International Women’s Day – A Conversation with my Six-year old Daughter

I’m writing this as a narrative based on my recollection of a conversation that happened 45 minutes ago with my six-year old daughter who will be referred to as “E”.

Don’t judge, I’m not going to worry about editing it because I don’t have time, it’s almost 60 degrees outside and I want to publish this today, International Women’s Day.

Driving to the library with the windows rolled down and Cities97 playing on the radio. Kudos to them for dedicating their whole day to International Women’s Day with the host mentioning it several times. E hears it and asks, “Is it International Women’s Day?”

Me: “Yes. What do you think that means?”

E: “It is a day that like a birthday but for all women.”

Me: “Yes, kind of. It celebrates all the things women can do.”

Long pause.

E: “Hey Mom, we’re women!”

Me: “Yes, we get to celebrate us and all the other women we know.”

Long pause.

E: “When is International Men’s Day?”

Me: “There isn’t one. The reason we have one for women is because for a long time women haven’t been as important as men and haven’t had as much power. We need to change that by celebrating all the things women can do.”

E: “That is not fair!”

Me: “Nope. It’s not but that is why we have days like today. To change that. Women like you and me can do just as much as men and just as good. ”

E: “Does Daddy have more power than you?”

Me: “That is kind of complicated. We don’t treat Daddy like he has more power than me and Daddy doesn’t think that he does but sometimes he does in other places.”

E: “I can do all the same things that men can do. I am just as smart and strong.”

Me: “Yes, you are. Don’t forget that you can do all those things. Some day you could even be President if you want.”

E: “Yep, I’m going to be a veterinarian, meteorologist, ballerina and President.”

Me: “Yes you can do all that.”

E: “What if K (little brother) thinks he has more power than me?”

Me: “We are teaching K that he doesn’t and that he needs to treat us like he doesn’t have more power than us.”

E: “I will help him learn that.”

Long break in conversation as we pick out books and check out.

E: “Mom, its still not fair that men have more power.”

Me: “I know. We don’t have to let them have more power.”

E: “I will never let that. If a boy says that he can do things better than me, I will tell him that he can’t.”

Me: “Good, because that is true.”

E: “Mom, can we get donuts to celebrate being women?”

So, we got donuts.

And I’m crying.

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Six!

To my sweet, Sunshine girl,

It’s that day of the year again where I express my disbelief that you are another year older.

You continue to grow into your own person. You’re a friendly girl who can make friends with anyone. You will talk about a random kid that you met on the playground as if they have been your lifelong friend. And, speaking of lifelong friends, you are a dedicated and loving friend to the handful of girls and boys that you’ve known longer than you can remember. I love that you know exactly who these friends are and thoughtfully plan activities to make them feel the most comfortable.

You live life big, loud and colorful. You start daily family dance parties in the living room.  You’ll sing any song that is stuck in your head repeatedly no matter where we happen to be. You are not afraid to wear bright colors, mix patterns and be exactly who you want to be. I’ve started taking pictures of your hands which are always covered in colorful marker from your latest drawing. The attention to detail that you put into every piece you do impresses me to no end. I can’t bear to recycle any of it and the pile is growing out of control.

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Your imagination knows no limits. You play veterinarian, daycare, school and many other careers in your bedroom with your dolls and stuffies. You are so curious about the world and ask questions that often can’t be easily answered. You keep our minds sharp

This year has been full of big changes. You moved on from daycare to kindergarten and had to say “see you later” to some really good friends. You’ve navigated new halls, new teachers, new rules and new friends. It hasn’t been the easiest on you but you’re growing and learning how to take on these challenges. Your dad and I are so proud of you.

Monkey see, monkey do is a common phrase in our house as your little brother follows you around and tries to copy everything you do. He comes running every time you yell, “Kippy!” You’ve taught him to karate kick, complete with a “hi-ya.” Thanks to you he is finally wearing hard soled shoes. My heart melts when the two of you cuddle, just for a minute, before one or the other of you runs off to the next thing. I know he can be annoying. He steals your toys and sneaks into your room to mess up the imaginative scene you have created with your toys. You are the best big sister and Kip is so lucky to have you as a role model and playmate.

I don’t know how to fully express in words how much your dad and I love you. It’s more than the biggest bear hug that we can give. Watching you grow into your own person is one of the very best things in my life. Don’t ever stop taking up your own space, being loud, being colorful and being exactly who you want to be.

I love you Sunshine girl.

Mom

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Eight Years, Two Kids and Love

“Happy Anniversary” was yelled from across the room as we tag team caring for a feverish toddler and working from home. At least we didn’t entirely forget it this year as we have once in the past. I knew it was coming. I even made a reservation, a month from now, at a fancy restaurant downtown. It was a summer camp registration reminder that made me look at the date and remember that it was special.

All consumed with keeping two children alive it is hard to remember the days before this when there was time for us. Romance was something more than a hug in the kitchen, messy with dinner dishes. Support was more than a knowing look over a tantruming child. Dates were spur of the moment decisions to try to get a seat at one of the newer restaurants in town instead of reservations at 5:30pm at a restaurant no longer considered new and a $100 babysitter at home.

The usual anniversary testaments on social media say something like, “You are amazing. I am amazing, We are amazing together and it keeps getting better and better.” Well, you are (mostly) amazing. I am (mostly) amazing. We are (mostly) amazing together. It is pretty good but it is (often) not better and that is okay. It is different. We are real people and this is real life and I’m committed to keeping life real for the random people out there who might read this.

It’s not all a depressing story.

We love each other as much, if not more, than we have before. Each year we grow as our own person and watching someone grow and find who they really are is an amazing bonding experience. I’m proud of who you are. I’m proud of your strength, the challenges you have taken on to grow professionally and personally, your empathy, your creative personality and the amazing father you are. I know down to my core how proud you are of me. I’m secure that you support who I am and my personal growth. I know that you will nod along as I describe the next thing that I want to take on while gently reminding me that maaaaybe this isn’t the right time. You step up and take on stuff at home when I inevitably do the thing that I probably don’t have time for. (Trust me, I am working on saying no!) You are my shoulder to cry on and a confidant with good and practical advice. I’m so proud of all we have achieved together.

We laugh together every day. Usually at the absurdity of life right now. You’ve taught our children some of the goofiest things that they know. The things that make me giggle and make that ridiculous heart shape with my hands.

We still hold hands while we walk down the street on our rare dates. We cuddle on the couch while we binge watch the shows that everyone else watched two years ago. We bond over long conversations about podcasts, the thing you read on Twitter or the thing I heard on MPR.

Our marriage therapist says that we are really good together so that must mean we are doing something right. (If you are a random person reading this and want to know the secret to a good marriage: therapy. Individual and couples. Don’t wait until things are bad. They prevent the bad.)

And now the sappy part.

Eight crazy, crazy years of marriage! Where has time gone? Happy Anniversary! Thank you for all the good, the bad and the in-between. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else. I’m proud of you, I’m proud of me, I’m proud of us and I love you.

Remember, its only 18 more years until we move to a two-bedroom condo in the North Loop where we will go to shows and eat at the new restaurants again and travel to all those places on our list.

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To Kip on his First Birthday

Hi Sweet Boy,

We like to think that I went into active labor just after midnight because you didn’t want to share your dad’s birthday. You wasted no time when you decided it was time. It wasn’t long before I had you in my arms.

The nurses at the hospital would say, “He only wants mom.”, as they transitioned shifts. It was true, I couldn’t set you down for a moment of rest. At the time I thought it was a typical newborn. I should have known the nurses could see things I couldn’t. We spent the next three months glued together. You would do your best to make sure your forehead was pressed against my lips. Your tiny hand would stroke (pull) my hair. Day or night this was your comfort place. We tried four bassinets to see if anything would help you sleep on your own. You’ll still take any opportunity to get into our bed if you can.

Still snuggly, you have grown into our little bear. You greet us after daycare with a hug and open mouthed kisses. You wave to your teachers. “Adios! I’m going home.”

Bedtime is my favorite time with you. It took awhile for you to be into books. You had too much to explore. When we read goodnight moon you try to turn past the black and white pages to see the colors. Your head on my shoulder as we sing, “You are my sunshine” is my what really makes this time special. If I can have one thing as you grow, it would be that you never stop doing this.

You have a laugh that everyone loves. No one can resist joining in when they hear it. Your sister can get them out of you better than anyone. You are her number one fan but she is also yours. We get nervous about her rough and tumble ways with you but you can take her on and you love it.

I’m in awe of the way you figure out the world around you. Trial and error in what seems like very deliberate plans. Your tiny brain creating experiments for how you might navigate the dining room chairs through the many small doorways in our house and back again. With a few bumps and stops you’ve figured out how to move around the chair to get the right angle. Our furniture is never in the right place now.

It’s hard to believe you’ve been here in our arms a year. It’s been fast but also feels like you’ve been here forever. You fit right in, our snuggly, little bear.

We love you, Kip Gerrard!

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I’m not celebrating America today

It’s the Fourth of July. I’m enjoying day two of five days off of work. I’m enjoying time with my family and friends. I’m enjoying good food and warm weather. I’m celebrating all of this. But I am not celebrating America.

Yesterday I saw pictures of desperate people packed into cages. There was a baby being held by an adult behind chain link fence. Last week I cried on the way to work as a reporter described the conditions that children were being kept in. Babies taking care of babies because no one else will. Homeland Security audited daycare teachers. My friends and neighbors of color are further marginalized and treated as criminals for living normal lives. Women’s rights are being eroded by whit men. I can’t turn my back on these

One of the most recognizable symbols of the country says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We don’t mean that though. We’re closing our borders. Shutting them out. Caging them in conditions that would get you arrested if you did it to animals.

Hard working people, citizens or not, documented or not, are moving our economy forward with their labor. They pay taxes like the rest of us but don’t enjoy the same freedoms. The police we all pay for treat me with friendly smiles and them with handcuffs or worse.

I’m an American citizen, born and raised in Minnesota. I’ve marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in the Fourth of July parade. I’ve watched the fireworks light the sky behind the Washington monument on the mall. I’ve felt a sense of pride for being an American citizen. Something I had to do nothing to achieve. But I don’t today.

We’ve never been a perfect country but we’ve been been better. I’m disgusted that our president and his supporters think that spending $2 million of park service money to roll tanks around is valuable while people sit in cages. I’m disgusted by the way my fellow citizens of color are marginalized and criminalized. I’m disgusted that white men are slowly taking away women’s rights. I’m just disgusted and that isn’t a mood that sparks celebration.

Enjoy the fireworks, your family and friends, the warm weather and the good food. Celebrate that you have all these things. Think about what you can do for those that don’t. I’ll call my representatives (again) and ask them what they are celebrating for. I’ll give money to organizations that provide legal support to those impacted by the policies that disgust me. And I’ll keep fighting to make my country something I can be proud of.

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Exhausted Time – The End of Maternity Leave

Last night I got him to laugh for the first time. Tomorrow he turns 3 months old and starts daycare. Our life as we’ve known it together changes and I’m feeling all of this – the bad and the good – straight to my core. Wishing for more time and longing for a return of myself as something other than a rocking and feeding machine.

Also, feeling so angry that families have to do this all on our own in this country. We’re raising the fucking future and we’re doing it alone. I’m privileged and lucky to have had this but now I’m told I’ve “exhausted my time”. Exhausted is right. I’m tired and fragile and somehow on Wednesday I will divide myself in two – the work me and the mom me. Is there enough me to go around?

I need this. He needs this. We need this. It doesn’t stop the heartbreak, the worry, the longing. How do I stop time today? How do I soak up enough squishy baby-ness to give me the strength to turn around and walk out a door without him in my arms? How do I enjoy a day to myself without running into the door I just left and scooping him up against my heart?

Excuse me if I burst into tears today. Excuse me if I drift away in my mind to a life that would give me more time with my baby and still allow me freedom to be something other than a mother all day. How can I have life both ways?

Each day will get better. We’ll settle into a new routine. A few months from now I can tell another mother approaching the end of her leave that it will be okay, the baby is thriving and learning, and I found a better me for everyone. Right now that life is foggy.

I’ll sit here soaking up the baby-ness and wiping tears today. Fog lifts. It will be okay and it’s all right if it’s not right now.

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Old People at a Rap Show

The old man and I are going to a rap show tonight. And before you say I’m too old for that kind of thing I will let you know that the people performing in the rap show are all older than me (thanks Wikipedia). Barely…some only by days so they are my age. And if they can drink whiskey and perform at said rap show then I can enjoy it…And then go immediately home and fall into bed.

Lately I’ve been feeling old. Like past the point of being cool and might as well settle into my life as I know it and ride it out…old. Un-inspired. Unmotivated. Un-everything. Too afraid to make drastic changes but bored to tears by tiny ones. So I sit. Getting older. Odd pains in my body and forgetting crap all the time.4A530387-10EB-4A18-86EE-3A3260D3534E

But when my Google calendar reminds me and I battle the aches and pains in my joints and I drag myself out into the world for a rap show or a live podcast taping or a writing class or an art show then I see all these amazing people. Amazing women. Amazing men. Who are constantly reinventing themselves and never settling for the status quo and are changing tiny parts of the world all by themselves. And through some brilliant fate they are all my age. Not old at all. Definitely not destined to sit on the sidelines and get older.

So what is it then? Old is not a number. If all these people don’t feel old and dusty then the actual numerals that make up the years they have been earthside isn’t a definition of old. Old is a mentality. It’s a giving up. It’s deciding that I’m done striving and I’m done learning and I’m settled.

And all this un-inspired, un-motivated, un-everything I am feeling? It’s really just unsettled. And my personal philosophy is that when people are unsettled its time for change. Those drastic changes I am afraid of. Not the tiny boring ones (but a tattoo or purple hair might not be out of the question).

I’ll leave it here because I don’t have any more answers. I don’t know what change is ahead of me. I don’t know where I want to take this but its comforting to not feel old and dusty and stuck.

And because it’s the day before Thanksgiving I will send a shout-out to my husband who I am always immensely thankful for and who gets super terrified when I talk like this but always supports the changes I make in my life. Don’t worry, hun, I don’t think I’m quitting my job to drink whiskey and rap. I’m not good at either of those things.

Also, much gratitude to the rappers…artists…podcasters…writers I’ve found who motivate me to reinvent and get un-stuck in my oldness.

 

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The Joy of Yes

We woke up on that Sunday morning and it became clear early on that “No” wasn’t going to work for either of us that day.

It started simply. I said, “Yes”, to her request to wear her My Little Pony pajamas that day.

I said, “Yes”, to the second TV show.

I said, “Yes”, to wearing her princess dress and ALL the accessories to run our errands (over the My Little Pony Pajamas, of course). image1

I never set an intention to say yes all day but we were on a roll. I didn’t realize just how much joy this yes day would bring to both of us and perfect strangers as well.

Maybe I’m now blinded to the magic of seeing children living out their heart’s desires through their clothing choices. I’m regularly treated to princesses and super heroes in my own home. I didn’t expect that most people we passed would at minimum smile or even stop to tell “Her Majesty” how much they adored her crown or dress. But smile they did and stop they did and I could see the pride in Elodie’s confident posture as she strolled through the farmer’s market in full royal attire with matching princess bear in her arms. The musician playing for the shoppers welcomed the “Farmer’s Market Princess” to the dance. Our farmer friend who supplies our family with meat each month told me that she absolutely made his day. And the smiles on the faces of those we passed showed that we were bringing a little joy to their hearts.

There are one-thousand reasons to say no each day, many of them necessary for safety, but given the freedom to say yes, I found myself experiencing a different kind of joy: less anxiety, less fighting, less stress and a lot more fun.

 

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On school supplies and hate

Mommy Shorts Nelson Mandela quote

Credit: Mommy Shorts

 

I remember back to school time while I was growing up. It was magical. All the new things for the new year. Crayons, backpacks, shoes and clothes. For kids with not much “new” in their lives throughout the year, my siblings and I loved the free reign to shop. There was some heartache in this time too. We couldn’t get the coolest clothes or the best sneakers. Five Star notebooks were out of the question and we only got character branded backpacks the one year that our dad took us school shopping.

At some point in high school I realized the heartache that my mom felt at back to school time. She worked so hard but back to school time was definitely the wrong time for a single, hourly wage earning, mother of three children. All summer long she had found childcare for us, fed us meals that were free when we were in school and paid for activities so we weren’t too bored. And right on the cusp of relief from that financial burden, she had to come up with the money to get all that new for us. She was aware enough to know that we wanted something special. We wanted the cool things that our friends had. We were aware enough to not ask too hard for things that we couldn’t have.

Becoming a parent really opened my eyes to what my mom did to make ends meet. Kids are expensive, you guys. There isn’t enough help out there for all the things. So I vowed that I would help. I have enough to help and I should. This year school supply shopping time rolled around and I was busy and Jack and I were balancing a new budget so I decided to skip it. Not this year but definitely next year.

Then the tragedy in Charlottesville happened. On top of what I was already feeling about the bombing of the mosque in Bloomington, MN. So many feelings. I looked at the pictures of the white men outwardly showing their hate in Charlottesville streets and thought about what could make that hate grow in their hearts. How did I come to truly want to love and help everyone (I’m by no means perfect but that is my intent) and they just have hate?

This is speculation. I am not a psychologist or sociologist but in all the tragedies over the years that have made my heart ache I come back to one principle. I keep returning to the fact that somewhere along the line these people didn’t feel loved. They didn’t feel part of a community. They were lost and they turned in on themselves and projected hate.

There are a lot of different ways to help when you feel helpless. So many organization are fighting hate and they could use support. If one child doesn’t feel alone or inadequate or not part of the community. If they have what it takes to learn in school. If they see people loving and helping. Then maybe they won’t turn to hate. School supplies are not going to save the world themselves. But they will mean everything to some child who is truly born to learn and born to love.

So we found the time and the money and we went school supply shopping. Elodie is only three and she can’t and, really shouldn’t, understand the bigger picture but she understands giving. She understands that not everyone has what she has. She picked out every item on the school supply list. Complete with at Disney Princess backpack. And when I said that some little girl will love all of this, she reminded me that maybe it could be a little boy. My heart swelled right there because even when I am not perfect and I am not right (why couldn’t a little boy love the Disney Princess backpack?) she is teaching me. We are raising the change and teaching love.

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This gives me hope.

 

 

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You’ll Always Have a Place in my Heart

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Ten years ago yesterday the 35W bridge in Minnesota collapsed. Ten years ago I frantically tried to get through busy cell phone lines to reach my fiancé and his brother who would have crossed the bridge to go to their MBA classes at the Carlson School of Management. Ten days later I would marry my fiancé in a beautiful ceremony with a really fun party afterward. Three years later we would be divorced.

Yesterday as the media covered the ten year anniversary of the bridge collapse I felt a lot of emotions as I remembered that it is coming up on the ten year anniversary of my first marriage. With all that on my heart I heard exactly the right thing from a 1 minute segment of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast titled “My Daughter’s Ex-boyfriend’s Mother Found the Right Words to Say”. The message was, “Sometimes, it’s hard to put into words the exact nature of a loving relationship. ‘You’ll always have a place in my heart’ says it all.”

Despite where we ended there was love and there was happiness. There were so many memories made. Mistakes were made big and small. The divorce was inevitable for many reasons. And right for so many more. I have grown and I have learned. I am happy and in the right place and I hope that he is too. I’ve struggled for a long time to put into words how I want to convey that time in my life and those people I shared it with. My ex, his family, our friends. People that I think of from time to time but don’t have contact with anymore.

“You’ll always have a place in my heart” does say it all.

So I’m throwing this out to the universe of the interwebs. I don’t know who it will reach or where it will go. If it reaches the right people, just know that you do have a place in my heart and you always will. I wish you happiness, health and peace.

 

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