“Mommy, you should eat slower so you don’t eat so much,” she slipped into our dinner conversation.
I jumped, without thinking.
“We don’t tell people how to eat, not how much or what speed or their choices,” I sternly responded.
I wish I had replied more gently, made it a moment to share why. But I was angry. We don’t talk about things like that in this house. In fact, we make a point to try to make food simply a way to feed our bodies. We even have a night during the week where you get to choose whatever you want. And she’s chosen jelly beans and starburst. We think it’s important that she learns how her body feels and responds to food. That she listens to her desires and wants. I am trying to do the same, and without judgment. I want her to avoid the judgment as long as possible.
She’s doing great. If I push too hard, or we ask her to eat in a way that out of this alignment, she calls us on it.
“But my body is full”…”I am listening to my body”…”My body doesn’t like that”…”Mom, that’s not listening to what my body is saying.”
I am so grateful in these moments, woven in-between my frustration that she eats only a handful of things and is stubborn when trying something new. It’s clearly more than being stubborn, likely anxiety producing to eat something she is unfamiliar with. This same behavior is seen with new friends, new events, new after-school activities, new places. I let it go most of the time, allowing her to trust herself and feel it out.
I am doing my best to not be a health troll even though I feel responsible for her livelihood, her health. My doctor certainly makes me feel so asking what she eats and encouraging her to eat more things.
But health is a hoax. Well maybe not all of the way. But it is a way to control people, to make us feel like our individual role in health is the sole way to be healthy. But the truth is that this world is not set up for kids. In fact, it makes it very hard for them. Restaurants don’t serve healthy choices for kids, and I don’t want to pay three times the amount for her to try something new. It’s easier to pay for what I know she’ll eat. It hinders her risk taking, and my openness to her risks as her parent.
Jellybeans on her plate one day a week won’t ruin her health. And my words will certainly not deter her body’s language in telling her that they are delicious. This is the contradiction for all of us. You tell us it’s not healthy, but our body loves it. The sweet taste of chocolate ice cream as it kisses your tongue. The bubbles of soda pop tickling your throat. The scent of warm baked bread straight our of the oven. The satisfying creaminess of cheese in any form. It’s a lie to say these aren’t healthy. They aren’t by the medical fields definition. But maybe they are healthy to my mind. To my control to choose what makes me happy every once in a while. To choose food without shame, remorse, or thoughts of what people might think with every bite.
I was so mad when she questioned the speed of my eating. Not at her, but wherever that message came from. I suspect it won’t be the first. And honestly, I’m surprised it came at age six when so many six years are all too familiar with diet culture.
I know I’ll talk with her about it more in the coming future. My rage is not the answer in her early learning of the appreciation of food. And I need to learn myself what my body is telling. I’ve spent so long listening to doctors, people, media, strangers, that my voice has chosen to stay silent, tired of being shut down by all of the messages. Maybe when I can welcome back this part of me, can I then think about how to respond to my kid’s criticism of my eating. In the meantime, I’m just listening to what she sees and hears. And having jellybeans for dinner every once and a while.
I’ve been writing for two months and have shared very little. Unsure of what to say out loud. Unsure if it’s even meant to be heard.
In March, it became clear to me that my parenting was short sighted. I had been focusing on my kids so deeply that I was missing what I needed for my own being. Over the past six years, I have committed myself to authentic, deep, loving parenting. A type of parenting that looks at my kids as their own people in this world. People for me to get to know, to learn from, and to be in community with. At first, I thought I was meant to teach them. To show them all that is wrong with this world. And I started this journey in that mindset. But my wise little one would say to me…
“Can we stop talking about this?” or “Can we talk about something happy?”
Those moments were tough because things were happening the world. Opportunities to show the injustice, the oppression, the rampant violence in our society. But I didn’t listen to my own lesson.
I used to watch all of the videos on facebook of the violence in this world. Police shooting black people, strangling people of color, manhandling children. Photos of abused pets, abused children. News outlets showing overhead footage of today’s mass shooting. There was one summer where one video sent me into silence. I laid on the floor and stared at the ceiling. It was an opportunity to be the public voice, again. But being the public voice created crippling anxiety for me. I spoke to a mentor and friend. She reminded me that I don’t have to watch those videos if I believe what is happening. If something is reported – that a person was killed by a police officer or some white man with an automatic weapon shot a group of people, I don’t doubt it to be true. I know it’s true because I believe that in this country, we have rampant violence and entrenched systemic oppression and racism. I don’t need to see it to know it’s happening.
My kid was sharing the same. She believed me when I told her the ways of the world. And she was reminding me that she didn’t need to be reminded. She believed me the first time.
After that, I took to figuring out parenting by sharing my own perspective. Sharing my own feelings, thoughts, errors, love. I opened things up to a two-way conversation. I allowed her to bring things to me and to stop the conversation when she wanted to. And I started to focus on joy and the miracles of this earth. Talking about nature and the ways in how we choose to live.
In her Mother’s Day present this year from school, she not only listed me as 23 years young, but she listed that I am special to her because I keep her safe. This coming from an Aries sun and moon who lives in this world out in front or in first place everywhere she goes, is quite the compliment.
As her parent, this is who I want to be. I want her to feel safe with me and to be a constant. Someone who can be honest, raw, raggedy, and also so deeply loving.
But two months ago, I realized that a key piece of this was missing in my parenting. Really in my own relationship with myself. I was loving out loud for my kids, for others, but was not loving out loud for me. Simply put, I talk kindly about bodies but I do not treat mine well. I talk about what I love but my kids rarely see me do any of it. I talk about joy but I rarely show pleasure in this world.
One day back in March, I was sitting on my couch trying to figure out this turmoil in my body. My mind was crashing. I was stuck without a creative thought. In my mind, this feels dangerous. It’s an onset of anxiety, worries, depression. It’s the empty space that I avoid at all costs. I have feared this space since forever in this body. But I chose this time to listen. I was able to feel some profound trauma sitting in my bones. I wrote about it and I felt a bit better. Then, I kept writing. About loss, death, abuse, violence, harm, food, capitalism, oppression, sexism, all of it. All of the trauma wrapped up in my body poured out. It now sits in about 30 drafts on wordpress, waiting to see what I will do with it.
I turned to astrology for some guidance. I knew that my birth chart offers me the story of the energy in my life and maybe it has something in there to show how to work through this difficult part. See I am a Cancer sun and moon. I live in this world as a nurturer, lover, caretaker. Most of my life I live by giving energy out, being there for others, loving so deeply that I can shift the energy of a room. But it’s confusing because my energy is so wrapped up in yours. And, I can’t often find my way back to mine. But, I found it in March. It was empty, black, silent. Several meditations brought me to black, dark water. Some even nothingness.
Simply, within my natal chart, my sun and moon live in the house of death. A place where trauma exists, lineage, motherhood. A house where it’s likely that one’s mother had a difficult birth or you’ve experienced something close to death. A place where the trauma in your family is carried through your lineage, blood and bones to sit in your body. All of which is true. And, my chart offers something to me. That I am a person who can do something with this knowledge. That maybe I can be a person who holds this lineage of trauma and cares for it, maybe even works towards healing it.
The world around me is pointing to me, pushing me to find my personal power as a person, a parent. And I am realizing that I cannot do any of it without healing me. I am still unsure if I am meant to heal my lineage, as my acorn in only in its earlier stages of growth.* But it’s clear to me that I cannot be the parent, partner, person I want to be without some deep rooted healing and love for this body of mine.
I feel compelled to share some of this healing with you all. But I am scared. I am scared because it’s deep and raw and terrifying to share. What if what is trauma to me seems ridiculous to you? What if what I write triggers your own trauma and makes it so you never want to read my writing again? What if the people in the story read it and come for me?
And, I am scared because I do not live in this world as a single human. My experiences are interwoven with others. I was raised by two parents. Two loving, beautiful, brave, amazing people. Who just like me have made mistakes. I believe deeply that our parents’ errors are our lessons. And the same will be true for my kids. But I am scared that you will have an opinion of them when I think they are the greatest parents alive. I am afraid you will know who I am talking about and you will tell me I’m wrong. I’m afraid that I may be writing about you and you’ll hate me.
My coach, mentor, amazing friend Maureen…I hear her voice – “It’s not your business.” This leaves me with the thought – can I write honestly, from that raw, deep, dark place inside of me and still be the person who loves, nurtures and cares for you? Can I both hurt you and love you? Can I put your own body at risk in reading my trauma? Can I out the people in my life for their failures? Am I really the person to share these stories out loud?
I don’t know the answer yet.
But, I am working towards being the person who can openly show my kids what it’s like to pull back the layers of this body and to show who is really under there. It has to be a lesson to them that seeing their mother at her rawest can lead to their own freedom. That they will have that moment or moments too. And I can provide the reminder that they can survive. That we can survive. That even with all the shit that happens to us, it’s only a few sentences in our story. My trauma is not the core to my story. It’s a page in a chapter in the larger story of this life. My life.
“…My body is my home. My body is the place I can continue to return to. My body is where all the things that have ever happened me are remembered and held and I’m the only one who’s been through all that I’ve been through…it’s not just a space for trauma to happen to me and it’s not just a space for harm and it’s not just a space for oppressive ideas to be projected onto me…it’s actually my own.” – adrienne maree brown
So I’m still writing. Working towards sharing. Working to feel brave to do so – loving and healing through sharing. I expect you’ll hear some from me soon.
*In “The Body is Not an Apology,” Sonya Renee Taylor speaks of how we are all acorns. Acorns are born with a purpose as they always become an oak tree. I believe I was born an acorn, my purpose is within me and I am growing towards my oak tree, even if I don’t know what that oak tree looks like.
Note: Maureen White is amazing, I am so grateful she is in my life as chosen family, a friend, a coach, and a mentor. Consider her, it’s worth every penny and every moment. https://www.maureenwhiteconsulting.com/
The other day, I saw a post on facebook that I decided to share with my daughter. Here is the picture.
I quickly noticed the issue and wanted to see if she did too. I showed her the picture and we talked through what it said. I asked her what she saw. She noticed that happy and proud seemed to be associated and that sad and angry were too. I asked her if she noticed the race of the kids in the picture and she said yes.
“What do you think about that?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied.
So I offered her more, “What do you think about the fact that the black kids are angry and sad and the white kids are happy and proud?”
“I think that’s probably right,” she replied.
Patiently, I asked her why.
Her response, “White people don’t treat them so well, so I think they’d be angry and sad.”
Such a moment, in both validation, but also in missed teaching on my part. I told her that she is right, that they have every right to be angry and sad. And then I tried to explain to her that people already think black people are angry and sad, all the time. And if someone seeing this picture didn’t know so much about how black people are treated, then they might think that all black people are sad and angry for no reason at all.
I could see her confusion. And the complicated nature of trying to explain this was bouncing around in my brain.
I chose to simply say, “There are messages everywhere about how people are and this is an example of how we can pay attention to those.”
“Can I go play now?” she asked.
“Of course,” and she ran off.
I quickly realized an important piece of parenting that I am thinking about how to approach. I have taught her the reality, what exists. That is easy for her to grasp. In fact, she’s even pointed out things she sees as wrong or biased. But I haven’t taught her how to see it from a neutral perspective, or to see it in something that isn’t so obvious. And I’m wondering how to even do that. She is 6 years old. I cannot expect her to see this page in a book, raise her hand, and say “Um, teacher, this is racist.”
She actually encountered something similar recently when a book was read in class. It was “If I Ran the Zoo,” by Dr. Seuss. That book came into our house this part year because my parents brought a big pile of things from both mine and my siblings’ childhood. This book was included. When I read it with her, I pointed out all of the racism and stereotypes. We talked about what to do with the book. I wanted to throw it away. She wanted to give it away. I told her that if we gave it away, then the racism in the book would still be around and others might not recognize like we did.
We actually still have the book on our shelf. I’ve left it, it sits unread, for no reason other than we haven’t decided what to do with it. (Update, yesterday she brought me the book and asked me to throw it out. “It’s trash,” she said.)
Two days after they read this book in class for the celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, she came to me and told me they did.
“Mom, we read the zoo book in school,” she said. She eyed me up, looking to see what I would do.
“Did you say anything?” I asked.
“No, we’re not supposed to talk during read aloud,” she said.
She waited two days to tell me because she was worried her teacher would get in trouble. With me, I presume. I told her I’d talk with her teacher and tell her that we think the book can be hurtful and that we want them to not read it again next year. That no one was meant to get into trouble. Instead, our goal is always to help other people sometimes.
So we reached out, and it all went well. I suspect the book won’t show up again for either teacher. I told my daughter the same and she seemed good with the outcome.
But in full honesty, I wish I pushed for a different outcome instead of just removing it. Because I actually think that this book is useful for a classroom full of nearly all white kids. It’s a teaching tool for anti-racism. But it’s not an easy request to ask a teacher to read the book and also point out the racism and harm. Without deep conversation and understanding between all of the parents and the kids. In this system anyway.
When my daughter saw that picture on facebook several months ago, I was worried about how to teach her to speak up. But now I’ve seen she has. She is still learning to find her own voice, and certainly under the thumb of authority in the systems she is now in. But she told me.
And I acted. As a parent, I am working to live as an example for her. A example of how we can make change in the world even in the small spaces we’re in like reading books in class or before bed. One thing I am learning is how going smaller can have a big impact. I’d like to think that her voice was maybe shared with a classmate, or that this post will make some of us check our bookshelves. Small ripples towards our freedom. And I’m also reminding myself that taking small steps also need to be steps towards the larger goal of liberation. For all of us.
*The picture at the top of the page was posted by a local Boston organization called Wee the People. They do such rad work and actually work with young kids to talk about racism. They also do parent workshops on how to take books and use them as learning tools even when we don’t like the content. Check them out, support them, and go to their workshops if you’re nearby.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m teaching my kids about bodies. I have made a point to not talk badly about bodies including my own. In fact, I’ve gotten pretty good at silencing my inner critic, telling myself this or that is not true. But, I’ve also noticed that I don’t outwardly love on my body either. And, I am realizing this is because I am stuck in a place of neutrality. Instead of speaking or acting with love towards myself, I have chosen tolerance, acceptance, pretty much a truce between my inner shame and this body.
But is acceptance what I want to achieve? Is this what I want to teach my kids? I am reading “The Body is Not an Apology, The Power of Radical Self-Love” by Sonya Renee Taylor and she is showing me that self-acceptance is a distraction. It’s a place of existence where I am not dealing with any of it. In self-acceptance, I am choosing to simply hear the shame and words that come from my ego, but I am not really fighting back. I let these words come to be, let them live, and then I say “thank you for your opinion but I disagree.” Imagine if I instead said to myself, “thank you for your opinion, but this body is perfect, powerful and capable.” And, I also believed it.
I am finding that acceptance is not the same as deep love. It’s tolerance and tolerance is one small step towards radical change. In fact, it’s pretty low down in the steps to take towards nurturing. And, the world I want to live in is not one where I simply tolerate all around me. It is instead one where I love and feel love all around me.
In her book and her advocacy, and all of her awesomeness, Taylor teaches radical self-love. This is the type of love where no matter the body, you give it all you have got. You treat it like the amazing vessel it is. One that sustains your life, has offered you perhaps nourishment, breath, movement, intelligence, decision making, fertility, love, immunity, health, joy… To date, I seem to have achieved avoiding self hatred, resulting in acceptance of what this body is right now. This simply means that I acknowledge it isn’t bad, that it’s the body I am in and it is serving me to live in this moment. But I don’t want my kids to simply accept themselves. Heck, I don’t want to stay in acceptance because it feels empty, void. I want to feel free. Free from all of the societal scripts, free of my own shame, free of the gazes of others and wondering what criticisms they have for me. Free of feeling like my weight is a disappointment, that my no longer small waist is a failure to take care of myself. Freedom is not acceptance. Freedom is living where we are at our fullest. Freedom is feeling that deep in my core, that this body is everything it should be. That this body is beautiful, strong, brave, loving, and capable of taking care of me in this moments and many moments into the future.
So how do you teach this? I am realizing that 1) I am not teaching it because 2) I am not living it.
I want my kids to achieve radical love for this world while also achieving radical self-love. And this includes wanting them to radically love their bodies. But, I’m noticing that my own lack of radical self-love is evident in my daughter. I’ve never heard my kid say something nice to her body. I also notice that she doesn’t say much about any bodies. So I am seeing that acceptance, neutrality, results in her own lack of feeling. Or likely more so that she is learning to have many thoughts as society is constantly teaching her, but not to talk about them, which is what I am teaching her.
Today I explore this neutrality, how did I get here? Many reasons, too many to delve into here. But I’m writing about it. Maybe I’ll even share in the hopes that others might know they are not alone.
I love me but I do not love on me. This month I’m working to change this. My freedom, survival, liberation is impossible without it. And in reality, if I can not offer myself radical self-love, can I then really say my love for others is so radical?
And certainly, if I’m not living radical self-love out loud, my kids won’t even know it exists.
*The image on the top of this page is the cover of “The Body is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor. I couldn’t not post it because it’s so beautiful. This book is worth having on your bookshelf. Even if it’s just to hold it’s place until you’re ready. It sat in my amazon cart for 3 months before I clicked purchase.
A friend is due to have a baby in a few months. When I got to see them the other day, I got to share a little bit in their joy, bliss. Hear about what is exciting and what nerves are sneaking up. They are not finding out the sex of the baby. Out of curiosity, I asked them if they had any inkling to what the body parts might be. They said yes and they feel conflicted as to why that happened.
I felt the same way in my pregnancies. Both times, I had a feeling, just knew what the sex of these babies were. And I’d be lying if I didn’t feel some satisfaction in being right. I’m still not sure if it was the act of being right, or confirmation that I did feel strongly connected to these children.
But, I’ve been thinking deeply on this, because I wanted to unpack that feeling of guilt and because I wish I knew what to say in that moment for that friend. My heart is telling me that we shouldn’t feel guilty. That guilt is rooted in our desire, want for the world to be different, all while potentially contributing to status quo. For me, the world I want to live in is one where gender is not binary, that gender is expressed on an individual level and that we don’t script it for others. It is also a world where we untie sex and gender. They are not the same, yet we tie them together with a pretty pink or blue bow.
We can simply, by definition and science, distinguish the two. But is it possible for us to unwrap the societal implications on biological sex?
As a pregnant person, I thought all of the time about what this little human might look like. Tiny fingers, toes, eye color, hair or no hair, who would they look like. Who’s smile would they have? Those little lips, nose, ears. All of it. It was so weird to think that I shouldn’t imagine all of this baby because I was trying to avoid the societal scripting of sex and gender. It felt unnatural and I felt upset that I had to unwrap all of these pieces in order to unwrap what associations both myself and society have put on body parts. So it begs the question, can we actually exist as people, and not care about reproductive body parts as anything other than just body parts?
Imagine a world with me for a moment…that we can have tiny baby humans be born and that their genitals are not a thing other than another piece of their anatomy. That providers don’t announce which ones they have at birth, as they also don’t say, “Wow, this one has black hair, or blue eyes, or a notch in their left earlobe.” Imagine a world where you can go grocery shopping and strangers don’t ask you whether or not you’re growing a tiny human with a penis or a vulva. Yes, these are not the exact words, but this is the actual question. Because if you are asking me the gender of the baby, this I do not know, only they can tell me. But strangers don’t want to be sure that they use the pronoun that the baby wants them to use, it’s that they want to use the socially acceptable pronoun. In fact, I have had people use a pronoun for our baby and then correct themselves when they see a certain color on their clothes. And then apologize for using the wrong one. I imagine a world where we don’t apologize because there is no reason to be offended- by me. Apologize to the person who you mis-gendered, and then ask them their gender pronouns so you get it correct the next time.
And quite frankly, my guess is that most parents are not offended by a person failing to guess their baby’s body parts. However, we still play the role of scripting when we dress our babies up in dramatically gendered clothes to be sure others know what to use. Do we do this for us? Or for the babies? Or for the comfort of others? Because I would guess that the babies don’t know the difference.
I imagine a world where none of this matters, where a baby is just a baby and you can use whatever pronoun comes to you, or you use they because you don’t know and because, one, a baby is too young to identify by gender until they first have words, and, two, they haven’t had the opportunity to live the life of their own mind, body, and being just yet.
This also gets complicated because we live in a world where genitals are also labeled as binary. Yet, much like gender, the truth is that genitals also exist on a spectrum and aren’t often as straight forward as we’re led to believe. It’s still not uncommon that parents and doctors decide to do surgery on babies to make their genitals fit into the binary system.
This brings us to another complication. In this society, this country, genitals are private – unless you are a fetus or too young to name your own gender or gender expression. We announce those genitals out loud for babies every second of their little lives. With balloons, cakes, fireworks, etc. But soon after, the line starts to blur because we get close to the point of sexualization. Once kids grow big enough, their genitals all of a sudden become private again. No one can see them or assume them.
This is all so weird to write, but what I am getting at is that this is not about having a feeling about your baby’s sex while they are growing in your body. But instead about what is attached to that. The guilt, the fear, is all about what you then might then place on that baby because of that knowledge. This happened for me.
I felt very early in my second pregnancy that I knew the genitals and when they were confirmed with a blood test, I spiraled into a fear of toxic masculinity, power, privilege. I created a narrative for a tiny human who was barely out of their first trimester in growth all because I knew their body parts. With my first, I knew too. And when it was confirmed, I felt relieved. Relieved for the opposite of all of those things I just mentioned. And then I was also scared because I knew what world this human was stepping into.
Can we as people allow ourselves to have sexual anatomy be just another part of us, with no societal attachment? Can we release the notion of celebrating a baby’s sex through made up stories like gender reveal parties? Can we unpack our own issues with gender expression? Can we release the inner need to know what body parts babies have?
I believe we can. I believe that we need to start with living our lives in what values we want to see in the world. In my case, I imagine a world where there is no association between sex and gender, that society does not script my life based on my sex or gender, or the others around me.
What world do you imagine?
I have something to share, I’m blocked. This happens every once and a while where I have nothing to write about. So it leaves me with this task of writing for the sake of writing, which then makes me feel unsure about my work. I also find it draws away from authenticity. I instead write from my head rather than my heart.
This is easy to do, as I have a history of being the leader, the one in charge. In my work, I had to make the decisions, strategize, and bring people along with me. This sometimes made it so I had to move things forward that were out of alignment with my values. In order to help a program or piece of work survive in this constraining world, I had to rationalize why it made sense to do it a certain way. Even though my heart screamed at me to do it differently.
An example is throwing people away when they don’t “produce” or “meet expectations” or “perform.” So easy to do in the work world. But frustrating because we only want to do it when someone doesn’t fit into the system. And instead of fixing the system, we throw someone away and try someone else who might fit instead. Don’t get me wrong, people make choices within that too. But shouldn’t we have set it up better so that their choices, the work is better suited to their success?
But that’s not what I’m writing about today. Today, I am reflecting on what it’s like to be in my head for two straight weeks and how that is impacting my parenting.
These past two weeks have included some stresses, family death, travel, illness, unexpected changes in schedule. It was also week two and three as a stay at home parent. See I didn’t tell most folks, but the kids stayed in daycare for 4 weeks after I resigned from my job. I still feel guilty about it. And it was essential to my ability to let go of the corporate world, shed the skin that was suffocating me, so I could tap into my heart filled time with them.
Week 1 with them was bliss. I noticed their every breath, every milestone. I played for the first time in forever really enjoying it. I felt removed of the constraints of schedule, housework, social media. The first week I even did a reading purge where I read nothing and stayed off social media except to share my work.
Then week 2 came. In order to travel, my partner had to work 10 days in a row. I went from being by myself every day, to a couple full days with the kids, to every day all day with the kids. And then came croup followed by teething.
I’d be lying if I said I found any heart time. I started to write a few pieces but it all felt so superficial. So contrived. So educational. It didn’t feel like me. It felt like me two months ago, corporate me. I am choosing to release that part of me, to shed that skin.
So there will be gaps in blog posts sometimes because I am tending to my heart, my growth, my family. I am learning to balance. I am learning to write from my heart because that matters to me. Writing anything else is not the story I wish to tell.
My kid had a rough play-date recently. Both kids are strong and independent and like to be in charge of deciding how to play. My kid was also having a tough day, one I blame myself for.
That morning, she was taking a while to get ready. This is not unusual. She is a last minute, down to the wire, kind of person. Even one who would just miss going to wherever she’s supposed to be because she’d rather do what’s she doing in that moment. So catching the bus in the morning is mildly stressful most days. This morning, she couldn’t find her gloves. I asked her to check in her backpack and she did a very brief and quick look. I knew they must be in there, so I asked her to look again. She started to cry. I got mad, and yelled, and turned into the parent monster who I hate to be.
With the impending arrival of the bus, through tears she quickly put on her gloves and I stomped onto the porch, hoping for more than 10 seconds to cool down before she had to leave. We had about 8 seconds. She looked at me teary eyed, and I told her I loved her and hugged her as she ran to get on the bus.
“Shit,” I thought, “that just ruined her morning.”
All day, I felt the pang of guilt and sadness of not being able to apologize. Not to apologize for getting frustrated. We don’t do that in this house. But to apologize for acting like a jerk as a result of that frustration. I had planned to talk to her as soon as she got home.
But, her friend was coming over. And they immediately jumped into play. So I let it be.
Then the play didn’t go so well. Her friend was pretty unhappy, calling my kid bossy. I hate that word. It’s laced with sexism. And, also my kid does like to tell people what to do. This day, she was controlling all of the play with her friend, leaving little room for sharing or compromise. I pulled her aside a couple of times with some reminders about sharing and kindness. I even helped coach them through some disagreements. But, I could see she was having an off day. I pulled her into the kitchen and said these words, “I am sorry that I was such a jerk this morning. You did not deserve that. Don’t you ever let anyone talk to you that way, not even me.”
A little stunned, she nodded and then left the room to play again. She did a little better for a bit. Then it got hard again.
After her friend went home, that friend’s mom texted me to say that her kid said there were disagreements. I told her yes, and that my kid was not having the best day and that they both did a good job at trying to work it out though. I told her I had talked with my kid already about kindness and sharing. It was all fine, they are still good friends. They are both incredibly strong, smart, young kids and together they are a force. But in opposition, it’s a clashing of power.
When I spoke with my kid, I told her she was a tiger.
“What do you mean?” she asked. “I’m a human, not a tiger!”
I told her that tigers were strong, brave, powerful, fierce, and they were the head of the jungle. That they liked to be in charge. I said that tigers don’t always have to act like tigers in charge though. That they could choose to sit back and let someone else be in charge for a bit while they napped or took a break. I also said that when two tigers are together, they have to share the job of being a tiger or they will just fight. And, that the best part is that two tigers are so much stronger than one tiger.
The look on her face was priceless. She was quite confused, but she also was able to repeat back the message of sharing the role of being in charge and taking turns.
To lighten her up, I told her that the baby was like a koala.
“What are you?” she asked.
It took me a second, but then I said, “A frog.”
“Yes because he has skinny legs and big feet.”
She laughed. And I told her I was being silly. But that I did believe she was as strong as a tiger and that it would serve her one day. And that it also makes it really hard to act like you’re not a tiger sometimes when you heart knows you are one.
This has always been my fear with her. She is so strong, willful, brave. She is told to be quieter, to sit down, to calm down, all the time. By myself included. I am literally asking her to conform to society, what’s scripted of her as a young girl, to survive in this world right now.
It all sucks, and I question it all, all the time. But, I just hope that she never forgets that she’s a tiger.
That night, after her Dad helped her get ready for bed, he came to me and said, “A frog, eh? Because I have skinny legs and big feet?”
“But she did tell me she’s a tiger,” he said.
About 365 days ago, I shared my birth story. The story of when my youngest came into this world. Not as planned, as they nearly never are, but also filled with a few days of twists and turns and an abundance of life changing love. I wanted to share our story, one year later.
In the past year, this baby has grown enormously. They are so smart, and their ability to put things together is stronger than any of us in this household. The other day, I asked them the cute baby question of “How big is baby A?” I last tried to teach them this months ago, and just forgot about it until then. Without hesitation, they opened up their arms as wide as they could and smiled at me. Amazement shot from every cell in my body.
What I know is that I can see in those little eyes an ocean of pure love, connection, and drive to be active in the human species in a way that pays attention. They give hugs, kisses all the time. They love touch, to be held. They love to laugh. They communicate by pointing, grunting, and eye contact. And they are incredibly in tune with people’s emotions.
Me, I have survived a whole year as a parent of two children. I have much less sleep, a lot more diapers and poop, but so much more joy.
Inspired by my birth experience, I started to strongly think about how I walk in this world and I made many changes. I trained to be a doula and will witness my first birth in a couple of months. I quit my job because I simply could not not be at home with these kids anymore. I also quit because it was clear that the work I was doing in this world was no longer where I was meant to be. I started writing, all the time. I write this blog and also a book and kids books and random pieces on what is on my mind. I am learning how my words help me move through this world. And I feel blessed to know that they often connect with others.
I was overwhelmed at the amount of readership of my birth story. It helped to show me that our voices, our honest voices and experiences, are often welcome compared to the structured world where they are usually not supported, are not heard, and are often silenced. So, I have promised myself to write about the hard stuff. To write the truth of the sometimes turmoil of being a parent. To show that there is no right way, but simply just being. That each and every children is a soul of their own, not one that is to be shaped, but one that arrived on this earth exactly as they are meant to be. My children came into this world amazing and I am learning that parenting is not my job, or really a job. Instead, it’s a gift this world has given me. To bring forth life, to rear life, and to offer my wisdom to their souls along the way.
My daughter has taught me this most profoundly over this past year. She has shown me how deeply connected she is to how she shows up in life. She is so different than me, in her approach to this world. And now at the age of five, inching towards six, her empathy and emotions are blossoming. She is seeing the world through feelings rooted in her heart, her body. She is starting to share them outwards. I have seen her experience the personal satisfaction, joy, that comes with telling someone you care and love for them. She is so strong, so brave, and she is a bulldozer in this world. It’s easy for us to quickly want to tell her to step back, be more careful, to not always be first. But in reality, this world needs a bulldozer and what greater gift than one who will tear through the mess.
This year, I have focused my personal work and growth on releasing judgment, instead focusing on noticing and experimentation rather than solution. I have focused on my body, my heart, my mind, my soul by working deeply to try to love it, for fear that if I can’t fully love myself then I can’t possibly fully love another human. And if I can’t fully love another human then I can’t make impact on this world in the way I want to. That I can’t change my future or the trajectory that we’re on.
My story one year later is one of love. Of releasing the scripts and narratives, the medicalization of my body, my kids bodies. The societal pressure to be someone or something that fits in. I started this blog because I wanted to share the experience of walking the line. The line that includes trying to live within the constraints of the systems we’re in, while also trying desperately to break them.
I bought the baby a toy vacuum. They love it, as they are much in love with our robot vacuum. Always touching it, sneaking up to it while it cleans.
As I was putting it into the shopping cart, I had a flashback to when my daughter was a baby. There was no way I would have bought her a vacuum. Ever. There are too many gender roles wrapped up in that. I couldn’t bring myself to see her “play house” with toys that women were supposed to use to “keep home.”
You’d think that my work to eliminate the gender role stereotypes may have had impact. They have. And they have not. Even without a toy vacuum, she still sees me as the keeper of the house, the one who cooks, the one who serves her. She sometimes pushes back when I ask her to pick something up, or to clean up after herself. She asks me to do things for her all the time, like hand her the remote when it’s actually closer to her. Some days, I feel like I am someone’s assistant. Being asked to follow orders.
I see small moments where this has come to be. My partner asks her to do little things all of the time. Like hand him the remote. She models his behavior, but asks me instead of him. I asked him once why he made requests like that, asking her to get things for him when he didn’t need someone to. He said to teach her about helping out. I get the point of the message, but I also can’t help but to feel the interwoven sexism that comes in all of this. And so, she plays out the same routine with me. I’m the person who “helps out” for her.
In society, motherhood is seen as the all encompassing role. We must do and manage it all. I am the manager of this house. I set up the appointments, pay the bills, pay attention to the little things like the dog’s monthly medicine, due dates, car inspections, doctor’s appointments, etc. I am the person that the daycare calls, the school calls, for anything and everything. And, I didn’t even sign up for that. They just do it, their own system woven into today’s rampant sexism that is downplayed when they talk about how empowered women are to do it all.
In this moment, I do not do conventional work, but I do work. And it’s my work that is interrupted as a parent when the teacher emails about after-school activities, or the school calls about a sick kid. Plus, I mother 24/7. On paper, my partner also goes to work and parents 24/7. But when he’s at work, no one asks him to parent except me. This is no fault of his own, as we have not been explicit to ask for an alternative option in the system. But there is a realness in how his life functions differently than mine. How his mind focuses compared to my own.
He doesn’t see or remember things the same way I do. The world jokes and will say “oh, men!” But in reality, this is his upbringing in this society, what the world has handed to him, what was handed to his parents. He knows this. He sits in a world where his whole life he has seen how women manage their homes while men go to work and occasionally fix things. And he has seen over and over how we teach girls they can be anything they want to be, while we teach boys to just be.
He is working to break through this all of the time, and I’m grateful. But it’s a hard unlearning for him, and it’s taxing for me. Mostly because I have to help in this learning. I have to teach most of the time because there isn’t much around to teach him otherwise. I just googled “how to not be sexist in your own home.” Instead of finding something real, the first item is “5 seemingly harmless things that are actually sexist.” Only 5. Seemingly harmless. That have always been sexist.
Then, there are several articles on politics. Plus one on how feminists are sexist. As you can see, he doesn’t have much help out there. Men aren’t out there writing about how to be better to their partners. And doing so by being specific – like don’t put your clothes on the floor and unconsciously assume that someone will just pick them up for you. And to then not say thank you, because you’ve done it so much that it’s not even a thing to notice anymore.
Socks are a thing for me, I even wrote a poem about them…
Point being, that trying to not teach stereotypical gender roles is really hard. What I can say is that I have a daughter who in no way role plays being a home keeper. Instead, she does play out oppression by treating me like one. Even when we play “house” or “family”, she makes me the mom. She never wants to be the mom and I don’t know what to do with that.
We’re working on this day by day. And my partner is a key to our success. He talks to her about it, and is paying attention to his own behaviors. He listens deeply when I tell him what comes up for me. I know it’s hard, to hear from the person that you love, that sometimes the way you act can hurt them. It’s hard not to feel blame. I blame myself for the way things play out sometimes. I blame myself for not being more explicit with my daughter about sexism. If I had just paid attention to the whole story instead of pushing her to live outside of the box, she’d understand the box more and see how others can be trapped inside. I’m worried that one day she’ll just step back in – to see how lonely it is out of the box sometimes. I’m also worried that instead she might keep others in the box to keep herself out.
So I bought the baby a vacuum.
Note: I feel compelled to acknowledge something very important, and not in spite of my feelings. I have a loving, willing partner working every day to be the best human I could ask to share this life with. One who has learned to pick up his socks. And everyone else’s.