Kristen Howerton's then-4-year-old daughter had a complete meltdown because her mom put a yellow straw in her cup instead of a pink one.
"It’s a universal experience that our young children get disappointed over completely irrational things," she says.
Those shared universal experiences and Howerton’s way of capturing them are what have made her blog, Rage Against the Minivan, so successful, and what guided her in deciding which stories to include in her new book of the same name.
"Everyone has had that moment of everything is going wrong despite your very best intentions," she says.
The book has moments that will have you laughing into tears, such as the time she brought her children to the beach, which ended in a poop-filled disaster. It also has some heart-wrenching moments.
Howerton writes about the raw journey of entering motherhood: the multiple miscarriages, the quest and uncertainty of adoption, the less magical moments of childbirth.
"We have a hard time talking about things that are full of grief or full of pain," she says. "We are worried that it is too much for others to hear. We hold those moments in private."
She wished she had read more accounts about miscarriage while she was going through it.
"I wanted to normalize and educate people about what that experience is really like," she says.
She also writes about the narcissists that are toddlers, the myth of perfect parenting and the magic of "good enough."
There are things she would love to write about the teenage years, but she’s close to those years right now and needs to get past them to know it’s OK to write about them. Her kids are 15, 13, 13, and 11.
"That will have to wait for another book," she says.
Howerton writes about her own struggle with being a parent. One chapter starts: "I was an amazing mother before I had kids."
Right. We all believe that our children will be amazing, too, because we’ll make it so. And then they come into our lives and it’s not perfect.
This pandemic has been especially hard for parents. Being an introvert, Howerton writes about needing time away from her kids, which has become even more apparent with everyone being at home.
"I feel like the message of the book around parenting was still pertinent around a pandemic," she says. "Just being OK if our home school is not perfect, if grades are not perfect. We’re not holding ourselves to an unrealistic standard."
Howerton’s always been about things being "good enough." B+ can be good enough, she says — though in a pandemic, it’s more like a C is good enough.
In her own life during the pandemic, "we really had to let go," she says. "We had to develop new rules and new roles."
Howerton also tackles race and her own white privilege in the book. Howerton has two sons, both of whom are both black. Jafta was born in Southern California, where she lives. Kembe was born in Haiti.
When she was in the process of adopting Jafta, who is now 15, a social worker who was an older black man told her, "You do realize, now, that little black boys grow up into black men?"
She writes about trying to navigate her own experiences, from watching white kids not want to hold her sons’ hands to the way Kembe and biological daughter India, who were born on the same day countries apart, are treated differently because people assume Kembe is older than India. They’re both 13.
Howerton says she considered whether she should write about race and her own white privilege in this book, adding that "I don’t feel like I can be my authentic self" without writing about difficult topics. "It’s even more important now. The whole situation with George Floyd was devastating."
"We want to believe that things are better than they are," she says. "This week is showing who we are."
Even though she knows she can never understand the experience her boys are having and will have, she has given them "the talk" about what to do if they are approached by police. They have talked about Trayvon Martin and so many others, now including George Floyd.
"The difference right now is they are seeing their community stand up and say it's not OK," she says. "That’s new."
One thing that she has tried to do for her boys is to immerse them in a culture that is not her own.
They are both involved in the 100 Black Men of America. Sometimes the whole family participates, and sometimes it’s just the boys. She wanted the boys "to be around other people who have that shared experience and have a safe space to be able to talk about that."
Building connection always has been something Howerton sought out for herself and her children. She started the blog at a time before social media. "Blogs were our Facebook, our Instagram," she says. She found the blogs of others with similar stories and connected to them.
"I did not start the blog ever thinking I would make money on this," she says. Now, she’s a blogger and an author and has a podcast. Her kids are thoroughly unimpressed, though she has read them the parts of the book that are about them to make sure they were OK with them.
She is hoping that the book "can be a tool for other parents to let themselves off the hook," she says. "I hope it can be a permission slip to feel like they are good enough."