Being bisexual was easy. Coming out was HARD.

Stark Raving Mom is now on Facebook! Follow me here.

Last month, something that was kind of huge (for me) happened.  Without even really thinking about it, in the context of a random conversation on facebook, I uttered the words, “I identify as bi.”

It was huge, because up until that moment, it wasn’t true.

I have never in my life, even in my own mind, identified as bisexual. I have always identified as straight. And “identity” is more than just what you say out loud. I am talking about my internal, mentally anchoring, world-defining sense of self. I’m white. I’m cisgender. I’m Jewish. I’m American. I’m a mom. I’m allergic to salmon. I’m addicted to coffee. I’m straight.

Like that.

It’s not that I didn’t know I’m attracted to both women and men.  I knew that. I kind of thought that all–or at least most–straight women were.  I thought straight was a choice, and that by dating men, and by marrying a man, I’d made it.

I’m perfectly happy being married to a man.  I like men. I like monogamy. And I love my husband.

But I’m not straight.  And realizing that this was something not everyone feels, and that it had a name, was actually a really self-affirming and worldview-shifting experience for me.  Like dropping the last piece into a puzzle. Yes, you knew exactly what the picture looked like before you put that last piece in.  The picture isn’t different with the piece in there. But now it’s complete.  And you can finally see how beautiful it is, instead of just knowing it.

So…that was cool.

I also really didn’t think it would matter to anyone except me.  Because let’s be honest, nothing is different–past, present, or future–because of this revelation.  It hasn’t affected how I’ve lived my life up to now, and I don’t really see it changing how I live my life going forward.  At least, not romantically.

I mean, okay, if god forbid anything ever happens to my husband, the kids are just as likely to wind up with a new step-mom as a new step-dad.  (After a mandatory three-day mourning period, of course. I’m not a monster.) But even that isn’t actually different. Just newly acknowledged.

Other than that…nothing, functionally, is different.  At all.

The only change is in how I feel, and the things it’s made me think about.  And that’s exactly the sort of thing that I write about in this blog. Invisible things.  Worldview-altering experiences. Deep thoughts. The fact that even moms have sexuality, and a sense of identity that includes that sexuality.  And that even moms might still have things to learn about themselves, and uncertainty about where they belong. That’s just as relevant to the daily life of this Stark Raving Mom as runny noses and parent-teacher conferences and dirty dishes.  Life’s a tapestry, and this is the thread that got tugged on this week.

So I wrote about it.

But then I had second thoughts about sharing it.

Not because I’m ashamed, and certainly not because I’m shy. But because I don’t often label myself. I try to make my blog an inviting space, someplace where everyone feels equally comfortable.  Kind of like how when you’re staging a house for sale, you paint the walls a neutral color. I want people to focus on my words and ideas, rather than on the person saying them.  I suddenly worried that walking over to the LGBTQ+ side of the room–and just in time for Pride Month!–would alienate people. The choice was personal, the timing was coincidental, and it wasn’t intended to be political. But of course it was going to look political. So I worried.

And once I started worrying, the floodgates opened.

What would it mean to be openly bisexual? Sure, I just decided I’m not going to be shy about it, but I still get to decide when and with whom I share it. Once I publish, I give up that control. It’s out there and I’ll never know exactly who sees it, or when, or in what context.

My blog is not anonymous. A good chunk of my following is local. Did that mean this decision was going to have real-life consequences for my family? For my business, for my husband’s career? For our kids at school?

Was it really that big a deal? Was I being paranoid?

I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I couldn’t reconcile this sense that this was Very Important with my assertion that it was No Big Deal, and I wasn’t sure how either of those fit with this new thought, could this be dangerous? I decided I needed to bring my husband in on the decision. (No, my sexuality was not news to him).

He shared my concerns about publishing. We couldn’t come to a decision. We decided we needed more heads in this huddle. And at that point, I decided to do something that I realize, in hindsight, was a mistake.

I put it up to a vote. I invited other people to judge the value of my newfound truth. My sense of self. My identity, and my desire to express my identity.

And then I was surprised that it hurt when they did.

Coming out to the people closest to me was almost incidental. I took for granted that they’d be accepting, and assumed (perhaps wrongly) that they wouldn’t be surprised. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I thought that when a person comes out, there is only one right way to respond (Cool.  We love you no matter what), and only one wrong way to respond (That’s Wrong, you’re dead to me). I know my family, and my friends, and they’re amazing.  I knew which way that was going to go. (I was 100% right).

What I didn’t realize was that there are so, so many other wrong ways to respond.  Well-meaning wrong ways. Tone-deaf wrong ways. Unintentionally hurtful wrong ways.  I didn’t know how vulnerable coming out was going to make me feel. I didn’t anticipate that in the 48 hours after starting this conversation, I’d sleep maybe four, write for like twelve, and run out of wine.

I didn’t know how important this was to me until other people told me it wasn’t.

And the worst part is that if someone a had come out to me, a month or a year or even a week ago, I might’ve said some of the same things.  Truth be told, I have said, or encouraged others to say, the same things. Not because I’m a bad person. But because I didn’t get it.

I didn’t understand what coming out really meant. What it felt like. Its significance to the person doing it. Why it mattered.

I get it now. And, me being me, I’ve taken my newfound perspective and made it into a handy dandy list for you.

5 Things NOT To Say When Someone Comes Out To You. (Even if they ask).

1: “I don’t care.”

Along with this one, “no big deal,” “it doesn’t matter,” or “I don’t get it.”

You guys. It always matters. It’s a huge deal. And you don’t have to get it.

If someone is coming out to you, it is because they have just made an emotionally intense, worldview-altering, life-changing decision.  It doesn’t matter whether they’re coming out as bisexual, gay, trans, pansexual, non-binary, gender-neutral, or a unicorn trapped in a human body.  It doesn’t matter whether you understand its significance. It doesn’t matter whether it’s significant to you.

It’s significant to them.  Impossibly, ridiculously, earth-shatteringly, soul-achingly significant.  And they chose to share it with you, personally.

Care.  Whatever else you do, CARE.

If you’re truly confused about why this matters and feel the need to express it, a more validating thing to say would be, “I don’t really understand why this is a big deal.  But I recognize that it is a big deal for you.  I know it took courage to say, and I’m proud of you for saying it.  Thank you for sharing it with me.”

2: “Don’t tell.”

(Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash)

Yes, I specifically asked people whether I should tell. I asked some of them permission to tell. I asked because I was still reeling. I asked because I was uncertain. I asked because I was scared. I asked because I didn’t even realize yet that this thing is mine, and only mine, no matter how many other people it might affect. I asked because I didn’t know what I needed. I asked the wrong questions.

I got plenty of answers. Some I’d asked for, some I hadn’t. All of them were well-meaning. All came from a place of genuine love and concern.

None of them were okay.

Things like:

  • Don’t talk about this with your kids.  Kids don’t want to hear about their parents’ sexuality.
  • Don’t come out to anyone else, because if people find out they might boycott your business, and it’s not worth it.
  • Don’ come out to anyone else, because if people find out it might hurt your husband’s career, and it’s not worth it.
  • Don’t come out to anyone else, because if people find out they might pick on your kids, and it’s not worth it.
  • Don’t come out to anyone else, because you look normal, so you don’t have to.
  • Don’t come out to anyone else, because it doesn’t matter anyway.
  • Don’t come out to anyone else, because it’s private.   Nobody wants to hear it and nobody needs to know.

So, what’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that these answers dictate the value of my identity.  These answers value other people’s comfort over my own right to exist without shame.  These answers focus on the risk, and dismiss the reward. These answers, without saying it in so many words, paint my desire to come out as selfish, attention-seeking, and incomprehensible.

Here’s the thing…and I wish I’d realized it when I began this conversation, because I would’ve framed things differently:

When someone asks for your opinion about coming out, they don’t actually need your opinion.  They need you to help them figure out their own.

And there’s only one right way to do that. Make them answer their own questions. “Do you think you should tell?  Why do you want to? Why are you worried you shouldn’t?  How likely is the thing you’re afraid of? How bad would it be if it happened?  Which is more important TO YOU – avoiding the risk, or being out?”

Beyond that, it is not yours.  If you don’t understand why a person wants to say something, it is not for you to determine, or even suggest, when or to whom they should say it.  There is absolutely no facet of a person’s identity that is only okay to talk about on other people’s terms.

When a person asks you about coming out to other people, help them find their own answers.

Then, seriously, shut up.

3: “It’s all right.”

Along with this one, “I love you anyway,” “I’m not offended,” “no big deal,” or “whatever.”  Don’t forgive something that does not require forgiveness, because that implies it is wrong. Don’t dismiss something someone has chosen to show you, because that implies it is ugly, or unworthy of attention.

The experience of coming out to oneself is incredible.  It’s seeing something that’s always been there, but for the first time.  It’s looking back at your entire life up until that moment and having it all suddenly make sense.  It’s realizing that you are something different than you thought you were. It’s realizing that you finally understand your whole self, and your whole self is beautiful.  It’s terrifying and life-affirming and belly-dropping and painful and wonderful, all at the same time.

When you share with someone that you’ve had this experience, you don’t want forgiveness.  You don’t want to be tolerated. You sure as hell don’t want to be blown off.

You want validation.  You want to be celebrated, because until someone else does it you’re not sure it’s okay to feel like you want to.  You want a damn hug.

So instead of “I love you anyway,” say, “I love you”–or better yet, “I love you even more.”    Instead of “it’s all right,” say, “I’m proud of you.”

And please, and I mean this:  say “congratulations.”

This is a milestone.  You don’t have to understand it to acknowledge it.  There is a reason people have coming out parties and I, for one, didn’t get it until I came out.  If you are straight, you might never get it.

Just take my word for it.  “Congratulations” is the appropriate sentiment.

(Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash)
Now, I’m not saying you should have rainbow confetti in your pockets at all times just in case. But then again…that’s kind of a cool idea.

4: “Are you sure?”

Along with this, “don’t come out if you aren’t sure, because you can’t take it back.”

This one was NOT said to me.  But remember how I said I’ve been guilty of saying some of these things myself? This one.  Guilty. Recently. I didn’t say it, but I encouraged a friend to say it. To her child.

And that was the first thing that sprung to my mind when I saw things from the other side. I reached out to my friend, and we had a long, long talk.

“Are you sure?” plays right into the vulnerability of a person who may not even realize yet–as I didn’t–how vulnerable they are. Not everyone who comes out is sure.  You are what you are and it doesn’t change, but the extent to which you recognize it, and what you choose to call it, does.  Sexuality and gender identity are freaking confusing, there’s a LOT of labels to choose from, and it can take a lifetime to figure it out.

Case in point: I’m 39 and I literally just figured it out.  And I’m not even 100% sure I’ve chosen the right label.  It just feels right for now.

Coming out is a huge step in self-discovery, self-acceptance, and figuring out where you fit.  You can be unsure of your identity, but sure that you need one. You can be sure that you’re ready to commit to a label, whether or not it’s the right one, because you need to see what happens when you do.

Yes, that decision has consequences.  IF ASKED, it’s okay to warn people about those consequences.  Gently and without advice or judgement. (Have you considered…?  Are you prepared for…?)

It is NOT okay to make the decision for them.  It is NOT okay to question a decision they’ve already made.  It is NOT okay to tell someone you know them better than they know themselves.  And it is NOT okay to encourage someone to question their own mind.

Believe me, no one needs encouragement to do that. The thing we need support for is the decision to stop questioning it.

So please, don’t ask a person coming out, “are you sure?”  If you must ask a question, ask, “are you happy?” It’s the only question that matters, and the only answer either of you should worry about.

5: “Have you even considered how this is going to affect ME?”

Not said to me in so many words.  But an underlying sentiment worth exploring.

Because, no.  Just no.

Yes, of course this is something that affects other people.  Just like getting married affects other people, and having a baby affects other people, and taking a job affects other people, and going on a diet affects other people.

And just as with all those things, the fact that it affects other people doesn’t mean it goes up to committee. It doesn’t mean everyone gets a vote. It doesn’t mean consideration for other people counts more than the experience of the person it’s actually happening to.

And really, I shouldn’t even have to say this: it doesn’t make this question okay.  Ever. In any context. Period.

***

So, that’s what I’ve been thinking about–and obsessing about, and losing sleep over–for the past week.  All this, over my decision to acknowledge that I am a bisexual woman in an opposite-sex marriage, and that I might maybe want to talk about what that’s like once in a while.

Can you imagine how intense this would’ve been if I were making a lifestyle change too?  Because damn. I’m drained just from this. Realizing I was ready to identify as bisexual was the mouth of a rabbit hole, and things got trippy after that way faster than I ever thought they would.  My initiation into the world of being anything-other-than-straight has been more emotionally intense than I ever expected it to be. It’s been brutal and it’s been beautiful. It’s broken me and redefined me and left me sore but stronger.   I’ve barely begun…but even just the past few days have given me a newfound appreciation for what LESS invisible LGBTQ+ people must go through.

I also want to say that my family and friends are awesome, and in spite of any unintentional insensitivity, there have also been a lot of truly wonderful, supportive things said to me, by the same people, since I started this conversation.

Whether they fully understood me, or handled things in the best possible way, my family got the most important things exactly right.

They said, “you do you, boo.”

They said, “you are who you are and we love who you are.”

They said, “this is what we think, but we can’t tell you what to do.  And we’ll love you no matter what.”

And when I pushed back against their advice, they said, “you’re going to do what you want anyway.  You always do. So do it. We support you.”

They were right.

I am out.

It feels good.

Also, I’m not publishing that one blog post I wrote about it.

I’m publishing four.  That one, this one, one about Pride month, and one about coming out to my kids (yup, that happened).  Because I just realized I’ve got a whole lot more to say about this than I thought I did.

And you know what?

I’m pretty confident everything’s going to be okay.

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We Made a Lemonade Stand and I Lived to Tell the Tale. (Barely.)

Stark Raving Mom is now on Facebook! Follow me here.

I feel guilty, a lot of the time, for not being better at momming. I know I’m not alone because the internet – and you, dear readers – tell me so.

I feed my kids processed foods. And fast food. I don’t cook as often or as well as I’d like. When I do cook, I’m lucky if 3/5 of my family eats whatever it is I make. Which makes me not want to cook. And, I mean, dishes. I freaking hate dishes.

My seven year old goes through phases where there is one and only one thing he’ll eat. We’re just coming off a mac and cheese phase. Now he’s onto nutella sandwiches. Yes, just nutella. Yes, I know nutella is not much better, nutritionally, than a candy bar. No, he won’t let me put anything on there with it. No, I’m not fighting it. I keep reminding myself that all three of my kids went through phases like these and we haven’t had one fail to thrive yet, so yay for clearing the (super duper low) bar.

I keep waiting for someone to go through a broccoli phase but it just never seems to happen.

More than anything, I feel guilty for not doing more with my kids.

I crave my own time. I want to spend hours working on my novel or blogging or facebooking or painting or shopping online or, yes, binging all the TV shows that no one likes but me. I also NEED time to do things that are simply easier and less frustrating to do by myself, like food shopping, and folding laundry, and answering client inquiries for my business, and filling out forms for school. And the older my kids get, the easier it becomes for me to do those things. Even when they’re all home from school. They’re 13, 10, and 7. They all know where to find the food and how to use the bathroom. They can all operate a phone, a television remote, an iPad and a computer. They know how to call their friends and their grandparents and their cousins and 911. The eldest can go out alone with his friends, or babysit the youngest while I run errands. My daughter can set up her own playdates. They can all reach pretty much anything they need. They don’t (usually) put stupid things in their mouths anymore. They can play in the backyard while I’m in the house and I don’t have to worry (much) about their getting lost, breaking things, eating things, or adopting things.

And that’s wonderful and liberating and so, so much easier…until those moments when I stop and think about it. And feel guilty.

I adore my children. They adore me. And yet, it’s become so incredibly easy for us to ignore each other. How many days slip by while we ignore each other?

Truthfully?

Nearly all of them.

Up until very recently, I was watching my sister’s kids four days a week. Which meant that spring break and summer vacation had me alone in the house with five children, three of them pre-schoolers, and the logistics of creating organized activities for them or putting everyone in the minivan and going somewhere (and getting them all to agree on one thing to do) were simply too overwhelming to consider. I was exhausted, all the time. We had the odd outing, but 99% of the time, if the children were content to entertain themselves and be ignored, I did not feel guilty about ignoring them. I was keeping five miniature people alive, and fed, and not killing each other, and running a household to boot. If we got to the end of the day with fewer than two tantrums, more than two hugs, only one toileting accident and no injuries, I called that day a win.

My parents have now retired and taken over watching my niece and nephew. For the first time in five years, the only kids I have to watch are my own. And they’re older now. And easier to ignore.

This spring break has been my first experience of having all of my kids home, with no extras, while the weather is nice enough that playing outside, or going somewhere, or doing something, is a real possibility.

But doing nothing is so, SO easy. And frankly delightful. And freeing. So that’s what we did, for the first two days. I got the food shopping done, and the dishes, but really, that was it for productivity. We just slept in, hung out in the house, and relaxed. Separately. Ignoring each other. The older ones did their homework and set up their own playdates, or chatted on FaceTime with their friends. The youngest watched videos on his iPad, and played quietly with his toys. I got a few things done, and did a whole lot of nothing, too. Wonderful, relaxing, self-care sort of nothing.

But we didn’t play any games together, or read books, or go anywhere. And the little you’re-not-good-enough voice in the back of my head started in on me.

How many days go by this way?

I don’t keep count, but only because I know. I know that if I did count, the guilt would paralyze me. I know the answer could so easily be, all of them.

Two days ago, my youngest spiked a fever, and as a result our plans with friends had to be cancelled. We were looking at another day of just staying home, ignoring each other, doing nothing. And my daughter flopped on the couch and pouted and cried “mo-om…I don’t want to waste another whole day!!”

I wanted to tell her to hush and enjoy the down time. I wanted MY down time. I was tired, because I’m always tired. I was honestly looking forward to another day of being left alone, and doing nothing. I wanted to tell her to call her friends or go out in the backyard or make slime or draw a picture or watch YouTube videos and let me be.

Except I didn’t want that. I mean, I did–it sounded delightful. But I’d finally hit my (admittedly really high) threshold of guilt. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my kids to leave me alone. It wasn’t fair. I do that too much. Today, I wanted to be better at momming.

So I ran out to the supermarket, and I bought a dozen lemons, and some pitchers, and a cheap checkered tablecloth, and some frozen berries. While I mixed up real, home-made, berry-infused lemonade in the kitchen, I armed my daughter with a poster board and markers and she made a sign:

When life gives you lemons, make a lemonade stand.

And we made a freaking lemonade stand.

It was a NICE lemonade stand, too. I’m a professional face painter. I have a full festival setup in my garage ready to go. I have tables and chairs and a bright pink tent and an A-frame chalkboard sign, and I can set them up solo in the blink of an eye. And I did. (Okay, it was a long blink. I think I pulled something.)

But, you guys. We did it. I did one of the GOOD mom things. One of those things that my kids have always wanted to do (and I always wanted to do as a kid) that I always blow off and say “too much work. Not today!” I decided, “you know what? TODAY.”

My daughter invited a friend over to run the lemonade stand with her. Two of my son’s friends stopped by on their bicycles and hung out at my house all day. Our neighbor’s daughter came over to buy lemonade then wound up staying to help run the stand, and her little brothers came in to play with my (recovering) youngest. My parents stopped by with my niece and nephew and all the kids played for a bit. We got the stand up and running right after lunch and kept it open for a little over four hours, and at the peak of that time I had a dozen children scattered throughout my property–the little guys running between the backyard and the playroom, the girls running the lemonade stand in the front, my son and his friends playing with beyblades in the driveway, or playing video games in the basement.

Come dinner time, all the extra kids went home and I made a home-cooked meal for mine. (Except the youngest. He had a nutella sandwich. Look, I’m not a miracle worker.) After dinner, I took the kids out for ice cream.

It was kind of…perfect.

For one day, I really did it. I lived up to my own standards. I felt like I was really GOOD at momming. We’d done things, and spent time together. We made freaking memories. Suck on that, June Cleaver. WE MADE A LEMONADE STAND.

Also…

Omfg, it almost killed me. By the time my husband got home from work that night, I was ready to collapse. I was sore and sunburned and completely, utterly, never-been-this-tired-in-my-life spent. There is not enough coffee or sleep in the universe to fix this level of tired. I think I broke my me. Like, the whole thing. I’ll never be the same.

And the moment the last speck of ice cream was gone and the last lemonade pitcher emptied and put in the sink with the other dirty dishes (pfft, of COURSE I did not do the dishes that night–even perfection has its limits, people!) my daughter flopped onto the couch, pouted at me, and whined, “Mo-om, what are we gonna do tomorrow? I don’t want to waste another whole day!”

I don’t think I used any swear words after that, but really, it’s only because I didn’t have the energy to muster up any good ones.

At that moment I realized two things:

  1. There are amazing parents out there who can do this kind of thing on a regular basis. I AM NEVER GOING TO BE ONE OF THEM. This shit is not sustainable and frankly I might never recover. I couldn’t even get out of bed the next morning because I pinched a nerve in my neck lugging tent weights in and out of the garage. (Yeah, I have tent weights. Yeah, we used them. I don’t do things halfway, baby.)
  2. It doesn’t matter. I’m glad we did it anyway. It feels like it’ll never be enough…and yet, I think, maybe it’s kind of always enough. Anything is enough. Everything is enough.

We’re not going to be making another lemonade stand this week, I don’t think. But my older son wants to go to the park with his friends today. My daughter is practicing riding her bike in the driveway, which she JUST YESTERDAY learned to ride without training wheels. My still-sick-but-so-ready-to-be-well youngest has already been outside twice, peddling around on his tricycle in the driveway and picking dandelions. Whether they appreciate it or not, that day we spent doing something rather than nothing gave them a taste for, well, doing something.

I can’t make every day perfect. I can’t BE perfect. Most days, I’ll still be failing by my own standards, and I’ve decided I’m okay with that. Because when that little voice in the back of my head says “how many days are you wasting? How many days do you ignore each other? How many days do you do nothing?” I know the answer.

Not all of them.

And that’s enough.

(Featured Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash)

Dear Gymnastics Moms: Don’t be frightened by Samantha Cerio’s story. Be inspired by it.

Stark Raving Mom is now on Facebook! Follow me here.

This one goes out to the gymnastics moms–or any sports moms, or, really, any moms at all of children who have ever fallen down.  If you’ve been seeing all the viral posts about gymnast Samantha Cerio’s career-ending injury, I’m writing this for you.  Because holy crap that’s been triggering.

You guys, I saw it WHILE MY DAUGHTER WAS IN GYMNASTICS CLASS.  Like omg.  I hugged her extra hard when she came home.  She doesn’t know why.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about and are about to Google it, nononono, don’t do that.   Trust me.  Do not.  Get your information here, this is a safe and happy place.

Here is what the internet wants to tell you about Samantha Cerio.

She is a gymnast for Auburn University.  In the Baton Rouge regional competition this Friday, she was attempting a handspring double front with a blind landing and, well…she did not stick the landing.

Her knees turned the wrong way.  Both of them.  There, saved you the image search you would most definitely have regretted.

Don’t read that article. Don’t watch that video. Don’t search for those pictures.  Trust me.

Read this one instead.

That right there is an update by Samantha’s coach.  It includes details of her injuries and recovery and also a snapshot of who she is and where she’s going.   And horrible as what happened to her is, the snapshot is beautiful.

So naturally, it is not a top hit on any search for Samantha Cerio.  The internet’s gonna make you work for this one.  I did the work for you.  Because I love you.

And because my daughter is a gymnast.

And because I DID see the pictures, and they made my heart hurt.  (No, I did not watch the video.)

Here’s what you really want to know about Samantha Cerio.

  • By some miracle, her legs are not broken.  Not that it matters.  Her injuries are pretty freaking severe.  You can read about them, and about her ongoing recovery, in the article I linked.  But she did not break both her legs, and now you can stop imagining what that sounded like.
  • Her gymnastics career is over and she’s amazingly okay with that.  She is handling her injury, and the abrupt end of her gymnastics career, with grace, gratitude, and optimism.  Her own words, from her Instagram: “I couldn’t be prouder of the person that gymnastics has made me  become…It may not have ended the way I had planned, but nothing ever goes as planned.”  You guys.  She’s a BABY.  It’s taken me 39 years to figure that shit out and she already gets it.  Samantha Cerio is wise beyond her years.  Also…
  • She is a brilliant and multi-talented young lady with big plans – and she’s already moving towards them.  She was the co- SEC Scholar-Athlete of the year.  She’s an aerospace engineering major, and she’s already got a job lined up to work for Boeing when she graduates.  Samantha Cerio is going places,  guys.  And she’s definitely got the moxie to get there.  So if this week’s headlines have an impact on you as a parent,  let this be the impact:

Samantha Cerio is not a cautionary tale.   She is a role model.

She is a young woman who has  been forced to  face something that many of us are lucky enough not to learn until much later in life:

Nothing ever goes as planned.

She poured herself into gymnastics.  It was an integral part of her life.  It was a passion.  It was taken away unexpectedly.

And she responded, not with anger or sadness or mourning for all that was lost–though I am sure she is feeling all those things, too.  But she also responded with  gratitude.  With an understanding that the way a chapter of your life ends does not diminish the value of all it has been.  With courage and hope for the future.

I sincerely hope my daughter never suffers an injury like Samantha’s.  But I also hope that when the day comes that she sees how quickly life can change, and  how swift and terrible tragedy can be–because, try as I might to guard her, it WILL come–I hope that she can be JUST like Samantha Cerio.

Samantha Cerio understands something we all need to understand, and to teach our children: that  pouring your passion into a sport, a career, or a goal is ALWAYS worthwhile.  Competitions, awards, achievements and accolades have value, but they are not the outcome.  You can lose all of those things and still be richer for having done them.

YOU are the outcome.

Rock on, Samantha.  Your story’s just begun.

Random Ravings of a Misophonic Mommy

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Ever heard of misophonia?

It’s a real thing, I swear. It’s a diagnosable condition whereby certain sounds trigger a disproportionate negative emotional response.

Common trigger sounds are chewing or lip smacking. There’s plenty of less common ones. Whistling, paper crinkling. I once met someone who was triggered by the sound of spray bottles going “pssssst.”

This is gonna be a lighthearted post, but I do need to emphasize first that misophonia is no joke and can be truly debilitating.

If you’ve ever been annoyed by someone chewing loudly, um, you’re human.

If you routinely need to leave or avoid restaurants, family meals or social engagements because hearing other people eat sends you into a full-on panic attack or meltdown (and/or homicidal rage), you might have misophonia.

So…I have misophonia. Thankfully, mine is comparatively mild. It’s no fun to be exposed to my triggers, but I can usually tolerate it. Occasionally, when trapped in an enclosed space with my husband and three kids, I will randomly explode with “OMFG STOP MAKING THAT SOUND IN FACT YOU ARE FORBIDDEN FROM MAKING THAT SOUND FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIIIIIIFEEEE!!!” And the offender will say “um…breathing?” And I’ll be like “YES IF YOU CANNOT BREATHE WITHOUT SMACKING YOUR LIPS OR MOVING YOUR TONGUE YOU ARE FORBIDDEN FROM BREATHING ITS BEEN NICE KNOWING YOU BYEEEEEE!”

And, like, then we all kind of move on.

So…

Both my older kids have YouTube channels. My 13yo does mostly gaming vids and my 10yo daughter does whatever’s hot on YouTube this week. (Try not to laugh challenges, this or that, etc). I closely monitor what they post and moderate comments because, I mean, internet.

To sum up the relevant point here: I feel a strong parental obligation to watch all my daughter’s videos before she posts them.

Know what’s hot now? Oh, you’ll never guess. FREAKING ASMR VIDEOS.

Specifically: close-up videos of people whispering and then CHEWING THE WETTEST, LIP-SMACKIEST, GOOIEST CRAP THEY CAN FIND.

Full disclaimer: ASMR is a real thing too, and it’s like the opposite of misophonia. It’s a pleasant, almost tingling sensation that can be triggered by specific sounds, like whispering or falling rain. Problem is, there is a large overlap between common ASMR triggers and common misophonia triggers.

So, like, one man’s tingles are another man’s gibbering homicidal rage.

Can ya guess which ASMR sounds my daughter picked?

I swear, when she asked to spend $15 of her own allowance for a box of raw honeycomb, I did not understand what it was for. I didn’t even really understand when she asked me to cut it into chunks for her and her best friend. She said she was using it for a video. I figured they were going to eat it and comment on the taste or something. Or see who could eat it faster. Or throw it at each other. I mean, I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I figured if I stayed away during the actual filming, no worries. Let em play with sticky stuff. I r da cool mom.

I swear, I knew not what I did. I did not know she would be performing a satanic ritual to open up the gates of misophonic hell and that I would be forced to bear witness.

In case I didn’t mention, my triggers are whispering, lip smacking, gulping, slurping and chewing.

Also, I bought my daughter a really good microphone for Chanukah last year.

I know I brought this upon myself.

Please hug me anyway. Or kill me. Or petition to criminalize food-chewing ASMR videos. No, seriously. That shit is straight-up evil.

That is all.

Dear Parents: Stop worrying about Lauren Miranda’s boobs. Worry about teaching our kids kindness.

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In case you missed it, dear readers, here’s the school scandal du jour: This week, Lauren Miranda, a teacher on Long Island, lost her job because of a topless picture. She plans to sue the school district for a hefty sum of money.

This is not something I would normally weigh in on. I always feel like discussions of this or any scandal are too over-heated, and too over-simplified by angry people on both sides, for anyone to hear anything beyond what they want to hear. And when I feel like people don’t want to listen, it makes me not want to talk.

But in this case, I need to say something. Because I feel like there’s an entire issue here that no one is even looking at. And it’s an issue that is deeply relevant to all of us as parents, as educators, as women, as men, and as human beings.

Here are the facts of the case.

Miranda, three years ago, sent a topless photo of herself to her then-boyfriend. (They are no longer dating. We can presume she is also no longer topless. None of this is relevant.) Both she and her boyfriend were teachers in the same school district.

Two months ago, that photo surfaced, in the hands of a student. Ooooh, boy.

Miranda was dismissed from her job. The end. (I mean, not the end. She’s suing. This is gonna be a thing. But thus endeth the facts of the case.)

Here is what everyone is arguing about.

Lauren Miranda is highlighting the issue of double standards and gender equality. She’s making the argument that if it’s okay to show a man’s nipples, it should be okay to show a woman’s.

Okay, sure. That’s a very real issue. It’s a double standard that comes into play for everything from sleeveless shirts to short-shorts and tight pants and everything in between. There’s an important conversation to be had there.

That’s not the conversation I want to start.

Whether you feel the content of this particular photo was “decent” or “indecent,” the expectation and intent of the people involved is clearly defined. She didn’t snap that photo thinking “I am no more or less sexy in this pose than my dad would be.” She snapped it, and shared it, to flirt with her boyfriend. It could’ve been a picture of her lips or her feet or a beach chair or a bottle of champagne, it doesn’t matter. She was only thinking, in that moment, about its meaning to herself and its intended recipient.

So the whole male vs female anatomy thing isn’t a question of intent, but of what we are allowed to own, and how well we are expected to hide it. Is it okay for this photo, or any material relating to sexuality, to exist to begin with?

Oh, boy, is that a can of worms. Is it okay for topless photos to exist? Of women or just of men? How about butts? Are we allowed to have pictures of butts? Videos? Pornography? How about sex toys, are we allowed to own them? Women, or just men? What about fetlife membership? Boudoir photo shoots? How’s about a picture in a bathing suit?

Where do we draw the line? Should the line be drawn at all?

That’s an important conversation.

That’s not the conversation I want to start.

A lot of people are saying that the content of the picture is not the issue so much as Lauren Miranda’s judgement in taking and sharing it in the first place. People are arguing that it was naïve for her to have an expectation of privacy simply because she did not post the picture to any public forum. She should’ve known it could get out. She should’ve been prepared for the consequences.

Is a lack of judgement or naivete regarding sensitive material grounds for dismissal from a job? And if so, is Miranda the only employee whose judgement should be questioned here? I mean, her ex-boyfriend, also a district employee, had the photo too. How’s about his judgement in keeping it on his phone, or sharing it, or allowing it to be stolen–since, as of the time of this post, we do not know how the photo got out?

That’s an important conversation.

That’s not the conversation I want to start.

But it’s getting closer.

Miranda’s taking the photo and sending it to her boyfriend may have been a poor decision. It may have been indecent or in bad taste or simply an error in judgement. Or it may have been a totally reasonable and healthy communication between two consenting adults. That’s a subject open to debate. But one point everyone seems to agree upon is this: there was no malice of intent.

Somewhere between the photo’s intended recipient and the student who wound up with it, there was malice of intent. There was either a theft, a prank, or a violation of trust. There was an intent to do harm. There was a conscious decision to prey upon another person’s vulnerability. And nobody is talking about it.

If I go to the sketchiest neighborhood I can find, at three in the morning, and walk through the streets whistling, with hundred-dollar bills hanging out of my pockets, I will probably be mugged.

My decision to walk through that neighborhood alone was probably poor judgement.

Flashing my money was definitely poor judgement.

Whistling at 3am is almost always poor judgement.

If a stranger attacks me because I am vulnerable, the attack is still a crime. More than that, it is still a SIN. Something unequivocally, morally, no-two-ways-about-it, just plain WRONG. It is wrong to hurt people just because you can. Period.

And the person who robs me, if someone does, is faced with a choice. This person will see me before they rob me. They will see that I am vulnerable. They will see that I am naïve, and more than a little foolish.

That stranger will have a choice. In that moment, that person can choose to prey upon my vulnerability, and hurt me, and take from me. Or they can look the other way, and leave me in peace, knowing someone else will probably hurt me, but hey, it’s my own darned fault, right?

Or they can stop me, and warn me that this is a bad neighborhood, and tuck my money back into my pocket for me. They can walk with me, so I won’t be alone.

The sad reality is that we live in a society in which no one will blame that random stranger for taking advantage of my vulnerability.

No one would question a stranger’s decision to look the other way, and do nothing, either.

And the worst part is that no one–like, no one at all– would expect that random stranger to help me.

Here is the real takeaway here.

If you think topless photos are indecent, you can certainly tell your children not to pose in topless photos.

If you think Lauren Miranda made an error in trusting her own device, her own judgement, or her own boyfriend, by all means, you can tell your children to be less trusting and more cautious.

If you think society is unfair in the way it judges women and women’s bodies, please, tell your children to be fair.

If you think the school administrators were unjust in firing Lauren Miranda, tell your children to be just, and equivocal, and wise.

If you think it’s a bad idea to flash your money in a sketchy neighborhood while whistling at three in the morning, well, I mean, duh. It’s a terrible idea. Tell your kids not to do that.

But remember that your child will not always be the potential victim.

Sometimes, your child is going to be the stranger with a choice.

If your child stumbles across an unlocked cell phone, is he or she going to look through the pictures?

If your child is GIVEN a picture or a secret in confidence, then has a falling out with the person, would he or she deliberately share the picture or secret?

If someone else shows your child an embarrassing picture of one of their teachers or friends, what will your child be more upset by: the person being shamed, or the person doing the shaming?

And what would they do about it?

There is malice of intent in this story, and before we address any of the moral gray issues with our kids, we have to address the one that is unequivocal:

If you see someone asking for trouble, don’t give it to them.

A lot of mistakes, arguably, were made in Lauren Miranda’s story. There are a lot of potential lessons in there. Maybe the picture should never have been taken. Maybe it should have been taken, but should never have been shared. Maybe she should not have been fired. Maybe she should not have been the ONLY one fired.

There’s a lot of maybes. How you choose to resolve them, as a parent, and what lessons you choose to take from them, is your choice and no one else’s.

But this one is not a maybe:

That picture should never have been seen by anyone other than Lauren and her boyfriend. It was seen because someone deliberately chose to do harm.

If you take nothing else from this story, take that. There aren’t any perfect, lily-white heroes in this story, but there is most definitely a villain.

Teach your kids not to be the villain.

Me, I’m trying to teach my kids to be the random stranger who helps. The ones who see someone vulnerable and walk beside them, so that they will be less vulnerable. The ones who don’t look the other way. The ones who, if shown an embarrassing picture of someone, would not only refuse to share it, but would seek out the person in the picture and say “I’m sorry this happened to you. I’ll walk with you.”

I’m trying to teach them benevolence of intent.

That’s me. You do you.

You can teach your kids not to be Lauren Miranda, or teach them not to be her boyfriend, or teach them not to be the school administrator. But I think we can all agree on this one:

Teach them not to be the asshole who stole her picture.

(Featured Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

School Avoidance, Meltdowns, and Parenting With An Audience: I just need you to plug in my hair dryer, please.

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My daughter didn’t go to school yesterday. She didn’t go to school today, either. No, she’s not sick. Yes, she is going to school tomorrow.

Before I tell you more about that, I want to tell you a story about a car.

Back in the 80’s, a friend of my father’s drove a classic ’63 Stingray Coupe. Whenever it rained, the car wouldn’t start. Only when it rained. Craziest thing. Eventually–don’t ask me how–my dad’s friend figured out that the car wouldn’t start if the carburetor was wet. But if he went out there with a hair dryer and dried the carburetor, the car would start. Since they still couldn’t figure out what was causing the darned problem or how to fix it, my dad’s friend just kept a 100 foot extension cord and a hair dryer in the trunk of his car. You know…in case it rained.

Which meant that one day, when his wife was out shopping, and it rained while she was in the store, she had to walk into a coffee shop with an extension cord in one hand and a hair dryer in the other and say “excuse me, may I please use your outlet? My car won’t start.”

Can you imagine the looks on those people’s faces?

I don’t have to. I’ve seen those looks. I saw that look the other day, when I had to tell the usher at the movie theater, “the picture in theater 5 is offset a few inches from the screen, so my son and I might have to leave. Before we go, just checking whether that can be fixed?” (It couldn’t, by the way. We left. It’s cool.) I’ve seen it on people’s faces in line at the supermarket, when a parent opens up that package of cookies she’s about to pay for and hands one to her screaming child to keep him quiet. I’ve seen the same look when a parent says “no” and lets the child keep screaming.

And I imagine I’d have seen it this morning, if I’d told the school nurse the truth when she called to find out why my daughter wasn’t at school today.

My daughter wasn’t at school today because she is school avoidant and we haven’t figured out why. It isn’t all the time. She isn’t being bullied or struggling academically or having trouble making friends. We know she has anxiety, and that sometimes it hits her out of the blue, and sometimes it triggers a meltdown, and at that point threats or punishments or consequences will make it worse, and fighting it will escalate it, and there’s no way out but through. In those moments, she needs us to help her bring herself back under control, and to reassure her, and to give her time and let her know that we understand. We also know that sometimes it’s not anxiety, and it’s a legit tantrum, and rewarding it with hugs and reassurance and excuses will make it ten thousand times worse. And we know that sometimes, it’s impossible to tell the difference. Or it starts as one and becomes the other. Whatever this thing is, it isn’t simple.

We’re working on it.

Some days, my daughter won’t start. I can usually tell when it’s coming. If I catch it early enough, I can get around it by doing wacky things – like waking her up an hour early, and singing “good morning” (all. damned. morning.) and dressing her even though she’s ten and could absolutely do it herself. When it gets too intense, I know that the only solution is to let her be, and give her time to come down off of whatever crazy spike she’s riding, and try again tomorrow. This week, we needed two tomorrows. But at least I know that doing this will get us moving again.

Someday, we’re going to figure this thing out. We’ll find the permanent fix. In the meantime, I might ask you to plug in my hair dryer. Or excuse my daughter from school today.

So…

Wanna know what happened to the car?

Prior to writing this blog, I reached out to my dad’s friend to ask his permission to share the story about the car. And I found out that there’s an epilogue. You see, eventually, they found out that the problem wasn’t the carburetor at all. It was the starter resistor. Cheap part, easy to replace, and then they didn’t need the hair dryer anymore. I can’t tell you how or when they finally figured that out. But I can tell you this: it wasn’t because somebody in that coffee shop said “that’s stupid. Don’t blow dry your car! Who even does that?

So, here’s the thought I want to leave you with today:

The next time you see another parent doing something you don’t understand, or would never dream of doing yourself, remember this: parenting is like having a temperamental car. Sometimes something is wrong and we can’t figure it out right away, or we can figure it out but can’t fix it, or we could fix it but we can’t afford to. In the meantime, we still need to get from point A to point B. And that might mean we need to do something that looks strange, or unwise, or just plain wrong. Not because we don’t know it’s weird–but because if we didn’t, our lives would grind to a halt and ain’t nobody got time for that.

So when we give our tantruming child a cookie, or walk out of a movie for no good reason, or let our perfectly healthy child stay home from school because she cried, imagine we just walked into your coffee shop and asked to plug in our hair dryer because our car won’t start. Don’t ask. Don’t judge. Don’t tell us all the things we’re doing wrong. When the car is safely in the garage, and we have the time and the resources and the money and the energy, we will figure out how to fix it. At that point, we might ask for help, or advice, or the name of a good mechanic. But that’s not what we need in a coffee shop, in the rain, when all we want to do is get home.

Just plug in the hair dryer, please. (And maybe throw in a free cup of coffee. Because clearly, we are having a day.)

(Featured Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash)

This is Thirty Nine.

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I turned 39 yesterday. It’s not really a milestone birthday. Not like 18 or 21 or 30 or 40. It’s a non-event, really.

But it kind of feels like an event. Or a precipice.

39 is limbo. That last, nebulous year between my 30s and my 40s. And, like…I’m okay with it, I think? I’m not having a mid-life crisis or anything. If anything, this feels more like a mid-life senior prom. Suddenly I have a little time and energy to spend on getting pretty and smiling and celebrating everything I’ve done, while there are still a comforting number of sleeps before the next Big Thing begins.

But the next Big Thing is looming. And just like at my real senior prom…I find myself getting a little misty. And a little nervous.

This is thirty-nine.

I’m exactly where I wanted to be…but I don’t know where I’m going.

I trained for a career, but that was a goal that always shifted for me. What I really wanted, all my life, was a family, and a career that wouldn’t take me away from that family.

I thought teaching was going to be that career for me. Turns out, I’m not nearly as good at that as I thought I’d be. (Dear teachers: you are superheroes, seriously. Thank you for all that you do.) I’ve been a SAHM for a decade and I love it.

But my children are getting older now, and more independent. Someday soon, I’m going to have kids in high school, and college. I won’t be packing school lunches anymore, or driving carpools, or singing baby shark for the hundred-and-tenth time. And while that’s wonderful and natural and exciting…somehow, I never saw it coming. I have had a view of adulthood in my head since I was a little girl. I knew exactly where I wanted to be when I reached my 30s, and I spent my 30s smack dab in the middle of that vision. But I’m just now coming to realize that I never gave any thought to what was going to happen after.

I am 39 years old, and suddenly I have to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’m heading into my 40s without a destination in mind and without a road map. Which is probably why…

I don’t want any more babies…but I want more babies.

My youngest is 7. I literally JUST–as in, last week–hit the magical moment where, for the first time in thirteen years, the only butt I have to wipe is my own. Every person in my house eats from the same sized cutlery. I’ve donated all the baby clothes. There is no longer a child-sized potty in my bathroom. Everyone sleeps in their own beds. I don’t have a stroller, a pack and play or a diaper genie. I’ve finally lost the last pound of baby weight, and for the first time, I’m not planning to put it back on in the form of another baby. The jeans I buy today might still fit me in five years. And yet…

I still take a pregnancy test every time my period is so much as ten seconds late. And while I always breathe a sigh of relief when it comes back negative…there’s still a little thrill of excitement while I watch it develop. There’s always a tiny, irrational, but truly sincere pang of disappointment when the stark white test is followed by the inevitable trickle of blood, so aptly named a “period.” It punctuates the decision we’ve made, and keep making, every month, stark and final:

It isn’t going to happen. Ever again.

I don’t really want to do it all again, I don’t think. I don’t want another baby. But that was the beginning of this chapter in my life, and it’s my favorite chapter. The middle and the end have been amazing, too. In fact, I’m kind of loving the end. I like it so much I wish it would last forever. I don’t want to to back…but going back would be a lot less scary than going forward. Going back would mean that, a decade from now, I get to do this part again. That’s all I want. I want to be right where I am, just a little longer. I’m not ready to turn that last page. But at least I know that…

Who I am today is who I want to be.

Yup. Actually me. Photo credit: me, an iPhone, and boredom.

I’ve done a surprising amount of growing up in the past decade, considering I was supposed to have already been “grown up” at the beginning of it. I’ve rediscovered my passions – for art, for writing, for good clean fun – and I keep finding new ways to express them. I’ve found and embraced the things I’m truly good at, and I’ve developed the confidence to share my gifts boldly, and often, and without apology. I’ve also come to understand that there are things that I outright suck at and will always suck at–and I’ve accepted that sucking at them doesn’t mean I don’t have to do them.

I’ve learned to forgive myself. I’ve learned to love myself. I’ve learned to take pride in my talents, and to embrace my imperfections without shame. I’ve learned that when one person shines, everyone sparkles. I’ve learned thankfulness for the light of others, even when that light is so dazzling my own pales by comparison. Especially then.

I know who I am, I like who I am, and I don’t worry about losing sight of that anymore. Which is why…

The friends I have now, and the friends I make from here forward, will be my friends for life.

If someone resonates with me, that’s my true self resonating with their true self. I know who I am and that makes me appreciate who YOU are that much more. I’m better at finding common ground than I used to be, and common ground is high ground: it almost always sits safely above the bullshit.

Plus, I’ve now mostly-raised three kids. That experience has given me two vitally important gifts: a high tolerance for bullshit, and the ability to understand and appreciate the people I love even when they behave like like assholes.

No, really. Assholery can be either a developmental stage or an unfortunate mood. It is not a state of being.

If I see you, I really see you. If I love you, I will always love you. I GET people now, and I feel like they get me. And that makes friendships so much easier.

I’m not going to accomplish anything spectacular before I’m 40, and that’s okay.

There is nothing I started in my 30s that will be finished by the time I’m 40. My novel will not be published before I’m 40. Hell, I probably won’t even finish my first round of revisions before I’m 40. I won’t achieve any prestigious title in my chosen field, because I haven’t even chosen a field. Whatever my great contribution to humanity is going to be (other than the three additional humans – you’re welcome, humanity!), it’s not going to happen in the next 364 days. It’s just not. And I’m really cool with that.

I’ve been busy. It’s been worthwhile. And whatever I decide to do next, I refuse to look at 40 as a deadline for it.

It’s a starting line.

I’m just getting started.

These are my power years. I’m the person I’ve always wanted to be. I’m WHERE I’ve always wanted to be. I have confidence, and an amazing family, and security, and love, and friendship. Whether I saw this moment coming or not, I’m not about to waste it.

It’s time to pick a new dream. I’m not sure yet what that’s going to be. But whatever it is, I’m going to aim high this time. And I’m going to get there. I know what I’m capable of now. I’m primed and ready.

So, yeah. Okay.

This is thirty-nine.

Let’s rock it.

My Secret To a Clean House: pictures or it didn’t happen.

(Featured Image by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash)

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I’m going to give you advice on cleaning now.

HA! BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! AHAHAHAHAHHA! HA! HAHAHAHAHA! BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! **gasp**…**gasp**…I…ME….the one whose dishes occasionally evolve and form civilizations…THAT me….I am going to tell OTHER PEOPLE….how to….CLEAN?!? BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

No, wait! Don’t leave. I’m serious.

But, full disclosure: the title was a little misleading.

Of course I’m not going to tell you how to clean. I suck at it. I HATE it. Loathe it. With a fiery passion. I don’t do order. I do barely-controlled chaos. I did not apply for this housekeeping job and try as I might I can’t seem to get myself fired. My house is a dump 99% of the time. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

However….

I HAVE figured out the secret to not feeling like a failure about it. And getting up the motivation to do something about it, you know, when I have to. (Because otherwise we might frighten our houseguests. Or misplace the children.) This trick is also handy for not losing the will to live when my floors wind up sticky five freaking minutes after I mopped them. (Pfff…bvvvfffpp……..MOP! ME?! HA! BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! STOP IT. I CAN’T BREATHE! I CAN’T BREATHE!) …ahem. Allow me to rephrase. Five minutes after I dropped a damp rag on the floor and pushed it around with my foot.

The secret is…..drumroll please….I take pictures.

But wait, there’s more. Brace yourself for this one.

I POST THEM ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

No, really.

When I finally hit the breaking point of “this job is too big, the only way to clean this room is with gasoline and a match and I can’t find the freaking matches in this mess,” I stop. I breathe. I decide I’m going to do it. I promise myself.

And then I promise a couple of hundred of my closest friends.

It’s a trick I sort of stumbled into in desperation. I did it for the first time one day back in, oh, 2013? We were refinancing our house and I had a bunch of bank people coming over at 7:00pm to do the paperwork. I’d waited till the last minute to clean because, well, I’m me. I had like three hours. Four? Two? Not enough. I was overwhelmed.

Half-delirious, I took pictures of my horrifically messy house and I posted them to Facebook. I explained that I had people coming in a few hours and that I HAD to clean, or perish in a puddle of embarrassment. I hoped that posting my squalor for all to see would motivate me to fix it. Now I HAD to post “after” pictures, or I’d never be able to look any of these people in the eye again…right?

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

As the day wore on, I cleaned. One room at a time. Sometimes one corner at time. I posted a sink full of dishes, then an empty sink. A living room filled with snack wrappers and pillow forts, a living room restored to order. A playroom without a recognizable floor. A playroom you could walk through.

Yup. Those are my actual dishes. From like five years ago. I unearthed the original posts for you. Because I love you. (Also because I don’t wanna do my dishes TODAY. I mean…I’m not a machine!)

Not a single person said “omg, you’re such a slob!” or “ewwww, nobody wants to see that!” TONS of people said “omg, you’re just like me!” “Wow, you’re brave, woman! Go, go, go!” As the day went on, I got messages like “you’re a machine! Keep going!” And “Great job, mama!! You got this!!” People started posting pictures of THEIR messy houses and cleaning with me. And if I didn’t post for a while, I got , “where’d you go? Keep it up! You can do this!! Don’t leave us hanging!”

I finished cleaning in time for the bank people. It was a mess again 24 hours later because, well, we’re slobs. But for the first time, it didn’t feel thankless. Because I still had those posts, and those pictures. I had physical, tangible proof that I had accomplished something that day. I had encouraging notes from my friends, and jokes, and shared moments of fun. I hadn’t just cleaned. I’d engaged in an activity, and other people had witnessed it. I’d taken a break from being alone and overwhelmed. And I had souvenirs.

It was fun day–but I really thought that was the end of it.

It wasn’t.

The next morning, my newsfeed was filled with pictures of other people’s dirty dishes. They all tagged me.

Soon there was a little group of us on Facebook posting pictures of our messes a couple of times a week, and tagging each other, with the words “on your marks…get set….go!”

And whoever happened to be around would join in, and we’d spend an hour or two cleaning our houses. Together. Encouraging each other, and laughing together about the futility of it all. And documenting our successes.

That last part is key.

Because years later, I can still look at those pictures and remember that yes, I do things around here. What makes this whole running-a-household thing so draining is that so much of it is invisible, and infinite. Laundry, dishes, cleaning, packing school lunches…99% of it amounts to just treading water. No matter how much I do it, it still needs to be done. I run as hard as I can just to stay in the same place. There’s no trophies. There’s no progress charts. There’s no reward. No measure of success. You feel it if you fall behind, but you can never truly get ahead.

…unless you take a picture. Have some fun. Make a memory. Those, you get to keep.

And that means the world.

An Open Letter to my Autism Moms Support Group: Thank you. And goodbye.

A few days ago, I wrote Confessions of An Autism Mom: do I even belong here? I read it over. It felt good. I felt ready. I wanted to find my people. I also wanted to find my audience. Because if there were other moms like me out there, maybe, just maybe, posts like these could give them comfort, too. Maybe that was what I wanted my blog to be.

I searched for support groups on Facebook. I joined several. Special needs moms. ADD/ADHD/Anxiety/ASD moms. Autism Moms. I checked group rules about sharing blogs. I shared my post where it was allowed, and I awaited judgement. A few kindly women stopped and greeted me, and said they understood, and told me I was welcome. I relaxed a little. But I kept my coat on.

In the groups where I could not share my blog, I didn’t introduce myself. Bet when posts started popping up in my newsfeed, I read them. I started answering, when I felt like my experience was relevant. When a post was beyond me, I read it anyway. I listened, and “loved.” I offered silent support. I tried my best. But so many of those moms were suffering so much more deeply than I ever have. The little voice in my head was loud. You don’t know their pain. This place is not for you. Sit down. You’re fine.

I stayed anyway. But I kept my coat on.

Then I found you: a group specifically for high-functioning autism moms. I had no idea such a thing existed. I couldn’t find anything in the rules about blogs, so I shared my post, but I was wary. I’d been asked to remove it already in one other group, because I’d missed the rule that said blogs could only be posted on Saturdays. (I reposted on Saturday. They were nice to me. But it made me self-conscious.) So I posted, but I half-apologized for it, and I promised I would take it down if you asked me. I waited with bated breath for your reply.

No one asked me to take it down. But SO MANY of you read it. You told me it was beautiful. You told me I was beautiful. You told me I’d come to the right place. You told me I wasn’t alone.

I was greeted with hugs, with warmth, and with so much validation. With deep, raw honesty. With love. You told me you were my people. You told me this was our home. You offered to take my coat.

I gave it to you. You put it in a box. You’d keep it safe for me. It would be there for me when I went back into the cold, wide world. But here, by the fire, it was warm, and I was safe. I didn’t need my coat right now.

I had questions I’d been afraid to ask in the other groups. But here, I felt safe. I wrote one down. I handed it to you. You put it in the box. And then you passed the box around, and when it came back to me, it had been filled with provisions, and tools, and answers, and support. I thanked you. You told me there was no need. Everyone understands here. You’re home.

When I saw other people’s boxes being passed around, I added things too. I understood here. I could help here. I was home.

The next day was hard. I was tired. I came home to you. I tore off a piece of myself, and I held it out to you with shaking hands. I apologized that my post was so long. I said you didn’t have to read it. You took it from me gently, and you put in the box. And then you passed the box around, and and you gave it back to me filled to brimming with pieces of yourselves. With your strength. Your love. Your understanding. You hugged me, and you told me everything would be all right. I was home. And that box, and all its treasures, would be there any time I needed it.

That night, my son’s new sound-protective earmuffs arrived. I told him one of my autism mom friends had suggested them. I told him I had autism mom friends now. He grinned ear to ear. He hugged me. He asked me if that meant he had autism kid friends now, too. Because that would be amazing.

It never occured to me before that moment that he might be lonely, too. I told him I’d see what I could do. We had a home now, after all. I’d found my people. They were his people, too.

And that gave me an idea.

He’s thirteen, and he’s so open about his struggles. He’s articulate and self-aware. He’s wise beyond his years. I thought about all the questions I’d heard other parents asking. Parents whose kids were newly diagnosed. Parents whose kids couldn’t express what they felt. Parents with questions I couldn’t answer. Questions my baby could.

It was after midnight. I’d been up reading and re-reading the responses to my post. Cherishing my box. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. With love. With a sense of really, truly belonging. So even though it was late,I made another post. I pitched my half-baked idea.

My son and I are so thankful that you’ve welcomed us, I said. We feel like we’ve come home. We feel so much less alone. And we want to do something to thank you. We’d like to write another blog for you. My son wants to answer your questions about what it’s like to be autistic. If there’s something you’d like me to ask him, please let me know. We’ll publish it as an interview.

I folded the note and placed it in my box. I passed the box around. A few of you smiled, and thanked me, and put questions in the box. I fell asleep by the fire, warm and happy. Safe.

When I woke up, you were gone.

At first, I was confused. I got error messages when I tried to view my old posts. All my group notifications had vanished. There was nothing in my activity log. I couldn’t find the group or anyone from it. I was alone. My box was gone.

But all of Facebook was being wonky. I couldn’t post or access any of my pages. I couldn’t reply in any of my groups. I looked it up. There was a service outage. I relaxed a little.

But…I could still see my other groups.

That’s when the thought first occurred to me. Could I have been banned?

I knew. But I tried to convince myself I was wrong. There’d been no notice, no warning, no sign of trouble. You were my people. You wouldn’t have abandoned me. You told me I was home. You took my coat. You said I was safe here.

It had to be a mistake. I’d broken a rule, maybe. Tripped an automatic something. That had to be it. I’d been temporarily banned. Or maybe accidentally? A message was coming. Something. The outage must be slowing things down. Heck, maybe the whole group was down and I was just being paranoid.

I’d exchanged messages with someone from the group the day before. So I found her, and i reached out to her. I asked her if she could still access the group. I asked her if she could still see me in it. I apologized for being paranoid, and for bothering her. She understood. She was my people.

She checked for me. Group’s still up, she said. Your posts are still there, too. Don’t worry. I’m sure if they were upset with you, they’d have taken them down. You’re amazing. Everyone loves you. It’s okay.

I tried to relax. I wanted my coat. I wanted my box. But at least I knew you were still there.

My posts were still up. You still had my box.

But my coat was in that box. And pieces of me. I was raw, and vulnerable, and cold. Worries trickled down the back of my neck like rain. What had I done wrong? How could I make it right?

Blog promotion, probably. That had to be it. But that wasn’t in the rules? Maybe something else. Maybe my post had seemed condescending – how dare I offer to teach anyone anything? My kid’s not the only one who can talk about this. I mean, really. What made me think I had anything to contribute, after barely two days? I must have sounded like such a fool. You had every right to be angry.

No, wait. Maybe it was worse. Maybe offering up my son this way was child exploitation Oh, geez, it is child exploitation! I see it so clearly now. How could I be such a monster?! I deserve to be banned. I don’t even deserve to be a parent!

No, wait. Maybe it’s something else.  Maybe you thought I’d quote members in my blog? Maybe you thought I was farming information. Maybe you thought I was violating the privacy of the group by offering to answer your questions publicly. Yes, that had to be it. You thought I was playing on your vulnerability. And, I mean…I WAS hoping to gain followers off of this, wasn’t I? Did that make this whole thing self-serving? Did I just advertise under the guise of generosity?! That’s horrible! I’d have banned me too! How could I have been so stupid! My judgement is impaired. I shouldn’t be blogging at all. What made me think I could make it as a blogger anyway? What the hell do I know? You’re better off without me. I deserved to be banned.

Wait.

Wait.

Where the hell is all this coming from?

This isn’t me. I’m not a self-doubting person. I’m not a self-loathing person. I’m not a cruel or exploitive person. If I made a mistake, I did it unwittingly. It doesn’t make me unworthy. I’ve never doubted myself like this before. I’ve never craved approval this way before. What’s wrong with me?

And then it hit me.

My coat is still in the box.

You took it with you. My coat, and pieces of myself. I put them inside because I trusted you. You said you’d keep them safe. You gave me so much to put in that box with them.

But then you took it all away. You left me alone, without my coat. Without my torn-off pieces. You left without a word, in the night, while I slept. You took away everything you’d given me, and that’s your right. But you took the things I’d started with, too.

I made that coat. It took years. I needed it. It kept me safe long before you did.

It wasn’t yours to take.

The day went on. The facebook outage ended. You didn’t come back.

I told my friends–the real ones. The ones I had before I found you. They hugged me. They said there must be some mistake. They told me I should stop second- and third- and fourth-guessing myself and just politely ask. I told them I couldn’t–I was blocked. They said they’d find you and ask for me.

There was no answer. I thought, maybe, you hadn’t seen them. Maybe they had the wrong group. It didn’t matter. I was okay. I knew I must have done something wrong. You didn’t owe me an explanation. I respected your decision. I wished I knew why. But I’d be okay.

My new friend from the group messaged me again. All my posts had now been removed.

Oh.

Okay.

It wasn’t a mistake.

And…you burned my box.

It wasn’t yours. If only you’d asked me to leave,I’d have taken my coat and gone. I wouldn’t have argued. I’d even have apologized.

But that box was a treasure. It was everything I’d come with, and so much that you’d given me. It was reassurance. It was proof that I wasn’t alone. It was love. It was pieces of me, and pieces of something bigger. I was plenty strong before, but I entrusted my strength to you. You said I didn’t need it here. You said you’d give me more.

You took it all.

I didn’t deserve that.

I cried tonight. I want you too know that. I didn’t cry when my son was diagnosed. I didn’t cry when we made our first IEP. I can’t remember the last time I cried over any of this. I HAD this.

You took it away.

I still held out hope for closure, by the way. Then my friend, who’d reached out on my behalf, and waited hours for a response, messaged me at midnight.

Of course I was up. I don’t have my coat.

She told me you’d blocked her.

So that’s it, then.

I want you to know I forgive you. I’ll be okay. I’m an expert seamstress. I’m already working on a new coat. I only cried for like ten minutes. You haven’t broken me. I’m not angry anymore.

I’m also not in any support groups anymore. I’m thankful for all you gave me. I’m thankful to know that my people are out there, somewhere. I know that I can find them again, when I’m ready. But I need to be alone for a while now.

But…what if I’d been someone else? Someone weaker? Someone more vulnerable? Someone new to all this? Someone without a coat?

So this is my message to you:

Facebook doesn’t require you to give a reason, or to send a message, when you ban somebody. I’m actually a fan of that rule. I don’t think group admins should have to justify their decisions. I don’t think they should lose the power to moderate their own groups simply because they aren’t comfortable with confrontation. The internet is full of toxic people, and you don’t have to justify to anybody your decision to break away from them, or from ANYONE who makes you uncomfortable. Seriously. We’re cool.

But, guys…you’re a support group.

Please, the next time someone bares their soul, then breaks a rule, do a little more than you have to do. Take a moment to send them a message: “it’s about the rule. It’s not about your soul. Your soul is beautiful. We’re sorry we can’t let you stay.” You don’t even have to wait for a reply. Just say it. Trust me. They need to hear it.

If you’re going to show someone the door, for pity’s sake, give them back their coat.

Thank you. I mean that.

And goodbye.


Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Became a Mom (in no particular order)

(Featured Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash)

Stark Raving Mom is now on Facebook! Follow me here.

  • Diaper cream is not toxic. It is, however, a laxative. If they eat it, they’ll need it. I know this because poison control told me so. Speaking of…
  • You should probably have poison control on speed dial. I promise you they won’t laugh. Unless you do. Then you’re both gonna crack up. Also, you’d be amazed how many of the weird things your child ingests are going to turn out NOT to be toxic. Keep a running list. You’ll look back on it later and crack up all over again. Put it in the baby book. Only….
  • Don’t make a baby book. I’m not saying don’t document. Take lots of pictures. Keep a journal, if that’s your thing. Make lots of updates on social media, and archive them. Screenshot those texts with friends where you say things like “the twins are climbing the chandelier again. Wanna come by? I’ll order pizza.” Remember the things that matter, and save those things for someday when you do have the time to scrapbook or shadowbox or whatever wonderful creative momento-making project tickles you. But if you weren’t super organized and good at time-sensitive record keeping before you had kids, don’t expect to get better at it now that you have a miniature human hanging on your ankle demanding snacks. Don’t put the extra pressure on yourself. Especially if you plan on having more than one miniature human. The first one doesn’t let go of your ankle just because you made more.
  • Before you say ANYTHING to your husband, wife, or significant other about the way they are changing a diaper, feeding a child, loading the dishwasher or doing any other task you usually do, imagine the most intimidating, picture-perfect wonder-mom you can think of, and pretend she just said that while watching YOU. If it makes you want to cry, yell, swear, or punch her in the mouth, DON’T SAY IT. Look the other way. This is how you learned, too, and you never could’ve done it with someone looking over your shoulder and making you second-guess yourself. You didn’t break your kids, and neither will they. Also, don’t forget to thank your significant other when the job is done (even if you plan to do it over again when they’re not looking). You of all people know how thankless these chores feel.
  • Have an ice cream man fund. Make it bigger than you think it needs to be.
  • If your kid wants to wear something ridiculous or mismatched to school, let them. If it’s cold, make them put a sweater on top of it. If it’s hot, make the rule that it has to be short sleeved. And if you’re really worried the other kids will make fun, just quietly put a change of clothes in their backpack, and let them know it’s there if they decide they don’t like the clothes they picked. Let them develop their personal style early. Mismatched kids become confident adults.
  • If you’re staying at a hotel, pack a roll of paper towels and a stack of paper bathroom cups. You’re welcome.
  • Buy the cheap, boring plates for birthday parties. Seriously. Nobody looks at the plates. If you’re gonna splurge, do it on the entertainment. And lots of balloons.
  • Don’t do any holiday activity with your kids that you aren’t prepared to do again, every year, for the rest of your life. Four words: Valentine’s Day Scavenger Hunt. What was I thinking?!
  • Don’t worry about stains. Seriously. Just don’t. Always have a change of clothes on hand, buy lots of paper towels, and let ’em get dirty.
  • Try not to default to no. Yes, we can finger-paint. Yes, we can play with the play-doh. Yes, we can go play in the backyard. Trust me, you’re not always going to want to say yes. You’re going to be tired, and you’re going to wish they’d just keep doing something that they don’t need you to help them with. Try to say yes anyway. At least one time in three.
  • When the tooth fairy comes, write down how much she left. Because the next time you WILL forget, and you’re going to panic because what if it’s DIFFERENT and then they know?! So the tooth fairy will leave extra, just in case. We call this phenomenon “guilt inflation.” Also, the tooth fairy should never leave anything you wouldn’t have ready access to if the next tooth comes out at, say, 3am, during a blizzard. And while we’re on the subject…
  • Throw away lost teeth. No, really. I’m giving you permission. Unless you plan to harvest them for stem cells or something. (is that a thing yet? If that’s a thing, do it, it sounds cool). But as far as sentimentality goes, there is absolutely no keepsake or craft project you can make with human teeth that isn’t straight-up creepy. Also, after a decade or two, they can rot.
  • Keep sharpies, ballpoint pens, and gum out of reach and don’t let them know these things exist for as long as you can possibly keep up the charade.
  • Cooking oil removes sharpie from leather and also gum from hair, and rubbing alcohol dissolves ink from clothing and upholstery. While we’re on the topic, vinegar will get dried-up slime and play doh out of carpet and clothing. Yes, you’re going to want to know this.
  • If you have a hangup about genitals, get that sh*t out of your system right now. Genitals are fascinating. There’s gonna be questions. There’s gonna be things tugged that ought not be tugged. There’s gonna be awkward injuries. There’s gonna be accidental (and on-purpose) mastrubation. Not just when they’re teenagers. When they’re, like, two. They’re gonna want to play show and tell with their friends. So….don’t freak if a playdate ends in nudity. DO plan in advance and be prepared to lay down some kid-friendly, genital-specific rules. Don’t be shy about saying things like “never stick anything inside your vagina” or “always wash your hands before and after you touch your private parts,” or “we do not touch someone else’s penis on a playdate.” Seriously. Things are gonna need to be specified that you never thought you’d need to specify. This parenting gig is not for the faint of heart. Speaking of which….
  • There’s gotta be somebody in your household who is not afraid of poop, vomit, urine, blood, spiders or bees. If there isn’t someone, train someone. If you do not train someone, someone’s gonna get trained anyway. Before this gig is over, I promise you, at least one of you is gonna have this covered.
  • Keep all the friendship lists. Every. Last. One. Just get a big ol’ file folder and keep shoving ’em in there year after year. Trust me. You’ll use them.
  • Keep band-aids, lollipops, tissues and wet wipes in your purse. Don’t let your kids know they’re in there. Also…
  • Get a bigger purse.
  • When you have a mom friend, remember how she takes her coffee. Or tea, or hot cocoa, or wine, or whatever her comfort-social-beverage-of-choice may be. When she visits, hand her a cup without being asked. It’s a small thing, but it’s a huge thing. As parents it’s so easy for us to feel invisible, like we have no identities of our own. Let your friends know you see them. Remind them that you know things about them that have nothing to do with their children. Also…
  • Make mom friends. Strike up a conversation on the playground, join a Mommy & Me class, invite a child from that preschool friendship list for a playdate and have the mom in for coffee. However you manage it, surround yourself with women who get it. This momming thing is a marathon. Friends cheering from the sidelines are great, but when you stumble, it’s the friends running beside you who are going to pick you up again. They’ll have band-aids in their purses. And they’ll remember how you take your coffee.

Got something to add to this list? Share your own mommy wisdom in the comments!