2020: The Year I Became A Parent

My daughter was born in 2013. 2020 is the year I became her parent. I do not say this to diminish all the things we did prior to that point: nursing, learning to walk, potty-training, cuddling through sicknesses, and going out for ice cream after summer camp. March 13, 2020, the day she no longer went to school, changed everything.

Since that time we have remained in isolation with her dad, save a few masked, distanced outdoor gatherings with friends and one month when we moved to Minnesota to be closer to grandparents. I have not had outside childcare. She has not set foot in a school building. Together, we have sat in my office, her doing school, and me doing work, an absurd situation that does not work but that we have been forced to make work as elected officials continue with cowardly decisions that prioritize bars, restaurants, and movie theaters over sending kids back to school.

During this time we have come to know one another in ways I couldn’t have foreseen. I know everything about Harry Potter and how much these stories have captivated her mind. Being her only playmate for recess, I learned how to build fairy houses from sticks and offered some interior design ideas of my own. She knows what misoprostol is, what it does, and how it works to safely self-manage abortion because she works in my office. One day she summed up my work as follows: “Abortion, abortion, abortion, and Trump sucks.” (“What? That’s what you say on calls all day.”)

That I have become a parent in this all-encompassing way has hit me on days with recurring frequency, many frustrating but others sweet as hell, with one morning in December providing an appropriate vignette:

It is 5:30 a.m. It is pitch dark outside but my lights are on. I am in my office, writing out her daily schedule on the whiteboard that used to be for work but became the epicenter of her schoolhouse. I am excited for the ‘theme day’ ahead, the activities I have planned for her, and I am wearing a fuzzy hat with two horns sticking out of it. I have been working since 4 a.m. so that when she wakes up, I will be able to focus some of my attention on her, to lead her through writing in her journal, sharing something she’s grateful for, dancing and singing to a song with me, and going for a snack before beginning remote schooling on her iPad at a table three feet from my desk.

I work hard, always have, always will. Before 2020 we had a deep relationship that involved shuttling her off to before- and after-care at school, and racing to get there on time for pickup from meetings downtown. I took her to the library every week, we went to swim class, she had enrichments. Now, because I love her, I have become the enrichments, the reader, the teacher, the playground pal. This has changed our relationship, and me, forever. One of the few good things to come from a wretched, murderous year.

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An Advent Calendar To Get Eating Disorder Culture Out Of Your Holidays

The holidays are here, and for those who struggle with eating disorders or negative self-image this time of year can get pretty real. Some of my worst memories of anorexia involve the holidays, and so my recovery present to you (and me!) is an advent calendar to tell eating disorder culture to back off.

December 8
Repeat aloud: I am adequate just as I am. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Notice the feeling of your body, and praise it.

December 9
Donate the ‘skinny’ clothes in your closet.

December 10
Repeat aloud: I deserve to enjoy food, including holiday foods made for celebration or given to me as a gift. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Silently thank yourself for the affirmation.

December 11
Take Instagram off your phone for a week. (Okay it’s not realistic as the month goes on, so try now!) If a week is too much, take three days off. Notice how you feel not looking at pictures of other people.

December 12
Repeat aloud: I deserve to eat food I don’t normally eat without fear of having to punish myself for it. Visualize your favorite holiday foods with love in your heart. If you feel fear or anger, imagine yourself bopping the feeling over the head with a mallet, Whack-A-Mole style.

December 13
Grab a pen, and write down three unhealthy behaviors or thoughts you’ve had that beat up your body. Rip up the paper and throw it in the trash.

December 14
Repeat aloud: I deserve to eat before and after holiday meals, without engaging in other behaviors to ‘make up’ for those meals. Visualize what the days immediately before and after your holidays will look like, and imagine three square meals and the snacks you need to stay fueled. Then, look in the mirror and blow yourself a kiss!

December 15
Take a #diet break — mute the people on social media who take pictures of their weird weight loss foods. They’ll never know.

December 16
Put the emphasis on hunger where it belongs: Donate or volunteer to support your local food bank.

December 17
Take yourself for a walk outside. Breathe deep (through your mask). Appreciate your body and its ability to move you through this beautiful Earth.

December 18
Come up with a one-liner to talk back to negative self-talk about your body. Then, keep using it. (When I had anorexia, I developed “Shut up, you’re trying to kill me,” and I still use it as needed.)

December 19
Write a list of 50 cool things your body has allowed you to do, and doodle pretty pictures in the margins.

December 20
Hide diet advertisements from your feed.

December 21
Sit in a comfortable position, and do a body scan, noticing how you feel all over your body, area by area. It’s harder to hate a body that you are appreciating piece by piece.

December 22
Make a body-affirming playlist!

December 23
Prepare a short response for family members or friends who make a comment about your body or your food choices, such as, “I’m just fine, thank you.”

December 24
Gift yourself a dessert you wouldn’t be ashamed to leave out for Santa.

December 25
Carve out three minutes to meditate in silence, appreciating your body.

December 26
Take your eating disorder or negative self-image for a walk to take out the trash, and literally push your arms toward the dumpster, saying, “be gone.”

December 27
Evaluate relationships that may no longer be serving you, particularly with people who may make you feel bad about yourself, and develop an action plan to deal with them.

December 28
Write a thank-you note to your therapist for the ways they have helped you see your body in a new way. (Don’t have a therapist? Research to find a body-positive one!)

December 29
Think of someone you respect who seems comfortable in their body. Journal about what seems to make it work for them.

December 30
Cancel your gym membership. I don’t care if they have hand sanitizer by the door, we’re in the middle of a freaking pandemic! Bonus avoidance: January in the gym is a self-image hell hole.

December 31
Set a new year’s resolution to love yourself and love your body. Praise it for getting you through 2020, the worst year of so many people’s lives.

What Distance Running Has Taught Me About Activism

Whether you’re a runner, an activist, both, or neither, the ability to set goals, adapt, and persevere is critical to success. I’ve been distance running seriously for a few years, and doing activism my whole life.

Here are things I’ve learned that aren’t covered in political, organizing, and direct action trainings (but should be!):

1. Pacing is going slower than you want to now so you can maintain energy to keep going. I get it, 2020 is a dumpster fire and, at the time of writing, we’re days from the election. But it does not all need to be fixed by you right now. If you are acting like it does, you are very likely to drop out. Success comes from protecting your ability to show up 17 miles later.

2. If you’re working so hard you can’t keep up in a conversation, you need to slow down. Literally. Physically. Now.

3. Take injury seriously. If it hurts your body is telling you to stop. Rest for as long as you need to, which is often weeks or even months. Nothing is more important than your health. ‘Pushing through’ is amateur, and a threat to your ability to continue doing what you love. Breaks and down cycles, including the ones you didn’t plan for, are part of the work.

4. Planning and goal-setting is as important as doing. Accomplishing large goals requires months of advance planning and committing to bite-sized daily goals on your calendar.

5. The smaller slogs are more profound than the flashy moments. The four-mile run on a Tuesday when the weather sucks and you have an early-morning car repair appointment is what makes a marathoner far more than a long-distance run on the best trail or a personal record on the GPS. Phone-banking at home by yourself to catch one person live for a real conversation makes an activist far more than the rare instances of having your picture at a rally on the front page of the news.

6. Journal. Write down what worked and what didn’t, every day. Take the journal with you everywhere you travel.

7. Take fueling seriously. Make sure you’re eating enough throughout the day (every day, not just big run days) and being strategic to eat substantive food that will give you energy, won’t upset your stomach, and doesn’t set your body on edge.

8. Quality sleep is everything. It’s not just the number of hours per day. I’ve found my sleep quality and feeling of being rested upon waking improves markedly when I abstain totally from alcohol.

9. Sturdy underwear. Seriously, what the hell are you trying to do with a wedgie?! I’m sad for you.

10. Make a point to enjoy life along the way. Like running, organizing and activism involves doing a lot of stuff outside — make time to enjoy what you see, smile, and say hi to people.

Parenting + Homeschooling Resources for Indigenous Peoples’ Day (We’re Making It A Week)

Monday is Indigenous’ Peoples Day, and we’re going to make a week of it for my second grader. Here are resources we’re going to be using next week:

Build A Teepee School Art Project

Native American Counting Song

Pocahontas, followed by critical discussion about what and whose purpose is served by narratives like the ridiculously implausible and offensive one about Pocahontas and white man colonizer John Smith

Native American Folk Songs for Kids

Brain Pop Unit: American Indians

America’s Great Indian Nations

Meet the Youth at Standing Rock Protests Against the Dakota Access Pipeline

Art Project: Native American War or Medicine Shield

We’re also going to be exploring Native American agriculture by looking at corn fields and areas where Native Americans grew wild rice, perhaps eating some, too!

Note: I’m sharing these resources because frankly I was disgusted by how hard I had to look for them on the Internet while preparing for the upcoming week. I share these resources with acknowledgement that as a white person I live on stolen land and that surely there are other resources that Native Americans might prefer; however, as a white woman committed to anti-racist work and anti-racist parenting I also think it’s important for white people to do our own damn work rather than pushing it onto others. So here I am sharing mine. Feel free to add additional resources for the kids in the comments!

This Is Authoritarianism

It’s not a Republican National Convention. It’s a Trump National Convention. Our executive branch isn’t flirting with authoritarianism. It is authoritarianism.

Consider this:

  • The speakers are primarily Trump’s family, and White House officials potentially violating the Hatch Act, meant to separate political activities from the somber affairs of state.
  • There is no Republican Party platform this year. This is a novel break with tradition and shows there are no ideas in the party beyond following this mercurial, awful man into hell.
  • The United States Postal Service is being deliberately stripped of resources required to make our elections move in a pandemic. This is an active attempt at make it impossible for people to vote.
  • The president has not said whether he will honor an election result, and has made a number of statements casting doubt on the election.
  • The speakers at the convention supporting the president are using tools of right-wing authoritarianism, including fear, demonization of political opponents, and violent-tinged reactionary rhetoric, including on abortion and immigration.

I’m going to be honest. The first night of the Democratic National Convention, I had to step away from the television because I started tearing up, then all-out crying. Not because of what the Democrats were or were not doing (I thought they did a good job considering the circumstances), but because it became so clear to me how much our country has lost during four years of Donald Trump.

Our children are not going to school. They cannot hug their grandparents. People are dying, of coronavirus, of racism. Our economy is down the tubes. We have lost so much so quickly since November 2016, including democratic freedoms that were never perfect but always something to work from.

This is not a hypothetical warning. Authoritarianism has already become more entrenched than even most Democrats would have believed in November 2016. If we believe in democracy, we are going to have to fight for people to vote, for votes to be counted, and for election results and ultimately our Constitution to be honored. It will not be easy, but the alternative is a country where people face state-sponsored violence for typing things like this blog post. That future is uncomfortably close.

Coronavirus Isn’t The Problem. It’s Leadership Failure.

Kids not going back to school. An inability to travel across state lines and give grandma a hug that won’t kill her (or you). People being laid off from their jobs.

The problem is leadership failure, not coronavirus.

Other countries have identified how to manage coronavirus in a way that doesn’t destroy everyone’s lives. The virus is not somehow different in the United States. What is different about the United States, more than anything, is a lack of leadership at the national level.

It’s low-hanging fruit to attack people going to the bar, and believe me, I have some choice words for those recklessly having drinks at the bar as U.S. infections top five million. But you know what? The real problem is a lack of national leadership that would be courageous enough to acknowledge the severity of the crisis and create measures to deal with it.

If we had a national leader, we would have meaningful, temporary lockdowns to cut transmission so that we can have meaningful, in-person contact. Like schools. Sports. Vacations. An economy that can actually move up rather than cutting, shriveling down.

If we had a national leader, we would have testing available to everyone who needs it with rapid results, and contact tracing that would make real life more workable so that we can do the things that we enjoy, for real, not sort of while assuring ourselves that it’s maybe ‘safe’ because there is hand sanitizer as one enters the nail salon.

If we had a national leader, masks would be mandated, not politicized, the needs of children and the most vulnerable would be prioritized when weighing what services to reopen and when, and school board members and governors would not be on the front lines of making decisions for which there should be national policy, guided by public health professionals.

We don’t have a national leader. We have an authoritarian, racist psychopath who doesn’t care how many Americans die.

Coronavirus isn’t doing this to us. A leadership failure is. And so, I am no longer saying COVID or coronavirus is making life tough. I’m saying leadership failure. When my daughter adds to her never-ending list of things she wants to do “when coronavirus is over,” I gently correct her with, “when the leadership failure has passed.”

How You Can Help Parents In Your Workplace Right Now

Many, many kids aren’t going to school next year, bringing a true crisis moment for working families across America. If you don’t have school-age children, telling parents whether we should send our kids back to school is as helpful as when you shared a color-coded chart of what we should do with our kids in the spring. Actually, though, we need serious support, and here are some tips to help you help the parents in your workplace:

Put your own neck out there: You be the one to bring up the question with HR and leadership. So, I’m sure you’ve noticed schools aren’t reopening. What policies as an organization are we implementing to make sure we give our parents what they need to keep their jobs? Are there any suggested steps I can take individually to help my parenting colleagues? When you’re the one to bring it up, you’re taking the burden off us. Truth is, many parents are terrified of losing our jobs right now. It helps to have you at our back.

Normalize conference calls instead of Zoom calls. Thank you to those of you who are gracious about seeing our kids running around. That’s kind of you. It’s still stressful even when colleagues are understanding. Regardless of the childcare crisis of the moment, most work meetings don’t need to take place by video.

Normalize men in opposite-sex couples doing domestic work. The current crisis for parents is crushing women in particular, with many opposite-sex couples relying upon women to do their jobs and educate their children, and statistical reporting during the pandemic bears that out. So, normalize men needing to take care of their kids during the workday. Also, non-parent men can help out here as well, by normalizing men doing house chores and making it clear you’re doing so by weaving it into your small talk.

Recognize that many of your parenting colleagues have been going through agony over the past few weeks, and cut us a break. If you’re not on the listservs and Facebook groups and getting the constant texts and the emails from other parents, much less not looking at your own child and wondering how they will get the education and programs they need and how you will keep your own sense of mental balance during this extreme crunch upon us, you probably don’t know. I can say from personal experience that, when my school district was still offering a decision of hybrid or distance learning (it’s all distance learning now because America gave bars and restaurants priority), I had the two most difficult weeks of my experience thus far during the pandemic.

Put pressure on your elected officials. As I’ve written before: In leaving out childcare, our COVID economic relief packages have been sexist as hell.  What families are currently experiencing is a societal problem, and it demands societal solutions. Demand paid leave, emergency childcare relief, and food assistance to needy families.

Donate to food pantries serving children and families, no questions asked, and volunteer to help. Schools do many important things, including making sure children from low-income families have access to high-quality, nutritious food. If you have time and/or physical resources to do so, this is a great place to pitch in.

Stay home. The single most effective thing we can do to create an environment where schools can reopen is to bring infection rates down. Just stay home. As our nation continues to shatter records for daily infection rates, no restaurant should be offering indoor dining. Just because they are doesn’t mean you should go.

 

Why I Won’t Send My Child Back To School

I’m not sending my daughter back to school for second grade this fall. While this decision comes at considerable cost to her education and my ability to work, it is the right one for us.

My family lives in Arlington County, where the school system has presented a choice of a hybrid model that includes two days in school and three days of distance learning, or an all-virtual model. While I appreciate the impossible situation that is larger than our school board, both of these choices are, frankly, horrible for children my daughter’s age, who really depend upon in-person instruction and socialization in order to succeed. What’s more, these choices are particularly devastating for low-income children, children of color, children for whom English is a second language, and children with learning disabilities.

We should have, as a country, gotten it together when we closed down in the spring. We should have used this time to create plans for social distancing that work, to educate people about how to keep our communities safer, and develop plans for better testing and contract tracing abilities that would allow for greater reopening.

Instead, led with political pressure from a president most concerned about his re-election, states rushed to reopen their economies in the pursuit of short-term political gain. Now we are paying the price with spikes in coronavirus infections that appear to be out of control.

Making this choice was agonizing. My daughter is just beginning to read and write, and she needs to see teachers. She also needs to see other children, which is heightened by the fact that she is an only child. My ability to work has taken a huge hit since we began to shelter in place on March 13, and I wake up at 4 a.m. (or earlier) multiple days a week just so I can “juggle” the expectation that I do my job and serve as my daughter’s teacher and tech support.

But we can do hard things, and I believe, ethically, that we have to do this very hard thing for another year because it’s neither safe nor fair to throw teachers, school support staff, and our community into an epidemiological experiment that has been rushed along under political pressure. We’ve seen the results of rushing to reopen before the virus has been contained before, and it’s why the United States has been forced to use freezer trucks to store the bodies of people, disproportionately Black and brown, whose deaths could have been prevented.

While reducing the number of children in the building during the school day, the model of sending children to school for a few days a week on a staggered schedule creates a patchwork of childcare problems that facilitates community spread. It’s likely that students from multiple schools and districts will mix and mingle in childcare programs because of the odd school schedules happening throughout our region.

My school district has not yet made a decision about the fate of the extended day program our family relied upon in previous years, but I believe the writing is on the wall that, um, there won’t be an opportunity to send our children into the school to all play together in a gym with students from all grades starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m. each day. At this time, I don’t see an option to send my daughter back to another form of childcare, either.

I do not begrudge parents who are ‘choosing’ the hybrid model of education in my district, and I hope the model works out. We are all doing the best we can in impossible circumstances, many of us with colleagues who do not have a grasp on what it’s really like to be a teacher and a camp counselor and a parent and an employee at the same time, with crying children struggling with mental and emotional stress, technology platforms that are complex for children and adults to navigate, and without a break since the beginning of March.

Having done the math, I think (hope) it will be less work for me to have my daughter at-home full-time where she can have live, virtual instruction for about three hours, four days each week than it is to have her in school two days and no live time with teachers for three. Still, I am expecting to spend 38 hours per week for the upcoming year serving as her teacher. This time is not counting interruptions I expect as I work because she is a young child and needs help, nor time serving as her playmate because she is an only child and needs someone to play with her. In the continuing absence of leadership from public officials, what we are witnessing in real-time is my generation of moms being pushed out of the workforce or downgraded in our careers – I say moms intentionally because while parenting is gender-neutral, who is being pushed out is not – if we don’t collapse from exhaustion first. Now you know why.

Have you heard the Secretary of Labor say anything about this? The Secretary of Education seems to have discovered in the past week that children are out of school, and all she is doing is shaming the impossible choices that parents have rather than creating pathways to actually support the damn kids who don’t have the option to go to school five days per week.

We’re staying home next year for the reason that our political leaders have completely failed all of us in containing this virus, botching it so bad that we have the worst infection rates in the world, with children unable to go to school and parents and teachers being forced to quit their jobs to deal with the untenable ‘choices’ forced upon us.

We had a choice: Open bars or open schools. Our country made a choice, and my daughter is now staying home from school for the upcoming year.