A Call to Listen

On a day, not unlike today, many years ago, I went to the pharmacy.

My younger sister, a severe asthmatic with nasty allergies, was out of her asthma medication, and needed a refill. She was having more trouble than usual that day, I remember. I think it’s because she was sick. Sickness, even a cold, always make her asthma worse.

I haven’t thought about this day in years, so my memories of the details of when and why all of this happened are a bit fuzzy. But I think my parents were out of town and that’s why I went to the pharmacy. Whatever the reason was, because I was her sister, I wasn’t allowed by the person working the pharmacy desk to pick up her meds.

I argued, pleaded with the person to just let me pay for and take the meds home to my sister. She needed them, I said. She needed them to breathe.

“Tell her to just breathe.”

That was the response.
As if she could.

“Tell her to just breathe.”

Throughout my sister’s short life, people vastly underestimated her asthma and allergies. She was making it up, they would claim. She was a drama queen just wanting attention, they laughed. She was exaggerating, it couldn’t be that bad, they would tsk. I had asthma once, I grew out of it, it’s not that bad, they would lecture.

Time after time. Classmates, teachers, strangers, friends…they all would belittle her claims and her needs. They had never seen asthma do to a person what she said it did to her, so even when they witnessed one of her attacks, they thought that she was putting on a show and so they ignored it.

Then, one day, on a day not unlike today, she had one final asthma attack. The paramedics tried…but there was nothing they could do. She wanted to breathe, she really did…she just couldn’t.

After all was said and done, so many people expressed shock that her asthma had been life threatening.

She knew. But no one listened.

How often we do that. Not listen when someone is trying to tell us their lived experience. They try to tell us, but we laugh it off. It’s not in my experience, we say, so you must be exaggerating, making it up. I’ve never seen it happen, we tsk, you must not be telling us the whole story, because there’s no way that’s real. If they would just [_______], then it wouldn’t happen… “Tell her to just breathe”.

Time after time. Classmates, teachers, strangers, friends…we discount and belittle the claims of our sisters and brothers because we’ve never seen or experienced such a thing in our lives. And so, when we do see something, we diminish it. Write it off. Discount it. Cast it as a one off, an anomaly.

And then something happens.

Like on a day not unlike today, when a man, with a concealed carry permit willfully disclosed to a police officer during a routine traffic stop, gets shot for having a weapon…the one he legally had and willfully disclosed.

And then we express shock that such a thing could happen to a good guy, from a good family, with a good job, who was forthcoming and compliant, with a small child in the backseat.

But he knew. And he knew. And he knew. And she knew. And zhe knew. We just didn’t listen.

We need to start listening. When people tell us their lived experience, we need to listen. Not diminish, not excuse, not explain, not express disbelief because it’s not our own lived experience. Just listen.

And then, when we’re done listening, we need to take that knowledge and do something. Change something. Do better. Be better.

Lives are at stake.

Who's Afraid of a Little Pink?

If you spend any time, at all, around Little Man these days, you're sure to hear about two things: Paw Patrol and Pete the Cat (and his four groovy buttons). 

Maybe someday, I'll talk about Pete the Cat (who is awesome, by the way!), but today, I want to talk about Paw Patrol.

Paw Patrol is a show on Nickelodeon that centers around a team of six (or seven, depending on the episode) dogs and one boy who work together to perform tasks to save, serve, and protect the citizens and the community of Adventure Bay, the city where they are located. It is more than just his favorite tv show at the moment, it's also a great vehicle for us as parents to have positive conversations with Little Man about teamwork, helping, kindness, courage, and problem solving. 

As a mom of a little boy, one of the things that I greatly appreciate about Paw Patrol is that it is one of the few shows out there that is designed to appeal mutually to boys and girls, without a strong "girl" theme or "boy" theme. This is something that's important to me, as we as parents are trying to raise our Little Man without the confines of societal gender norms so that he doesn't think that different things, activities, or whatever are "boy things" or "girl things". We are wanting to raise a boy who is comfortable playing with a train or a truck or a baby doll or a dollhouse or whatever he wants to play with. We are wanting to raise a boy who enjoys playing dressup in a police uniform or a tutu. We are wanting to raise a boy who is comfortable expressing what he likes and dislikes based on his own taste, rather than what culture or society tells him that he should. As he grows, we hope that this also will expand to other areas of his life, beyond gender roles, so that he is comfortable....I don't know...maybe being the kid who listens to jazz when all his classmates are listening to pop, or maybe being the kid who enjoys playing football and being in the drama club, etc. etc.

Basically, we want him to be who he is, enjoy what he enjoys, and express that comfortably and openly. We want him to have a healthy sense of self. 

But...often it's hard because what we are trying to do as a family is, quite frankly, counter cultural, and it is often hard to find things that aren't "gendered". Shows are marketed to either boys or girls. Clothes are marketed to either boys or girls; This winter, we wanted to buy an Olaf hat (similar to this one), but had a difficult time finding it in the store because it was tucked away on a display in the girls' clothing section. Even bottles and cups are labeled as "girl" cups or "boy" cups. 

So, you can imagine that we were quite thrilled with the Paw Patrol toys that we found that gave Skye the same treatment as Chase (the police dog) or Zuma (the water rescue dog). The only thing? Skye wears pink...which, I believe, directly impacted what we discovered this Easter.

We try to do a fairly simply Easter for Little Man. The main emphasis is on church, and the lessons there, but we also enjoy having the "Easter Bunny come" to the house. The Easter basket that we put together is a pretty simple one: A bit of candy, a toy, and another little something like a coloring book and crayons or a bit of playdoh or a special t-shirt.

This year, the toy that accompanied the basket was the coveted and long searched for Skye Action Pack Pup that we felt lucky enough to find at a local store (there was a run on these toys, and we spent many, many trips to a number of different stores trying to find all the different dogs). The other little something was a Paw Patrol t-shirt for him to wear that we found in the boys' clothing section at the store. 

Easter Morning, Little Man was thrilled to walk into the living room and find that the Easter Bunny had dropped off his basket, complete with his new Skye toy. He was so excited about finally having Skye in his set that he had to take her with him that day to show to all of his friends at church.

Following church, we got ready to head to his Grandparents' house, and so he put on his new Paw Patrol shirt, still clutching onto his new favorite toy. 


It was then that I noticed...the dog that he was holding onto so lovingly, that he was playing with, zooming her around the house, was not anywhere on his shirt. The sixth spot was taken up by the little boy who leads the Paw Patrol. Skye was no where to be found.

The message is clear. This is a boy's shirt. A girl dog, dressed in pink, does not belong.

As if it is incomprehensible that there might be a little bit of pink on a boy's t-shirt.

As if a little boy would not think of wearing a shirt with a little bit of pink on it.

As if it would somehow damage his sense of what being a boy means to have a little bit of pink on his shirt. 

As if it's a bad thing for a boy to wear pink.

But it's not. Pink is not a color that denotes gender or sexuality in any way other than what we as a society allow it to. And, even if it is determined to be a more "feminine color" (whatever that means), allowing boys to choose to wear pink, allowing boys to choose to have pink, allows them to embrace and have a healthy understanding of what masculinity and femininity means. Allowing little boys to like pink allows them to grow into men who are not afraid of expressing their feelings and emotions, their likes and their dislikes, because someone might call it "girly." Allowing little boys to do things like like or wear pink allows them to grow into men who are comfortable with themselves, their identity...their whole selves, no matter what that looks like. 

So, I beg you, marketers and the design folks and the promotion folks who made this decision, and so many others like it...I beg you to allow my Little Man the option of wearing a little bit of pink, or a lot of pink if he wants to. Don't take Skye off of a t-shirt just because it's being sold in the boys' section. Leave her on the shirt, and open up the world to little boys. Let them like pink, and let them grow into secure, confident, happy men who aren't afraid to be who they are in the world.

A Difficult Morning

Sometimes, mornings are hard. This morning was hard. Little Man was having an emotional and, quite frankly, dramatic morning. Everything, and I mean everything, was a Tragedy. First, it was that he didn’t want to put his socks on, and then it was that he wanted to put his socks on by himself. Then it was that he didn’t want to go to the car, and then it was that I didn’t get to the car fast enough after he decided it was time to get in the car. Then it was that he didn’t want to listen to music, but then he wanted to sing, without any help from Mommy. And then…
By the time I got him to preschool, all he wanted was for me to carry him to the classroom, simply because it was a hard morning and he needed a “wiggle” (which is what he calls a snuggle) from his mommy.

Life is hard when you’re three going on four years old, isn’t it?

I understand that a good portion of it is that he doesn’t yet have the word power to describe or explain what he going on in his little brain. And I understand that a good portion of it is that he’s three years old, and three years old have “moments”.  (I have long been told that it’s less the “terrible twos” and more of the “terrible threes” that drive parents nuts.)

But, at the end of the day, I think that it’s really important to recognize that the majority of it is that he’s just what I call him, a little man. He is a little person, fully formed and developed (although he’s still developing and growing in emotional, spiritual, physical and developmental maturity). And like all people, he has days when things just aren’t right.

The other day, I sat in my office and, after a few hours, walked out to the outer office and said to the church administrator, “I just can’t seem to get my wheels under me today.” Because it was a day that nothing seemed to be going right, nothing seemed to feel right, and it seemed that I just couldn’t get anything done. And, truth be told, if it wasn’t socially and professional irresponsible and unacceptable to throw a fit and cry about it, I may just have.

In our world and our society, we don’t like to admit when things are hard. We don’t like to talk about the things that are wrong. In fact, the most common greeting is “How ya doin’?”…but the acceptable and accepted response is nothing more detailed or descriptive that, “Good, you?”

But, I think that we just need to start being a little more like Little Man. Not the screaming and crying and throwing of fits, but the being honest about when things aren’t going right. When we’re not feeling well. When things are upsetting, angering, or just plain wrong. I think that we need to start saying “How ya doin’?” like we really mean it, and listening, truly listening, to the answer. I think that we need to start sharing our lives with each other in honest and vulnerable ways. Because then, and only then, will we be able to start recognizing the humanity of those feelings, and recognizing that they are nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about….they are just a part of who we are.