Sunday, August 23, 2015

In Which the Adventure Continues... Callooh Callay!

As many of you know, I am heading to St. Petersburg, Florida to complete my child life internship, the last step before I take the certifying exam to be a bonafide CCLS (Certified Child Life Specialist).

For the last few weeks, I have felt resistant to preparing for this major life transition - and one must get ready to move half a country away for four months. It took some deep-soul digging to unearth the root of my concern.

The self-interrogation went something like this:

  • Did I want to complete this internship? Yes.
  • Was my family going to be okay? Yes.
  • Was I excited about my chosen profession? Yes. 

After some time reflecting, I realized that I had started to tell myself the imagined story of 'Others,' and had stopped paying attention to my own story. The story of the 'Others' involves me not being a good mother or a good wife, because I was 'leaving' my family to do my own selfish bidding. Once I recognized that old story, I was able to get back to the real story, the story of MY family and our joy, the story you'll find below. 

In order to maintain balance during my physical distance, I know it will be important for me to have creative time, writing time, so I picked up a lovely green leather journal and the book Wild Women, Wild Voices by Judy Reeves. I have been writing two pages every day, creating a realistic, achievable ritual that meets my needs and that I will carry me through four months and longer. 

 While The Mancub spent time with unschooling friends in New York recently, The Esquire and I traveled north, to Traverse City. This was our first weekend away, together, since the January before Isaiah's death eight years ago. In part, that is because we both enjoy home a good great deal. In other part, I think we both forgot how good and relaxing it can feel to move in paths outside the norm - and how amazing the food can be!
So, many of you may be wondering what The Mancub's unschooling days will look like while I am away. I assure you, I am excited to find out. We have approached this as a family adventure, and one that will benefit all three of us, both in the short run and in the long run. J. has some really interesting avenues to pursue while I'm away. Last year found him playing the drums in a band, but this summer has found him at Open Mic nights, playing bass guitar in a cover band with friends. They're moving into creating more original music, so he's learning to write bass lines.

In Holland, he continues to volunteer with the library once a week, but is switching days to accommodate another volunteer opportunity. A friend who lives five houses down from us runs a non-profit that rehabs houses in the neighborhood and they also host a tool lending library. J. has expressed interest in carpentry, so he'll be volunteering with, and learning from, the mix of people that work with that org. He'll have more time with Miss Pip, the pictured lab/pitty and he has running and swimming plans he wants to keep up on.

In Grand Rapids, The Esquire has some connections that The Mancub is looking forward to exploring, including possible volunteering with The Michigan House during Art Prize (a project The Esquire developed at SXSW last year, involving a showcase of Michigan arts, music, etc.). The Esquire also works with a local recording studio, StoneHouse Records, set in an old stone house right downtown, where J. can learn some of the recording/local music ropes.

Together, they have plans to practice J.'s driving skills, take in lots of classic movies/discussions, and go to see as much local music as they can fit in. J., even as a child, has liked a great deal of independence. He knows that when he's ready he wants to move to New York (I see reflections of his father). I see this four month adventure allowing him to explore further independence in a safe space - and after working through some challenges on my end this summer - I trust in who he is, in our ability to navigate whatever life brings, and most of all, I trust in the connection that I have with him as his mother and as his friend. He's pretty freakin' awesome.

So, the story is that we're all going to be learning a lot. This four month sojourn is a period of transition for all three of us. The Esquire is transitioning into life without either of his parents and pondering what the future may hold. The Mancub is transitioning evermore into the life he envisions for himself, one full with friends and music and service. And I, I am transitioning into life as a mother who has a lot less hands-on mothering to do but is still ever-present, as someone who has a career she is passionate about, as a wife who, after 15 years of everything life could throw at us, knows that a four-month pause in physical presence is not going to break us.

I'm also transitioning into life as a ukelele player - because four months of nights without my menfolk, folks. Four months. This is not good bye. This is just life on steroids.

"Leaving is powerful medicine that I’m doing my best to open to. I’m trying to let it open me, dissolve the places I hold back, the stories I hide about people not liking me, me not belonging, and most of all, to remind me that every moment is a goodbye of sorts.
Maybe saying goodbye is just life on steroids."  Jennifer Louden

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How do you do it?

It is a question I am asked often, in various forms. How do you walk back into the hospital? How will you remain emotionally stable among intense medical situations? "Some people return to the hospital setting as therapy...," the question both veiled and valid.

Today marks eight years since Isaiah died. Last year, I didn't mark the anniversary with a blog post because I was in a children's hospital, engaged in the work of a child life practicum. This year finds me with space, in between a child life conference and an internship interview, and writing feels right as I trace the imprint Isaiah has left in our lives.

When I walk into the hospital, I am not walking toward Isaiah, though I carry him with me always. I am walking forward with clinical skills and academic knowledge in a field where I am uniquely suited to supporting the journey of other children, teens and families in medical settings.

I do not sit and chat with mothers about the difficulties of life in the hospital, because professional boundaries are very important to me, and because those boundaries allow me to support families to the best of my ability. However, I am able to listen with empathy - to understand the frustration of a family waiting to be discharged, the fear of parents when doctors don't have all the answers, the difficulty of balancing the needs of well children and a sick sibling. I know the multitude of stressors, and I carry the memory with me so that I can meet a family with respect for their situation, patience in the face of their frustration, understanding when they don't want one more person invading their space, even if I am the "fun" person. And when it is time, I am able to walk away, because I have learned the importance of self-care - that I am better able to meet the needs of families if I care for my own.

Just before we signed on to Hospice of Michigan's pediatric program with Isaiah, we spent one week with him at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, in the PICU. It was the only opportunity we had to interact with a child life specialist at that hospital, and she made it special, bringing the boys backpacks filled with fun. I ran into her at the conference this past weekend, and was grateful to have the opportunity to thank her, both as a mother and a professional. She recalled that the mancub was called "Joey" then, and that Isaiah was called "Zaya." Today, I remember all the people who walked with us through life and death with Isaiah, and I give thanks as I walk forward. Most of all, I give thanks for the two beings who made me a mother, both of whom continue to influence me as I move through the world. It's a gift to walk with them, in spirit and in presence.

Tonight, we order Z's favorite, Papa John's cheese pizza with "special sauce", our annual ritual. This morning, Joe attended another meeting as a board member of Hospice of Michigan. A week from today, Joseph interviews for a teen volunteer position at Gilda's Club Camp Sparkle, supporting kids who have experienced cancer or loss. The coming week finds me in Ann Arbor and San Francisco and Tampa, interviewing for child life internships. We each of us walk forward, touched by Isaiah, together. It is, as always, a beautiful, complex journey.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Kiss Me, I'm Cute

Photo shows three infant onesies designed for girls. The first one is turquoise leopard print and reads "Love to Be Glam." The second is hot pink and reads "Kiss me, I'm cute." The third is pale pink, and is adorned with a crown, reading, "Princess."

While grocery shopping at the local grocery store, Meijer, this morning, I was stopped by the three outfits above, all lined up in a row. I posted the above photo to Instagram and Facebook with the following words: "When the messages start so young, the conversation is still not big enough.  #letstalkabout  #consent #patriarchy #rapeculture #notsocute #wordsmatter #sodoourdaughters #meijer

I was happy to see several parents joining the conversation, some with important questions that highlight the many facets of the conversation around the socialization of girls and the treatment of girls and women in our society. I wanted, and needed, to more clearly explore my own thoughts and questions on this topic, and perhaps lay bare some more of what I was thinking when I posted the photo above. 


My very first thoughts went to consent, because messages about consent - including who gets to give consent - are being delivered from a very young age.

According to a government survey completed in 2011, 1 in 5 women has experienced a rape or an attempted rape, with 40% of those rapes perpetrated by an acquaintance. 

Let's look back at the those onesies and the messages they're sending. The first reads, "Love to be Glam." In Merriam Webster's online dictionary, 'glamorous' as defined for kids, means "excitingly attractive." Does a toddler really love to be excitingly attractive? Do we want to convey that message about our youngest, most vulnerable girls? Most of the rapes reported above occurred by the time the women were 18. 

The second onesie reads, "Kiss me, I'm cute." I find this one disturbing on several levels. First, this is placing adult words on a child's body, without no regard to the child's temperament or wishes - and trust me, children from a very young age can have a temperament which is not keen on lots of kisses, particularly from strangers. Second, this shirt implies that this female infant or toddler is worthy of physical affection simply because of their physical appearance - not because they are human and worthy of love. Of course, "Hold me because I'm small and vulnerable and need a secure base to attach to and to keep me safe so I can develop appropriately" doesn't exactly fit on a onesie. No, what this onesie says is feel free to touch me, because I'm cute and I deserve it. And what I am saying is that as adults,  we should be honoring a child's right to consent or decline physical interactions as soon as they are able to, whether that looks like watching their physical cues (crying, stiffening for a baby might mean a little too much contact) or allowing them to voice their "no" to a hug, and then honoring it. That is what consent looks like. 

If you're still not sure I should have tagged the photo with #rapeculture, I encourage you to check out what rape culture looks like at


Allow me to confess I don't have a girlchild (I have a 6 ft. tall manchild, but you likely already knew that) so why do I care if you dress your daughter in a onesie that says Princess? Well, honestly, because I care about the well-being of all children, young girls - your girls - included. I am not going to vilify any parent that purchases any of the above articles of clothing. I don't see that helping anyone, or opening up the conversation for those new to it. 

I do believe it's important to look at what message is being sent via the princess culture and to ask questions about it. What do we think of when we, as a society, consider the princess? A damsel in distress? A woman waiting for her prince? What does a princess value? How did she get to be a princess in the first place, anyway? What does a princess look like? What have real princesses' lives looked like? 

These are conversations we can have with our daughters - and maybe, just maybe,  we can wait to put those clothes, that label, on them until they're old enough to join in the conversation. 


The conversation on Facebook turned to the types of clothing available for girls at chain shopping stores like Target, specifically about short shorts being the primary type of shorts available for girls. A question was raised about whether it's a problem if a girl likes short shorts. This is a whole other can of worms from that of infant clothing. Girls and women have the right to wear whatever they want without "sending the wrong message," "asking for it," or getting raped. These are things we need to be teaching our sons - not forcing on our daughters. And in regards to the words above, when we as women use words like skimpy or modest, we're not just using words that describe clothing - we're using words that pass judgment on the wearer of the clothing as acting appropriately or inappropriately. I myself sometimes wear scrubs and a sweatshirt (it is Monday, folks) and sometimes wear heels and a form-fitting dress. I am no less an appropriate woman, no more deserving of rape, for either choice. I think we're having a different conversation when we're discussing toddler onesies - but sexualization is a pervasive trend at every age.

Rape culture is teaching women not to get raped instead of teaching men not to rape. - See more at:

I think ideas about the "right" clothing for girls and women to bleed into the realm of benevolent sexism, and in case your  wondering what the hell that is, lucky you, I wrote a paper about it not too long ago. "Benevolent sexism is defined by a reverence toward women, who require the protection of a man and deserve the care of a man; although their rightful place is in the home, that place is a very special, very elevated place (Hammond, Sibley & Overall, 2014). (Perhaps you can see how princess culture might play into this as well). The scary thing about benevolent sexism is that it is an ideology held by both men and women - and an ideology that tends to punish, in very real ways, women that do not conform to traditional, conservative norms in dress or action. Masser, Viki and Power (2006) found that there is a relationship between the use of rape myths to excuse abuse of women and a belief in traditional gender roles.

All told, it's a complicated conversation - all the more reason to have it. Because sexism is real even when it looks pretty and rape is rape, no matter what she was wearing. 

That was a weighty conversation, and I'd love to end on a humorous note. Not long after I returned from the store, I found myself surprised by a brown kraft envelope, a card left for me by husband.

 Inside, I found the following card, highly humorous and just a skosh ironic, after the conversation I'd just started about infant clothing and sexist messages. I thanked my husband for the card, after which (in a lovely display of emotional intelligence) he apologized for being offensive. But here's the thing, and the reason I'm sharing this - he wasn't offending me. I previously mentioned that this past fall, I was in a graduate class of all women, in which I was the only student to identify as a feminist. Some of the women thought that being a feminist meant you  were anti-men or didn't like things that were feminine or that had to do with the home, like cooking. 

But here's what being a feminist means to me, from a HuffPost article"It is about speaking out and acknowledging instances of misogyny. It’s about fighting for equal pay or against rape culture. It’s about ensuring that women have control over their bodies, that they are fairly represented in leadership positions and in the media. It’s about demanding change to the systematic prevalence of unequal power relations between men and women. It’s about respect."  I was not offended by my husband's card. I'm not offended by his appreciation of my derriere - he's the one guy to whom I've given consent as a mature, sexual being. But more so, when you read his words, they're about looking past the physical, and loving me for my "love of the work" that I'm doing. He sees me - beyond the sweatpants or the heels - and that is respect. 

Hammond, M., Sibley, C. & Overall, N. (2014). The allure of sexism: psychological
            entitlement fosters women’s endorsement of benevolent sexism over time.
            Social, Psychological and Personality Science, 5(4), 422-429.
Masser, B., Viki, G. & Power, C. (2006). Hostile sexism and rape proclivity amongst
            men. Sex Roles, 54, 565-574.