on control.

“Well, she can’t control her children.”

We’ve all heard it. We’ve all thought it. Some of us may have even said it. She can’t control her children. He can’t control his child. They can’t control their children. When I hear this simple phrase, I want to turn, smile, and offer a simple, “No. They sure can’t.”

Control. We all want control, don’t we? We want to control the outcome of a test (or an election). We want to control the results of a competition (or a pregnancy test). We want to control the twists and turns of our lives—and the lives of our children—as if we are all puzzle pieces just waiting to find the surrounding pieces, so everything can fall into place.

Sometimes, when I am out with my kids, my girl starts to cry. She doesn’t want to be confined to a seat or a wrap. My son might sit on the ground and refuse to move because that floor grate must be investigated—immediately. I would be forced to agree with you: I cannot control my children.

Here, though, may be where our paths diverge. You see, I neither want nor expect to control my children. If E wants to sit on the ground in the middle of Lowe’s and examine the bottom row of nails—which we all know is endlessly fascinating—I have a few options. I can firmly tell him to stand and continue with my day. I can squat down next to him and ask him what he sees, or what he likes. I can pick him up and mitigate the exploration altogether.

From there, however, I am powerless. If I tell him to stand, he may rocket back with just as firm a “No.” If I squat down beside him, he might take advantage of the opportunity to leap to his feet and run to the next aisle, giggles ablaze. If I pick him up, he may flail and wiggle to be free until I am forced to set him down again.

And you know what? That is okay. Because at the end of the day, my children are not my possessions whose will must bend at my behest. My children are not puppets for me to tinker with, play with, until I get the puzzle piece just right. My children are their own human beings, separate and full, and have just as many ideas, thoughts, and opinions as I, some of which will compete (and ultimately overpower) mine.

While I am not suggesting we should wholeheartedly encourage children to throw massive tantrums, kicking and biting anyone who comes close, what I have learned is this: he is allowed to feel. She is allowed to feel. And guess what—

I, too, am allowed to feel.

I am allowed to feel heartbroken when E is having a rough speech day. I am allowed to feel frustrated when I refuses the pears she loved yesterday morning. My husband is allowed to feel overwhelmed when he comes home and the house is a wreck and we are all having meltdowns.

(Myself included).

We are allowed to feel. My purpose is not to teach my kids that yelling is bad, that showing feelings is naughty, that good children are quiet and complacent and don’t have an opinion. My job is to teach them how to know themselves. How to know what they are feeling, what they want to do with it, and healthy ways to deal with and express those feelings.

I was once on the other side of that judgmental phrase. I’d see a child in a grocery store, wildly flailing about, and I’d think to myself, “Yikes, mom. Let’s tone it down, shall we?” It wasn’t until I had a child of my own—two children of my own—that I really felt the plight of the parent trying to run an errand, pick up a gift, pay a bill, with a child in tow.

And therein lies the problem: I wasn’t willing to listen until the problem was my own. I didn’t offer comfort until the experience knocked on my door. And so, of course, I am reminded of some of what’s going on in our country. We operate under the misguided notion that there are two sides: parent and child. Someone in control, someone under a thumb. We assume that one must be better, one must be superior, to lift one up is to snub another or push another down—and that simply isn’t true.

Removing a statue glorifying a terrible time in a country’s history does not—and should not—inspire rage. Proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” is not tantamount to screaming that white lives don’t. Marching to protest the continuation of hatred and division is not disrupting the peace. It is not up to us to control anyone but ourselves.

There are some unspeakable ideas in the world. Unspeakable thoughts, opinions, and desires. Some of these are rooted in beliefs upheld for the sake of tradition. We’ve always done it one way, so we always should do it that way, no? Some of these are held in deep misunderstanding. You’ve never stopped to consider someone else’s life, someone else’s experience. You are judging another under the framework of your own life, and the two just don’t fit.

I am a white woman. I live a comfortable life, supported primarily by my husband, living in a home with my two children. I have the privilege of spending my days with my kids, working a few hours a day for a little extra to fix something on the house or keep up with unexpected expenses. I don’t know what it means to be a minority. I don’t know what it means to live unsure of where food will come from next. I don’t know what it means to walk past someone on the street and feel the uncertainty in their gait or catch the fear in their eyes for something I’ve never done.

What I do know, though, is that I can be culpable of ignorance. I can sidle past someone begging for food on the side of the road, experiencing little more than a pang of sadness before I go about my day. I can see a child with tattered clothes or messy hair and feel anger with parents, not knowing whether they’re doing everything they can to scrape enough money together for those tattered clothes.

I am capable of compassion, yes. I am capable of empathy, yes. But just as I judged parents with unruly children before my own wonderful, unruly little creatures fell into my lap, I can just as readily adopt ignorance, making judgments and laying blame without knowing the full story, without considering someone else’s life or background or fears. As a mother, a wife, a woman, and a human, my job—my purpose—is to make the lives of others better for having me in it. My purpose is to improve upon the world, rather than adopt old habits and ignore when things need to change. I can’t control the cruelty of the people around me any more than I can control the suffering of people around me.

I can, however, control my reactions, acknowledge my shortcomings, apologize for my failures, and work my hardest to shed faulty notions, biased opinions, and ignorant behavior, and I can teach my children to do the same, hoping that one day—soon—these lessons will not be confined to my home, but commonplace, simple, and expected.

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on motherhood // where we are now

being a parent is hard. your heart leaps, screams, sings hundreds of times a day… your heart breaks millions of times a day.

you eagerly anticipate the day you’ll hear your beloved children talk, hear their thoughts and ideas, learn more about what they think, what they feel, how they see.

you joyfully look forward to the day of baby dolls and toy trucks, of pretending to feed a stuffed bear, and have blankets tied around their shoulders like a superhero’s cape.

you wait for 2 ½ years, and those things never come. you keep waiting, waiting—“will he say ‘mama’ today? will he start showing us who he is? will we get a glimpse into his world?”—but that day keeps not coming.

it used to loom in the distance–far away, but visible.

now it wavers, it twists—a mirage in a sweltering desert.

some days, i am okay with this. i research, i study, i plan.

‘we’ll get through this. we’ll get this figured out. everything will be okay.’

other days, it is all I can do not to sink to my knees and sob.

inadequacy has never spoken so loudly. i did everything right, didn’t i? i took all of my vitamins, i exercised, i gave him his nutrients. i gave birth without medication, without intervention. i nursed him, fed him only unprocessed, organic foods. i did everything right.

and here we go again, my little girl—my breasts will not produce enough milk, will not provide for her everything that she needs.

but I did everything right.

you don’t expect this, when you start a family.

when you see that tiny blue strip, that line that says, “this is happening,” you don’t envision a future of doctor’s visits, evaluations, unrealized hope day after day after day.

it could all be worse, I know.

we could all be worse, I know.

but not getting to hear him speak, not getting to watch him play and interact and learn and grow is the most vulnerable, powerless, helpless hell that I have ever experienced, and it hurts.

not every single second of every single day. but every time i stop to breathe, every time i close my eyes, it is there: fear. helplessness. disgust with my own inability to provide for my children—unable to protect them from this, from illness, from hurt.

it hurts.

i keep waiting for good news. we’ve scheduled evaluations, we’ve visited doctors. so now we wait. we wait and we hope and we work on our words, our letters, our eye contact, our social habits, our gestures, our comfort with the unknown.

and a part of me—

a huge part of me—

is terrified this is all my doing.

i’m the one with a host of disorders, none of them as glamorous or entertaining as they are often made out to be. i’m the one who cares for them all day, every day. i’m the one who carried them in my womb, who should be able to care for and protect them. i’m the one they trusted. the one they relied upon.

so all i can do now is wait. wait and hope for good news. wait and hope for changes, small improvements, subtle shifts.

we pray, we beg God for intervention, for help, for miracles. we practice speech, we practice playing, we find routines and consistency and habits.

we hope, we pray, we wait. we sleep, then wake up the next day to do it all over again. and ever, still, we hope.

on plans

i planned differently, this time around.

‘i’m not going to make the same mistakes i did with eli. iris will be more independent, less afraid, because i’m going to be more independent and less afraid.’

the best-laid plans, no?

my husband works an hour away. in the morning, he leaves for work an hour ahead of his schedule, and returns between 1 and 2 hours after his schedule (retail loves working past hours, after all).

between 11 and 13 hours, i am on my own, managing two children two and under, two cats, and a dog whose behavior has steadily worsened with the arrival of iris.

most days, i manage. we turn on music, we dance and sing, we read books, we practice letters. we practice laying on our tummies, i race between watching children and throwing loads of laundry into the washer. i race between caring for a child who refuses to sleep without me for more than 20 minutes and working.

we eat dinner, we read stories, we sing, we pray, we go to sleep. a few hours later, our fella comes home, and exhausted after long days, we all collapse into the bed, hoping to feel rested for another round 8 hours later.

parenting is not a glamorous position. i get to experience massive belly laughs for something as simple as making sniffing noises like a bunny, and i get to change my shirt 3 times a day because i am soaked through with drool.

i get to hear my son in his room during quiet time, joyously shouting, “…5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10! 10! 10!” i get to bite my lip in frustration when my girl, once again, wakes up the moment my nipple has slipped from her mouth, the moment the warmth of my body is not beside her.

we get to experience the joy of cramming all four of us into eli’s little room on days off, just before bed, with lights low and stories abounding.

we get to experience a rushed few words of greeting before all but passing out.

this isn’t what we’d planned. we’d planned for greater autonomy, greater rest, a more equitable division of parenting.

and sometimes, we get frustrated. frustrated at ourselves, a slow burn of inward derision, sometimes we get frustrated at each other, picking fights over inconsequential matters to make our passing ships feel a little less starved.

but sometimes, we get to see a spark of what’s to come, a glimpse of working toward something greater than right this moment, and we can find a moment of rest, a moment of peace.

our plans haven’t worked out as we’d though.

but, really, in a world governed by chance, ease, convenience–do they ever?

on motherhood // introversion

as any cursory internet search can tell you, identifying yourself as an introvert or extrovert can lend tremendous insight into your own inner workings.

as an extrovert, you might have previously been unsure why you craved the presence of others, and as an introvert, you might have felt out of place for craving solitude or silence.

i am an introvert. this is not news to me, nor was it particularly surprising. what i didn’t anticipate, however, was how strongly this would play a role in my experience of motherhood.

early in my relationship with mario, my introversion created ire between us; although my extrovert husband thrived seeing friends on a near-constant basis, any more than one social gathering per week, and i felt overwhelmed, drained, and vaguely irritated, like a persistent itch in the back of my throat.

he couldn’t understand why i didn’t want to be around his friends, and i couldn’t fathom him wanting to have that many people in his space all. the. time.

eventually, we reached a place where we accepted this difference in our worldview, and moved past it.

then along came eli. as i’ve mentioned (probably too many times to count), i felt at odds with motherhood. women often talk of how natural it feels, how joyful and exciting it is, and although i adored my son, motherhood as a whole felt awkward and ill-fitting. the unending attention and reality of never being alone left me drained–emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted.

and then, when eli was eleven months old, my mom finally put her foot down, shoved me out the door, and told me to stay gone for at least two hours without my son.

initially, i was terrified, and texted her every ten minutes to make sure he was okay. after an hour, though, i felt more myself and more relaxed than i had in almost a year.

i learned to let go, a little. and i gained myself back, a little.

from then on, i practiced. i left eli with mario to run 20-minute errands, then thirty, then forty, then an hour. finally, i began teacher training, and left my little boy with his dad for upwards of eight hours.

and it was beautiful. i felt liberated, at peace, and–finally, blessedly–myself.

then iris came into the picture, and i found myself faltering once again. well-meaning urgings from my mom, my sister, and even my husband–“let me take her, just for a walk around the block,” “just run to the store; i can watch her” left me reeling and shaking my head.

“no, it’s okay. i’ve got her. maybe when she’s older.”

then two months went by, and i was holed up in my house, never parting from my little lady and little fellow.

which, again, left me overwhelmed, frustrated, and drained.

and then my husband’s hands were gently–firmly–shoving me out the door.

“go. i’ll take her.”

and so i did.

and my proverbial batteries were recharged.

and then, this morning. the air outside was cool, fresh. the moon shone steady above me, and i got to take thirty minutes to myself for a tiny, simple errand, and again: such a small thing, but i felt stronger, more capable, more at peace.

and there it was: motherhood is not easy. of course, it isn’t. but this is something i feel isn’t often talked about. being an introvert and being a mom sometimes mixes as effectively as oil and water. all-day, unending talking, or crying, and never being alone takes its toll.

it takes an already-difficult task–being around people on a regular basis–and enforces it every. single. moment.

if you find yourself in a similar position: prone to introversion, with children to care for, don’t forget to find a quiet, still moment (or 30) to yourself to breathe, to be still.

on practice // better materials // kitchen

in theory, i respect myself and others.

in theory, i respect this planet, and all it has provided me–food, health, solid ground.

in practice, i say something different.

in practice, all too often, i say convenience rules the day.

practicing your beliefs is so much more difficult than simply speaking them.

isn’t it?

i can smile, joyfully proclaim that “the greatest of these is love,” yet want to scream at my cat when he misses the litter box.

i can purchase cloth bags, hang them on the door, ready for a moment’s notice grocery trip, yet leave them behind and decide turning around is far too bothersome.

what is it, then, that holds me back? habit, some.

fear, some.

simple forgetfulness, some.

but these (legitimate) reasons far too easily wander into excuses and lead me on a path i don’t want to travel down.

so, in the spirit of practicing what i preach, i offer these practical applications of seeking out and using better materials–better for you, for me, for the earth.

kitchen

kitchens are one of the largest culprits in hoarding low-quality, plastic items. from dishes, to scrubbers, to mops, ads manage to convince us that particular gadget will revolutionize cleaning, or eliminate grease.

simplicity will do just fine.

to clean dishes, a simple rag will do. a scraper will clean those cast-iron pots. a coconut-bristle brush will scrape away meddlesome debris. and when you’ve finished? when that rag has more holes than you can count, all of the bristles have fallen out, leaving a useless stick in hand? toss them in the compost heap. simple, effective, and–dare i say–elegant.

floors are a bit trickier. walk the aisles of a general store or supermarket, and you usually find plastic–plastic bristles, plastic handles, plastic trays. you’ll find, too, that these bear a tiny price tag. a price tag that says, “this can be replaced. this can be tossed out.” once again, consider an alternative. consider wood. horse-hair bristles, perhaps. a metal tray.

take a look in your cupboards, your fridge. you might find plates, bowls, utensils made of plastic. you might find plastic tupperware, plastic packages of pre-made food. again, see if you might make a change. visit the local thrift store and find some plates that suit your fancy. consider investing in cast iron for cooking, glass for storage, bamboo for cooking utensils. consider purchasing in bulk bins using your own bags, planning ahead to eliminate single-use plastic and paper, shopping a farmer’s market, and saving your leftovers sustainably.

above all, pay attention. pay attention to your needs and your wants, and learn to recognize which is which. if you already have a synthetic-bristle broom, don’t rush it to a landfill in favor of more sustainable options; use what you have, and replace items sustainably as you need to, as you go.

use what you have. care for what you have. decide where you put your money–where you place your priorities–and proceed accordingly. perhaps a wood-handled scrub brush means little to you, but donating to charity means the world. donate. perhaps your heart aches for animals–source cruelty-free products. whatever your particular cause might be, take a moment out of your day to identify one step (perhaps only the size of a pea) you can take toward putting your convictions into practice.

 

 

on gratitude // a brief tenure in the lds church

for a time, i was involved with the lds church.

the reasons are varied–some simplistic, some complex–relating largely to a new relationship and the desire to fit into a place i was wholly unfamiliar with and bewildered by.

the reasons and background, however, don’t matter.

what matters is this: however brief it was, i have found myself feeling grateful for my time spent participating in the lds religion.

growing up, my attitude toward the church was primarily one of sadness: both my parents were raised lds, so the basic ideas and framework of the church were familiar to me. having spent a large portion of my childhood in a small town rife with lds men and women, i had several friends who were mormon, and was regularly invited to attend various events with these friends.

what was unfamiliar to me, however, before moving to utah, was the all-encompassing, inclusive nature of the lds church. although i’d found myself learning more about other religions (visiting various religious sites, or simply reading about different beliefs), never before had i lived in a land where compliance was not simply enforced, but expected. upon walking into my first classroom my first day at my university, i was immediately faced with the question, “what ward are you in?”

thus began the awkward process of explaining i was not, in fact, lds, and feeling the distinct weight of disappointment on my classmates’ faces. i was an outsider, and i was made very aware of it.

but no matter: i made a few friends–most of them lds, two of them not. i was not entirely inundated by requests to attend lds events and classes, but was able to politely decline at least one request per week.

i felt no anger toward the church. again, only a distant sadness, knowing how it was started, knowing what it taught, and knowing how it had treated beloved members of my family.

and then i entered into a relationship, a year after moving to Utah, with a man who was decidedly lds in his leanings, and who made it something of a mission to make sure i was the same.

again, i’ll not go into particulars here, as the particulars don’t quite matter. the choice i was faced with was this: convert, or lose the person i loved.

as i’m sure you can imagine, i chose to convert.

initially, things were smooth. i met with missionaries. i began reading the book of mormon. i smiled. i was quiet. i accepted that my clothing choices needed to change, some–and as silly as it may seem, that sparked some anger in me. to be told my shoulders were indecent unsettled me. but again, my relationship was more important to me than baring my arms, so i complied. my shorter skirts were tucked away, and my cardigan habit doubled.

lessons continued. everything in me resisted. i didn’t believe this. there were so many things that didn’t make sense, so many beliefs that demonstrated character of a God that was not the God i knew–and quite frankly, not a God i liked.

this new God felt that women were lesser than men.
they were wombs to be filled, and little else.
they were subservient creatures, created to carry men.
they were expected to share their husbands (prior to complying to federal law, yes)

above everything else i questioned and felt uneasy with, the standing of women hurt. it confused me. i read the bible again and again, trying to reconcile this view of women, this view of family, and of marriage.
again and again, i came up short.
it didn’t fit.

but again, i didn’t want to lose him. so my smiles remained, though perhaps a little more strained. i continued going to church every sunday, though many teachings resulted in me gritting my teeth and practically screaming to run out the door.

i stayed.

and then, there it was: every time i had a lesson, the question of when i would be baptized. and pressure. unbearable, unbelievable pressure. from him, from others, from the missionaries.
when? when will you be baptized?

i stalled, for a while. i ignored the questions.
more and more, though, it became apparent: schedule a baptism, or schedule a breakup.

i scheduled the baptism.

and i can recall the day so clearly. i’d made my own dress, a misguided attempt to busy my hands, distract myself, take some control of my situation.
i remember standing outside just before, shaking. i called my aunt, terrified of starting a family feud by not inviting her, and told her when it was happening.
and then it was time to go inside.

i truthfully don’t remember much more from that night. i remember people smiling. i remember going to dinner, feeling violated and alone and scared, locked in this idea of who i was supposed to be, despite not knowing that girl–not knowing her at all.

i remember feeling guilt. guilt for abandoning my beliefs for a boy, guilt for not feeling happy or excited, guilt for so many half-truths and outright lies. i remember going home, crying, and falling asleep alone.

soon after, i left utah. and for the life of me, i can’t find any other way to describe it: i felt like i could breathe. for the first time in a year, i wasn’t stuck in a bubble of fear, confusion, and self-loathing. i gained space, and i gained clarity. and it soon became abundantly clear: i could not do it. i could not continue being a part of a church that upheld demeaning women as being family-focused and uplifting.

and so, with far more dramatic flair and far less transparency than i should have had, i abandoned all pretense of it. and as it turns out, i didn’t lose my relationship. ultimately, what i’d lost was my self-respect, my strength, and my resolve.

and ultimately, the lds church gave it right back.

you see, prior to this, women’s rights and sexism weren’t much but a blip on my radar. although i loved politics, i was far more interested in debating legal issues, rather than social ones. i knew i hated being treated like an object, and i knew i felt frustrated with the tropes surrounding both men and women, but i didn’t make the space for it in my head and heart that it deserved.

reading the doctrine and covenants gave me the clarity i needed, and afforded me the slap in the face that was long overdue: women deserve equal treatment. women should not be regarded as lesser beings, as less-than, by virtue of having a vagina and ovaries.

women are human beings, deserving of dignity, respect, and freedom. their worth is not and should not be pigeonholed into whether or not they are married, whether or not they are mothers, or whether or not they are breadwinners, just as men should not be judged by marital status, fatherhood, or how much they provide. these things are small, insignificant facets of human personalities and backgrounds, and are not indications of worth.

although i am still working through a lot of residual anger, some of it has settled for the simple reason that, were it not for my time in the lds church, i would not be where i am today. were it not for that day i read the d&c, where a supposed message from God told emma smith that failure to allow joseph to take multiple wives would result in her destruction, a spark was lit in me. a spark that has brought me to some incredible writers, some incredible movements, and the beautiful, liberating determination that human beings–all human beings, regardless of genitals, nationalities, or otherwise–are equally deserving of freedom, dignity, and respect.

on control

‘my heart is an isolationist, and isolationism never helped anybody.’i wrote this phrase months and months ago. 
still, it haunts me, leaping to the forefront of my thoughts, a whisper in my ear. 

and here i sit, months and months later, my heart as closed, as rigid, as stubborn as ever. 
i feel sorry for myself, sometimes. ride the train, wailing ‘nobody likes me,’ round and round, but maybe the truth is this: 
i don’t like anybody. 

i am too self-focused to get to know anybody 

i

i

i

i

this is a hard pill to swallow, realizing you are the common denominator in your struggles, you are the tsunami sweeping over land, devastation in its wake. 
you are the problem. 
(i am the problem)

i have a barrel of excuses. 
excuses as thin as not having enough time, 

as vast as having too much fear, 

as complicated as past trauma and anxiety. 

but
at the end of the day

this one thing remains:

they are excuses. 

words designed to keep me safely ensconced in my comfort zone, to ward off hurt or embarrassment, and to keep my world comfortably small. 

manageable. 

controlled. 

and that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? 
control. 

the ugliness in the world, by and large, is derived from an unchecked urge to always 

always

be in control. 

love, compassion, empathy, generosity require the loss of control. 
forgiveness, too. 

and maybe i need to realize:

i was never really in control, anyway.