When your kids start attending school or going places without you—and that can simply be Girl Scouts or Sunday School or lunch with grandma—they learn things outside their normal sphere. The bus provides a wide range of learning for kids of any age.

I attended our oldest son’s Kindergarten field trip as a parent chaperone. The teacher sat in the front of the bus, and I manned the back of the bus. A little girl raised her hand.

“What do you need,” I asked, also using her name.

“He said I was gay.”

She pointed at a little boy with a sour look on his face.

I didn’t even know that five-year-old children knew how to use the word gay as an insult. It seriously floored me. It flooded me with feelings of anger and confusion and reminded me of the bullying I endured as a teenager. It took me a moment to find my words.

“We need to use our kind words with each other. We need to make sure everyone feels safe here.” Then I maybe stared down the offending child until he looked away. I’m not a perfect human being.

My sons didn’t ride the school bus for a year and a half. Somewhere in the middle of their first and third grade year, a middle schooler threatened to beat up one of my children when he got to middle school. Yes, you read that right. We live outside the city—in the “township”—so our bus is Kindergarten through twelfth grade. Yes, I had reservations about it at first, but they wanted to ride. When the bus manager dismissed my complaint as if nothing happened, I pulled them from the bus and drove them to and from school, despite working a full time job, every. single. day.

That’s a lot of driving. A lot of being there early enough to get a parking spot at a school that, despite being built in the past 15 years, didn’t really plan for parent parking. A lot of rolling my eyes at parents who felt they didn’t need to following the pick up procedures and parked in the grass or the teachers’ lot or wherever the heck they wanted. A lot of feeling harassed by certain people who think it’s okay to comment on a woman’s body shape.

So when the boys asked over the summer if they could ride the bus this year, my husband and I sat down and hashed it out. We decided to give it another shot.

So far, so good.

I’m trying to come to terms that my children will experience and learn things outside my control. I think I’ve done a good job over the past few years. The bus is just another step in what I see as the right direction for our parenting. (I should note that just because it’s right for us (right now) doesn’t mean it’s right for you.)

But I really love learning what the boys learn when they’re apart from me. Right now it’s a lot about Pokemon. I find it fascinating as I actually understand what the heck they’re talking about as opposed to this time last year. We swap talk about CP and XP and leveling up and all that jazz. It’s good stuff.

The other night, I didn’t really know how to help our older son with his math homework. I tried. I did. I Googled a bit. I checked it as best I could. I had another friend look at it, but she also gave me a look of, “Uh, we didn’t learn this, yo.” I explained to him that I checked it with the knowledge I had and that as long as he did his best, it was all good.

He missed one. When I looked at the answer the teacher wrote, I understood why he missed it. I’m kinda learning alongside my boys right now. It’s cool. I went over it with him and he understood his mistake. We both learned a little that day.

On the way home tonight, I mentioned the mosquito bite I got on my chin. Like right on the jawline. That sucker is itchy.

“Do you have Zika,” asked the youngest of my two sons.

I did a double take in the rearview mirror. I talk to my kids about all kinds of things: war, puberty, sex, gender, LGBT rights, race, adoption, privilege. But I hadn’t mentioned Zika once this summer. It’s probably a privilege thing that it wasn’t even on my radar.

“Where’d you hear about Zika, buddy?”

“It’s all over the news, mom. Didn’t you know?”

I did. But like, I used to be your filter. I used to control what information came into your world. I used to be your sole point of contact, save for your dad. I used to decide what seemed like age appropriate information and what could wait until a later time. I got to decide that, yes, your life experience with a sister placed for adoption meant that discussing the ins and outs of human sexuality could come a little sooner. I got to decide what words we used to discuss race and adoption and sex and anything in the news. But Zika never crossed my mind.

And it’s okay. We talked about Zika. We talked about what the virus can mean for a developing baby in a uterus. We talked about how differences in how humans look are okay, not something to stare at or make fun of. About how if you become friends with someone who exhibits a physical difference—glasses, braces on legs, wheelchairs, scars, different sized limbs, prosthetics—we can ask them about it when we feel comfortable, but our friend doesn’t necessarily have to answer our question right then and there. It’s their friend’s choice to talk, to share, to open up. It’s our privilege to be present in their story.

I don’t know how that talk came out of a mosquito bite on my chin. But I know that parenting is the greatest responsibility and privilege with which I have ever been granted and I’m trying my hardest not to mess it up. If it takes a mosquito bite to the chin for us to open a conversation about differences, then so be it.

But really. The chin? Freaking mosquitoes.

And also my foot.


The Color Run - Happiest 5k Run

On Being Loud

On Being Loud


Everyone in the room turned and looked at me. I kind of smiled, kind of cringed.

A dear friend leaned in and whispered, “Swearingen?”


My dad likes to say that he’s not loud; his voice just carries. His voice. My voice. My sons’ voices, one maybe more than the other.

Our inside voice seems stuck on outside. We don’t whisper well; it’s more like a stage whisper. So if we attempt to tell someone something in confidence and there’s an ear somewhere in the house, they hear it, too.

It’s a blessing and a curse.

I’m never misunderstood. I say what I mean, and I say it at loud levels. You can’t say, “Well, you said,” and then misquote me, because everyone in the room knows what I said. Plain as day. It helps that I don’t lie at loud levels. I just tell the truth, very loudly.

But it also turns a lot of people off.

As a sophomore in high school, I visited a friend’s church. She “warned” me ahead of the church’s small size.

“You’ll have to sing a bit more quietly than you normally do.”

I tried. I promise I tried. Apparently it didn’t work, because she sent me a series of looks that stick with me to this day when I sing in church. Am I being too loud again? I am, aren’t I? I should quiet down. I should stop singing. I’m just too loud. Twenty years later, I doubt my own voice in church. Little kids turn and look at me. I like to think it’s because I have a lovely singing voice, but it’s probably because they’re wondering why that lady in the loud dress is also singing so loud.

It took me awhile in choir type settings to learn to blend. I just wanted to sing as loudly as possible. I did learn this tricky little part of being a member of a choir, but it took awhile for it to make sense, to teach my voice to match volume or for certain harmonies, even drop lower than those around me.

Interestingly, I don’t argue loudly. When I feel angry, I shut down. My voice disappears completely. I spend time seething in absolute silence. I’m not comfortable with anger.

I watch my sons, especially our older son, and I wonder how his volume will affect his life, his friendships, his relationships, his schooling. Part of his volume problem comes back to his hearing loss. The rest, well, that’s my fault. Genetics and all. I encourage him to use his inside voice. When his friends come to play, I gently remind him not everyone likes loud all the time, that some people feel as if they’re being yelled at when someone talks consistently loud. He doesn’t really think about it in the moment right now.

I’m sure he’ll find a way to navigate his volume. I can tell when I’m getting too loud—most of the time. I still make mistakes and friends sometimes get annoyed. Stop yelling at me. You don’t have to yell. OMG, be quiet! I have learned not to take their comments personally, take a breath, and readjust my volume. I’ve also made some equally (almost?) loud friends over the years who not only appreciate my volume but match it on a regular basis. That helps.

But I’ll always be loud. My guess is that so will my oldest son. He’s always going to sing “Happy Birthday” with the most exuberance and volume. He’s not trying to steal the show. He’s just… a Swearingen. It’s how we do.