Finding the Peace in My Past, Present and Future

A good friend of mine posted this quote on her Facebook wall a couple of weeks ago and I have been thinking about it since:

If you are depressed you are living in the past.

If you are anxious you are living in the future.

If you are at peace you are living in the present.

Lao Tzu~ Ancient Chinese philosopher and author of the spiritual text, Tao Te Cheng.

In my life I have been all three, and because of this quote, I now know why.

A month after we got married in August of 2005, we moved to Seattle. We quit our jobs just before the wedding. We sold our home while on our honeymoon and when we got back, we packed up the road-tripping essentials and headed West. When we arrived in Seattle, we settled into my in-laws guest bedroom on what was to be a temporary basis. We were two, young, educated and employable people. We were pretty sure it wouldn’t take long to find jobs, which in turn, would allow us to find a place of our own. We intended to spend a few short months in this living arrangement. No big deal. Totally doable.

What’s that saying? The road to hell is paved with good intentions?

January rolled around and I still hadn’t found a job. Then it rained for 27 consecutive days; six days shy of the all-time record set 60 years prior. I had not made friends yet. My in-laws made salmon four nights a week. We began to argue. My list of negatives were stacking up thicker than the moss. With no friends, no job, no home, no sunshine and the fact that I was spending a good portion of my first year as a married woman across the hall from my in-laws, (whom I barely knew, and who barely knew me), I was headed to crazy town on a speeding train.

I kind of lost it. I left for a while. I contemplated leaving for a long time.

Then my Mother got cancer.

Like a flimsy bi-plane shot down with a missile, I tail-spinned deeper than I imagined possible into the firey depths of depression and people… I have an active imagination.

Six years later and with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that year was about mourning. I was mourning my former life. I was mourning my independence, my freedom, my choices and all the paths not taken and ones I would never take again. I was mourning my childish naivety that parents never die. All that and sunshine too. Oh I mourned hard.

Mourning is nothing if not living in the past and because I couldn’t escape thoughts of my past, I was Depressed with a capital D.

But eventually… I got a job, a good one that I also enjoyed. My Mom got treatment and the cancer went away and 12 loooooong months after we moved into my in-laws, we moved out. At some point, the smoke from the crash dissapated and grass grew over the charred Earth. I was happy again.

Then I had a baby and I’ve lived in a near state of panic ever since.

Nothing will instill a fear of the future in your heart like having a child. Overnight I was painfully, acutely, alarmingly aware of the prevalence of BPA, CFLs, GMOs, MSG and all the painted, plastic shit that’s Made in China. And now I have two babies which means my anxiety produces a steady hum somewhere between stock-piling organic, canned goods, and needing xanax-laced night caps.

Worrying about my babies’ future is a time-consuming, anxiety-inducing process.

Then… then there are days like today. Today, I took my babies to the beach on a whim. We had a picnic of sandwiches, yogurt, grapes and baby food. We played with sand and threw rocks in the ocean. We incited a frenzy of pushy seagulls with our grapes and I let my daughter walk around in a pink princess Pull-up after she accidentally peed her pants on our picnic blanket. This fact ruined most of my photo ops and part of my sandwich but it didn’t matter, because it was still glory on the highest, worth more than a hundred tropical sunsets and a thousand mountain region starry skies.

As I drove home they fell asleep in the backseat. I couldn’t stop smiling as I stole glimpses of them in the rearview mirror. I felt contented and peaceful… because I was completely present. The spur of the moment decision, the idealistic weather, my babies, the view, the sharing of food with each other and the flocking birds, watching their faces in laughter and sunlight, it was all too, too much and more than enough. It was hard not to be just…there, right there, in it, of it, because of it, all of it.

Now, if I could only find a way to bottle that shit up I’d be a millionaire… and I could stop worrying about how I’m going to build that bomb shelter in my backyard.

Memorial Day

I love cemeteries. In one of my college media classes I was given an assignment to create a video using the principles of visual composition. I chose to shoot it at a cemetery that didn’t allow head stones. The barren, rolling hills dotted with vases of flowers made for a compelling visual. It was a wonderful experience overall and one that I have never forgotten. It inspired my love of these places for the vivid sensory experience they provide.

But that’s not the only reason why I love them. I find them to be deeply spiritual, intensely reverent places. The immediate intimacy I feel with strangers in these sacred spaces makes me to feel connected to all of humanity, past and present.

As it turns out, I am particularly grounded on hallowed ground.

I believe that every life has a purpose. I believe there are a thousand stories to be told and a million lessons to learn in one single lifetime. As a lover of both these things–stories and lessons–I feel them most intensly among the hundreds of markers that mark the life and death of hundreds of people. If I wasn’t diametrically opposed to embalming, and I didn’t believe so much in recycling, I might even choose to be buried at one.

There is a Memorial Park five blocks from our house and although we have lived here for six years, today was the first time we visited–very apropos don’t you think? It being Memorial Day and all. Sunset Memorial Park, Bellevue, WA

For someone who loves cemeteries, it exceeded my every expectation.

Every Memorial Day they have an elaborate service complete with a military fly over. We have never attended, but we can hear and see the planes from our house. On Memorial weekend and the Fourth of July, they also line the entrance with American flags. It’s inspiring to drive by, let alone walk through.

The main building of the Memorial Park is on a hilltop next to a Veteran’s Museum. Just past that, is a gentle downward slope filled with gravestones, fountains, mausoleums and various other stone things.

Today, they handed out free hotdogs.

As we sat on the top of a hill, near a fountain, under a Japanese Maple eating our hot dogs; I took a picture of my husband and son. Behind them I noticed a Chinese couple lighting candles and setting out food in front of a stone. I couldn’t help but watch such a loving exchange between family members.

When they left, I couldn’t help myself again as I took a picture of what they left behind.

A thousand stories.

After we ate, we made our way down the hill where I saw this statue on the top of a mausoleum. Jesus in supplication.

The color of blue, the cloud-filled sky, the look on his face, his hands just so; in them.. a million life lessons.

At the bottom of the hill was the newest section. It was a golf memorial for people who wish to be remembered by their passion for the sport. There was a putting green complete with sand trap, statues of little golfing men, beautiful landscape and a fountain with a rock stream. What an incredible place to go and remember someone you love who loved golf! It felt happy, joyful, a playful setting to both rest and reflect. We couldn’t help ourselves, yet again. We laughed as we played.

There was one single patron of this golf memorial. His last name was Jones and he was 110 years old. I bet he could have told a hundred (and ten) stories.

As we walked back up the hill we were passed by an early 1970’s-style, faded, metallic brown, Mercury station wagon. In the passenger’s seat was a bouffant of white hair adorned with an oil-cloth head covering tied up under her chin. Sitting next to her was a man of equal age and equally whitened hair. They were dwarfed by this massive vehicle and in an ironic twist, looked like children behind the wheel. They sailed passed us in that ancient vessel ten times slower than the world around them and I couldn’t help but wonder how many years they’d been coming here, in that car, wearing those clothes, and visiting the same person.

Stories. All intriguing, important, heart-felt stories as multi-faceted and layered as the Earth in which they now lay. It’s an excavation project that consumes my daily thoughts.

I stood back and watched the clusters of people huddled around their loved ones; some were kneeling still tending to needs; other’s stood in piety with hands behind their backs. Still other’s brought chairs, sat down for a spell, had nice visits and one-sided conversations–no doubt about those life lessons.

Man, I do love cemeteries. In spite of what they appear to be, I find them to be life-affirming, happy places that are not just about the solemnity of remembering, but the solace of loving.

Today just reaffirmed that.

Does It Matter?

Photo Credit: skyandfireflies.tumblr.com

Photo Credit: skyandfireflies.tumblr.com

For whatever reason, my three-year-old daughter tunes into emotions. Whenever she hears someone crying, she always points it out. I’ve encouraged her to hug people when they cry, to try to help people if they are sad by being kind. Mostly the other kids push her away, but I praise her anyway. I don’t want her to be scared of people who are hurting.

Today we walked into a popular pizza place on a beach strip. We were quickly ushered to the crumb-littered section for people with small children. Fine, whatever, I understand. We sat down at a four-top, my daughter and I on one side, my son in the high chair on the end, and my husband on the other side. Directly behind me and my daughter, was a mother and son. They weren’t but two feet away because when the little boy turned around, I could see his baby blue eyes. He was probably four.

A minute or so after we sat down I heard the mother scold her son quite loudly. Now, I am not one to judge other parents. Believe me, we are all doing the best we can. My first thought at hearing this was sympathy for her. I know that kind of frustration well.

My daughter, the people watcher she is, tuned into her harsh tone immediately.

Five minutes passed and the woman had now scolded the little boy for turning around, spilling food, grabbing food and talking. Throughout it all, I never even heard the boy’s voice. The first time I heard him speak, was through his cry.

That’s when my daughter let me know that he was crying.

Ten minutes passed and the mother took him to the restroom. On their way back she was pulling him by the arm and he was crying. They sat back down and things continued just as before.

My daughter was fixated on the toxic exchange between them. She doesn’t know enough not to stare so she did, blatantly. “Hey honey, let’s color. Look a horse! Hey honey, do you want some pizza? Hey honey, do you want to play with my phone?”

People, if I’m willingly offering my toddler my only access to taking pictures and uploading them to Facebook, then you KNOW I’m desperate to distract her.

Nothing could take her attention away from this mother and son and their dynamic. Each time he cried, she let me know. He cried three times in 15 minutes.

I began the loud passive-aggressive sighs and whiplash head turns everytime she spoke to him harshly. She was  unphased. I looked around to see if anyone else was witnessing this scene just to make sure I wasn’t being, you know, too sensitive. There was a man sitting with them who was obviously not the boy’s father by his complete and total apathy toward what was happening. When I caught his eye he gave me a shrug as though he understood what I was thinking.

I struggled with this mightily. I didn’t want to judge this mother. I know what exasperation and frustration feel like with toddlers in public. I have yelled, too. But there was something sadistic in her berating of this little boy. The way he didn’t speak loud enough for me to hear, and yet nothing he said was okay with her. They way he looked when he turned around, his sad eyes. He couldn’t do anything right to please her and he knew it.

When he turned around my daughter looked straight at him and yelled, “Hey, you turn around.” Just like his mother had done minutes before.

I turned to her and said, “No, no honey. You don’t talk to people like that. His mommy is talking to him…” And then I stopped and said a little louder, “And I don’t like the way she’s talking to him, it’s not nice.”

I cringed a little inside. I was nervous to have said something so judgmental, so loudly.

“But he needs to turn around.” She continued.

“No honey, he doesn’t. He’s okay. I don’t like that his mommy is talking to him like that and we don’t talk that, do you hear me?” I said it again, this time in a whisper.

My daughter looked confused. We resumed eating, the mother resumed berating.

When moments like this happen this little voice creeps into my head. It was put there by my mother–a seething hatred of injustice. Then, that phrase starts repeating in my head; the phrase that always comes up when something feels hard, but right… Be the change. Be the change. Be the person you are trying to teach her how to be. BE the change.

The next time she admonished her son I turned around and said, verbatim, doing my best to squelch the anger and judgement I was feeling, “Excuse me. Could you please be nicer to your son. My daughter is mimicking you.”

She looked shocked. I must have too because it was the first time I saw her face. Before I laid eyes on her, I judged her. Now that I was looking at her, sadly, I was judging more. She was young. She had Old English tattooed letters up her entire arm and heavy, black eye makeup. She gave me an awkward half-smile and said in a shaky voice, “Um, okay.”

For the next five minutes she was nice to him. She changed her tone. She didn’t yell or insult him and he didn’t cry. It was an uncomfortable five minutes for me and my husband because I had just confronted a stranger and my husband didn’t agree with me on this. We tried to act nonchalant, we barely spoke.

I don’t know if I what I did was right. I don’t know if there was any right thing to do. Afterall, I was judging her.

I do know that I wanted my daughter to see me stand up for that boy, because I know that your children will do what you do, not what you say. I wanted my daughter to know that it was NOT okay to talk to anyone like that even if it is your mommy. I wanted her to see me say something, because all it takes for evil to persist is for good people to do nothing. Please do not misread me, I am not calling this mother evil. With a little distance from the situation, I actually feel a quite a bit of compassion for her whatever her circumstances may be.

But in that moment, she was not doing right by her son or my observant three year old.

That much I know.

But at the end of this day it’s not my daughter that I still worry about. It is that little boy. He’s just a boy with bright, baby blue eyes and already too many confusing things to figure out in his world. More than my daughter, I wanted him to see me, to see someone, say something.

I don’t know if it mattered. I don’t know if it was right, but I do know that I don’t regret it.

Because if there is one thing I dislike more than embarassing myself in public, it is regret over what I could have, should have done.

What would you have done?

*This post was syndicated by BlogHer

Syndicated on BlogHer.com

The Fabric of Our Lives

There are two beliefs that flow like an undercurrent beneath all the stratified layers of anxiety in my life.

The details of our pasts make up the individual patches in the quilt of our lives and those patches are vital to the patterns we create in our future.

And…

The most important, impactful and formative patterns in this quilt happen between the ages of 2 and 18-ish.

These two beliefs radiate from the core of 90% of my decisions and thoughts; everything from choosing to stay home with my children and planning ridiculous, themed, birthday parties for 3-year-olds; to the sudden and painful pangs of regret I still feel over bad choices that have affected my present day– such as the unfortunate placement of an Angel Fish tattoo above my ass crack.

Why Shannon??? WHY!?!? I keep telling myself to let that one go because I was just a kid, and I think the literal translation of kid in Latin is “lacking adequate long-term consequence assessment.” But still, every time my daughter points to my back and says, “fishie,” I cringe.

I don’t think anyone will argue that our pasts are important. The first thing therapists want to talk about is your childhood because the early years are when the imprinting begins. It’s where the bad habits, emotional stunting, misguided belief systems and unfortunate neon fabric choices start to lay the foundation for your overall project.

If your childhood is not sewn with a deft hand, these fragile, threadbare patches multiply and start to look like something Jackson Pollock would have painted in the 80s. Don’t get me wrong, a few bad patches are okay, good even! The ugly patches allow you to fully appreciate the subtleties of beautiful ones. We all have bad years and in my case it was most of the 90s, but if you don’t improve your skill and tastes, the day-glo parts can stifle your ability to create an overall timeless piece. One that you’d be proud to hang over the back of your sofa in your golden years.

I say between the ages of 2 and 18-ish because it seems the earlier the bad shit and polyester starts to happen in your life, the harder it is to rid your quilt of these tendencies. If someone or something doesn’t intervene in these years, it’s likely these patterns will muck up the whole damn thing and you live your life always regretting the early patches.

You can fill a lifetime with repeating patterns and hating the result.

This is what happens to me from time to time and is exactly what I don’t want for my children.  I want them to have photographic proof of ridiculous, themed, 3rd-birthday parties and I stay home so they will have as many chances as possible to witness their mother go bat-shit crazy over nothing while in their formative years. Somewhere, in my least rationale places, I really believe this will safeguard them against the regret of rainbow-colored fish tramp stamps.

Every writer has central themes that permeate their work and those are mine; our pasts and the decisions they motivate us to make because of, and in spite of them.

Lately though, I have started to toy with a different idea–one that feels good, liberating and hopeful. One that I hope to incorporate somewhere in the lineage of my life’s work.

The idea that maybe we are not the sum of our patches. That maybe we are something else entirely; something smaller and at the same time ethereal and infinite. Maybe our lives are but one stitch of a master quilt that could enrobe the globe, no… envelop the universe. Maybe, instead of immersing in the patterns of the past and the effects those patterns are yet to have on the future–always lamenting and projecting–maybe the focus should be on the stitch in time that is this moment in time?

Maybe then, all the anxiety that winds its way through my life can just fray away, taking with it the burden of regret and weight of expectation… and every string that comes attached.

An Open Letter to the Addicts in My Life

Sunrise at the T Cross
When one of my babies is sick and feeling a general sort of pain, one that makes them cry and ache all over and there’s nothing I can do about it–the only thing I can think to say is, “I know baby. I know.”

It’s the same thing I want to say to you. I am not an addict, but sometimes when I think of how easily I could have been, I shudder. I know the only reason I am not is… well… before the Grace of God, go I.

I know that you get high to numb a general sort of pain. I know that you have suffered for years, and by getting high you get to live somewhere other than right here, right now. I know the reality of right now is terrifying and just thinking about it, let alone living in it soberly, makes you want to get high even more. I know baby. I know.

I know because all pain is the same, it just looks different on different people. On me, it can look like a panic attack, or self-mutilation, on others it looks like obesity, infidelity, rage, bankruptcy and righteousness. It’s all the same baby, it’s all pain dressed up in dysfunction and self-destruction.

I know you’ve hurt people. I’ve hurt people, too. I know you want to take it all back, and to that I say HELL NO because if you are still breathing there is still time to make it right… and making it right is the whole purpose. Do you hear me? The purpose, your purpose, my purpose, the whole purpose. You and me, as long as we can take our pain and transform it into something beautiful, and honest, and good for this world then that will be our legacy; not the pain and the hurt we have caused, the purpose and beauty we get to create from its ashes.

If you fall again, I’m not going to say I won’t be disappointed. I will. I will be angry and I will probably say mean things in a moment of hurt, but rest assured I will also forgive you. I will forgive you because of the same Grace of God that allowed me not to BE you.

If you come back after your fall and want my help, I will need to see your eyes before I know what I can do. I will need to look at your face and name your fear before I can open my door and arms again. Because your pain, is really fear and I need to see it with my own eyes to know if you went all the way to the bottom of it.

If you tell me you’re afraid of what others will think or what I think, I cannot watch your kids while you go to AA. If you tell me you’re afraid of losing your marriage or your children, I cannot give you money. If you tell me you’re afraid of never getting high again, I will not be your advocate to anyone. But if you come to me and say, Shannon, I’m afraid of me; I’m afraid of me because I really hate me. Well then… then I may be able to help you because I know baby. I know.

I know that the pain you feel and the self-destruction you inflict are based on a fear of yourself–a fear of your worthiness, success, failure, loneliness, loveability, strength and fragility. We ALL have this pain inside and it’s caused by that nameless, faceless voice that lives inside our heads and whispers nasty lies in our ears. If you can name that voice, and show me that it’s THE VOICE you fear, then I will open my door and my arms again and again because baby, oh baby, I do know.

And baby I will do my best to tell you that you are not that voice, and if you can’t hear me over that voice, then I will do what I do to my own babies when they are feeling a general sort of pain. I will put my arms around you, brush your hair aside, wipe your tears and tell you that this too shall pass and tomorrow you’ll feel better.

In the meantime…

May God grant you the serenity
to accept the things you cannot change;
courage to change the things you can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as you would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if you surrender to His Will;
And that you may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him;
Forever in the next.
Amen.
~Reinhold Niebuhr*

And if that doesnt’ help…

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

~from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson

Sincerely, Lovingly, Honestly, Namaste-ingly,

Shannon

*The original Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr is written in the first person.

The New Ideal: On Being Different in Today’s World

This is a famous painting from 1638 by Peter Paul Rubins called The Three Graces. These women depict the Goddess daughters of Zeus, and by 17th century standards, they are exquisitely beautiful.

The first time I laid eyes on a “Rubinesque” woman I couldn’t stop playing the ‘what if’ game. What if I lived in a time when frizzy hair, hamstring cellulite and a big ass were ideal? What if famous painters were knocking down the drawbridge to my castle (because I would totes live in a castle) for the privilege to paint my perfect, bodacious curves onto canvas. What if there was a poor, thin peasant women who cherished every inch (and tried hard to keep) her postpartum body because it was the only time she thought she was truly beautiful? This scenarios is the exact opposite of what I happen to be doing now.

What if that ideal body type never changed and instead of today’s rail-thin models there were the likes of these women, scantily clad in lace and diamond-studded bras sashaying down the catwalk with their plump, washed-out thighs giggling and rubbing together? When one of these full-figured gals reached the end of the runway they would turn to the camera with a recalcitrant, arrogant, droopy-eyed look and whip their fro around while smacking their ass with an audible THWAP? The subsequent butt giggle would prompt an uproarious applause and teenage boys everywhere would replay that shit on YouTube in slow mo.

Seriously. What if our preferences for body type never change from 17th century standards?

At any given moment in history there are a set of popular “ideals.” The lucky individuals possessing those current ideals are deemed most worthy. Today, it’s the man with the Rolex, hot carand hotter wife. It’s the woman with the perfectly spray-tanned, yoga-body and Chanel sunglasses. It’s Jennifer Anniston, Kobe Bryant, the tall, blonde girl with the smooth skin and blue eyes, the Ivy League-er. These are the ones in our society, in our time, who have been anointed with the crown of worthiness.

The rest of us are just left to playing the ‘what if’ game.

But what if suddenly it was all different? What if, instead of perpetuating an ideal anything, we realized that every last one of us is the ideal everything. Sounds like some futuristic utopia right?

What if we realized that whether it be the 17th century or the 27th, people are all the same and worthy just the way they were born and by holding up some ideal on a pedestal is only perpetuating our illusion of separateness? Of someone being better than, or worse, more worthy of?

Because with your highest, most conscious, scientific mind wouldn’t you agree that in the end we are all the same? We all decompose into the same organic parts from whence we came. We all get virus’ and canker soars and breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. So why not realize that NOW while we’re sharing the same planet at the same moment in time?  That we are all deserving of the same love, kindness, adoration and respect?

Even if we happen to be gay.

Just because it’s 2012 and being gay isn’t the ideal standard it shouldn’t mean that one should be made to feel less worthy of the equality most of us take for granted.

I the new ideal should be to stop creating ideals. And even if some people insist on having them, the rest of us should stop perpetuating them with our own feelings of inadequacy.

It’s time to start accepting one another as is… to live and let live… to be and let be… and to realize that times change, and as sad as it makes me that pouchy tummies went out of favor 400 years ago, it’s okay, I’m okay. It seems to me that the 21st century is as good a time as any to perpetuate the only true ideal which is Love. Simply, L.O.V.E.

But for the record, I would have totes been the Beyonce of the 17th century. Just sayin’.

And also, these women kinda look like lesbians, which was probably totes no big deal back then, too. Just sayin’.

“The love that you withhold is the pain you carry lifetime after lifetime.” ~Alex Collier

Pressure Cooker

I bought this little contraption the other day.

mail

It’s a single serving vegetable steamer for making baby food. Truthfully, it was an impulse purchase. It was on the discount shelf and I thought it would come in handy and also inspire me to make more fresh baby food. I looked and looked all over the package but I couldn’t find instructions or suggested cooking times for certain vegetables. On my inaugural steam I forgot to open the little pink flip-top and 40 seconds in the top blew off in the microwave from too much internal pressure. That’s how I feel.

Look, there’s no need to sugar-coat things, this week has been tough. Both of my kids are sick and clingy and not sleeping well and all of it has made me irritable. I hate feeling like this; resentful and regretful. I hate walking on the razor’s edge of anger all day letting the littlest things cut me. I feel cagey, constricted, suffocated by lack of choices and options for release.

When I worked outside the home there was a lot of pressure. There were tense meetings, deadlines, tough surgeries all of which created a fair amount of stress. I thought I trained myself to stay calm under pressure but I think I simply trained myself to open the release valve. Back then I took a walk, drove the long way home, stopped for a coffee or just plain stopped working for the day. Those are no longer options. I can’t just leave the house, walk away or stop feeding my children. I must find a way to keep doing my job in spite of reaching a definitive boiling point.

I need to find my little pink flip-top release valve that I can employ at a moment’s notice. I would prefer it to be healthy but I’ve been known to compromise. Any suggestions? How do you keep your cool when cool is the farthest thing you feel because buying isn’t the only area where I lack impulse control. Yelling is another, and I don’t like that option.

Elisabeth Badinter’s, The Conflict: Part Deux… My Conflict

Okay, this book has really gotten under my skin. So much so, that I’m actually considering reading it. The more commentary I read, the more irritated I get, and the more something irritates me, the more I know there is likely truth hiding behind denial.

Before you read this post, you need to read my first post on Elisabeth Badinter’s book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Has Undermined the Status of Women. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

As you can see, my first knee-jerk reaction to this topic was to point out the obvious double-standard Badinter portrays. On the one hand, she is a tireless feminist believing in the invaluable contribution of women to the workforce and society, and therefore, our utter equality. On the other hand, she says that we are incapable of thinking for ourselves when it comes to making choices about motherhood. She asserts that we fall too easy a victim to the societal pressures to breastfeed, baby-wear and forego epidurals all in the name of being a good mother. She demonized midwives, doctors and the likes of Le Leche League (which she dubbed “the ayatollahs of breastfeeding”) for propagating inaccurate information-information she obliges us with, on page, after page, after page.

I still believe that premise is faulty, at least for me. I have a read a plethora of information on modern parenting but never once felt guilted or pressured to step in line with something that didn’t feel was right for me. In fact, most of the time I didn’t as evidenced by my many references to my Diaper Genie which holds disposable diapers. I agree with her that pressure is out there and that women feel it, but why do they ultimately succumb when they don’t believe it’s the right choice for them?

Badinter asserts that women today are suffering from the unintended consequences of our feminists mothers. That today’s mothers felt abandoned by their own, full-time working mothers, and because of that, we vowed to do everything differently. To be more involved, hands-on and present.

*ahem* Guilty as charged.

She also makes reference to the convenient shelter motherhood provides. A cozy nest of domesticity where women can curl up with their children in a warmer clime shrouded in layers of duty and stereotype because the working world (as I know well) can be a cold, cold place.

I gotta say, that one pissed me off. Mostly, because I feared she was right. Am I hiding? Am I so jaded by what happened to me that I’m ready to throw in my pencil skirt and settle into my yoga pants on a bean bag while reading Barnyard Dance for the millionth time just so I can feel safe?

I am many things, but one would hesitate to label me a quitter. Can’t and don’t have never been my favorite words. I have made bucking authority into a passive-agressive art form. My mantra in sales was, “‘no’ just means ‘not yet.'” But am I quitting my professional career out of fear? I don’t know?

I liked my career. I was good at it, and if I had to work for The Man again, that’s what I would do. But I didn’t love it and if being a mother has taught me anything, it’s the meaning and value of loving.

I never considered myself quitting a career to become a SAHM. I considered myself pausing a career, and in fact, embarking on a new one; in many ways, a much harder, scarier and potentially colder, one. Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing now that I think about it and yes, this is very much a stream-of-consciousness post.

But I’m also licking my wounds, because that year hurt more than I care to admit. It damaged my pride, it cut into my self-worth and it hurt my faith in humanity. Funny, I think those are all the things full-time motherhood and writing are helping me to find. Being fully responsible for every piece of my children’s lives has given me a tremendous source of self-worth. This blog, and the positive feedback I have received because of it, has renewed my pride. Where there was once a fractured edifice of understanding between me and my daughter, there is now a rock solid bond of knowing which has done wonders for my faith in humanity.

No. I’m not a quitter, but I am human. I get hurt and I need to leave space to heal. So am I.

What Badinter has done in her controversial book is make me reevaluate and reconsider myself; which are things that I aspire to do with my own writing. To that I say, well done Madame.

*Okay, I think I’m done pondering my self-absorbed, privileged, first-world, white-woman problems. It’s time to move on.

The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women

Recently, I have started to rethink my choice to be a SAHM. I think it has a little to due to my recent post regarding the choice to be a SAHM vs. Working Mother.  Could be. But I think it has more to do with the fact that today my toddler is snot-faced and sick and wants to be attached to only mommy while my infant son is not yet crawling, yet wants desperately to be mobile, and thus, wants to be attached to only mommy, too. Yep, definitely the latter. Some days I think it would be a thousand times easier to hand them over to a reliable and capable childcare provider while I go merrily on my way to think, and work and stuff.

Also recently, I happened upon a controversial book by Elisabeth Badinter called, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. Ms. Badinter is an extremely wealthy and relatively famous feminist writer from France. According to a telephone poll in 2010 she is considered France’s “Most Influential Intellectual.” She is the daughter of the founder of a Publicis, a large media conglomerate of which she is now the largest shareholder. Badinter also fancies herself a philosopher (how one gets that title, I do not know) and has written extensively on feminist’s topics.  Badinter has written five forthright and scathing tomes on the sham women have fallen victim to in wanting to fit into a traditional definition of motherhood. In her first volume, published when she was just thirty-five, she reduces the maternal instinct down to a man-made social construct. (I wish someone had told my ovaries that, because I’ve been blaming them for my maternal decisions.) Her latest book, published in France last year and in the US last month, is the controversial book in question. It claims that modern motherhood has served to undermine women’s progress and success more than any man ever has, or could.

Badinter asserts that clothe diapering, the near mandatory pureeing of fresh, organic baby food and the militant pressure to breastfeed by doctors, midwives and the media (less one be labeled an unfit mother), have caused women all over the Western world to throw up their hands and promptly tie the apron strings back into place… the same strings their mothers worked so hard to untie.

So you can see why this is so controversial, right?

In the vein of full-disclosure, I have not read Badinter’s book. However, I have read numerous articles and reviews about it including Ms. Badinter’s own essay on the Huffington Post. I simply do not have the time, nor do I wish to spend the money on a shock-and-awe book with such a divisive premise when there is so much good literature I have yet to read. I am, however, curious enough to spend a couple of hours in the Interwebs learning about it and then formulating my own opinions on this here blog.

I think Badinter has some valid points, the first being that there is more pressure on today’s mother to do it “the right way.” (Whatever that means.) But I also think her hypothesis has some holes, her blatant double-standard being the biggest.

Ms. Badinter says in her essay, “Nature knows only one way to be a mother. This is not the case for women, who are endowed with consciousness, personal histories, desires and differing ambitions.  What some do well and with pleasure, others do badly or out of duty. By failing to take account of women’s diversity, by imposing a single ideal of motherhood, by pursuing the notion of a perfect mother — one who has the exclusive responsibility of making or breaking her children — we fall into a trap.”

So let’s get this straight, it’s fine to take into account a women’s diversity and independence when it comes to their contributions to society, but then why does she lump us all together into a pile of thoughtless robots who can’t make decisions for ourselves like a bunch of peer-pressured teenagers? I thought we were “endowed with consciousness?” Badinter speaks with an austere of authority on such a speculative subject it almost makes you want to believe her every word. I guess they teach you how to do that in Ivory Towers. Those who have read her book cite that her heavy-handedness with facts and statistics makes for a tedious read. From my own background in medicine, I know that you can make statistics paint whatever picture you want so I am trained to proceed with caution when I see clinical studies. What I’m most interested in is how her hypothesis relates to me because I’m one of those women who left their career and fell victim to this sham of traditional motherhood.

I think Badinter has a point that today’s mother is under more scrutiny and pressure to do things that require more sacrifice. Information abounds on the benefits of breastfeeding, co-sleeping and speaking only Spanish on Thursdays. But, being a smart woman I don’t believe this is a byproduct of conversations with my OB/Gyn, the Internet or my next door neighbor. The desire to be more “hands on” with my child and puree organic fruits and veggies comes from two things: 1. Being a working mother and knowing first-hand the drawbacks of that choice, and 2. Increased access to information and the ability to evaluate that information.

I could have the best nanny who mentally stimulates my child all day long. I could hire a housekeeper and a personal gourmet chef to perfectly steam their every meal. I’m sure my children would turn out just fine, great even! But I’m not sure I would be fine, because none of that would alleviate my desire to spend more time with them. In the end it was time, not guilt, that drove me home.

Second, I choose some of the dreaded confines of modern motherhood that Badinter talks about because I believe they are good and healthy choices for my family. I believe they are good and healthy because I have access to all kinds of information and I also know how to reason and use logic just like any other woman whether she be breaking glass ceilings or washing them free of tiny fingerprints.

Sure, I miss working outside the home sometimes. I miss the sense of self-accomplishment and acknowledgement that comes with doing a job well. I miss the money. But if I’ve learned anything from my professional and maternal years it’s that life is about choices and compromises. We have to learn which choices work best for us and that’s a helluva lot easier without being subjected to authoritative books like this one that make you feel shitty about your choices.

Badinter dedicates her last chapter to discussing some of the advantages French women have over other modern Western cultures and this is where I find the most value in her message. France is highly supportive of families, mothers in particular. They provide government subsidized childcare, generous, paid, maternity leave and low pressure on parental lifestyles. She claims that these reasons are why France has an increasing birth rate whereas other countries, (like the US which is less supportive overall) have birth rates on the decline. I think she has a point here and I hope it is with this last assertion that our conversations are focused instead of building another proverbial fence who’s only purpose is to divide.

At the end of the day, families are important and vital to the health and growth of a society and whatever we can do to support that, we should do. Everyday (okay maybe not today because I’m covered in snot) but MOST days I feel immensely lucky that I have a choice. It wasn’t an easy one and I have sacrificed a lot, but I still have one. Too many mother’s out there don’t have a choice and they should. Every one should be able to choose more time with their babies if that’s what they want, or to run the board room, if that’s what they want.

The reason I have doubted my decision to stay at home is because it’s hard. It’s hard and exhausting and sometimes, very, very gross, but even now, straining under the weight of two cranky children while covered in a sheen of human fluids, through her stuffed nose, it is I, me, only mommy who can understand her garbled toddler speak when she says, “ers a wittle not nide ma ace.” I like being the one who understands her best and that happens because I’m here all the time, listening, and I just handed her a tissue because she said, “There’s a little snot inside my face.”