My name is Kelly Baker Warner

My whole life, I’ve been so good at being good. I have shown up in the way that others have wanted me to, or how I have assumed they have wanted me to. I’m tired of being good, and my rawness is starting to seep out. So let me reintroduce myself…

My name is Kelly Baker Warner. My married name is Warner, my born name is Baker, both are descriptive of my soul. I am 38 years old. I grew up in Maryland and have also lived in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Today, I live in southern Maine on the stolen land of the Pennacook and Abanaki people. I am married to a cis-hetero man and together we have a cis-daughter and a to be determined toddler. We also have two furry pups.

I am white, my ethnicities are Swedish, Scottish, Norwegian, and English. There are stories in my family of a great grandmother who was Native American, but these stories have been lost. I am agender and use the pronouns she or they. My expression is often feminine and I exist among groups of women often. Thus, I am often assumed to be a cis-hetero woman which grants me much privilege.

Both of my parents are living and they are loving, dedicated humans to their family and this world. I have two siblings, both also dedicated to making a difference and loving as deeply as they can. We are spread all across the country and I miss them desperataly. But we are also okay in our independent ways.

I live in an able body, but often with some level of pain. And I live in a small fat body. I am recovering from decades of disordered eating and even though I am fat, I still experience thin privilege in almost nearly every area of my life.

I am a writer, an artist, a creative, an educator, a doula, a lifelong learner, and an evolutionary leader. I believe in mother earth. I believe in astrology. I believe that Black Lives Matter. That Trans Lives Matter. That Black Trans Lives Matter. That in order to dismantle the systems of oppression that we live in, we must create a world that is built for those who are oppressed within it. This includes ability, race, gender, age, sexuality, immigration status, wealth, and every other ism you can name.

I believe that capitalism is another word for racism, for oppression. That capitalism is not about opportunity and advancement, but about stepping on the necks of others in order to take.

I believe that we must abolish the police. Because I believe in a world where we take care of humans, not punish them. That we do not throw people away. Thus, I believe in prison abolition. And I believe in transformative justice.

I believe that our health system is corrupt, bought, and laced with inequities that kill people of color at rates substantially higher than white folks. And I believe that this system is killing us white folks too.

I believe that fatphobia is really racism. And that the diet industry, the health industry, the clean eating industry is a sham. I also believe that we judge each other harshly. That this is a country of trolling, healthism, and oppression. But, I also believe that all bodies are beautiful. That all food is good food that can nourish our survival. And, I believe that hunger is a symptom of a drive to survive, not a failure of willpower.

I believe our bodies have all the wisdom we need and that capitalism, individualism, and oppression have taught us to doubt this.

I believe in free healthcare, free childcare, paid leave, paying people a liveable wage, and that no one should be a millionaire let alone a billionaire.

I believe in the wisdom of our elders. I believe that my white ancestors have stripped my understanding of the past, in their silence of stories that are too important not to share. That their shame has kept them silent when sharing this shame is actually what sets us free.

I believe survivors. Every time.

I believe that this earth is hurting, we are hurting it. And that it’s our job to make our peace with her. To see how we can reconnect as we watch her course correct time and time again.

I believe in revolutionary love. And not the kind of love that we all tout as the answer to oppression. But the kind of deep love that allows us to see ourselves in others, to know that we are all the same but not the same. That every life means something. That we ask for change because of revolutionary love. That we are angry because of revolutionary love. That there is interconnectedness between us all, and in the words of Valarie Kaur “you are a piece of me that I do not yet know.”

I believe that my kids are my greatest teachers. That in them, I can see me, and through them I can see how my healing is impacting the future of this world. That through them, I experience joy and wonder, and reconnect with my imagination, all essential to our surival. It’s through them that I remember what it’s like to experience this world for the first time, second time.

And so I write about them, because I want others to hear their teachings too.

Damn, it feels good to write again

I’ve been away for six months. In early 2020, I attended a retreat to vision the year ahead. I was struggling, just thinking about the simple tasks I wanted to complete. What were my values and how was I meeting them? I was forced to confront this. And it became so clear to me, the exhaustion. Of living every day for someone else. Almost never for me. So I decided I was going to “rest.” I stopped writing, and have not written until this post. I stopped participating in groups and events that did not immediately serve me. That did not bring me an overwhelming yes.

These six months have been little “rest,” but they have been filled with transformation. In some ways, the ask to stay home to avoid COVID has been a gift. A gift that has allowed me to find time to work on me, and also to spend time with my partner and kids.

But let’s be real, not much of 2020 so far has been much of a gift. Insight maybe. Change for sure. But no loss of life that could have been prevented by systemic intervention is a gift. This has been a time of unveiling. Pulling back the curtain on the society, systems we live in. And I believe it’s not done.

So the gift isn’t just the time I have spent. But also in that I have had my own unveiling. I have found no excuse not to pull back the curtain on how I have been living my life.

And I am here, eager to start again. Finding my way out from rest. In some ways, moving out of the cocoon into the stage of drying my wings. I have so much to share. And I’ll start with a few things.

I cut off most of my hair. It’s the shortest it has even been. And it feels so free. In contrast, my legs are covered in hair. I have realized that I don’t care to shave them. It is rooted in my oppression, so I have stopped.

I have gained weight, intentionally. To heal from disordered eating. I can now be called small fat, moving from a chubbier frame to one of fatness. I am working so hard to find my home here, to find power in this larger body. The irony I am reminding myself, is that the world wants me to shrink nearly everywhere I go. But where my heart resides, in resistance, the pursuit of justice and equity, space is essential. And the more you take up, the more impact you can have.

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I am healing, medicating, and finding balance, love and joy in this body and life I am in.

I now use the pronouns she or they. More to come on this. For now, I ask you to consider seeing me as without, seeing me for being a human who chooses to live in this world full of space, love, tenderness, and an unyielding desire to change this world.

Even if it’s just one piece of writing at a time.

Do I look pretty?

“Do I look pretty?” she asked.

“You always look pretty,” I responded. “And that dress is pretty too.”

I had a realization this morning, these come all too often anymore. As I navigate healing and existing in this world, I continue to unravel the layers of how I live differently than I say and love.

It started about a year ago, when she’d ask if she looked pretty. I knew in that moment that I wanted her to know that clothes or what’s on your body doesn’t make you pretty. I could see this stumbling into the future as attractiveness, worthiness being linked to how she looks in clothes. A sneaky not so hidden bit of diet culture, fatphobia, sexism, racism, all tied up in there. So I made a point to respond to her and acknowledge her own beauty as a normal everyday. She spoke the above words a few more times and each time, I responded with precision that she was always beautiful, pretty, cute.

However, recently, I realized that despite these efforts and as much as I was speaking out loud, my social conditioning had not yet transformed. She picked out some new clothes and my head was screaming that she looked so adorable in these new pieces. One, a blue dress sprinkled with pineapples, not only looked perfect on her but also reminded me of good pineapple memories in childhood and beyond. I heard my head say, “you look so cute today.” I caught myself, with confusion and frustration of how tightly this society holds me, and changed the message to what I really wanted to mean.

“That dress is so cute,” I said to her.

I keep thinking that if I change my mindset to not link her body to the clothes and instead comment on the clothes as their own piece, it will separate the attachment to self. Maybe undo a tiny bit of the “isms” associated with women in clothing. Really to do this for me too. So she can see it’s possible.

Because today, I am struggling as I need to shift my wardrobe. As I delve into intuitive eating, my body is changing. It will continue to change. And the challenge is to first accept that this will happen, and also to accept that I will need to change clothes as these changes occur. I feel stuck as I still link my own clothes to self-loathing, attraction, sexiness, worthiness.

“You look terrible in this. What are you thinking? This makes you look fat.* You look horrible today. What did I eat to cause this body? I need to exercise. No treats today…” and on and on and on.

This morning I remembered the pineapple dress. It came to me like a gift, a reminder that I can live differently. I said to myself, “Your clothes do not define you. You define you. Clothes simply adorn the beautiful being that never changes even when your body might.”

Thank goodness for that cute pineapple dress.

*I want to acknowledge that this statement is fatphobic. And, it’s what I am still working on and feels important to leave it and be honest. Our criticism of our bodies – thin fat, straight fat, small fat, or otherwise non fat bodies in this ways is fatphobic. Simply put, if we can’t see ourselves as acceptable, we can’t possible see others who are fat as such. I’m working hard to understand this and to unpack my own fatphobia.  

Raising justice and healing me

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/ 

My birth story – one year later

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.

In a world of chaos and wonder, we must evolve

A few days ago, my baby turned one year old. As I did with my first, I spent the hours up until the anniversary of their birth remembering where I was, what we were doing, and what was happening. I am quite surprised by what came up for me. With my first, I remember trying to relive only the good moments. And when the tough ones arose, to instead consider that it all worked out, that everyone is healthy and doing well. This time, I let myself sit in some of the discomfort.

I feel as if we are expected to remember the bliss of labor, the happy times. But for me, this first birthday was filled with lots of emotions. Leading up to the day, I was feeling sad. This was rooted in the knowledge that this baby will be my last. Part of me wants to have another child in our lives, but I look at this baby, my oldest, and the relationship that is established without a third is so glaringly clear to me. This baby is meant to be our youngest. So my sadness was in the knowledge that these are the last moments I’ll have a baby. The last moments I’ll have someone less than 1 year old. They started walking two weeks before and I quickly realized that they no longer rely on me quite as much, as they race after me on foot instead of whining to be picked up. The finality of it, as another mom spoke. Those were the words I was looking for.

The sadness was also wrapped up in the memories of being in the hospital and confronting a health system that failed to trust me. Ironically, I remember how they kept asking me if the baby was bigger than my last. They said that statistics showed that moms were the best at guessing the weight. I remember saying that it felt the same. I was sure they weren’t much bigger, and likely not much smaller. I suspect “mom thinks baby is 10 lbs” is in my hospital chart. I know what is missing in that chart – “mom knows that her body is wise and was built to birth children. That pitocin is not working because her body is fighting an induced birth because it won’t work. That if you’d all be patient, it will tell us when it’s ready and what it can and cannot do.” There’s none of that in there though.

I have so many good memories too. It was two full days with my partner, just us. A simple gift to allow us to be together for many calm and quiet moments before being parents of two. My doula was in touch the whole time, and she kept making me laugh. Her first born had a birthday the day I was scheduled for induction so we were thinking we might have a shared mama experience. Not being in active labor, I was able to text with so many people including some friends from afar. I remember the massive amount of love and support that was incoming on my phone. It was even hard to keep up. I remember seeing the night nurse, who 5 years before had delivered my daughter. I remember the moment she walked in, it was like seeing a ghost because I had no idea she was there or even working. It was such a special gift to see her. I remember the feeling in my body shifting from worry to grounded. I remember feeling my heart burst open and feeling ready to tackle the day with my partner by my side.

These memories all fed into when baby woke up this weekend on their actual day of birth. When I went to get them from bed, the sadness completely left my body. The day had arrived and there was no stopping it. All that was left was joy, gratitude and love. Many mark a first birthday as momentous because the baby is really shifting into toddlerhood. Medical providers mark it as a day of relief because the risk for SIDS drops even more dramatically. We marked it as a day of survival. It is the day that marks the moment that we spent an entire year as a family of four. We all made it, figured out most of it, and we continue to live in this life with love.

All day, I remembered what we were doing, what time people came to visit, when they took me back for surgery, when they were actually delivered, when my daughter met them, and when we finally had quiet. It was all perfect and fun to relive.

After I put them down to bed and said good night to my daughter, I sat on the couch and looked at my partner and said, “It was about this time a year ago that I thought I was going to die.” He pulled me close and said, “It was scary.” This moment marks our partnership for us. It reminds me why we chose one another and continue to choose one another every single day. There was no need for, “You’re alive, or you made it, or you’re okay.” Just a simple acknowledgment of that shitty set of minutes, hours, fear, marking it as a page in our story. A year later, we can’t rewrite it, as much as we’d like to. We can simply remember that it’s just a single page. A single page in a much longer story of our lives.

We then had another piece of birthday cake and started to straighten up the house for the birthday celebration the following day.

This past year has been momentous, and not just because we all survived. But because we chose this year to move our lives towards our dreams. We had always been walking towards them, but this year we decided to run. Full speed. And to take charge of our direction. We had a new baby, moved to another state, I quit my job, and together we are living a life that is simple yet so full in every single moment.

To reflect on the baby’s last year is impossible to do without considering all that came with it. When I look at this little person, our family, I feel the radiance of love brought forth into this world.

My daughter is full of confidence, care, and power. She is the tiger she always wanted to be. When she was three, I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said, “a tiger.” When I look at this baby, it’s starkly different. No less power or strength, but simply a different way to live it.

I cannot wait to see what happens this year in both of their lives. To see where they both step next. As a parent, I feel I am often tasked to be a teacher, a guide, someone who is supposed to set the trajectory for their lives. Instead, I live a couple steps behind. Close enough that they can turn and leap into my arms when and if they ever want to or need to. But far enough that I can just simply watch them grow.

This year will have so many more moments for this family. I continue to write and venture out into the world in a new way of being professionally. My partner is now at home, in the woods, living a life outdoors and in a place where he regularly reminds me feels like home. My daughter is navigating school and what it’s like to spend many hours in a cage, while you’re a wild tiger. This baby is journeying through exploration, new experiences nearly every second, and what it means to take off on their own.

A year full of so many things. A couple days living through last year is reminding me that pain is important. It’s part of how we got here. And it’s important to let it live as an experience rather than trying to push it away. I’ve found that when I allow the pain to live in my story, it has less power. It instead just has life within the rest of my life. I am able to remember moments for all of their emotions which feels like such an honest way to love.

When I started this blog, the words “In a world of chaos and wonder, we must evolve,” came to me. I’ll admit that I didn’t really know how to explain what it meant. I tried to re-write it and I even thought about replacing it. But those words simply rang true, even with no explanation. This past year, I have started to see why those words sit at the top of this page. Why they are so important in my life. These words are defining this writing, where I have been, and where I am going. I still don’t have the words yet, but I am working on them. I am writing until they come. I am living until it maybe starts to make more sense. For now, all I know, is that my heart, my body, my family are exactly who and where they need to be. One year is a long time for a little person. It’s their whole life. Today, I’m thinking it might be mine as well.

More sparks of joy

My baby is turning one, that alone is throwing off my week. There is an unexpected set of emotions I am experiencing as their born day creeps closer. This is my last baby, at least I am 99% sure. As a result, the need to capture every second of every moment is very present for me. “They will no longer be a baby this weekend,” is what I keep telling myself. As if their body is going to change overnight into something I am unfamiliar with. As if their daily playing, feedings, sleep will shift into adulthood.

I am also experiencing an immense amount of joy as well. I am celebrating that we have managed to parent two children for nearly a year. All have survived and we have evolved as parents. Who we are today is vastly different than who we were last year, or even yesterday. We celebrate the birthdays of our children intensely focused on them, and often forget to celebrate ourselves, our success in raising little humans in this world. So this week, we are celebrating our parenting and also this little person finishing their first revolution around the sun. The amount of growth we have had as parents is striking. The amount of living, processing, existing that is happening for them is remarkable, it’s amazing, it’s a miracle.

To celebrate this miracle, we have invited a few family and friends over in celebration. Nothing fancy, just a gathering of people we love. Whomever can make the trip, and doesn’t mind the cold. In order to remove the pressure of a first birthday party with the bells and whistles…oh I love the bells and whistles…we are approaching this calmly and over time. And specifically, I mean prepping the house for guests.

We moved about 6 months ago, and are still unpacking. Also, last month, we took on the KonMari method and are still working our way through it. I have felt nothing but accomplished in how well we are tackling the project of tidying. Not only do things feel more manageable and predictable for me in simple tasks, but it’s starting to make this home into mine. The entire process of sorting through my things, our things, has made it so I can appreciate each one. It’s no longer about putting it out of sight so that people (including me) believe that we are tidy people, but instead we are asking, “How does this fit into my life? How do I want to appreciate it?”

It’s a long process to tidy your house, not just in actually finding the time to do it, but also in the emotional piece. I have had to walk away a few times as I couldn’t make a decision when the emotion, sentiment became too hard to work through. But so far, we’ve done clothes, most books, our kitchen, the toy room, the bathroom, and the kids’ stuff. The kids are completely done.

My daughter even worked through the process with me. It started off a little rough, mostly because I was figuring out how to handle it and not make it too overwhelming and upsetting for her. When I first mentioned we were going to do it, I wanted to start with her room. This includes all of her stuffed animals. When I said that we were going to sort through them, I could see her little body tense up in defense, and she quickly named that she was keeping them all. So, I instead went to something easier. We went to the toy room and worked through categories based on what she picked. Then, this past weekend, she asked me if we could do her stuffed animals. She let go of more than 20. Overall, she let go of so many items, and I am so proud of her. Not just because she did it, but because she did it so thoughtfully. She did it based on her own attachments, love for her things and with reasoning that worked for her.

And I let go – I didn’t interrupt, provide feedback or show emotion. Even when she said goodbye to items that I had attachment to. I quickly was able to see how many things she still had because of me, not her.

I was able to see how we are working towards a different relationship with her things, one based on love and joy rather than want and need. And I am so grateful for that. We’re still working on the feeling of joy in tidying though. The other night at the table, when I reminded her of the upcoming gathering for her sibling, she said, “We can’t have a party, the house is a mess! Where will people sit? Right now, people can only sit on the couch and blue chair, not even the orange one!” And she said this with hand emotions, heightened voice, and persistence. I literally heard myself speaking through her body.

That moment was tough. For so many reasons.

First, I have spent so many of my days hating my way through cleaning. I mean angry cleaning. I usually huff, puff, grunt, growl my way through things. I pick up with emphatic frustration, grumble my way through it all and usually complain about everyone’s else’s messiness all while ignoring my own. My favorite things to say are “This house is so gross,” “Why are we like this?,” “I hate cleaning,” “I am just going to throw everything away,” “This house is a mess.”

So her statement made me realize a few things. First, when she said it, I quickly thought that the “mess” she mentioned was not really a mess and we’re fine. And I also thought, “wow I wish I hadn’t taught her to say that.” What I am so proud of myself for not immediately saying…which would have been my first thought every time before the last few weeks…was “If you and your dad would just be cleaner, then this house wouldn’t be a mess.”

So yes, I am so proud of myself for not going there. Such a simple bit of growth, but also so momentous. And, I didn’t even realize I hadn’t gone there until hours later when I thought again about that moment, which also feels like a success because I didn’t even to think to not say it.

But, what I am thinking is that I can turn this around. If I can no longer see a “mess” as a fault of people, but instead a manageable collection of things yet to be assessed, it feels different. In that moment with her, I knew that the house would be tidied up for folks. She was right, we need places to sit. And what I also noticed was that the task felt much less overwhelming because so much is already in order and cleaned up. My kitchen drawers are organized, my clothes are folded, the toys have a home. I can manage cleaning up old papers and craft items off of the bar because I have been able to release so many feelings already.

And here’s the key for me, it’s not just about knowing things have a place, but it’s about knowing that there are places in this house only filled with things we like, want, or need. It’s about knowing that the sense of clutter, which is really my sense of having too much, is released from my body. So the actual clutter, by definition, is simply something to be picked up. And it’s not urgent. Important yes, but not urgent as it has always felt in the past.

The next step is to help her see that the cleanliness of the house is not attached to my duty as the mom, first and foremost…in case you missed her subtle learning of sexism in all of this…but instead attached to celebration and joy. Marie Kondo emphasizes that everything has a place in your life, and the idea that something should bring you joy is a key piece to recognizing something’s place. It’s not about whether or not you will or won’t need it, it’s about whether or not it fits into who you are right now. It’s also not about who you want to be. I have learned this as I let go of things like fancy cooking tools, exercise equipment, pants that are much too small. Instead, it’s about what makes me happy in this moment.

So of course we will tidy as we prepare for this celebration. And this time, I will not angry clean. In fact, this is a great opportunity to merrily clean the house with excitement about the party. And to say things out loud like “Where should we put the cake? This will be the perfect place. Let me just move all of these craft items so we have space.”

Already so much better than my typical, “What am I going to do with all of this crap?” cleaning mentality.

So what is all of this about, what am I learning? Besides the fact that I can live life with so many less things, I am learning that this attachment and change in mentality is only my own. She will be as tidy as she wants to be. She will treat things as she wishes to based on her attachment to them. In minimizing her things, I hope she starts to see her value in them. Too often, I have asked her to stop playing so rough because something cost a lot of money. I wrote it off as I am teaching her the value of money and things. But in reality, I already valued that item enough to pay for it. Otherwise, I would not have bought it. The talk about money is my own regret and feelings about capitalism, not hers.

In reality, if she breaks something expensive, yes I would be mad. But I also wouldn’t replace it. And also in reality, she places no more value on an Ipad than she does a hatchimal because she has no concept of the difference in how you get them. She’s too little for that. Instead, I can only hope that she is starting to be surrounded by items she loves and in turn will treat them with love. And, she will learn what happens when she doesn’t. I also hope that because she has less and only what she’s chosen, that if she mistreats it, she’ll have a feeling around that. Not the feeling of “Oh well, I have 100 more,” but instead maybe “Ugh, I liked that, maybe next time I won’t throw it on the floor.”

Marie Kondo, I am grateful for you. I am grateful for the way you approach your things, your life, the way you have shown how your way of living, your embodiment of your culture, your people, your religion, speaks so loudly as something so full of love, that I have not been able to ignore it.

My house is not only more tidy, but my heart is more calm, my stress of being perfect is releasing, and the notion that I am the keeper of the house is fading away.

Today I have a house that is still in process, I have kids who are learning to see cleaning and housekeeping in a different way, and I have folded clothes. They even feel softer. And I find many sparks of joy in that.

Note: I wrote this before the party, and now after the party I want to admit it was still so hard. I didn’t live all of these things as I had hoped, but I still gave it what I had. I am grateful to have had the help of my partner, my kid who was excited to help out, and my own patience and resilience for getting through it. This house was not perfect, but it was a reflection of us and I am proud of that. And the party was a success. 

Footloose

Today, I feel compelled to write about play. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. There are so many moments that my kid asks me to play and I think of some excuse not to. I tell myself it’s because I have too much to do. Or that her idea of play is confusing, which really just means I don’t like it. She likes to replicate what is already happening during the day – like shopping, going to school, playing family, or horse camp. And, I laugh as I type this, because usually I have to do all of the play while she sits and watches. So not only do I have to re-do my day, but I have to do it alone!

For example, last time we played horse camp, she was the director and I was one of the campers. The director tells the campers what to do and then they do it. So, I did all of the work while she disappeared in “the house.” Or with school, she’s the music teacher and I’m her teacher and all of the kids. So, she hangs out until music class starts while I run the rest of the day. Or my favorite is where we play family and I’m the mom and she’s the kid. Last time, she was the baby and I was the Mom who had to set up all of the play while the baby took a nap.

This kid is hysterical. Simply, she loves to relive moments. And clearly I am struggling with this.

I do have a good time with her, a bit. And I cannot figure out why I can not just surrender to the play. To be in the moment. To make it not about me, or what I have to do later, or how I don’t want to play this way.

When as adults, did we learn that play is no longer acceptable? That it’s something we weren’t allowed to do, or didn’t have time for? Or even that it’s something that made us so self conscious of what others might think if we actually played in public that we simply gave it up? It happened sometime, and I am stuck in this narrative. I can’t initiate play and I am having so much trouble engaging in it.

A few weeks ago, I attended a friend’s adult play group. She is inspired by play and makes it a regular practice. She is now inviting others to join her once a month.

When I arrived, I took a giant bubble wand and made bubbles before entering the building. We then danced to further open the play date – movement with no direction or specifics. We listened to the bouncy sounds of Footloose and did whatever our body told us to do. This was my favorite part. I think I maybe have never danced like that, certainly not that I can remember. Afterwards, my body was light, exhausted, exhilarated. Next, we finger painted and played with play-doh. I primarily played with the play-doh, making my own little pizza, drinks, silverware, salad and pizza cutter. I would have done that as a kid. I Ioved to make things likes that. We ended with a bedtime story about how to look at life differently. It was called How To by Julie Morstad.

I simply remember the one page saying “how to clean your socks” and the picture was kids jumping in puddles with their socks on. A parent’s worst nightmare right? I mean think about it. If your kid jumps in a puddle outside in the rain in their socks, how would you feel? I know I’d feel annoyed, worried that the socks were ruined, irritated at the mess of it all. Now, imagine as your kid jumped in the puddle, there was deep, boisterous laughter. Then, how do you feel? I know I would still respond the same. If the laughter continued, I’d be more likely to let go and see the fun. Would you join in? I very much doubt that I would. Or if I could be convinced, there is no way I’d do it in my socks.

Why am I like this? As a kid, a light rain storm was an immediate cause for bathing suits and water toys. The cool icy water on a hot summer’s day was one of the best playgrounds. I can still remember the smell of the rain on the sun burnt grass desperately soaking up the rain in thirst. I can still feel the pebbles that gathered at the end of my driveway in the street gutter where the biggest puddles lay. I can still remember the feel of the change in the breeze when the rain turned to thunder. I can still see the bright colors of the water balloons and supersoakers that were only played with during this time.

I want to find my way back to socks in the puddle. As an adult, how do I do that? Part of me feels that my survival, my adulthood depends on this.

Over the last several months, I read The Artist’s Way. A key component is a weekly artist date, taking your artist out for something it enjoys. Julia Cameron writes that your artist is your inner child, so you must take this inner child out to play. I have had a heck of a time trying to figure out what to do each week. I have done a lot, some I would call play, others I would call likes. Last night, I chose to stay in and read a book, in a quiet room all by myself. This was close, believe it or not. I did some deep thinking on what I did as a kid. And knowing that I only had time at night this week and that we’re in the deep throes of winter, I worked to remember what I did when I was eight during these times. I remembered lying on my bed, reading, getting so enraptured by stories that I wouldn’t come out for hours. So, I did that last night. A small step, but also a giant one.

I want to want to play. I want to play with my kid and release the burden of being an adult in those moments. I want to jump at the chance to be the teacher, the horse camp director, or the even the mom. I want to look at this sweet child of mine and see her tiny little body so ecstatic by her play. So deep in the fun that she’ll never forget that feeling.

Today I am thinking that even though I have lost my sense of play, I can still find it. I need to do it for me. And I need to do it for my kids. I need her to know that you can hold onto this desire, to let go of who you are, to be someone else (or really a different version of yourself). I need her to know that when the world comes at you one day and tells you to “act like an adult,” she will also know that acting like an adult means you get to decide the moments that make up your day. And that play should be at the top of your list.

*Jessica Taubner is a friend who is inspiring play in all of us. She hosts a monthly play-date in Boston called It’s Okay to Play and if you are nearby, you should go, more info here. Or at the very least, take a moment all by yourself today, and pick your “Footloose” and dance the hell out of it.

Some honest parenting

I am doing some deep work on myself these days. This includes looking at my parenting and how I am choosing to parent in single moments. To date, I’ve mostly looked at my overall parenting, my collection of moments – simply meaning looking at what values I want to uplift and teach, what decisions I want to make, and what relationship I want with my kids. These are important of course, they set the trajectory for how I parent. But what I am realizing is that every moment is a decision as a parent. Every moment, I can change the trajectory based on what is in front of me. I can always choose. And, I have found it to be overwhelming when I forget this fact.

Many messages from the universe are reminding me of this today and I feel compelled to share some honest parenting talk in the hopes that it might resonate with others. To let folks know that you’re not alone in this. And to share that sometimes some honesty between parents can be healing.

Yesterday, I committed to an experiment to see if changing when I write might open up my thoughts more freely. My experiment was to wake up at five am today in order to get some quiet time to write. I usually write during the day when the baby naps, but this is when I am also distracted by the throes of life. Instead of writing, I find myself buying dog food, researching gymnastics programs, cleaning the bathroom, etc. And my gut was guiding me towards the early morning, telling me that this was a place of peace that might create an opening for more focused writing time.

So, I did it. I got up at five am. Three minutes later, the dog got up too and then proceeded to stand in front of the baby’s crib, shake her ears, and startle the baby awake.

At five am.

In our house, five am is the morning hour of no return. This means, if the baby wakes up at five am or later, it’s a rare occurrence that they go back to sleep. This morning was one of them.

My sleep training manual has told me that they should sleep at least 11 hours. That would be 5:45 am. And for context, our room is attached to the nursery. You have to walk through the nursery to enter the rest of the house. So, fingers crossed, I sat on my bed in the dark, clutching my clothes and hoping that they would go back to sleep. They didn’t. So, I listened to them fuss for nearly 45 minutes before I got up, got them, and started my day…much earlier than usual.

I was so frustrated in those 45 minutes. Mad at the dog. At myself for thinking I could get up and not wake them. For not bringing my writing stuff into the bedroom as back-up. For not just sleeping to six when they normally wake.

For 45 minutes I judged myself, told myself I was dumb, stupid, a terrible parent…what was I thinking?

All because my dog flapped her ears.

Today is day one of this change in routine and I already want to make changes to accommodate…really to feed and quiet these judgments of myself. (Picture me in bed with a headlamp, writing, at five am, holding in the pee, thirsty, hungry…all so I can not wake the baby but write).

I am so incredibly grateful that I am working with a coach who is helping me see the way through these types of moments in my life. She doesn’t intentionally coach me on parenting, but boy does she. So, I am sorting through these moments and I have so many things that have come up for me.

I wanted to jump into this morning with a new routine. Brand new. It was going to suit me, suit my family, and it was going to solve my writing needs. It was going to be grand. Parenting is grand, but it’s also messy. And this morning was one giant mess.

But I hear my coach’s voice reminding me to “just notice” instead of solving, placing blame, or tying emotion to these moments. Here is some of what I noticed –

  • I immediately felt mad that I lost the time that was for me. It was all about what I lost, a scarcity mindset, when in fact my day had just shifted.
  • I believed it was my dog’s fault. I was even considering how I was going to keep the dog quiet moving forward. This included carrying her out, or wrapping her in a blanket so she couldn’t shake until we were clear of the nursery…because this is the best decision I could make for my dog at five am…
  • It’s my fault I didn’t bring the writing materials into the room as a back-up. I should do this moving forward, just in case. Because writing while a baby screams is the peace I am so seeking.
  • All I wanted was to get up and have a cup of tea and I told myself my chance was gone. (I had tea at 6:45am instead).

The point of noticing, as recommended by my coach, is to just observe. It’s to try to see without judgment, emotion, failure or success. It’s to take stock of the evidence and put it in your pile for the experiment to review when it’s done. Noticing was like shedding for me. It was like taking each moment alone and allowing it to exist as just a moment. It was removing the shame and guilt and releasing the anger. It took me 45 minutes to see my way through this, and today I am grateful for the time I was given to sort through them. If I had not had those 45 valuable minutes, I might still be brewing. Instead, we got up, had breakfast including my tea, and I wrote during first nap. I wrote this post.

Here’s what I learned from my noticing:

  • I learned that peace is a state of mind, not a set time in my day.
  • I learned that spontaneity does not result in scarcity.
  • I learned that only I can make the spontaneity feel so personal.
  • I learned that it is untrue that I have no time to myself, and that maybe the time I spend dwelling on this makes me miss the moments that I do have.
  • I learned that my gut is full of wisdom in addition to risk. Sleep training (a book) said let them cry. My gut said if I got up, nursed them, and put them back in the crib they would have slept to 6:45.

Every moment is just a moment. When I place emotion on that moment, it becomes something else. That moment then drifts away with whatever emotion I have tagged it with. Life is also not to be “solved.” In moments where I desire a solution, perhaps it means I should just take a deep breath and listen to my gut. Parenting is a journey. And every journey is made up of a series of moments. If I focus on the moments rather than the end result, failure is not part of the discussion. For whatever reason, to me, it feels impossible to fail at a moment, because it’s just a moment.

Today I am noticing that I want to try again tomorrow, and that I am inherently more wise and in tune with my needs and my family’s needs than I give myself credit for.

Sparks of Joy

Last night, while figuring out what to do, I saw a post from a friend on facebook to check out the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. First, let me recommend this friend, Kendra Hicks who has a rad blog and is working on the most amazing project in Boston. Check out her website and The Estuary Projects here and here.

Now, I’d like to recommend this show. I watched the first episode that followed the Friend family. And, it was like looking at my life. They had two young kids, mom was at home most days, dad worked long hours, and everything was a mess, undone…mostly due to the exhaustion of parenting and living life in chaotic moments. The chaos in their home that had become overwhelming, distracting, disruptive, relationship altering is my very existence. I write at a desk that is behind a bar covered in literally in a million things and I can’t tell you why they are up there. But they have been, for months. I put “clean off bar” on my to do list most weeks and I have yet to complete it. The problem is that I don’t know where to put anything. And that’s a similar response from my partner. He tidies by stacking things. When I ask him to put them away, he asks, “where?” and I usually have no idea.

Her method is simple, keep what you love and/or want to bring into the future, and get rid of what no longer serves you. I do this a lot here or there, already so I feel like I have a good first step. But what’s also important about her method is that she makes you pile it all up. Like all of your clothes, every last piece, in one gigantic pile. I feel that this might be the key to my success. Right now, I do some of this. I purge stuff all the time. Toss things that don’t make sense. But when I find something I want to keep, surrounded by things I have no idea what to do with, I do not touch them. I become completely numb and avoidant. Yet, if I make a big pile in the center of my space, it will force me to deal with it. And it will show the overwhelming amount of things that I love versus what no longer makes sense in my home.

I don’t want to give away too much more, because if this inspires you, you should watch. Or read her book. But, here is what I took away as a parent…

My head did this the entire episode…

“My kid finds joy in everything, she will toss nothing…she keeps scraps of paper and rocks because she likes them…she never tidies anything, how will I get her to do it…her room is filled with so much stuff…the thought of organizing toys is overwhelming…where am I going to put all of their stuff…now I have to fold the laundry?…I can’t wait for my partner to see the sheer size of his pile of stuff…”

I am working through these thoughts, because here is the key point I am building into a mantra for myself…”she learns from me, she learns everything.” If I hate cleaning or yell about tidying, she’ll want nothing to do with it. Who would? But if it becomes routine and I involve her, maybe it will at least become neutral or even joyful to keep her space organized so she can find what she wants. All this time, I kept thinking, “if only she’d be more respectful of her things, of me, why do I do it all?” Well I hate all of these things because this space is such a mess. I do not live this value out loud. I do not model the lesson I am trying to teach, so no wonder her confusion and disconnect. She has learned to hate it too.

So…time to learn to love to tidy up the space so she can love it too.

What’s my motivation? Play, love, joy. Right now, I am writing this while my kid plays downstairs with my partner. I am writing this because I just did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen instead of choosing to play. And for a moment, I was resentful. “Why does he get to be the fun one and I get to the one who does the work?” Simple answers…he doesn’t clean and make a big deal of it like I do. I choose the cleaning over the play. I choose the misery over the play.

Well Marie Kondo, I’m in. I choose tidying, I choose play, I choose sparks of joy. Here’s to tidying up over the next few weeks. I’ll share more on how it goes…wish me luck!