Author: Mary Elizabeth Smith

Finding hope in times of despair

Here I am, always last minute, writing this the night before. Which happens to be election day, and also my 36th birthday. I will try not to talk about politics, as hard as that is right now. I will talk about parenting, and hope, in times of despair. I have parented in times of despair before. It is very, very difficult to give energy to another human being when all you can think of is how sad and screwed up things are. How hopeless you are. What do I do when I feel hopeless? Honestly, I usually drink, and...

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Those three little lines

Just the other day, after my son’s first day of Kindergarten, I sat at the table and started to fill out all the contact information and emergency forms for his school. And as I cruised through all the family information I came across the “Additional Information” space, with it’s requisite three lines. I thought, “ok, I got this. I can sum up our unique family situation in only three lines and make sure they know it’s all good and I’ve got it under control and that even though Inti has a unique family to what might be considered the ‘norm’ he and I are totally well adjusted”. And so in just a few words I tried to sum up what I know to be the big things in Inti’s life that might affect his behavior: 1. Inti is very sensitive and has a hard time with transitions, hence the very difficult teary goodbyes; 2. He has watched his papi become a mapi in a very short time, and; 3. He has undergone long term separation from one of his parents as well as major geographic change in the past few years. Ok, deep breath, I did it. But it didn’t feel complete. And so I started writing more, starting with an additional sentence, and then my words bleeding down the margins in ever-smaller letters. I didn’t want to burden...

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This is what family looks like

At the beginning of this past school year my son was asked to bring in pictures of his family to hang in his cubby. This had happened before when he had started at a different daycare, and will inevitably happen again when he starts Kindergarten this coming September. Every time it happens, I go through the same process of questioning and doubt in my head. What do I want Inti to convey to his classmates? How much explaining do I want him to have to take on? Will I be helping him feel comfortable with his non-traditional family by putting it all out there for everyone to see or will I be making him more subject to unnecessary bullying by forcing him to constantly answer questions about his family? Though he was born to a relatively “traditional” family, in terms of there being a father and mother, it was never really traditional by small town U.S. standards. A Bolivian father, a U.S.-born mother who frankly was more “Bolivia” than “U.S.”, two stepsisters, one who lived in Bolivia and one who lived in Chile. Several generations of parents and grandparents on both sides of the family who had been divorced, remarried, divorced again, remarried again, leading to a family tree of astronomical proportions (and a tremendous need for white-out). Now, Inti has all that same crazy family history, but he...

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On consent and raising boys to be men

I am very hot and cold about the news sometimes. I can go days without watching it or listening to it. On the weekends I will often try to unplug completely from any sort of news source. But then there are stories that I obsess over. I click on every news article, watch every related video that pops up on my newsfeed, to the extent that I become less productive at work and less engaged at home because all I can think about is this one particular story. It doesn’t happen often but when it does happen I know it is for a reason, and I also have to be very intentional about taking some distance. This is happening right now with the Brock Turner rape case. I cannot pull myself away from it. Ever since I heard the victim/survivor’s testimony, her words have been rattling around in my head. I think about her and what she went though, and it triggers several things in me, in my own body, from my own experience. And then I look at the picture of the perpetrator, of the rapist, and think, dear lord, I hope I am teaching my boy right so that he doesn’t ever, ever rape another human being. Is that crazy? For my mind to jump from that nasty story of rape behind a dumpster to my own...

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Unresolved grief

It was almost two years ago now. It was my first trip back to Bolivia after I had made the heartbreaking decision to leave. We were in a taxi crawling slowly through the traffic-ridden streets of La Paz when Lucia turned to me from where she had been looking out the window and said, “Tu me dijiste que me ibas a cuidar para siempre”, “you said you were going to take care of me forever.” The comment caught me completely off guard and I stuttered something about it being “complicated” and turned away. That moment tears me up inside. I should have explained it to her. I should have told her how much I love her but had to take care of Inti and I. I should have said something, anything, but I didn’t. Lucia is my stepdaughter. I met her when she was two years old, and fell head over heels in love with her at the same time I was falling in love with her father. She was my daughter before I had my own child, and she was treated as my mother’s first grandchild and my grandmother’s first great-grandchild. Everyone in my family treated her as their own, and I believed, deep in my heart, that I treated her the same as I would treat my own children. Until I didn’t. Until I couldn’t. Until my...

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