It’s always the shy girls

Quick note: sorry for the delay in posting. I have three novels coming out in within eighteen months of each other (is that right? I think that's right) and I have been ALL UP IN THE DEADLINES. Plus, the wee-er one's appendix exploded (she's fine) and then Ike-a-saurus got pneumonia (he's fine), and I started a gig writing for TheMid.com. Things have been a little nuts. But I'm still here! And haikuoftheday is still here!

OK, so. Before all of the appendix exploding excitement happened, the wee-er one had been working really hard at mastering her electric guitar. She's been taking lessons for almost two years now, she did Girls Rock camp last summer and she's been realllly loving making some noisy music, especially lately. I love that she loves it, too, because she's always been sort of anxious and nervous and this gives her a fantastic outlet.

Anyway, she's always been a little hesitant about performing in front of people. She prefers to plug her headphones into her amp and work really hard perfecting a song before she plays it for anyone (if she'll even play it for anyone then). So I know she practices and has fun playing, but I don't always get to hear what she's working on. I know she's been working on some Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, but also there's also been some Pack AD and Creature and, of course, Joan Jett.

She had a recital show last summer and was super nervous about performing in front of people, but she was able to tamp down all her nervousness and get out on stage and really rock. She had a blast, and I think it helped her knowing that a lot of rock stars are actually introverts, as weird as that seems.

A couple of days later I got a call from someone claiming to be a talent scout who had been at the show, and I was highly skeptical. Talent scouts aren't known for going to kids' guitar concerts, right? It seemed kind of scammy to me. But this lady was persistent. She wanted to sit down with G and talk to her about music and what she likes to play and who her favorite bands are, etc. It all still sounded a little strange (even after I vetted the company she worked for, which was legit), but honestly, nothing stranger than anything else that ever happens in this family. I said we'd meet her over topo chicos at a local bakery.

Well, she and G hit it off. They talked for a couple of hours, and G had brought her acoustic guitar with her and played a little for the lady. It was a fun afternoon, very low key… and then we didn't hear anything back. Weeks passed, and then months and then with everything that's been going on, I kind of forgot about it. Until last week when I got a phone call. Lots of apologies for having taken so long to get back to us, and a question….

Would G like to play with Joan Jett on tour? She could start when Joan comes to Austin in a few weeks. Joan Jett is apparently starting a mentoring program. Music lessons every day, tutors on the road, everything you can think of, and a handful of kids trade off jamming at the shows. The lady had liked G so much she thought she'd be perfect for the gig. 

WHAT.

I think I was quiet for about five minutes while I tried to register everything.

And then I quietly hung up the phone because none of this true and I'm playing one of those jokes people play on the first of April. Sorry! G really does play guitar, and she really is fantastic at it, but we haven't met any scouts yet, and Joan Jett isn't having kids play at her concerts (can you imagine being eight and going on tour? Haha, and YIKES). 

We will be in the audience at the Joan Jett concert, though. Just not on stage. 🙂

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Friday the 13th

The last time there was a Friday the 13th in February, it was 2009. I remember this because that was the day my five and half month old son stopped breathing. It had been a gnarly awake-all-night-sick-baby fiasco the night before and on the morning of the 13th we went straight to the pediatrician's office to see what in the world was going on. What we learned was that Terrible Things were going on, and we were quickly and calmly transported to the children's hospital via ambulance. What followed was an exhausting day of confusion and misdiagnoses. Once we were put in a room, crowds of medical students clustered in the doorway, offering guesses and suggestions for treatment. Why was the little guy having such trouble breathing when his lungs looked OK? Why didn't any of the interventions work? There was a lot of head scratching until finally his little body gave a big NOPE and he crashed.

There are moments seared into your memory. They happen all through your life. Good moments, bad moments, scary moments, funny moments. And the moment that sits at the top of the pile for me was the one where I chased a gurney, barefoot, through an empty hospital hallway in the middle of the night. On that gurney were a nurse and my son. She was counting chest compressions as another nurse held an ambu bag over his face. He was an awful color; a color no person should ever be. Other doctors and nurses ran alongside the gurney, shouting numbers at each other. Heart rate, blood oxygen level, blood pressure. I lost them when they ran through the doors to the ICU. And when I ran up to the doors, they were locked. 

We'll let you know.

That's what a young doctor told me before she went in.

This was the moment our entire family history, our entire family dynamic, our ideas about the future, our thoughts, dreams, plans… this is when everything tilted on its side, a planet being thrown off its axis by a spontaneous asteroid strike. Shattered isn't the right word. Devastated isn't the right word. I didn't have a right word. For a very, very long time I had no words.

But now, six years later, I do have a word.

Lucky. 

We were so lucky to have a pediatrician who knew something wasn't right.
We were so lucky to have decided to stay at the hospital instead of going home.
We were so lucky he crashed so close to the ICU.
We were so lucky the on-call doctor was able to intubate even when she discovered why he wasn't breathing. (Hello, wonky trachea.)
We were so lucky he was only without oxygen for a very short amount of time.
We were so lucky to have so many friends and family ready and willing to take a long, scary journey with us.

And today? Today I am lucky to have a six-year-old who is fiercely proud of his scars. I am lucky that some days are so typical I forget to remember to feel lucky that he breathes without assistance. I am lucky that in the mornings he cheerfully pops out of bed, sneaks into my bed, and kisses me once on the forehead, once on the nose, and once on the chin before he runs downstairs. I am lucky he never stops running. I am lucky I get to be scared that he's going to bring home all the germs the first grade has to offer. I am lucky to hear his voice. I am lucky to feel his tiny, skinny arms squeeze my neck as he bats his long lashes and asks, "Can't I play Minecraft for just a littttttle bit longer?"

Today is one of those days that I always kind of hope will disappear into the ether. It won't be an anniversary. It won't be a reminder. It won't be scary. It will just be another day.

But I fully admit I'm glad to be able to take a moment, to look at the Legos everywhere, to look at the socks I asked him to pick up at least seven times last night, to look at the little pile of hand-picked clover making a bed for a rock "that looks like it has a face!" and to just feel grateful.

I am so grateful. It hurts to be this grateful. It feels undeserved. It feels randomly bestowed. I wonder what I owe. What promises did I make on this day six years ago, to make today possible? I don't know. I don't remember.

I just know that we were lucky. And that is something I will never, ever forget. 

 

And now I’m sorry

So I was really mad when I wrote the last blog post. I'm working on not being mad. It's not very productive and it makes you think you're having a stroke all the time. Also, it's exhausting. I have too much to do to stew. I have too much to do to be writing this blog post, too. Accidental rhyming is a sure sign that one's brain is overloaded.

And speaking of overload, this is the time of year when I wish I could issue a blanket apology to pretty much everyone. There are parties to go to and brunches to attend and school events to not forget and first grade homework to work on and third grade essays to write and seventh grade social studies projects to toil over. There are gifts to buy and things to mail and bills to pay. There is a house to decorate so the kids aren't deprived of the holiday spirit, there are travel plans to be made so we can see loved ones. There is a very ill-timed spousal business trip to suffer through. There is a manuscript for my next novel due in something like eight weeks (I refuse to count because I will panic and possibly die).

This is why I need a stack of little business cards that just say "I'm sorry."

My first grader is not practicing his math. He has not found his lost library book. He missed the window for free karate classes. He wore two different shoes to school for two days in a row before I noticed. I'm Sorry cards for everyone!

My third grader is drawing pictures of cape-wearing poop instead of practicing multiplication tables because I am trying to cook dinner and answer first grade questions about tens and ones and answer seventh grade questions about acids and bases and not burn dinner while also answering six emails about teacher gifts while also also trying to stop thinking about where my characters left off in the argument they were having about how to cross the US/Texas border.

I probably won't get my money in on time to anyone's class parent for the big group gift cards they're buying the teachers. But isn't it OK for kids to just make cards and say thank-you for being awesome? We're making You're Awesome cards, goddammit. 

I missed my critique group today so that I could go to a holiday brunch which I ended up also skipping so I could stay home and work on my manuscript but instead ended up writing this blog post to try to assuage my guilt for not getting anything done on time. I'm sorry for my poor time management.

No presents are wrapped. 

The tree is not decorated.

Pretty much no presents are bought. I'm *thinking* about buying some, though. I have a list. A list is the first step, right?

I have not yet purchased graham crackers for the "gingerbread" houses the first graders are going to make next week. I am, in fact, (shhh) trying to convince my kids to skip their holiday parties so that we can go to my parents' house for a few days and I can lay on the floor. I realize the schools hate it when parents do things like this because they lose funding for the days the kids aren't in school. I'm sorry the system is set up that way. I'm sorry the schools won't get money if I try to avoid a nervous breakdown.

There are always 25 things happening at once and yet nothing seems to get done or found or answered. I swear I'm not ignoring anyone, I am running triage. Poorly.

I often think about the people who have their shit together. The ones who can manage a deadline AND homework AND laundry AND feeding people AND getting their $20 into the proper envelope in the proper classroom for the proper gift card giving. I don't really wonder how they do it, I figure that ship has sailed. I do wonder if one day I'll have enough money to hire one of these people to do these things for me. Maybe, instead of figuring out how to do everything at once I should figure out how to delegate.

I just feel guilty

all

the

time.

I feel like I'm failing everybody. And when I do manage to have a few minutes of quiet time to sit and blink, I feel terrible that I'm not spending that time more productively. When I give in and let the kids play their Sonic the Hedgehog racing game instead of doing homework right off the bat, I feel bad. But they *did* just finish seven hours of school. And I *do* have to cook dinner. But I *will* be sorry when they have to take benchmark tests and I get letters sent home saying, "Please work on math every night". That will make me want to cry. 

So. I'm sorry.

I'm sorry to everyone.

And I probably could have done a better job with this blog post, turning it into some kind of feminist empowerment post instead of just an OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING PANIC-WHINE, but I didn't. Sorry!

At least I'm less angry now, though, right? Progress.

I’m just so angry and that makes me even more angry

I know I'm not the only angry person right now. There is an electric, seething, undercurrent everywhere. Social media, the nightly news, just driving down the street. Everyone is so mad.

And the fuel to this Anger Fire seems to just be getting fuel-ier and fiery-er. Tweet about being pissed off? You get a bunch of RTs and favorites and/or a bunch of trolls calling you a whore (making everyone more angry). Post a rant on Facebook and people gleefully fight with you (making everyone more angry), or agree with you by posting heinous proof about just how right you are (still making everyone more angry).

Everyday there are email petitions: Tell People How Much You Hate This Horrible Thing! Do Not Stand By While This Horrible Thing Happens! 

And email instructions: "Have a Horrible Relative? Here is How to Tell Them They are Horrible!" "Hate Everything? Give Us Money So We Can Buy Ads Telling the World How Stupid It Is!"

Does any of this work? The petitions? The emails? Does it make anyone feel better to throw $10 at a group celebrating/castigating a cause? Does that even help? Do you get the same brain-soothing chemical reaction when you sign a petition as you do when you get 59 likes on a post about how much you hate everything and everyone? Does that achieve anything? At all? Ever?

It's no wonder people are getting killed. It's no wonder there is an insidious and pervasive fear in this country. It's a fucking tinderbox. If people like me – who can usually laugh off anything – are angrily honking in traffic and blocking people on Twitter, how are the other people feeling?

I'm not proud to be so angry. I'm not proud that the tinderbox has gotten under my skin. I'm not proud that my first impulse these days is to think the worst of people. I'm not proud that I've clammed up on my own social media, afraid to talk about the horrible things happening; afraid I will just get too angry; afraid of enraging and engaging with the worst of humanity. It goes against everything I've ever been taught or ever believed. I don't know what to do with these gross feelings. I don't know how to channel them. I want to shout at people STOP MAKING ME HATE YOU. And THAT is certainly not a healthy outlook.

I just see so. much. judging. everyday. And it seems so counter-productive. If you think everyone is doing everything wrong, can you maybe do more than just tell them they're wrong? Educate. But don't educate in a holier-than-thou-you-stupid-idiot way, educate with patience and kindness. With creativity. With empathy. Is that even possible any more? Do people even know what the words "patience" and "kindness" and "creativity" and "empathy" mean?

"You celebrate diversity? Well, you just used the wrong pronoun!"

"Oh, were you abused? You weren't abused enough for it to matter!"

 

"You love women? You denigrate them by calling them beautiful!"

"You support working mothers? Well good job insulting moms who stay home!"

"You're angry that cops kill black men? Step off, you're protesting the wrong way!"

It's too much. It's all too much. Even when we're trying to be nice, there's vitriol. What is happening that makes people act like this? Why does everyone have to be a hero or a villain? Is there just so much hurt in the world that no one can say "Thank you for trying to help, that's really awesome. Here's an even better way you can help [FILL IN APPROPRIATE HELPING MEASURE]? Or is it just easier to yell, "YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG THEREFORE YOU ARE HORRIBLE" and huff and puff about it in some corner of Twitter?

I see so many people right now who think they're being heroic and helpful and really they aren't helping at all. They are just mouthing off, making more noise, adding fuel to the fire. There is no trying to educate or be educated. I mean, I guess I understand why, to some extent. It's not like anyone ever, ever, ever says, "Oh, I'm sorry, did you just point out how I'm a mysoginst? Thank you for that information, I will stop doing that." But maybe that's because we need new methods. Maybe you can't fight assholery with assholery. Or maybe it's the end of the world and no one will ever change and we're all just fucked.

I mean, really, what are we DOING? Just fighting for fun? Or gleefully agreeing while we brandish our pitchfork and torch emoji? Is that what social media is these days? Comments sections? Click-bait articles? Everything just pits people against each other —  or encourages smugness with no valuable education or conversation. And that makes me angry. Which… is that ironic? I don't even know anymore.

The terrible things happening in our world make me angry. But the propagation of intolerance makes me angry, too. And this propagation goes both ways. It is so, so easy to be incendiary. It is so, so easy to forward a snarky email or share a biting quote or add a crying face emoji to a picture of a protest. It is much harder to actually put your actions where your big fucking mouth is.

Have you read Dave Eggers The Circle? Go read it and then tell me we're NOT currently being swallowed by that sarlaac-esque hellmouth. 

I just don't know what to do anymore. I don't want to put my head in the sand. I don't want to only look at videos of hedgehogs. I want to be socially conscious and politically active. But something has to give.

Help me find the people who still care about… anything other than just proving they're right and you're wrong.

Help me stop being so angry.

Rhyme Schemer is out today!

When I'm not being interrogated by the police, or having my parenting scrutinized by much of the country, I'm usually sitting at my kitchen table writing books. This is kind of an insane job. There is a lot of whining and hair-pulling. There is a lot of self-doubt and stomping around. There is a lot of laying on the kitchen floor while sighing deeply. But then also… there is actually a lot of writing. And the best thing that happens after a lot of writing is that everything somehow comes together into an actual manuscript. It really is kind of like magic.

Then I take the magically created manuscript, I pat it gently, read over it, and send it quietly off to my agent. She returns it with gentle reminders that complete sentences are important, character arcs are also important, and having a plot is kind of a big deal when it comes to book writing and reading.

I take the manuscript back, wonder how in the world I ever let it out of my sight, and then I start to fix it. Sometimes the fixing is easy, sometimes the fixing is horrible, and sometimes the fixing just never works at all and the manuscript has to go sit in time out for a few months (or years).

In the case of my newest book, RHYME SCHEMER, the revision process wasn't too torturous. The tortuous part was deciding whether I should have even written the book at all. It has no spaceships. It has no zombies. There are no fantastic elements. It's a contemporary book, with a boy main character, and the entire thing is written in free verse. It's about as far from my typical fare as you can get. But there was just something about the character. The more I wrote about Kevin the more real he became. I fretted over his decisions just like I fret over the decisions of my children. I worried for him and was angry with him. I hated how misunderstood he was, and also how mean he was. As I wrote the book, Kevin became a real person to me, and I wanted to be able to tell his story. So I did – even though there were no spaceships or zombies.

My agent supported me the entire way. She told me not to worry about the dreaded author "branding". She soothed me with the idea that my brand is "middle grade author, K.A. Holt" not "sci-fi author, K.A. Holt" or "zombie writer, K.A. Holt." She supported me through the entire journey of this book, giving me the confidence I needed to take a very big, very scary step.

And so… a couple of years ago, the manuscript was finished. It went out on submission to editors at all the big publishing houses. We got a lot of great feedback, but no one was sure what to do with the manuscript, until Tamra Tuller at Chronicle Books read it. We talked about Kevin, about the story, and BAM. She got it. She totally understood this kid and his conflicts. She understood what I was trying to do with the verse. It was a great match. My agent had not only found me the perfect editor, she'd found me a new friend.

The manuscript was whisked away into revisions and copy edits and interior design. The cover was created, a marketing plan drawn up. A team of people worked tirelessly to turn my pages not just into a book — but into a beautiful work that kids will love. I mean, hopefully, they'll love the words, but I know they'll love the art, the cover, even the feel of the paper. Chronicle Books has outdone themselves.

And so, today, RHYME SCHEMER, officially launches. After years of writing and revising and worrying and learning to just trust my gut, it's out in the wild with the best team behind it. I can't say enough about the folks at Chronicle, about the support from my agent and agency, about the help (and butt kicks) from my friends and fellow writers. It's been four years since my last book launched, and just like when you have a baby, even though there should be some kind of familiarity, everything feels really new and vaguely scary.   

There's always this conflict within me: do I mix my shouty, political blog persona with my children's book writer persona? Do I let the two intermingle at all? Ever? Should I write about being a writer on this blog, or should I leave that part of my life out of it?

I decided this morning that I have to intermingle the two, if only for today, because writing RHYME SCHEMER has been such a big part of my life. It really is symbolic of change within myself, of a desire and an attempt to try new things, to be funny but heartfelt, to scooch out onto the skinny branch and to trust the people around me to keep me from, you know, humiliating and injuring myself.

It's a very exciting day, and I'm just so proud of this book.

RhymeSchemer

It’s all fun and games until your neighbor decides that she is the boss of the fun and games

Monday. Late-morning. Hotter than hot. Not even 24 hours home from vacation, and I was going through the piles of mail. There was a knock at the door, which was weird because no one ever knocks on our door unless it’s the UPS guy, and he doesn’t come until dinner time. Corralling the crazy barky dog, I looked out the front door window and saw a woman I did not know — and my six-year-old.

I whipped the door open, trying to figure out what was happening. The woman smiled. My son frowned. And as soon as the door opened he flew into the house, running as far away from the woman as he could.

“Is that your son?” she asked with a smile.

I nodded, still trying to figure out what was happening.

“He said this was his house. I brought him home.” She was wearing dark glasses. I couldn’t see her eyes, couldn’t gauge her expression.

“You brought…”

“Yes. He was all the way down there, with no adult.” She motioned to a park bench about 150 yards from my house. A bench that is visible from my front porch. A bench where he had been playing with my 8-year-old daughter, and where he decided to stay and play when she brought our dog home from the walk they’d gone on.

“You brought him home… from playing outside?” I continued to be baffled.

And then the woman smiled condescendingly, explained that he was OUTSIDE. And he was ALONE. And she was RETURNING HIM SAFELY. To stay INSIDE. With an ADULT. I thanked her for her concern, quickly shut the door and tried to figure out what just happened.

Chalking it up to a well-meaning but over-vigilant neighbor, I went back to the huge, post-vacation stack of mail and my son went to get himself a drink of water (shocking that a 6-year-old has the complete faculties to not only play outside but to get himself a cold beverage!). A few minutes later there was another knock at the door and the dog again went nuts. I could feel my hackles rising to match his. I didn’t want to engage with this woman about my parenting practices. I didn’t want to have a discussion about how children should be allowed to play outside. I didn’t want to talk about how he’s the youngest of three, has been under constant surveillance since he was born, has rules and perimeters for playing outside, and had been outdoors a total of 15 minutes that morning. I didn’t want to get into it with a stranger. Not at all.

I opened the door, ready to politely and firmly tell her to go away, but it was not her. It was a police officer.

The police officer asked if my son had been outside alone. She asked why I thought it was OK for him to be unsupervised. She took my ID. She wrote down the names and ages of the children.

There are not a lot of times in one’s life when you can use a word like “flabbergasted” without hyperbole, but this was one of those times. I was nearly struck dumb. I answered her questions until I gathered my senses about me and began to explain the situation. I asked if she was *really* there to question me about letting my children play outside WITHIN VIEW OF MY OWN HOUSE. We seemed to agree that this was a little ridiculous. She offered a half-hearted warning that “you never know what can happen in just a few blocks” and I choked back my retort of “you never know what can happen when you get out of bed in the morning.” I choked back my, “The fact that this particular 6-year-old can play outside on his own is a miracle in and of itself, do you think I would ever, EVER tempt fate with him?” I choked back my, “We celebrate everyday that he is independent and healthy enough to play outside.” I choked back so many things.

The police officer left with a curt nod and without filing a report.

The children were awestruck and worried that a police officer had just questioned their mother in front of them. I was mortified. And angry. They were *just playing outside*. I can’t emphasize that enough.

I tried to shake it off and go about the rest of the day, but I was so, so upset. Then, that night, my 6-year-old cried because he thought someone would call the police when he couldn’t fall asleep at his bedtime. We talked about how that would never happen, how this was an isolated incident, how much we love and care for each other in our family. We talked about how the neighbor thought she was doing a good thing and that it was an unfortunate misunderstanding and everything was all over now.

The week moved slowly on. Preparations were made for the imminent start of school, seventeen tons of post-vacation laundry was cleaned, doctors appointments were attended. And then… later that week we were at the pulmonologist’s office when I got a voice mail from a Child Protective Services investigator. She wanted me to call her back immediately.

I think, if it was possible to base jump onto a diving roller coaster, the swooping feeling in your stomach would still be only half of what I experienced at that moment. I felt lucky to be at a pulmonologist’s office, because surely they’d be able to help me when I started hyperventilating.

I somehow drove us all home without having a heart attack. Made lunch. Called an attorney friend to see if I needed to start getting really, really worried, and then I called back the CPS investigator. Within an hour she was at the house, interviewing the kids one at a time, alone with her, while I had to sequester myself upstairs. I wanted to argue. I wanted to protest. I wanted to stamp my foot and say, “No, ma’am, you are NOT allowed to speak to my children without me being present.” But I was cowed. And I understood why the process had to be that way. I didn’t like it. I DON’T like it. But I understood. I understand. I complied.

My kids reported that she asked questions about drugs and alcohol, about pornography, about how often they bathe, about fighting in the home. And again, I understand the need for these questions. I understand CPS investigators have an incredibly difficult job. But the conflict I feel is immense. My children were playing outside, within sight of the house, and now my 6yo and 8yo and 12yo have seen their mother spoken to — multiple times — as if she, herself, was a child being reprimanded. They have all been questioned, by a stranger, about whether they’ve ever been shown movies of other people’s private parts. And no matter what I say, I can tell that they think they’ve done something wrong.

After the children were interviewed, I was interviewed, my husband was called (again, making me feel as if I had acted like a disobedient child), even our babysitter got a phone call. Then, finally, once the case worker consulted with her supervisor, I was reassured that because the kids really were just playing outside, and their stories matched mine as well as the police officer’s account, the incident would be marked as a non-event and the case would be closed. (The case is now officially closed, I waited to blog about it until I knew for sure.)

But I was also warned: the neighbor can call CPS as many times as she wants. If she truly feels there’s neglect, she can’t be prosecuted for making false allegations. We could try to sue her for harassment. We could try to press charges for kidnapping if she approaches our son again and tries to get him to move from where he’s playing. But in all reality, when children are involved, the person who makes the complaint gets the benefit of the doubt. For parents, it is guilty until proven innocent. I understand why the system works this way, but it makes me feel like we are prisoners in our own home. It makes me feel helpless and at the mercy of someone I don’t even know. It makes me incredibly, guiltily relieved to enjoy the privileges that I do.

Do I know how lucky I am to be able to call friends who are attorneys, to be able to google my questions, to have a working phone to call the CPS investigator to get updates, to have a circle of friends I can trust to be supportive and indignant along with me? I see my privilege. I want to apologize for it. I know this has been just a taste of what others go through. Just as I have had tastes in the past of food stamps and medicaid and being at the mercy of government support. I get it, Universe, you have thrown open the floodgates of perspective. I am drowning in it.

I am drowning in it.

 

***

 

Our neighborhood is small, there’s a wide open green space with walking trails right across the street from our house. The lawns are (sometimes forcibly through the Homeowners’ Association) well-maintained. There’s a playground at the top of the hill. And there are no children outside. Anywhere. It is a creepy vista of green grass and beautiful trees without a living soul marring its surface. It is a place where, when a woman is screaming in the middle of the night, she has to knock on the doors of three houses before someone will answer, but it is also a place where, when children are playing outside alone, the police are called immediately.

The real estate literature says “Perfect for families!”

This whole incident has left me very angry and disillusioned. And sad.

I could list statistics about how America is safer now that it’s ever been. About how child injury stats can be interpolated in such a way that leaving a kid with a stranger is actually statistically safer than leaving a child with a parent or a friend of the family. I could talk about helicopter parenting and a 24-hour news cycle that is making the country paranoid and couch-bound.

But what I want to talk about are children who don’t feel safe outside – not because of stranger danger or threat of immediate injury, but because the police will be called if they’re just playing like we played when we were young. What will the Always On Screens Generation be like when they’re adults? When they weren’t afforded the ability to play and explore and test limits and problem solve, when everything was sanitized and supervised, when the crimes committed against them were more likely to happen online than in the park across the street? What will this do? How will society be affected?

I guess we’re about to find out, aren’t we? Because my children aren’t allowed outside until we can sell our house and move to a more hospitable neighborhood. Though I wonder… do more hospitable neighborhoods even exist anymore? Is everyone so terrified of the world that they sit in their Wall-E chairs, watching 24-hour “news,” rifles on their laps, and their phones pre-dialed to 911? How do we make sense of the dichotomy that our country is safer than it’s ever been and yet small town police departments have tanks and automatic weapons? How do we teach our children that it’s OK to play outside and to learn on their own, to enjoy a taste of freedom – but to be very, very careful when wearing a hoodie especially if they have dark skin?

You’d think with all this perspective that I could see far and wide, that I could find an answer for these questions, that I could help cobble together a solution (“All Kids Play Outside Day”? “Look We Can Climb Trees Without Dying Day”? “National Don’t Shoot Anyone In A Hoodie Day”?) . But I haven’t been able to. I can’t reconcile anything. All I know is that my family, while still feeling kind of bruised and grouchy, is lucky. And that my neighbor, if given the resources, would probably write a blog post about this terrible mother down the street who lets her babies play outside all alone.

So for now we stay in the house. And we try not to fall victim to fear like everyone else. We try not to be afraid of the outside world. We try to learn from our privilege. We try not to be daunted by the view perspective affords us.

We just try.

Really, really hard.

The Alex P. Keaton Effect: or how, by trying to teach equality, it appears I’m accidentally raising an anti-feminist

Here's a thing for you to mull over on this Monday afternoon… the 12 yo boy and I are having a disagreement about Beyonce. He *loathes* her song, Run the World (girls). When it comes on, he rolls his eyes, makes heaving sighing noises, and shows a really discouraging amount of simmering grouchiness. And it's not because he's hit his Smiths phase (he hasn't, but I know it's coming). It's because the lyrics make him crazy.

He says if the song had the same lyrics, but was about boys, everyone would say it's sexist. My answer? "You are correct, sir." And so begins the argument. He doesn't understand why girl power songs are OK. Ultimately, I think he doesn't understand why girl power itself is OK. He is truly, honestly, offended. 

This is a kid who has been to more than one protest at the Texas Capitol. He and I engage in women's rights-centered political discussions all the time. He enjoyed several detentions this past school year for opening his big mouth to talk about Big Things in a variety of classrooms where it was not the time or place for opening one's big mouth. He stayed up with me, watching Wendy Davis and Leticia van de Putte eviscerate hypocritical politicians.

And yet, he thinks girl power is kind of bullshit. It makes him angry. He thinks it's unfair. He completely doesn't understand Title IX and why it's important. I know he's only 12, but I can't help feel I'm about to have my Progressive Parent Card revoked unequivocally. 

I've been trying to explain glass ceilings, and elbowing your way out of second class citizenry, and hidden patriarchal norms, and #yesallwomen, and various feminist viewpoints, but he is not.buying.what.I.am.selling. He sees his best friends going off to schools that are only for girls. He is not allowed in girls-only book clubs. He had a huge misunderstanding with his school about lacrosse and why only the girls had a team (that turned out to not be true, but he was livid for a few weeks). He is getting this perception that girls get special treatment, while boys are left to sink or swim. I've tried explaining that really everyone is left to sink or swim, and that, while some things have changed and are still changing, it's still a man's world, and it's OK for females to rise up against this so that they can have an equivalent shot at success*. 

I've been trying to explain to him it's not that girls don't get a fair shake (though they often don't), it's that girls get a different shake. A lot of times (in fact, I could argue the majority of the time) that unfairness, that differentness, isn't even ON PURPOSE. It's built into society. So, giving girls a safe place is not unfair, it's not anti-male, it's a way to build them up so that when the world starts to knock them down they have more airspace for falling and righting themselves. It's equivocating the shake.

He doesn't see it, though. He is a white, middle-class male, who is growing up feeling slighted and undervalued when his mom and sister shout Beyonce lyrics in the car.

This is when I start to wonder, is he feeling this way because he has been brought up to believe the sexes are equal? Does he not understand girl power because to him, girls and boys have equal rights and opportunities? When I argue my own point, am I actually, in a horribly ironic, 180-degree flip trick, teaching him that women are second class citizens?

Obviously, I don't want him to start thinking that women really are second class citizens and THAT'S why Beyonce and Sara Bareilles and Katy Perry sing the songs they do (side note: GOD, don't get me started on the confusing conversations I have with my 8-year-daughter about the words in these songs versus the perception of mainstream beauty, jesus christ). 

But also, if my 12-year-old accepts the status quo, he'll never realize he's been swallowed up by the social norms that dictate so much of women's lives (in obvious ways and in ways we, ourselves, don't even realize sometimes**). I'm damned if I do, I'm damned if I don't, and I'm afraid I've damned myself for even trying. 

What's a mama to do? I don't want to be raising the anti-feminist version of Alex P. Keaton. I don't want to discount the progress made by the feminist movement. I don't want to downplay all the maddening anti-woman bullshit that is still out there, and frankly, getting worse everyday. But most of all, I don't want my son to grow into a man who resents women because he thinks they have had unfair advantages. I want him to understand he is part of a generation that can work to change all of this, but that nothing will change if he resents Beyonce and girls-only book clubs.

I fully admit to him that nothing is fair, for anyone. But how can I make him see that even this unfairness is unequal?

It's hard out here for a mom, y'all. And it's even harder out here for a kid. Or maybe just for my kid. Sigh.

 

 

* The argument that it's unfair for boys to be expected to just drift about and figure shit out on their own is valid and definitely worthy of a blog post/discussion of its own.

** For example: the term "middle-aged". This was a mini-rant I had on Facebook. For me, this term is one more thing that gets slung around at women like locks in socks. It is pervasive. It's used by women and men. It is almost always meant in a disparaging way, or if not disparaging, then dismissive. "Middle-age" is presented as something we have to overcome. "Wow! She's 45 and she looks amazing. You'd never guess she's middle-aged!" BARF, y'all.

Now, I'm willing to entertain the idea that women can embrace the term, turn it into something they own, but, honestly, that still makes me feel squicky. "Middle-age" as a descriptor – particularly when referring to women – is almost always used as a negative assessment or backhanded compliment. And it's bullshit. Grown-ass women are fucking owning their shit. They give zero fucks. So I guess maybe they don't care about the term, and I am just being over sensitive.

BUT ANYWAY, my larger argument is that girls who are in their teens and early 20s*** (can I have an asterisk within an asterisk? I JUST DID), who loudly proclaim their feminism, they are the worst culprits when it comes to calling women middle-aged. I hate it. I really do. They don't even know they're buying into bullshit patriarchal language, and that steams me even more — not at them, but at The Way Things Are.

This can clearly be an argument that goes a variety of ways, and I'm not saying my opinion is right, I'm just saying, to me, teenagers fawning over how beautiful and smart "middle-aged" women can be is one of those examples of how certain kinds of sexist notions are embedded within our society, and thus become an unquestioned social norm. 

*** This could spawn a huge rant about Tumblr, but it would spiral into some kind of tornadic rantsplosion and I would have a stroke. We'll save that for another day.