"Oh, look," she said, pointing to his bare feet. "That's how you know spring is coming. I can't wait until I'm not adjusting the car seats every single day from Jacket Straps to No Jacket Straps to Jacket Straps again." I gave my half-smile to the Good Mom Clerk at the supermarket and hurried away as quickly as possible.
The best thing about spring is that I am less inclined to receive the frightened looks from parents, grandparents, non-parents or pretty much anyone because The Baby never wears shoes.
This is the time of the year when we make those fatal errors associating sunlight with warmth. Just the other day I took the boys out for a walk and because the sun was out for the first time in seemingly weeks, I just handed them thin jackets. We were gone all of ten minutes when that fickle sun disappeared behind what appeared to be not just a cloud but an entire army of clouds as far as the eye could see.
Nate was cold. Nate is ALWAYS cold. Nate is also stubborn. He only wants to wear THIS jacket. "But you'll be cold," is my familiar (and somewhat useless) refrain. Sure I am the mom and sure I should just make him wear a heavy coat but I don't (cue the "then it's YOUR fault"). This time it was my fault. Just because the sun is out and the snow is finally melting does not mean that it is warm. Sure it is 50 degrees but 50 degrees is no 70 degrees.
It is moments like this that I often run into my older, responsible neighbor as I am on my way across the house carrying the baby who is wearing a onesie and a pair of sweats. My responsible neighbor is wearing a snorkel parka, a wool hat and I'm pretty sure her face is hidden back there behind that incredibly long scarf wrapped repeatedly around her head.
She didn't gasp but she did pull her coat closer to her chest. I didn't even remember the baby was wearing practically nothing because I had him strapped to my back. We were crossing the street. He'll be FINE.
"He is SO cute. Look at him."
The only part I can see of him when he is back there is his feet. His little bare feet. His feet that have no socks or shoes protecting him from this 50 degree weather. I stammered my excuse and The Baby started heckling her. I like to think it was because he wanted her to know he didn't want shoes but it was probably because she hadn't spoken directly to him yet.
I started with my long-winded explanation of how he rubs his feet together to get socks off but she doesn't seem to care. We comment about how lovely it is that spring is finally coming and isn't it great to see the sun again. I'm started to get a little cold because I was only planning on this being a 30 second run across the street and I begin to look longingly at her winter coat. My children run past me with red cheeks.
I tell myself yet again. "Just because the sun is out does NOT mean it is warm."
But spring is coming. And when winter goes, I'm hoping the chilly "you're a bad mother" looks go with them. We'll see.
It was a pretty heavy and amazing week for our family and city. The Westboro Baptist Church came to town to protest our local Jewish Community Center, Holocaust Museum, The Jerusalem Connection and a local high school that has a Gay-Straight Alliance. They are a group that travels the country using hate to express themselves. I spent an entire day just trying to wrap my mind around the concept.
What do we do? I was trying to imagine what we might be able to do to turn this on its side, to make a space for love and kindness. Would it be even possible? How does this exist in the world my children are growing up in?
After talking, texting and twittering with a few mama friends, my friend Sarah brought a brilliant idea to us borrowed from a synagogue in New York City. For every minute these signs were held in the air they asked folks to contribute to a fund that would benefit the very people who are meant to be the targets. Thousands of dollars were raised for just a 50 minute protest. So my friends Sarah, Sara, Jess and I dreamed of what might happen if we invited our friends and our whole city to do the same.
Every penny would be an offering of kindness reminding us that we will choose love and believe it will conquer all. After all, this is what we want for our kids and our world.
In just a few hours Sarah set up a website, Sara came up with a name, and we all started to spread the word. www.penniesinprotest.com was up and we waited.
What happened next, none us would have ever imagined. Within 24 hours we had $2000, and two local news stories. It just caught on like wildfire, 2700 Facebook fans, and over $11,000 just a week later. Our city of Richmond, Virginia came together in the most amazing way, uniting us to stand in love.
With ten children between us we talked a lot about what we should do about our kids and the protest. There had already been so many teaching conversations, asking questions and listening to our small people and their view on the subject. Was this a clear opportunity to teach and share our values in an age appropriate manner?
Should they go? Could they handle it, even if they can, should they? What are our responsibilities as parents regarding both their physical and emotional protection?
We ordered pizza and made signs while we mulled it over. Children ran around and laughed, but all of it felt so much deeper.
Jorge and I decided that Lyra (1) would come with me to the protest and leave the other kids at home as we weren't sure it was appropriate for our particular kids and their sensitivities and ages. The baby needed to be close to me and would sleep so I took her along. After I picked up Lucy (4), Josiah (9), Jack (7), and we went to an anti-hate rally (with no protesters) at Virginia Commonwealth University. We asked the kids what they wanted to do. They really wanted to hold their signs and be part of our greater community but I would have been fine if there had been no interest.
I couldn't sleep the night before the protest, I felt so nervous and unsure of what it would really be like to be there in the flesh.
When the protesters arrived I carried Lyra on my back in a carrier and a camera in my hand. The tension was so thick in the air as we watched a man, two women and a boy protest while we stood silently. A boy about the age of my son carried a sign saying, "God hates Jews." My heart dropped. I looked at my friend Sara (who is Jewish) and her little boy on her back.
Two mothers, two sons, both living their convictions in completely different ways on the same street, it was chilling.
I picked up my boys and told them what I saw. We were all quiet for awhile in the car and Jack said, "Mom, I don't think that boy means that...I think he just doesn't know mom, he just doesn't know." We went on to our rally which was joyful and a big love fest filled with all kinds of people. My kids ran around, just the same way they did the night of pizza and I held all the deeper things in my heart.
What do you think about kids and activism? Should children be present at protests? Is it our job to teach our children about certain issues or wait till they are older? Share your points of view in the comments.
When Madeleine was a preschooler, we both dreaded the task of combing out her long wavy hair. I'd tell myself that combed hair was overrated and that such neatness was unnecessary, but eventually--you know how it goes--someone had to make this child look like she actually had a mother. So to entertain her and help her stay still, I made up a story about The Tangles. The Tangles loved to play in Madeleine's hair, but every so often they needed to go home to their mother who lived in our big black brush. Sometimes it was obvious to me (and Madeleine) that the Tangles had been having a party or had been to the circus or had been riding roller coasters all day long. Other times it was clear that the Tangles had no intention of leaving--they were having too much fun--and the Tangles' mother would beg them to come home, so they could do scandalous things like eat ice cream in bed or watch television until morning. Madeleine loved not only to hear this story but to help create it. We told the story of The Tangles for a long time, until she was a much bigger girl and was learning to brush her hair without parental assistance.
I think of this story longingly now as Madeleine--fully capable of brushing her hair perfectly, now leaves the house with hair that I wish I could immediately drive to a salon for a thorough deep shampoo and conditioning treatment. Somehow it never occurred to me to add a rain chapter to the Tangles story, so I could work in the shampoo angle.
But what we do have is this story and this memory, and that gives us both a sweet and powerful place to stand as we deal with whatever challenges that come our way in the future. I'm hopeful about that and wondering what stories we need to share now to help us take on the next development stage of our growing up and learning together as mother and daughter.
Do you have a favorite family story that helps your child come along in the growing up process?
The Olympics makes me crazy. Exactly how many winter sports exceed speeds of 75 miles an hour? I'm sure Cousin Ellen could tell me but I'm loathe to ask.
The Olympics makes me crazy because it opens my children's eyes to an entire new world of dangerous sports. Someone recorded a few nights of coverage and the boys began to watch them the way they obsess about a favorite cartoon. There was a ridiculous amount of half pipe snowboarding. At one point on Twitter I openly wondered if a practice foam half pipe was cheaper that a couple of college educations.
There were all manner of questions about the luge and then questions about the horrific crash of Nodar Kumaritashvili (thanks for no warning on that one, NBC and then for replaying it excessively and unexpectedly before children's bed times). You can only change the channel so many times before you just call it a day and send the kids to bed early.
Bobsledding was perhaps the trickiest.
Ethan: Mom (pointing to the bobsledding icon on the television). Is that bumper cars for snow?
K: Nope. It's called bobsledding.
K: A little bit like your sled except they go really, really fast.
Ethan: How fast?
K; 100 miles an hour. Faster than most cars.
He did a triple take. Literally. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen. The light bulb went on and he began to plot his own personal bobsledding adventures. For years I have had a dream to put a water slide in the ravine by my house but with all this snow, the kids instantly thought a bobsledding track would be a good idea. Luckily we sent them to bed before the succession of bobsleds flipped over and only the parents had to look on in horror as the helmeted heads bounced against the ice.
With that we move on to hockey and the kids crept down the stairs to watch from behind the wall, hoping we didn't notice. We busted them and they begged for hockey to be recorded. Then it's curling. Derek starts to explain curling to them in their hiding place and we all laugh because he doesn't know what he is talking about and clearly he never read wikipedia. He claims to have watched curling 20 years ago but I don't believe it. I tell the boys that they can take up curling ANY day. Oops, hockey is back up and there are long discussions about high sticks and fights.
We haven't slept in over two weeks and the only thing saving me is that we live in the mid-Atlantic and despite the winter of lots of snow, it will all be gone in a couple of days. Like the ending of the Winter Olympics, the dreams of traveling 100 miles an hour will be a distant memory. Or so a mom can hope.