“Mama, Do You Want A Bikini Body?”

My five year old and I were lounging on the couch after school one day, snacking and snuggling.  An ad promoting a new fitness guru’s workout routine popped up in between her regular animated favorite.

Fiona, knowing my penchant for exercise, eyed the ad cautiously, like a liberal might eye any of Donald Trump’s cabinet picks.  “Mama?” she said, “Do you want to do that?”

Oh, baby girl, I thought to myself.  That’s a loaded question.

*****

I have wanted a bikini body before just to have a bikini body…I will admit to that.  I wanted once to have chiseled abs and a super low BMI.  Because when you look at someone like that, you look at someone who has no perceived flaws.  Someone who is perfect and probably has no problems and thinks everything is great.  So if I had that, I would be happy then, when I got to that perfectly chiseled point, just like that perfect woman on the television.

OK, I still want that on some days.

But on my healthy days, I know I looked like this when I wanted a bikini body:

skinnyamanda

And when I use exercise and food for the right reasons, I look like this:

img_6475

So, it’s reversed for me.  When I’m doing well and healthy, I don’t get compliments for “looking great”.  My stomach bulges a bit, and my pants fit more snug than they did before.  But I can also run 4 miles with no fatigue, do 30 minutes straight of lunges and squats, and I can lift whole couches by myself.  And typically, I’m doing better in my career, and accomplishing internal goals rather than external ones.

So do I love exercise and all the reps that foster a bikini body?  Absolutely.  But more often these days, I move for the powerful feeling I get after a run; that feeling can carry me through eight tough client sessions.  I do it to wake my thirty-something muscles up so I can be a good enough mother to my energetic, unstoppable daughter.  And I do it to remind her and myself that woman’s bodies are capable of very strong things, and that they are not just to be looked at.

So yes, I enjoy being fit.  I want to be fit.  But I want so much more than that these days.

I want to make sure my daughter is fulfilled and does things that make her happy.  I want to enjoy and develop my relationship with my husband.  I want to make sure my mother, who lives with us, has what she needs and I want to thrive in my career.  I want to be connected. I want to have hobbies and hang out with friends and do things I believe in, and sometimes, all those things that I want don’t leave time for perfectly chiseled abs or arms.  They leave time for a fit, happy woman…a woman who doesn’t necessarily have men gawking at her or a thousand facebook likes.  And that’s totally OK.

*****

I turned to Fiona and smiled.  “Yeah, that’d be ok!  As long as it made me happy.  Mama works out to stay happy.”

Fiona nodded, continued munching on her snack, and turned her attention back to her show.

And may you always seek what makes you happy, I echoed to her in my head.

amandabikini

 

 

When You Say “Butthurt”, I Hear “Lazy”

Butthurt.

Have you heard that word overused lately?  I sure have.  In particular, it’s been used most recently to describe American voters who are unhappy with the outcome of the past election, and are exercising their right to speak about it.  A couple of weeks ago, I was chastised by men and women on a self-help Facebook group for asserting that using the word “butthurt” to describe others’ feelings might be invalidating, unfair, and lazy.

In addition, I was on a friend’s social media page, where I saw this video.

In the friend’s comment section, someone described this and anyone who expressed these sentiments as “butthurt”.

YOU LISTEN TO ME.  NOW. 

That is not “butthurt”, those comments endorse sexual assault.  And sexual assault is against the law.

This is not the left being dramatic, or “too millennial”, we are seeing things AS IS.  We are supporting laws.  If you choose to use the word “butthurt” to describe those who decry statements such as the ones Trump has made, I firmly believe you are making a statement against the law.

And if you’re turning a blind eye because sexual assault has never happened to you, you’re part of the problem too.  What about your sisters?  Your fiance?  Your mother?  All of these women at some point have probably experienced either rape or some form of an unwanted sexual advance.

So when you dismiss our free speech, our grave concerns about the rights of women and minorities and the LBGTQ community, as “butthurt” –

We see you as lazy.  

Too lazy to consider to someone else’s feelings because they inconvenience your privileged, white, Trump-winning, victorious world.

Too lazy to put themselves in the shoes of a woman who was taken advantage of when she was drunk.

Too lazy to imagine what it’s like for a black girl who’s everyone’s token black friend and is treated like a pariah.

Too lazy to consider the feelings of the families of the Pulse victims, whose son or daughter was gunned down because of who they were attracted to.

(By the way: the first example happened to me, the second has happened to my best friend repeatedly, and the third…well, we saw that on the news, didn’t we?)

I mean, do you really want to stand on that side of justice?  Dismissing others’ feelings about death and sexual assault as “butthurt”?

What would be much more law-abiding, more understanding, and mature would be the act of listening.  And believing someone’s perception of life, simply because it’s theirs.  And not getting defensive on a facebook comment thread, because actually looking at the history of sexual assault and hate crimes and taking responsibility for it is too painful for you to acknowledge.

Maybe it’s you who’s “butthurt”.

So yes, if speaking up about rape culture and sexual assault and hate crimes makes us butthurt, then we are butthurt.  If supporting laws that forbid these crimes make us butthurt, then you can call a spade a spade.

But we know the truth.

You are lazy.

And it’s sick to dismiss those who have had to endure rape kits and physical assault as “butthurt”, when they’ve had real live wounds to attend to.

 

How Moana Can Remind Us of Who We Are

amandaupMy husband was crying uncontrollably.

As we sat watching Moana in the darkened movie theater, my heart ached for my husband, who feels so much.  There’s this beautiful scene where the spirit of Moana’s grandmother comes back to remind her of who she is so she can accomplish a task.  And my husband was feeling a whole lot because he’s in the middle of a powerful personal transformation, one I’ve been through.  We listened to Lin Manuel Miranda’s percussion move the story along brilliantly.  I cried, too, when Moana broke years of patriarchal tradition.  We watched Moana remember who she was.  We watched Moana heal years of destructiveness with peace.

******

It’s a big thing, to be accused of unethical practices, by family whose company you enjoy.

I’d always heard about other bloggers getting attacked by family members for posting painful material about their family, or for writing about raw feelings.  I didn’t think it would happen to me.  I tend to be pretty naive about thinking others will treat feelings with the same tenderness and carefulness that I do.  So when a family member unjustly accused me of snooping through my company files after I disagreed with another family member online (I tend to be naive also about thinking everyone wants to, and can be engaged in healthy debate, and f*&% that election anyway), I was shaken to the core.  Did everyone think I was a fraud?  Did people think I was unethical?  Did everyone resent me?  Did people think I just wanted attention?  Did they think I was prideful?  Was this whole blog just a big reason people used to laugh at me?

With the help of a compassionate mother who has typically put feelings first, and a husband who can see the beautiful in me despite the tornado I’ve been, I got over it.  But a lot of the words stayed with me.  Trying to resolve the conflict, I called the family member who believed I had done some very horrible wrongs.  During the phone call, I was criticized for putting my feelings online.  I was laughed at for recovering from alcoholism and an eating disorder and being out about it.  I was ridiculed, in essence, for being vulnerable.

Which is what it is.  I’m fine, and usually will be.  But it got me to thinking about why it’s still so goddamn crucial that we talk about feelings.

Someone who makes fun of another’s vulnerability – they can’t be comfortable with it.  They can’t be comfortable with feelings.  They have to have learned early on to hide that raw, vulnerable bodhichitta, as Pema Chodron refers to it; they have to have tucked it early on and donned a mask so they survived.  I get it.  So did I.  It was called alcoholism, an eating disorder, emotional affairs, and argumentativeness.

And although I can never pretend to know what it’s like to be one of seven in a Massachusetts family with very limited resources, I’m guessing there’s hurt there.  I’m guessing people had to be tough just to get by.  I’m guessing they had to, at times, be someone they weren’t.  Not the carefree, jovial, loud, horse-riding spirit that they were, but something else…safer.

When I got sober, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a sponsor who told me the most important thing was that “I found my truth”.  Until that point, I thought I was a dependent, shy, unintelligent, Sex-and-the-City-wannabe.  And with meetings, and step work, and the company of women who chased spirituality, I peeled away layers.  I found out I was anything but dumb.  I discovered I loved to be by myself.  I realized that I actually didn’t give a shit about trends.  I learned that I loved to use my body because it was useful, not because it was pretty.

And most importantly, I learned I was put on this earth to be vulnerable and human and to talk about feelings with others.  No matter how messy and embarrassing they were.

I learned who I was.  Who I am.

The unfortunate thing about this alcoholic is that if I don’t live my truth, I tend to act out.  I look for an escape.  And although it seems impossible the same little girl who clung to her mother at family gatherings is capable of destruction, trust me.  And the ten other people I can contact from my present and past who can attest to this.

So I can’t stop speaking and writing.  I won’t.

And that’s me.

And I resent a world in which little girls and boys are instinctively taught to “stop crying”.  To be less feminine or masculine.  To exhibit less joy because it embarrasses their family.  To “not be a pussy”.  To be reactive on a facebook comment thread instead of sitting with their own feelings.  To be so scared of being judged for being a new parent, they grow terse with others.  A world in which someone can take advantage of someone’s vulnerability and scar someone indefinitely.

Feelings are not something silly, or even something serious. There’s no morality attached to them.  They’re simply glorious visitors that tell us where to go.

******

At the end of the movie, Moana approached the fiery monster who had tried to kill her and her island and walked straight up to her.  She stood right in front of her, touched her and told the monster,

“I know this is not who you are.”

I’ve learned a lot from this wise character.

So to the family who survived: I stand in awe.  To come from very little and create the best construction company around –  I bow down.  To lose a brother and still be the most compassionate woman around – I am not worthy.  To come out of the closet in a time where it wasn’t accepted – I am genuinely humbled.  To adopt two beautiful children in a racially charged world – I cannot imagine the challenges you might face.  To the gymnastics star – I’d break my back.  I am amazed by your talent.

And to be the fiercest, most energetic, most loyal grandmother, sister, mother, and aunt despite the challenges you’ve faced – I know that the words uttered to me is not who you are.

 

Why It’s Hard To Be Happy For Your Pregnancy

img_6312I was sitting in my office, seeing clients, when I made the mistake of checking Facebook in between my 4:45 and 5:30.  I felt like a brick slammed into my gut as I saw yet another jubilant pregnancy announcement.  The woman in question looked joyous and glowing, full of life literally and metaphorically.   The post, albeit wonderful, reminded me of my inability to do the same thing.  I plugged in my phone, plastered a smile on my face, and opened the door to usher in another client.

*****

I am not supposed to talk about this.  I am supposed to be kind and inspiring and supportive of my fellow females.  “There’s a special place in hell for females who put down other females,” coarsely says the recent meme.  But what if talking about my pain doesn’t take away from my happiness for my pregnant sisters?  What if they exist at the same time?  What if the expectations we impose upon fellow females are inhuman?  Because God knows, I’m as human as they get.

My baby was supposed to be born in 5 days.  She was supposed to be a distraction from the current grotesque spectacle of an election.  “The baby will “make November great again,” I had quipped to my husband.  She would make November great again, because my Dad had passed away the same month and so had John’s Nana the past two years in a row.  But then, she decided not to come, and November remained the way it was, cold and foreboding of more cold.  And I watched other friends post sonogram pictures of their healthy, thriving babies.

My mind has brought me several ways to invalidate my feelings about my miscarriage.  One, is that I have a healthy child.  A child that is nothing but full of life.  So why should I be sad about something that wasn’t a child yet?  That was nothing but a clump of cells?  I have one.  Also, nags the voice, you know people that can’t even have one child.  You should be grateful.  It doesn’t help that this voice is backed up daily by well-meaning friends and family members.  But this voice and these well-meaning people make no sense, because we can’t put qualifiers on what can be grieved and what can’t.  Imagine if we had a cutoff for grief and anything that was above that line of awfulness couldn’t be grieved.  Would only starving children be afforded the right to grieve?  But a suburban mom couldn’t?  Where’s the sense in that?

The thing is, it’s as if life said, Hey.  Here is your chance to take care of another human soul.  Here is a chance at joy for your family.  Start to change your plans and take down the crib from the attic.  Stop eating feta and coffee and start to prepare your older child for a sibling.  But wait – 

Just kidding, it says cruelly.  Back up your car, you don’t get to go down that path anymore.  Unbecome a pregnant woman, physically and mentally.  Unprepare your child for a sibling.  The guest room will just be a guest room and the good news is, you can have as much coffee as you want.

*****

I was in Market Basket, shopping, and there she was.  Demeter herself.  A pregnant woman dressed in a beautiful flowered sundress.  She was stunning – she had that knowing look in her eye, and I swear she could smell my jealousy.  And here I was – half Persephone, half Demeter, strung out by no sleep, dressed in running clothes, hair a mess.  I felt less than, less of a woman, even though my rational mind knew I wasn’t.  My body remembered.  My body remembered.

I am well aware that the picture of that pregnant woman on Facebook may very well be the same face of a woman who, like me, cried on the cold slab of the doctor’s table one heartbroken day.  That she may have gone through numerous fertilization treatments.  That she may have been told as a child she never could have children.

But none of that stuff can take away from my imperfect humanity, the stuff that makes you squirm.  My humanity that feels less than and raw and yes, sometimes judges, even if she tries really hard not to.

And please don’t ask me to take it away.  Please don’t expect me to be inhuman.  Women are so much more than one-sided smiley-faced there-for-your-comfort holograms.  We are full people, full of the stuff you like and the stuff you may not want to hear.

My Daughter Called Someone Fat

It was a beautiful autumn Friday in New England.  My daughter had just completed two successful, confidence-inspiring hours of gymnastics at the Little Gym.  (In a blue shiny leotard we had just purchased, nonetheless!)  We walked back to the car, hand-in-hand; I was proud of this time.  She was a baby who had low muscle tone, and I had put her in gymnastics purposefully.  Now, she was doing flips over the bars.

As I unlocked the car, Fiona started to gaze off into the distance.  Stare, in fact.  I followed her gaze to her classmate and parents, who were walking together.

A slow smirk spread over her face, as her gaze focused on the obese father.

“Mama, he’s fat.” She continued smirking, and an implied sense of power washed over her as she realized she was NOT and he WAS.

Not my daughter.

******

For those of you who don’t know, I was a FAT kid.   I was mocked for it by classmates, I was deemed “disgusting”, I was even sexually assaulted by a classmate in music class “because I was fat.”  (Because I deserved it, because I was fat.)

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There are people who will view this who will argue with me and say that there’s no negative connotation with being fat.  They will tell me that I’m too sensitive and that I put too many expectations on my daughter and I say to them, I AM DONE WITH YOU.

I LIVED it and I continue to live it every time I lose 5 pounds and I am praised for it.  I continue to live it every time I gain weight and I notice people give me less compliments about my appearance.  You are bullshitting yourself if you think there is no negative connotation with being fat.  There is less today, but it still exists.

When Fiona uttered this sentence, I panicked.  Where did she pick this up?  I, for one, don’t use the word fat.  I use the word heavy and overweight, but not fat, because I know what it carries with it. We also refer to foods as being healthy, or having “vitamins to make you run fast”.  Had she picked it up from her friends?  Seen it on an ad?  I was a little stunned, and a little disgusted, even know the intellectual side of me knew she was four years old.  She reminded me of that blonde in my class on the playground who always made fun of my awkward body during Project Adventure.

“Fiona, we do not say that.  That is not nice.  Get in the car.”

I buckled her up, prayed, and said to myself – Do not be hard on her.  Do not project your experience on her and shame her.  Just be honest, factual, and tell her your experience.

“Fiona, I have to tell you a story.”

“What?”

“A long time ago, Mama was overweight when she was a kid.  A lot of people made fun of Mama and called her fat and it made Mama feel really, really bad.  So I know how it feels, and it doesn’t feel good.  That’s why we don’t call people fat.”

I don’t know if was blood memory, or a sudden lightbulb that went off in her head, but Fiona’s face turned ashen.  Her face crumpled, and she GOT IT.  Like, mourned for her mother got it.  Like, cried all the way home got it.  I immediately felt horrid, even know I know I maintained an even tone (isn’t this motherhood thing fucked?)

On the way home, she turned her face into the seat, ashamed.  I tried to reiterate my unconditional love for her. “Baby, Mama doesn’t think any differently of you – Mama would love you even if you punched somebody!  It’s just important we’re kind to people.”  It didn’t seem to help.  She whimpered and finally started to come around after I distracted her with a joke.

*****

Parenthood is brutal.  It’s even more brutal with a trauma history you have to dissect and not project onto your kids whilst maintaining some sort of a lesson for them when they’re unkind.  Childhood is brutal too – imagine not knowing you were being unkind, and then being told you were being unkind in a way that hurt your parent when they were kids?  Imagine being so innocent and then not, knowing your Mama was hurt for the way she looked?  And would that happen to you?

Yesterday, someone on my husband’s facebook feed disagreed with the meme that Donald Trump’s words about sexual assault leading to the actual crime did not matter, and that words are very different from actions.  I sit here enraged, thinking about that, because I know the effect of words.  Words that lead to sexual assault.  “FAT” leading to “less than” leading to “it’s ok to touch her in a sexual way because she’s less than”.

Not my daughter.

 

 

 

Please, Don’t Congratulate Me on My New House

newhouseIf you do one thing over the next couple of months, please, please don’t congratulate me on my new, shiny, sought-after house.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s gorgeous.  It has about 7 bedrooms.  It’s on a pond and has a gigantic porch with the perfect bench on it.  But something feels wrong about being congratulated for the fun stuff.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of things you are more than welcome to congratulate me for, however:

1.  That time I sat outside of my job at a residential eating disorder center, crying, because I knew I was just as sick as the women inside.  I had so much shame about being a sick helper, and I called Walden anyway.  I quit my job, and chose health.  I went to treatment.

2.  I fully accept Hallmark cards for the time I kicked the ball right into Steve Panish’s face in 10th grade gym class.  This came after months of taunting about my shitty athletic ability, and strange fake flirting that was meant to imply I was gross.  I’d had it.

3.  That time I woke up in my beautiful Somerville apartment with the worst hangover I’d ever had.  I picked myself up off the couch and walked straight to Watertown to find my car that I’d left at a friend’s in a drunken blackout.  As I walked down Mount Auburn street, I came to grips with the sickening realization that I could never drink – ever – again.  If I wanted to have some sort of life.

4.  How about the time I drove over the Tobin Bridge aimlessly at five months sober and felt feelings for the first time in years?  That it literally felt like my choices were be miserable, or die? That I wanted to leap but didn’t?  That I held on and made one of the best friends of my life through it?

5.  Or the time that infant Fiona screamed for hours on end and everyone told me “that’s what babies do”?  That after the 12th hour of screaming, and the 40th day of sleep deprivation, I put her down in her carseat, walked out of the room, and suppressed a scream?  That I didn’t do something worse, something we could never admit to thinking of because we all have to be perfect mothers and not talk about it?

6.  There’s also the countless times I’ve chosen to be respectful towards a man who pushed himself into me, drunk, because I can see the shame in his eyes when he looks at me sober?

7.  Or how about the time I chose to stay with a man who loved me, instead of choosing addiction?  That I came to terms with the fact that I am an addict, one in particular who seeks emotional attachments outside of her relationship, because she is so afraid that he won’t love her ugly parts?  That I was willing to sit in couples therapy for hours on end to fix the trauma I created and still choose to not hurt myself and to feel ugly feelings and to be the bad guy and to yell at each other and do the hard work?  How about congratulating those beautiful people who were hurt by my actions?

8.  How about the time I reached into my mother’s freezer, wordlessly cracking ice cubes out of the ice tray, shoving them into a ziploc bag, knowing they would be placed around my father’s head in a few hours when he died?  That I made ice cube tray after ice cube tray because I knew donating his brain to science was so important to him? That I placed the ice around his head after he passed and apologized to his dead body about moving him?  How about that?

9.  Or the time I lost my baby, and had to tell Fiona that the baby got sick and couldn’t come?  That I watched as a tear rolled down her smooth cheek, and heard her say, “I think my heart is broken?”

You see, I’ve been on the other side of that shiny new house, a million times.  I’ve been that girl who truly believed she was just not entitled to a happy life with a husband and a beautiful home.  That I was just meant to be unhappy.  I still believe that, sometimes, and that’s when I make stupid choices that hurt people, because why not be one big self-fulfilling prophecy?  I have more respect for the girl who sat through numerous urges to do something, anything self-destructive, than the girl who made a lot of money so she could buy a house.  I have more respect for the girl who spoke out at a self-help meeting, for probably the third time in six years since she’d joined that program, than the girl who lost weight and bought a beautiful designer dress and made a beautiful bride.  That shit, was cake.

We get it all wrong – we are there for each other when things are good.  But when things hurt?  We don’t know what to say.  We shrink away.  We don’t know what to do because we are uncomfortable ourselves.  But if you know someone who is hurting right now, commend them.  Raise them up.  Because they are doing important, hard, gritty work right now.  Work that will be the basis of their character later on.

So please feel free to send me a Hallmark card for the next time I actually call you instead of isolating per usual or when I embarrassingly cry in front of others or when I choose to just breathe. one. more. time.

But please, please, don’t congratulate me on my new house.

 

(Disclaimer:  The author knows friends should both rejoice in each other’s accomplishments and support each other when facing adversity.  The author is also grateful for all the support in her community for things both good and bad.  The author is really just trying to make a point.)

Am I Too Much For You?

At what point did I become too much for you?

Was it when I stayed awake all night, crying like babies do?  When I sensed your presence the minute you walked in the room, and sprang to?  When I was afraid of him and hid under the table, crying, was I too much for him?  Was I the problem?

Was it when I repeated back those bad words about our bodies, that embarrassed you?  Was it when I couldn’t bear to be alone without you, and stood at the window crying?  Was it then, that I needed too much?

Or was it when you thought I was being dramatic because I was hungry and dizzy?

Or when I had a phobia of the shower at 7?  And you screamed at me?  Was it then?

Or was it when I ran out of the house screaming because he looked like he was going to hit you?

Or when I voiced my opinion, and you called me a man-hating bitch just like your mother?

I can’t quite pinpoint when I lost myself, my beautiful, truth-telling, brave self.

Was it when you all figured out I was fat?  That I took up too much physical space? When you became disgusted by the amount of fat on my body, the number of pimples you counted on my face?

Was it when you became so angered and astounded by my intelligence and fierceness that you refused to acknowledge my presence for weeks?

Or was it when you were jealous of my sixty pound weight drop and that was wrong, too?

Was it when I told you I wasn’t just someone to sleep with?

Or was it when I decided I didn’t want to be engaged to that guy anymore?

Did I not fit in your little box?

Was it when I dyed my hair and pierced my nose?

Was I not “pretty”, anymore?

Was it too much when I embraced my sexuality, and posted a picture of me in lingerie?  Was it “gross”?

Or when I breastfed my child in front of you.  Did I disturb you?

Was it when I deceived you, and I wasn’t your golden angel anymore?

Or was it when I expected more out of you than a fairweather friend?

Did that gravity push you away?

Or was it the fact that I could see the beauty in many people at the same time?

Do I write too much online?

Am I too expressive?

Am I too sensitive because I wouldn’t tolerate your rape jokes at the hibachi table?

Am I too politically correct for you?

Does it scare you when I speak to you passionately? Does it make me a demon?

Was I too much when I finally laid down my shackles, and was loud with my opinions?

Or that I cry openly?  And it’s not a shameful thing?

Was that too much woman?

 

Was it too much for you to feel better about your feelings as a result of my badass vulnerability?

 

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

 

(dedicated to FNR, who will never be silenced)

My Four Year Old’s Graduate School Essay

I’ll be honest.  It still boggles my mind why any self-respecting political science program would have their graduating students write an essay about their mother, and what she instilled in us, but since it is a requirement, here goes nothing.

My mother.  Both strong and weak, both saint and sinner.  She is the woman who gently sang songs to put me back to sleep at two in the morning, and she is the woman who laid in bed mid-day on Sundays, struck down by depression, while my father ran around and got the groceries.  She is the woman who brought me up with Beyonce and Revere Beach gal day-trips, proudly donning a two piece on her mid-thirties body, and she is the woman I caught once, just once, scowling at her naked, gravity-ridden torso in the mirror.  She is the woman who taught me what every word, expression, and nuance of the English language meant, and she is the woman who barely speaks in groups (it was embarassing how quiet she was.  I used to mistake this for weakness and apathy.  Why be quiet when there is so much to say?!)  But she wrote!  Oh, did she write.

The craziest thing about my mother is that you’d never know.  You’d never know the storm that was happening inside.  She was and is beautiful, with the cutest round face and cupid’s bow lips (which, she admitted to me later on, was something she’d use to her advantage at times).  And she looked so serene, especially when she was about to leave for work to listen to others’ problems.  I don’t know how she did it, without a drink for all these years.

Did I mention she’s a recovered alcoholic?  She’s a recovered alcoholic. She got sober before I came along though, so I never saw her drink.

But anyways, you’d never know she was hurting.  Usually.  From what she’s told me, depression wreaked havoc on a semi-daily basis, and when it was bad, it wanted her dead.  But she would get up, go on a run, drop me off at my Nana’s, and go to work, all while feeding me Munchkins in the backseat and risking our lives by watching me make a silly face in the driver’s rearview mirror, after I demanded she watch.  (Some say I was a strong-willed child.  I say persistent is a more positive word.  But I digress…)

Did she ever explode on me?  Sure.  But hell, I was a kid worth exploding on!  Apparently, once I attempted to strangle her when I was four after she told me it was time to go home after a trip to the park in Boston. (Again, before you judge, I want to remind you that my persistence is what got me into this graduate program.)  She was not perfect, for sure, and she manipulated others with her intelligence to make her feel better at times.  That used to bother me a great deal; it made her seem like a snob next to my father.

So I guess there were some things about her that weren’t that great.  But aren’t there negative things about everyone?  That’s the one thing I never got about her – how hard she was on herself.  As if she was someone special who had to be held to a higher standard than others.  This seemed both arrogant and masochistic.  She held such a shame about her flaws, about her mistakes, how’d she hurt people – she kept it all to herself.  She had a trusted few she’d call, like Auntie Jenni or Auntie April, but other than that, she bottled it up.  It’s as if she didn’t know how to reach out for help, even to my father, at times.  It’s as if she thought she had to go it alone.  My Nana always said she got it from my Grampy (who died when I was very young and only memory is of him meowing like a cat to make me laugh).  Who knows.  All I know, is that I don’t want to live my life like that.

Which is what I guess I’ve learned inadvertently from her.  To lean on others, not to recoil into herself the way she did.  To see every new individual I meet as a growth opportunity, a chance to expand my world a little bit (and to expand theirs!  I am pretty awesome).  And through her self-criticism, I’ve learned to laugh at my mistakes.  They are a necessary part of life we all must embrace.

You see, my mother always taught me that you could not have the light without the dark, and that the imperfections were the good stuff.  So I’m not going to write some fluffy, dumbass essay about my perfect mother who sang beautifully and was so raw and so real. (People would say that about her writing all the time and it made me barf, quite frankly.)  I’ve written about what mistakes she’s made and what I’ve learned from that.  Because every generation should do a little better than the previous one, shouldn’t they?

And perhaps one day, my offspring will be writing a similar essay, about how they learned when to keep quiet from their boisterous and overbearing mother.

-Fiona Ryan

 

Miscarraige: Not For the Faint-Hearted.

apathyShhhhhh.

I do not want to hear the cars rushing by, or the hum of the dishwasher, or life taking place, in it’s very fallible, flawed way.

I  am already too aware of the failings of humanity.  It existed within my body for three weeks.  It lay dead, within me, for three weeks.  Two of which, I walked around unknowingly.  (Didn’t I know my body by now?  Wouldn’t I have been able to tell?  Am I that bad of a mother?)

Shhhhhhh.

I want to stand next to the ocean with the waves crashing in.  I want to hold my pretend baby in my arms for at least once.  Yellow baby roses are in my arms instead, but they’ll do.  They’re the closest thing I’ll have to holding my baby.

(Scene: a doctor’s office.  A thirty-something woman sits on the table with tears running down her face.  An older thirty-something sits with her.)

Thirty-something: I don’t want to wait five days to have the procedure.  I don’t want to pass the baby at home, with my history.

Older thirty-something: Are you aware that it wouldn’t be a baby?)

Shhhhhhhhhh.

I am aware.

I’ve always been aware.

I have always been able to go there.  To that dark place.  With you.  With all of you.  I have listened to you gripe, and showed up for you time and time again.  And now I am hyper aware you cannot do the same for me.  I am hyper aware of your ginger emails, your bad jokes, your avoidance of pain because it’s too much for you.  I am hyper aware that even saying this drives you further from me.  I am hyper aware of your shortcomings, your defects that make you human.  I am disgusted.  Better to be disgusted by you than the blood and pain that won’t stop.

I know.  That was disgusting.

Now do you know how it feels?

Shhhhhhhh.

It won’t be this way forever.

I will start thinking like a grounded, science-minded educated woman again.  I will be your strong girl.  I will not feel like living is akin to peeling the first layer of your skin off constantly.  The chest pain will cease, and the moments that make life unbearable will lose their strength.  I will stop contemplating starving myself or throwing myself into exercise to drown you out.

(Why not betray the body when the body has betrayed you?  Why not use whatever the fuck I want to feel better?  I’ve seen way too much loss, too many last breaths, the smell of death.  Someone dying while they’re still alive.  So fuck you, and your “you can recover fully!” bullshit.  This shit comes around, like an old shady friend, following you up that spiral staircase and re-emerging when you’re most vulnerable.)

Shhhhhhhh.

Go to sleep, baby –

maybe you’ll get to be free now

 

 

Growing Up, Littleton Style

I remember it as this:  it was always the poor, disadvantaged kids who were nicer.

I mean, not always.  There was that field trip to Salem where my best friend’s shoes were made fun of by one of the “badasses” of our class, and there was that one bully who so thoughtfully nicknamed me Turtle due to my unathletic, overweight nature.  I remember leaving the junior high dance one night, crying, because my flowered leggings apparently warranted the label of “slut” – this, to a girl who wouldn’t be kissed until she was 15.  My mother cried that night too.

But I have seen more acts of kindness from the kids from the “other side of the tracks” now that we’re grown, and kinder, and our edges have been sanded down.  And it was the same kids who gave me compliments when I lost weight (albeit, unhealthily, but how could they have known?)

It was the higher-scoring, soccer-playing, Z-Cavaricci wearing kids who didn’t give a fuck – now or then.  It was as if they were exempt from not clapping for me when I got an award “because I was Amanda Bruce”, or from making fun of their friend who had to kiss me in the school play (FYI, there’d be a bunch of dudes from the Greater Boston area who’d disagree with you today, suckers.)  It was interesting.  Achievement and money put a veil over their eyes, blinding them from the spiritual blunders they made.  I see it in the different financial populations I’ve counseled today as well.

I could see how some people might think I’m stuck in the past, that I might be…pitiful, not moving on.  (My husband and I have a joke, that I’m like Steve Buschemi’s character from Billy Madison, the one that crosses Billy off his “People to Kill” list after Billy apologizes to him for bullying.  Google it, it’s hilarious.)  But I know who I am.  And I think it’s really important to talk about our own personal truths and have them be honored.  It’s only by doing so that other people can honor theirs.  Vulnerability reaps compassion.

In the end, I know that hurt people hurt people.  And that’s why all the kids who did what they did to that one observer girl who sat silently in class.  They were just as hurt as I was, regardless of class or ability to get an A in level 5 English.

Recently, (with both positive and negative qualities) I’ve felt warrior-like.  Willing to swoop in and take whatever I’ve earned.  On a run recently, I watched a red-tailed hawk dive in from nowhere, pounce on a smaller bird, and ascend back into the sky, with no guilt or misgivings.  The hawk knew what it wanted, and it went for it.  I identify with that.

But with that hawk’s ruthlessness comes a tricky balance of justice.  When you start to take what you want, without thought; when you start to embrace your power after being at a disadvantaged place – the scales can tip too far the other way, sometimes.  I often have to watch that in myself.  I cannot mistake passion for ruthlessness.  I cannot be rash because I suddenly am successful.

I want more compassion.  I want more justice.  I want communities where people are willing to apologize for hurt feelings, even if they didn’t intend to hurt.  I want painful truths, spoken over and over and over again, until those who deny their very existence can no longer do so.  Until they are acknowledged.  I want this, for my 4 year old child who will enter kindergarten in the Fall of 2017.  Recently, I watched some of the same ignorance and bullying happen to my extended family in that very town I grew up in; it was hard to think that nothing had changed.  The town could be better than that.

I find it so interesting some members of our world have come to view compassion as an Achilles’ Heel, when it is actually the biggest superpower of all.