The Dinosaur Shirt

The Dinosaur Shirt

The world is a fine teacher of how our boys and girls should be.  

Our kids go to school.  They have friends. They watch shows and videos and notice what’s going on around them.  They have eyes and ears and they ask questions, so many questions, sometimes out loud and sometimes not.  They listen.  They process.  Even at the youngest of ages they observe and interact with others to identify the patterns of what is “normal.”  And, after a shockingly brief period of time, their little impressionable minds internalize the messages they’re sent and adapt accordingly.

They learn who they should be…and they’re faced with the arduous task of reconciling that with who they want to be.  No biggie.

From the day my daughter was born we tried to keep our home as gender neutral as possible.  We didn’t want to influence her one way or another and while I’m positive we weren’t perfect at it, we tried.  From a very young age we talked about gender roles and how anyone can like any job.  We talked about how anyone can like any toy or like any shirt.  When we bought a baby doll, we bought a monster truck.  When we bought a play kitchen, we bought a tool bench.  And when we bought a ballerina shirt, we bought a dinosaur shirt.

Oh, the dinosaur shirt.

We noticed the change a couple of years in.  Whether it was through society’s messaging or her own preferences and natural tendencies developing as she got older, or likely a mix of both, the stuffed animals, play kitchens, tea sets, dress up clothes, and baby dolls all took center stage and the “boy toys” ended up in a heap in the closet.  We figured it was phase but she never did circle back around.  To this day she still couldn’t care less about guns, toy trucks, or action heroes and instead carefully tends to her growing brood of every single baby doll under the sun.

Well.  That settles that, I thought.

I struggled a little at first but I took comfort knowing we did what we could to allow her to develop her likes and dislikes from what came naturally and not from what she was pushed or conditioned to prefer (at least, not by us).  She learned not to follow what was funny, popular, expected, or obligatory, but instead to follow the beat of her own drum.  And so, we embraced the little princess and tried to balance out the “girliness” wherever we could…

With dinosaur shirts.    

While my daughter may not have taken to the typical masculine toys, she still wore whatever I laid out for her, which always included several shirts from the boys section because I thought it was nice for her to wear something other than pink or purple every once in a while.  I’ve bought clothes from the boys section since she was a baby and it always went over smoothly.

Until the dinosaur shirt.  

This week finally brought some much-needed short-sleeve weather to our area, and with it a new wardrobe of flowers, fire trucks, rainbows, and basketballs.  As my almost-four-year-old pulled out the outfit I had picked out for school one morning, she immediately crinkled her nose and looked back and forth between me and the shirt.  It was yellow and grey with a dinosaur on it.  I figured it was stained or something but when I asked her what was wrong, she said, “Ew, mommy I’m not wearing this. This is a BOY SHIRT.”  

Cue the cringe.

I wasn’t bothered that she didn’t like the shirt.  She’s almost four and she’s allowed to not like things.  I was bothered by the reason why.  I tried to ask her for more.  What makes it a boy shirt?  Do you think you can’t wear boy shirts?  Did someone tell you that?  WHO TOLD YOU THAT?  I nearly gave the poor kid the fourth degree but I caught myself.  She didn’t have any answers. When I sat back to take it all in, I realized, of course.  SHE’S THREE.  She doesn’t have any answers because she doesn’t know any answers.  She just knows she doesn’t want to wear a boy shirt.

Looking back I think I was attempting to make sense in my own adult mind of how and when this kind of gender conditioning happens, and was trying to accept the degree of it that’s totally outside of my control.  I tried to recover and explained that girls can like yellow and grey and dinosaurs, just like boys can like pink and purple and rainbows.  That all of the colors and all of the clothes are for all boys and girls.  

She actually did end up wearing the shirt to school, but I thought about that interaction all day long.

It’s no secret that girls are conditioned to model traditional femininity.  By movies, magazines, retail stores, Youtube videos, parents, families, teachers, friends, and so on.  Be polite and gentle and selfless.  Also, be pretty and skinny and prefer certain colors, clothes, and animals.  Sugar and spice and everything nice, right?  

It’s also no secret that boys are conditioned to model traditional masculinity by the same means.  Control and dominate and win.  Be aggressive.  Don’t be weak, don’t be emotional…don’t be girly.  Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.   

As a mama, what I’ve seen recently is a hard push against that expectation of traditional femininity, and as a girl mom I love it.  I love the empowering videos, the children’s books, the shirts in the girls section with dinosaurs and robots, the articles about how girls can be athletic AND girly and they don’t have to choose.  I love that my little girl has these things to see to help her figure out who she is.

But I can’t help but wonder about our boys.

What I see for them is a much, much less forgiving landscape of gender progress.  Go into the boys section at the store.  Do you see a ballerina anywhere?  A cat?  A unicorn?  Heck, even a HEART? Anyone?  Bueller?

I see nothing that tells our boys how they can also choose, how they can also be athletic and girly too.  What I usually see is…boys…girly?  Are you KIDDING?  I don’t think so.  For males, femininity is still seen as demeaning and weak and to many, as downright offensive.  Female empowerment is praised and promoted but Gillette caused a poop storm when they tried to tackle toxic masculinity for a mere 90 seconds in a recent ad campaign.  The company faced fierce backlash as many threatened to boycott their products.  Ipsy was lampooned when they launched a makeup campaign featuring a male model.  People called it disgusting.  Sinful.  Offensive.  Some cancelled their memberships and sent the company hate mail.

Over what, exactly?

I don’t know.  As a parent, I’m confused.  I’m no expert in gender studies.  I still have so many more questions than I do answers.  I wonder what’s nature and what’s nurture.  I wonder if I would’ve parented a boy differently.  I wonder how much of who my girl is today was her own choice or how much was who she was conditioned to be.

I wonder how confused our babies must be, because if this topic is so complex I can’t even wrap my adult mind around it, they must feel terribly lost and conflicted growing up in a world filled with mixed messages.

What I know is that our girls are still conditioned to be girls and our boys are still conditioned to be boys and mamas, like it or not, we’re raising our babies in the thick of it.  It’s impossible to shield them from it completely.

But it’s not impossible to help them cope with the mixed messages and teach them how to love, accept, and support others who are coping with mixed messages, too.  It’s not impossible to create a home safe enough to struggle and allow our littles to figure out who they truly are.  It’s not impossible to balance out the world’s unavoidable conditioning with intentional, and sometimes difficult, conversations.  It’s not impossible to deal with this head on and explain things in a way their little minds can understand, if even a little bit.

It’s not impossible to love our babies unconditionally.  This, perhaps, is the most possible thing in the entire universe for us to do.  It’s the only thing we can guarantee them in this life.  To love them no matter who they are, who they want to be, or who they turn out to be.

Unconditional love knows no masculinity or femininity, and a mama’s love knows no obligation.  It’s in our bones.

All we have to do is make sure our babies know that.

Either that or I’m reading way too much into a t-shirt.

Book Review: The 10 Best Children’s Books to Teach Diversity

Book Review: The 10 Best Children's Books to Teach Diversity

We can’t buy culture or diversity.  We can’t buy kindness or empathy.  We can’t buy respect, honesty, integrity, or compassion.  We can’t buy the important qualities and characteristics we want our kids to develop…

But we can buy books.  And that’s the next best thing.    

Reading and exploring books is one of the best ways our kids can exercise their brains.  Reading improves their concentration and problem solving skills, increases their language comprehension and verbal expression, and stimulates their imagination and creativity, to name a few of the benefits I know we’ve already heard a lot about.  

Last week I shared ten ways we can teach our kids about the world without actually traveling the world, and one of those ways was by surrounding them with lots and lots of books.  Through reading about people, places, and events outside of their own experiences, our kids learn about the world around them and in turn, learn to connect and empathize with those in situations other than their own.

If you’ve ever been to the library or bookstore (or Amazon) then you know there’s a million different children’s books to choose from, and you may not necessarily have the time to screen each one for the specific topic or message you want to communicate to your little.  Let me help with that!

It was no easy task, but I scoured the internet and library and found what, I think, is a pretty solid list of the best children’s books to teach diversity to our kids.  I read them all myself and tested them out on my own little.  There were so many strong contenders out there that narrowing the field down to just ten almost seemed unfair, but I squeezed in some honorable mentions at the end.  

Books are windows to the world.  Open them!

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World 
by Matt Lamothe

Based off of seven real families from around the world, this book outlines a day in the life of children from Italy, Japan, Uganda, Russia, India, Peru, and Iran.  Learn about where they live, where they go to school, what meals they eat, what their community responsibilities are, and even how they spell their names and games they like to play.  Illustrations are realistic, culturally accurate, and diverse in their representations of different genders, family structures, and physical attributes. This book has a wonderful message of unity at the end, as well as pictures of the real families portrayed in the book.  

Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman

Pink Is for Boys by Robb Pearlman

Pink Is for Boys turns gender norms and stereotypes upside down with a fun, lighthearted twist.  Not only does this book address how boys can like colors other than blue and girls can like colors other than pink, but it also does a beautiful job of mixing up the typical male and female-dominated hobbies and preferences.  Children of all diversities are represented and children with special needs are incorporated throughout in an inclusive, natural way.  Pink Is for Boys is a celebration of every girl, every boy, and the colors of the rainbow that belong to everyone.

Good People Everywhere by Lynea Gillen

This book is a soothing story to help children become mindful of the beautiful, caring people in their world.  Good People Everywhere contains endearing, colorful examples of the different jobs and responsibilities of community members, from carpenters, cooks, and teachers to doctors, farmers, and delivery drivers.  Highlighting that everyone has an important role to play, this book does a great job of building empathy, gratitude, and kindness.

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sarah O'Leary

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary

True to its name, this book celebrates all kinds of family structures, from a child’s perspective.  From two dads or grandparents to blended families, shared custody, and everything else in between, this story affirms that even when families are different, they’re equally special in their own unique ways.

Most People by Michael Leannah

Most People by Michael Leannah

Most People does an incredibly effective job of discussing very adult topics in a very childlike way.  The book’s message is simple, yet so powerful and provocative, especially to the adult readers who’ve become jaded by the world (i.e. all of us): Yes, there are meanies in the world, but they are vastly outnumbered because most people are good.  Most people want to help.  Most people want to do their best.  Most people have good hearts and most people love, just like you and me, even the person with the mohawk and tattoos.

Home by Carson Ellis

Clean homes, messy homes, tall homes, short homes.  Home lovingly pays tribute to all the different kinds of, you guessed it, homes.  This book is a great opportunity for children to learn that some people live in houses, some live in apartments, some live in boats, and some live in palaces or wigwams.  The earthy, realistic illustrations are diverse and unifying all at the same time.  Everyone has a home, and this book even invites the reader to share about their own.

Windows by Julia Denos

Windows by Julia Denos

What I like most about this book is its outside-looking-in perspective and subtle invitation to consider what’s going in the world around you.  As the town settles in for the night, windows light up one by one and each holds a glimpse into a life that is not yours, if you’re willing to consider it.  Windows is at once a special story about the idea of home and magic of curiosity, but also about the sense of safety, love, and belonging to which every child is entitled.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with opens arms no matter their race, religion, or background.  With vividly detailed illustrations and a gently reassuring text, the author celebrates kindness, inclusion, and diversity in a way that’s easy and fun to read, too.

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates

This little gem is 32 pages long but under a hundred words, and that’s because the red umbrella is the life of the story.  The umbrella gets bigger and bigger as the story continues, fitting underneath it anyone and everyone who needs protection and shelter, no matter where they’re from or what they look like.  Even when some worry there are those who won’t fit, there is always room underneath the big umbrella.


Dreamers by Yuyi Morales – The true story of a mother and child who cross into another country to find better opportunity.  Though they struggle to acclimate and adjust to their new world, ultimately they find success in making their dreams come true. 

I Am Enough by Grace Byers – An inspiring lyrical ode to love who you are, respect others, and be kind to one another.

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller – This moving and thoughtful story explores what kindness is, and how any act, bit or small, can make a difference.

I Am Human by Susan Verde – A celebration of the human family that affirms how we can make good choices by acting with compassion and having empathy for others and ourselves.

Lovely by Jess Hong – Big, small, curly, straight, loud, quiet, smooth, wrinkly.  Lovely explores a world of differences that all add up to the same thing: we are all lovely!

Come With Me by Holly McGhee – A powerful and timely story of kindness, bravery, and friendship in the face of intolerance and uncertainty.

10 Ways to Teach Your Kids About the World Without Traveling the World

10 Ways to Teach Your Kids About the World Without Traveling the World

Respect.  Empathy. Kindness.  Honesty. Integrity. Courage.  Compassion. Adaptability. Resilience.

We desperately want our babies to grow into the above, and into happy, healthy adults that find joy in whatever it is they choose to do in this life.  We want them to love and be loved and to be well-adjusted to the world around them.  A lot of this development happens naturally over time, but we can strengthen these values in our kids by showing them that in a world full of differences, in the end we’re all humans on the same team and we all love just the same.  

Teaching our kids about the world isn’t an easy task.  It’s uncomfortable, it’s heavy, and sometimes it’s downright heartbreaking work.  But it’s so, so necessary because if we don’t teach them…it’s a guarantee that someone else will.  The good news is that it doesn’t actually require traveling anywhere, nor any other fancy grand gesture for that matter.  All you need is commitment, intentionality, and a little bit of adventure and creativity.  Oh, and maybe a library card.

You have your reasons.  Maybe you want to broaden your child’s horizons.  Maybe you want to encourage your child’s curiosity.  Maybe you want to do differently and you don’t even know where to start.  

Here are ten easy, effective ways to teach your child about the world without traveling the world:

  1.  Read books.  LOTS AND LOTS OF BOOKS.  The importance of reading cannot be emphasized enough in children.  Study after study has shown all of the advantages reading can provide, like increased vocabulary and language skills, stronger problem solving skills, and better school (and life) performance, to name a few.  Books can also be used as powerful tools to expose children to a wide range of cultural topics they might not encounter otherwise in their normal environment.  There are children’s books about different countries, ethnicities, lifestyles, and family structures.  There are books about literally Anything.  And.  Everything you could ever dream of.  Books about friendship and inclusion, books about marriage and divorce and having a new baby, books about poop and different kinds of turds and books about sperm swimming through the fallopian tubes…with goggles on.  Books are your child’s windows to the world.  If this sounds like the makings of another upcoming blog post…you’re right.  Stay tuned!

  2.  Attend cultural festivals and events happening in your community.  Most cities have organizations that sponsor festivals or events to showcase and celebrate different cultures: Greek festival, Italian festival, Oktoberfest, French festival, Irish fest, African Dance festival.  Many events put extra effort into planning special areas and activities just for kids and families.  Keep an eye on the calendar for upcoming holidays celebrated in non-Western cultures, like Day of the Dead, Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras, or Kwanzaa.  Chances are there’s a corresponding event or celebration happening somewhere in your community.  Many museums and community centers also host family diversity days or international festivals.  Go to these!  They are SO much fun and are an excellent way for your littles to learn about religions, traditions, celebrations, and even foods from around the world.  Pay special attention to any cultural music or dance performances because your littles will be TRANSFIXED, no matter how tired or crabby they are.  A great way to find these events is to follow museums, organizations, community centers, and churches on Facebook.  Oftentimes this is where event details are posted, and there’s also a handy “Events” feature that allows you to search for upcoming cultural events happening in your community.  God bless social media.

  3.  Visit other places of worship.  This does not mean you have to worship here.  This does not mean your kids have to worship here.  This does not mean you need to convert or start practicing another religion, or that you even need agree with it.  Regardless of your personal beliefs, other places of worship will always exist in this world and the people who attend them are humans just like you and your babies.  Many churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples offer (and welcome with open arms) certain services or tours for visitors to come and learn more about their culture and religious practices and all of the awesome stuff they’re doing to help the community and others in need.  This will give you and your family the unique perspective and opportunity to learn firsthand about cultures that are sometimes only learned about through the grapevine.  What you’ll likely find is that you guys aren’t so different after all.

  4.  Provide dolls with diversity.  While it’s important for kids to see themselves reflected and represented in the toys they play with, it’s also important for them to see their brothers and sisters of the world represented, too.  Provide your kids with learning materials that don’t look like them.  The marketplace still has some work to do, but it’s come a long way in providing a bigger selection of dolls, action heroes, and other pretend play materials that represent different cultures, ethnicities, and diversities.  Mattel is launching a new Barbie line in the fall of 2019 that will include a doll who uses a wheelchair and a doll with a prosthetic leg.  Even the baby dolls at the Dollar Store come in two different skin tones.  We can help our littles learn to include those who don’t look like them by including toys that don’t look like them.  This is a small change we can make that doesn’t require tons of extra time or energy; it’s just a matter of looking to the right or the left on a shelf.  I’m all for simplicity!

  5.  Help those who are less fortunate.  This might seem cliche but there’s so much value in showing our kids how to take care of the people of the world.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Sign up for a slot as a holiday bell ringer.  Donate to a food pantry.  Participate in the canned food drive at school.  Pick up blankets and supplies from the Dollar Store to assemble goody bags for the homeless.  Show your children that there are less fortunate people in this world not to create guilt or pity, but to teach that these less fortunate people are humans too, and humans need to take care of each other because sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down and someday you’re gonna need some help, too.  We all belong to each other.  AMEN.

  6.  Learn about other lands with travel activity kits.  The world can now be at your child’s fingertips…thanks to online shopping.  Even if you’re not physically traveling around the world, your child can still learn about life beyond their borders with activity kits and busy books.  A monthly subscription box like Little Passports comes with hands-on activities about a new world theme or country each month, including souvenirs, mini-passports, and access to additional country-themed online content.  If you’re looking for an option that requires less commitment and money, check out these Around the World Busy Books from Amazon.  At $7-$20 a pop, you can learn about London, Rome, Paris, or NYC with an engaging storybook that includes full-page illustrations, a city map play mat, and replicas of notable landmarks and figurines from that city.  This is an excellent way for your littles to learn about different city landscapes and lifestyles from around the world….delivered right to your doorstep!

  7.  Watch movies and TV shows.  It’s great to finally see increased technology use as an actual tip, amirite?  There’s definitely something to be said for using the media to help your kids learn about other cultures – with caution.  Recent movies like Moana and Coco have made great strides to improve the cultural sensitivity of popular children’s movies since the 90’s and before, but no movie or television show is going to be a completely accurate representation of what it’s supposed to be representing.  Use the viewing of these as a springboard into larger discussions and not as stand-alone pieces of education.  Aside from popular movies or those about specific cultures, movies with general themes and messages of kindness, inclusion, empathy, and friendship can also be powerful tools in teaching your littles how to appreciate and respect diversity.

  8.  Visit community parks or museums with a more diverse population.  There’s only so much you can do when your kids live or go to school in a homogeneous area where most people look the same.  You can move, or you can make the extra effort to visit neighborhood parks, playgrounds, or other community gathering spots that offer more diversity.  This will give your brood the chance to interact with other kids and learn that skin color, hair type, and clothing are only surface-level characteristics of the precious, unique human underneath.  Plus it’s super confusing and stressful to police a playground full of your child’s dopplegangers.

  9.  Send your child to summer camps outside of their norm.  Another way to help diversify your child’s world is to send them to summer camps that provide opportunities to interact with others who are “different.”  We all know there are 3,892,475 different camps to choose from.  Maybe this will help you narrow your search down a bit.

  10.  Find teachable moments in everyday conversation.  This is always my favorite because it’s the simplest.  Teachable moments are all around you and your family every day, as long as you’re watching and listening.  At home.  In the car.  At a restaurant.  At grandma’s house.  In line at the grocery store.  It only takes a little bit of intentionality and a couple of sentences to teach your kids a little something extra about the world they live in.  Ooooooh, mommy what are the workers building over there?  Hmmmm…well, I think that’s an apartment building.  What’s an apartment building?  Well it’s kind of different than the house we live in.  It’s like a lot of houses and rooms put together.  Lots of people live in apartments and their homes are pretty awesome, too.  Oh, okay.  LOOK AT THAT SQUIRREL!  Even if you don’t think they’re listening, they are.  They always are.    

When we raise well-adjusted children, we’re grooming well-adjusted adults.  Adults who won’t go into shock when they inevitably learn that most of the real world doesn’t look like them or believe what they believe.  Raising culturally sensitive kids who respect and celebrate diversity will help them develop the confidence they need to stay true to their own convictions and beliefs when they’re tested, and how to stay true while respecting those who beg to differ.  Which also means less heart attacks for you.

Our steps to take are seemingly small, like looking to the right or the left on a shelf for a doll with another skin color, but our kids are sponges, and they’ll soak up every bit of our effort.  It’s kind of powerful and overwhelming to basically be an ambassador to the entire world, but we are mamas, and we can do amazing, hard things.

For My Daughter Who Can Do Hard Things

For My Daughter Who Can Do Hard Things

When I look at you I’m reminded of everything pure and perfect in this world.

I marvel at your beautiful, flawless face and your wild curly hair, with a spirit and heart on the inside just as beautiful and wild.  Your heart, oh your little heart. It’s still so whole and protected and pure. Your big, brown eyes have always been a window into your soul and one of my favorite things in the world is to watch them sparkle.  With joy, mischief, inquisition, kindness, laughter, adventure, promise…and even at three years old, with dreams.

My heart breaks knowing the world will get to you someday.

The world is slowly getting better but it’s funny with little girls and it will probably be funny with you too.  The world will tell you to dream, to reach for the stars, to never give up, to become anybody you want to be, an astronaut, a doctor, the President.  Maybe you’ll dream of traveling the world to see different places, of owning your own business, or of writing a book, of becoming a mommy or a teacher or a pilot.  The sky will be the limit when you’re small.

Then, you’ll get bigger.  

And somewhere along the line that same funny world that told you it’s okay to dream and dream big when you’re little will tell you now that you’re older, you need to quit daydreaming and grow up and settle down.  The world will try to quiet you. The world will try to sell you on the idea that you must choose because you “just can’t have it all”, and that this is just how it IS for women.

I want you to know that the world is wrong, wrong about it all, wrong about growing up and wrong about you.  

There are many, many roads to happiness.  All are bumpy. All are hard. Maybe you won’t like any of the roads in front of you and will forge your own path entirely, that’s okay too.  Finding your OWN way in this life can be confusing and hard, but in finding your own way you’ll find your own place. THIS is where real happiness comes from my love, and nowhere else, no matter what the world whispers to you.

Your path may not be easy but many strong, bold, brave people have gone before you to help calm some of the world’s rough waters.  I can’t walk this walk for you, nor would I be doing my job as a mama if I did, but I can promise I’ll be the first one holding a lantern to light your way.

Never lose that dreamy sparkle in your eyes and remember, your worth as a person and as a woman is measured by the life in your years and not by the script you follow.  Your mama is here to tell you the same thing the world tells everyone else, that your road will be full of choices and decisions but you can be whatever and whoever you want to be, that you’ll have to work hard but you can GET IT DONE   because you can do hard things.  

If anyone tries to box you in and water down your dreams and tell you that you “just can’t have it all”…tell them to watch and learn.         

Love is the Tie that Binds Us

Love is the Tie that Binds Us

There are 7.5 billion humans on this earth.  2.2 billion of those humans are children, which means at least another 2.2 billion are parents.

That’s a whole lot of parents.  

I can’t possibly think of a more diverse group of people.  Different countries, languages, religions, cultures, childhood histories, sexual orientations, family structures, and beliefs and lifestyles in general so diverse they can’t even be quantified, all directly influencing the way we raise our babies.   

That’s a whole lot of different.

Or is it?  

One of my favorite experiences about traveling is learning how other people live, learning what they believe, what they value, and what they love.  I’m a people-watcher by nature and my eyes always wander to the families, first to the kids and then to the parents.  I watch as parents keep their babies safe and cared for, like a instinctual reflex that guides every action.  I watch as parents shield their babies when crossing the street, feed them always before themselves, and put the needs of their babies first to give them the best.  Every time.  I watch how parents care, how they protect, how they love.   

I watch how this happens all over the world.

Long before I became a mama myself, I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower next to another mama and her young son.  He was probably three or four years old.  I didn’t understand the language they were speaking but I understood that mama’s eyes.  I watched as even in front of the sparkling Eiffel Tower itself, she stared at her son and not at the landmark.  She watched his expressions, his smile, his reactions, his eyes light up.  And she lit up too.  She was there for him.     

Man, I thought to myself.  That mama sure does love her baby.  

“I watch how parents care, how they protect, how they love.  I watch how this happens all over the world.”

I actually saw the same love throughout the rest of that long trip overseas.  I saw it everywhere I looked. I saw it in airports, museums, bathrooms, restaurants, train stations, and hotels.  Back home, I saw it from my own family.  I saw it at all my familiar spots.  I saw it at work, at school, in the grocery store, at the doctor’s office.

Man, I thought to myself.  Parents sure do love their babies.

Years later, I was the mama at the children’s museum playing with my toddler, consumed by the responsibility of making sure she didn’t destroy the place.  Once I became a mama I didn’t people-watch as much anymore.  I had other things to watch now.  I watched my daughter with encouragement and excitement, squealing with pride and delight when her wobbly little hands managed to stack the blocks on her own for the first time.  As my daughter tried again, my eyes met the mama sitting across from me who was speaking Chinese to her daughter.  That mama was watching her own daughter with encouragement and excitement, squealing with pride and delight when her wobbly little hands managed to stack the blocks on her own for the first time.  

In that moment I realized something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.  That mama and I, we were the same.  I knew absolutely nothing about her except that I was her and she was me.  No matter our differences, our love was the same.  We loved our babies.  Everybody just loves their babies.  

Our differences always seem to overshadow the commonalities of the human heart.  

It’s no secret that on some level, maybe even on a subconscious one, most humans are uncomfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown.  We’re just not sure about things (and people) who are different.  We don’t know where we fit in.  We don’t know what to say.  We don’t know what to ask.  Sometimes things seems so different that they’re kind of scary, so we build walls around each other.  We assume and we think we know.  We compare, and sometimes we even judge.  The bridge between discomfort and fear is short and quick and unless we do the work of stepping outside of our comfort zones, we cross the bridge every time.  

And we learn to fear each other.  

We fear that we’ll no longer belong, that our babies will no longer belong.  We fear the loss of our own self-bestowed superiority and validation.  We fear that the convictions, beliefs, and parenting practices of others will somehow invalidate what’s going on in our own households.  We fear so much that we learn to hate inside the walls we’ve built, and let me tell you, hatred breeds ugliness in a New York minute.  It has since the beginning of time.  All you have to do is pick up a history book to see the never-ending cycle of how uncertainty led to fear, how fear led to hatred, how hatred led to dehumanization, and how dehumanization led to events so dark and ugly they’re almost beyond my human comprehension.   

As I step back and look at what’s going on around us, I can’t help but feel like we’re repeating the cycle again.  I don’t want that for my baby, and I don’t want it for yours either.  We must do better.

And when I saw we, I include myself.  We are all in this together.  I’m not here to debate whether or not hatred is still alive and well in this world because unless you’re turning the other cheek, you see the ugliness happening around us that thrives off of our steadfast refusal to acknowledge it and deal with it head on.  It’s deeper than culture.  It’s deeper than religion.  It’s deeper than politics.

Mamas, it starts with us.

Our babies learn to see the world through us.  They learn from every move we make, every word we speak, every eye roll, every comment under our breath, every conversation on the phone, every interaction at the grocery store, and every text message we send.  By digging in our heels and drawing the curtains around our own lives, we miss out on all the good stuff about each other…which means our babies miss out too.  And they always will until the cycle is broken, or at least disrupted.  

This can be scary work.

It’s safe and comfortable to do what we’ve always known and change, even good change, can be scary.  How we’ve been raised, what we’ve been taught, what we’ve believed all this time, that’s what makes us US.  And that’s okay.  Somehow though, we’ve got to find a way to get comfortable with being uncomfortable so that we can grow and learn about others instead of fearing them.      

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers but what I do know is that change starts in our own hearts and around our own tables because whether we want the responsibility or not, our homes are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

We don’t need to see the full staircase to take the first step.  We don’t need to know exactly what to do, or how, or when.  We just need to try.

Let’s try to listen each other more, and I mean really listen to each others’ stories and feelings and experiences and let the journeys of others sink deep into our souls.

Let’s try to understand each other more.  Let’s try to walk in each others’ shoes and think of how others’ circumstances and experiences must have felt.  That little thing is called empathy and we’re living in a world of hurt right now because so many have seemingly lost the ability to walk the walk of another fellow human on this earth.  

Let’s try to wrap our arms around each other more.  Let’s root each other on and build each other up to fight the good fight, all for the same team.  All for the love of our babies.

Let’s step out with the vulnerable willingness to take off our glasses colored with the religious beliefs, political arguments, and cultural assumptions that trick us into thinking others aren’t deserving of the same grace, forgiveness, and empathy we want for ourselves and our own families.

If you are a human, you are deserving.  Period.

Let’s show our babies what we want them to learn.  It’s not enough to talk to them about the importance of kindness and empathy especially for those who are different when our babies know no different.  Let’s actually show them different, what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it smells like, what it feels like.  Let’s show them different skin colors, languages, cultures, family structures, even different foods.  

Let’s surround our babies with the differences of the world so they learn to become comfortable with different.  So they don’t fear.  So they don’t hate.  So they don’t dehumanize.  So they see we’re all actually so much more alike than we are different.  So they see we all bleed the same and love the same and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Let’s aim for kindest over smartest and empathy over popularity.  Our kids will learn their numbers and ABC’s. They’ll learn to add and subtract and they’ll learn to create their own real, meaningful friendships on their own terms.  But they won’t learn kindness unless we show them.  They won’t learn respect unless we teach them.  And they won’t learn to love the world around them until we love the world around them first.

Let’s have those awkward and uncomfortable conversations.  Whatever we believe to be right or wrong about this world will always be in this world, so we cannot shy away from that dialogue.  We must talk to our babies about what’s going on around them with open minds and open hearts.  Words can be difficult when we’re reconciling our own beliefs and values and all we’ve ever known, but the stakes are high.  This will be their world when we’re gone.

We don’t have to travel the world.  There are books, there are movies, there are simple conversations in everyday life and things in our own homes and communities we can use to teach our babies that it really doesn’t matter if we agree or disagree.  It doesn’t matter if we believe different things.  It’s doesn’t matter if we would have chosen differently.  What matters is that we listen and understand.  

Only then will our babies learn how they’re so unbelievably special, but not more special than everyone else.  How they may be the center of our world, but not THE world.  How the world is full of billions of people that don’t look like them, live like them, work like them, or eat like them, but full of billions of people who love like them.  

How the world is full of boys and girls who are light, dark, and everywhere in between, who all love their mommies and daddies.  How the world is full of mommies and daddies who are light, dark, and everywhere in between, who all love their babies.

How we all belong to each other.

Understanding each other is our only hope, and love is our only way out.  No matter who we are or where we are, the love we have for our babies transcends everything we do.  

It’s the tie that binds us all.