Friday, April 22, 2016

Don't Look at Me; I'm Hideous

So there’s this guy. He’s amazing and incredible and smart and witty and talented. We are dating. No, not dating. We are a couple. There. I said it. We’ve been friends for a while and I’ve watched him date other women and choose not to date still others and among all of that there was one rule that he had. He didn’t’ get serious about women with children. He tried a time or two. It didn’t’ work. Not that he didn’t like kids; he does. But he felt like he wasn’t up to the task of step-dad, and so he didn’t want to waste his time or theirs on something he just couldn’t do.

Now he’s dating me. Think of that for a minute and chuckle. A lot.

I will never apologize for the existence of my kids. Never. They are the best part of me. They are amazing and if a person gets to be a part of their life they are incredibly lucky.

That being said, I understand that we are a lot. Like, a really lot. So, whether it’s my friends without kids or my family who haven’t had kids in the house for a while or this guy I try to act as a buffer. I try to make sure that they get to enjoy the kids. I’ll take care of the unpleasantness.

It’s a good system. And it has worked. Until last week.

So we are hanging out at the house. I made dinner. He brought popcorn and the new Star Wars movie. What could go wrong?

Well, it’s possible that, seemingly apropos of nothing my daughter could cough and then start grabbing her legs and screaming and crying. Loudly. It was time to go to the hospital. So, I start frantically grabbing all of the accoutrements to take five people to the hospital for an indefinite period of time. That indefinite period turned out to be eight days, by the way, but that’s a different story. At some point in my frenzy, I saw him looking at me with that look. There’s this look he gets sometimes when he’s determined to do something nice for me. Open eyes, locked jaw. Like he’s trying to be super nice but dig in for a battle all at the same time. Which is probably exactly what is happening. Everything in my body reacted. Hugely. Viscerally.

“No!” My inner self was screaming. “This isn’t fun. This isn't light. This isn’t easy!” Then, a small voice spoke up. “But it’s real.”

And that’s it. When you have kids, vomit happens and if you’re really lucky that’s the worst bodily fluid you will have to deal with. Injuries happen. Power struggles happen. And if he is serious about me, he needs to experience these things. I can’t lead him into this promising sunshine and rainbows. And I really did need the help. So I let him. I let him keep the boys that night and when that night turned into the next day he took the day off of work until the reinforcements arrived.

The entire time I was convinced that this would be the moment. The moment he waved off. The moment he, gracefully and gently left. After all, this is exactly what he wasn’t up to.

Except he was. He dealt with the boys like a champ and then, when he could have called that good enough, he did  more. He brought by food and played cards and read to us. He held me when I cried. He encouraged me to sleep. He was one of many, many people who made this past week less hellish. And I let him. Because while we are taking this slow, and I try to respect his boundaries and need to ease into this, I’d rather he see the real and leave than see the masquerade and stay.

He could have left. I wouldn’t have held it against him. But he stayed. He saw us at our most ugly, and he stayed. And for someone who has learned their whole lives, from various step-parents to societal stereotypes to the well-meaning advice that the best I could expect as a single mom is someone who would tolerate my kids, this was pretty amazing.

I’m not saying this is forever. But I’m saying as a single mom, this gives me hope. Not just for me, but for all of us. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I Gave It.

“You’ve taken away everything that makes me, me,” I said once. At the time it seemed true. And it couldn’t be denied that so much of what I was had been lost, cast aside, or damped down. But I realized something the other day. It wasn’t taken. I gave it.

It all started with a stag at a petting zoo. He was old, and sick, but he was beautiful. Giant, with a head as long as my youngests’ arm. Magestic with his shaggy fur. Enormous, liquid eyes. The kids were delighted. They pet it. They talked about how pretty he was even though, quarantined, he was also abviously old and ill. “Daddy would like this a lot,” one of them said. “He sure would; you’ll have to tell him all about it,” I replied. And that was it. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. One of my friends was with me, and gave me the raised eyebrow of “what’s up?” “I’m just so glad to miss the 15 minutes of the importance of the stag to our family,” I replied. And I was. God, I was. But I thought about it, later.

I never minded the stag being part of our lives. Or the tartan. Or the ivy. Or the family saying. I was once incredibly proud to wear the brooch. I embroidered the family crest on our ring bearer’s pillow. I took my ex-husband’s name gladly and am keeping it, if only for the sake of the kids. I gave up my name and my heritage and took on his not just willingly but proudly, gladly. So when did that pride turn to an inward groan? When did that stag talk start to make me feel small? I guess when I realized that when I was taking that on I had given up my importance. When I was upset because I wasn’t allowed a voice in naming our youngest. When I was told that he “had a plan to honor their blood.” “My blood is there, too,” I said. “I let you name one after your family already, we aren’t doing more,” he replied. And I was hurt.  But I gave that power away. I guess it changed when I would try to interject our family stories and histories and traditions and they were brushed aside. The kids were Huntleys, not Rotaches after all. But, I went along with it. I gave it, even though I didn’t’ know what I was giving.

My kids are being baptized in a couple of weeks. I want to do it. I want to be the one who is there in the pool with them. But the thought gives me an anxiety attack. Because, you see, I’ve been told that women shouldn’t do such things. It was inappropriate. But I remember when I started looking to him as a spiritual mentor. You see, when we met I was not Christian. But he was, and he answered all of my questions more thoroughly than anyone ever had, and eventually I came around. So, in that process, when he mentioned that I couldn’t practice my faith it was done in such a way that it made sense. He was so smart and made so much sense that I took everything he said as canon. So when only men in the family were asked to join us on stage for a dedication, I was mad, but I didn’t question the heart behind it. When I was told I couldn’t be the one to baptize the kids, I took that as truth. So I believed I was less than due to my gender. I gave that power and control.

I’m discovering again that it’s okay to have emotions. Big ones. I snuggle and give giant hugs and laugh way too loud. I have days when I am angry at everyone and moments when I am angry at just one person. I am scared. A lot. All of the time. Sometimes it motivates me and sometimes it paralyzes me. I love hard and a lot. I laugh. These things are okay. Which seems simple, but you see for a long time they weren’t. Okay, that is. And it started with the best of intentions. You see, he told me that my big emotions were bad for me, and it was true. At that time, I didn’t know how to moderate. I coudlnt’ tell a 3 on the scale of relevance from a 10. So everything was huge. And so when I told me I needed to take things down a notch or 12, I believed him. But things kinda escalated from there. When I was excited it was bad because it would lead to bad ideas. I hugged too hard. When I was angry I was unreasonable. When I was happy, another shoe would fall and my down would be harder. So it’s best to stay neutral. So I did. And was miserable. But that control wasn’t taken, I gave it, even if I didn’t know what I was giving at the time.

So, I’m finding myself again. I’m discovering my flaws, which are Legion, and my strengths, which are pretty great too. I’m finding out what is important to me. I’m discovering that I have bad habits that I will have regardless of my surroundings or influences until I choose to break them.

And I’m in a relationship again and it’s a pretty big deal.

I mean, he’s a really great guy, and wouldn’t ever intentionally hurt me, but still I’m terrified.

Because I can’t ever again not know what can happen. I can’t ever not know that a love that is giant and huge and amazing can turn to apathy or fear or pain. Or all three. I can’t ever again be certain of a happily ever after. And I can’t ever forget that, while a lot was taken from me, my power wasn’t. Because I gave it. I gave it once and I could do it again.

Compromise is important. Learning is important. Choosing a leader is important. Growing is important. Making concessions is important.

But complete abdication of power? If the person is human, and therefore fallible, that’s dangerous. Being made to feel small is dangerous. Following someone who is not  following a higher purpose, calling, or power is dangerous.I did it once, and I must guard against doing it again. Because it wasn’t taken, I gave it. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Thing About Bathrooms

I’ve been hearing a lot about bathrooms lately. With the passing of the controversial and, in my opinion, horrible new bathroom law in North Carolina, it seems that social media and news outlets are absolutely inundated with all things lavatory. Now, I know this isn't about bathroom, any more than the sit-ins and marginalization of years past was about lunch counters or bus seats or drinking fountains. But, there is a lot of the movement that focuses on practicality, so that’s where I stand as well.

Because see, I know a little about bathrooms. Don’t get me wrong, I am cisgender. I don’t have  worry about getting kicked out of a McDonald’s. I don’t’ worry about getting physically assaulted. But the strange looks, the anxiety, the fear that can sometimes accompany a trip to a public restroom? Yeah, I know about those.

You see, I’m a mom. I’m a mom of four young kids who has spent the past decade doing the largest bulk of our shopping or fun trips by myself. Not all of my children are the same gender as myself, and while they are young, they are above preschool age. Two of them have special needs which means one still needs occasional assistance in the bathroom and the other did until he was, especially being large for his age, “too big” to go into the ladies’ room. This, for those who are uninitiated, leads to a variety of problems.

Let’s say, for example, that your child is older or larger than preschool/Kindergarten age. He’s not yet incredibly adept at bathroom cleansing, or he gets easily distracted, or he is prone to gastrointestinal issues that have to be kept an eye on.  You take him into the bathroom with you a couple of times, and are told by people whose business it really isn’t that he’s too big to be in the ladies’ room. So the next time, you let him go by yourself. So, you sit there, waiting for him to come out. It takes longer than usual. And you’re nervous. Is something wrong? Is the process causing him pain or damage as it sometimes does? Or is it something worse? Then he comes out and you’re relieved. Sometimes. Or he comes out requiring assistance which means that, mortified, you get to drag him into the other bathroom to provide help. The best of all worlds, yeah?

Or, let’s say you have the misfortune to have a miscarriage in a grocery store, like what happened to me. Or even just a tummy bug, since that’s likely more relateable. You’re going to be in that bathroom for a while. Do you take your older kids in with you? Or leave them outside the door for maybe 15 minutes? You decide to take them in. There, you bump into a very helpful little old lady or employee who informs you that you can’t have them in there. So they go out. And then you’re trying to deal with a situation that can’t be rushed at about the speed of sound.

Or let’s say you have a physically different child. She needs help. So you take her to the ladies’ room. But your boys are older. But it’s a busy day at the zoo. What do you do?

No, I don’t know what it’s like to be assaulted. I don’t know what it’s like to be kicked out of a place. But I know that children can be abducted. I know that sexual assaults can happen in a bathroom (I’M NOT SAYING THAT TRANS PEOPLE DO THIS. DON’T READ THAT. I’M SAYING SICK PEOPLE DO THIS). I know what it’s like to not know what to do, to fear bathroom stops, to get looks or comments. To be embarrassed. I know how inconvenient and irritating and sometimes necessary planning your day around a place with a family or unisex bathroom can be. I’ve been dealing with it for years.

So, here’s what I propose. First of all, the door gaps. Let’s just get rid of those altogether. They’re ridiculous. It can’t be that hard to create a private space that is actually private. Urinals? Let’s get rid of those as well. Or put a bunch inside one giant stall. Then make bathrooms giant and unisex. All of them. Maybe with a couple of big stalls for families. Because really, do you need two walls of separation from anyone of another gender? I don’t think you do. We are, after all, eliminating our bladder and bowels in there. See? Easy. And while it doesn’t have the added benefit of providing validation for an under served group, this solution would make life easier for another under served group, exasperated, exhausted moms. Everyone’s happy.

After all, we all just want to pee.