repeating! Duh!

We both love our kids

You guys, I’m super excited. Today is a big day for the momming community because it’s Moms for Moms Day! CT Working Moms and their awesome Campaign for Judgment Free Motherhood have teamed up with TheBump.com to organize moms around the net to show their support for moms to stop judging and being judged, and to come together to support one another. Which, you guys know that’s TOTALLY what this blog is about, so I’m super excited to be participating, with the post below. If you guys dig the message, jump in the mix today on Facebook or Twitter, with the hash tag #moms4moms.

I have a cousin in Wisconsin who I haven’t seen since we were kids, but we’re Facebook friends, so we keep up with each other’s lives. She’s got two kids, and she loves NASCAR and professional wrestling. Like, she posts on FB about how she loves or hates some NASCAR driver or how happy she is that some wrestler brought in the pain or whatever it is you say about wrestlers, is that what you say about wrestlers? I know nothing about NASCAR or wrestling. I watched WWF back when it was still called WWF back in law school when I was dating The Hubs, because The Hubs and his roommates watched it, but I never really got it. And NASCAR? I know even less about it. Is there a driver named Jeff Gordon? that sounds familiar? something something Junior? It’s just not my thing. But you know what? She’s my cousin, and we do have one thing in common: we both love our kids. (And the Seahawks.)

My college BFF is a Republican. She’s also a church-every-Sunday Catholic and her oldest son is an alter boy. We all know I am a heathen, and I am most definitely not a Republican. She also doesn’t drink and doesn’t eat dessert. Have you read my Girl Scout cookie cocktail recipe? But you know what? She’s my BFF, and we both love our kids. (And Star Trek. And very bad puns.)

Our neighbor who runs the daycare where we send The Girl (and where we send The Boy during school breaks) is a vegan Mormon. That means she doesn’t drink coffee (GASP) and she doesn’t eat bacon. I love bacon so much. Pig really is the most delicious animal, isn’t it? And we’ve already discussed my heathenism. But you know what? She is an awesome neighbor and an awesome child care provider, and we both love our kids. (And going on cruises.)

Everyone in this world is different. Every kid is different, and every mom is different. But the longer I live and the more moms I meet, the more I realize that our differences are interesting and worth acknowledging, but what’s really powerful is that no matter how different we are, we all love our kids. I feel like if we can all remember that every mom loves her children, maybe we can stop judging each other for our differences, and focus on what we have in common: our love for our children. Because when moms love more and judge less, we can make the world a better place, for all of us, and for all of our children.

I was going to finish with a photo of me and my local BFF because she loves to run, and I hate running. But you know what? I love her new baby and I don’t want to share my nasty cold with him. So instead, I’ll just share a link to her blog here so you guys can go over there and share some love with a new mom!

The Boy has ADHD

So, I pondered a lot about writing this post–what to write, how to write it, when to write it, and if I should even write it at all. But on Friday, when The Boy was formally diagnosed with ADHD, and I shared that on my personal Facebook page, and I had so many people comment and ask questions and say supportive things, I just knew. I knew I had to write this post, and write it right now.

Let me give a little background about me, because otherwise, what I write isn’t going to make any sense and you’re gonna think “Wow, she’s really not processing this very well, I think she’s in denial.” Oh man, do I do denial well! Seriously, that’s how I survived the NICU. But in this case, I know exactly what an ADHD diagnosis means for The Boy. You see, I’ve been a disability rights advocate for a long time. In law school, I worked for a disability rights agency that represented people with all kinds of disabilities, including people in institutions (like mental hospitals, and institutions for people with developmental disabilities). I started a student group that focused on disability law. I know exactly how our systems work, or don’t work, for people with disabilities, including kids. Especially kids.

So, when The Boy started to struggle in school, and the word “distractible” came up about 100 times during his teacher conference this fall, and when she said how much he continued to struggle with reading and writing despite her best efforts, I knew what probably came next. I knew his teacher would probably do a referral for him to our school’s Student Intervention Team (SIT) to discuss his struggles. I knew we’d need to take him to his pediatrician for an ADHD evaluation, and that we might be looking at a learning disability too, which would require testing by the school psychologist. I knew that then we’d reconvene, this time as an IEP team, to make a decision about whether The Boy qualified for special education or any other services or classroom interventions. I could see it all unfolding.

I was a little sad, because nobody wants to hear their child is struggling, but I knew the process, and I knew that The Boy’s school is outstanding at this stuff (I’ve seen enough bad teams to know an outstanding one when I see one), and that in the end, outcomes for kids identified as young as The Boy are pretty darn good. It’s when a kid doesn’t get identified until they’re much older that the train tends to come off the tracks, or when they’re at a school that sees kids with disabilities as problems instead of as little people. Our school kicks butt, and we’d caught it early. I knew he’d be fine.

So, sure enough, when the SIT referral did happen a couple months later, I called the pediatrician’s office to set up the ADHD evaluation, and figured out what testing I hoped the school would do for learning disabilities. We brought donuts and coffee to the SIT meeting, because the first rule of parenting that NICU families learn is “Be good to the people taking care of your child,” and we sat down as a team to talk about The Boy. I watched the team work as beautifully as I hope every school team works (though I know they don’t)–they brainstormed ideas for interventions, they asked questions, they listened to each other, and then they easily came to consensus on a plan to figure out what The Boy’s needs are. Without me even having to ask, they proposed doing all the testing I would have asked for on the learning disability front, while we pursued the ADHD testing with our pediatrician. I left the meeting feeling elated.

I know that’s not normal. I know most parents, including The Hubs, leave a meeting where their child is referred for special education evaluation feeling guilty, frustrated, scared, overwhelmed…but not elated. I’m not your average parent, though. My perspective is definitely unique, especially for a parent at the beginning of this process. To me, a learning disability and ADHD are just not a huge deal. Do you want your kid to have them? Of course not. But they’re not life-ending disabilities–The Boy is not going die from this. I’ve literally watched him stop breathing and his heart rate dropping…so, I can’t get worked up over his brain working differently than other kids’ brains. And if you approach a condition like ADHD or a learning disability properly, as our school’s team is, they’re not even life-limiting.

Back to the process…so, to diagnose ADHD, the pediatrician’s office gave us and his teachers surveys to fill out about The Boy’s behavior. And then we met to discuss the results, which were not shocking. He scored extremely highly inattentive, and moderately hyperactive, and it’s much worse in an academic setting than at home, since we don’t expect him to sit still and focus at home the way he needs to at school. It took about two weeks from our initial consult to the diagnosis, which happened on Friday.

We’re putting him on meds now and seeing how it goes. I hope they’ll work and he won’t have side effects, and so far (a very short so far!), so good. I know some people have strong feelings about medications. I don’t. I think if I can give The Boy a pill that makes it possible for him to succeed at school AND doesn’t make him sick or a zombie, then fuck yeah, I’m giving him the pill. And if the pill makes him sick or a zombie or just doesn’t work? Then fuck no, I’m not giving it to him. I also think people who judge other parents for doing it differently are assholes, which is why I wouldn’t ever say someone is a bad parent for making a different choice than me. Consider this a warning for those of you thinking about being an asshole in the comments.

And now we wait to see how the meds work and what the results are for the learning disability evaluation, which we’ll meet as a team to discuss in about a month. The Hubs has dyslexia, and it tends to run in families, so it’s entirely possible he has both going on. I’m looking forward to having answers, because not having answers means the best we can do is a shot in the dark at what’s best for him. After we have answers, that awesome team at school can come up with a plan that makes sense.

I know there are a lot of you out there who are struggling with a diagnosis like ADHD or a learning disability or ASD or all sorts of other disabilities. When you had hopes and dreams for what your child would be like, and they don’t turn out to be the people you imagined they’d be, it can be hard to come to terms with that. It’s a loss, a loss of the future you imagined. It’s OK to grieve that loss. And while you’re grieving, I hope it helps you to know that you’re not alone, and that you don’t have to feel shame about your child’s condition.

Because, I feel very strongly that we shouldn’t treat disabilities as something to be ashamed of. They don’t make people less-than. They just make them different. Just like being black doesn’t make you less-than, or being gay doesn’t make you less-than. It just makes you YOU. I know the rest of the world doesn’t act that way…and that’s partly why I am writing this blog. I don’t feel sad about The Boy’s diagnosis, and I don’t want anyone else to either. Especially The Boy. I don’t want him to think there’s something wrong with him, because there isn’t. He is perfect just as he is.

Buck Up, Little Camper

I feel like I have been hearing a lot lately from my mom friends about the mistakes they make as parents, and how bad they feel about those mistakes. I feel like they are trying to own their mistakes and learn from them, and that’s good. We SHOULD learn from our mistakes. That’s one of the things I am always reminding The Boy–that it’s OK to make mistakes, because mistakes teach us something. But a lot of the things I have heard lately haven’t left me saying “Way to learn from your mistake!” Instead, they left me wanted to give the blogger a hug and tell her “You’re a better mom than you think you are.” Because they felt filled with a self-judgment with which I am all too familiar.

Wow, do I totally know that feeling. When The Boy was born early, I blamed myself for my water spontaneously breaking in the middle of an otherwise normal, healthy pregnancy. I felt like I should have known something was going wrong, somehow, like, I should have been more in touch with my body, or something? I mean, who else’s fault could it be? Not my doctor, who was monitoring my pregnancy exactly as thoroughly as she should have been. Not my husband, who was not carrying The Boy in his body. Not The Boy, who was the most innocent of all. Who did that leave for me to blame? Only myself, even though the reality was that I didn’t cause my water to break anymore than my doctor, The Hubs, or The Boy did. It took some therapy and some crying and a lot of time to get to the point where I didn’t judge myself for that, that I could accept that despite my best intentions, my body just couldn’t do what it needed to do.

Honestly? I think a lot of parenting guilt is like that. Nobody I know goes into this parenting thing saying “I want to be the shittiest parent ever. I really hope I fuck this kid up, but good.” We are all trying our best, and some days our best is better than other days, and sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes, despite our best intentions, bad things happen.

Let me put it another way. Think of the thing you are saying about yourself as a mom, the thing that makes you feel like a bad parent. And I want you to imagine that instead of you saying it, it’s your best friend saying it about herself. What would your reaction be? Would it be “Yeah, she’s a horrible mom, and she should feel awful”? If not, then sweetheart, you’re Judgy McJudersoning yourself. And Judgy McJudgersoning yourself is just the same as Judgy McJudgersoning someone else. You’re not helping.

Look, I get it, this is hard. It’s easy for me to say “Buck up, little camper” because what’s happening to you is not happening to me. Just remember while you beat yourself up that the rest of us out here believe in you, and we know you’re an awesome mom, no matter how much you aren’t feeling like you are right now. We’re here to lift you up when you feel like a failure, and help you get back on your feet again.

And I am sending you a giant hug!