high heels and lip gloss and a nice structured pant

It may take a village to raise a child, but not every child in that village is the same. I certainly appreciate the support of my village as I (sometimes) struggle to raise four very different kids. There are days when a kind word on social media from a friend I haven’t seen in twenty-five years is the only thing to keep me going. A self-deprecating joke, an “I’ve been there” anecdote, an encouraging “You got this!” – these lifelines from my fellow villagers give me pause and remind me to breathe before I go back out to do battle.

Every child is different. My kids are adopted. At the time of their adoptions they were 5, 7, 11 and 12 years old. This means someone else – or because they were shuffled from house-to-house, more accurately, several someone elses – influenced and shaped the persons my kids are today. It also means that I’ve spent a considerable amount of the past five years undoing the questionable parenting styles and choices of other people. Because of this I’ve been called a meanie, a meanhead, a jerk, fat, stupid, a fat meanhead, a stupid jerk, a stupid mean fat jerk meanie meanhead stupidface, and if I checked my kids’ text messages after an argument probably several more colorful expletives followed by the ever serviceable asshole.

But I’m okay with that because it means I’m doing my job and I’m doing it well. I, or rather my husband and I (with considerable outside support), have made incredible progress with our three sons. For example, it’s common for kids in foster care to be a few years behind in their emotional development. Our then-seven year old was emotionally a five year old. Our then-five year old was emotionally a two year old. Our then-twelve year old guarded his emotions. But today they are smart and kind and well-spoken and light years ahead of their peers.

Seriously, my kids will one day rule the world.

I remind myself of their successes as we begin this journey once again with our most recent addition. Number Four, as we call her, has lived in foster and group homes for the better part of the past six years. She has also experienced an interrupted adoption. As a result of this instability she is an eleven year old with the emotional development of a three year old. Every moment of every day feels like a challenge. Complicating matters is that she is transgender.

An eleven year old coming to terms with her gender identity while going through the physical and chemical changes of puberty filtered through the emotional skill set of a three year old.

Oy.

I recently made a humorous post on social media about Number Four walking in heels. She loves heels. Wearing heels are part of her little girl fantasy of what it means to be a girl. She wants so much for others to see her as a girl. It’s important and because it’s important to her we are very mindful of how she presents herself to others. My husband calls it the illusion. People believe what you tell them so tell them what to believe.

A few weeks ago Number Four was looking in the mirror lamenting, as she calls them, her “boy features.” My husband bought her some tinted lip gloss. Tell them what to believe. Last week she was at the salon getting her hair done and the stylist gave her some tips on how best to maximize her more feminine attributes. Tell them what to believe. Yesterday she and I talked about why a more structured pant that keeps everything in its place is a better choice than leggings which leave nothing to the imagination. Tell them what to believe.

Some of you may be reading this thinking that we should just let her wear leggings and clomp around in high heels as if she were hiking up the side of a mountain during a snowstorm while having a seizure, because that’s what you do with your daughters and after all high heels are anti-feminist and down with the patriarchy! And you know what, if she were just some boy who liked to wear girl’s clothes or if she hadn’t expressed repeatedly how important it is to her for others to see her as girl, then I would agree with you.

But she doesn’t have the luxury of your daughters. Your daughters can murder the floor in high heels and dress down in baggy jeans and a t-shirt and cast aside the shackles of gender stereotypes because when they do no one will think, “What’s that boy doing in those high heels?” For my daughter, walking correctly in those heels and embracing those gender stereotypes you knock (but also embrace, by the way) are her ticket in…it’s how she’ll pass and no matter how much that might offend the privileged white cis-gender humanoid in you it matters to her.

Oh sure, I hope one day she doesn’t feel the need to conform and I will certainly encourage her to write her own rules, but right now in this moment she has enough on her plate. She already has to fight to be black and fight to be trans, so maybe the fight to not conform to society’s standards of being a girl will just have to wait for another day.

So glide in those heels and tell them what to believe—your tinted lip gloss awaits!

 

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those people

I am so tired of racists, and I’m white, so I can only imagine how tired and angry and just totally fucking over it every non-white person in this country is of being forced to share space and make nice with their friendly neighborhood racist. I tell myself that we are in a new age of racism, but the truth is we are simply seeing a modernizing of old school racism. As my much-smarter-than-me husband recently put it, “The new style of lynching is no longer one of public participation but one of public complicity.”

Twenty-five years ago my racist uncle would have had the decency to keep his racist mouth shut in public….oh sure, he was still a racist, but he never would have had the stones to go on social media to show all the world just how much he was a worthless horrible disgusting human being.

But today – thanks in no small part to our race-baiting, Nazi-sympathizing, white nationalist-apologizing President – the gloves are off and every last garbage person in this country has emerged from his hate-cocoon with a tiki torch in one hand and twitter account in the other.

And the rest of us…well, we just throw up our hands and politely debate the civility of calling out racism because heaven forbid Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi think less of us. Heaven forbid we don’t all just link hands and sing a chorus of Kumbaya. Heaven forbid we be perceived as “going low” and possibly (heaven forbid!) offend a racist therefore tarnishing our precious liberal halos.

Excuse me while I vomit.

A few days ago a 17 year old black boy was murdered by the police in Pittsburgh. As the parent of an African American boy it is not hard to imagine a scenario where it is my son in the cross-hairs of some trigger-happy racist cop. I think of that boy and then I think of my son and it stops my breath.

And the people who justify this murder? Or say it’s wrong, but then equivocate. Or post some bullshit meme about blue lives matter (which is just another example of white people appropriation, by the way). I am so done with you and I am so tired of being forced to share space with you and make nice with you because YOU ARE A RACIST.

Earlier this morning a woman came into the church where I work. She asked if she could use the telephone. She wanted to call her son to let him know that protesters who were marching to call attention to the death of an innocent 17 year old black child who had been murdered by the police were blocking a major roadway in the city. Normally, I don’t allow people to use the phone, but she seemed nice and genuine and I felt bad for her so I let her use my personal cell phone. As she dialed her son’s number, she launched into a tirade about “those people” and how they had no right to block the street and how she couldn’t understand why “those people” were mad at “us”.

I’ll admit, at first, I froze. I didn’t know what to do or what to say or how to react. I kept hearing her say “those people.” Her call went to voicemail and just as she was about to leave her son a message I snatched my phone out of her hands and said, “Those people are my son and you can leave now.”

I don’t care if I offended her. I don’t care if you refuse to invite me to your next Kumbaya circle jerk. I don’t care how low I go and I most definitely do not care if you take away my liberal halo because as far as I’m concerned Pelosi and Schumer and the rest of the can’t-we-all-just-agree-to-disagree squad can choke on it.

I want to scream.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Get mad. Do something. Stop being so fucking polite. Stop making excuses for bad people. Stop. Just stop.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 43 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and three sons. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym.  He is the author of the best-selling book Which One of You is the Mother?

the problem with people

 

This past weekend my 10-year-old son Chris made his stage debut in a production at a local theater. During the intermission, I was swapping parenting war stories with a fellow nontraditional parent whose child was also in the production. We talked about being a nontraditional family and what that meant: our experiences dealing with the schools, funny anecdotes about encounters with strangers at restaurants, tips on how best to navigate the holidays with unsupportive families. After a particularly grueling story he remarked, something to the effect of, “It’s 2016.  What’s wrong with people?”

Now that I have children in this world it’s a question I find myself asking again and again.

What is wrong with people?

Despite my son’s sometimes larger-than-life, always outgoing personality, he has struggled to make friends at school and in the neighborhood. He gets along famously with adults, working the room like a seasoned politician, but with kids his own age he flounders, often regarding his peers as if they were aliens visiting from another planet.

So when the new school year began a few weeks ago I was thrilled to hear all about a friend he had made. The boy was a new student, and he and Chris took an instant liking to one another, bonding over Minecraft and other matters of importance to the average ten year old. They sat together at lunch, took selfies together on the bus, worked together on class projects.

At last, a friend, I thought.

Everything seemed to be going well until my son asked the boy if he wanted to come over to our house to play. The boy told him that he did want to come over, very much so, but his mother would not allow it. It seems she did not want him to be friends with my son. In fact, she forbid him to be friends with my son.

She said that being gay was wrong and because Chris had two dads our home was unacceptable. She went on to tell her son that because Chris had two dads this also meant that he, my son, had to be gay. She concluded by threatening to send her son to a different school if he continued being friends with Chris.

I am rarely without words, but on the car ride home from school that day, I was speechless.

What is wrong with people?

I eventually found my words and after internally revising my expletive-laden monologue, I reassured my son of the thing he already knew: there was nothing wrong with his family. I reminded him that he had two parents who loved him which was two more than a lot of other kids had.

I told him that although his friend’s mother was a mean-spirited and hateful woman (and yes, she was, and yes, my son needed to understand that there are people like that in the world) – this boy who my son called a friend was not to be judged or condemned for the actions of his mother.

My son was to say nothing to the boy on the subject because to do so would put this boy in the position of having to defend his family, the very same position this boy’s mother had put my son in, and no one should ever have to defend or explain away their family…even if that family is headed up by an angry, narrow-minded, spiteful bigot.

I informed the school of the situation and they were appalled. They assured me that all types of families were welcome and celebrated within their hallways. The principal said that while they cannot control what happens after a child leaves the school (nor would I expect them to), once the kids walked through the front doors everyone was to be respected regardless of where they came from or who their parents were, and any parent who had an issue with that was free to take their child elsewhere.

Chris is determined to remain friends with the boy and the boy is determined to remain friends with Chris. Perhaps easier said than done given the boy’s mother, but still, I applaud both boys for being better ambassadors than the generations of people who came before them.

It may in fact be 2016, but incidents like this remind us that for as much as progress as we like to think we’ve made we are not that far removed from a time when parents would tell their kids, “You cannot be friends with that boy because he’s black.”  It reminds us that we are living right now in a time when parents tell their kids, “You cannot be friends with that boy because he has two dads.”

What is wrong with people?


Sean Michael O’Donnell is 41 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband and two sons. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym.  He is the author of the blog seansbiggayblog where he attempt to chronicle his experiences as a parent.  The contents of his blog (and life) are 75% truth, 18% satire, 6% hyperbole and 1% drama. He is also the author of Which One of You is the Mother?

the hand that rocks the cradle

I never wanted to be that parent. I was determined to allow my children to fight their own battles. I promised myself that no matter how much I wanted to intervene I would keep to the sides because so much of growing up is about finding your voice and learning how to use it.

The day my youngest son came home from school in tears because a boy on the bus had been mean to him I explained (after a reassuring hug) that, well, people are mean and you can choose to either return that meanness or ignore it and move on.  A few weeks later when my oldest son reported that a classmate had called his glasses ugly, I asked my ten year old if he actually cared what this boy thought of his glasses and when he admitted that he did not I said, “So what’s the problem?”

But then shortly after Christmas a classmate called my son gay and suddenly it became less about kids being mean and more about people being hateful and in that moment everything I thought I believed went out the window and my ice-cold-keep-to-the-sides resolve began to crumble and I became that parent.

I hated that I was being put in the position of being angry or offended because some little jerk had called my son gay as if being called gay or the act of being gay were something I (or my son) should be offended by…but then it was not the word itself that offended me, but the ugliness and the history of the ugliness behind the word that offended me.

My rage further increased after learning the teacher had dismissed the name calling incident with a shrug. Look, we all know what that kid meant when he called my son gay and I am confident that had he used a racial or ethnic slur or a term of misogynistic endearment or any other form of hate speech that his actions would not have been dismissed with a simple shrug.

Realizing that I had no choice but to intervene, I sat down at the computer (with a drink…to calm my nerves) and composed a thoughtful email to the school principal. I was calm and respectful and in no way was my tone accusatory, which is very unlike me by the way. I informed the principal about what had happened and closed with “I do not expect the boy or the teacher to be reprimanded nor do I expect that my son or our family should be treated any differently than a traditional family, but I do believe everyone from staff to students could use a lesson in tolerance and acceptance.”

The principal immediately apologized and assured me that the school took my concerns very seriously. In addition, she promised to “address the importance of tolerance with her staff.”

Okay then. I was satisfied.

A few weeks later the same boy made fun of my son for having two dads, bringing my son to tears. Again, I contacted the school to voice my concerns and again I was assured that the school took my concerns very seriously.

Okay then. I was skeptical, but satisfied…

…until the following week when the same boy pushed my son to the ground in gym class and my son – in the face of a school and administration who had done nothing up to this point to support him – stood up for himself (and his family) and pushed the boy back. When the principal called to tell me that my son had been suspended, for defending himself, I lost it.

There is movie from the early 90s called The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.  It stars Rebecca De Mornay as a homicidal nanny. There’s a reason she’s homicidal but it’s rather convoluted so just watch it on Netflix because it’s a good movie and also because you can see a pre-A-list Julianne Moore get murdered by a greenhouse. Anyway, in the movie one of Rebecca’s young charges is bullied by a classmate and so, like the good homicidal nanny that she is, Rebecca walks up to the kid and does this: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

Now, when anyone is mean or unkind to one of my kids I immediately imagine that I am Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. I walk up to the pint-sized offender in my tight little pencil skit with my Banana Republic sweater slung over my shoulders and I grab the little shit by the wrist and I say “I’m gonna rip your fucking head off.” This momentary flight of fancy usually calms me and I’m able to move on with the rest of my day.

Usually.

But not this time.

This time I threatened to (metaphorically) rip the fucking heads off everyone….the school, the administration, the kid who pushed my son, the parents of the kid who pushed my son.

I went DEFCON 1.

It was perhaps not my finest moment…except it was. My kid needed me and I was there for him. I had his back. The reality is someone has to stand up for kids until our kids learn to stand up for themselves.

So for now I am that parent and, as it turns out, I will rip your fucking head off.

 

 

bully, for you

Everyone is a bully. Every word is a judgment. Every unkind remark is an assault. Every sideways glance is an unwanted advance.

Do not leave your house. It isn’t safe. People are mean.

Yes, people are mean. So what? People are mean whether you are eight or eighty. I learned that a long time ago. When I was a kid I was routinely tormented by bullies, or as we called them back in the day, the popular kids. They called me gay, fag, faggot, homo, homo-gay-faggot, et cetera. I suppose on some level their words hurt my feelings, I know their lack of originality offended my authorial sensibilities, but I never feared for my safety or felt intimidated. Twenty-five years later I look back and I couldn’t tell you who in my ninth grade gym class called me what variation of homosexual while playing a heated game of some ball related activity.

I moved on from my bullies. I grew up. They grew up. Now together we live in the real world surrounded by a new generation of would-be bullies – bosses, co-workers, internet trolls. They question our productivity. They fail to value our contributions. They call us names from the safety of their smart phones.

Eight or eighty the game’s the same.

People are mean. You aren’t going to change them. You can’t control their behavior.

Recently a kid at school made fun of Chris’s glasses. This event did not traumatize him, it was just something that happened, but in relating the story to me he said this kid was a bully. I explained that while it was unkind of the kid to talk smack about his specs, the child in question was really just a jerk and not actually a bully and besides did he (Chris) even care what this kid thought? (For the record, he did not.)

The truth is most people are jerks. Especially kids. But in today’s hypersensitive world, where every word and action is a personal attack designed to further perpetuate and feed our need to be a victim, the once harmless Scott Farkus is now deemed a dangerous sociopath.

I don’t blame my son for failing to differentiate between garden variety assholes and bullies, not when our schools suspend a five year old for calling a classmate stupid. And I don’t blame our schools for overreacting, not when there are kids so tormented they are driven to suicide. But I do blame our society for creating a culture where every word is considered a de facto judgment. Every unkind remark is perceived to be an all-out assault. Every sideways glance is treated as a threatening unwanted advance.

Don’t get me wrong. If someone were truly tormenting my child I would hunt down and then crush the little bastard. But I refuse to intervene every time some kid directs an unkind remark in the general direction of my children. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with and ultimately outsmart the jerks of the world. I know far too many people who never learned that skill and now they collapse under the weight of every passing criticism convinced that every person is a ruthless bully out to get them.

People are mean. You aren’t going to change them. You can’t control their behavior.

You can control how you react.

So don’t react. Take control by being in control. The bully wants a reaction. It gives them power over you. Be stronger than them.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.