Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Feminism and the Four-Year-Old

I didn't set out to be a feminist. I mean, as a kid, I was so shy it pained me to be called on in class. Calling attention to myself, even inadvertently, was to be avoided at all costs. Fit in, sit down and be part of the group; that was my motto. (It will be hard for some of you to believe this, but you can check it out with my family. They will tell you it's 100% true.)

But sometimes what seems like the best laid plans are just a stop gap measure until you find your voice, know yourself and feel good in your own skin. I feel lucky that I found that in me by the time I was in my 30s. It started in college, and I was realizing that I had been hiding for a while; but it wasn't until I was a mom and had faced down some life shit that I really embraced who I was. (Can we make that our new hashtag? #lifeshit) And hallelujah for finding my true self!  It was so hard trying to be someone else. I am glad I found me while I still had time to take her out and enjoy life.

But, finally being aware of who I am includes (very often) realizing that I am not like all the other ________________ (fill in the blank). I am constantly feeling the abrasion of not quite fitting into the molds around me. And I have realized that I am much more a feminist than I would ever have guessed. I'm not ashamed of it, I think it speaks to my need to see all the people. Men and women. Recently I found myself uncomfortable with this innocent scenario that played out at preschool:

Mom with toddler boy: Hold the door and let them go in honey; Ladies first!
Me with my daughter: . . . . . thanks . . . . (sigh). . . .

It felt gross, not for the first time, but especially because I had my daughter (my fiercely independent daughter) with me. And I did NOT want that to be the message of her world. It very clearly sounded like, "you know women are the weaker sex, so we do all we can to help them out. They need to be treated especially delicately. They just can't do all the things this big hard world expects of them, so be sure you help them whenever you can. That's a sweet lad."

Now I am sure that wasn't what that mother was thinking. At all. I am sure she was teaching her son a lesson about politeness and respect. Which I would have been completely on board with if she had just left the whole "ladies first" business right out of it. Hold the door for me because you wish to be polite, or because my hands are full. Pull out my chair for me because you respect me or love me. But DO NOT hold the door for me because I am a woman. I am capable of doing that myself. As are most women, and most men. Please, please, please, do not tell your child that their world view should include women as the weaker sex. Because that just promotes the idea that we deserve lower pay than men, do less work than men because we are not capable of doing the same work as men. I don't know a single woman who would actually claim those words, but be not deceived. When you point to the fact that I am a woman and then treat me as weak, your message is loud and clear.

When that mom said "ladies first" it made me feel the same way it did when my grandmother told me my black friend was "articulate." Holy lord. Please, oh please, do not start that backhanded double talk with me. Those phrases belong in the same drawer. Let's label it "covert discrimination." There is no need to prop me up. I have legs to stand on and the will to do it. And don't you dare try to shackle my strong, vibrant, curious daughter with those words. No, no, no. And don't shackle your son with that world view either. We have come much to far to let that happen. It does no one any favors.

I implore you, continue to be polite. Hold the door for someone because they are human and deserve to be treated respectfully. Pull out the chair of your loved one, because you want them to feel special. But I beg of you, do not tie these actions to gender. We all deserve more than that, don't we?

Friday, March 03, 2017

You Don't Look Sick

I have a chronic illness. It doesn't always show up the way other illnesses do, although some days it does. And sometimes it's hard to remember that I even have this condition, because it can feel like it has just disappeared. Sometimes I can go weeks, even months and forget all about it. And sometimes it's impossible to forget because it's constantly present, reminding me that it's mine; the symptoms can last for days. It's my own little mystery.

My illness is called General Anxiety Disorder. It's a mental illness. And that totally complicates things because saying "mental illness" to someone can be a deal breaker. There's still a lot of stigma out there surrounding mental illness. Somehow it's different than saying, MS or lupus or Crohn's. All of those diseases could have been the subject of the paragraph above. And having those sorts of chronic illnesses elicits a different sort of response. But once you say "mental illness" it's like there is a shift in the room, and the person you are speaking to leans back, just a bit. At least that's how it feels to me when I say it out loud. I am suddenly afraid that my credibility with that person just went out the window. And the truth is, at least a little bit of it probably did.

Anxiety can be a bitch because I don't look sick. I might not be showing symptoms that other people can see or recognize (at least the people who don't know me well), because I have mastered the art of Assuming The Role until I can get out of the room and into my car or back to my safe space. But the thing is, some days I honestly feel velcro-ed to the sofa, finding it difficult to peel myself off for any reason. It takes a monumental effort to just breathe in and breathe out. Then again, on some days I think I might explode from the feeling inside me - the feeling like a fluttering bird is stuck in my chest, banging to get out, but with no door to open to free it. It's hard to concentrate when something like that is happening. Some days I can't get my brain to stop cycling through the list, the monstrous overwhelming list, of things I have yet to do that may never get done, that seems impossible to triage because everything damn thing is so important. And incredibly, I still have to be the parent on those days. Those are the days that I pray I don't do too much damage to my kids. It's hard to explain to little ones that I am just not feeling like myself and I am so sorry for the yelling (or forgetting, or ignoring). The intersection of self care and child care is not easy to navigate.

I mention this because ever since November and the presidential election I have been feeling that anxiety creeping back into my chest. It doesn't always happen all at once, but when it does start to show up, I can recognize the feelings. And I have been monitoring myself for the past 4 months noticing the warning signs. It's definitely the political climate and the chaos that has ensued that has brought this back on. The need to become involved, and actually being involved, with the democratic process has helped stave it off. But it's definitely back now. And I would stake good money that I am not alone. The sort of upheaval that this election and it's subsequent government has caused is exactly the sort of trigger that most of us need to start the ball rolling on anxiety and depression. It's a hard time to navigate mental illness.

I had a recent conversation with a friend who couldn't quite understand why the election hit me so hard. I know it's not the same for all of us. Some of my friends are fine with the outcome. And some are just as scared as I am. For me, I see all the protections I counted on for my community and my kids eroding. I see a government hell-bent on becoming a Theocracy or Fascist State, neither of which make me feel safe. Being me is a whole lot riskier than it used to be. I live in a state without a hate crimes law, so the rolling back of transgender rights has real and scary consequences here. And I live in a state where our former governor (now the Vice President) made it clear that I am a second class citizen. He signed a law that made it ok to discriminate against me. So when I say that I don't feel safe, please recognize that as a real and honest fear, based in the reality of where I live. Where will it stop? We have already given up so many of our human rights. I have no reason to believe that it won't go further. Well meaning people have encouraged the climate we are now in, and furthered it, taking away my protections. Why would I trust it to be any different 6 months, or 4 years from now? Imagine for a moment what that might do to a person who is already at risk for anxiety. And now imagine that my prescription for medications that help me cope is at risk too, because the ACA is on the chopping block. It feels very unsafe right now.

So be kind out there, walking around this world. Nearly one in five Americans suffers from some sort of mental illness every year. That's a lot of struggling people. There are the mines you already know about (politics and religion) and the ones you don't (anxiety and depression). And maybe you will find it in your heart not to lean back when someone is brave enough to share their mental health struggles with you. Maybe, just maybe you can lean in, just a little. It would mean so much.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Motherhood: A Collision Course

You could scroll through this blog and discover what I am about to confess right here and now: I don't love motherhood. Please do not misunderstand me. I love my kids with a fierce, fierce love. I will protect them at the expense of my own self. I love my husband more that I can express. I love knowing that my people are become good and decent human beings. My family is a bunch of rock-stars. Get to know us. I am 100% sure you will agree.

But motherhood, that job is not my cup of tea. In fact, almost on a daily basis, I want to GIVE. IT. BACK. And I have had jobs that were hard. I worked at piloting an alternative middle school program - we made that from scratch and took all the kids no one else wanted, and I will tell you that was exhausting. I worked at a charter middle school in one of the poorest cities in the nation, working from 7am - 5pm (that was the required time on the job), keeping middle school students focused, safe, and off the streets. That was exhausting too. But none of that even holds a candle to how intense motherhood is for me. It will make you bloody and bone-tired and then ask you for more. It will take you right up to the cliff and kick you over. It is like standing in the middle of Times Square naked and hungry staring down a bear. Motherhood brings it. All the time. It's embarrassing and risky and exhausting.

I used to say (a lot) that I wish someone would have told me about all this before I decided to have kids. Perhaps other girls were paying better attention. Perhaps I just have an intense bunch of kids. Perhaps other women do a better job of sucking it up than I do. Perhaps this is just my own reality, and not that of any other mom. I really don't know. And in a way, it doesn't really matter to me. But I think it's incredibly important that I don't sugarcoat any of my experience as a mom for my kids. It's the hardest job I may never love. And it's the hardest job they may never love. And I want them to know that it kicked my ass on the regular, but that these kids are so important to me, I got up and did it again. Day after day. They are that important. 

This is my truth: You will feel under appreciated and beaten up by motherhood. And everything will go wrong, right after the help who was there yesterday (your husband, the grandparents, the babysitter) has gone. And the shit never hits the fan from 9am to 5pm Monday - Friday when the pediatrician and plumber have office hours. And speaking of off-hours, everything will feel personal at 3 am: puking, crying babies, fire alarms that won't stop. All of it. Totally personal. And no matter how prepared you are for all the contingencies, shit will find you. Sometimes you will have to do whatever you can to stop the bleeding (even if you have to use a tampon in your kid's nose). And the poop issues are prolific. Yours, the dog's, the kids', the over abundance and the lack thereof. Motherhood is definitely all about the poop. And you won't get "caught up" on your sleep for another 6 years, so just stop expecting that. And odds are good that showering regularly is no longer an option. You will not hear me saying to enjoy every moment, because sister, there are moments that absolutely need to be forgotten in the abyss of time never to be thought of again.

Here's what I want to say next: and it will all be worth it. But I hesitate to say that. I am not all the way through it. I have not come to see my kids as adult children with all the emotional and physical distance and time to prove that out. I am hopeful that it will be true. I am operating under that assumption. And the one kid that is close to leaving for college (Lord Jesus is that right?) gives me the sense that it is true. But I can’t give you that hope yet. All I can do is say that I believe making people into decent human beings is incredibly hard work, but what else can we do? We need all the decent and good humans the world can hold. So I persist in trying to make mine into that sort of human. And in the process I am pretty sure that I am also becoming a better human. I am being taught all sorts of lessons about human dignity and grace and mercy and love. And that my friends, is worthwhile.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Hard Anniversary

Warning: This post is about pregnancy loss. If you need to pass this one up, I completely understand. I'll catch you the next time.

Seven years ago we lost a baby.

It's best to just be blunt about it. This sort of thing isn't usually talked about or shared much because it's difficult and ugly and raw. But it happens to so many women. You actually know someone who has had a miscarriage (a horrible word) even if they have never told you about it. At least one in four women lose a baby. Think about that for a moment, one in four. That's your mom, your wife and two female friends. It's a very common occurrence. And it's not just a female experience either. When you and your partner enter into a pregnancy together, the partner feels the loss as well. Now that's not to infer that the experience is the same, but the grief, that's universal. Loss is never easy to take.

For us, it happened early in our pregnancy. We were still in the first trimester. We never knew the gender of our child. We would never know the person they were to become. What quickly became true for us, was that we were not going to have a baby that year. I felt so betrayed by my body. How could it do something like this? I felt responsible, that somehow I had done something to cause this loss. I miscarried the baby; even our language suggests I was at fault. I knew that wasn't true, but without an explanation, without answers of some kind (which most of us never get) I needed to find something to blame. But that's what's insidious about the loss of a baby you have never known: there is no reason. There is no answer. There is just loss. And emptiness. And grief.

It comes up at various times for me, as grief is bound to do. Always around my birthday (my due date) and every time I watch Tangled (those lanterns!) It gets easier to deal with as time has passed, but I never fully trust my body anymore. I've had two more kids since our loss, but even that hasn't put to rest my mistrust and doubt. I suppose that's just a side effect for me that will linger.

I wanted to share this story for a couple of reasons. First, it's that time again, the time around which we discovered our child was gone. And it's my reality around this time of year, every year, to be reminded of it. Secondly, I share this because I find myself in a political position that seems contrary to this experience at first blush. I am an ardent supporter of the right for a woman to choose if she will terminate a pregnancy or choose to go full term. As much as I grieve our lost child, I need you to know that I do not take pregnancy or bringing life into the world lightly. It's a daunting and sacred task. And it is fraught with peril. So very many things can happen, not the least of which is losing the life of the mother.

To be clear, I would like there to be fewer and fewer abortions. I don't think it's a good solution for everyone, or even most women. But I also feel strongly that a woman needs to be allowed to choose what is best for herself. Because believe me, she is going to have to live with that decision for a very long time no matter what she decides. And there will be consequences no matter which path she takes. Just like my grief has stayed with me, and just like the angst of raising my kids is ever present, the decisions a woman makes durning pregnancy are far reaching.

I'll share a little more later about the day I saw the red line of abortion clearly, and I knew whether I would be able to cross it if the circumstances were raised. But for today, it's enough to remember this lost love one. For those of you who have experienced such loss, know that when I think of our loss, I send up a prayer for others who are suffering and for those who have suffered. We're in an exclusive club. I know your pain. And I support your need to grieve in whatever way you need to. And for those of you who have never experienced such grief, please realize that someone near you has. Maybe just today, on this anniversary of a lost life, we can be a little kinder to those around us. Believe me, it makes a difference.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Once Upon A Time There Was A Girl Named Amy

It's been a month since I have been home from the Women's March on Washington. I've been very busy with almost daily civic action, calling my local and federal representatives, becoming educated on issues and bills, trying to listen with intention to those whose opinions are quite different from mine. It's overwhelming at times, and it can be exhausting. There's no question about it, we have so much work to do. If our nation is to be hold the promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then there is so much more to do.

Something I keep coming back to, part of the work that I believe has to be done, is the need to be honest about our stories. If I don't know what you are struggling with, or why you feel afraid, angry or disappointed, I won't understand you or your needs. And there is a distinct lack of knowing one another right now. I'm not talking about knowing which SNL sketch you find funny or which team you root for on the weekends. I'm talking about understanding what makes you afraid of immigrants; what scares you about the vanishing middle class; what keeps you from voting; what makes you want to run for the hills or hide under the covers; what keeps you up in the middle of the night. I want to know why this country feels so divided when I trust we are all trying to make this a better place. I believe in the power of information and I want to know your story too.

So, in an effort to peel back the mask on my life, I plan to share my stories here. It may happen a little at a time, or it may just flood out. I'm not sure. But the stories need to be told, and I hold on to much hope in telling them; I hope that we all have the ears to hear them. I hope that, if you have a different experience than mine, you will be able to catch a glimpse of what it looks like from my window. I don't intend to change hearts or minds, but I do hope that you have the generosity to see it. And if by some miracle, your story feels similar to mine, then I hope to remind you that you are not alone. It is true that everyone we meet is fighting a battle of some sort. You might not see it. They may never feel brave enough to tell you. But we are all fighting for something. I hope my stories will give voice to some who just may not be able to tell their own.

So let the bravery begin. And please, know that I am all about dignity and respect. Trolls will be blocked. You've been warned. Truth seekers and the curious will find my reality (the good and the bad), one blog post at a time. Welcome friends. Let's get to know one another.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mrs. Harrison Goes To Washington

Recently, I went to Washington D.C. and marched with 500,000 other women who are concerned for the state of our nation. Since I have been home, there has been a LOT of discussion about whether or not the march was impactful, what it means for the women who marched, for the women who didn't, and what it was all about anyway. And just like so many things in our country (in our lives), the march was complicated and multifaceted. If you weren't there, you may not have heard about all the things we were standing up for. You may still not know what the whole thing was even about. So I want to tell you what that day meant for me, and what my take aways from that experience have been. Because I have been encouraged by it in a way that surprises even me.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a strong supporter of the LGBT community. And so when I first heard about The Women's March, it was my desire to support my LGBT family that drove me to say yes to the invitation. As the march was forming there was a lot of discussion about what the purpose of our gathering actually was. If you weren't receiving those emails and updates, then you could be unaware that there was a large intention to have voices from all female walks of life at this event. This was not going to be the women's movement of the 70s, but an inclusive moment to make sure all female voices were heard, with all the issues pertaining to them (most of which pertain to men as well). The march was organized by a multigenerational, multicultural and intersectional panel of women. I was encouraged most by this.

And as the day of the march drew near it was clear that all of us were attending for many different reasons. We were concerned for our black and brown sisters and their families, for the the LGBT community, for the immigrants among us, for the environment we were leaving to our children, for the lack of representation in our government, for families dealing with a system of incarceration that is inherently unfair, for the lack of understanding that diversity makes us stronger, and for those who had suffered abused and sexual assault. The list of speakers reflected these concerns.

As I was walking down Independence Avenue that morning with my longtime girlfriends and women I had never met, there was a sense pride in participating in a long standing tradition in our country. We were bringing our concerns to our elected officials in a way they could no longer ignore. We had no idea how many were there, but there were going to be enough of us to matter.

Since I have been home, I continue to be asked what it was like to be in that great throng of people. And the word that keeps coming back to me is: generous. Women were helping women. When a women near us collapsed, all it took was the chant of "medic" and there were 3 women at her side. Throughout the day women who had been separated from one another were announced from the stage and reunited in short order. I held hands with white and black and immigrant women alike. We helped one another and even if we didn't agree fully with one another, we were generous with each other. It was ok that your issue wasn't my battle cry. It was ok that you were not the same as me. Because in our differences we still had a common purpose. We were all determined to make the future better for the next generation.

Making the future better means a lot of different things to different people. I may not have the same ideas as you about what that is. I didn't love, or even agree with, every speech from every speaker; but the prevailing wind at that march was generosity to others. Give me space to be the American I need to be, to push through barriers I no longer want, to seek growth and richness in my life, to leave behind a better place than this. And I will give that to you in return. I don't need you to be pro-choice or pro-life (or any other label). I need you to allow me to be me. That's the generosity that was expressed that day, all around me.

What I experienced at the march was the best side of America. For the first time in a very long time, I felt proud to be an American. I felt proud to be with other people who were welcoming and who had clearly been advocating for their causes for a long time too. It's hard to explain what it's like to be part of a minority. But one thing is universal, fighting against a system that has not been built for you is exhausting. These people knew that and came anyway. They had been fighting too, and they too were not going to give up. And what was so incredible for me, is that we felt like a majority. It felt like we were strong, and that our fight was worth it. It's hard to convey just how meaningful that is.

I don't think I will ever forget being in D.C. that day. Not only was it a shot in the arm, a moment of unity and generosity, but it was galvanizing in a way I had not dreamed. Standing there in that sea of women and allies, I knew that I was going to do more. From now on, I needed to get more involved. I am still not exactly sure what that will mean; but I have started to call my representatives to let them know how this constituent feels about the legislation and appointees before them. And I am becoming more vocal and intentional about what I support. I plan on being more involved in the democratic process. It's more than just voting. I'm ready to put my energies into organizations that are doing the work, to be part of the work. Engagement is the key.

The day of the Women's March my feet were my faith in action. But that day was also a jumping off point. That day will be a dividing line in my life. It's the day that my trajectory shifted. With some trepidation I am walking in a new direction. My purpose is clear, even if I can't see the end just yet. But I know one thing: this is what democracy looks like.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Amy's Own Sock Club

So a girl can collect a lot of yarn. Especially a sock-knitting girl. It's really easy. Especially with socks. Because you only need one skein of yarn to make a pair of socks. And when you see that a beautiful, soft, squishy yarn is on sale in a color you don't have a pair of sock in yet, well . . . you get the picture.

As such, I seem to have collected enough yarn to knit nine pairs of socks (and that's not counting the two pair - that's right, two pair - that are currently on my needles). This being the case, I've concocted my own sock club (inspired by the Yarn Harlot). I've paired each yarn with a pattern and packaged them all up so I can just grab a bag and go. Now, since I have a very accident-prone, investigatory, one-year-old, I may not be able to manage the traditional one pair a month schedule. I figure, once I'm done with one pair, I'll pickup and start the next. I can at least count on a couple nap-times a week, right? It's a possibility. And in the end, I'll have 11 new pairs of socks to wear. And I'm telling ya, nothing beats a great pair of hand-knit socks. Nothing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

40 for 40: Month 4

So it was a little crazy this month with all the candy making, but I'm still making progress on that 40 for 40 list. Here's where it stands:

  • Yoga Classes Taken: 11
  • Scrapbook Pages Uploaded: 61
  • Pintrest Ideas Completed: 37
  • The knee socks are slow going:

             (But they are going to look AWESOME when they are done!)

  • My Amy Quilt top has been completed; ready to figure out the next step.
  • I went on a date with RJH for his birthday.
  • I went mushroom hunting twice - it was a bust both times. It's been a strange season so far.
  • And I finally got my file drawers organized. 
Not too shabby for a busy month!