Category Archives: family life

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First Do No Harm

 

Editor’s note: This article is written by a dear friend who was our North Star when we initially came to understand our child’s needs. I’m so happy that she was able to provide her personal and professional perspective. -Melissa

First do no harm

All persons should have the opportunity to live naturally

Intervene only as much as necessary to reduce the distress to manageable levels

Jesse is a 14 year-old smart, funny, precocious girl who would rather be with friends than do homework (or do anything actually). She won’t eat anything green, is a night owl, spends too much time on her phone, and loves, absolutely adores, Taylor Swift and Lorde. She cries copious tears when she is hurt; cares very deeply about people, animals, and the earth; and is fiercely protective of her self, her friends, her family, and her puppy. She is mostly vegan, and all the way vegetarian. Oh, and she is transgender.

By the time Jesse was two years old, two profoundly meaningful events occurred that would eventually become catalysts for a long journey into a great unknown. One was her first haircut in which she told me that she wanted me to do it like “Cinder-lella.” Shortly afterwards, Jesse got into a large bag full of hand me downs intended for her newborn sister. As one might imagine, the bag was full of things pink, pretty, and sparkly. Jesse beamed in what she thought was her new wardrobe. Our approach was to gently try to help her ‘organize’ and manage her preferences, interests, needs, and identity.

Over the next several years, and despite our very exceptional ‘organizing’ skills, Jesse’s female identity continued to strengthen. Every shooting star and every birthday candle held the same wish, “Please, please…let me wake up a girl.” One night when we came into her room to say goodnight, we caught her praying. Her hands were held in prayer and she was repeating the same old wish, “Please, please, let me wake up a girl.” So, finally, we stopped managing and organizing, and right smack in the middle of second grade, we helped her make a social transition to all things feminine. We came to understand that, for her, in order to not hurt her, we would simply have to let her be who she was. So we did. We said a few prayers of our own and allowed her to be her.

Then the phone calls started. As a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, I had been providing therapy for a number of years. Of course, I researched treatment options for transgender children and found that at the time, the ‘best’ advise out there was to remove all things girly from the ‘boys’ life and help him be comfortable with his body. I knew, not thought or suspected, but knew for sure that this was not always going to be possible, and was rarely going to be ideal. I also knew for sure that it was going to be harmful. Especially for our Jesse and likely others like her. So I developed a treatment approach with three main tenets: First, do no harm. Second, all persons should have the opportunity to act naturally. Third, intervene as minimally as possible to get the distress down to manageable levels.

Through word of mouth, anxious parents began calling me after hearing of this unique approach to working with transgender children. Families came to me from all over the Midwest for treatment, for consultation, for advise.

While my treatment strategy was not typical for the times, it really was not ground breaking. I was simply applying sound evidence based therapy to what we thought was a new population of children. There is no approach in psychotherapy that states that it is better to “hurt them a little now to protect a better outcome later” (these words were actually said to me by a psychologist and educator in justifying the corrective approach to counseling transgender children). This statement stimulated several questions for me. First, by “hurt” how much would be OK? How much hurt in early childhood would be commensurate with the better outcome that one might envision? Does this ‘better outcome’ include trauma? Or are we specifically measuring for transgender identity? What exactly is this better outcome? All of these questions led me to develop the first tenet of my approach: First, do no harm. This is the first law of medicine and provides the basic scaffolding surrounding healing and competent care. And this applies to all persons, young and old, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion. First do no harm. As I said, not ground breaking. This has been the Hippocratic Oath for many decades. I simply applied it to a very vulnerable and marginalized group: gender diverse children.

The second tenet of my treatment approach is that all persons should have the opportunity to act naturally. Lets be clear, I am not talking about people who think they are cats or people who identify as a toaster. I am talking about a typically functioning individual whose gender identity is something other than what we, in binary America, think that it should be. There is much we do not know about the brain, about gender, and identity. Cross cultural research, as well as observational studies done in the animal kingdom, suggests that a binary code, while fine for computers, is overly simplistic for gender, and, in fact, humans. Social, personality, and sexual development are complex processes and 0’s and 1’s do not really explain us very well.

In this state of not knowing, it becomes critical to approach diversity issues with regard. Especially for children. I remember a time early in my process when I had a boy bodied child dressed as a princess and another boy bodied child dressed as batman. It is horrifying to me now to recall how one had to change into more appropriate attire to go to grandmas house and the other one didn’t. I can’t help but consider the impact of traumatic experiencing that this type of situation is likely to facilitate. At the very least, a child learns to develop a false self in the face of an unaccepting, critical, and dangerous world. This is one of the fundamental goals of psychotherapy for a great many number of clients: to help in the development of a true self with the goal of living an authentic and personally meaningful life. Therefore, I felt that all persons should be able to act naturally. All of our clients should be met with positive regard. It is just not up to us to tell them who they are. Who we think they are. Or aren’t. It is not up to us as therapists. For my family, it isn’t up to parents either. It is up to parents to teach values, to get the children to bed at a reasonable, to try to get them to eat something green. It is up to us to help the child develop and learn routines and structure. It is up to us to be a cook, chauffeur, tutor, manager, housekeeper, cheerleader…. It is not going to be our decision whether the child is going to have intrinsic interest in dolls, trucks, or games. Whether they will excel in gymnastics or debate team. Whether they will pursue a career in medicine or education. We can protect and guide. But for the vast majority of children, it is just not up to us to decide about orientation or identity.

Research has shown that a large percentage of gender dysphoric children may desist in their transgender identities. In a nutshell, this research concluded that many will grow out of it. These ‘outcomes’ caused significant anxiety in parents of gender diverse and transgender children. With medical technology exploding, and cross sex interventions becoming a viable option, parent’s questions and concerns regarding best practice were well founded. How do I know if my child will grow out of it? How do I support without encouraging? How do I help but not hurt? How much do I intervene? These are all valid concerns. To really capture parental and clinical panic regarding these outcomes and corresponding questions, research has also shown that suicidality for transgender youth was disproportionately high. In other words, gender diverse and transgender children, as a group, was not doing well.

However, the terms ‘gender diverse’ and ‘transgender’ are not necessarily the same and research had not yet empirically operationalized them. This research, while informative, had its limitations. So far, people weren’t yet talking about distress level as a diagnostic feature at that time. As a therapist, of course, this factor is critical in assessment and diagnosis for any mental health issue. Symptoms that do not cause marked impairment or distress isn’t diagnosed. And so this third tenet was to help parents navigate these very difficult questions and concerns. In a world where we simply don’t know, let your child’s overall wellness be your guide. Is their anxiety manageable? Are they learning to read? Or are they so distracted with gender incongruity that they can’t learn? Are they aggressive with others? How are they developing socially? This enable parents to map unchartered waters in a uniquely idiosyncratic way. Broad brush strokes simply aren’t going to be effective with this community. Nurture does have an impact. Community does have an impact. There are just too many variables. At the end of the day, we want healthy children who are well and whole. And the least harm approach to get there is to assist in the development of a true, natural, psychologically fit, and physically well self.

Back in 2010, when Jesse was right smack in the middle of second grade, we made some crucial decisions. First, we just weren’t going to knowingly hurt her. No way were we going to hurt any of our three children on purpose. Second, we were going to treat her, and of course all of our children, with positive regard, and allow them to be natural. Finally we were going to look at her overall distress/wellness as the primary guide for intervention. When we computed this fairly basic and humanistic algorithm, all of our anxiety decreased.

Today, we have three healthy children who are otherwise preoccupied with the natural emergencies of teenage life. Jesse is a remarkable, insightful, and charming 14 year-old transgirl. Our next problem? How do we get her to turn off her phone and get to bed on time. Maybe even eat something green. All things considered, these are good problems to have.

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Difficult Conversations

I’m not sure how other families steer their kids through social norms and conversational appropriateness, but in our house we talk pretty openly, though we try hard to keep things age-appropriate.  The word “transgender” floats through our house frequently, and Mike and I often find ourselves having discussions with the kids that I suspect aren’t the norm in other households. Our children are mature for their age, but they’re also ten-year olds. While the topic list is open, we take great pains to remember their age and maturity level.

Our kids have always been precocious, and we learned very early to only answer the question asked. Here’s an example:

Kids (as kindergartners): Where do babies come from?
Me: Babies come from a special area in a woman’s body close to her tummy where they grow until they are ready to come out.
(Kids are satisfied; mommy is relieved and thanking her friend Christina for the great advice about only answering exactly what was asked)

Kids (as first or second graders): How are babies made?
Me: Babies are made when a seed and an egg come together.
(Again, shockingly, kids are satisfied and mommy is once again relieved and silently thanking her friend Christina).

It took until last year for them to finally put the pieces together enough to ask for the details. I’d like to point out that Mike has never been around for these conversations.

Kids (because they are always together when these questions come up): But how does the sperm GET to the egg?
Me (inwardly cringing and cursing my husband for, once again, missing this important life event): Well (sigh), for most couples, that means the man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina and then the sperm comes out. That’s called sex.
(Dead silence for a solid ten seconds as they process this unexpected information)

Kids: WHAT?? EEWWWW! YOU DID THAT?? DAD DID THAT? OH GROSS!  (barf noises and peals of laughter for several minutes from them, uncomfortable silence from me)

Then followed a conversation about how some couples (same sex couples, couples with fertility concerns, single parents) don’t make babies this way and have to have help from doctors. Of course we also covered how these conversations are for home only and how it’s inappropriate to talk about these things with friends, etc, etc, etc.

And then I called Mike and railed against the injustice that these conversations always fell to me and how he owed me big time. I think I got flowers and chocolate that night. I was only slightly mollified.

That’s an example of how we’ve handled typically difficult conversations as they’ve grown up. I say difficult topics not because I think we shouldn’t talk about them (because I feel strongly that we SHOULD have these conversations), but because many adults have strong opinions on when, how, and what these conversations will look like.

All of that said, we have had to navigate through some pretty adult conversations in this house. Conner had her first endocrinology appointment a few months ago. This was to establish some ground work, meet the physician, talk about the process of going on hormone blockers and possibly cross-gender hormones (when and if appropriate, down the line, at the appropriate age), and for the physician to meet us, meet our child, and determine all of our wishes for hormone treatment. It was a really tough appointment for all of us for very different reasons and it’s taken me a few months to be ready to talk about it.

I talk to lots of parents of transgender and gender non-conforming kids. We’re all in different places of acceptance and readiness for the next steps. Mike and I had begun to feel like pros in navigating these waters because we’ve done it for so long. Conner has presented as a female for longer than she presented as a male. She doesn’t say that she feels like a girl, she says that she is a girl. That’s an important distinction when we start talking about hormone blockers and cross-gender hormones.

There was a recent article in Slate magazine from researchers who are leading a long-term study to observe the development and mental health of children who describe themselves as gender non-conforming and transgender. It’s a great article that describes some of the nuances between gender non-conforming children (children who don’t fit expected gender norms but don’t necessarily say that they ARE a different gender) and transgender children (who usually state or feel that they ARE a different gender).

Even medical professionals struggle to put the appropriate amount of emphasis on these definitions while still trying to maintain consistency with a diagnosis. The bottom line in all things stems from a child’s level of gender dysphoria, or their discomfort between the differences between their gender identity and their physical anatomy. It is really important to understand that everyone’s identity is individual and personal. One person’s definition of their transgender or gender non-conforming identity is likely to be different from another. Just as my self-identify as a woman is different from my sister’s. This is why blanket statements are pointless and harmful.

When we first put the pieces together when our daughter was 4 and had been asking us for months when her penis would go away, the distinctions between gender non-conforming and transgender were very important to us. We were desperate to try and figure out what we should do, foresee the future, and not make a wrong decision. We were asked by other parents if our child was transgender or gender non-conforming and it felt like we had to have a diagnosis to know what the next steps were. I’ve since realized that at the age of four, when no decisions are permanent, this was unnecessary stress.

Once the decision had been made to support her, trying to figure out if she was transgender or gender non-conforming didn’t weigh as heavily. We had access to few resources, contradictory studies, and no firm guidelines. What we did have was a gut feeling that told us that supporting our depressed and anxious child could not possibly be a wrong decision. The rest of the details would make themselves clear as we moved forward. And they did. Conner blossomed, we continued to educate ourselves, and life moved forward.

Conner has always been steadfast that she is a girl. In the very beginning of social transition, there were a few comments about being both a boy and a girl. I don’t want to hide that because I hear it from other parents and it tends to cause stress as mom and dad start second-guessing the decision to allow their child to transition. We took the stance that our daughter could be whomever she needed to be to experience happiness. Did she say a few times in those first few weeks that she was both boy and girl? Yes. Did she ever dress like a boy again or ask to go back to male pronouns?  No. She was adamantly opposed to wearing boys clothes or having male pronouns and would visibly suffer when forced to comply with those gender norms. We encouraged her to do what made her happy, provided clothes and toys of both genders, and allowed her to lead us.

I give this backstory because we are coming up on the age when the differences between transgender or gender non-conforming, and the level of gender dysphoria gets more important. If you stopped to read the Slate article, it was pointed out that there is a statistic that states that 80% of of gender non-conforming children do not grow up to identify as transgender. There are many layers to this very general statement and it annoys me that it gets tossed around by people who don’t understand research, don’t understand where that number comes from, and use it as the definitive answer for why children shouldn’t socially transition. Please read the article to understand why you shouldn’t just stop educating yourself at the 80% statistic.

If your child is experiencing gender dysphoria, there is a medically acceptable path. As pointed out by our endocrinologist, puberty blockers do just that: block puberty. They have been used in children who experience early onset of puberty and can be safely used in transgender children. There are medical risks such as bone density concerns that must be considered. There are also risks in denying puberty blockers to a transgender child whose body starts to go into the puberty of the wrong gender. Even for a medication that has been used safely in other children, there are things to consider in both giving and withholding this medication.

If a child persists in their statement that they are a gender different with their anatomy, and they are of a medically acceptable age, then the next step is to start cross-gender hormones.There is some debate on what this age is as standards of care are being established, but fourteen and sixteen are the two ages I see most frequently cited. Fourteen is the age when endocrinologists step in to give medications for delayed puberty which is why many parents of transgender children advocate for it.

There’s a lot more to consider once you start talking about cross-gender hormones. Up until this point, everything has been reversible. Hair can be cut (or grown out), clothes can be switched, pronouns and names can change, puberty blocking medication can be stopped and the puberty that aligns with the anatomy can begin.

Once cross-gender hormones are started, the ability to procreate stops. For a child who wants to align their body with their identity, this might not seem like a big consequence. But, as a parent, the impact is clearer.  There is the possibility of allowing puberty to progress to the point where sperm or eggs could be harvested. But there is also concern about denying cross-gender hormones and seeing your child suffer. And, I’m not just talking about a few sad days. I’m talking about the extremely high risk of depression and suicide that is disproportionately experienced by these kids. There’s rarely an easy answer.

So how did our appointment with the endocrinologist go? Well, frankly, it was kind of a shit show. I was tense and babbled inappropriately or sat rigidly in my chair and tried to sound like the medical professional that my degree proclaims me to be. Conner was stressed and slept poorly the night before which triggered her cyclic vomiting syndrome. She spent most of the appointment nauseous and moaning until, of course, the actual physical exam, when she began to violently throw up in the sink (she missed puking on the endocrinologist, thankfully). And poor Mike just sat there trying to take in all the information while supporting his mess of a wife (we were both shocked when I burst into tears) and his (literal) mess of a daughter.

It could have gone better.

That’s why I was surprised when I got a phone call from the clinic asking if I would speak on a parent panel for an endocrinology conference that was being held a month later. I’m not sure how that happened. Maybe it was my quick thinking when my daughter was about to hurl on the doctor. I suspect it’s because it was clear that I understood the complexities of these issues and would be unlikely to downplay the very real concerns that parents face when raising a transgender or gender non-conforming child.

Post appointment, there has been a sense of relief that Conner is still months, likely even a year or two away, from needing puberty blockers. I forgot to ask if we have to make the decision to allow puberty to progress to the point of being able to harvest sperm once puberty begins in a year or two, or if we start blockers right away and make that decision later. I guess we should also consider it a positive that we have time to navigate yet still more adult conversations with our ten-year old. She would love to have her own children someday and would be open to having a conversation about allowing enough puberty to make that happen. But, we don’t know what kind of changes her body will go through to get her to that point and that’s a big scary unknown. Right now, she is happy and healthy and my first priority is to keep her that way. I don’t want to take away her ability to have her own children, but I don’t want to see her anxious and suicidal as her body changes irreversibly due to the wrong puberty.

I find myself both relieved and frustrated that it’s not my decision alone that will dictate this course for her life. In fact, I suspect that my role will be to help her navigate possible consequences and help her tease out the complexities of her own thoughts on this. I’m sure that I’ll voice my opinion, but in the end defer to her decisions once I see that she has considered her options.

I chose to share this part of our lives because too often people assume that parents, kids, and medical professionals are blithely making decisions that have sweeping consequences without considering the the long term effects. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our lives are constantly weighing decisions.

I don’t know any accepting parent of a gender awesome kid who doesn’t find themselves struggling to balance support for their child with naked fear of the future. The authors of the study mentioned in the Slate article called us pioneers. They would know. We sat with them just a few months ago as we took part in their study. I’m so appreciative that researchers see the need to conduct well-designed studies like this. If you are the parent of a child like mine, then I encourage you to get in contact with the TransYouth Project. It was a few hours of our time, to be repeated if we are willing, so that the development and mental health of our kids can be studied long term.

As someone who teaches evidence-based practice, I see the need for studies like this to help future children. While many adults rigidly conform to expected gender norms, our children do not. Adults raise a ruckus when Jaden Smith  wears a skirt for Louis Vitton or  when Miley Cyrus refuses to conform to a specific gender. But do you know what our kids do? Nothing. Because they don’t care unless you tell them to care. We need strong evidence to help us determine which kids will need continuous love and support to express themselves authentically and which kids need that AND hormone therapy.

If you are looking for a great resource to help you understand the complexities of transgender and gender-nonconforming identity, I encourage you to start with the book Trans Bodies, Trans Selves. It will help you understand the rich layers of identity and why you can’t assume that one person’s transgender expression is the same for someone else.

The longer I advocate for my daughter, the more my understanding grows, and the more I realize how ignorant I am about this subject. I will never be able to step into her shoes, I will never be as eloquent as others in illustrating the needs of this community, but I will always try to be open to having my assumptions and beliefs challenged.

 

 

 

 

 

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Nomads No More

It’s so much fun to log onto your Facebook page on your birthday and see oodles of comments from your friends sending birthday wishes. Thank you so much! It’s cool to see posts from friends made over a decade ago, and friends I’ve made in the last few months. This birthday is very different from the past few I’ve had.

We’ve lived away from family for my past seven birthdays. While I loved the Twin Cities and culturally felt at home, there was a loneliness that I could never quite overcome. We built an awesome circle of friends who became like family, who I miss often. My TC peeps, I miss shivering with you as we look for a keg line that hasn’t frozen at the Beer Dabbler, enjoying the world’s best butterscotch pudding at Brasa, and debating the merits of Mukluks. Though I was really happy to see the Buckeyes beat the Gophers last night (and I was right there to see it happen!!), I scowled at anyone who made mean comments towards the institution that awarded me a doctorate. I am missing you all a lot today.

We spent my last birthday in south Florida and were introduced to a new circle of friends.  I consider our time in Florida as a crucible that burned away some of the stubborn independence that often caused us to turn down needed help.  I believe Florida helped create a path for us to return home, though the lessons learned in the process left scars. There are so many of you in Florida that I owe my gratitude.

This birthday, I’m finally home. Though I may have been having a fabulous time on some of the last seven birthdays, I never felt HOME. Those feelings with home that you equate with walking in the door and peeling your bra off, or walking down the street and remembering what it looked like when you were five, or not seeing the grungy areas and dirty corners of your town because they are unchanging and don’t call to your attention anymore. . .THAT feeling of home.

I love the Twin Cities, the culture, the people, the stubbornness, the glorious acceptance of every walk of life. I LOVE you! But, you are the second home. I’m sorry. I wish I could pack up these central Ohioans and drag them out to your awesomeness because that would be perfect. But, my mom hates driving on highways, and my sister puts a coat on her kids when it’s 60 degrees, and well, it would just never work out. Know that I love you and miss you dearly.

But, I’m finally settled, and in a place that surprises the hell out of me. I said I’d never move back here, yet here I am. I said I’d never live this close to my mother, yet I bought a house two blocks away from her. I said I’d never plant roots in this town, yet I’m working with the schools to make this place better for LGBT kids and their families.

I attended a conference at Children’s Hospital yesterday and got to speak on a parent panel right after Dr. Norman Spack. I got to shake his hand and have a 10 minute conversation with him as he talked about the futility of trying to define biological sex and how we are so much more than our X’s and Ys. There’s a blog post coming about that but the point right now is that I felt like all my nerd passions were merging together. Science, medicine, making the world better for transgender kids. It was heaven.  I’m meeting all kinds of super parents of gender-awesome kids and we’re all making a difference right here in my home state.

Is it perfect? Nope. There’s tons of work that needs to be done. The state policies are some of the worst in the nation for transgender individuals to say nothing of what we have in the school system. It drives me crazy and makes me hurt for the kids that are the victims of constant school discrimination. But, I want to stay and make things better because it’s home.

We have neither hard core winter nor sandy beaches. We have no Beer Dabbler, our state fair pales in comparison, and Universal Studios is very far away. But, my family is here, and my heart is here, and that makes all the difference.

We move into our new house next week. The house we bought. Our HOME. And for the first time since we moved away in June 2008, I feel settled. Our life is hectic and messy and filled with appointments, obligations, meetings, and the mundane. And it’s so amazingly wonderful because we’re finally, finally

home.

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Why we can never go back to Menards

Yep, I know what’s happening in Missouri and Ohio. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter then you’ve probably seen my posts.

But, I need a break from thinking about those issues! So, I thought we’d take a walk down memory lane. I am hoping to start a little series entitled “Did I ever tell you about. . .” because our twin stories are legendary with those who know us. While I like to keep this blog mainly about transgender issues, I’m also trying to show you that we’re just a family like everyone else. I’m not sure that this is the story that shows that off the best, but here goes. . .

I had just gotten off a grueling day shift at the hospital and picked the kids up from the babysitter’s house. Fighting traffic during rush hour, we made our way to a home improvement store. They were young; probably around three.

It was blustery that day, as is typical if you live in Minnesota. It seemed like nine out of twelve months could be described as cold. As we trudged through the gray slush, I distinctly remember asking the kids if they had to go to the bathroom.

If you’re the parent of a young child, you know that it’s best to ask frequently if your kids need to use the bathroom. Before you leave the house, before bed, before the movie starts, during commercials, as soon as you get to the restaurant, before you leave the restaurant. Mini humans are like water sieves at that point in their lives. Water goes in, water comes out. Almost immediately.

So, as was normally the practice, I asked my two bundles of snow pants and winter coats if they had to pee. When they bobbed their little heads in the negative, we proceeded into the store.

After browsing through paint swatches, gardening supplies, and new appliances (because why not?), we rode the free amusement ride (otherwise known as the moving ramp) up to the second floor. One tiny hand was firmly grasped in each of mine as we rode that glorious-ramp-of-joy to my favorite part of the store.

We were living in a beautiful turn-of-the-century craftsman style home that was equal parts charming and inconvenient. The home improvement store was a frequent stop in our never-ending battle to add function to our home. While I don’t remember what drew me to the store on that particular day, it was always a habit to walk through the bathroom models and dream about the possibilities.

The kids were right behind me. I mean, right there. As I stood there gazing, mouth agape, at the most beautiful tile flooring ever, I heard snickering behind me. It didn’t register at first because, seriously, the tile flooring. But, I glanced up, annoyed that someone would break my reverie of bathroom remodeling bliss.

I saw an adult, no make that three adults, clearly all patrons of the store, staring with amusement in one direction.  As I turned my head to follow their gaze, I realized that my innocent little angels were no longer right beside me. It was then that I saw them.

Two little butts.

Two little naked butts with coordinating frontal anatomy were both poised and ready to launch a urinary assault on a pristine alabaster display toilet. I shrieked and bolted for those little butts, but I knew I wasn’t going to make it in time.

I had looked at too many items in the store. The wallpaper that I was never going to buy, the carpet swatches I wasn’t even interested in. Their bladders were only able to hold a shot glass worth of liquids before imminent evacuation was necessary. That point was probably reached well before I’d even ascended to the bathroom nirvana that was about to be destroyed by twin golden arches.

Imagine, if you will, a slow motion scene of me, hair trailing behind my frantic and horrified face, arms outstretched in desperation, shouting, “NOOOOOOOOOOOO,” in a futile attempt to staunch what nature had told my children was right and natural.

In their minds, a toilet was for two things: number one and number two. They had to pee, their mother was clearly helping them by bringing them to the fanciest toilet they’d ever observed in the whole of their three years of life, and so, pee they would.

It was, in that moment of harpy-like shrieking, that their startled faces glanced up to observe the face of their mother coming at them like a freight train.

People, it was enough. It was ENOUGH!

I got there in the nick of time; no golden bullets having yet been released. I pulled their pants up, and we RAN, I mean RAN to the bathroom. One kid was tucked under each arm like I was an NFL running back about to score the winning touchdown. People were dodging to get out of my way, a shriveled old bird tsk’d at me with a look of disapproval on her pursed coral lips, I think there was a tuck and roll at one point, and possibly an end cap made the casualty list. I burst through the doors of the bathroom hoping that I wasn’t about to take out an innocent bystander on the other side. It was in my way and nothing was stopping me.

I got to the bathroom and threw them into a stall. Pants were pulled down and bladders released. I was a hot mess of sweat and running eyeliner but at least I was able to leave that store with the knowledge that my children’s urine was safely deposited in the appropriate receptacle.

That evening we had a serious discussion about why the display toilets at Menards are only for show. And, Mike and I had a really long laugh over beers (okay, it was probably whiskey).

That story happened easily six or seven years ago and remains a family favorite. The kids, who’ve heard this story dozens of times, continue to laugh hysterically each time they hear it. They ask for the story every few weeks, and it seemed high time to share it with you, our dear readers.

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Cutting down on screen time

Not every topic can be about transgender issues. Why? Because at the end of the day, we’re still a really typical family. During a recent interview, I was asked what I would want other people to know about us and my reply was that overall, we’re shockingly normal. So normal, in fact, that I think most parents can relate to what I’m going to talk about today.

We’ve all been there, and at this point in the summer, you’re probably pretty frustrated by the questions about ,”Can I get on the computer? Can I go on Minecraft? Can I watch YouTube? Can I play Wii? Can I play Road Blocks? Can I get on Roku? Can I watch Netflix? Can I (insert screen-themed request)?”

It Drives.

Me.

Crazy.

Which I’m convinced they know because they’ve perfected the art of asking in tandem until I’m raising a white flag and beating my head into the corner.

It was one of those peaceful moments when they were losing brain cells in front of YouTube and I was losing mine in front of Pinterest (hey, if you can’t beat them, join them) when I ran across this little gem.

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You can find it here. I adapted it to fit our needs as we were still finishing up some homeschooling at the time.  And, you can see I added some important additional rules.

 No Screen Time Each Day Until

We’ve been using this method for about 2 months and it’s working great. My kids are doing basic hygiene everyday WITHOUT me nagging them constantly. And, best of all, they don’t ask about the computer until all of this is done. Most days.

I have a chore list right next to this one and they are both firmly attached to the fridge. It’s cut down on so many questions. Yes, each new chore they attempt requires explanations, demonstrations, and occasionally tears (usually mine), but it’s working out better than I had hoped.

It’s like magic.

If you have any other tips and tricks to cut down on screen time, nagging, or other things that drive you crazy then I’d love to hear them!