Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
The New England Prep School rape case
Peggy Orenstein’s latest book, Girls & Sex
Sex trafficking rates skyrocketing
The advertising phrase (and perhaps its most bedrock belief) “sex sells”

I could go on, but I think you’ll get the point. I’ve written here many times about rape culture and Sex Ed and I have very, very strong opinions, both as a sex assault survivor and as the mother of two daughters. But more than that, I am concerned for the way our entire culture treats the topic of sex because I think that from a very young age we are taught that sex is, first and foremost, a commodity, and secondly (sadly, a distant second for many, many people), an act of affection and/or love between individuals.

Long before most parents even consider broaching the subject of sex and sexuality with their children, they are bombarded by slick magazine ads, television shows, movies, and books that depict sex as a commodity, as something that we all ought to want and that we can buy our way into. There are many young people who are taught by older children or adults that their sexuality is something that can “buy” affection or special favors. Parents who prostitute their children are not only profiting financially, but they are teaching their children that sex has power and if you want money – or if you have it – you need only sell yourself. Many teenagers, both girls and boys, have a deep understanding of sexual favors – there are those who purchase social capital by giving blow jobs or hand jobs to others and those already in power who cement their status by receiving those favors.

Even if these kids do get “Sex Ed” in school, it is largely mechanical in scope, outlining anatomical features and talking about how pregnancy happens and how to avoid STDs. By the time they are adults, very few of them have an understanding of sex as something that is theirs to define – that they have every right to engage in it with an expectation of pleasure as opposed to some “reward.” Our American notion of “sex” is a very transactional one that is often one-sided. By the time we have the courage to really talk to our kids about sex (if we ever do), there is so much damage to undo that it feels overwhelming. And for children who learn early on, through abuse or sex trafficking, that sex is a tool, it is possible that their fundamental understanding of this act that is supposed to make their lives more whole has been forever damaged. How do you undo the notion that the person with more (power, control, money, status) has the right to obtain sex from the one with less when that is what you are shown in so many different ways over and over, nearly from the time you were born?

When girls are raised with the idea that their power lies in their ability to grant or withhold sex (the most egregious example of this I’ve heard of recently was Spike Lee’s latest movie Chi-Raq), it is damaging to their ability to see sex as something that is more intrinsically rewarding. When they are surrounded by images of women who are sexually provocative and who are praised for it (Kim Kardashian’s nude Instagram photos, anyone?), they are taught that sex is a tool, and that it ought to only look one way or it isn’t right.

When boys are raised with the notion that the more sex they have, the more masculine they are, it is equally damaging. Because, in our culture, they are born with more power at the outset, when they are presented with the idea that sex is a commodity, it isn’t much of a mental leap to imagine taking sex when they want it, simply because they can. When we set sex up to be about power, we can expect rape to follow along shortly. When business lunches are conducted in strip clubs and sex trafficking rates rise sharply during the Super Bowl, you can be sure that we have embraced sex as a commodity.

The question is, are we willing to live with the consequences of that or can we start talking to our young people about what else sex might be, instead?

I am someone who used to be prone to depression. I say “used to be” because it has been a long time since I really felt that deep, penetrating sense of darkness, and I’d like to think I’m cured. If that’s even a thing.

After coming out of the last dark hole without the help of pharmaceuticals, I was simultaneously thrilled that it was possible (for me) and waiting for the slapdown because I had gotten too cocky. Too big for my britches. Thought I was above it all. As if depression were some spiteful older relative who was setting me up to watch me fall, laughing in the corner as I celebrated because he knew he had the power to pull the rug out from under me.

I remember being afraid to even hear the word “depression” for fear that that combination of letters could trigger another episode. I couldn’t read about someone else’s struggle with it, nor could I watch a television show or movie that featured any characters who were depressed. It seemed contagious, like my emergence from the darkness was the result of the fact that I had simply forgotten it was part of me – a limb I was ignoring but would soon rediscover and have to deal with. Seeing someone else with the same thing would inevitably draw my attention to it and dump me right back into that deep hole.

But it turns out that depression doesn’t work that way. And on some level, I always knew that, but when you are still feeling tender from the last blow, it isn’t much of a stretch to believe that the next one is right around the corner. And so I cowered. But eventually I came out of my hiding place and started to think that maybe this time I could be ok for a while. Or longer.

And it’s been a long time. And I’m grateful.

But this week I discovered Furiously Happy, a book about depression and what it means to fully embrace the craziest, most wildly happy things in life. And I am remembering that, while gratitude is great, it is somewhere near the middle of the rise (and fall) of the roller coaster, but happiness like Lawson writes about, that is at the top, with the amazing views and the stomach-dropping adrenaline and the involuntary grin that spreads so wide you think your face will split like an overripe watermelon. And while it is probably way overused, that phrase “feel all the feels” comes to mind, with the emphasis on the ALL part.

Sometimes, when I am acutely aware of my status as a responsible adult, I hold back from laughing out loud when I see something ridiculous. I put all my energy into anticipating who will be hungry when and do we have healthy snacks in the house. I pay attention to the road and the pedestrians because I have a new driver in the car who is watching me (or not, it’s sometimes hard to tell). I look for the lessons – and, believe me, during this crazy election cycle there are plenty of lessons. Sometimes I forget that adulting and irreverence are not mutually exclusive.

Last week I was really sick. That kind of sick where you really can’t make yourself get up off of the couch and every time you try you fall over again. I mostly slept for two days. But then, even when I wasn’t tired anymore, I discovered that I couldn’t just bounce back, that emptying the dishwasher was enough to physically exhaust me and I had to go sit on the couch. The problem with this is that I normally don’t sit around much. Unless I am reading a really great book, I can’t sit still for very long and I certainly can’t watch more than one TV show at a time without getting up to do something else. So being forced to sit around was painfully boring and I started getting a little weird.  At one point I found myself looking at all of the emojis on my phone and texted them to Lola.

Because who uses a circular saw blade emoji*? Or maybe it is supposed to be a free-floating gear? In any case, who created that and why? And what about the bamboo one with the little star-like thing and the red flag/leaf coming off of it? What the hell is that supposed to symbolize? I spent a long time looking at all of the stock emojis available, imagining what prompted their creation, and bugging Lola who was busy in her room doing homework. She was amused for a while, but quickly ran out of patience with me. I think her final text went something like: Oh, God, Mom! You need to find something to do.


The point of this was that it was useless and fun and goofy and that’s something I haven’t been in a while (well, I hope I’m never useless). And it rocked. And it reminded me that I can crack that door of irreverence open whenever I want to – not just when I’m deliriously sick – and that it is restorative. And since then, I smile whenever I think of something funny, even when I’m the only one around. Like this morning when I drove by a guy walking his pug (who, incidentally, looked exactly like the human version of his own dog) who thought he was alone and mimicked his dog’s whole-body-shake-the-pouring-rain-off-of-me maneuver and stuck his tongue out at him. I laughed out loud. Or when I heard a song in my head as I stepped out of the shower and instead of trying to banish it or ignore it, I decided to dance to it. By myself. In the bathroom. And that dance move was the first one I’ve done in a while.

My poor kids. I think I’m going to start being weird a little more often. It’s pretty fun.

*I just looked up that emoji on my phone because I was going to post a picture of it here and I think it’s supposed to be a gear, but in my defense, that is still a fairly obscure thing to have on one’s phone. There is also a table clamp one which is beyond ridiculous because, really? And, as someone who doesn’t often use emojis because, well, I’m 44 years old, both of them are now in my “frequently used” emojis that pop up whenever I text someone. So I’m going to start using them both to see if I can confuse people and make them wonder what the hell I mean by that. Because that’s fun, right?

I have just had the most extraordinary experience, and despite the fact that I’m sitting in an artificially-lit room with rain showering down from charcoal-grey skies outside, I am absolutely glowing. 


My oldest turned 16 yesterday and, to celebrate, she and I spent three days in New York City touring around and indulging in all of her fantasies. We poked around Barney’s and Bloomingdales, stood with the hordes outside Rockefeller Center and snapped photo after photo of the tree and the ice skaters. We wandered across the campus of Columbia University, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and stood underneath the Manhattan Bridge on a sunny, bright day. We perused the wares at holiday markets from Union Square to Bryant Park and walked through Times Square at night people-watching. Perhaps her favorite experience, though, was seeing Wayne Brady in a production of Kinky Boots. She was hardly able to sit still from excitement and when we stood outside the stage door afterward, shivering, she barely felt the chill in the air. The star himself came out to greet his fans and promptly wrapped her in his wool trench coat and offered her a warm “Happy Birthday!” as I took photos of them together. She floated back to the hotel and couldn’t get to sleep, she was so thrilled. 


These moments together, whether they be tiny ones like sharing a delicious snack or huge ones like meeting Wayne Brady, lifted me up to a place I won’t soon come down from. I know that I have only two more years before she is off to college and I see her much less often (especially if she chooses to go to school in New York, which she says she will), and while I feel as though I ought to be sad about that, I was really just very honored to be part of the joy that she had this last weekend. Watching her face light up in a grin as big as I’ve ever seen when she spied the window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue and hearing her exclamation of bliss at the first bite of New York cheesecake are some of the things I was so lucky to be witness to that I will never forget. 


There is a song in Kinky Boots called “Not My Father’s Son” that reminded me of a piece I wrote a few years ago called The Fallacy of Belonging, where the two lead characters sing about feeling as though they disappointed their fathers because they couldn’t “echo what he’d done.” All of the singing was exquisite, but as I sat and listened to that particular song and turned to watch Eve, I knew in my heart that the best thing I can do for her is to let her travel her own path in life, wherever it leads her. No matter how many instances I can recall that point to our similarities, she is herself, and it is not my place to convince her of anything, to hold her back because I am afraid or don’t understand. My gift to her is to lift her up, help her believe in herself and trust her own gut, and revel in the things that she enjoys and desires. I could no more imagine myself at 16 wanting to go to school in NYC than I could have imagined myself being abducted by aliens, but it doesn’t matter. The simple fact that she and I can share these moments together, with her driving the agenda and feeling free to explore possibilities for her own life means more to me than anything. 


On the flight home, I sat next to a woman whose daughter is a senior at Columbia University. She was on her way home from a visit and she confided to me that she never could have prepared herself for how hard it was to have her daughter go away to college (they live in Anchorage, Alaska – almost as far apart as you can get and still be in the same country). She confessed to having gone through a deep depression when her daughter was gone, and said that even now, she visits her 2-3 times a semester just to reconnect. For a moment, I panicked and started to wonder what it might be like for me to have Eve so far away, but then I made a decision to stay in the glow of this weekend. It will probably be very hard for me if she goes across the country to college, but all I have to do is conjure up the memory of how happy she was to be feeling grown up in the big city, exploring all it had to offer, and striking out with a confidence I never had at that age, and I think I can find it in myself to be happy for her. She is not me, and I am so honored to be given the opportunity to see her for who she is without placing my own filters on her. That would only limit her and goodness knows I don’t want to do that.  Happy birthday, sweet girl. Thank you for being in my world. 

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It’s an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” Fred Rogers

“Love is an action, never simply a feeling.” bell hooks

As a kid, I thought love was a commodity. Something that I could acquire if I only had the right currency. And I often felt as though I had hit upon the right combination of things to do and say and be, but, as with all other things we pay for and think we own, once I had it, I was forever fearful of losing it. Because if love is a thing not freely given, it can be taken away. I never felt as though I had the power in this particular scenario, which meant that I was always hustling to stay one step ahead.

Perhaps the trickiest part of this view of love was that the cost of it was different for each person I encountered. Mom seemed to need very little to bestow her affection on me until life became more complicated and she was single and raising three kids. Unfortunately, I equated anger and disapproval with a lack of love, as I think most kids do.

As I got older, I experimented with giving and taking away love as a way to get some control over my own life. At least, I thought it was love I was giving and taking away, but it turns out that wasn’t true. I recall attempting to punish my dad by ignoring him or being strictly businesslike in my conversations with him. I gave not-so-subtle signals by withholding physical affection and not making eye contact. But I never stopped loving him, and I never stopped wanting to know that he loved me. I just thought that we had taken love out of the equation when it turns out it was there in the background while we mucked around with each others’ feelings in an attempt to gain power.

It wasn’t until I had Eve that I became aware that love is not a thing in the sense of other things. It is not static or transferable. I cannot give someone else my love for them, I simply love them. Whether either of us chooses to recognize its existence at any given time is another issue. As for love, it is simply there. Available. Pulsing.

With Dad, the struggle came about when I chose to focus on what he owed me for my love. I resented the fact that I loved him so deeply and he wasn’t fulfilling his part of the bargain. He wasn’t wooing me with apologies and admissions and the honesty that I so desperately (thought) I wanted. I resented the fact that I (thought I) had to work so hard to obtain his love – get good grades, work hard at a sport and a job, be polite and ladylike – and that one small misstep put me back at the start like a game of Sorry. But when I had Eve, I realized that I had been wrong all along. There is nothing this child can do that would ever cause me to take away my love for her. It is not even possible. The fact is, I didn’t choose to love this child, I simply do. There are certainly times when I choose to ignore that fact, push it aside and focus on something she has done or said that hurts me, but the truth is, I am only hurt because I love her.

I recall reading a parenting book at some point that cautioned that parents should remind their children often that they are loved unconditionally, and for a while I went about my life believing that my parents’ biggest mistake was in not telling us that. I vowed to remedy the situation by telling both my children and my parents that I love them unconditionally. But these days I feel as though all love is unconditional. If I truly abandon myself to loving another being, I cannot place conditions on it. It is doing love a disservice to pretend that it is a commodity that can be earned or paid for. Perhaps the best part of all of this for me is the knowledge that love exists out there in the world in vast quantities. Regardless of my actions or accomplishments or physical appearance, I can access love at any time. That’s a pretty cool thing to remember when things get tough.

 

I have learned that it is possible to change my attitude simply by remembering what my values are. And while that may sound ridiculously simple and obvious, it often isn’t to me. In fact, it generally requires a focused effort and a pointed (internal) question. When I am in the throes of feeling annoyed or frustrated or distressed about something, I don’t always remember to access the part of me that is curious about what I’m feeling. I am more likely to embark on an entire fantasy monologue with someone I believe can change the situation so that I will feel better, and that monologue is peppered liberally with sarcasm, in most cases.

Lola is on her school’s volleyball team. The school is small and the students that play sports for the school are generally not the ones who have already specialized in one particular sport and play on “rec” or “club” teams year-round. The coaches are terrific, committed and fun, and the students’ abilities vary widely, but we can mostly agree that everyone improves throughout the season. That said, there are still some athletes who have strong natural talents and others who struggle with some basic ideas of the game, and many in-between.

I love watching sports. I love the strategy, the physical ability, the way teams are able to work together and complement each other. I also grew up with some very competitive male role models and have chosen teams to root for that I am very passionate about. I have been accused by both Eve and Lola of being too loud at games when I come to watch them play, but I don’t particularly care. I try to learn all of the girls’ names and cheer for them in supportive ways. I would never yell at a referee or berate a player for missing a chance to score or making a mistake. I don’t make fun of anyone, even on the other team, but my mother-bear does come out when the game is close and I thoroughly enjoy watching my girls’ teams win.

There are a few girls on the volleyball team that have not mastered the overhead serve. There are a few that have never, ever gotten one over the net, and yesterday as I watched the series of three matches and one girl in particular got a chance to serve several times, I found myself getting annoyed. I recall thinking, Why has nobody told this girl that she should give up trying the overhead serve? Just have her serve underhand, for God’s sake. She’ll get it over the net. It’s a guaranteed side-out every single time she tries an overhand serve. Even as I heard the sarcastic tone in my head, I justified it by looking at the scoreboard and seeing how close it was. I rolled my eyes and breathed deeply.

The next time this girl came up to serve, I watched her step uncertainly past the back line and try to steady herself. I could tell by her body language that she was going to try the overhand serve again and just as the mean thoughts began surfacing again, something else rose up to take their place.

What is your true value here? Is it winning the game at all costs? If it is, criticize away. 
 I brought myself up short. It isn’t. Winning isn’t the real, important, long-term value.

Courage. Courage is my value. What I want for all of these girls is to find courage. 
Yeah. I talk so much about hoping that my daughters can tap into their own beliefs and knowledge about themselves and express that with courage and honesty. And that is exactly what this girl is doing. She is trying. She continues to try. She steps up to that line every time, tosses the ball in the air, takes a deep breath, cocks her arm back, and smacks the volleyball, hoping that this time it will go over the net. And when it doesn’t, she smiles an aw-shucks smile and the other five girls on the court high-five her for trying. They say things like, “It’s okay. We’ll get it back. Nice try.” And they turn around and refocus and wait for the serve.

Whether they win or lose, they are playing as a team and reinforcing each others’ right to continue to try. From the most talented athlete to the most awkward one, they rotate on and off the court, play together and encourage each other. The thing is, I remember being that girl – the one who couldn’t get an overhand serve over the net. By my sophomore year in high school, I had given up and only served underhand because I knew I could get it over every time, and I knew that if I couldn’t serve, I wouldn’t play. I got the message that winning was the goal. And then I met Tara. She was a year older than me and stood an inch or two shorter than I did, which was hard to do in high school. She was a brilliant setter and was so tiny, I couldn’t imagine how she could ever get an overhand serve over the net, either. I idolized her on the court and watched her every move. Tara had internalized the ‘winning’ value, too, but she never let go of her courage. She held the two side-by-side and created her own wild, wicked, side-arm overhead serve that baffled the opposing team every time. I never mastered that serve, either, and every time I stepped up to the line to serve my puny underhand serve, I felt ashamed despite the fact that it went over every time. I know now that I wasn’t ashamed because of anything outside of myself – nobody on my team ever made fun of me for my serve. I was ashamed because I had let go of my courage and stopped trying.

Lola’s team won two matches and lost one yesterday, I think. Honestly, what I remember the most about the game was the transformation that happened when I was reminded of what I truly value the most. The warm feeling of pride that came over me when I watched that player try again and again to get her serve over the net made me smile. May she never lose her courage. May I remember to honor it in people more often.

I’ve seen this article, “Former Stanford Dean Explains Why Helicopter Parenting is Ruining a Generation of Children,” highlighted several times this week by different folks and I have a few thoughts:


1. She notes that “incoming students were brilliant and accomplished and virtually flawless, on paper…” Could it be that this is part of the problem? That we expect kids, in order to get into college, to be absolutely perfect? When I was a kid, our hobbies were just that – things we did in our spare time because we enjoyed them. We played organized sports seasonally, not to get a college scholarship, and we didn’t specialize in one sport starting at the age of eight. We played multiple sports, joined scouting, learned to dance or knit or cook because it was part of our culture or our friends were doing it, not because it would look good on a college application.


2. This former dean of Stanford writes, “I’m interested in humans thriving, and it turns out over parenting is getting in the way of that.” Really? Or is ‘over parenting’ as she puts it simply trying to accommodate for the fact that our culture asks our kids to be busy and accomplished 24/7 which leaves little time for thriving, or finding joy and purpose, or learning life skills? Could it be that the ‘Race to Nowhere’ generation has bought into the cultural notion that their purpose lies somewhere outside themselves and the parents have jumped on board the competition train to help their kids get into college and succeed at all costs?


3. “She cites reams of statistics on the rise of depression and other mental and emotional health problems among the nation’s young people.” She doesn’t connect any of that to ‘over parenting’ so how do we know that it isn’t related to our hyper competitive culture that tells kids they have to know where they’re going to college by the time they are freshmen in high school? When I was in high school in the 1980s, we took the SAT. Now, kids not only take the PSAT, but this year, my daughter’s high school tried to get the sophomores to take a pre-PSAT to practice for the practice test so that they would all be good enough at it in their senior year to get into top schools and the high school could tout their scores as something they were responsible for. That’s just one example of the pressure put on kids by high schools and colleges. Perhaps if they don’t have enough bandwidth to learn how to cook their own meals, it’s understandable.


4. I am definitely not in favor of judging anyone’s parenting style (unless it results in physical or emotional harm to a child), and I find this whole college-level slam on ‘helicopter parents’ curious. As part of the “least parented generation,” isn’t it possible that the pendulum is simply swinging, and many of those parents are reacting to their own childhoods of latchkey kids and spending ten hours a day during the summer without any parental/adult supervision at all? No, my parents didn’t swoop in and solve my problems. They didn’t shield me from uncomfortable situations and try to ‘coddle’ me, but I could certainly have used a little bit of that. Instead, I grew up knowing that I was on my own and that if I asked for help I would either be told to ‘suck it up and quit whining’ or roundly ridiculed. I’m not sure that was much healthier. But I know that my parents were doing the best they could. Could it just be that parents everywhere are simply doing the best they can with the tools they have and the pressures they face right now?


5. Last but definitely not least, the notion that an entire generation of kids is “ruined” per the headline of the article is absurd. Even if an entire group of students doesn’t currently know how to manage the details of their own lives, that doesn’t presuppose that they won’t be able to learn those lessons at some point. And many of these students have spent time in high school doing the kinds of work my generation never even considered – starting their own business ventures, volunteering with nonprofit organizations, inventing solutions for some incredibly challenging problems – so pronouncing them “ruined” based on their inability to navigate the social-emotional stresses of the first year in a tough, prestigious university seems a little short-sighted. Basing this sweeping conclusion on a subset of students who were admitted to an elite, Ivy League college ignores all of the other kids out there who are going to community college or joining Americorps or putting off their college education because they can’t afford it right now.


To all you parents out there I say, go forth and love your children. Continue parenting them the best way you know how and listen to your own instincts. There will always be folks out there ready and willing to criticize your choices and catastrophize about what you might be doing to your kids (and their entire generation – no pressure). Time marches on. Kids grow up. The most important thing for any kid’s parents to do is show them that they are loved and valued.

From time to time, at least once a year, I find myself parenting with grinding teeth. Generally, it takes me a week or so to recognize it for what it is. I begin with irritability. Things that haven’t bothered me for months or years suddenly piss me off at every turn and a cranky inner monologue starts up. The next step is passive-aggressive fantasies. I am not, by nature, someone who leaves ‘signs’ for other people. I am generally very straightforward and can ask for what I need or want, so when I start imagining scenarios where I follow the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle school of parenting, I know something is up.* I am really in trouble if I start acting on those fantasies. 


Fortunately, I am a ruminator. Or, unfortunately. Once I notice that something is out of whack, I do my best to inquire about it. It isn’t often that those inquiries are friendly or compassionate (they generally go something like this, “Dude! What the f*#k is up? Why is this driving you so mad?”), but they do at least open the door to some sort of curiosity, which is a good thing. It usually takes a few days of observing myself and my emotional responses to get at the heart of what is bugging me and more often than not, it is some sort of judgment of my lack of good parenting skills that is throwing me off. Some generalized notion that I am doing this all wrong and screwing up my kids for life (!!!) that is pushing all of my buttons and leaving me feeling like a burn victim who bristles at every touch. Within 24 hours of that realization, I can relax enough to realize that I’ve been walking through my days with a clenched jaw and balled-up fists for a while and it’s pretty uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as the recognition that I think I’m a pretty shitty parent, but unpleasant nonetheless. 


I had a conversation with Bubba last night about some of the things that are making me crazy this time and was struck by how little he internalizes these things. He admitted to being bugged by many of the same things that our girls do (or don’t do, as it were), and then he said, “But I don’t read anything bigger into it. I don’t think of it as my fault or your fault or expect that it means that they’ll grow up to be horrible/selfish/fragile people. It just pisses me off.” 


I wish. And I wonder if it is a function of my own expectations of myself or a function of our cultural assignment of blame/credit to the mother of a child that I do internalize those things. That while sometimes I can go through my days feeling confident and peaceful about my parenting skills, at other times I am absolutely certain that if the world only knew, they would condemn my abilities as a parent at once. 


In any case, I am within sight of the daylight at the end of this tunnel. Now that I have identified the awful things I have been saying to myself behind the scenes, I can begin to turn them over, feel their edges, contain them in one place and see them for what they are. I can dissect them and try to understand where they come from and eventually set them aside and come back to myself. I try not to think about how many more of these hidden condemnations exist within me, although I know how to confront them, because I suspect I would feel overwhelmed if I knew. As a young parent, I wrestled with many of them and always assumed that there would come a day when I had tossed each and every one of them into the abyss. I never imagined how many would come back around with the same form, triggered by different things. While I embrace the knowledge that parenting is a forever-job, I am less enthusiastic about the aspects of myself it forces me to contend with over and over again. I do think I’m getting better at it, though. There’s something to be said for practice…

*For those of you who haven’t read the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, I’ll try to explain. She was the neighborhood child development expert/grandmother figure to whom all of the parents turned when their children wouldn’t eat/clean their bedrooms/do their homework/go to sleep on time. Her solutions involved what a lot of folks would call ‘natural consequences,’ but are what I think of as very passive-aggressive tactics such as leaving a child’s room to become so messy that they become trapped inside with all manner of stinky clothes and dirty dishes and eventually come to physical harm (albeit minor) after tripping on a toy they forgot was on the floor. They then magically see the wisdom of their parents’ rules and start cleaning up after themselves.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that Eve and Lola came from the same stuff. They are so different in the way they approach the world. As a parent it is exciting and amusing to watch them and often, exhausting, because there are no shortcuts. Just because I went through one stage with Eve doesn’t mean I know how to handle it with Lola, but it has given me a new way to look at the world. I am reminded that the choices we make are rooted in one of two things: our values or fear. I am reminded that it is this that makes all the difference and that if, as a spectator, I choose to remove judgment, I can learn a lot about what makes someone tick.


My girls each learned to walk in very different ways. While there are some things that parents and caregivers can do to help a child begin walking, ultimately it is something they must do for themselves. And while Eve and Lola both had the exact same goal – learning to walk independently – their methods were distinct and reflected exactly who they each were.


Eve took it step by step. She practiced shuffling along the couch as she held on with both hands. She worked on pulling herself to a standing position in the middle of the room without any props. She spent days standing and clapping, standing and holding objects, standing and babbling loudly. It took her nearly two weeks to take her first steps. Her overriding values were safety and mastery. She was doing everything possible to ensure that she could walk without falling or, if she fell, that she could get herself back up without help. Two weeks of methodical preparation, exploring as many possible combinations and permutations as she could think of, led to her walking without ever falling. She never had that drunken-toddler gait that so many new walkers do and she was supremely confident.


Lola just wanted to walk. Her overriding value was speed. She wanted to get from Point A to Point B as fast as she possibly could and so her method was to use the wall or the furniture or a toy or her big sister for support. She toppled over constantly. She was covered in bruises for weeks, but she never cried about it. She kept her eye on the prize and just did it. She jumped in with both feet and once she figured out walking, she moved immediately to running. She careened into walls, tripped over toys, leapt before she looked, and never gave up. She was driven by the need to keep up with the older kids, to just get somewhere. She didn’t care about safety or looking goofy or falling over. She was just thrilled to be moving fast.


As I look at my girls now I see that they do, indeed, still share many of the same goals, but their everyday lives are vastly different because of the values they live by as they head in that direction. Instead of comparing them to one another, I can choose to step back and see each of them in light of what their journey is telling me about who they are as individuals. Once I know the driving force behind their decisions, I can figure out how to support them along the way and perhaps steer them away from being motivated by fear when it shows up.  I am reminded that, once again, remaining curious about the girls is a much more interesting and nurturing way to parent.


Eve took Driver’s Ed this summer and I watched as she pulled out all of her cautious, process-oriented tricks once again. She is a very conscientious driver and is living true to her values of safety and precision. I can only hope that Lola approaches driving differently than she did walking, because in this case, speed is not something I can support. Fortunately, I have two years to work that out with her.

There are times these days when my gray hairs appear in clusters – both on my head and in my soul. The times when something comes up that, for a split second, I think I cannot possibly endure or deal with gracefully or with any sort of competence. Times when the temptation to curl up beneath the covers with a cat at the foot of the bed is overwhelming and comes in waves.

Fortunately, I have learned from experience that there is always a way through. That someone will grab me by the hand, the wrist, the back of the neck, and march me onward, matching my steps with their own, one at a time until we have made it. Or that the notion of not moving forward is a bigger horror than stopping in place – generally because at the other end stands a loved one – a child or a parent or a partner who needs me to keep going for one reason or another.

Fortunately, I have also learned from experience that there will be imaginings of worst-case scenario outcomes that are more akin to Alice in Wonderland stories than real life. I have been reminded over and over again that humans live life in the middle almost always, either because something major shifts like a giant boulder landing in the stream of our lives around which we forge a new path and keep going or because our worries are so magnified by adrenaline that they don’t resemble what could really happen. As long as I hold on to the remembrance of the times when I forecast doom and nothing even remotely close to doom cast its shadow over me, I can take the  next step. And when I feel the warm grip of a friend and hold on, it helps me to find my center and remember my most closely-held values and act on them. And generally, even if there are dark, messy stretches of time when I feel unsure or panicky, I come out the other end wiping my brow, exclaiming, “Whew!”

“You get an A+ in parenting this weekend,” Bubba said to me last night, and it meant a lot. That despite the fear and anxiety of the last couple of days, staying rooted in love, acknowledging my fears all while doing my best not to act on them was the best way to go. Despite the new gray hairs I am sure sprouted overnight, we have found the middle again and added some mortar to the bricks that form our family. We have reaffirmed that our most important value is love and dodged another bullet.

Teenagers spend lots of time alone in their room.
Introverts spend lots of time alone in their room.

When you have teenagers who also happen to be introverts, you absorb every spare drop of time that they are willing to spend outside of their room in the presence of others as though it were the most exquisite wine.

And, assuming there are only a finite number of minutes that they are willing to spend around other people, engaging in fun and entertaining activities, letting them go spend summer nights with friends at street fairs and cool bodies of water means that it might be days before you get any of that wine for yourself.

It would be altogether unfair of me to not let them go hang out with friends.

Right?