On Writing Something That Pisses People Off

Photo credit: Thomas Martinsen/Unsplash
Photo credit: Thomas Martinsen/Unsplash

I consider myself to be a fairly polite person. My mother taught me that. She taught me to respect people, no matter who they were, where they came from, what they looked like, what they believed…she instilled in me an ability to stand up for what I believe in but to also not cause arguments (especially when they aren’t necessary), and not to be rude.

However, I don’t think she ever counted on her daughter having exceptionally strong beliefs when it comes to controversial topics. When she taught me to be polite, I was still a child. I was to respect people (especially and unquestioningly, my elders), to do as I was told, to be seen and not heard (unless called upon).

These days, I can be pretty vocal about certain topics. Topics that get under my skin. Topics that speak to my own experience in life, as a woman, as a mother, as a survivor, as a god damn human. Like when I hear about women still being unable to obtain abortions in certain areas (and the way clinics are shutting down left and right here, harming more women than ever before), or when I hear about someone beating their spouse to a bloody pulp (since 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical abuse by a partner in their lifetime), or the way in which women continue to earn less than men for the same amount of work.

I recently published an article about another controversial topic that is near and dear to my heart. It’s about child loss and what it’s like to grieve as a parent who does not subscribe to a particular set of beliefs. It is about being an agnostic and/or atheist in a believers world. Salon picked it up and the response has been unexpectedly overwhelming.

I’d published a piece on losing Maggie before, where I received nothing but kind words from friends and strangers alike. This time, though, it’s been a mixed bag. Some people seem to lose sight of the fact that the piece is meant to exist to help other grieving parents with their loss and their feelings of solitude and instead only focus on feeling attacked about their religion, when I clearly don’t attack religion at all.

No where in my piece do I call people stupid or foolish or ignorant for what they believe. I don’t personally go out of my way to attack anyone or any belief. I simply suggest that while it’s wonderful for folks to be there for their friends and family who grieve, if they know this person is not religious, maybe choose a few different words of comfort when speaking with them.

Yet I am surprised at how many people have gone out of their way and taken time out of what I’m assuming is not a very busy day to Tweet me or write me lengthy e-mails and Facebook messages about how they believe I am wrong, and go on to basically do the same thing the article warns about–thus further proving my point about how people can’t accept that others don’t believe in the way they do. I won’t even get started on the highly offensive trolls in the comments section because frankly, I did not go through the 500+ comments because I am busy being a writer and a mother, and I just simply don’t give a shit.

Photo credit: Wifflegif
Photo credit: Wifflegif

Fortunately, most of the letters and comments have been fairly respectful (thank you to the many Jehova’s Witnesses and other Christians who have written simply to offer words of kindness. I’ve received some especially interesting and wonderful letters even from pastors and ministers who agree with my lack of belief in a “heaven”).

More importantly though is the fact that most of the letters and comments received have been from folks who wholeheartedly relate, many of which are grieving parents themselves. Thank you to the woman who opened up about her multiple miscarriages and the man who shared his solitude with me after the loss of his child, finding his wife going in the opposite direction and becoming more involved in the church. Thank you for your support and for letting me know that my words reached you and are helping you in some way.

I’m so proud that one piece of writing has gone such a long way. Because of my article, we’ve had dozens of new requests to join our baby loss community for agnostic/atheist mothers. It means that sometimes, writing really does affect change. It means I’m not just screaming out into the nothing any more.

Be on the look out for more outspoken, controversial articles from me in the future. Because someone’s got to say what’s on our minds.

Willy Walks: On Raising A Multiracial Child

A few days ago, I took Willy on one of our walks and caught up with the latest episode of the Longest Shortest Time. The episode, titled “Mama Don’t Understand”, is about the beauty and challenge of raising multiracial or “mixed” children. In the episode, one mom was wondering how to address the way in which her young daughter was differentiating that her mother was brown while she was white. It struck a chord as I thought about what lies ahead for my family.

Our little rabbit at 2.5 months old.
Our little rabbit at 2.5 months old with his daddy.

Our son William is the product of a mixed background. I am Latina, of Nicaraguan and Mexican heritage, while my husband John is White/Caucasian (of Irish, German, and English ancestry). When John and I met, I remember asking him more about his background and heritage. I was an anthropology major and am forever fascinated by people’s cultures. Unfortunately, John wasn’t too forthcoming on his background, and while he does have specific traditions he like to uphold on St. Patrick’s Day (and is somewhat offended by the whole “Plastic Paddy” appropriation of the holiday), he’s never had much more to add to the conversation.

My husband as a little one.
My husband as a little one.

On the flip side, I am fluent in Spanish and absolutely love Nicaraguan and Mexican culture, though I am much more familiar with the Nica side of my family (my paternal grandfather was Mexican and died when my father was an infant so dad was raised in Corinto, Nicaragua–the same small, port town my mother grew up in). Through the years, I have shown my husband Nicaraguan slang (“chavalo“, “jodido“), Nicaraguan foods (carne asada is his favorite), Nicaraguan customs (he really wants to see what La Griteria is all about), and told him stories of my trips to Nicaragua.

I didn’t really think much of my heritage growing up. Living in Miami, everyone around me was already Hispanic, so I didn’t exactly feel like an outsider or as thought I were special or different. But the older I get, the more I realize how important it is for me to share my culture in order to preserve it, especially with my family. Not to mention I don’t plan on living in Miami forever, and then I’ll be at a loss when I can’t find good fritanga to eat or someone else who knows about the beaches of San Juan del Sur or what it is I mean when I say, “¡ideay!

Myself as a baby, lying on my favorite blankie ever.
Myself as a baby, lying on my favorite blankie ever.

Mostly, though, I want my son to know where his family came from and to speak all the languages his mother knows and then some. I leave it up to my husband to show him about his own heritage, but it’s up to me to show my son (who is incredibly fair-skinned, with brownish blonde hair and eyes that switch from blue to green to gray) that half of his ancestors come from Central America. That his maternal grandparent’s first language is Spanish, and that his bisabuelita, while losing her eyesight, is waiting for him with open arms in her modest home in Corinto. That his mother grew up eating gallo pinto, and that gallo pinto is damn delicious and can keep you going all day long. That his bisabuelo is buried in Mexico City and that someday we will make the journey to visit him. That his mother wishes she knew more about her Mexican heritage other than her unwavering love of Mexican cuisine and her fascination with El Dia de Los Muertos (which is not appropriation because that really would be part of my heritage had I been fortunate enough to know more of my Mexican relatives). That he is eternally lucky to not be one of the children washing windshields on the streets of Managua. That he comes from a land of both political unrest and intense natural beauty unlike anything in the States.

My hope is that in presenting his heritage to him positively, he won’t see me or my side of the family as less than the white side. Because society will at some point teach him the higher value of white skin and a gringo last name. Because society might point out to him that he’s white, but maybe…what’s going on there? Why are your eyes so almond-shaped? Why does your mother look asian? Because society will inevitably show him some narrow minded bastard, like the old racist man at the McDonalds in Fort Pierce who told my husband he should be ashamed of having a child with me.

Our beautiful, mixed-race son just a few weeks ago.
Our beautiful, mixed-race son just a few weeks ago.

But hopefully, he’ll teach society about how great it is to come from a multi-ethnic, multi-racial background. He’ll be proud of his heritage on all sides, and speak Spanish better than I do, and pick up on some German, and tell you about Ireland’s history and Mexico’s battles. He’ll take his experiences and build on them and pass them down to his own kids. Isn’t that the point, anyway?

Willy Walks: Positivity Breeds Positivity

During yesterday’s walk, I came across a piece of white chalk lying lonely on the sidewalk. From the faded drawings that remained nearby, I figured it m had been forgotten by some child in the neighborhood. I was just about to continue on my way when I decided instead to crouch down and start writing. It’s been years since I’ve used sidewalk chalk and part of me felt a bit self conscious that some 8-year-old kid would be running out of their houseto reclaim what was theirs once they noticed me. I decided to write the very first thing that came to mind:

  

It was a simple message I wanted to share with whoever might walk by there next. I love finding positive messages in unexpected places, so I figured it might just make someone else’s day. 

When I walked by again today, my message was still prominently displayed on the ground, the white chalk just off to the side in the grass. I decided to pick it up again and write a new message:

  
By now, I was beginning to feel like Charlotte the spider (you know… “Some Pig”), but that didnt stop me. There’s something to be said about being positive and spreading positivity. I’ve often wrestled with the demons of negative thought and am tired of that dance. I see so many others out there who go out of their way to smile or lend a hand or give praise or make a joke. Anything to bring something positive to the world around them. 

Sidewalk chalk messages may not be much, but then again, they might make someone’s day.

Dreaming Wild with Michelle Herrera Mulligan

It never ceases to amaze me how often we can become our own worst enemies. I have so many friends who are not only wonderful people, but also incredibly talented. Artists, writers, musicians, would-be entrepreneurs…When I see them, I see so much potential. And yet many of them are either stuck without a job, or with low-paying positions because of pure circumstance. They weren’t born into a position that privileged them enough to pursue internships during college and they didn’t know someone at the right company in a high-level position to assist them in obtaining a job that would help further their career. They are people who are constantly struggling to make ends meet, helping their own parents make car payments and mortgages, due to living at a time when it’s getting harder and harder to compete for those few available jobs at the top (for an interesting analysis on the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots as it pertains to job creation, read this piece by Gary Reber). This has been my own situation several times over, especially after the recession hit my family hard, forcing my father, who had just started his construction business, to sit at home without work for a year.

Things have improved for us, but for many, it hasn’t. And for many, the idea of making dreams come true is becoming less and less a reality and more and more akin to children’s fairy-tales. It’s downright depressing. To quote famous beat poet and thinker Allen Ginsberg, it often feels like I am seeing “the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,”–the madness being brought on by poverty and desperation.

Dream Wild. Or like Doug Funny, Think Big.
Dream Wild. Or like Doug Funny, Think Big.
Still, I believe that there are ways out of the hole for many of us if only we are willing to dream a little bigger. And while I do of course recognize the luxury of dreaming (how difficult it is to dream when you’re working 80 hour weeks and have children to feed and long commutes and no health care and no one to lean on or lean in to), I at the very least encourage a little bit of dreaming for those of us who do have this luxury. Because if we want to make a positive change in our world, in our communities, the best way to do this is by grabbing success by the horns and using it to do our bidding. One can’t help employ the dozens or hundreds in their community if they themselves have nothing to give. But if one or two climb out, maybe they will remember where they came from and work to give back to their communities, and reach down and pull a few folks up with them. That’s how this works.

I’m truly inspired tonight after listening to this TED Talk by writer and editor-in-chief for Cosmo for Latinas Michelle Herrera Mulligan, who talks about dreaming wild and what this can do for your career and essentially, your life. If you have a moment, listen to these words and take them to heart. More often than not, we have little to nothing to lose when we take changes.

Yoga For The Second Half Of The Year

Mondays can be stressful for many. It’s the start of the work week for some (though for us moms, every day is a work day), and often the day we have to return to being “responsible adults.” Today is also the first of June, a new month and the halfway point of the year. Back in January, I started focusing my life toward being a more positive, healthy person. Since then, I’ve lost 20 pounds, written several chapters of several novels, published several articles, and worked hard at being a caring and compassionate mother to my son. I am not quite where I want to be in life, but I am constantly working on improving this.

One thing I’d like to work on is getting back to my regular yoga practice. At the start of the year, I started my 30 Days of Yoga challenge thanks to online yoga instructor, Adriene Mischler. Adriene’s yoga classes exude the kind of positivity that I am always seeking out for my own life, and I can only imagine much if not most of that is thanks to her commitment to yoga.

Photo Credit: daveynln / Flickr
Photo Credit: daveynln / Flickr

My own journey with yoga began back in the summer of 2004. At the time, I was in college and found out about a class called Yoga and Meditation that I could take for credit. I’d heard a bit about yoga, but wasn’t too familiar, so I figured i’d try it out. Little did I know that this class would change my life.

There were maybe 20 of us in the class, each with our rubber yoga mats, waiting to discover this ancient practice. Our teacher was an older woman with shiny blonde hair and a kind smile. Twice a week, she led us in our practice for an hour and fifteen minutes. We always began with several sun salutations, then shifted into warrior poses, triangle poses, and balance poses before retreating to do floor work. Throughout the class, soft music played in the background as she quietly walked among us, shifting our bodies into better postures and positions, her voice and hands softly guiding us. At the end, we would lay in shavasana (corpse pose) for at least 5 minutes, allowing us to absorb the practice fully.

Afterward, we would spend about 20 minutes in meditation, sometimes guided but often not. At times, we would chant hypnotic words we didn’t entirely know, yet somehow they felt completely natural after a while. Over a decade later, I am still seeking out the kind of harmony I often achieved during these in-depth classes.

Another portion of our classes was to read books that might inspire us to live more peaceful lives. One of them was Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. Another was Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. We would reach chapters and have group discussions, often times while taking walks outside. I actively listened and participated in these talks; taking in the wisdom of people from all walks of life. I suppose this is the closest thing to a spiritual retreat as I’ve ever experienced.

Photo Credit: Purple Sherbet Photography / Flickr
Photo Credit: Purple Sherbet Photography / Flickr

Since then, I have practiced yoga at home, from my memory of my first class as well as with videos. I’ve also dropped in on classes on occasion, when finances were steady and the timing was right. Yoga helped me during my pregnancy with Maggie; during my healing journey after she passed away; and throughout my difficult, high-stress pregnancy with William (I highly recommend starting or continuing a safe, prenatal yoga practice while pregnant).Yoga taught me how to breathe and how to clear my mind and how to stay calm. Despite all the other preparation work I did prior to giving birth to William, I know it was yoga that helped me through those 12 hours of labor.

If you’ve never practiced before or are unconvinced about why yoga is so wonderful, there are countless articles in magazines, journals, books, and online stating the powerful, often transformative benefits of yoga. Speak with anyone who has ever maintained a regular practice, and they’re more than likely to tell you how much it benefits their lives. From stress and anxiety reduction to improved flexibility and circulation to pain management, yoga’s benefits are numerous.

As a mother, it’s often difficult to find quiet, alone time for myself. Unless I wake up before dawn or stay up past midnight, I don’t always get to have time for myself. Between feeding, teaching, and playing with and cleaning up (after) my son, and feeding myself, and grocery shopping, and doing laundry, and organizing the house, and writing articles, and writing blog posts, there is little time for other things. But this morning, I decided to at the very least do some Desk Yoga. I’ve also been practicing yoga with my son (and by that I mean I attempt to have a normal practice while he runs around with noisy toys and tries to climb on me or crawl between my legs or tugs at my hair). It’s not the ideal situation, but I realized that unless I make the time (even if it isn’t as peaceful as I’d like), i’ll never do yoga. Plus, I’m hoping this begins to set a positive example so that he might want to practice when he’s a bit older (he’s already started copying my downward dog!)

My intention for the next six months is to simply keep at it. Sneak in some yoga while in bed or at my computer or while my son plays with his cars or anywhere, really. Have you started a regular practice yet? It’s never too late to start. Set some intentions from now through December and check back in with yourself then. You might find yourself getting closer to the life you want to live if you just start today.

A Kid’s-Eye View of North Palm Beach County

  Traveling with kids is much different from traveling alone, as I found out recently on a trip that included West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, and Juno Beach with my one year old, William. Whereas I once would’ve immediately sought out dive bars, indie book shops and music venues, I found myself questioning what would instead bring a smile to my kiddo’s face. Turns out, there’s quite a bit to do for the busy toddler that finds themselves in the northern area of Palm Beach County. If you’re adventuring in the area with an ankle biter, here are a few fun (and mostly frugal) ideas to get you started:

  
Playmobil Fun Park

Drive down Military Trail and you’ll find yourself going past a small castle housing more Playmobil toys than you’ve ever seen in your life. The Playmobil Fun Park is an ingenious creation by the Playmobil company to get you and your toddler familiar with their toys. Pay just $1 per person and step inside to what is essentially a giant toy box. 

   

 Tables are set up more or less by toy “genre” (farm animals here, princesses there, medieval characters in the back) and are topped with everything from plastic cars, trucks, and tractors to unicorns, play houses, and dragons. Giant versions of Playmobil people are found throughout the “park,” as well as an over-sized throne at the end where kids can take pictures at (I must admit I resisted the urge to take a Game of Thrones-inspired selfie at this point). The place was mostly empty and my son had free rein for the good part of an hour to pick and choose which toys he liked most. There’s also a stage set up for special events like the occasional story time or concert. 

   

  

 After you finish playing (or more accurately, after you can pry your child away from all the toys), you’re let out into the Playmobil Toy Store where you can purchase any (or many) of the toys your child just played with. We took home a little red tractor with a gender-ambiguous person to play with. William was pleased.

   
 My only complaint had to do with the lack of diversity in regards to the Playmobil characters (an issue i’ll be addressing in a future post).

Also worth noting that this is the ONLY Playmobil Fun Park in the United States!
  
Cool Beans Indoor Playground

Inside Downtown at the Gardens, you’ll find the only indoor playground in the area – Cool Beans. Prior to my visit, I’ve only been to one other indoor playground (Jump A Roos in Cutler Bay) and I have to say I am officially a fan of the concept. Living in Miami, it is hot practically every single day of the year, and quite often, it is unbearably hot–much too humid and sunny for anyone to enjoy, not to mention buggy. And when it isn’t hot, it’s (also, unpredictably) rainy. In fact, the day we came to Cool Beans was rather warm and overcast, drizzling on and off.

   
 Cool Beans advertises that they charge $14.95 for all day play. This is a bit steep in my eyes, but worth it if you’ll be shopping and dining all day and need a place to release your child every couple hours. The first time we went, the place was closing in a half hour and I was told I would still have to pay the $15 admission rather than giving me a pro-rated rate. So I opted to return the following morning for “Toddler Tuesday” (when they close out the place to kids over the age of 3 for a few hours so the littles can use all the “big kid” areas in peace). I was happily surprised to find I would only be charged $10 for the day instead. We signed our waiver, took off our shoes, and stepped inside.

Upon entering, to your immediate left you’ll find a section that is mostly quartered off for younger children (my guess is under 2 years). There’s a small ball pit, smaller toys and books for babies to play with and explore, as well as a couple of baby bouncers. Off in one area, you’ll find a few mega-slides (one with a giant foam block pit to fall in to), and in the center is a giant trampoline, which was a hit with the older kids. There’s also an area filled with puzzles of all kinds, plus a pretend kitchen with pretend food and other goodies. William immediately found a giant toy car to play with and spent his time mostly walking around with it, taking in the scene.

   
 The playground got busy quickly, and even busier still after they opened up the rest of the place for the older kids. We didn’t even finish exploring the entire place, but from what I saw there was a big, inflatable see-saw and an area with lots of costumes for dress-up games.

Cool Beans also offers a variety of classes (check the website for details) available for $6 a session, ages 2 and up.
  

Loggerhead Marine Life Center

Loggerhead Marine Center is an animal rescue and rehabilitation center, with a focus on loggerhead turtles. Their website didn’t exactly explain whethe Admission is by donation and the staff there are very friendly and knowledgeable. Walk in and you can start by reading about the history of the center and checking out their small but pretty aquarium.

Afterward, walk outside to see the “patients”. Meet Nacho Libre, Dinghy, Audubon, Checkers, Bowden, and the rest of the gang as they swim their way back to health in their individual tanks. You can watch them overhead and wait for them to take a peek out of the water, or crouch down and see them through the windows in their tanks for a close encounter.

   
      William was definitely intrigued by these shelled creatures, though he was also equally happy to play near the turtle statues and in the soft-floored kid’s play area.

   
 The center also has large windows that allow guests of the center to watch the vets care for the turtles in their turtle hospital. Unfortunately nothing was going on the afternoon we went, but it’s something worth noting. Loggerhead Marine Life Center also offers a variety of experiences, including Hammock Hikes, Fish Feedings, and Hatchling Tales (a story and activity time for kids 0-4 occurring on Wednesday mornings), among other activities. Check the website for details.
  
Juno Beach Pier
Juno Beach Pier is just a 3 minute drive from the marine center (and is actually managed by the center as well), making it a great second stop. While primarily for fishing, the pier is open to anyone with $1 to spare ($4 if you plan to fish). Stroll or walk your child along the wooden path and take in the majestic Atlantic. While Miami tends to have flatter waters, it was nice to see people fishing and kite surfing here among the waves. 

   

 Take special care when you bring your little one as this is mainly a place used by anglers and you might find bait and fish and equipment along the way. Oh, and if you get hungry, the snack shop at the entrance has everything from chips and cookies to water and ice cream to tide you over.
  
Honorable Mention: Barnes & Noble in Palm Beach Gardens

I’ve been to many a Barnes & Noble in Miami, but none as nice as the one off PGA Boulevard near my husband’s job. Their children’s section is large and well-stocked and includes a stage for reading time, tables with plush animals and other toys for kiddos to play with, and the piece de resistance for my son: a full Thomas the Tank Engine railroad, complete with various stops and plenty of train cars and engines to choose from. These are, of course, cleverly arranged right in front of a wall filled with numerous Thomas-related and other toys. You could easily come and spend an hour or longer (depending on your kid) here while you read, or read to them. 

  We allowed William to “select” a few books and walked out with about 5 new books and a double-decker bus from the Thomas line called Bertie.
There is also a Starbucks Cafe housed inside the Barnes, making it a great stop for a sandwich, a coffee, or some warm milk or a juice box for your kiddo.
I’ve got my eye on a few other places to visit, but for a short, fun, and frugal adventure with your toddler, these places can’t be beat. Have you visited the Palm Beaches with your child recently? What would you add to this list?

When Sexual Harassment Comes in the Form of a Squeeze-It Bottle

I was in the 5th grade, sitting down and unpacking my purple, plastic lunch box, when I first experienced sexual harassment. At my school, cafeteria seating was assigned, and I had been instructed to sit between a group of boys I came to call “The Pervs.” There was Jorge–with his red-lipped joker smile, Fernando–the lanky kid with the round-framed glasses, and Carlos–the tamest of the three. Sometimes the other kids nearby would join in, but it was mostly them making the comments, the so-called “jokes” that I inevitably found unbearable.

My memory is a bit hazy, but there is always one incident that I remember clearly. And I can recall this vividly because it happened on multiple occasions. My mother packed a lunch for me every day, usually consisting of a bag of chips, a Handi-Snak, a Little Debbie snack cake, and some sort of juice box (how I survived childhood on this diet is a whole other subject of discussion).

Sometimes, I would get a Capri-Sun bag for my juice box. Other times, I’d get a Juicy Juice. But back in 1995, one of the more popular fruit-flavored sugar-water options marketed toward children was a brand of juice bottles called Squeeze-Its. The whole point was that you ripped off the top and could squeeze the juice into your mouth. Adults reading this might already have an idea of where this is going.

squeezeit

In the 5th grade, I was a young girl, just 11 years old. I was incredibly naive for my age in regards to sex. We had taken Human Growth and Development classes in school already the previous year and again that year, but the classes mainly covered what genitals looked like (as diagrams), and how they functioned. Sexuality wasn’t really covered. I knew that a man and woman had sex and the man’s sperm somehow made it to her eggs, etcetera. But as an 11 year old, I had absolutely no idea what on earth oral sex was.

The Pervs, however, apparently did.

I wish I could say verbatim what kinds of comments they made whenever I brought those Squeeze-It bottles to lunch, but nearly 20 years later, I can’t say that I fully remember. But I remember the laughter that erupted every time I brought my juice to my lips. I can still see them pointing and yukking it up at my expense. I think I remember asking them why it was so funny, and having them respond with more laughs. At the time, I had a vague idea that it had something to do with sex and maybe a penis because the bottle was, indeed, somewhat phallic looking. But at that age, I had absolutely no idea what on earth sexual harassment was.

When I first started Kindergarten, my mother warned me never to follow any strangers, especially not men. Especially not the janitors or security guards, she would warn. She told me if anyone ever tried to get me to leave with them, I should run and scream and look for my (female) teacher or some other trusted adult, and that I should tell her if such a thing should happen. It never did, thankfully, but what my mother never warned me about, what she perhaps didn’t realize, was that those harassing me in any way would actually be my own age. My peers. My pre-pubescent classmates. Kids who had older siblings or cousins who had taught them jokes about sex and sexuality. Kids whose parents were perhaps more crass than my own. Kids who maybe already had internet access or whose parents never learned to block the “adult” channels. Kids who laughed when a little girl tried to drink her juice out of a bottle instead of just allowing her some peace at lunch time.

I was too shy to tell my mother anything. Instead, I hoped and prayed that my mother would pack a Capri-Sun with my Lunchables Pizza instead of a cherry Squeeze-It. I began to dread lunch time with the Pervs, especially Jorge, who was the cruelest and most unrelenting of the three. He was also the kid who decided to whip out of penis and pee on the floor of the Planetarium during our field trip to the Science Museum–an incident that resulted in the entire 5th grade class losing the privilege of having Field Day at a real park instead of the school P.E. field.

On a particularly trying day, I was in tears by the end of lunch, and sought out my teacher, Mr. Hernandez. He took me into a back room and asked me what was wrong. I told him that the boys that all sat with me had been teasing me about my lunch, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to explain the harassment to him.

“You know, next year you’ll be in the 6th grade. Crying like this every time someone bothers you isn’t going to make it any better, so you should probably try to get over it and stop,” he told me bluntly. Did I mention I was 11 and being sexually harassed?

Maybe if he’d been a little more empathetic, he would have gotten to the root of the problem. Instead, he brushed it off as a little girl being overly dramatic and made me feel as though I were somehow at fault for what was happening to me. While I was pissed back then, but slightly appreciative of the advice (which, however cold, was sound since middle school was much more brutal), I would love to talk to this man now and let him know how easily he failed me, and possibly other children who were having similar issues.

Part of me wants to brush it all off. “It was just boys being boys,” right? Except it really wasn’t okay. The fact that I had anxiety-induced stomach aches from sitting with these boys when the teacher could have just as easily moved my seat to a different table, or separated the boys in that group to other tables, is absurd.

A recent study done on middle-school children found that 25% of boys and 27% of of girls had experienced some form of sexual harassment at school, either in hallways or the classroom or the locker room. And this is only a small sample, not to mention many kids will never speak up at all or even know what is happening to them. The study also found that the overwhelming majority of these kids were quick to normalize their harassment as “jokes.”

“We are not talking to kids about what sexual harassment is. We are not talking to kids about boundaries,” [principal investigator of the study, Dorothy] Espelage says. “So when these things happen, they don’t know what to call it. They may know they feel uncomfortable and they can tell us it was upsetting to them, but the adults around them aren’t necessarily talking to them about their rights.”

Dorothy Espelage gets it, so why didn’t Mr. Hernandez? Why did I have blame for my crying placed on me rather than reprimanding the boys who caused my tears in the first place?

I’ll file that one under Bullshit From My Childhood for now.

May I Be Facebook-Free?

I remember when it all started…back when I was in college and a social network called Facebook first appeared. You needed to have a college e-mail address to register, and I recall disliking this because many of my friends were not in college at the time. Still, I joined and left my page mostly unused while MySpace still reigned high.

  

But then MySpace began to give its users too many options. Suddenly, a simple online space to leave quirky messages to friends and share photos became a mess of sparkly backgrounds and drama surrounding who your “Top 8” friends were. MySpace began to lose its appeal. That’s when many friends began escaping to Facebook.

“Anyone can join now as long as you’re 18 and older,” they said. I liked the fact that it was open to my non-collegiate friends and so I ventured over and began to update my profile and add photos and comment to friends walls and click “Like”…a lot. 

  

And suddenly, it was like that house party you’d decided to have one weekend while your folks were out of town. Small and contained at first but then someone brought a friend, and then they said, “Hey, my friend Max wants to come but they’ll bring some beer so is it cool?” And you say, “Suuuure!” But Max brings Jamie who brings Alex who told their entire dorm who told their cousin who, well, you know. And then suddenly you can’t remember if your folks were coming back Monday or Tuesday except they show up at midnight instead with more of your family members but they want to be cool so they just join the party and now you can’t kiss your girlfriend or drink those Jaegerbombs cause Nope.

Yeah, Facebook.

But then you somehow found that you still couldn’t leave. Because someone was parked behind you and then when they finally moved, you had two flat tires and someone accidentally stepped on your glasses. So you sit there and have a nice conversation with an old friend and it’s all good until suddenly, a fight erupts about abortion rights and you hear your grandmother arguing with your old professor and your friend’s band’s drummer and you start in on the argument but then you’re thinking, “What the fuck is going on here?!”

Yeah…

While Facebook can be great for some things, and some people, sometimes it just gets to be…too much. And when I find myself obsessively checking it every chance I get:

  • While I wait in line at the grocery store
  • While I wait for my food to finish heating up in the microwave
  • In between bites as I feed my kid
  • While I partly listen to my husband to finish venting about his commute frustrations
  • Under the covers before bed…even if it’s 4 a.m.

…I decide that it’s time to take a break.

  

Because there are so many other things I could be doing or thinking about and I put them off claiming “There’s no time!” But really I’m wasting the precious time I do have scrolling thru posts of some mom ranting about how she’s tired of her kid climbing the walls and another post about ethics in journalism vs. #GamerGate and another about the evils of GMO foods and holy crap the explosions of anti-vaxx vs. pro-vaxx and most recently the rise in subtle racism regarding #BlackLivesMatter and I just don’t have the time or stomach for it all. Not to argue with people who can clearly only see things in one direction (I’m too old luckily to suffer through actualy One Direction posts, fortunately).

So for at least the entire month of May, I’m taking a sabbatical from all the Facebooking in order to reassess my priorities. I’ve taken shorter breaks and it always feels like coming up for air after a long swim so I don’t doubt this will have the same effect on a grander scale.

How do I propose to spend my time instead?

  • Doing more yoga
  • Sleeping more
  • Reading!!
  • Playing more with my son and teaching him more things (we just started baby ASL!)
  • Walking/jogging more
  • Working on my novel(s)
  • Blogging
  • Spending more quality time with my husband

And sure, I’ll still be scrolling through Twitter and Instagram because I find those places to be more relaxing. And I’ll miss some of my Facebook groups and friend (I’ve met so many great fellow loss moms and feminist friends on there that it’s sometimes difficult to not have that sense of community that I often lack IRL). But I know a break is good and necessary every so often. Feel free to join me in May Free From Facebook (or June or October or whenever you read this).

  

P.S. This is the first time I write an entire blogpost on my phone so let’s hear it for productivity!

I’m Looking For My Daughter; Have You Seen Her?

There’s something so chilling about the screams of a mother who can’t find her daughter. Even before I ever started having kids, I could always recognize the panicked, blood-curdling sound of someone shouting a child’s name whom they couldn’t find. I remember being at a Victoria’s Secret once and hearing it and feeling my heart nearly stop as a woman searched frantically for her little one among the aisles of push-up bras and lace underwear. Soon enough, she found her precious offspring and left the store, forgetting to buy whatever it was that had brought her in there.

Today, our little family walked in the March for Babies in honor of our beloved daughter Margaret Hope, whom we lost in 2012 to prematurity. John and I walked in 2013 for the first time, just months after her passing, and it was an incredibly healing experience. I recall looking at all the families and all the children who were now much older–those who made it. Our hearts were heavy that day, but our hopes were high and we vowed someday to return with a rainbow baby of our own.

IMG_5903Last year, our wish for another child came true, but because William spent some weeks in the NICU, we were unable to attend the march. We decided we would return this year with him in tow. We would tell him about his sister; we would let him know why we march. And so, we arrived this morning at Tropical Park just as the march was starting, and set off to walk 3 miles in contemplation of Maggie.

I could feel the difference in my approach from the start. During the first march, I was still in such grief that I had trouble going on at times. This time, I was happy to get moving, pushing little Willy B along in his stroller, taking in the sun’s rays. We missed our daughter, but we were still a family, strong and together.

We picked up some bananas from the welcoming committee and took some candids with Sebastian the Ibis, my old alma mater’s mascot. He was kind enough to give Willy a high-five prior to our group shot.

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My husband was a bit more solemn than I was, watching all the families, the kids with t-shirts on that said things like, “I’m What A 25-Week Old Miracle Looks Like,” and the parents with signs that read, “We March For Our Son.” I tried to keep our spirits up, to hold our family together. We made it to the Publix tent and decided to take a picture with the Publix mascot, Plato, and picked up a cold water bottle for the trek under the hot sun. It was going well, until it wasn’t.

“Have you seen a little girl? Seven years old?” an older woman with blonde hair asked us. We shook our heads. And then, I heard it. I heard the scream.

“My daughter! Megan! Have you seen her?” another blonde woman, in a green t-shirt, shouted at everyone and no one not far from us. I knew the scream. My heart stopped.

Suddenly, we were in the thick of a search for a young girl who’d somehow gotten lost at a march full of families who had either lost a child or almost had.

The panic set in slowly, rising from my heels up to my head, drowning me in a familiar anxiety I’d fooled myself into thinking had finally left. Nothing mattered at that moment but finding that little girl and stopping the cries of this woman who had now dropped to her knees, sobbing, while a friend reached out to her, “We will find her.”

John left our side for the first time and began searching near the lake. I clutched the stroller and scanned the park, checking between cars and bushes. More friends of the lost little girl asked us if we’d seen her, but we shook our heads and continued to search.

“Let’s keep going and keep looking,” I suggested. We continued on with the walk, still searching for this girl we’d never even met. We checked the parking lot. We checked the playground. We checked the bathrooms. And then, after we’d gone a distance, John stopped.

“Do you think we should go back?”

We were both completely in it. We couldn’t shake the idea of a parent losing their child. We both had the same thoughts. What if some sicko pervert had snatched her up in their car? What if she’d fallen in the lake? What if…? We needed to know she was okay. We raced back to where we’d first seen the woman, and saw the police officer they’d spoken to earlier.

“Excuse me, officer. Do you know if that woman ever found her daughter?”

“Yeah, they just did. Everything’s okay.”

I nodded and said thank you, and turned to walk back to my family. And then, I cried. I couldn’t stop. Out it all came. The little girl was okay. The mother was okay. They were going to be fine. Everything’s okay. Except it wasn’t.

What I wanted to say was, “Excuse me officer. I’m looking for my daughter. Have you seen her?”

And he would asked me about her, and I wouldn’t be able to tell him, because she was nothing more than ashes in a box on a shelf in my bedroom closet. No one had seen her because she hasn’t really been here in years. No one would know how to respond to that. How do you respond to that?

I thought about my daughter. I thought about the moment I knew I was going to lose her, hours before she was born, when the doctor gave me the look that destroyed my life for good. I thought about the moments before we found out she had passed, those moments after we’d woken up and awaited the return of the nurse who was going to take us back to the NICU. I thought about the only moment I saw her face while she stilled lived. I thought about the moment the nurse came back and told us it was too late. Too late.

I thought about that woman, dropping to her knees as she began to lose hope of finding her daughter. I thought about the moment I dropped to my knees when I lost my Hope.

It wasn’t easy to come out of that moment. They don’t come often, those moments, but when they do, they are just so intense and so real and so surreal at once.

John suggested we take a break from the walk and sit in the shade of a tree and spend time with William. Dear William. The rainbow at the end of the storm.

William, of course, didn’t understand any of it. He was a little ray of sunshine when we took him out of the stroller. He smiled, beamed, happy to walk, to run circles around us, his still-grieving, still-panicked parents. He brought us back into the present. He brought back Hope, in his own special way.

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We weren’t able to quite finish the march after that. We did the best we could, but we took so much time off the track that when we got back on it, we couldn’t even find our way back to the finish line. We were literally the last participants. It brought some anxiety out for me, some anger at not finishing what I had promised my daughter I would do. But in the end, I knew it didn’t really matter. Maggie would understand.

Most days are pretty great, but some days, it’s hard to breathe. Some days, I am on my knees again, still, asking anyone who will listen if they have seen my daughter. It’s something I will live with for the rest of my life, but every day that passes is a day I learn something new–a new way deal, a new way to be at peace, a new way to Hope.

The Accidental Co-Sleeper

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” is a frequent thought I have while I struggle to move my son’s little feet away from my face, ribs, back on a near-nightly basis.

When I was pregnant, I read a lot (a LOT) about those simple first few choices you have to make as a parent. For example, breast or bottle? Cloth or disposable diapers? And of course, where will baby sleep?

I remember reading about the benefits of co-sleeping and bed-sharing and then also reading about the incidence of SIDS if you shared a bed with your newborn. And then about the incidence of SIDS if you slept in a different room. And in the end, we decided to buy a co-sleeping bassinet to keep our munchkin nearby, but not too nearby. I figured he would sleep in it until it was time to move into a crib, where he would sleep in our room until maybe his first birthday, and then we’d move him into his own room.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Our son didn’t come home until he was two months old. A difficult child birth and difficult first few weeks of life made it so that we co-slept, but the way we co-slept was more like he slept in a hospital crib while I slept on the exceedingly rock-hard, pull-out couch in his NICU room. It was rough, especially because I was still healing from some very bad tearing.

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But once we brought him home, it got easier. William took to his bassinet no problem. I remember sleeping with his bassinet right up against my side of the bed, staring at him through the mesh wall that separated us, terrified that he might stop breathing. Being in the NICU meant being acutely aware of his every heart beat. At home, there were no more monitors beeping and flashing lights all day and night, no plastic cables stuck to his body to make sure all his vitals were normal. It was beautiful and terrifying all at once.

William was a great sleeper, though. By the time he hit four months, he was basically sleeping through the night. And by that I mean I picked him up and fed him one last bottle at midnight, then we all fell asleep until around 8 or 9 a.m. to start the day. It was glorious. I was the only parent I knew who had such luck.

It wouldn’t last, of course.

We moved him into his crib when he was about 6 or 7 months as he’d outgrown his simple bassinet. And then the panic began. What if I didn’t see or hear him and he couldn’t roll himself over and suffocated on his belly? I followed the popular advice of no soft bumpers, blankets, pillows, or plush animals for the first few months. He still slept well, until about 9 months when we began to hear loud thumps in the night, followed by an angry cry.

I bought a mesh bumper to use on the crib, hoping it might soften the blows to his head when he rolled over, but I never got around to putting it on due to fear of him getting tangled in it somehow. Apparently, no matter what I read, something was going to kill my baby. And to a mother who had already lost a child and nearly lost the other, there was no way I was taking any chances.

But I started watching him during his daily naps and noticed he never seemed to get stuck with his nose in the mattress, and when he did, he immediately moved aside. The need to survive was strong.

Around 10 months, I started getting tired of waking up in the middle of the night to rock him to sleep and put him back in his crib, only to hear him thump his head on the wooden slabs around him and then have to do it all over again. So I said screw it, and brought him into our bed.

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How could I deny anything to this little face?

 

He was still small and didn’t move around too much, and I loved getting to snuggle with him at night. My husband also didn’t mind the extra bit of quiet we were getting, and soon he was also bringing him into the bed to avoid the continuous routine of getting up, rocking, putting down, and getting up again.

It worked well–for a while, at least.

Whenever someone asked me about where and how he was sleeping and I told them he slept best with us in the bed, I always got the same response.

“You’re going to regret it.”

and also,

“You’ll never get him out of your bed.”

He still sleeps in there...sometimes!
He still sleeps in there…sometimes!

Our son is about to turn 14 months. He’s a really big kid for his age, and stronger than me, I think. We still (usually) put him in his crib to go to sleep at night, but he always wakes up angry, asking us to bring him in to our bed. Sometimes, I try to stay strong, but exhaustion always wins.

There are days that I almost regret ever bringing him into our bed. Like days when I just want to have some time alone with my husband–something I’m sure all parents can relate to. And sometimes I just want to be left alone, rather than have tiny hands and feet pulling at my hair or punching me in the face, making me feel like I’ve given birth to a tiny Mexican wrestler rather than my sweet little kid.

But in all honesty, I don’t mind being the accidental co-sleeper. I’ve made my choice and I don’t (usually) mind that he takes up my pillows or forces me to sometimes sleep at the edge of my bed. I know this time is precious and won’t last forever. Besides, I also get these really beautiful, intimate moments with him I know i’d never get otherwise.

Hogging all of mom and dad's pillows.
Hogging all of mom and dad’s pillows.

I get to feel his little chest rise and fall with the palm of my hand, remembering how difficult breathing once was for him, being thankful for how far he’s come.

I get to smell his baby breath, something that maybe non-parents, or non-mothers, or people that aren’t me might not entirely get. It’s the most intoxicating scent to me and puts me right at ease. I gave birth so that he might breathe, I think to myself, smiling in the dark.

I get to touch his still-soft skin, massaging his chubby legs and feeling his mighty fingers grasping my arm. Babies’ skin is made of satin and silk and sunshine and bliss.

I get to hear him giggle to himself in his sleep, or make little cooing sounds, or babble while he dreams. I record those sounds in my mind so that I might listen to them again in my old age, joyful to have heard them whispered in my ear.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” I think to myself every night. But like the old cliche goes, I wouldn’t have it any other way.