Awkward Isn’t an Excuse for Giving Up

Posted on July 31, 2017

I’ve spent most of my life muttering under my breath, “I’m so awkward.” I used to think I’d get to a point of feeling totally together. The other day as I was sitting on crinkly, white paper in an exam room, for a long overdue annual exam, the doctor said, “Are you having hot flashes or night sweats?”

“Umm, I mean, I get hot sometimes and I do sometimes wake up to damp sheets but, I’m not sure it’s hot flashes or—” I trailed off as the doctor cocked her head to one side and smiled gently at me. “I, ah, ok, so hot flashes and night sweats. I think that I do, or, I have. Yup.” She typed on her laptop and I thought to myself, “Yup? Yup? Why do you talk like that?”

I look at this enduring awkwardness as an asset. The girls need a mom and a role model, but it doesn’t hurt to also be able to say, “You know what? We all doubt ourselves and feel intimidated sometimes.” I wear it openly, as openly as I’ve tried to wear my emotions and endeavored to create a sense of the girls being able to talk to me.

It’s funny, growing up in Eugene, Oregon in the 70s it might seem likely that I’d be naturally comfortable talking about body or sex, but the truth is growing up words like breast, penis, fart, horny, they made my skin crawl and my face burn. When I experienced my first kiss at 14 or 15, I remember being completely shocked. The next morning I said to my two best friends, “And then, his tongue was in my mouth. His tongue!” We gasped and giggled over it.

I don’t want to rush away anyone’s innocence, but I am determined, for their benefit and my own, to deactivate my flinching at words or concepts. I’ve seen the way they alter their behavior based on my non-verbal cues.

Mom is stressed, they scurry.
Mom is angry, they try to fix.
Mom is distracted, they mumble.

Heaving myself out of my stress ruts are good for all of us. There are conversations to have, things to figure out together, and growth on both ends of this mother daughter relationship. I’ve been surprised at the reward of sitting through my discomfort and getting to the other side and also listening.

A while back Ave was telling me about the sex ed session they had in her 5th-grade class. I immediately remembered seeing Alice Dreger’s tweets in real-time about sitting in on a sex ed class. I flopped back on one of the cushions in her room and said, “Was it weird?” I aimed for nonchalant, but inside I had a nonstop stream of thoughts, “Am I doing this right? Is this weird? Am I ready?”

I talk to other moms about what they are going through. One mom said to me, “Yeah, I don’t know why he chose me, but my son said to me, ‘sometimes my penis gets hard. What’s that about?” I died. I’m not sorry that I get to be on the vagina side, but I do love hearing how other parents are handling it and, more importantly, what other kids are like.

Like just about everything else in parenting, I’ve realized kids come equipped with everything we need. They aren’t all the same, but the premise of being open, available, and willing to listen, works for all 3 of my daughters. They blow me away. Watch Ave cut through it:

 

 

 

I think allowing each of us a turn at the wheel, so to speak, has been central to establishing a comfort with talking. There have been times when the news has pushed conversations faster than I might have expected. We went from talking about politics and social justice to what, “Grabbing them by the pussy” meant.

I’ll admit that I stumbled my way through a rant on agency over our bodies, beauty versus competence, and ultimately consent. This is an area where my history, frustration, and passion run the risk of overpowering the conversation. I love visual tools and Youtube and Instagram really are the preferred resource for my older girls. Amaze.org was recently put on my radar and I have to say, from their playful, “more info, less weird” tagline, to their hiring practices of using young illustrators and animators of all genders, races, and personalities, I’m a fan.

I haven’t cracked the code for crushes, but I think that the ongoing discussions we have about school dynamics, particularly the topics of mean girls and the boys who are dismissive of girls work toward that. My mom told me when I was in high school, “I don’t care who your friends are, I care who they bring out in you,” that has stuck with me.

How do people make me feel?

 

I think we’re all still working on it, all of it, which if there is a secret to parenting is it—we never totally know.

“Sexuality is a natural, healthy part of being human.” Say it, you can start quietly, but get to a point where you can say it out loud. 

I know it seems unbelievable to think about talking about sex, masturbation, consent, fear, and excitement to kids as young as ten, but if not us then who? Learn from tv? Movies? Our president? The kids popping off in the back of the school bus?

We wouldn’t send kids into a snow storm without a coat or to a job interview without tips and a resume, we ought to do the same thing for adolescence. Organizations like Amaze can help carry a bit of the weight by being a part of the information relay. None of us have to go faster than kids are ready, but I really think that creating time and space to figure stuff out without judgment is as central to parenting as healthy food and consistent shelter.

It can also be fun. Check out more videos from Amaze, they cost nothing and I bet they’ll prove priceless. Take a look at their facebook page if you are FB fan.

Disclosure: I am happy to have written this post as part of a campaign. I was compensated for my time, as ever, my opinions are my own. I’d do it all over again for nothing, because we all need every bit of help we can get.

Here are more voices added to the chorus of parents who have written about talking to kids about sex, consent, and healthy relationships, visit these posts:

Marbled Guilt and Relief

Posted on July 30, 2017

I was walking across the parking lot trying to shake the sensation I was in the wrong place. The night before the girls had slept over at my parents’ so that Sean and I could go see John Mulaney in Albany. We didn’t end up going, opting instead to go with our entire staff to watch one of our team play at Blue Water Manor. We were in bed by 9, which felt like cheating, because it had been a night for us to go out and play. As I dressed for work in weekend clothes because I had no meetings, the house felt empty. Not making lunches and not picking up the girls when we got home early seemed like shirking responsibility. The girls had a 9:30 performance, Finley was going with my parents to watch the show, and I was heading in to work.

I drove to work having done none of the usual morning stuff—no lunch making, no hair detangling, no cuddles, no ‘hey mom, come look at this’ and with no new screen saver on my phone from Finley. I thought about the day ahead, the girls had a 9:30 performance, Finley was going with my parents to watch the show, and I had a conference call.

A single conference call.

It seemed absurd that one call could keep me from seeing the show, but that’s kind of the way it goes. It’s one thing that proves too much, one hiccup that upsets everything. Later in the day, I was scheduled to go the city for a getaway with my mom. The guilt of back-to-back time away from the girls hit me like a brick wall.

I told myself not to cry and then I told myself to fuck off and I began sobbing. For a while, my sunglasses obscured my tears, but close to the office, I was overcome. I walked over to the neighboring building and did the kind of ugly cry that I thought grown ups didn’t do. Then I did what grown ups are supposed to do, I walked up to the office and set my teeth, accepting that it would be a shaky day. I also promised myself I’d work on it, that I wouldn’t let a single call be crippling or a short trip be an indictment of my parenting.

 

New York was, of course, filled with mothers and daughters. Fathers and daughters. Sister sets of three. A lump tickled, but then I realized I’m a daughter too. And a sister. Women are so many things and turning to one part does not mean turning away from another. There is space for all of it, even if it comes with feelings we wish weren’t there.

I walked through the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit: Making Space—Women Artists and Post War Abstraction. I felt a reverence for the focus on women, particularly the aspect of women not having been welcomed or encouraged, but still creating bold, controversial, and unflinching art. I stood in front of each one and imagined being able to be with that woman and to say, “I see you. I am grateful that you are here. I applaud what you do and the price you pay.”

 

Hours and hours later, after laughter and silence, walking and more walking, I collapsed into bed. When morning came I hauled my body, aching from the cement pounding walks, and took the 22 flights of stairs down to the underground gym. I found myself alone in a room filled with state-of-the-art equipment. Everywhere I looked were weights I wanted to lift and pulleys I wanted to make rattle. Then there was me—four on this wall, three on that one. I was everywhere and I started laughing. I winked at myself and I skipped in place. I literally stretched my hands and feet in every direction and then let out the longest, loudest, most unapologetic sigh in the world.

Guilt and uncertainty are always going to lap at my edges, but it doesn’t mean I’m on the wrong track or that ‘I’m not there yet,’ it’s part of it all. I’m heading out into another day in the city, knowing that tomorrow night I’ll be tucking the girls into bed and then cuddling up next to Sean. I’ll get back with more of me to share with them.

 

 

The Certainty of Gray

Posted on July 6, 2017

One of the great joys of being in my 40s has been understanding the significance of other people’s revelations. In my 20s and 30s if someone was dieting or training for a race I felt an immediate wave of shame for not being in pursuit of the same goals. It was exhausting, unproductive, and almost impossible to conquer. Now when I see someone moving toward a goal I am able to see it for what it is—something meaningful to someone else. I can celebrate their climb, learn from their experience, or just go about my life.

I read a post from a friend the other day that made me smile from ear-to-ear. Deborah is a woman who seems to be made of go. The way she parents her daughters, partners with her husband, and hustles and risks for her work, is dizzying in the best kind of way. We met at a conference years ago thanks to Danielle Smith, and have been friends ever since. After spending more time with her at the Mom2 Summit in May, she became more real to me. I read her posts and updates in her voice, I remember the things she confided to me about balance and exhaustion. When something would annoy me or make me doubt, I’d hear her voice, “Amanda, that’s nuts” or “Girl, you are up here compared to them,” holding up her hand and then wiping her face and blurting about the heat. Deborah was my favorite character in a novel come to life and set down in my world. I haven’t taken that gift lightly.

 

 

When I saw her post, The Moment I stopped Caring What Other People Think of Me, I immediately clicked. It feels like everyone writes about conquering doubt or throwing caution to the wind, but somehow I knew hers would be different. I knew it would be about releasing the grip on self-doubt and meaning it.

That was a 10-day trip of just letting stuff go. Then all this past week, at home, I took the girls to our clubhouse pool and by Wednesday I realized I didn’t care who looked at me or what they thought. I realized, I’m just as awesome as my kids think I am. Slowly, I’ve been finding myself letting go of the expectation of who I think I’m supposed to be and am beginning to love who I am because damn it, I’m pretty awesome.

She has a passage in the post about needing to do it for her daughters, but between the lines what I saw was that it was for her in a new way. Getting back to the gray in the post title, I am discovering that the more I age and become certain about what I know and believe, the grayer it all becomes.

Yes, we do things for our daughters, but in the not so distant horizon is a time when our girls will be women and off on their own. Will we stop? Or is it ok to realize before they leave that we are worthy of care too? Must we insist on assigning the impetus for our growth on something other than wanting to feel good?

I speak up because I have to, I grow quiet because I need that too. I lay the groundwork and do the brutal shopping to look professional and put together, then I say “Pffft,” and yank my hair in a bun and slip into jeans and say, “This’ll do.”

The more black and white things become in my life the more I see that gray is a constant and, if I really explore how I feel about that, I am grateful for it. For every time that I’ve woken up or met the end of the day thinking that I am old and past the best of whatever I was going to have, I have a moment of clarity that reminds me joy and contentment are not in invisible pores or days without deadlines.

Delight and heartache are laced together, sometimes coming at once, other times eclipsing each other. When my back inexplicably aches in the morning I find a way to dab a bit of purple and white into the gray until I have tendril of lavender looping between black and white.

Wishing us all the courage to mix a bit of color into the gray.

 

 

Barefoot and Hopeful

Posted on July 1, 2017

We left home in a break between squalls. The sky was a pendulous presence above and the clouds, at once stormy and ethereal, followed us the whole drive. Sean was ahead of us with “the boys” as Finley put it. Beso, our cocker spaniel, and Pippin, our male tabby were riding amid the potted plants, tools, and signs Sean had packed for camp. Briar was still in Paris, so it was Finley and Avery, with Luna, our moody calico, in a small animal carrier in my car, along with fresh towels and other things I’d packed.

The week had been a whirlwind of meetings and photo shoots, takings us as far as New Hampshire, as we entered the first full week of the girls’ summer vacation.It’s never easy, but in all the years, I’ve never remembered it being quite this frenetic. By the time we’d dropped the animals off at camp and inhaled a dinner at our favorite local joint, I was in a state of decompression that seemed to be happening without me. You know those times when your mind or your body take over because you have so completely failed to assert yourself?

Sean walked the girls back to the car as I hoofed it to the grocery store a block away. I listened to their voices fading as they walked one way. I turned away from the restaurant and into the small adjacent lot. It has a garden of sorts and the lands is a bit wild. I looked around and before I’d really thought it through my shoes were off. I wiggled my toes in the grass and looked up at the sky. Laughter was bubbling up in the back of my throat and I knew that in shucking my shoes I’d let go of so much more. Not forever, but the trick is that we don’t need to let go forever, we just need the wherewithal to allow ourselves a bit of treading barefoot instead of treading water. We need to unlace and unfasten, so that we can be reminded of the benefit of dirt under our nails and night air on our face.

 

The pull to kick off my shoes went straight to my core. Before I knew it, they were off and the grass and clover were cool and damp beneath me.

 

My last real act of doing in the month of June involved walking barefoot beneath a starry Vermont sky. The next day I held onto that idea of letting go. I jumped in the water with my girls and danced in the waning sun because taking off our shoes and setting aside our worries comes in many different forms, we just have to be willing to accept them.

 

 

Are you ready? Can you flip off your shoes?

 

Life Isn’t the Same After #WonderWoman

Posted on June 5, 2017

Saturday afternoon I used my phone to buy seven tickets for a Sunday matinee of Wonder Woman. It was, quite honestly, a pain in the ass because the Regal app was persnickety and I didn’t have my wallet so I had to borrow a card from Sean. Sometimes this sort of thing would annoy me and send me into a “Well, I guess it isn’t meant to be” defeat. Not this time. It was too important that my contribution to the first weekend of the movie be recorded.

Talk with your wallet. Stand up for things that matter. It was the same thing with backing Rebecca Woolf’s Kickstarter campaign for Pans. I want movies made with girls in mind as more than arm candy, victims of violence, hollow foils, and set dressing.

“Don’t politicize it.”

“Can’t it just be a movie?”

“What do your politics or your gender have to do with a movie?”

“Everything,” I say at first in a quiet voice.

Silence.

“They mean everything. It is all connected,” I spit.

 

 

 

 

“Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you.”

 

Every non-essential sexual assault used to prove a female character deserves help.

Every female character who gets stripped down and left to bleed with her breasts exposed.

Every magazine cover with a female star in underwear & her male costar in a suit.

Every homely sidekick female.

Every twenty-something playing the love interest of a septuagenarian.

Every Piers Morgan who says we can’t show our cleavage after it stops turning him on.

Every film critic who says women can’t sell movies.

Every director who tells a woman to lose weight.

Every bad action flick made without a second thought given to women.

Every girl who has to wear a pink version of a superhero costume.

Every time we are asked,”What were you wearing?”

Every President who grabs us by the pussy.

It is all so connected.

 

I will politicize the hell out of this. Because my politics are relevant, my body is mine, and my reality is impacted by the politics and apathy of others. I won’t ask anyone to forgive me for being shrill and I will not tolerate anyone telling me this movie didn’t matter. Legislators tell us what we can and can’t do with our bodies, schools tell us what our daughters have to wear so that they male students and teachers aren’t distracted, conferences still have booth babes.

 

 

 

I did my best to get along with the one female action figure of my youth, vying to have Princess Leia, but sharing her with my neighbor and accepting the need to use Hans Solo or Lando Calrissian when it has her turn to have the sole female. There should have been more than one chick. It’s true that this shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is.

Diana was not created for men. She wasn’t there to make a man look virile, she wasn’t there to be without flaws. She was human well, superhuman. But she made mistakes, blended humor and gravitas, emotion and hope. The panoramic shots of the Amazons in the early part of the movie were not overtly sexualized. Yes, their costumes were fierce, yes, their bodies were glorious. The scenes were not mash ups off writhing, oil-slicked bodies with faces blurred. It was shot after shot of strong, capable women.

There was a part of me that wanted it to start to feel normal, to not sit in complete, speechless awe of it all. I wanted it to feel less significant, but I kept thinking, “I put my hundred dollars in. I want to watch it again, want to reinforce that I am here for this.” Attending this movie felt like an act of resistance and a declaration of existence.

I am here.

We are here.

My throat tightened and my nose stung and I let the tears come as I watched a movie that I was proud of surrounded by my family.

Robin Wright kicked ass.

Connie Neilsen was fierce.

Patty Jenkins did it!

Chris Pine was different. <— that may not seem like praise, but it is.

This movie was different and yet it was still able to be a seat-of-the-chair movie.

“I don’t want to be a supermodel; I want to be a role model.”
Queen Latifah

 

My girls have searched for costumes that weren’t mini-skirt versions of heroes. They’ve been mocked for their choices. A Black Widow, a Maleficent, and an Elsa. Tell me they aren’t all craving strong female role models. Yet the stores don’t carry Black Widow dolls, we made the Maleficent costume and because I can’t sew a mini-dress was the only option.

 

“I feel that I’ve got the opportunity to set a great role model for girls to look up to a strong, active, compassionate, loving, positive woman and I think it’s so important,” Gadot told the magazine. “It’s about time that somebody will do that and I’m very privileged and honored to be the one.”

 

Boys and men don’t have the market cornered on the desire to be strong or capable. I’m not sure where we were when it was decided that the benchmark for men would be related to success and strength and for women, it would be beauty and how little space we take up.

I want to be as loud and as powerful as the surf and to have my daughters do the same.

 

 

“I hear many young women say they can’t find well-known feminists with whom they identify. That can be disheartening, but I say, let us (try to) become the feminists we would like to see moving through the world.”
Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

 

Go see Wonder Woman. Go write a story. Go change the world.

 

 

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