Not Back To School

American parenting tells us to bully our children – but it’s not worth it and you don’t have to do it

Not Back To School
Today on social media a lovely article, about a year old, is making the rounds: “‘What’s the magic word?’ The routine shaming of children” on parentallies.org. It’s a concise article, scratching the surface and making some excellent points. I appreciated the read.

I’ve written many pieces on “manners” and the social framing of children. I long ago realized that we are constantly, and I mean constantly, rebuking, correcting, and yes – abusing – our nation’s children. In fact when I am out and about in a location with lots of kids – children we are, by the way, regularly segregating into institutions and adult-sanctioned and -controlled activities – I am exposed to a litany of aggressive correction and unwarranted personal evaluation heaped upon our younglings. I might be sitting on the sidelines watching at a sporting event, or assisting in a schooling environment, or hanging out with parents of young children. And I am astonished at how much evaluation children receive and how many demands they hear. It is obvious adults don’t realize how much they do this, even as they engage in the behavior. Children are told what to do, how to talk, how to think and feel. “Stop fidgeting!” “You need to use your words!” “Don’t get upset!” They are also talked about in ways that are dismissive, ridiculing, auditing, and just plain rude. “He eats nothing but junk food!” “He’d play [insert popular video game] all day if I let him!” “She is so bossy! She gets it from her mother!”

In these environments we don’t just talk about the children; we talk about parenting, too. Harsh, manipulative, and bullying strategies are openly discussed – and met with approval. On the bleachers recently I listened to a parent tell another how he gets his children to behave in a restaurant. He holds the children’s pre-paid gaming cards and threatens to snap them in half if the children aren’t quiet at the table. In hearing this the other parents laughed and nodded. I certainly understood the man’s impulse, but I felt horrified and angry. What a humiliating experience for those kids! And how smugly this father reports his method, as if it was something to be proud of!

We are simply swimming in these stories, in these strategies, and in the explicit and tacit endorsement of this kind of parenting.

And this is one reason I keep writing, and I keep posting, and I keep talking about how we did things differently, and why. My partner and I found a way out of this depressing, exhausting, ugly mess – and we are so grateful for this, and for those who helped. Our kids are doing really, really well for it. But the thing is, it isn’t only our children who are important. More children are being born, being raised, being schooled. New parents are finding themselves reverting to the way they were handled – or fearfully attempting to parent in reaction to their upbringing. More children are coming to believe that they deserve this kind of rough treatment – at the hands of the adults they love and esteem. They are learning that this is the way to parent; learning this, because they are being parented this way day after day. More children are being raised to repeat for example (to themselves and others), “I was spanked and I turned out fine!” despite the fact it is not “fine” to believe a a large, powerful person should hit a small, entirely vulnerable one, and despite every bit of scientific evidence continuing to strengthen the case that hitting harms children. I’ve had practicing Buddhists vehemently defend spanking to me! I’ve heard it all.

If I would have read these two articles – the parentallies one, or an article like my own – when my kids were very small, I would have been gobsmacked. How on earth is it possible to raise kids if we aren’t “allowed” to do any of these things (time-outs, punishing, spanking)? What kind of boring-ass/saintly/know-it-all parents could possibly stick to such a restrictive list of parenting behaviors? How will we teach children right from wrong? You’re going to tell me my parents were abusive? You’re going to tell me “time outs” and manners-prompting is out of line? For fuck’s sake! I turned out “fine”!

But I didn’t turn out fine, and a few years after starting my family I began to see this. Parenting is scary, and it is hard work. And I began to understand the way I was parented and schooled wasn’t as great as I’d previously thought. I have articles like these, to thank for this awareness.

Once we were exposed to gentler and more intelligent parenting methods, my partner and I went much further. As we came to see there was a different way to do it, that the logic was sound (if a bit foreign to us!), we knew we had to choose. The old way – or something new? We put our most treasured responsibility and our greatest assets on the line – our own children. It is one of the most deeply felt experiences of gratitude for me, to this day, that we did.

Keep in mind that even after I was on board, it took me years to stop reflexively parenting the way other people wanted (demanded) I parent. Like most American children, I had been regularly corrected and shamed, ridiculed and punished. My family and teachers liked and loved me, yes, but they also treated me like property, and they treated me as less than a person. Adults do this to children; it is very rare to find an adult who does not. As a result of my upbringing I wasn’t well-prepared to become a parent myself, even though I thought I was. I had unrealistic ideas about how children behaved (one family member told me to “control” a two-year-old at a gathering by “simply” making him sit on my lap for the duration). Looking back, I think I thought you could train a child like a dog (no one says it like that, but it’s how many adults operate).

More ominously still, I had a lifetime of programming that was very hard to dismantle. I became angry when my child said “no”, when he defied me. Nasty, toxic words sprang to mind when my child disobeyed (words like “brat”, “tantrum”, “throwing a fit” – and other words and phrases I won’t print). Publicly, I was eager to “prove” my child’s good behavior to every grownup I met. I deferred to adults, and to authority; their requests and whims and demands – from the waitstaff at the restaurant to my former teachers to the grocery store cashier to our dentist – were always more important than my children’s rights and development. It was my job as a mother to have “good”, clean, well-mannered children, and to parade them in certain public spaces on certain schedules, and to demonstrate how adorable and well-behaved they were. Of course, I didn’t put this in those terms at the time. But it’s what I was trying to do.

This? Was a nightmare. For the adult who has the main bulk of child-raising duties, it’s exhausting, and it’s terribly restrictive. It’s far worse, however, for the children involved.

It took me a very long time to stop parenting the way I was parented, and to start consistently parenting better. And this wasn’t just because of how I was raised; it was because of how people were still, in modern society, talking about parenting children. For one thing when I did rebuke, punish, or embarrass my children – I was praised. Not just within the family, but socially. I once corrected my youngest child in a cafe, scaring the hell out of him with stern words and mommy voice, but getting that short-term result: his obedience. Immediately afterwards a woman approached me and said, “That’s great! I love to see a good mom. Kids need to respect their parents!” I felt terrible. I knew I’d bullied my child. I knew he hadn’t learned how to “behave” – he’d just learned I was scary. But I was starting to realize I couldn’t stop being scary. I’d get a few days of being gentle, then I’d relapse.

Now, I’m only human of course. And this piece isn’t about my specific story. The point of this anecdote, and what my cumulative decades of parenting has shown me, is that in our culture if you bully your child you will get far more direct and social kudos than if you are aware, gentle, consistent, and patient. You will get more public accolades if you demonstrate you are raising “good” children, than if you put your children’s well-being first. And unfortunately, bully-parenting works. For a while.

Unfortunately, there is a trade-off.

When I parent the way I was parented, the way I used to parent, there will be a cost. Sometimes I see the cost immediately; often, the results will reveal themselves over the years. When I parent punitively, I foster a great deal of fear and shame in my child. I will probably forget the specific rebukes, punishments, and time-outs, but my child will remember them – either explicitly, or through an unconscious deep sense of shame and “not good enough”. My child is now more likely to grow up with resentful, fearful ideas about children and childhood, about power. My child is more likely to seek out imbalanced friendships, and have difficulty standing up for himself with clarity and directness. My child is more likely to be fearful, and to keep secrets. My child is more likely to find unhealthy friendships and relationships (and I won’t be able to “fix” those, but I will want to). My child is more likely to do what she thinks will get approval, rather than what stems from her authentic dreams and desires. My child is more likely to seek consolation and anesthesia through food, dieting, social climbing, sex, drugs and alcohol. My child is more likely to develop constant anxiety or depression, to become a bully or a target for bullies – or both. He will see vulnerability as weakness. He will look forward to “when it’s [his] turn”, and in time he will develop his own controlling and manipulative strategies for his own children.

And unfortunately, that’s when all those social kudos I enjoyed will run out; they won’t mean shit. That’s when my investment in punitive parenting won’t feel so solid. When my child begins having outbursts in the classroom or on the playground. When my child starts disrespecting the property of others. When my pre-teen bullies vulnerable children, online or in the hallways. When my teen shares his ex-girlfriend’s nudes with other young men, or starts drinking, or starts stealing, or develops a drug habit. When my teen becomes angry and uncommunicative, or bullies her younger siblings (sneakily or overtly). When my grown child is just one of those miserable people, feeling grateful for little and martyred by life in general. When my adult child is a workaholic; when they visit only a requisite amount, and don’t let me in to their personal lives. When I watch my own grandchildren hit, or given time-outs and bribes.

At that point it won’t feel so great to have parented the way I did. I won’t necessarily know what I did wrong, but I will know something was amiss; I will have a general sense that I bear some responsibility. And unfortunately, time’s up.

I still have options, of course. I will be tempted to cling to comfort. I can try to not see my role in my child’s unhappiness, if I like. I can continue to try to interfere in my child’s life: to “fix” them. I can tell my neighbors about my daughter’s degree and her condo, while trying to squash my worries about her eating disorder and relationship difficulties. I can tell myself, “I did the best I could”, and try to make it up to my grown child by buying him things or pressuring him to come to family gatherings or letting him lash out against me as some sort of penance. I can loan or gift him money. I can take a self-affirming class and try to say my mistakes are in the past. I can do all these things, but they won’t blot out the vague awareness that something went wrong some time ago. I may come to a better awareness but by then, a tremendous amount of damage has been done and there is little consolation for that. (My advice if you find yourself there is to get your ass out of denial, because you deserve to make amends and to start healing!)

Hey, I told you: parenting is scary. And it’s hard work.

But like I said: there is a way out. I firmly believe it’s never too early, or to late, to start on this path.

Modeling good behavior, parenting gently, and trusting our children takes not only effort, it takes discipline. It’s essentially a reprogramming job. It takes time. It takes commitment. That’s OK! We have time. And we can commit! Being patient, aware, gentle, and consistent is harder than it sounds, but it is also possible.

Let me address that original topic, that of “manners” (that is, children saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, children learning not to take things or to interrupt, that sort of thing). For most children, 99% of manner acquisition will be attained through their observance of how we as adults model manners, and how gentle, consistent, and aware we are in correcting or helping our child. This means I need to watch my own behavior; I need to be courteous and kind. But of course, no matter how courteous and kind I am, my child is still a child. He will need a lot of help to learn. It is tempting to say he will make mistakes, but your small child’s manners slip-ups aren’t mistakes any more than a child’s crawling is, before she can walk! When you come to see children as needing a lot of attention, nurture, mindful parenting, and a lot of practice, you can relax a lot more while they do what they do.

In gentle and attentive parenting, we do not need to correct the child harshly when their manners fall short. And just as importantly, we do not need to rebuke the child in front of other people unless it’s absolutely necessary (it really, really, rarely is). If my child isn’t hurting anyone, I simply make eye contact and say “thank you” or “excuse me” for the child – hopefully with the same dispassionate, mindful, and kind energy I’d employ when I show the child how to use a fork. This strategy took me a while to figure out, but it is genius. This way I am addressing the social situation and the other human being(s) involved, but I am not shaming or humiliating my child just to placate other adults. This way, too, I am practicing my own mindfulness. It’s the easiest thing in the world to scold our child aloud; when I refrain, I discipline myself. The (small) social pain of the moment, not squandered by the energy of my own self-serving outburst, sharply focuses me on the job at hand: my parenting. I am less likely to see my child and my parenting as a constant stress and a struggle, but rather a responsibility I have mindfully agreed to, every day. And this strategy – hard as it was at first – became easier when I realized that I give way more a shit about my child’s development, than that a stranger think I’m a “good mom” for correcting my child showily.

But key also, is to not pretend the child doesn’t have a problem. I see parents doing this too: ignoring or excusing their child’s difficulties, or blaming circumstances instead of attending to their child and their family life. I see this often where there are unaddressed or poorly-addressed difficulties in the home – marital or relationship problems, eating disorders, mental and emotional health issues, or drug and alcohol use. The parent develops increasingly frequent and complex explanations for their child’s difficulties, instead of addressing the underlying dysfunction or difficulty. And for many parents, these excuses are made as loudly (and with sometimes rather complex, meandering justifications) as another parent might make a show of delivering a rebuke. So in the case of the child grabbing a toy, the parent will “explain” out loud why the child grabbed the toy – “Oh he’s so tired!” – or even blame the situation: “They shouldn’t have such tempting playthings here!” And let me be crystal clear in saying I see these things happen a great deal, but I also used to do the same myself. There isn’t a parenting mistake I write about, that I haven’t stumbled over.

I think these avoidance- and blame-rich strategies are also a grave disservice to a child, as much as the tendency to performatively punish her. They teach our child to look for an excuse for bad behavior; they also teach a child to focus on herself and her motives or feelings, rather than to halt harmful behavior and if possible turn focus on the person or property has been wronged. After all, saying “oh he’s so tired!” when my child has just pulled a fistful of your child’s hair, is not at all kind to any party involved; it’s merely my attempt to try to save face as a parent. It stems from the same self-serving behavior as scolding does. The truth is, our child cannot be allowed to hurt another person, full stop. The truth is, it is going to take children years to learn this, and seen in that light it’s no universal tragedy to be either the grabber or the grabbed-on (although it can feel like a personal tragedy for the child, and we can and should honor this feeling). In situations like these, if our child is frustrated or tired we should endeavor for the discipline and awareness to give him a nursing session, or a cuddle, or a snack, or to leave the playdate. When everyone is feeling better, we can assess the situation and plan an intelligent strategy. If we have a larger, systemic problem at home – financial distress, marital problems, dieting and disordered eating, drug and alcohol use, bereavement or loss, under- or over-medicated family members, or a myriad other miseries we all live through and with – those need to be addressed along with our parenting strategies. Making excuses is a damned slippery slope, and it never helped my parenting a jot.

A few more words about this “manners” business before I close. Children get older, and generally stop grabbing things from other children. They are likely, however, to need more time to learn to say “please” and “thank you”, and to speak with kindness. This will lead to socially embarrassing moments, and it is absolutely unreasonable if they public thinks kids should never have a slip-up and parents should always respond with grace. Again, as parents we need to model better desired behaviors ourselves, and make sure our children are exposed to other adults who do. We need to attend to the stresses in the home; to be honest about them and address them. And as for the embarrassing moments themselves, I’ve learned to simply redress the grievance myself, or at least attend to the other party as best I can. Over time, my children learned courtesy through this modeling.

Sometimes however, children do not catch that their behavior was rude or hurtful, and it may be helpful to talk to them about this. That’s okay, because they are human beings who are still learning! If necessary after an incident, when I am alone with the children and we are all reasonably rested and fed, I have learned to take the opportunity to say, “Hey… I noticed at so-and-so’s you didn’t say ‘thank you’ when she gave you your plate.” We go from there. Every single time I have practiced this, my children have been receptive. And they have learned better this way, rather than being publicly shamed. They are more likely to take personal responsibility, and watching your child take personal responsibility – without feeling a lot of self-conscious shame and low self-esteem – is one of the most special moments in parenting. This result won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with gentle, consistent, and attentive parenting. And while some children will need more help than others, what is more to the point is that many parents and teachers do not take the time to slow down, respect children’s dignity, and bring these matters for discussion in a calm, dignified way.

May we all continue to improve!

Our children are 16 and 14 now and regularly commended for their deportment, positive self-image, presence, and yes – manners. They have healthy relationships within the family, and within their peer group. They are joyful, creative, and they are strong and kind. Even with all my failings – too many to list here – the experiment of gentle parenting has clearly been a success. And what I am most astonished by and what saddens me deeply – and angers me! – is how consistently and frequently my partner and I were told it wouldn’t work. We were told through direct words, through argumentative strangers, through concern-trolling and “devil’s advocate” arguments, and through mainstream parenting strategies as pitted against ours, that if we didn’t do the things cited in “‘What’s the magic word?’ – prompt for manners, punish, scold, and correct verbally or physically in public – our children would turn out to be ENTITLED BRATS.

I am so glad I did not do what these people told me to. I hope you don’t, either. Just because this is what a lot of adults think (and parrot), doesn’t mean it is correct. Let these ideas die off like the shriveled, sad, malformed little strictures they are. Invest your time and efforts in something better. Your heart, your mind, and your children’s development and joy, will be all the better for it.

It’s worth it.

***

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HOW NOT TO FUCK UP YOUR CHILD
(ANY MORE THAN THE WORLD FUCKS WITH THEM ALREADY)
(working title)
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Merlo Field Tee In White And Gold Velvet

the merlo field tee (a quick-and-dirty sewalong)

Merlo Field Tee In White And Gold Velvet

Look, I get it.

 

The holidays are intense. For those of us who celebrate – or who are shoehorned into celebrations – it gets hectic. We are barely staying afloat – balancing family responsibilities, meal-planning, travel and party arrangements – while struggling with all the regular bill-paying, job-holding, schedule-wrangling stuff we are used to.

 

Many of us are celebrating Thanksgiving – or some form of communal meal – this month. My suggestion for this very quick sew-along is to carve a little space to sew something cozy. Whether you are making this for a friend or your own enjoyment – a holiday gift or something warm and snuggly for yourself – this is a relatively quick project but a satisfying one.

the bright spot of our lives

The atmosphere at the club is chaotic; there’s a Halloween potluck and dance assembling. Friends flit in and out and talk, smoking or vaping outside and loudly laughing; the energy is high. Flirtations – eyes casting about at one another. Parcels of hot food unwrapped and placed on the tables. It’s cold and crisp outside and warm and convivial indoors. I love seeing people in costume – some of them rag-tag or incomprehensible, others quite developed. You discover a little more about your friends when you see them in their glad rags.

We must do better by our trans children and teens

Content warning: homophobia, transphobia.

Recently on social media I watched as former classmates of mine blasted parents who support their trans children; that is, parents who allow their children to transition and who actively support them through the process. These children, my fellow alumi assert, are ‘confused’… but the parents are even worse. These parents are neglectful, disgusting, not doing their job. Familiar as I am with anti-transgender rhetoric, it is always a bit of a shock to see these kinds of sentiments from people I care about, or people I had previously esteemed.

My partner and I are both cisgender. Our oldest child came out as trans in December 2016. At the time it seemed such a wild coincidence that I’d been focusing on the writings and works of trans activists in recent years. Of course, I will always wonder if this was in fact a “coincidence” – after all, as a Buddhist, self-education on social issues is an imperative and an avocation – or if I had been perceiving something about my child before they came out.

Most supportive cisgender parents in this position are bound to start wondering what they might have missed and therefore worry about how much damage they did. I am not immune to that inquiry or that sense of regret. It has to be said though that for the parent of a trans child, any difficulty we may experience cannot take center stage when it is our children –  raised in families that are neglectful or hostile and within a society that is terrifyingly alienating and aggressive – who need to be given center stage in terms of support and care.

Trans activism and awareness has been a part of our culture for hundreds if not thousands of years; sadly, few people study this history or this body of work (which is, thankfully, always expanding and receiving more general notice). I am thankful for not only the ouevre, I am grateful for its large-scale availability in the age of the internet. I believe my partner and I would have done a great deal of inadvertent and “innocent” but nevertheless severe harm to our child, had we not a small foothold on trans rights issues. Trans children, teens, and adults endure so much discrimination, abuse, neglect, and persecution. They experience elevated rates of social exclusion and danger, and these myriad pressures result in an elevated suicide rate. Given suicide statistics alone, I feel so much anger when I think about my classmates’ disparagement of my attempts to be a supportive parent. As adults it is our responsibility to do better by these children, and as parents we are either their first bedrock strength or their greatest serial abuser. I cannot express myself more firmly on this matter.

So I am grateful for this body of trans activist work, because I was raised in ignorance. My early life was pre-internet, and trans issues were presented as, at best, a fringe subject. You might as well study the mating habits of the Atlas Moth! I was raised in a liberal home (for which I am grateful), and my teachers and extended family always claimed to be tolerant and loving to people from all walks of life. Yet anyone raised by Baby Boomer liberality will be familiar with the well-intentioned but corrupted ideas woven through this familial-political tapestry. For instance: gay people were welcome members of society but they were also Othered and singled out in conversation at most opportunities: so John became “my gay friend John” (while we never have “my straight friend Mary”). These same adults persist in using the word “homosexual” as a noun, even after being told it is an offensive and outré descriptive. Gay individuals are easily tolerated or even loved (if you can call it that), but men who were too “sissy” were disparaged (in favor of the stoic, silent, suffering gay man), and lesbians who were too “mannish” were looked at as both admirable (for their supposed toughness), and alien (for their difference). The existence of femme lesbians was ignored. Any other sexual identity was simply not named and therefore erased.

If my upbringing with regard to gay and lesbian individuals was relatively poor, you can appreciate how much worse it was for trans identities. The first words I heard describing trans persons – words I heard on the playground or in adult conversation – were (I know now today) offensive, silly, scary, and inaccurate. When adults in my life talked about trans individuals they parroted harmful, ugly views – while absolutely believing they were being tolerant and kind. For instance, one friend of the family that was discussed was a “man who became a woman”, alternately referred to as “she” and “he”. This story was repeated to me carefully and persistently through my childhood without malice, but also with an ill-formed and inadequate viewpoint. Today I know that this story, and the adherence to the framing of this story, is tainted with transphobia.

This corrupted education wasn’t just in the family, or on the school playground either. Examples of trans characters in film and television (especially in the B-movie horror films I loved to watch) were simply nightmarish. Trans men were almost non-existent in film and television, usually portrayed as tragic loners. Trans women were psychotic, evil murderesses or duplicitous divas. Non-binary or genderqueer individuals were invisible, occasionally presented as exotic, weird, and affected. Today when I re-watch these films I flinch; as a child, I simply internalized these portrayals. The messages were clear. Trans individuals were scary; they were Other. They were on the outskirts of society and they deserved to stay there. Even in very recent history, film and television works demonstrate we have a long way to go.

As a child and teen I don’t remember once being exposed to a healthier view of trans identities. I believe that could have helped me a great deal. It would have made an incredible difference if the adults in my life – family, adult friends, teachers – would have cited a person’s pronouns properly, dropped the “male-to-female” lexicon of transition (“used to be a man”/”used to be a woman”), disavowed the practice of deadnaming, and spoke out against toxic (or absent) media depictions of trans individuals. Helpful, too, if the adults in my life would have explained that a trans person can be straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, or any other sexual identity under the sun. I got a crummy, harmful, malformed education on the topic and it’s a crime that so many still do.

Today’s world is a little safer and a little more welcoming for trans individuals. A little. Openly trans individuals are able to run for, and attain, public office. If you are cisgender and reading this, you probably know someone who is openly trans (remember, no one is required to be out as trans, either). In our experience, living in a semi-rural ex-logging town, we have had a great deal of support – more than I would have expected when our child first came out (although as my classmates’ behavior demonstrates, a lot of people are hostile and unsupportive – just not confrontational in person).

Sobering, too, is the fact it is also still a dangerous place for our trans brothers, sisters, and siblings. 2017 had the most yet recorded murders of trans women (mostly women of color). Reprehensible “bathroom bills” dog our legislature in attempts to pathologize, humiliate, exclude, and criminalize trans individuals. Old myths have experienced a rebranding: the “social contagion” theory is making news recently with a poorly-crafted study and the pseudo-scientific term “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (with attendant faux-legitimizing phraseology like “desisting”). Our American president continues to humiliate the trans members of our military; the influence of his powerful position in our country is grievous and cannot be overstated. Quite simply put, adults continue to wreak havoc for trans individuals – adults, teens and children – within the home, in our institutions and law, and in every possible public venue.

That said, I have a lot of hope. Many people are trying to do better. This is a heartening but often messy experience. As the parent of a trans teen, I am often approached in private by people with questions. Most demonstrate their concern, their desire to do better, and their ignorance (for instance if I describe someone as a “trans man” the other party in the conversation is often confused; this shows a profound unfamiliarity with the community and the educational resources available). Sometimes the questions I get are well-meaning but inappropriate: personal questions about my child’s body, sexual preferences or practices, and medical procedures. I am also approached by people who need support or who are confused, because they have questions about their own child.

And then there are those annoying moments – for instance, people who want to burden me with a pedantic insistence that we should not allow an individual to use “they”/”them” pronouns. The argument isn’t that annoying – but watching people press their point over and over and place their personal convenience over the dignity and respect we should afford all citizens, is. This is the sort of self-described “well-meaning and open-minded” person who really, is neither.

I take an active role, both to be supportive as a parent and to be informed as a member of society. I am a member of a few online support groups for parents and allies, and these have been helpful and instructive. I also support (financially and by signal-boosting online) groups that are trans-centered. I participate, if they welcome cisgender members in the fold. I continue to listen to podcasts, to read essays and books, and to offer support not only to my child but to my many friends in the community.

In the present lexicon, a cisgender person who makes the time to do what I have just detailed is often called an “ally”. I don’t mind the term “ally” but anyone who so identifies needs to remember to center the work and experience of trans activists and individuals, always. For an ally, this work is less about being “right” (or getting it “right”) or learning “the rules” (which are in a constant state of flux and discussion), and more about being willing to look deeper, and do the attendant work. I can definitively state that you have everything to gain by being willing to change, and showing that willingness by your actions. The ideas I was raised with about trans individuals were ugly, incorrect, harmful, and pathetic. I benefit tremendously from leaving them behind. My child, and all the world’s children, will as well.

When it comes to trans children and teens, any harm we do to them is inexcusable, and there is no justification for continuing our harmful behavior. It takes time to change, and we will make mistakes – I have made many myself – but to simply ignore the harm we perpetrate is inexcusable. This is most especially true when, as I say, there is so much education at hand. To that end, I charge each person reading here to seek out trans activists and authors. Learn to recognize transphobic language and behaviors, and shut them down. Accept rebuke, censure, and anger from trans individuals without defending yourself. Commit to making the world a more just, fair, and kind place.

For every ignorant classmate online – or any other person I see who thinks of my family as disgusting – there have been ten, twenty, thirty acquaintances who support and love us. They simply use my child’s proper pronoun and they continue to deepen their education. These individuals demonstrate that quiet, shining strength and ability to change for the better – an asset in the human race that is quietly beautiful indeed.

Further readings

Tips for Allies of Transgender People at GLAAD

Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue by Nicholas Teich

activist Julia Serano’s website and writings

“we asked 14 trans activists how cis people can be better allies in 2018” at indymag

“Including LGBT-Content in Sex Education: Four Wrong Ways (and One Right One)” at GLSEN

***

If you like my works on parenting, please sign up to receive notices about my upcoming zine:

HOW NOT TO FUCK UP YOUR CHILD
(ANY MORE THAN THE WORLD FUCKS WITH THEM ALREADY)

SHIPPING HALLOWEEN 2018

Ban-Roll Tutorial

tutorial: ban-roll finishing

Ban-Roll Tutorial

I often get questions about teeny-tiny hems – on men’s shirts, baby clothes, or frocks. I tell them: use a ban-roll. They ignore this advice. They struggle. They have ripples. They ask for advice again. I say: use a ban-roll.

So, ban-roll is sewing notion, a a waistband stiffener used to provide structure inside a garment. It is also a notion we can cleverly repurpose as a teeny-tiny comb. I have yet to meet the fabric it cannot conquer! Shown above a semi-sheer dress in a single gauze. I not only finished the v-neckline with the ban-roll technique, I finished the highly-curved armscyes – without a ripple in sight. This was done to avoid facings – which are fiddly and would have shown through – and a lining, which would have changed the entire appeal of the garment.

You want to purchase ban-roll that is at least an inch wide, and make sure it has a weave to it; not all items advertised online have this weave. Cut a fairly long length; for necklines and armscyes about three feet is plenty. You will want more, if you use the ban-roll for hems.

After you cut your ban-roll strip, carefully cut the thick “selvedge” edge strand at one long edge (you can see this long edge at the top of the strip in the photograph below). Then peel more of the long strands, until you have a depth you like. Shown at the bottom of the strip below: about 3/16″. This corresponds to the 3/8″ hem allowance I have for these seams, since the depth of the ban-roll comb will be half the depth of the seam or hem allowance. Adjust your allowances, or your ban-roll comb, accordingly.


This is the armscye we’ll be tackling! Please note, there are tons of ban-roll tutorials out there that show how to do straight seams or very subtly curved hems. We’re about to tackle a deep curve.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Place your ban-roll right up against the right side of your fabric, with the free end of the comb touching the raw edge of the fabric. The needle will magically travel over the comb. Now, stitch carefully – right up against the base of the comb. Your needle should just kiss that first long fiber on the left. Go slowly! If you stitch over the long strand, it’s kind of a pain and will muss your finished product a bit.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Now here’s a bit of a tricky part. Look how severe the curve is, that I’m approaching. Instead of pulling the raw edge straight – as if you were serging a curve, say – simply sew slowly, take your left fingers in between the ban-roll and the fabric, and push (gently) the fabric into the foot. This finesse is how you avoid ripples in the final product!

Ban-Roll Tutorial

When you get to the end of your seam, you can carefully backstitch, or pull the work off the machine while making sure to snug the stitching line right up against the base of the comb. You can see below, how my stitching line has drifted off the comb base. Simply snug it right back down. This is important, before the next step – making sure the stitching line is right up against the comb base.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Next, you are going to fold the fabric over the ban-roll until the teeth of the comb are nestled in the fabric fold! Some people consider this a two step process. But when you’re done, you will have a nice double fold, and the wrong-side of your fabric will be facing the body of the ban-roll strip.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Next, stitch with the wrong-side of the fabric facing up, right on the inner fold of that baby hem. This essentially means you are turning the work and stitching back against the direction you came. Keep about 1/16″ in from that fold, and stitch slowly. If you come to a curve again, repeat the gentle – very gentle – pushing motion with your left fingers between the ban-roll strip and the fabric.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Now, remove the work from the machine. Here is my curve – before pressing, it already looks pretty good!

Ban-Roll Tutorial

This is the fun part – you get to haul that ban-roll out of the finished hem – and you can reuse the strip many times! Gently tug it out of the seam. Even on very fragile fabrics, this has always gone beautifully.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Gently press your hem/curve – and admire your results!

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Ban-Roll Tutorial

This technique is a lot of fun and provides lovely finishes. With practice you just get finer results each time.

Enjoy!

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Early Fall

don’t look too far, right where you are

We’re crossing F street and Phoenix asks me for the difference between empathy and sympathy. And this leads to a discussion on two tangential experiences: commiseration and understanding. Watching my children grasp new concepts so swiftly, it’s still breathtaking all these years in. I don’t know what brought these emotional-relations topics on but I can think of some salient, personal examples in our lives, and I share them with my oldest as I feel the steering wheel hot under my hand. I glance across the street at a carved wooden structure; the sun is hitting the swollen river and I’d planned to let my oldest drive us down to class today but we were feeling rushed. Phoenix has his new learner’s permit folded up in his wallet, which he’s learning to take everywhere with him.

Not Back To School 2018

better find the one that fits / better find the one that lights

Not Back To School 2018

The fall is suddenly upon us, and it is indescribably wonderful. I’ve felt this exact autumn in my bones most of my forty-one years and I could recognize it with only a handful of my senses. I remember the last ninety-plus degree day, just a short few weeks ago, and then suddenly the temperature dropped. It is still warm enough, with rich rains, sometimes violent ones. My husband kept watering our sparse tomato plants right up until last week, although I told him there was not enough summer warmth left to coax the green fruits into ripeness.

17th Anniversary

on staying married

17th Anniversary

I met Ralph when we were seventeen, in a church. At a word from my mother I shifted and looked back to see him at the head of the aisle; his head was turned. He had a long lean body and tousled red hair and thrillingly alternative sideburns and he was easily handsome. He had expressive hands; he was a drummer. It’s rather incredible I can remember this to the day, how I felt.

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

tutorial: clean finish inseam pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets
I can’t be the only person irritated by the fairly untidy nature of inseam pocket finishes. Often we are lining garments, and in that case there is no need for pocket finishes to be perfect. But for other articles of clothing – like hoodies or simple pants – these pocket finishes will be visible when the garment is inside-out.

I fiddled around and finally came up with a very quick, reliable, and easy method for a good pocket finish. This method uses a sewing machine for the stitching line and a serger for the finish, but you can also zig-zag and trim in place of serging.

Enjoy!

So first: cut your pieces as per usual, except use thread-tails, chalk or washable marker to mark your pocket position in the side seam, rather than clipping into the seam allowance.

Now, we have the four pocket pieces – I call them “kidney-shaped” although that’s not perfectly accurate:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

We are going to serge-finish the curved edge first. Go around the very edge, careful not to trim any of the piece:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

 

Now, we are going to serge the straight edge, leaving long tails:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Next, take these long tails and, using a blunt darning needle, thread them through one of the curved seams and trim. You will end up with a perfectly-finished pocket seam:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets
Now, finish the side seams only of both the front and back piece. Below you can see my black thread tail marking the pocket position:

 

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Pin your pocket to your side seam, right sides together:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Stitch 1/8″ from the seam allowance, starting right at that pocket piece and performing a firm backstitch at the beginning and end of the stitching line. This garment is made with a 3/8″ seam allowance, so I stitched at 1/4″ from the finished edge:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Now, either steam-or finger-press this last seam, then press it open such that the seam allowance faces to the pocket. Press again, if you like. Stitch 1/8″ from the seam along the full length of the pocket, catching all layers:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Here is the underside of that understitching – it looks great!
Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

And here is the view from the public side of the garment:
Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Once you’ve completed the pocket join for all four pocket pieces, it’s time to join the shoulders and then the sleeves. Finish the sleeve long edges before joining to the body, join the sleeves as the armscye, and finish the armscye seam leaving long serge tails.

Next, pin the side seams of the garment together:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

You want to really get your pocket pieces lined up exactly. Sometimes that understitched seam allowance will want to push towards the body of the shirt while you are sewing the side seam and pocket closed. To keep this from happening, I usually sew this long side seam from the sleeve hem, and then stop in the middle of the pocket curve. Then I flip the garment over, and sew up from the shirt hem, meeting in the pocket curve. This keeps the seam allowances from trying to push away from the pocket.

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

When you get to pinning your pocket curve, really make sure the pockets are lined up perfectly with one another. If you cut accurately and you did not trim anything with the serger blade, they will line up beautifully:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Now, it’s time to sew that side seam. Take your time and really make sure your finished edges line up well together.
Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

When sewing toward that pocket I usually “cut over” from the side seam allowance, to stitch right on the finished edge of the pocket kidney pieces. You can of course maintain the garment seam allowance instead, and then go back over the serged edges with a stitching line on a second pass, if you like.

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Here is that underside of the pocket – it’s perfect!

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Finally, those long tails we have at the armpit? Knot these and then slip them into an inner serging channel. A firm finish, and a good-looking one too!

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Those are some sexy pockets!

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

So to sum up, the method is fairly simple:

1. use thread marks, not clips, to mark pocket location
2. clean finish the entire kidney-shaped pocket piece
3. finish the side seams, leaving long serge-tails at the armpit and hem
4. sew the pockets to the side seams, right sides together
5. understitch the pocket side seam to the pocket
6. join the shoulders, sleeves, and then side seams of the garments, keeping a very exact seam allowance
7. continue to finish the shirt

Enjoy!