Tag Archives: family

Dear never-quite-MIL

It’s a tradition wherever parents gather privately online to write “letters” to their MILs, with the intention of getting what they want to say off their chests without any risk it of coming before their MILs’ eyes. It’s been a decade since I had even a quasi-MIL, so since there’s no chance of her seeing it no matter how publicly I post it, here’s what I’d like to say to her:

Dear not-really-MIL,

I miss you.

I know that sounds strange, because we hardly ever talked when you were alive — you worked nights and rarely put in your dentures when I was over, and I was always distracted by worries that you’d hate me for corrupting your innocent “oops” baby, always nervous from wanting to impress you in order to impress your son — but it’s true. I can’t say I love you, because I never knew you well enough to, but I loved how completely you loved all your progeny and how you were as equally smitten with and as equally unwilling to take shit from the boy-man I’d fallen for as I was. But I almost loved you, in that awkward, never quite comfortable, let’s-not-ever-acknowledge-that-I’m-shagging-your-child, in-law kind of way — and I could have, would have, if you’d lived.

But I do miss you. I miss how you knew better than to intervene in The Man’s and my relationship other than that one time you told him that teen parenting was really hard so he might want to try to avoid it (and I miss the way he squirmed and said “Mo-om!” when you confronted him with such forthrightness; it’s not often I get to see my beloved blush). I miss how you expressed your love and concern by buying us towels and silverware when The Man and I were moving up to Oregon and in together — and though I’ve lost track of which towels they were, I think of you every time I open the flatware drawer, and I care about that cheap chainstore set as much as I would any polished silver heirloom. I miss how you stopped worrying about us when we came home wearing new jeans: you figured we couldn’t be that badly off if we had money for clothes, and you were mostly right. I miss the way you’d cycle through five or six names — some of them grandkids, some of them pets — when you were calling across your so-filled house for The Man. I miss watching you two hug, your head barely reaching his chest, his arms struggling to find a place they’d fit on your no-longer-taller-than-his body.

And I mourn that you never got to meet the Boychick, never even knew he was a possibility. You had grandchildren galore by then, of course, some of them as old as me, as old as your youngest child. You probably wouldn’t have loved this one any more than the others, probably would have struggled to keep his birth month and age in your head much less the details of his daily life. But you would have loved him, completely, unquestionably, unquestioningly. You would have added another name to the list you ran through whenever you were calling for one of your family.

He’s even named after you, in part, though you might not recognize it. (The intention is there, at the least.) And he talks about you, about his other Grandma, about the one who died and whose body is under the ground in California. Mostly about how you’re no longer here, true, but you are more a part of his life than I’d imagined you would be these last ten years. I wish you could have been more.

I don’t know what you’d think of all our parenting choices — though The Man points out his beliefs in the needlessness of cribs and corporal punishment come directly from you — but I have the feeling you’d keep any raised brows to yourself and contain your criticisms to concerns over bodily harm and grievous neglect. And I think you’d be proud that you didn’t have any of those.

And that is in no small part due to you, due to how well you raised, almost entirely by yourself, the person I share my life with. You would be (and were, I know) so damn proud of him. He’s an amazing parent — not “for a dad”, not “like a mom”, but period, for anyone, like you. Although he got his sometimes-short temper from you, his love, his gentleness, his sometimes-seemingly-endless patience, his unwillingness to hurl insults in an argument, his respect for children and for the hard, daily work of parenting: those all come in part from you too.

For all that, for the existence of my lifemate, for the genes that help make my child who he is and are helping to build the child yet to come, and for so much besides: thank you. More than I can express, thank you.


Lessons from an almost-over family reunion

1. I am an introvert. No, really. I adore parties, love people, am a great conversationalist, have quite excellent social skills when I choose to1, but holy fuck: if I don’t get enough downtime between activities or being around a crowd, the results are not pretty.

1a. Any group larger than two, or maybe three — counting myself — is a crowd.

2. The Boychick is quite possibly also an introvert, because his ability to use words and empathize and behave as a social, gentle creature — as he is 95% of the time around his immediate family — decreases in direct proportion to the number of people around him increasing.

2a. Except for his younger cousin, whom he professes love for when away from, but is cruel to in astounding ways when close to, regardless of who else is present. This is slightly made up for by his utter, and mutual, adoration of his older cousin. But it still makes me cringe and weep.

3. The one thing a restaurant really needs in order to be family-friendly is to have a kid-accepting attitude. Crayons help. Clowns are unnecessary. Candles are not incompatible as long as the servers are happy to take them away if asked. I’ve felt more welcome with the Boychick in a restaurant with chandeliers and candles and a wine list longer than my arm2 than I have in some places with balloons and picture menus. It’s all about attitude.

4. The more busy I am, the more I need to write. The more busy I am, the less time I have to write. Next time, I’m putting it on the schedule, because as antisocial as it seems, it’s better than the alternative. (See also 1 and 1a.)

5. A seven day visit, no matter how stressful, may it worth it for the one late-night one-on-one two-hour conversation all by itself.

5a. But more of those connection moments would be better.

5b. Staying up late for a two-hour conversation, no matter how wonderful, seems like a Phenomenally Bad Idea the next morning, when the child(ren), who had been sleeping the whole time, wake up and demand that adults also be awake and chipper and ready for More Fun, regardless of how sleep deprived they may be.

6. If no one is making the decisions, no decisions get made. Herding cats might actually be easier, because cats at least know what they want and will tell you (even if it is “to get the hell away from here!”).

6a. Don’t ask me to make any decisions: see 1, 1a, 4, and 5b.

7. Never, ever, ever again will I schedule or agree to a visit during which The Man is in training the entire time, thus leaving me as the sole on-duty parent during days and days of Super Fun Activities, any one of which would challenge me, the combination of which about does me in.3

8. Destination reunions are sounding better all the time. How’s the Caribbean in February?

  1. And have the spoons to.
  2. Mother’s Bistro and Bar in Portland, Oregon. Go there, if you can.
  3. Did I mention I’m an introvert?

NPFP Guest Post: The Lioness and Shades of Grey

Welcome to RMB’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People, a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous bloggers. (Read more about NPFP’s origins.) These are the posts that are jumping to get out of us, but for whatever reason — safety, embarrassment, conflict of interest, protection of loved ones’ reputations or feelings, or so on — we don’t or won’t or can’t post at our own blogs. Anyone is welcome to submit or discuss a potential post by emailing me at arwyn at raisingmyboychick dot com.

The Lioness and Shades of Grey

My mother-in-law caused a scene at the hospital when my daughter was born. She wanted to be the one to see her first. She said she felt unwelcome at the hospital. I still have no idea why. The newborn stage was peppered with fights between her and my husband. I tried not to get involved, so I don’t really know what they were arguing about, except her lack of boundaries and he doesn’t cope with frustrations that well. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt at first, she had problems of her own, after all and suffered from depression.

My daughter never took to her. This was a deep violation of all her hopes and dreams of having a granddaughter. She was passive aggressive and would talk to me through our baby. I hated that. I didn’t want her to help me out around the house because anything she did she would throw back in my face. She hated that. And my daughter couldn’t abide even being too close to her.

It all changed one day — and not for the better. My daughter was not quite 6 months old. She was crying, and my mother in law was speaking to her in an aggressive tone and shaking her, vigorously. I made sure my daughter was safe and then talked to her about it, as gently as I could. Things continued for a time in awkward semi-civility and then it unravelled rather dramatically in a nasty confrontation. I was still in shock. I don’t know if I’ll ever really understand it.

My husband supported me. But I think in a way he’s in denial and never really came to terms with the seriousness of it. After all, it’s his mother and he loves her. Eventually, we returned to being civil, even friendly, although I still feel the strain. We don’t talk about it. I don’t know how to move past such a violation of trust. I don’t know how to feel comfortable with her ever being alone with any of my children (it hasn’t happened yet). I think it may be on the cards in the future. In my heart I don’t want her to be alone with my children. Ever. But I’m afraid that if I never compromise, this may damage my relationship with my husband in the long run.

I feel myself being hyper-vigilant now when she visits. I’m sensitive to every word, every harsh tone of voice. I feel myself becoming angered by things that wouldn’t bother me if they were done by others. My daughter now loves playing with her and is always excited when she comes to visit, which is not that often. I’m sure it’s because my mother-in-law doesn’t feel comfortable either. She always denied the shaking incident and feels injured by my unjust accusation. But here we are. I know that we will have a relationship with her for a long time and I wish there was a way through this and a way that I could include her in my daughter’s life without feeling like I was putting her in harm’s way. I want to protect my daughter, forever. I can only hope that I will have the strength to do so.


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The solutions are… here

In replying to some comments on my last post, There are no solutions in the status quo, I was thinking that while heady and intellectual is good sometimes, so too are concrete examples. So here is what I would want changed to be supported by society, and what things did go/are going well:

  • When the Boychick was born, I wanted more time with The Man at home. It was my most fervent wish, often bawled into the sweet-smelling head of my sleeping child. He had three paid weeks — scrimped and scraped together by working whenever possible, skipping sick days, never taking vacation, since even before conception — which in the USA is so much more than most non-birthing (and too many birthing) parents get, but was nevertheless so, so inadequate. He went back to work when I was still bleeding. I wanted him to have the first six months off, paid. Three, minimum. (I honestly think we’d have gotten bored if he’d had the first two years off, but I’d've happily had him take one, and work part time for another, if we could have afforded it.)
  • We had a meal train for the first three weeks also, with a new hot or oven-ready meal brought every couple days, with plenty of leftovers in between. (I am blessed to be part of a loose group of women who Feed Each Other, especially after a birth. It’s a beautiful thing.) About 18 hours after his birth, a friend brought us the groceries we hadn’t had a chance to buy, drinks from Starbucks, lunch from our favorite burrito place, and flowers. I will never forget that. I would wish that for every new family.
  • After The Man went back to work, I was isolated. We lived where there was pretty limited public transit, and no public transport between where we lived and where The Man worked (and the Boychick hated the car anyway, so it didn’t matter that we never had access to one). I had no neighbourhood friends. What could have helped: living closer to where The Man worked (there was nowhere we could afford to rent closer in that would take our pets), having friends come over, having community centers (and friends) within walking distance, having better public transit — and knowing that that public transit was safe for me, that I wouldn’t be hassled for wearing him, or for him fussing, or if I needed to potty him (in our sealable bowl) or change him, or for nursing him, or simply for daring to exist as a fat woman with a baby in public.
  • I struggled with what was probably postpartum depression — unrecognized, because it was not as bad as the instability I had gotten out of shortly before conceiving. What helps my mood is mostly not covered by medical insurance, which I didn’t have anyway. We weren’t able to pay for thyroid checks for me nearly as often as recommended in pregnancy and postpartum, when thyroid needs fluctuate so much (insufficient thyroid can contribute to depression as well). I needed health insurance (we weren’t married so I couldn’t get it through The Man’s job, but he had a job, so the state wouldn’t cover me), I needed the midwife to be paid for so we weren’t scrapping together funds to pay her already-reduced fee, I needed my fish oil to be subsidized or covered by insurance (or to have more money to pay for it), so I didn’t feel compelled to cut my dose, and teeter even closer to the line. That almost did me in.
  • I was blessed to have a community, and a volunteer job, online during pregnancy and the Boychick’s first couple years (from which I have since retired, to focus on the blog and massage school — I still miss it, but it was time). That gave me intellectual outlet, social contact, and the knowledge that even when I was stuck at home, spit up everywhere (in my hair! I’ll never forget that either, try though I do), I was making a difference, and people relied on me. That saved me.
  • When the Boychick was a year and a half old, I was also lucky to be able to start school in the evenings. I was privileged to be able to procure a loan to pay for it (though at a rate that will mean my $10,000 education will eventually cost us $20,000), one which we didn’t have to start paying back right away. (A  loan which is no longer offered, by the way. Under the current financing options, I wouldn’t have been able to start school at all, or at least not right then, and I had gotten to where I needed something more to do, more even than the online gig.)
  • Now, I want childcare swaps, and daycare options that I can trust to not indoctrinate my child in sexism and racism and classism and other aspects of kyriarchy. I want outdoor, mixed age open ed that is affordable enough it isn’t entirely populated by privileged white crunchy Portlanders. I want my friends to live closer, and I want to be friends with my neighbours. I want there to be enough people who believe in attached, gentle parenting (even if we’re not always so hot at it, even if they make superficially different choices) that I can find friends closer.
  • And I still want to know that if I venture out in public with my perfectly normal (aka rambunctious, sometimes loud, sometimes tantrumy, usually gregarious) almost-three year old, I will be welcome, not shunned, supported, not glared at.

These are the things I mean when I say we need to change society. Maternity leave (I didn’t and likely won’t ever have a full time employed-type job) and funding for institutional daycare aren’t even on my list. “SAHM” or “WOHM” don’t even figure — I am neither. Some of these things would cost money — like paternity leave, like affordable alternative schooling options, like more community centers — and some of them would cost nothing, or a little time, or just a smile from a stranger. Some of them negate the need for some of the others. Some of them I could make happen in my own life, if I were lucky enough, and able to put in the effort. Some of them I have been able to access, due to the various aspects of privilege I exist with. Some of them would require radical shifts in social memes, some radical shifts in federal or local government policy. But they’re all possible. They should all be available to everyone. And they’re just a small fraction of the changes needed, from someone who already stands toward the top of the privilege pyramid.

I know not everyone finds these sorts of mental exercises helpful, or even bearable, and if you’re one, I don’t ask you to do anything you don’t want.

But for those of us who care to, I want you to take moment to think big (and little, and radical, and mundane): what would have helped you in the first months and first years of parenting? What would you have liked to have had? What was right about your situation, and what would have to change for everyone to have what you did? If parenting, or the addition of another child, is potentially in your future, what would your ideal situation be? How would you like society to support you? And, perhaps, what can you do to help the family next door, or down the street?

Think big. Think little. Think sideways. Think outside of the box; stand on it and rant, or kick the box apart and make peace signs out of the scraps, or burn it for firewood. Do you want one of the traditional options? Great! Share that. Do you love exactly what you have? Fabulous! Share that, and spend a moment thinking about whether others who want it could have it too, and if not what barriers are in their way. Are you too busy trying to take care of food and shelter to think of cushy perks like time at home and babies in work? Please, share what would make your life easier and safer (but feel welcome to idealize, too).

What could help you? Name one thing: name as many as you can think of.

Before we can make the revolution, we need to know what we’re working for. So share your dreams. Learn from others’. Change the conversation. Change the world.

WFPP Guest Post: The Family Poster

In this entry to the Womanist/Feminist Parenting Primer, we see that sometimes the little moments and the big moments are the same thing.

When Susannah told me this story, of making her preschooler’s “family poster” and realizing it’ll be the first time he’ll really be vulnerable to homophobic bigotry — or “simple” ignorant schoolyard teasing — for having two moms, I asked her to share it with us for the Primer, because it so encapsulates the fear and the hope and the determination we so often feel when raising our children “different” in a kyriarchal world. She so touchingly makes the point that the best thing we can send our children off into the world with is love — and the knowledge that love matters most of all.

The Family Poster

Dearest little one,

Last Thursday when I dropped you off at school the parent helper handed me a blank white poster board. She said to fill it with pictures as a way to help you tell your classmates about your family. We took it home that day and talked about how big our family is – those people we were born to and those people we have chosen as our own. Our family is spread fairly wide – Nana and Grandpa Rollie in Los Angeles; Uncle Jay, Aunt Shekar, and baby Karolina in Pittsburgh. Closer to home are Grandma, Uncle Randy, Auntie Shane, Auntie Shae, Aunt Tori, Aunt Cyndi, Sarah, Tonya, Gram, and all of my aunts, uncles and cousins.

“Jerome? And Lucia?”
“Yes, baby. Jerome and Lucia are part of our family too. So are Julia, Sonja and Asher.”
“Yeah. (pause) Who else?”
“Grandpa Angelo. We should put a picture of him on the poster too, shouldn’t we?” You never met your grandpa as he died before you were born, but your grandma talks with you about him all of the time.
“And mama?”
“Yes, mama too.”

When we got home we went about our merry way and forgot about the family poster that had sparked a half hour of discussion. I worked through the week to find a fun group of pictures that gives an idea of who your family is. Tonight after you fell asleep I gathered them all together to assemble on the poster board. It wasn’t until I started to lay down the pictures and saw all of the faces that it struck me – this is when the teasing could start for you. You, my love, are blessed with two moms.

I knew the day would come when we’d face this (and I hate our society for making it an “issue” needing to be faced) but I didn’t think it would happen so soon. You will be four years old next week and I am thinking of you sharing about your family with your preschool class. Will someone tell you that you can’t have two moms? What will your teacher say? How many kids will ask you where the picture is of your dad? What will your response be to that? We’ve talked about how there are kids who live with grandparents, aunts, uncles, a mom, a dad, the possibilities are endless. You know the story of how mama and I wanted a baby and Uncle Randy agreed to be our donor. Every so often you ask to hear the “Uncle Randy story” but at nearly four you will not have the words to explain this to your class. You may not even feel the need to explain it.

My belief is that if any questions do come up Teacher Amy will do a wonderful job of supporting you in saying that yes, you do have a mommy and a mama. You do not have a daddy. She will talk about how families look different but that what matters is love. You, Keagan, are SURROUNDED by love. You were born of a love so great that we could never have imagined today. You pushed your way into a world already filled with a family who loved you.

At the same time, you arrived into a society in which many people have strong ideas about who “should” and “should not” be defined as family, marry, love each other. These definitions leave our family out, acting as the proverbial circular peg trying to fit into a square box. Perhaps that act of trying to fit in is the problem. Sometimes it makes more sense to help send a message so big (Um, hello world, wake up and smell the fair-trade, shade-grown organic coffee. EMBRACE diversity! EMBRACE love!) that it would cause that little square box to implode and a new definition to blossom like a phoenix rising from steaming ash.

Love ties together a family – the people who you love, and the people who love you. Your family is made of those people who build you up rather than tear you down, support you at all times, these are the people with whom you feel safe. A blood connection may or may not exist. There is no room in this definition for placing boundaries on love through things like gender, sex, class, race, ethnicity, color, (dis)ability, religion. If you can walk away knowing that when someone questions your definition of family, then I’ve done something right. A family is love. Period. And you, Keagan, are my family, my heart.

I love you up to the moon and back,


Susannah lives in the American Pacific Northwest, where her just-turned-four-year-old is blessed with a large, loving family, including, yes, two mothers.