Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Unspecialized

For the first time in over three and half years, I am wearing civilian clothing.  Well, the maternal equivalent of it, anyway.  I'm not wearing stretchy maternity pants or nursing tanks with their little clasps.  I don't pick my wardrobe based on whether or not it covers that lower portion of my belly that I can't see without a mirror, or if it affords easy access to my milk jugs.  I don't need to shop in stores with quaint and warm names like Motherhood or Bellies to Babies. 

Tonight, I nursed what is likely my last child for the last time.  For the first time in over three and a half years, I am neither pregnant nor nursing.  For 44 continuous months, I have either been growing a baby inside my body or feeding a baby with my body.  It has been almost four years, but my body now belongs entirely to me.

Here I sit, drinking a beer, wearing a boring old sensible bra and straight-cut top, openly weeping.

When I weaned my first kiddo, I found out almost exactly the same day that I was expecting my second.  Knowing that I would get to do it again in nine short months made it easier to say goodbye.  But this time, I'm simply moving on.  It's not that I want to keep nursing.  I was able to nurse both my kids to about 14 months, and I'm very satisfied with that.  I'm not even sure I want to keep having kids.  I don't love the infant stage enough to be sure that I want to do it again.  So why am I mourning?

It's less that I'm given purpose by pregnancy or empowered by my body's ability to nourish an infant.  It's more that I don't have babies anymore.  And I reiterate: I don't even really love the infant stage, although I'll confess it is not without sweetness.  Whether newborn, infant, toddler, or preschooler, the truth remains: my kids continue to change.  I look forward to the joys and celebrations that come with raising a child, and right now, on this momentous evening, I mourn that which I will never experience again.

I don't miss morning sickness and ungainly size, but I'll never again feel a tiny person nudge me from the inside.  I don't miss five wake-ups a night and desperate, senseless squalling, but I'll never again have a squishy creature curled up and snoozing on my chest.  I don't miss worrying about head strength and sitting ability, but I'll never again celebrate so momentous an occasion as a first step.  I don't miss being chained to a breast pump at work or a infant's shifting eating schedule at home, but I'll never again be completely bonded to my baby, her curved against my middle, connected by her need and my ability.  While I have many, many milestones yet to celebrate, and I will never ever wish my girls to be anything other than exactly what they are and exactly where they are, this remains an enormous shift.

My body no longer gives life.  My babies are independent of my physical self.  I know they still need me.  More than that, I know my self worth does not depend on being needed.  And yet, this has been so definitive of my ever decision for so long.  I have been gestating or nursing about as long as I spent in college, and I'll be damned if that transition didn't almost ruin me.

I've never been terribly good at transition.

It's hard to know how to feel.  I rejoice that my body is mine again, but I also rejoice in all that it has done.  I give thanks that my children grow healthy and strong, but I also give thanks for all the treasured memories of that which will never happen again.  I mourn yet another all-too-short stage of parenthood, but I also mourn all the life and self that was lost or changed while I did it. 

So I won't overthink things.  I'll just cry, since that's generally my reaction to any big emotion anyway.  I will cry and I will have a beer and I will close my eyes and remember the sound of a baby gulping from my breast or the sound of my nursing tank clicking open, the sweet smell of a baby close to my skin or the sour smell of my own milk-soaked nightshirt, the feel of a baby's mouth tugging at my nipple or the feel of a sleeping infant cuddled to my waist.  I have been given a gift.  It's okay to let it go.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

My Online Mamas

Not long after I birthed my first kiddo, an old college friend added me to a Facebook group.  I don't really do Facebook groups.  I have plenty of friends, thank you, and don't really need anonymous catfishers mining me for my identity and manipulating my emotions.  When I saw that she added me, I didn't do anything about it.  Posts from the group occasionally popped up in my feed, and while it was clearly some kind of mom group, I didn't think much of it.

A few months into mothering, I started to have questions.  They were weird questions, dumb questions, specific questions, personal questions, mom questions.  Should I keep pumping in the middle of the night now that my baby's been sleeping through the night for three months, or will it kill my supply?  If I wanted to get some kind of easy-to-wear baby carrier, what should I get?  My kid does not seem to want to eat solid food even though she's eight months; should I worry?  They were all questions I could ask someone around me, but they made me feel vulnerable somehow.  They would mean admitting that I didn't know what I was doing.  Maybe I could ask strangers on the internet and they wouldn't judge me.  Or, if they did judge me, I couldn't see and hear them do it.

I started asking questions of the group and they started responding.  Oh my goodness, did they respond.  They responded with overwhelming and almost unbelievable positive encouragement.  They did not chide me for my lack of knowledge and experience.  They actually helped me, and every time they did, I risked a little more.  Slowly, we all knew far too much about each other.  We knew about fights with spouses, struggles with in-laws, delicate medical situations, financial worries, all the most sensitive spots of life that we are loathe to share.  Not only did these women share, they helped.  They commiserated, or brainstormed, or insisted, or whatever the situation seemed to need.  My online mamas were wise, and fierce, and sacred.

This year, two remarkable things happened in the group: I became a moderator, and the group dissolved.  To be honest, the two things happened in such close proximity that I should carry baggage about whether the two are connected.  But I don't.  I don't because I'm aware of all the complex things that happen when something good grows very big, and "the way things were" competes with "the way things are".  I'm aware of the competing desires, interests, and styles within the group that made it hard to manage.  I'm aware that "safe space" meant hyperbole and expletives for some, but sensitivity and avoidance of triggers for others, and those two simply can't coexist.  I'm aware that sometimes the balance of takers vs. givers tips, and emotional resources disappear.  Basically, shit happens.  And as I am learning more and more, that is simply an unavoidable part of life.

It's because the group no longer exists that I'm even talking about it.  The group had kind of a Fight Club rule: the first rule is don't talk about it.  (Actually, the first rule was "don't be a dick", but it was a pretty close race.)  Now that it's not around, I'll talk about it.  And here's why I'll talk about it: I learned a lot about myself as a mother, but even just as a person.  This group slowly changed me, and I'll be forever grateful.

Here's some of the stuff that I learned and practiced in the group:
  • Hear what someone actually needs before you rush in.  Too often, we want to give advice when someone just wants to vent.  Ensure you're providing the desired support before you assume you know what needs to happen.
  • Give what you get.  Especially in a safe space where so much support bubbles out, it can be really easy to only turn to the group in your need.  You forget to give back to others.  It's your turn.  If all you do is take, you will eventually take all the group has.  Community life means giving authentically out of your own wisdom and experience - and trust me, you have both of those to offer.
  • Try being a gentle parent.  Gentle parenting is a thing I'd never heard of before this group, but I like it.  I like the idea of leading through example and trust rather than declaration and fear.  I find that when I parent this way I am a more peaceful person in general.  It's been good for me.
  • You don't know best.  Oh man, parenting is a minefield full of those who know what's right for you.  "Can I just give you one piece of advice?" is the parenting equivalent of "let me shame you and prove my superiority."   The sooner you offer support instead of advice, the sooner you actually help someone out.
  • Some things are wrong; some things aren't.  Child-rearing is a world of absolutes.  Breast is always best.  Only mindless sheeple vaccinate.  If you let your kid sleep in your bed he'll never sleep alone again.  Faced with these black-and-white choices, people tend to take one of two stances.  First, that there is a clear right and wrong.  Second, that everything is equally good and you should do what feels best for you.  Look, both options are right except for when they're not.  Be open to the possibility that what you think is best might only be best for you, or maybe even not at all.
  • Don't judge, except for when you should.  See the above point.  You don't know someone's life or story, so you don't get to act like you know better how they should be living.  But?  Some things are worthy of negative judgment.  Willfully hurting children, for example, is bad.  Denying your children necessary medical care is bad.  Teaching your children hate is bad.  Only by naming it and working to teach another way does a bad thing change.
  • The things you learn as a parent are basically the things you should learn to be an adult.  It's not special.  You're just finding a different reason to learn it.
  • You are not the only one.  I don't care what it is.  Name it.  It's not just you.  Don't be ashamed; do ask for help.
  • Sometimes, strangers are a safe place.  No baggage, no second-guessing, no chance you'll run into them at the grocery store.  Just honesty. 
After the group dissolved, several other groups formed.  I have less of an ownership on the largest ones, so I feel more comfortable talking about it and possibly even inviting others into it.  While nowhere on the internet can be truly safe, as my tech-savvy husband regularly reminds me, it would be my hope that perhaps other women could find security in a place to learn to parent and be a grown-up with others doing exactly the same thing.
 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

31 Days Of Stories

It's been quiet over here.

Basically, any time that happens, you should know it's because a lot is actually happening.  As the demands on my hours increase, my ability to sit in front of a keyboard and release it into cyberspace decrease.  Unfortunately, it also leaves me less time to process and digest, leaving me stuck in my head with a heart full of unresolved emotions.  I process externally, whether with spoken or written words.  Clearly, not a lot of processing is happening these days.

So, I'm going to try something.  I'm going to try to reflect on this past year each day this month.  I know I've promised regular posting before, and once life intervened that fell apart pretty quickly.  I also know that December with its holidays and increased pastoral demands sets me up for failure on this front.  Frankly, I'm getting really good at failure.  I think I'd like to try this anyway.  Each day will have an update or reflection on what my 2015 meant.  Maybe it will even set me up to return to the discipline of blogging (and yeah, I did just call blogging a discipline, so deal with it).

Because I'm not that optimistic, this counts as the first update.  But then, deciding to return to blogging is sort of an update, right?  Right.  My blog, my rules.

Stay tuned.  Or don't, I'm not the boss of you.  Here goes.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Scary Movie #1: The Blair Witch Project

This post is one in a series of 21. In it, I will share the movies that most scared me.  For more details about the series, see this post.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/26/Blair_Witch_Project.jpg I know what you're going to say.  "That shlocky piece of crap?"  To you, I say: shut your fool mouth.  This movie as my number one scariest movie is exactly the reason that I gave the caveat at the very beginning of this list that "this list isn't about the best or most popular scary movies.  This is about the movies that scared me".  I don't care if you thought it was stupid, or pointless, or made you nauseous because the camera was all jiggly, or you're tired of fake pseudo-documentary style, or whatever.  I don't.  This movie was so scary that it actually ruined one of my greatest joys.

The movie centers on three documentary filmmakers who want to make a movie on an old legend starting hundreds of years ago, centering on a woman who was hanged as a witch and moving forward into the 20th century and a murderer claiming to be possessed by her.  As the filmmakers travel into the woods to gather footage, they become lost and begin to realize that they are being hunted.  Things fall apart in terrible fashion, and ultimately, the movie as we see it is billed as their raw footage found a year after they went missing.

One of the things that this movie did best was its marketing.  A mini-documentary was made that was released on television ahead of the movie, and was never billed as promo.  The actors themselves did not appear in any promotional fashion until the movie had long been in theatres, leaving people to wonder if perhaps the footage really was real.  The movie itself was so unglamorous, filled with blurry footage and actual human snot, that you found yourself wondering how true it might really have been.  The push behind the movie was so great that I'd heard about it long before I actually got to see it, and this was before viral marketing and Facebook updates.

In fact, before I even saw the movie, I was giving a tour of the camp at which I worked to the guy I was dating at the time.  It got dark while we were finishing the tour, but I wanted him to come with me to the prettiest part of the camp so we could watch the sun set.  We had to do a short walk through the trees to get there.  He was unwilling, and insisted we should go back and at least get a flashlight.  I was sure he was joking until he eventually admitted that he'd seen the Blair Witch Project.  I laughed at him.  "Are you afraid the Blair Witch is gonna getcha?" I teased.  He quickly fired back, "If you'd seen the movie, you wouldn't joke about that!"

Much, much later, I finally saw the movie.  My little sister and I watched it while I was at home from school on break.  My parents had already gone to bed, and my dad reminded us to make sure we'd shut off all the lights and closed everything up before we did the same.  So the two of us stayed up in the dark, quiet house, watching this slow burn of a movie late into the night.  After it finished, we tried to dissect it.  What had exactly happened in that one blurry scene?  Where really were they at the end?  How did that all hang together?  It was a good movie, we conceded.

Then, it got quiet.  We looked at each other from either end of the couch.  We quickly agreed that we would walk together, side by side, systematically ensuring that every single window and door in the house was locked tight, and that all lights would only be off once that happened, and for that matter we'd make sure there was some light on somewhere to guide us safely to our beds.  Indeed, we were afraid the Blair Witch would get us.

And here's where the movie really ruined me: I love camping.  I did it every summer with my family when I was a kid, have done it numerous times with my friends and husband, and am very excited to introduce it to my own kiddos.  It is one of my great joys.  And this movie ruined it.  The film does an excellent job of revealing just how vulnerable and exposed you are in a tent in the woods.  It took all the typical camping sounds, like wind and twigs snapping, and made them terribly ominous.  I have yet to relax in a tent in the dark after seeing this movie.  Thanks for nothing, Blair Witch Project.  This is how I know you win the #1 spot in my scary movie loving heart.

Scary Movie #2: Paranormal Activity

This post one of a series of 21. In it, I will share the movies that most scared me.  For more details about the series, see this post.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/54/Paranormal_Activity_poster.jpg As I mentioned previously, my husband and I started our relationship early with scary movies.  This is great, because we never have to wonder who will see a scary movie with us.  However, it also means that I live with the person who sees the scary movies with me.  It means I have to keep from completely losing my cool during the movie so I don't have to hear about it later.  Beyond that, it means that someone knows me really, really well and is able to pick up when I'm about to lose my cool in the movie theatre.

I've never actually fully lost my cool in a movie theatre.  This movie is the closest I've ever come.

The movie is filmed in the "found footage" style and gained traction as a low-budget independent movie before it was purchased by a major distributor that changed the original ending and made it the first of a six-movie franchise.  (As a point of information, I saw PA 2 and 3, and got about half way through the fourth before I tapped out.)  My husband and I decided to see it when we heard the groundswell of commentary about it being a truly terrifying movie.  We're particularly game for scary movies that are 1) completely original in storyline, and 2) completely original in style.  This sounded like the ticket.

In the film, a young married couple experience strange phenomena when the move to a new home.  The wife feels that she's always been followed by some kind of spirit, so the husband sets up cameras in the house to try to see something.  Eventually, you start to notice things.  Often, you're left waiting, watching the screen, wondering if you will see something or not.  The only thing worse than the waiting is when something actually happens.  It is a perfect balance of suspense and realization.

At the time that I saw the movie, I was fairly newly-married.  I was living with my husband in our home, which appeared to be haunted.  The premise of the movie hit just a little too close to my literal home.  So, this was bad enough.  Add to it the slow, slow burn of the movie, the intensely long scenes, and the fast-and-hard pieces of actual action, and I wasn't very far into the movie before I was pretty much balled up into my seat and burying my fingernails into my husband's hands.

This is when I knew I'd officially lost my cool: he turned to me and asked, very compassionately, "Would you like to go?"  I have honestly never, ever left a movie because it was too scary.  In fact, I've never left a movie theatre for any reason.  So it had not occurred to me that, perhaps, a movie could be so scary to me that I would be better off walking out.  I pondered it briefly before I realized that the only thing worse than being strung along in suspense was never having the resolution of the ending.  I chose instead to wait it out.  My blood pressure would suffer, but at least I would hear the end of it.

As I mentioned after I saw the movie, I was quickly able to talk myself out of long-lasting terror, thanks to the premise of the movie itself.  That realization was reinforced by the sequels.  I'm not exactly part of a generations-deep curse (that I know of), so I wouldn't have to worry.  Still, I had to talk myself out of the fear to such a point that I knew that the movie had gotten the best of me.  Well-played, Paranormal Activity.

Scary Movie #3: The Ring

This post is part of a series of 21. In it, I will share the movies that most scared me.  For more details about the series, see this post.

As I've said, most of what makes a movie scary for me is its ability to stick with me.  Does it ruin me for a day or so, no matter how trivial or unlikely?  Then, my friends, it is scary.  The evidence of the scariness of this movie can be told in a single story.


http://images.moviepostershop.com/the-ring-movie-poster-2002-1020189818.jpgTo fully appreciate the scare in my real life, remember the plot itself: a video tape exists that kills you seven days after you watch it.  Once you finish watching the tape, your phone rings and a girl's voice whispers "seven days" before hanging up, leaving you to panic until you die tragically a week later.  A woman discovers the tape when it kills a member of her family, end embarks on a quest to resolve the mystery before the tape also kills her son.  The movie itself moves from being a sort of examination on urban legends to a horrifying and profound psychological thriller.  It wasn't a movie I'd ever really wanted to see, but it sucked me in quickly.

I watched it one evening with a guy I was dating at the time.  This was well past its original release, and he only brought it over because he'd seen the DVD at his mom's house and he thought we should check it out.  We watched it and were sufficiently spooked and mystified.  As we sat afterwards, talking through all the plot points and trying to figure out how everything hung together, the DVD sat on the menu screen.  While we debated, he fidgeted with the remote and just clicked around aimlessly.

Then, it happened.  The movie started playing.  Not the cinematic release itself, but the movie.  The one which, in the movie, kills you in seven days.  In the film, you don't see the movie in its entirety.  You see bits and clips, but never the entire thing in sequence.  Somehow, in clicking around on the menu screen, we had stumbled upon the actual accursed film. 

We screamed.  We fumbled with the remote.  We tried everything, and nothing worked.  You couldn't stop it or pause it.  We could only physically run up to the DVD player and force it to shut off.  But then we couldn't get the DVD out of the player.  The second we turned the DVD player back on, it started right where it left off, forcing us to finish watching the movie before we could get the DVD back out.  Before we knew it, we were doomed.

We sat quietly.  It was just a trick, surely.  It was some silly Easter egg hidden on the menu screen to freak people out.  How clever.  And then my phone rang.

I did not answer it.  I screamed.

There was a message on my phone, and after sufficiently building myself up, I listened to it.  To  my relief, it was a friend inviting me to a choir concert and not a creepy little girl letting me know I had seven days to live.  But honestly, I was pretty much convinced that the latter is exactly what I was going to hear.

And that, my friends, is when you know that a movie has gotten inside your head.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Scary Movie #4: The Descent

This post is part of a series of 21. In it, I will share the movies that most scared me. For more details about the series,see this post.

As I mentioned previously in this series, I'm a little claustrophobic.  Some people will be moved to chills by the sight of blood, or creepy critters, but for me, characters trapped in small places will make me squirm.  And so, the very premise of The Descent was one that made me nervous even before I'd seen the movie.

In it, a woman still reeling from the tragic deaths of her husband and daughter goes spelunking with an old friend and some new ones.  They begin to explore a well-explored cave, and after a cave in, one of the women reveals that she actually took them to an uncharted cave, where they will not be recovered.  They have no choice but to go through.  In the course of their exploration, they learn terrible things - about the cave, what lurks inside it, and each other.

Some scenes of this movie, simply of the women slithering through tunnels and reaching across chasms, left me sweaty and breathless.  Admittedly, not everyone would feel the same way.  But the movie is filmed with such intensity that it's clear it wants you to be disturbed by the effort it takes to crawl through a cave.  Once you realize how precarious their situation is, and know how much they need each other, the unraveling of their situation becomes much, much more dark.

As I have said numerous times throughout these movies, the scariest movies reveal that it's not just monsters that should make you afraid.  Humans should make you afraid, too.  Even worse, it reveals that it's not just evil people who can be dark and ruthless.  Terrible times and dangerous things can make even good people into something completely unbelievable.  You leave this movie wondering if anyone can truly be thought of as good, and that is a terrible weight indeed.

If you saw this movie in theatres in the United States, you saw one ending.  If you saw it elsewhere or on DVD, you saw a different one.  And it's much, much worse.  Since that's the one I saw, anything that could have left you feeling hopeful or safe disappears.  Not only is this movie intense, and violent, and disturbing, but it is also desperately dire.