Black Sheep

In the 18th and 19th centuries, when a black sheep was born into a flock of white sheep, farmers professed that it was the mark of the devil.  In reality, it was a recessive gene that produced the black sheep about 25 percent of the time. The truth behind the mythicism of the “evil sheep” was that wool workers couldn’t dye the dark wool, so it was less desirable for sale. A black sheep was simply an extra mouth to feed, and although common enough, it was a nuisance to the Shepard, and therefore a lie was concocted around the sheep’s worth.

With people it’s not so different. We don’t come into the world with a sign of the devil imprinted on us to mark our difference, but with the passage of time, people love to sort one another out and assign worth. We create our own myths to justify the othering of people. Even still, it’s hard to tell who, in fact, is the more desirable sheep amongst us, even as they are "assigned."

During my childhood, I had heard my mom classify herself as the black sheep of her nuclear family. It was something I became accustomed to hearing about, but never gave much weight to, until I was 12 years old,  and I found out why. Finding out why my mom felt this way happened quite by accident, but the accident would lead to incident, and it would change all our lives...

One unassuming weekend, I picked up the phone to make a call to one of my friends. This was the 90s, when, if you had multiple receivers in the home and if someone else was on the phone, you were suddenly privy to their conversation. My mom was on the phone in what I recognized as an emotional conversation with her elder brother. She wasn’t quite yelling as she said, “Yes —you do remember. You do.” She said his name. I covered the speaker on the phone, listening intently. He tried to overtake her. She stopped him with, “We were in mom’s bedroom and you were on top of me, and you started to undress me…”

A fog went up around me, like a sudden pierce in the cloud of childhood, and the fog became thick, filling in all the gaps, sucking out the air in the room.  Even at 12,  I understood what my mom was explaining. There was something distinct: the level of upset in my mother’s voice. I quietly hung up the phone as the fog began to settle into me where the air had once been. I understood what I heard.

I knew what she meant, and there was a reason why I knew. The same thing had happened to me. I experienced what it was like to have an older sibling direct my own body, sexually. It had happened over several years, and though it had ceased a year or two prior, I had never told anyone. There was a part of me that must’ve known that what was happening to me, and with me, at the hands of my own elder sibling was wrong, but more than wanting to get her in trouble, or even wanting to make it stop, I wanted to her to love me. Silence, therefore, felt like love.

Now, confronted with my mother’s frantic emotion on the phone with her brother, the truth smacked me all at once. It was wrong what happened. Perhaps it was even upsetting. Maybe I didn’t need to keep it in. Maybe an adult should know. The prospect of telling my mom, which was becoming an imposing inevitability, suddenly brought me to tears. I was overwhelmed by the amount of truth I was being confronted with. It would also mark the beginning of a personal and familial reckoning that would take several decades.

There we were, my mom and I….divided in time by 29 years, yet both facing new realities, as two confrontations around childhood sexual abuse unfolded in literal parallel. That day, I told her about my own abuse. I told her about what I heard on the phone, and how the same thing had happened to me. Her voice bought me the ability to come forward. In this regard, her bravery and struggle was worth it. It also kicked off a chapter of my youth that followed me into my adulthood, just as it had for my own mother.

Ultimately, our own fragile, nuclear family could not withstand the strain… my parents could not possibly shoulder the pressure of taking sides for or against their children. It became the catalyst that eventually ended their marriage.

Through all the years of our family being in turmoil over this issue, no one ever said to me (directly) that they didn’t believe me. By contrast, my mother’s mother, as well as other family members, were vocal about the fact that they didn’t believe her, or that she should simply “get over it.” If she thought that she was alienated from the family before, unearthing her truth increased this with disgusting ferocity.

I rarely saw my cousins after that day on the phone when I was 12, and when I did, it was clear that they had been poisoned against us. They looked at me in wide-eyed curiosity, though they weren’t sure why. Whenever we had the experience of being with my uncle, at family reunions or funerals, I could never look at him without thinking in my head, “I know what you did.” Yet my mom and I continued to function in the family culture of shame and silence.

I was always incredulous that he walked around with his head held abnormally high, while my mom struggled with a sense of belonging. That she saw herself as somehow outside of these people was not incorrect, but it was because she was functioning in the light of truth and they were denying it.

Years later, I was unpacking boxes in the dusty attic of one of our former houses, and came across a Xerox box of my mom’s things. In it I found a letter to her older brother, who shares a name with my dad. Initially, I thought the letter was meant for my dad, so I mistook it for a love note. As I began reading it, though,  I realized, it was anything but. It was a letter my mom had written, pleading with her older brother to “please apologize and acknowledge what happened,” so they could be a family again. Even after all that... she just wanted to be a part of her family. To have his love and an apology. It made me so angry to see multiple pages of handwritten desperation and love laid out so clearly. I tucked the letter back into the box, and back in the recesses of my memory and never spoke about it to anyone. I don’t know if it was ever sent.

Whether over the phone, or in written form, I never got that moment of summation with my own sibling. She passed away before we had the chance to confront our childhoods…but who knows if we ever would have. When she died at the age of 27, I wrote a note to her on college ruled notebook paper and folded it into a neat square, like we used to do when we were kids. I carefully placed it in her coffin. It read, “I was only so mad at you because I still loved you.” And I signed it, “Your sister, Billie.” When someone is gone, there is a finality to the story. It has become, for me, a closed account that I no longer have to pay for with my silence.

Movements like "Me Too" have ushered in more conversation around assault, rape, and other sexual violence and misconduct, and I'm happy about that... But I also feel that sexual abuse, especially in families, is still kept undercover, despite the fact that it's being actively experienced by so many people--male and female. The shame and the silence is ingrained in family culture, and in society. There is a ton of fear around talking about these themes even though it's necessary and true. We spend so much time talking about how a stranger can victimize a person, but I have to say, I have never been victimized by a stranger--only by people I knew. And I was forced not only to pay in the moments it happened, but later on with my silence, which costed me far more than the events themselves.

The sum of my personal experience, as well as the experience of watching the way my mom's family treated her, is this:  if you have to pay for a status in any system, including a family, and the currency is silence, the debt will be perpetual, and the suffering endless.

Families tend to have a particular, individual type of economy when it comes to love, but fictitious labels once assigned to denote an economic value to a sheep should never apply to people. If using your voice rather than submitting to silence makes you a family pariah, that's bullshit. Maybe black sheep are really truth warriors... a carefully curated percentage of us, present by genetic design, who call out the shame rather than inhaling it into our ecosystems. That doesn’t mean the truth isn’t scary, or that there won’t be consequences…to quote Brene Brown, "The price is high, but the reward is great."

I will no longer exchange my truth for love. Ever. And if that makes me a black sheep, I willingly accept the title and wear it as a crown. Now, I am a queen.

Dear White Parents:

My darling, fellow well-intentioned white folks, we need to talk. It's about a big ass fail that happened around here last Spring centering around the conversation about race. It's uncomfortable for me because I, probably like you, consider myself to be racially aware and abreast of sensitive topics. But you know what? Those things don't count for much unless you're being active about what you believe... and that counts in big and small ways, as I learned. 

One unassuming Sunday,  I was playing with my daughter and she suggested that we make a list of "playdates" she would like to have over the upcoming summer. She loves to make lists, and I thought that this was adorable, so immediately said, "yes!" Then she dropped my jaw when she added, "We can only put white skin people on the list because white skin people can only play with other white skin people, not brown skin people." I was crushed. Utterly crushed.

This is hard for me to admit--that she said this. My reaction went to immediate white-hot rage, with an over-the-top, "WHO SAID THIS TO YOU?" Which immediately clammed her up because she didn't know that what she was saying was bad, but she got the message real quick. Let me repeat: she didn't know what she was saying was bad. 

Firstly, she was only four at the time. Additionally, my child has some social deficits. Given those things, this language coming from her devastated me.  I knew immediately that I was now going to have to work to undo a thing and get it out of her... why? Because I didn't do the work on the front end. 

After I pulled it back a little, my daughter and I were able to talk a bit and she told me a classmate of hers had said it. We had a big talk about how brown is beautiful, and we talked about all the friends and family members we have who are racially different than us, and how we love them. We parlayed this into reading books that include diversity and furthered the conversation, which, honestly, I should have been doing all along. I also told her that what that student (whoever it was) said was really bad--"worse than the F word"--and that next time she should tell the teacher right away. But the reality of this happening was only slight because The Bird has trouble with asserting these types of things to her teachers. I'm honestly grateful that she told me about it at all...

The next day when I told her caregiver at daycare, she was amazing. She immediately said she would address this to the whole class, and we agreed that I would bring in some books on diversity to read to the class. She also said she would have a one-on-one with my child about being able to tell the teacher when someone says something like that. Those things were all wonderful, and I'm glad that the daycare responded strongly and swiftly to my concerns.

The thing is, though, that as mad as I was about what that kid said to my daughter, I also have to take some personal responsibility here. I'm just as mad about what I didn't say to her when I had the chance.... this was a deep failure on my part, as a parent. In that moment between my daughter and I, I was working to undo something someone else said, when all along, I should have been proactive in talking about race and diversity in personally meaningful ways. I lost the luxury of being able to talk to her in our own time about diversity in the ways that are fundamental and important to me. As a person who considers myself to be an ally to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), I did a piss poor job of living into the values that I believe about race. It's embarrassing, but frankly, I would rather be embarrassed and honest with myself than ignorant. 

I learned:

Maybe this should have been apparent to me. Maybe this should have be clear, but you know, it wasn't. I mistakenly figured that she would pick up on our values because ...we have lots of diverse dolls... we have friends of different races or.... we talk about the true story of Thanksgiving... or because we just believe in equality and talk about it *some.* Or even because I have taken Layla F. Saad's White Supremacy and Me program (which you can now purchase!)  

I was wrong. 

As I was feverishly ordering children's books from Amazon about diversity to read with my daughter, it occurred to me that while I was busy not talking about race with my child, some other asshole was busy imparting to their child that races can't play together AT FUCKING PRESCHOOL. I was literally facepalming myself. Because, of course they were. And this is exactly why we--as white parents-- NEED to be talking about race with our children in age-appropriate and comprehensive ways... because if we don't, then Jonny at preschool will be telling your kid exactly what his parents believe, and your kid won't be armed with the tools he or she needs to combat that message. So they absorb it somewhere in their minds with all the confusion that a four or five year old possesses. Maybe you will hear about it from them, and maybe you won't.

When there is an issue of safety like with pools or crossing the street, we tend toward being explicit with our children and honest about the impacts. I believe this is the same, and the stakes are just as high. These are PEOPLE we are talking about, and the issue of race could not be of more timely importance. We have to do better and stop consenting with our silence or resting on our apathy, and I see that differently now. We have got to be proactive and open and educated about these things. 

Maybe you have heard the phrase "White Silence = White Consent." This kept ringing in my head. The sum total of this situation is what happens when white privilege (ie- not thinking about talking openly about race with my child) collides with clear cut white supremacy (the kid in the daycare parroting racist values). And why is it white privilege? Because Black, Native American, Hispanic, Muslim, and Jewish people do NOT have the luxury of "opting out" of these conversations with their kids. But this time, I want to rise up with more awareness, and I don't want other parents to make the same mistakes that I made in either their assumptions or their actions. Because awareness just isn't enough. We have to be active about these things. Lesson learned.

All the love,

Bossy Italian Wife 

Quick & Easy Pasta Sauce

I am a busy gal, as you might imagine. So there are times when I need to throw something together, and sometimes that something is pasta sauce. It is a rare life moment when I will buy a can of sauce. I am Italian American, I just can't. So this is the quickest, most yummy version of quick red sauce this side of the Mississippi.

Also, isn't it just fun to say "This side of the Mississippi?" What would I do if I ever lived right on the Mississippi River? I would probably still say it, but instead, I would walk out of my house and shout it to the other side of the river. You know, for dramatic effect. But I digress...

Do you have 20 minutes? Then you, my friend, can have pasta sauce! This is a super-simple, absolutely delicious, FAST sauce that everyone will love. Yes, you can complicate your life by making any number of other sauces, but WHY? I'm talking 8 ingredients you probably have in your pantry right now...and, like, under $7 dollars.  You're welcome.

And you know what else? I'm not even going to kill you with a bunch of story leading up to the recipe because I know you are busy... so here it is!

(Additional recipe notes at the bottom, if you want 'em!)

Quick & Easy Pasta Sauce 

Time: 20 minutes, plus 1 hr cook time | Serves 6 | Difficulty: Can you open a can? Ok, we good. 

You will need:

1 large onion
9-10 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
6-ounce can tomato paste
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
Olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
Pepper to taste


Give a good glug of olive oil twice around pan. Dice your onion and mince the garlic. Add them to pan, and cook on medium high heat for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. And if you're wondering about the garlic... YAS: 9-10 cloves of garlic. I love garlic.  If you must reduce the amount of garlic to suit your tastes, fine, but honestly, just don't tell me. It will break my garlic-loving heart.

When the onions are becoming translucent, add in all the remaining ingredients. Stir and bring to a boil. Your sauce will probably start popping off, and when it does, reduce heat to low, and cover. When I say "cover" it's more like "duck and cover" because the sauce is jumping out of the pot and it's obnoxious. But you know...

Then simmer for at least an hour, but longer if ya got it. I like to let mine go all day, and sometimes (if I think of it) make it a day ahead and let it sit in the fridge overnight. But I KNOW, it's supposed to fast... so if you only have 30 minutes, there are no sauce police that are lurking to see if you are following these directions. Just make sure you taste it and adjust seasonings. Add a little pepper, or a little more salt if you like.

The sauce will be chunky. For a smoother sauce, you can use all crushed tomatoes or use an immersion blender at the end. The immersion blender will make your sauce more silky, which is nice!! If you don't have an immersion blender, you can also use a traditional blender, but isn't that kind of a pain in the ass? Just eat the chunky sauce at that point, honestly.

Additional notes:
This is a vegan recipe, and it's SUPER versatile. I serve mine a million different ways. My daughter's favorite is with meatballs and a Caesar salad. My husband likes ground meat in the sauce itself. I like sweet Italian sausage. My grandma used to add hard boiled eggs to her sauce! This would also be amazing with veggies added to it!

We do gluten free pasta in my home, but this is a great sauce to go on just about anything you can cook up. So Mangia with your familia however you like best!


If you have any manner of disorder and have been labeled as “high functioning” then I probably don’t need to explain to you what a misnomer this label is… Whether it’s autism or anxiety or fill-in-the-blank, the “high functioning” label is never assigned in the interest of the individual who has the need, but rather in the interest of normative society. And hear me out because this is important.

As a person who has functioned, highly, with anxiety for my whole life and who is currently coming into new understandings of my neurological makeup, I can tell you that in the grip of anxiety or a full blown panic attack, I have never—not once—felt high functioning, despite appearances. What the world experiences and what I experience are separate and distinct, and honestly, very upsetting for me.

For as long as I have experienced any sort of abnormal mental episodes, I have heard it all, from “you seem fine,” to “it can’t be that bad.” And every. Single. Fucking. Time. It guts me. While I may appear completely placid on the outside, I am experiencing a complete, internal collapse. The walls of my nervous system are caving in… while the physical world around me moves like unstable jello. I’m hot. I’m cold. The room is spinning. I may run. I may disintegrate… It feels like is trying to do an obstacle course hopped up on psychedelics while simultaneously trying to act completely sober. But you experience me as…. Totally fine.

Which is cool for you, but paralyzing for me. Add in a dash of self actualization, and it’s hard for even great therapists and professionals to treat me because, what the heck can they do about my neurological wiring?! There is only so much talking I can do about what I cannot change, so in some ways, being “high functioning” has been a barrier to treatment for me.

And it’s all so hard to explain… why I’ve set my life up this way, and why planning is such huge thing for me. Why I my first inclination is to say “no,” or why I cannot return items I hate at the store. Why I smell my food to see if it’s still good, and wonder if it’s going to poison me… Why, if I don’t sleep, I feel dizzy and I wonder if I will actually pass out, and WILL THIS HAPPEN WHILE I AM DRIVING MY CHILD SOMEWHERE?

And yet… I can give awe-inspiring presentations to rooms full of people. I can communicate with such ease in written form. I am creative and bright and, under the right circumstances, illuminating. I am a complicated, spiritual being. And none of this is really “bad” or “good” it’s just a part of who I am.

The way it appears to me is that we are a society so completely obsessed with being normative that we assign this label in an effort to normalize our differences at the expense of ourselves. It grates on me. And it’s not that I want to be malfunctioning or anything… The truth is, I don’t actually believe that any of this makes me any “less” than anyone else. But trying to explain that in any given moment can be so flowery in nature that I am reduced to sounding like some idealist, granola munching, fringe scientist … when in reality,  I want to be seen for what I am. I want to FUNCTION in the light of my own truth, and not someone else’s idea of what I am. Isn’t that the real point of a diagnosis, anyway? To self identify in meaningful ways that ultimately help you?

I believe that anxiety and anything else that can be labeled under the neurodiverse umbrella, is like a superpower…. We all have our kryptonite, just like our traditional superheroes, but they never dwell on the darkness, they dwell in the light. My anxiety and my other neurodiversities are like hidden talents. My ability to over empathize and see all sides of a situation give me a super unique ability to analyze. My anxiety is a superhuman alarm bell system that tells me to get R&R right away so I don’t burn out—and FYI, I tell my friends the same thing! I am the “take care of yourself” preacher AND I am my own choir, too!

I have a super human algorithm built into me that if I haven’t talked to a person in a specific number of days, I will remember to text them and see how they are doing. I write letters. REAL FUCKING LETTERS. I am abnormally grateful, genuinely, because I feel like life is so fleeting and random. And I am fiercely loyal. I love without limits… arguably, maybe there should be more limits. So, yes, I have my downsides… I am intense AF. If you love me, prepare for a level of intensity that you may not have met before. I struggle to leave the house sometimes (read: all the damn time). I don’t like to go outside my routine. I sometimes have to cancel plans because the anticipation makes me feel physically ill,  and I am afraid more than I am not afraid… but I overcome these things daily and sometimes hourly, and isn’t that amazing?

However, there is little credit given to a person who never seems to have a problem in the first place. And that is the misnomer of the high functioning label. I am working really hard to seem normative and it’s exhausting. As I get older, I try to break this barrier down as much I can. I’m beginning to get more comfortable doing what DOES serve me best… like wearing headphones in the grocery store, or explaining that I have depth perception issues (I'm not trying to park like an asshole, I swear!), or that facial recognition and recalling names is a particular challenge for me… or practicing my improv skills so I can be more flexible in everyday life. But I will never be “normal,” even if the world does see me as “high functioning.”

The people who love me best understand these things about me. They know that when I show up, maybe it took me three days of internal battle to get there because it was THAT important. They likewise understand that if I don’t show up, it was never personal. They will humor me as I talk about the same thing 10 different ways, and when they finally tell me to shut up about it, I get it. As the world becomes a better, hopefully more progressive place for the neurodiverse amongst us, I hope that everyone will learn to come to center a little more. I hope that typical people will be changed by their interactions with neurodivergent individuals and vice versa.

Because what it really takes to be high functioning in today’s world, typical or divergent, is a group of people behind you with undying love who lift you up and are a little bit changed by your you-ness.