By Jillian Lauren
A friend left a comment on my recent post about raising boys and it got me thinking. This friend’s child has multiple special needs and is confined to a wheelchair. In the comment, she suggested that exposing children to diversity (not just in concept) contributes to compassion. Most of the children who have grown up around her son are empathetic and kind with him.
A transgendered friend has also shared with me that the kids she grew up with from early childhood were always accepting. She began to have problems when she changed schools as a teen and encountered kids who were unfamiliar with her gender identification.
When I consider diversity, race is usually the first thing on my mind. When I was first visiting pre-schools, I always looked around and counted the number of brown faces I saw, putting it into my mental filing cabinet. My friend’s comment reminded me that diversity goes way beyond race. Parents of children with special needs offer something of great value to any school or community.
Sometimes the rabid competition to get into good schools in Los Angeles can prompt me to think in a conformist way and try to portray my family as something more mainstream than we truly are. I want to always remember that our strength is in difference. That is where we shine.
To read more from Jillian Lauren, check out her blog. You can also purchase her books on Amazon.
By Jillian Lauren
T has been making so much progress lately, as I’ve been sharing. This hasn’t always been true. Growth is never a linear thing. We have gone through the cycle of hope and plateaus and regression so many times that I barely sweat it anymore. So I’m not sure why it should surprise me when I hit a plateau of my own.
I’ve been yelling at T lately. A lot. I’m in a sticky place and I can’t seem to change my lousy behavior, as hard as I try. Or maybe I’m not trying very hard at all. Maybe I’m indulging the outlet, as the alternative seems to be to stuff all the anger, shut down, slam cabinets and rage at my family in a passive way. Which sucks just as much if not more.
The other day, T and I got in a screaming stand-off about which I feel truly ashamed. When it was all over and he was in the other room, I put my face in his pillow so he couldn’t hear me and screamed, “I hate my life,” at the top of my lungs. And I did right then- I felt so out of control and locked into a confrontational dynamic with my son.
I grew up in a family with screaming. It was my model and it became my default mode and it’s going to take a huge internal shift to alter the habit. This morning, I revisited Christine Moers’s therapeutic parenting video about the power of our voices. I am gripping it like a lifeline. I am trying. I am praying. I am still yelling. But if I know anything from being T’s parent, I know that change is possible, especially when you go at it with all your heart, like he does. But just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s easy or instant. I have faith I’ll find a way through this thing to the other side.
To read more from Jillian Lauren check out her blog. You can also purchase her books on Amazon.
By Jillian Lauren
I don’t usually do product reviews, but when the Martha Stewart people asked if I wanted to see a copy of the new kid craft book, it was too many of my favorite words in one sentence to turn down. For those of you who aren’t in on my darkest secrets, I love Martha Stewart, OK? I practically have a whole shelf of her entertaining books. I start anticipating the Halloween issue of her magazine in August. In line at the grocery store, I pass over all the gruesome Kardashian gossip and dive straight for her tips for a summer barbeque. I’m unlikely to take her investment advice, but when it comes to inventive ways to color Easter eggs, I defy you to challenge her.
I was not disappointed! Actually, the book surpassed my expectations. As much as I luuuuuv Martha, I was skeptical about a kid craft book, because sometimes she sets the bar a little high. I like to read her books but rarely follow through on the projects because for the normal humans among us, her suggestions can be over-complicated make you feel like a slacker about your messy house and the bread you didn’t make and the table centerpiece you didn’t craft and the chicken coop you didn’t build etc. Instead, I use her as sort of an organizing principle of bringing a joyful consciousness to domesticity. I like to imagine Martha to be a benevolent hearth-and-home deity who smiles down at me from above when I manage to go outside and pick a few figs off the tree and make a cake. Or when I feel inspired once in a while to put out the nice table linens for dinner just because.
These crafts, however, are not only inspiring but also surprisingly simple and adorable. Very do-able and fun! Check out their crafts for kids video collection to see some crafting in action. Above is a picture of T making the monster salt crystals- so cute! We’re doing snow globes next.
If you would like to read more from Jillian Lauren, check out her blog. You can also find her books on Amazon.
By Jillian Lauren
Scott and I have always loved the Albert Brooks movie Lost in America. In it, there is a scene in which Albert Brooks discovers Julie Hagerty gambling away the last of their nest egg in a Las Vegas casino:
She: We’re still down!
He: How down?
About a year ago, each night after putting T to sleep after yet another exhausting day, we would look at each other with stricken expressions.
Me: We’re still down.
Scott: How Down?
During that difficult time, I often felt lonely. It seemed every other mother I knew was posting pictures on FB of the beautiful organic seasonal dinner party she just threw (to which I wasn’t invited), using some table linens her three perfect kids decorated themselves with stamps they carved from potatoes. No that their kids were at the dinner party. Because they were sleeping. SLEEPING!
I spent a lot of time crying in the car and feeling hopeless. Forget trying to get on the waiting list for a good kindergarten, I was starting to think about getting on a waiting list for a good rehab. I felt unequal to this task of motherhood. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for all of my blessings, I genuinely was. It’s just that some of the time, I was also pretty disappointed by life.
Tariku’s school aide, until recently, was still going to class with him one day a week (mostly because I was used to hanging onto her like a life-preserver), but a couple of weeks ago she called me and said, “Look, this just isn’t necessary. He’s doing amazing. He really doesn’t need me anymore.”
Then yesterday we drove down to see a circus that should have been an hour away. We left an extra hour early but still wound up late, because we got off at the wrong exit, landed in the worst neighborhood of all time, and got caught behind a police barricade. True story. And do you know what? My son was the calmest, most content person in that car. It used to be that the slightest deviation from any plan would set off an epic tantrum. This time, he was just singing and playing with his transformers and occasionally asking random questions like: If this isn’t the Cretaceous period anymore then what period it it? I honestly have no idea what parents did before google. Did they have to actually be smarter than their kids?
Now that the crisis has abated, I’ve noticed that every one of the mothers I placed on a pedestal has, at some point in this year, been down.
I recently witnessed the mom that I consider the height of PTA-going, Martha-Stewart-crafting perfection nearly have a nervous collapse, when Tariku accidentally kicked a ball of paper mache in her garage (because it looked like a ball and not like a Halloween costume in-progress). No joke, I thought I was going to have to call 911. And later she was like, I’m sorry, I’m just stretched so thin.
Meaning, y’know, I’m down.
Maybe I was really never that isolated to begin with, it’s just that all I could see were differences and not similarities. Which is to say, I have been down before and will, I’m sure, be down again. But the next time it happens, I hope to remember not to look at everyone else’s potato stamps and see them as evidence of my aloneness at the center of the universe.
For more from Jillian Lauren, check out her blog and her books can be purchased on Amazon.
By Jillian Lauren
This morning, I smiled and nodded and let some homophobic comments pass right by me in a schoolyard conversation. I feel disappointed in myself and curious as to the cause of my inability to speak up. I have spent all day considering ways I might deal differently with a similar situation in the future.
This is what happened…
I was joking around with some parents after the drop off. We were having a “cute stories” moment, talking about our little boys liking to dress up in girls’ clothes. Tariku likes to put a toy airplane in his hair and pretend it’s a tiara- that kind of thing. One of the dads piped up with: it’s fine when they’re seven as long as they’re not still wearing dresses when they’re seventeen. “I mean, that’s just not okay,” he said.
And that’s when I said…nothing. I said nothing.
I should have said, I’d be thrilled to have my son in a ball gown at his wedding if that’s what makes him feel good about himself and happy in his own skin. That is the truth.
So why didn’t I?
When I imagine being confronted with racism or sexism or homophobia etc, I think that I would always stand up to it, that I would always do the right thing, no question. In reality, we are often in situations with a great deal of social pressure. We are taken off guard. We want to be liked. We don’t want to make other people uncomfortable.
I feel like an outsider among the parents at pre-school and I am honestly often self conscious about T’s wacky behavior. When we arrive for drop off, most of the kids are sitting nicely, waiting with their parents, while T is running around, hollering and leading dance parties on the playground. I’m conscious that we’re different. The fact that I look like I fell of the side show carnival train doesn’t help. It makes me try extra hard to fit in. I think my desire to be socially accepted at the school is one factor in my silence.
Another factor is practice. It can be helpful to think situations like this through before we get blindsided with them. When I was first walking around in the world with Tariku, it used to be a lot harder for me to speak up when people said boneheaded things about adoption or race. Now I’m more experienced and I have a handful of standard responses that allow me to speak my mind in a way that doesn’t generally create a confrontational dynamic. I rarely wind up in the car later obsessing about what I might have said.
I’ve been thinking about the standard narrative of Rosa Parks. I was always told that she was tired from work one day and refused to move to the back of the bus. The reality is that she was a trained civil rights activist and that her refusal to move was a planned act of civil disobedience. We could all benefit from a little training, from a little practice. Perhaps on all of those back-to-school nights that we spend looking at their macaroni collages, we could take ten minutes to have a conversation about diversity.
Whether or not it’s incorporated at an institutional level, this does remind me how important it is to keep an open dialogue about these issues at home.
I’m going to a parent meeting at the school tonight and I’m going to bring up the idea. Because, as I would say to T when he screws up, “We’re gonna do better next time!”
Wish me luck!
To read more from Jillian Lauren, check out her blog
By Jillian Lauren
Last year Tariku renamed his “Gotcha” Day (the anniversary of the day he was finally in our arms), “Cha Cha Day.” Which is obviously the most awesome name for any day. Woe to the mother who expresses enthusiasm for such a thing… This year the Cha Cha name was strictly verboten. But between you and me, I’m keeping it.
We threw him a small party, just a few friends and neighbors. We ate cake, moved the coffee table out of the way in the living room and danced to “What Does the Fox Say” like sixteen times. And we told the story of his adoption. A family fairy tale, woven through with sorrow but ultimately triumphant. I stole the denoument from psychologist and author Brenè Brown (with whom I’m obsessed):
You are imperfect. You are wired for struggle. You are worthy of love and belonging.
I always get reflective and nostalgic around his Cha Cha day. I wrote this poem early that morning. I suppose it is less for him, exactly, and more for the moms out there. He’d rather have a dance party than a poem at this point anyway. I thought I’d share it with you.
TO MY SON ON HIS CHA CHA DAY
Perhaps I know what other mothers do not.
Of necessity, I know that you were never
mine to begin
with that you are merely a loan
so precious that, Gollum–like, even though I have it in
hand it leaves me wracked with longing
like cherry blossom festivals or a great
song you hear at the coffee shop and can’t
Perhaps I know too what other mothers
all know that you have always been mine
settling into my skin
long before there was even a seed
of you taking root miles from here.
These fingertips caught fire some nights for
reaching, the same that first touched your silk
Out of nowhere you say:
I was only a baby when Jesus died on
the wooden cross. I think it was, yes
I know it was a
Tuesday. In March.
I was there.
It wasn’t my fault.
I have no idea where
you got ideas of fault
or God at all.
I wake up to your vinegary breath, your hands
on my face, a
mastiff puppy’s paws, too big,
for your tectonically shifting frame
a missive from the future these
hands, that I cannot read
except to know it
Somewhere on a red dirt road
flanked by corrugated tin lean-tos painted
blue/green like a sea that is
nowhere to be found, by waxy green leaves of false
banana trees and round huts the same color as the
ground, miles every day she walks in rubber
flip flops toward the well
and back again, red kerchief over her
braids, carrying a burden of
water, dreaming a shared
To read more by Jillian Lauren check out her blog and go to Amazon for her books “Pretty” and “Some Girls: My Life in a Harem”
By: Jillian Lauren
I need to change up my work routine (after I finish these novel revisions) before Scott starts stapling padding to my office walls. I’m a goal-oriented kind of gal and I don’t do down time very well, so I’m hopping off the hamster wheel and straight onto the treadmill. I just downloaded the L.A. Road Runners Marathon Training Guide. I’ve vowed to run the “next” marathon every year for the last fifteen years and have never managed to train past five miles. I’m hoping that maybe some of the physical and mental obstacles I was facing have lifted and this time will be different.
It’s always hard to approach something at which you’ve failed before with a beginner’s mind. But what other choice do you have, really? Maybe this will be my year. Hold me to it.
Who’s with me?
By: Jillian Lauren
As a Leo mom who is still technically a licensed cosmetologist in the state of California, I love Tariku’s hair long. But my fantasies of him looking like the newest member of the Jackson 5 have been at war with my dread of the daily battle to detangle. So we decided that we’d just take a tiny bit off the ends and hope that made it easier to comb through.
I’m not sure what traumatized me most about the experience. First, I showed up at the salon and was told by the stylist (after having cancelled on me last week) that she was running behind and I’d have to wait an hour. An hour. With my two-year-old. Needless to say I was heading out the door when the owner walked in and offered to do it. I threw caution to the wind and let her cut it. Tariku liked her and she did an okay job, though when I pick it out he looks a little bit like a lopsided bonsai. Plus it’s shorter than I would have liked.
T was a trooper and he was just happy that I brought his muppets DVD. He LOVES Miss Piggy. He doesn’t care one way or the other about his hair. I, however, have been randomly crying ever since.
I have to remind myself that it’s not the end of the world and that childhoods are chock-full of bad haircuts. But it was so hard watching her cut his hair and thinking that it had been a part of him for his whole life.
It’s also hard to explain the pressure that accompanies being a white mom dealing with black hair. It’s a loaded subject and everyone has an opinion. I have actually been stopped in the street by a barber who offered to cut it for me. I thanked him but told him that I’m kind of a hippie and my kid is going to go to hippie schools where no one is going to tease him because he has an afro.
As a mom, how can you always know that the choices you’re making are going to foster a positive self-image? I just want him to love his awesome hair. I want him to keep loving all of himself as much as he does today. I’m not exactly sure how to foster that kind of self love, but I’m committed to trying.
By: Jillian Lauren
T-Bone partied all day at the video shoot for the new Weezer single “Memories.” The band shot it at the Pink Motel with the Jackass Crew as well as a bunch of pro skaters and BMX guys. T thought the skaters were rad and the feeling was mutual. I had to stop him repeatedly from attempting to hop on a skateboard and drop into the pool. It’s an awesome song and if the vibe on set was any indicator, this video is going to be a cult sensation.
By: Jillian Lauren
Today was my European press montage in fast forward. I found myself having that odd experience of feeling nostalgia for what I was doing at the moment. As if I was living it and looking back on it at the same time. I often feel this way in train stations.
And no, I’m not stoned.
Took a train to Antwerp this morning. One of the reasons I love traveling is that sometimes you’ll round a corner and unexpectedly see something like Antwerp Central Station:
I have a running theme in my life of travel miscommunication, so I regularly show up at airports or train stations erroneously expecting that someone will be there to meet me (midnight in Addis Ababa was my favorite). It’s at just these moments that I enjoy the evil Starbucks monster takeover of the world. When it happened today, I got a latte and marveled at the gorgeousness around me until it got sorted out.
When I finally did arrive at the offices of Lanno, my first interview was already there. I didn’t stop talking until I turned around five hours later and ran to catch a train back to Amsterdam. Along the way, I managed to shove three bites of egg sandwich into my mouth and to guzzle down twelve cups of coffee. One encouraging thing about the interviews was that a few of the journalists quoted lines and discussed some themes with me that led me to suspect the Dutch translation is excellent.
Back in the hotel now and I swear I’m going to make myself get off my ass and take a walk before I pass out. Any minute now. Here I go.
Jillian Lauren is a writer in Los Angeles and recently released her memoir “Some Girls: My life in a Harem” You can read more at JillianLauren.com