Tag Archives: acceptance

How Do I Tell My Son His Friend is Now a Girl?

A girl and a boy

Please check out my guest post on My Migraine Family about explaining to Zach about his friend being transgender.

I’m Losing My Mind Along with All of Our Stuff!

Kids' rain boots

Last week, we lost my son Zach’s red sweatshirt, my daughter Kaylee’s rain boots, and her rain coat. I write “we,” but really I mean “me.” I feel it’s my personal responsibility to keep track of all of our stuff. It’s not like I can realistically expect my husband or my kids to do it.

I get really upset when we lose stuff. If it’s a toy, especially if it came from a goody bag, I don’t stress too much about it, but if it’s something of mine, or if it’s something we use all the time, I get really bent out of shape. I actually got pretty depressed about the clothes and boots because I took it to mean that I’m so out of control, so overwhelmed, that I’m losing our basic necessities.

My husband kept trying to comfort me, saying that it was just as possible that it wasn’t my fault. I’m a perfectionist so it was easy for me to consider him wrong and to insist that it is indeed my fault.

I am happy to report that we have recovered all three items. My mother accidentally took Zach’s sweatshirt home last week with her stuff, I found Kaylee’s rain boots inside the basket of the folded-up stroller, and my husband found her rain coat at preschool this morning.

This should probably make me feel better, but it doesn’t. What bothered me most about losing the stuff was that I could not for the life of me remember where I had last seen the items, whether I’d been the last person to fold up the stroller (it would have felt SO much better if I had remembered my husband doing it. It’s easier to forgive him than myself. I’d also have had the chance to rub it in a little if it had been his fault.) I could have sworn I had brought her rain coat home from preschool, but apparently I got distracted.

I feel like that will be my epitaph: “Accidental death due to being distracted.” Our house is full of things lying around that my husband or I started to deal with, then left when we got called away by each other or one of the children.

The perfectionist part of me says, “See? You write about mindfulness, but clearly you’re failing at it. Get your act together.”

The compassionate, inner knowing part of me says, “This is a reminder to practice Acceptance.”

In dialectical behavior therapy, there’s a slide that describes “Four options for painful problems”:

  1. Solve the problem
  2. Change the way you feel about it
  3. Accept it
  4. Stay miserable

Practicing mindfulness could help alleviate being so distracted, but it’s not realistic for me to aim for not ever forgetting anything. It’s just not possible. I can change the way I feel about losing stuff by accepting that it’s okay, that it happens to lots of people, not just me, and it’s not a sign that I’m failing as a parent or a human being. I actually think these things, which are ineffective and really not helpful.

Dr. Marsha Linehan lists three parts to the skill “radical acceptance“:

  • accept that reality is what it is
  • accept that the event or situation causing me pain has a cause
  • accept that life can be worth living with painful events in it

I can easily forgive my mother for accidentally bringing Zach’s sweatshirt home with her. I can practice forgiving myself for being distracted and be grateful for the many things I do remember each day: picking them up from school, feeding them every couple of hours, and telling them how much I love them.

How do you cope with constantly getting distracted?

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?

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?

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect, But You Can Be Good

Every few months I break down sobbing because I remember that deep down, I am fatally flawed. I am broken, defective, worthless. I am no good at anything. Everything that’s going wrong in life is my fault. I work incredibly hard at everything, and it’s still just not good enough.

For a while tonight while I was crying, I thought I should go away for a week so my husband and kids could see if they’d do better without me. If they could, then I’d just go live as a hermit somewhere. Of course, I realized that was stupid, my husband would go nuts without me driving the kids around, helping our son do his homework, buying groceries, doing laundry, etc.

I’m a Perfectionist. Not just by self-definition, I’ve actually been tested. My therapist did the Enneagram with me, and it was pretty clear that I’m a Perfectionist. No matter how well I’m doing, I should always be doing better.

This probably started early on for me. My father was running from the law for most of my childhood, and I think I believed that if I were perfect he would somehow stop being angry, would stop breaking the law, and would love me. Somehow my being perfect would protect him and me.

I totally understand that my thoughts are not rational, but I think that my feelings of worthlessness are hard-wired in my brain. It’s going to take a lot of re-training to make new connections in my brain that allow me to forgive and to accept myself.

I’ve come a long way already. Before when I would have friends over, I would sweep and mop the night before, no matter how tired I was. I used to be afraid to watch other people’s kids even for just an hour or two. I used to try to pretend I was perfect. This made me an extremely big pain in the ass. I’m lucky I’ve managed to keep some of my friends from over 10 years ago. I was such a jerk. People who’ve read my post about judging people who take public assistance would rightfully argue I can still be a jerk.

I told my son once, “You don’t have to be perfect, but you can be good.” Recently when I was getting really impatient and frustrated with my daughter, my son came to me and reminded me of this sentiment. I’m not sure why I worry so much about him. Sometimes he seems so much wiser than me.

NotPerfectButGood

I’ve gotten much better about admitting to other people that I’m not perfect. I’ve got to practice admitting to myself that it’s really okay for me not to be perfect. It’s not doing my kids any favors to set expectations that none of us can reach.

One of my biggest problems is taking on too many things. Trying to help out at church, at my son’s school, with my friends, trying to be a writer, trying to keep up with my book club, and on and on.

I’m going to take a step back and start over with my To Do List. If I pull the plants out of the garden, I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not tending it. I can write blog posts when I feel I have something to share, not just because about a week has gone by.

I know that having compassion for myself makes me more able to have compassion for others, and God knows my kids need compassion. They have me for their mother. (That’s totally supposed to be a joke.)

What do you do to keep from making yourself crazy doing too much or working too hard?

Giving What I’ve Got

(Originally posted May 27, 2013)

In my last post, I wrote about being ambitious, taking risks, and pushing boundaries. This week I remembered how important it is to also respect those boundaries.

My son’s school is asking parents to serve on the PTA Board. I’d ignored the emails asking for volunteers, but then I went to a meeting for parents of incoming 1st and 2nd graders. Their plea was compelling. The school does rely heavily on parents to raise money for school materials, field trips, and even some staff. Still, I felt okay deciding to wait another year. Both of my children would be older and need less of my time and attention.

Then I stopped to talk to two moms I know. One of them may be moving away, but she said if she decided to stay in the area she would definitely serve on the PTA. The other mom expressed confidence that I would do well, going so far as to call me “leadership material”. I felt both moved and embarrassed by their encouragement and their commitment.

I thought about how much I should volunteer. Part of me felt that if I were going to volunteer, I shouldn’t do it half-assed by doing the easiest job. This is from my inner Perfectionist. If I really want to help and make a difference, I should do the most challenging, time-consuming, and beneficial job, right? And then I would get accolades from other parents about how selfless I am, and I would practically be a hero (cue the confetti and me doing the princess wave while wearing a tiara).

I had half-convinced myself to volunteer for the Fundraising position, which is the biggest, hardest job. Then I wondered what my husband would say. He’s my sounding board for a lot of things, and even though I resent when he tells me not to do something, he’s usually right. I pictured how tired, frustrated, and terrified I would be, trying to organize and motivate people I didn’t know to give their time and money. I remembered how badly I treat my husband and children when I am tired, frustrated, and afraid.

I realized I’m simply not capable of giving that much time and energy. I looked through the open positions and chose to volunteer for the Hospitality position, which involves buying stuff and setting up for PTA meetings and events. It was in fact the easiest position available.

I wrote an email to the two moms I had spoken to earlier, explaining my choice. I confessed that part of my decision was based on the fact that only 3.5 years ago, I was hospitalized for planning suicide. I had not attempted it, but I had made a mental shopping list and chosen a location. At the time, I was pregnant, exhausted, and had totally unrealistic expectations of how to be a “good mom”. But I still have the passing thought that life would be better without me. I know that that isn’t true, and that it would devastate my family and friends, so I let the thought pass and accept that I just feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Still, after I sent the email, I cried. That really hard, ugly cry. I cried because I’m sad that I can’t give more to my son and the other kids at school. I cried because I felt again that fundamentally “I’m broken” or “damaged” somehow. That I’m less than emotionally stable, mentally balanced people.

The two moms wrote back really compassionate, understanding, and kind responses. I felt relieved. I still worry that some people who read this will think I’m just being a crybaby and a slacker. I heard or read a quote that I can’t quite recall, but it was something about understanding and accepting that each of us has a different container that holds our capacity to give. Some of us have a gallon container, some of us only have a cup. I’ll still give more than I think I can, but not as much as I think I should.

Please note in the comments your thoughts and experience about how much you give to your neighbors, your church, your kids’ schools, etc.

Hugging my Waistline to a Baseline

(Originally posted May 2, 2013)

I’ve come to the realization (again) that I need to eat healthier. I’m 5’2″ and Asian, and most of my body is pretty slender, which makes me even more self-conscious about my waist (blush), which is to say the least “prominent”. I swear I think I must look like a snake that’s swallowed a watermelon. Every few months someone will congratulate me and ask, “When are you due?” even though I’m not pregnant.

The “ideal” weight for my height and frame is 9 lbs. less than what I actually weigh, which makes me think I probably only really need to lose 4-5 lbs. I recently calculated my waist-to-hip ratio though, and realized my waist is almost the same width as my hips, which apparently puts me at greater risk of developing coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and gall bladder disease. To get to a healthier ratio, I need to lose about 2-3 in. off my waist.

When I’ve thought about losing 4-5 lbs., I’ve thought, “Gosh, am I just being a perfectionist? Shouldn’t I just accept my body the way it is? Other people probably have more weight to lose or worse health problems, am I just complaining about nothing?” I’ve felt guilty about thinking I should eat healthier. Does that sound as crazy as I think it does?

When I think about losing 2-3 in. off my waist, it sounds harder, but also much more worthwhile. Diabetes runs in my family so I’ve known for some time that I need to take care of my health, but I didn’t have specific data to really give me the kick in the butt that I’ve needed. I’m hoping this goal will.

I recently spent 2.5 years in therapy, and we made great strides in controlling my temper, accepting and experiencing painful emotions, and challenging self-destructive beliefs. One thing we could never make headway with was eating healthfully. I did the South Beach Diet, and it worked for the two weeks I was on it. Then I went back to my indulging in empty calories throughout the day. For example, one day this week I ate a chocolate croissant, frozen yogurt with Oreo bits and peanuts, ice cream, a couple of chicken wings, and a slice of pizza as SNACKS, in addition to three full meals.

I know the benefits of eating healthfully. It doesn’t help. I know that I tend to get cravings around 9 am and 4 pm. I know that I eat when I feel anxious or angry. I know that I use food as rewards for not yelling at my kids (even though of course I still yell at them, just not as often or maybe as loudly) or doing a ridiculous number of errands in a short period of time. I know that I get more moody when I eat empty calories because I end up on the sugar high and low roller coaster. Knowing all this has not helped me start nor maintain healthy eating habits.

BUT, this is my first attempt at eating healthier since I started this blog. I’m going to let all the past attempts stay in the past and not treat them as predictors of a future failure. I’m going to practice what a fellow blogger suggests, asking, “What else can I be thinking about instead of eating cookies/scones/mochas?” I’m going to order iced tea instead of mochas if I go to a coffee shop (I’m a mom, there’s no way to avoid coffee shops between kids’ story hour, book club, and writers’ group). I’m going to remind myself that I’m not eating pastries or mochas until I’ve lost those 2-3 in. off my waist. I’m not actually going to measure my waist until I can feel a significant difference in the tightness of my pants. I’m not going to worry about anyone judging me for my weight loss if it’s smaller than anyone else’s. It’s my journey to a healthier, happier me, and it’s totally valid. I’m going to remember I’m not alone in this endeavor. My fellow blogger Miss Bookish Girl recently wrote about her struggle to be a foodie while on Weight Watchers.

I’m going to accept that I’m okay the way I am now, and I’m still going to be okay when my waist is a little smaller, and maybe a little smaller still. I’m going to remember that “treating” myself is more about giving myself a break, sometimes by leaving chores to be done later or by forgiving myself for making mistakes. I am going to DO THIS.

The Best is Yet to Come? Nope, it’s Now

(Originally posted April 26, 2013)

“I’m doing the best I can,” I told my son the other day. I was surprised how quickly he accepted that and cut me some slack. I wish I were as quick to give myself the benefit of the doubt.

“Doing my best” sometimes seems like a cop-out, especially to the Perfectionist in my head (Remember her? She’s that loud know-it-all who tells me all the ways I’m wrong).

I think that all of us really are doing the best we can, in the circumstances we’re in, with the current set of skills we have. It’s easy to feel we can do better, but striving to improve is something best done in moderation. I haven’t always felt this way.

I recently found the only short story I have ever finished, and it was written at a time when I unequivocally felt that my dad’s best was worthless. The story is like a diatribe against my last boss, my mother, my father, and my aunt.

It was written seven years ago, and my oh my, how much has changed. My dad is dead now, and I forgive him everything because I really understand now that he did do the best he could. He never learned the skills to dig himself out of the really dark place his depression and anxiety always brought him back to. He never built the amazing support network that I’ve been extremely lucky to find. Who I am is very much because of my relationship with him, and I’m grateful that I knew him.

My aunt in the story is the aunt I recently reconnected with. She criticized my mother, but it was almost 15 years ago, and she was going through a rough time with her own kids. She did apologize at the time. The fact that my mom and my aunt are able to pick up right where they left off is so satisfying to me.

The depiction of my mother in the story is rather more a caricature of her quirks. But the thing about my father telling me that she tried to abort me twice is true. I’ve never spoken to her about it. I don’t feel the need or desire to. It’s immaterial whether it’s true. I know that she loves me now, and she’s very proud of me. I appreciate her so much more now than I did when I was growing up, or even just a few years ago.

I still find it hard when someone does something that irritates me, especially if I’m driving. I’m so quick to tell myself that they should have done something different, been more courteous, not been an idiot. Then I remember that that’s just my ego or my Perfectionist.

The truth is that we’re all doing the best we can, but just like our kids, sometimes we get tired, or hungry, or grumpy, or afraid, or all four simultaneously, and our best looks kind of messy and not particularly good.

Dog shows have many, many categories for judging, and then the final category is Best in Show. I’d like to think now that we are each in our own category, and we’re doing our best in the show that is our lives. Cheesy, I know, but I’m going to “try it on” and see if it helps me be more accepting of myself and everyone around me. I want that so bad, it’s worth experimenting with lots of different things, cheesy, idiotic, or what not. So much of my frustration in life is refusing to accept things as they are.

Here is the short story I wrote in June 2006. My husband likes to say that I am an “award-winning” writer since I won third prize and $10 for this piece at the community college where I was taking a creative writing course.