Shop the fall collection ➔

It all started with a pink pool toy. It was just an ordinary toy, but this one pool toy made me question my values and my deeply held beliefs. It took me down a peg. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a little bit. 

During the summer, my husband, one-year-old son and I took a short vacation in a nearby town. We were staying in a hotel with a nice pool and I had bought the perfect pool toy for our son. It was a small boat, with holes so he could stick his legs through and float around the pool. There was just one problem. I had left that toy at home. 

Determined to enjoy the pool, I sent my husband across the street to Walmart to buy another one. He came back shortly and tossed the bag on the sofa. I opened the box and my heart sunk. 

It was pink. Bright pink. It was not just a pool float toy either. There was also a shirt with a built-in flotation device. It was also very bright pink. With flowers. 

“I’m not sure this will work,” I said

“Why not?” he asked. “It will fit him, I think.”

I didn’t want to say why not. So I tried another excuse.

“Maybe he can just use the bottom part?” I thought out loud. “Oh no, you need both pieces. Hmm, maybe we can just carry him.”

“Okay,” he said, taking another look at it. “It is really bright pink. I didn’t see that when I bought it.”

“What was the big deal,” I asked myself. My son certainly wouldn’t care. But I did. I didn’t want to care, but I found, to my dismay, that I did care. What was I so afraid of? Sure, I would probably have to explain that he was a boy if there was anyone else in the pool. Maybe it would be awkward for a minute, but I would probably never see anyone at this hotel again. 

I knew this, but I still hesitated.

Every part of me wanted to say that it was not a big deal – that it was just a color. Every part of my brain told me that I should just put my kid in that darn toy and go to the pool. I knew this, but that pink pool toy remained in the box. It remains there to this day, unopened. Every time I see it, I feel the shame creep over me. 

I am absolutely embarrassed by my visceral reaction to this toy. I consider myself a very educated person about gender issues. My master’s thesis was about gender in music, for goodness sake. I spent two years of my life reading everything I could about gender issues. A pink pool toy should not elicit such a response from an educated and accepting person like me. Or, the person I thought I was. What if I wasn’t that person at all?

You see, it is one thing to think you will champion a cause or be completely accepting of a new idea in theory and quite another to do it in practice. I am the first person to rant about the unnecessary gendering of children’s toys, but when I was challenged to put my ideas into practice – to reject the idea that pink is for girls –  I failed. The pink pool toy, in five minutes, has changed my perception of myself. I failed and I am ashamed. 

So, what is a flawed parent to do? Well, luckily, I also have a good memory. I will remember this experience. I will remember those feelings of discomfort and shame and use them to become better – not just in theory but in practice. 

Liz Parker-Cook

Liz is a mother of three children under four and has the dark circles under her eyes to prove it. She is also a high school music teacher, which is much louder than parenting but has much fewer dirty diapers. When she gets any time to herself she writes on her blog: Newbiemomsite.com. She lives in Toronto with her husband, children, and dog. 

What a Gift It Is To Watch My Babies Grow Up

In: Motherhood, Teen
Mother in pool with teens in background

A few weeks ago I ran away and I brought my family with me. It’s become my favorite thing to do for my birthday week. Nestled neatly between the end of the school year and the beginning of the longest stretch of summer, for years that week has provided my family and I with the perfect freedom to get away. There are four simple rules for this escape from our normal lives and they are always the same. Our location must: 1. Be located in a climate with palm trees. 2. Require an airplane to get there. 3. Have a...

Keep Reading

I Love it When You Smile at Me

In: Kids, Motherhood
Little girl in wheel chair with classmates, color photo

I gained a bit of insight today. We were walking past the checkout at the store this afternoon when we came upon a mom and her children, waiting in the checkout line.   RELATED: A Simple Invitation Means the World To a Special Needs Parent My daughter Chloe rolled by them in her wheelchair. I watched, as I often do, as the children noticed her. One girl about Chloe’s age smiled at her as we walked by. As soon as we had passed them, Chloe turned to me and said . . . “She’s the first person to smile at me!”  Let me say I...

Keep Reading

My Daughter is Almost the Age I Was When My Grandfather First Molested Me

In: Living, Motherhood
Back of little girl's head with braid and ribbon

Trigger Warning: Child Abuse My daughter is swinging, head tilted up to the sky, pondering the shape of the cloud—is it a puppy or a tiger? Or maybe a dragon? She picks a flowering weed from the yard and brings it to me, so proud of her gift for Mama. She sits down and draws one of her imaginary kitty superheroes and the tale of how it saves the day—her lips pursed, then open, then pursed again—concentrating as though it’s the most important story she’ll write in her life. I pull her close, breathe in all of her joy and...

Keep Reading

No One Will Ever Call Me Mom

In: Baby, Motherhood
Negative result digital pregnancy test

This is going to be a tough one. Another seemingly innocuous situation that should be easy, but for me is anything but. It comes in different forms—a conversation, a moment in a TV show, a scene in a book—but it always has the same effect. Some reference to motherhood makes me flinch.  Today, it’s in an English lesson I’m teaching online to a 7-year-old boy in China. I’m supposed to be teaching him to say, “This is my mom.” Slide after slide in the lesson shows a happy mom cuddled next to her child. Mom and daughter hugging. A toddler...

Keep Reading

To the Nurses Who Loved My Baby In the NICU

In: Baby, Motherhood
Woman smiling at newborn in hospital chair

I wish I could remember your face. Your name. Something. But I only had eyes for the tiny baby in front of me. My whole world was about to change and I think you understood that more than I did. He was so tiny. Impossibly small. I had never held a baby so little. He made up for his teeny size with an impressive mop of jet black hair that stood straight up on top of his head. He also had hair all over his body and you reassured me this was normal for a preemie. There was so much...

Keep Reading

I Wipe the Slides

In: Kids, Motherhood
boy on slide

I want you to have the most fun possible at your tiny playground stars program, so I wipe the slides. I don’t want you to have a meltdown if your clothes get wet while I’m gone, so I wipe the slides. I want to have three precious hours of only managing your little sister, so I wipe the slides. RELATED: I’d Rather Serve My Kids Than Have Them be “Self-Sufficient” I don’t want you to feel embarrassed by a big reaction to wet clothes when I’m not there to help you, so I wipe the slides. I want you to...

Keep Reading

My Last Baby Changed Me

In: Baby, Motherhood
Mother and baby touching foreheads

I was already a mom of two teenagers. I thought I’d move to a city and join corporate America in a few years. But my last baby changed me. There would be no law school or big city living. Now, I write about life in my little country home. And I don’t see that changing. I thought I’d be that old lady with 10 cats. I already had three I snuggled and loved on. I never cared about the litter box, the clawed couches, or the meowing. But now I find myself disliking pets. I hope that might change. But...

Keep Reading

God Gave Grandmas and Grandpas Time

In: Grown Children, Motherhood
Grandma with granddaughter pointing outside

My daughter, Becca, was laughing as I answered her call. “Mom, we were at the park and Brady just walked up to a man he thought sure was Dad and called him Grandpa.” My first question was if the man looked at all like my husband.  She said, “He had a blue shirt on that looked like one Dad wears, but when Brady looked up at him, he had a baseball cap on and Dad doesn’t wear those. And he had tall crew socks on, and Dad definitely doesn’t wear those.” Then I asked what the man said to Brady,...

Keep Reading

Sometimes I Feel Like a Monster, Not a Mother

In: Motherhood
Woman banging fist on door frame

Whenever someone asks if I plan on a third child, I always give a safe answer: I can’t imagine going through all that again! If it’s someone in the education field I go with a different version: If we stick with two, we can pay for college! If I’ve had a few drinks and the person has a sense of humor: Only if you’ll pay for a divorce lawyer! All of those answers are kernels of the truth, but none of them are the real reason  I diligently pop my birth control pill every night at 9 p.m., which is the...

Keep Reading

Faith is a Verb, So We Go to Church

In: Faith, Motherhood
Woman and teen daughter in church pew

Every Sunday morning we rush out the door bribing, coaxing, and threatening our kids to just “Get into the van!” Luckily, we live remotely rural so we don’t have neighbors to witness our often un-Christlike eye rolls and harsh sighs as we buckle each other up. We’ve always lived within a five-minute drive to a chapel, and yet we are usually there not two minutes before the service starts. Once sitting in our seats, we’re on high alert for noise control and sibling altercations for the next hour of what is supposed to be a peaceful, sacred, spirit-filled service. Which...

Keep Reading