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.

A toy vacuum

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.

Just a short story on empathy

I have to admit, I was worried. “She’s five, isn’t empathy supposed to kick in by now?” I kept asking myself. I was trying to do everything I could to teach it. Little bits of sharing here, role modeling there, asking her questions about her feelings. I was getting no where. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was more than a little worried some days.

But then it happened. We were on a walk to the park. Baby in the stroller, daughter skipping by my side. She had a lot of questions this day, and I remember trying to keep up. Then it was, “What is that up there?”

“A dead squirrel,” I replied.

“Can we see it? Can I touch it?”

“No,” I replied. The sheer thought of going near that squirrel was hard for me. Not too many months ago, I ran over a squirrel. I didn’t see it coming and it ran under my back wheel. I cried on and off for a good two hours.

“It’s too sad,” I told her. “This poor squirrel was hit by a car and shouldn’t have been.”

She shrugged and to the park we went. She was carrying a piece of paper in her pocket. I still can’t remember what it was. Her pockets are always full of mysterious items. Most, I itemize as garbage. To her, they’re treasures, keepsakes, reminders of whatever adventure she’s been on. This time, it was only a piece of trash and she wanted to give it to me to throw out.

“Hold onto it,” I told her, “there is no trash can here.”

She played and played. Up and down the slides. Across the monkey bars. On and off the swings while the baby giggled beside her.

“It’s time to go; it’s getting dark,” I told her.

“It’s gone,” she yelled, “I can’t find it.” Panic was setting in. She had lost the piece of trash in her pocket. We looked and looked, scoured that entire park for this tiny piece of paper.

But it was getting really dark. “I’m sorry kiddo, we have to go,” I said.

“I LITTERED,” she wailed.

Shocked and surprised, I told her it was okay. That maybe someone else would find it and throw it out.

She calmed down a bit, but I could sense her disappointment. She loves this planet and is learning to treat it with respect. She was pretty sad that she may have harmed it.

“Maybe someone will find it,” I heard her say quietly to herself. She walked up the steep hill towards home, the dead squirrel waiting for us at the top.

“Can I at least say goodbye?” she asked.

“To the squirrel?”

She nodded.

“Sure, kiddo,” I replied.

“Goodbye squirrel, I’m sorry you were hurt and died,” she yelled up the street.

I put my hand on her head, gave her a kiss, and sighed.

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. 

Valentine’s day and my high school newspaper

It has been many years since I have been able to get on board with Valentine’s Day. I just haven’t been able to connect, mostly due to the capitalistic side of it. Like many other things, I did some research on Valentine’s Day in my younger years. I did this while I worked on my high school newspaper, a place that continuously inspired me to find truth. My junior year, I wrote an article on the history of the holiday, exposing the continuous changes that included both oppression and religious agenda. Newspaper was a place where I could document and expose the myths we were living. For four years, I wrote story after story, sharing the history or hidden truth of whatever was next on my list. Some stories got me in the principal’s office, like my first story on sex and birth control, which was ironically part of this same Valentine’s Day spread. Others, just got some laughs or new insight for myself and my peers.

When I think about it, my time on the newspaper staff was my first real exposure to activism, to voice, and to pushing back on the system. The piece that brought me to the principal’s office was a story on what resources existed for people who were having or were thinking about having sex. I interviewed the school nurse and cited abstinence, it was and is still a good piece. The Vice Principals at that time, were reviewing the newspaper before print, after a fall piece where someone snuck in a headline that caught their attention. “Master Debators Head to State Finals,” I believe it was. We were on thin ice, as this came shortly after “Golf Team Whacks Off Towards Regionals,” or again something like this. All I know is that they reviewed every article and they pulled my piece the day before print. In protest, we chose to run a blank spot instead of replacing it with something else. There wasn’t enough time to argue its removal before print, so I quickly scheduled an appointment with the principal the next day, ready to argue my way back into the paper.

I sat down in his office, brought the piece with me, and stated that I wanted it printed. It was not obscene as the Vice Principals had cited, or even inappropriate. It was informative and comprehensive. He read it while I waited patiently. He looked up, said it seemed like a great and fine article to him and gave permission to run it in the next paper. I was elated, and also felt my first taste of victory.

Yes, it was entirely out of place in the next paper where the theme was no longer relevant. But knowing that the Vice Principals would then review the next month’s paper before print and would again see the article, this time with instructions to not touch it, it was worth it. This was one of many battles we experienced as journalists in this school, such as drawing attention to the nepotism that permeated the music performance the school was known for, or writing about the named structural racism in our homecoming system, or even witnessing abusive power dynamics by certain teachers with more tenure. I experienced overt sexism when I wrote a piece on the wrestling regional tournament and it wasn’t printed because they instead wanted to report on a baseball game. I was told, it was “pretty good” after I had begged to write it because no girl had ever written about wrestling before, let alone had it printed. I remember the seething feeling in my body when he said “pretty good,” and how much I wanted to spew back, Yet, I held it together because he was older and an editor and I knew I wanted to change things for the long run.

I even tried to be the sports editor the following year, just despite him. I lost out on that, because I was told I was needed elsewhere. It did suit my journalism, I was just bummed at the notion that I couldn’t change the system that easily.

But that piece on sex and Valentine’s Day still sits with me. See, what I uncovered about Valentine’s Day is that it used to be a celebration of sex and pleasure. With the overhaul of Europe by the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, the event was quickly put to bed, pun intended. Saint Valentine was chosen to represent the day instead. He was known for sending love letters from jail to his love, a unrequited love at that.

And so today, like many other tales, we follow what has been scripted for us. Celebrating love is not a bad way to do it, but what I struggle with is the money put into it all and the marketing of what Valentine’s Day should be. We buy expensive cards that share words we haven’t written. We buy flowers, cheap but pricey chocolates, bottles of wine, and splurge on a Valentine’s meal and sitter if you can find one. Today is targeted at those that are coupled, primarily heterosexual couples, and is marketed as a celebration of romantic love and partnership. Thus, it can be a hard day if you are unpartnered  – a day to avoid everyone who is coupled and all of the red and pink. I remember so vividly what it was like in college and high school to be unpartnered. In college, I even baked a vulva shaped pizza to empower myself in womanhood and to declare my love for myself and my body one February 14th.

With all of this swirling in my head, today I am thinking deeply about my kids. What do I want them to take from Valentine’s Day? What do I want them to see it as, how can I show them how to live it? Today, we have a few gifts for them. And my partner and I often give one another something small. I get my partner hostess cherry pies because he loves them. Her gets me some type of chocolate that I never treat myself to. My oldest just likes the fun of it, giving out valentines and making them. This year she is making them for us, and they are awesome. She made us a big valentine in art class with many gifts in a basket. They are strips of cut paper and she keeps giving them to me. I love them because I know that she puts high value on tiny things like this. So, yes it’s trash, scraps, but to her they’re important. So they are to me too.

I want to teach that Valentine’s Day can be less about the script. That it can be simply an excuse to love out loud. We move so fast sometimes, that we forget to tell people we love them. And to teach that today is not just about people who we romantically love, but about all of the people we love. Can we just simply tell everyone we love them? Can we see today as a practice day, as we step into tomorrow and remember to tell people we love them again and again? To hug a little longer, kiss people in greeting and goodbye, hold hands, and to see people in all of their being in all of the ways that we love them? To decide that intimacy is how we define it, not how the marketers tell us it should be?

Valentine’s Day is this for us. Our kids won’t witness the dinners, babysitters, or big presents. They likely won’t see flowers or chocolate hearts or even red and pink. Instead, they will see that today we love them, and today we are doing it up extra special because today is a reminder to share love out loud. To tell the world, our people, this earth, our ancestors, that our core being is rooted deeply in our ability to love one another. And just as importantly, to love ourselves. Because this folks has been my lesson. My activism is to love despite what society teaches us. To seek intimacy in all sorts of relationships, to explore how to love more fluidly and loudly. And to tell people how you feel all the time. This is the lesson I want my kids to see, that activism is love. That loving out loud is resistance. That loving all people in all ways is a key piece to how we change this world.

I should have written an article on that.

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!

A quick word on civil disobedience

I am reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and am on Chapter 9 this week. In this chapter, she states, “parents do act hurt when children rebel.” And this got me thinking…

Specifically, it made me think of a Facebook post I saw a while back that I want to share. It’s from a group called Wee the People based in Boston, MA. They work with young kids on anti-racism work. And, they do this using books and teachings. They also teach parents how to use books as a tool to teach justice. They are awesome, and you should follow their work! Here is their quote:

“Step 1: Read books that are explicitly about civil disobedience to your child
Step 2: Watch your child practice said civil disobedience with regards to chores
Step 3: Remember that said child is practicing and her social justice muscles are getting ripped!
Step 4: Repeat”

I forget this quote, this concept, most days. In an effort to block their disobedience, I often forget how important it is to this world, in making changes towards a future that they can thrive in.

So today, I am also remembering that my acts of civil disobedience do not go unnoticed and are moment of teaching. I am remembering that learning civil disobedience is a value I want to share. I am remembering that I want them to overturn the system, break barriers, push themselves to better this world. I am also remembering that being the person on the receiving end takes patience, commitment and gentle teaching.

And most importantly, I am remembering to not feel or act hurt by rebellion, but to feel pride.

To feel success.

To feel evolutionary change.