THE NEXT CHAPTER
As I write this column, my 27th entry of “Writing For Two,” we are swiftly approaching my son’s second birthday. When I picked up that box of CVS brand pregnancy tests in March of 2017, I had no idea what the universe was about to send my way. The last two years have been filled with both heart-bursting joy and gut-wrenching pain—often at the same time. But the time has come to turn the page.
THE TERRIBLE TWOS?
Don’t get me wrong; I have some anxiety about what toddlerhood has in store for me. But I’m also in a place where I’m settling into being a mom and I’m learning to trust myself. I’m learning to accept without judgement that I need help, that I don’t have all the answers, and that being honest about my struggles is the only way to get past them.
Consequently, I don’t fear the toddler stage like I once did. I’ve dug into some great books (The Happiest Toddler on the Block, The Montessori Toddler, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, to name a few) that have helped me understand more about how my kid’s brain is functioning right now, which allows me to take a step back in those heated moments and remember that he is still becoming a human being. I have to be the bigger person in these moments, so instead of fearing tantrums, I try to anticipate them and ride them out.
In the same vein, I try to support other parents when I see their kids spiraling. We all have a different approach, but unless your management method includes beating your kids or cursing at them, I’m here to back you up. It takes a village, and I find myself being a willing villager to total strangers on a daily basis, because being a parent is hard and the world has enough judgemental assholes already.
Honestly, I’m pretty excited about this stage. Sure, they’re tiny walking emotion bags with very little ability to self-regulate; but they’re also a blast to hang out with. My kid is funny, eager to please, tender, kind, and a little eccentric. He loves to read, dances to a beat whenever he hears one, and sometimes likes to hold hands while eating his dinner, just because he needs you to know that he loves you.
He also cries when you tell him he can’t take a bite directly off the side of the $10 block of Tillamook cheddar we got at Costco, and sometimes he falls to the floor in a pile when you won’t let him play with a lit candle. Them’s the breaks. This is an age of extremes, but it’s also a very important stage in our development as humans. So my plan for the coming year is to practice zen-like patience and find any and all opportunities to expose my son to avenues for growth.
While we’re overjoyed to be celebrating Emmett’s second birthday, with it comes the second anniversary of my father’s sudden and shocking death. It hurts my heart to think that these occurrences will always be so intertwined. And having them fall during the holidays is just the icing on the pain cake.
I am very grateful to have a loving, supportive partner. Learning to parent through grief has been very touch-and-go, and he’s been there for me the whole way. My wonderful therapist has also been a source of constant strength and perspective, and I’d be lost without her. I am a work in progress when it comes to dealing with my dad’s death, but I’ve had to make a special effort to ensure that it doesn’t negatively affect my son.
It’s very hard for me to contain the dual emotions that I often have when I look at my kid. When he’s dancing and smiling and singing his ABCs and counting to ten, I see this beautiful, blooming flower. I see his growth and development and realize that he’s a miracle on two tiny feet. And then I see everything that can never be. I see him goofing off with my dad, sneaking cookies and watching cartoons. My body and mind often respond to that clashing moment with physical pain. I literally ache for what is lost.
I cry a lot. That’s probably not a surprise to anyone who knows me; I’ve always been a very emotional person. But my kid doesn’t understand the complex cause of those tears. So I do my best to hide them from him. Oftentimes that’s not possible, and he responds with a soft touch and a confused face, his little lips parting to whisper, “Mama sad.”
I know that he’s getting older and more and more, those tears will feel to him like a response to something he’s done. So I’m taking the steps to talk a lot about feelings. And about how it’s OK to feel sad and it’s OK to cry, that crying or being sad doesn’t mean you can’t also feel happy about other things. I will never stop missing my father, and I’m not sure I’ll ever stop crying, either. But I’m working really hard to make sure my son knows that my pain is not his to carry.
MEET THE PARENTS
This column will be the last installment of “Writing For Two” as you’ve come to know it. Over the last two years, so many of you have written in to share how you connected to what I’ve said in these pages. I have received encouragement, well wishes, and helpful advice from so many of you. The idea of just closing the book and walking away felt so sad and wasteful.
This column has been incredibly cathartic for me, and it has facilitated conversations with friends and acquaintances. It has broken down walls and stomped out silence around difficult topics. It has helped me become a better parent, and when I considered what the future of this space should be, that’s what I came back to.
So in that spirit, when we return in January 2020, this space will no longer be called “Writing For Two,” but rather “Raising Louisiana.” It will be composed in rotation by six writers. I will still be penning two columns per year, but the other entries will be written by five amazing parents, all from different backgrounds and at different points on their parenting journey.
My hope is that every parent, no matter their circumstances, can find connection in these pages. My story is not everyone’s story, so we wanted to amplify more voices and hear more perspectives. We want to dig into the nitty gritty of what it means to be a parent in the modern world, and how we can support each other to raise a generation of responsible, caring, transformative people. Without further ado, meet your newest columnists:
Malaika Ludman is a birth doula and lactation counselor with a background in public health. She was born in DC and raised in Togo and northern Virginia. She spent her 20s serving in the Peace Corps, traveling, studying, and finding her professional self. Now in her 30s, she and her husband David have settled down in New Orleans and are parents to an energetic four-year-old son, Nico. Their family of three will be welcoming a baby girl soon after the new year.
Jessica Arnold moved to New Orleans in 1999 to attend Tulane and quickly realized that she had found her home. She met her husband at Funky 544 on Bourbon Street just before Tinder went mainstream. They live in a chaotic, joy-filled house in Mid-City with their three feral children, huge dog, and resentful cat. Jessica collects university degrees, side hustles, and half-finished craft projects.
Erik Alexander is a parenting blogger whose focus is LGBTQ families. He is a stay-at-home papa to two independently sassy and beautiful little girls, ages four and two. He came to New Orleans 20 years ago by way of south Mississippi. He met his husband Douglas in 2006; they share a love for New Orleans and a deep sense of pride to call this eclectic city home. He created his blog, Nolapapa.com, to help give other aspiring parents in the LGBTQ community hope and insight on parenting and personal growth.
Tamara Prosper is an author, blogger, and aging services professional who recently began homeschooling two of her three children. Born and raised in a Philadelphia suburb, she has lived in New Orleans for most of her adult life. Tamara, her husband, their three children (11, 14, and 17), two dogs, and a turtle live in Algiers.
Ked Dixon is a social worker and family therapist. She was born in south Georgia, got to New Orleans as soon as she could, and has been here for 19 years. She and her four-year-old son Jack live in River Ridge with two older dogs, a youngish cat, and Ked’s partner, Alex. Jack’s dad lives in Mexico.
I am overwhelmingly excited to see how this space transforms in 2020, and to hear the stories of these parents. I hope you’ll come along for the ride. And thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for receiving this column so warmly. The sense of community that exists within our readership never ceases to astound me. I am humbled and grateful to have been able to share this transformative and challenging phase of my life, and for all the love and support I received in return.
firstname.lastname@example.org | illustrations Victoria Allen