You don’t know me, but I know you. See your shining face with hope already jaded in your eyes. I know of your struggles and your dreams. You are a fighter, dear child. A rainbow warrior ready to fight to be who you were always created to be. Ready to change the world so that others can find the same pride in themselves that shines out in you like a star. Sometimes it’s hard. This world is not always ready for a trailblazer such as you. I hear the words others would say to you, to your parents, to your sibling. I see the questions brewing in those who do not want to understand. Know this, they are afraid to understand because that means they might be wrong, and if they’re wrong about this they might be wrong about other bigger things. Human grownups are strange that way. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to learn. I see you, dear child, for all that you are. We need you so desperately in this world. Know this, when the road is hard, and people do or say hurtful things they are merely afraid and your fierce love will help them in this new world. Be who you are. Set the world free.
Dear young person,
I only know you a little, but already I love you for this shining handsome, lovely person you are in the process of becoming. You’re on the cusp of adulthood. There and not there at the same time. Learning you are free, but still held back. No person goes through this time unscathed. I’m here to tell you to have courage. You have the power to shape your future. There will be hard times, there will be people who don’t understand, but the same is true for everyone. Be who you were always meant to be. You can do it. Even as just one person, I stand behind you. Call your name out to the universe and let it be heard. You are more powerful than you know, and they fear the day you discover it.
Such love echoes though your soul. You would walk through the fire to give your children a fair and just world. You will not see the ripples you cause by walking this road with your child, letting them lead you on this quest. You cannot know how much it will impact the world when your rainbow warrior stands tall and leads us to our salvation. As a parent I know the fears. Both my children have chosen hard roads and walk them unafraid while I cower in the background swallowing my fear. I see the traps, I see the thorns, the snares. I see the places where the road ends and a leap of faith must be taken. No one can know, save those that love a child unconditionally, what it is like to have to watch them while they grow. Your courage is no small thing and it is not smaller than that of your rainbow warrior. It is your courage and faith and love that feeds them. Your joy in their being is what creates the fierce love they fight for their world with. Have faith. We all watch them galloping down the path on a steed of self actualization. I give you my love and faith. For you are a rainbow warrior too.
You are glorious in battle. Did you know that? Did you know how you shine when speaking out for others? I know you fight to fix this world because you’re fighting for your own right to exist. Don’t let those that fear you take away your joy. I know you’ve seen it all. The unspeakable atrocities our parents hide us from when we are young. The pain of seeing beautiful souls unloved for the petty excuse of changing their shell. Those things are real and speak to a society in distress. Fight. Break the dome of our existence in two. Show others a light they can’t even conceive of. You were gifted by knowing who you were from an early age. You are battle tested making yourself into that person. Now blaze through in justice and love, and carry us in your wake. You may not always see the ripples and tides you cause, but they will come back and lift you higher. Fear not loneliness or hate, for you are surrounded by love.
With gratefulness that you are all in my life, thank you.
The raising of children is a sacred duty. If we want a better society, we start with our children and attempt to raise them better, to not accept the societal problems we live under. Books and art are a great way to incorporate those ideas to children.
JEA very recently opened up a kids imprint, JEApers! My fellow press artists and I have been in lots of discussions about getting these books good art and what the industry looks like for children’s writers and illustrators. What burdens do they bring into the market? Should we be the press that publishes books about gender creative children (pre-adolescent group that defies gender status quo. i.e. boys who wear dresses) because it’s right, and stick our noses up to the inevitable backlash from new ideas? Or should we stick to the tried and true golden book model? What do we gain or lose then? Dr. Seuss was a huge pioneer in his day, incorporating ideas into his books that could potentially have him arrested in his era, but has become a mainstay and standard of children’s literature, in some cases for those very ideas.
I’m going to go back to an old landmark study from the 1940’s. Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a study in which both black and white children were asked which baby doll they liked better, the black or white one. A huge majority chose the white doll because they, even the black children, perceived the white doll as being all around better. Prettier, smarter, nicer. This study showed how very damaging racism is and the messages we surround our children with. It took many many years, but that study was a step in normalizing race equality. The lesson was so well learned in fact, that I run into all white families that purposely buy their children black, American Indian, and even Asian dolls, so they can normalize these cultures for their children early on.
I believe children’s illustrators have a chance to really make a difference here. I think we need to make a point of including different cultures, races, gender creativeness, faith practices in our drawings. If the character is never described by the author, why not make the child Asian, or American Indian? If the room is never described why not put some African tribal art on the walls? How about sneaking in bits of culture into the nick nacks of a scene? Maybe Grandma wears a pentacle, or Uncle Dan has picture of the Baha’i house of worship on his desk. Maybe Mom is in a wheelchair, or uses fake legs to walk. If we want our children to live in a global society we need to make seeing these cultural cues normal.
I’m currently illustrating a children’s book written by my husband, who likes the pen name, Uncle Dave. You see a sample page above. I have armies of teddy bears in this book and it was very important to me to include a gender creative bear. This choice was made after watching the struggle, devotion, and strength of a friend of mine who is raising her children to make their own music in every possible way. For me, personally, gender creative children are on the rise. Just like being in the LGBT community or a bi-racial community, they are here to stay. I support rainbow and blended children everywhere. And on a more selfish note, when my children come in contact with someone who looks or thinks different, I would be ashamed if their first reaction is fear. It doesn’t really matter in the end whether you agree or disagree with the differences people are born with or choose. It’s about teaching children to learn and grow from them all and to sing their own personal music as loud as they can because it brings them joy.
I’m going to start this blog with a plea to the readers. Please remember when raising your children, you are not looking to create a well behaved child; you are looking to create a well rounded adult the rest of us can live with. How many people did I just piss off? I hope a lot. That will keep you reading, and now I have the chance to explain why.
The childhood condition is a temporary one. In the average lifespan of 80 to 90 years, the time a person spends as a child is less than 15% of their total life. I’m not a math person, so that’s as close to a solid number you’re going to get from me, but let that sink in. 15% of a lifetime is spent learning how to be a person. This doesn’t count the teen years, where you are mostly an adult just learning how to make good decisions and what your beliefs are and how to handle society with those beliefs. With 85% of our lives being adults why do we have such a short view of parenting?
I’m not raising children. I’m raising people to be functioning adults. From the very first lesson, to the day they walk out my door the last time, I am making an effort help a person become the best they can be. I’m not super mom. I make a lot of mistakes. I try hard, and cry a lot. But I’m not focused on my kids being kids. I’m focused on who they will become.
This is one of those things, that once said (or written) becomes an ‘aha’, ‘well that’s a no brainer’ kind of idea. Deep down we all want our children to have a future and the choices we make in regards to parenting, both good and bad, are all to that goal. The problem is the everyday choices, good and bad, get lost in the shuffle.
Parenting is hard. No one age is any harder or easier than any other. They all come with their own joys and pitfalls. Occasionally individual children have ages that are easier than others, but no one GREAT age over all. Kids have temper tantrums. My 10 year old STILL has temper tantrums almost daily. People see this and try to judge what kind of parent I am. Obviously I must be doing something wrong. Children who are given consistency don’t act like this, right? In this case, wrong.
I have never once in either of my children’s lives given in to a temper tantrum. Not once. I have one particularly interesting memory that many parents laugh over when they hear the story of my son at age 2. I was very pregnant with my daughter. About to burst in a few weeks. I was a single parent at that time. I won’t bore you with the drama, but things were very hard for us. I’d had to take public transportation with my heavy belly and a 2 year old on a 30 minute ride to get to the closest store I could pay a bill at. I’d learned by then to pack snacks and toys and things to do. I used the small cane stroller for ease on the bus, and otherwise employed all the tricks I could think of. But my son was 2 and having to sit still and behave on a bus ride and walk for long distances and wait in lines. Honestly there’s only so much a kid can take in that circumstance and there was no babysitter to leave him with, no kindly grandma nearby or even a trustworthy neighbor. I couldn’t wait to pay the bill or I would lose electricity. I couldn’t pay early because the doctor had taken me off work so I had no income worth talking about. All the standard ideas parents and well meaning non-parents alike had for avoiding this situation were just not going to work. We were in this ‘melt down waiting to happen’ place and no way to get out of it.
Anyone used to small children, parents or not, can see what is coming. I don’t remember what I had to say no to, but that was the last straw for his baby mind. He reached his limit in the middle of a store, waiting at the service counter. I was rightfully exhausted, in pain from pregnancy problems and pretty much at my limit too. I think it was the exhaustion that led to my response. He sprawled his little baby butt on the floor of the store kicking and screaming. As tantrums go, this was a mach 4. I sighed and conducted my business. I carefully scooted him away from everyone else and leaned against the counter watching him. After a bit he stopped and looked at me as if to say, “Have you had enough yet? Did I get my way?” I know he was 2 and probably didn’t really understand what I said, but I looked at him and asked, “Are you done yet?” He wasn’t. This went on for another 10 minutes before he was tired enough to give up. I’m not entirely sure he even remembered what the problem was.
I was too tired to carry him out of the store, but if I did where was I going to take him? Truth be told he was beyond my high risk pregnancy weight limit so I could have done myself and his germinating sister damage. The responses I got from people during this episode were an entire study in psychology. Some laughed and encouraged me. Even not knowing I really had no choice here, they got it. They may or may not have been parents. Some shook their heads in disgust. They may or may not have been parents. Some openly glared at me. I’m pretty sure they were not parents, but they might have been.
All I could think during this was that I was too tired to care what anyone thought of me and if I gave into him now, no matter how tired I was, he’ll never learn. I wasn’t thinking, oh then he’ll be bad more often. I was thinking how pathetic it would be to watch a grown man throw a tantrum (this of course excludes people with various issues like autism or FAS, etc.). The bad part is, in my lifetime I have seen, otherwise mentally and emotionally healthy adults throw temper tantrums or think the world is their oyster. These people, as annoying as they are, have not been taught to be adults. For whatever reason, their parent’s eyes were not on the prize…the end result.
I don’t mean to be accusatory. Parenting is literally the hardest job on the planet, and the most important…and the most rewarding. As I said before I have not always made the right choice or been perfect, but my eye is always on the prize. My kids suck at doing dishes. They rush through and put things away dirty, they leave water everywhere, they break things. Sure it’s easier and more effective to just do the dishes myself, and sometimes I’ve so had it with them I do, but what do they learn? If I don’t stick to it now, when they move out on their own they’ll get sick or have bug infestations because they don’t know how to do the dishes right. Sure it’s easier to just let them wear the morally reprehensible clothing options (tube tops, skirts that show butt cheeks, writing across the ass of pants, adds for drugs or alcohol) their friends wear, but then what kind of self respect am I teaching them? What kind of mates are they going to end up with (gay or straight) then? Sure it’s easier to just give the kid a candy bar or chips or caffeinated soda, but if I don’t work to give them healthy bodies now, how can I expect them to be healthy adults? How can I expect them to make good food choice and to know that while this piece of pizza tastes great if they have too much they’ll feel sick. I have to show them those connections.
I read a great blog post by Matt Walsh about peoples’ reactions to public temper tantrums. It was a great read and made some valid points. I encourage you to read it. What I loved even more about the post was the conversation that ensued about it. It wasn’t heavily abusive like I’ve seen some of those things go, but had a lot of great points and counter points. The readers really thought about what he had to say. Some agreed and some didn’t. But it prompts me to say this:
When you see a child melting down in a public place, I know you are annoyed and irritated and parents and non parents alike wish the child would just stop remember this: What kind of adult do you want to live with for 85% of their lives? This 15% where parents work their hardest is short lived and the choices they make now effect an entire generation. Remember as well that you have no idea what choices the parent has so don’t assume they can just leave or that good parents don’t have kids that throw temper tantrums.
Society as a whole, parents and non parents alike, need to keep their eyes on the prize and stop judging. Maybe if you, the person who may or may not have children, who may or may not be well behaved, took a moment to think about what kind of adult you want to share space with will do things like encourage the parent in question to stay the course because you don’t want this child thinking adults get to do these things. You know that if the child does grow up thinking they can act like that, you’re the one that will have to share this planet with them.
Susan is a plural writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends.