When a nerd mom goes to a Halloween parade

Today the 5yo had the Halloween parade at school.  It is a simple affair, they dress up and walk around the playground once then go back to classes. The parents were invited too.  I had a problem with two things today.  Which is quite good because I usually have more issues than just two.

First was that the parents were asked not to cross the white lines that marked the area where the kids would be walking.  They were also very clearly asked not to stop the parade to take pictures.  And what did many parents do? They did the exact thing they were asked not to do.  This bothers me for so many reasons (see, I told you I always have more issues) first is that it is unfair to the parents who did the right thing and stayed in the designated area.  They too have kids whom they want to take pictures of to immortalize the moment, but they chose not to stop the parade.  Second it sends out the wrong message to the kids, that rules are not real and that people who break the rules get what they want and that the people who do not break the rules get nothing.  That just deeply irritates me.  If you are a parent and you really NEED to take pictures then do it before school or after school, not during an event that everyone else is involved in.

The other thing was the gender gap in costume choices.  Girls were dressed as fairies, princesses (Disney princesses mainly), a few witches and fewer black cats.  There was a total of maybe 4 girls in super hero costumes.  The boys were slightly more diverse superheros, pirates, explorers, monsters, animals, two Pharaohs, a Riddler, a Charlie Chaplin (which was my favorite costume because it was so detailed and different) and a Harry Potter.  Almost all the costumes were store bought.  I want to see a world where there are more girl superheros.  And more kids who are willing to think out of the box.  Who want to be more than what they are taught they can or should be.  I hate the Disney princesses.  Just think about it, why would I want my daughter to be Ariel, who gave up her voice (the voice is quite symbolic here)? or Snow White, or Rapunzel both of which had to wait to be rescued?  Perhaps Merida is an exception, it is about her own personal bravery and the mother/daughter relationship.  Why would I want my daughter to be a fairy?  I might want my daughter to be a powerful good witch.  Empowered, smart and can help herself.

There wasn’t a single girl wearing a lab coat.  Not one single girls thinks that being a doctor would be a good idea.  Think about that.  I think there might have been about 70 girls.  Give or take some.  There was a Wonder Woman whom I thought was awesome. Even the girls who were wearing witch costumes were almost all identical.

My daughter wanted to be a bat, which evolved into bat girl.  She wanted bat wings and tried to figure out a way to sleep upside down but couldn’t.  She was totally fascinated by the fact that bats are blind and can still fly around and get around.  The process of making the costume fascinated her.  I asked her a couple of times if she wanted to go pick a costume or if she would like to look at ideas on pinterest and we could make it together, and she wanted me to make it.  It took me a couple of weeks to get it all done.  She helped with the process and spent a few days wearing parts of it.

Yes I understand that not a lot of parents have the time that I do, or the skills to sew a costume or craft one.  But it isn’t rocket science and it doesn’t need to take more than a an hour or two.  We can’t teach our kids that everything can be bought like that and devalue creativity and hands on work.  It is taking away from their childhoods as well as their creativity.  Children need to build forts out of blankets and cardboard boxes.  They need to make their own masks using paper and crayons.  Every.day. They need to paint and draw and make up silly languages.  They need to experience this kind of creativity and curiosity.  They need to embrace it.  And parents need it too.  Parents need to be silly and play pretend with their kids.  If we don’t then we are telling them that they can not be who they are or what they want to be.  We are packaging them in little generic labeled boxes for life.

That is just it.  It might be dress up and it happens for most kids on a single day in the year but that is just wrong.  Every child needs to own a crown and a superhero cape.  The crown is for them to pretend to be kings and queens.  Which is a great opportunity to talk about community and how decisions are made and why?  It is about teaching compassion even when we are in power.  It is a fantastic opportunity to open their minds and widen their horizons.  The superhero cape is to make them believe they can be heroes.  Most of the superheros in comics pop culture are just ordinary men and women who became extra ordinary.

And then there are the real heroes in life,  the ones that are extra ordinary because of the hard work they put in.  Every day.  There was one little boy who was a soldier and another who was a fireman.  These are great examples, of people who keep us safe who put themselves at risk to get their job done.

The costumes don’t need to be fancy, a cape can be made of an old towel and a crown can be made of newspaper.  It is not about them being real, it is about them being tools for change, dialogue, imagination and tons of fun.

Finally, it also makes you question, who do our kids see as role models? Who do they want to be?  What do they want to become?  Are they being taught the right values? Are they seeing these values enough in real life so that they grow up believing in them?

Sometimes, I wish I could just go to a Halloween parade, push the other parents, take pictures of my daughter while standing where I shouldn’t be standing and then go home and forget all about it.  It would be so much easier than all of this thinking.

What do you want for your birthday?

Every year after her birthday is over in October, my sister starts asking me what I want for my birthday.  It is in November. And every year she ends up yelling at me, because I almost always won’t tell her what I want or if she suggests something that I feel is too expensive I will make up excuses about why I don’t want it.

Every year.

The fact is, I feel uncomfortable asking for something, it feels impolite or wrong or needy or whatever it is.  I am uncomfortable asking.  It is that simple.  Even though I am certain she doesn’t mind and can afford whatever it is I might want or ask from her.  It is sort of like when someone asks you what  do you want to do or where would you like to go out today and instead of telling them what you want you just say “whatever”.  Whatevers do not make us happy.  They are just a silly way of saying I want something but instead of asking for it I will just say that so i don’t feel like I asked for something.  Maybe I don’t want to want something and then not get it.  I am guilty of that too.  The fear of rejection or failure creeps up in every part of your life when you let it.

I also feel bad about wanting things.  It is like I do not believe I deserve to receive a gift from my loved ones.  I do not feel worthy.  I don’t feel I can afford to reciprocate a more expensive gift so I don’t want to receive one.

I did not see that reason coming.

I do not feel worthy of receiving gifts.

It is a scary sentence.  It is also heartbreaking.

But it is not true, it is a lie.  A lie that my brain has obviously so intricately woven into my thoughts that I was unaware of.  A lie that I am no longer willing to tell myself or believe.

So this year I am going to make a list and send it to her.



I feel compelled to explain the absence but I won’t.  I am not really writing for an audience this time.  I am not sharing this because I seek your approval or acceptance.  I am sharing it because I need to feel vulnerable and be ok with it.  To accept it, embrace it and understand that it is not my enemy, it is an aid to my growth as a person, a wife, a parent, an artist and all the other hats I wear.

Being vulnerable is a scary thing.  I know from experience.  I am so good at climbing into my cocoon and adding layers to it that it was almost impossible to get back out again.

What does vulnerability mean?

vul·ner·a·ble ˈvəln(ə)rəbəl susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.
I always thought that the first time I was really vulnerable was when my father died, but after a lot of soul searching and thinking I realized it was before that.  It was when my family moved back to Egypt from Scotland.  It was a move that I originally wanted and hoped for.  I have always yearned for the feeling of belonging and my 11 year old self thought that living in Egypt would make that come true.  Interestingly, I just finished Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and she touches on the difference between fitting in and belonging.
photoI was struck by these two paragraphs.  I used to think fitting in and belonging were the same thing, but according to her they aren’t, and I think I agree with her.  But what does belonging have to do with being vulnerable? Personally, a lot.  It is the root of why I feel what I feel.
After moving to Egypt I never really felt accepted or that I belonged.  I couldn’t connect with friends or the people around me and eventually I stopped trying to belong and started learning how to fit in.  It became so easy and automatic that I don’t think I even realized I was doing it. Honestly, I probably still don’t believe it.
Perhaps the hardest vulnerability is with your self.  To step back and say I will examine my beliefs, I will question them and I will allow them to change and evolve.  Then comes being vulnerable with the people you love.  Accepting that they can see you as you are, flaws, imperfections and all and trusting that they will accept that and cherish it.  It is hard because before you can expect it from others you need to be able to do it yourself.  Am I worthy of love? Is the real me worthy of love and respect?  Questions that we might not really ask but our behavior always exposes.   Because of our ability to hussle for acceptance, we usually go through life without really taking that deep look inside of ourselves.
For me, it is time.  Time to stop and explore.  Take an adventure inside my soul, not my head but my soul.
When my father died in 1999 it was an incredible shock.  It rocked our world almost threatening to demolish everything we ever knew.  I tell this story saying we because it involved three people.  My mother, my sister and I.  And while I do not claim to know exactly what they went through I am pretty confident I can tell the collective story.  My father was not a sick or dying man.  He was a brilliant orthopedic surgeon.  He was 45. But my father was a long time sufferer of diabetes.  It was slowly eating him alive inside out.  But there was nothing on the outside that foretold his death. He went to work that Friday and never came home.  It was his wish that he never have to become an invalid or too sick to work.
To say  that death is terrifying would be robbing death of its true meaning.  Death is a thief.  It takes what we hold most dear and gives nothing back.  Some would say it gives back strength or resilience to adversity.  But that is not death’s work, it is the work of hope and our desire  or need to keep going.  My mother suddenly found herself having to carry a heavy burden, two girls still at university, a home to run, a job to go to, finances to keep straight.  My sister and I were lost.  We had very little support from the outside world.  Yes people might be empathetic in the first few days even sympathetic or compassionate.  There was no grief counseling and no real long term support.
Everything was tough at the beginning.  You have to grow up suddenly.  Without the luxury of time or feeling your way through the process, you are suddenly thrown into life unprepared and definitely not ready.
No one is ever ready or prepared for that kind of thing.  Even people who have lost loved ones after long battles with disease are never really prepared for what comes next.
Instead of reaching out or asking for help we did the exact opposite we clammed up even harder.  I am not blaming anyone or saying that we should have been helped I am just saying that maybe next time if God forbid you have someone close to you dealing with something of this magnitude, remember that they might not ask for help even though they will be needing it the most.
Perhaps one person I will always be grateful for is my grandmother’s cousin, he would drop by every couple of weeks just to ask about it.  For no reason.  No explanation. No justification.  Just an unexpressed offer of support. My mother’s aunt would sometimes drop by with lunch and spend some times with us.  I am pretty sure that they have no idea that what they did is something we valued very much.  Perhaps the simplicity and total honesty of their actions was what we needed the most.
There were many others who did give support in the way they new how.  And to them I will be forever grateful.  Some of them don’t even know that what they did may have saved us or helped us.  My sister has a friend who spent the first couple of days with us.  To her I say, thank you.  My cousins spent the first week with us, to them I say thank you.  And to my best friend who also was there for hugs and support, I am eternally in your debt.
But then life goes one, everyone goes home but the pain and loss don’t.  Suddenly you learn to laugh and smile to mask it and after a while it stops becoming a mask it becomes part of who you are.  It is not an act, it is a natural reflex to pain and hurt and all the horrible things in life that you don’t really know how to deal with.  You stop believing in the future.  You stop trusting the present.  You are not miserable, on the contrary, you lead a good life, but you are never whole and because you never learn to deal with it, it doesn’t go away.
At some point in life we need to stop, tell our story, own it and accept it.  It is what makes us who we are, flaws and all.  These flaws do not make us worse, they are what give us our value.  But for them to do that we need to accept them.  No one in life hasn’t been touched by some kind of adversity and no one is perfect.  Far from that, we are all imperfect.  But we are who we are, and you get what you get.  It is what you do with it that changes everything.
Last year I almost died.  It is a long story that I do not feel like telling today.  But it was another scary moment for me.  It made me go back and forth between I need to be strong and I need to break down. All of this might seem touchy feely or mushy.  Yes true.  But I am not writing this for you.  I am writing this for me, I need to heal.  Because now I know I do not need to be strong on the outside.  I am strong,  I am flexible, I am adaptable and I am a survivor.  But right now I need to be at peace with myself.  True serenity and peace, that stem from the bottom of my being that can carry me into the future,  a future that I so desperately need to believe in.
We carry a lot of baggage with us.  We don’t need to.  We need to travel light.  Take only what you need and keep going.  I am unpacking the bags because it is the only way forward.