Another Hurting Person Rambling On

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When I heard the leaked Trump tape, it all came back. The first boy who asked me out — with scissors to my throat. The stranger running a jokey Independence Day beauty pageant who isolated me from the younger girls and older women and exposed me, saying, “We have to see if you’re a woman.” The man asking for gas money in a parking lot who shoved a hand into my pants and I gave him my money because I was afraid not to, and I felt angrier — more justified — in feeling robbed than assaulted. The male therapist, the boyfriend who asked how far I’d parked from the store, a version of “What were you wearing?” The relationship that left me afraid of everything from my phone to flying to speaking to not speaking, the relationship that made me feel unbearably naive, the relationship that closed my heart in ways I’ve never gotten over, the relationship that could have legitimately ended my life, the relationship that left me uncertain who I was at all — it has been picked over, the blood let back out, the pain fresh as this man we just elected our president spoke about grabbing women and spoke about how such speech is harmless.

It has been just a few weeks since we heard him say those things. It feels like a lifetime, and for those of us who have experienced assault or emotional abuse or rape, it is a lifetime because we keep living those events and moments, tethered to them across years and decades. And this whole time, I have been living short of breath. I have been too afraid to even see his face or hear his voice. I have been unable to follow much of the campaign because I see all the men who have hurt me and then brushed it off, not even acknowledged the damage they’ve done.

I have been abused. I feel like my abuser just became our president.

Two weeks ago, a man in my neighborhood slapped my ass while I was walking with my daughters. First, he offered me a business card, and I was polite. Then, he asked about my daughters, and I was polite. He told me there was a mosquito on me, and before I could say a word, he slapped me several times and pulled the waist band of my pants away from my lower back. I was polite and walked away. And when I called my mother, out of breath and shaking, I told her, “I don’t know if there was a mosquito. Maybe there really was a mosquito.”

My heart breaks and breaks and breaks. I have spent my life trying to understand what others’ intentions were instead of looking directly at their actions. I have silenced my own voice so as not to accuse someone falsely or let them think I perceive them in a negative light. I crave connection with people. Not everyone does.

When this same man found me later on my walk, left the yard work he was doing in my neighborhood, and pursued me further, I yelled at him. I called the constable. I stated what happened, even though I could hardly believe it. My instinct was still to say, “Maybe there was a mosquito. Maybe he didn’t think about what it means to touch a person without their consent.” The man denied that he had intended to intimidate me. I still walk in my neighborhood, but now I look for the maroon truck he drives. I’m afraid I will see him again, not because he will hurt me more, but because I very well may find myself apologizing for making a big thing of a big thing.

Get pepper spray. Get a gun. Get a dog. Get a thicker skin. Get over it.

I’m not over it, and how can I be when a man can so blatantly brag about assault and then be elected our president? 53% of white women voted for him. My sisters, those same women who have held keys between their knuckles at night and sought safety in numbers, left the rest of us to fend for ourselves, and that betrayal is hard to forgive.

I know this man evokes the same feelings of hopelessness and fear and worry in so many cross-sections of people who face worse potential outcomes than I do as a white, cis, straight, able-bodied citizen, and knowing how I feel as I try desperately to separate a history of misogynist terror from today and tomorrow and the next day, I am profoundly sad and sorry for those groups he has invited hate upon.

When I cast my vote for who I hoped would be our first female president, I was first nearly turned away by a man who tried to say I couldn’t take my babies with me. He was wrong, but he didn’t care to be right. Even this small thing — a person giving bad information — feels so deeply personal.

What gives me hope? The woman who offered to hold my babies so I could vote. The woman who pulled over when she saw me crying and yelling at the man in my neighborhood and waited with me well after the constable was gone. My mother, who has always believed me. My friends, who share their voices bravely. My doula, who helped bring my babies into this world and helped me, today, get through an hour more in it. She handed me the note in the picture above before I left. My husband, who just last week defended a young woman being casually harassed by men. My close male friends who are also hurting from all this and want to use their position for change. Writers, who take their uncelebrated gifts and create hope and assurance from the tiny, fragile husks of words. My kids, who don’t understand any of this yet but whom I’m teaching to respect their bodies and other people’s bodies.

My mother told me to get fear out of my body. I’m walking. I’m talking. I’m dancing with my kids even though I don’t feel like dancing. I’m finding anything to laugh about. I’m letting myself cry, for now. I might take a bath. I’m cleaning. I’m killing all these motherfucking mosquitoes that have the audacity to keep living into November and bite me. I’m breathing. I’m standing barefoot in sand. I’m holding my family.

Thank you to those of you who are holding space today, whether out of empathy or experience. Thank you to the ones who are checking in and taking care. Thank you to the ones who aren’t fearful but fired up. I’m getting there, too.

Some Words on “In Mother Words”

theoandmeHi, mothers, moms-to-be, and friends!

I’m running my first workshop this weekend, “In Mother Words: Journaling for Authenticity in Motherhood.” I wanted to share what made me develop this workshop. I know many of you cannot make it because of other obligations — or because you live out of state. I hope to offer an online version of the workshop, as well as other ones on writing your birth story, keepsake journaling, writing creatively from motherhood, and more. I’ll keep you posted as these things take off. For now, here’s a little story about how this all started.

“In Mother Words” is a passion project that grew out of my experience of becoming a mother, struggling to feel adequate and happy through the bumpy transition, and the life-changing decision I made to write my way through it. In talking with other mothers, I have learned that my rough adjustment to motherhood is hardly unique. We all face challenges, and in this culture of social media veneer and an oversaturation of opinions and advice on parenting, I think contemporary mothers, in the United States especially, have a particularly difficult time. We need support, and we need tools to help us steer our own lives and our families in a direction that feels true and good.

As I entered motherhood, I had a lot of ideas about what the experience should look like. I believed I would be a “natural” mother. I had a deeply-held belief that my love as a mother would be fierce, unconditional, and unwavering. My view of mothers was simple. But my experience as a mother was not. Love came with confounding ambivalence. Breastfeeding was painful and challenging. My baby cried and cried, and I often failed to soothe him. I felt alone, overwhelmed, resentful of how my life had changed and how it failed to align with my expectations. I struggled, and in that struggle, I believed that I was not a natural mother, that in fact, I might not be particularly suited for motherhood at all.

This was fear talking. This was a lifetime of messages from the world around me about what a woman, what a mother should be. This was a lack of nuanced perspective on healthy and realistic mothering. Chances are, you also went in to motherhood with a set of ideas about what a “good” mother should be. Maybe some of them guided you in ways that were helpful. But there were likely some, too, that placed unnecessary pressure on you, that led you to compare yourself needlessly and detrimentally to others, that left you sometimes feeling like you were failing at something that should have been simple.

It took me a lot of reading, thinking, writing and eventually talking to other mothers to understand that my expectations had set me up for failure and that I could – and should – be more thoughtful and selective about my values. I took inventory of what truly mattered, what brought me feelings of contentment, and what gave me a sense of purpose, authenticity, and whole-heartedness both as a mother and as a human. I have spent these last four years since becoming a mother hoping to give voice to the whole, complex, messy work of raising children. I don’t have all the answers, but I know this work is important for the well-being of mothers and their families.

Before my son’s birth, I started a journal addressed to him where I wrote about my dreams for him, my awe at the magic of pregnancy, promises I hoped to fulfill. I believed this journal would become an artifact, proof of my love. I wanted this little handwritten book to represent everything good and pure about his mother, so he would know straight from my own heart how intensely and irrevocably I cherished him. Maybe I would give it to him when he became a parent. Maybe he would find it in a time of despair after I’m gone, and my words would bring him comfort. The point was, it was a gift. It was always meant for him.

So, when I had a difficult birth, and the days after that were raw and painful and desperate, I struggled to write his name on those pages. I wanted to tell him that I’d fallen in love at first sight and that cradling him to my chest brought both of us a deep feeling of peace. I did not want to admit that I was a little shell-shocked, that I wasn’t moved to happy tears until his first laugh at three months, that I was distracted by a persistent feeling that my life was unraveling. More than this, though, I didn’t want to fail to finish the journal, the artifact of my love. So I wrote half-truths at first. I stuck to the facts of his birth. I followed up my fears and worries with uplifting remarks that I was sure things would feel better soon. Over time, I allowed myself to be more forthcoming, to write less for him than for me, because I found that once I started to open up a little bit, there was no holding back the force of my feelings. I was compelled to write every day, every chance I got.

I finished the journal around the time my son turned one, which was a turning point toward a happier time as he grew out of some of the challenges of infancy and as I was starting to see a wealth of benefits from all that writing. I stewed over my frustrations less; I learned to write them down and let them go. I began to seek solutions to my problems by brainstorming and writing through the possible ways my choices could go. Naturally, this led me to look forward rather than backward, to set goals, to imagine how things might get better and what other avenues would open up for me. I started to interrogate what it meant to me to be a mother, seeing the rhetoric for what it was, keeping what felt right and getting rid of any pressure, any image that felt inauthentic. I found grace for myself. I processed old, seemingly unrelated feelings about my body and healed some long-held upsets. And although I sometimes wrote to complain about my baby, it was this excavation of my life as his mother that helped me to see him and accept him exactly as he was. When I completed the journal’s final pages, I felt more confident, better adjusted to my new life, and excited about my days with my son.

The beautiful thing about my journal is that, even though it doesn’t profess my perfect, pure, easy love for my son, it is still a meaningful artifact; it still proves exactly what I hoped it would, just not in the way I imagined. In those pages are the ways that I struggled, yes, but also how I pushed through. Those pages show exactly the how deeply I love him because they include everything, not just the golden moments that took my breath away. I still plan to share it with him some day, and at the same time, I treasure it for myself, for what it reminds me about my own strength.

Not all mothers go through such a rough stretch, but we do all have days when we struggle to parent as well as we’d like, when we are depleted of energy, when the work of mothering feels less like a blessing and more like, well, work. It seems like we are supposed to do everything, including not letting the everything wear us down. Mothers hear all the time that they need to do self-care. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Continue having date nights and girls’ nights. Go get a massage. But many moms also hear this advice and think, “Great. One more thing I’m failing to do.” While it’s important to make time for the things that center us, it’s smart to have a good self-care activity that doesn’t require much time or child care or money. Journaling can fit the bill. All you need is a notebook and pen.

In this workshop, we will discuss the benefits of self-reflective writing, complete several writing exercises to jumpstart your journaling, and develop strategies for you to implement and maintain the practice. My hope is that you will leave with new tools to deeply explore your motherhood and journey forth with authenticity in all that you do.

Get your ticket and join me on October 16th, 1:30-4:30pm at Rebel Birth Haven in Old Town Spring.

Things I’m Not Doing

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When Theo was a baby I checked milestones and development stuff weekly, sometimes more frequently. I wasn’t concerned, just curious about what to expect and when certain things might get easier. I’d come across suggestions like to talk to him a lot or sing songs, and I’d feel good because I was already doing those things. I felt like I was on the right track and doing my best for him.

I think some things come down to individual temperament and interests. Still, Theo has always been very verbal. As far as I can tell, he’s a bright kid. I take a little credit, even if the constant talking and singing and reading didn’t have that much to do with it.

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So when I occasionally check to see what range of milestones the girls are coming up on, and I come across suggestions for boosting certain development areas, I get this two-pronged guilt. One prong is that I’m hardly ever able to sit and read or talk while making eye contact or go to story time, and I feel like I should be, and the other prong is that I did all those things with Theo and they seemed to work so what happens when I’m not doing them? What does it mean?

As soon as I think about all this kind of stuff, how I’m raising all my kids, I can’t help but resent a little bit that the girls are twins. Sometimes I get to play with one baby at a time, and I realize it’s the first time I’ve been fully present with her in an entire day. Or I let one baby hang out with Josh for a few hours, and I don’t feel that I’m really apart from her because I’m still with the other baby, distracted, still giving myself to someone, and then the other baby reacts to seeing me, finally, and I realize she’s been missing me. And I wonder, what if, over time, I spend significantly more hours with one than the other? What am I shaping in Emerson every time I say, “I’ll take Caroline.” Emerson is the “easier” baby, so she will go to others more often. Am I relying on that to her detriment? Does she need her mother but she just hasn’t learned to scream for me?

It’s not just every day. It’s multiple times a day that I realize I am doing things so differently this time. And yes, I have to do things differently. Yes, they are loved and healthy. But I still have this list of Things I’m Not Doing. Reading books. Singing songs. Playing interactive games on the floor with them. Letting them explore a variety of foods. Narrating my actions and naming items. Making up silly games.

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What I’m doing, most of the time, is holding one while entertaining the other, or nursing one while giving a pacifier to the other, wearing one and pushing one in the shopping cart. Engaging one, not-engaging one. Or I’m trying to change one’s diaper while the other is eating paper. Or I’m just trying to get off the floor, but as soon as I set one down, the other pulls up on me, so I set that one further away and the first one is back, and the only way I can get up is to let them fall over as I stand, or else I choose one of them to pick up, thus also not-choosing the other.

There is a specific kind of fatigue with my daily life. It’s a type of decision fatigue, I guess. Or the fatigue of always being behind while always planning ahead. There is the usual slog of general baby care: changing diapers, dressing them, feeding and bathing. But with twins, there is just more of everything, and every little chore is interrupted. I almost always change one squirmy baby’s diaper while the other is climbing into my lap. If one wants to nurse, the other must nurse, but when they nurse together, they pull each other’s hair, kick, try to claim both sides at once for themselves. When they play together, they want the same toy. To take them anywhere, I have to wear a baby and carry one just to get them to the car because I can’t get the first baby into a car seat with the other in my arms; if I leave one inside, she cries, then when I come back in for her, the one in the car gets going. Feeding table foods at the same time leads to dual screaming and two messy babies who both need baths. Bathing at the same time, now that they are standing, requires two adults because they no longer sit still, safe. (And none of this figures in a brother who doesn’t want to share toys, who sometimes hits them or knocks them over so I become afraid to let them all be within arm’s reach for any length of time, a brother who barges into the bathroom to toss toys into the bath water and needs to take a bath too RIGHT NOW!!!, who has his own needs and challenges and usually needs things and challenges me when I’m in the middle of cleaning something disgusting or holding a naked baby who might poop at any moment.) At the minimum, I have to decide, all day it seems, what they’ll wear, what they’ll eat, whether and when they’ll get a bath, when to get them to take another nap by figuring out some perfect mid-point between when Em needs to sleep and when Caroline does because they woke up at different times. It’s all so much more complicated than just Taking Care of Them. It’s a game I never come close to winning.

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And these are just the basics. They don’t even include the language building and development boosting activities I regret I’m not really doing. Because the hours and minutes, as much as I try to plan them out, are unpredictable. They were unpredictable with one baby, but with three kids in the mix (and a dog whose behavior worsens in correlation to the chaos in our house), I don’t bother anymore to plan activities that might enrich my children’s lives because I can’t count on going two minutes without an interruption. We are just surviving around here. And while most people will say to let the house work go a little — because this is always one of the first suggestions for handling tumultuous baby-related times, like the real struggle of parenting is just cleaning — I’m sure they don’t mean to have dirty dishes on every inch of counter space all the time, or to rely on the dog to have “clean” floors, or to have a designated Clean Laundry Couch where the clean clothes sit, unfolded, and you take the clothes as you need them until they go back into the Dirty Laundry Pile by the door.

I just want to feel like I’m doing more than the bare minimum. I’m not even sure that I’m doing the minimum at all. I knew from the beginning that being a mom of more than one kid, and especially being a mom of multiples, would be very difficult. I knew I had to accept that some things wouldn’t be a priority this time, some things would be different. But I hoped, still, naively, that I would be some mythical rock star mother whose powers grew with chaos.image

Others see me that way, I think. It is flattering. I don’t want to dismiss the ways people have encouraged me and acknowledged my little victories. I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like the bar is set lower for me in some areas because it is set higher in others, so something like taking all my kids shopping is praised as a big deal while things like pouring a handful of Cheerios directly onto the play mat for breakfast are overlooked without comment. Maybe that’s realistic. Maybe I need to embrace it and trust that my kids will be decent humans no matter how many books we read or if I narrate to them, “Mommy is changing your diaper. Your diaper is white. Let’s get a nice new clean diaper on, and then we will put on an orange shirt!”

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I want to fight the do all, be all, perfectionist mother who cringes inside me all day every day, is what I’m saying. She’s there, and she might always be there, but I’m working on tuning her out.

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