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“You can make anything by writing.” ― C.S. Lewis

Posts for Thoughts Category

Sehnsucht.

[sehnsucht]

I am going on a journey.

I’m taking a trip back in time. I am packing for me, my husband, and our toddler. We are loading up the car, and we are traveling back to a time and place when things were simpler – or at least seemed that way. I am thirty years old, and in a week, I will be thirty-one; but for this one trip, I get to go back and live in the past – be myself at 8 and 11 and 14 and 21. The past whispers to me, as we settle in the car and get on the road, following the lane markers up the interstate on this drive I have made a thousand times before. I feel all those memories, all the laughter and the mistakes and and the misunderstandings, brushing against me like the wind. Our history can be such a palpable place, just stepping foot in a building can bring back this oppressive feeling of presence, of a time gone by, of people who were once here, once important to us, and now are gone.

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Talking about family is difficult for me.

When I was younger, I thought my family was perfect. Spunky and a little loud and a little odd, but in all the best ways. When I was older, teenage years, early twenties, I thought my family was unconventional, maybe dysfunctional; but all the better for it.

In my mid-twenties, I thought the very existence of my family would crack me apart, from the inside, a great splintering, a great shattering. I wasn’t supposed to talk about it much, then, and I’m not really supposed to talk about it much now, for convention’s sake, for manners’ sake. So I don’t.

At thirty, I have decided family are the people we choose to be close to us, the people who may not always be related by blood, but have proven they will cherish us, and protect us. My chosen family is no less holy and divine simply because we are all friends who grew up in complicated families, with loss, with disappointment, with hurt and battered feelings. We are closer for it, because we know what it means to lose the familial ties, those traditional roles. We know what it is to be envious of a family whole, with two parents and siblings who get along, and grandparents and aunties and uncles who treasure your precious self, just as you are. We try to be that, for each other.

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We are traveling to Indiana, because my dad’s mother, my grandma, has passed away.

It is difficult. All of it is difficult, layer upon layer of emotion that has weighed heavily on me for a week, for two. Now that the news has come, and the very moment of her death has passed, I am trying to unravel this knot. I am following the little cords of emotions in my heart to see where they lead, what memories they dredge up.

It is difficult because my grandma had been very ill for a long time; one of those sad and slow degenerations that seem to take far too long, torturing her as she lost her strength and her memory, as this once robust and energetic woman became frail and uncertain. For a year or two now, it has seemed like anytime really, as she broke bones from falls, and had hospital stays, and got worse and worse but still stayed with us. For the last month, it has been anytime now, for the last week. Last Friday, she wasn’t supposed to survive the weekend, but she held on until Tuesday night. She was always made of very tough stuff, my grandmother.

It is difficult, because I have not seen or talked to my grandma on this side of the family much, for the last few years. Some of that was accidental, the very real limits of distance and circumstance, the demands of a day-to-day existence.

Some of that was intentional, and it feels rotten to admit that. In that time when I felt my family would splinter me apart, I lost all understanding of myself. In that time when the villains in my life were blood-related, I lost who I was, and I had to dig very deep to find my roots and get grounded again. I had to work very hard – for a long time – for years – I am still working on it – to find myself again, and protect myself so I could never get that lost again. And in that time, anyone who was a a supporter to one of those people who hurt me felt dangerous. Anyone who defended them felt dangerous. Anyone who tried to explain to me why I was wrong to feel my own feelings, to own my own damage, was dangerous. I put distance between me and honestly quite a lot of people, because otherwise I could not make it through a day. In time, I worked on rebuilding some – some – of those relationships – but I did not rebuild all of them. By the time my head was far enough above water that I could breathe and tread water again, my grandmother had degenerated so much that she barely remembered who I was, had only a vague understanding.

But still, I sent her Christmas cards, and occasionally letters. I tried to call on her birthday. Even if she did not remember exactly who I was, I was told she smiled so big, when she heard my voice. It was not enough, and never do I feel that more acutely than in the first days after her passing. But still – I did what I could. She always flickered through my mind on holidays, her birthday – all I can say is that I did my best to remember her, to honor her in whatever small way I could.

It is difficult, because I feel regret, I feel guilt – and yet also, I feel like I did what I had to do. I feel like I do not have to justify the actions I took to protect myself, even though I feel compelled to. I feel like a person who does not have the empathy to understand why I did what I did will never understand, no matter how long I try to explain. I feel like a person who does not believe how shattered I felt those few years does not know my true heart, or care about it, and so I should not waste time on them.

But now my grandmother has passed and we are driving up to Indiana, and I feel weird. Sick, even. It seems like when a death is expected, a long time coming, we think we’ll feel more numbed to it – and I do, I do feel numbed. The loss does not feel as raw as it might have. But I have this heavy feeling in my chest, and a squiggling feeling in my tummy. My eyes are heavy and tired, even though I’ve had coffee. I can hear my grandmother’s voice in my ear. I can see her smoking a cigarette at her glass table on her brick patio. She is with me, and I can’t stop thinking about her.

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The drive up to Indiana is painfully familiar. We made this drive, so often, when I was a child, when my parents were still married. In my early years, we spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas at my grandparents’ house in Indiana, large chunks of the summer. In middle school, early high school, we made this drive every other weekend – for years. Four and a half hours there on Friday night, after my sisters and I were out of school, after my mother was done with work. Four and half hours back, Sunday afternoon so we were home in time to get ready for school the next morning. It was exhausting for my sisters and me; I cannot imagine the exhaustion my mother felt, packing us all up, hauling us into the car, driving us that far, and back, and there and back again in the same weekend – all after working all week, supporting us on her single mother’s salary.

Two hours up to Henderson, the exchange point, where we met in a ratty old Burger King that still gives me anxiety if I step foot inside it, or in better weather, at James Audubon State Park, where we could at least stretch our legs and wander around the grounds, before we climbed into the next car and made the second half of the drive, two and a half more hours.

The Kentucky half of the drive is quick, all highways, speeding through trees and hills, the occasional town lined up against the Interstate, just off an exit. The Indiana half, when I was younger, was my favorite even though it was longer – we drove through so many little towns, Petersburg and Shoals and Loogootee. I made up stories for the people who lived there, imagined attending that high school, going to dance at that studio we passed. Now, I-69 connects all the way from Evansville to Bloomington, now the drive is stream-lined, and efficient as it wasn’t before. As we drive, I do not have any familiar landmarks to help me judge the distance, it is all naked trees and grey sky – we shoot along the highway and it is the same, it is the same, it is the same, until – suddenly – we are there.

I am nervous. I am nervous to see everyone. I am nervous to step foot in what was once my grandparents’ home and what became my grandmother’s home after my grandpa died, years ago. I know as soon as I walk in, another wave of memory will wash over me and overwhelm me, from the garage to the kitchen to the living room where we used to laugh about how all the paintings hang so low, so much lower than other houses’ – because all of us were so short, and that seemed the normal height. I know it is not just my grandmother I will miss when I walk in – it will be that time before, when my heart was lighter and freer, when I did not carry so much cynicism and judgment. I will want to be that little girl again, who saw this home as a vacation, who came in to a fridge full of caffeine-free Coke and our favorite pickles, who played whiffle ball with my dad and uncle and cousins and sisters in the back field, who played with all of Grandma’s little knickknacks on the windowsills, and listened to her stories for each and every one.

I am nervous to see any family that will be there. I am afraid they will tell me they are disappointed in me for not being there more often, for not calling more often. For not helping as much as I should have, when the times were hardest and they carried the load. I know how it feels, to be on the other side, to be the in-town family dealing with an aging and ailing relative while the rest of the family is spread out all over the country, distanced from the legwork of the day-to-day care. In the same week my paternal grandmother passes, my maternal grandmother is taken to the ER, and then admitted. It seems a week where the bonds of family are tight and pressing in on me. I know how it feels to be the group in the trenches, watching my grandma in Kentucky’s pale face as machines beep and whir, helping her into a new hospital gown and putting chapstick on her lips, lifting her glass of water to her mouth. I don’t know if I can explain my choices, I don’t know that I should have to. But I know the load my Indiana family carried, when my sisters and I were not there, when we were not the ones shouldering the heavy burden that was my grandmother’s health deteriorating.

I am nervous to see my father, with whom I have barely spoken in the last year. Our relationship has been fraught for years upon years. There was a time, when I was very young, that our relationship was simpler. A time when I was a daddy’s girl and raced to see him. That feels a very long time ago. For most of my adult years, our relationship has been, at best – at best – problematic. This man feels like a stranger to me, and has for years. I am seeing him, because his mother has just died, because it seems like the right thing to do.

Everything about this trip scares me, and yet I feel so compelled to make the journey that I cannot stop myself.

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When we are younger, our childhoods seem normal simply because we lack relativity, we lack perspective. We know nothing else other than our own experience, so why should anything seem unusual? The lens of time sharpens our view, as we grow older and gain maturity, we’re able to see what we could not see before.

Many of my memories from my childhood in Indiana are happy.

In summer, we – my grandma, my sisters, my cousin and I – we would pack our bags and walk up the tar-patched road, through the duplexes and the tennis courts to the neighborhood pool, where my grandma loved nothing more than to teach all of us how to swim. My younger sister and I paddled from edge to edge, daring to go into the deep-end, while my older sister and my older cousin sunned themselves on the lounge chairs. And home, later on, my grandma kept a counter full of treats for her own sweet tooth. I sat in a tall bar stool at the counter, spinning and spinning and spinning until she told me she’d make me stand on my head in the corner if I didn’t listen to her and stop spinning.

I remember driving around Bloomington with my grandma in her car, my younger sister in the backseat, and me in the front. So often, Grandma drove us around town, because my father was – somewhere, somewhere else – and so often she would tell me stories. My favorite has always been about her two sisters and her, with their three trees in their backyard, an apple tree, a pear tree, a cherry tree. Each tree was special to one sister. We would run out to our trees, and call to each other, my grandma would tell me, steering carefully through curving roads, Calling Sister Cherry Tree, calling Sister Cherry Tree. She told me stories about taking care of her entire family, her father and all of her siblings, from such a young age, after her mother died. She was sixteen, and she told me about all the times she messed up dinner, because she didn’t know how to cook yet. About how her father was stern, a hard worker, but she knew he loved her.

She told me stories about music, about her professor at the IU school of music who would tease her by giving her the wrong sized bow when she was learning a string instrument. She always loved music, it is one of the things I remember most about her besides swimming. She had a little electronic keyboard she used play hymns on, hitting the organ setting and explaining the chords to anyone who might be listening, at the boozy Christmas Eve parties she hosted for years. Silent Night was her favorite hymn, and we always sang it on Christmas Eve. The adults were usually drunk, but I took it very seriously. Just the pretty singers now, my grandma would say, and the adults would collapse into chagrined laughter, break into a chorus of Who Let the Dogs Out while I tried to sing along with my grandmother. She loved music so dearly, and in one of my last visits to her, while she still knew who I was, I managed to fix her CD player so it could play her CDs, all choral arrangements from her childhood. Oh, how she clapped her hands together and smiled.

Not all of my memories are happy. Many of them aren’t. Many of them, I didn’t realize there was something  off about them, until years later, until I could see them through an adult’s eyes. So many memories seem fine and normal because it was normal, at the time. Because I was a child, and I didn’t know better. Other memories made me feel slightly ill and uncomfortable at the time they were happening, and I didn’t understand why, then. I do now.

It is hard to place an Indiana memory where someone was not drinking. Where most adults were not drinking, and heavily, and for long periods of time. All those Christmas Eve parties seemed so glamorous, when I was kid, when I just thought everyone was laughing and laughing louder because it was Christmas, and why wouldn’t you be that excited? I remember taking a sip from a red Solo cup that I thought was my punch, and then spitting it out in horror as it burned my mouth, my throat – all the adults around me laughing, because I’d grabbed my grandpa’s bourbon by mistake. I remember the older cousins getting the younger cousins drunk, because it was funny; my older sister, at 14, puking outside on the blacktop driveway. At least, when I was younger, 7 or 8, my mother was there, keeping an eye on things. She would shepherd my younger sister and I into one of the side bedrooms and close the door, try and get us to sleep over the noise and the racket and the excitement of Santa Claus coming.

But as we got older, after my parents divorced, she wasn’t there. There wasn’t really anyone to run interference. My little sister and I were younger, significantly younger than anyone else around, even my older sister. Maybe I should have been the one to run interference, protect my little sister better, and maybe I would have if the whole situation didn’t seem so normal, so perpetual. I lacked perspective, and we went along with whatever happened – with increasing discomfort, aping what had become for us the social norms, unsure and uncertain we could say anything that could make much of any difference.

So often we were alone, my little sister and I. So often we were left at home in one residence or another, the house on Grimes Street where we used to sit out back on the second-floor roof, or the little house way out in the country where at least we could rove through the fields, and for the longest stretch of time, in the condo out at the lake. We ate Doritos and drank Cokes until our teeth nearly rotted out of our heads, and we sat alone for hours and hours, weekend after weekend, watching Nickelodeon and SNL reruns and this one tired NSYNC concert on VHS, over and over and over again. We sat bored, and we quarreled, because we had nothing else to do, because we were stuck at home again while everyone else was out. We drove four and a half hours to sit on a couch at night, alone, unsupervised, until even we, pre-teens and teenagers, knew we ought to just go to bed.

But just as often – we weren’t left at home. So often, we were dragged out to whatever party just so my dad and older sister didn’t have stay at home with us. Some of those memories are the ones that seemed fun, then – because it was fun, mischievous, to be present at these parties that our mother would have never let us attend, to be sneaky and play along with my father’s charisma, and his conviction it was all fine. If our father, our parent, thought it was fine, why wouldn’t it be? There were summers my sister and I spent a week at the golf course pool, swimming and splashing and eating ribs and sucking BBQ sauce off our fingers, that never-ending supply of Coke; while the grown-ups – not just my father and my sister, but my uncle, my cousin, their friends we saw so often we thought they’d become our friends too – clustered around the bar, drinking, getting rowdier as the hours passed from afternoon into evening – before they all adjourned to someone’s house to continue the party. I thought it was cool, then – the way everyone else at the pool gazed over at our posse, our family, watching us. I thought we were the funny ones, the cool ones – the ones flouting convention, making our own fun.

But for every memory that seemed fun at the time – there are the ones where I felt awkward, confused, uncomfortable in my own skin. So many parties, later on, after my older sister moved up to Bloomington and started school, where even she wasn’t there. Parties that my younger sister and I were dragged along to, the only females in a crowd of drinking middle-aged men, football on the TV and beer and liquor on the counter. So many parties all we wanted to do was go home, because it felt weird, hearing the men yell at the screen and make crude jokes and talk about women as if they were objects. It felt weird to be young women coming into flower, when this was how men talked about women – and so we sat silent, pretended we were not there, that we were not girls becoming women, just so we wouldn’t take notice. So many parties where we just sat in the corner and took turns playing Snake on my dad’s phone because it was the only entertainment we had.

How many times did we get in the car with him when he had been drinking? Drinking, and not just a little. Not just a glass of wine or two, or a couple beers. How many times did I know, or understand that was what was happening? Everything is foggy, so often I can’t bring it into sharp focus. So many things I blotted out because speaking up seemed wrong, but letting the evening run its course as it seemed set to do seemed wrong too. How many times did we ride in the car with him and feel scared? I have this one terrifying, one oddly specific memory among all the fog: a night with snow on the ground, of the car slipping off the road under my father’s hand, my sister and I waiting white-knuckled but silent for him to correct it. I felt ill, near to puking, but somehow he saved it, and we made it home. Another night where finally – finally – my older sister and father came home, and my father was loud at the parking lot at the top of the hill, and I came out to greet him and watched him going tumbling headfirst down the hill. How I raced to meet him, dust the mulch and leaves off his clothes, steer him more carefully inside. Put him to bed like he was the child and I was the parent. How many times did my younger sister and I just shut ourselves in a room with the TV on, rather than face what happened outside the closed doors.

I suppose I ought to feel lucky, because throughout all of it, there was love. We were not beaten or hit. We never actually wrecked. We had food, and a roof over our heads. We laughed, and here and there we went on adventures, at least when we were younger and less self-sufficient. As the years passed and we became older, more and more of those nights were on the balcony of the condo, or my uncle’s garage. More and more nights where everyone snuck off to the bathroom to do something my younger sister and I were supposed to ignore if we saw. Literally, I remember someone saying that. But we were loved, and told that often, and for that, we are supposed to feel grateful. We are supposed to forget how often we felt, at best, ignored, a burden that gotten in the way of partying, of the fun times that happened full-swing when we were not there to interrupt; and at worst, we felt scared, uncomfortable, unable to speak up and ask for something different.

Most of these bad Indiana memories are not my grandmother’s fault, and if there was anyone who was careful and attentive with us in our visits up there, it was her. But she never stopped us from getting in the car and riding with someone who had been drinking. She never stopped the glass from being refilled, and if we were settled in one place, she drank right along with the rest of them. Everyone loved to laugh and tease her about how she’d say, we are not getting drunk! – even as she topped off someone’s wine glass.

It is hard to know what to feel, as I comb over all of these memories, the good and the bad, in the days following my grandma’s death. I know that I loved her. I know that she loved me. I know that even as she told me I needed to lose weight, even at a healthy weight, over and over again until I hated to exist in my own skin – that she did it out of love, because she cared about me.

It is hard to know how to feel, and I have to keep reminding myself there is no wrong way to feel. That all my emotions, good and bad, are valid. That I can love my grandma and her memory, that I can love the times I was happy and oblivious with my family in Indiana, and I can still feel scared and confused and angry about all those years. There is no right answer, there is no winning answer. There is only what happened, in the past, and what I choose to do with my own future.

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In the end, the visit itself is mostly just underwhelming.

Everyone there is the same, almost predictable, just older. We are all of us careful, tentative. As if we are all aware of the distance, the time apart, the phone calls missed and the texts ignored. As if we are all aware of who is not there, willingly and unwillingly. We are all of us carefully polite and friendly. There is wine, of course, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some.

My daughter is there, and she is an almost eerie copy of myself, as a child. Our eyes are the same, our lips. She is fair-haired and rosy-cheeked, as I was. The echoes of my girlhood swirl around the house, she plays with the bear-shaped paperweight on an end table, as I did, she oos at the vase of periwinkle flowers collecting dust on the window sill, as I did. It is impossible not to compare, to remember, to see myself in her capering around the house, making the adults laugh.

She is a balm, an icebreaker for all of us. She is a dear and precious child, and my father sees that, as does my uncle, my cousin. Children have a way of breaking down barriers, and I am grateful to have her as a buffer. I am grateful to be an adult, in charge of my own child and my own marriage, to make my own decisions and be able to decide when it is time to leave, and not be second-guessed.

We do not ever have any difficult conversations. We come close, once or twice, but we keep the gatherings safe. Gentle. And perhaps that is for the best. It is, I think, what my grandma would have wanted. I do not know the next time I will see my father, or my uncle, or my cousin. I do not know that I will ever set foot inside this little duplex at the dead-end again. I watch my second cousin race through that back field under a dim grey sky, and my daughter toddles after, desperate to be like one of the big girls. I run my hands over stained-glass window hangings, I take home a painting that has always hung in my grandmother’s dining room, for as long as I can remember – a single candle in a dark window. I peer intently at black and white photos, then grainy color photos, more recent prints I know I myself had sent to this address. I feel years and years of history that I never asked about being lost to me now. I cling to the few stories I know, that I held close to my heart because I knew one day they would be important, and that day is today.

On our final day there, it is sleeting. My daughter has a cough and swollen eyes. She has been chipper and hardy, but now she is exhausted, coming down with something. We get on the road to beat the worst of the winter storm. We do not even go inside for one last goodbye, I bid my father farewell in the driveway under freezing rain.

We drive home, all those miles of highway again, and my daughter sleeps. I am quiet. My husband concentrates on the slippery road. I feel old, and at peace. I feel ancient, and like I have closed the chapter on a book I have been waiting a long time to finish.

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At home, I think, I am at least grateful my grandmother met the man who would become my husband. She adored him, on the visits we managed up there, because he cooked for her.

I wish she could have met my daughter. I wish she could have been in good health and sound mind while my daughter existed in the world. I wish she could have taught my daughter 1-2-3, I think I’ll have a cup of tea, dipping under water in the pool to learn how to blow bubbles out her nose – the first step in learning to swim that my sisters and my cousins and I all learned. I wish she could have put out bird seed and watched the squirrels steal it with my daughter from her living room window. I wish my daughter could have known the Christmas mornings from my own childhood, when we came out and saw Grandma’s tree stuffed with presents, the entire family assembling groggily and hungover, or else ecstatic that Santa came, the rotation of present-opening around the room that we ape still today.

At home, I hear from my father the day after we get home, and then a week later, the day after my birthday. I respond politely both times. I know that I have opened a door, making this trip up there, and it seems impolite to slam it shut so soon.

I wait. After all this time, all these years of the same cycle — I still fall for it. I expect to hear from him, again. I expect conversations to be attempted, and I think, perhaps this time I will answer, again. I convince myself to be the bearer of goodwill, yet again. I convince myself it would be worth it, to try. I tell myself, life is so short — hadn’t we just learned that — and you are not so young any more. One day slides into the next. Weeks go by, another month, and I realize I have not heard from my father, at all, since the day after my birthday. I realize, yet again, I thought things would be different, and they weren’t. Once again, I offered an olive branch, and just when I thought he took it, he dropped it. I expect this to hurt, as it has so many times before.

It doesn’t hurt. Instead, I feel nothing.

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Birthing Ariadne, Part Six: Reflection

PART SIX: REFLECTION

There were so many parts of this birth story that were hard to write — and this final section has become one of the hardest. The truth is my feelings on my birth change, sometimes from day to day — depending on how I feel, my general mental health, what kind of comment someone has made lately. Every other post in this series has been 90% ready to go for weeks — but I keep coming back to this one. I keep feeling like I haven’t said enough, or I haven’t said what I meant clearly, or that there’s another message or lesson I need to explore.

Months have passed since I gave birth to Ariadne. Although I began writing her birth story the first week we came home, as I am finishing it, her first birthday is on the horizon. Before I had my own baby, I wondered why mothers waited so long to share their birth stories. Weren’t they burning to share their experiences, their joys and pain? Now, I understand. Now, I realize what a transformative, life-changing experience birth is, whether it happens perfectly as desired, or is massively derailed. It’s not so easily tossed out for the world to digest – sharing your birth story is incredibly overpowering, intensely vulnerable.

I found, the deeper I got into my birth story, the more confusion I felt. Even in the first weeks home, I was moved to tears – sobbing tears, neither wholly of pain nor of joy – when looking at pictures from our days at the birth center, when trying to put into words the huge wealth of emotions I felt that week. My birth struck me as a many-layered experience. Parts of it were painful in the extreme, both physically and emotionally. Parts of it were beautiful, spiritual, and empowering, despite the frustrations. I struggled – do struggle still – how to make peace with this juxtaposition, this dichotomy of the two very different sides to my birth that somehow inhabit the same space of my heart.

Even just writing my birth story forced me to face the parts of my birth that I found painful, disappointing – even traumatic. Writing this has been a form of therapy, certainly – but there were times I did not feel up to the task of working through the disappointment, doubt, and guilt that I felt during that week, and have felt from time to time since. The idea of sharing my birth story makes me feel intensely vulnerable. Giving birth is both the most vulnerable and empowering time of a mother’s life, and sharing our weakest and strongest moments takes a lot of guts, and a lot of strength.

I confess that I delayed writing and sharing this post, because at times, I feared people would judge me. Directly after my birth, I did not feel much doubt about the decisions I’d made. At that point – the aftermath was still very evident, from the huge bruises on my arms to my hideous feet still grotesquely swollen from the magnesium to the follow-up doctor’s appointments to make sure my blood pressure came down and stayed down, and that I remained out of danger for a stroke or seizure. It was easier to take the danger of my ill health seriously, in the first weeks after I gave birth. The scariest moments, the biggest risks and dangers had left their mark on me, physically, and they were not easy to forget, at first. For a few weeks, I continued to feel justified in every decision I had made, because the evidence of their necessity was printed on my skin.

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A Toast: Here’s to Women.

Feminism, Fierce Lady Tribe, Life, Non-Fiction, Thoughts - Emily - November 11, 2016

Here’s to women.

Here’s to women who get up earlier than everyone else to start the coffee in a dim kitchen with the glowing light of sunrise pressing in from the window.

Here’s to women who go to bed later than everyone else, switching over the laundry and turning off all the lights, checking the locks on the doors.

Here’s to women who wake in the night, from bad dreams or snoring or to tiptoe into a bedroom and check a little one’s breathing. Here’s to women who can’t sleep, who lay awake on their pillows cataloguing all the tasks they will have to perform tomorrow, all the smiles they will have to fake, all the comments they will have to ignore.

Here’s to women who walk the sidewalks with headphones crammed in their ears, the volume up as high as it will go, just to block out catcalls and horn honks.

Here’s to women who layer on foundation and blush and eyeliner and mascara because they want to, because it makes them feel empowered. Here’s to the women who layer it on because they feel obligated, because they feel naked without it. Here’s to women who wear none of it, proudly.

Here’s to women who suck in their guts, here’s to women who flaunt them. Here’s to women with bubble butt and pancake butt, here’s to women with muffin top and droopy boobs and perky tits. Here’s to women in a size 4 and a size 14 and a size 24.

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2016 Election Aftermath

Lessons, Non-Fiction, Opinion Piece, Thoughts - Emily - November 9, 2016

I see a lot of people saying, “well, we’re still a country united and we have to accept what happened” or “what happened happened, let’s move on,” and to that, I say – NO. This was not the average election situation of Republican versus Democrat. I’ve lived through that type of election before, and won some according to my beliefs, and lost some according to my beliefs. I can live with that, I can accept that’s the reality of a democratic state. But that was not this election.

This was an election where a completely unqualified, hate-mongering reality TV show star with sexual assault accusations in the double digits and an endorsement from the KKK was running against a highly qualified and experienced woman. Maybe she wasn’t everyone’s favourite, maybe we had some qualms with her actions – like we would have and have had for any politician in the history of politics. But any choice – any choice – was better than Trump. I started my “I would have voted for 101 Dalmatians over Trump” thread as a sort of tongue-in-cheek way to deal with my frustrations, a sort of way to whistle in the dark on a very dark day indeed. But I meant it – anyone was better than Trump, a man who peddles fear and hate, a man who has no experience in running a political office of ANY size, much less one of the hugest and most powerful nations.

Maybe you’re not scared today. Maybe you’re only a little disappointed, or maybe you feel America made the right choice. But to that, I say – maybe you’ve always been exactly where you needed to be. Who you needed to be. Maybe you’ve never questioned your sexuality. Maybe you’ve never been targeted for an act of aggression just because of the color of your skin. Maybe you’ve never questioned your religion. Maybe you’ve never been sexually assaulted. Maybe you’ve never been undermined and ignored just because of the gender you’ve been born with and had no choice about. Maybe you’ve never felt like you were born in the wrong body, completely trapped there with no way to escape.

Maybe you were born white and straight and Christian to white and straight and Christian parents in America. Maybe you have never felt the need for change. Maybe your beliefs have never been marginalized. Maybe you have always aligned with the most common, acceptable way of life, and therefore, you’ve never had to question that the world needs change because the world isn’t accepting of anything different from you.

Maybe that’s you – but that’s not me. That’s not my family or my friends. That’s not so, so very many people in this country. We have been attacked or assaulted or ignored or threatened. We see the need for change. We are citizens of this country and citizens of the world just as much as anyone else, and we are scared. We are scared for our future. And guess what – it is not unpatriotic to want change for your country when your country is making dangerous decisions. We who want change are just as patriotic as you – because we don’t want to see our country become what it is poised to become. We don’t want to go down in the history books as another black mark on the page of humanity. We believe in our country, and our leaders – and we believe we are better than this. We are better than Trump, and although I wish I could wake up to find all of this a bad dream, in the next four years – we are going to prove it.

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Wrestling.

This week, I have been struggling with guilt.

Guilt is an emotion I’ve struggled with for years, one that I wish I could let go of and move on from.

I always worry about being enough. I want to be enough, for myself, for everyone around me, for everyone I love. For years, I have wrestled with being a good enough daughter, a good enough sister, a good enough wife or coworker or friend. A good enough writer or dancer or artist. Brave enough, confident enough.

We always tell ourselves that we don’t care about what other people think — and sometimes, we really don’t, and sometimes, we really do. And that’s where, I think, guilt comes in. I struggle with free time, with down time, with self care time. I work hard all through out the week to get enough done so that by Saturday afternoon or Sunday, I can take a nap, and then…that scheduled time comes around and I can’t sleep because I’m guilty thinking about all the things I ought to be doing. The housework I ought to be completing, the baby prep I ought to be doing. Did I exercise enough this week, did I food prep for the week ahead, am I prepared for dance class and projects I need to complete this week? I end up wasting more time tossing and turning, talking myself out of getting up and working, only to finally fall into an exhausted sleep just a little bit before I have to get up.

Anxiety and guilt, I think, go hand in hand. The anxious mind does not rest, the anxious mind can’t be convinced, there is plenty of time and I am handling all my responsibilities in baby steps, a little each day. The anxious mind is prone to panic, the anxious mind thinks all times are NOW, all deadlines are now. The anxious mind convinces us that we will be a failure if we don’t exhaust ourselves doing 100 million little things right this instant. If we are practiced in handling anxiety, maybe we can remember to take the time to stop and talk to that anxious voice — you are okay. You are doing just fine. Let this go, there is nothing we can do about this worry in this moment. We will handle this when the appropriate time arrives, and that moment is not right now.

The anxious mind is persistent, though, and it can take a powerful resolve and a powerful determination to keep having that talk and keep fighting that fight.

My anxiety (in case you couldn’t tell) has been particularly bad this past week or so. And the weird thing is? I’m not really worried about anything in particular. There are times when we have a sense of dread and unease over a particular issue, and that sense of dread filters through every facet of our life and we feel it everywhere, at work or home or in relationships — but we know what the cause is. Times when we’re short on money and know we won’t be on top again until pay day in two weeks — and until then, we just have to endure. Times when we’re struggling with a particular relationship that seems to be troublesome at the moment, and we can’t stop thinking about that person until the issue is resolved. We might feel that anxiety always, but we know where it’s coming from.

I can’t say that that is necessarily my problem right now. I’m blissfully happy, 70% of the time. Spring is here, the pear trees are blooming and the Japanese Magnolias are blooming, and the forsythia glows yellow, and we get these beautiful days of sunshine and blue skies. I’m wearing sandals pretty much all the time now, a couple times I’ve managed a dress. This is my favourite time of year, and I’ve been amazed by how much my mood has improved from the earliest part of the year. I love going on long walks around the neighborhood with Shaun after work, I love meeting friends for lunch or little get togethers, I love planning outings to the park or the homeplace for the kids. I love having packages come in the mail, and putting together  our cosleeper bassinet or her shelves with baskets for all her little clothes and socks. I love sitting outside with Shaun while he grills us a healthy dinner, I love feeling my sweet baby kick me any time of day, I love snuggling up against Shaun on the couch in the evening and having him kiss my hair and rub my belly, trying to feel the baby kick on the outside.

Nothing in particular is bothering me, and yet my anxiety seems to be on a hair trigger, and any little thing can set me off. I miss a call from a loved one, someone at work says something I don’t agree with, Shaun has to go to work, I indulge in eating something other than vegetables and lean protein, the baby hasn’t kicked in a couple hours, I decide I want to stay home and have some quiet time rather than accept an invitation somewhere. BAM, there I am. Heart pounding, mind busy worrying if my loved one thinks I hate them/if I will keep the house clean enough/if I’m not being social enough/if I’m not being healthy enough/if everything is OK with baby girl.

I think with anxiety, and the guilt that follows; at first, it seems we really only have to options: wallow, or power through.

Wallow usually seems like the easier option — I cannot get out of bed, I cannot put on clean clothes, I cannot do the little things that would make me feel better. We have to lie here, on the couch, binge watching a show we don’t even like while we think about how bad we feel, how behind we are, how much we have to do. The mental weight of all these worries crushes us, and we are too heavy, too exhausted to get up and deal with them.

More often than wallowing, I find myself on the alternate path — powering through. And while it might seem like the better option, I’ve found it can be just as harmful to my emotional state in the long run. Sure, on the surface, it seems like the better route — I force myself to get up, I force myself to clean, to correspond, to be social, to take a walk and do some crunches, to food prep. I visit people even when I’m tired, I offer to take on projects I don’t want to — I strive to be that Perfect, Impossible Woman I still somehow believe I can be. I seek to prove to myself that perfection is possible, when it isn’t. And the thing is? After I’ve exhausted myself, and exhausted every possible task I could set before myself in order to validate that I’m an OK employee/daughter/wife/sister/mother-to-be — I’ve still not dealt with the anxiety. I push myself, I drive myself forward, in fear of failing, in fear of disappointing myself yet again. I arrive at those scheduled rest periods at the end of the day or the end of the week — and I still cannot deal with myself, I still cannot still my unquiet mind, and I find myself no better off than if I had stayed on the couch and wallowed.

The truth is — sometimes we have to just stop and stare Anxiety and Guilt in the face. I see you. Hiding from anxiety, whether through inaction or over-action, doesn’t solve anything. In ignoring it, in wishing that an anxious mind were not the reality we are saddled with — we allow it to grow and fester. We allow it to take over our brains and take control. We allow it to seep into every moment and every step of the day — and sometimes, we don’t even realize it. Sometimes, we accept these frantic, obsessive thoughts as normal — I‘m just busy. I’ve just got a lot on my plate right now. We make excuses, and we keep getting wound up tighter and tighter.

I sometimes wish I had a life coach to be with me constantly, always validating me and reminding me I’m OK and doing a good job. Then I remember that life coach is me.

When faced with anxious periods, we forget we can be the ones to stay stop. We don’t want to admit that we’re anxious or that this sick part of our brains has such a strong hold of us. But today, as I kept crying after Shaun left for work, as I kept making lists of Things I Had to Get Done Today on Sunday, my Day of Rest — I realized I wasn’t dealing with my anxiety, I was avoiding it.

Sometimes, the only thing that works is being that life coach for ourselves. Stopping, and sitting still. Turning off the TV and putting down the phone. Not hopping in the car and speeding off to buy something to distract us, or creating a social environment to buoy us through for another hour. Cultivating stillness. Cultivating quiet and calm. Sitting still and really talking to ourselves, telling ourselves, I am doing OK. I am working hard. Forcing ourselves to see our actual reality, and not the version our anxiety would have us believe to be true. Reminding ourselves that perfection isn’t possible — that we could clean every moment of every day and the hamper would still fill up and the fridge would eventually empty, because that’s how life works. Reminding ourselves that we cannot be everything for everyone, all of the time. Reminding ourselves that we have limits, and that we are only human. Reminding ourselves that if we let ourselves become obsessed with an idealistic version of ourselves, and only work towards that — then we will be missing a huge part of life, the most important part — the actual living.

Anxiety makes us fearful, and being fearful makes us forget what joy feels like. If we cannot stop and look at the little lives we’ve built, these beautiful, tender lives that we are lucky enough to be living, we forget our joyful selves, our true selves.

If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely an anxious person. You’re more than likely someone who knows what it feels like to let your brain drive itself out of control — and what I want to say to you right now is you are doing fine. It’s hard to trust your gut when your gut is currently set to Panic Mode, but please listen to me when I say — it’s OK to believe that you are doing good enough. It’s OK to believe that you are doing the best you can right now — because you are. It’s OK for you to take a nap, it’s OK for you to get a milkshake, it’s OK not to listen to other people’s advice, it’s OK to do things the way you want to do them. It is OK for you to live your life the way you want to, and it’s OK not to make anyone else’s priorities yours. It’s OK to tune out the world and tune out Facebook and Instagram and stop worrying about whether your house is decorated as nicely or if you can run a single mile, let alone five. It’s OK if you fed your kids chicken nuggets and applesauce because they won’t eat anything else. It’s OK if you think high heels are stupid and you’d rather not wear them for anything less than a wedding. It’s OK to let that phone call go to voice mail and call them back later when you’re feeling calmer.

Let’s try and help each other remember — we don’t have to wait until we feel terrible. We don’t  have to wait until the crushing worry is so bad we can barely function. Let’s help each other remember to stop, to breath, to give ourselves permission to be whole and human and imperfect, and therefore, perfect, just as we already are.

 

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