here’s how I responded when a young person came out as bi

I suppose I should be flattered that a young person in my life approached me recently to tell me that she’s bisexual.

Here’s how I responded:

“All right. Do you want to talk about it?”

Here’s how I felt:

Freaked out. Because this youngster is only 13. And I guess I wasn’t ready to have someone in the same age range as my own children proclaim something about her sexuality. Not yet.

Here are some of the thoughts that ran through my head:

  • At 13, how on earth do you know something like that? Does that mean you’ve experienced something with someone? Already!? Or is it just a feeling? I mean, when I was young, we — meaning me and my friends, as far as I knew — didn’t know there was anything but heterosexual. I don’t recall being conscious of anyone around me being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, inter-sex or in any other way different from this so-called norm. Times were different. There weren’t television shows or movies with clearly homosexual characters. Of course, I now know of a few people from my small hometown who do not identify as straight, and I have many gay and lesbian friends.
  • Is being bisexual really a thing? Yes, I know, I know. I’ve heard that it legitimately is, but I can’t truly grasp it. I find women’s bodies beautiful. And I sometimes think about what a woman’s breast must look like or what it would feel like to caress it. But at the end of the day, I want a good, hard cock. I’ve always thought of myself as decidedly heterosexual. And sometimes also as bi-curious. But I’ve never thought of those things as mutually exclusive. Or of anything attraction related as mutually exclusive.
  • And because I’ve had this women’s-bodies-are-beautiful conversation with so many women in my adult life, I’ve just come to accept as normal that there is a fluidity to our sexuality and desires that flow across a spectrum. There doesn’t seem to be much sense in or need to label it.
  • Continuing from there… Is stepping into this label in some way harmful at such a young age? Is there a need to categorize oneself? Do others know? Will they persecute or bully? What land mines might await in her own psyche or in her experience as a result?
  • Is identifying as such a first step in coming out as gay or lesbian? Is this the get-the-adults-around-me-used-to-this-first approach?
  • In talking about it with this young person, I learned that a certain group of friends identifies as bisexual. So is this another one of those middle school things, like dying one’s hair or exchanging clothes, where they want to be like each other? Might it be a phase? Is it the cool thing to do or be? A dear older friend once told me about her daughter’s dalliance with a lesbian relationship in high school. This daughter went on to have a long term (now six years) relationship with a man through and after college. Will this young woman follow a similar path?

I’m certain many such musings paint me to be biased and ignorant. Truly, all of these ponderings flashed through my mind in the course of a couple of minutes. In the end, none of these things matter. As I told this young person, what’s truly important is to build loving, respectful, caring and healthy relationships with friends or lovers, in whatever relationships you choose, to honor your feelings and those of others, and to develop communication and other relationship skills.

a few observations

When you’re the one in the family who isn’t a serious hoarder, you always end up hosting your hoarding family for the holidays.

It’s important to teach your children how to manage their thoughts, to become their own best friend, and to cultivate a positive outlook. Especially a kid who veers toward anxiety. The earlier you can offer coping tools, the longer s/he has to develop those life skills while in your care.

It doesn’t matter how much you care for someone if you constantly feel stressed out in a relationship with him. You have to care enough for yourself to mind your own feelings.

Children should receive comprehensive, positive sex education that gives them the tools to speak their needs. More than being told to “just say no” to sex or drugs, they need practice developing the skills of how to say no, yes, faster, slower or a little to the left. I’m grateful my school has a solid curriculum and instructor(s), and I’m even more grateful to know that I’m surrounded by a community of parents who will take those conversations to the next level with their children.

It’s terrifying to raise a daughter in a world where an enormous population of girls’ genitals are still mutilated in the name of purity, where school dress codes are designed to make sure girls are not a distraction to boys, where colleges have no clue how to handle rape allegations, where lawmakers seem hellbent on standing between the reproductive decisions women should be making only with their doctors and loved ones, where slut shaming remains a rampant reminder of just how alive and well our gender-based double standards are, and where women are so frequently harassed or flamed for making feminist statements online. I have to regularly take deep breaths and ground myself just to stay sane, much less try to make sense of this crazy world for her.

Side note:  Jennifer Lawrence is right. The criminals who stole private images from her and other celebrities’  cloud accounts should be prosecuted for the sexual violations they’ve committed, just as they would be prosecuted if they’d been caught having stolen your banking information.

I’ve been seeing an acupuncturist. The resulting bruises on my body might suggest I’m the victim of a physical or sexual assault. On the other hand, cursing aloud at my practitioner does not seem to faze him. Therefore, I’m not sure whether to report him to some sort of authority or ask him if he’s single.

I can’t imagine dating someone with the perspective that birth control is a female’s responsibility, especially after children. If a man has sired as many children as he intends to sire, I firmly believe he should be willing to commit to that decision and have a vasectomy. Not everyone has to agree with me on this; likewise, not everyone has to date me.

Finally, when a young person comes to you and confides that she is bi-sexual and you say, “all right,” you have to wonder if you’ve under-reacted or dismissed the enormity of this thing she is telling you, while you simultaneously wonder about whether a young person should so readily embrace what might be a label, particularly given the fluidity along a spectrum that seems inherent among females. But the important part of responding was this:  “Regardless of whoever you choose, the important thing is to learn to build healthy, communicative, loving and supportive relationships.”

And OMG Bill Cosby!

All of these are things I’ve been thinking about in my long absence — and probably some are topics on which I’ll write more. But for now, let’s hold this space…this space in which some of these issues are just so big and overwhelming and controversial that they are difficult to wrap my head around. And let’s acknowledge that some are pithy or playful and, I hope, gave you a bit of a laugh.

perspectives on step parenting

A week ago, I had an intoxicated exchange at a bar that struck me:  I ran into a colleague and we ended up talking about the fun, dysfunction, bliss and mess of broken and blended families. She’s newly a step parent to one child, and is enjoying out-dressing the soccer moms at weekend tournaments and packing lunches each morning. And she freely admits to being too selfish to want more children than her lone stepson.

When I revealed that I had a crush on a divorced man with full custody of his two daughters, she brought up the obvious fact that –were something like that ever to blossom into a genuine relationship — I’d have myself a whole mess of a family. As in four children. As in doubling my brood. And that’s admittedly a lot. It’s something psychologists might refer to as “blowing up the box” — it seems like it would be manageable when you really want to make it work, but you can’t really ever be fully prepared for that sort of change. You just have to grow and ride it, keeping it on the rails as much as you can.

As far as I’m concerned, it would be an absolute honor and joy to take on the additional responsibility and give the love it takes to step into that role.

I didn’t grow up in the sort of home that was the social center for the neighborhood or my group of friends, but I’ve spent time in those homes and always wanted to create that space for my own children — you know, the one where the children are always coming and going and everyone feels comfortable and safe. The home that always seems full of life and chaos. I’m proud of having established some degree of that comfort and safety for my children and their friends (although it’s difficult to compete with the swimming pool down the street for “social center of the block” status).

Further, even though my ex’s children were older (the youngest of four was nearly an adult when we got together), I relished having the extended family, the relationships, the conversations and offering guidance. It’s a role in which I thrived, and I still value my ex-step-children and their relationships with the half-siblings borne of my womb. I was willing to invest in their futures and was — and still am — always available to them. That sense of responsibility comes very naturally to me, and I felt great clarity in navigating the boundaries and communicating the expectations that came with it all. Which is not to suggest that everything went perfectly, of course…

All of this willingness or eagerness to be in a relationship again, to one day form a larger family, isn’t entirely without parameters… I mean, we’ve all got to be able to fit in some sort of reasonable vehicle and have the incomes to support said family and such. I don’t have a great deal of interest in going back to diaper changing or toddlerhood, either. Still, I think it’s easier for me to imagine being in a relationship with someone who has children than with someone who doesn’t.

In the end, it was interesting to find myself in conversation that heightened my consciousness of my own perspectives and where I’m at now in life. I am generally more happy and content, more open and more ready for that next big love — including more children (though not through birth) — than ever. Bring it!

rites of passage

This was the school year during which my daughter first told me she had a boyfriend. In fact, it was the first year she even expressed interest in any boy.

Her boyfriend, who I met on more than one occasion, was painfully shy. He came to dinner and giggled across the table at my son, eyes and body averted from my daughter to his side.

I suspect the whole of this fifth grade “dating” experience had more to do with status than anything else. “Going with” a boy meant being liked, being chosen. It meant being part of a special group, along with her best friends who had also been chosen.

I suppose it should have come as no surprise that, in the last several weeks of school, my girl told me she had broken up with her boyfriend… My daughter called her guy over during recess and told him, “This isn’t working out.” As it turned out, many of the fifth-grade couples had split — all at the girls’ initiation — within days of each other.

The mothers and I sat around after a school event one evening and discussed this phenomenon, suddenly realizing it wasn’t all that different from what we would have done as we reached the end of middle school or high school or, in many cases, college. After all, who wants to be tied down when something new and exciting is around the corner? And, I hate to say it, but especially when that new and exciting thing includes a whole new group of boys, older boys.

Single is the new status symbol…at least until middle school starts.


not on my knees

Not long ago, I told one of the guys who’s meandered in and out of my life for the past many months that we needed to have a “come to Jesus.”

He asked hopefully — and via text, I might add, as so many of our important conversations take place these days — if that meant I’d be on my knees.

And that’s exactly the issue with this fellow; he cannot be taken seriously. He claims to have serious interest in me and then, when we eventually start putting together some plans, he texts me that he’ll be over around 11:30pm. That’s booty-call-thirty to most of us.

Men and women can have a few different types of relationships:  they can be siblings, friends, co-workers / colleagues, casual lovers or two people with mutual love and respect who want to grow old together. I realize that some of these types of relationships — and by no means is this list comprehensive — can take place on a sort of continuum. Yet I suspect the type of relationship I’m looking for — long-term, committed and rewarding — is unlikely to begin with an 11:30pm visit to my place.

So our “come to Jesus” conversation was a series of texts over which I basically told him that, if he wants to be taken seriously, he’ll need to change his strategy. Ultimately, I’m no soothsayer; I can’t predict the future, so I might be open to a booty call…one just couldn’t possibly expect it would turn into anything deeper.

This fellow knows me well enough and for long enough so that, if he’d been taking notes, he’d have an entire list of possible restaurants to which to invite me on dates, activities I enjoy, music I’d like to see in concert, etc. to show me that he values me as a human being (and not just a piece of ass). He’s likely to know that I think the best relationships begin as friendship. Hell, he’d probably have the first five years’ worth of birthday and Christmas gifts covered if he’d been listening.

I mean to say I’ve made this easy. I’ve practically handed out written instructions for how to win my heart, in the event he was interested. That’s why it floors me that he wants to come over and “give me a back rub” late at night while proclaiming he views me as the “total package” — brains, beauty, breasts. The most important of those is wasted entirely at that time of day.

At any rate, this last go-round, he ultimately declined to come over after this “discussion,” so no booty call for me. Now he claims he’s going to come over and help me do yard work one day, which is much more likely to win me over…

I may have my fingers crossed this fellow can manage some follow-through, but I won’t be on my knees.

season of chaos

Christmas is a season for children and lovers. Thus, I confess, it’s been difficult for me to get in the holiday spirit these past few years. I go full in, kicking and screaming, only for the children’s sake (otherwise I’m sure my descent into Grinchy Scrooginess would be complete). Still, I find my small, cozy family is building new traditions that fit our unique sort of wackiness, and that warms my heart:

  • We bake cookies and the emerging trends are 1) to have help from one of my single girlfriends (who can get her kid jones on while making decorating more fun than my children would have with “just mom”) and 2) to cut out lots of little gingerbread people shapes and decorate them in ugly holiday sweaters.
  • Photo cards from friends are rolling in, and it’s so fun to see children growing up and the crazy couple who this year chose an eighties theme for their photo shoot.
  • We went out to a Chinese buffet this Christmas Eve, as has been our tradition since they were small and we vacationed in Florida and nothing else was open over the holidays.
  • I’ve just stuffed the children’s stockings and placed gifts under and around the tree. They’ll be waking me up first thing begging to open them all.

Finally, just for me, I’ve spent the last three nights watching “Love, Actually” with a glass of wine in hand after the children are off to sleep. All those interwoven tales of love never seem to get old. With another week or so of break, feel free to join me one of these nights.

Merry Christmas!

battle of the bads

Today is the sort of day that keeps me humble, where nothing happens quickly enough (especially traffic) and where I find I have to resist an urge to yell out the window at the kid crossing the street with a hand clutched at his waist to hold up his pants, “Pull up your #%*&^@ pants, you #%$&*#@ idiot!”

So let’s rewind to this morning and see if we can identify where or when this mood began…

At work I had the opportunity to sign up for a health coach. I’m always vaguely curious about this coaching business, so I signed up. Today was my first call. And it went something like this:

I explain my predicament of sudden weight gain despite a mostly organic and healthy diet, and my desire to be more active.

Coach:  So you’d like to lose 15 pounds…

Me:  Hell, I’d like to drop twice that.

Coach:  What are the steps you’re going to take to get there?

Me:  I get up, get my children out the door, spend an hour and a half per day in my car, eight hours a day at a sedentary job, rush to pick up my children and make dinner and then collapse from sheer exhaustion. Winning the lotto or being able to bike to work would help — that’s all I got!

Coach:  Can you get some activity on your breaks?

Me:  What breaks?! Salaried people don’t get breaks. We squeeze as much as humanly possible into the time we spend at our desks — and then still have to take the work home with us.

We continued to dialogue about the possibilities or, from my perspective, the lack thereof and it became more and more clear to me that a) I sound like a broken record and b) I am extremely resistant to taking responsibility for this mess that my mid-section and thighs have become.

Meanwhile, as she probed about how I could re-prioritize and take care of myself, I watched the fit, stay-at-home soccer moms out the window and became more and more emotional. And I realized that a) I still have lingering anger and resentment for the situation in which I find myself, namely cash flow negative, single parenting with extremely little support (time or money) from the children’s father and exhausted, and b) my overwhelm comes from feeling powerless to change my circumstances.

So I am being coached to take baby steps to “take care of myself” from someone who has no idea how pissed off I am that I no longer get at least two professional massages per month, no longer have an hour of yoga per day, and children who won’t eat more vegetables. I am being asked to make choices by someone who has no idea how few there are. I am being told that I can let go — of what?! — the few things that keep me going? Like writing this blog? By now, I am in full-blown tantrum mode. So let’s not stop with where I’m at physically when I can leverage this opportunity to ruminate on my piece-of shit-house, wardrobe, car and more. As you all know by now, it’s — come on and say it with me — all my ex’s fault.

And then, while at the office, I proceed to make a complete liar of myself by eating one of the chocolate cupcakes someone has brought to the office…et cetera, et cetera. And then, on the way home, traffic is beyond terrible and I’m late to pick up my children. And it’s as though there’s a poison growing deep in the pit of my stomach from which all this anger and negativity emanates.

And I realize how far I have yet to go on this journey of healing, how much resentment I have yet to release, that good and evil are having an all-out brawl in my psyche.

And, finally, I am thankful this sort of mood / attitude comes around just once a month and quickly passes, so that I can get back to feeling grateful for my beautiful life and the choices I’ve made to get here.

p.s. So, for the record, I suppose I should express that I’d be perfectly happy to have just one professional massage per month. It’s not like I’m a total princess!

road trip

This spring, my daughter’s class at school began studying the states. She regularly came home with various new ideas about places she’d like to visit, including Mt. Rushmore. I’ve been to see this presidential monument several times, always while driving through to destinations further west. And, while I knew people vacationed in the Black Hills, I’d thought of it as a “mini” or poor man’s vacation for those who couldn’t afford to fly to warmer destinations over the holidays or spring break or for those who didn’t have the time to go as far as the more obvious destination, Yellowstone. In my mind, it was — like Devil’s Tower — one of the stops along the way when one is going somewhere, just another dot along the “Rubber Tomahawk Circuit.”

So I was wrong folks; I admit it.

School ended on a Tuesday and childcare for the next three days was going to cost me an average of $75 per day…so, I thought, we can’t afford not to go. After all, my children want to. And this is one of the few ways in which I actually believe spoiling them is entirely okay — with experiences, especially those that can be educational.

With only a notion, we packed the car and drove to the Black Hills of South Dakota. The children were spectacular during the long hours in the car, playing games together, reading and (of course) watching movies or playing electronic games. They were patient, cooperative and even the younger one asked for little.

We drove through the old gold mining towns of Deadwood and Lead, then down through Custer National Park and, of course, to the main event — Mt. Rushmore. It was the kind of vacation where I felt as though we spent most of our time driving / in the car. But it was spectacularly memorable. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Needles highway in Custer State Park, where there is beautiful scenery around every switchback and through every one of the tunnels carved through stone.
  • Having an old-time photo taken…with guns, at a child’s insistence.
  • Panning for gold.
  • The pervasive and relaxing scent of pine needles.
  • The lighting ceremony at Mt. Rushmore — my first time seeing it at night.
  • Our family’s first alpine slide experience in Keystone — after a grilled cheeseburger at the summit.
  • Seeing buffalo up close and feeding asses out of the palms of our hands.
  • A walk along the shore of beautiful Lake Sylvan.
  • Driving back home, at night, hearing the children talk about how many stars they can see — and then turning on the StarWalk app to learn the names of new constellations.
  • The children also insisted on seeing Reptile Gardens, on which I could have easily taken a pass, but the alligator show was at least a little amusing.

Things we missed:  the hiking, kayaking, rock climbing and other experiences one might enjoy if staying at the park for a longer period of time, the mammoth site / dig further south of Custer  (which I’ve heard is fantastic!), caves and horseback rides. In other words, we definitely plan to go back!

The spectacular experience didn’t end with scenery alone:  part of the joy of the experience was in realizing that the children have become competent road trippers, and that we can just hop in the car with no reservations and wing it (my favorite way to travel!), and they’ll be fine. Another was realizing that those feelings that came up last trip — about it being “half a vacation” because my children only have half the parents — were no longer a part of the experience. The three of us had a wonderful adventure all our own.

Now, where to go next?!

the c word

Today’s post is inspired by both personal experience and…I’m almost ashamed to admit it:  a guilty pleasure, The Bachelorette. On this evening’s episode, one young man bravely proffered his opinion that going into a relationship with a woman who had a child was a “compromise” — one he was willing to make, but a compromise nonetheless.

Big mistake…a mistake on the order of a guy saying he’s “babysitting”  his own children (in which case he means parenting).

I’ve actually heard this before and been taken aback, and I was offended for Emily before she responded as such herself… Certainly relationships are full of compromises. Certainly people who have children make many compromises. But in trying to win the heart of a parent, describing going into a relationship with them as “making a compromise” because they have a child or children is a sure loser.

Here’s why:  every good parent knows that our children give us so much more in the way of life lessons, tenderness, blessings and love, and that these things far outweigh the laundry list of obligations, compromises and costs of raising children. No amount of dirty diapers, spit-up stained clothing, expense, nights at (sometimes terrible) school concerts versus rock concerts, nights in versus nights out, cleaning up vomit, using vacation days to care for a sick child and more can ever compare to the joy, love, warmth, pride and purpose of nurturing these young people to pursue their own passions and grow into their potential.

In other words, if you’re thinking of getting serious with a single parent, you’ll do yourself and your relationship a favor by considering it an absolute honor to take on the role of step-parent to another’s child(ren). And, at least as importantly, you should feel honored that another human being holds you in high enough esteem to think you might make a good step-parent to his or her child(ren).

not ready for tacos

This morning, my children were playing catch in the yard when my daughter asked me to join her on the girls’ team, “Team Taco.”

After I picked my jaw up off the ground, I asked what the boys’ team was called:  “Team Burrito.” And I followed with questions about where they’d learned these team names and if they knew what the names referenced…they did.

It’s natural for our children to lead the way, for parents to be caught off guard by an innocent phrase or question (that may not really be so innocent), for us to feel occasional discomfort at the maturity of topics we’re forced to address. But when my young son confirmed that the team names referenced parts of our anatomy, I was a bit aghast that children so young should already be exposed to what I might consider, if not vulgar, then at least a type of humor more appropriate for an older audience.

Let me just say that I am among the most urban, liberal, laid-back mothers I know. Sure, a part of me thought what I’d just heard was funny. But I am a feminist, and I want my daughter to own her body with confidence, to grow up stronger than those girls I’ve read about in Jodi Picoult novels. And I want my son to view his maleness as much more than his “burrito,” as well. I’d hate for my children to think I condoned identifying with a group based on the singular identifying characteristic of genitalia. Sex / gender is so much more than that.

Thus, I was compelled to call a huddle for a little chat about age-appropriate humor and about our being so much more than our anatomy. My daughter buried her face in a book and my son giggled while I explained why we probably shouldn’t use these team names anymore.

When they’re older and understand irony, my daughter is welcome to rejoin “Team Taco” or “Team Vajayjay” if it suits her post-feminist humor. But I’d better not ever hear that sort of thing out of my son’s mouth!