Balance and Acceptance

Last month I joined the Abundant Mama Peace Circle (I made this move after a long period of resistance based on my feeling of not quite fitting in there).  Each month we have a new theme to focus on in the journey to becoming a more peaceful and productive mama.  This month’s theme is acceptance (last month’s was being awake). Each month I have this moment of viewing the theme through the dark colored lenses of negativity.

For example, this month I’m cruising along thinking about all of the things I need to accept in my life, focusing on letting go, jotting little mantras in my journal, until I find myself writing:  “Accept what it is; It is meant to be.”  Suddenly the brakes in my head are screeching loudly.  Imagine if Elizabeth Cady Stanton had lived by that idea?  What about Rosa Parks or Malala Yousafzai?  Acceptance in this sense equals blind submission and the perpetuation of societal injustice.  If we accept things as how they are supposed to be, then change doesn’t occur.

I fully realize that not accepting segregation or the degradation of women is completely different from accepting that the house might not look perfect or that our partner doesn’t load the dishwasher the same way that we do.  I also know that the goal of the peace circle is to focus on the latter.

Ultimately, like everything in life acceptance is about balance.  Yes, I need to accept that Dawn is different than I am and does things differently.  No, I don’t need to accept the current administration.  Yes, I need to accept that I submitted an imperfect piece of writing to a contest.  No, I don’t need to accept the current toxic climate at my place of work.  And so on.

How one actually achieves this kind of balance in life between caring deeply and accepting what is, I don’t fully know.  I think this is the kind of thing that activists deal with on the regular.  They have to maintain sanity while fighting the good fight, and balancing acceptance with movements for change is one way to do that.  It’s really freakin’ hard though, and I guess we just have to accept that fact.

Impostor Syndrome

A theme that echoes through much of my writing is the impostor syndrome.  In many ways it is an eye-roll inducing concept.  I mean, come on people, get over yourselves and just own your accomplishments.  And yet, I suffer from it (or have suffered from it) in both work and motherhood, and I know so many other women who do too.

I was recently re-reading an old Meghan Daum essay (“According to the Women I’m Fairly Pretty”).  It is a profile piece on a polyamorous community in California.  In it she describes the feeling of being an outsider as one of the characteristics of all members of the group.  These are people who throughout their life have felt fringe or not generally accepted–geeks who sat alone at lunch and on the playground during school days.  What Daum points out though, is that at one time or another we all feel like the one who doesn’t fit in–particularly through our elementary and secondary years of schooling.  We all feel like frauds at one point or another, making the boundary of “outside” almost nonexistent or one that exists only in our own minds.  I am a huge fan of Daum’s, and I recognize her analysis to be accurate to an extent.  Let’s be realistic:  some people fit in better than others.  Some people are more comfortable with their role in a community.  And some people just more easily accept and project their achievements (perhaps even with a sense of pride).

In order to feel truly alienated one must keep a safe distance from the fact that, as self-concepts go, ‘not like the others’ is fairly standard….  The need to be different means we must constantly promote our unusualness.  Meghan Daum, “According to the Women I’m Fairly Pretty”

I recently received a big award at work.  Upon receiving the news that I am the awardee, my very first reaction (before excitement or pride) was, Oh, I must have been the only applicant.  My next reaction was, Wow – they must have had some really crappy applicants.  I wonder who applied?  This reaction despite knowing that any of the applicants had to be my own colleagues (it was an internal award), and I know for certain that my colleagues are super accomplished and amazingly talented.  In fact, it is this same group of colleagues amongst whom I’ve felt like a fraud for the past six years, convinced that they are real teacher-scholars and I am merely an impostor, faking it ’til I make it, as they say.

The line between humility and a constant feeling of having pulled the wool over someone’s eyes is very thin.

The fear of waiting to be found out is exhausting.  And I’ve spent much of my adult life in this state.  Since my early days of graduate school (which I only got into–twice–because they were desperate for students, of course…) I have set goals.  I told myself that when I would hit a certain accomplishment, then I would know I was the “real deal” and stop feeling like a “fake.”  So once I got the Ph.D. in hand, then I would be legit.  Not so.  Once I got tenure, then I would be legit.  Not so.  Once I get this one project published, I will be legit.  Not so.  With every accomplishment my reaction is sincere amazement that I have somehow “tricked” another committee, another group of experts in my field.  I’ve won awards for my scholarship.  I was awarded the most coveted graduate fellowship in my program.  My reaction every time is, Well, the competition must not have been very strong.

In other words, as someone trained to look at evidence and carefully analyze it and assess it, I haven’t proved very good at it when it comes to my own life.

I don’t write this post as laundry-list of all my achievements.  I write it as a call for all of us to own with pride and deep acceptance who we are in life, along with the amazing things we accomplish.  Remembering Daum’s statement, “as self-concepts go, ‘not like the others’ is fairly standard.” We all feel like we don’t belong at times, and as my former therapist always said, “feelings don’t necessarily reflect reality.”  Let’s not stand in the face of evidence and ignore it (we already have way too much of that going on in the world these days…).

I know too many people (women, in particular it seems–though I have no social data to support this) who suffer from this syndrome.  And much like addiction or a search for fulfillment through food or shopping, it doesn’t end when you get to the next stop.  I cannot sit here and tell myself that if I make it to full professor, then I’m the “real deal.”  I have to join with others around me, whom I trust and respect, and give myself the pat on the back that I deserve (even if I’m just faking it ’til I make it…).

Happy Birthday, Dear Blog — GIVEAWAY

This little blog is two years old today!  When I contemplated whether a blog celebrates an anniversary or a birthday, I decided that this blog on motherhood definitely celebrates a birthday.  “Life with Levi” was born just shy of four months after I gave birth, during a time when I was frantically trying to find my way as a new mom.  In many ways, I was trying to find my way back to my pre-baby self, and as all moms know (or will come to realize), that is impossible, and it is supposed to be that way.  In one of many foggy moments spent scouring the internet for information on motherhood that would make me feel less alone, I came across Kristen Hedges’ blog, milk & moonlight.  I wrote about that relief-filled moment of connection–of being able to relate deeply to her words.  Her writing speaks straight to the confused, conflicted, but joy-filled (mostly) mommy heart.

Birthdays, of course, involve presents (yay!), and the birthday of this blog is no different. Since I cannot give this inanimate, online space a gift, I am giving a copy of Kristen Hedges book, Mama, Bare: The Birth of Mother, to one of you reading this post:)

mama bear

Two steps to enter (you must do both in order to be eligible):

  • Follow this blog!  If you’re already a follower, leave me a comment on this post, saying hello, or telling me one thing you like about the blog, or making a suggestion for improving this blog.
  • Follow me on Instagram!  If you already follow me, leave me a comment on the associated post saying hello or telling me why you’d like to read Kristen’s book.

Contest will stay open until Wednesday, May 3rd at midnight and winner will be selected Thursday, May 4th.

The Snow Globe

Christmas 2015, Levi received a snow globe from my parents.  The miniature world of white, glittery snow is made up of a little village with a large Christmas tree in the center, and there is a little train that circles the base, traveling underneath a bridge below the houses and trees.  It plays “Over the River and Through the Woods….”  He loves it, and so I have never packed it away with the Christmas decor.  It sits on his dresser year round (something that would typically bug me, but it’s strange the things I’m willing to overlook when it comes to making him happy).

Last night he wanted me to take it down and wind it up, so I did.  He watched the train intently, as it made it rounds.  At times he would pick the globe up to hold it closer to his face.  He was examining the train, looking for its engine and freight cars, he told me.  Then he wanted me to name every aspect of the little village scene as he pointed to it:  tree, bridge, house, another house, another tree, BIG Christmas tree, and so on.  As I stared through the glass past the softly, falling flakes, I could feel my body begin to soften and relax.  As I stared at the quaint little houses with windows filled by yellow light, I could imagine tiny people stuffed safely inside, eating dinner, reading a book, putting a baby to bed–untouched by the outside world–in a land of near constant snow fall.

I’ve always loved snow globe scenes–and really anything in miniature:  doll houses, shadowboxes, miniature museum scenes, etc.  In there everything is as it should be.

My neuroses run big and hard.  As a person with anxiety I spend a lot of time in the “fight” reaction of “fight or flight.”  I imagine a lot of tigers ready to attack that aren’t really there (or are they…?).  My fears and anxiety are frequently of global-scale catastrophe (in particular they are related to running out of clean, usable water on the planet–amongst other smaller, more immediate and localized fears).  The environment in the snow globe is controlled, unchanging, and predictable.  It’s also not real, of course, so I can make it into whatever I want it to be.  And last night, as Levi and I took a tour of every detail in the miniature world, I did just that.  Like him, I stared transfixed at the unchanging, painted on perfection, and I was transported.  And everything–for a minute or two–was as it should be.  And my shoulders melted away from my ears.  For a minute. And then the train came to a stop, and the real world presented itself to us in the form of diapers to change and jammies to put on, and we returned the snow globe to its place on the dresser.

The “W” Word

Dawn and I got married in June 2014 when because I was pregnant.  We had been together for eleven years at that point and had never really intended to get married.  It just wasn’t an institution that either of us was interested in participating in. Like many couples we were committed and monogamous and had been together for so long that legal/public/spiritual recognition felt unnecessary.  For me, marriage also represented the stronghold of heteronormativity on our culture; participating felt like complicity (this was shortly before DOMA was overturned by SCOTUS).  However, when you are bringing a little being into this world, some ideals end up doing by the wayside to make room for practicality and keeping your family as safe as possible.  Knowing marriage would help with the legalities involved in establishing Dawn as Levi’s parent, we said our vows in front of our officiant (our midwife) and one witness (a dear friend), ate some pub food, and headed off for a weekend of biking in Vermont.

My generally chosen terms for referring to Dawn, both before and after marriage, were “partner” and (less often) “my other half.”  For me these words denote the strength and truth of the relationship.  We are partners, equals, working side-by-side in life (and this now includes parenting).  We are also two equal halves of a whole–interdependent (something I thought I’d never believe in/agree to, but that’s a story for a different day/post).  However, both of these terms clearly leave out any clarifying information about gender.  In speaking to strangers, this frequently left me/us in an uncomfortable dance of trying to communicate without gender pronouns until I found (or more often, created) a reasonable moment to drop one in.

After one particularly uncomfortable encounter with a colleague who asked if my husband was excited about my pregnancy and my response of, “Oh – I don’t have a husband…,” (resulting in wide deer-in-headlight eyes from my colleague), friends urged me to start using the term “wife” so as to avoid confusion and general discomfort for me and my interlocutor.

I was very resistant.  The word “wife” makes me squirm.  For me the Despite the actual etymology of wife being woman, for me it is still inextricable from its mid- 19th Century usage to indicate the status of spouse, but the spouse who lost all rights in the process.  The word for me connotes ownership and property.  I never wanted to be somebody’s wife.

And yet, here I am, watching the world rapidly come to accept, heck – even embrace, the marriages of gay couples and with that acceptance, the word “wife” is flying off the tongues of everyone around me.  My students ask me about “my wife” without flinching. Mothers at my son’s daycare ask about “my wife.”  Colleagues and friends introduce Dawn as “my wife.”  And yes, even I find myself using the word to avoid all those uncomfortable missing gender pronouns described above.  I’m not sure how long naturalization of word into one’s vocabulary generally takes, but as I approach the three year anniversary of my wedding, I am still gritting my teeth at every use of the word.

I recently joined an online community of moms and had to create a brief profile.  Here is what I wrote:  “Old(er) mama to an adorable little guy. With my partner for 14 year, married for almost 3. Recovering perfectionist and productivity obsessive.”  And with that use of the word partner, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, Ya know what…?  I don’t have to use the term wife because that’s the norm.  I’ve never done anything else for that reason.  And with that, I decided to start (again) using the word I find most appropriate for my relationship.  My partnership.

Now I just need to run this by the wife….  🙂

Sometimes Brushing Your Teeth Isn’t Enough

I think we all get the idea that when you’re sick and feeling really crappy, the simple act of brushing your teeth is enough to make you feel a little alive again–a reminder of when you were a healthy human taking care of yourself.  Brushing one’s teeth is the most basic act of self-care, and the minty-fresh feeling in your mouth afterward is a lingering and tangible reminder of this act (not to mention the fact that it’s an act of care toward others, allowing you to speak to them without them needing to duck or hold their breath!).  I recently wrote about a series of illness that swept through our house.  When I was in the worst parts of being sick (stomach bug + fever) brushing my teeth worked like a magic.  Short-term magic, but still after brushing my teeth I’d kind of bounce back to bed and be able to sit up as opposed to my typical “caveman” walk between the bathroom and bed.  However, once I returned to working, cooking, playing with my kid–life in general, that is–brushing my teeth was just part of the daily routine and didn’t give quite the same boost anymore.

At two weeks out from being sick, I was still moving through the world with pressure in my head and eyes, making me feel tired and logy.  Operating about about 75% of myself felt great (for awhile) in comparison to the five or ten percent of my typical self that I experienced during sickness, but it still meant I wasn’t exercising or getting a whole lot of movement in general.  That workout day I logged into the planner for Thursday of last week–didn’t happen.  I was still dragging myself through each day in desperate search of that finish line we call bed. The effect of all this was that I have been a giant, intolerable, worst-of-the-worst GROUCH.  Impossible to live with; I couldn’t even stand being around myself.

Yesterday morning, I left the house by myself and went to the gym (I was going to write “hit the gym,” but that wouldn’t be quite accurate to describe very low energy re-entrance to working out).  As I drove, I listened to a podcast.  This matters because for more than two weeks I hadn’t even listened to any kind of sound in the car.  Between the pressure in my head and the exhaustion of my brain, I desperately needed silence where I could get it, and that was mostly while driving.  The gym is the land of the living, and when I entered, I too got to share in that kind of energy.  It was the jolt I needed to add about ten percent to my operating level.  I worked out, and it was better than brushing my teeth!  Moving my body is the thing that truly makes me feel human.

Yesterday I was maybe five percent less grouchy and ten percent more human.  The numbers aren’t staggering, but I’m hoping they are representative of a better ratio to come as I continue my “comeback” to me!

Life is Hard Sometimes

It has been two full weeks of sickness and mayhem at our house.  Starting March 9th, it went something like:  Levi fever; daylight saving time; me feeling like I’d die of exhaustion from daylight saving time + toddler; Dawn puking; epic blizzard; me nauseous; me puking, fever + intense head cold; Dawn coughing all night + head cold.  I got my appetite back only three days ago and still have an uncomfortable amount of congestion and pressure in my head, but we are recovering S-L-O-W-L-Y.  I think this is probably a pretty typical two week span for a family with kid(s) in daycare during the winter months, but that thought isn’t comforting when it is happening to you.

The problem is that I could find no comforting thoughts when it was happening to us.  In fact in the few days after I stopped puking and the fever cleared but still couldn’t eat nor breath, I got really dark.  All of the concepts and mini-mantras that I put in place for myself  at the start of the year either didn’t apply or were not holding up.  Be kind to myself:  I didn’t have much choice.  I didn’t have the energy to be mean and scolding, and all I could do is move slowly from bed to bathroom and maybe take the adventure of going downstairs.  Enough: Enough?  What’s enough?  Feeling like death?  Pulling the covers up?  Yes, this is enough alright.  Just not really applicable.  Everything is as it should be….  Really?  I would get kind of mad at myself for uttering this one.  This is not as it should be.  This is not even really living!  I would watch videos or shows of sunny days and people living their lives–house hunting, attending carnivals, making food (bleh!), what-have-you, and it just seemed impossible that I would ever again be one of those people.  On the days when I was well enough to go places, I would stare out the car windows, taking in the world and feeling completely not a part of it at the same time.

I tried to rely on the old, “this too shall pass….”  But I just found myself having a really hard time believing it.  There was no light at the tunnel’s end.  It was just dark and hard.  Everyday I would ask myself, why does it have to be so hard?  And then beat myself up for feeling like this was so hard when there are people everywhere who actually have it “hard.”  I found myself frustrated that I didn’t have a plan in place for how to make myself feel better when there was really so little to feel good about.  My Pollyanna-ish wife, of course, got fed up with my darkness.  Look, she’d point out, we are all alive.  We have each other.  We have a roof over our heads (food to eat, though we cannot stomach any of it), and so on….  Who likes Pollyanna-isms in the face of a “life is so hard” fit?  Not me.

For two weeks I missed my 5:30am writing time, I missed my workouts and trips to the gym (I feel like my muscles have atrophied), I missed making healthy meals for my family, and I missed a boatload of time at work.  This is starting to sound very whiny, but these are the things that make me feel human, and alive, and like I have my shit together.  Without those stabilizing touchstones, I felt disoriented, unfocused, and kind of like a pile of mush.

But guess what we did this past weekend?  We cooked, and cooked, and cooked some more. We entertained friends, had a play date, did story time at the library, went on a family walk.  We did laundry and folded diapers.  I worked a whole lot.  I got up in the morning and wrote.  I put a workout in the planner for Thursday.  And while I made my bed, I scolded myself for not believing that we would ever come out on the other side of the illness and madness.

My refusal to believe is reflective of the kind of studies described in this fascinating New Yorker article about why people don’t change their minds, even in the face of the facts.  Despite the huge amount of evidence accumulated over the course of my life that the darkness doesn’t last forever, that routine does come back eventually, and that nothing ever stays the same, I continue not to believe it!  I do think as someone who has suffered from depression in the past, it does flip me out to fall into the darkness because I know too well how long it can last.  And even though this series of challenging events only lasted two weeks, it felt so.much.l-o-n-g-e-r.  Regardless, though, the vast amount of evidence still points to the fact that we endure, we overcome, life returns to us and we return to life.  I’m still waiting for the rest of the snow to melt, for the rain to stop, and to see my first crocus, but at least I can breath through my nose (kind of) while doing it!