Month: September 2014

Speaking of Rotten…In Response to Time’s “Sorry, Emma Watson”

Earlier this week, Emma Watson gave a speech to the UN that launched HeForShe, a campaign designed to mainstream feminism and attract male allies. Watson’s tone was careful as she reminded her audience that “feminism by definition is: ‘The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.’” She went on to enumerate ways that the oppression of women also hurts men and to point out that currently no country in the world can claim that they’ve achieved full gender equality.

It was a speech that I would have thought only MRA Trolls would take issue with, but yesterday Time Magazine ran an article titled “Sorry, Emma Watson, But HeForShe is Rotten for Men” in which author Cathy Young argues that “feminism in its present form has too often ignored sexist biases against males, and sometimes has actively contributed to them. Until that changes, the movement for gender equality will be incomplete.”

This is a strange argument to level at a speech that focuses largely on how men suffer when they are not valued as parents or allowed to express their feelings. Young is unable to articulate precisely what HeForShe should be doing to directly support male allies; the most specific complaint she offers is that Watson didn’t use any of her 12 minutes to call out man-hating feminists. According to Young, misandry is a pervasive problem in the feminist movement, and yet she’s unable to provide a single compelling example of it.

For instance, Young asserts that “It is true that in the 1970s and 1980s, feminist challenges to discriminatory, sex-specific laws helped end formal preferences for mothers in child custody matters. But as fathers began to fight against more covert anti-male biases in the court system, most feminists sided with mothers.” Apparently, neither Young nor Time Magazine thinks this statement requires any kind of elaboration or data. But I can’t help but wonder who Young refers to when she says “most feminists”. A few people she met in the eighties?

Young goes on to complain that the women’s movement has neglected male victims of abuse. She writes, “Despite several recent high-profile recent sexual assault cases in which the victims were teenage girls, disturbing cases in which boys were victimized — by other boys or by girls — have received far less publicity and sparked little outrage.” You’ll note that Young has provided live links to prove her point. But click on the example of boy-on-boy violence and you’ll see a story about a thirteen-year-old who was hazed. The example of girl-on-boy violence links to the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who assaulted an autistic boy. She’s comparing these examples to the Steubenville rape case, but of course there is no comparison. The Steubenville story gained traction because on so many levels it revealed how systemic rape culture is: there were multiple perpetrators, and both the community and the justice system initially jumped to the defense of these perpetrators. Furthermore, Young’s examples connect to a larger problem about which we actually are having a national conversation and taking action. It’s called bullying. This is its own problem, and it happens to be outside the scope of feminism.

All of this brings me back to what might be the strangest part of Young’s essay: it’s title. By what logic is feminism “rotten for men”? Young of course works very hard to prove that there are some man-hating feminists out there (she still hasn’t shown me any, but she’s tried), but no matter how far I reach I can’t quite grasp what men risk losing via this movement. These guys who are taking selfies and tagging them #HeForShe, they actually look pretty happy.

I can’t help but think through some parallel titles, e.g. “Marriage Equality is Rotten for Straights” or “Civil Rights is Rotten for Whites”. Really, when you get down to the basics of allyship, isn’t that beside the point? I mean, say I’m a straight person (I’m not, but let’s just say) putting a sticker in support of marriage equality on my car. I’m not doing so thinking “What’s in it for me?” And if, later that day, I park in the grocery store and someone catches sight of my bumper sticker and gives me the finger, I don’t conclude “Damn, I really wish the gay rights movement would address the problem of how straight people get harassed sometimes. Until they take up that issue, I just can’t sign on.”

And here’s the kicker: Emma Watson’s U.N. speech was specifically designed to invite more people to the table, to engage them in the conversation, to look more deeply at how the oppression of women negatively impacts all world citizens. For some reason (we know the reason: click bait) Time and Cathy Young decide to arrive at the table, insult the hosts, and attempt to turn the whole thing into a drunken brawl.

The Day Before The First Day

Painting: Fall Blueberries by Laura Tasheiko

Painting: Fall Blueberries by Laura Tasheiko

I ran this morning. For months now, running has caused me angst. I want to run in theory. But when I actually find a moment where running is possible, I’m overcome by lethargy. My muscles feel preemptively sore. But this morning, the day before the first day of autumn, I wanted to run. There was no dread, just a slowly rising sun, a blue sky, and long shadows.

I ran my five-mile route—a route that I’ve been putting off for weeks. The sun came through in pieces through the leaves. I took in my favorite sights: the field of cows with their quickly growing calves, the blueberry fields already turning red, the bright open field that opens just after the forest. A young deer crossed in front of my path. (This is what I love about Olympia: run five miles and you can pretend you live out in the countryside.)

While I ran, my mind stayed busy rehearsing for tomorrow, the first day of fall quarter. Always in the days before I meet my new students, I practice who I will be. I am my best self in those first few weeks, my spirit restored from summer. My students file in with the intention of doing everything right. They laugh easily at my jokes. I intend to be consistently inspiring, clear, and Prepared for Anything. By November, though, the sky will cloud over, the stacks of papers will roll in, and we all will submit to the grind. Here and there I will drop the ball. Here and there my students will test me. By December we’ll be ready for the end.

But for now I’ll just linger in autumn’s brightness. I know it won’t last, but still I’ll reap its pleasures.

My View from the Tiny Chair

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Last night, in between story time and sleep, which is when Smoke is at his chattiest, he said, “We should do something nice for Mrs. N______”.

Mrs. N is, of course, his kindergarten teacher.

“Like what?” I asked him.

“I don’t know, like, maybe…make cookies with frosting?”

Tonight was curriculum night at Smoke’s school, one of my many initiations into becoming a public school parent. I walked into Smoke’s classroom and sat with the other parents in the tiny chairs. Mrs. N stood in front of us, reading from a children’s book. Mrs. N’s age is hard to place. She’s clearly older than the parents, but she’s leggy and sports a blonde bob and black eyeliner. Tonight she had paired a black pencil skirt and pumps with the requisite school spirit t-shirt.

I looked around the room, trying to take in the cubbies and the calendars, searching for any sign of my Smoke. Already my eyes were welling up. Shit, I thought, what’s wrong with me? I’d had the thought that this was where Smoke was spending so much of his life all of a sudden, a place that was mostly unfamiliar to me.

Mrs. N put down the book and addressed us. “This is my thirty-fifth year teaching kindergarten,” she said. “And every year I worry: this is going to be the year that it just doesn’t work, the year the kids just don’t get it and no one will behave. But then I meet your kids…” Now Mrs. N herself was fighting tears. “Your kids are great. I’m so grateful that you entrust them to me.”

I can’t tell you how many parents were also crying, because I was too busy looking at the table, swallowing, trying not to pass the point of no return. If I had let go, I could have kept it up for the full forty-minute session. Instead, I tried to listen. Here are a few of the things I learned from Mrs. N.

  1. For many years she taught kindergarten the way most teachers do. She stood in front of the classroom and led them through a project from beginning to end. But children, and kindergarteners in particular, move at different paces and have different skill sets. This way of leading a class, normal though it was, left everyone frustrated.
  1. After years of doing it this way, Mrs. N changed systems. Now she sets up multiple stations with projects. Some projects are required, and some are optional, but kids get to move through them at their own pace. Sometimes kids want to do a particular project but that station is full, so they get to learn about disappointment. This is one of the best lessons they get to learn in her class.
  1. Mrs. N has an elaborate system to help each child track his or her project, but I could not begin to explain it to you. Apparently, though, the kindergarteners can keep track of these procedures.
  1. According to Mrs. N, “These kids pretty much know exactly what’s going on at any given moment. You’d be surprised.” I was surprised. I can barely get Smoke to put his shoes on in the morning, or answer when I ask eight times what he wants for breakfast, but apparently he’s capable of understanding a complex behavior incentive system, staying in line, waiting his turn etc. when Mrs. N is in charge.
  1. Mrs. N reports that when the kids are working on their various projects, the room gets loud, but it’s the sound of focused learning. “I don’t do crazy,” she says.
  1. Please do not come into her classroom, watch the kids at their stations, and comment, “Oh, cute! They’re playing!” They are not playing; they are working. Last year, when a new principal came on, Mrs. N insisted that he sit in and observe her kindergarteners at their stations, because she wanted him to understand exactly how it worked. From what I can tell so far, the principal is a kind enough man, but I enjoyed imagining him in one of the tiny chairs, being schooled by the kickass kindergarten teacher in her thirty-fourth year of teaching.
  1. Every time there’s a change in administration, Mrs. N braces herself. She is totally prepared to retire if a new principal ever insists she go back to the old way of doing things. “I’ve been there and I was nothing but frustrated,” she says. “And I know I frustrated more than a few kids too.”

Three weeks ago, if you had asked me to imagine an ideal kindergarten teacher, I think I would have pictured a plump and patient woman, someone with no discernible edges. But I love Mrs. N’s edges. In fact, I feel the need to point out that I’ve done absolutely nothing to land my son in what strikes me as an exceptionally awesome kindergarten class. I didn’t pull strings or write letters. I didn’t visit dozens of schools. We go to this school because it’s two blocks away, and Smoke found Mrs. N because he was assigned to her. Also, of course, I have the privilege of living in a small city with a functional and relatively well-funded school system.

Because I’ve done so little, I’m left wondering: How do I show my appreciation for someone who manages over twenty squirrely little bodies every day, who has taught for nearly as long as I’ve been alive, and who has somehow maintained enough passion for her work that she gets teary-eyed when talking about her students? How do you thank someone for offering so much of themselves to your child?

I guess cookies with frosting is a start.

If Hugs are Medicine

1.

rage

“Mommy, can you buy me a new toy today?” my son Smoke asks from the backseat. He’s finished a long day of kindergarten, finished the popcorn that I gave him in a plastic cup, and now he’s at a loss.

I’m at a loss too. He’s been asking me this question every day for weeks and I just can’t get the answer right. He’s been prone to fits of rage lately, and the word “no” and all its variations are the trigger. I try to let him down gently. “That’s not part of my plan this afternoon.”

It’s approaching five o’clock, and the roads are crowded. I’m nearing the onramp for the freeway, getting ready to pick up Stump, Smoke’s little brother. The daycare center is open until six, but I feel better if I pick him up by five.

“I want to get a toy at Target!” Smoke insists.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” I tell him, “but I’m not going to Target today.”

He must have understood I meant it, because the next thing I know, a hard object glances off my head and lands below my seat. It’s Smoke’s plastic cup—the one that held popcorn moments ago. He’s thrown it to spite me, and now he is red-faced and crying. I’m thirty feet from the freeway and the onramp is crowded, but I fumble for my hazards and pull to the side. In my own mind, my actions match the drama of the situation. This will show him, I think. My head smarts. My heart is pounding. “We’ll get back on the road when you can promise me we’re safe,” I say. I’m trying to sound calm, but the tension in my voice betrays me.

Smoke is unimpressed. There’s nothing more for him to throw, so he reaches for his brother’s empty car seat and rocks it. His look is pure defiance. Since all of my strategies are failing, I yell. “What are you doing? WHAT are you doing? Why do you want to hurt me?”

Over the course of the month since these rages began, Smoke has taught me that this is not the way to calm him. Reacting to his rage with my own just stokes the fire.

“You’re the one who’s being mean to me!”

I find my pseudo-calm voice again. “I’m not being mean. I picked you up from school, and I gave you a snack. Now I’m driving and you threw a cup at me, and that’s dangerous, so I’m mad.”

He’s quiet now, and so I wait for a break in traffic and get back on the freeway. “Why do you do those things Smoke?”

His cry becomes less aggressive, more private. He shakes his head and wipes a tear. “I don’t know,” he answers. All of a sudden it seems we forgive each other.

2.

peace

It’s a Saturday afternoon in September and the day has warmed to eighty degrees. It’s like summer, but with a softer light. We’re at a gathering in a friend’s backyard, with a view of her horses, her chickens, her tomatoes exploding off the vine. I’ve found a bench in the back corner of the yard, away from things, where both of my sons can wander, can throw balls and swing rackets without knocking over someone’s beer. When I sit on the bench and Smoke joins me, I don’t expect to stay there long. I’m not foolish. Stump is twenty months old and so parties, for me, mainly mean chasing him around on damage patrol.

But today, by some stroke of luck, Stump follows Mommy Kellie back into the thick of the party, and he stays with her. Smoke spreads across the bench and lays his head in my lap. I run my fingers through his hair and pick at a spot of dried out yogurt—Stump had launched it at him earlier today. Smoke looks straight ahead now at the lawn. I take in his brown eyes and every freckle on his face. I am surprised by how content he is to be with me this way.

“Did you know,” I begin, “that a few days after your birthday school will be closed for an extra day?” He doesn’t answer, but I know he’s listening and so I continue. “And do you remember what my birthday present to you is going to be?”

“The Forbidden Forest Lego set?” he asks.

“No, it’s not a toy.”

“The zipline park.” He remembers.

“Well if it’s a nice day we’ll go, just you and me, no little brother.”

As he continues to lie in my lap, I think about the last eight months, the second year of his brother’s life. For the first year, I felt a little bad for my second child because his infancy didn’t get the same undivided attention that Smoke’s did. I didn’t photograph every moment, didn’t respond immediately to every cry. But in this second year, it’s Smoke who’s wound up with the short end of the stick. If Stump is awake, I have no hands free to sit and draw, or make a puzzle, or do any of the activities Smoke may request of me. And if Stump is napping, I am busy catching up on personal and household tasks. For the most part, Smoke must fend for himself. I’ve wondered lately if the rages are a symptom of his utter jealousy, his displacement. And I wonder now if this moment together might be some kind of salve or antidote. I find myself getting caught in the hope that I’ve fixed it, that beginning right now there will be no more rages. But of course that’s not how medicine works. If it’s a medicine that cures, we will require multiple doses. For a time, these two things might be true at once: a) my son is prone to violent tantrums, b) my son requires my undivided affection.

Smoke raises his head just a little. “Let’s talk more about special days,” he whispers.

 

Selfish Moms Unite

As a parent, and especially a mother,* I resist the notion that time taken for myself is “selfish”. The way I see it, our family is a symbiotic unit, and as the primary caretaker, the demands on me are endless. On a typical day I am held close, pushed away, kissed, zerberted, punched, jumped on from behind, and literally sucked on. I pour juice and make toast, and then clean it up once it has fallen on the floor. I pack lunches, and then unpack the chewed-on scraps at the end of the day. I change diapers, wipe butts, wash tiny pairs of briefs, and instruct on proper aiming technique. All of this may or may not be extra challenging for me because I am an introvert—it might just be plain hard for everyone. And so, as a general rule, I resolve to fill my own cup at any opportunity. I don’t believe that time away from my kids is time stolen from my kids. The more time I have for myself, I reason, the kinder I will be to my children, more able to tolerate the zerberts and the poop.

blurrymamaBut sometimes I feel like I’m in the minority. I hear about the parents who haven’t gone out for a drink in six years, or the moms who would never dream of dropping their child off at daycare on a day they didn’t have to work. And though in principal I refuse to feel guilty for taking me-time, when I drop Stump off at daycare just to experience the sensation of having two free arms for a few hours, I often imagine their disapproving glares.

This week was my last week of summer break, a week where Smoke had kindergarten every day, and, because it is September, Stump is enrolled in full-time daycare. In other words, the stars aligned and granted me twenty-five child-free hours.

To justify this time to the imaginary judgers, I made big plans. I would write a book and organize the house. I would run every day and stockpile healthful meals for my family. The week came and went and I made the smallest bit of headway on these goals. I wrote the rough draft of one chapter. I got rid of clothes that no longer fit Stump. I roasted a chicken. But I also filled my own cup in ways that might be just as important. I share them with you now in case any of you, dear readers, need an antidote to the imaginary judging eyes.

1. I spent time getting places. Since my week was still full of drop-offs and pick-ups and since the weather was crisp and dry, I took lots of little walks and rode my bike around town. I noticed the weather. I breathed.

2. I saw this badass raccoon. Because I left the car behind as much as possible, I slowed down enough to glimpse this tail-less old raccoon, who was roaming my neighbor’s yard in broad daylight. As you can see, he was unimpressed with me. After I took this picture, he started chewing the fleas off of his butt.

Raccoon 2Raccoon1

3. I rekindled my love for Dan Savage. Instead of re-organizing the house top-to-bottom, I just tried to stay on top of the daily maintenance with a little more precision. The dishes and the laundry were enough to keep me busy. Because there was no five-yearold around to ask me what that guy was talking about when he said BDSM, I listened to about a dozen episodes of the Savage Lovecast while doing chores. I’ve loved Dan Savage since the nineties, when I was eighteen and stumbled across his sex-positive advice column. I was so comforted to find this voice that was a) openly gay, b) smart and enggaed, and c) hilarious. It’s nearly twenty years later and I still love Dan Savage. In particular, I love Savage Lovecast Episode 411, where Dan responds to the recent celebrity nude photo hacks and offers some tough love to a woman with a transgendered friend. Sometimes Dan Savage is so right on, he brings me to tears.

4. I ate a salted caramel cupcake in the sun. The last two days of my week were beautiful from morning to evening, and on Thursday, I road my bike downtown to drink coffee and write. I almost talked myself out of buying a cupcake at the shop next door before riding home. You know, I didn’t really need that. I bought it anyways and sat on the bench. I didn’t have to share. Inside the cake itself, there was a surprise extra glob of caramel.

*Normally, I try to write about “parenting” rather than “mothering”, because I don’t want to gender-ize the parenting experience. However, in this case, I’ve noticed that our culture has trained mothers more than fathers to feel guilty for prioritizing their own needs.

Among Life’s Disappointments: The Two-Day Weekend

Weekend

Weekend

On Sunday I had to break the news to Smoke that Monday would be a school day. I wasn’t sure how he’d take it. So far, he hasn’t been forthcoming about his kindergarten experience. At the end of every day I’ve asked him “What was the best part of your day?” and every day he’s answered, “Recess.”

“You feel that way already?” Kellie asked him on day one. I guess we both hoped he’d say he loved learning songs in circle time, or mastering sight words during reading. But both of Smoke’s best friends go to his school, both have been assigned to different classrooms, and so recess is a twenty-minute parent-free play date. Of course that’s his favorite.

So, anyhow, I wasn’t sure if he’d be excited or disappointed to learn that Monday was imminent, and that Monday meant the beginning of the school week. We were lying sideways on the bed, and I gave it to him straight: “Tomorrow is a kindergarten day.”

“What?” he answered. His lower lip quivered. “But that’s not fair—I haven’t had enough home days!”

I understood where he was coming from. During the school year, I never feel like I’ve had enough home days. For the last two months, I’ve had the luxury of summer, where home days and work days blend together. I’ve taught one online class and paid for childcare here and there; most days I’ve graded papers through nap time or answered emails on the fly. I’ve been relieved from the Pressure To Perform during the workweek, followed by the Pressure to Do All the Shopping and Connect with All the People and Do All the Laundry and also RELAX and HAVE FUN on the weekend. Instead, I just worry about attending to one thing or another, keeping the kids happy enough, and hopefully enjoying some part of the day. I’m a little productive and a little bit restful, and the rest is just survival. That’s how it should be.

I think that’s also how it’s been for Smoke up until now. For the last several years, he’s gone to preschool two days a week, played at a friend’s house the other two, and had three days at home. So, kindergarten is actually his initiation into the American-Capitalist workweek.

And while before this week I’d been imagining that kindergarten is all fun and games, all circle time and finger painting, Smoke’s tears over home days have helped me to remember what school felt like for me as a child. School felt: Relentless. Every day I spent seven hours at the mercy of my teachers. We lined up outside the school and waited in the weather for first bell. We’d be shuffled then to homeroom, then to art or music, then to recess, then to reading groups. We moved always in single file, and every segment of the day was marked by the shrill sound of the school bell that rang through every classroom.

My teachers were kind. I admired them; I wanted to please them. But having so little agency exhausted me, and so I welcomed any break—holidays and sick days, weekends and vacations. I didn’t call them “home days,” as Smoke does, but that’s what I longed for. Days to sit in the square of sun that came through the window, days to keep my pajamas on till noon, days to meander on my bike, or play Barbies, or put my new reading skills to use. Days where home was at the center of my day, not just the place where it started and ended.

Monday came, as it always does, and Smoke woke up without my help. He dressed himself and packed his own lunch without complaining about the day ahead. But when we arrived at school it took minutes for him to settle into the kindergarten lineup, and once he had he stared off into space. He was slack jawed and just a little pale, his eyes unfocused. He looked unmistakably weary.

Weekday (one of Smoke's many selfies)

Weekday (one of Smoke’s many selfies)

Smoke is right. Two days just don’t yield enough time to recoup what the workweek has taken.

The First Days of Kindergarten: Like an Overturned Bathtub

Yesterday, the season changed to fall. We’ve had a long, dry summer, but suddenly the rain clouds have rolled in, the wind has picked up, and the sunlight—when it breaks through—is that pale yellow light that whispers “almost gone.” Last night, as I began the process of bedtimes, cold air blew through the open window. I closed it, and dug out the comforter that we had retired from the bed for July and August.

Our house is in disarray. On Monday, Smoke, Stump, and I returned from the east coast, and I still haven’t unpacked. We were gone for nearly two weeks, and Kellie used the time to remodel the bathroom; the floor underneath it had been rotting for years. But she hasn’t finished. We have a toilet, but no sink, no washer dryer, and the bathtub is upside down in our living room.

I’m beginning to realize that chaos is a choice we keep on making rather than something that is constantly happening to us.

For instance: about a month ago, Smoke got a packet from his kindergarten teacher in the mail. It contained homework. We looked at the various pages at the kitchen table. Within an hour, several of the pages were spotted with pizza grease. I worry about what this says about us.

So last night, the night before the first day of kindergarten, the night of the cold wind and fading light, I brought the kids home freshly bathed. I told Smoke that he could choose a show to watch while I put Stump to sleep. He chose Caillou.

Caillou. The bald toddler who interested Smoke for about a month when he was three and hasn’t interested him since. Caillou was quickly replaced by Dinosaur Train, and then Ninjago and Spider-Man and Chima, and there was no looking back. Until now. On the night before kindergarten, my son chooses Caillou without any trace of irony. He asked me to read him the episodes, and he remembered each one like he had watched them only last week, and finally he settled on “Caillou Tells the Truth.”

After Caillou and books he fell asleep within minutes, without protest, holding his stuffed fox. This is not how our days have been.

sleep

 Our days have been full of contention. At least once every day, Smoke decides that any given limit I’ve set is proof that I am out to get him. A look crosses his face and he begins to taunt me. He’s silly at first, calling me a poop-butt or a stink-bunny, but if I react he comes after me. He’ll belt me in the gut, or kick me from behind. This is all very alarming, and the two things that keep me from running to the nearest child therapist are a) I seem to be the only recipient of these rages and b) in some weird way, he seems to have control over them. He has yet to actually hurt me, and it always seems like there’s a calmer, kinder Smoke only one layer underneath looking on in wonder.

Still, I’ve been struggling to explain his behavior to myself in any kind of satisfying way. I think perhaps that summer has bored him, or that he’s trying on his independence, or that he’s jealous of the constant attention his little brother gets, or that he’s anxious about the big changes coming his way.

This morning Smoke rose early, and I got up to find him snuggled into Kellie’s arms for the minutes before she had to leave for work.

Our morning began well, until I asked him to get dressed five times over the course of twenty minutes. He was jumping from the bathtub to the couch and could not be interrupted. His brother, for once, was eating quietly in his high chair. “I don’t know what to do with you,” I told him. “We need to go, and you’re not getting dressed.”

“You’re so mean!” he said. The look flashed across his face.

“How am I being mean?” I asked.

He stood on top of the bathtub and furrowed his brow. “I woke up excited this morning, and then you came along and hurt my feelings.”

I sat down on the couch and pulled him into me. I know that feeling so well—that feeling of bright expectation, interrupted by conflict. I knew also that I wasn’t mean, but was in that moment the container for his ambivalence, the voice that nagged about all the things that needed to be done. “I’m so sorry,” I told him. “I want you to be excited. Let’s both work at being nice, okay?”

Twenty minutes later he sat on the rug in his classroom while parents and siblings gathered at the edges. The teacher read a story called The Kissing Hand about a raccoon who was nervous to begin school. I held Smoke’s little brother Stump in my arms, praying he would not leap or cry out, or demand to run amok across the room. In the book, the raccoon’s mother kisses the inside of her child’s paw, and tells him he can use that kiss any time he needs some love from home. Her child returns the favor.

Once the book had ended, it was time to say goodbye and so the parents found their children one last time. Smoke looked around and had trouble spotting his brother and me. I could see him crumble just a bit. I called to him. Everyone around us was kissing hands. “Goodbye!” he offered brightly after spotting us.

“No wait,” I said. I offered the inside of Smoke’s hand to Stump, who eagerly kissed his brother, not once, but over and over. We did that all around, kissing hands until the moment passed and parents filed out. We closed the door behind us so it looked like we were gone, but many of us stole an extra moment watching through the classroom window. When I saw that the other parents were crying, a quiet sob shuddered through me. How long had it been lying in wait? All morning? All month? Since the day he was born?

That sob completed my rite of passage. Leaving Smoke behind us, I walked Stump home in the stroller, sniffling, now the mother of a school-aged child.