What I Wish You Knew: I’m Raising A Black Son in America

In my suburban community, the white mothers I know are overwhelmed and disgusted by what they’ve seen on the news this week. We’ve seen grown black men and women being murdered in front of our eyes, and we feel helpless. But what we don’t see is that each one of these victims was loved and cherished by a mother whose worst fear has been realized.

In this new series, “What I Wish You Knew,” I’m asking various mothers to tell their stories, and I’m hoping to become a better person and a more active participant in change. I recently interviewed Torsha Tomlinson, wife of Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson and a mother of two, about what it’s like raising a black son in America.

Tell me what it feels like when you hear on the news that another innocent black man has been killed or threatened? What goes through your mind?

It feels like betrayal over and over again. There is a flurry of emotions: anger mixed with anxiety, sadness, fear, hopelessness, and an overwhelming desire to do something about it. Every time I hear about yet another unarmed black man being killed and the smear campaign begins along with the despicable explaining away of the unnecessary loss of another black soul, I’m reminded that the lives of people who look like my son are not valued. I’m reminded that to some people, my son’s skin color makes him a target and there’s nothing I can do about it. I cannot change his skin color.

When I see the mothers of these men and hear their cries, I find myself drowning in feelings of inadequacy and anxiety due to my inability as a mother to protect my son from this. Prayers for his continued protection go through my mind. Unrealistic thoughts of keeping my son safe at home with me forever and ever run through my mind. Then I prepare to sit my children down and explain it all to them so that I can ensure they hear the truth from me before hearing lies elsewhere.

What have you seen to be the reaction from your white friends? What do you wish they understood?

First let me say that people who I previously thought to be my “friends,” who had no reaction to the repeated injustices of people who look like me and my children, are no longer my friends. The white friends I do still have in my life are very supportive and genuinely want to help facilitate change. They are honest with themselves about their own privileges and what they see happening to people of color. My white friends are disgusted by all of this and afraid for their own white children to be growing up in a world full of such hate.

They are struggling, just as I am, to try and explain all of this to such young, innocent minds. They have a strong understanding that an injustice against one of us is an injustice against all of us. But they do still feel helpless and lost at times … clueless as to what they can do to make it better … afraid to speak out for fear of being attacked, ridiculed or judged by their white friends and family.

I understand that fear and I respect them for knowing and believing that doing nothing makes them at the very least an accomplice to racism even if they aren’t racist themselves. My white friends have a desire to take some responsibility for ensuring that we don’t inevitably leave these same problems behind for our children‘s children to continue to have to deal with. I wish everyone understood that.

How old is your son, and how do you explain all of this to him?

My son is nine years old and for his own safety and the desire to want to keep him safe, we don’t sugar coat any of this with him. Although we never show him any of the graphic images in the media, we do make sure that he is very much aware of what is happening to women, children and men all over America who look like us. We have been honest with him about America’s history and its lingering effects. Knowing the history allows him to understand the why. This is something I think is missing in schools and in people’s homes.

I get it! Parts of America’s history are rough, unpleasant, brutal and even heartless at times. But when you know better, you do better! Tolerance and understanding of another group’s plight only comes from learning the deep-rooted truths about their history. We are doing everybody a disservice by always sweeping the ugly parts of our history under the rug. Not discussing and teaching how we really got to this point is part of the problem.

We teach our son that there are good and bad people in the world from all walks of life, and that a person’s skin color alone does not make him or her good or bad. We spend a lot of time building him up. Developing a healthy self-esteem for our son is very important to us knowing that he has to go out into a world that wants to bombard him with negative images, narratives and portrayals of people who look like him.

We also believe that representation matters, so we go out of our way to ensure he sees, meets, reads about and encounters black men of color in a positive light. We want him to know that his life matters, has worth and value, regardless of how the world around him perceives those who look like him.

Tell me about the conversations you and your husband have had about keeping your son safe.

My husband and I had to start having these very scary and difficult conversations with our son when he was eight years old. Honestly, at first, it was a source of contention between us because although I felt like it was time, my husband was completely against it. Rightly so, he wanted my son to have the privilege of remaining an innocent, naive child for as long as he could without having to comprehend such grown-up issues.

However, the more we kept seeing incident after incident occurring in the media, we knew that even though he was so young, educating him and preparing him to have to walk through life as a black man was vital to his safety. As black parents the longer we waited, the more at risk our son would be. My husband and I realize that it is inevitable that our son will one day face discrimination, so we agreed to never stop talking and teaching him how to handle it in ways that will ensure he will always return back home to us safely.

When he’s out riding his bike or playing with friends, are you worried?

Due to the current environment and, frankly, the shift I’ve seen roughly over the last three-and-a-half years, my son has not been outside riding his bike without my husband or myself with him. This is simply due to fear that the police could be called on him by people who think he looks suspicious or doesn’t belong here. It’s simply not safe, not worth the worry, or the chance of a terrible irreversible accident occurring like what has happened to too many other brown boys.

What has your son said to you?

This is all very scary and confusing for him. Grasping the concept that someone who doesn’t even know you and who you’ve never done a single ounce of harm towards could dislike you, wish ill will toward you and want to cause you harm is very difficult for him to understand. We honestly weren’t aware of the effects the lack of justice served in all of these cases was truly having on him until an incident occurred a few months ago.

He was having issues at school with another student for months and never once said anything to anyone about it. When things finally came to light we asked him why he let it go on for so long without coming to us, and he said that “it was because the other student’s father was a police officer and that he was afraid he’d do bad things to our family since cops can do anything they want.”

I cried a million tears in that moment. I hated how these awful killings being allowed to occur with no justice being served were shaping my child negatively and instilling fear in him. I was not okay with that. We have had to put a lot of energy into teaching him that not all cops are bad and that no human is perfect! We remind him that most cops are the real heroes that dedicate their lives to keeping us safe. Most importantly, we remind our son of how unfair it would be for him to be judged by the bad actions of others, so we will not take part in unfairly judging all officers by the bad actions of a few.

What is said when you discuss these tragedies and our culture with your black mom friends?

The overwhelming topic of almost all of our discussions is fear … fear for our husbands and children. There’s also an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. We are tired of this! We are tired of talking about it, fighting it and having to prepare our children for it. We watched our moms and grandmothers go through this same exact fear for their sons and husbands. They watched our great-grandmothers deal with the same fears, and so on and so forth back too many generations to count.

We fear that our children and grandchildren will still be dealing with the same thing. We also discuss the hurt and disappointment some black mothers feel toward their white friends who choose to bury their heads in the sand and pretend like nothing is happening. We share our struggles with the idea of a “friend” who breaks bread with your family, sleeps over, attends birthdays, whose children participate in extracurricular activities and play with your children, and claim to care about your child and family, yet he/she displays such indifference for what is happening around the country to people who look like your family. The appearance of desensitization and blatant disregard to death, murder, injustice and unnecessary loss of black lives displayed by some of those white “friends” is flat out shocking.

What do we take for granted as white moms?

There are many things I could touch on pertaining to the things white moms take for granted but I’d like to focus on the number one thing that I am currently struggling with. I would imagine that just like all moms you love your children and want the best for them. You want them to live out a full and happy life like the rest of us. Most moms struggle with the idea of our children growing up and getting older. We’d keep them babies forever if we could. But I’m not sure if white moms fear their white sons simply getting older could lead to them being killed. I doubt white moms ever worry that simply growing up could come with a negative perception toward their sons and could cause them harm.

I am the mother of a sweet, caring, shy, baby-faced, nine-year-old brown boy … a boy who is quickly growing every day into someone who will be viewed as just a threatening and intimidating black man by people who have zero regard for the real content of his character. I would imagine that white moms are proud when their sons grow tall and start to fill out into handsome young men. Black moms know that same height and size on our sons paired with their blackness can cause fear and intimidation that could lead to their deaths behind the hands of fearful and bias officers.

There are studies and statistics that show that, in general, black boys over the age of 10 are judged to be less innocent than white boys. A 2014 study found that black boys are seen as more culpable for their actions within a criminal justice context than white boys. Research also found that black boys as young as 10 years old were significantly less likely to be viewed as children than their white peers. My son is weeks away from turning 10, and the thought of anyone considering him to be, punishing him as, treating him like, or expecting him to behave as an adult is scary and absurd.

What do black moms wish white moms would tell our children when these tragedies occur?

Tell them that wrong is wrong regardless of whom is at fault. No one is perfect, not even police officers. Ensure that they know a person’s skin color doesn’t automatically make them guilty or at fault. Make sure they understand that in America we have a judicial system for a reason, and that no one’s life should be taken over a pack of cigarettes, an evening jog, a counterfeit $20 bill, failing to signal, a pack of Skittles or a toy pellet gun.

Human life has to be viewed as more valuable than that. Realize that you ignoring these acts of injustice and not addressing them in your own home reads as disregard for human life and is teaching your children to do the same, which keeps us in this perpetual cycle generation after generation. So even if you choose not to tell your children anything when yet another unarmed black man has been killed by law enforcement, your reaction or lack there of will inadvertently be a lesson to them anyway.

What can we do to help fix the problem? Posting on social media is one thing, but how do we ignite actual change and save lives?

This systemic problem was rooted into the very foundation that America was built on over centuries and centuries. Unrooting it and getting rid of it will not be an easy task. Stand with us! Speak up & speak out! We need allies who understand that this problem is everyone’s problem.

Honestly, black people are not responsible for centuries of unwarranted violence against them, so I truly feel that the onus should not solely be on us to fix it. I believe you can help by first acknowledging there is a problem. You all live in the same world we live in. You witness the same things we witness. You have heard our cries and complaints forever. So a good place to start is to stop denying the facts of racism in this country. Then begin addressing the views and teachings in your own homes with your families, children and within your circles.

Educating your children is most vital. Stopping the spread of hate and division to other generations is key. Expose your children to positive images, books and representation of people of color. Encourage your family to get to know people outside of their own race if they don’t already. That is the most organic way to cultivate understanding and tolerance for those that are different than us. Educate your friends who you hear spewing evil and hate towards people of color. Stop being afraid of losing your white friends for speaking truth to power. If they are down with hate, ask yourself why you are friends with them in the first place. Understand that simply not being racist isn’t enough. We need you all to be anti-racist and instill the same into your children.

 

What I Wish You Knew: Life for Refugee Mothers

We each have a unique story, though our stories often go untold. We’re intelligent enough to know we can learn from one another, but we stay in our bubbles because it is comfortable. I’m guiltier than most, with my busyness as my shield. If we took the time to just ask the questions we really want to ask and truly listen to the answers, our empathy would not only change us, but change our children as well.

In this new series, “What I Wish You Knew,” I am asking various mothers to tell their stories, and I’m hoping to become a better, more empathetic person and a more active participant in change. I recently interviewed Stephanie Giddens, founder of Vickery Trading Company, about her experience getting to know and working alongside many refugees in the Dallas area. What she has discovered may surprise you.

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VTC Founder, Stephanie Giddens

Giddens founded Vickery Trading Company as a way to help refugees in her community by “equipping them for long-term success.” She hires refugee women and pays them fair wages to sew clothing for the Vickery Trading Company brand. Employees receive training as professional seamstresses and instruction in American workplace behaviors and expectations. They are guided through the resumé-building, application and interview process and, as VTC graduates, given job placement assistance. The women are also trained in ESL, reading, handwriting, and typing before they leave. In other words, they are given a chance to succeed.

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Dress by Vickery Trading Company

Stephanie, what do you think the majority of people would be surprised to learn about refugees?
Refugees are not illegal immigrants, migrants or asylum seekers. While there are millions of refugees that claim the Islamic faith, the majority of refugees in the world are Christian. Also, to date, no terror-related activities in the U.S. have been performed by refugees. ZERO.

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What is the challenge like for these women, many of them mothers?
It’s different in all countries, but for the Rohingya community, for instance, their government comes to their villages to kill or capture many of the men and boys before sending the women and girls to refugee camps. Only 1–2% of all people in the refugee camps get resettled, and they are completely reliant on relief efforts.

Their first step is to be named official refugees by the U.N. After that, a lottery system determines whether or not they will be resettled. On average, refugees — the lucky ones who get resettled — spend 8–15 years in a refugee camp.

If they are chosen to resettle in the U.S., they undergo multiple health checks and security screenings with eight different government agencies. Once here, the refugees must find a way to repay the airfare and are given 90 days to learn English and get a job. Many of these women come from cultures where the women don’t work, so we try to give them sewing skills they can use to work from home with their children.

One of the most challenging parts for us is that these women were never taught how to learn. Many of them have spent the majority of their young lives in camps and have little-to-no education. The Rohingya women don’t even have a written language, so there is no way for them to translate words to English.

They struggle through all of this so that their children may receive an education and have hope for a different life.

What do they think of us?
It’s funny because when I was first beginning this business and interviewing women — of all cultures — they would always ask me if my three children had the same father. I finally got up the courage to ask why they would ask such a question. It turns out that the only impression they get of American culture in their homelands is from what they see on TV and in movies, which are not the greatest examples of morals and family values.

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What have you learned from them?
They love so well. If I even have a headache, they bring meals to my door. The Muslim people groups really know how to slow down and celebrate life and the people in it. They are a communal people, and there is always a feast, a festival and a reason to celebrate.

If we don’t have the time to volunteer or the money to donate, what can we do to help these mothers?
We can model an attitude of inclusion in front of our children. Our children will see us if we smile and say hi to the women in the hijabs. It will register with them.

We can choose to go to a playground in a refugee neighborhood instead of the ones in our community. We can let our children play alongside the refugee children and show them that Americans are kind.

We can stop the cycle of fear that affects both their community and ours. The American mind has been trained to see a hijab as equaling terrorism, and the Muslim refugees from Taliban-laden communities have been taught that Westerners are the enemy. Oftentimes, they are afraid to engage with us, and surprised when we turn out to be friendly.

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What do you want people to take away from this piece?
Be willing to look at someone differently. Be willing to see someone as a human and not as a political case or a statistic. You would be so surprised, and your life would be so much richer.

 

My Favorite Mom Hack: Recipe-Free Cooking

I am not a chef. I wouldn’t even consider myself a cook. This is why the daily plight of feeding a family of five dinner gives me heart palpitations.

Though I am admittedly obsessed with reading cookbooks and watch Food Network religiously, I hate following recipes. Trying to keep three children entertained while following along and executing a recipe is just too much to ask. So, here’s my secret to getting dinner on the table every night: I just cook the things.

Once you have some basic kitchen skills and a rudimentary understanding of ingredients that work well together, JUST. COOK. THE. FOOD. Quit overthinking this cooking and meal planning thing. You don’t need to spend the only free time you have making a freezer full of casseroles and slow cooker “dump meals” (which, by the way, can we please as a caring society collectively rename?!). You don’t have to spend hours meal planning. You don’t even need a recipe or a plan of any sort. Here’s what you do need:

-Spices
-Herbs
-Olive Oil and butter
-Lemons, limes
-Garlic, onions
-The ability to sauté, use an oven, boil pasta, and slice, dice and chop!

Now, take all of that knowledge and walk into the grocery store without a list … Exhilarating, isn’t it? You’ll want to know how many dinners — and, therefore, proteins/veggies/grains —you need. For instance, if I’m making 4 dinners I know I need 4 proteins, probably 6-8 veggies and 2-4 starches/grains, depending whether I’m making a pasta or not.

Now, buy what is on sale. I learned to do this the hard way. I would come to the grocery store armed with a list of ingredients based on fun, new recipes, and meanwhile I would completely miss out on the fact that salmon or steak was hugely on sale that week. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …

Next, make your combos. So, let’s say salmon is, indeed, on sale. Now, I know that salmon goes well with asparagus and brown rice because I like to dine out. If brown rice is too expensive but pasta is cheap, I will put together some sort of salmon, asparagus, lemon pasta. Meal one is done!

Let’s try another one. Let’s say sausage is on sale. Sausage works well with peppers, so I’ll make that combo from brown rice, onion, peppers, and broccoli. Once I get in the kitchen, I’ll figure out what I want to do with it. I might throw the sausage in slow cooker than morning with the peppers and onions. Or, if it’s a crazy morning, I’ll just sauté or roast everything together and toss it over the rice. I’ll add my spices based on my mood. There are no rules! Just cook the food.

Once you cook like this for awhile, you learn to love it. The heavy weight of meal planning, shopping for ingredients and following instructions just lifts from your shoulders, and you’ll actually enjoy cooking again. At first you have to learn to trust yourself in the kitchen, but you’ll get more confident the more you do it.

You’ll save money, time, and — most importantly — headspace. Food should be fun, not just another thing “to do.” Now go cook some food and enjoy your life!

What is a “Beauty-Filled” Life?

Lately I’ve had a few people ask, “Meghan, why is your blog named ‘The Beauty-Filled Life’ when you write mainly about boys and dirt and chaos?”

Exactly.

Allow me to explain. Sure, I could have named my blog “Snips and Snails” or “Bless This Mess,” perhaps “Fart Frat” would have been well received … but, see, that doesn’t tell the whole story. “The Beauty-Filled Life” does.

Years ago I read something by one of my favorite authors and thought leaders, Glennon Doyle, and it stuck with me. She said:

Beautiful means ‘full of beauty.’ Beautiful is not about the appearance of your outsides — beautiful is about what you’re made of. Beautiful women are women who spend time discovering what they love — what sings to them — what their idea of beauty on this Earth is. Then they make time each day to fill themselves up with that beauty. They know themselves well enough to know what they love, and they love themselves enough to fill up with a little of their particular kind of beauty each day.

My sons and their antics fill me up. They are my well from which I draw beauty. I don’t want a beautiful life; I want a beauty-filled life. A beauty-filled life has absolutely nothing to do with pretty, organized, controlled, orderly perfection. It’s the guts, the real soil of the human experience. Beautiful things fade, but beauty-filled moments last forever.

A floor covered in laundry, changing wet sheets, potty training, tantrums, messy buns and baggy eyes are not “beautiful” as we have come to know beauty, but these experiences and the love driving them are filled with beauty. A beauty-filled life is one that is rich with authentic beauty, the kind that is a finely woven tapestry of pain and triumph, anger and redemption, dirt and cleansing, growth and forgiveness and unconditional love.

No one except advertising agencies ever said our lives are supposed to beautiful in the sense of pleasing to the eye. They sell that our homes are supposed to be sparkling clean, our bodies fit, tan, and toned, and our little ones well behaved. Between magazines and our newsfeeds, our minds are inundated with images of perfectly styled homes with clean, bright kitchens and minimalist playrooms donning only wooden toys. It’s what we love seeing, otherwise it wouldn’t be everywhere, but it also makes us feel bad.

I used to work for those magazines. During photo shoots, we would enter gorgeous —albeit lived in — homes and spend hours cleaning up, moving furniture and styling shots. We worked hard to remove all the true life from the shots only to turn around and perfectly style an “ideal” life. A glass of orange juice on a veranda next to a vase of flowers and a sun-dappled croissant, a perfect half-moon of wooden trains laying next to a “Curious George” anthology in an otherwise untouched playroom, families enjoying a backyard picnic though they’ve never done that before.

I was fooled by these images for a long time. I still have to remind myself that they are not the truth. I look at my messy home with chipped paint on the walls, and I’m embarrassed that we’re not perfect. How could we possibly have company over when we don’t have an open concept home, our laundry baskets have actual clothes in them, our toys are plastic, and our couch is from Ikea! (These thoughts are even more ridiculous when typed). But then the little voice inside of me that has sprouted thanks to maturity and experience reminds me that perfection is not the end game. What if we saw real homes filled with the beauty of real life? Would we then focus less on curating Insta-worthy shots and more on filling our own rooms with joy and laughter?

I’m tired of “bettering myself” and my life. I’m weary from filling out mindfulness journals, reading self-help books and trying new diets. I’m nostalgic for the levity of childhood. My boys bring me back to that place. They make me roar with laughter, and I love watching them really enjoy their lives with wild abandon. They look at me with love in their eyes, and it has nothing to do with whether or not the laundry is done, where we bought our furniture, or the size of my pants. They just love me. They make me feel beauty-filled.

One day someone is going to tear down the houses we’ve so proudly built, paint over our furniture and laugh at our clothing choices. It just doesn’t matter. “Pretty” doesn’t last … I’m living for a beauty-filled life. And, even if I one day get to travel the whole stunning world, I hope the view from inside this humble home is the one I remember well into my old age. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

 

 

Day Eleventy Hundred

We are adjusting nicely to our “new normal” at the Riney casa, and things have fallen into a doable rhythm during our quarantined days. I’ve discovered the joy of home improvement. After refinishing and painting our old dresser, I discovered I am a genius, a renewer of all things, a gifted phoenix of discarded furniture. My fingertips are transformative, and I breathe new life into antiques. My family now finds me entranced, staring at walls, cabinets, tables and the like, dreaming of what gifts I may bestow upon them. I’ve painted so many things green, my husband has named the color “quarantine green.” I don’t have a problem; you have a problem.

My sons have been surprisingly obedient when it comes to their schoolwork. They are enjoying their Zoom meetings and the freedom found in working from home. They read in the tree fort, create art on the patio, take the computer in the sandbox … yep, they took the computer in the sandbox! It’s crunching as I type this.

My oldest has been very busy. He has spent his days trying to create a robot to rub my back (Go right ahead, son. Of course you can use those batteries and old cords.) and has been collecting treasures in an old shoe box. The other day he found a real dinosaur bone in the side yard and was beside himself with excitement. He made me promise that we will take it to a museum when they reopen. In unrelated news, our neighbors had barbecue ribs the other night.

My middle child has adopted the early-morning routine of a retiree. He wakes early, comes down the stairs, turns off the porch light, turns on the living room lights and makes me a cup of coffee. He’s five. The youngest spends his days outside, and to be honest that’s where he belongs. He’s a man of the woods, untamed and virile. I found him barking at the trash truck yesterday. The other night when we finally got him out of the dirt and into the bathtub, I heard my oldest mutter, “The eagle has landed.”

We’ve been playing lots of board games. It can be challenging at times to play with my middle son, as he has apparently inherited my patience. During game time, he displays the temperament and understanding of a young Archie Bunker. But most of the time, he is just a doll, the most affectionate and loving of all three. He covers me daily in compliments like, “You’re so warm and fluffy” and “Your face is prettier than your leg” (Notice he only said one leg, so I can assume I’m rockin’ one very good-looking gam).

But he’s not the only sweet one, I had another child recently give me a long, loving hug … followed by a flatulent with which he then proceeded to lock me in the room. Before shutting the door, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Smell the love.” Romantic. You’re welcome, future daughter-in-law.

They really are such good boys, and this time at home has brought them even closer together. Last week they went on an intense dinosaur hunt in the backyard, the goal being to catch “just a mid-sized herbivore.” They grabbed their backpacks, filled them with snacks, dinosaur books and tools and headed out on their mission. They dragged a dog crate to the backyard, placed within it a bowl of ham, propped the door open with a broom and waited for the creature to emerge. “Get into position” they all yelled as they climbed into the tree fort to wait. The bushes began to move, and it was like the opening scene in Jurassic Park. They caught a golden retriever.

My husband is really wonderful about encouraging imaginative play. He’s such a sweet man. When he noticed that they were digging for dinosaur bones, he saw it as the perfect opportunity to make a lasting memory by letting our boys borrow a tool that belonged to his grandfather. This tool just also happened to be large and sharp and every mother’s nightmare. After he returned to his desk, proud of the special moment he shared with his sons, I spent the afternoon running interference. I’m happy to say we only lost one tree branch, everyone’s digits are still in place, and I only saw actual sparks once.

All in all, we’re doing great. We’re so encouraged by the good we see in the world, and we’re really enjoying this time at home. The house is a mess, things are “off,” and we certainly don’t look our best. But, we’re healthy, we’re together, and, for that, we’re filled with joy. These crazy boys of mine are growing up way too fast, and we won’t always have dino hunts in the backyard. I’m going to soak up every last smelly, messy moment of this. I hope you’re doing the same.

God Bless,

Meghan

 

The Bachelorette: Quarantine Home Edition

It’s been five weeks now that I’ve been living under the same roof with these three young bachelors, and I still can’t decide which is my favorite. Tonight, they are treating me to a very special date, and hopefully my preference will be made clear.

The towheaded one is a sophisticated fellow, and he has asked that I wear my hot pink blouse with my leopard skirt. He thinks I would look fancy with a pink scarf donning my neck like a Hitchcock Grace Kelly. Who am I to disappoint? The eldest of the three gentlemen has suggested I wear red lipstick, diamond earrings and a fancy updo to complement my outfit. The purple eye shadow he has chosen completes the look, and I’m now ready for my big date.

It’s 6’oclock on the dot, and the doorbell has rung. Very punctual … I like that. They each greet me at the door with a pink rose — a nice touch — and they are dressed impeccably. (I learn later that the youngest one almost came in the buff, a bold and confident move). The eldest seems to be wearing his sweater backwards, a unique style that says “I don’t care about the rules of this world.” The towheaded one tells me I look beautiful, and my heart skips a beat. The youngest gentleman saunters in last and asks, “What happened to your hair?” He doesn’t care for the updo, and I appreciate his honesty. I admire a man who knows what he likes.

The waiter, who is mighty cute, seats us at his best table, and the towheaded bachelor pulls out my chair, a gesture that does not go unnoticed. The dinner begins with a reading of the wine list, while the sounds of jazz standards coast through the air and the glow from the candlelight illuminates the three handsome gentlemen before me. The waiter brings us baguettes and butter, and the youngest grabs the whole stick of butter off the plate and takes a bite. His savage ways intrigue me.

We all order steaks, medium well, with mashed potatoes and asparagus. The youngest drinks his milk with wild abandon, letting it splash on his face. His entire, uncut steak hangs from his mouth like a hockey puck. His caveman soul sets him apart.

The eldest entertains us with knock knock jokes throughout the meal, and the towheaded one keeps his cash on the table as if to signal to everyone, “I’ve got this.” Now it is time to pay, and the three gentlemen play a fun trick on the waiter by hiding in the curtains and jumping out with the money. What a gas! The towheaded one announces, “I’ll pay for dinner,” to which the eldest replies, “I’ll pee for dinner.” Oh, he is a hoot!

Now, off to the movies; it’s just down the galley kitchen. When we arrive, the theater employee — also very cute — informs us that the show will begin in 10 minutes. He points us to the arcade where we play the crane game and skee ball. My dates are all so competitive, and the youngest will throw a downright fit if he loses. He doesn’t care who’s watching; I admire his intensity. The gentlemen buy me Junior Mints — they prefer Skittles — and we head to our seats in preparation for the feature presentation, “Father of the Bride.” How did they know my favorite movie? How thoughtful!

As the feature begins, the towheaded one crawls in my lap; what a dear! He kisses me up the arm like I’m Morticia Adams and, at one point, sucks on my elbow. But who am I to question how someone shows affection? The eldest must be getting jealous. He has made his way to my lap, as well. He has asked that I rub his tummy … must have been the candy. Since, we’re getting more casual, I decide to get more comfortable and take down my hair. The youngest looks over at me, puzzled, and mutters, “Your hair doesn’t look stupid anymore.” Playing hard to get, eh?

We end the evening with one rousing game of “Is It Chocolate or Dog Poop on the Blanket”? Good for such laughs! What a wonderful evening. In conclusion, I’m sorry to say my choice has not been made any clearer. They each possess admirable qualities, and I’m equally enamored with them all. I like being their best girl, and I’ve decided to keep them all to myself for a little bit longer.

Coronavirus Lessons: Who Really Needs Pants?

In this time of uncertainty and fear, one thing has become abundantly clear in the Riney household and that is the complete indispensability of pants. The comfort of being properly covered is seemingly lost on these three sons of mine, and the result is a lot of flesh. While I am appropriately suppressing my Carona-induced stress through a combination of baking, praying, and soft pants, my children have embraced their “new normal” as their “new nudist colony.” I’ve seen things … things I can’t unsee.

When you live with four boys—I’m including my husband in that count—your gauge of what is socially acceptable changes. Your judgment is clouded by your primal need to survive, and you begin to allow things that haunt your dreams. These three young boys who emerged from my womb are bound and determined to destroy everything in their sight. These are the loves of my life and also the reason I will never own a black light.

I’ve grown very accustomed to spills, unnamed fluids and mystery stains. Water has become like air to me. My youngest son can pour out an entire bottle of water onto the rug in front of me, and my pulse does not change. I confess that I have actually convinced myself that a sloshed-around La Croix is akin to deep cleaning with club soda.

Due to our Coronavirus quarantine, we’re living in the backyard these days. Our neighbors wake to the sweet sound of me shrieking, “Quit licking your brother!”, “Dog poop is NOT a toy!”, “Is it bleeding?” and “Cover up your bits!” If you’re lucky enough to be one of our neighbors, please don’t call CPS. I assure you they’re perfectly safe. I’m the one at risk.

Growing up an only child, I would dream about my certain future … a family of one—maybe two—girls. We would giggle while we baked in matching red gingham aprons while listening to classical music and musing about our favorite parts of “Anne of Green Gables”. Let’s just note that while I’m typing this, all three of my boys are making flatulent noises on my body. It’s a glamorous life, folks.

My oldest is seven now, and with time comes wisdom. I’ve learned how to handle even the most trying situations with threats and bribes grace. Though I still find myself fantasizing about the pioneer times when you could tie little Ezekiel to a tree while you finished the laundry, I am growing accustomed to this boy life. At this point I’m only a loud whistle, a poisonous dart, and an industrial-strength carpet cleaner away from having this whole parenting this figured out.

So, to all those moms who are in the same boat during this crazy time, just know you’re not alone. We’re going to make it, and we’re doing the best we can. Don’t forget to laugh … and lose the pants.