Recently my daughter forgot her gym clothes. I know. Tweens and their irresponsibility.
Except, she mentioned all weekend that she needed to do her laundry. She’s 12 and part of her household chores is managing the washing, drying, folding and putting away of her clothing.
She mentioned it a few times, and in each instance I replied: “Okay, no problem. You can do it as soon as I switch my stuff out.”
“Do you want me to move it?” she asked.
“No, no. I want to make sure everything is dry, so just wait,” I said nonchalantly about four times over the weekend as I washed most of our family’s winter apparel, some to get ready for us, some to give away to a winter clothing drive.
After a busy weekend, just as I was headed up to bed, I saw her laundry basket sitting to the side of our washer. It never was done.
I quickly tossed it in the machine and went to bed, reminding myself to put it in the dryer first thing in the morning.
Funny, right? I’m guessing you know what happened next.
At 7:18 a.m., my daughter started freaking out that she couldn’t find her gym uniform. “I figured I would just bring it home again tonight to wash, and now I can’t find it,” she cried.
Mom fail on so many levels. “Go catch the bus. I’m sorry, honey. It was my fault. I’ll drop it off in the office. You have to remember to go pick it up before gym, though, or you’ll have to borrow one,” I called out from upstairs.
At 8:10 a.m., I drove to her school to drop it off. As I walked in with my little plastic grocery bag of gym clothes, I saw a familiar mom walking out of the building.
“Did someone forget something?” she asked.
“Yeah, gym clothes,” I replied quickly.
“You’re a better mom than I am. My kids know now that if they forget something, they’re screwed. You got to teach them responsibility! See you later,” and she was gone.
Somehow, I felt guilty about bringing her clothes. I didn’t like the way she perceived my parenting and I felt defensive. I wanted to shout, “Wait, it was my fault! She was responsible! I’m not!”
When I entered the school, I found myself word vomiting to the secretary. “She didn’t forget it. It was really my fault because I never let her use the washer and dryer this weekend and then she actually remembered it this morning but I forgot to put it in the dryer because I was tired so I told her she has to pick it up from the office and not disturb class and she’s really so much better about remembering things then she used to be and sorry to bother you, ” I spouted without taking a breath.
When I finally stopped, the nice secretary calmly stated: “We all forget stuff every once in a while, kids and parents alike. Do you know what class she’s in? I’d like to drop it off to her.”
No judgment. No advice. Just help for a kid whose mom messed up.
One of the things I do not like about raising kids in today’s social media age are the extremes portrayed about parenting. Take your kids something they forgot, you are not teaching them responsibility. Help with homework, you are a Tiger Mom. Go overboard on a school project, you’re doing it to make yourself look good. Sign your kid up for too many activities, you’re going to stress them out. And don’t ever use Pinterest.
We forget that parenting is the most personal and individualized thing we will ever do in this world.
I hate that I let that other mom’s comments get under my skin, hate that I became defensive. It was an innocuous conversation, just parking lot banter based on limited information.
But we have become so sensitive to judgment that it skews every decision.
Recently I’ve seen a trend of blaming things on the “Participation Trophy Generation.” I get it. My kids received the equivalent of their weight of trophies, medals and ribbons for the various activities they participated in over the years. Some were earned, like at a tournament or competition, and some were merely for putting in the effort and finishing the season. In our house, I don’t think they feel strongly about receiving it for competition or participation. I think they just like having a memory of the experience.
A friend, however, recently emailed me a story about her son who is eight. According to her, he is uncoordinated, shy, and a target for bullies. As an athlete herself, she tries to encourage him to compete in some activities, whether it is a sport or a Minecraft contest. Apparently he excels at chess, and is killing it at various events winning several competitions the past few months. Funny enough, though, it is the participation trophy he received for finishing the soccer season that he is the most proud and that sits on top of his desk.
“I know I’m good at chess, Chess is easy, but I wanted to quit soccer after the first practice. I hated it. I don’t think I want to do it again, but I’m proud of myself for finishing. And not dying on the field,” he told his mom.
The trophy that we all think makes our kids soft meant something to this boy. It gave him a greater sense of accomplishment than winning.
I think we want to pigeon-hole all the things that are wrong in this world on the decisions of someone else, usually a parent. And while sometimes it may be accurate, oftentimes, it’s just a rash judgment on something you know little or nothing about.
As parents, we can continue to egregiously cast a judgment net, or we can spend that time and energy crafting little humans that will do great things in this world. What works for you may not work for me.
Or perhaps, maybe you are just more responsible about doing your laundry than I am.
Brock Turner gets released from jail Friday, September 2, 2016, after serving three months in Santa Clara County jail.
For those of you not familiar, Mr. Turner, a scholar athlete and Olympic swimming hopeful, was convicted in March of three felony counts: assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person, sexual penetration of an unconscious person and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person. He attacked a woman identified as drunk behind a garbage bin on the Stamford University campus in January 2015.
He completed half of the paltry six-month jail term Judge Aaron Persky imposed upon him. Prosecutors asked for six years.
Most people accused of rape are never found guilty — the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network estimates 97 out of 100 perpetrators of sexual assault avoid punishment. Turner’s crime, however, had witnesses. There was no doubt.
One summer. Three months. 2,160 hours. Not even a full swim season.
Movies released when he entered county jail — instead of the prison time he should have received — may still be playing in theaters.
Don’t get me wrong; I know Brock’s life will never be the same. He is now the poster child for what is wrong with our Justice system when it comes to rape. He is the shining example of how people in authority do not take sexual abuse seriously. His life is forever changed.
And perhaps I could find compassion for Mr. Turner if he or his family had any empathy for his victim, instead of attributing his “mistake” to two individuals who consumed too much alcohol.
But one thing universally common to rapists is that they don’t think about what their victim goes through. To commit a crime that heinous, it often involves a tremendous amount of dehumanizing.
Victims, however, often do not have the luxury of detachment. Rape is a devastatingly intimate crime that women take with them for the rest of their lives. While some victims are severely injured, become pregnant or contract a disease, for most it is the emotional weight of the crime that breaks them.
Raped women often deal with nightmares, panic attacks, waves of self-doubt, and an overwhelming sense of distrust. They often cannot work because of the fear of another attack. The constant shame inhibits relationships.
Some victims say they are never the same again. It is a lifetime prison sentence.
Why should this matter to you? If you are the parent of girls, you should know that the chance a woman between the age of 12 to 28 getting sexually assaulted is one in three.
I have three daughters. Those are odds I can’t live with.
We keep telling our girls that they can do anything and be anything, but the cold reality is they can’t. Women are constantly in sexual danger, and it limits our potential. Until we change the conversation from who gets raped to who commits rapes, the “Rape Culture” in our society lives on.
Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at the State University of New York who has received international recognition for his work on men and masculinity, calls it a matter of carrots and sticks. “I think the stick is we need very strong laws with uncompromising enforcement all the way through the legal system so that we make it clear as culture that we won’t stand for this. As a culture we can say the way we try to say around murder for example, or auto theft for example, ‘this is beyond the pale, you cannot do this. We will come down so hard on you, you won’t want to do this.’ O.K. that’s the stick. What’s the carrot? If we as men make it very clear to the women in our lives that we don’t support men’s violence against women, that we are actively opposed to it, that we are willing to confront other men who we see doing aggressive things, then our relationships with women will actually improve.”
All the weight does not lay with our legal system, however, or as society as a whole. There is a burden we carry as parents as well.
Before sentencing, Brock Turner’s father issued a statement detailing the impact this event has on his son, which included how he could no long enjoy a good steak nor follow his dreams to become an Olympic swimmer. He insinuated that the prosecutor’s recommendation for prison time was unfair, suggesting that county jail with probation (instead of the usual mandatory sentencing of several years in lock-up) is a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” He felt that Brock has suffered —will suffer — enough for his role in this situation. He also promised his son’s time would be better spent educating other college students on the misuse of alcohol.
His statement forgot one small detail: Brock Turner is not the victim.
Brock’s life changed the moment he decided to pursue a woman so intoxicated she could not speak or even stand on her own. That mistake — that crime — cost him his Olympic hopes.
The fact that the most central figures in his life — his good friends, his parents, and a California Supreme Court Judge — minimized his role in this event will cost Brock Turner something much more: any chance of learning that his actions have measured consequences.
More importantly, allowing him out of jail after only three months gives every other young man on campuses across the country an out for rape. Intoxication is a mistake and sexual assault just an ugly consequence of poor judgment.
As a parent, I can’t imagine the heartbreak for the Turners. It must be devastating to watch your golden child’s life destroyed because of what may have been his first drunken binge at a frat party.
This pales in comparison, however, to finding out your daughter was violated in rubbish by a young man that didn’t even know her name. Living with the fact that the convicted perpetrator has no remorse about the crime, and in fact, won’t even admit to it, must be unbearable.
But knowing he walked out of the county jail after three months — one-quarter of a year — well, that is enough to destroy a victim and their family forever.
I do not know the type of parents Brock Turner has or how they chose to raise him. I can only hope that as the California penal system releases him back out into society that his parents will begin to hold him accountable for his actions.
He made an incredible mistake and will pay for it for the rest of his life. But it is a parent’s job to help him understand what he did was wrong — not make it easier for him. He committed a violent crime and needs help. If the Turner’s do not understand this, they need help too.
To date, no one from the Turner family publicly apologized to the victim. Perhaps this is the result of legal counsel, but I can only hope Brock’s parents will help their son see his wrongdoings and give some semblance of closure to his victim. The justice system sure didn’t.
And I am scared. I am scared that one day my girls will drink too much at a party, experiment with drugs, or trust the wrong person, and the direction of their life will forever change in that one second because someone like Brock wasn’t held accountable; because another man felt raping a young woman wasn’t that big of a deal.
Brock Turner gets out of jail after serving 90 days in a county jail after being convicted on three felony accounts by a group of his peers.
His victim will pay for his actions for the rest of her life.
We all must live with that.
From the victim’s letter to her assailant at sentencing:
“As a society, we cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault or digital rape. It doesn’t make sense. The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.”
I watched from my park bench as a young mother tried to console her sobbing daughter. “I’m sorry, honey. I don’t blame you for being upset.”
“I don’t know why they won’t let me be in their group for the talent show. They just said they already had enough people and their routine was done and there wasn’t anything they could do about it. I told them I would make a new one up, but they wouldn’t do it.”
I tried to focus on my kindle while occasionally looking for my kids to exit the school door, but the wailing was distracting and as much as I tried not to eavesdrop, I had to admit I was interested to hear how the mom would handle this all-too-common situation.
“Well, they’re probably just jealous of you honey, because you are such a good gymnast and they aren’t. They probably don’t want you in their group because you’ll show them up,” the mom stated matter-of-factly. “You should do a solo routine. Or maybe one with Chloe.”
“You think?” the girl replied, her tears slowing down. “You think they’re just jealous of my tumbling?”
Several minutes passed before my girls came out, but the interaction between the mother and daughter stuck with me for a lot longer. Maybe the girls were jealous, or maybe they honestly had their routine finished.
Feeling excluded is a common problem in today’s transparent culture, particularly among girls and women. Social media exasperates it, as often we mindlessly scroll through images and come across a photo of a group at some fun activity that did not happen to include you.
There is also the problem of parents striving for perfection in every aspect of their lives. It is intimidating to be surrounded by a sea of thin, perfectly coiffed women in expensive Lululemon athletic outfits or watch a working mom of five kids whip up homemade, gluten-free, glow-in-the-dark snacks for the Fun Fair as you drop off cookies from the grocery store in your stained yoga pants.
But what happens when we continually use jealousy as the rationale for exclusion? What are we telling our daughters that the only reason anyone treats them poorly is that someone is envious of their talent, stature or situation?
A few years back a friendship went off the rails for me. Someone I liked a great deal turned into a person I didn’t even know anymore. I tried multiple times to mend fences, but she clearly stated she wanted nothing to do with me.
As another friend and I sat and tried to rationalize what transpired and why my relationship with this woman turned combative, the response came easily. She was jealous of the relationship I formed with another mom, perhaps even jealous of the fun we were having. My friend even surmised that perhaps she was jealous of a position I recently acquired. It didn’t seem to fit based on the person I knew, but it was a simple rationalization, alleviating me from any responsibility or introspection.
I found out nearly a year later that a mutual acquaintance apparently shared what I thought was a private conversation among three women over wine with my former friend. When she provided what I felt like was a lame excuse for not joining us for a birthday dinner, we ended up discussing how we felt her husband was a little too controlling. I wouldn’t say the conversation was malicious, but I can see how it would be hurtful if relayed.
The net-net is I did something wrong, and I got caught. She wasn’t jealous of anything. She was mad, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, she received an exaggerated story that I spread this gossip all through town, and she decided anything that subsequently came out of my mouth was not worth hearing.
We both handled the situation poorly, and it took me awhile to process the entire event and understand my role in it.
Now that my daughters are in their tweens, I try to avoid using jealousy as a rationalization for bad behavior for a myriad of reasons:
Reduces the need for self-examination. When we write off other people’s behavior as jealous, it eliminates the opportunity to consider our role in the situation. How can girls learn that their actions impact other’s responses if we are easy to blame jealousy as the answer.
It also promotes big heads. If we constantly tell girls that other people are jealous of them, whether it is because of their appearance, friendships or grades, how will they develop coping mechanisms when they get out in the real world? There can be a thing such as too much self-esteem. In our Kim Kardashian culture, we assume each time someone dislikes our actions, it’s because she is jealous or the nefarious “hater.” This I-can-do-know-wrong mentality is a dangerous way to live.
Decreases the opportunity for compassion, and more importantly, grace. The pressure on young people today is tremendous. From looks and grades to social media presence and athletics, the burden to be the best weighs heavy on our most impressionable minds. This also creates a culture of envy and unconfident youth who do not know how to step away from the stories they create in their minds of their peers’ perfect lives.
Often, when someone hates on you, it’s because you’ve got something they want. This is not the time to rub it in their face by acting even more confident. It is not our job to teach other people a lesson on how we perceive a situation. Instead, it’s an opportunity to extend kindness and grace. Most times it will be ill-received, but we shouldn’t stop trying.
Consider offering a compliment to a woman you feel is sizing you up. There is a power in acknowledging what you admire in another woman, and it can change the dynamic of a relationship. On the flip side, do not acknowledge a snide remark another mom makes about your daughter winning the science fair…..again. Instead, take the higher ground with jealousy and simply do not acknowledge it. Letting go of the need to defend yourself releases you from the burden of other’s perceived opinions. Plus, it stops the negativity dead in its tracks — it’s tough to have an argument with only one person.
That being said, if there is a pattern of snide comments or damaging behavior, it’s important to practice self-distancing. Learning not to engage with negative people is an important life lesson as well.
It extends mean girl behavior. Recently I watched a gaggle of kids in my neighborhood playing a game. It was a mixture of children who lived on our street and friends of friends. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as a sad seven-year-old boy slinked over to his dad, telling him he was left out. The father’s response: “Don’t be ridiculous. If you want to play, just tell them you want to play.” And off he went. No drama, no attempt to decipher the other kids’ thoughts. Just a swift kick in the pants to go after what he wanted.
When we tell our daughters consistently that girls are jealous of them, we are perpetuating a stereotype we’ve lived for too long. While insecurity is still a major problem — and the main reason for the “Mommy Wars” — jealousy should not be the go-to excuse in our feminist toolbox. Instead, we need to teach our kids how to navigate difficult relationships and improve communication as opposed to merely writing off behavior as a jealous rage.
Jealousy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s human nature. It’s natural to feel jealous from time to time. Fighting off the green eyed monster is hard, whether you’re the one experiencing the emotions or on the receiving end.
What’s important, though, is to teach kids — especially young girls — that you can stand for something without tearing another down. Imagine the power we’d give our kids then?
The other day, my tween daughters came home from the park because an older woman informed them they shouldn’t be there unsupervised.
“Did you tell her you could practically see our house from the park?” I asked. “Were you roughhousing by the little kids? I told you to watch out for the little kids!”
“Mom, it was only one other family and us. We were on the bars, and no one was even near. The woman said if our mom wasn’t here to supervise then we shouldn’t be there, so we left,” my youngest daughter told me.
I had mixed emotions about the interaction. I wanted to believe this woman — whoever she is — had good intentions. Perhaps she was worried about abductions or that they could get hurt. Maybe she just didn’t think it was safe.
But, I trusted my kids to behave responsibly and as far as I know there are no signs that parents need to be present to supervise their children, especially since the park is adjacent to my neighborhood and roughly two football fields from my home.
On one hand, if my daughter fell and hurt herself, I would hope this woman would step in to help, lending her phone or waiting with her until I could get there. I would even be okay if she felt the need to reprimand them if they were behaving badly or doing something dangerous.
On the other hand, however, I don’t think I want her — or any other person — to parent my kids, informing them of where they can or can’t be based on their perspectives.
Basically, I want you to be a part of my village — but not too much.
It’s a confusing world we live in nowadays. If you are too hands-on with your kids — or anyone else’s — then you’re a helicopter mom; if you let your son or daughter roam without monitoring them, you’re a free-range parent, reckless and negligent.
There is no middle ground.
Make sure your kids get outside to play, but not unless it’s in your fenced-in backyard, so no one calls the police on you for letting them run near the street unsupervised.
See a kid who is dangling over the railing at a zoo? Don’t say anything because you don’t want to interfere and be “one of those parents.”
I like to think I’m a middle-of-the-road mom. I’m hyper-vigilant about some things — like cell phones and social media — because I have first-hand experience in the perils these can have on a family.
I’m a little lax in other areas, like when my kids tied their old ride-on toys to the back of their bicycles with jump ropes and took turns zipping around our cul-de-sac. I mean, they had helmets on…
But what’s right for my kids, terrifies other parents and vice versa.
So, here we are at an impasse. To village or not to village, that is the question.
I want the village in my kids’ lives. In fact, I need the village, and not just for car pools. I wish for female role models who work outside the home to interact with my girls on a regular basis, so they can know their potential is limitless; I want my kids to play with families where the dad stays home so they can see there are no pre-determined roles; I hope if my kids are doing something bad, someone will stand up to them to course correct if I’m not there; and I need people to be brave enough to tell me if my daughters get themselves in a dangerous situation.
And if I desire all these things, then I have to be open enough to accept the village, even those in it who I don’t agree with about everything. Even those whose perspectives are different. Even those who send my kids home from the park when I’m trying to make dinner.
Because the point of the village isn’t for it to be homogenous. It isn’t so kids can interact only with adults that are exactly like their own parents.
The point of the village is to help parents raise good kids. Sometimes that involves grandparents watching children while mom goes to work, sometimes that means a neighborhood babysitting co-op, and sometimes it even is a random stranger questioning your judgment.
Because while most of the time these villagers are well-intentioned, there are other times it gives me an opportunity to have a frank discussion with my girls, like respecting their elders while also stating they have permission — from their mother — to play at the park.
It seems like we are in a time where we want to reject the village. If anyone questions our parenting, it is reeked in judgment. If someone chooses to raise their kids in a different, more progressive way, it is resented. If someone makes a mistake, they are cast-aside with a scarlet letter emblazoned on their social media profile forever.
But, I feel like we need to come together in the village more now than ever. As parents, we need to recognize we all want the same things for our kids — for them to be safe, happy and grow up to have families of their own to screw up the way they deem fit.
This means that sometimes I have to accept your helicopter parenting, and sometimes you have to accept the risks I let my kids take. And when we think it’s important, we need to speak up and respect that, too.
Because we’re in the same village, whether we like each other or not.
The box of orange Tic Tacs landed at my feet with a splat.
As I bent down to pick them up, I met eyes that were the same color as the sky on a perfect summer beach day. I smiled and cheerily said, “Here you go,” and attempted to deliver the candy to a chubby little hand.
“No!” she screamed, wrapping her arm around her chest and turning her face away from me. “No, no, no!”
I quickly took a few steps back, returning to my place behind my red shopping cart as to not upset this little girl any further. Hell hath no fury like a ticked-off two year-old.
“I’m so sorry,” the young woman standing in front of me in line said. She grabbed the little girl by the arm while simultaneously trying to keep the pacifier in the mouth of a very tiny baby in its infant carrier. As the toddler continued to scream “no” in a variety of octaves, the wallet the woman was holding underneath her arm turned upside down, scattering credit cards and receipts across the floor like chicken feed.
“Abigail, please stop screaming,” she begged as she dropped to her knees just as the infant started wailing.
We locked eyes as I handed her an American Express and Starbucks gift card that landed underneath the candy display. “Really, it’s okay. We’ve all been there,” I relished the opportunity to act as the senior statesman, an upperclassman of Parenting University.
She sighed and offered me a half-smile. As she handed over her credit card to the teenager at the register, she hurriedly explained: “I’m not used to two yet. My daughter is waking up from her nap when she hears the baby cry, and then our whole day is messed up. She normally isn’t like this.”
“No judgment here,” I quickly responded. “Just the fact that you are out and about is impressive. It will get easier.” I wanted to offer encouragement and support, which I knew she needed in that difficult moment. Despite the screaming, her children were beautiful, and the little girl reminded me of my own daughter at that age—a mix of sweet and sour poured into an angel’s body.
“I hope so,” she replied, sounding close to tears as both children continued to squawk. “It just doesn’t feel like it will. I think I’m just exhausted.”
And that’s when I blew it. I broke a cardinal rule of the sisterhood of moms. I said the unthinkable to a new mother going through the worst of it.
Without even thinking, I blurted out: “One day you will miss all this.”
That’s when she looked at me, tired and exasperated, and with a pursed-lip obligatory smile yanked on her little girl’s hand and walked away.
“Wait,” I wanted to yell. “There’s more that I need to tell you!”
But she was gone. I was left holding a box of Tic Tacs, with a side of guilt the size of the Grand Canyon.
I think about that mom all the time. What could I have said to her in that moment? How could I have better explained the emotions that were surging through my head?
I wanted to tell her that even though she is feeling exhausted and alone, I am so jealous of her.
I am jealous of how each night she looks deep into her infant’s eyes and knows that she is the center of his universe. I would do anything to feel my baby’s little hand wrapped around my index finger just one more time, holding so tightly that you feel it in your heart. I am jealous she gets to experience those exquisite moments of the toddler years, where each day comes with a new first. I am green with envy that she gets to snap photos of her daughter wearing her father’s work boots while buck naked. I’m jealous she gets to be the recipient of pretend tea from of a pink piece of plastic, that she gets to feel a tiny hand on her shoulder in an attempt to make mommy feel better.
I want the last thing I smell to be the head of a freshly bathed baby, the most magnificent scent in all the world. I want to go back to the days where one kiss from me could make any boo-boo feel better. I want to see their faces the first time they eat cake, or meet Santa, or take those first few wobbly steps like a giraffe coming out of its mother’s womb.
I wish I could still carry my kids upstairs after falling asleep in my arms. I wish I could still buy frilly tutus and tiaras and magic wands that make dinosaurs dance. I wish I could read Goodnight Moon every evening and watch Baby Einstein every morning. I wish dirty little hands would tug on my sheets at dawn with little voices asking if they could get in bed with Mommy, all of us knowing that sleep was not an option.
I’m sorry, young mom. I blew it. I am just so jealous of what you are about to experience that I forgot how hard it was, too. What you saw were your two children disturbing the peace. What I saw were beautiful memories hanging on to a red shopping cart.
When I see you again, and I know I will, I won’t make it all about me.
I’ll say: “I remember days like these, but I would do it all over again for just one touch, just one smell, just one moment of what you have. No one tells you that these little creatures grow up into big people. People that grow taller than you, read the same books, and steal your shoes. They learn to take care of themselves, and sometimes even take care of you. They smell, and not always in a good way, and getting a hug is sometimes only the result of a compromise for returning their iPhone.
And one day, when you least expect it, you will be standing in line behind a very tired mom, and you’ll say something dumb, even though you know better. You’ll say something dumb because you realize that the sun has set on that part of your life, the part when your kids are little and needy and exhausting. You will be just a little bit jealous of that mom because you’ll see your past self in her, and you’ll realize there is no turning back.”
I won’t say you’ll miss these times one day.
But the truth is, you will.
This essay was originally published on Coffee + Crumbs.