Good Mother

Though I am absolutely certain that I do not want to have any more children, there are babies in my life again. A couple of our friends are expecting or recently welcomed newborns so I am back in the baby state of mind. Of course I squeal when I see their little peanut bodies and they look up at me with their moon-shaped faces; my body has a 20% desire to have one but my mind says “no.” There are several reasons for this resolution, ranging from wanting to figure out my career to just being so exhausted some days from raising two extroverted children that the fact that I never have to give birth, sleep train or nurse again is what gets me through the day. Also, the four of us fit perfectly across an airplane aisle. For two people who love to travel I feel like that’s a sign from the universe that the number of family members in our little group is complete. The Smiths are complete.

All this baby talk, excitement to meet my friends’ kids and shopping for baby clothes has me reflecting on when I started out as a new mother. Luckily I had two tries at this thing called motherhood and if I can say so myself, I’m owning it with T. From the beginning I was prepared for T, from having my hospital suitcase packed a month in advance to reading the books and actually following through with the sleep training, I am confident in my role in his life. I truly believe that because of this relative calm and security, T’s nature has maintained the sweet and jubilant facets that he was born with. Let’s just say that he has always been easy. C on the other hand, the poor kid, got the “scared” mommy version; he started his life with someone who second-guessed many things and was just petrified of not being perfect. For what it’s worth, I feel like since the age of two or so I’ve made up for it with him. From the beginning, nothing has ever been easy with C but he is truly one of the most interesting people I know. His lust for life inspires me. His kindness astounds me. In spite of any struggles I had with adjusting to motherhood, C turned out to be a bright, beautiful and wonderful kid.  Seeing his trajectory made me just calm the eff down with T. Calming the eff down makes the experience of being a mother infinitely better, trust, for everyone involved.

Related to the discussion of what it’s like to be a new mother, I liken it to baptism by fire. There is a reason that people shower you with gifts and adoration beforehand: you are not ready and will never be ready for how your life is going to change. I recently read a beautiful piece by Bryce Dallas Howard on GOOP, found here and she likened her experience with postpartum depression to a sense of heaviness. It really spoke to me, not only because she honestly articulates its impact on her identity and family, but also because I too felt this heaviness that I would not measure up to being a “good” mother. I did not have postpartum depression but let’s just say that all of us mothers walk that line. I felt paralyzed that I could not provide what C needed, from breast feeding and ensuring that he received enough sustanance to how to hold him properly. I was scared shitless and as a result I withdrew. It’s a pretty shitty feeling to withdraw from your baby, especially when I have never loved someone as much as I love him.

To be honest, with those difficult lessons what saved me was work. Because I returned to my role as a graduate assistant four months after his birth I was forced to function. My mind was not nearly as clear or as sharp till C was a little over a year, but yes, all of those theories and theorists allowed me to claw my way out. That is why I have such a high regard for work. When I reflect on it now I realize the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive people. My husband knew that I was struggling but he never judged and just quietly took on a more active role. My mother and Aunt W constantly reassured me and said that they could see all of my efforts reflected in how C was growing and thriving. But life is not like that wholesome family drama where everyone in your corner should be there and of course I also interacted with individuals who probably made my recovery a little bit harder.

T was born on a sunny August morning and he was right on time. He joined a family and the existing three individuals of this unit were so happy to meet him. He just fit. A few months before he was born I sold all of C’s 0-6 months clothes. I sold every article of clothing that reminded me of that difficult period of adjustment and the gifts from individuals who only added to the worries. Is that petty? I’m not sure but that was my way of letting go. I hope that any new mothers who are struggling with the baby blues lean into their support networks. Thank you to those giving the understanding love to these mothers without judgement. Even in times of weakness they are not weak. Ladies, do what you need to do, and above all, you’ve got this.

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Partner in crime

I’ve always had a weakness for the canon of friends crossing that line and becoming more.  You know, that moment in romantic comedies when they decide: “I want to ruin our friendship.  Let’s be lovers instead.”  They are not exaggerating; when you risk taking a perfectly good platonic relationship to the gutter by deciding to bet on something more tenuous, you are rolling the dice.  Sometimes, no matter how much you fight it, there is no choice but to take it to that level.

Now, you might ask, how can this person who has only ever dated one person be going on and on about love?  Really, what would I know about that?  People forget that even though Andrew and have known each other since we were 14 years old and been romantically involved for 18 years (jesus christ!), we have had our fair share of ups and downs.  Honestly, I would have been more worried if we hadn’t had these struggles when we’ve been in each other’s lives for longer than some marriages.  At all of these emotional crossroads of course one of the options would have been to let go.  Making that choice was even easier when we didn’t have two kids.  But each and every time we chose to try again.  In my opinion that is more romantic than anything you ever say to each other on your wedding day.  When you decide to forgive and have another go, that party in a big white dress just pales in comparison.

There are a multitude of reasons why couples may choose to say together.  A lot of my issues and fear of commitment were rooted in never having been with anyone else.  Andrew and I have very similar life histories from having attended the same university and graduate school.  When you build a life together, the representation of your bond starts to have similar friends, streets and places.  What I realized though, when I had the chance to be away from some of these comforts on the other side of the world, is that I didn’t need to actually be romantically involved with anyone else to see how much better my partner was.  It’s only when you are in a foreign country, and you meet people of a similar age but vastly different backgrounds and outlooks, that you know there would always be another individual out there for you.  But, it’s important to make the distinction that what is possible shouldn’t necessarily be your future.

Can things change?  Of course.  I believe that love can shift and end to no fault of the parties involve.  Sometimes you grow apart and decide that being amicable is the next step.  It is not a failing to decide to be happy another way when there is a limit to our time here.  People are able to salvage these ties when faced with such circumstances because they remember the love that was there and is still there in a different form.  Even in other cases where you might meet someone new who will offer you something else it’s important to be mindful that the initial excitement will cool.  Are you still compatible when you have to be two adults making your way through life?  My advice to someone in that situation, seriously, take a year, at least 6 months to be alone.  Do not be with the next person till you are a bit less broken.  They will wait till you are whole because I’m telling you, if you jump right in, that relationship is not going to last.

Being with someone from such a young age ensures that you grow up together.  There is no one in this world who understands me the way that Andrew does.  There is not a single other person who I want to continually give more to.  He is the person I want the best for and I want him to count on me to be there even when it’s difficult.  The reason I don’t fear the unknown is because I know that I have my partner, a true intellectual equal to work through what is ahead.  We don’t really celebrate Valentine’s day because this is the commitment we make to each day every single day.  We have a resilient love and that is truly romantic.  And god forbid, if it should ever end, because you know I never tempt the fates by feeling like I know everything that will go down, we will always have the friendship.

P.S. Let me add some gossip to your Valentine’s day.  I have a deep affection for a certain Canadian ice dance pair whose names rhyme with Lessa Curfew and Dot Lawyer.  If you go through my archives for pieces around spring 2014 I wrote about them a few times expressing my confusion about the state of their relationship.  Well it turns out that I was not a crazy person and they did have a “thing” around that time.  Actually, they’ve been on/off since 2012 but speculation even runs further back than that.  They are a perfect example of two childhood friends turned elite athletes and business partners who have had to define their relationship over the years.  After a couple of false starts rumour has it that they’ve been quietly seeing each other since late 2015.  In fact, their Free Dance is about second chances.  Watch it here it’s gorgeous.  Fingers crossed that one day all of Canada can breathe a sigh of relief that the two people the entire nation wanted together figured their shit out.tumblr_oh9u18r7dg1tvcpffo1_1280

Let’s dish

Isn’t receiving unsolicited advice just the darnedest thing?  That and unwanted personal questions rank high on my list of things I would not wish on anyone.  I think both actions breach commonly known rules of good taste and sound judgement.  The kicker here though is that those who commit such faux pas would not be self-aware enough to recognize it.  So, let me provide you with my litmus test of when you might have crossed the line.

I am a stickler for boundaries in my personal life, perhaps because I am an only child or just my general temperament but over the years I have found that respecting these limits often prevents you from making social missteps.  It might seem counterintuitive that a feminist and politically liberal individual like myself would care so much about rules.  While I still believe that it’s completely your prerogative to break them, the discomfort you may cause someone with your cluelessness has social consequences.  I’ve always felt that what you say and do is written in ink.  Of course the most important people will still love you but if you don’t work on these flaws and try to be better, they might not actually choose to spend time with you.  What you do makes people think of you differently, that is fact.  As a woman who spends her days caring for her family and her evenings writing, staying in tune with literature in my field and working through the next steps of her career, I don’t waste my social time with judgmental know it alls who believe they are the Ann Landers to everyone’s problems.  The next time you feel like offering someone a solution to their life’s problems, remember that people wrote to Landers asking for advice, not the other way around.

Of course constructive criticism and knowledge in general are key to having a full and textured life.  You only grow when someone expects more from you and it’s always refreshing to hear someone’s perspective about their experiences.  I put in the time to research and read reviews before I travel or even purchase some organic cotton bath cloths.  The difference between these instances and undesirable opinions is that I choose to seek them out.

We all play a role in someone’s life.  Whether you’re a friend or colleague, we will all find ourselves in positions where we want the best for someone.  As a mother I know that eventually the job of raising my kids will be done.  C and T will be “finished” so to speak and it’s up to them to make their way with (I hope) a set of good values.  Eventually, my job will be just to listen.  I’ve always felt though that part of the learning process is trial and error.  What’s the point of having the answer to every problem?  Life would literally be the most mundane endeavor if you didn’t have to struggle at times and figure things out.  Also, the choices you make are informed by your personal history and value system; what works for you could be a disaster for someone else.  The one advice I’d give, and I assume you want to hear it because you continued to keep reading, is to try to look at the social situation.  Before you offer that piece of wisdom ask yourself, do I have an intimate relationship with this person?  Does she share her innermost secrets with me or do we operate on a different level?  Also, if the individual could retort with “what’s it to you?” it probably means that she either doesn’t care about your take on where she does her shopping or that you are not really in the position to offer advice.  So, if you get yourself into these situations, please choose to keep your opinions to yourself, back away and dismount off your high horse.  Because even the most enlightened person wants to grab a step ladder to push you right off the mount.  Peace.

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Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

We carry on

C came home the other day and said, “You know, we shouldn’t laugh at Donald Trump, even though he’s a bully, because he’s the president.”  That one sentence made me realize that these are indeed the times we’re living in, when a 4 year old can understand the concept of integrity and decorum more than the most powerful head of state in the world.  The reactions to the Women’s March also got me riled up so I feel like the following needs to be said.  This post basically wrote itself.

I was not at the Women’s March but I would have been there in a second.  I couldn’t attend because C had his skating lesson and T naps at that time of day so there I was, at home.  But you know, I knew that these women would understand that my commitments to my family prevented me from driving into Boston and standing with them.  If anyone would “get it” it would be these women.  So, I was there in spirit and was so appreciative of their efforts to bring attention to the fact that we are not going to be still and watch by as human rights and any sense of decency slowly gets burnt down.  You know why we are so attached to these rights?  It’s because the women, men, and racialized people who all took part understand the struggle and sacrifice that was paid to attain them in the first place.  So, the people turning their nose up at such a demonstration of strength and solidarity need to wake the fuck up.  I despise people who want the liberties but don’t want to continually safeguard and work for them.

Do you know when I woke the fuck up?  When I took gender studies classes in undergrad in my early twenties.  The department was called “women’s studies” at the time and even people in my family wondered why the hell I was bothering.  With those professors, writers, theorists, and activists I learnt that the misogynistic shit that we endure is not “normal” and it’s not “right.”  My graduate studies was on the conceptualization of home at various scales but one of the most painful aspects was learning about all of the violence within that space.  Of course there’s physical abuse and the scars they produce but what about the emotional ones?  What about being told constantly that you are a lesser person, that you are stupid, incapable?  Sure, it might not bother you but you know, staying is partly inflicting that violence on yourself.  This gets me to the concept of choice.  Though I fully respect the right to have spiritual beliefs, my religion is founded on the laws that grant me my rights and freedom.  My religion is feminist theory and the people who continue to build it.  So, no orator, religious text or government official is going to sway me in my belief that women have the right to choose.  They lawfully have the right to choose what to do with their bodies, where to walk at night, their occupation, education and when to end their romantic commitments.  There may be danger that comes with these choices but as whole human beings they are able to make them.

So I’m going to end this in a positive way because if we let every little thing in this current state of being get us down, we wouldn’t get out of bed.  Life is beautiful.  I truly mean this.  The most beautiful thing in this life is that even in the most difficult of circumstances women, men and children begin their days and do the best they can.  They work hard to have a life they are proud of and are kind to those in their community.  So let’s all do our part to be respectful and protect what we all rightfully deserve.  In solidarity.

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Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Drive Part 2

The holiday season always makes me a bit more reflective.  Maybe it’s because a new year is upon us and I think that most of us would agree that 2016 has been one big (your choice of expletive language).  But even amongst those moments of disbelief that so many things could go wrong in one year, there were also sparks of utter joy.  My general approach to life is to try to see the good.  The more cynical individuals will argue that it might rob me of a certain depth to not wallow in that pity.  Sorry, but being smart and miserable are not one and the same.  I would argue that you’re missing out too.  Life can be one long dinner party with excellent conversation if you choose to be a good guest.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for every single blessing I have.  But that’s not to say that Andrew and I don’t work hard for every single thing we have.  There I said it, I work.  That word is probably the only word I have trouble saying with any semblance of confidence when trying to define where I stand in this world.  It was much easier when I was working towards a degree.  It was even simple when I was weeks away from defending a 200-page document that encompassed much of what I cared about for a few years.  But then, you reach a point when you can no longer define yourself so easily within a society that values certain markers of success.

A few weeks ago I heard Andrew tell our son C not to worry too much about “stuff” and to think more about who he is because that’s something that no one can take away from him.  Those words hit me hard because of the simple truth in it.  Is that what we all are building ourselves for?  It’s true, no one can take away my years of education and doctoral degree.  I know, that those “things” don’t go away even if you haven’t found a place for yourself with the credentials you’ve earned.  As a feminist I should be even more critical since I can see through everything that devalues what I do each and every day and the care I give someone else.  Like my mother said, maybe T was meant to grow up with me for a few years.  The bond I have with my son that I’ve forged by being there for him, day in and day out, is also not something that you can rob from me by placing me inside a box, or perhaps more appropriately, within the home.

I think this struggle with ourselves is just how driven, competitive women are built.  It is part of our muscle and sinew to want to be better, the best, to always want more.  The trouble is that sometimes these inner workings can make you a shadow of a person.  Empty people are not present because they’re already 10 years ahead of themselves.  Sometimes it it much healthier to practice some self-acceptance and to offer ourselves the kindness we try to offer others.  Thinking that “it is written” is not defeatist or lazy.  In some ways it allows you to take things in stride.

I know that there are so many women who are working through defining where they want to sit amongst this brave new world that allows us to have whatever we want.  Some of us have made choices but somehow placing the career ahead of so many other possibilities is sometimes seen to be more noble than being “good” in other, smaller, ways.  Smaller, not small.  Being a good mother is the hardest job I’ve ever done and trust me, I once worked in a restaurant hauling dishes up flights of stairs.  I am no princess.  The truth of the matter is that family members may believe that there are a million and one things that you should be doing.  Others worry that “women like you” will be destitute in the case of a divorce.  To these people I respectfully, and with the utmost care tell them to take their need to judge everyone out on some adult coloring books.  Also, newsflash is that many of us would probably marry again, or maybe, just maybe get back to our careers?

At the end of the day, if I know that I’m still trying to find my place in the world, I’m good with that.  Try is the operative word.  Believe it or not, most of us still wake up each morning hustling to reach larger goals.  And to the backseat drivers offering their pert opinions and concern, kindly get out of my car.

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Extraordinary

Over the holidays I saw films about two inspiring men (Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking), and yet I’m much more interested in the extraordinary women, or the co-stars.  Obviously.  First is Alan Turing, whose involvement in intelligence service for the British government during World War II is portrayed in The Imitation Game.  The success of this film lies in offering up something for everyone; for those who came for the strategies of combat, secrets and lies and others who wanted to know more about Turing’s humanity, everyone will go home satisfied.  It stands to say that Turing is incredible.  Hell, I even learned about the Turing system in my beginners Computer Science class in high school.  His brilliance is special but he lived within a society where he never quite fit.  Whether that’s from his sexual orientation and the persecution he suffered from it, or his lack of social know-how that meant that he was never quite accepted.  Either way, it was this perception of his own difference that he battled with his entire life but also what made him more open-minded.  It’s this history of being dismissed that made him consider the talents of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), in spite of her sex.  Yes Clarke was smart and participated in very important work that she will never be credited for, but what’s also compelling is her relationship to Turing.  She was his friend when everyone thought that he was strange and a misfit.  She saw beyond his interest in codes to his ability to think bigger than anyone else.  Imagine how much her friendship was worth when he was treated with such little kindness his entire life.

In The Theory of Everything Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones) is Stephen’s university sweetheart and wife who was there from the beginning of his carefree days as a student to when his body began to give way.  She is the mother to his children, the woman who fed him and clothed him and set him off to work.  She is the light that kept things in perspective even when things probably were very dark.  Jane Hawking also has a Ph.D.  You would never think that would you?  That such a strong, selfless, awe-inspiring woman would also be so accomplished.  They showed it briefly in the film, the struggle, when she’s trying to study amidst the noise of the house, when she found the time to focus on her mind when I’m sure her body and soul were so very tired.  Jane was there as Stephen Hawking was making his mark and she bore it all.  She was steadfast when he initially said that they didn’t need help because they were a “normal” family.

What is it with these extraordinary men and their obsession with being normal?  You would think that they were far too special for something banal like fitting it.  The pull is always there though, that desire for some reprieve since it’s so much easier to be ordinary.  It’s no surprise then that the Hawking marriage wore down.  You can only go through so much together before you seek something a bit lighter, non?  Who wants to live with all of that weight?  With the end of Turing’s life you are sad for him.  Not for his life, but that he won’t see what an impact he’s had.  That it takes so long for the world to catch up.

Both films are beautiful in their own way.  One brings forth larger and relevant issues of security, identity, and social acceptance.  The other gets at the complexities of marriage and the politics of living with someone, the hurt we cause and the outcomes of this history of flaws.  But both provide hope, to continue on our paths because one day, you’ll be somewhere fine, the sun will shine, and all will be right with the world.  Perspective.  Both offer perspective.

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Shiner

I spent all of last week walking around with a black eye and a chipped tooth.  After a perfectly lovely New Year’s eve celebration, I proceeded to slip in my in-laws’ tub the morning we were to depart for Boston.  This meant that I began 2015 at the hospital, rushed home to pack and then proceeded to board a flight for Logan.  My first thought was, damn I better change this “ju-ju” which is basically a nickname for fate/luck/karma.

Now, you would think that the painful part would be in the emergency room.  No, no that was perfectly routine, especially when the resident was our age and I felt like I was being treated by my friend S, or Dr. B.  The pain begins much later when your face starts to swell and takes on fifty shades of purple.  In spite of your condition, you still need to go the grocery store, attend orientation for your new position and face everyone at your child’s preschool.  I even went to a PTA meeting where the director of the centre was gracious enough to say “and no, her husband did not do that to her face.”  She is the classiest person I know, because seeing as my son attends daycare at a private school, this was going to be hardest crowd.

At least in most of these situations you can tell your story.  You can explain the state you’re in and how truly, the year can only get better.  For the strangers you’ll never meet, you don’t get this luxury but just their stares.  After I reached a certain age my first strategy is to not care.  I’ve written many a blog post playing around with this concept and I still believe that it’s the fastest track to freedom.  But there is a difference between trying not to care and actually not caring.  When someone looks at you with such incredible pity and then with disgust at your partner you want to ask them if they kindly have something to share.

The most important lesson I gained from this whole experience, more than the proper way to step into a tub, or not letting the haters get you down, is being reflexive about all the times I look.  Because no matter how politically liberal I strive to be I still look at the woman with the religious garb or the man with the piercings when they board the bus.  In my mind I start wondering about their story.  But here’s the thing.  Till you sit down with them and have a meaningful conversation about their personal history, you don’t know their story and your gaze is empty and useless.  If this has reigned in my judgmental ways even a little, well that is a gift.

It’s been over a week and the bruises are mostly faded and the tooth has been fixed.  When this is all under the rug and I no longer have to explain myself, it will be such a relief.  But here’s the thing, I’m lucky enough to not live with violence.  I am blessed to have a respectful partner but for even those in more complicated situations than mine, I can guarantee you one thing: they are far from weak.  Some things take time to sort through but it’s probably not made easier with pity or those thoughts that you could never say to their face.

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