Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Cry Valve

There’s a mechanism in your throat I call the cry-valve. It’s that thing that swells and chokes your words even when you’ve successfully convinced your eyes not to release tears. I don’t know about you, but mine broke back in pregnancy and has never formed a tight seal ever since.

It started with little things, back when I had a baby in my womb. Once there was a commercial for a security system. During the ad a woman and her children were home while a burglar attempted to break in. “She must have been so scared!” I tried to say, but my cry-valve was stuck open and so my words came out garbled.

After my kids were born, it didn’t get any better. The world hurts differently once you have children. In my opinion, eye wetness can be excused with allergies or hidden behind sunglasses, but it’s that leaky throat cry-valve that is a dead giveaway every single time.

When my eldest son took to the stage for a School of Rock performance I knew to seal my lips tightly. I cried when he first took the stage. I cried when the high school singer did her solo, even though I have no idea who she was. And I cried when a very good drummer took the spotlight, although I had never seen him before, either. But it was dark, and as long as I didn’t try to talk, I was able to hide it from my youngest child who sat beside me.

When my boys were little, I didn’t dare cry in front of them. I was their whole world, and if I crumbled, the entire foundation of our family might’ve fallen. Nothing made me more frantic and afraid then when my own mother cried when I was little.  But my kids are 10 and 13 now. Why do I still want to hide my emotions from them?

Maybe it’s because I tear up over every dang thing. Parades. Little League. A kid landing a jump at figure skating practice. Any event that showcases kids trying really hard causes my cry-value to swell up.

The world is a harsh place, and we have many conversations about it. Most of the time, my cry-valve stays tight for these. It’s when I try to take Mr. Rogers’ advice and “look for the helpers” that I lose it. Stories of bravery and kindness do me in every time. You might think it would be better to just cry in front of them and explain why I’m crying, but I cry way too often. I am—I’ll admit it—an over-crier.

Do I want them to grow indifferent to tears, numbed by their frequency? Or worse, think their mother is emotionally fragile and therefore veer away from me? Plus, I don’t want to open the door to teenage eye rolls and “mom’s crying again” distain. There’s an assumption that parents of teens must refrain from showing any weakness.

But maybe that’s just an excuse. Perhaps my two boys would benefit from knowing that sometimes people cry both when they are sad and when they aren’t, and that’s OK.

There’s a part of me that thinks crying in front of them might make them more sensitive to all the other over-criers out there. Maybe it’s time I try to make space for sadness, emotion, things other than happiness and smiling faces. Are parents not the first people to teach our children to smile when they aren’t happy?  Isn’t that really just asking them to hide who they are to reassure ourselves? Is that how I really want to parent?

Next time, I’ll try to trust my children a little bit more. I’ll try out brave new words like, “crying just means I’m overflowing with pride/love/something meaningful.”
Who am I fooling? I can’t make it through a Disney soundtrack let alone movie without needing to go blow my nose and wipe my eyes from “allergies.” I’m afraid if I open the cry-valve completely, I might never get it shut again. 

First appeared on

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

7 Tips to Teach Kids About Gender Equality

This post first appeared on Modern Parents Messy Kids 

I feel teaching gender equality is essential, even though I have boys, not girls. Yet, I’m historically awkward when it comes to large and important discussions on character development. However, I’ve had a lot of success with guerilla tactics—deploying relevant snippets of conversation in everyday situations. 

Here are 7 tips to teach kids about gender equality.

1. Banish all gender-based put-downsaround your child. You throw like a girlis a prime example. Of course, I don’t have control over other adults, like coaches and ex-husbands, but I call it out when I see it—not to the adult, of course. I’m not that brave. But I will say to my kids, something along the lines of: 

I don’t like how the coach said that only girls cheer for their teammates. Everyone needs encouragement and it implies that being a girl isn’t as good as being a boy. 

2.Get rid of the notion that toys/colors are gender specific.

No Grandma, pink bunny sleeping bags aren’t for girls. They are for anyone who likes bunnies. Who doesn’t like bunnies? 

Boys still get more flak from playing with dolls than girls do for playing with trucks, because society still equates femaleness with weakness. But in this day and age we expect our husbands to participate in child-rearing.My sons’ father changed diapers and fed the baby. Why wouldn’t my son want to play with dolls and model that behavior? 

Give toddlers a wide array of toys to choose from.I’m a hoarder, so I still had some dolls and a few plastic My Little Ponys from my own youth. These went in the playroom along with the trucks and crayons and everything else. An old nightgown got thrown in the costume box so they had another option in case they—or a friend coming over—wanted to be a princess, or a wizard, or a ghost, or anything else that required long flowy fabric.

3. Ifyou have a husband, tell him he has to vacuum for the sake of the children.If you don’t have a husband, any brother, father, or other male-type person will do.  I jest—most people have gotten the memo that cleaning is everyone’s job, but we often fold the laundry or run the dishwasher when the kids are in bed and there are no witnesses.  I get it—it’s faster to get things done without the help of small people. But seriously, let them see it happen on occasion. 

4.  If you were hoping #3 meant you get to lie on the couch and eat bon-bons while honey-muffin vacuums, I have some bad news. Lawn care is everyone’s job as well, so make sure the little darlings witness you mowing, shoveling, or taking out the trash as well.  If you have a traditional break down of roles in your house, you don’t have to mix it up all the time—every once in a while is adequate. 

5. Don’t worry, everyone can lie on the coach for the next tip: Watch TV with your children and interrupt their viewing with running commentary.  My feminist mother banished all TV shows that had an overtly misogynistic message—well, she tried, but it was close to impossible in the 1980s. But her ban only made me want to watch the shows moreand resent feminists for taking away my television. (I never claimed to be a sweet natured child.)Instead, I watch TV with my kids, and we discuss the characters. 

For example, my kids love Phineas and Ferb. There’s some cool stuff going on (blended family, building stuff, platypuses), but my sons know how I feel about Candace, who is just as smart as her brothers but she spends the majority of her time chasing Jeremy instead of doing cool stuff of her own.  When the remake of Richie Rich comes on, they get a double lecture on materialism and the impracticality of Irona’s black French maid outfit.  

6.  Point out gender inequality when you see it.I have sons, not daughters, but I still get involved when I see gender inequality in their school. For example, at their old school, girls got more uniform violations than boys. We talked about the boys they knew who wore sweat pants on non-gym days with no repercussions and the girls who got written up for  skirts that were an inch too short or untucked shirts. Train their eyes to see injustice even when it benefits them. 

7. Be aware of what messages the kids overhear in your household. For example, my workout DVD touts the value of “sleek, sexy arms” or a “nice firm booty.”  Now, I love my exercise video and I’m not going to stop using it, but since my kids are often in the room when I exercise, I make sure to tell them that, 

I don’t exercise to look sexy. I exercise so I’m strong enough to do a pull-up at the playground.

And then when we go to the playground, I do that pull-up and show them that I am strong—strong as a mother.