Four

I had just finished stirring my coffee when Girlie bounded up to me, and declared,

“Mama! Mama! It’s my birfday, and that means I get to do whatever I want, and have a Frozen cake, and open all the presents!”

Four. My tiny little Girlie is four. The difference between three and four sort of threw me for a loop. Three just didn’t seem that big of a deal; she was still little, she was still tiny, and she was still technically a toddler. Four though? It just feels like I went from having a baby girl to having a kid. Suddenly, as though I had no proof before, she was growing up, and no longer my baby Girlie. She’s a kid now.

Three wasn’t a great year for her. It started out with a police investigation shortly after she confided in me that she’d been molested by a family member. We tried to make the summer as fun and carefree as possible for her, but between the nightmares at night, and the fear that swept over our little family, we struggled to hold on while we found our new normal. Somehow though, she’s managed to be far more resilient than I imagined she could be. She still has bad dreams, but now she’ll tell us about them, instead of just sobbing into our shoulders. Consistently, she asks both my husband and I to reassure her that what happened to her was bad, and that we won’t see that person again. She’s taught us the enormity of communicating properly with your children, especially when it comes to the matters that none of us really even want to talk about. When I tell her she’s brave, I mean it with every fiber of my being. For her to be able to talk about the darkest moment of her little life, and still manage to smile moments later, as though nothing happened? It humbles me.

In her world, her big brother is still the sun, the moon and the sky. She loves everything he loves, and misses him when he’s at school. Unlike last year, she’s begun to stand up to him when she’s had enough of being told exactly what to do. She’s not afraid of telling someone if she’s uncomfortable, or doesn’t like the way something has been done. Sometimes, she’s certain and insistent that she knows better and knows the answer, which has led to a few arguments because she’s so confident in herself and her thoughts.

We, like every other family, saw Frozen in early December. Now, even six months later, she is obsessed. She’s memorized lines, and the songs. She has the Frozen dolls, and the soundtrack. Every night before bed, she asks me for either Elsa hair (one french braid) or Anna hair (two braids). Often, I’ll find Girlie sitting on her own, playing quietly while softly muttering the lyrics to the song. If I ask nicely, sometimes she’ll do a performance.

10514707_10154278803775076_3306364030866725520_nIn the fall, she’ll start preschool. Something that we hemmed and hawed over for the last several months. I’m certain she wants to go because her big brother goes to school, but I also know that she needs it. She’s ready to soak up information, and unlike her brother, she seems eager to socialize and make new friends. When we visited her new school this spring, she happily pranced from room to room, asking when she would get her own backpack and lunch bag.

Girlie may be tiny, but she makes up for it with her huge personality. She is funny, and creative. Sometimes, she is a little dramatic. She’s always eager to play a new game, or give you a cuddle. Her empathy for others astounds me too; during the soccer season, I’ve witnessed her stop playing just to go kneel down beside someone who was hurt, and make sure they are okay. Her obsession with cats still remains. If she sees one anywhere, no matter what, she shrieks in delight and makes sure that everyone around her knows that there is a “KITTY!”

As I tucked her into bed that night, after all her birthday guests had gone home, I asked her what her favorite part of the day was, a normal tradition that we do nightly.  She paused to reflect on the day, and as the sleep became heavy on her eyes she mumbled,

“The Frozen cake. No. My friends coming. No. The presents. No…Mama, I loved it all! It was the best birfday! Can we do it again tomorrow?!”

Happy Fourth Birthday, my dear Girlie.

 

They Are Just Three

Dear Parent on My Daughter’s Soccer team,

I’ve watched you with mild curiosity all season. Your daughter would be considered our “star player”, (though other parents have called her a “ball hog”), and you or your wife are always sitting on the sidelines barking some sort of demand of her as she races up and down the field putting the soccer ball in the net. She doesn’t listen to the coaches when they encourage her to pass to the other players, mainly I assume because she knows just how mad you’d get if she didn’t listen to you.

And yesterday, you displayed exactly what that might look like.

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How my daughter plays soccer

Mostly, the parents and coaches have ignored you and your wife this season. Sure, you’ve gotten some strange looks as you yell at your daughter for stopping to pick a dandelion (they are three), or the way you screeched when she dared to even look at my daughter and another player doing headstands during the game (they are three).  I almost said something when you refused your daughter a sip of water on a really hot day because it was not the “alloted” time for that (they are three), but decided it wasn’t worth my time because I figured you were just one of those parents. 

Then I actually felt bad for judging you.

Now, I don’t.

It’s one thing for you to be sort of Soccer Mom/Dad Crazy with your own kids, but when my kids are subjected to it, we’re going to have a problem. Yesterday evening, as our three year old children played their version of soccer (mostly a tie between glob ball, and dandelion picking) you felt that there had been an injustice so huge that you stormed onto the pitch, and accosted the opposing coach. While three year old kids ran up and down the field, you yelled, you ranted, and you threatened.  When it wasn’t working, you walked away.

Into the sidelines of now pissed off parents.  Because, what were you thinking?!

I honestly don’t believe you thought this far ahead, or if you were truly deluded enough to think that the parents would agree with you. The parents began vocalizing their displeasure with your actions. You were out of line, you were making the game about you, you were forgetting that it’s important that the kids have fun, you were forgetting their age, you were behaving inappropriately. Like you had with the coach, you kept yelling about the principles of soccer, and the importance of playing “properly”. When someone told you to calm down, you told him to get off the field because you are a board member. You said that multiple times during this tirade, as though it gave you permission to behave like this.

A mother I didn’t know from the other team leaned over to me, and said, “He’s yours, right? I’ll take our team, you take yours, let’s split this up.”  I nodded, and approached the coaches for my daughter’s team to make sure it was okay that I shut the game down. They agreed.  This shouldn’t have had to happen, do you understand this? We shouldn’t have had to make a plan to get you to stop ruining our children’s game.

At a safe distance, I spoke loudly over you, “We’re done here. We’re packing everything up now. The yelling in front of the kids is inappropriate. This isn’t what the game is about.”  I was shaking, worried that my statement might make the confrontation worse. It didn’t make you stop, but at the very least it got the other team to nod in agreement and walk away to their own pitch to discuss what just happened. Because, what just happened?

No one has likely told you this before but I will because I had to explain your actions to my kids last night, because they watched you and your antics. Do you know what I told them?

You are a bully.

Bullies don’t stay kids forever, and sometimes, they grow into adults, I explained to them as we drove home. I told them that most of the adults at the game disagreed with your behavior, and were embarrassed that you ruined the game. To which my son said, “Someone should have put him in a time out or something. He obviously needs some time alone.”  Wise words from a six year old.

You can say that you are trying to teach your kid ethics, or whatever word you want to place there to justify your strange behavior, the fact remains: You are a bully. You can throw your board title around, and act like you have all this super knowledge on soccer, but let’s be real:

You behaved badly. Full stop. 

They are three years old. This isn’t FIFA. These kids are still learning about the world they live in; they don’t know all the rules, or the “right” way to play the game. All they know is that for an hour, twice a week, they go out and run around, play some fun games, get a snack (the best part!), and just be kids.

That’s what I signed my daughter up for. Do I wish she was a little more focused? Sometimes, but then I remember, “She’s just three, and I’m being unrealistic.” It sounds like you could maybe benefit from this sort of thinking too, at the very least for the sake of your blood pressure.

In the mean time, if you could just sit on the sidelines and cheer for your kid like a normal parent? That’d be good.

Sincerely,

Another Soccer Mom (Who Doesn’t Give Two Shits If Her Daughter is Doing Headstands, Or Playing IN or ON the Net, or Laying on The Ground, Or Chasing The Ball or….)

On To The Next Round

I waited for the better part of a week before I realized that The Kiddo’s parents weren’t likely to respond to my email back to them. I was okay with that, mostly. Originally, I was quite frustrated with the fact that I had responded, promptly, and received radio silence. I couldn’t quite understand the whole point of writing out a long diatribe like The Kiddo’s adoptive mother had, only to ignore my response to it. If we were having a face to face conversation, that’s like getting up and walking away in the middle of a conversation.

This game that we’re playing, whatever it is, I was done with it.

Of course, my stomach sank when I saw another email from the adoptive parents this week.  I wondered as I scanned the contents, “Did they even read my letter?” It appeared as though they didn’t, or rather, didn’t feel it was important to address my concerns, or even respect the boundaries I laid out.

Like, for instance, I wrote that if we were to reopen the adoption, they and I needed to fix the issues between us first. That included, despite their determination that they aren’t at fault, all of us admitting where we had fallen short, the hurt that we may have caused, and listening to one another. I knew when I wrote it that the stakes were too high; I was telling them that they had to hear how they had hurt me, and take responsibility8945206757_b4ef0b5b53_z for their actions over the years.

They don’t want to do that, and I knew that even though my request was reasonable, it wasn’t going to be viewed as such on their end.

This letter told me that they would be sending pictures, and updates. Even though I told them I didn’t want them in my last letter. They even warned me, subtly, that my son may not even want future contact with me. A veiled threat of sorts, but for some unknown reason, they felt it necessary to share.

So I responded to tell them (again) that updates were not necessary, and that I would wait until he initiated contacted. Because, that’s been the plan of action since the adoption closed. Since the time they told me that this adoption and contact was based solely on what he wants, though they actively demonstrate hypocrisy on this line of thought. On one hand they wildly exclaim that this is all about him, and is his choice. However, on the other, they are pretty much threatening me with updates and contact because they want it that way

It’s beyond infuriating for me to spell out exactly what I want and need in this scenario but have them trample that.  If the tables were turned, and they had asked for no contact, this sort of behavior would have me being burned at the metaphorical Birthmother Stake. I would be accused of harassing them, and not respecting them as parents, of being selfish, and crazy. Yet, somehow, despite my multiple attempts to tell them to stop reading my blog, to stop stalking me online, to stop contacting me, and to not send me updates because I don’t want any from them, they can and do continue with no consequence.

This sick game is exhausting. I’ve questioned what their desired goal is from all of this back and forth. What are they after? They’ve demonstrated in the past that when it comes to a relationship between the three of us, there is no room for my voice, even when it has to do with my feelings. Maybe they are afraid of what The Kiddo will ask down the road when he sees how this plot twisted and deviated from it’s path. Our answers are clearly not going to match up. Maybe it’s something that is entirely out of my realm of thinking.

No matter which way I look at this, based on the history, and what information they have presented with me, I cannot see their endgame.

This constant contact from them actually takes an exceptional toll on me emotionally. I get angry, then I get disappointed, and then I get truly sad. In this last go around, I went from anger straight to depression because there is nothing as isolating as knowing that your voice means nothing to someone else. Ultimately, my feelings are of no concern to them, it seems, and they don’t want to admit that they may have actually played an active part in the demise of our relationship. These reminders they keep sending my way only serve to make me regret this adoption on a deeper level. It pulls me into a dark place that only a birth mother in an adoption gone wrong can understand.

And yet.

I don’t want to give them that much power, because they have already taken so much from me, and refuse to account for that. The hurt, despite it’s scarring impact, is still just enough to make me realize how nonessential a relationship is with them. It’s solidified the very fact that I don’t need to have one with them now, or even in the future. Furthermore, I would never allow anyone else in my life to treat me with such blatant, consistent disrespect. Just because they have my son does not and will not make them an exception.

I fully recognize that at this point of time, they old all the cards. I respect that, even if I don’t respect how they keep rubbing it in my face.

I’m officially forfeiting the rest of this round; they can win.

But we know in any adoption story, this isn’t the final buzzer. I’ll just wait my turn.

Dear Kate: May They Finally Offer You A Seat

Dear Kate Kelly,

I was in the temple when I had the realization that the Mormon church would never see me as an equal so long as I was a woman. It’s been almost a decade since that moment, and I can still feel it in my soul.  I had just been sealed to my now ex-husband. I had just taken my endowments out shortly before that.  In that room, as I sobbed as silently as I could, a faceless woman holding my hand, I collapsed within myself asking, “What have I done?”

At the time, I didn’t know it but that experience would act as a catalyst in my life in so many different ways. It made me realize that I was that horribly, awful F-word I’d been warned against. It made me ask questions I hadn’t really even considered about gender equality in the church, and it made me resentful toward my husband who was using his priesthood as power to physically abuse me.  I questioned whether I could stand up and ask for these changes.  Could I be brave enough to make a stand? Could I be brave enough to challenge the status quo? There were moments when I felt I could, but I believed wholeheartedly that I was the only one who could be thinking such things about the church.

You know that feeling, don’t you? I thought I was the only one who wondered and wanted to discuss Heavenly Mother. I thought I was the only one who didn’t think it was fair or necessary that the men held all the power positions in the church. I thought I was the only woman who wanted to have a chance to have the priesthood. There was no one else like me, I was certain.

The shelf I placed all of those concerns on came crashing down when my ex-husband cheated on me. Our Bishop, the same one who had opted to disfellowship us after we were newlyweds despite my previous Bishop dealing with the situation before I moved, asked to meet with me. At this point, I was in that limbo that a lot of Mormons find themselves when doubt is starting to envelope them. I was in but I was out; I loved the church, but I hated it. I wanted to stay, but I didn’t.

This “local leader” blamed me for my husband’s infidelity. I wasn’t being a good enough wife, because men who cheat do it because their needs aren’t being met in the home. I brought up the history of physical abuse that he was aware of from previous discussions; he touted the same line. He asked me if perhaps I needed to work on being more submissive toward  “my” priesthood holder. He wore this smug look on his face, as tears ran down my face, because my marriage, my temple marriage, had failed. Because that very feeling I had in the temple months prior was being validated: I would never be anything more than just a woman in the church. It was becoming clear that I should be almost insulted by my own gender; it felt like it was a punishment.

This Bishop told me I was facing another “court of love”.  He told me that excommunication was likely, but potentially it would end with disfellowship, again.

I was going to face excommunication because my husband had been unfaithful. After some explicit words, I left that building and never returned.

Our circumstances are different, but I like to think that we’ve asked the same questions, though I think you’ve asked them on a deeper level than I did. I gave up; I gave up because I truly believed that there was no room for me in the church, and there was certainly no room for me to have the conversation that you are trying desperately to engage in. I didn’t have a Kate Kelly, or Mormon Feminist Housewives. I didn’t have anyone in my life who I could confide in, who could make me feel less alone. I can’t say for certain that I would have stayed given that I did have other doctrinal issues. But when you are walking that plank of doubt, something like Ordain Women could have been just the thing to reel me back in. Maybe I wouldn’t have jumped off.

Whether the church chooses to excommunicate you or not is still to be decided. You won’t be able to defend yourself, though I’m not even sure you’d be given that much power even if you could be there. Maybe the decision won’t be as dismal as everyone thinks it will be. Maybe the conversation you’ve been trying to have will finally happen. Maybe. My view of the church has changed drastically over the years, and while I’m hopeful for you, I don’t have any faith in the church anymore. I’ve seen it do more harm than good in my own life, and in many, many others. I hope for your sake, and many other faithful women in the church, that I’m wrong. I hope they don’t do their worst.

No matter what happens, you’ve done good. You’ve inspired a generation of women to start questioning the cultural norms, and demanding that their voices be heard. You’ve ignited a fire that will be hard to extinguish. Don’t regret the questions you’ve asked and the conversations you’ve attempted to have. You have done nothing wrong. Asking hard questions and having tough discussions is not apostasy. Asking for change is not apostasy. You are not an apostate; you are a beautiful example of a faithful Mormon woman asking for a seat at the table.

I hope they offer you a seat at that table, I really do.

Thank you Kate Kelly for asking the questions and daring to take the action I didn’t believe was possible. Thank you for standing up and giving a voice to many other Mormon women who were just as sure they were the “only ones”.

 

Love,

Danielle

“Are You Proud Of Me, Mommy?”

“Mommy is so proud of how well you did today” exclaimed another soccer mom to her son as we packed up our gear from the sidelines. Earlier, I’d been cringing as another mom yelled at her daughter for wanting to sit in the grass and pick dandelions like some of the other kids (mine included) were doing. It was nice to see that I wasn’t the only parent who was just happy my kid was outside, semi-participating, and entertaining herself in a variety of quirky ways that didn’t always involve the soccer ball.

We began walking toward the car, when Girlie slipped her tiny hand in mine and said quietly, “Are you proud of me, Mommy?”

I paused, hesitated even. Each soccer game with Girlie had been an experiment in trying to figure out just what elements she needed to get on the field. I recalled the thoughts I had during this game; Frustration when she opted to lay down on the sideline next to me, not listening to my requests to go back and play with her team. I’d almost resorted to my go to bribery of ice cream post game in an attempt to get her back on the field, like I had during previous games. I thought of the last game where I managed to capture her on camera playing in and around the net rather than chasing the ball. I wasn’t sure I wanted to say I was proud of her because she hadn’t met my expectations.  Was I proud of her?

photoThen I thought of me, when I was a young eleven year old girl, trying my hardest to learn competitive soccer. I remembered how my mom would yell at me from the sidelines, and how humiliated I felt, because I really was, even when I was making mistakes, trying so hard. I remember how she would make fun of the errors I made during the game, afterward. Why didn’t I play like the star player? Why didn’t I go after the ball faster? All I wanted was to show my mother how much the hours of practicing in our tiny backyard had made me better. I wanted desperately for her to be proud of me and I was met with criticism and taunting.

Picking Girlie up, I looked her in the eyes and I said, “I am always proud of you. No matter what. You are an amazing person.”

And, I meant it.

In an instant I saw the impact that a mother can have on her child. My daughter’s eyes lit up, and she broke into a smile and wrapped her arms tightly around my neck. As she nuzzled her nose on my cheek, she whispered, “I love you, Mama.”

That’s what my children need. They don’t need to be berated when they don’t match up to my expectations. Sure, I’d love for them to be the kid racing down the field, scoring the goals, but that’s just not how it works. They just need to know that there is a security in the support I give them; it’s unconditional, even on the days when they’d rather lie on the sidelines and pick dandelions. They deserve to know that I am proud of their hard work, and their triumphs, even their failures. In a world that is happy to nitpick imperfections, they need to know that there is at least one person who isn’t eager to jump all over them or point them out.

Even more importantly is the fact that she’s just a kid who is learning to play a team sport. Her childhood, and even her interest in this sport, won’t last for ever. She will, however, always be my child.

I am proud of her. Always.