Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I'm voting for the unlikely.

I'm voting for Hillary Clinton, but I don't think she'll be elected.

I blame Disney and Nickelodeon and even PBS for this.

I watch a lot of kids' programming. Despite trying to be a low screen time Mom, I do. Their current favorites are Paw Patrol, Miles from Tomorrowland, Wild Kratts, Goldie & Bear, Star Wars Rebels, Curious George and Handy Manny. They love the new Lion Guard movie. They like the Lorax, Hotel Transylvania and Puss & Boots. They'll also watched Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins and Bubble Guppies. They'd sit in front of the TV all day if I let them.

We don't watch Cartoon Network. Or even Nickelodeon that much. I'm not a fan of Sponge Bob and I turn off shows that are mean spirited and crude. Yes, I'm the mom that ruins fairytales (or so says my dad).

What does this have to do with Hillary Clinton, right? Everything. Okay, not everything, but a lot.
I may be forcing my sons to talk about why people do mean things to each other in cartoons, alter story endings in books that make girls fall in love with egotistical men in one sentence, and force them to identify their own feelings - but I can't magically make girls appear in leadership roles in their TV shows. The networks have learned enough that they have to show some women and girls. So there's the moms and the sisters. The side characters who may seem smart, but always need help. But the protagonists? The kids who the show is named after? Boys.

So when my little, white sons see all these little, (mostly) white boys being the heroes of their families, their towns and the world, how are they to imagine a woman president? And this is just TV shows. There's also books. Sure, they may say women and men are equal and girls can do anything boys can do, but will they listen to the sound of her voice and, without pinpointing why it sounds off to them, say she's yelling? Or too aggressive? Or when she makes big, executive decisions, as a Secretary of State will and sometimes employs diplomacy or compromise, are they going to question her choices because she was never a little, white boy who saved the planet?

Am I voting for her because she's a woman? No. Does it factor into my decision? Yes. Hillary Clinton is extraordinarily qualified to be president. I think even Republicans would have to agree to that (if her record reflected their values instead). She's fought through moats of crap to rise to the top.

And while I don't agree with every policy decision she's made (is there a person that exists that I'd agree with everything on??), overall she's my pick.

My dad and Jared are voting for Bernie. I agree with a lot of what he says. Money is too much in politics. Major reforms needs to be made. My dad says he loves how progressive Bernie is, how he has been for years. I would argue that you can't get more progressive than a female, democratic president.

We need Hillary more than we need Bernie right now. Stats show when women are empowered and steps closer to economic security - families improve, life improves. Can Bernie speak to women? Sure, the ones who are listening to him. But even the little girls who's families are voting for Donald Trump won't miss the message of a woman president. Her portrait hanging in classrooms and city halls.

Sullivan is two and half right now. If she is elected in the fall, he won't remember a time in his life where a woman hadn't been president. That is a big friggin deal. And to be able to share with Henry that not only is Mom the president of a place he loves to hang out in, but the person in charge of the country is a mom, too.

And I call bullshit on people saying I'm playing the gender card. Maybe it doesn't matter to you (although it should), but it gianormously matters to me. We wouldn't keep sharing dismal statistics on women in leadership if it didn't matter - if our world wasn't totally out of whack (in so many ways, binary gender roles being the tip of an iceberg).

Hardy Girls works with over 500 Maine girls a year. The narrative they hear from media and family and politics and everything is small, small, small. You can't. You won't. You shouldn't. Seeing a woman swearing an oath to lead the country that just elected her shoves a big F that noise through that tiny, limiting, small-minded box of female-ness.

Prove me wrong. Prove to me the country isn't as small I think, as statistics show, as poles show. It happened with Obama (a man who I already miss and am positive I will cry when he leaves office, no matter who replaces him). It could happen. I hope, for my sons, it does.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


I was cleaning out a closet the other day and had made decent progress before I came across a journal from 2008. At the time, I was divorced and applying to a doctorate program, finishing my grad school and moving in with my parents to save money. I was dating a guy I'd met in a karaoke bar and working through some stuff with friendships. I'd just completed the first draft of my book. And, apparently, journaling a lot.

I spent at least an hour reading it. And only stopped because Sullivan woke up from his nap. It sucked me back into those relationships, that finite period of time. It felt like another person. I could remember all those things for the most part, but current Kelli is so distant from 2008 Kelli.

This has happened to me before. I've kept active journals since I was 17 or so. Lugging them to college, to Florence, to San Diego, through moving, and to Maine. Boxes of these decorative books with varying handwriting, pages of observations and feelings. I even took a journaling class once. Prompts and activities written privately amongst a group of fellow journalers.

I remember taking a co-worker to Barnes and Noble (a great selection of blank books) over a lunch break when I need to get a new one - the one I just re-discovered, in fact. She asked how to journal, what to write in there and how often to do it. I explained how I write for my future self. And maybe my future children, should there be any. At the time, I thought it was so sad that she had to ask me that. That she didn't know about the secret pleasures of a journal.

I didn't journal through my first marriage. Before we married, he read my journal, becoming enraged over something I'd written. A thought about another guy friend, innocent and innocuous. He said he wanted to be able to trust me, but seeing the other person's name written was too hard for him. I told him I had nothing to hide and would have showed him the journal if he'd asked. But instead, he'd waited until I went to work - washing buckets in a flower shop - before taking the book from my drawer. I felt betrayed, but agreed not to keep anything from him. So I stopped keeping a journal.

My fiction writing became a place where I could make things up while hiding truth inside it. A character I wasn't allowed to be in real life. And after the marriage ended, I felt another break-up with the character I'd created. This woman who seemed so directionless and flighty didn't match the overflow of feelings I was having. She wasn't serious enough because I'd invented her to be light.

I abandoned editing her to edit myself, returning to my journaling with a vengeance.  The 2008 journal was just one from that year, one book only able to contain a few months of feelings and ache. I was recording life to the details thinking every thing seemed so crucial.

And when I read it now, or any of them, they feel so painful. It is hard to see the purpose. Why write down these feelings of being lost? Of being alone. Of being so angry with another person. Did it make me feel better at the time? To record it so I could relive it later? Maybe I was so afraid of losing myself again that these journals were bread crumbs to guide myself back.

I don't journal now. Not the same kind I used to do. A friend sent me an "Every Day" journal that chronicled five years of your life. Each day, you jot down a few lines, which go underneath the few lines from that day in the year before. And at night when I do this, I try to think, "What do I want to remember about this day?" That Henry helped pick tomatoes with me. That I rode my bike to work. That Jared slept in the boys room so I could fight off a cold. That Sullivan learned the word "Stegosaurus." And if I find this journal years from now, it will be like a stop action movie of silliness and sleep-depravity and date-nights and bicycle rides and growing up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bad Guys

Sullivan's current favorite game is "Bad Wolf." This is where he identifies someone to be the Bad Wolf and it's that person's job to stomp menacingly and say, "Little pig, little pig let me in." His response is to squeal or growl back, clarifying that his growl is from a T-Rex, not a wolf. He often switches who is Bad Wolf mid-game. Or sometimes cries and acts scared, even though he's the one who started it.

He'll also, within the first ten seconds of the character being on screen, point out bad guys on TV. Whether he's seen the show or not, whether the character is meant to be a villain or not, he just knows they are up to no good.

Henry was telling me about a Star Wars character the other day, all his attacks and plan thwarting.
"Why is he being so mean?" I asked.
"He's the bad guy," was the simple answer.

This black and white division really bothers me. The way they so easily separate good and bad. I get that kids (and teens and adults) have to box things up for themselves. It makes it easier in a way. But it doesn't require much thought. And I wanted to have a conversation, at least with Henry, about it all. Since we were in the car and still twenty minutes from home, I decided to go for it.

"You know what I don't love about movies and TV and some books?" I asked him. "That there are bad guys and good guys and they are never the same people. "

I asked if he'd ever done something "bad," something he knew was mean or wrong. He acknowledged he had. "Are you a bad guy?"

"No." he answered right away. "But this guy is always mean to the Jedi," he countered. "He's nice to the storm troopers though."

"I bet if you asked the storm troopers they wouldn't think he was the bad guy," I added, not really knowing much at all about Star Wars, but trying it anyway with Jared shaking his head at my Star Wars ignorance next to me. "We don't really know him, right? Only what you see in movies or the show?" Henry nodded in the rearview mirror. "Okay, what if you were hanging out with Sullivan or your friends being the kind kid that you are and someone came around and did something mean? And maybe you did something mean back. What if someone else only saw the mean thing you did and nothing else. They might think you are mean."

"But I'm not mean. I would tell them that."

"I know you're not, but we all do some not nice things sometimes. And for the people who don't know us, that could be all they know about us." Then, to show how compassionate I was feeling, I brought up Paul LePage. I explained who he is and that I don't know if I've agreed with anything he's ever said. That he is often mean, wastes a lot of time and plays games about really serious stuff. But, the guy had a rough childhood. I give a few examples of this.

"What about toys?" Henry asked. "Did he get any on his birthdays?"

I explain how lots of families can't afford toys and how LePage didn't really even live with his family so there weren't a lot (or any) people who showed love like giving birthday presents.

"I can't imagine how I would feel if I didn't have people who love me around me all the time. And I had to worry about food and where I would sleep. I bet that would make me really sad and scared and angry."

"Me, too." Henry practically whispers this.

"That doesn't make what he does okay. But maybe I can try to understand a little better why he's so mad all the time."

And, just so I wouldn't start feeling too proud of myself for having hard conversations with my 5-yr-old, he responded "Are we almost home?"

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

As I went down to the river to SLEEP

I told Jared the other day that our biggest failure as parents (so far) is sleep.

Until very recently, Henry needed someone to lay down with him, read several books, turn out the light, tell him a story, tell him another story, sing him a song, sacrifice a limb, perform an interpretive dance and then wait him out. Okay, so all but two of those things are accurate. But this was... Every. Night.

With Sullivan, we were determined to right our wrongs. Until a few months ago, he'd let us read to him and plop him in his crib. This lasted about a year. "We done good with this one." we told ourselves while patting each other on the back. Then one day, he didn't. He screamed as if we were trying to perform a lobotomy without anesthesia and flung his gasping, hysterical body against the bars of crib like a forest animal fleeing from a fire. "Maybe he's teething. Maybe he has a cold. Maybe he's started dreaming and is having nightmares." These are the lies we told ourselves. More likely is he caught wind of Henry's bedtime dog and pony show and wanted in on that action.

So, for a month or so, we played adult on child defense, me praying each night I wouldn't draw the Sullivan end of the stick doomed to an hour+ of sanity-weakening antics. After the books, and often during, he becomes a floppy bag of flour. Legs, arms, his massive head - all in different directions and then rotate every ten seconds for far longer than you'd think he could keep it up. Then he stares into space sucking his thumb and pulling fuzz off the nearest fuzzy, textured thing for anywhere between two and thirty minutes. Until, finally, the eyes flit shut, thumb sucking arm falls to his side and his sweaty head with sweaty curls rolls on the pillow.

Jared usually fell asleep with whichever wee devil he'd gotten stuck with and just as he'd come down from his "nap" I'd pass him on the stairs when I was going to bed. Lots of quality time happening.

As fun as I'm sure this sounds, everyone hated bedtime. Even the dogs. It was so time consuming and ridiculous and frustrating that I started taking pictures of the boys sleeping to remind myself that sleep ultimately comes every night. No matter how long it takes. (see my photo series below)

On father's day, we unbunked the bunks and gave each boy his own.

And last Monday we started to sleep train our almost two and almost five year old. It hasn't been particularly fun either and each boy has gone through his own version of the grief stages: Sullivan spending most of his time in denial with a stopover in anger before collapsing into acceptance. Henry heavily favors bargaining and depression. But, I have finished a whole other book than my normal reading load. I've had several more than "how-was-your-day?-good.-how-was-yours?-fine." conversations with my husband, we've even taken a couple walks around the neighborhood and still have been able to fall asleep before 11. It's looking like we may not have to get the boys full beds for their college dorm rooms so Mommy and Daddy have some space to read to them in. Score.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Son Sestina

Mornings with Boys

At 5:17am, from behind the leftover nighttime, a voice
squeaks, “Mom.” I blink my eyes, and put out a hand
“I can’t find my slippers,” he explains, as if cold feet
woke him up. “Climb in with me,” I say and pull him into
my blankets. His knees poke my stomach, his body
folds into mine and the warmth is a wall. The clink of cars

near my cheek, tiny lead-based paint hot wheel cars
snuck into bed with the special, whispering voice 
narrating their adventures. I roll away, my body 
turning from their games. He makes them talk, his hands
dancing them in the air above the blanket, cars into 
planes into buddies. And then he's out. Running feet

into the hall and down the stairs. I put my feet 
down first and look for slippers, stepping on a car
and recoiling. Already a day of toys turning into
weapons. Shower curtain pulled back, my hand
turns on the hot water, waiting for the steam. My body

hasn’t breathed yet. I step in gingerly, feeling like a body
of water drowning. The water so hot it’s cold stabs my feet
and I lean around the stream to adjust, my hand
catching the heat. Counting the attacks – first the cars,
then the water, next comes the tiny, fat fingers and voice
pulling back the curtain: “Momma.” I dip my head into

water. “Momma?” comes again with a diapered bottom into
the bath. His hair is curling, his toes are soapy, and his body
fits between my legs. I pump shampoo and a downstairs voice
asks, “Is Sullivan with you?” Below me he stomps his feet,
splashing and popping bubbles, then squatting and making car
noises. “Yes,” I call, scratching my scalp and rinsing my hands.

 “Dat,” he says and I try to look through the soap, his hand
pointing at me. And before I can stop it, a soapy finger into
my belly button. I fold in, calf hitting the spout, the day’s car
nage amassing. The reminder of “This is not my body”
since it was inhabited by others. I watch the soap around my feet,
gather my calm and attempt to use my kindest mother voice.

With my hands I lift him out, the weight of his almost two-year-old body
pulls me into the day. He retracts his legs leaving no feet
to stand on. Henry runs in with wooden cars, Sully grounded by his voice. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Grown Up Friends

I've never been that good at making friends. I had 30 kids in my K-8th grade classrooms and half of us were there the whole time. I spent weekends with my cousins and family. I'm pretty bad at small talk. Networking and mingling are like death sentences. There are a couple from high school who I still talk to. I connected with some folks in college, but have only stayed in touch (like actual in touch, not just Facebook in touch) with a few. I did a pretty good job after my divorce and had this lovely little network of friends and coworkers... and then I moved. So I send letters to Michigan and San Diego and Spokane and Los Angeles. But I don't see them every day. And I miss them.

I've been making an effort this year to make some grown up friends. It's an ongoing joke in our office about my quest to not be anti-social. I have great co-workers, but there's only three of us and one is moving back to Wisconsin in a couple weeks. Plus I waiver back and forth on the appropriateness of being the boss and boundaries and things that probably aren't relevant, but are just another thing for me to feel guilty about.

Then there's the problem of people with kids. It's not that we mean to be assholes to people without them, but when you go to dinner with people who have kids and all the kids are there, you aren't expected to pay attention to everything that's said because your son is under the table chewing on a cardboard coaster while ripping his shoes and socks off. It's not that people without kids can't be understanding, but it's a lot to ask of anyone.

I joined a committee at Henry's school and tried to act friendly. I haven't really figured out how to take it outside the meetings. We've met awesome people at his school's auction the last two years when we've shared a table. My follow through is lacking though. When people say, "We should get together." I assume it's the obligatory response to "nice meeting you." Maybe it's a self esteem issue, although it's not like I'm wondering why someone would want to hang out with me. But I make them work pretty damn hard to make it happen.

After meeting one couple in November, we finally got together in April after she persisted. We had brunch at our house, their son (who's in Henry's class) played with ours. They were expecting a second child (have since had her) and are from away from Maine. It was good conversation, felt pretty easy, lots of laughing, and the kids got along. But then it's like waiting to see if they had a good time, too. Even though they said they did.

 It's like when I took Henry to soccer his second week (the first week was kind of a bust) and he refused to play. He said he didn't know anyone. I pointed out how many kids were out there alone without a group of friends and how he could introduce himself. He plastered his body against my legs and begged to go home. I didn't force him to play, but I did make him stay the whole time and by the end of it he ventured onto the field. And now, by week four, he participates easily and has his friendship hopes pinned on one girl.

The difference is, I need to do a better job of showing up for practice. Of making an effort. Making adult friends is a weird mirror for my state of mind. If this is something I want, why am I making it so difficult? Especially when I'm meeting great people. As an introvert, I'm always looking to make best friends - few, but deep friends. But I should probably hang out with people to figure that out. The quest continues...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Medically Induced Comas & Other Things Moms Think About While Sick

At Girls Rock! Weekend in early April, I led the adult workshop. We did an activity called "Linking Arms" that is supposed to demonstrate how adult women typically lose that connection to their own wants and voice. The premise is you introduce yourself and then turn to the person next to you (it's usually all women) and say something you really like. For example, "I like red shoes," "I like X Men movies," or "I like books with female protagonists." If the person next to you really likes red shoes, too, then you link arms. If she doesn't really like it, she's supposed to say no and you keep naming things until you find something in common. It's a fun ice breaker that even physically brings people closer.

I'd done about 40 minutes of workshop (talking about intergenerational partnerships and how to be aware of your own stuff when working with youth) already and I kicked off the activity. So, by the time it got back to me, everyone else had gone. I was the last person with an unlinked arm. The woman next to me said, "I LOVE being a mom." I did not immediately offer my arm. Instead, I paused. A long (maybe only three seconds, but it felt longer) pause. Too long. Before realizing I wasn't in my car by myself or writing in a journal. I was in a public circle of women who'd just been listening to me talk about how great it is to work with girls. I tried to snap out of it and joke "Depending on the day, right? Haha" and a few others laughed, but it mostly felt awkward. I finished the workshop, the day ended and I kept thinking about that.

The truth is, I don't love being a mom. I love my kids. That feels like a big distinction to me.

Lately, Henry's been saying, "I don't like these new shoes, Mom. (dramatic pause) I love them!" or " I don't like you, Mom. I love you!"

Most of the time I say, "I like you and I love you, Henry."

But that's not always true. Especially after being home with two sick boys (and then a sick me) for a week. When my parents recently went to San Francisco, I had cleared some days on my schedule to stay home with them and be a fun parent. The morning they left, Henry came down with a fever and chills. Like the solid mom that I am, I sent him to school anyway. And then the universe punished me. He went from fever and chills to stomach bug. And then Sullivan followed. And then I did. So it was a week with a two-kid doctor visit, multiple accidents, multiple loads of laundry, HOURS of Miles from Tomorrow Land and Curious George, and, of course, being sick.

Plus, they decided when one cries the other one cries (they did this with laughing first and it was adorable - crying, not so much). So there was one moment of Henry crying for a legitimate reason and Sullivan running over, encircling his tiny arms around my leg, stomping his feet and screaming.

I hated the world. I didn't eat for a couple days, but I kept feasting on anger and resentment. Had I the energy to Google, I would have researched medically induced comas. Moms aren't at the top of the appreciation totem pole on a good day, but during sickness it feels like an overweight death comes and rides on your back while whispering "you'll never get better and they don't care." in your ear.

Motherhood is not this thing I've always wanted. I don't know that there's one thing I've always wanted. But here I am, and here they are and I would bite off someone's face to protect them. Literally, the only scenario where I can even fathom shooting a gun is if someone was harming my kids. That doesn't mean I don't sometimes want to feed them to wolves.

It feels like there is a weird expectation for all mothers to love motherhood. To relish every little thing. You're allowed to admit those little rascals can sometimes drive you nuts, but that's that about the extent of the language. It's awkward to say, in a circle full of women, I don't love being a mother, but I do love my kids. And some days they feel way worse than rascals. And some days it feels way worse than nuts. But others there's the warm feeling that spreads over you (similar to when one of those rascals pees on your lap) when they say, "I don't like you, Momma, I love you."