“Mom, are bad guys real?” asked my son, who was 4 years old at the time.

“Of course not,” I was ready to say. “Bad guys are only in the movies.”

But that’s not what I said. I paused, as we mothers often do when we don’t know how to answer our kids. I ummmed and coughed and weeeeellled as long as I could. How was I to answer this question?

We’ve chosen to expose our kids to some movies with bad guys — Darth Vader, Ursula, Scar. Hell, there’s even an “evil pony” in My Little Ponies. And if we see a look of fear in their faces, we always tell them the same thing: “The good guys always win.” And in kids’ movies, they do.

But we are raising our babies in real life. In a world where bad guys are real. Columbine was real. ISIS is real. Newtown. Newtown was real.

Like many parents, we often flounder and fear that we aren’t doing or saying the right thing. How much is too much information for their still developing little brains? We don’t want to terrify them unnecessarily, but it is our job to teach them about safety. In our house, we have decided to walk the tightrope—expose them gently to the truths of the world outside, while trying to help them maintain an optimistic view from their childhood eyes.

So, here I was. On that tightrope, teetering between a complete lie: “Nope! Bad guys are all pretend!” and blatant honesty: “Yes. A bad guy can be anywhere.” I stuck out my arms for balance and went with, “There are some people who are sick, or mean, or sad, and sometimes they do bad things.”

I waited for his response, hearing the thud… thud… thud… of my heartbeat.

“Well, are superheroes real?”

Shit. Round two.

“Ummmm…Batman and Superman are characters in movies and books. But there are heroes in real life, like police officers and firefighters, your teachers, and even your mommy and daddy. Lots of people are heroes. You could be a hero. You just need to be brave and do the right thing.”

Okay, I think I fielded that one pretty well. But I was not ready for what came next.

“What if a bad guy tries to get me and a superhero doesn’t come in time?”

Thankfully we were in the car and my son was two rows away from me in my bus of a mini-van. Thankfully he couldn’t see the tears in my eyes, and he couldn’t sense the strain in my voice, as I forced out the words, “Then you’ll need to be brave. But try not to worry about that, buddy. You’re safe with Mommy and Daddy and you’re safe at school.”

Because good guys always win, right? He’s safe, right? For a brief time recently, I didn’t know if he was. We received an email and phone call from our elementary school principal that their school was on lockdown. There had been “police activity” in the area, and the school officials felt it prudent to close and lock all doors to ensure the children’s safety. Stories swirled around the neighborhood of a shooting and a gunman at large. I tried to breathe and pray and believe that my little boy was safe. That there were no bad guys and that if one did come near my baby, a superhero would be there to save the day, because I wasn’t able to. I was at home, on lockdown in my own house, with my other babies, waiting. After about an hour, the news reported that it had been a false alarm, everyone was safe, and no gunman was running the streets shooting at people. We all let out a breath, picked up our kids, and hugged them extra tight on the way home. He’s safe, I said to myself. There are no bad guys. Today.

Since that conversation, and since this unnerving event in our community, I continue to walk that tightrope, every day, trying to expose my kids to some truths to keep them safe (“Don’t talk to strangers… No one touches your privates…”) but also shielding them from others. I tell them they are safe at school and when they are with Mom and Dad. Does that mean a bad guy can’t get us? No, but just let one of them try and then he’ll see some real superheroes in action.

This post was originally featured on Karen Johnson’s blog, The 21st Century Sahm. Feautred image via.

When you have a girl body you get used to it. Misogyny. An ever present hum that you ignore because you are too busy doing all the things that boy bodies do—sometimes better, sometimes worse, most often the same.

You learn early on, when you have the body of a girl, that people with girl bodies who dress, talk, or act a certain way—the wrong way—are “asking for it” when “it” comes.

“It” being misogyny.

And it always comes.

People with woman bodies teach people with girl bodies how to survive, how to exist with these bodies in a man’s world. Where to hit him, how to hold your keys, when to run, when to scream.

You learn what to scream too—never “no” or “help” or “ stop” but, rather, “fire,” because then, maybe, someone will hear.

You learn when not to scream as well.

Because when you have the body of a girl—or a woman, which is worse—you learn that it can be safer not to say “no.” Safer not to piss him off. Safer to be quiet.

There will be times when you will have sex “willingly” out of fear. And even if you manage not to, a woman or girl you know will.

One in six. This is misogyny, but misogyny is more than just rape statistics.

There are lessons that all people with girl bodies learn that people with boy bodies do not.

Never walk alone after dark, watch your drink, watch your friends’ drinks. Text or call the moment you get home. Think twice about wearing that dress.

We learn these lessons quietly, efficiently; we take them for granted. And we learn, too, to judge those people with bodies like our own who do not learn them well enough; because if we can find a way to blame them, then maybe it won’t be us.

This time.

We learn to be silent save for the occasional sound bite or pop song or outburst by an angry feminist. We ignore—or maybe no longer see—the more subtle forms of misogyny. Overlook being paid less. Follow the rules to avoid being raped. Believe the airbrushed lies and hate our bodies when they don’t conform. Make sure our daughters’ dresses are fingertip length.

READ MORE: Tired of Photoshopped Celebrities and Unrealistic Beauty Standards? She Is Too.

And when a man uses a slang term for our genitalia to insult someone he feels is wrong or weak, we don’t call him on it. Because if you are a woman you’ve heard much worse and the kind of small-minded misogyny of insults like “pussy” barely registers, and only hysterical feminists complain about that kind of crap anyway. Who are you to police the speech of others, to say, “this makes me uncomfortable”?

But when a man writes a manifesto detailing his plan to round up all those bodies like your own and place them in concentration camps, setting aside a few to breed—well, you could almost ignore that too, an isolated crazy. #NotAllMen, right?

Almost ignore his rants about those women who wouldn’t put out.

Almost ignore that he wasn’t, in fact, an isolated crazy, that there is an entire subculture of men just like him.

Except this man partook in the grand American tradition of mass homicide.

And so you started talking.

And tweeting. #YesAllWomen

Not because you are simple minded and believe that misogyny alone explains Elliot Rodger’s actions. You understand that it’s complicated, that America has a gun problem, that crazy people do crazy things. No, you started that hashtag because it was just one more thing to ignore, and you couldn’t; you couldn’t be quiet anymore.

We couldn’t be quiet anymore.

The actions of a madman like Rodger are scary, sure, but that isn’t why we started talking. We started talking because his misogyny is the same misogyny we’ve lived with our entire lives. We started talking because we saw the parallels between the lesson he felt entitled to teach and the lessons we’ve already learned too well. We started talking because we’d prefer men listen to what we have to say for once rather than expect us to do what we’ve always done—teach our daughters our fear.

We are talking, we are tweeting, because this conversation does matter and we’ve waited too damn long to have it. Because we want other women to know that they are not alone. Because we want men to understand the things they cannot see until we show them. Because we want our daughters to learn agency rather than fear.

Yet anytime we talk about these experiences that have made so many of us into the women we are—silent, cautious; loud, cynical—there are voices who accuse us of being angry, myopic, too politically correct. Male and female voices which claim that we live in a post-feminist society and that nothing positive can come from us insisting on talking about these isolated experiences of hate.

Except they are not isolated. But we are when we remain silent. Our society is not post-feminist and we can’t shut up, because as Margaret Atwood observed, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Yes, ALL women.

READ MORE: Here’s Why You Don’t Ask A Feminist To Sell Your Sexist Product

All of us. Maybe not in the exact same ways, but in ways similar enough to make this conversation meaningful. A conversation that cuts through the noise of feminism being unnecessary and western women already being liberated and exposes the reality that we will never have a post-feminist society as long as half the population experiences a culture of intimidation, violence, shame, and fear simply because we were socialized to be girls in a society where being a girl means learning how to avoid being raped.

Did misogyny cause Elliot Rodger to kill those people? Of course not, yet he was a misogynist who came of age in a culture so misogynistic that it is taken for granted to the point where not only men ask why that hashtag exists but some women ask that question as well.

It’s time for women, all women, to understand that as long as any of us live in fear of misogynistic violence we all do.

It’s time for people, all people, to understand that unless we actively move toward a truly post-feminist society, other forms of social inequality will continue to exist as they must in any culture where half the population experiences systemic inequity and fear. To understand that the same culture of silence which makes misogyny possible makes all of those other ugly forms of discrimination possible as well.

And it’s time for men, all men, to listen so that they can participate in this conversation too. And some are, some “got it” a long time ago, yet there are others who say that we are overreacting, missing the point, that we should talk about something else.

No. We need to talk more, to broaden the discussion to include both the small misogynistic slights we encounter every day as well as the larger misogynistic horrors women in developing countries experience that women in western democracies largely avoid. We’ve used our voices too long to quietly instruct our daughters on how to get by, and it’s about time we use them to educate and to advocate until equal rights are a reality rather than some inevitability we quietly wait for while focusing on whatever other issues some men (but #NotAllMen) deem appropriate and worthy.

We need to keep talking until no woman feels the need to shout “fire” unless something is actually burning.

This post was originally featured at Prague Revue. Photo via

An old cherry tree sits just outside my bedroom window. For several seasons I’ve watched it blossom to life—ripening with evergreen and fruit. I’ve also witnessed that life slowly drifting away in the cool autumn breeze. As the branches empty one by one, I sit and gaze without expression.

Each leaf that falls reminds me of a ten-year-old girl buried deep in a closet, hiding behind bags of old clothes. Ashamed of the tears, she desperately tries to hide her sorrow from the world. A tattered Mickey Mouse muffles her sobs.

She’d soon grow into a rebellious teen, a soul standing on the edge contemplating the short distance between life and death. Inside a little miracle grows. It’s a flutter of hope that halts that final step. Yet sadness still consumes her.

This is depression—a demon that has followed me into adulthood, slipping past the walls I’ve built. It’s a vicious predator that forces its way into the essence of who I am, rendering me a troubled stranger. In times of weakness, it defeats me. My vulnerable armor defenseless against its will.

Unlike the cherry tree, the seasons of depression are unpredictable. A familiar song. A harsh rejection. What awakens the demon waiting beneath the surface is erratic and unknown. There is, however, certainty. When it emerges, I lose myself… lingering dreadfully between hope and desperation. No amount of laughter or the presence of blue skies can “fix” what breaks inside of me. And I am broken when I enter this state of mind.

Depression is an ominous existence filled with darkness. I imagine a single, fragile rope outstretched across a bottomless, shroud-covered ravine. I’m suspended, too far from either side to see with clarity. Only once have I ever felt completely and irrefutably hopeless. Thankfully, I pulled back before despair consumed me. Some are not so lucky.

What causes one to forge on and others to let go is a reality I’ll never understand. And I’ve battled this demon for more than forty years. I’m united with countless victims in the black halls of desolation, fearful of never knowing and what lies ahead.

The demon chases no one in particular.

Robin Williams.

Heath Ledger.

A stranger on a bus.

The neighbor next door.

Me.

This is depression.

Looking through the window, I can’t help but notice a subtle yellow hue. For the cherry tree, it’s time for a new season. For me, I’m desperate for this one to pass.

This post was originally featured on Crystal’s blog, MommiFried.

I’ve never had anything like this hit so close to home before and I’m in such disbelief. My head was swirling around with the faces of the people my husband and I know who work at the Navy Yard. My husband’s former coworkers and our friends. The agony of not knowing if they’re safe or if we will later find out that they were a victim of such an unbelievable tradegy.

I think about one visit where we took our young daughter there. My husband introduced me to two older women who worked there and who absolutely adored our daughter. They had so many kind words for us, sharing in our excitement of being new parents. Telling me how much they love working with my husband.

This was like a family to us for 3 years. Sharing joys and some hard times. Sharing our lives; weddings, honeymoon photos, the births of our children, photos of our kids, broken relationships, promotions.

One woman in particular was the first person I thought of upon hearing the news of the shooting. “Olivia” was there from the start of my husband working at the Navy Yard. She worked across from my husband and was great support when we were new to Washington D.C.

I will never forget the congratulations we received from her and other coworkers/friends when our beautiful daughter was born. The “It’s A Girl” card many signed. Comforting emails of those from the workplace when our daughter was in the NICU, while my husband and I were going through such a difficult time.

The kindness from those, some I didn’t even know, made things a little easier on us, knowing we weren’t alone during a rough part of our lives.

The one woman, Olivia, is pregnant and due to be a new mom soon. She hasn’t left my thoughts, not knowing if she was safe. I can’t even imagine the horror that she and others experienced on Monday.

After waiting what seemed like forever, when in reality it was just a day, we learned that she is safe and okay. As okay as someone can be in this kind of situation. Sadly, we also found out that we did know one of the victims in Monday’s shooting.

I know our hearts are heavy and full of pain from those we lost in such an unimaginable way. My thoughts go out to everyone who has been affected by such a senseless act.

Image source: USA Today

The controversial new TIME cover reads, “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children.”

As someone without kids, I can tell you that I live in my grandmother’s basement, and I don’t have it all. I think “having it all” has an exclusive meaning to each individual—your life should be your decision. Someone once said to me, “I believe women can have it all, but not all at once.”

What is “having it all” anyway?

People always want something better, or something more. I’m not even talking about the other debate of settling for something that you don’t want. With or without the family, are we as people ever satisfied?

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - And Then She Shouted, "She Doesn't Have Kids!"Having it all can be a façade too. I have heard people say, “Wow, she really has it all,” only to see the person who “has it all” fall apart in the privacy of her own home.

As I pass out of my safe childbearing years, I’m not sure if I’ll be devastated when the possibility of having my own spawn no longer exists. Right now I’m on a teeter-totter with myself debating; if given the option and the right circumstances, do I want kids? Kids are a lot of commitment, and I like my freedom. Is that a cop out? Does that make me selfish? Is there a difference between “childfree,” and “childless?”

I know several single women who have flourishing careers and seemingly have it all— without the white picket fence, and rushing kids to ballet or soccer games. However, there is one problem: they do desire, more than anything, that Suburban full of kids.

It’s a hard question: does having or not having kids define who I am? The answer is no—I define who I am. Will people judge me? Heck yea. But they will be judging me regardless.

With or without child: that is the question!

Beyond societal, cultural, and familial pressures, there are rejections. Putting so much pressure on women to be able to do it all and have kids is ridiculous. Some women shelf their single or childless friends after they have kids. Can a woman without children still relate to her mother friends?

When I think about having kids I think, “If my kid is born with my crooked teeth, how will I pay for braces? If I bring a child into this world, am I setting him/her up for failure? Will I be able to send them to college?” Those are the things that keep me up at night!

As I stood in the baby aisle of Target shopping for a friend’s baby shower, I tried to remind myself not to focus on all the cute baby stuff shouting at me, “Single and childless!” Overwhelmed, I stared at the rows and rows of diapers and thought, “Which brand did my sister-in-law say she liked best for my niece again?” So I texted her: “Huggies, Luvs, or Pampers?” When she texted back, I had the wrong brand in my hand. I grabbed the right brand, threw them into my basket and hauled ass to the baby shower. I realized as she was opening my gift that I had grabbed the wrong sized diapers. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have waited until the last minute.

Granted, this isn’t a mistake that I usually make. I have attended a lot of baby showers in my day, and have a slew of friends that have been procreating since we were teens. When I noticed the “jumbo” diapers, I giggled and called myself out. My friend’s mom started to laugh and then she shouted, “She doesn’t have any kids!” Epic fail! Way to go rusher! I actually cried the whole way home.

When I was young, I thought this is what you do: you get married, live in a yellow house, have a couple kids, and live happily ever after. Here is the sad truth: I have never been in love. I have never had the option of making the decision about whether or not to have a baby. I’m at the point where I don’t even know what “having it all” truly means to me.  Why is ultimate happiness and security equated with parenthood?

I think that ultimate happiness comes from within. Parenting is a difficult job! It’s okay that it’s not for everybody. I think it’s brave to “have it all” and not have kids. Let’s face the music here too—there are people out there who are crappy parents. (I have a friend who calls her mother “the incubator.”)

Breaking free of the façade!

I’m reminded of the movie Pleasantville—the perfect family, in the perfect house, in the perfect town, and everything was in black and white. They were just following the mold created for them. They were being the way that they thought was right, in the right reality. But, they were missing out on who they really were, and all of possiblities outside of their comfort zone. It was amazing to watch when they changed to color—when they realized that there was more to life.

We all have the right to break free from the mold that was created for us, and people need to learn to respect the lifestyles of others. In my opinion we are here to live, learn, love, and grow. I think judgment just puts pressure on another person to live a false reality. No matter what you decide, I think living your reality and truth is important. I think “having it all” is subjective! Life is precious and a gift, so choosing to make a life is a big decision. What I’ve learned is that life is way too short. So whatever you do, live to the fullest, trust your gut, and live out loud in Technicolor.

Editor’s note: To read the referenced TIME article, click HERE

Knowing your gut and standing by it is the holy grail of parenthood.

As a mom of two boys, twelve and eight, there are some circumstances where it’s easy to follow my gut: swimming lessons, completed homework, good manners. Other times I waver, caving to “please” for junk food (why must Gatorade be so red, Cheetos so orange?).

Right now my gut tells me to bury my twelve-year-old son’s smartphone in a cement grave. But do I have the fortitude to do it?

Last year, in anticipation of him becoming a middle schooler, we gave him his dad’s old Android. We thought we were being moderate, in a neighborhood where kids get iPhones for elementary school graduation. We wanted to be able to get in touch after school—and Dad wanted a new phone. We should have given him a no frills, just-for-calls, flippy deal. Because that old clunky Android still had games and texting, giving him his first addiction to tech, and leaving us nagging him about putting The Damn Thing away.

Mistake number two came less than a year later. As The Damn Thing got slower and older, our sweet, mostly-responsible son asked if he could buy an iPhone with his own money. We were caught off guard. We consented, sliding down that slippery slope.

Pay attention, learn from my error. Don’t take your eye off the ball like I did. It doesn’t matter that he used his own money. Because buying a kid an expensive gadget is only part of the problem. The other part is a kid having a sleek, user-friendly pocket full of video games, 24/7 social interaction (and attendant hurt feelings), instant gratification, and increased addiction. Add to that my saying “yes” to Instagram under the naïve misimpression that it was an outlet for artistic photography, not a Facebook alternative, and we had ourselves a problem.

It’s not that he’s using his phone to search for porn (yet). He uses it for appropriate things—checking scores, keeping in touch with friends, playing a few games. Even if (hypothetically speaking) he screws up and sends a less-than-kind text, it provides life lessons—how to make a sincere apology and take responsibility for your actions.

It’s not that it’s inherently evil. It’s that it’s always there. It has become another member of our family. It comes with him everywhere, and if it’s not with him, he is jonesing for it.

I’m no saint with mine. I get the addictiveness. But at least my habit started at age forty, not twelve. That’s forty years of having to find other solutions to boredom, like books and bike rides and conversations. Forty years without radiating reproductive organs (he may want children someday).

The first generation iPhone was released on June 29, 2007—six years ago. In my defense, in the scheme of things that’s not much time for us parents to have figured this stuff out. Here’s my dilemma: if my gut now tells me that my child should not have an iPhone, one I gave him permission to spend a lot of his own money on, how do I take it away? How do I extract him from the social connection he feels from texting or “following” his friends? Have I gone to a place from where there is no turning back?

I hear the voice of the Mommy and Me facilitator from toddler years: You are allowed to change your mind. You are not stuck with every mistake you make. It’s not all fun, after all: having an iPhone bought us more rules, more bending the rules and more nagging about following the rules. And it brought me the unease you feel when you are going along with something that feels wrong.

Now that’s a feeling a middle schooler can relate to.

I know what I should do. If I can work up my nerve, I should explain that we tried something, I made a mistake, and my gut is telling me this isn’t working. The added benefit is modeling how to listen to your own values, not your peers, when figuring out the best way forward.

I’m not expecting this to be easy. The tantrums of a two-year-old who had to give up my keychain-as-toy are going to be a delightful memory when facing the tantrum of a middle schooler asked to give up his iPhone. If I work up the bravery to take this step, you’ll know from the sound of wailing wafting from our direction.

This post was originally published on Laura’s Confessions of Motherhood. For more from Laura, check out her blog and follow her on twitter.