Monthly Archives: January 2014

Pretending to Be Courageous for My Son

Yesterday Zach and I went ice-skating for the first time together. I haven’t skated in decades, and I remember being spectacularly bad at it. I had absolutely no body awareness until I was in my early ‘20s and started doing aikido. I’m pretty sure my center of gravity was somewhere near my throat.

A boy ice-skating

Zach didn’t want to try ice-skating. He’s invited to a birthday party in a few weeks though. Before yesterday he was planning on just sitting on the sidelines at the party. I told him it was fine if he wanted to do that, but I might need to help his sister Kaylee at the party so I wanted to practice beforehand.

We went with two other families, and when Zach found out the other kids were going to skate, he said he’d like to try. He told me in the car, “I’m scared,” and I told him, “I am too. But we’ll be okay.”

I fully expected that he and I would be hanging on to the wall the entire time, or would give up within 20 minutes. Surprisingly, we both really enjoyed it and were able to skate without holding on to anything by the end. We skated for two hours, stopping only briefly to drink some hot chocolate.

The friends we were with gave us some pointers (keep your butt tucked under, bend your knees slightly, and pick your feet up and march a bit). One of them had her baby in a stroller, and we were able to push the stroller on the ice, which gave us something to hold on to for balance.

I was really proud of Zach and me not letting our fears get in the way of trying something new. It’s very possible we might not have liked it, but I always tell him, “You can’t know you don’t like something if you never try it.” He loves Mythbusters, so I tell him to think of it as an experiment.

Before I had kids, I used to watch “Little People, Big World” on TLC. It was a reality show that followed a family where the parents and one of the children have dwarfism, and three of the children are of average height. The father was the most limited in his physicality, but he went ziplining on one of their vacations. He pushed himself to be courageous, as a model for his kids.

I can be quite a coward at times. I’m afraid to volunteer to lead anything at my son’s school. I’m terrified of heights. I’m scared of ghosts and serial killers even though I’ve never met any.

I’m afraid I’m going to fail at anything I attempt, but especially for my kids, I’m at least trying some new things. This is my last post for the Ultimate Blog Challenge I’ve been doing this month. Thirty-one blogs posts published in 31 days. Previously, I’d only published once or twice per week.

Tomorrow I’m starting guitar lessons. Next week, Zach and I will go ice-skating again.

I still want to know what I’m capable of. I’m enjoying finding out, and I’m proud that my kids are willing to stretch their comfort zones and try new things too.

How do you encourage your kids to try new things or not to let fear stop them?

My Son Wants to Buy a Dress

A rainbow-colored dress

I told Zach that I had written a blog post about his friend who likes to wear dresses, and he asked me to read it to him, which I did. A couple of days ago, he said he’d like a dress too. I’ll be honest, a bunch of sphincters inside me noticeably tightened.

It’s one thing to be fiercely supportive of another kid’s choice to buck convention and defy people’s expectations, it’s another to be complicit in sending my own child on a journey through possible bullying, ridicule, and condemnation by both children and adults.

I’m struggling with a bunch of questions my friend Mara Migraineur and her husband probably did with their son. Is it okay to tell him he can wear a dress? Am I going to do him some harm by letting him do this? Is it more harmful not to let him? Is it okay to tell people he’s doing this?

I think of discussions I’ve had with Mara about how her son is a pioneer, and how much I admire her and her husband’s support and acceptance of him. I was quite content actually to let her son be the trailblazer while my family watched from the sidelines.

I hesitated when Zach asked if he could have a dress. Then I told him he could have one, and I’d take him shopping the next day. Honestly, after all we’ve been through with his friend’s family, how could I have answered any differently? I would have been a hypocrite, and I would have been opening his friend up to criticism and judgment.

Honestly, I didn’t really want to say, “no” anyway. I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with kids wearing T-shirts, shorts, pants, dresses, vests, whether they’re a boy or a girl. Clothing “rules” are somewhat arbitrary as far as I’m concerned. I’d rather concern myself whether it’s weather-appropriate than whether it’s “appropriate” according to someone else’s opinion.

The day we were supposed to go dress shopping, he said he didn’t want to go. We went home, and he explained that he wanted his friend with us, because “he could give me ideas!”

I admit I’m still hoping Zach might:

  • change his mind and not want to try on dresses
  • decide after trying on a dress that it’s not for him
  • be satisfied with wearing only one dress (I’m not looking forward to buying a whole new wardrobe for him)
  • only wear dresses at home

Whatever happens though, I know it’s going to be okay. I have an advantage Mara’s family did not. We already know a family with a boy who wears dresses. If anything, their family has grown stronger because of it. I think our larger community has grown stronger too.

So, next week I’m going to take Zach and his friend dress shopping. I’m trying to think of how to respond if any of the store employees or other customers make disparaging comments like, “dresses are for girls!” or “pink is a girl color!” without getting all aggressive, spitting in their faces, “You do NOT tell my son or his friend what they are allowed or not allowed to wear. It is none of your damn business!”

I’m hesitant even to show this blog post to Zach, but of course I have to. I have to show through my actions and my words that I approve of him and his choices whatever they may be. As long as there isn’t a safety issue, I want to encourage him to explore his environment and his identity. He is a great person, and it’s to everyone’s benefit for him to express how great he is however he chooses to.

How can I reply to people’s comments and questions about my son wearing a dress without being defensive?

What’s in a Diagnosis?

A doctor taking notes

It’s been pretty clear to me and my loved ones that I’ve had depression for a long time. My first really bad episode happened when I was 22 years old. I was living in Los Angeles, had almost no friends, and drove up and down Pacific Coast Highway because I knew if I stayed in my apartment I would try to commit suicide. Things got better after I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area, got a good job, and started doing aikido.

I didn’t get treatment for my depression until I was pregnant with Kaylee. I had hit Zach on the butt really hard, and I felt like a horrible mother who deserved to have him taken away from me. I joined a postpartum therapy group and started taking Zoloft. One of the side effects of antidepressants is that sometimes they can make a person suicidal. Ironic, I know. I was hospitalized for eight days. Thankfully, I started taking Celexa instead, which had only the brief, mildest side effect of slightly loose stools.

There have been times when I wondered whether I was also bipolar. My therapist suspected it when I had a manic episode in her office right after Kaylee was born. I had another episode a few days ago and talked to my psychiatrist about it. He said that I appear to have a “subclinical case of hypomania.”

Basically, I have a rapid succession of thoughts, a huge surge of energy, less need or ability to sleep, and feelings of euphoria. I do NOT have any urge to have illicit affairs, to gamble compulsively, and I don’t have delusions of grandeur.

The National Institute of Mental Health lists four different diagnoses for bipolar disorder. I keep reading them over and over, and I can’t tell the difference between the bottom three. I’m just sure I don’t have Bipolar I Disorder, since I don’t have full-blown manic or mixed-state (concurrent mania and depression) episodes.

I guess in some ways, it doesn’t really matter what the specific diagnosis is. I definitely have depressive episodes where I get really irritable, lose interest in activities I usually enjoy, want to sleep excessively, and start to have suicidal thoughts. I infrequently have surges of energy and euphoria, but I’m aware of them, and consciously try to slow my breathing, my heart rate, and my thoughts. Writing seems to help for both of these states.

My psychiatrist said we should monitor my symptoms and avoid any possible triggers. I know that caffeine and sugar definitely cause me to have mood swings. I usually only drink decaf or caffeine-free drinks. Sugar is a hard one for me to cut out. I tried a few weeks ago, and I seriously only lasted three days.

There are many other possible triggers, such as changes in my hormone levels, inadequate sleep, and stress. I’m also starting to wonder whether the hypomania is an intermittent side effect of the Celexa.

A diagnosis can be helpful, but I think it’s worked for me to focus mostly on the symptoms, the causes, and effective treatments.

Whatever the medical condition (physical, mental, etc.), do you find it helpful to have a diagnosis? Are doctors ever reluctant to provide one?

Building a Village, One Block at a Time

My childhood was extremely lonely. We somehow always lived far away from my school friends, and there usually weren’t kids my age living nearby. I didn’t really start to develop real friendships until I was in high school and able to drive myself around.

I’d say I’ve gotten much better at making friends once I had kids. I joined a mommy group when Zach was only six-weeks-old because I was quickly aware that I could not do this alone. Six-and-a-half years later, I’m still friends with most of the mommy group members, but none of them live in really close walking distance.

Neighborhood Kids

Photo by Ned Horton

I’ve been envious of my friends who can send their kids a few doors down to a neighbor’s house so I recently decided to reach out to another family on our street with young children.

Last week, I invited the six- and nine-year old girls who live five doors down from us. I was pretty nervous about how things would go. Zach and the six-year-old girl are only a few weeks apart, but sometimes Zach has a hard time playing with new kids, especially girls. He’ll insist on playing Legos or Star Wars, and some kids just aren’t in to either of those things. It can be miserable for everyone involved.

I needn’t have worried. Zach and the girl got along immediately and had a great time. Right after the play date ended he asked me to invite her to his birthday party. His birthday is in the summer time.

Kaylee was much slower to warm up to the nine-year-old girl. She’s used to being around six-year-olds, but I guess the extra three-year difference really intimidated her. She would only sit on my lap and resisted any attempts from the girl to play with her.

Thankfully, the girl could draw, and after a few minutes of telling her what to draw, Kaylee finally went off to her room to play with her. By the end of the play date, they were walking down the street holding hands. At one point the girl was carrying Kaylee down the street like a cat, and Kaylee loved it.

We’ve already scheduled another play date this week at their house. I’m working on setting up get-togethers with the other family with a young child on our street and another family two blocks away.

I think that Zach is old enough to walk his sister five houses down without adult supervision, although I just found out the 16-year-old girl next door is learning to drive, so I may make them carry a loud bike horn to announce when they’re crossing each driveway.

I’m hoping that when Zach’s nine or ten years old, I can send him out around the neighborhood on his bike or on foot for a few hours at a time.

Do you let your kids go to neighbors’ houses on their own yet? When will you?

“You Confounding Kids!”

By Mike Laursen

A lot of people complain that teaching cursive handwriting is disappearing from our schools.

Cursive writing

Not me. I have what I consider to be unassailable rational arguments for why cursive is no longer relevant. I have unassailable rational arguments for many, many things. Everyone who knows me is lucky I manage to keep them to myself as much as I do.

All anybody uses cursive for is to sign documents, and for that the more your signature varies from the model cursive taught in school the better. It would be more fun if everyone would make up a cool squiggle for signing their checks or use hanko stamps, like they do in Japan. We could all be like Prince!

If cursive has to become an elective subject to free up time for kids to learn the modern-day skills of typing and navigating computers, so be it. It would make a computer nerd like me happy.

Only thing is — turns out that Zach really enjoys writing in cursive.

Zach is slated to have a short unit in cursive in third grade. Recently though, his teacher wrote his name in cursive on his homework, and Zach was fascinated by it. His interest is surprising considering we’ve had to work hard with him to get his block lettering neat enough so his teacher can read it. He has already switched to writing his name in cursive at the top of all his school papers.

Frankie points out that it is easier for him to write cursive without lifting his hand from the paper. That might be part of it. He is also aware that there are lots of old things written in cursive, and every now and then a line of text in an ad or a book.

My nice rational ideas of how the world should be, of how my kids should think and should want to behave, are confounded all the time by my actual children.

Whenever I would think about what a daughter of mine would be like, I always pictured a tomboy. I grew up with two sisters, but in a family where they were expected to do everything from painting, to yard work, to fixing brakes and repairing transmissions. They never acted “girly” and were absolutely never exposed to the “girls can’t do that” message of learned helplessness that many girls are subjected to.

Kaylee is never going to hear any of that nonsense, either. Not on my watch. When I’m heading to Home Depot, she always wants to go. When I grab a hammer or a screwdriver to fix something, she always tries to grab it out of my hand and do the job herself.

But at an early age, Kaylee received a princess dress as a gift. Something lit up deep in her brain, and Daddy just can’t relate. The only princess I’m down with is Princess Leia, and she doesn’t appear in the princess parade at Disneyland. At least not yet.

Everyone who knew me as a kid tells me that Zach looks just like I did. Maybe that’s why I sometimes expect him to think and act like I did when I was a kid. One of my favorite things was going on road trips with my family. The longer the better. But Zach always complains about going anywhere. I used to love playing games like spotting license plates, but Zach has no interest in any of that.

But it has started to change as he has gotten older. About a year ago he started taking interest in looking at the scenery passing by when we’re driving somewhere. I realized that I may have been remembering things I enjoyed when I was older. Maybe sometimes I just need to be patient.

How have your kids confounded your expectations by insisting on being themselves? What tidy ideas that you held have been shaken up by your kids?

About Mike Laursen
When he’s not busy not paying attention to what his wife is saying, he’s changing diapers and feeding kids, programming computers at work, or puttering around the house fixing something.

Tricking My Three-year-old into Cooperating

The kids’ swim school shut down for two weeks over the winter holidays, and reentry has been extremely painful. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had to force Kaylee into her car seat, only for her to make herself vomit. Zach was able to make himself vomit at will at this age, which is the worst superpower a three-year-old could possibly have.

Because of this incident, my husband was pretty frazzled this morning hearing Kaylee shout, “I don’t want to go to swimming!” over and over. He just kept muttering, “I don’t know what to do.”

I felt myself getting anxious, listening to him repeat it like a mantra. I was starting to get irritated with him, but I tried to be compassionate, and accept that it was reasonable for him to be worried because Kaylee has proven how stubborn she can be.

My husband recently discovered two tricks for getting Kaylee to cooperate:

Withhold dress-up clothes from her
Kaylee can’t put on her princess dress-up clothes by herself yet, and if my husband threatens not to let her wear them, she sometimes relents.

Withhold attention from her
We tell her to sit on a chair in her room and ignore her for awhile. She gets bored and lonely, and when we check on her after awhile, she often says she’ll cooperate.

Neither of these things worked this morning. She laid naked on the floor of her room, happily singing to herself as time ticked closer to the start time of her swim lesson.

I took classes with Landmark Education about 10 years ago, and one of the things they repeat over and over is bringing Possibility into your life. The way they talked about it, it really did have a capital letter. Disney ran an ad campaign a while back, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I’m not so sure that’s always true, but I’m a firm believer that, “If you can’t dream it, you cannot possibly do it.” Your mind simply closes down and narrows its focus.

So, this morning I tuned out my husband’s anxiety and brainstormed other things we could try. I remembered that having been in this predicament before, I had bought a bunch of reward stickers. I went to Kaylee and offered her a sticker if she would put on her swimsuit. I said I’d give her another sticker after she did her swim class. She immediately said, “I don’t want another sticker.” I figured we should cross one bridge at a time.

Once she was dressed, she still kept saying she didn’t want to go to swim class. I realized the most important thing was to get her into the car, so I asked the kids if they wanted to bring some drawing toys in the car. We have a Doodle Pro and a dry erase board that Kaylee loves to draw on, mostly because it’s supposed to be for our grocery list. She was so excited about using the dry erase board, she literally forgot where we were going. We pulled into the parking lot at the swim school, and she kept asking where we were and what we were going to buy there.

Kaylee still cried when we handed her to the swim instructor and walked out (this seems cruel until you realize that most kids calm down as soon as they no longer have an audience), but within a few minutes she was happily spilling toys around the pool and putting them back into a basket.

I was really impressed with myself for getting Kaylee to agree to cooperate. I had only gotten two hours of sleep the night before, so I may have been extra motivated not to provoke her, knowing that it would only provoke my own propensity for rage.

What strategies do you use to get your three-year-old to cooperate? It’s because she’s three years old and not “just like this,” right? RIGHT?

For more on this difficult year, check out Allison Slater Tate’s post: The Threenager

A Boy in a Dress Is Still a Boy

Zach’s friend is in most ways a typical boy. He plays with cars and Legos, climbs trees, and fights with his sister. He also happens to have long hair, and likes to wear dresses, headbands, and sometimes a purse.

In the beginning, it was kind of a big deal. His mom would email a group of us moms who were getting together, warning us that he would be wearing a dress. We naturally wore skirts and dresses in solidarity. I worried that other people in the restaurant might make some offensive comment, but no one did.

Initially, Zach had questions. He wondered why his friend was wearing dresses and why other boys didn’t. I told him his friend simply liked to wear them, and that was okay. He said if his friend came over for a play date wearing a dress, then Zach wanted to wear one too. I said that was fine, but so far it hasn’t come up.

Nowadays, Zach’s friend comes to school in a dress. Sometimes kids will ridicule him saying, “You’re a girl! You’re wearing a dress!” His parents are working with him on how to respond in a way where he stands up for himself without resorting to physical retaliation.

Zach and Kaylee are pretty gender-stereotypical, although they do have their moments. Zach is really in to Slave Leia from “The Return of the Jedi.” When he watches it, he tends to want to dress like her for a few days. He used to take off his shirt and wrap a sweatshirt around his chest so that his belly and shoulders were exposed. Kaylee received a hand-me-down hula costume, and Zach was ecstatic to wear the coconut cup bikini top.

My husband and I neither encourage not discourage Zach’s clothing choices. We just follow his lead. He’s never dressed this way out of the house or when other kids are over for a play date.

Kaylee loves to wear princess dresses and dance around, but she’s not afraid to get dirty, and she loves going to the hardware store. Whenever my husband tries to repair something at home, Kaylee grabs the tools and tries to fix it herself.

I’m glad that my kids are not too far on either end of the masculinity-femininity spectrum. They’re young children, and part of defining who they are is trying out different things.

I admire how Zach’s friend’s family supports and accepts their son. Their journey is not an easy one. It’s so much more acceptable for a girl to throw up her dress and show off her Batman underwear or to run around in a rash guard and swim trunks covered in sharks or rockets than for a boy to wear a dress. It’s so ridiculous. In what possible way could he be a threat to anyone? He’s happy, he’s being himself, and isn’t that what we want for all children?

How do you support your kids when they behave differently from their peers?

“I Still Love You”

By Gretchen Schiller

A girl Pouting

Photo by Steve Ford

“You’re the meanest Mommy everrrrrrrr! I don’t love you! I don’t even like you!” Ana Lu screeched, stomping on the floor, arms down by her side, hands balled into petite fists … wait for it… followed by the quintessential stomp out of the room. Into her room she goes, catapults herself onto her bed, yanks the comforter over her head and grunts octaves higher than necessary, assuring I get the memo she’s pissed.

Note to self: Get this kid into acting classes. Her natural flair for drama is extraordinary.  My friend recently recommended I get Ana Lu into drama classes, that perhaps she’ll channel her inherent knack for drama in a theater, rather than our home.

I can only hope.

I follow Ana Lu into her room, kneel down next to her bed and gently lay my hand on her back. She twitches, pulls away and grunts overtly again.

“I still love you, Sweetie.”

It’s the first thing I say every time she says I’m mean or that she hates me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I’m overly joyful in the moment. Inside I’m fuming because I know that I bust my mommy-ass to raise her, so getting told I’m mean while setting a basic rule really pisses me off.

If I’m honest, there are plenty of times I’ve considered sticking out my foot to trip her when she stomps off all attitude-y to her room.

But regardless of my intermittent, unhealthy desire to trip my five-year-old when she’s acting like a twit… I’m always mindful of saying, “I still love you.”

I always want her to know – no, it’s vital that she know – she can be real with me. That I can take it. I ask her if she wants me to stay. She murmurs, “Yes,” in a tone of voice that communicates, “I need you, but I don’t want you.”

I sit on her bed, start to rub her back and feel her petite body relax underneath my loving touch. Most times, after I sit with her for a minute she regains confidence that my love is unconditional, and I’m cool with her spazzing out on me; she’s ready to be alone. She softly whispers, “Space, please.” She knows she needs alone time to wind down.

Thank God.

I desperately need it too.


Gretchen Signature

About Gretchen Schiller
Gretchen Schiller is an ex-wife, ex-pediatric nurse & ex-member of Weight Watchers. (Cake is simply too yummy!) Nowadays she’s a writer about healthy co-parenting, single parenting, adoption & motherhood ups, downs and are you freakin’ kidding me?! Find her at Sassy Single Mom.

The Lies We Tell Our Children

We tell our kids all the time that it’s wrong to lie, but we totally do it, especially to them. Sometimes it’s a matter of survival, sometimes it’s letting them believe in magic, and sometimes it’s just fun to mess with them.

Long nose

Stranger Danger
When my son Zach and his friend would leave the house and go out onto the front stoop, I would warn Zach that it wasn’t safe. He’d ask, “Why?” and I’d tell him that sometimes people do bad things, like they might want to bring him home and have him live with them instead. I chose not to use the word “kidnap” because I didn’t want to scare him, and I certainly didn’t want to tell him how strangers sometimes harm children. Perhaps this is less of a lie than a particular way of phrasing things, but it certainly made sense not to explain this in too much detail.

No Batteries
Some toys ought to be recalled not for safety reasons, but because they’re frickin’ cruel to parents. We got a Pooh ride-on train that as soon as the batteries got even slightly less than fully charged, would blast a train whistle sound. This happened at 2 o’clock in the morning. Naturally, we took the batteries out and told Zach the batteries died, and we just couldn’t replace them.

Sex Ed
Sometimes I just don’t feel like explaining things to my kids, especially when we’re in the car. I get distracted very easily while driving so I agree to whatever they’re saying. One morning there was condensation on the windows. The kids asked about it, and I explained how the cold air made water collect on the windows. Zach started saying, “Condensation, condenz,” then “condoms.” He asked, “Mom, what are condoms?” I said, “They’re a form of protection,” and started talking about something else.

Ice Cream Carts and Trucks
Whenever guys with ice cream carts come through the park, I tell Kaylee that they just walk around playing music for the kids. I tell her the same thing when the ice cream truck drives around and around our neighborhood.

One of my favorite lies was told by my friend. She told her son when he was a preschooler, “If you hit me one more time, Elmo won’t be your friend anymore!” Another friend told her daughter that the GPS on her Android phone works by communicating with “Google elves,” who tell her where to go.

I think most of us have threatened to put our kids on eBay, sell them to the circus, or leave them on the sidewalk with a “FREE” sign, but the kids figure out quickly that we’re bluffing. There’s also the “Oh, we can’t go to that store/playground/amusement park because it’s closed.” If their friend is able to stay longer somewhere fun and Zach asks, “Why do they get to stay longer?” I like to say, “Well, so-and-so’s parents don’t love them as much as I love you.”

I never would have thought that lying would be part of good parenting, but just like you should “pick your battles,” I believe we should “lie through our teeth if it gets the job done.”

What lies do you tell your kids?

Four Children’s Books I Hate to Read

There are many children’s books that I love reading to my kids: books by Sandra Boynton, Mo Willems, Mr. Rogers, and Eric Carle, for example.

A mom reading to her kids

Photo by Ned Horton

The following books irritate me to no end.

Fox in Socks
This book physically hurts me to read. My friend’s daughter insisted I read it to her once, and I pretty much never, ever want to read it again. I also have difficulty reading made-up words, which feature in many Dr. Seuss books. I get that they’re there to teach kids rhyming sounds, but I really feel a twinge every time I read them. It’s like I feel disloyal to real words.

Daddy & Me
I normally like Karen Katz books. They’re great for toddlers. I imagine they increase sales of clear packing tape because that’s what we use to reattach the lift-the-flap pieces our kids tear out of the books.

This book bugs me because there are a few glaring mistakes in the order in which the father and child build a doghouse. It has them cut the wood, then measure it. They put hinges on, then paint. I know it’s not intended to be a manual for actually building something, but they could have easily arranged the pages so that the steps were in the proper order. The other thing is that their workshop is a mess!

Clearly I take things too seriously, but even if kids are the target audience of a book, throw the parents a bone and at least make it less painful to read.

The Frog in the Well
This is based on a Chinese folk tale, so it’s not the author’s fault that this story is propaganda for the constant striving for MORE in contemporary society. The story depicts a frog living in a well, who thinks he’s the smartest and greatest, and he’s blissfully happy. Then a turtle comes and shames him into realizing there’s a big ocean he doesn’t even know anything about.

It’s meant to warn against being narrow-minded and embracing the world of knowledge, but I want to shout at the little frog, “It’s okay to live simply and be happy! Tell that turtle to go shove it!” Of course, I want my kids to learn things, but I’d prefer they seek wisdom rather than just knowledge. Also, this pushes my button of always feeling “not enough.”

The Giving Tree
I’ll admit I’ve never read this to my kids, so I don’t know whether they’d like it or not. I see this story as a depiction of a mother giving up everything she has to provide for her son even at the cost of her own survival. I accept sacrifice as a mother, but I think children need to see their parents as independent people who take care of their own needs as well as their children’s. We are caregivers, not hosts for parasites (at least after we give birth).

Which kids’ books do you hate reading? Why?