Self-acceptance and the body

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m teaching my kids about bodies. I have made a point to not talk badly about bodies including my own. In fact, I’ve gotten pretty good at silencing my inner critic, telling myself this or that is not true. But, I’ve also noticed that I don’t outwardly love on my body either. And, I am realizing this is because I am stuck in a place of neutrality. Instead of speaking or acting with love towards myself, I have chosen tolerance, acceptance, pretty much a truce between my inner shame and this body.

But is acceptance what I want to achieve? Is this what I want to teach my kids? I am reading “The Body is Not an Apology, The Power of Radical Self-Love” by Sonya Renee Taylor and she is showing me that self-acceptance is a distraction. It’s a place of existence where I am not dealing with any of it. In self-acceptance, I am choosing to simply hear the shame and words that come from my ego, but I am not really fighting back. I let these words come to be, let them live, and then I say “thank you for your opinion but I disagree.” Imagine if I instead said to myself, “thank you for your opinion, but this body is perfect, powerful and capable.” And, I also believed it.

I am finding that acceptance is not the same as deep love. It’s tolerance and tolerance is one small step towards radical change. In fact, it’s pretty low down in the steps to take towards nurturing. And, the world I want to live in is not one where I simply tolerate all around me. It is instead one where I love and feel love all around me.

In her book and her advocacy, and all of her awesomeness, Taylor teaches radical self-love. This is the type of love where no matter the body, you give it all you have got. You treat it like the amazing vessel it is. One that sustains your life, has offered you perhaps nourishment, breath, movement, intelligence, decision making, fertility, love, immunity, health, joy… To date, I seem to have achieved avoiding self hatred, resulting in acceptance of what this body is right now. This simply means that I acknowledge it isn’t bad, that it’s the body I am in and it is serving me to live in this moment. But I don’t want my kids to simply accept themselves.  Heck, I don’t want to stay in acceptance because it feels empty, void. I want to feel free. Free from all of the societal scripts, free of my own shame, free of the gazes of others and wondering what criticisms they have for me. Free of feeling like my weight is a disappointment, that my no longer small waist is a failure to take care of myself. Freedom is not acceptance. Freedom is living where we are at our fullest. Freedom is feeling that deep in my core, that this body is everything it should be. That this body is beautiful, strong, brave, loving, and capable of taking care of me in this moments and many moments into the future.

So how do you teach this? I am realizing that 1) I am not teaching it because 2) I am not living it.

I want my kids to achieve radical love for this world while also achieving radical self-love. And this includes wanting them to radically love their bodies. But, I’m noticing that my own lack of radical self-love is evident in my daughter. I’ve never heard my kid say something nice to her body. I also notice that she doesn’t say much about any bodies. So I am seeing that acceptance, neutrality, results in her own lack of feeling. Or likely more so that she is learning to have many thoughts as society is constantly teaching her, but not to talk about them, which is what I am teaching her.

Today I explore this neutrality, how did I get here? Many reasons, too many to delve into here. But I’m writing about it. Maybe I’ll even share in the hopes that others might know they are not alone.

I love me but I do not love on me. This month I’m working to change this. My freedom, survival, liberation is impossible without it. And in reality, if I can not offer myself radical self-love, can I then really say my love for others is so radical?

And certainly, if I’m not living radical self-love out loud, my kids won’t even know it exists.

*The image on the top of this page is the cover of “The Body is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor. I couldn’t not post it because it’s so beautiful. This book is worth having on your bookshelf. Even if it’s just to hold it’s place until you’re ready. It sat in my amazon cart for 3 months before I clicked purchase. 

Imagine a world…

A friend is due to have a baby in a few months. When I got to see them the other day, I got to share a little bit in their joy, bliss. Hear about what is exciting and what nerves are sneaking up. They are not finding out the sex of the baby. Out of curiosity, I asked them if they had any inkling to what the body parts might be. They said yes and they feel conflicted as to why that happened.

I felt the same way in my pregnancies. Both times, I had a feeling, just knew what the sex of these babies were. And I’d be lying if I didn’t feel some satisfaction in being right. I’m still not sure if it was the act of being right, or confirmation that I did feel strongly connected to these children.

But, I’ve been thinking deeply on this, because I wanted to unpack that feeling of guilt and because I wish I knew what to say in that moment for that friend. My heart is telling me that we shouldn’t feel guilty. That guilt is rooted in our desire, want for the world to be different, all while potentially contributing to status quo. For me, the world I want to live in is one where gender is not binary, that gender is expressed on an individual level and that we don’t script it for others. It is also a world where we untie sex and gender. They are not the same, yet we tie them together with a pretty pink or blue bow.

We can simply, by definition and science, distinguish the two. But is it possible for us to unwrap the societal implications on biological sex?

As a pregnant person, I thought all of the time about what this little human might look like. Tiny fingers, toes, eye color, hair or no hair, who would they look like. Who’s smile would they have? Those little lips, nose, ears. All of it. It was so weird to think that I shouldn’t imagine all of this baby because I was trying to avoid the societal scripting of sex and gender. It felt unnatural and I felt upset that I had to unwrap all of these pieces in order to unwrap what associations both myself and society have put on body parts. So it begs the question, can we actually exist as people, and not care about reproductive body parts as anything other than just body parts?

Imagine a world with me for a moment…that we can have tiny baby humans be born and that their genitals are not a thing other than another piece of their anatomy. That providers don’t announce which ones they have at birth, as they also don’t say, “Wow, this one has black hair, or blue eyes, or a notch in their left earlobe.” Imagine a world where you can go grocery shopping and strangers don’t ask you whether or not you’re growing a tiny human with a penis or a vulva. Yes, these are not the exact words, but this is the actual question. Because if you are asking me the gender of the baby, this I do not know, only they can tell me. But strangers don’t want to be sure that they use the pronoun that the baby wants them to use, it’s that they want to use the socially acceptable pronoun. In fact, I have had people use a pronoun for our baby and then correct themselves when they see a certain color on their clothes. And then apologize for using the wrong one. I imagine a world where we don’t apologize because there is no reason to be offended- by me. Apologize to the person who you mis-gendered, and then ask them their gender pronouns so you get it correct the next time.

And quite frankly, my guess is that most parents are not offended by a person failing to guess their baby’s body parts. However, we still play the role of scripting when we dress our babies up in dramatically gendered clothes to be sure others know what to use. Do we do this for us? Or for the babies? Or for the comfort of others? Because I would guess that the babies don’t know the difference.

I imagine a world where none of this matters, where a baby is just a baby and you can use whatever pronoun comes to you, or you use they because you don’t know and because, one, a baby is too young to identify by gender until they first have words, and, two, they haven’t had the opportunity to live the life of their own mind, body, and being just yet.

This also gets complicated because we live in a world where genitals are also labeled as binary. Yet, much like gender, the truth is that genitals also exist on a spectrum and aren’t often as straight forward as we’re led to believe. It’s still not uncommon that parents and doctors decide to do surgery on babies to make their genitals fit into the binary system.

This brings us to another complication. In this society, this country, genitals are private – unless you are a fetus or too young to name your own gender or gender expression. We announce those genitals out loud for babies every second of their little lives. With balloons, cakes, fireworks, etc. But soon after, the line starts to blur because we get close to the point of sexualization. Once kids grow big enough, their genitals all of a sudden become private again. No one can see them or assume them.

This is all so weird to write, but what I am getting at is that this is not about having a feeling about your baby’s sex while they are growing in your body. But instead about what is attached to that. The guilt, the fear, is all about what you then might then place on that baby because of that knowledge. This happened for me.

I felt very early in my second pregnancy that I knew the genitals and when they were confirmed with a blood test, I spiraled into a fear of toxic masculinity, power, privilege. I created a narrative for a tiny human who was barely out of their first trimester in growth all because I knew their body parts. With my first, I knew too. And when it was confirmed, I felt relieved. Relieved for the opposite of all of those things I just mentioned. And then I was also scared because I knew what world this human was stepping into.

Can we as people allow ourselves to have sexual anatomy be just another part of us, with no societal attachment? Can we release the notion of celebrating a baby’s sex through made up stories like gender reveal parties? Can we unpack our own issues with gender expression? Can we release the inner need to know what body parts babies have?

I believe we can. I believe that we need to start with living our lives in what values we want to see in the world. In my case, I imagine a world where there is no association between sex and gender, that society does not script my life based on my sex or gender, or the others around me.

What world do you imagine?

Blocked

I have something to share, I’m blocked. This happens every once and a while where I have nothing to write about. So it leaves me with this task of writing for the sake of writing, which then makes me feel unsure about my work. I also find it draws away from authenticity. I instead write from my head rather than my heart.

This is easy to do, as I have a history of being the leader, the one in charge. In my work, I had to make the decisions, strategize, and bring people along with me. This sometimes made it so I had to move things forward that were out of alignment with my values. In order to help a program or piece of work survive in this constraining world, I had to rationalize why it made sense to do it a certain way. Even though my heart screamed at me to do it differently.

An example is throwing people away when they don’t “produce” or “meet expectations” or “perform.” So easy to do in the work world. But frustrating because we only want to do it when someone doesn’t fit into the system. And instead of fixing the system, we throw someone away and try someone else who might fit instead. Don’t get me wrong, people make choices within that too. But shouldn’t we have set it up better so that their choices, the work is better suited to their success?

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. Today, I am reflecting on what it’s like to be in my head for two straight weeks and how that is impacting my parenting.

These past two weeks have included some stresses, family death, travel, illness, unexpected changes in schedule. It was also week two and three as a stay at home parent. See I didn’t tell most folks, but the kids stayed in daycare for 4 weeks after I resigned from my job. I still feel guilty about it. And it was essential to my ability to let go of the corporate world, shed the skin that was suffocating me, so I could tap into my heart filled time with them.

Week 1 with them was bliss. I noticed their every breath, every milestone. I played for the first time in forever really enjoying it. I felt removed of the constraints of schedule, housework, social media. The first week I even did a reading purge where I read nothing and stayed off social media except to share my work.

Then week 2 came. In order to travel, my partner had to work 10 days in a row. I went from being by myself every day, to a couple full days with the kids, to every day all day with the kids. And then came croup followed by teething.

I’d be lying if I said I found any heart time. I started to write a few pieces but it all felt so superficial. So contrived. So educational. It didn’t feel like me. It felt like me two months ago, corporate me. I am choosing to release that part of me, to shed that skin.

So there will be gaps in blog posts sometimes because I am tending to my heart, my growth, my family. I am learning to balance. I am learning to write from my heart because that matters to me. Writing anything else is not the story I wish to tell.

You’re a tiger

My kid had a rough play-date recently. Both kids are strong and independent and like to be in charge of deciding how to play. My kid was also having a tough day, one I blame myself for.

That morning, she was taking a while to get ready. This is not unusual. She is a last minute, down to the wire, kind of person. Even one who would just miss going to wherever she’s supposed to be because she’d rather do what’s she doing in that moment. So catching the bus in the morning is mildly stressful most days. This morning, she couldn’t find her gloves. I asked her to check in her backpack and she did a very brief and quick look. I knew they must be in there, so I asked her to look again. She started to cry. I got mad, and yelled, and turned into the parent monster who I hate to be.

With the impending arrival of the bus, through tears she quickly put on her gloves and I stomped onto the porch, hoping for more than 10 seconds to cool down before she had to leave. We had about 8 seconds. She looked at me teary eyed, and I told her I loved her and hugged her as she ran to get on the bus.

“Shit,” I thought, “that just ruined her morning.”

All day, I felt the pang of guilt and sadness of not being able to apologize. Not to apologize for getting frustrated. We don’t do that in this house. But to apologize for acting like a jerk as a result of that frustration. I had planned to talk to her as soon as she got home.

But, her friend was coming over. And they immediately jumped into play. So I let it be.

Then the play didn’t go so well. Her friend was pretty unhappy, calling my kid bossy. I hate that word. It’s laced with sexism. And, also my kid does like to tell people what to do. This day, she was controlling all of the play with her friend, leaving little room for sharing or compromise. I pulled her aside a couple of times with some reminders about sharing and kindness. I even helped coach them through some disagreements. But, I could see she was having an off day. I pulled her into the kitchen and said these words, “I am sorry that I was such a jerk this morning. You did not deserve that. Don’t you ever let anyone talk to you that way, not even me.”

A little stunned, she nodded and then left the room to play again. She did a little better for a bit. Then it got hard again.

After her friend went home, that friend’s mom texted me to say that her kid said there were disagreements. I told her yes, and that my kid was not having the best day and that they both did a good job at trying to work it out though. I told her I had talked with my kid already about kindness and sharing. It was all fine, they are still good friends. They are both incredibly strong, smart, young kids and together they are a force. But in opposition, it’s a clashing of power.

When I spoke with my kid, I told her she was a tiger.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “I’m a human, not a tiger!”

I told her that tigers were strong, brave, powerful, fierce, and they were the head of the jungle. That they liked to be in charge. I said that tigers don’t always have to act like tigers in charge though. That they could choose to sit back and let someone else be in charge for a bit while they napped or took a break. I also said that when two tigers are together, they have to share the job of being a tiger or they will just fight. And, that the best part is that two tigers are so much stronger than one tiger.

The look on her face was priceless. She was quite confused, but she also was able to repeat back the message of sharing the role of being in charge and taking turns.

To lighten her up, I told her that the baby was like a koala.

“What are you?” she asked.

“A horse.”

“And Daddy?”

It took me a second, but then I said, “A frog.”

“A frog?”

“Yes because he has skinny legs and big feet.”

She laughed. And I told her I was being silly. But that I did believe she was as strong as a tiger and that it would serve her one day. And that it also makes it really hard to act like you’re not a tiger sometimes when you heart knows you are one.

This has always been my fear with her. She is so strong, willful, brave. She is told to be quieter, to sit down, to calm down, all the time. By myself included. I am literally asking her to conform to society, what’s scripted of her as a young girl, to survive in this world right now.

It all sucks, and I question it all, all the time. But, I just hope that she never forgets that she’s a tiger.

That night, after her Dad helped her get ready for bed, he came to me and said, “A frog, eh? Because I have skinny legs and big feet?”

I laughed.

“But she did tell me she’s a tiger,” he said.

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.